Khit staggered over to us, clutching his right shoulder.
Julia reached into her pocket to pull out a small vial. “There’s still some antidote left. Hurry and drink it before you can’t move like Caren.”
We watched as Khit chugged down the antidote.
“Is your cut deep?” Julia asked. She inspected it closely. “Not as bad as I thought. It’s a good thing I always take the antidote along with me. I’ve learned never to trust those snakes.”
“Now’s not the time to talk,” Khit said.
So much had happened that I had almost forgotten that Khit’s father might show up any second, and my ears zoned in on the sound of distant sirens getting closer by the second. We would have a hard time explaining this mess to the police. We had to get out of here fast.
“Mom, you go out the back exit, and I’ll call you after I get Caren to the hospital.”
“Are you sure you’ll be all right?” Julia glanced apprehensively at her son’s cut. “Don’t let anyone see your blood stain.”
Khit nodded. “I’ve got an extra shirt in my car.”
We sped out of that street just in time. Through the side mirror of Khit’s car, I could see the cops park right in the front of the restaurant, and I wondered what they would make of the mess and the dead serpent.
“Don’t worry about it,” Khit said, reading my mind. “Most likely they’ll trace it to some kind of cult.”
“Do you think Eden will try to get revenge?” I asked. “We just killed her son.”
“No, she hated Scyther the most out of all her children. She’ll likely thank us. Snakes are callous in that way.”
“What about Keane?”
“Nah. He’s too self-centered. All he ever thinks about is how to score with another girl.”
My eyes flickered to his shoulder. “How’s your bite? We should make sure the doctor examines you too.”
“I’m fine,” he bit out. “I got the antidote quicker than you did, and I heal quickly, remember?”
His brusque tone caused me to glance at his face. In no way did he look happy. He looked ready to explode.
I kept silent, knowing very well the reason for his anger. I would have been furious too if I had been forced to choose between my mother and him.
Not a word was exchanged between us all the way to the hospital.
It was only when he had carried me into the emergency ward and we had been taken to a room to await a doctor when I finally could no longer bear the silence.
“I’m sorry!” I burst out. “I should have planned everything out before trying to save the day and muddling everything up instead. If I knew that my actions would force you to choose between your mother’s happiness or my life, I would never—”
“You think I’m angry about that?” Khit snorted in disbelief. “Not surprising actually. You’ve never been able to read me accurately.”
What was that supposed to mean? I stared him down haughtily. “Don’t tell me you’re not angry. You’ve been giving me the silent treatment all this time.”
“You’re right about my anger,” he agreed. “I’m so furious with you that I could kill Scyther all over again. How could you have put yourself in so much danger just in one night? Look at what happened! First, the yaojing leaders could have sentenced you to death. Then, you almost get killed again by that idiot snake. And now, you’re sitting in the hospital, half paralyzed by snake poison!”
“I can move my leg now,” I protested. “Your mother’s antidote worked.”
He ignored me. “And what were you thinking by trying to fight back when Scyther had a knife to your back?”
“I didn’t fight back. I just tried to throw pepper at him to skew his senses.”
“And if the pepper hadn’t so luckily landed near his nose, you’d be dead right now!”
“Well, I had to do something! I couldn’t just have Scyther ruin your parents’ life and happiness.”
“Better them than you!”
My eyes widened at the implications of that outburst. “You mean, you would really choose me over your parents?”
He glared at me. “I thought that was already obvious.”
It was true that when Scyther had given Khit the option of saving my life for the sacrifice of ruining his parents’ chances to get back together, Khit had chosen me. But I’d thought then that maybe he was trying to think of a plan to save all of us.
After all, he hadn’t come into the restaurant to save me until after Eden had given permission for Julia to see him. If Eden hadn’t changed the rules, he never would have come in, and I’d probably be dead now. He had chosen his parents over me in that case.
Not that I was being ungrateful or anything.
“I would have come to save you, even if it meant ruining my parents’ chances to get back together,” he said. “I hesitated at first because I wanted to make sure I had no other option.”
I glanced up sharply at him, wondering if he had added mind-reading to his abilities.
“No, I can’t read your mind,” he said. “But I can read your face and your emotions, even though you can’t interpret me very well.”
He sighed. “I only waited so long before going into the restaurant because I thought you might be successful in warning my mother. Then I wouldn’t have to give up my parents’ chance at happiness. But I was looking at my watch the entire time. If you weren’t out of there in half an hour, I’d already decided to storm in, but those two stupid cat yaojing came out to meet me first.”
“Did you really have to beat them up that hard?”
“Sure I did. As soon as they told me Eden had given me permission to see my mother, they tried to take me in like a prisoner. Couldn’t let that happen.”
“So you had to make a grand entrance.”
“All I knew was that I had to make sure you were safe.” His deep, powerful eyes focused entirely on me. “Never let me worry like that again.”
I wasn’t sure I could make a promise like that, but I nodded anyway, hoping to appease him.
Then he suddenly glanced away. “And also…” He hesitated, as if trying to force himself to say something he didn’t really want to say.
“What?” I encouraged.
“I—I know you don’t love me the way I love you, so I just wanted you to know that you don’t have to marry me, no matter what the yaojing leaders say. But I’ll still protect you no matter what. If they try to force the marriage, we’ll have a pretend wedding, or even—”
“Khit,” I interrupted. All I wanted to do at that moment was take away the uncertainty and misery that was reflected in his eyes as he stood there, thinking I didn’t love him, yet still offering his entire being to keep me from harm.
It was time for me to tell him what was on my heart, everything that I had realized and told myself back at the restaurant.
“I have a confession. I—”
A knock on the door interrupted, pulling me out of my romantic daze. The doctor was finally here. Crossly, I wondered why he hadn’t come sooner, before I had been about to reveal my entire heart. After all, wasn’t this the emergency ward?
If I hadn’t taken that antidote, I would be dead from the poison by now.
Khit slipped out the door.
“Why don’t you change into the examination gown?” the doctor said, pointing to the forgotten gown next to me. I had been so involved in my conversation with Khit that I had almost forgotten we were at the hospital.
The doctor turned around to write some notes, and I slipped into the gown. Then he asked me a few questions before tending to my wounds and evaluating my condition.
After some time had passed, the doctor lifted his head. “This is very strange. I’ve never heard of a snake bite that resulted in only an hour of paralysis only to heal by itself. Are you sure it was a snake?”
I nodded. I had described my symptoms to the doctor, but because I could now fully use my legs and didn’t have any other symptoms of a snake bite, I knew the doctor thought I’d exaggerated my condition.
“Then either the snake was a harmless one, or you’ve just experienced a miracle,” he told me. But I knew it was all thanks to Julia’s antidote. Leave it to yaojing medicine to cure yaojing venom.
“As for your ankle,” he continued. “Keep off of it for several days and apply lots of ice. It’s just a little bit twisted.” He shook his head incredulously. “A snake bite in the thigh and a twisted ankle. How in the world did you get two such unrelated wounds?”
“I live near a canyon,” I lied. “When it bit me, I fell down the stairs.” Better to keep my lie simple. And why should I tell the doctor more than that? After all, his job was to treat me, not to be nosy.
“Well, I don’t see any reason for you to stay overnight,” he said. “But you’ll have to stay for at least another hour, so we can monitor you just to make sure there are no further complications from the bite. I’ll let your husband come back in and then get a nurse to send you some crutches.”
How funny. We hadn’t even dated, and already people thought we were married. In one summer, I had gone from being a confirmed spinster to a happy bride, skipping all the steps in between.
I should have corrected the doctor. I really should have. But I didn’t want to. Mrs. Inari. Caren Inari. The name had a distinguished ring to it. I liked it.
As the doctor opened the door, we both heard loud voices in the hallway. I peeped out the door to see Khit arguing with an older man.
The doctor gasped and shut the door with a bang. I blinked at him, questioning his sanity. That had not been very professional at all.
In hushed, excited tones, he whispered, “Th—that man is Dr. Benjamin Inari. He’s a world-renowned surgeon!”
“Oh,” I said, more to myself than to him. “That’s Khit’s father.”
The doctor gasped once again and clutched his heart like a teen girl at a concert, and I considered calling in a nurse before he started hyperventilating and fell into an unconscious heap.
“Your husband is Christian Inari? I’ve heard of him too. He’s a genius, and the medical community mourned when he decided to become an English professor instead of a medical doctor.”
“That’s…too bad?” I hardly knew what to say. I had no idea Khit and his father were so well-known in the medical world.
“I must introduce myself,” the doctor said. He slipped out the door, leaving me forgotten and abandoned.
Thirty minutes passed, and I seriously began to believe that nobody would ever come back to get me. I started contemplating different ways I could get home by myself. Maybe I could limp out of the hospital on one foot and call Liana.
No, that wouldn’t work. I didn’t have my phone because that stupid snake had stolen it.
Well, maybe I could ask a nurse at the front desk if I could borrow their phone.
But judging from the choir of voices outside my door, I could accurately say that all the nurses were gathered around Dr. Inari and Khit, trying to get introductions.
Sighing heavily, I decided to hobble over to the door anyway. Maybe once I presented myself as still being alive, the nurses would realize that they still were on duty.
The door opened, right when I was about halfway to it.
Khit came in and quickly shut the door behind him. He looked relieved to be out of the spotlight, until he saw me. Then his face filled with disapproval.
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to tell a nurse that I still need crutches,” I said as innocently as I could.
He scooped me up and placed me back on the exam table. “I’ll tell someone.”
He briefly walked out of the room, and in less than a minute came back. “They were all very happy to comply.”
“I didn’t know you were a rock star,” I teased lamely. “All those pretty nurses are acting worse than fan girls.”
“Were they? I didn’t notice.”
“Liar,” I scoffed. “You were probably flirting with them outside. That’s why you took so long and forgot about me.”
I said it as a joke but was surprised at the jealously that welled up inside of me. Khit was handsome and superbly intelligent, so he could have any girl he wanted. Next to him, I was nothing, not at all the type of girl who would complement him—smart and beautiful beyond reason.
“I wasn’t flirting,” he said. “I fled as soon as I saw the nurses coming. The only reason I took so long was because I was arguing with my dad.”
“How did your father know we were here?” I asked.
“He called me, accusing the yaojing for scaring away his private investigator.”
Khit explained that when his father had gotten to the restaurant, the police had been there, barring the entrance. Dr. Inari had asked about what had happened, and the police had told him it looked like some kind of gang fight, but the only casualty was a snake. What was odd was that the snake seemed to be a rare venomous viper, definitely not found in the US, so investigators would try to identify the species, and maybe its origin and seller could be clues to help them find the gang members.
As soon as Dr. Inari had heard it, he knew the yaojing must have been involved, so he called Khit. Over the phone, Dr. Inari had accused the yaojing of intentionally starting a fight to scare off his PI because they didn’t want him to get information about Julia. He’d tried calling the investigator, but the man wasn’t answering any of his phone calls.
“So I told him again that his PI had been a yaojing with bad intentions and I’d been the one to scare him off,” Khit said. “We started arguing, and I told him that I didn’t have time to talk because I was at the hospital. The next thing I knew, he had come in person to continue our argument.
“He said he didn’t care who the PI was—it could have been a legitimate guy or a gang member, but it was his decision to take that chance, and I had no business interfering. Then we got into our old argument, where he blamed me for always getting in the way whenever he was so close to finding my mom. And that’s when I was informed that I had a wife.”
I blinked at the random insertion of that last sentence. “What?”
Khit eyed me meaningfully. “The doctor came out of your room, started talking to us, and told me that my wife was doing fine. Then he went to notify the entire staff of our presence so they could introduce themselves to us, and my father exploded, thinking we’d eloped. Even after I tried explaining myself, he wouldn’t believe me, so we argued until the hoard of doctors and nurses interrupted us again.”
He crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. “As much as I would love for you to be my wife, as far as I know, it still hasn’t happened, unless this is some kind of distorted reality. So would you mind telling me why you didn’t correct the doctor?”
I looked away from him abashedly, thinking of how I should respond. Maybe now was the time to tell Khit that I loved him back, that the reason I hadn’t corrected the doctor was that I’d enjoyed hearing myself being referred to as Khit’s wife.
“Khit, I have something to tell you.” I cleared my throat. “I’ve had the chance to think things through, and I’ve realized something. I lo—”
A knock on the door interrupted me again. The nurse didn’t even wait a second after knocking before bursting into the room. I wanted to tell her to get out. Her eyes were all hearts and stars as she lovingly gazed at Khit while ignoring me, and that only made me want to kick her in the shin.
Khit also looked disappointed that the nurse had interrupted us. “Tell me later,” he whispered.
The nurse fairly glared at me in pure hatred as she saw Khit whispering in my ear.
“I’ll go get some coffee for both of us,” Khit said. “Nurse, I leave her in your hands.”
“I’ll be sure to treat the sweet darling very well,” she replied, but although she had called me ‘sweet darling,’ her phony smile in my direction reflected that inside her head, she was calling me all sorts of rude epithets.
It only took her thirty seconds to pronounce that there were my crutches, which I should know how to use from watching other people, and the doctor had given me a prescription for pain killers for my twisted ankle and antibiotics for my bite.
“Have you had a tetanus shot recently, as in the last five years?” she asked in a voice that told me she was reciting proper procedure.
“Yes,” I was very happy to reply. Two years ago, I’d accidently stepped on a rusty nail, and although it had hurt like hell back then, now I was actually happy I’d been so careless. It was better than receiving a shot from Miss Bitter That She Wasn’t Mrs. Khit Inari, who was likely to make sure the shot hurt a lot.
“Then wait here for the doctor.” Without another word, she turned around and left. I was once again alone.
But not for long, as the door opened once again barely a minute later.
“Khit?” I called out.
It wasn’t him.