Although I had all the excitement I wanted for a year and just wanted to go home and sleep, we still had dinner plans with Julia. My parents were dying to meet Khit’s mother, so we headed downtown to meet her at Pagoda Palace, a high-end Chinese restaurant. We parked a long ways off and had to walk a good half mile from the parking structure to the restaurant.
Julia was already waiting at the table for us. With all her sweet, friendly charm, she greeted my family, and she and my parents instantly clicked.
“You don’t look a day over thirty,” my mother exclaimed, as soon as we had ordered. “You must have some tips for keeping your skin so flawless.”
As the two mothers exchanged beauty tips, my father started a conversation with Khit about world economy, so Daisy, Cathy, and I started our own chit-chat.
“So, anything interesting happen at school?”
“Do you want to hear about my latest crush?” Cathy asked impatiently. Before I could respond to that, she let out a giggle and started gushing out about her eye candy in her chemistry class. She only stopped when the first dish arrived at the table. I took the opportunity to urge Daisy to talk.
“I’m sure many boys have been chasing after you,” I said. Daisy was far too pretty to go through high school unnoticed, just like Liana. They both had the height and the exotic features.
“You would be wrong about that,” she laughed, lifting her shoulders in a carefree shrug. “My parents won’t let any of us date until we’re in college, and last year, when I was a freshman and Rowan was a senior, Ro scared off any guys who dared to even look in my direction.”
Cathy nodded, her eyes widening as she joined in. “You should have seen it. Ro took the idea of overprotective brother to a whole new level. There was a nice boy who asked Daisy to the winter formal, and of course, she couldn’t go because her parents said no. But then he wanted to hang out with us just as friends, and Ro took him aside, had a nice conversation with him, and after that, he runs away from us if we bump into each other in the hall.”
I took a bite of chicken to think about this. From what I remembered about Daisy’s brother, it seemed he had always favored Daisy over their other sisters. There was an unnatural closeness between them that kind of grossed me out. But it was all on Rowan’s side.
“Is Ro better now that he’s in college?” I asked. “Maybe he just needs a girlfriend, so he can transfer that protectiveness to her.”
“That’s the thing,” Daisy exclaimed. “It seems like he’s not interested in any of the girls around him. Do you know what he did? Oh, I can’t even tell you…it’s just so mortifying. Tell her, Cathy.”
My little sister had to finish chewing and swallowing before she could tell me the story. Then she rolled her eyes, and I knew whatever she was about to say wasn’t pretty. “Just this past week he pretended Daisy was his girlfriend to ward off some girl who was interested in him. Even tried to kiss her on the lips in front of the girl, but thankfully, Daisy pushed him off in time.”
I nearly spit out my tea. That was weird. No guy I knew would try planting one on his sister’s lips, no matter how desperate he was to get a girl off his back.
“Maybe he’s gay,” a new voice entered. The three of us looked up to see the entire table staring at us. Cathy had spoken so loud that everyone couldn’t help but become absorbed in our conversation. The one who’d spoken had been Julia.
Daisy’s face was now redder than the cha siu pork on our table. My sister, on the other hand, continued the conversation, as though she didn’t notice. “Oh no, Mrs. Inari. Ro is definitely not gay. His room is covered with posters of comic book girls who pose with guns and are less than adequately dressed.”
Honestly, Cathy could be so insensitive sometimes. The problem with her was that nothing could embarrass her; therefore, she believed no one else had any secrets that could embarrass them.
Looked like it was up to me to save poor Daisy. “So anything else interesting happen at school?”
“I got in a fight with a girl in the locker room,” Cathy said. My parents groaned in mortification. I knew they were thinking this was not a good first impression our family was making on the future in-laws. Leave it to Cathy to try getting out of an awkward situation with another awkward one. But at least the attention shifted away from Daisy.
“Oh sweetie, I hope you weren’t hurt.” Julia looked at Cathy in concern.
“Oh no, it was nothing.” Cathy waved her hand nonchalantly. “I beat that girl up good. Don’t regret it one bit either. No one picks on my best friend.”
“I have a birthmark that’s shaped like a humpback whale,” Daisy explained.
“To me it looks more like the yin side of a yin and yang symbol,” argued Cathy.
“Yes, it could be that too. Anyway, Brenna saw it and started making fun of me, so Cathy told her to shut up. Well, Brenna didn’t like that and tried to hit Cathy.”
“But I defended myself,” my sister declared proudly. “Thanks to the one year I took martial arts. And I didn’t get suspended or anything because I’m a good student and didn’t start the fight, but Brenna got expelled because she ditches all the time and already had three suspensions on her record from starting fights.”
“I’m glad you didn’t get hurt,” I said. “I—”
Julia started, making me pause midsentence. “Yin and yang?” She frantically grabbed a pen and an old receipt from her purse and started drawing something on the back of the receipt. “Does it look something like this?” She passed the receipt to Daisy. Cathy and I looked over her shoulder.
“Oh yeah,” Daisy remarked with a nod. “See, doesn’t the white dot look like the whale’s eye?”
I saw Julia’s hand tremble slightly, and she looked up to exchange alarmed glances with Khit.
“What’s that all about?” I whispered.
“Tell you later.” Khit raised his voice slightly to catch the girls’ attention and changed the subject by commenting that he heard Cathy took piano lessons. My parents seized on that opportunity to coo about my sister’s talent, and Julia joined in with little comments here and there. Normal conversation resumed.
When everyone was stuffed to their heads with food, my parents and Julia fought over the bill, as the waiter boxed up the leftovers. Julia eventually won the battle, so my parents insisted that next time, they would treat, and my mom forced the leftovers on Khit.
Just as Khit accepted the boxes of food, I felt him grow very still. Looking over to Julia, I saw that she had started to tremble once more. I finally knew what had them so uptight. A dog had to be present in the restaurant. Again.
But how was that possible? I knew for sure these types of high-end restaurants didn’t allow pets inside. Maybe some spoiled little rich girl had hidden a Maltese in her purse.
“Excuse me,” Julia said weakly. “I need to use the restroom.” She gave me a meaningful look that said she wanted me to follow.
“That’s a good idea. I’m going too.” Right behind me, I heard Khit mutter the same excuse.
Thankfully, none of my family members had the urge to go, giving the three of us some privacy to talk in the hallway that lead to the restrooms.
I eyed the mother and son duo. “Dog?”
Julia nodded, her hands now shaking uncontrollably. “Sorry Caren, I have to go now. Tell your parents I had a stomach problem and had to leave right away.” And then she vanished into the smoky barbequed pork-smelling air.
“What is with these dogs in restaurants?” I complained. “I swear I’m writing a letter to the public health and safety department. They should insist that no pets be allowed in food areas. What do we do about you now?”
“I just need to get out of here. Let’s tell your family that we’ll get the car and drive over, so they don’t have to walk.”
We went back to the table and gave Julia’s excuse. My mother expressed her concern and suggested that maybe we should take Julia home, but Khit told her that his mother left already and would be fine after a little rest. Then the two of us made our way out of the restaurant to retrieve the car. Khit’s eyes had started watering, and he barely made it out. He had to lean part of his weight on me.
But once we were outside, he inhaled the clean, night air in long, thankful gasps. I thumped him on the back encouragingly, and when his breathing became regular, we started slowly down the pavement.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “You don’t get this bad around Faun. She’s always in my apartment. And the first time you met her, you didn’t even notice her until she started growling at you.”
“Different scent,” he explained. “Faun’s smell isn’t that strong. The smell in the restaurant today was the same as yesterday. More like a wolf. Pungent and odious. That’s why we don’t get along with the wolf yaojing.”
“No way. I know I didn’t see any wolves in the restaurant.”
“Maybe someone owns one. The scent tends to stick to clothing.”
“Nobody would keep a wolf as a pet,” I said with a huff. Then I looked at him doubtfully. “Would they? I thought it was illegal.”
“Laws don’t mean anything to some people. Or I could be wrong about the scent. Might be a hound, which smells just as bad, but I swear it had a tangy nuance that hounds don’t have.” He shrugged. “Whatever it was, I’m just glad I got away.”
A thought occurred to me. A selfish, stupid thought, but I had to know. “If a dog’s scent sticks to clothing, does that mean I smell like Faun? Do I…stink?”
He threw his head back and laughed, making me feel even more foolish. Bristling, I walked away. “Forget I asked.”
Khit caught up to me, pulling me close and nuzzling my hair. “I already told you that Faun doesn’t smell so bad, and you don’t smell like her at all.” He inhaled my hair deeply. “You smell like cinnamon and spices if you’ve been in the kitchen. But now you smell like orange blossoms and spring.”
I pouted, not sure I believed him. “Really?”
“Really. If you did smell like a dog, I wouldn’t be able to stand this close to you. And I definitely wouldn’t be able to do this.” His lips skimmed down from my forehead to my nose, and I closed my eyes, standing on tiptoes until our lips touched. When we broke away, I sighed, completely content and appeased.
Continuing down the block, the street lights cast spotlights that encircled us as we walked. A chilly autumn wind rushed through the trees, causing a cascade of leaves to flutter down like orange confetti. I clasped my jacket closer and zipped up in an effort to retain a fragment of warmth. Living in southern California made me weak. Back at home, it was probably a good seven degrees colder. I used to be able to swim in that weather, but now, I shuddered at just the thought.
Khit didn’t mind the cold at all. As we paused at a crosswalk to wait for the green walking signal, he grasped my hands and rubbed them, trying to warm me up. Then his movements suddenly halted, as a glazed look came into his eyes, turning them almost pitch black.
Alarmed, I shook his arm. “What’s wrong?”
It took a long moment, in which my heart raced frantically, before he responded. “I had a premonition.”
My eyes widened as I let that sink in. Sometimes Khit had these glimpses into the future of some calamity that would befall an unfortunate individual at the place where he stood. Then he would drop everything in an effort to save that person somehow. I hadn’t ever actually witnessed Khit having his premonitions, but I had seen him in the action of saving an old lady from being robbed as a result of that omen. In fact, that instance had been the last time he’d had a premonition, over three months ago, which was how I’d found out that Khit was a yaojing.
“What did you see?” I asked.
“Some guy on a motorcycle is going to speed through this intersection. And some girl is going to be crossing the street to come to this side but stop halfway. He’ll hit her.”
My eyes darted around to scan the area. Across the street, a few people were gathered outside a restaurant as they waited for a table, but they showed no signs of moving any time soon. “Well, what does she look like? Is she here?”
“I couldn’t see her face very clearly, but I do know that she was holding something purple and round, like a ball. Short enough to be a kid, and she was stooping over something. A dog I think. Damn, that means I can’t save her in the moment because she’ll expect me to save the dog too, and I can’t do that without touching the mutt.” He started dashing down the sidewalk. “Stay here. I’m going to see if I can find her.”
When the signal turned green, I watched him sprint across the intersection to the small crowd of people outside the restaurant. He scanned them for a moment and moved on, so it was apparent that the girl with the purple ball wasn’t there. I couldn’t see him after that, and I started to wonder if maybe he’d gone the wrong way to search for the girl. He’d gone to the left of the restaurant, but the girl might be coming from the opposite direction.
Thinking to be of some help, I waited to make sure the street was clear before dashing across, not bothering for the light to turn first. On the other side, I walked in the opposite direction Khit had gone. When there was no sign of the girl with the purple ball, I turned back. Maybe Khit had already found her.
As I waited at the intersection, my ears perked up at the sound of a kid’s laughter. A young girl’s giggle.
“Fetch, boy! Go get it!”
I turned my head in the direction of the voice, but the crowd standing in front of the restaurant blocked the girl from view. Then to my horror, a purple ball went sailing into the air, landing in the middle of the street. A small, black puppy darted after the ball. His fur blended into the pavement.
It all came down to that one moment, when I knew the inevitable was about to happen before my very eyes. The little girl and the puppy were doomed.