Chapter Twenty-Nine

Hannah's hand trembled a little as she knocked on the door of Tristan's room. Even though she'd tried to calm down, the same words kept going off in her head: The jig is up! Desperation, it made her want to laugh.

"Come in." His voice sounded absent-minded as if he was thinking about something. That relieved her somewhat. She'd been expecting him to be in a dark mood, especially with Adeline Bradbury's departure this morning.

She eased open the door, poking her head through. "Rosie said you asked to see me?"

The blonde boy was packing for his return to school, an open suitcase in the middle of his bed. The curtains were pulled back from the window behind him and the sun dappled the room in gold. Tristan straightened up and the light caught on his hair just before he took a step back, his back toward the window. As shadows washed over his face, the hard angles of his face suddenly seemed austere and forbidding. Don't be silly. It's just the lighting.

"So how long have you been working here again?" he asked, startling her even though he'd cast his eyes down again and was folding a white T-shirt as if he didn't have a care in the world.

"Just recently. Before you and Miss Carrie returned from school," she answered, wiping her sweaty hands on her slacks.

"Why did you decide to work here?" Okay, now his eyes were on hers and the scrutiny unnerved her more than she expected.

"Um, the pay is good and Rosie is really nice and –"

"And how long have you been acquainted with Justin?"

Her heart leapt into her throat. "I - I'm not sure I understand –"

"Adel told me that you and Justin seemed pretty friendly at the party. At that time, she thought you two might have been interested in each other. Now that we know about Justin … I'm thinking things might not be so simple." His tone turned steely. "What's the story?"

Hannah swallowed hard. "Believe me, it's nothing –"

"Just explain, please." On the surface, his request sounded polite, but she knew that calmness belied an intolerance for lies.

"Really. I was just supposed to observe you and your family. That's it. Mr. Liu was curious about you when he heard that Adel was engaged to you. He had Justin tracking Calhoun all this time and suddenly, you appeared out of nowhere. He was concerned and just wanted to know what kind of a person you were. Believe me, he only has Adel's best interests in mind –"

"I take it Mr. Liu is the guy that Adel's mother left her family for?" Tristan interrupted coolly with just barely an undercurrent of irritation.

Hannah's mouth snapped shut.

"Does he have a whole bunch of you at his disposal? Sending teenagers around to infiltrate homes and act as spies?" he drawled.

She flushed. "We volunteered to check you guys out for him."

"Volunteered?" His laugh made her feel ridiculous, small. "What? Is this some extracurricular activity to list on your college apps?"

She didn't have any explanation that wouldn't make her feel even more foolish so she bit the inside of her cheeks and stayed silent.

"I take it that's a no?" He cocked his head. "So exactly what's in it for you? Justin sounded like he was halfway in love with the guy and you – well, you sure you guys didn't accidentally join some cult?" He sounded patronizing and she clenched her jaw.

"Mr. Liu practically raised us," she informed him, trying to match his sharp tone but ending up in a pathetic hiss. "He's like a father to us and –"

"So you two are stray orphans he picked up off the streets? Rescued you from the rain and fed you? Does that even happen anymore?"

"No," she said as icily as possible even though she knew she was red with embarrassment. "Our parents are still alive, thank you. After the accident, Mr. Liu established this community center in the memory of Adeline's mother and – and a bunch of us hung out there a lot and – this is none of your business." Her hands were shaking. Appearances were deceiving. She'd been intimidated by some of the boy's friends – especially that perpetually scowling Vincent Grenford – but all this time, she'd thought she was lucky she only had to observe Tristan Harland. He seemed like a calm, amiable sort, but now, each word that came out of his mouth was biting, cutting her to the quick, and she was beginning to think that each question he asked only served to help her bury herself in a deeper ditch.

Tristan shrugged. "I don't care about anything as long as you don't mess with Adel. And since I'm heading back to school, I imagine your job here is rendered moot."

"I'm heading back to school too. This was only a part-time deal for the holiday vacation," she responded in a small voice.

"Then we have nothing left to discuss, do we?" He gave her a smile, courteous but distant. "Thanks, Hannah."

Understanding it was her dismissal, she nodded and backed out of the room, trying to keep her eyes up so that he wouldn't think she was unsettled by him. But he continued to pack, not sparing her a second look as she closed the door behind her.


Adel wouldn't say she was the type to be afraid of confrontations, but when it came to her father, she knew their arguments usually went along something like this: she'd prepare this huge angry spiel, barge in, go deer-in-headlights as he pretty much cuts her down with one or two lines, sulk out and then of course, come up with the most perfect rejoinders hours later. Useless brain.

Coupled with the fact that she was now so tired from jetlag, she half expected that she was going to trip at the doorway and finish herself off before her father could get his stab at it.

Still, she knew that she couldn't put this off any longer.

She staggered out of the taxi after paying the driver and grabbed her luggage in one hand. She had nodded off a bit in the car and her head insisted on lolling about, smashing her forehead against the window with a leaden thud every other minute. The driver had given her a weird look in the rearview mirror, but she pretended that she had actually, indeed, been wide awake and was merely resting against the window, cooling herself off.

She stared up at the building where her father's office was situated and then dropped her bag at her feet. After fixing her hair in a tight ponytail, she smoothed her hands down and tried to stretch the fabric of her shirt, hoping she could iron out the wrinkles with pure force. It was a lost cause.

Snatching up her bag, she sauntered through the doors to the building, trying to project an air of confidence even though it was quickly leaching out of her with every step. The security guards and the receptionists at the front desk recognized her, greeting her with a surprised, "Miss Bradbury," even as she brushed past them for the elevators.

She punched in the floor of her father's office and leaned back against the wall in the elevator. Shutting her eyes, she pinched the bridge of her nose briefly. "Relax. You're not here to fight. We're going to have a calm, civilized conversation and everything's going to be peachy."

Ding. The doors slid open and she strode out with a smile. "Hey, Mary." She waved at her father's longtime secretary.

The woman straightened up at her desk, blinking at her in surprise. "Miss Bradbury, you're back. When did you -? Hold on, let me inform your father -" She'd just lifted the phone when Adel breezed past her.

"No need. I'll surprise him."

There was a strangled protest as Adel pushed open the doors to her father's office and – her steps faltered.

Whenever she thought about her father, she'd always pictured her father either working so busily at some documents on his desk or phoning some client that he couldn't be bothered to spare her a glance. He'd wave her off or multi-task, listening to her with one ear while working. For times when things were particularly bad between them, she'd imagine him waiting for her in his office, fingers crossed before his lips like some devious mastermind, while one of his employees dragged her, the sheepish truant, in to see him.

Her imagination had never covered this. Never before did she see her father in such a state of disarray. His head was slumped down against the desktop, his arms curled before him, his tie was off and the first few buttons of his shirt were unfastened.

The first idea that sprung to her mind was that her father had collapsed. He'd had a heart attack. A stroke.

Her heart leapt into her throat and the bag fell from her hand to the floor in a loud thud. In a second, she was beside her father's side, having crossed the room without even realizing it and she dropped to her knees next to him. "Dad! Dad!" Just as she reached out to shake him, his head popped up.

A strangled shriek escaped her as she fell backward.

His head turned, bleary eyes quickly focusing in on her. "Adeline?"

Swallowing hard, she choked out, "I thought you passed out or something."

He stared at her and his eyes narrowed. "Don't be silly. I was merely tired and dozed off for a bit."

She stared back at him. Her father … dozing at work? Sleeping in his office? What was going on? Oh dear god, there was actually a reddened crease on his face from the folder he was resting on.

"Excuse me, sir …"

They both turned to the open doors where his secretary hovered uncertainly. Immediately, Adel's father straightened up in his seat, clearing his throat as he ran a hand through his hair. "Please close the doors and don't put any calls through to me. I have things to discuss with my daughter."

"Yes, sir." The woman nodded, pulling the doors shut. Her father's office was spacious with blue carpeting and a cabinet stocked with enough fine liquor and wines to entertain his clients, most of whom held the firm belief that alcohol went with business deals as tea to dim sum. The walls were beige and the lighting was designed to make the office seemed inviting, but not too cozy.

"When did you return?" he asked.

"I actually just got back." She gave him a worried look. Everything about this whole situation seemed off to her. Her father was acting funny and there was something about him that didn't settle right with her. She studied him and he gave her a look out of the corner of his eyes, turning his face away slightly as he organized his desk.

Adel leaned forward over the desk, twisting around to catch a better view of her father's face in the light and she gasped. What she'd believed to be just a reddened mark from her father's impromptu nap was actually a contusion that flared across the left side of his cheek. It wasn't fading anytime soon and she eyed it in dismay. "Who punched you?"

Her father stiffened and waved a hand. "It's nothing."

There was a long period of silence and as she watched him, desperately hoping he'd explain to fill in the gap, she knew there wasn't going to be anything he'd voluntarily bring up.

"Dad …" She sucked in a deep breath. Now or never. Still feeling like she was on the verge of sending her world to oblivion, she proceeded cautiously. "Dad … I know about Mom."

His head was bent over his documents, flipping pages so fast she knew he wasn't really processing anything. The tensed line of his shoulders let her knew that he was aware of what she was saying and in the back of her mind, she had the feeling that the both of them would probably be happier if they could just pretend she hadn't said anything. If they could just stash the truth away in the corner of some attic.

It was this overwhelming urge to back out of his office and flee that brought the tears to her eyes and she forced herself to say the rest. "I know that Mom's dead. I know that she ran away with someone and they got into a car accident. I know that she's been dead for a long time now and I know that you know."

His hands were busy shuffling through his papers and at her words, they stilled. The floor of his office was high above the traffic and all the pedestrians but she could hear the drone of an airplane in the sky higher still above them. "So he told you, huh?" His laugh was hollow.

Adel twisted her hands together as she admitted quietly, "Yes."

"He always did act fast." He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "So when did he tell you? Was it before or after he came into my office and punched me?"

Disbelief choked her, quickly followed by a rush of indignation as she exclaimed, "What – he hit you?"

He shrugged. "Nothing less than I deserved." His mouth twisted ruefully and the chair creaked as he leaned back in it. "Still, I wish that …" Another resigned sigh.

She stared at him, confused. "Why would you need his forgiveness? If anything, he should be apologizing to us!"

It had been unreal seeing the defeated look on her father's face and the flash of irritation that now came over him actually relieved Adel. Slowly, as if he was speaking to a child, he said, "Why would Stephen have to apologize? He has a right to be angry. I should've told him about his sister a long time ago."

"Lee? Lee hit you?" she exclaimed, dizzy by the idea that her uncle now knew and was apparently, for lack of a better term, infuriated. "Where is he now? Where'd he go?" Her father appeared weary, giving a barely perceptible shrug. Her fingers fumbled for something to hold onto, finding their way to the necklace around her neck. The stone was cool to her clammy touch. "I thought – I thought you meant …"

He didn't say anything, but there was a flicker of impatience in his eyes. Just spit it out already.

"I met mother's … I met the guy she ran away with," she admitted.

The change that came over her father's face was slow, almost imperceptible. Like loose threads drawing together, parts of his face tightened: his jaw, his eyes, his mouth. The color in his face washed away and his eyes blazed.

"What? How did you meet him? When did - what did he say?" His voice was low and guttural and she shrank back from the banked fury in his expression.

"He just told me about Mom and –"

"What right does that bastard think he has to go near my children?" he spat out and the tension in him was so pronounced, his voice shook from it.

"Believe me, I didn't talk to him for long. I didn't even ask for his name," she hurried to explain. "I wasn't going to believe everything he said, of course. It's why I flew back – I came back to see you and to hear the truth from you, Dad – I know you must have an explanation and –"

"There's not much to be explained," he cut her off. "Your mother's dead. What else do you want me to say?"

She was shocked into silence – not because she hadn't accepted the idea that her mother was dead, but from the way her father seemed to have long decided that hostility was the best option. His tone was curt, his face was turned from hers, and everything about him screamed: Leave me alone, I don't want to talk about it.

Anger simmered to the top, but it was an emotion strangled by the familiar urge not to go too far, to pull punches out of respect for her father. "Why didn't you tell us?"

He heaved a sigh. "Adeline …"

"Just tell me why," she bit out and the edge in her voice drew her father's gaze back to her.

"It was easier at that point," he finally said.

"Easier? Easier?" The incredulity inside her spilled over. "You – do you even know what you're saying?"

He didn't answer for the longest moment. His hands rested before him on the desk, palm down, fingers curved limply. "Do you know how hard it is to hate someone who's already dead? One minute, you find out your wife has ran off with another man and the next thing you know … she's gone. Really … gone. How should you feel?"

"Well, do you know how hard it is to find out from a complete stranger that your mother's been dead for years now and that your father's been lying to you all this time? How should I feel?" Adel retorted. She'd hit the point where all she could perceive was this numbness in her core and she relished in it.

To her father's credit, he barely flinched, but she'd always known he wasn't the type to squirm in uncomfortable situations. No, because he likes to lie his way out and play make believe.

"Does Adam know?" she said. Her brother was now god-knows-where and had been studiously avoiding her calls and emails asides from one curt response, Don't worry about me, ever since he disappeared on them.

He nodded. Her mouth had parted, already prepared to shoot another question, but at this acknowledgment, she froze in shock. All along, she'd expected that her brother, like her and Lee, had been kept in the dark. A churning feeling gripped her stomach, her hands closed together into a damp knot, and she breathed, "You told him … but you didn't tell me? What –" What makes him so special? "When?"

"Shortly after the lawyers paid us that first visit about your mother's will. I decided to tell the truth to your brother first since the engagement was originally meant for him." The lines on his face were taut. "He didn't take it well."

Understatement of the year. "So that's why Adam ran off and abandoned me to deal with this? That's why you decided to keep hiding everything from me? Because the trial run on Adam failed? Because he didn't deal well with the truth, you thought it'd be less complicated to keep me in the dark?" Adel had to concentrate to stop from trembling. It was as if all the anger and resentment she'd swallowed back all these years were finally breaking free, but her body was still trying its best to contain it all. "Just what was the point of having Tristan and I go through this then? You wanted a letter from Mom that badly? What do you want to hear from her that you don't already know? You know she ran away with someone else. You know she's dead. Were you hoping for a letter of regret, of apology, something that'd let you keep believing that she still loved you –"

"I really don't want to talk about this right now, Adeline," he cut her off, his voice so quiet that it took the wind out of her sails.

Angry tears prickled her eyes and she scoffed, "And when will that be? When do you ever want to talk about things, Dad?" The words twisted in her mouth, picking up speed with all her derision and anger. It resonated dimly with her that Tristan had tossed similar words at her before and she – well, there was nothing she can do about that now, but she'd try not to be a hypocrite in the future.

"Go home, Adeline," he returned evenly. His eyes were dark, lined with stress. "Go get some sleep and we will discuss this later."

"No," she snapped. "No, I don't need sleep." She seethed, "Your dreams went down the drain, didn't it? There was no letter from Mom. You got this apology from Tristan's mom instead and it just reinforced what you've known all along: Mom didn't love you enough to stay."

He sat in his chair, running his fingers along his pen. "The letter from Mrs. Harland wasn't a part of the will's contents."

"You said that you got it from the lawyers –"

"They would never have given me anything before you two fulfilled the terms of the will. The year long engagement wasn't over. I lied."

Right. Why was she so surprised?

Exasperated, she blurted out, "Then what was the point? You made up that whole letter so that you can pull me away from Tristan?"

"No. There was a letter from Mrs. Harland, but it was something I'd received way back then … shortly after your mother left." The corners of his lips turned up in a bitter, ironic smile. "Shortly after I got that call your mother had died, actually."

"Then … why did you bring it up now? Why did you have me leave Tristan …" Something dawned on her. "We were apart for months … that means we never finished the will. That means the things Mom and Tristan's mother left for us … they're all forfeited."

Her father stayed silent.

"Why?" She shook her head, bewildered. "Weren't you so concerned about getting that letter from Mom?"

"I changed my mind."

"Why?" She felt like a fool, repeating the same words over and over again. It was an endless cycle that she couldn't retreat from.

"Because there was no point anymore." He sighed, staring down at his hands. "What happened happened. I was on this pursuit to reach your mother one last time, to receive this contact, when I knew all along that she'd completely left me long before she died."

"Then …"

"Things are over now. The past is past. I'm ready to drop everything and just forget." He looked up at her and though his expression was far from pleading, there was a soft misery in his eyes … resignation. "Can't we let this go, Adeline?"

She stared back at him.

"I gave up on that will. I don't need to know what your mother had left. She'd planned those contents years before she'd met that … man. It was a different woman with different dreams who'd established that will and whatever I'd find in that box would be … nothing I should be trying to cling onto." Her father shook his head. "I want to let her go now, Adeline. I'm letting this go and I want you to be free of this too. You can do that, can't you?"

"Has this ever been about me?" she retorted.

"I asked you to come home, to leave that Harland boy. We don't need to be connected to anything that remotely links to your mother now. We can move on from this."

"You think asking me to leave Tristan is a way for me to live a new life? You think conveniently boxing away Mom's death and hoping we'll never think about it is therapeutic?"

"I really don't want to talk about this any longer!" he exploded, standing up so quickly, she backed off a step. She just stared at him, mute and tired. "Let it rest, Adeline. You're home now. Just … just focus on school."

It was such a random suggestion, an ironic laugh escaped her.

"You didn't ask me to focus on school when you had me travel halfway across the world to meet Tristan and –" She quieted down at that look in her father's eyes again – the one that warned he was one step away from tossing her out from his office. Still, she couldn't resist adding, "Or when you had me meet Calhoun –"

"Adeline."

She shut up, but she dropped her eyes in resentment, feeling very much like a child even though all she'd wanted was to sort through this mess now.

"I'm tired of this, Adeline. I don't know where your uncle went off to or if he'd ever forgive me. Your brother flew halfway across the world and enrolled himself at some college there. Can't you just stay here with me and let us get back to something like the normal life we had before?"

"Okay" was already on the tip of her tongue before she realized what she was doing again. She couldn't help feeling that she was chipping away at her father's flesh, cutting him with her every answer, but she reminded herself that this was now or never. So slowly at first, as gingerly as she could before building up momentum, she said, "Your memory must be different from mine. From what I recall, we never had a normal life together. You made me get so-called engaged to someone I barely met – twice - and had me convinced it was a good idea. You pretended you could care less about Mom and then jumped at the idea of a letter from her. You've had us wondering, hating her for abandoning all of us, feeling sorry for you, when all along, you knew that she'd been dead for years now. So tell me, exactly what kind of a normal life should we get back to, Dad?"

Quietly, he said, "I never asked you to feel sorry for me."

"Well, I did," she spat out. "And I still do."

If she'd been expecting to make her father tear up or something, she'd have been sorely disappointed. But she hadn't been expecting anything at all and as her father stared back at her with dark eyes and thinned lips, she turned around and walked out, reminding herself not to run.


She tried calling her uncle first. Again. It went straight to voicemail. "Lee, it's me. I know what happened. I know about Mom. Where are you? Can we talk? Call me back. Please."

Then she tried her brother. It also went to voicemail. "Adam, you asshole. Thanks for not telling me about Mom. And good job on disappearing and leaving me to deal with this mess. Where the hell are you now? Call me. I hope you choke on a cracker and die."

She puttered around in the kitchen for a while, bringing the water to boil for some tea and a packet of instant ramen she dug out from the cupboards. The kitchen was pristine, stark white with cold tiles and stainless steel stove-tops. She sat at the table, surrounded by white, and shivered. It was so quiet in the apartment, she could hear the ticking of the clock from the living room. She cupped the bowl of noodles in her hands, warming her fingers until it got unbearably hot. Each bite stuck in her throat and she choked it down with some tea. Alone again.

She made herself wait until around eight o'clock that night before she dialed his number. She got his voicemail too. At the beep, she cleared her throat. "Hey. It's me. Adel. Just letting you know I got here okay. I guess you must still be sleeping or something. Did classes start for you today? I – yeah, nothing important, I just talked to my father and I'm still alive. I'm fine. I just – okay, give me a call some time whenever you're free. No hurry. I just wanted to let you know I'm okay. Alright, bye." She paused. "Uh, wait, my number might be helpful." She rattled off both her cellphone and home numbers in Beijing and then repeated them. "Or maybe I'll just call you again later in the night. My night, your morning or afternoon. Whatever. That's it. Sorry for the long message. I … miss you. Okay, bye."

He called back half an hour later. "Hey. Nice message."

Just hearing his voice helped ease some of the tension in her she hadn't even been aware of before. She eased back against her bed, curling an arm around a pillow. "You know you loved it."

"I drank in every word," Tristan drawled. "All thousand of them."

"Keep that up and see if that'd be the last message you'd ever get from me."

"Forgive me."

"Just this once." She plucked at the corner of her pillow for lack of a better thing to do. "So you busy now or what?"

"Or what. I got back to the dorms yesterday. Classes start tomorrow for us." There was a pause and the sound of creaking as if he was settling back in a chair. "Did you get any sleep?"

"A little."

"You talked to your dad?"

That heavy feeling settled in her chest again. "I went to his office as soon as I got off the plane and ... we talked some."

"And?"

"And … that's it."

"You don't sound happy."

"He wanted to set things aside and forget about everything so that we can get back to living normally. I called him out for never confronting his problems, told him that we never had a normal life together and - and I said I felt sorry for him. Then I stormed out."

"Okay …"

"So it's a good thing, right? I didn't back down from him. I was being honest."

"Yeah."

"Then why do I feel like crap now? I feel …" she swallowed. "I feel really bad for some of the things I said. I feel like I should … apologize."

He started to respond, but she barreled over him, continuing in a rush, "I mean, I keep picturing the way he looked at me just before I left. He looked like he wanted to kill me, but – but he was shaking, Tristan. He was so angry … and so upset. He couldn't even say anything in the end and – and god, he's my father. I never wanted to hurt him –" She didn't even know she was crying until she tasted tears on her lips and she swiped them away brusquely.

"Adel?" There was worried concern in his voice. "Are you crying?"

"No," she lied.

"Adel –"

"I should let you go. You probably have a full day ahead of you and I should get some sleep –"

"Adel –"

"Okay, bye." She hung up without listening to his protests.

Yeah, that was stupid. She sat there with her hand over her phone, breathing evenly, and waited. The phone rang within seconds. She let it ring once, twice and then picked it up. "Hello?"

"You."

She tried not to wince. "Hey?"

"You hung up on me."

"Well, not exactly. I said bye and –"

"You hung up on me."

"Okay, I hung up on you. I'm sorry. I had a very brief meltdown. But see? I picked up your call right away. I'm not hiding from you."

He ignored that, going straight to the topic she didn't want to discuss. "So you do realize it's natural to feel bad after a fight, especially since it was with your dad. Whom you seem to idolize."

"I don't idolize him."

"You kinda do."

"I kinda don't," she retorted.

"Kinda in denial."

She pretty much wanted to hang up on him again, but since she barely escaped the wrath of Tristan the first time around, she doubt it'd go over well with Tristan again. "So what if I idolize him a little? He's my dad. Most normal people look up to their parents."

"Yeah, nothing wrong with that," he agreed too readily, taking the wind out of her sails. "I just want you to know that I understand if you feel torn up over arguing with your dad." Then he cooed, "What a good little Asian daughter you are."

"Want your kneecaps shattered, white boy?"

"Bring it." He followed that up with, "Soon, please."

And they both sighed.

"Seriously, you are planning to come to college here, right?" he said.

"I applied to some places. Just need to see if any will accept me," she muttered.

"Where?"

"Around. Where exactly do you want to go?"

There was a moment of silence before he haltingly ventured, "I was thinking of Cornell. Or maybe Stanford. Both dream schools, of course."

"Oh."

"What does that mean?" he asked blandly, but there was an undercurrent of worry.

"It means I'll probably never see you again," Adel said cheerfully. "Well, have a nice life!"

"You're hilarious." He paused. "You are joking, right? You didn't go and apply to schools in freaking Alaska, did you?"

"Alaska? Nah," she scoffed. "Try Hawaii."

"Adel."

She laughed. "Yeah, I applied to Cornell and some other New York colleges. I didn't try for Stanford, but I did send applications to Berkeley and other colleges around the West Coast there."

"Good," he sounded so satisfied, she grinned.

"Thanks," she blurted out.

"For what?" he asked, puzzled.

"For calling me back. For somehow making me feel better," she said. "After all those fights with you, you would think I'd already gotten used to dealing with the aftermath and feeling bad afterwards."

"Right, almost like how you felt bad after hanging up on me."

"You're never going to let that go, are you?"

"Never."

"Petty." But she knew they were both smiling and it was moments like this that reminded her yeah, not everything has to be so complicated.


School started and the workload picked up again. Lee never did give her a call back, only sending her a brief message: I'm okay, kiddo. Just need some time away. Take care of yourself.

Her brother called her back the next day and they hashed it out. There was yelling and some threats to maim on her part, but she eventually accepted his sheepish apologies. He was apparently in New York now and working part-time as a bartender, looking to transfer into a college there. But while he was now better at keeping in touch with her, she still resented him a little for leaving her clueless for all these months.

Her relationship with her father though … It was no longer the same for sure. She just didn't know if it could be called better or worse. She no longer felt like she crept on eggshells around him all the time, but nor was she entirely comfortable around him. Their meetings were brief, more accidental contacts in the morning when she shuffled out to the kitchen to find him finishing up breakfast. They'd greet each other stiffly and inquire about each other's days, but he no longer pressured her with any new demands. She tried broaching the idea of visiting her mother's grave in France once, but he'd merely given her a blank look and turned away.

She supposed she'd have to give it more time.


To: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)

From: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)

Subject: kiss kiss hug hug

i miss you i love you come visit me soon so i can properly kiss you and sex you up like nobody's business i promise to do that thing you like with my tongue g2g XXXXOOOO


To: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)

From: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)

Subject: Re: kiss kiss hug hug

Uh what?


To: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)

From: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)

Subject: Re: re: kiss kiss hug hug

Ignore, please. Will stole my laptop while I was in the bathroom. He is now dead. I have killed him. No need to mourn.


To: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)

From: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)

Subject: Re: re: re: kiss kiss hug hug

Hmm, well, my question is how does he know about that tongue thing I like?

JOKING! I'm joking.


To: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)

From: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)

Subject: Re: re: re: re: kiss kiss hug hug

Come back and let's discuss more about this … tongue thing.

Not joking.


To: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)

From: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)

Subject: none

So how are classes so far? How's Sammy? And Carrie, Jack, Vincent, Danielle, Caine? How's everybody? I'll probably give Sammy a call soon to catch up.


To: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)

From: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)

Subject: Tongue Thing

Classes are fine. Sammy's fine. So are Carrie, Jack, Vincent, Danielle, and Caine. Everyone's fine. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea - give Sammy a call sometimes, she misses you.

And don't change the subject.


To: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)

From: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)

Subject: I hate you

So I called Sammy. Imagine my surprise when she suddenly asks me about this TONGUE thing I supposedly like. So I was like Did Will say something about this?? And she was like No, Tristan did. And I'm like WHAT? And she tells me that yeah Tristan asked her to talk to me about this tongue thing and to ask me to clarify on specifically what tongue thing I like because Tristan would really like to know.

JERK. You're SHAMELESS. Sammy thinks it's some weird Chinese dish I like and now she's googling recipes for beef tongues and she's probably wondering if I eat puppies now too. I DIE OF EMBARRASSMENT.


To: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)

From: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)

Subject: Tongue Thing Recipe

:P


To: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)

From: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)

Subject: You Die Next

You're not funny. You are never getting near me again with your mouth, let alone your tongue. NEVER.


To: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)

From: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)

Subject: Well …

Let's not make rash decisions now, sweetheart.


Early February, Chinese New Year arrived. Everyone was on vacation from work for about a week, sometimes more, and talking about preparations for visits to relatives and visits from relatives. There was no feeling like a whole nation's anticipation of the celebration of the year; it buzzed in the air and tasted like firecrackers and kumquats.

Even her father stayed home since all of his workers in the building were off for the holiday. He spent most of his time in his study though and she stayed in her room, checking email and streaming random Korean and Taiwanese dramas when she got too bored.

On Chinese New Year's eve, they left their rooms to have their family "reunion dinner" in the kitchen even though they were still missing her brother and Lee. Sometimes, she wondered why her father followed tradition when he wasn't Chinese, but she always figured she did it for her uncle. Now … maybe it provided him some duty to follow, a thing he could safely check off the list of parental responsibilities. Somehow, he always managed to get a cook to take time to either come and cook or deliver a set of New Year dishes: whole white cut chicken, steamed fish, a vegetarian platter with cellophane noodles and sea cucumbers with shiitake mushrooms. None of these dishes were exactly her favorite things to eat, but she appreciated the symbolic meanings behind them, most of them having to do with maintaining prosperity and good fortune.

She scooped rice from the cooker into two bowls, carrying them to the table and setting one before her father. He murmured his thanks and they sat down to eat, the only sound from the clinking of chopsticks against china.

Just as she was forcing a bite of the chewy sea cucumber down, the doorbell buzzed. She looked over her shoulder in the direction of the door. "Maybe the cook forgot something?"

Her father shrugged.

"I'll get the door." Adel set down her chopsticks and shuffled to the door in her slippers.

She peeked out the peephole and stopped short. Oh, shit.

A familiar voice called out, "I know you're there, Adel. Open up."

Her breath caught and she eased open the door. His face was grim and unsmiling, eyes bloodshot. His stupid bleached hair was unruly and too long, dark roots showing. "Lee," she murmured weakly. It was what she'd called her uncle ever since she could remember; he'd never wanted to be called uncle because it made him sound old and as a toddler, she couldn't quite manage the full extent of his first name, Stephen. Lee was their thing. Lee, her young, trouble-making uncle. Now, in the face of his austere expression, so unlike his usual carefree style, she knew everything had changed, one step from crumbling around her. "You're home." She cleared her throat. "You look like shit." She placed herself in front of the doorway nonchalantly. "Can I call you later? Now's not really a good –"

"What are you talking about?" He shouldered his way in even though she tried clutching at the door desperately. "I came for the reunion dinner. It's New Year's eve after all."

She grabbed his arm before he could make his way to the kitchen. "Lee, please. Dad's home."

"I know," he hissed. "That's why I came."

She dug in her heels, but he dragged her along. "Lee, please. You already punched him. It's New Year's Eve. Don't ruin this. Please. Please."

"I didn't ruin anything, kid," he spat out. "He did."

"I know. I know you're angry, but please, can't we –"

Her uncle reeled on her and this time, his anger was so intense, it was almost palpable and she shrank back instinctively. He choked out words in Mandarin, rapid and curt. "You said in your message that you know everything about your mom so why, Adeline? Why are you still taking his side?

"I'm – I'm not. I'm upset too," she answered shakily. "But he just didn't know how to deal with –" It was the same flimsy excuse she'd been repeating in her head and she knew it was a mistake to try it on her uncle when she saw the way his expression tautened.

"For six years? Six years, Adel!" By now, he was shouting in her face and she'd never seen him so angry before. Not Lee. Not her jokester of an uncle, not someone whom she'd thought more of as an older loser of a brother. Her eyes started to burn. Oh god, not now, she can't cry now.

"He's my dad," was all she could say.

"And she's your mother," he retorted.

"I know, I know," she said. "But … okay, let's just have dinner first, alright? Just come eat with us and then we can discuss everything. Just –"

"Don't be stupid, Adel!" he snarled.

"Don't yell at her." The quiet words came from the doorway of the kitchen and they turned to find her father watching them.

"Oh, you care now?" Lee spread his arms open. "Wow, Father of the Year."

"You have every right to be angry with me, Stephen. Just please, not today," her father said. "It's New Year's Eve."

"And what does that have to do with anything? Oh, are we supposed to gather around like the cozy family we are and have this stupid reunion dinner?"

"Then what is the point of you coming here, Stephen?" her father said coldly. Adel sucked in a deep breath and backed up, eyes darting between her father and uncle. "You came here to ruin New Year's Eve for Adeline?"

"Don't put this one on me!" Lee snapped. "Don't make me out like I'm the bad guy when you don't know the first thing about what's good for Adel."

"And I'm sure you coming here screaming and yelling is the best thing for her," her father rejoined sarcastically. Just like him not to hold anything back. Go for the jugular, Dad. Drive Lee to the point of no return.

She stumbled forward, trying to get Lee's attention. His hands were fisted and his eyes were fixated on her dad and she feared that he was one step away from launching himself at him. "Please, please, let's not fight."

"You really think you're having such a nice family reunion dinner? You haven't even bothered to commemorate my sister's memory for the past six years, asshole," Lee spat out. "Wait. Forget commemorate. You didn't even bother to inform your kids their mother's dead."

"Stephen -"

"You didn't even bother to inform me, her brother." Lee stepped back with a twisted grimace. "I treated you like family. I thought we were friends."

Her father looked pained. "Stephen, you know I always treated you like my own brother."

"Then how could you hold this from me? You didn't think I'd be crazy, worrying about where my sister disappeared to? And don't give me the excuse that I was too young. I was in my twenties. Your kids and me … we were never too young," Lee said. "You were the only one who couldn't man up enough to accept her death,"

Her father had no response, face pale.

Her uncle reached into this pocket and dug out a larger than normal red envelope. "Here, Adel."

"What –"

"It's going to be a New Year after all." He grabbed her hand and pressed the envelope into her palm. "Take it."

"You – you never give me red envelopes. Only married people pass out money. You said –" she compressed her lips and turned her hand to catch hold of him. "Lee, stay."

Her uncle looked at her then and it seemed like he was truly looking at her for the first time since he walked through the door. His eyes crinkled in a shadow of his familiar grin. "You really grow up more like your mother every day. She was such a ditz." His eyes reddened. "But she was the nicest ditz of a sister."

His attention returned to her father and his expression hardened. "I'm taking Adel to visit her mother's grave later in the year."

"She has school."

"When she's on her summer break. She should pay her respects."

"I'll take her," her father said, surprising Adel.

Lee snorted. "If I left it up to you, she'd be seventy before she goes."

Irritation flickered in her father's eyes. "Stephen –"

"Dad will take me, Lee," she interrupted. Both men turned to her. "I intend to visit her grave this year and Dad will be with me. I promise."

Lee acknowledged this with an abrupt nod. "Call me when you go anyway. I want to be there with you."

She nodded in return. "Then …"

"I'm leaving." He turned around. "I just wanted to drop off a red envelope for you. I won't see you tomorrow."

"But … what about dinner?" She tried to stop him.

"Not interested. You're family." He stalked off to the door. "He's not."

The door slammed shut after him and she stood there, feeling adrift at sea. Her head pounded and she turned her attention to her father as he straightened away from the door jam.

Without a word, he went into his study and closed the door behind him.

Great.

She turned her attention to the red envelope in her hands and slowly, she slit it open with her nails. Between the colorful bills, she realized her uncle had slipped in a photo of her mother. Her mother grinning in the cobbled streets of what must be an area in France. On the back, there was a brief message: Memories in France, Stephen. She didn't know if it had been written by her mother or her mother's mysterious lover. She'd forgotten what her mother's handwriting was like.

She touched her mother's face, tracing her happy smile. You were the only one who was happy, Mom. You're the only one happy now. I hope it was worth it.


Tristan grabbed a croissant and a banana from the trays, crossing the cafeteria to take his usual seat. Sammy and Carrie were already there, munching on their cereal, and they looked up as he sat down. They smiled and then his sister drew the girl back into whatever they were discussing before. Something about shoes.

They ate quietly without the presence of Will and Caine around. They must have decided to sleep in and skip breakfast. He only hoped they weren't late again to their first class.

As he peeled the banana, he glanced casually at his watch. 7:35 am. She should be having dinner around this time. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to give her a call now.

Still, he placed his cellphone next to his plate, giving it a spin on the table.

His sister slipped him a look. "Waiting for a call?"

"No, just double checking the time," he lied.

"You should just give her a quick call to say hello or something," Carrie suggested with a sunny smile.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he answered calmly. "Finish your milk."

She wrinkled her nose at him. Sammy chuckled and he tilted his chin in her direction. "You too, Sammy." They gave him more of those knowing looks and he decided to ignore both of them while he finished his banana.

He nearly choked when the phone suddenly started to vibrate. Adel's name flashed on the screen.

The girls broke out into giggles as he scooped up his phone in one hand and carted off his plate to the trash bin in the other. "Uh, see you girls later. Enjoy your breakfast."

"Tell Adel we said hi," Sammy called after him.

He coughed as he slipped out of the doors and answered his phone. "Hello?" he said a tad breathlessly and he cleared his throat. "Adel?"

There was no answer and he pulled the phone away to look at the screen. Seconds ticked on so he had definitely answered before she hung up. He put the phone to his ear and tried again, "Hello?"

Just when he thought she must have accidentally called him without knowing, her voice came through, "Tristan?"

"Uh, yeah?"

"Oh. You're not in class. I thought I was going to get your voicemail again and was planning to leave a message."

"No, not in class yet. Just had breakfast. What's up?" He started walking in the direction to his room so that he could pick up his books for class.

"Oh … nothing much. Just eating dinner now."

"Yeah? Right, you said it was your Chinese New Year's Eve dinner. Big event? A lot of people at your place?"

There was a pause before she finally mumbled, "Um, not really. Just … me and my dad really. It's a family thing."

"Oh. Okay. That's cool." He took the steps by two, sidling past other students who were heading down. "So what sort of food are you guys having? Chicken? Fish? Some tongue thing?" he teased.

"Hmm … yeah, I'm sitting in front of a whole table of platters. Way too much food." She gave a little laugh that sounded bitter.

His brows knitted. "So … you're eating now?"

"Yeah."

"Then shouldn't you be talking to your dad? Isn't it kinda weird to be talking on your phone while eating?"

"Um … my dad already finished. He's in his study now," she answered so quietly, he could barely hear her over the chatter of the kids in the hall.

"Then you're eating alone?" He stopped short and someone almost crashed into him from behind. He glanced over at the irritated kid and sidestepped, pulling the card key to his room out of his pocket.

"Yeah. But I'm almost finished. I'm not that hungry anyway." She sounded subdued. "I was just … bored. Wanted to give you a call and maybe leave you a rambling message on your voicemail again."

"Is something wrong?" He frowned.

"No, it's nothing really."

"Are you crying?" he demanded.

"Why do you always ask me that these days?" she said. "Do you really think I'm so weak now? Because I'm not. I don't dissolve into tears at everything."

"I didn't –"

"I don't. I get that my dad is messed up. I know that everything about my life is all twisted and crazy and now I can't even get my uncle to smile at me again, let alone joke with us at our dinner table like we've always done before. I get that my pathetic family life is even more pathetic now with my dad locked up in his office and my brother halfway across the world probably picking up contact dermatitis in the seedy bar he's working in and Lee's one step away from running my dad over with his motorcycle and then backing it up again over the body just for fun and I am so messed up, I can't even talk to my boyfriend without him wondering if I'm silently sobbing on the other end. Which I'm not. I'm not sad. I'm furious." The words spilled out in a rush and he closed the door behind him, leaning against it as he tried to catch everything.

"I take it … you're angry."

"Yes," she hissed. "At the world!"

"Okay …"

She sighed. Angry clattering like chopsticks jabbing plates sounded in the background. Her next words were muffled. "I'm scaring you, aren't I?"

"A bit," he admitted. "And you should stop eating if you're not hungry. Just because the food's there doesn't mean you need to finish it all."

He heard her swallow. "The table just looks really sad. All the dishes are still full. And cold. I don't want to waste food. Kids in Africa are starving."

"So pack the leftovers up and reheat it for lunch tomorrow. Just don't sit there all alone in the kitchen, trying to finish everything by yourself. Thinking about you … it makes me …" His chest clenched, a heavy weight settling in his stomach and he sighed. "You look pretty sad in my mind right now."

"I'm not sad! I'm furious!"

"Yes, at the world, I know," he agreed.

"And you meant sad as in pathetic, don't you? I'm not pathetic. I can take on the world."

"Yes," he reassured her. "Because you are angry with the world."

They settled into silence as Tristan tried to think. This was a situation he expected, but knew he'd hate anyway. Not being able to do a single thing to help her.

There was a clinking sound again and he said sharply, "Stop eating."

"I'm not." There was a scraping sound now. "I'm wrapping up the leftovers."

"Oh. Okay, that's good."

She made a noncommittal sound. "By the way, I'm going to France this summer."

"What?"

"I'm going to visit my mother's grave. Dad is going to come with me." She paused. "So will Lee. We probably won't make it back alive together so I'll send you my farewells before then."

"I'll come with you," he offered. It was an instant decision and some pressure eased inside him. It was a good idea. Something he can actually do.

"What?"

"Yeah. It'll be nice being in France together. I hear they cook beef tongues there pretty nicely too," Tristan commented.

"Wh – wait, you don't have to come with me. I didn't say that to make you think you should come with me. I'm just going to –"

"I know. But it'll be summer anyway and I have no plans so far. I had been thinking of going to Beijing again to see you, but touring France together sounds even cooler."

"Uh, you do realize both my dad and my uncle will be going with me? I doubt it'd be all that fun with them hovering in the background."

"Are you kidding me? Your uncle was the one who planned the whole freaking butterfly kite flying thing in the park for us. I think we'll be fine."

"Hmm." A refrigerator hummed in the background on her end. "We'll see."

"Yeah."

Rattling of dishes. She was probably shifting things in her fridge and making space. He started to tell her to be careful not to drop anything when she mentioned, "Hey … didn't you say you had classes to go to?"

He shoved away from the door and darted across the room, fumbling for his clock. 8:18 am. "Shit. Shit shit shit. I'm late." He balanced the phone between his ear and his shoulder, shoving Spanish and calculus books into his backpack.

"Oh no, I'm so sorry –"

"No, wasn't you – I was just – okay, I'll call you later. Bye. Feel better. Get some ice cream instead. Okay, bye." He hung up and hurried to the door, running to class while trying to think of an excuse. I had to talk my girlfriend down from stuffing her face silly, but not to worry, she's okay now.

Damn.


Author's Note:

Thanks for the reviews and being so patient, everyone! The story should be finished next chapter or so, I think. Thanks again for sticking with this story for so long. You guys are awesome!

Also, a note about the ultra fancy email addresses Adel and Tristan are sporting: yeah, real emails don't look like that, I know. Fictionpress is just a bitch with things that look remotely like a link so again, to those of you who have been sending me PMs telling me to check out a certain link, your links don't show up except for dots and coms unfortunately. If you really want me to look at something, please link in a comment through the blog instead. Thanks!

- Maeven

© Copyright 01/06/2011 Maeven (FictionPress ID:349779). All rights reserved. Distribution of any kind is prohibited without the written consent of Maeven.