Partying was not my thing. Throughout college so far, I could count the number of parties I’d attended on one hand. I preferred to be alone on weekends to study and write stories. Crowds of loud, drunk people made me anxious. That was probably one reason why I was still single.
So I didn’t know how Liana managed to drag me to a friend’s party Saturday night. She’d even convinced me to dress up in a black halter and silver stilettos that bit into my feet, a far cry from what I usually wore every day.
I didn’t even know this friend of Liana’s. Her name was Shelly, and Liana had met her in an art class several quarters ago. Apparently this Shelly wasn’t too particular in who she invited to her party. Her priority was to invite as many people as possible. The more guests, the more she could show off, and the more presents she’d receive.
It was a bit surprising to me that this was the first party Liana would attend in ages. She was somewhat known as a party girl among our friends, and until a few months ago, she partied almost every weekend until she caught a very bad case of the flu and blamed it on staying out too late. From then on, she started to prefer the home life, watching TV or reading books in her PJs.
As Liana and I stepped onto Shelly’s front lawn, I realized Shelly’s parents had to be millionaires. This mansion was like a castle, and it was on a cliff, overlooking the beautiful Pacific coast. It was the only reason Liana had wanted to come and the only way she’d convinced me to come with her—to check out the view.
It was gorgeous. The golden sandy beach lay right below us, completely unpolluted since it was a private beach owned by Shelly’s parents. And as the sea sparkled with the sunlight, I knew why gemstones sparkling in the light appealed to so many people. But gemstones were only a cheap imitation of the magnificent Pacific Ocean. I was so proud to be a Californian, to be a West Coast girl.
We moved towards the entrance of the house, and instantly, I wished I could just stay outside and watch the ocean. The sound of heavy rock, which I liked in lower decibels, had been cranked so loud that my whole body was vibrating with the sound waves. I wouldn’t have been surprised if my ears started dripping blood.
But I couldn’t leave. Liana was my driver, and I didn’t know anyone else at the party to take me home. So until she wanted to leave, I was stuck, helpless to prevent the inevitability of deafness to befall my person.
Liana could see I was uncomfortable. “Sorry,” she mouthed, and then she said something else in vain.
“What?” I mouthed back.
She pulled out her cell phone from her purse and texted me. 1 hr.
OK, I texted back.
Liana disappeared among the crowd, probably to greet the birthday girl and give her the present. There were so many people that I knew it wouldn’t make a difference if I went back outside. I wouldn’t be missed. I’d just stay outside and watch the ocean for an hour until Liana came to get me.
A railing framed the edge of the cliff, its silver bars casting a bright glint from the setting sun. I leaned on it, loving the feel of the sea breeze and the sight of the gulls swooping down to catch a quick meal. The sounds of the ocean waves and the gulls could beat the commercialized pop music of society any day.
Then an image of my enemy appeared in my head, ruining the moment. Why was I thinking of Khit? And why had I been addressing him as Khit instead of Dr. Evil or Professor Inari ever since I’d run into him yesterday morning? I was going crazy. That cruel, idiotic, barbaric man was a pain in the ass, and I wasn’t going to let him ruin this perfect view.
“Hey.” A voice cut through the peaceful stillness.
I whipped around in horror, thinking that Khit had stalked me again. But to my relief, it was Darryl.
“Darryl!” I gasped with surprised pleasure.
He glanced at me guiltily. “I’m sorry, did I scare you? I called your name, but you didn’t hear me.”
“No, no, of course not,” I lied. “You didn’t tell me you were coming to this party.”
“I didn’t know you were coming either,” he said. “I was dragged here. One of my roommates has this thing for one of Shelly’s best friends. But I refused to go inside, and then I spotted you.”
I grinned. “Well, that’s another thing we have in common. I was dragged here by my roommate too.”
He faked an exasperated sigh. “I guess we’ll just have to keep each other company then.”
I tried to think of a conversation starter, but he beat me to it. “How are you enjoying your summer so far?”
I laughed. “Well, there hasn’t really been much of a summer yet. I’ve been so caught up trying to study for Kh…I mean, Professor Inari’s class this weekend.”
He scowled, my knight in shining armor. “He’s such a bully. Maybe you should just drop the class. I don’t think I can bear watching him humiliate you again.”
“I’m not dropping the class,” I vowed fervently. “And I don’t intend on letting him humiliate me again. I’ll study all the material so that I’ll know the answers to any question he throws at me.”
Darryl’s scowl deepened. “Do you really think you can do it? That’s a lot of material to study before Tuesday. And judging from some of your previous lab exams…let’s just say it might be difficult for you.”
I blinked, surprised at Darryl’s response. I had expected him to encourage me, not tell me how impossible it was. “You mean you don’t believe in my abilities?”
“No, of course I believe in you,” he said quickly. “It’s just that evil professor. I’m sure you’d do well in the class if our professor hadn’t singled you out.” He sighed. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt if things don’t go as you expect.”
I felt like swooning. My prince was so sweet. “Thanks. Now let’s talk about something else, something less depressing.”
We talked about my favorite subject: books. I asked him if he had read anything especially riveting recently. He was a big fan of biographies, not really my thing, but I pretended to be interested.
“Did you know that by his mid twenties, Sir Isaac Newton was
already developing calculus? He was only a little older than us.” He sighed a bit longingly. “I want to do something great with my life like that, even if it takes me longer.”
I could understand that. I was already 21, and I still hadn’t done anything significant with my life. “I wish I could be a famous author by the age of 22, but it’s not likely to happen.”
He smiled. “Maybe not by 22, but you never know. One day…we’ll see. By then, we’ll all be settled down, and you’d better let me have your first autographed copy of your bestseller.”
“If we still know each other,” I added.
“That’s a given. Of course we’ll know each other.” He threw me one of his blinding grins. “We’ll practically be best friends by that time.”
It was hard to respond to that comment. Was he trying to hint at something? I felt my skin heat as I tried to think of a reply.
But he spoke first. “So Caren, I was thinking…” He paused awkwardly. Was it my imagination, or was that a blush? “Well, I’m free this weekend, and…if you’re free…”
Could he be re-initiating his invitation to watch movies at his apartment? I wished he would just say it already.
“I mean…it’s OK if you’re not free…I was just wondering…”
“Wondering what?” I prodded, trying not to sound too eager.
He looked about ready to continue, but glanced behind my shoulder and closed his mouth again as two girls walked onto the balcony, disturbing our private sanctuary.
“O-M-G!” One of the girls tossed back her dark, wavy hair. “I can’t believe that girl. What an attention grabber.”
“I know,” the other girl agreed, looking totally pissed off. “It’s not even her party. Shelly’s so pissed.”
“I don’t blame her. All the guys are ogling her like she just threw them her bra and started dancing topless.”
“She might as well be the way she’s freaking on the dance floor. She’s totally drunk.”
The girl with dark hair started walking again, turning around the corner of the house. “Wasn’t she in your class last quarter? What’s her name?”
“Lana or Leanne or something weird like that. And yeah, she’s always in my classes,” the girl wailed exasperatedly. “If I wasn’t about to graduate, I’d drop out of the International Studies program just so I wouldn’t have to see her face again.”
And the two of them disappeared to the other side of the balcony, leaving Darryl and me to stare at each other, mutual looks of horror on our faces. Liana’s major was international studies. I didn’t know how Darryl knew, but it was clear he and I had reached the same conclusion. We spoke at the same time. “Liana?”
Both of us ran back into the house, and immediately, we saw what those girls had been talking about. The whole party stood in a circle, pointing and laughing at some spectacle in front of them, more specifically, Liana. My best friend was dancing on top of Shelly’s dining room table like some crazed animal that had just crawled out of the forest during a full moon. She was wedged between two guys, most likely frat guys, and they were practically having a threesome. Not to mention all of them were stone drunk. In fact, one of the guys was still holding a bottle of liquor in his hands as he danced.
If Liana’s boyfriend saw this scene, their relationship would be over in a heartbeat. I only hoped this didn’t find its way onto the Internet and right onto Jared’s laptop. But by the looks of all the cell phones directed at Liana, the chances of that not happening were one in a gazillion.
I pushed my way through the crowd and hiked myself up the table to drag Liana down before she could cause more damage to her reputation. It wasn’t like her to do something like this—dance with strangers and drink herself to the point of no return.
“Come to join us?” One of the frat boys got a little too close. I wrinkled my nose, as the putrid mixture of alcohol and sweaty male wafted into my nostrils.
The other boy tried to grab me, but I stomped on his foot using the tip of my heel just in time. Who would have known that high heels had their uses? The guy howled in pain and fell off the table, while the first guy tried to prevent me from taking Liana. But Darryl was suddenly there, taking a swing at the jerk, who was so drunk that he clumsily lost his balance and fell before Darryl’s fist even came into contact with the guy’s face.
“Damn, that punch would have felt so good,” Darryl muttered. He helped me lower Liana to ground level. She grabbed onto Darryl’s clothes and stared into his face.
“Jared? Is that you?”
Oh boy. I looked at Darryl, wondering how he would respond, but poor Darryl just stood there, mouth agape. Liana burst into tears and seized a hold of Darryl’s body. “Don’t leave me,” she cried. “I just wanted to make you jealous. I promise I won’t do it again.” Then she went limp.
Darryl stumbled back from the sudden dead weight of Liana’s body but somehow managed to regain his balance. By now, the crowd was beginning to disperse. I supposed it wasn’t as interesting to watch a drunk girl once she’d gone unconscious.
The birthday girl finally found her way through the crowd to reach us. She looked furious. “You three, out. NOW!” Shelly screamed at us. Then she stormed away, probably to call her security guards.
“Oh no,” I groaned, realizing Liana was supposed to drive us home. And I wouldn’t mind driving her car, except I couldn’t find her purse anywhere. I turned to Darryl pleadingly.
“You don’t even have to ask,” he told me, still holding the unconscious Liana in his arms. “What do you want me to do?”
“I need you to drive her home,” I said. “I live at Regents on the third floor, apartment number—”
“318,” he said. “I went to your place to work on lab reports, remember? Don’t worry, I’ll take her home. What about you?”
“I need to stay here and find Liana’s purse,” I said. “The last thing we need is for her credit cards and car keys to go missing. I’ll find her keys and drive myself home.”
“What if you can’t find them?” he asked, and without waiting for an answer, he warned, “You’d better call me then. I’ll come pick you up.”
After promising that I would call him if I couldn’t find Liana’s things within the hour, he lifted Liana into his arms and strode for the door, looking all too much like a prince rescuing his princess. Only I wasn’t the one he was rescuing.
Liana was going to face the wrath of Caren Chang come tomorrow morning.
After asking around, I found out from one of the guests that there was a room in the house—the library, more specifically—designated to store purses and other personal belongings when a guest wished to have their hands free to dance. Or to make out.
As I made my way down the hall to the library, I heard the unmistakable soundtrack of make out sessions in progress behind the various closed, or unclosed, doors. Just as I made up my mind to plug my ears so I wouldn’t be forced to suffer from the unpleasant grunting and groaning, I reached the library.
And I wanted to cry. Mountains of purses and handbags littered the floors and sofas. How was I going to find Liana’s purse among them?
I started digging through the piles frantically, looking for the black leather clutch Liana had been carrying earlier. All the purses looked the same, but I remembered rhinestones decorating the front of Liana’s in the shape of a heart.
Then I spotted it sitting between the cushions of the couch, practically buried under a heavier tote bag. But as I reached for it, a larger hand beat me to it. I whirled around to face the intruder and instantly locked eyes on a head of bleached white hair.
Only this time, it wasn’t Khit. The guy in front of me was younger, in his late teens, and he was several inches shorter than Khit. But what was markedly different about him were the tattoos on the right side of his face. One of the tattoos was a picture of a white fox, and under that were the Chinese characters for fox. Although I would never claim myself to be fluent in the language, I knew that much from the research I’d been doing on white foxes.
“Why hello there,” the boy drawled, trying to sound a lot older than he was. “Where have you been hiding?”
“Give me the purse,” I told him, resisting the urge to kick his shins. Were all the bleached head punks conspiring to make my life miserable?
“So you want the purse, eh?” he laughed, lifting it higher into the air when I tried to snatch it from his grasp. Curse my shortness. “Well, I want it too. Probably has loads of cash.”
So was that why he was here? Was he trying to steal the money from all the purses? “If you don’t give it back, I’ll tell Shelly you’re stealing.”
“Nice try, sweetie,” he said. “But you’re not even supposed to be here. And I doubt Shelly will believe you. Not after that hot friend of yours destroyed her party.”
Damn it, but he was right.
“I can give it to you on one condition.” He indicated the bottle of liquor in his other hand. “You drink one swig of this first.”
“What? No.” For all I knew, he’d probably dumped some drug into it.
“Come on. Just one sip. Then I promise I’ll return the purse.” He shoved the bottle into my face, trying to force it to my lips. I tried to push him away, but all of a sudden he wasn’t there anymore, and I heard a loud smack of skin pounding skin, followed by the sound of glass shattering.
Another man was in the room with us, thank goodness, and this man I recognized. Professor Inari. What was he doing here? And who would have thought I’d be so happy to see Dr. Evil?
But Dr. Inari had just saved me from a potential molester. The white-haired boy was on the floor, groaning and testing the side of his face where the professor’s fist had landed. The bottle of liquor lay next to him, smashed to smithereens, as liquid seeped into the carpet.
How was it possible that nobody in this house had heard anything? Then again, the music was pumped up so loudly in the main party room that nobody could even hear the person next to them.
“Get up, you scum!” Dr. Inari snarled.
The boy dragged himself up, putting on a smug smirk. “I see you didn’t hit me hard enough to draw blood. That must mean she doesn’t know yet.” He nodded at me.
Know what? I looked at the professor, about to ask, but shut my mouth, startled by his expression. He didn’t just look furious; he looked ready to kill.
“Get out of here,” he told the boy, his voice barely contained. As the boy was about to walk out, Dr. Inari shoved his arm against the door, blocking the exit. “One more thing, Keane. I saw you dumping hallucinogens down that girl’s drink.”
The boy named Keane shrugged. “What can I say? That hapa was so hot, I couldn’t resist. Wanted to see her do something crazy.”
I gasped. Did that mean he’d drugged Liana? I was so glad he hadn’t gotten her alone. I narrowed my eyes on the beast, as my heart began to pound furiously. “You jerk. I’ll kill you.” But before I could strike out at him, Dr. Inari held me back.
He spoke before I could, his words deadly. “If I ever see you attempt to drug another girl, I’ll dig out your beating heart and crush it in front of your eyes.”
Keane waved a hand in dismissal. “Note taken. And by the way, I have a message for you from my big bro. He says he’s watching you.” Then he made his exit, laughing at his play on words.
I wasn’t sure if Keane actually did have a big brother, but if he did, I definitely didn’t want to meet him if he was anything like Keane.
Dr. Inari turned to me. “Are you all right?” He handed me Liana’s purse. I hadn’t noticed when he’d wrenched it out of Keane’s grasp.
I took the purse and nodded. “How do you know him, and what are you doing here?”
Now that Keane was gone, I could finally think again. And I was thinking it was weird for a professor to be at a college party.
“My dad’s a friend of Shelly’s parents,” he said. “He told me to drop by and give her a present. As for that guy, let’s just say I know his brother and leave it at that.”
So Keane did have an older brother. I wondered if the brother had bleached hair too.
“Let me walk you to your car.”
I nodded, despite myself. As much as I disliked the man, he had saved me. We left the party through the back entrance, walking across the balcony where Darryl and I had sat before descending down the steps to the back garden.
As we crossed the lawn and returned to the front of the house to the driveway, I looked at the man walking next to me, wondering what I should say. It occurred to me that I could start by thanking him. “Umm…thank you,” I mumbled awkwardly. “If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know what would have happened.” Then I tried smiling at him, but he didn’t return the smile.
He still looked like he wanted to bash someone’s head in.
“So how did you know I was there with Keane?” It was a question I’d been wanting to ask this whole time. It seemed hard to believe that Dr. Inari had been there at the exact moment I’d started to panic.
“I spotted you go down the hall, and when Keane followed you, I knew he was up to no good. He never is.”
“Did that jerk really drug Liana?” I ventured to ask. “Is that why she went crazy today? She thought Darryl was her boyfriend, Jared.”
He didn’t answer for a long moment, but just when I thought he wouldn’t answer at all, he spoke. “That’s only part of the reason. But your friend was also downing shots like she wouldn’t live to see the sunrise. If I were you, I’d ask if something was bothering her.”
I nodded, making a mental note to do just that when Liana felt better tomorrow. I had a hunch maybe things weren’t going so well between her and Jared.
By now, we’d walked to Liana’s car. I opened my mouth to thank him again, but he cut me off. “Caren, I’m being serious now. I beg you to stop writing that story of yours.”
Immediately, my gratefulness was replaced with that familiar spark of annoyance I’d felt since the moment I met this man. “Really? Do you have to bring that up again?” And here I’d thought we were beginning to have a more cordial relationship.
“Yes, I do,” he suddenly raged, surprising me. “This is for your own good.”
“My own good?” I snapped. “So you’re basically telling me that I write so poorly it’s hazardous to my own health.”
“Yes. No!” He sighed, bringing down his voice again. “You just have to trust me.”
“Trust you?” I spat. “When you’ve stalked, insulted, and publicly humiliated me?” I got into the car, slammed the door shut, and started the engine. I rolled down the window. “This conversation is over.”
“Wait Caren,” he called after me, as I started to roll the window back up. But when I ignored him, he scowled and yelled, “It will never be over. I’ll make you give up that story, you just wait and see.”
And I drove off, those ominous words replaying in my head. A feeling of dread knotted in the pit of my stomach as it suddenly occurred to me that Dr. Evil was giving us a test come this Tuesday. I’d better study my butt off. And pray.