Pausing a moment as he read the morning news on his tablet, Blaze Hurt looked out the window of his kitchen and looked at his wife, Union.
“Do you think any of them will show up?”
Union, an attractive Korean woman in her mid-40s with long raven hair, got up out of her seat, leaned over her husband and put her cheek on his.
“Of course they’ll come,” she said. “They all want to meet the Oscar winning novelist and screenwriter who changed their lives.”
Blaze had made an enormous splash in the literary world nearly two decades before with “Somehow.” The novel, the screenplay of which had won him an Oscar, was set in South Korea among the expatriate scene of Seoul.
Since then, Blaze had settled in his namesake hometown with his Korean wife Union, living a life of comfortable practical obscurity. He only left Hurt about once every five years to promote his latest toam that ruminate on the state of modern life.
Age had finally caught up with Blaze and he found himself approaching his 50th birthday. He and Union had discussed at length who they should invite to help them celebrate and they had finally settled upon a core group of people who had some connection to the events that had inspired Somehow all those years before.
Some of the expected guests had been more difficult to track down than others. It seemed as though they had all finally reached the age when they could all agree that those turbulent few years in Seoul were officially behind them.
At least, that’s what they all claimed.
The doorbell rang and the couple did some last minute primping before getting up, leaving the kitchen and entering the foyer where the front door was. They opened the door.
Blaze grabbed the doorknob and opened the door to a man about his age wearing a red MAGA hat. There was a moment of awkwardness as Blaze and Union processed what they were seeing.
The moment passed and Union then Blaze hugged the man.
“Jackson!” they said in unison.
Jackson was pulling luggage behind him, so it was difficult for him to hug back, at least at first. After some adjustment, however, he did manage to do it. He walked into the foyer and looked around.
“Wow!” Jackson said in awe. “This house is huge! You knew that the one day you’d have a house the size of Trump Tower?”
Blaze and Union looked at each other with a little bit of alarm. They had not be aware of Jackson’s change in political views and his love of Trump gave them pause for thought. But he was a dear friend so they looked each other in the eyes and nodded.
Now was not the time to press the issue.
“Well, Jackson, things change,” Blaze said. “I couldn’t stay in Haebangchon forever, you know. I, along with everyone else, had to move on. What have you been up to since we last saw each other?”
Jackson was silent for a moment, as if he was struggling to figure out a way to explain what had been going on with his life in as diplomatic a way as possible.
“I’ve had all sorts of adventures,” he said at last. “Let’s leave it at that for the moment, shall we?”
Union again looked at Blaze and the two exchanged information using just their glance in a way that only married couples can.
“Fair enough,” Union said. “The information where you’ll be staying in the house and what we’ll be doing during the weekend is in an envelope on the kitchen table, right through there. We’ll see you in a moment.”
Jackson pushed passed them and made his way to the kitchen.
Once he was out of earshot, Jackson ran his hands through his hair and took a deep breath. In this technological age, it was difficult for them not to know what Jackson had been up to. They had done a search for his name online and he apparently was still teaching English in Asia. At least, that’s where they had managed to track him down when they invited him to the birthday party.
Jackson had been the layout guy for the expatriate magazine in Seoul that connected most of the people coming for the birthday party. He had been crucial to the success of the magazine after another one of the expected visitors for the weekend, Tagger Wendt, was all but forced out as publisher.
In a little while, there was a knock on the door again and they opened it to the image of a middle-aged woman wearing bright, loose fitting hippie attire. The bracelets she was wearing made slight noise every time she moved. She gave both Union and Blaze bear hugs with a loud squeal.
“Maude!” the couple said in unison.
“You haven’t changed a bit!” Union said. “You look just like the person I remember nearly 20 years ago!”
“I live well and in tune with nature,” Maude said. “What do you expect? Who else is here? Anyone of note?”
Union and Blaze looked at each other for a moment and paused before they nodded and finally spoke.
“Well, Jackson is already here. But, we have to warn you that Tagger agreed to come. So, be prepared. Try not to get into with him, for the sake of the party, if nothing else?” Union said at last.
Maude’s brow wrinkled for a moment as a thought seemed to zoom past her mind for a second and the she finally smiled and shrugged. “All of that was a long time ago. We’ve made our peace. There shouldn’t be any problems,” she said.
She, too, pushed her way past the couple and into the house. As she did, they again mentioned where she could find the information about where she was staying and the weekend’s events.
The couple primped a little bit as they waited for the next person to arrive at the door. After a moment, the door opened again and this time it was a stunning African American woman wearing bright, colorful robes the likes of which they had never seen. Her apparel was loose and showed just enough cleavage to be scandalous.
“Gaia!” they said in unison.
“Oh, darlings,” her purred in a deep, throaty voice. “So nice to see you again. Every minute is a lifetime away from you.”
There were hugs, air kisses and coos all around as the three quickly got re-acquainted. Gaia, too, had played a crucial role in the development of the magazine they all worked out about a generation before. Of all the people associated with the events of the magazine they all worked on, they had remained the closest to Gaia.
After a little bit of small talk, Gaia pushed her way gently passed them and to the kitchen where her instructions awaited. Once she got to the kitchen, there were loud shouts as the group welcomed her.
Lastly, the door opened and tall, middle-aged man accompanied by a stunning — if albeit shaved bald — younger woman greeted them. Seeing the woman’s shaved head jiggled something in his mind for a moment, but he couldn’t grasp it. It flitted away back into the darkness of his mind.
There was a bit of a pause as everyone struggled to figure out what to do next. The pause happened a beat longer than one might expect, but finally Union hugged the young woman. That finally broke the ice and Blaze thrust out his hand to shake the other man’s.
This time, there was no pause. They shook hands forcefully and finally gave each other a bear hug.
“You and Manhattan the last of the group, Tagger,” Blaze said with his arm around Tagger’s. “We were worried you guys weren’t going to be able to make it.”
Tagger seemed about to say something but paused before he did. He leaned over and kissed Manhattan gently on the lips. The two of them had their arms casually slipped between each other’s and they seemed to flow naturally into each other the way only people newly married and fresh in love seem to be able to do.
“Well, I managed to cancel a few photo shoots and begged off another one with Vogue, so we were able to make it. It was much more difficult with Manhattan, given how in demand she is these days.”
Blaze looked at Union and rolled his eyes as inconspicuous manner as possible. Tagger had always been insufferable to them and now that he’d gained such success as a fashion photographer in New York City, they suspected he was even more so.
Union closed the door and the group made its way to the living room where the rest of the group was assembled. The moment Tagger and Manhattan walked in, the conversation came to a standstill.
There was a long, long pause as the group in the living room absorbed what they were seeing. The weightiness of the moment was taking everyone a little while to process. Most of them hadn’t seen Tagger in nearly 20 years and none of them really liked him that much for various reasons.
Blaze looked at Union, took her hand gently and the two of them rolled their eyes at each other in unison. It was going to be a long weekend.
After a little bit of adjustment as to the presence of Tagger, the group began idle chatter as old friends meeting each other after a long absence are apt to do.
“Tagger,” Gaia cooed in her husky, luxurious voice, “you certainly have done well for yourself since we were all in Seoul. I’m glad things have worked out for you.”
Tagger laid his hand on Manhattan’s and smiled broadly. Something did, however, pass between Gaia and Tagger as if old emotions, old memories were being re-awoken by being in each other’s presence.
“You haven’t done so bad yourself, Gaia,” Tagger said. “You were, at one point, you were the highest paid model in Asia, weren’t you?”
Gaia smiled faintly and leaned back in her seat, eying Tagger over her drink.
“Remember, guys, we have Blaze to thank for much of our success, don’t we?” Maude said. “We all got a lot of personal publicity because of ‘Somehow.’ That did wonders for all our careers, I know it did mine.”
One of Tagger’s eyebrows arched a little bit as he thought about what he was going to say next.
“Yes, Maude, what have you been up to the last 20 years. I’d honestly like to know. I haven’t heard much from you or any of the rest of you in 20 years. None of you are connected to me on social media, in fact, I know for sure that some of you have me blocked here and there,” Tagger said with great frustration.
Maude leered at Tagger and the mood of the room changed dramatically. Suddenly old wounds were being opened at a much quicker rate than any of them ever imagined. Maude and and Tagger had hated each other with a passion a generation before and it was becoming obvious that the mutual dislike had not dissipated since. The origin of their hatred had be complex and multifold.
“Well, if you must ask,” Maude said, clearing her throat, “I was able to leverage the notoriety associated with ‘Somehow’ to start a yoga center franchise. These days I’ve gotten big into the recreational marijuana space.”
Tagger made a little noise and all but leap out of his seat.
“Oh, how typical. Once a pothead, always a pothead. You and Nuk drove me nuts because I drank soju all the time while all along you were two were constantly high as a kite,” Tagger all but yelled.
“Honey, who’s Nuk?” Manhattan asked earnestly. “What’s soju?”
Before anyone in the group could process these unexpected questions on the part of Tagger’s young wife, Tagger turned his attention to Jackson’s red MAGA hat.
“Uh, Jackson, what’s with the hat?” Tagger said, swirling his whisky on the rocks in its tumbler as he did so.
Jackson looked down, his shoulders bent as if he was a caged animal about to pounce. It was as if he had known this was coming and he been psyching himself up for this very thing for days.
“What about it?” Jackson said. “I want America to be great again, and you should too.”
“When exactly was that?” Tagger said. “Give me a date, any date and I’ll tell you why it wasn’t great. Why up until Trump’s election it was the greatest it’d ever been!”
“Oh my God,” Jackson all but yelled. “So typical of you. You with your new trophy wife who looks just like Nuk about the time you were fucking her 20 years ago. She looks so much like Nuk should could be her twin sister. I always knew you were a sick fuck, but that takes the cake!”
The tension in the room was such that it felt like the two men were going to have at it physically at any moment.
“Come on, guys,” Union said, pleading. “Give it a rest. No need to go after each other so quickly, we have the entire weekend ahead of us.”
“No, I think we should have at it,” Tagger said. “Clear the air. Though he does bring up Nuk. Guys, I hate to break it to you, but I’m over Nuk. I know I did a lot of bad things to her when the first version of the magazine was falling apart, but we just recently e-mailed each other, said we’re sorry. It’s over it’s all over,” Tagger said.
There was awkward pause as if everyone wanted to say the same thing, but couldn’t quite bring themselves to say it. Before anyone could, Manhattan spoke up.
“Honey, I asked you a moment ago who Nuk was…’” she asked, this time, the flawless skin of her forehead wrinkling with intense thought.
Everyone but Tagger looked at each other in amazement. The struggled to grasp what they were hearing. No one knew what to say, what to think. They were shocked.
Gaia, who was sitting next to Manhattan, abruptly lean over and gave her a hug.She whispered something in Manhattan’s ear as she did.
Manhattan flinched several times as she did. When it was over, it was Manhattan’s turn to hug Gaia.
“Oh my God, Tagger, you married me because I look like a dead woman?” Manhattan said, bursting into tears and racing out of the living room. Tagger initially acted as if he was going to rush after her, then paused as he processed what she’d said. The mood in the room changed dramatically yet again, this time in a wholly unexpected way. Tagger’s eyes grew enormous and he shot up straight, his face in distraught agony.
“What do you mean ‘dead woman?” Tagger nearly screamed. “Nuk’s not dead. She can’t be. Like I said, we emailed each other just recently, maybe two, three weeks ago.”
Everyone else in the room looked down or away from Tagger. They couldn’t bring themselves to be the one to tell him.
“What’s going on!” Tagger said. “Why did you lie to Manhattan? I didn’t expect Nuk to come this weekend, but to tell my wife that Nuk’s dead is a little bit much.”
Union was the first person who could bring herself to say something to address the growing crisis going on in front of them.
“Tagger, Gaia didn’t lie. It’s the truth. Nuk’s dead. She probably died within days of you talking to you via e-mail. She’s gone. She’s passed. I know it’s going to be tough for you to process at first, but we’re here for you.”
“Oh, fuck you guys,” Tagger said. “I don’t know why the fuck I came here at all. Maybe I thought there was a chance, however small, that Nuk would show up and we’d have some sort of reconciliation. You guys were assholes 20 years ago and you’re assholes now. Excuse me, I have a marriage to save.”
And with that, Tagger left the room.