Tea Leaves and Opal Necklaces
Match One: Babies, Secrets, and Signs:
My name is Ju Wang and Yao and I are trying to have a baby.
Yes, it’s about time for that. Every clan needs an heir. And it’s up to me to carry on that obligation. Oh, what about I saying?
Actually, the ladies of clan whom I love dearly, were the ones who pushed me into this plan. To be honest, I hadn’t had the time to think that far into my future. (Okay, the clan is part of that future, but I’ve had other things on my mind.) It started with Bik hinting at me while we out shopping for Biao’s graduation from med school.
“So when are we going to see little Yaos and Jus?” she asked at the marketplace. I froze over the ginger root.
“E-E-Excuse me?” I asked. I had an idea what she was implying, but my brain wouldn’t let it sink in.
“You know,” Bik said. “I would be nice to have a little girl to have around the property again. Plus, I wouldn’t mind dressing her up.” I turned around with big eyes and all of the color drained from my face.
“Wait, are you asking me when I’m going to have children?!” I asked.
“It would be nice,” Bik said with a little shrug. I think I lost the ability to speak in that moment. My mouth fell open, but no sound came out. Bik’s smile told me what she was thinking as she patted me on the head.
“It’s okay,” she said. “You’ll have plenty of time to think about it. You’re young after all. Young and health.” I stood, watching her walk over to the fruit section of the market. What just happened?
It’s not just her either.
“It’s so good that everyone in this country can have two children now,” Cai told me on the same day during lunch.
“Okay…” I said. She moved her arms behind her head.
“Yeah, it would be good to have an heir and a spare,” Cai said while looking at the sky. I tilted my head with a weird look on my face.
“Heir and spare?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Cai said. “In case the first-born dies. You’ve just to have a back-up to have an heir take over the clan when you and Yao die.”
“Why are you trying to kill off Yao, this imaginary child, and I so much?” I asked. She laughed as she waved me off.
“I’m not,” she insisted. “I’m just suggesting that you need to think ahead for your family. You are young and healthy enough for children, after all.” I about choked on my tea when she said that.
“Are you okay?” Cai asked.
“No!” I choked out. She rubbed my back and headed me my cup.
“Here, drink this,” she said. I downed the tea and took in heavy breaths.
“Better?” Cai asked.
“Yeah,” I said. I turned to her. “Please don’t do that to me again.” She giggled as she put up her hands.
“I apologize,” Cai said. She opened her mouth to say something else, but I put up my hand.
“Please don’t,” I said. “You’re only going to make it worse.”
“Yes, Ju,” she said. Suddenly, I wasn’t that hungry anymore.
It didn’t take long for Wan, Hark, and Tse to join in on the “let’s get Ju and Yao to make babies” plan. That same evening, I paid the Man house a little visit. No sooner had I walked into living room, I noticed something like a shrine sitting next to the TV.
“What… is that?” I asked. Tse jumped when I asked.
“What? Nothing!” she said. “That’s nothing!” I walked over to this peculiar looking shrine beside the TV. The more I looked, the more I began to notice the different features decorating. Are those… baby objects? A pair of white baby sneakers hung tied together by their laces from the top of the shrine. Little baby toys decorated the bottom. Pinks and blues with lace covered the background. To make it worse, Tse had candles and incense lit in front of this shrine. I turned to see her looking like she wanted to run out the door.
“Please don’t tell me…” I said. Tse rubbed the back of her head, laughingly nervously.
“Sorry,” she said. “Bik and Cai insisted.”
“Is the shrine for…?” I began to ask.
“Yes,” Tse said, dropping her head and shoulders. Qian, who had been playing a video game at the TV the whole time, rolled his eyes.
“I told you she would notice,” he said.
“Hush, you!” Tse hissed. Her son lowered his controller and groaned.
“Why can’t all of you come out and say it?” Qian asked. “You just want Ju to have a baby to keep this clan going!” Ju stared at mother and son with a blank stare.
“Don’t you have homework to do or something?” Tse asked with her teeth clenched.
“Already did it,” he said.
“I’ll have Man come and check on it with me when he gets home,” she said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Qian said. Tse’s mood changed to a pleasant one as she turned her focus on me.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Did you want something?” I struggled for about ten minutes before I could say anything.
“Uh… I just going to go,” was all that I could say. I dashed out of that house before Tse could say another word.
So, here we are.
I broke down and began the talk with Yao.
“The mothers of the clan think that it’s time that we had a child,” I said in our bedroom three nights later.
“Okay,” Yao said behind me on our bed. His tone made me whip around from my laptop.
“That’s it?” I asked. Yao shrugged.
“I mean, it’s up to you,” he said. “Do you want children?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought much about it,” I admitted. “The ladies keep pushing me to have a child. Wan and Bik have already planning on what to do if it’s a girl. Tse even has a fertility shrine for me in her house.” Yao covered his mouth as he snickered. I threw a small pillow at him.
“It’s not funny!” I said. I leaned over my chair and sighed.
“But seriously, whatever you decide, I will support you,” Yao said.
“Thanks,” I muttered.
We don’t have time to think about babies. There something still coming for all of us. Yao and I haven’t talked about it since I showed him that video on my laptop. We’re all still on edge about Junjie and Jianjun. Hark and Lili are taking extra measures to protect Szu. Hark even talks about moving Szu far away until Junjie is back in prison.
“Hark,” I told her. “You don’t have to do all of that. We will protect her, I promise!” I couldn’t tell if my voice was shaking or not. Ever since my uncle came to Beijing, Hen-to, Fei, Yao, and I have been plotting to prevent him from taking over the clan. It feels like we are hunting deer. We have the gear and traps ready. We’re all really skilled. All that we have to do now is wait.
The waiting is the worst. But that’s not the only thing on my mind.
I rubbed my forehead. For some reason, I’m having strange dreams again. They aren’t as bad as they were before I got married. I hope that it stays that way.
“Are you feeling okay?” I heard.
“Huh?” I asked as I lifted my head. Yao stared at me with intent.
“Are you sick?” he asked. “You’re not tired or anything?”
“Oh, no, no,” I said. “I’m fine. I just had so much on my mind.” I kind of feel bad in a way. Part of me is still freaked out on pulling him deeper into my mess that began when I first saw that video on that flash drive. I promised myself not to keep anymore secrets from Yao now that we were married. But, I didn’t think that I could tell him this. Not telling him this one thing should be fine, right? I mean, he doesn’t have to know about this. I doubt that he would even understand what’s been going on in my head.
“Babe,” I said.
“Yeah?” Yao asked.
“Maybe we should have a baby after all,” I said. I didn’t know why that came out. Maybe, we needed a distraction from all of this mess.
“Are you sure?” Yao asked.
“Yes,” I said. Too late to turn back now. I’m sure they’ll be happy to hear that I am deciding to do this.
“I will support your decision,” he said. “But only if you are really sure about do this. Having a child is not an easy thing to commit to. I don’t want you change your mind when it’s too late.”
“I realize the pressures and responsibilities of raising a child,” I said. “I run this clan, you know.”
“Please think on it a little bit longer first,” Yao pleaded. “I will support you no matter what you say.”
“Fine,” I said. “I will think about it first.” The words tasted so bitter as they exited my mouth.
“Thank you,” Yao said. I dropped my head on my arms. I blurted something out without thinking it through. Of course being a parent won’t be easy. Right now, anything to deal with this approaching storm in the distance.
“How are Szu and her parents doing?” Yao asked. I peeked out at him through the crack of my arm.
“Hm? Oh, they are doing well,” I said. “Hark and Lili are still on guard. Szu is doing the best that she can.” I stood up and walked over to our bed. I lay down beside Yao and looked up at him.
“There isn’t much movement on Junjie and Jianjun’s part either,” she said. “I don’t like this waiting around.”
“But that’s all we can do right now,” Yao pointed out. “We don’t know what Jianjun has planned or what Junjie is going to do next.”
“That’s the part that scares me the most,” I admitted. My husband patted me on the head as I snuggled up to his side. I slowly began closing my eyes as I let my mind drift off into a space of nothing.
Kiku already saw the dark autumn crawling towards his beloved home. Five gates had already been opened in Ikebukuro. It wouldn’t be long before the last two were found and opened. This evening, the Japanese man held a knife to his wrist.
He can’t bring himself to do it. She won’t let him do it anyway. That cursed woman needed him alive. She saw the Japanese man as her “investment”.
Kiku’s been trying to keep his aloof mask over his face, but now the cracks are hard to hide. The other countries were starting to ask questions and trying to see him. Luckily for the charming old man, he had his wife, Sena, keeping them at bay. But lately, a small few have been getting past her guard and trying to talk to him about that cursed woman who won’t leave him alone.
Arthur has turned out to be the worst one.
The Englishman seemed to be nervous about something last time he tried to visit the Japanese man. The United Kingdom’s lips trembled as if he wanted to shout out what he was really thinking. Did that cursed woman get to him too?
Kiku smacked himself in the cheeks. That couldn’t be it. That cursed Woman in Red still was trapped in her pit in the Land of the Dead. There had to be someone else pushing Arthur to try and communicate with him. Kiku wished that he knew who.
Or least had the courage to ask the English man if he was experiencing the same things that he was.
“Honey,” Sena said from their bedroom in a tired voice. “You’re still up? You’re not getting sick again, are you?” Her voice was enough to pull the Japanese man back into reality.
“Ah! No, no! I’m fine,” Kiku lied.
“Are you coming to bed?” Sena asked.
“Uh… yeah,” her husband said. “I’m sorry to worry you.” Kiku put away the knife and walked out of the bathroom.
The whole time, he could feel that cursed woman’s eyes piercing his back. How long would it before she was free?
The Japanese man didn’t want to think about the answer.