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Baishakunin, Inc.

Chapter Twelve—Matchmaker, Matchmaker

>> Chapter eleven

At least pretend that you’re happy to be here, I scold myself. My best friend Ginnie Lee is getting married. To a nice, decent man. What a concept—two nice people making a lifetime commitment. That’s the mission of my fledgling matchmaking company, Baishakunin, Incorporated, but while business is booming, I’m floundering.

“Um—you’ve taped my finger to my gift.” The wedding guest is right—her manicured index finger is firmly affixed to her white William and Sonoma box with a forest green ribbon tied around it.

I apologize and quickly peel off the tape. Here I have the easiest job in the wedding world—I’m the official Scotch-taper of card to gift (let’s be real, literally a monkey could do my task), and I’m botching it.

It’s my passive-aggressive Japaneseness coming out. I had told Ginnie that I’ll do anything, as long as it wasn’t in public. But her aunt Sharon got food poisoning at the rehearsal dinner, so here I am pinch-hitting.

Yokoso, welcome. Please sign, sign.” Next to me is Oizumi-san, the kimono-clad spokeswoman of my company, bowing to a Nisei couple and pointing to a sign-in guest book, its puffy cover decorated with lace. I’m not sure why Oizumi-san was even invited to Ginnie’s wedding, much less given an official wedding job. I have a feeling Ginnie wants to make sure that someone is going to be watching over me so that I don’t have an emotional melt-down when I finally see my landlord, Jake Martinez—my short-lived boyfriend of maybe two weeks.

“What does she think I am? Neurotic or something?” I mutter.

“Excuse?” Oizumi-san asks.

“I mean, I’m a straight-forward person. Low maintenance.”

With that, Oizumi-san begins to laugh, and not just a chuckle. She doesn’t bother to even cover her mouth (what kind of Japanese woman is she?) and throws her head back and lets out a rolling guffaw, her dentures even clicking together. I didn’t think that Oizumi-san would understand a contemporary term like “low maintenance,” but I guess she does.

“You like a race car with parts they don’t have no more. You high, high maintenance.”

I guess Oizumi-san is trying to pay me a compliment, saying that I’m a race car. But high maintenance? Me?

I rearrange the gifts so that the heavier ones are on the bottom of the stack. Ginnie also has me numbering the cards and the gift so that in the chance they get separated from each other, she’ll be able to match them together. Ginnie’s not Japanese, but she’s anal enough to be one.

“Mr. Jake-san! Sign, sign. And your tomodachi, too.”

Tomodachi? I can’t resist jerking my head up. There he is in a light blue dress shirt and navy jacket and pants. He’s with a beautiful woman—she looks exotic with smoky eye makeup.

“Jake, can you sign for both of us?” she asks.

It’s only been two weeks and he already has a date for the wedding!

“Hello, Caroline.”

“Hello,” I say.

“I’ve been meaning to call you.”

“Sure, sure,” I say. After Jake left me with two cold imagawayaki in the hallway of his building, I hadn’t heard anything from him. No call, no e-mail, no text. I haven’t even seen him in the building. I figured that he was avoiding me, so I should do the same. I even made sure Ginnie seated us in opposite ends of the reception hall.

His cell phone begins to ring and he looks down at the number and excuses himself, whispering something in his date’s ear.

So that’s it? That’s our big encounter? Our showdown? It would have been better if he snarled at me or was cold and mean. Here he is indifferent and obviously sharing some secret with the woman who he is with.

I layer one card with one strip of Scotch tape after another. After the fifth layer, Oizumi-san stops me, even covering my hand with her wrinkled freckled one.

Sukidesu, ne?” she says.

Suki, like sukiyaki, like “like.” “Yes, sukidesu, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. I screwed everything up.”

“Go talk.”

“It’s too late.”

“Neva too late.”

That’s what people say, but there’s a limited shelf life to romance and love opportunities. I see that now. I should have seen the expiration date on my relationship with Rick and let him go years ago. That way Jake would have never gotten the impression that I was still stuck on my ex.

I mope inside the stacks of gifts and then I hear some ukulele music playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Ginnie appears in the doorway with her father supporting her arm. She looks gorgeous, like an angel. Really. Her veil resembles an illuminated halo and her dress is delicate and soft.

She clasps my hand before she goes down the aisle. “Oh, Bean, I can’t believe this is really happening.”

“It is, it is. Hold on to every memory, okay?”

“Remember some for me, too,” she says and I nod my head and swallow. This is not the time for a self-pity party. This is all about Ginnie and Matt.

Somehow I make it through the ceremony only crying two times and am thankful that I get to sneak out early to load a van of gifts and take it to her apartment. Since Aunt Sharon is absent, I don’t have a helper, but I prefer to do my job by myself.

When I get to the reception, I’m practically the last one there, because my name plate is only among a handful of leftover ones on the greeter table. I check the back for the table number. Seven is crossed out and ten is written in its place.

As I approach my table, I am starting to feel sick to my stomach. Ginnie really made a mistake, because the only open seat at the table is next to Jake’s date. Oizumi-san is on the other side, and flags me down, making my getaway an impossibility.

“Hello, everyone,” I weakly say to the whole table. Jake’s not there, but his jacket is on the chair next to the other side of “his woman.”

This is all about Ginnie, I murmur a mantra in my head. Not about me. I’ll stay until at least the cake cutting and then can excuse myself, right?

“I’m Bea,” Jake’s date extends her smooth, pristine hand to me.

I try to plaster a smile on my face, but feel the ends of my lips shake. “Caroline,” I say.

“Oh, you’re that Caroline. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

I can’t judge her expression.

“By the way, where is my brother?”

“Your brother?”

“Yeah, Jake.” Bea scans the reception hall. “Our grandmother is in the hospital right now, so he’s been checking every hour on her progress.”

“Oh, I didn’t know.” I feel awful.

“Yeah, she had a stroke two weeks ago. Everything’s a bit crazy.”

Jake then appears from the side door, his Blackberry in his hand.

“No change,” he reports to his sister.

“Relax some,” she tells him. “That’s why we’re here, right? No sense being cooped in the hospital 24-7.” She then scoots over to his seat so Jake can sit next to me.

I don’t waste any time. “I’m so sorry about your grandmother,” I say. “I didn’t know.”

“Yeah, I was meaning to call you. The last time we saw each other—”

I finish Jake’s thought. “Rick’s nothing to me. I mean, he’s the past.”

“I know, that’s what he told me.”

“Told you?”

“I ran into him a week ago. I was meeting with a Japanese client at the membership coffee house, and Mrs. Oizumi and Rick come in. Apparently she was setting him up with a date, but the date never showed up.”

I frown. I haven’t matched Rick with anyone recently.

“He kept talking about how he was such a jerk before, and that he’s really proud of you starting your own business and everything.”

“He is?”

“I told him that I was, too.” Jake runs his hand through his spiky hair. “I overreacted, Caroline. I saw you with him, and then the old scene with my ex replayed in my head. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too. I should have told you the truth from the start.”

An angel stands in front of our table. Ginnie, my best friend. A married woman.

“I’m so glad that you two made up,” she whispers in my ear after everyone oohs and aahs about how beautiful she looks.

“So you did this? Put us at the same table?”

“Are you kidding me? Not after all the fuss you were making. Someone must have made a change at the reception table, maybe?”

Next to me, Oizumi-san takes a long sip of a Sprite. I know that she’s listening to every word, but she pretends that she’s not.

“Oh, we are going to do the toast now. I’ll catch you later.” Ginnie returns to the head table.

“Someone moved us to this table,” I say to Oizumi-san.

“Oh, yah.” The poker face doesn’t crack.

“Yeah, we were supposed to be on the other side of the hall, at table seven.”

“Oh, dis table much betta.”

I have renewed respect for Oizumi-san. She’s picked up a lot working at the company for the last month. Deception, I guess, has its place, as long that it is used for good and not evil or even convenience.

The program before dinner begins and Ginnie and Matt rise. Ginnie looks my way. “I want to give a toast. To the person who fixed us up—the perfect matchmaker, Caroline ‘Bean’ Mameda.”

Everyone begins to hoot and holler and Jake squeezes my shoulder. Even Oizumi-san politely applauds. But I realize today that I’ve been totally outmatched by the master baishakunin at my side.

The End

* “Baishakunin, Inc.” is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

© 2009 Naomi Hirahara / Image: Neal Yamamoto and Vicky K. Murakami-Tsuda

baishakunin Baishakunin, Inc. fiction little tokyo naomi hirahara romance serialized story

About this series

"Baishakunin, Inc." is a new work of fiction from Naomi Hirahara the author of the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series and two biographies published by the Japanese American National Museum. Its main character, Caroline Mameda, starts her own match-making business after being fired from her job. Set in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo.

Read Chapter One