Late Friday afternoon, I was in the living room, trying to make the best use of my time by studying before my family came the next day.
I should have studied more during the week, but I’d given in to the temptation to write the love story of the shi’an and yaojing. Even now, my head was flowing with the words that would continue where I’d left off last night. In this story, the shi’an girl—Heather, I’d named her—and the yaojing boy, Bryan, had just met in the present. It was the thirteenth time they’d been reincarnated, but neither of them remembered anything from their past lives. They’d just met, and it hate at first sight. I loved romance that blossomed from hate. Maybe it was because my own love story had happened that way.
Giving into the urge for the twentieth time that week, I began jotting notes in the column of my textbook, next to the pretty picture of the four lobes of the brain. Not notes on the purpose of each brain lobe, but notes on how Heather and Bryan would take turns blackmailing each other.
Across from me, in the kitchen, my apartment mates, Stacy and Nia, were making an early dinner for themselves. They were going to a concert downtown and had decided to eat at home in order to save some money.
The lovely fragrances drifting out of the kitchen made my stomach growl.
“Smells like mac n’ cheese,” I commented.
“Yup, want some?” Stacy asked.
“No thanks, I’m going to—”
“To dinner with Khit later,” Nia finished with a laugh. “Yes, we know.” She drained the pasta and poured it into the pot of cheese sauce, as Stacy stirred the mixture with a spoon. Then they spooned heaping portions on two plates. It looked good.
“On second thought,” I said, “Maybe I’ll have a little, just to carry me over.”
Stacy grinned, and got out another plate for me.
It was about time for a little break anyway. We sat on the couch, and Nia turned on the TV, flipping through the channels until she landed on a re-run of an old sitcom. “Oh, I love this episode,” she said. “Is it all right if we watch it?”
“Fine by me,” I said, and Stacy agreed.
We sat there eating our pasta, occasionally chuckling at the two-liners. It was relaxing and familiar, a feeling I hadn’t had in quite a while. It had been a long time since I’d watched nonsense on TV with my roommates, and I found that I sort of missed it. If only Liana were home, then everything would be complete.
Thud, thud, thud!
The three of us nearly jumped to the ceiling at the angry knock on our door. We exchanged glances, wondering who it could possibly be. Standing up silently, we all crept to the entranceway, where Stacy bravely looked through the peephole.
Instantly, her shoulders relaxed. “It’s Darryl.”
She unchained the door and opened it, revealing a huffing and puffing, incensed, but otherwise still nerdy student, who looked ready to fight the first street punk he met.
“What’s pulled your steam vents?” Stacy asked, gesturing for Darryl to come in.
“Not what…who,” he exhaled steamily. “Where’s Liana?” He peered around us as though we were hiding her.
“She’s still at school,” I said. “Why? What did she do?”
“She didn’t do anything except date losers all her life,” he announced. “I saw that new boyfriend of hers with another girl.”
Nia frowned. “That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe they were just studying together.”
“No, they were not,” Darryl exploded, making the three of us jump back a few inches. His breathing became erratic, and his nostrils flared in a feral way that was starting to freak us out.
“Just calm down a sec,” Stacy said. “It’s not that we don’t believe you. So back up and tell us what makes you think Tyler was cheating on Liana.”
“I was getting coffee,” he said. “And I saw him meeting up with some short-haired brunette, the skanky type with a big bust. They hugged and then started whispering in each other’s ears, too close to be just pals. I didn’t stay long after that. Decided to confront Liana right away.”
“And apparently you forgot your coffee,” Nia noted, glancing at Darryl’s empty hands. He looked down, clearly realizing for the first time that he had forgotten to take his coffee.
“Damn it,” he muttered. “Well, that’s a lost cause, but it’s worth it if this bit of information will help Liana break up with the jerk. You do believe me, right?”
“Well…” Stacy trailed off, looking to us for backup. I decided to cut in.
“What Stacy’s trying to say is that we believe what you saw, but maybe, just maybe, you might have jumped to conclusions. Maybe he was meeting his sister or cousin, or maybe—”
Darryl swore. “I don’t believe this. You’re making excuses for him.” He glared at the three of us, as though we were Tyler’s co-conspirators. “Fine, if you don’t tell Liana about this. I will.”
“We never said we wouldn’t tell her,” Nia snapped, her temper getting the best of her. “It’s not like you’re the only one with Liana’s best interests at heart.”
I nodded. “We’ll warn Liana and advise her to watch out for Tyler’s behavior. Satisfied?”
He hesitated, that wild gleam still glinting within his dark, dilated pupils, but then he tilted his head slightly in confirmation. When he’d left, we sat back down on the couch, trying to elect the lucky bearer of ill tidings who would get to broach the subject to Liana. We finally decided we would do it as a team.
“Do you really think he’s cheating on Liana?” Stacy asked us, worry lines crinkling her brow.
“Who knows,” Nia replied. “Hopefully it’s all a misunderstanding though. I’d hate for Liana to go through another heartbreak. Last time was bad enough.”
She was referring to Liana’s heart wrenching breakup with her first boyfriend of four years, Jared, who’d ended up getting married before breaking things up with Liana. She’d gone through this horrible bout of depression, trying to conquer it without bothering us. There had been telltale signs though—ice cream binges, endless shopping that maxed out all her credit cards, and thousands of romance novels strewn across her bed. But none of us had realized it until I had accidently found out about Jared’s marriage through Facebook, forcing Liana to admit everything.
Hopefully, this time, if Tyler’s cheating was true, we would be wiser in being good friends and prevent Liana from maxing out her credit cards again.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to talk to Liana at all that day. By the time she came home that night, Nia and Stacy were at their concert, and I was on my date with Khit. And when the three of us came back, she was fast asleep. With my family coming to visit the next morning, there was no way we could have a private sit-down with Liana. The confrontation would just have to wait until after the weekend.
Bright and early the next morning, Khit and I drove to the airport. Knowing my mother, there was no way she would bring only one suitcase with her for the weekend. My tiny car would never comfortably fit all the luggage and my family. Also, my family plus Daisy and Khit added to six people, but there were only five seats in both cars Khit and I drove, and not enough room to squeeze. To make things easier so that we wouldn’t have to drive separate cars every time we went out, Khit had rented a minivan for the weekend.
As we waited in the corridor, I felt the anxiety creep up. This was the first time my parents were going to meet Khit. What if they were stubborn about not liking him? Khit could charm anyone, but my parents already had their biases against him.
It seemed I was the only one who was nervous. Khit grasped my hand as though he knew my thoughts and smiled reassuringly, not an ounce of lagging confidence reflected anywhere on him. He nudged his head forward, redirecting my attention to the escalator, where passengers were making their descent from the terminals to ground level.
“I think they’re here,” he said. “I recognize them from your pictures. Cathy looks like you.”
“She is my sister,” I said, waving as I spotted my look-a-like and the other teenage girl beside her. Cathy and Daisy waved their hands wildly, jumping up and down a bit and calling out my name, making several passers-by look at them and smile knowingly. My parents, on the other hand, maintained their polite reserve, at least until they reached me. Then Mom hugged me so hard I couldn’t breathe, as Dad grinned in the background. When my parents were finally finished with their assessment of me and completely satisfied that I was still in one piece, they turned their attention to Khit, who had already introduced himself to Cathy and Daisy. It seemed that the two teenagers were already awe-struck and forming big time crushes, by the way they were staring and blushing.
But I cringed as I saw Dad put on his most menacing expression. “So you’re the guy who intends to stop my daughter from having a career. Kyte, was it?”
“Actually sir, it’s Khit.”
“I knew it was something odd and girly,” Dad replied.
“Honey,” Mom admonished, stepping in. “I’m sorry, Khit. What he meant to say is that we’re both very glad to finally meet you.”
Khit flashed his most charming smile, which had an instant effect on my mother. I could see her wary eyes softening immensely. “It’s very nice to meet you too, Mr. and Mrs. Chang. I’m afraid Mr. Chang is right, though. My nickname is girly, but I’m used to it.” Then he addressed my dad again. “I have to say this though, sir. I have no intention of stopping Caren from having a career. She has my wholehearted approval, whatever she decides to do.” The slight emphasis on the she did not escape anyone’s notice. Khit had just told him in unspoken words that I would become a doctor only if I chose that path, but he’d said it with such authoritative civility that it had Dad staring blankly, unsure how to react.
But Khit moved first, slinging Daisy’s duffel bag across one shoulder and Cathy’s backpack across the other, and then he began pushing the luggage cart, piled high with my parents’ suitcases. “Let’s get this to the car then,” he said, giving my parents no other option but to follow him.
Behind my parents, I followed with Daisy and Cathy.
“Well, he’s a keeper,” Daisy said.
To which I replied, “That’s why I’m marrying him.”