I read my genetics textbook the whole weekend, thinking that maybe there was a gene for having metallic blue blood. There had to be some kind of scientific explanation, didn’t there? Some genetic disease that altered the color of blood when it was exposed to air.
But part of me knew…there was no scientific explanation. I didn’t know what was going on, but I had every intention of finding out, and somehow, I was sure that whatever Khit’s real story was, it was why he was so antagonistic towards my white fox story.
When Monday morning rolled around, I went straight to school, even though I didn’t have class. It was time to get some answers. I marched straight to Khit’s office, but when I got there, the door was closed.
I could hear his voice though, so I knew he was in there. It sounded like he was talking on the phone, so I pressed my ear to the door to hear what I could.
“No, Dad,” he was saying. “That’s not such a good idea. You know how the Elite works. This PI might be one of their hirelings sent to investigate you.”
Silence followed for a bit…then, “It’s not because I’m on her side. I just think that if she wanted us to find her, she would have contacted us by now. Maybe it’s just time to let her go.”
More silence, and then his voice rose in anger. “Every time I talk to you, you get like this. I told you I’m not on anybody’s side. I don’t want to talk about this right now. I’m at work.”
And then I heard the sound of metal upon wood, and I knew he had slammed down his cell phone on his desk.
Maybe this was not a good time to talk to him after all. I started to tiptoe away, but of course, l was never that lucky. The door swung open, Khit’s eyes widening at the sudden surprise of seeing me.
I grinned sheepishly. “Hi.”
The guilt on my face told him that I had been eavesdropping, and he sighed. “Fate is just screaming at me to tell you everything.” He raised his gaze to the heavens. “Fine, I’ll tell her. But don’t make me regret it.”
I expected him to sit me down in his office, but instead, he tugged my arm. “Let’s go to a place where I’ll be sure we won’t get any more eavesdroppers.”
Without exchanging another word, I followed him to the parking lot. It was far from my mind to wonder what kind of car he drove, but if you had asked me just a week before, I would have guessed something fast, flashy, and expensive. If not a convertible, then maybe a gas guzzler, since he so obviously wasn’t environmentally aware, judging by the fur coats he wore.
I would have guessed anything but the most common car on the road. A white Toyota Camry. Who knew that Khit was such a practical man?
“Where are we going?” I asked, as soon as we had left the parking lot.
The Cliffs was a place very adequately named, as it was a peaceful sanctuary overlooking the ocean and the surrounding cliffs, which had an occasional mansion or two. In order to actually reach the Cliffs, visitors had to walk through a grassy meadow, beautiful in spring, but completely barren in the winter, and then cross some rocky ground that signaled the beginning of the Cliffs.
There were a few log benches people used to sit and admire the view of the ocean and surfers below and the paragliders flying above them. Occasionally, I went to the Cliffs for meditative time, and usually, there weren’t too many people crowding the place.
But sometimes, especially during the summer, the Cliffs could have a large number of visitors. The Cliffs would be the perfect place for a quiet talk if it were any season but summer. I mentioned this to Khit.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I guarantee that nobody will be there right now.”
I wondered how he was so sure, but having witnessed greater miracles on his part during the weekend, I had a hunch that everything would make sense after he explained himself.
He was right. There was not a single soul at the Cliffs, except for the few paragliders in the air, but they definitely wouldn’t bother us. We sat down on a log bench, facing the sea.
“Before I tell you anything, you have to promise that whatever I say right now stays between us.” He eyed me cautiously. “You can’t tell anyone, not even your mother or Liana.”
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t blab out other people’s secrets. You can trust me.”
He nodded. “Then where should I begin?” He thought for a second. “I guess I can start with my family background.”
I listened as he told me the story of how his parents had met. His mother, Julia, had been a gorgeous showgirl in Las Vegas, highly sought after by all men—old, young, fat, skinny. She usually went after the rich ones and loved the money and attention.
But one day, Khit’s father, a young doctor, came to the city on a short business trip. He hadn’t been very rich, but as soon as Julia had set eyes on the doctor, she had lusted after him. However, after making it clear what she wanted, Dr. Inari had kindly refused her offer. It was her first rejection, and she had been steaming with fury. It made her all the more determined to win him over, so she told him she just wanted to be friends.
They had several short conversations, and Dr. Inari began to feel sorry for her. Julia did not appreciate pity, especially when he told her she should have a little more respect for herself and her body. He encouraged her to quit her job and offered her a position as his receptionist in LA.
Angrily, she’d refused, but when he left, she found that she missed him, and the other men around her no longer held any appeal. So she tracked him down in LA. She told herself her attraction to the man was because he’d rejected her, and she wasn’t leaving until she got him pining after her.
Upon her arrival at his office, Dr. Inari once again offered her the job, and this time she accepted the offer, initially only because she could not let her prey slip from her grasp. But as their friendship blossomed, Julia found that for the first time in her life, she was in love. Dr. Inari also found himself drawn to her, and he realized that he also loved her.
They were married soon after, and Khit was born a year later. But the strange thing was that baby Khit was born with a full head of bleached white hair.
“And that was when my mother had to confess who she really was,” Khit said.
I gasped as everything suddenly connected. All the legends I had read, the story Khit had not wanted me to write, the incident at the mall. It all made sense. “She was a white fox.”
I should have been more shocked, but somehow, I think I had known for awhile and had just been ignoring my gut instincts, telling myself it was impossible. Khit was half white fox and half human, and just as legends said, sons of foxes looked entirely human, although they were stronger and bigger than the average man.
I continued to stare at Khit, recalling what else I had read. Half foxes were supposed to be prominent figures in society, which Khit was—he was a genius, had completed medical school, and was the youngest professor in the English department ever to have received tenure.
Then there was the matter of half foxes receiving supernatural powers from their mothers. I nodded in realization and calmly said, “So that explains the mall incident.”
He blinked at me and started laughing. “I just told you that I’m a half fox, and that’s all you have to say?”
What did he expect me to say? “It’s not like I’m not going to believe you,” I said. “Last time I checked, blood is red when exposed to oxygen, not metallic blue.”
And then I gasped, remembering that Khit had been injured. “Your cut!”
“Relax,” he said. “It was no big deal. I heal faster than normal people.”
“But there was a lot of blood,” I protested.
He sighed. “You’re a strange girl. Instead of running away from me like a normal person would, you’re sitting here asking about my injury.” He lifted up his shirt slightly, exposing the spot where the knife had nicked him.
True enough, the cut had sealed into a paper-thin line that looked more like he had accidently scratched himself with a sharp fingernail rather than been stabbed by a knife.
“I always knew you’d believe me,” he said. “But I never understood why you would.”
My eyes widened. “You mean you’ve seen me before? In your premonitions? Do you have lots of visions?”
He shook his head. “Not exactly…I can’t fully predict the future or even control my visions. It’s more like déjà vu. Sometimes I get feelings about certain people or places. I have to be in a certain place in order to have a vision about what may happen there.” He drummed his fingers against his thighs, as though considering what to tell me next.
I didn’t want him to censor anything, so I prodded before he had time to decide he’d said enough. “So you had a vision at Tiffany’s?”
He smiled, amused by my impatience. “Yes. I was just walking past the store, intending on buying a new work shirt, and I had an image in my head like I had been there before. I saw that gangster trying to steal from an old lady. When I have visions like that, I feel obligated to stop them from happening.”
He paused, regarding me for a moment. “I don’t know if you remember, but on the first day of summer school, I was late.”
“Of course I remember,” I said. “Were you late because you had a vision?”
He nodded. “I was at a stoplight when it happened. There was a mother pushing a stroller, and I saw someone speeding through a traffic light and hitting them as they crossed the street. So I had to park my car on the side of the street to delay the mother for two minutes until Speed Racer had gone through the light.”
“How did you do that?”
He grinned sheepishly. “I asked the mother if she could give me directions to school, and then I pretended to be dumb by asking her to repeat the directions three times. She thought I was picking up on her, but it delayed her from a potential accident.”
I frowned. “What about me? Why did you want me to stop writing my white fox story? It wasn’t as if people would associate my story to you. I wasn’t going to let anyone read it.”
“That part,” he sighed, “is more complicated. But to start with, I had a vision about you…that you would find out about me, about what I really was. And I wanted to prevent that from happening.”
He was quiet for a moment, and I had a feeling that he was debating again about what to tell me and what to hide. As much as I wished he would just tell me everything, I understood that maybe he still didn’t completely trust me.
“I won’t tell anyone about any of this,” I said. “I promise.”
“I’m not scared of that,” he said. “My vision told me that you would keep this a secret.”
“Then why?” I asked again.
“Because my life as a half fox is very complicated, and my visions told me that you would get involved with these complications once you knew. I didn’t want to cause any trouble for you.
“That story you wrote…about the white fox seeking retribution for her past sins in order to be allowed to live in peace with her husband…it’s really the story of my parents. Word for word. It’s really a coincidence that you managed to write their exact story without even knowing about us. But the thing is, if your story got into the hands of the wrong people, my parents would never get their happily ever after ending.”
Khit continued telling me what happened after his parents had gotten married, and it really was the same story that I had written.
After Khit had been born, Julia had confessed that she was a white fox who had transformed into a human to seek life energy in the form of sex, as most white foxes did. But she convinced her husband that she had fallen in love with him and wanted to be with him, to live with him peacefully. The doctor, although bewildered and distraught at the news, still loved his wife and believed her.
For two years, they lived as a happy family, but on the day Khit turned two, his mother disappeared. The only thing she left behind was a note that told her husband not to find her. There was no explanation as to why she left.
For years, the doctor searched for her, believing that someone had kidnapped or blackmailed her, and slowly, he became more bitter, more cynical. Part of him started to believe that she had left him for another man.
“It’s like he developed a split personality,” Khit said. “On some days, he would mourn for his lost love, thinking that somehow my mother had been spirited away by the Yaojing Elite, the yaojing leaders.
“But another part of my father hated my mother. He ranted about how she had left him and lied to him about her love. On the days he threw tantrums, I would try to hide because he would be especially critical of me. He’d tell me how worthless I was, how I was the son of a slut, and he’d go through my grades at school. If I got anything less than a hundred on a test or homework assignment, he would send me to bed without dinner.”
He didn’t look especially sad when he said this, as if he were used to it by now, but I felt the tears crawling into my own eyes to hear about what that poor little boy had to endure.
He looked at me in alarm. “Not the tears,” he groaned. “I never thought that even you, Miss Invincible and Stubborn, would succumb to crying.”
I wiped my eyes on the back of my hand. “He shouldn’t have done that to you,” I said furiously. “Displaced anger is wrong, especially for parents. They should never take it out on their innocent children.”
Khit shrugged indifferently. “I never blamed him. He had a reason for his anger. My mother hurt him, wounded his soul. He became a misogynist, never was interested in another woman again.”
“But did you ever find out what happened to your mother?”
“Think back to your story,” he said. “It’s all very similar.”
I spoke slowly, trying to recall what I had written. “This Elite you were talking about must be in charge of formulating laws for all the shape-shifters, so they told her she wouldn’t be able to go back to her family until she had accomplished nine deeds and grown nine tails.”
“Yes,” Khit said. “If my father were ever to find out her reason for leaving him, or if she were to even accidently come into physical contact with either him or me, she would never be allowed to return to us. And if my mother didn’t obey, the Elite threatened to kill my father.
“But there is one difference from your story. The yaojing leaders punished my mother, not because of her past sins, but because they were angry with her for actually falling in love with a human and exposing their world to my father. My mother broke both rules.”
The Elite had wanted to punish Julia by never allowing her to go back to her husband, but they decided on a punishment they believed to be far worse. It was degrading for any yaojing to bestow any act of kindness on a human, so Julia’s punishment was to accomplish nine good deeds for humans. If she agreed to this and succeeded, she would prove that her love was real and not just a passing phase, and she would be allowed to return to her family. If she did not agree, the yaojing leaders would have to kill her husband.
I tapped my finger on my chin thoughtfully. “So if what I wrote in my story is all true, then you know why your mother left because you can communicate with her psychically.”
Khit pressed his lips together and shook his head. “That’s a bit different from your story too. I can only communicate with her when I’m sleeping. She’ll talk to me occasionally in my dreams to let me know where she is and to make sure that my father still doesn’t know what she’s doing. I’m the one she’s counting on to keep her secret from my dad.
“Also, I think your story said the mother would complete her atonement by the son’s twentieth birthday.”
“Well, I’m turning 28 next January, and my mother has eight tails so far but is nowhere close to achieving her ninth tail.”
I breathed in deeply, trying to process everything Khit had told me. A part of me had always believed that some fairy tales and legends had to be true to some extent. After all, stories always had some level of reality in them, some basis of truth.
However, my head was spinning at the thought that everything Khit said was true, and even more eerie was the fact that I had written his family’s story before I had even met him. I wondered if it was purely coincidence or if it was fate telling me that I should help Khit and his parents.
“Is there any way that we can help your mother attain her ninth tail faster?” I asked. “Maybe she can do a good deed for me.”
Khit smiled in amusement. “If it were really that easy, my mother would have achieved nine tails the first day she left home. No, the eight tasks that she faced so far were laborious and life-threatening. Some even took years to complete.”
It was such a sad story. His mother and father had been separated for so long already, and if there was just one mistake, the curse would never be broken. “How were you able to make sure you and your father never bumped into her accidently?”
“She’s somewhere halfway across the world. Never once has she come back to the U.S. and neither my father nor I have left the country.”
There was still one thing I didn’t quite understand. Khit hadn’t wanted me to write my story because he’d been afraid it would fall into the wrong hands and the curse would never be broken. But what exactly did he mean by that? I asked him to explain himself.
“There must be someone trying to prevent the curse from being broken,” I said. “Who is it?”
“Well, the yaojing are headed by a select few who are more powerful than the rest of the shape-shifters. They were the ones who assigned my mother her mission. But the average population of shape-shifters in the Elite don’t know where my mother is or what she’s doing. There is one shape-shifter in particular, a snake, who has been in love with my mother since both of them were kids. Remember Keane from Shelly’s party?”
Of course I remembered Keane. It was kind of hard to forget the guy who’d drugged my best friend, then tried to drug me. “Is he the snake?” Then I shook my head. “No, that’s not right. He had a fox tattoo. He must be a fox.”
“You’re half right,” Khit said. “He’s half fox, and half snake. His older half brother is the snake that’s in love with my mom.”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s what Keane meant when he said big bro was watching.”
Khit nodded and drew out a weary breath. “That snake has been pestering me for information on my mother for years, but I haven’t told him anything. If he were to find out, he would immediately find my father and expose everything just to make sure the curse remained unbroken. He hates that a human was able to win over my mother’s love when he couldn’t.
“Since the snake spies on me so closely, I was afraid that he might somehow come to this school and discover you and your story. I couldn’t afford to take any chances.”
We sat and stared at the ocean in silence. The ocean breeze picked up, disheveling my hair. I absentmindedly brushed it away from my eyes as I reflected on how I felt.
It was so strange…this connection I felt to Khit now that I knew his story. And yet, this was the same man I had hated just a week ago. I wouldn’t exactly have called him my friend, but I felt that we had bonded in such a short time.
And in a zap that felt like a sharp static shock on a windy day, I was now sure it had entirely been fate that allowed me to write down the same exact story of Khit’s parents. Somehow, I was certain that I was linked to him and his parents—somehow, I was to play a role in their lives. I wondered what exactly he’d seen in his visions about me.
I wanted to ask, but he suddenly looked up at me and grinned. “So now you don’t have to believe I’m a male version of Cruella DeVille anymore.”
It took me a few seconds to understand what he was saying. Then I started laughing, and whatever tension that had been in the atmosphere was gone. “So I’m guessing that the piece of white fur dangling from your jacket was a tail.”
“Then why don’t you have a tail right now?”
“It’s the whole animosity thing between dogs and foxes,” he explained. “Dogs like to hunt foxes. So technically, I wasn’t lying when I said that I’m allergic to dogs.”
It certainly explained why Faun had been so belligerent to Khit that day. “So…your tail only grows when you’re in close proximity to dogs? How inconvenient. What if you accidently walk past someone walking his dog?”
“Actually, the tail grows when my skin comes into contact with a dog. So it’s not as bad as you think…I just make sure to go around a dog if I see one. But if a dog bites me, it’s a whole different story.” He shuddered from the mere idea. “Let’s not think about that right now.” Then he paused again to look at me and said as an afterthought, “You won’t threaten me with your terrier again will you?”
“I might,” I teased. “Just to see that tail grow. It was kind of cute.”
He blinked. “Cute? No man wants to be called cute. Hot, yes. Masculine, definitely.”
I laughed. “Don’t worry. The word cute only applied to your tail, not the rest of you.”
“Somehow, I don’t think that was a compliment,” he sighed. “I guess I’ll never get you to stop hating me for terrorizing you these past few weeks.”
The laughter died from my face as I saw how sorry he looked, and I realized I had never actually said that I’d forgiven him despite his apology to me and everything that had happened since his apology.
“I don’t hate you,” I blurted out quickly. “I understand now why you did what you did. I would have done the same thing for my parents. It shows how much you love them.”
He muttered something then. It sounded like, “At least someone thinks so,” but I wasn’t sure.