Two days after Khit and I made our relationship official, Liana still couldn’t stop talking about it. She pestered me day and night with her “I told you so’s,” and the only relief I really had were my dates with Khit.
Everything in life was going well it seemed, and even with the close of summer and the start of a new school year approaching, nothing could get me down.
Except one thing.
I had bought a new phone, keeping my old number, and as soon as I had looked up the missed calls, I saw that Darryl had called me a total of forty-three times during the past two days.
But I still hadn’t called him back.
I knew it was evil of me, knew it was wrong, but I just could not think of the right way to break the news that I was dating Khit now. I was afraid Darryl would hate me forever for leading him on the whole summer. Especially when he found out that my new boyfriend was none other than his most hated professor, Professor Inari.
“You can’t avoid him forever,” Khit had told me.
I knew that, but I still wanted to put off the inevitable for as long as I could.
It was just after lunch, and I was seated on the couch with my bandaged food propped up on a pillow. I hadn’t been allowed to lift a finger for the past two days, as Liana had decided to pamper me.
She had asked me so many questions about the other night, and I had been forced to make up just as many lies. I told her that I’d initially planned a date with Darryl, only to back out at the last minute after I had talked to her on the phone. As soon as she had told me that Khit had been worried about me, I had realized that I loved him and immediately had set out to find him. In my haste, I’d twisted my ankle, running in high heels. She knew nothing about the snake bite, and I didn’t want to tell her either. It wasn’t worth it to make up another lie.
But now Liana believed she had been the one to bring Khit and me together because her phone call had helped to change my mind. She’d been in such a good mood that she’d done everything for me, from cooking to making my bed.
My cell rang, disturbing the comfortable silence. Instinctively, I picked it up without bothering to read the caller ID. I thought it was Khit. After all, he had said he would call me to make plans for the night.
“What do you feel like doing tonight, Khit?” I asked into the phone.
There was a long pause, in which a feeling of dread settled in the pit of my stomach. Somehow, I knew the person on the other end of the line was Darryl, not Khit.
“Caren, what’s going on?” Surprisingly, he sounded more depressed than angry. Heartbroken, actually.
Immediately, I felt guilty. It wasn’t fair of me to put him through this, especially after the way I had simply fled his house without as much as a goodbye. He probably had been worried for days about me.
“Hi Darryl. I’m really sorry about the other day. I—”
“You know what?” he interrupted. “We need to talk in person. I’ll be at the Starbuck’s near your apartment in ten minutes. Be there.”
The line went dead.
Ten minutes later, I walked into Starbuck’s, wringing my hands nervously.
From a checkerboard-decorated table in the far back corner, Darryl stood and waved.
“What happened to your foot?” he asked, staring at my crutches.
“You should have told me,” he exclaimed. “I wouldn’t have forced you to walk over here if I had known.”
“It’s OK. I didn’t walk. Liana drove me.”
She was just outside the door, reading a magazine at one of the tables.
“How did you twist it?” Darryl asked.
I hadn’t been expecting him to be so concerned about me, after I’d run out on our date without giving an explanation for two whole days. It made me feel even guiltier.
Even more so, because I was about to lie to him about my ankle and about why I had stood him up.
I cleared my throat and told him the lie I’d rehearsed just before coming here. “The other night, when I ran out on you like that, Liana called to tell me that my aunt had fainted and was in the hospital up north. She lives by herself, and since the rest of my family is in China right now, I’m her only living relative. I was trying to get back to my apartment as fast as I could to call that hospital, and in the rush, I twisted my ankle in my high heels.”
“That’s terrible.” The sympathy in his eyes was making me feel guiltier by the second. “Is your aunt all right now?”
“Yes. They figured out that my aunt just hadn’t been eating much lately. So they told me I didn’t have to take a special trip to see her.”
Darryl grimaced. “So you twisted your ankle for nothing.”
“And that’s why I had to rush out on you,” I said. “I’m very sorry. I should have called you sooner, but so many things happened.”
“It’s fine. I was just worried about you, but as long as everything’s all right, we’ll just set up another date.”
He was beaming now, apparently thinking things would still work out between us. I hated myself for what I was about to do.
“Actually, we need to talk about that,” I muttered. I cast my eyes down to the table, ashamed. “I can’t date you anymore. I have a boyfriend now.”
He was silent for a moment. Then his voice came out gravelly and cold. “Since when?”
“Since I twisted my ankle. He rescued me and brought me to the hospital.”
At least that wasn’t a lie.
“Who?” His usually calm voice had risen. “Never mind. I know who. What’s wrong with you Caren? You can’t date your professor.”
My head snapped up in challenge. “Why not? He’s not that old, and I’m not in his class anymore.”
He didn’t reply, but I knew he had nothing to say because my reasoning was right.
I sighed, knowing I still had more apologizing to do. “Listen Darryl, I didn’t mean to lead you on, but—”
“That’s exactly what you did though,” he retorted. “I even defended you against the demon professor.”
“I know,” I groaned. “I’m really sorry. I thought I liked you, and then he came along and threw me off balance. I couldn’t help falling for him.”
“So basically I’m second choice,” Darryl laughed sardonically.
“I didn’t mean that,” I cried, desperately trying to think of better words that might ease some of his pain. “You’re a great guy, Darryl. One day, you’ll find a great girl.” I knew it sounded cliché, but I couldn’t think of what else to say.
He stared at the table in brooding silence. But when he lifted his head once again, it looked like he had calmed down a bit. “I can’t blame you. I guess it’s just one of those things that happened, and it’s not like we were official to begin with. As long as you’re happy.” He made an attempt at a smile. “I’m not one of those guys to turn bitter about it. It’s not worth it if it means losing you as a friend.”
I smiled back. “Thanks Darryl.”
He really was a nice guy, and I hoped that one day he would get an extremely nice girl who was deserving of him.
“Just tell Inari that I’m watching him,” he said, attempting to sound like an overprotective father. I laughed at his expression. Darryl was one of those guys who could never look mean and unfriendly.
“I’m serious,” he frowned. “I’ve been watching him for a long time. I thought he was stalking you that day in the library when we first met up again. He was staring when you tried to reach a book on the top shelf.”
My smile faded to shock, as understanding dawned in my eyes for the first time. But I had to confirm it first. “You reached me first though, right? To help me get that book?”
He reaffirmed what I had just realized by a single shake of his head. “By the time I reached you, Inari already got it. And then I thought you might not remember me, so I walked past you instead of saying hi. But it’s a good thing that you saw me and came by my study table, or we would never have been reacquainted. Anyway, my point is…”
Darryl went on about how he hadn’t trusted Khit from day one and something about how Khit’s nose was always pointed up like a snob. But I might not have heard him correctly. My mind was entirely occupied with my own thoughts as I replayed the scene from the library when I had first met Khit.
When Khit had handed me the book, I had looked to my left just in time to see Darryl pass right by me and therefore concluded that Darryl had helped me. If I had turned right, I would have seen Khit first, and I would have realized that Khit was the man from my library dream. No wonder Khit had said I was being rude. He’d been expecting me to thank him for getting the book down for me.
This meant that my dream was correct after all. The faultiness of it had completely been my own error.
Fate hadn’t been toying with me. Khit was my real soul mate! And he’d known it all along. I’d told him about my library dream. He’d gotten angry about it, even called the dream stupid, and he had asked me if I’d seen the face of the man in my dream clearly. I wouldn’t even have been surprised if his visions had told him I was his soul mate too.
But he had never told me that he, not Darryl, was the man. Why hadn’t he told me? It would have saved him a lot of heartbreak, and we would have gotten together so much sooner.
“Caren…” Darryl was waving his hand in front of my face. “Are you all right?”
I jerked myself back to reality. “Oh, sorry.”
He smiled gently. “It’s all right for you to daydream.” He looked at his watch. “Hmm…we probably shouldn’t keep Liana waiting outside for too long. Let’s hang out…as a group sometime, OK?”
Darryl stood up and helped me with my crutches.
He really was such a nice guy, I thought with a secret smile. One of these days, I would have to set him up with a nice girl.
That night, Khit picked me up for a dinner date. It was the first time since my mishap that I had actually gone out of my apartment for a meal, but since it was extremely inconvenient for me to go anywhere with my crutches, Khit had decided to take me to his place, where he would attempt to cook.
I supposed he wanted to prove his competence because he wouldn’t let me near the kitchen at all. He wouldn’t even let me give him cooking tips.
“You’re in crutches,” he told me. “So just sit here and don’t move. I’ll let you know when dinner’s ready.”
I obeyed for all of ten minutes, occasionally peeping in the direction of the kitchen to see how he was doing. Eventually, he caught on.
“Stop monitoring me,” he commanded, glaring at me. “It’s making me nervous.”
“Fine,” I sighed. “I’m tired of sitting though. You and Liana have been driving me crazy, not letting me do anything. I’m going out on the balcony to get fresh air.”
He eyed me warily. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” His gaze shot to my ankle.
“Oh please,” I huffed sarcastically. “I’m not paralyzed. You have a lounge chair, so I’ll sit there. No need to fear that I’ll fall over the edge of the baluster.”
He only grinned at me in reply.
It was a hot and humid, late August day, but the sea breeze swept through my hair, soothing my skin. The sun was beginning to set, casting an array of pastels across the vast sky.
It felt so nice to get out of my apartment after several days of doing nothing. I hoped my ankle would heal soon because I wanted to take advantage of these last few weeks of summer before school started. I could just imagine all the possible dates Khit and I could have—at the beach, Balboa Park, downtown San Diego, Sea World. If only my ankle would heal right now.
The breeze picked up again, and I closed my eyes, sighing contentedly.
I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, I was in the library again. But subconsciously, I knew that physically, I was still on Khit’s balcony.
It was the same dream, the one that had started it all. Only now, as I reached for the book on the top shelf, I knew what to expect. As the familiar hand reached out to grab the book for me, I didn’t make the same mistake. I looked to my right.
And saw the true man of my dreams staring right back at me, his smiling eyes filled with love.
“You are my Fate,” I said to him. “I won’t mistake you for another again. I love you, and only you.”
Khit reached out to embrace me. “I love you too, Caren. Caren…Caren…”
His voice grew louder, as I was shaken awake. I opened my eyes to see Khit’s dark blue ones looking down at me. “Dinner’s ready.”
Around us, the sun had completely gone into hiding, and the moon settled in its place, as the stars started to shyly appear, one by one. I must have been napping for quite some time.
Khit was looking at me strangely, and I realized that I had just asked him the question that had been on my mind since early afternoon.
“What didn’t I tell you?” he asked.
I repeated my question more clearly. “Why didn’t you tell me you were the man in my library dream? That day at the library when I was trying to get that book from the top shelf, I thought Darryl helped me. But today, he told me it was you.”
He stared at me silently, his clear, blue eyes pensive. Finally, he said, “Remember when I told you that I’d seen you in my visions? Well, I didn’t tell you everything I saw about you. The thing is…my visions told me that you are my future, my soul mate.”
“I knew it,” I exclaimed. “You should have told me.”
“Believe me,” he laughed. “I was tempted to, especially after you insisted that Darryl was your soul mate.”
“Then why didn’t you?”
He sighed. “Because when my visions revealed you to be my soul mate, I didn’t want to listen. I didn’t want Fate to dictate my actions. That was the real reason I initially spied on you—to try to find a reason why I wouldn’t ever love you. I wanted to find faults in you, some sort of flaw I couldn’t stand.
“But of course, that didn’t work. I ended up falling in love with you anyway and following Fate’s commands. Then when you told me about your dream and how you believed Darryl was your Fate, I realized that I wanted you to make your own decisions too. I wanted you to fall in love with me on your own, not because Fate told you to. I didn’t want you to feel forced to love me.”
His shining eyes filled with such seriousness as his voice grew lower at his last admission. I almost had to strain to hear his muffled murmur. “Most of all…I guess I just wanted proof that you would love me because of me and not out of some sort of obligation, whether it be Fate or guilt or whatever.”
At that moment, I recognized two things. One, that was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard. Khit had offered me the choice to love whomever I wanted. He had willingly let go of his own desires to ensure that I would be happy.
And two, I saw Khit’s vulnerability as he stood there, admitting his soul away. He looked so innocent, like a child, who just needed love…love he thought he’d never received from his father, love he’d never really experienced from his mother. Simply, real love, which he craved from me, which he had from me from now until forever.
I threw myself into his arms, not even caring that my crutches had fallen uselessly to the ground. He was surprised, but caught me easily, holding me up so that I didn’t have to stand on my own.
“I just want you to know,” I whispered. “I do love you for you, and you’d better believe that’s the only reason.”
A wide grin broke out on his face. “I know.”
He lifted me into his arms. “Now your highness, if you have no more questions for your loyal servant, shall I escort you to dinner before the food gets cold?”
He carried me back inside, our hearts glowing with newly discovered love. And one thing was for sure—whatever the yaojing threw at us this coming year, we’d be ready to face it together.
To be continued in Book II