Tea Leaves and Gold Pins

Birthday, Dinner, and Memories

Match Eight: Birthday, Dinner, and Memories:


Today is my birthday. That's right. On April fifteenth, 1994 at three in the morning, I was born. So when I wake up, I am already seventeen. Around seven in the morning, a text from Mei. Just as I expected for every year. I flipped open my phone and opened the message.

Happy Birthday, Girl! Mei XOXO

I smiled at the screen on my phone. Good old Mei, I thought. She's not going to be the last one of the clan today. I glanced over at the other side of the room. My roommate is still sound asleep. Probably just got back from partying again. I don't understand her. She makes B's and C's and parties worse than someone at college. My father would've killed me if I partied as much as she did.

"You should be doing stupid things like that to your life!" he would hammer into me. "You need to focus on studying and building your future!" That's my father for ya. I sighed to myself in bed. That's right; this'll be my first birthday without him. I shuddered at the feeling. It's going to feel weird without him there at the head of the table, frowning at the noise around him. My birthday was one of the few days we tried to stay civil long enough.

My phone buzzed again. I looked at the screen. Bik-taitai is calling me this time. I smiled to myself as I hit the call button.

"Hi, Bik-taitai," I whispered in the dim morning light.

"Happy birthday!" she shouted. I squinted my eyes closed as I held the phone away from ear.

"God, you're loud," I whispered.

"Too early?" she whispered.

"And my roommate's still sleeping,"

I turned over with the phone to my ear. "Yep. Thanks anyway."

She giggled over the phone. "You're welcome. So, what do you want for your birthday?"

I smiled as I thought about that question. "Well… a nice dinner and a headache-free year."

"Anything I can buy with money and dinner doesn't count."

"Okay… I don't really know."

"Oh, come on, birthday girl! You must want something!"

"Well… can I have a cake this year?"


I smiled as an idea formed in my head. "I want an all-girls weekend! Just my friends and you guys."

"Well then, little miss. I'll see what I can do."

"You'll pick me up at three today, right?"

"You got it!"

"See you then."


"Bye." We hung up from there. I held the phone to my chest. This year will be a nice birthday. I glanced at my clock on my desk. Thirty more minutes before I get up. But, I can't go back to sleep on. So, I reflect on my upcoming busy weekend. Friday, I will go home as usual. Saturday, I have to meet with Wang Yao to start business talks. Then, it's our girly weekend.. Finally, Sunday, I go back to school. It sounds like much, but I'm used to it by now. Well, except for the meeting bit. That was father' job. Now… Yeah.

This year, my birthday is on a school day. Classes as usual. I have to put my phone on vibrate today. Something tells me my birthday messages won't be done until midnight. In fact as I was heading out my dorm, Biao called me, singing "happy birthday" to me.

"Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, my little girlfriend! Happy birthday to you!" he sang. I couldn't help but to laugh.

"Thanks," I said.

"Feeling old yet?" he asked.

"No," I said. "I feel the same as I did yesterday."

"Darn it!" he complained.

"You ask me that question every year," I said. "The answer is always 'no.'"

"Fair enough."

"Is Xin coming to dinner with us this year?"

"No. She has to work today."

I pouted over the phone. "Aw, sad face."

"Yes, I know."

"Say, is she available this weekend?" I asked.

"I don't know," Biao said. "Why?" I smiled to myself on the phone.

"That's a secret," I said.

"Aw come on," he said. "Don't be like that!"

"See you tonight," I said. I flipped my phone closed before he could say another word. Say, Biao. But this will be a girls' only weekend.

I walked to class plotting out my girls' trip. It didn't have to be lavish like makeovers and girly things like that. Maybe a trip to the beach. Or maybe staying in a B&B for the weekend. Or maybe…

Suddenly, someone jumped on me from behind and grabbed my shoulders.

"Crap!" I cried out as I whipped around. I found Tina grinning at me.

"Happy birthday!" she cheered.

"Don't do that!" I complained. My goofy American friend grinned at me.

"So, what are you doing today, clan leader?" she asked.

"The traditional," I said. Tina frowned at me. I blinked at her like a comedian losing her audience.

"What?" I asked. Tina groaned aloud at me.

"You always do the same thing every year!" she complained. I gave her an innocent little look.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You always go to dinner with them!" she said. "At least make it more interesting this year!" I gave her a little chuckle.

"What?" Tine asked. I turned to her with a smile on my face.

"Tell me, Foxy," I said. "You doing anything this weekend?" Tina shook her head at me.

"No…" she said. "What are you plotting?" I leaned in close to her face with a grin.

"I want to do an all-girls' weekend for my birthday," I whispered. Tina's eyes lit up brighter than stars.

"Ooo! Do you mean…" she began to ask. I gave her a little nod.

"Yep," I said.

"To where?" Tina asked.

"I'm still working on that part," I said. "But I think the beach or a B&B."

"Sweet!" she said. "Who else would be coming with us?"

"You, Qun, Szu, Mei, Bik, Cai, Wan, Hark, and Tse. I might even invite Xin with us, if she can get off for work," I said. Tina raised an eyebrow at me.

"Why her?" she asked. I gave her a little shrug.

"Might as well," I said. "She'll be family soon anyway." Tina nodded a bit.

"That's true," she said. Then, the bell rang for classes to begin. I smiled at my pal again.

"I will have further plans as the day goes on," I said. I patted her on the shoulder and we headed for class.

The rest of the school went on as normal. I got texts from Chih and Kee. Szu and Qian sang/rapped to me by lunch. (Szu sang and Qian did the rapping.) I had to cover my mouth afterwards. Those two always make me laugh intentionally or not. Tina and Qun listened in on my phone. Qun managed a little giggle while "Foxy" laughed hard. Sure, we had people staring at us, but I didn't focus on them.

"By the way, here," Qun said as she handed me a small red and black box.

"Oh, thanks!" I said as we ate our lunch in the library. I held the box up to my ear and shook it around a bit.

"Ooo," I said. "Wonder what's in here." I pulled off the shiny red ribbon and opened the box. I smiled at what I found inside.

"Nice!" I said. "You got me White Rabbit!"

"It was a bit last minute," Qun admitted. "You are so hard to shop for."

"This is fine," I said. I put it in my schoolbag. Tina gave me a grin that reminded me of a silly little monkey.

"I'll get you your present over the weekend," she said. I raised any eyebrow at her.

"You couldn't think of a gift yet, could you?" I asked.

"That's not it," she said. "I'll just get it to you later."

"You promise?" I asked.

"Yes, yes!" Tina replied. "I swear on my soul and all that good stuff." I smiled at her.

"Okay," I said. "I'll hold you to it." The bell rang to send us back to class.

Hen-to and Fei picked me up after school. "Happy birthday," they greeted me as we pulled out for home.

"Thanks," I said.

"So, where to for dinner?" Fei asked. I took a moment to think about my answer. Only one place came to mind.

"Quanjude, please," I said.

"Yes ma'am!" the men replied. Then, Hen-to stepped on the gas to take me home. First, a change of clothes. Bye-bye, uniform, hello, pink cheongsam. Even four days after the funeral, I still wear traditional clothes at home. I need to break that. I am free now. I should try and exercise that freedom more. Seize the power, you know?

My stomach growled and broke my train of thought. I nervously laughed to myself.

I have to go eat first. I walked out of my room and straight down to the living room where everyone waited for me.

Like me, they are all dressed in traditional wear. I shook my head to myself.

"Guys," I said. "You didn't have to get dressed up for this." Cai threw up her hands in a shrug.

"Sorry, it's just tradition, you know?" she said. I nodded a bit at her.

"Yes, I know," I said.

"Can we go eat now?" Kee asked. His mother popped him in the head.

"Don't be rude," she hissed. "It's our lady's birthday!" I tried not to get weirded out for hearing that. My lady?, I thought. It's true, but it still sounds strange to me. Kee turned to me.

"Well," he said. "Can we?" His mother hit him on the head again.

"Ow," he mumbled. I threw up my hands at him.

"Fine, fine," I said. "Let's go!" The younger ones all celebrated at my resolve. The adults looked happy too. My stomach pushed for that decision.

I rode there with Mei and her parents like I always do every year. My friend's eyes trailed over to me.

"So, what's the plan?" she asked. I gave her a little smile.

"What plan?" I whispered.

"You know," she said. "For the weekend."

"Oh," I said. "Well, I have that meeting with Wang-qianbei on Saturday."

"And after that?" she asked. I faked a blank look at her.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You know," she said. "What are we doing for the weekend?" I pretended to still not get it for a moment. Then, I nodded once.

"Oh!" I said. "This weekend!" Mei nodded at me.

"Yes!" she said. I gave her a little smile.

"You'll have to see then," I said. My dear friend frowned at me.

"You don't have anything, do you?" she asked.

"I do!" I shot back.

"Then, what is it?"

I stuck my tongue out at her. "You'll have to see Saturday!"

"Kill joy!"

I only shrugged at her. "Sorry."

"What are you guys talking about back there?" Chi Ju asked over the seat.

"Nothing," Mei and I lied. It took so much for us not to be giggling right now.

"Oh," her father said. "A girls' secret, huh?"

"Yes," we said.

"Very well," he said. We pulled up to the stop light. I turned to Mei.

"But seriously," I said. "I will let you know." Mei leaned in close to me.

"You promise?" she asked. I smiled at her.

"When have I ever let you down?" I asked. Mei shook her head. I smirked at her.

"Exactly," I said. The light changed green and Chi Ju pulled away.

Dinner turned out just like last year. Yet, there was one huge difference. The head of the table oppose of me remained empty. I guess that is still Father's place even after death. As I took in the conversations around my table while we waited on our food, my mind took steps backwards into my childhood.

I didn't really have much of a chance to be "normal." After my mother died, my father began training me to be the next clan leader. He strictly taught me how to use chopsticks, write calligraphy, talk, sit, dress, and even walk into a room properly. Perfect idea of hell for a six-year-old like me. If I missed up, he would make me do it all over again until I did it right. Many trees died in the trash because of him. My little body went numb and sore for days at a time. I couldn't remember a day of training where he didn't say, "No that's wrong. Try it again!", "Begin again," "Sit up straight," and etc. By the end of the day, I felt screaming that I hated him because of it.

The only time I lived a normal childhood was when Bik and the other parents "kidnapped" me for a day of fun. Those were the times that Father pretended that he didn't know anything about it. He just let me be a kid at those times. The smell of our arriving food brought my attention back to reality in present day. Bik tapped her cup as she stood up.

"Everyone," she announced. "I would like to purpose a toast!" We all raised our cups. The nurse smiled at the whole table.

"To the birthday girl and the future of our clan!" she said.

"Cheers!" we all said before taking a drink. As I took a bite into my Peking duck, my mind just now realized something. I have to make my first business meeting on Saturday. A meeting with a man that I feel that I have seen before, but can't remember where exactly. Maybe, I'll that answer I am looking for at that time.

But yet, this meal is moving my mind back to this present night again as I take in my first birthday while being the only one at the head of the table. Still feels strange even now, to be honest.

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