In retrospect, Quan still stands by the assertion that upon arriving in the states, he never got into trouble for anything that wasn't at least partially Derik's fault.
[Exhibit A.] The Boy Next Door
Derik's clothes itch. New and too tight, they pinch at his neck and wrists, feel awkward, and smell funny: too clean, too starchy, too artificial.
At five-years-old, he's of the firm belief that clothes in general are a waste of time. People ought to avoid them altogether when it's warm and simply stay inside when it's cold, and the concept of 'looking nice for company' escapes him entirely. Why grown-ups are so picky about naked bits is also beyond him, but wrestling his parents in order to stay undressed has never gone well in the past, and he's more or less come to accept that sometimes standing in uncomfortable, stupid-looking, and itchy clothes is an unavoidable evil of life.
Still, he wishes the new neighbors would answer their door already.
They do, of course, though the woman that answers the door isn't at all what Derik expected. He's not sure what he expected, but whatever it was, she isn't it. She looks…different. Not like Travis's mom or Jerry's mom or anyone else he knows' mom, and certainly not like his own mom. Her face has a different shape to it, her hair is pulled back tightly and neatly but it looks different, too, somehow. A different texture, maybe. And when she greets his parents, her words sound strange and accented.
He doesn't listen long, of course.
Adult conversations are boring and almost always take a pointlessly long amount of time to go anywhere, as far as he can tell. Sometimes, in fact, they don't even seem to say anything, just talk themselves around in circles as if the whole point of talking with each other is talking with each other and not actually communicating any information. So, he rocks back onto his heels and shifts his weight from side to side, scuffs the bottoms of his shoes on the concrete steps and distracts himself by looking over his shoulder and watching the leaves catch the wind and skitter over the driveway path, chasing each other like little leaping and tumbling brown and yellow mice.
"Derik." His mother's voice calls him out of his thoughts and Derik straightens instinctively, snapping his head back around to look up at her. She nods meaningfully towards the front door. "Derik, mind your manners and say hello…this is Quan."
'Quan', as Derik discovers after only a moment of puzzlement, is a child—boy? girl?—lingering uncertainly behind the knees of the woman at the door (who is, for her part, urging the kid out and saying things which Derik assumes are words, though they don't sound like anything he's ever heard before).
"Qu ba…qu," (Go on, go) the woman urges, tugging at the shoulder of the kid's shirt. "Shuo 'hello.' Jieshao ni zi'ji, dan shi yong ying'wen." (Say 'hello.' Introduce yourself, but use English.)
After some rather forceful cajoling, the kid's in front of him, looking wary, but also intensely curious, and for all his fiddling – Derik decides it must be a boy because yes, his hair is semi-long-ish but it's not that long, and he's not wearing a dress; parents usually introduce girls formally with dresses, Derik has learned – the boy (Quan, he reminds himself; remembering names is important; it gets people to like you) meets his eyes with a steady, unremitting stare. Dark eyes. Big, dark eyes. With a strange, fascinating shape to-
His mother clears her throat meaningfully and Derik blinks. Right, intros. He extends his hand. "Hi, I'm Derik."
The boy takes a moment to catch on, staring at Derik's hand until there's another whispered exchange of insistent words from the kid's (mother?) in that language Derik doesn't understand. Then, Quan takes his hand, blinking his owl eyes at Derik and saying, "Quan." After a nudge from the woman behind him, Quan hesitates before adding, in a manner that suggests the words are difficult for him, like reading an unfamiliar string of vocabulary presented by the teacher, "Hello. Nice…" He frowns, "…meet…"
"Nice to meet you," Derik jumps in helpfully, and Quan smiles. It's a small smile, understated, like he doesn't do it often, but it's there, and Derik likes it. So naturally he decides on the spot that he's going to make this kid smile as often as he possibly can.
The grownups seem to figure that they need to talk more and that Derik and Quan should be given some time to 'get to know each other', so in a few minutes both of them are deposited in the backyard and left to their own devices on how to entertain themselves as the adults disappear into the house.
Sitting on the back porch steps of Quan's unfamiliar home and staring out at the empty, clearly-not-child-friendly fenced in patch of grass serving as their backyard – there's not even one ball, toy gun or truck, let alone the pool, full set of hotwheels and remote controlled airplane (plus any number of other things) littering Derik's backyard – and he tries to ask if there are any neat toys inside, in Quan's room, or perhaps a secret stash of them tucked away out here somewhere, but Quan only looks at him like he's speaking fluent Alienese and Derik soon gives up.
"So…what do you do around here anyway?" he asks. "Like…" He nudges his toe in the grass, frowning, but if there's one thing he's learned from his parents and society at large thus far as far as interactions with other people go, it's that when there's nothing else to do, keep talking. Silence is awkward, and therefore bad, and if the other person doesn't have anything to say, it's up to you to keep it going. "You should come over to my house sometime," he says. "There's tons of stuff there I can show you…"
He goes into detail on everything he can think of – his cars, his train set, his pool and squirt guns, obviously his plane, his toy soldiers, talking action figure, glowing light sabers – and Quan watches, ever intent and polite, but he's never quite sure if any of it is actually sinking in because he never says anything.
"I mean, your house is…cool and all," he says, because it's not nice to insult people's homes, "…but like…there's not much…here. Maybe it's 'cause you just got here. You did just get here, right? You'll probably have more stuff out later, once you're more moved in and…stuff. Where did you come from anyway?"
Quan blinks. Then, when it becomes obvious that an answer is expected of him, he frowns. "Shenme? Zai shuo yi xia."
It's Derik's turn to blink. "Uhh…"
Quan thinks a moment, then says, "What? Again, please?"
"You," Derik says. "Where are you from?" He punctuates each word and makes hand motions which probably aren't very helpful, but that doesn't occur to him as he makes them. "Where did you live…before you came here, to America?"
"Zhonguo," Quan answers, and then, after another moment's consideration, he adds, "China."
That takes a second to sink in. Then: "That is cool," Derik blurts. "So you like, know kung-fu and stuff? Like ninjas? Have you seen any ninjas?" He makes a rudimentary 'attacking' hand gesture with his palm and a loud, "Kyah, hayyah!" which earns him another ghost of a smile and a stifled snort of a noise which might possibly be Quan's version of a laugh. Derik takes it at face value and grins back. "So…kung-fu?"
"Gongfu?" Quan asks, and Derik tilts his head.
"Wo bu hui…danshi wo yeye hui. Ni yao xuexi me?"
Derik shifts his fingers through his hair, tugging on a strand and frowning. "I…don't know what that means," he says, "…but you should definitely learn to speak more English." Quan blinks. "English," Derik repeats. "You should speak English."
"You speak Chinese," Quan counters.
"No, I don't speak Chinese."
This of course becomes a game, and continues on for a good while before, eventually, Quan breaks the pattern with "Why?" instead of "Yes" and Derik gives him an indignant look because that is a stupid question if he's ever heard one.
"Because," he insists, "…everyone speaks English."
Quan doesn't look impressed by that answer. "No."
"I speak Chinese."
It takes Derik's brain a moment to chew on that one. Eventually, for lack of a better answer, he huffs, "Well, okay, but you should speak English."
It's at that point that Derik decides this conversation is more mental effort than it's worth, and he makes another quick search of the backyard looking for anything to distract them. He spots a decent sized, makeshift bat-worthy stick lying under the tree in the far corner of the fenced in area and grins, standing. "Hey, you ever play baseball?"
"Close enough. It's a game," Derik says, and Quan follows him without prompting as he starts over to gather his newly-discovered stick. "It's fun. You have a bat and ball and…a bunch of players…" He lifts the stick, giving it a test swing.
Derik still doesn't know what those words mean, but he doesn't bother pointing it out this time and explains, "I'm testing it. This'd be good…I mean, if we had a ball." At Quan's look, Derik makes a holding gesture with his hand, gripping as if handling a baseball and then tossing. "Ball."
Quan walks off, head down, inspecting the yard as he goes along, and Derik watches with a puzzled stare.
"I didn't mean-"
Quan stoops, retrieving something – apparently of interest – and returns with…a rock. Or a large pebble, depending.
Derik blinks. "Ah…" Well, it's not a ball, but… "That'll work."
It does work.
He doesn't get Quan to toss it, because even at this age he has enough foresight to figure that having a rock thrown at him probably isn't the safest idea, but he does a couple rounds of tossing it up himself and trying to hit it when it comes back down, and it doesn't take Quan long to pick up on what he's trying to do, so they take turns after that. Their aim isn't very good, and they don't hit it very often – and when they do, it's usually grazing strokes that don't send the rock much of anywhere – but it's entertaining enough and Derik silently thinks as he watches that Quan has a pretty good swing and would probably be great at breaking piñatas.
Then Quan hits it head on.
Which, of course, would have been great – like, really, really cool – if…the fence hadn't been low…and the rock hadn't gone over the fence…and hit something there, apparently breakable from the sound of things, on the other side. Following the brittle crash, a small dog starts yipping like it's dying and Quan's eyes go so wide it looks like he's staring down an approaching rampaging axe murderer with his death sentence scribed in blood on the handle.
Derik reaches out and snatches his hand, asserting, "Time to go."
"C'mon, c'mon, let's go," he insists, barreling over Quan's feeble protests and tugging, and again, it takes very little to get Quan on the bandwagon and moving with him, dropping the stick and hastily fleeing the crime scene.
When the adults return, they find them peaceably building a leaf fort in the front yard. Light reprimands for getting leaves in their hair and dirt on their hands aside, Derik considers the venture a relative success.
A/N: I feel like these stories ought to come with a collective warning that reads something along the lines of, "Cheesy beyond belief; try not to choke and die on the fluff overdose." I'm writing them anyway because they're knocking around in my head this is the only way to get them out. Also, they're kina cute. Or I hope you guys think so, anyway.