Thursday, December 26, 2013

Generation 1: Traveler's Blues

"Mom, look! A true Grecian amphora! It isn't even damaged! Isn't that amazing?"

"Xiu, sweetheart ..." Layla gently tried to pull her daughter back. Xiu was so anxious to view the exhibits closely that she didn't pay attention to security ropes, despite the stern admonishments from the guards. "Please step back a little, so we do not get into trouble again. Now you can tell me all about it."

Xiu was only too happy to oblige. Talking about art was Xiu's pride and joy, and all trip long she had lectured nonstop on every single item that they had seen at every single museum. It was mentally draining to listen to the same topic constantly. Particularly with such an excited professor. Her excitement made Layla feel guilty about being so apathetic, but it certainly didn't make her listen any more closely. After another five minutes of babble, Layla had to fight hard not to zone out. 

"… Mom, look! They have an Egyptian exhibit!"

Before Layla could even respond, Xiu was pulling her into the next room and gushing over the sarcophagi. "It's my life's goal to make masterpieces like this. Did you know that these pieces were the work of a single craftsman?"

"No, dear, I didn't."

"Mom, it's your heritage! How could you not know? I wrote my essay final on this very topic, I spent days researching about it! Days!"

"Days," Layla mused. "Was this the time I caught you making out with that boy you were supposed to be studying with?"

"We weren't making out! It was just a little kiss—"

"With his tongue in your mouth for a full minute and your hand on his thigh?"

"Mom! ... you saw all of that?"

"In my house? Of course I did!
 You'd better be grateful that I didn't tell your father!"

"Mom! I swear it wasn't anything. Besides, Pascal was just an exchange student, it wasn't even serious. The guy I really like is Bert—"

"Who's Bert?" Layla asked, even more alarmed now.

"Oh my gosh, Mom—" Xiu fumbled in her purse and pulled out a photograph. "Bert's always wearing headphones. He's super-sweet. You've met him before, you know who he is."

Layla looked, and sighed. She did know Bert Goldman. She also knew that his mother did not like Xiu and made no secret of it. According to the local gossip, Bert had broken up with his girlfriend of six years over Xiu. No mother wants to watch her son be careless with a young lady's heart, but more than that, Mrs. Goldman was estranged from her husband thanks to his philandering. Doubtless she was displeased by the glaring similarity.

"I know what you're thinking," Xiu said somberly. "You're thinking about Bert's mom, I bet. But it's okay, really it is. I already know how she feels, and so does Bert. He told me it's his life and he's going to live it how he wants. And he wants to be with me, no matter what she says."

Layla could only hope that it would be so. She had been living with her family's disapproval for many years now, and time had not healed that wound in the least.


While the ladies roamed abroad, Kim Chong had been busy at home.  The little house had expanded again, this time upward. 

Lately Layla's production had come to a halt. Her agent was becoming impatient with her, which stressed her and further hampered her writing. Kim Chong had tried to soothe her nerves, but there was no calming Layla once her temper flared. And what the hell did he know about writing, anyway? 

In the end he called an architect and requested an addition. Thanks to his frugal lifestyle, there was more than enough money to construct a second story. The third bedroom and bath were completed in a matter of a week, just before Layla and Xiu were scheduled to return from France. Now on days that Layla was in a mood, she could have the entire room to herself to fume around in.

Layla and Xiu returned to town that following Wednesday. To Layla's great relief, Xiu began to inflict her lectures on her father now. They happily went outside to paint together—Xiu on her crappy old easel, Kim Chong on the brand-new one that she had purchased for him. "Made from Chinese elm wood," she announced proudly.

 "Picking on me," he complained. "I not good, why make me paint?"

"Daddy, you're fine! Just keep going."

"You paint creation of universe, I paint stick figure, how I good?"

"Daddy, you're not supposed to paint like me …" she spluttered, laughing. It was nice to be home again.

They both heard Mei squealing as she took a ride down the brand-new railing of the brand-new staircase. It was her new favorite thing to do. 

"Should I make her stop that?" Xiu asked, but Kim Chong shook his head. Layla said that she didn't mind some noise—if she couldn't hear the kids, she would wonder what they were getting up to. As Kim Chong had hoped, she spent a lot of time upstairs in the new room. Sometimes she wrote at her new desk. 

Sometimes she was fighting with her sisters. Like right now.

"... how was I supposed to know that Mena was dead? You didn't tell me!"

"Oh sure, blame me. Never mind that you have a family here in Egypt, Layla, and you haven't been back once since you left fifteen years ago. And it's not as if you didn't have means. You were able to go to France."

"That is completely different, that was for my daughter

"See what I've been telling you all these years? Your new family is more important. And you prove it time and time again, no matter what you say to us."

"Stop it!"

"Stop what? Stop reminding you of your ingratitude? Fine, I'll stop. I won't call you again, since that's obviously what you want anyway."

Layla hung up and walked over to the window, hugging herself, crying.

When she woke up again, she was in bed, in her husband's arms. She didn't know if she had spoken to him, or what she had said if she had. And none of it mattered now that he was holding her close. His touch was enough to calm the trouble in her soul.

At least for a while.


Happier events soon gave them something else to focus on. At the end of the week, Xiu would be graduating from high school at the top of her class. Her artwork had been published in more than one major periodical, and already she had requests coming in for custom pieces. She could be busy for weeks, months if she chose. But right now she seemed significantly more interested in Bert Goldman. And Bert, true to his word, remained interested in her—so interested that Mei whined, "Who's that guy an' why's he keep lookin' over here?" immediately after the graduation ceremony.

"That guy" showed up at the house later in the afternoon and kept Xiu company for a while. Poor Mei didn't know what to think. She hopped onto the couch and pretended to be driving a car, the better to keep an eye on them.

"So you're not moving to Fort Winston, Bert? I'm surprised, they have a really good physics lab there."

"Vroooooom," Mei called, just to remind them that she was still there.

"It's too far, I can't come back a lot if I move three states away, can I?"

"Yeah, but … I mean, you'd make really good money, you could always fly home."

"Why don't I just stay here with you and be happy, and not have to fly home?"

"Beeeep beeeep!"

Xiu sighed. "Mei, really? Go get that music box from your room. I thought you wanted me to paint it."

"I did, but you were always busy!"

"Because I was taking final exams! I'm not busy now, go get it."

Instantly, Mei went into her room and started a hunt for her music box. Its case was marred with Magic Marker scribbles, and Xiu had promised to repaint it. It took Mei a few minutes to find the toy, and as soon as she returned to the front room, she realized that she had been tricked.

"I'm gonna tell!” Mei shouted, but the lovebirds were too far gone to hear her childish threats. 

Bert kept his word and stayed in town. His mother's attitude did not improve, but Bert was just as stubborn as she was, and when she threw him out, he promptly got his own tiny apartment. Not that it mattered; he spent his afternoons at the Shin Yi's house talking to Xiu and getting to know her parents better. Layla was still a bit leery of him and his intentions, but Kim Chong took an immediate shine to him and began to train him in the basics of the Path of the Wind. He demonstrated his technique so effectively that Bert walked away thinking that Mr. Shin Yi was some kind of undercover FBI agent. Xiu just laughed at the idea. 

"Don't you worry about it," she assured Bert. "Daddy's been trying to find someone to spar with for a long, long time. People around here aren't exactly into exercise."

"I can't be his sparring partner! Your daddy is gonna kill me with his little fingers!"

"No, he's not!" Xiu protested, laughing. "He's just …"

"Crazy, Xiu. Craaaaay. Zeeeee."

"Aw, he's gonna be so disappointed. I guess I'll tell him to go back to training Mei." 

That evening Bert was invited to spend the night, and he accepted right away. One of Xiu's graduation gifts was a new double bed, and she felt a strange excitement at being able to share it with one of her best friends. 

When they lay down to sleep and Xiu felt Bert's arms fold around her waist, she wished to herself that he would stay forever.


  1. 'An undercover FBI agent' hahahaha..... lol I'm very happy you continued to update your legacy, April.

  2. Ehehe ... *sniff sniff* ... I miss Bert. I wish I could have kept him around. :(