It was the last week of summer school, and although I knew Khit’s final was going to be tough, I found myself not worrying about it at all.
What had me more stressed was that Khit was not making it easy for me to apologize to him. He was thoroughly and blatantly ignoring me, treating me as if I were a translucent ghost, made out of ectoplasm.
During the past weeks, we had not exchanged very many words. He left right after class, and when I tried to visit him in his office, all he had said was, “Can’t talk now. Meeting.” And then he would run out of his office even though his office hours were still in progress.
He was definitely not a very good liar.
I was so bothered by it that I didn’t even notice until after I’d taken Khit’s final that summer school was over. And he hadn’t even shown up to the final. One of his professor friends had administered it, claiming Khit was sick.
I knew that was a lie too.
But if Khit wouldn’t let me apologize to him, so be it. I wasn’t going to waste any more of my precious time thinking about it.
Except…I couldn’t help but dwell on it, and even though I didn’t have any more summer classes to worry about, I felt so stressed out that I couldn’t sleep.
Finally, I decided to simply show up in front of his apartment to demand his attention.
I planned to follow through with my plans after dropping Nia and Stacy off at the airport.
Liana and I planned on staying in San Diego for the rest of the summer doing nothing, but Nia and Stacy had both received calls from their parents demanding that they return home for the month of August. Nia was flying back to Boston, and she wasn’t planning on bringing too much luggage. Stacy, on the other hand, was a whole different story. She was flying all the way to Korea, where her parents had moved after she’d graduated from high school.
Her luggage lay streamed out over our entire living room floor. I thought it was a bit much to bring her entire room, even to Korea. After all, she would only be gone for a month. But, I bit my tongue, and followed Liana’s and Nia’s example by helping our apartment mate pack.
Then we loaded everything into Liana’s blue Acura, which was bigger than my tiny Civic, and we were off. As Liana drove into the loading zone, it was obvious that Stacy would need all the help she could get to carry all her luggage to the check-in station.
“I’ll park somewhere and walk over,” Liana told me. She looked to Nia. “As for you girl, I’ll see you in a month.”
I pulled out a trolley and helped Stacy stack up her five suitcases. Nia shook her head appallingly.
“I think you went overboard,” she said, and I agreed.
But Stacy still shook her head. “No I didn’t. I only packed two suitcases with my books, and one with stuffed animals. The other two are clothes.”
Two suitcases of books.
Stacy had security issues. If she didn’t have her textbooks with her, she would start panicking and think she was wasting her time by not studying. But I doubted she would even attempt to study for an hour during the next month. She just needed to have her textbooks beside her as a security blanket of some sort. Same went with her stuffed animals. She had to sleep with all fourteen of them in her room, or she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep the whole night.
As we headed to check-in Stacy’s luggage, Nia took off to her own airline, and we hugged her goodbye. Then Stacy and I headed for Korea Airlines and patiently waited for our turn. Meanwhile, I looked around to see if Liana was coming. There were so many people, I hoped she wouldn’t get lost, but she would probably just call me.
It was then that I noticed a lady standing apart from everyone else near the entrance way. There was only one word to describe her: gorgeous. Like a moon goddess.
Her hair glistened like shiny white pebbles, smoothed over by the clear waters of a babbling brook. It fell in curly rivulets to the midsection of her back. And she only looked to be in her early thirties.
I wasn’t the only one staring at her either. She caught the eye of every traveler in the airport who happened to be walking past her.
But she looked lost, as if she were trying to find someone who had forgotten to pick her up, leaving her stranded in the airport. I saw several passers-by stop to talk to the lady, probably to ask her if she needed some help finding someone. But she shook her head and smiled each time.
And then her head turned, as she locked her gaze upon mine, and the lost look in her face faded, as if I were the person she was looking for.
I quickly looked away, embarrassed to have been caught staring, but also confused as to why the lady appeared to recognize me.
Stacy and I reached the front of the line, and as Stacy talked to the attendant, I started to place the luggage on the conveyer belt, but my phone started to ring.
I searched through my purse and grabbed my cell phone, already knowing it was Liana without reading the caller ID.
“Where are you?”
“I’m walking through the doors right now,” came Liana’s reply. “Oh, I see you.”
The line went dead as I whipped my head around to watch Liana gliding towards me.
“All set?” she asked as she reached us.
Stacy, who had just finished talking to the attendant, turned around and nodded. “Terminal 36A.”
We walked away from the crowd to say our goodbyes for the summer.
“Thanks for helping me,” Stacy said, giving me a hug. “See you in a month.”
Liana gave her a hug too. “Don’t let your parents drive you too crazy.”
We waved as Stacy got onto the escalator, rode up, and disappeared into the crowd.
I turned towards Liana, wondering where she’d parked.
“It’s not far,” she told me.
We started walking to the exit, when my eyes caught upon the gorgeous lady once again. She was still watching me, and I started wondering if perhaps she had me confused with someone else.
“Wait one second,” I said. Liana watched curiously as I ran towards the lady.
I cleared my throat. “Excuse me miss, I was just wondering if you needed help finding a ride home or maybe needed to borrow a cell phone.”
Her bright smile reminded me of someone familiar, but I couldn’t place a finger on exactly who. “I’m fine sweetie. Just waiting for someone. Thanks for asking though.”
I nodded, offering a smile back. At least I had tried to do something, and my conscience wouldn’t bother me. I ran back to catch up with Liana.
“Who is that?” Liana asked. “She looks like a supermodel.”
Shrugging, I replied nonchalantly, “I just thought she needed some help.”
As we walked to the parking lot, I told Liana about my plans to ambush Khit at his condo. I was determined to have him hear me out, to hear me apologize if I had hurt his feelings, and she agreed to drop me off at his apartment on the way home.
“Just call me when you’re done, and I’ll pick you up.”
Khit’s condo lay in a nice, quiet neighborhood a bit away from the area where most college students lived. It was a bit pricey to live in La Jolla Farms, probably due to the fact that the neighborhood was located on a secluded hill that overlooked the entire city of La Jolla as well as the ocean.
I’d only been there that one time I’d been drunk, but it was the type of rich, beautiful place one never could forget.
After somehow sneaking into the gated community—luckily, a resident drove in before me, and I followed before the gate could close while the gatekeeper was too involved reading his newspaper to notice—I marched through the complex to number 24A. After knocking and waiting for several minutes for him to answer, I knocked again, harder. Then I rang the doorbell seven times continuously. It became apparent that he was either not home or not going to let me in, but I was guessing the latter, since I could hear the faint noise of the TV as I placed my ear next to the door.
This time I knocked and yelled at the same time. “Khit, I’m not leaving until you open this door. We need to talk.”
My yells were probably loud enough to annoy the neighbors. I heard a muffled curse right on the other side of the door and knew he’d been glancing through the peephole at me all along. The sound of the lock jingled, and the door swung open. At the same time, I felt a tug on my arm as I was propelled forward through the entrance way, almost knocking the breath out of me.
And then before I could have a chance to gather my thoughts or even look up at Khit’s face, I found myself getting an earful.
“Did it ever occur to you that I had a real reason for ignoring you?” Khit yelled. “Do you know how dangerous it is for you to be here?”
I stared at him blankly for all of two seconds before yelling back. “What are you talking about?”
He was gritting his teeth, trying to collect his composure. Taking several deep breaths, he moved to sit on his couch and pointed to the arm chair next to it. “Sit.”
It made me angry that he was dictating to me like I was a dog, but I bit my tongue. He didn’t need to be provoked further. And something about the ferocity in his eyes was a bit alarming…there was fear there.
He got up and started pacing nervously. “Maybe I took the wrong tactic,” he started muttering to himself. “Maybe I should have just told her…it might have been safer.”
“You can always start telling me now,” I said loudly, trying to make him remember that I was still there.
His head tilted in my direction. “All right, change of plans,” he said, as though he hadn’t heard me. “It will do no good if I keep ignoring you. He already knows that we’re friends, so from now on, you’re not leaving my sight.”
My jaw dropped to the floor as I started to sputter. “W—what? OK, tell me what the heck is going on. I’m totally lost.”
“I’m talking about Scyther, the snake. Somehow he’s found out about my parents.”
“What?” I cried, jumping out of my seat. “How did he find out?”
“I have no idea, but it’s not important. The main issue is his threat—he said if I tried to stop him from interfering with my parents’ situation, he would tell the Elite that we have a relationship and that you know about the yaojing. And as you know, the yaojing leaders don’t leave humans who know about them alive.
“Scyther said some of the leaders already spy on me occasionally, so I thought that maybe if I kept my distance, the spies would think he was lying and leave you alone.”
So that was the reason he’d been ignoring me? “But you can’t let him expose your mother’s mission no matter what. As for me, I can take care of myself.”
But even as I said this, I couldn’t help but feel the ripples of fear crawling down my spine. I wondered how the yaojing leaders killed their victims. Was it a painful death?
“I won’t let them get to you!” he exclaimed, and I realized that I had spoken my fears aloud. “I should never have told you anything about the yaojing. I’m sorry…it’s just that you were the last hope in my visions.”
Confused, I asked him to explain what he meant.
“I guess I should have told you earlier,” he sighed. “But I didn’t want you to be scared of me. In my visions of you, I not only saw that you would know about the yaojing, but I saw that you would be the key to helping my mother achieve her final task. That doesn’t necessarily mean you are her ninth task, just that without your help, my parents will never get back together.”
I had been right! That feeling I had about Fate setting me up to help Khit’s family had been real.
Khit started to pace the room again, very agitated, it looked, at himself.
“I spied on you at school for two years, trying to find out what kind of girl you were, and I liked what I saw. A sense of protectiveness came over me, and I didn’t want you to get involved with the yaojing, didn’t want to see you get hurt. But at the same time, I knew you were the last chance for my parents.
“When I read your story, I knew it was inevitable that you would find out about us, but I still tried to stop it for selfish reasons. That was the real reason I tried to stop you from writing your story. Because if the yaojing read that story, they would think you knew about them. Because I couldn’t bear to see the yaojing come after you. Because I didn’t want to be the cause of any hardships in your life.”
Now he stopped pacing and stared directly into my eyes.
“Because I’d gone and fallen in love with you from afar. And I’d far rather see my mother fail at her task than see you get hurt.”
I said nothing, having realized most of the truth before he had said it.
Khit brushed his hand through his hair wearily and walked to the couch, where he plopped down, looking defeated.
“No,” I finally said.
He glanced up at me questioningly.
I didn’t care how much the yaojing threatened us. Nobody should get in the way of true love, and I was determined that no matter what, I would make sure Khit’s parents had their chance at happiness.
Trying to sound as resolute as possible, I said, “I will not allow you to ruin all these hard years your mother has gone through just because you want to protect me. I’m not some stupid damsel in distress, waiting idly in some high tower. Tell me everything about the yaojing, any weaknesses they have, how to fight against them if they come for me.”
He stared at me for all of two seconds before shouting, “Are you crazy?”
Apparently, he thought so. He started ranting about how I was out of my mind if I thought he was going to let me fight the yaojing when I probably hadn’t even taken one martial arts class in my life.
How I wished that wasn’t true. I should have listened to my parents when they told me to take self-defense in middle school.
“Khit,” I tried to interrupt, but he was still going on and on about how I was a raving lunatic. So I tried again, this time using the full potential of my vocal chords.
He stopped talking.
“I just wanted to tell you that I know you’ll protect me from them, but I just wanted to learn their weaknesses in case you aren’t there. For example—”
“I won’t let you out of my sight,” he cut me off again. “I’ll move next door to your apartment.”
“Will you let me finish?” I exclaimed exasperatedly. “You can’t move next door anyway. There aren’t any vacancies. But as I was saying, before you rudely interrupted me, I want to learn their weaknesses. Like, the snake, you said, is blind. So I would use that to my advantage. What about the other yaojing animals?”
“Yes, the snake is blind, but he doesn’t need eyes to see you. He uses his scent.” Khit shook his head angrily. “There is no way that I’m going to let you even see a yaojing again.”
I inwardly sighed, realizing I wasn’t getting any answers from Khit when he was this flustered. Maybe later, I’d try again.
But there was one thing that terrified me, and I had to know. “Khit, do you think Scyther found out about your parents because he was spying on me? Maybe he disguised himself as one of my friends.”
To my relief, Khit replied with a shake of his head. “Scyther can only become a guy, not a girl, so that rules out your roommates. Can’t be Darryl either, since he doesn’t have any green on him.”
Once again, he ran his hand through his hair, a puzzled expression on his face. “But I just don’t understand how he could have found out everything unless he heard me talking to you. Tell me…are you sure nobody else was in your apartment the night we had dinner together?”
“I’m sure nobody was there,” I replied. “Unless Scyther could turn into Faun.”
“Then did anyone besides you or your apartment mates enter your apartment?”
It took me a minute to think about, but it was very rare that we had company. The only one who had come to visit had been Khit. There had been that electrician…
My eyes lit up. The electrician! “A few weeks ago, some electrician came in to check out our AC. Do you think he was Scyther and bugged my apartment?”
“What did he look like? Notice any green hair, clothes, eyes?”
“He left before I could see him,” I said. “But Nia saw him briefly. Let me call her. I might be able to catch her before she boards the plane.”
Nia answered on the third ring. “Caren? What’s wrong? I’m just about to board, so I have to turn off my phone soon.”
“Quick random question, and I’ll explain later. Remember the electrician that came to check our AC? What did he look like? Was he dressed in green, or did he have green eyes?”
Silence met me from the other end. Then, “Have you lost it? I don’t remember if he had green eyes.”
“Please Nia,” I begged. “This is important. Try to remember if he had any green on him…hair, clothes, tattooed skin…”
Her exasperated sigh caused a bit of static on the line. “I don’t think so…wait…I do remember that his nails were painted neon green, and I wondered if he was gay.”
It was Scyther! “Thanks Nia, I’ll talk to you later.”
“Green fingernails,” I conclusively stated to Khit. “He bugged our apartment.”
Khit swore, long and hard. “Is anyone there now?”
I shook my head. Liana had gone grocery shopping while she waited for my call to come pick me up.
“Then we’re going there right now.” Khit pulled my arm and dragged me out the door. “We need to un-bug every square inch of your apartment.”
When we were finally zooming down the road, Khit told me more about the damage Scyther had caused. He hadn’t told the yaojing leaders that I knew about them yet, but if Khit revealed Scyther’s plans to his mother in his dreams, I could be sure that the Elite would come for me.
“I’ve already tried to close off those thoughts in my dreams,” Khit said. “It’s not easy, but it’s possible. But my mother has still been able to talk to me, and she’s warned me that she’s in San Diego to be closer to you so that she can finish her last task. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with Scyther’s plotting.”
His hands curled into fists against the steering wheel, making me a bit nervous that his mind was not at all concentrating on the road. But I could understand why he was stressed. If his mother was in San Diego, the probability that they might accidently bump into each other was more likely. And because Khit and I were friends, and his mother needed me to accomplish her last task, it even further increased the chance that they might come face to face.
How horrible it must have been to poor Mrs. Inari to have lived so many years without seeing her husband and son. She’d been robbed of the chance to see her son grow up, and her family had been stripped bare of the opportunity to experience her love.
I suddenly found myself wondering if Khit looked like her. His mother must be beautiful, if she had been a seductress before meeting Khit’s father. Khit had that riveting quality that caused all eyes to draw towards him when he was in a room. His facial features were dark and bold, his eyes mesmerizing. They held the quality of a true leader.
And his smiles, although rare to see, were more blinding than the sun shining on the golden sands of the beach on a glorious June morning. Thinking back to the gorgeous lady in the airport, now I knew who she reminded me of…Khit, of course!
The realization stung me like an angry wasp. “I saw your mother at the airport!”
Khit took a sideways glance at me. “Really?”
He spoke as though he weren’t surprised. “That means we’ll have to be very careful to time our encounters with you just right. It would be terrible if I was in your apartment, and my mother came to speak with you at the same time.”
But if Khit’s mother knew who I was, why hadn’t she said anything to me at the airport?
“When will she come talk to me?”
Khit grunted his response. “Soon.”
Then he explained to me that his mother had been in Vienna to talk to the yaojing leaders, but because they wanted this final task to be the hardest out of the nine, they had all disagreed on what they should make Mrs. Inari do. Finally, they told her that they needed more time to decide, so she’d come here because she was curious about me.
“When the leaders decide her final task, she’ll contact you and figure out how you come into play.”
We were outside my apartment complex now. Khit abruptly parallel parked his car, and without waiting for me to even shut the door behind me, he flew up the stairs, leaving me to trail in his wake. By the time I reached my door, I was huffing from the sprint. Khit might have said that he wasn’t as fast as full-blooded foxes, but to me, he might as well have been a cheetah.
I rummaged through my purse for my keys, and all the while, Khit crossed his arms, scowling at me impatiently.
“If you weren’t making me so nervous with all that glowering, it would make it a lot easier to find my keys,” I snapped at him.
The lines between his brow eased a bit, but not much. Finally, my hand felt the jagged piece of metal underneath all the piles of junk I had stashed in my purse. Making a mental note to clean it out soon, I stuck the key into the lock.
Khit barged through the door before I even had the chance to open it fully. He crawled under our coffee table and after a few seconds, yanked on something. It looked like he was trying to smash a cockroach, but he waved his arm from under the table triumphantly. He crawled out and showed me a tiny microchip, the size of half my fingernail.
Then he crushed it between two fingers, and silvery-black powder was all that was left of it.
“There could be more,” Khit said. He went on to inspect the sofas, the TV, and the kitchen. When he was satisfied that there were no more hidden microphones, he came over to me once again, and suddenly, I found myself being tightly embraced in his warm arms. He held me so tightly that I couldn’t breathe.
“Promise me that you’ll be careful,” he said. “If I could have my way, I’d make you move into my place so I could watch you every second, but I know you. You’re too stubborn to let me have my way.
“So just make sure you don’t stay out too late, don’t go anywhere by yourself, don’t—”
“Khit,” I interrupted, before he let his list of requirements run wild. “I’ll be careful. Besides, the leaders still don’t know that I know about them. There’s nothing to worry about for now.”
“But Scyther might try to get to you.” He groaned, hugging me tighter, if that were possible. “I can’t stand this, Caren. Every night from now on, be expecting me to call you. If you don’t answer, I will personally come to your front doorstep just to make sure you’re home safe.”