Halfling Chapter Eighteen: Hulijing

He followed through with that promise.  Every night.

Only contrary to what he said about only coming to my apartment if I didn’t pick up the phone, he ended up coming over anyway.  In fact, most nights, he would call me just to tell me he was driving over, and other nights, he would just show up.  It was a little annoying, but in a way, it was also endearing.  It felt comforting to know that he cared so much about me, and I felt safe.

At the same time, I also felt guilty.  He had confessed that he’d fallen in love with me even before I had met him, and through his protective actions, I knew he wasn’t lying.  But how could he give so much to me when I couldn’t give anything back to him?

If only he had been the man in my dream instead of Darryl, if only he could be my soul mate.  I was scared because I was starting to really like Khit, and I found myself thinking of him almost every minute, whereas Darryl was completely in the back of my mind.

I had always been a believer in signs, dreams, and Fate, but after everything that had happened with Khit, I was an even bigger believer, with all shreds of doubt in the supernatural completely erased.

Which was why I couldn’t possibly get together with Khit.

My dream had clearly told me that I was predestined to be with Darryl, so if I gave in to my impulse to be Khit’s girlfriend now, I’d only end up hurting him in the end when Fate forced me to fall in love with Darryl.       

I couldn’t hurt him anymore than I already had. 

But even though I had told him all of my thoughts, he refused to give up on me.  He also gave me an amused smile when I talked about Fate forcing two people together even if not by free will.  It felt like he was laughing at some inside joke that only he understood, and when I asked him what was funny, he just told me that someday soon I would understand.

About two weeks of Khit’s routine visits passed, and life was a bit slow, even boring.  But I liked it in comparison to normal school days when I was studying so hard that I barely even had time to get a glass of water.  Most days, Liana and I would just sit in the living room, vegetating in front of the TV, or rather, I would sit next to Liana and read a book, while she vegetated in front of the TV. 

Sometimes we’d go out for lunch, see a movie, or shop at the mall, but we always made sure to be home before 5:30 on the dot, when Khit would show up faithfully.  And as Liana didn’t mind the added company, Khit stayed for dinner.

It was a nice routine schedule, and I fell into it as if it had been that way for years. 

And then I received a phone call that would disrupt this neat and tidy schedule that had grown so comfortable.

It was early on a Tuesday morning, and Liana decided to spend her day at the mall.  I had just started a good book and didn’t feel like going, so she promised to be back by four and took off on her own. 

I resumed my reading and was just about at the end of chapter five when my cell started to ring.

The caller ID showed an incoming call from Darryl.  I hadn’t talked to him for so long that I had to eye my phone for a full three seconds before fully believing it wasn’t just my imagination.  Unlike before, my heart wasn’t racing as I answered.

“Caren, hey,” his familiar voice boomed on the other end.  “I was wondering if you’re free tonight.” 

Instead of replying right away, I asked him why.

“Oh, well I was thinking we never did have that dinner and a movie hangout, so I wanted to fulfill the offer.  What do you think?”

What did I think?  I supposed it was a good thing and I should accept his invitation.  After all, it had been what I wanted all along during the earlier part of summer.  It was also a good way to get to know my soul mate better.  A real date…I should be ecstatic after 21 years of waiting.

“Caren?”  He was still waiting for my reply.

“All right,” I said.  “What time?”

“5:30, I guess.”  He told me the directions to his apartment and promised to cook me a great meal.

It was only after I hung up the phone when it occurred to me that 5:30 was when Khit usually came to check up on me.  Well, I would call him later to tell him, and man, was I not at all excited to make that call.  I didn’t even want to tell Liana about this date.  She would probably give me a guilt trip about being a two-timer again.

I decided I didn’t want to think about it just now, but the whole mess had made me lose interest in my book, in which the main character was involved in a love triangle.  So instead, I put on gym clothes and went jogging.  Exercise always managed to clear my head.

All I needed were my keys and my cell phone, and I was off to jog for at least a full hour. 

Next to my apartment was a preschool with the cutest little playground I’d ever seen.  The swings were in the shapes of critters, and there were even little frogs on springs children could ride that bobbed up and down. 

I wasn’t intending to stop there, but as I passed by, I saw a familiar face.  And it was one I’d hoped never to see again.  Scyther, the snake, was riding one of the frogs, staring up at me as though he’d been waiting for my appearance for some time now.  

I wasn’t scared though.  With all the parents, teachers, and the children as witnesses, Scyther couldn’t do anything to attract attention.  I stopped in front of him and glared at the creep who had been harassing Khit’s family.

“Have you been spying on me?” I demanded to know.

“Trying to at least,” he smirked.  “Haven’t been lucky enough to actually meet you since Mr. Fluffy Fox always chases me off.” 

He looked at his watch.  “Ten o’clock.  He usually comes around this time, but I guess my luck has changed as it seems you’ve come out before him.”

I hadn’t known that Khit came here daily to chase Scyther away.  I’d probably still been asleep, foolishly unaware of the danger lurking outside my door. 

Refusing to show any fear, I stood my ground.  “Look, Scyther, just leave Khit and his parents alone.  I don’t care how much you threaten me, but…”

He interrupted with a great laugh.  “You, little one, shouldn’t worry so much about what I do.”  He stood up and walked closer to me, causing me to back up uncertainly. 

But he only bumped into my side, and with a toss of his hand, waved a farewell.  “Holler a hello to young Khit.”

After that encounter, I only ran for five minutes before deciding that it might be safer to return home.  I couldn’t stop the fear trembling through my body, and running was not going to solve anything. 

How oblivious could I be?  I could have a hundred stalkers and not even notice one of them.  First Khit had spied on me for several years, and now, Scyther had been right outside my door for the past several weeks. 

What if the Elite already knew about me and had sent spies to check on me?  Paranoia coursed through my body as I broke out in cold sweat.

I broke out into a sprint, trying to get home as quickly as possible, where at least I could have a little safety of a locked door.  Daring not to look at my surroundings, for fear that I might spy a yaojing hiding in a tree, I focused on my feet pounding against the pavement.

As I climbed the stairs to the second floor of my apartment, I pulled out my keys from my pocket and finally dared to look in front of me…and screamed as I bumped into a tall lady. 

We both tumbled to the ground in a heap.  Barely managing to stutter out an apology, I collected myself and offered a hand to help the lady up.

She looked up, and her beautiful face was immediately recognizable.  It was the lady from the airport, Khit’s mother.

“It’s quite all right, dear one,” she told me, taking my hand to get back on her feet.  Then she took one look at my pale, panicked face, and exclaimed, “Whatever is wrong?  You look like a ghost was chasing you.”

I was about to tell her that it was her old friend, Scyther, who had spooked me, but as I saw her kind, smiling eyes and her concerned expression, I bit my tongue.  This poor lady had enough to worry about, and I didn’t need to add to her stress just yet.  Later, I’d warn her that Scyther was up to no good.

“Nothing’s wrong,” I lied.  “Are you all right?  Once again, I’m so sorry.”

“Quite all right.  But that was certainly a memorable first greeting, Caren.”  Her smile broadened.  “I know we haven’t been properly introduced yet, but my son has told me that as of now, you know everything, so I assume you know who I am and why I’ve come.”

I nodded, then looked behind both shoulders.  “Come in, and we’ll talk.  These days, I don’t know who might be spying.”

“Very wise,” she agreed. 

She followed me through the doorway, and I instructed her to make herself at home.  “Would you like water?”

“No thank you dear.”  She patted the seat next to her.  “Just sit down and don’t worry yourself about me.”

Obeying her instructions, I sat beside her and waited for her to tell me how I was to help her accomplish her final task.

“Khit has told you everything, correct?”

Although she said it as a statement, I nodded anyway.  “He said that I’m to play a role in your last task.”

“Yes.  But my question to you is this—are you willing to help me?  I don’t want to force you into anything.”

The question startled me.  From the beginning, my heart had always felt as if I’d been called to help.  It had never even occurred to me that I had the choice to help.  It was destiny for me to be of service, and I would never turn down my destiny.  I had felt the connection to Khit from the start, and I was sure that even if I tried to run away, somehow I would still be pulled back to this very place.

“Mrs. Inari, I’ve heard your love story, and no story has ever touched my soul so deeply.  I’ll do anything to help you reclaim your family and your happiness.”  This I said as a vow, and I meant it with all of my heart.  Khit and his mother deserved to be happy after so many years of brokenness, and I meant to see through with their happiness. 

I saw that my words pleased her.  Based on her smile alone, I could see why so many males had fallen at her feet.  “Please call me Julia.  Well, you darling girl, I believe my son is absolutely correct when he says you are a girl of admirable character.”  She winked at me.  “Also said you were the prettiest girl he’d ever seen.  And now I believe it.”

I blinked in disbelief.  Khit had said I was pretty?  Was he blind?  Maybe snakes were not the only yaojing to have terrible vision.

Julia sighed in contentment.  “My son will be blessed to have you as his future mate.”

All right, I did not want to go there.  It was time to change the subject.  “Julia, do you know your final task yet?  How am I supposed to help you?”

She shook her head sadly.  “The yaojing leaders still have not decided.  As to your role, I am still unsure.  My visions only show your face every time I try to predict what my ninth task might be.

“But my reason for visiting you today was simply to get to know you better.  I knew you’d be at the airport the other day, so curiosity made me wait there just to see you, but we didn’t get the chance to talk since you still hadn’t known who I was.  But now that we’ve finally met formally, I’m very happy.  I know we’ll get along just fine.”

Then her gaze turned just a little sheepish.  “I’ve talked to my son a lot in his dreams, so even though we haven’t seen each other for over 25 years, I technically do know almost everything about him. 

“But all the same, would you mind telling me about him?  I would love to hear how you met, from your perspective.  And it’s all right if you thought he was a jerk.  I would have thought so too if he had insulted my writing.”

The hopeful glance she gave me told me a lot about her.  How she wanted to hang onto all the little details of her son’s life, how she would never tire of hearing or talking about him, how she had missed the opportunity to hear him telling his life stories in person, facial expressions and all.  It probably just wasn’t the same, simply listening to these stories through thoughts alone.  It was probably like chatting online, which was at best, a flimsy alternative to talking to a person in the flesh.

So I told Julia all the little details, watching the horror at how mean her son had been to me that first day at the library, her winces as I described Khit’s encounter with the gangster at the mall, her delight as I told her about our dinner together, watching the cheesy chick flick on Lifetime. 

Of course, I skipped a few minor details, such as when Khit kissed me and when he confessed that he liked me.  I wondered if she already knew, or if Khit had hidden those thoughts from her. 

If she did know, she didn’t say anything about it.  Instead, she told me that she would have to lecture Khit in his dreams about the mean things he’d said to me.

“No son of mine is going to get away with treating an innocent girl in that manner!” she exclaimed indignantly. 

“It’s really all right,” I insisted.  “We got it straightened out in the end.”

“Even so…he could have taken a different tactic to make sure you didn’t finish your story.  Insulting your writing is unheard of!”

“He did compliment me later.”  Of course, he had also said my writing was juvenile right after that compliment, but a compliment was a compliment in any form, especially coming from Khit. 

“I’ll let it go for now then,” Julia said.  “But if he ever hurts or scares you again, just tell me.”

Then she grinned.  “So tell me more about the stories you write.  When did you start writing them?”

I told Julia about my love of literature and writing and how I’d always imagined up stories since the age of two, when I first learned to read.  And of course, once I started talking about my passion, I could never stop talking.  The hours passed, with the two of us chatting non-stop about almost everything.  The only time I stopped was when my stomach growled, begging for some lunch.  I prepared sandwiches and iced tea for both of us, and we continued to talk.

Before I knew it, morning had passed, and it was mid-afternoon.

Julia looked at her watch.  “Oh my dear, I have to go back to the hotel and get ready for my dinner party.” 

“Oh, you have a party tonight?”

“At The Grill House.  A bunch of my old yaojing friends whom I haven’t seen for ages will be there.  It’s a reunion that my friend, Scyther organized.”

That sounded very suspicious.  Julia had to be aware that Scyther did not want her to succeed at her ninth task. 

“Are you sure that’s safe?” I asked her.

“Oh, I know what you’re thinking,” she sighed.  “Khit’s informed me that Scyther knows about my nine task deal with the leaders, and yes, he’ll probably do anything to separate me from my Ben.  But whatever he’s plotting, he won’t do it tonight.  The entire yaojing world will be assembled tonight, and Scyther won’t go against the Elite by exposing me to the rest of the yaojing who don’t know what I’m doing.”

I wondered why Julia still wanted to see her fellow yaojing when they had been the ones to take her away from her husband in the first place.

“Because,” Julia answered, telling me I had spoken out loud, “Contrary to what Khit might have told you, there are a few yaojing who still somewhat have hearts. 

“I call them the ‘conflicted yaojing’ because they know that what they do is wrong, and yet, they still do it because they don’t wish to provoke the wrath of the leaders.  But these yaojing are still my friends.”  

Well, there was obviously no chance I could convince Julia not to go.  She had her heart set on it, and she had probably already thought through the possible dangers. 

But I made a mental note to myself to call Khit and warn him not to go anywhere near The Grill House tonight.  I supposed the chances of that happening were not likely, since Khit always came to my place for dinner.

Wait…no he wasn’t!  I had a dinner date too.  With Darryl.  And I needed to get ready.  It was already three, and I hadn’t even showered. 

“All right then,” I said to Julia.  “I will let you go off to get ready for your reunion dinner.  Just be careful tonight.”

I checked out the peephole of my door just to make sure Khit had not decided to check on me early.  “Coast is clear.  No Khit in sight.”

Julia stepped out, then turned back to say goodbye.  “We’ll see each other again soon.  Thank you for this lovely visit.”

I waved back and watched her disappear down the hall.

It was finally time to prepare myself for my date.

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