“Come on, V,” Silas teases, “I know you’re awake. Just look at me.” I lay still, wondering if I should even breathe.
What the hell is he doing here? What am I doing here?
I feel him poking my cheek, and I flinch a bit. With a sigh, I open my eyes to glare at him, only to find his soft smile and gentle gaze.
“What are you doing here? Why do you keep calling me V?” I pull my hand from his and lift myself up onto my elbows.
“Which do you want me to answer first,” he asks, but when I don’t answer, he sighs and explains, “I saw you on the ground in the hallway, so I carried you here. And I call you V, because SOMEONE wouldn’t tell me her name. So now I have to call you V.”
“V,” he responds with a smirk, “for virgin.”
I yelp and without control, I slap his arm as hard as I could.
“Ow! Geez, at least I’m not calling you Virgin, just V.” He rubs his arm, stifling back a giggle and I narrow my eyes at him. “You should be proud of that name. Not a lot of girls can say the same about themselves.” He ruffles my hair, which sends me back to the hangover I temporarily forgot about. I fall back on my pillow with both hands shielding my closed eyes from the bright lights.
“How long have I been here?” I manage to groan.
“It’s third period,” he answers, glancing at the clock. I jolt up and swing to have my feet on the floor.
“What? I missed two classes already?” I reach my hand up to my forehead, feeling a little out of it. The bell rings.
I want to smack his face, but I felt winded and I don’t know how I could take on the rest of the day. Just then, the nurse comes in with a folder.
“Oh, sweetie, you have a high fever, are you alright?” She puts her folder down on the counter and heads over to us. She places the back of her hand on my forehead. “Yeah, still too warm. You had a high fever earlier. I would advise you to go home.”
“But my mom’s at work. I don’t want her to take off to take me home…”
“I could take her home.”
Both the nurse and I turn over to look at Silas, who sits with his elbow on the bed, chin in palm.
“I-I don’t know about that. It seems ill advised.” The nurse straightens up and goes over to the counter to open up the folder.
“Come on, Susan. It’s me. You know, I can’t go on with my day knowing I left a weak and sick girl sitting in all this fluorescent light.” He gestures at the light in the ceiling.
Why are they on a first name basis?
“Well, how about this: if your mother is okay with it,” she says as she points at me and then to Silas, “then Mr. Hero here can take you home.”
So I call my mom, and as we try to talk it through all the loud machine sounds from the sea of sewing machines she sits in, I turn over to see Silas gazing at me, looking… amazed? Was he just unfamiliar with the concept of bilinguality?
When I hang up, he maintains his expression, so I ask, “What?”
“What language was that?”
“Teach me.” He stands up.
“What? Why?” I only learned to read and write Vietnamese from reading the newspapers over the years and writing little notes for my mom.
“I just want to learn. Although, it kind of sounded like you were gossiping when you spoke.”
I hold back a satisfactory smile.
I told my mom that I was having a classmate take me home, which isn’t a lie. I told her he was a good friend, which was.
“My mom said it’s okay for me to go home.”
“You mean she’s okay with me taking you home.”
“Sure,” I answer. He raises an eyebrow before heading out to speak to the nurse. Ah, what it must be like to live as a child of a non-Asian family. The issue isn’t in the how, but the what. Sure, you could go home in any way you want, but, oh what? You want to miss school? Why? You want to get an F?
Missing one day wouldn’t warrant an F, Mom. But it would drown me in homework. Today is Friday, so here’s to hoping all my teachers are too lazy to assign weekend homework.
Silas sticks his head into the room. “I need to get my stuff from my locker. I’ll be back and we can go.”
Gathering my things, I greet the nurse, who says, “I’m telling you, that boy is a keeper. He was so upset when he carried you in. I thought I saw some sweat glistening on his forehead.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t just because I was too heavy to carry?” I laugh, trying to move away from what she was implying.
In the car, I start feeling better. I’ve always liked car rides. They always manage to calm me down and give me a sense of safety. I usually prefer the sound of tire rolling on the ground over the loud pumping of music. I turn to look at Silas, who seems overly focused on the road.
“You know this is still really weird, right? I don’t care if you rescued me. We just met yesterday,” I point out while marveling his chiseled jawline.
“I was Clark Kent for you this morning! You should be more grateful.” He doesn’t take his eyes off the road and both his hands grip the steering wheel a bit too carefully.
“Oh yeah? Clark Kent? Did you fly me to the office?” I roll my eyes, even though he wouldn’t see it. I hope he senses it. I’ll roll my eyes for days for that response.
“Might as well have. I got there under a twenty seconds,” he mutters.
“Only losers count, dork face.” I shake my head.
“I don’t count when it comes to things that take all night.” He had a smug look, but then a bit of slight disgust reaches his lips.
Nice innuendo. I doubt you could last all night tho. More like minutes or less, according to statistics. Not that I looked it up. Nope.
“Gross.” I scowl at the mention of him in bed. I pause to think and then ask, “Why are you and the school nurse on a first name basis?”
“We’re neighbors, but more importantly, she’s my lollipop supplier,” he says with a straight face. He can’t be serious. I don’t press on the topic.
As we park in front of my building, I get out, saying bye rather quickly before closing the door behind me. To my surprise, Silas comes up next to me as I unlock my door. Creep, much?
“Can I come in?” he asks shyly. I give him a once over. He is scratching the back of his neck and his other hand is rubbing against the side of his jeans, probably wiping off some sweat.
Sweat. He’s nervous. This isn’t Silas Cravens, is it?
“Yeah, but one, you have to take your shoes off upon entering this threshold, and two, I know where all the most dangerous weapons are in the place, so don’t try anything you’ll regret later.” I open the door, leaving it for him to follow. Behind me, I hear him gently close the door and my heart stops.
Am I scared or excited? A handsome guy who just rescued you is in your house, so I think it might be a bit of both.
“Nice place.” I know he’s lying. This place was cramped and what I’ve always imagined to be a place for a bunch of starving college graduates to rent out before they move on with their lives.
Still, this place was our world. When my dad passed away, it was like the world went dark for my mom. Working to get enough money to pay rent to keep this place was the only thing that kept her going. This was her and my dad’s first home in this country and she would do anything to keep that safe.
Growing up, I had been trained to listen to her and follow her instructions, not only because of the “because I said so” rule, but also because she had a good reason for everything she asked me. She never belittled me, and instead, she would make sure I would understand her reasoning. To her, I was an equal who would eventually keep this home safe for my dad, just as she had.
I remember one time, when I was younger, I asked her what would happen if she and I moved out into an actual house. She didn’t even have to hesitate to say, “If you have the money to buy a new house, then I expect you to have some extra to purchase this place so I don’t have to rent it anymore.”
She was incredibly loyal to my father, even during the years when she tried dating around, long after he died. She deserves every ounce of respect I give her.
I drop onto the couch with my legs sticking out. I feel Silas lifting them to place them on the other end of the couch.
“Do you need anything? Soup? Cough syrup? Carne asada fries?”
I lift my head and rest on my elbows to see him sitting in the chair beside the couch. “Carne asada fries?”
“I’m guessing you don’t usually drink on a school night. That and the bucket of ice water probably sent you into this.” He gestures at me. “So do you feel more hungover or sick.”
I look down and rub my face with my hands. “I feel dead.”
“So… both.” He looks like he’s checking off a list in his head.
“I have cough syrup. I’ll take it later,” I mumble with my eyes closed.
“Nope. You’re taking it now. Where is it? Nevermind, I see it.” I hear him get up and walk to the kitchen, picking up the bottle of cough syrup and pulling a water bottle from the bulk pack that sits by the fridge.
He places them on the coffee table and watches as I gulp down the little cup of medicine that tasted more like poison.
My phone rings, and instinctively, I cover my ears with my hands before actually reaching for it to answer.
“Hello?” I can hear the loud chatter in the background.
“Hello? Tam? What happened? Where are you?”
“I’m really sick today so I had to go home.”
He gasps. “But you never miss school!”
What a drama queen.
“Yeah, I guess I was a little hungover, too,” I answer sheepishly.
“Hey Vinny, have you seen Tammy today? I can’t find her,” I hear Damon in the background.
“Yeah, she’s really sick today. Wait,” he pauses and then talks to me, “Tam, how did you get home?”
“She got a ride from me!” Silas shouted, obviously having been super quiet to eavesdrop on the conversation. He’s right next to me. I glare at him.
“Who’s that?” Vinh asks.
“Um. It’s Silas.” I say his name very quietly.
“Silas? What’s he doing taking you home?” Thanks Vinh. Announce it to the whole town, will ya?
“WHAT?” I hear Damon yelling in the back. “She’s with WHO?”
“Okay, Tam, I’ll swing by later to check up on you. Drink lots of water and get some of that beauty sleep, okay, Mama Bear? Đi ngũ đi!” I giggle at Vinh’s concerned advice. He’s always called me Mama Bear because I would sometimes treat him like a kid.
One time, in front of his parents, I wiped half his face down with a tea-soaked napkin because there were too many stains on his cheeks from slurping noodles. His mother thanked me, but I think it made his dad think that we were dating. Only when he dated Scarlet did that idea vanish.
“I’m heading out,” Silas says as he rises.
“You are?” I raise an eyebrow. Why did he even come in here in the first place?
“Relax, kid. You’ll see more of me soon. But just in case you miss me,” he stops and grabs my phone from the coffee table. A moment later, his phone rings, but he rejects the call. “There. You have my number and I have yours. Just in case you need to get another look at this.” He gestures his whole body.
“Please,” I scoff, “Anyone with half a brain can tell that this was your way to get my number. I’m hungover, Kent, I’m not stupid.”
He doesn’t say anything, and I think I caught him off guard with my response, but then he composes himself and continues, “Kent. I like that. I’ll be your superman any day, Lois Lane. Anyway, I’m out.”
Just as he was approaching the door, my mom comes in staring at him, wide eyed. He does the same, and for a moment, I had to hold back my laughter from their expressions. Unexpectedly, Silas smiles as he bows slightly at her before he steps out the door.
“Ai vạy?” My mom still has the puzzled look in her face. So I explain to her who he was, what he did, and why he probably felt the need to stay a bit before leaving me alone, sick and weak. When I was done, she was relaxing on the same chair Silas had been sitting on. “Thằng đó bảnh trai.” She wiggles her eyebrows. “He’s handsome.”
I scowl. No, Mom. Nothing is happening. He’s just being weirdly nice to me.
I fall asleep on the couch until I later hear my mom packing her things to go back to work. On the coffee table is a cup of her very effective honey-lemon-ginger drink that tastes like the devil’s tongue. I gulp it down with my nose plugged. She opens the door and I could see her waving at someone outside.
“Dạ chào cô. Cô có khỏe không?” I hear Vinh’s voice greet her, asking how she’s doing. It’s really the only acceptable way to present yourself to Asian parents. Any other way and they’ll end up talking crap about you, your parents, and how they badly they must have raised you. I’ve learned this directly from my mom and also seen her bad mouth other kids since I was in kindergarten.
“Hey, girl, heyyy!” Vinh greets me as he enters with a very tall Damon on his heels. My mom proceeds to step out, but not before she points to Damon, gives me a thumbs up and a wink. Not embarrassing at all, Mom.
“Do you mind if we keep you company for a bit?” It’s so good to hear Damon’s voice, but things still feel a bit weird. I yawn but wave for them to join me.
By force of habit, Vinh reaches for the TV remote and selects White Collar on Netflix. We’ve watched it through a couple times, but it’s always fun to rewatch.
We spent hours watching the show, Vinh and I reciting the lines between characters in funny scenes and then throwing pillows at the tv when something upsetting happened.
“Well, no shit, he’ll shoot you! He’s got the treasure, dumb bitch!” Vinh yells at the TV, while throwing a nearby pillow at the screen. Damon and I laugh while nibbling on some cookies he brought.
Damon seemed entertained enough the entire afternoon, though every time I looked over, his eyes were smiling at me.
It made my stomach turn.
In a good way.
By the time they had to leave, Damon was already joining in, even though he hadn’t seen the series. He vowed to finish at least one season by the end of next week, so there is hope for him yet.
“I’ll wait outside,” Vinh whispers at Damon before winking at me and stepping outside.
Hugging me, Damon whispers, “Sorry I wasn’t much help today. I made sure Natasha and her girls were taken care of, though.”
“What do you mean?” I say into his chest. I’m barely trying to breathe here.
Why didn’t I turn my head to the side when he hugged me? Now all I could do is breathe hot air into my own face, which is smooshed into his rock hard chest. I guess it’s not that bad here.
He lets go, looking down at me with a warm smile. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
“Alright! I was being nice, but seriously, break it up, Tamon. I need to go home and video chat with my boy toy.” Vinh yells from outside.
We both laugh, with most of our bodies still pressed together. My cheeks felt warm as soon as I started to think of the particular parts of us that were only separated by thin clothing…
Shut up, Horny Tammy! You do NOT need this right now!
I shake my head slightly and look up to him to find his cheeks red, too. I guess I wasn’t alone on this.
“Don’t do anything naughty!” I yell at Vinh, who in response blew raspberries my way.
When it was time to go to bed, I still had to brush my teeth, no matter how tired I was. As a child, I was always lazy about it, but my mom managed to guilt me out of it.
“When I was young,” she told me, “we didn’t have any money in the countryside of Vietnam. I wanted to make sure my teeth didn’t fall out, so I brushed my teeth by putting salt on my finger and running it all over my mouth. I don’t want to hear you complain. You are damn lucky to have things like a toothbrush and toothpaste to keep your teeth clean and pretty.”
I never missed a night after that.
I climb into my bed, which was covered by Mulan themed sheets, and as I start to doze off, I hear my phone ring. I rub my eyes and reach for it. Silas. What? Does he know what time it is, that jerk.
“What?” I try not to go over the volume of a whisper, but my tone was spilling through.
“Open your window, Lane!”