Summer Vacation Ch. 18byD.C. Roi©
"Did you have a good time with your friend and her little boy yesterday?" Aunt Karen asked Tommy at breakfast the next morning.
"Yeah," he said, "we went to the park. Tina's little boy is really cute."
"You got home pretty late," his aunt said. Her voice had a cautionary tone. "And you didn't call. That's not like you."
"I tried calling," Tommy said, "but nobody was home. I'm sorry."
"It's all right," his aunt said, "it's just that I worry about you. I have to answer to your parents if anything happens, remember."
"I know, Aunt Karen," Tommy said. He kept being surprised how his aunt acted from day to day. They were having a torrid sexual affair, but then other times she acted parental. He wasn't sure what was going on now; was she being parental, or were there other reasons for the way she was acting? Like jealousy.
"How old is this woman?" his aunt asked.
"I'm not sure," Tommy said. "I think she's in her twenties. I mean, if she got married when she was eighteen and had Bobby right away, that would make her twenty-three, I guess."
Kim walked into the kitchen and sat down. "What are you guys talking about? You look so serious," she asked. Her outfit for the day was a pink off-the shoulder sweater and incredibly snug white pants. Tommy wasn't sure, but from the way her breasts moved when she reached for the pitcher of orange juice, he was pretty sure his cousin wasn't wearing a bra.
"We were discussing Tommy's lady friend," Karen said. Her tone of voice displayed a trace of disapproval.
"He's got a wicked crush on her," Kim said.
"Oh?" Karen sounded surprised. "He does?"
Kim nodded and grinned. "Yeah, he and I were talking about her the other day," she said. "I think he's got the hots for her."
Karen looked at Tommy. "Just what is your relationship with this...this woman?" she asked.
"We're friends," Tommy replied. He was more than a little angry his cousin had said what she did. What he felt about Tina was none of their business, even if he was sleeping with both of them. "I like her, sure, but nothing more than that."
"You better be careful," his aunt warned. "You're too young to be involved with a married woman."
Tommy felt a flare of anger. "What the hell are you talking about?" he thought, "It's OK if you and I fuck our brains out, but it isn't OK if I do it with someone else?" For a second, he thought about confronting his aunt and cousin but decided it would be foolish to do so, since that could end the sex he was having with them, and if Aunt Karen found out what he and Kim were doing, it would make an even bigger mess of things. He stayed silent, finished his cereal and pushed himself away from the table. "I have to go to North Hampden this morning," he told his aunt. "I'm going right to work afterward."
"All right," his aunt said.
Tommy thought the look on her face was a little pouty, but didn't comment. He went to his bedroom, got his clothes for work and headed for the karate dojo. Maybe Master Kwan could help him figure out how to straighten out his life.
When he pulled up in front of the dojo there was an ambulance, red lights blinking, sitting next to a police car in front of the building. He jumped out of his car and raced for the doorway, just as two attendants came out carrying a stretcher with Master Kwan on it.
"Is he all right?" Tommy yelled.
"Who are you?" a policeman standing next to the ambulance asked.
"I'm one of his students," Tommy said.
"Looks like he had a heart attack," the cop said, "A bad one. Guy has to be ninety, if he's a day."
Tommy was stunned. He didn't know how old Master Kwan was. "Is...is he going to be all right?" he asked the policeman.
"Hard to say," the cop replied. "He didn't look good when I got here."
Tommy watched them load Master Kwan in the ambulance then it took off, siren coming to life.
"Where are they taking him?" Tommy asked the cop.
"Metropolitan Medical Center," the officer said. "Hey, you know if he has any family?"
"As far as I know, he doesn't have anyone," Tommy said. "His wife and son died in the war, before he came to this country."
"Jesus, who's going to look after the place?" the cop wondered.
"I'll lock up and make sure everything's secure," Tommy said. "I instruct a little. I've got a key."
"Thanks," the cop said. He turned and headed for his patrol car.
After making sure the dojo was secure, Tommy headed for the hospital. Next to his parents, he cared more for Master Kwan than anyone. He regarded the old gentleman with the same affection he would have a grandfather, if any of his grandparents had been alive. He found a parking space in the huge hospital parking lot, then made his way to the emergency room.
"Can I help you?" a stocky, stern-looking nurse at the desk near the entrance asked.
"Master Kwan," Tommy said, "Ah, Lee Kwan, he...he was brought in a little while ago by the ambulance from North Hampden."
The nurse studied Tommy. "Are you a relative?" she asked.
"I'm one of his students," Tommy explained. "He doesn't have any family. He...he was kind of like a grandfather to me."
"I see." The nurse sat there a minute, then she picked up the phone and dialed. She said something softly, then put the phone down. "One of the doctors will be out in a minute," she told the anxious young man.
An attractive blonde woman appeared shortly afterward. She wore a long white lab coat, had on dark-rimmed glasses and a stethoscope around her neck. She looked around at the people in the waiting room, then looked at the nurse at the reception desk. The nurse nodded in Tommy's direction, and the doctor walked over.
"Are you the person who was asking about Mr. Kwan?" she asked him.
"Yes, I'm one of his students," Tommy said. "Is...is he OK?"
The doctor shook her head. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "Mr. Kwan has died. He had a massive heart attack. We did all we could, but we couldn't resuscitate him."
Tommy felt his legs go weak and looked around, then he sat down in the closest chair.
The doctor sat down next to him. "Are you all right?" she asked.
Tommy nodded. He knew Mr. Kwan was old, but had no idea he had heart disease. He'd never considered the possibility Mr. Kwan might die and didn't know what he was going to do now. The Master had been a big part of his life for such a long time; someone he could talk to about things he couldn't even discuss with his parents.
"Were you and Mr. Kwan close?" the doctor asked.
"I-I...he was my sensei for over five years," Tommy replied. He felt tears rolling down his cheeks. "He...he was like...like my...my grandfather. I-I loved him very much."
"I'm really sorry," the doctor said softly and laid a hand on Tommy's leg. "Do you know if he had any family?"
"None," Tommy said, "he told me his family, all of them, were killed during the war."
"We found a paper among his effects," the doctor said. "It instructs us to contact an attorney in North Hampden. I assume he'll handle the burial and all the necessary details."
"I-I guess so," Tommy replied. He was too overwhelmed to think straight. "It...it would have been like Master Kwan to have planned for this." What was he going to do? "I...do you know the lawyer's name?"
"I can get it for you," the doctor said.
"Thanks," Tommy replied. "I'd...I'd kinda like to talk with him, you know? I mean, there's nobody else, I'd like to help with...with the arrangements. Master Kwan, he..." He began to sob.
"Is there anyone we can call?" the doctor asked. "Your parents or someone?"
"No..." Tommy called on his inner reserves using the training Master Kwan had instilled in him, and pulled himself together. "I-I'll be fine. I really will." He looked at her. "After all, is not death just another stage in our existence?"
The doctor looked puzzled. "Excuse me?" she said.
"Master Kwan said that once," Tommy explained. "He said, 'Death is not to be feared. When we die, we are simply moving from one plane of life to another. Death is yet another adventure.'"
"Mister Kwan must have been very special," the doctor said.
"He was," Tommy replied, fighting back the urge to sob. "I-I've never known anyone like him."
The doctor stood up. "Well," she said, "I have to get back to work. I'm sorry about your friend."
"Thank you," Tommy said.
"I'll have the nurse give you the phone number of the attorney," the doctor told him, then she turned and left.
Tommy got the lawyer's phone number, then went back to the dojo. He worked out hard, harder than he ever had but, somehow, the dojo didn't feel the same now that Master Kwan was gone. It was eerie, but as he was going through his exercises, he sensed something. It was as if the master's spirit was still there, as if Master Kwan was still watching over him. Exhausted, he made a sign indicating classes would be cancelled for the time being, and put his phone number on it as someplace to call if people had questions. Then he locked the building up and left, headed for work.
"Hi, Tommy," Tina said when he walked into the Inn. "You know, Bobby hasn't talked about anything but you since yesterday."
"That's nice," Tommy said glumly, "he's a really neat kid."
Tina studied him. "Is...is something wrong?" she asked.
Tommy nodded and tears started. "Master Kwan died today," he said. "He...he..."
Tina went white. "My God!" she exclaimed. "What happened?"
"He had a heart attack," the young man said. "At least that's what the doctor said. He...he was ninety, I guess. I-I never knew how old he was."
Tina gave him a hug. "Is there anything I can do?" she asked.
"No, not really," Tommy said. "Master Kwan didn't have any family. Some lawyer's going to handle things. At least that's what the doctor said."
"Is something wrong?" Mr. Dreisbach asked. He'd just come out of the kitchen and saw the tears in Tommy's eyes.
"A close friend of Tommy's died today," Tina explained.
"Would you like the night off?" Mr. Dreisbach asked. "I would understand."
Tommy shook his head. "No...I...it's better if I work, I think," he said. "Master Kwan wouldn't have wanted me to mope around. He...he said death should be celebrated, that death frees us from our earthly bodies and allows us to do things living people can't even begin to imagine."
"This Master Kwan sounds like a very wise man," Mr. Dreisbach observed.
"He sure was," Tommy agreed. "He taught me a lot."
"Are you sure you want to work tonight?" Mr. Dreisbach asked. "We are not usually busy Monday, I can handle bussing the tables."
"It's better if I keep busy," Tommy said. "Besides, if I go home, all I'll do is sit around and be miserable. I think it will be better if I work. Sensei would have preferred it that way, I think. 'No matter what happens,' he once told me, 'life must go on.'"
Tommy would have liked it better if they'd been busier, but it turned out he made the right decision. Working, doing familiar things, helped keep him from thinking about Master Kwan. Finally the evening was over, the Inn was set up for the next day, and he and Tina were walking out the front door.
"I've got the car tonight," he said, "I'll drive you home."
"OK," Tina said. Taking her home had become a habit, something he did without either of them thinking about it.
"Are you going to be able to continue karate lessons now that your, what do you call him, sensei is dead?" Tina asked as Tommy drove down the street.
He shrugged. "I hadn't thought about it," he said. "He talked about having me take over some of his classes, but now that he's dead..."
"Could you find someone else to teach you?" she asked.
Tommy shrugged again. "Maybe, but there aren't many senseis with the same philosophy he had," he said. "He may have been the only karate teacher in the country who taught non-violence."
"That's incredible," Tina said. "I mean, you see karate on TV and in the movies, and all people do is knock each other silly. He really taught you to be non-violent?"
Tommy nodded. "'Karate is a method of defending yourself,' is the way he used to put it," he told her. "'You must find your center. Once you are in touch with your center, you will find you have no need to show people what you can do.'" Remembering his teacher's words brought tears to Tommy's eyes again. "I can't believe he's gone."
Tina reached across the front seat of the car and laid her hand on his arm. "If there's anything I can do, please..." she said softly.
"Thanks," he said. "It's just I'm not sure what happens now. He was a Buddhist. He taught me some of their rituals about death. I don't know if anyone else will even come to his funeral."
"Didn't he have other students?" Tina asked.
"Some," Tommy said. "His classes weren't large because most kids who get into karate want to compete, you know? Once they learned some basic skills from Master Kwan, a lot of students switched to other dojos. There were some police officers he trained. I've worked out with them a few times."
They arrived at her building and Tommy braked to a stop.
"See you tomorrow?" Tina asked.
"Sure," Tommy said. Being with Tina had helped his mood. He hated to see her leave the car.
"Take care. If you want, call me, please," she said, then got out of the car.
Tommy waited until she was safely inside, then turned around and headed toward his aunt's house. He turned off the main drag onto the street where Karen lived and looked in his rear-view mirror. A car was coming up behind him fast.
"What the hell?" he thought as the car swerved out around him. He jammed on the brakes when it cut in front of him and stopped before he hit it.
Before Tommy's car stopped moving, three men jumped out of the other car. One of them was Ron, Tina's ex-husband. He had a menacing smile on his face. The two men with him were big and rough-looking.