By the time we dropped my parents off at their hotel, Khit had accomplished his goal. Somehow, during the car ride from the airport, he’d become the son my parents had never had. They might have been more in love with him than I was. Part of it might have been the fact that fox yaojing had natural charisma, and there may have been brownie points for his wealth and intelligence, but I rather thought the majority of it was just Khit. It would have taken any fool to recognize that Khit was a man of good character and an idiot to know that Khit and I truly loved each other. And my parents were not fools or idiots.
So my parents, having been reassured that their future son-in-law was not some drunk off the street, decided to spend the rest of the day by themselves for a little alone time. Cathy and Daisy would go with Khit and me, and my parents would meet up with us for dinner.
We went to my apartment first to put down the luggage and let Cathy and Daisy rest a bit. The first thing they did was ask for Faun. Khit visibly recoiled.
“Umm…here’s the thing girls,” I began to explain. “Faun has to be kept in my room. You can play with her in the bedroom, but you can’t let her out.”
“Why not?” came Daisy’s obvious question.
“Because Khit is a bit scared of dogs,” I replied.
The two girls paused to exchange incredulous glances and then turned to Khit, their mouths gaping wide. “You…scared?” Daisy gawked. “But you’re so big, and Faun is so tiny.”
Khit scowled. “I’m not scared. I’m allergic.” But even as he said this, his right eye began to twitch.
“He’s scared,” Cathy affirmed.
“I’m allergic,” Khit reiterated defensively.
Cathy and Daisy began to giggle. “It’s all right,” my sister said. “Everyone’s scared of something. We won’t make fun of you too much.”
“And we promise not to let wittle bitty Faun out of Caren’s room,” Daisy added.
Just then, my bedroom door opened, and out came Liana. Her eyes were a little unfocused, as though she had just woken up, which was probably the case, since she was still in her PJs.
“Liana!” both Cathy and Daisy cried at the same time.
“I thought I heard you,” Liana said, smiling.
“Sorry if we were too loud,” I apologized.
“Naw…I was just lounging in bed. Got up hours ago. Besides, I kind of enjoyed hearing these two make fun of the big, bad professor’s fear of tiny puppies.” She laughed, patting both Daisy and Cathy on their shoulders.
Khit huffed and withdrew himself to the kitchen, where he opened the fridge and began to forage for food.
“You know we love you,” I called out. He simply sent a disgruntled expression in my direction and continued to take out the ingredients for a sandwich from the fridge.
With Khit doing his own thing, we girls made ourselves comfortable on the couch. I looked towards Nia’s and Stacy’s room, whispering that we should be quiet so as not to wake them. But Liana told us they weren’t home. She’d heard both of them leave early this morning, right after I did.
“Where’d they go?” I asked curiously. Neither of them had work until after lunch.
“Beats me,” Liana shrugged. I tried to call out after them, but they started running as though they were late.
Or avoiding Liana because we had decided to confront Liana together on the Tyler issue, and without me, my other roommates had felt too awkward. Besides that, Nia could never be counted on to keep a secret.
“What’s gotten you all serious so suddenly?” Liana asked.
“N-nothing.” I shook my head and directed my attention at Daisy. “So how’s your family? Your brother’s already in college, if I’m not mistaken. And your sisters are probably doing ten thousand activities.”
Daisy smiled fondly at the mention of her siblings. “They’re all high achievers. Rowan’s pre-med, like you. As for the twins, they’re balancing cheerleading practice with Speech and Debate. Jasmine’s also in orchestra, and I think Rose might try running for junior treasurer.” She patted Cathy’s shoulder. “But I think Cathy can beat my sisters for all the things she’s trying to do, and we’re only sophomores.”
It was true that my little sister was the busiest person I knew. She was involved in everything—band, cross-country, history team, journalism, piano lessons. Last year, she’d even been elected as freshman vice president.
“I need to cut back,” Cathy said. “Next year, I’m dropping band and history team.”
“That’s only because she wants to be editor for the school paper,” Daisy said.
“And what about you Daisy?” I asked. “Don’t you like to write too?”
Her eyes brightened suddenly, with true passion. “Yes, but I don’t like writing fiction like you, Caren. And I’m not that great at it either.”
Khit walked in from the kitchen to join us. “You don’t have to be great to do something great,” he said. “If you have a passion for something, go for it. What do you like to write, Daisy?”
“I like writing about real things and real people,” she said rather shyly. “I like informing people about eye-opening events that happen in their own backyard. Just like Nellie Bly, Ida Tarbell, and Ethel Payne.”
“Who are they?” Liana asked.
“Female investigative journalists in history,” Khit answered, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “So investigative journalism, eh? That requires some craftiness and a lot of guts.”
“You should join the paper with Cathy,” I said.
“My parents won’t let me,” Daisy sighed. “Not unless I get A’s in geometry and chemistry this year, and that’s not likely. But that’s all right.” She grinned brightly. “I’ll just have to write in secret.”
She exchanged conspiratorial glances with Cathy. I knew those looks. They were up to something. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to know.
Liana didn’t come to lunch with us. She had an essay to finish by Monday, and since she had procrastinated, she was paying for it now.
The rest of us bundled up into the rental car and headed out. We decided to try a restaurant called Castle by the Cliffs. Cathy had researched numerous restaurants on Yelp and insisted on this one. Succulent seafood and a panorama view of the ocean, she’d told us.
As it turned out, Castle by the Cliffs was just as beautiful as it sounded. It was built on a cliff high above the beach. It was designed so that a lighthouse stood on top of the main building, although it was all just for show, not a working lighthouse. Glass covered it on all four sides so that the gently tilting waves could be seen riding upon the golden sands. The interior felt clean and fresh. Newly remodeled, marble floor glistened like dew drops from the sunshine that streamed through the windows.
The food was so fresh that the seafood might as well have just been caught when we’d ordered it. We shared a dish of calamari, which had just the right amount of springiness with a bite. I ordered swordfish, crusted with an herb mixture and a zing of lemon. Each bite practically melted on my tongue.
“I’ve never tasted anything so delicious,” Daisy commented with a satisfied groan. She and Cathy were sharing the Seven Seas’ Traveler’s Special, a combination of all kinds of seafood—lobster, scallops, salmon, clams, and mussels. Khit had the same thing all to himself.
“I’m giving this place five stars on Yelp,” Cathy said, looking at me. “Why haven’t you two been here before?”
“I don’t know,” Khit replied, “But now we’re definitely coming more often.”
It didn’t take long for any of us to clean our plates. I rubbed my tummy, completely satisfied. The waitress came by to clear our plates from the table, asking if we wanted any dessert. True, I was full, but that didn’t mean I had no room left for dessert.
“There’s always room for dessert,” I told the waitress, and she laughed, promising to bring the menu right away.
That was when I sensed Khit stiffen beside me. His eyes narrowed, zoning to scan our surroundings. Cathy and Daisy remained oblivious, chatting about whether they wanted something chocolaty or fruity. I took the opportunity to grasp Khit’s hand.
“Got a whiff of a dog in here,” he whispered back.
“But that’s impossible.” Now I looked around the restaurant. I didn’t see a dog, but there was a scary young man at the next table who was glowering at us. He looked like the stereotypical henchman that protected a mob boss in the movies. A long, jagged scar crossed the left side of his face from the corner of his eyebrow to the cheek.
I quickly looked away. Hopefully, he would stop staring at us soon. I wasn’t worried about him anyway. He was no match for Khit. I remembered what I was supposed to be worrying about now was the dog smell making Khit sick. “Are you sure? I didn’t think people were allowed to bring pets in here.”
“I’m definitely sure. The smell is strong.” Then he patted my hand. “Don’t worry, I can endure it.”
My anxious frown still didn’t disappear though. I knew Khit would only grow a tail if his skin came into contact with a dog, but if in close proximity to a dog for a long while, he just grew more and more visibly uncomfortable.
“I changed my mind,” I said. “We should cut the calories and skip dessert.”
Identical groans of disappointment were drawn from Cathy and Daisy.
“Caren,” Khit slightly chided.
But I refused to yield. “I’ll tell you what. We’ll go get yogurt. It’s a healthier dessert. Then for dinner, we’ll get whatever you girls want.”
Daisy and Cathy perked up a bit and agreed to this. As Khit waved to the waitress to get the check, Daisy stood up to use the restroom. She paused after taking a mere three steps from our table, staring at something.
Her hand reached behind her to poke at me. “Caren, look. That looks like Liana’s new boyfriend.”
“How would you know what Liana’s boyfriend looks like?” I asked, but turned my head to look anyway.
“Saw it on her desktop when I was in your room playing with Faun. I’m very good with faces.” She nudged her head again to a couple sitting two tables down, right across from the gangster man, who was now glowering at them. I gasped slightly recognizing that Daisy was right. There sat Tyler, reading a menu. Right across from him was a girl who looked exactly like the girl Darryl had described. Short-cropped brunette and very…chesty. Her tube top emphasized her assets a bit too much.
Tyler grasped the girl’s hand and stroked it. Intimately.
“He’s cheating on Liana,” Daisy gasped in outrage.
So Darryl had been right. That two-timing butt hole of a jerk. I moved to get out of my chair, eager to confront him, but Khit grabbed my hand, staying me. He shook his head.
“But…” I protested.
“What are you gonna do? Ask him what he’s doing with that girl? He’s only going to deny it and then tell Liana before you do. Then she’ll believe whatever he says.”
“Then what am I supposed to do?” I asked him crossly.
“Talk to Liana first,” he said. “Tell her what you suspect and see what she has to say about it.”
I sunk back into my seat, folding my arms across my chest in a huff. He was right. After all, the original plan had been to talk to Liana first.
“Let’s just pay and get out of here,” I said. “I don’t want to see that jerk one second longer.”
Khit dropped us off at the apartment. He had a few errands to run and would be back in an hour. In the meantime, I decided to talk to Liana, with or without my other roommates, who seemed to have bailed on me, judging from the empty apartment and the unanswered phone calls. Only Liana was home. She’d brought her laptop into the living room and was diligently typing away at her essay.
She looked up from her computer. “You’re home already?”
“We missed you,” Cathy said. She and Daisy exchanged glances. “May we take Faun out for a walk?”
I appreciated my sister for understanding that I needed to talk to Liana privately instead of trying to butt in. “Sure, just don’t get lost.”
“We’ll call you if we do.”
As soon as the door closed behind them, I turned back to Liana.
“Uh oh,” she said. “I know that look. What do we need to talk about?”
I still hesitated, knowing she was supposed to be writing her essay. She saw my eyes dart to her computer. “Don’t worry, I can take a break.” She pushed her laptop away from her. “So what’s up?”
Sitting down across the table, I wrung my hands, trying to decide how to start. “Darryl came over yesterday when you weren’t home.”
“Oh, did he?” Liana smiled. “What did that nerd want this time?”
I cleared my throat, finding it difficult to be the bearer of bad tidings. “Actually, he was upset because he saw Tyler…with a girl. And it seemed like they were on a date.” I paused, trying to gauge Liana’s reaction, but I couldn’t look at her in the eyes. When she said nothing, I quickly continued, blurting out the rest. “Then at the restaurant today, Daisy spotted Tyler sitting at another table. We saw a girl who looked exactly the way Darryl described with Tyler, and it seemed like they were…involved.”
Now I looked up at Liana’s face. What I saw there was not what I expected. I’d expected doubt at what I had to say. If not doubt, then an angry tirade about men or a burst of hurt, betrayed tears. Instead, her gentle, hazel eyes held not a trace of emotion. She seemed…well, resigned.
“Ah, well, I had to break up with him sooner or later,” she said, confirming her apathy.
Her reaction left me sputtering, stammering, and gawking. When I finally put myself back together again, I managed to blurt, “But I thought you liked him.”
“I liked that he was eye candy,” she replied flippantly. “But then I started realizing that if I thought he was hot, so did all the other girls.”
I wrinkled my nose, thinking about his picture. “He’s not that hot.”
“Physically, he’s all right. But there was just something about his way of speaking. His voice. Every girl we met stopped to stare when he opened his mouth. He’s hypnotizing…in a good way.”
Wait a minute…why were we talking about Tyler’s attributes right now? “So are you saying you’re all right about this?”
“I was planning on dumping him anyway,” she said. “Like I said, I was getting sick of the way all the girls flirted with him. It really doesn’t surprise me that he cheated because I expected it. And then there was the way he always asked questions about you.”
“Me? But I’ve only met him three times.”
Liana nodded. “Not that you aren’t interesting, dear. I just expected that my boyfriend would be more interested in me than my best friend. But he always asked about your hobbies, where you liked to study. Even your favorite foods and drinks. After a while, I suspected he only became my boyfriend because he wanted to know you.”
“Well, didn’t you talk to him about it? Tell him I have a boyfriend…a fiancé?”
“I did, but he just used that charming tone of his to tell me he just wanted to get to know my friends better because they’re so important to me. Then he’d do something so nice to convince me he cared. Happened every time I thought of breaking up with him.” She said this thoughtfully, as though she couldn’t believe she’d let him fool her for so long. “Now that I have evidence that he cheated, it shouldn’t be hard to dump him this time around.” It sounded like she was still hesitant about her power to break things off, so I decided a little pep talk wouldn’t hurt.
“That a girl,” I said. “He’s a loser. You deserve better.”
“I do, don’t I.” A smile finally spread across Liana’s face, and she hugged me. “Thanks for being a good friend and telling me about this. Don’t you worry. By the end of this weekend, he’ll be out of my life for good.”