“Goodnight, Xiao You. I’ll call you, okay? Maybe we can meet up soon for dinner or something,” San Chai said, while Ah Si transfers the luggage from his car to Xi Men.
“We will see about that. I am going to sleep and rest so that I can get the jetlag out of me first,” Xiao You smiled.
“Jetlag? Really?” San Chai asked. “Because you really don’t look like having it,”
Xi Men overhears it as he stuffs the luggage into his car which is parked next to Ah Si’s car, and he lifted his head to look at Xiao You and San Chai.
“Yeah, slightly. I hope it is only until tomorrow morning,” Xiao You smiled. “I am happy to see everyone today, and Emily…” she turned to look at Emily learning how to play some hand games from Alex. “Emily,” she called, interrupting the kids’ games time.
Emily turned around and then she headed over to Xiao You, forgetting about Alex instantly. “Yes, mommy?”
“We are leaving already. Say goodbyes to the aunties and uncles,” Xiao You said.
And Emily obediently heads to one after another adult to give them a hug to bid goodbye.
Xi Men looked at Emily giving the hugs, and he wondered if she did it to everyone just now to say hello? How come he didn’t get it just now?
“See you, Xiao You,” one by one said.
“See you,” Xiao You replied to every single one of them as they walked to their car. She then turned to look at Xi Men. “Thank you for fetching us,”
“No problem,” he smiled as he gets in into his driver seat and starts the car engine.
Emily sits at the back of the BMW and Xiao You sits at the passenger seat next to Xi Men.
“Can I have the studio unit’s address?” Xi Men asked, as he buckled his seatbelt.
“Oh, sure,” Xiao You immediately buckled her seatbelt, and then took out her smartphone and looked for the address she had stored in the phone.
“Emily, put on your seatbelt, alright? You must buckle your seatbelt in Taiwan,” Xi Men said, looking at the back mirror to look at Emily.
“Okay, Uncle Xi Men,” Emily said, turning her head to the back to find the seatbelt and pulled the seatbelt over her body and buckles it.
“This one,” Xiao You found the address and then she handed the phone to Xi Men. “This is the map,”
Xi Men took over the phone and looked at the address. “Zhong Xiao Road… here… here…. Okay, no problem,” he said as he passes the phone back to Xiao You.
Xi Men immediately drives out from the parking bay.
It is silence.
Xiao You turned and looked out of the car; fancying the night view of Taipei. Things have changed so much. The buildings. The surroundings…
“Err…” Xi Men uttered.
Xiao You turned to look at Xi Men. “Hmm?”
Xi Men steal a couple of glances at Xiao You before he repeatedly turned to focus on the road. He smiled awkwardly. “I… I am sorry. I am not used to the silence,”
She smiled briefly.
“What do you think about the dinner?” Xi Men asked.
“I should say the food was great. It has been a while since I ate authentic Taiwan food,” Xiao You smiled. “And also glad to have a chance to catch up with everyone,”
“But I supposed to catch up only with one dinner is not enough,”
“That is why San Chai said she wanted to meet soon,” Xiao You smiled. “Sometimes it feels like I have never left,” she turned to look out of the window. “To meet up after 10 years and then talked about finding a certain shop tucked somewhere inside Wu Fen Pu that sells really nice clothes…” she laughed softly. “Like, of all topics you could possibly imagine one would ask when catching up… she talks about fashion and cheap finds to me,”
“I think that is the San Chai you have always known, right?”
“Pretty much. Just that she is a mother now,”
“You too,” Xi Men said.
Xiao You smiled lightly. “Anyway, thank you for giving us a lift,”
“You’ve said it earlier. It is okay, not a problem,” Xi Men said. “It is just along the way for me to go home,” he smiled.
“Is my unit very far from here?”
“No, not at all. As a matter of fact, only stopping at red traffic lights is the one that makes it feel very far,” he said. “It is around 10 minutes if traffic is great,”
“Sounds good to me,” she said.
“Yeah, you rented a place at a really good location,” he said. “Is it a friend’s place or someone’s recommendation?”
“You know I don’t have many friends in Taipei besides all of you,” she said.
“It is just a place I found on the Internet for short stays. Hotel is going to be costly if I were to book and stay for 2 months, so I chose a place to rent,”
“Makes sense,” he smiled. “But I think it will be alright if you choose to stay at Maple Hotel and I guess you don’t even have to pay… as long as you informed San Chai, I think she will ask Ah Si to give you a free room,”
She laughed. “That is definitely awesome but I am not that kind of person,”
“I know,” he smiled. “If it is a rented place, how are you going to collect the keys since it is almost 11pm which is quite late already?”
“I have informed the owner that I will be coming in late, she is actually staying nearby so she will come and pass the keys to me when I arrived,” she smiled.
“Oh,” he said.
“You don’t have to worry about it, Xi Men. I get all of those covered,” she smiled.
Xi Men laughed. “I know,” and soon his laughter fades.
Even though the silence is only a minute, it feels like it has been an hour.
“How has life been to you, Xiao You?” he broke the silence.
“Great,” she said. “Great,” she repeated.
“Glad to hear that…” Xi Men said.
“And you?” Xiao You asked.
“Normal,” he shortly replied, before giving her a brief smile.
“Everyone is attached,” Xiao You smiled.
Xi Men turned to look at her before he turned and look straight at the road again. “Yes… everyone,”
“Then what about you?”
He turned to look at her again. Somehow he didn’t really want to answer that, “I…”
“Wife and kids at home?” she asked.
“No… no,” Xi Men said. “I… am… engaged,” he swallowed the lump as he said the last word.
Xi Men frowned. That is the WORST expected response from her.
“I am sorry. Why do you have to stutter?” her laughter slowly fades.
“Congratulations,” she smiled. “So glad to hear that from you,”
He could only smile. “Thanks,” he soon said.
His smile fades very soon after. Again, he didn’t expect to hear that from her. Or rather… he didn’t want to hear that respond from her.
“When is your wedding?” she asked.
“It is in about 6 months,”
“Oh,” she said. “I was thinking if it is within these 6 weeks, I might be able to attend. But since it is not… then I can’t. And Emily’s school has started, I can’t leave her there. So sorry about that,” she smiled.
“It is okay,” he casually replied.
“Why didn’t you bring your fiancée over for the dinner just now?” Xiao You asked.
Xi Men didn’t want to talk about Amanda to Xiao You, and he didn’t want to think about his impending life with someone he doesn’t love. He didn’t even want to remember about Amanda’s existence if given a choice. But…
“Umm…” Xi Men said.
“Is she busy?” she asked. “Too busy to come?”
He swallowed a lump in his throat. “Umm… I think this is a bit embarrassing to say… actually, she is a very boring person. Everyone didn’t really want her to come… and when Lei told me about having dinner tonight, he specifically tells me not to bring her over to the dinner tonight because they are all feeling awkward with her around,”
Xiao You looked at him. “Really? That is a… surprise…”
“Not everyone is fun to be with,” Xi Men said. He really wants to change topic, so he quickly jump at the opportunity while Xiao You remained ‘surprised’ at the very, very brief description of his fiancée, “So… do you have any particular place that you are planning to go tomorrow?”
“Not exactly. Or rather, not yet. I just need to get an adequate rest before starting anything. I mean, the flight is taxing, and needing to adjust to the different time zone,”
“Jetlag is pretty normal,” Xi Men said. “I think it is a good idea to rest first. But you should have told us just now that you are tired, so that we can end the dinner earlier,”
“It is completely okay. It is meeting up with all of you, which is not like it happens everyday. So it is okay,” she smiled.
“But you could have gotten back to your unit earlier and settled down as well as rest, and then you have 6 weeks to catch up with everybody,”
“I know. But I will be in Taiwan for 6 weeks, not in Taipei for 6 weeks,”
“Yeah. You said that just now,” he said.
She started laughing.
“Why are you laughing all of a sudden?” he asked.
“You sound disappointed. Or jealous, I don’t know,” she laughed.
“Disappointed… jealous?” he asked her back. “Why? I mean why would you think of that?”
“If you ask me why and what I derived from your tone; you don’t have to be disappointed just because I did not plan to stay here for 6 weeks straight. When I am around and have the time, all of us can always meet up for dinner or tea break or something. Just don’t exactly be jealous because I can go all over the places; I mean, you can go anywhere you want at anytime. You are based here after all,”
He suddenly smiled. “I think you gave me an idea,” he makes a left turn.
“Hmmm,” he said, and then occasionally turned to look at the beautiful Xiao You sitting next to him.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I can’t be away from my job for 6 weeks consecutively. But, I wonder if you are alright if I join you on your trips occasionally?” he asked.
Xiao You looked at Xi Men. “What?”
He can see that she is looking at him in disbelief for his self-invitation to join her and her daughter for the trip. “I mean, if I can leave my job… and… if the places you are going are interesting,” he bares his teeth, trying to save the situation. “Don’t get me wrong. It is just that, I noticed I haven’t had a vacation for a really long time too. After hearing that you are going for a holiday… I feel excited for you and I think I want one too. But if you don’t like the idea of me tagging along, it is fine with me, just tell me and I will stay back at work. No worries,”
“You can go traveling with your fiancée, right?”
“Err…” Xi Men said, for a moment he had forgotten about Amanda.
Xiao You smiled lightly before she looked straight out to the road.
“I won’t go traveling with her,” Xi Men said. “She is a boring person… she might bore me out before I reach my destination,”
“And you plan to spend the rest of your life with a boring person?”
Xi Men didn’t know what to say.
“She is most likely a bored person to everyone else, but she is definitely the best thing that had ever happen to you,” Xiao You said.
“Why did you say so?” he frowned.
“If she is not, how did she end up becoming your fiancée?” Xiao You asked.
He just smirked. He really didn’t want to talk about Amanda.
Instead of talking about himself, he wanted to know so much about Xiao You and Emily. It has been 9 years. This reunion leaves him with a happy heart and a broken heart, though he had no idea which one leaves a stronger feeling in him. He felt happy when he saw Xiao You but a part of him were crushed when he found out she is married and has a daughter. To begin such conversation and journey to know more about the last 9 years of her life, he thinks that the best is to ask about Emily first.
Xiao You turned to look at Emily after Xi Men mentioned her name.
“No, no… I mean…”
“She fell asleep,” Xiao You interrupted and smiled, before she sits straight again “She’s tired,”
Xi Men lifted up his eyes to look at the mirror to see Emily had really fallen asleep in her seat. “Must have been a long day,”
“Yes it is. She stayed up during the day here… which is night in Canada. But I am glad she tries her best to fit to the time zone here. I definitely hope she can adjust to the time here,” Xiao You said.
“Give her some time,” Xi Men smiled. “She will,”
Xiao You smiled.
He swallowed the lump in his throat again as he gathered his courage to resume the interrupted topic. “I… I actually cannot believe you are a mother already,” Xi Men said.
“My daughter is sitting right behind you, believe it or not,” she laughed softly.
Xi Men smiled at that response though he didn’t expects it. “Actually… I am surprised to see you today,” he suddenly blurted out with no connection to his previous statement.
“I think everybody does,” she said.
“I mean… I didn’t expect to see you actually…”
“Isn’t that the same meaning as ‘surprised’?” she asked him back.
A small laugh escapes his mouth. He wasn’t sure why he would rephrase his words. “Yes…” he said. “I was told there will be a guest. But I didn’t expect it will be you…”
“It is nice to give surprises once in a while,”
“I guess… one of the surprises that came with you is Emily,”
“I have expected that,” Xiao You said. “They are all surprised and shocked at the sight of Emily. Well, I didn’t tell anyone about her, so… of course,”
“Anyone… includes San Chai?”
“Yes,” Xiao You said.
“Oh, how come?” Xi Men asked. “I mean, she is your best friend… I thought you will tell her…”
Xiao You just smiled. “Just… didn’t tell,”
Xi Men looked at Xiao You for a brief while. “Oh,” he said, before he returned his sight to the road. She seems like didn’t wanna talk about it… “Emily… really looks like you,”
“She is my daughter. Of course she looks like me,” Xiao You smiled.
“Emily is eight,” he suddenly stated.
“Yeah. She told you?”
Xi Men nodded. “I am… actually in disbelief that she is eight,”
“Why, she looks younger than that?”
“I mean… I cannot believe… I…”
Xiao You looked at Xi Men.
Xi Men couldn’t bring himself to say the next thing. So, he cleared his throat. “We are reaching,” he said, as he slowed down.
“Oh?” she asked as she looked around.
“Yeah. Since it is late, I will accompany you,” he said, as he slowly swerves into a parking bay.
“I think it is okay just with me and Emily,”
“I insist,” he smiled at her and he engaged his BMW into P [parking] mode. “It is pretty late, so it is best for me to ensure both of you and Emily is safe,”
“I guess you are not allowing me to say ‘no’, right?” she smiled lightly as she unbuckled her seatbelt.
“Yes,” he smiled as he also unbuckled his seatbelt.
“Emily, wake up, we’ve arrived,” Xiao You said.
Emily opens her eyes and wakes up. She took a deep breath and looked around. “Right, mommy…” she said with a half asleep sound and unbuckled her seatbelt.
Xiao You got out from the car and lifted up her head to look at the building in front of her. “Yes, this is the right place. I will give the landlord a call so she can come down and pass me the keys,” she dives her hand into the handbag to take her phone out.
“Sure,” Xi Men said as he got out from the car, and then he headed to the car boot and opens it, to retrieve her luggage.
Emily stood in front of the car door and she stretches her hands, before she headed to the car boot and took the bags with Xi Men.
Xi Men looked at Emily, fairly impressed that she doesn’t even need Xiao You to tell her what to do, and does what she needed to do, while Xiao You is trying to make a call.
“What is it, Uncle Xi Men?” Emily asked, after noticing Xi Men is looking at her.
“Nothing,” he smiled as he looked at her taking her backpack out from the car boot.
Xiao You really taught her well.
“Do you have a difficult life in Toronto, Emily?” Xi Men asked.
“Difficult?” she asked him back.
“Yeah,” he said as he closes the boot.
“I would say life is quite… okay, or moderate,” Emily smiled.
He smiled. “Great to hear that…”
“Oh, Uncle Xi Men, your car is really nice,” Emily smiled. “The seat is very comfortable,”
“Thank you,” Xi Men smiled.
Xiao You puts down her phone and turned to look at them. “The landlord is coming down now. I think we can takeover from here,”
“It is okay. I’ll go up to your unit with you. I want to ensure you are safe,” Xi Men said.
“Xi Men, you do know that Taipei is a very safe place, right?” Xiao You asked.
“On the street, yes. In the building, we won’t know yet, right?” Xi Men replied.
Xiao You just smiled, “Alright, we’ll go up. She said level 6,”
“I thought you said there’s only 2 of you?” the landlord said, looking at Xiao You and then at Xi Men, and then looked at Emily who is standing in front of Xiao You, who in return, look at the landlord opening the door of the studio apartment.
It is like a hotel room, but comes with a small kitchen too.
Completely understood why the landlord would say like that, “It is. Only me and my daughter. This is a friend,” Xiao You pointed at Xi Men. “He is not staying here,”
“Ah, I see,” the landlord said. “My apology. I thought he is your husband,”
Xiao You and Xi Men looked at each other.
Xiao You smiled and shook. “No, a friend,”
Xi Men just smiled briefly at that statement.
“Anyway, this is your unit, and this is your key…” the landlord said as she passed the key to Xiao You.
“Thanks,” Xiao You said, accepting the keys.
“Goodnight Miss Yang, have a pleasant stay,” the landlord smiled, and gives a friendly nod to Xi Men.
“Goodnight Miss Huang,” Xiao You smiled as the landlord walked off. She then turned to look at Xi Men. “You can placed the things on the floor here,”
“Sure,” Xi Men said as he walked in, into a comfortable studio unit and placed the luggage down on the floor as directed by Xiao You.
“Thank you for fetching us,” Xiao You smiled.
“No problem. You do not have to keep repeating,” he said. “Ah, I almost forgot…” he dives his hand into his pants to retrieve his smartphone.
“Hmm?” Xiao You wondered.
“Can I have your number, please?” he asked as he worked his finger on the phone.
“Yes, if not, how can I contact you?” he asked. “You are not expecting me to come here everytime, hoping to get and find you, right?”
She smirked. “If this is the way you try to get a girl’s number, I wasn’t quite sure if it is a good strategy or not,” she extends her hand, and he places the phone in her hand.
“There is never a strategy. I don’t need any,” he smirked.
“Yeah, you are engaged anyway,” she smirked while typing her number in it.
The smirk fades off from his face. And then he smiled forcefully as he looked at her pressing her numbers.
“Okay, done,” she smiled as she passes the phone back to him.
“It is late already. So I think I should go now. And since it has been a long day today for you, do take a rest,” he smiled as he stuffs the phone into his pants.
“Right,” Xiao You turned to look at Emily who is sitting on the bed, “Emily, come and bid farewell to Uncle Xi Men. He is leaving,”
“Alright,” Emily headed over and then hugs Xi Men. “Goodnight Uncle Xi Men, thank you for your ‘help’,”
Xi Men smiled as he hugs her tight. “No problem. Goodnight Emily. Sleep well tonight, alright?” hugging Emily really feels close to his heart.
“Sure,” Emily said as she eases from the hug. “Bye bye,” and then she turned and looked at Xiao You, “Mommy, I go shower first, okay?”
“Okay,” Xiao You smiled at Emily.
Emily turned and gives a brief look to Xi Men and waved at him.
He waves back as he slowly walked to the door and Xiao You followed him.
Xiao You smiled as she crossed her hands on her chest and leaned against the door frame. “Looks like you bond pretty well with Emily, she talked the most with you,”
“Well, don’t be jealous if I am popular with kids,” he laughed.
“Popular?” Xiao You laughed. “If you are popular; Alex Teng Tang, Dao Ming Chen, Dao Ming Mei, Ling Wei Yi and Ling Wei Juin will come and swarm you all the time. You wouldn’t stuck at just standing as well as sitting alone next to Mei Zhuo and talk to my daughter and only my daughter,”
Xi Men glared at her. “Why do you have to bust me up?”
Xiao You laughed. “You are not a father, you definitely do not know what a child thinks,” she patted his shoulder. “So… there are things you can’t lie to me,”
“Alright, you have an upper hand in that,” he said. “But she is quiet. Is she a shy kid?”
“Not really. She actually loves talking. But she knew when she should and shouldn’t interrupt someone’s conversation. Emily actually mingles well with everyone, regardless if they are adult or kids her age. But perhaps it is because she didn’t know all of you guys well yet, so she is still shy and refrain from joining the kids,” Xiao You smiled.
“Ah, that is what she said as well,”
“Then you know she is not shy. Just that not familiar with you yet,”
“Right. What you said and what she said matches,” he smiled.
Xiao You smiled. “I am sure you will be Emily’s favorite uncle in Taipei,”
“Why do you say so? We only meet once and we have only talked for a while, over a dinner. Is it because she didn’t talk with Mei Zhuo, Lei or Ah Si?”
“She did talk with them before you came,” Xiao You smiled.
“I know what you did,” she smirked as she stood up straight from leaning against the door frame.
“What did I do?”
“You really want me to tell you?”
“Yes, please. Because I have no idea at all,”
She paused for a while with that smirk on her face and she tilts her head, “You know, Xi Men…” she positioned her head straight again, “Most kids don’t like greens, and that includes Emily. Knowing my daughter, and because she didn’t like greens; she will not eat the vegetables immediately when it is placed on her plate and she will usually puts it aside, and then only eats it very much later; or almost at the end of the meal,”
Xi Men stared at her.
“And you know what’s strange? The greens went missing when I put it down on her plate within two minutes… and she is happily looking at you at the same time,” she remained smirking, “See you again, Xi Men,” and she closed the door.