Saturday, December 28, 2013

Generation 2: Xiu Shin Yi

"Is this Xiu Shin Yi?"

"Yes, it is."

"Good evening, Ms. Shin Yi. I trust I'm not interrupting anything pressing?" 

Xiu wondered to herself how her boss's boss had gotten her number, but just as quickly decided that she didn't want to know. "Good evening, Mr. Angelo. It's okay, I  just finished dinner." 

"Ah, guess my timing was spot on then!" Mr. Angelo's voice dropped to a whisper. "We just got a hint that there's a planned protest tomorrow at City Hall, and that it involves more than one of our clients. We'd like someone to keep an eye on the situation if possible. You're young enough to blend in with the crowd, would you mind keeping an eye on things?"

When she didn't answer immediately, the executive continued, "I would consider this a personal favor."

A personal favor for one of the few people who was actively making a difference in the company. Promotions were hard to come by at Murchison & Yost. More than one person in Xiu's department hadn't received a raise for years. The man certainly knew how to push the right buttons. 

Xiu said that she would go. Her parents certainly weren't getting any younger, and she needed the money. She couldn't depend on anyone else to take care of her.

The next morning she struggled to wake up on time. Her phone alarm rang six times before she budged. She staggered out of bed, wandering around the house, looking for her clothes.

"Whoa there, cowgirl!"

That was Mei, happy and cheerful and clearly much more alert than she was. "Girl, where the hell are you goin' half-naked? Somebody needs coffee."

"I gotta get up to City Hall," Xiu protested, and nearly split her head with a yawn.

"You go up there like that and I'll be hauling you away in cuffs for indecency! And you know what kind of prudes we got here in town. Coffee. Now." She steered Xiu in the general direction of the small counter bar.

"Prudes," Xiu mocked as she accepted a warm mug. "Speaking of prudes, what's this I hear about you and your random public make-out sessions?"

"How the hell do I know? I don't know what you hear," Mei said, and stuck her tongue out in a show of indifference. 

Despite her job with the police force, Mei was not restrained in the least from flirting, and not necessarily with just men—rumors swirled wildly about her indiscriminate taste. Xiu didn't believe some of the wilder stories, but still … well, she wasn't one to judge, but Mei was … different than she was, to say the very least. And the difference didn't seem to bother Mei one bit.  

Sighing to herself, Xiu finished the coffee and got up to get dressed. 

She browsed the protest log, reading over the motivation behind the demonstration, and privately wondered if she might be out there herself if she wasn't a corporate employee. ... but no. She was an employee of Murchison & Yost, she had a job to do and a promotion to earn. She was going to do it.

Before she left, she spent a few moments of sitting alone on the couch to gather herself. It was hard to believe that four months had passed since she had been widowed. The stereo stood in the corner. No one had turned it on since that horrible day. It felt as though it had happened just a few days ago.

She had to stop thinking about it.

... how?


When she arrived at City Hall, Xiu quickly found that the social networking was no lie. The people were out in force, shouting slogans, angrily waving signs. The crowd noise was fierce, and she grew nervous. What if something happened? What if a riot broke out?

"The corporate culture is poisoning our food and our soil with their chemical sludge! Take back our farmland, tell Forthwith Pesticides we don't want them here!"

Forthwith Pesticides was not a client of Xiu's company just yet. Currently all the company handled was their accounting. But the executive group was pushing hard to bring Forthwith on board as a full client, and that meant everyone involved had to tread carefully, or risk torpedoing an account worth §50 million. Xiu observed what she could of the protest, snapped photos, took notes on her phone. She tried to look inconspicuous, and she nodded along with whatever anyone said directly to her. She was here to gather information, not argue. Eventually though, she had to walk away from the main mob to avoid being drawn into a shouting match between two splinter groups. Even in a protest, people couldn't agree.

She bumped into a firm body while still inputting information into her phone. "Excuse me," she said, without looking up.

"Bien sur."

That made her head snap up. Oh, god, not Pascal. Please not Pascal.

… no, not Pascal. 

She was silent for a moment before considering that this man might be able to give her some additional information. Quietly, she asked, "… so what's this protest all about?"

He looked back at her, and just as quietly answered in his strong accent, "Forthwith Pesticides is trying to establish a client base in this town, we have come to protest against it. The local government is holding an open hearing on the matter, but there was not enough room for all of us to enter the room. We're out here instead."

"Why are you protesting?"

"… of the past ten towns that Forthwith has claimed as a major client base, seven have had long-term soil sterility issues. Two become ghost towns after all of their topsoil blew away."

"Huh," Xiu said. He kept talking; she kept listening. 

She soon found that this man's name was Rémy Dutiel. He was a master's candidate of environmental science from La Université du Paris, and he happened to be visiting friends two towns over when this development broke. He was less interested in the monetary motivations of Forthwith Pesticides, far more concerned with how the soil would be replenished. Even though she knew little to nothing about agriculture, he spoke so knowingly on the topic that gradually Xiu grew more and more interested in what he had to say. The phone sat in her phone, utterly forgotten. 

When he offered her a drink ("It's so hot out here") she didn't even hesitate. The Watering Hole was selling two-for-one Negronis; Rémy brought one to her.

"Do you like it?"

"I don't know," Xiu said, honestly. "I've never had one before." She sipped. "Oooh, it's bitter. Tastes kind of like perfume. Weird."

He laughed. "Well, you're still drinking it. Does that mean you like it?"

"It means I'm probably a budding alcoholic."

He laughed again. She decided that she liked his smile. 

She continued to drink, and Rémy continued to talk. It wasn't long before she had completely lost the train of the conversation and soon found herself staring at his lips, completely fascinated by them. She wanted those lips.

… was she drunk?

With a start, she realized that she had been staring at him for too long. His smile was knowing. "You seem as though you would like to say something, Miss Xiu." 

… what was there to say?

Both protestors and corporate lobbyists were crowding their way into the bar, shattering the quiet atmosphere and spoiling the moment. Rémy took Xiu's hand and led her outside, where it had grown dark, seemingly in a heartbeat. The small park just a block away from the bar was silent and deserted, and he took her there, where they stood still for a moment and looked up into the night sky.

"You are … different," he finally murmured. "I know that you were not interested in what I had to say. And yet you listened to me all afternoon, even though you have your own troubles."

"I don’t mind listening," she said, just as softly.

He looked into her eyes again and smiled. "You seemed happier when we weren't talking so much."

When he lay her down in the bushes and slid between her thighs, she melted. All of the pain and numbness that she had carried—gladly—for the past four months, she laid aside and felt again. And oh, how Rémy made her feel. 

The moon crept upwards through the sky.


 Xiu's phone was ringing. The sound of the buzzing ringtone went through her head, unpleasantly. Getting up was a struggle, but she had to. Every time the phone stopped ringing, it just started again three seconds later.

 "… hello?"

"Ms. Shin Yi. Rough night?" 

That would be Mr. Angelo. She swallowed through a dry mouth.

"So, I hear you attended the protest, as requested." There was the sound of papers being rustled. "I also hear you got distracted, all on your own."


The voice instantly lost all trace of pleasantry. "Don't try to play dumb. You weren't exactly the only company employee we had out there. So would you care to update me on what you found out
—if anything—before you let yourself get carried away?"

Xiu fumbled through her phone's apps, finally finding her notes after two minutes of dead silence. She read them back verbatim, to the sound of yet more dead silence. Finally Mr. Angelo sighed. "As lovely as your narrative is, we already had all of that information available to us. So really, you turned out to be no better than a Facebook page."

"Mr. Angelo—" 

"Ms. Shin Yi. Do you understand what you've done? You were sent there to watch the protests and keep abreast of what people were saying, so that we could realistically report back to a future client about the possibility of them establishing a §50 million account here and creating actual jobs for once. And instead, you wander off with a tourist and miss all of the proceedings! You have completely undermined the duty and responsibility we have to this client to protect their interests. I have to make a report to the executives of Forthwith Pesticides in 48 hours. What am I going to tell them now? Any ideas that I can actually use?"

"… you could tell them about the soil sterility issues in the last towns that they established major accounts in."

"... excuse me?"

For the next ten minutes, Xiu repeated back what Rémy had said to her yesterday. Mr. Angelo, to his credit, didn't interrupt once, even though everything he was hearing was detrimental. When she finally fell silent, there was a long pause, even more tense than any of the previous ones.

"Unbelievable," he said at last. "Absolutely un-fucking-believable. I send you downtown to get information to help our client, and you've been completely converted to the other side."

"Isn't the long-term future of our town important?" Xiu said. She had a shaky feeling in the pit of her stomach.

"If I were you, I'd be more concerned about the future of your work prospects. You're fired, effective immediately. Your key card has been deactivated, so there's no need for you to return to the office.I'll have the contents of your cubicle shipped to your home address. And frankly, after word gets around that you managed to shutter over 150 potential jobs, you'll thank me for just firing you and not throwing you to the wolves, like I normally do when someone displays your level of incompetence." 

Perfect. Just perfect.

"… fine," she said and hung up. The room was spinning, and quite suddenly she found herself on her knees in front of the toilet. 

 It was the Negroni.  At least that was what she told herself.


A month elapsed in short order. 

Mei had a steady boyfriend now—at least, she hadn't dumped him within a week of meeting him. She had brought him home more than once, and both Kim Chong and Layla had met him. As usual, Kim Chong welcomed him with open arms, and Layla hung back a little. A lot, actually. She didn't care for this one in the least. But it didn't matter—Mei was as independent and stubborn as her mother had ever been. She was a Lufti through and through.

But if Layla couldn't get under Mei's skin about Judson, she certainly managed to do it by pestering Mei non-stop about her job on the police force. The shouting matches were truly something to behold.

"You are 25, and you have worked the same job for almost a year! No promotions, no raises? What do you do there, play with your phone? Do you actually do any work?"

"Really, Ma? How many times do I gotta tell you the same thing? Cops don't get regular raises, there's no money in the city budget for it! And I already told you what I do! I don't drive a desk, I get dirt on the street." 

"Dirt? Dirt? What does dirt have to do with you working a menial job that any fool could do? You were the valedictorian of your class, but now you spend all day on a street corner like a common whore?"

"Well, maybe I like what I do! Maybe I actively choose to do it, didja ever think of that? And I'm making honest money doing real work that keeps you safe at night, so maybe you oughta quit yer bitchin'.  Besides, it could always be worse. I could be knocked up like someone else we both know!"

Xiu put down her paintbrush and stared in the window. Her mother had stormed off. Mei was coming outside, smirking.

"… what the hell did you do that for?"

"What? You mad because I won?"

"Don't 'what' me! Why'd you bring up pregnancy? You know Mom's worried sick that you're going to—"

"She doesn't need to worry about me," Mei snapped, "she should be looking at you."

"… me?"

"Yup. There's a bun in that oven, sis."

Xiu stopped short. "... what ... but it can't be ..."

"The hell it can't! You've been throwing up every morning for two weeks straight? And suddenly you wanna eat hamburgers all the time now when you've never liked them before? ... hormonal cravings. And your boobs are too big for your bra, in case you hadn't noticed. So, yeah. You. Pregnant. Duh."

Xiu tried to say something further, but instead just burst into tears. Mei immediately tried to calm her down. 

"Hey, now … it's okay. Ma will be totally happy to have another kid running around the house, and you're her favorite, anyway. She's never going to complain about anything you do." 

This was cold comfort to Xiu: first widowed, then fired, and now a mother-to-be! How much further could things fall apart?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Generation 1: Two Weeks

A new day rose on Riverfront Meadow. 

It was a lovely, clear day, one that promised much sunshine and little in the way of clouds, a perfect day for working hard in the fields. Or perhaps spending time with loved ones.

Xiu Shin Yi woke up alone. Not only was the other half of her bed empty, but the house, likewise, stood desolate. 

Her mother had finally caved in and traveled to Egypt; her father and sister had accompanied Layla. It was important for Kim Chong to provide moral support, and Mei just wanted the fun of being able to say she'd gone to Al Simhara. Xiu could have and probably should have joined them, but she made some piteous excuse about not being able to get two weeks off on such short notice. Mei rolled her eyes and sneered. "You just want to be alone with Bert, don't you?" 

Whatever the true reason, Xiu was at home. She did in fact call Bert with this news, but he had to disappoint her. He had gotten a call for an interview from one of the most prestigious soil laboratories in the state. He needed to get prepared for the three-hour ordeal and catch an early-morning flight, and he wouldn't be back until the weekend.

She wanted to feel sorry for herself, but it was entirely her own fault, she knew. She should have just gone to Al Simhara and spent time with her folks and Mei. Instead, she could look forward to spending the next two weeks stuck inside of a drab corporate tower. And coming home to an empty house. How depressing.
In frustration, she called Anna in HR, who confirmed that she had a solid week of vacation. It took some begging and pleading, but Anna finally agreed to let her have the day off. Xiu gratefully thanked Anna, and took a cab to the local consignment store. If she had to be alone, she was going to window shop like a pro!

The family had a little safety net of money now, but Xiu had learned frugality early, and she continued to shop at this one little store. It had everything she wanted—clothes, books, small goods—and it was easy to claim that she liked to spend her money in a local business. Her friends would never understand that she was so neurotic that she was too frightened to shop in a department store.

Today her old classmate Francesco was working the register. She could hear him shouting from outside of the store.

"… listen, Jordy. You come in here every week to fight with me over cowboy hats. How many times do I have to tell you we don't order our own merchandise? If no one consigns any hats, then we don't have any hats to sell. How is that hard to understand? Now get the hell out of here and find someone else to bug, I got an actual customer to help."

"Don't mind me," Xiu said, feeling a bit embarrassed. "I just want to browse a little." She quickly got out of the way of the arguing men and went to the rack in the far back corner of the store. 

This was the 'designer' rack, the clothes that were just a little more special, a little more pretty than the usual offerings. Normally she had no use for those kind of outfits, but today one in particular caught her eye—a tiny little dress—was it a dress? … no, it was too short, but it was cut like a dress … what was this thing? … 

… oh. 

... oh god.

Despite her slender frame, Xiu had never worn anything revealing, not even miniskirts. And this was by far the most immodest dress that she had ever seen. She felt naked in it. How could anyone wear such a thing? … it was so flimsy and so thin, you could see right through it—

"Find anything you like?" Francesco called from the front of the store.

"Ah … well …"

"Oh, that's a definite yes. What'd you find?"

"It's … it's … um …"

"Come up here, let me see it."

"But I'm almost naked!"

"Oh! It's the purple nightie, isn't it?"

"... it's a nightie?"

She dressed quickly before Francesco could come see her in it. He was nodding in approval. "I put that one on the rack myself this morning. I told myself it'd be gone by tonight, and lookie here, I was right. That's not a cheap one either, it's real silk. You should get it."


"You know what else you should buy?" He pulled two bottles of premium wine from under the counter. "It'll make your evening really awesome. You take these, I'll knock 25% off the nightie."

Xiu hesitated. Francesco turned the wine bottles over in his hand. "Hey, one of these bottles of wine is on sale …"

"Francesco, I really can't—"

"Sure you can!" He quickly punched numbers into the register. "It's only §72. For both bottles of wine and the nightie. I can tell you right now that negligee by itself is over §100 in the store. Go to the mall if you don't believe me."

Of course she believed him. 

"... and think about what Bert will say when he sees you in it."

Blushing, she bought it.

She went outside, humming to herself. She was so distracted that when a young man reached out for her, she screamed, startled. "Who are you? What do you want? I don't have any money!"

"Money? Of course I do not want your money! I am Pascal, don't you remember me?"


… oh! The exchange student from France. Now that she realized she wasn't being mugged, she was able to actually see him. Once she saw him, she blinked, startled. "Pascal! … right, I do remember. Uh … I thought we were the same age though!"

"We are, cherie."

"But … then why are you so short?"

He laughed. "I am French, we are not very tall."

"Pascal, you're the same height you were at seventeen!"

"Yes, we do not grow much …"

He changed the subject and Xiu stared at him, wondering if he was telling the truth. If he wasn't, then he had lied about his age when they first met and he was actually much younger than she was. If he was ... well, she wasn't into short guys and Bert was a lot more attractive. She felt ashamed for even being so shallow, but more than that, she was pissed that he'd ruined her daytime fantasy. She didn't want to feel horny while looking at her makeout buddy from 11th grade. That was probably illegal in this state!

"Pascal," she suddenly broke in to his random babbling, "I need to go, my cab is here." 

"I will accompany you."

And he did, despite her protests. By the time they reached the house Xiu was completely uncomfortable, though Pascal went on, completely oblivious. 

She stopped in front of the front door and leaned on it. She did not make a move to let him come in. Instead, she glared at him. "… I want you to leave, Pascal. Now."

"Pourquoi? I thought that you would be happy to see me, petit. Why must you be so unkind? You loved me before!"

"Love is a little too strong of a word for a few kisses. And I'm not sure why you followed me home, but this is starting to get creepy. I'd really like it if you left."

"Xiu, mon cher, you must not be feeling well. Here, I will help you indoors."

"Don't touch me!" she shouted, so aggressively that he took a few steps backwards.

For a comical moment, he looked startled. Then he smoothed it all away and began all over again, calmly but firmly insisting that she had loved him when they were younger and that she had begged him to return, and now he had returned so that they could be together forever. She was clearly so excited to see him that she needed to relax. And he tried, once again, to escort her into the house.

"Damn it, Pascal! Stop talking to me as if I don't know what I'm saying!"

"Mais petit, perhaps you do not … you promised to be with me, hmm?"

"Yes, for a single school term! And that term is long since over!"

"I remember it differently. You see—"

"Shut up! I don't care what you remember! All you seem to remember is stuff I never said and things we never did! Now leave before I call the police!"

"Trés etrange," he mumbled, and looked wounded. "Do you really dislike short men so much?" 

He finally walked away, leaving her alone. She dashed into the house and slammed the house behind her. That ... little ... asshole!

Although she had intended to save the wine against the return of her parents (or Bert), this was a serious enough crisis to drink it all by herself. She twisted her loose hair back into a knot, threw herself onto the couch and turned on a bad movie. And poured herself a huge glass of Riesling.

She was startled awake by the sound of knocking at the door. She had obviously gone to sleep, as it was dark outside now. Who could be visiting? … if it was Pascal again, she was going to go nuts

"Xiu, you home?"

Oh, thank god—it was Bert. She hurried to let him in.

"There you are, I was afraid you'd gone out—" As soon as he saw her face his voice changed. "… is everything all right? You look drunk."

"I am drunk."

"But you don't drink."

"I did today."

She told him about her unwelcome guest. Bert listened in silence and nodded with concern. Finally he asked, "Do you want me to stay here tonight? I know your folks aren't in town, but maybe

"Yes," she interrupted. "Please stay. Please."

He seated himself on the couch while she excused herself. He continued to make small talk, but when she came back up front clad in her new see-through nightgown, the words died away, unspoken. He had a small qualm about taking advantage of his best friend in her inebriated state, but her kisses were warm and wet and her cute little butt felt nice under his hand. Resistance was utterly futile.

He did at least have enough presence of mind to finish the job in her bed instead of on the family couch. Not that Xiu made it easy on him in the least.

My interview went pretty good, but I turned the job down," he murmured later. "Moving away from you wasn't worth it."

Xiu didn't hear a word he said. He kissed her warm cheek and continued to watch her sleep. 

"Ow, Daddy! Mom, make him stop!" 

Layla raised an eyebrow. "It was your idea to spar with him, what should I do?"

"He's gonna break my goddamn nose!"

Layla shook her head. "Then dodge, Mei."

"Oh, that's helpful, thanks a ton. ... ow! Damn it"

"Ha!" Kim Chong shouted. "Lose again. Now must cook dinner!"

"Damn it! ... c'mon, Daddy, another match. Best three out of five."

Layla chuckled as her husband and her daughter went back and forth. No matter much Mei complained about losing, she always wanted 'just one more match.' Stubborn as hell. She was a true Lufti.

Speaking of true Luftis ...

 "Hi, I'm Karima!"

"Hello," Layla said quietly, and took the hand of the lovely young woman facing her. For a moment, she wondered if she had come to the wrong house. But she spied a rather large abaya jilbab hanging out to dry in the backyard, and knew instantly that it belonged to Aisha. She recognized the pattern on the hem—she'd bought that outfit for her sister many years ago. So this was still her family home. But who was this young lady, then?

"Hi! You must be … oh gosh, I forgot your name just that fast … ugh, I'm so sorry, I'm trying to keep my modeling schedule straight and I can't remember much else right now … oh! oh!" Karima suddenly jumped up and down in her excitement. "I know you! You're my aunt Layla!"


"Yes," a raspy voice croaked. "Aunt, Layla."

Layla faced her sister Aisha with an open mouth; she couldn't make a sound. 

Aisha turned to Karima. "Child, take off that horrible dress and put on something decent. I don't care if you are a supermodel, I can't stand to see you run around in those clothes."
"Yes, ma'am."

Karima went upstairs, and Layla finally found her voice. "She … she's … wait, is that your daughter?"

"No. I'm her aunt, too."

"W-what? … then … Mena? And wait … her last name is Chou? So … Mena …" 

"I told you," Aisha said irritably, "that you had a family here that needed to see you."

"But this doesn't make any sense!" Layla protested. Her mind was racing. Karima appeared to be near Xiu's age—which meant—

"I guess it's time to tell you," Aisha sighed. "All three of us were supposed to stay single for our entire lives. That was a promise that Mother asked for right before she died. Mena and I promised, of course, and you promised too, even though you were just four. And we kept that promise. No boyfriends, no dates, no proposals."


Aisha went on, "When you turned nineteen and ran off, Mena was so angry. We'd had interested suitors, but no one was really serious about us. So when you were able to find someone so easily and just … leave, she felt as though you had been disloyal to Mother, but on the other hand she was so jealous. So she went out and got married—it didn't last, of course—and she had Karima, maybe a year after you had Xiu. Having a baby didn't make her feel any better about anything, of course, and in the last few years of her life she completely cracked apart. She turned out just like Mother."

"But why? Why would someone want their daughters to remain alone?"

"Because she was angry," Aisha sighed again. "Because our father left."

"And that was how she took revenge, by taking the choice away from us?"

"It was a dying woman's last wish," Aisha snapped. "It was loyalty."

"No," Layla said. "It was cruel, and it was petty, and it was wrong."

"We knew that!" Aisha hissed. "But what could we say to her? Here she was, dying in misery … were we supposed to rub it in her face that we were still young and beautiful? That we would succeed where she had failed? We did it to be merciful, Layla. It would have been cruel to deny her."

Layla stepped backward, feeling dizzy. Above them, Karima merrily skipped down the hall. 
"Did you make her—"

"No," Aisha said, and turned away. "She already has a boyfriend."


"... Mom!" 

"Crybaby," Kim Chong teased. "Lose again!"

"You just wait, old man! I'm gonna get you back when I pick up your nursing home!"

Layla smiled to herself. She went to get drinks for all of them and watched from the corner of her eye as Kim Chong hugged Mei and kissed the top of her head. When she had gone to the tourist camp on that hot summer night twenty years ago, she had expected a short-term hookup, and a one-way ticket out of town if she was lucky. She'd thought it would last two weeks at best. And now, twenty years later, she couldn't imagine life being a bit different. 


The family returned to Riverfront Meadow to find that their house was being taken over by the interloping Bert Goldman. Mei, always anxious to train with someone who wasn't her father, often pestered him into sparring matches. (She still usually lost, though). Layla often glanced up from her writing notebooks at the quiet young man at the other end of the table, wondering if he and Xiu had what it would take to make their relationship last beyond a high-school crush. 

Not that any of this made a difference, until the man of the house said it did. And one fine morning after the house had cleared out (Xiu was at work, Mei was at school, and Layla was by a remote stream fishing), Bert sat alone hiding behind the paper while Mr. Shin Yi stared at the back of his head. 

"Why still here?" Kim Chong asked bluntly. "Xiu at work."

"Ah, yes. She … she asked me to stay this morning—"

"Stay every morning."

"Yes … well, you see … she …" Bert's voice trailed off.

"What that?" Kim Chong demanded. "Speaking too low, like child. Speak like man, speak out!"

" … yes, sir."

"Hmmph, hiding something. Come outside."

Bert could do little but follow, rather timidly. 

"Mr. Shin Yi … sir. I assure you that I mean nothing but the best for Xiu and that I want to take care of her. We had a long talk while you and your family were out of town—"

"I know how you talk," Kim Chong interrupted with a twinkle in his eye. "I young man once too. You not worry. You good to Xiu, she happy with you, I happy for her. You want marry Xiu?"

"Yes," Bert said immediately. He sounded very relieved. 

Kim Chong laughed and embraced him. "I have son! I happy too."

After that talk, Layla announced over a family dinner that she wanted to expand the main room of the house to include a separate dining room and kitchen area. It was likely that they would have a sixth addition to the family soon, she argued, and it would be a much better idea to begin construction before Xiu became pregnant. Bert and Mei agreed enthusiastically with this opinion, but Xiu cast a worried glance at her father's back as he went outside without a word and silently began to paint. 

Bert had privately discussed the cramped feeling in the house to Xiu more than once before. If anyone was doing laundry, access to all bedrooms was practically cut off. There was only room at the dining tables for four, which made a full family dinner all but impossible. The kitchen had one counter. Anyone coming in was very likely to stumble directly into the couch … the list of complaints went on and on. 

Xiu agreed with his observations, but cautioned him strongly against discussing home upgrades with her father. "I'd recommend that you go to my mother first if you want to do anything with the house, and let her have that conversation with him. For some reason, talking about home additions really aggravates him. It's always been like that, I've never known why. I'm starting to think I don't want to know why."

So Bert took her advice and broached the topic with Layla, and as Mrs. Shin Yi was in full agreement with him, the expansion began. Xiu worked overtime to pull together the extra §1000 they needed to finish planning their small wedding, and Bert began helping out in the garden, which was something that neither Xiu nor Mei had ever bothered to do. Layla argued that they'd never really needed help from the girls, but Kim Chong pointed out that the girls had never offered to help, either. One more point for Bert!

Although Bert was happy to help his future in-laws in their garden, he had no desire to be a full-time house husband. But he was in a bit of a pickle as far as his future employment went. He had turned all of the employment opportunities in the outlying areas, and none of the in-town labs were hiring. He was considering getting a job as a personal trainer, at least for the present. 

Mei told him to go for it. "I mean, you won't always have that body—"

"Mei!" her father scolded. "Bad manner!"

Mei ignored this and continued, "—and you can always do that boring science crap later if you really want."

Bert laughed, weakly. "Well, um … thanks for the pep talk, sis. Guess I'll get to it then."

So that was settled. Now that both Xiu and Bert had steady jobs, the budget for the wedding was well within reach, and now that the new expansion was complete, there was no more reason to delay. That Friday evening, she and Bert welcomed several of their former classmates to the park and joined themselves in holy matrimony to a chorus of cheers.  The party went on, late into the evening. Kim Chong and Layla took Mei home early, despite her protests, leaving Xiu and Bert to continue chatting and laughing with their old friends.

Later that night, Xiu woke up with her face stuck to the toilet. She hadn't drunk a drop of champagne, so she was fairly sure she knew what the problem was.

But as it turned out, she was quite wrong. It was a mild spot of indigestion, no more, no less.


Between the latest addition to the home and the wedding, there really was no money left, so Xiu and Bert enjoyed their honeymoon at home. He continued to prepare for his future career and trained rigorously at his father-in-law's side. Kim Chong watched his progress with great pride. "Will be good trainer. Have many female client."

"... good god, Dad ..."

Xiu took over kitchen duty, happily cooking and cleaning. Layla reminded her daughter gently that she wasn't too old to cook, but Xiu insisted. "Mom, you've been doing it for years and years! Let me give back a little."

"Of course, but—"

"No buts! How do you like the pancakes?"

"They … they're delicious," Layla said, a little surprised. Xiu had never cooked a day in her life, and already she could make such good food?

Breakfast over, Xiu went out to shop for art supplies. Layla returned through the widened living room, slowly coming to a halt in front of the stereo. It was hissing with static. Before she could recall where the tool box was, Bert passed her, carrying a screwdriver. "It's just a loose wire," he explained. "I'll fix it in a jiffy."

"You don't want me to help?" Layla asked.

"No, ma'am, don't bother yourself! I can see just where the connector fell off. I got it."

Layla sighed. Did anyone need her for anything anymore? She went outside to sort through the garden. At least I'm still capable of doing that, she murmured bitterly to herself.

While she was busy fertilizing the plum tree, she heard two distinct sounds: a brzzzt, and a thump. 

The funeral was held on Monday evening.  

Kim Chong noted with sorrow that he has just worn this formal outfit for a much happier occasion. It was proper for the father of the bride to wear white in Riverfront Meadow. But it was proper to wear it again now, because people from Shang Simla would normally wear all white to a funeral.

Xiu was inconsolable as she signed the death certificate dated a mere two weeks after their wedding. Her heartbreak at the grave site was wrenching. "Why the hell wasn't I there?" she sobbed. "I'll never forgive myself …"

Instantly her father was by her side. "Xiu, stop. Do not say."

"Shut up!" she screamed. "You've been married forever! You've never lost anyone close to you! How could you understand how I feel?"

There was a tangible, uncomfortable silence. Xiu could feel her mother's hard stare, practically flaying her alive, and her sister's eyes, shocked beyond words. Xiu, the perfect little daddy's girl, throwing a tantrum? Whoa.

... but her father wasn't looking at her; he was looking away with that stony grimace that he only ever seemed to have when it came to talking about the house. Xiu couldn't bear the idea of that frightening face, directed at her. "Mom … Mei … could you give us a little time?"

Layla didn't move, but Mei immediately took the hint to shove off. "Mom, come on. I see fish in the stream over there."

"I see the fish too, do you think I am blind? I am not so old yet …" Their voices slowly grew dim, and faded. Xiu came to her father's side.

"Daddy, I'm sorry," she whispered. 

He didn't answer, but he nodded.

 "I should have never said that."


"No, Daddy … you don't understand." The tears stood in her eyes. "I ... I had to research the city archives for my senior project. I saw your name in the files, and I looked … I saw the reports about your grandfather. You were even younger than I am—" 

 Kim Chong turned away again. Xiu followed.

"Daddy, please forgive me! I know I shouldn't have said that … but I was so frustrated. I'll never be able to move on. I'll never find someone like Bert again."

Now Kim Chong stopped, and pulled his oldest child close. "Xiu. Need take time, then feel better.  Okay to cry, not okay stop living. I lose son, not want lose daughter too." 


The sky rapidly went dark. The family returned home to the table for six, and the broken stereo. Kim Chong went outside to finish gardening, Layla picked up the forgotten screwdriver and finished repairing the stereo (correctly), and Mei went to her room to change. No one had noticed that it was her birthday, or congratulated her for being the class valedictorian. 

Through the wall, she could hear Xiu crying. She went into her sister's bedroom, somewhere she had never been allowed to enter ever since she could remember. Something told her that Xiu might not want to be alone tonight.  

Sure enough, Xiu was hovering near the bed as tears streamed into her nose. "Sorry for being so loud. I should just go to bed, shouldn't I? But I don't want to sleep in this bed alone."

"Xiu, Daddy's right. You need time … you need time to heal—"

"It doesn't matter if I heal," Xiu said. "It doesn't matter how much time passes. This was it for me, Mei. I'm not doing this again. I'm never getting married again."