There he was at the breakfast table, reading the morning paper of all things. The only street he would fit on was Wall Street. I’d never seen a homeless guy look so much like an Ivy League scholar.
No one else was in sight. Where was everyone? If I was the only one in the house, he shouldn’t have been allowed in. That was a complete violation of rule four, unless my parents hadn’t told him the rules yet.
Completely ignoring him, I took out a box of cereal from the pantry.
Maybe I had been mean to him last night, but I’d been trying hard to make him feel uncomfortable. I’d wanted him to leave.
I didn’t trust Adam at all. Not him or his suede shoes or his designer shirt, however stained it was. And I wasn’t buying Mom’s explanation that he’d gotten lucky at some donation outlet. Maybe if he’d just had the shoes or just the shirt, I would have accepted it, but not both. Especially when he was wearing another shirt now that looked expensive.
I wondered if he had ties to a gang. No, he looked too classy for that. Maybe he was involved in white collar crime. Maybe he was a young, genius con artist running from the law. Maybe there was a ton of money hiding in his suitcase.
Angry at my parents for not even questioning how he could be homeless and still afford such expensive clothes, I grabbed a bowl from the cabinet, almost dislodging the whole stack.
“I know you don’t like me, but don’t take it out on the china,” he drawled, not looking up from the paper.
I didn’t reply, determined to ignore him as I did all the other strays. It was too bad he was at the table. Now I had to eat at the counter, and I hated to eat standing up. But I refused to sit across from him.
I took a side glance to see what he was doing now. Not that I was curious. He was still reading that paper. He was wearing glasses, which only made him appear more bookish.
“It’s not healthy to eat standing up,” he commented, suddenly looking up.
I gasped, looking away and hoping he hadn’t caught me peeking.
“Sit down. Don’t tell me you’re afraid of me.”
“I’m not scared of you,” I retorted. Deciding to prove this, I moved to the sit across from him at the table. But when he smirked, I realized that was exactly what he’d expected me to do. Scowling, I cast my eyes back down on my cereal, determined to ignore him until the sun exploded and put an end to this side of the Milky Way.
I could sense he was still watching me, especially when I heard him mutter, “Oh no, not Cheerios.”
“Excuse me?” I looked up, frowning. So much for ignoring him. “What’s wrong with Cheerios?”
“Nothing.” He swallowed, looking very odd and strangely pale. His eyes kept drifting to my spoon. “Just that…this might be a weird request, but do you mind eating those three at a time? Or six. Even nine or twelve, if you can stuff that many into your mouth at once.”
Was he on drugs or something? “No?” He shook his head questioningly. “Never mind then. Just don’t show me your spoon when you eat.”
”Shen jing bing,” I muttered, stating my opinion of him in Mandarin, which was that the guy was a nut case.
He smiled, turning his attention back to the paper. “Sometimes I think so too.”
My eyes widened, wondering if he’d understood. I would never have said it if he did. I might dislike the strays, but I never told them that to their faces.
But it was impossible. He couldn’t have understood.
I chewed slowly on my cereal, watching him with narrowed eyes. Why would he even ask me to eat Cheerios in multiples of three anyway? My eyes wandered to his plate, which I guessed had once been filled with waffles topped by blueberries and syrup. Now all that was left were three little blueberries, placed in the pattern of a tiny triangle.
“It’s just three small blueberries,” I commented. “You’re really not going to eat them?”
“What?” He looked to where my gaze was directed and stammered nervously. “Oh. N-no. I’m so full already.”
I was right, he was a nut case. I spooned up more cereal and was about to stuff my mouth again, when he let out a groan. Looking back at him, I saw that he was staring at me again. I hoped watching me eat wasn’t his perverted way of getting turned on.
Adam turned his gaze to the ceiling, but started a new conversation. “So I hear you were born in Thailand.”
“What’s it to you?” I snapped, and clamped my jaw, surprised at myself for sounding so nasty. “Sorry, I don’t like to talk about myself.” I hoped he’d take the hint.
To keep myself from biting out again, I stuffed the spoon in my mouth and chewed. A bead of sweat formed on his forehead, but as soon as I swallowed, he visibly relaxed. When I spooned another round of cereal, he tensed again. His fingers nervously drummed against the table in the rhythm of a waltz. One-two-three, one-two-three. My eyes drifted to the daily crossword puzzle from the paper, left haphazardly between Adam and me. It was half done. Actually, less than half done. Only the numbers that were multiples of three had been filled out.
What was it with this guy and multiples of three? I shrugged. Well, to each his own. As long as he didn’t bother me about the way I ate my Cheerios again, I didn’t care what he did.
“Your parents are interesting people,” he said, eyeing my spoon again. The idiot wasn’t taking the hint that I didn’t want to talk.
Just to annoy him, I purposely fished out five Cheerios. He winced, to my great satisfaction. I sensed he was trying to distract himself by talking. “They said they used to travel the globe on medical missions before they finally decided to settle down in the U.S. when you were eight.”
Just how much had my parents told him about themselves?
It was true I hadn’t been born in the United States. Before I was born, my parents had traveled all around the world, and until I was eight, they’d focused their work in Asia before deciding to move back to the U.S. because they wanted me to attend school and also because I needed better health care for my asthma. Now Dad had just opened his own private practice, and Mom worked at Orchid Beach Hospital.
Because I’d lived all over Asia—China for two years, Japan for a year, South Korea for two, and Thailand when I was a baby, I knew how to speak those four languages fluently, and knew enough of three others to get by. Apparently, my parents, who spoke about eleven languages fluently and five conversationally, hadn’t spoken a word of English to me until I was four. They’d figured I’d learn English well enough when they enrolled me in school. Even after moving here, they’d continued teaching me foreign languages.
“What else did they tell you?” I broke the no talking rule because now I was just annoyed. My parents were divulging our family history to a stranger they’d just met yesterday.
“Well, I thought you were named after the jasmine flower,” he said. “But your mom said you’re named after Jasmine rice because she went through bowls of it when she was pregnant with you.”
He smiled as he said this—a smile that made him too handsome for his own good. I made sure to frown harder.
“And by the way,” he continued, “You did a good job naming Meiyu. That’s a beautiful name.”
So they’d even told him about that? Just what time had they started eating breakfast?
My parents had been called on a medical mission to the countryside of China when I was ten. We went as a family of three and came back as a family of four. I’d named my baby sister after the plum blossoms that had rained in an orchard we’d often walked through. Meiyu literally meant ‘plum rain.’
“Since my parents had time to tell you our whole family history, I’m betting they told you about our rules,” I said.
He stared at me blankly. I rolled my eyes in exasperation. My parents had the time to tell him I was named after rice, but they hadn’t explained our rules yet? What were they thinking?
“Numero uno,” I started, “And that’s the Spanish word for number one, in case you didn’t know.” He only sent me an amused look. “Don’t you dare step foot in the main house unless my parents are home. I don’t trust you enough to believe you wouldn’t make off with the silverware or try and kidnap my sister and me when we’re home by ourselves. You can stay in the guest house, but this—” I gestured to the air around us, “—is off limits until at least one of my parents comes home from work.”
He nodded politely. “That’s fair.”
“Rule ni,” I continued to count in the languages I knew, this one Japanese for two. “Classless bumming around is not allowed. While you’re here, you need to be productive. Get a job, take classes, break your addiction to whatever drug you’re on. My parents can help you with that. The rule is, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.”
“I wasn’t planning on bumming around,” he said. “I’m going to look for a job, starting today. I plan on paying your parents rent. It won’t be much, but at least it’s something.”
I looked at him, completely surprised. “Y-you are?”
His grin took me off guard. “Of course I am.”
“W-well then,” I said, not knowing how else to respond. “Glad to hear it.” Clearing my throat, I moved on. “Rule seht,” Korean this time. “Your private life is yours to keep. We don’t pry into your past. What you tell us about yourself is of your own free will, and it stays within these four walls.” I gave him a warning look. “Unless you tell us something that we think may harm yourself or anyone else. Then we can’t keep that information private. Now rule see.” Thai.
“There’s more?” The look on his face was incredulous.
“This is the most important rule of all,” I spoke louder to emphasize the point. “Never ever are you permitted to enter my room or my sister’s, even when my parents are home. If you do, I’ll call the cops and have you arrested for being a pervert.” I didn’t even try to sugar-coat this. I wasn’t afraid to offend anyone with a blatant warning that if they even tried to touch my sister, I’d make sure they died slowly at my hands.
Far from being offended though, he let out a snort of laughter, as though amused of all things. “Do you talk like this to everyone who stays at your house?”
Actually, I didn’t. In fact, I’d won the title of “Warmest Personality” in last year’s yearbook. I prided myself for being nice, which was why I tried not to talk to the strays at all. Like that old saying said, if you can’t say anything nice, best not to say anything at all. But there was something about Adam that made me want to take out all the antagonism I’d felt towards everyone we’d hosted in the past on him. I knew it wasn’t precisely fair, but I couldn’t help it.
So ignoring his question, I went on to the final two rules. “Rules mm and luk are related.” Cantonese this time. “No—”
“No cussing, and no drugs or alcohol,” he interrupted. “If I have an addiction, you’ll help me find a help group. Got it.”
“How did you know?” I stared at him wondering if he’d guessed it.
“Your parents went over the rules this morning.”
I gaped at him in disbelief, half standing from the table in outrage. “You said they didn’t.”
“I never said anything. You assumed.” The smug look on his face made me want to strangle him. “Besides, I wanted to hear the rules from your point of view. I had a feeling you’d make them more interesting, and I was right. Thanks for teaching me the numbers in different languages, even though I don’t know what number belonged to which language.”
Completely speechless, I looked at him, back at my cereal, and back at him again. “Let me get this straight. You made me repeat the rules because you just like hearing me talk.”
He shook his head and waved a finger. “Not what I said. While you do have a lovely voice, I said I knew you’d make things interesting. I haven’t met someone as fascinating as you in years, and none of the girls I dated have intrigued me as much as you have.”
Was this some kind of lame attempt at a pick-up line? “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.” He removed the cereal box between us that had been half covering his face. “Your whole family fascinates me, but you, by far, are the most interesting of all. I find that the more you talk, the more I like you.”
There it was. He liked me. He hadn’t even said I was pretty, just interesting, but somehow that made it worse. Because if he’d said he thought I was hot, I might have been able to slap him and tell my parents he was coming on to me. But now I just felt flattered.
Not good, Jasmine. Not good. He was not to be trusted, I reminded myself. My parents had found him on the street, for crying out loud.
I made sure to scowl at him again. “Well, I’m not interested in bums. And I sure wouldn’t date one.”
“Smart of you not to,” he said, undeterred. “Good thing I’m not a bum.”
“I have someone I like already,” I continued, until the last part of what he’d said caught on in my brain. “Did you just say you’re not a bum?”
Had I just caught him in a lie? My heart beat fast, waiting for a confession.
Which, of course, didn’t come. How could I think he would surrender so easily? He only gave a lazy smile and said, “I only meant one day, I’ll prove to you that I’m not a bum.”
“I don’t date liars either.” I shook a finger at him and narrowed my eyes. “I know you’re hiding something, mister. You read the morning paper, and you wear designer labels.”
He cast me an amused look. “Since when is that a crime?”
“And since when could the poor and needy afford to wear Italian suede loafers?”
The grin on his face was in danger of falling off, which only made me more irritated. “Well, well, you have beauty and brains.”
“Ah hah!” I accused. “So you’re confessing you’re hiding something.”
“The only thing I’m confessing is you’re right that the poor and needy can’t afford my clothes.” His expression grew serious. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not staying here for a reason.”
It was a half confession. He wasn’t staying here because he didn’t have money, I was sure of it. “And that reason is?”
“Nah, ah, ah,” he waggled a finger at me. “Rule seht. Three in Korean, right? Anyway, don’t pry into my private life.”
My jaw fell open. He’d actually caught those numbers? And I’d never told him which languages I used. I suddenly felt sick. Weakly, I asked, “How many languages do you speak?”
“Like I said, don’t pry into my private life.” He grinned as I sputtered. “But I’ll tell you that I’m not completely shen jing bing. At least,” he reflected thoughtfully, “Not yet.”
My cheeks went completely red. But I realized something else then. He knew more than one foreign language, something the average person, much less a hobo, could mark as an accomplishment. There definitely was something weird about Adam.
“Who are you, and what are you hiding?” I demanded to know.
“Why don’t you find out?” he challenged. “You’re smart enough. But I warn you, you’ll be shocked when you figure it out.”
Shocked? Just what was his secret? I just hoped he didn’t really have ties to the Mafia.