Keep the kid out of adult topics.
“Is it really that bad?” Hero asked.
“She dropped and lost consciousness. She probably has a minor brain injury, but then again, she did drop on his bed…” said CeeCee.
“It’s really that bad. Her hair was hiding the kind of black palm, but I could see the thumb when I got closer to see the front of her face. You can try to see it if you peek into One Word’s workroom,” answered Hong with fake concern. There was a moment of pause. “He has never hit me, has he ever hit you?” she asked Hero.
Hero shook her head.
Hong looked at CeeCee and she also shook her head.
“She was also handcuffed on her wrists and ankles,” Hong added. “You said that she hurt her ankle, right Hero?” She nodded. “Well now she has no chance of going anywhere,” Hong continued. “She said she’s not mad at you girls. No sense in feeling guilty about nothing.”
“I have a twisted knot in my stomach,” said CeeCee.
“Did I hear a beautiful woman say she has a twisted knot in her stomach?” asked a teenager entering the music room.
“Hey,” said CeeCee.
“Why the long faces,” Xiong asked.
“It’s nothing. What’s up?” CeeCee asked.
“On the subway ride home yesterday, I thought of a tune…well, the tune came to me. I tried holding onto it until I got home to write it down, but I couldn’t. Can you help me figure out what I’m missing, Miss Hero?”
“Yeah sure. Play what you have,” she said.
Xiong swung his guitar in position and played. The three girls and musicians were nodding their head to the light and airy tune.
“What does your gut pull you toward? Like the kind of sound or the kind of instrument or something really obvious but you can’t think of it,” Hero said.
Xiong thought about it. “I think my gut is telling me what I’m missing is something loud and deep.”
“Like a bass drum?”
“Yeah, let’s try it.”
The drummer played a few notes.
Xiong made a face and said, “That’s not quite it. It’s a little strong.”
“How about a cello?” Hero suggested and got the cello from the instrument closet. She brought it to a bench and played it.
“Not quite this either.”
“How about when you pull on the chord?”
“It’s not quite that either.”
“How about a piano?” Hero suggested, and the piano player played a few notes at one end of the keyboard.
Xiong shook his head.
“Deeper and louder?” she asked.
“Let’s try it.”
The piano player stepped on a brass pedal and played a few notes.
“So far, the closest sound would be the cello when you pulled on the chord,” Xiong said to Hero. “It has a clean sound and not muddled by echo.”
“Wow, someone has their big boy vocabulary. Impressing Hero, are you?” CeeCee teased.
Xiong talked through his embarrassment. “JZ only picks the most beautiful ladies to work for him. How can I not try and impress them?”
CeeCee, Hero, and Hong playfully giggled.
“Does anyone know where Miss Elle is? I was waiting for her in the common area for half an hour and she didn’t show up. It doesn’t matter what it is, she always knows what’s missing. I don’t know how she does it.”
“She’s sick,” CeeCee blurted.
“Really? Yesterday’s performance showed she was more than healthy.”
“Yeah. She was really sweaty from the body suit and she walked to her apartment, a really strong wind blew, and she caught a cold,” CeeCee quickly said.
“Oh, that’s too bad. She must be in her apartment. I’ll go visit her.”
“NO!” shouted CeeCee and Hero with wide eyes, all of them holding him back.
“We wouldn’t want you to get sick so close to the start of the school year,” said CeeCee with assertion.
“Colds only last for about five days. If I catch her cold, I’ll have plenty of time to recover before school starts.”
“Why don’t I text JZ to come and listen? He’s more qualified,” suggested CeeCee.
“JZ doesn’t like me. He said it himself: the only reason I’m here is because Miss Elle wants me here. She almost lost her job because she was fighting for me. I don’t want that. In conclusion, as much as I idolize and emulate JZ, I wouldn’t want to disturb his alone time with Miss Elle. I change my mind. I’ll wait till she feels better.”
“How do you know he’s with her?”
“Because she doesn’t have any family here, and he’s the only one who wants to take care of her.”
“We all know JZ likes Miss Elle. Do you think Miss Elle likes him back?” Hero asked casually.
“Why are you asking me that?”
“Because out of everyone in this building, you know her the best. We’ve only known her for a couple of weeks, while you know her over the course of three years. You have expertise,” Hero emphasized.
“She has to like him back,” Xiong said confidently. “He tells her she’s sexy and this and that, and she gets really embarrassed. All the shy girls I’ve been with always turn red and embarrassed at things like that. Miss Elle doesn’t come across as shy but I guess she is when it’s in the romance department.”
“What do you mean all the shy girls you’ve been with?” CeeCee asked suspiciously like a parent probing into her son’s personal life.
“I kiss a lot of girls,” he said simply. “JZ is ultra-confident so he gets all the girls. Because I copy his ultra-confidence, I get girls too. None of my friends get girls because they’re all too shy or afraid of rejection.”
“Wow, Elle was right,” said CeeCee.
“Right about what?”
“You are like his 15-year-old copy, except you’re not super famous and everything else he earned with his music career.”
“WOW! Really?” he exclaimed.
“You both are ‘ultra-confident,’ had girls…do you only spend time with these girls for short or long amount of time?”
“I learned that I have to spend at least a couple of days with them before I can kiss and touch their hand. That’s a long time,” Xiong answered.
The three girls looked at each other and had the same thought. “Yup, you both had girls…a lot of girls or just a few girls?”
“I’ve had three times more ugly girls than pretty girls, so a lot of girls. I saw all the girls he was with, and almost all of them were pretty.”
“Who were the ones that weren’t pretty?”
“Promise you won’t tell anyone?”
“We promise,” all three girls said and leaned in closer.
“There is only one and she is Miss Elle.”
CeeCee and Hong were not surprised but Hero was.
“Explain to me how you define a pretty girl,” Hero said a little upset, trying to understand the situation. “Don’t you think her intelligence counts toward her beauty? You were just looking for her to help you solve a problem or solve it for you.”
“Intelligence doesn’t count toward beauty. Chinese people have a standard. If you’re a girl, you have to be fair, thin, and have an oval face. Parents want their sons to marry someone like that, and marry a rich girl. Bai fu mei.”
“She does have white skin. Her skin is whiter than mine.”
“By Chinese standards, she’s tan. You’d have to be white like these two,” Xiong said and tilted his head toward CeeCee and Hong.
“What’s so important about having white skin? In America, skin color is a very sensitive topic, especially in the south.” Hero switches to English, “In America, when we talk about skin color the first thing that comes to my mind is slavery. Before I left, skin color divides people of the same race. All the lighter skin Mexican girls would bully me at school because I have darker skin, and I have Mexican heritage, too.”
“In China, skin color doesn’t have anything to do with slavery; it’s about class differences. You have white skin because you don’t have to work outside in the sun like farmers. You’re educated so you have a less labor-intensive job indoors, like in the court or some sort of office. Chinese slavery never involved racism; just debt bondage, capturing enemy soldiers during war, stuff like that.”
Hero was a bit calmer. “I wonder if it changed since I was there. I should ask Elle…when she gets better, of course.”