Firstling Chapter Four: Study Break

Liana, of course, was ecstatic by the news of my engagement to Khit.  She celebrated by buying all the bridal magazines she could find at the local grocery store and circling wedding gowns and bridesmaids’ gowns that she liked.

My parents, on the other hand, were less than thrilled.  All the arguments I’d expected came hurling towards my head like tennis balls hit by a furious world champ.  I’d just started dating Khit, I didn’t know him well enough, I still had to finish school, marriage would only prevent me from becoming a doctor.

But I stood firm on the issue, and thankfully, my parents didn’t disown me.  They just decided to take the weekend off from work and come to San Diego with Cathy and Daisy to meet Khit.  But I knew that only meant they were going to try talking us out of marriage.

My sister was more supportive, although she was a little peeved that our parents were tagging along to San Diego.

“You just had to get engaged now,” she’d complained over the phone.  “If you’d just waited one more week, they wouldn’t have to come with Daisy and me.”

But then my sister had moved on to talk about how she’d researched several chapels in San Diego and compared the prices for me.  Then she’d created a table of the advantages and disadvantages of having a chapel wedding versus a beach wedding, which she’d efficiently e-mailed to me.

I, on the other hand, couldn’t start planning.  Even though I wanted to, I had to think about school first.  Of all the weekends to visit, my family had to choose the weekend before midterms.  That only meant I had to study like crazy this week, since I’d be too distracted on the weekend.

I groaned, sitting back in my chair.  It was too hard to concentrate on the books when I kept replaying Khit’s proposal in my head.

“What’s the matter?”  Liana asked, looking up from her computer.  She had a silly smile on her face.

“I’m sick of studying,” I said.

“Oh,” she said distractedly, turning back to her computer.  This time she really did laugh.

“Who are you talking to?”

“Hmm…?”

There was no hope getting answers out of her.  But I knew she was either messaging Tyler or Darryl.  Most likely Darryl.  It was getting a little creepy how every time I went on Facebook, one of them had written something new on the other’s wall.  But I knew they would never get past the friend stage.  Darryl wasn’t Liana’s type, especially not with Tyler around.  Darryl wasn’t “bad” enough.  Although, come to think of it, dating bad boys had been Liana’s downfall in the past.  I rather thought someone like Darryl, stable, smart, and all-around nice would be a good change.  It was just too bad Liana was dating Tyler at the moment.

I pivoted my chair to locate my phone.  I decided that a good distraction was exactly what I needed right now.  Locating Liana’s name, I proceeded to text her. Darryl or Tyler?

Her phone immediately sounded, and I could feel her disapproving glare on my back when she saw it was me. I pretended not to notice.

U R so immature, she texted back.

I texted a smiley face in reply.  Bet’s on Darryl.

Hearing her chair swerve in my direction, I turned around as well.  “If we’re going to talk about this, we might as well do it in person,” she said.  “You told me you didn’t have a problem if I hung out with him.”

“And I don’t,” I said.  “I think it’s great.  He’s a good guy.  In fact,” I paused, coming to my main point, “I think he’d be better for you than Tyler.  You talk to him more.”

She glanced at me sharply, and I knew she was going to try to deny it.

“I have evidence that you do,” I said before she could open her mouth.  “You two write on each other’s Facebook walls more than I write on yours.”

“We’re roommates,” she cried out in exasperation.  “I talk to you everyday.”

Darn.  She had a point there.  But before I could make another point, she went off.

“Darryl’s a good friend, but I would never date him.”  Now she ticked the reasons for this drastic statement on her fingers.  “He’s not as hot as any of my exes, nerds have always made me feel uncomfortably stupid, he has the muscles of a jellyfish, and he’s no alpha male bad boy.”

“Oh Liana,” I groaned.  “Why are you so shallow?”

“I’m not shallow,” she protested.  “I just have prerequisites.  But anyway, Darryl is just a friend.  And this conversation is over.”

Except that she sounded like she was trying to convince herself more than me.

She abruptly stood from her chair. “You know what? We should have a girls’ night. No men, no talking about men. Just us. I’ll ask Nia and Stacy if they’re free.”

“But I have to study,” I protested.

Liana waved me off. “There’s nothing you have to do that can’t wait for tomorrow.”

That had to be the ultimate definition of procrastination. It would be so nice to have

She felt me wavering. “Come on Caren, just one night. We’ll go sing karaoke.”

That did it. “Deal.” I could never turn down karaoke. It was such a great de-stressor.

We went out for wood-fire grilled pizza and boba. The chewy tapioca balls were just what I needed, and the sweet concoction slid deliciously down my throat as we drove to a nearby plaza where the karaoke bar was located.

Canary Karaoke was a joint located on the second floor of a small Asian plaza. It was the place to go for karaoke, so it was always crowded late at night. Thankfully we got there earlier and beat the crowd.

Though I’d never seen the owner, I’d heard he was a man in his late twenties, very handsome, and very talented. Women swooned just talking about him. He had a voice like honey, they claimed, and if a woman had the opportunity to hear him play his music in his studio at the far back of the store, that woman was considered to have been among a choir of angels.

If that were true, I didn’t know why the owner hadn’t gotten a record deal yet. My guess was people were just tone deaf, which was entirely possible, judging by the off-key caterwauling I was hearing behind some of the doors here.

Behind the counter, a young woman was working. “No outside drinks,” she said, eyeing the cups of boba we had. It was fine, as we were almost one anyway. I quickly slurped up a few more tapioca balls before throwing the cup away.

“Sign here,” the woman told Liana. “How many hours are you staying?”

“About two should be good,” Liana said, and the lady showed us to our private room.

“If you want to order snacks or drinks, press this button,” she instructed before slipping out.

We started out by singing some old nineties pop, went into a few rounds of Disney theme songs, and finished the first hour with some Taylor Swift, Liana’s favorite.

The I realized that ordering a large cup of tea was wreaking its consequences, so I quietly dismissed myself midway through Liana’s rendition of “Love Story.”

The restroom was right down the hall, but on my way there, I happened to hear a piano. Someone was playing the most wonderful music, a mix of classical and modern, all in one romantically melodious waterfall of sounds. I stopped right outside the room from where it was coming, noting that this was probably the owner’s studio, and maybe the rumors weren’t lying. I could have remained there for hours if I hadn’t needed to use the restroom so badly. I quickly went to relieve myself and then came back.

But the music had stopped. Now I heard voices, loud and boisterous, and alarmingly growing hostile.

“Absolutely not,” a man was saying. “She may be here, but she’s a customer. My customers are my guests, and I will not allow you to harm a cell in any of my guests’ bodies.”

“You owe me.” The second voice was more gruff, and came from a very low register, a baritone that was very raspy and rough around the edges. “It’s your fault I have this, and your fault our brother is in over his head.”

The first man didn’t respond for a moment, but when he did, he sounded pained. “You may think so, but that gives you no right to harm others. Now go away, or I will take action against you, brother or no.”

The door suddenly clicked, and it was too late to move away, as one of the men stormed out. He abruptly stopped in his tracks as he sensed me, and his eyes narrowed into an atrocious glower.

I suppressed a yelp and literally jumped back two feet. The man was the most intimidating person I’d ever met, and he was positively beastly. A ghastly scar crossed the right side of his face from jaw to eyebrow.

He was the type of man I would not want to meet in an alley late at night or even in a high class restaurant for that matter. He looked like some henchman or mobster that was out for revenge.

“Sorry, I—I was just walking back from the r-restroom,” I managed to stutter, trying to get out of the man’s way.

He pushed past me, snarling fiercely. “Just be thankful I’m in a good mood today. Get in my way again, and you won’t be so lucky, little girl.”

I fled back to my friends, shutting the door behind me with a loud bang. The girls stopped singing midway through whatever song was on to face me in surprise.

Liana paused the karaoke machine. “Caren, are you all right? You look like you were just chased by a wild rhino.”

I may very well have been. That man had looked rather like a mean rhino that had been abruptly awakened from his nap.

I told them what I’d heard and what had happened when I’d found myself staring into the man’s unfriendly face.

“Wow, never knew this place was so shady,” Stacy said. “Now I’m scared. Maybe we should go home early before mobsters come in and tear the place apart.”

“I agree,” Nia said. “We can always sing karaoke at home.”

Liana reluctantly gathered her purse. “Guess there’s no telling what kind of people you meet, even at a seemingly safe location,” she sighed. “People just suck sometimes. Ruining other people’s fun with their stinking attitudes.”

It was probably a good thing we were going home early anyway, as I needed to study.

One thing was for sure though. This was certainly the last time I was going to Canary Karaoke Bar.

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