JZ was carrying Elle on his back when they walked up the stairs to his costume makers’ office. Elle was surprised to hear an Englishman’s voice. She whispered, “Is there a British person in there?” He looked at her and nodded.
He knocked. “Come in!” a female voice said in Mandarin.
They entered the extremely messy “office.” “Hey!” everyone said cheerfully. JZ let Elle down and closed the door. “What happened to your face?” asked with surprise by the tall and slender Chinese woman.
“She hit me,” JZ answered. “Don’t worry, it was well-deserved. Let me introduce everyone,” JZ said. “This is Mike. He is from England and married to Xiao Xing. She’s from China. Mike, Xiao Xing, this is Elle.”
Xiao Xing, without hesitation, came over to Elle and gave her a big hug. Elle slouched and had a very confused face plastered on her face, and looked at JZ, then at Mike. “Um, sorry, what are you doing?” she asked Xiao Xing, trying to not be rude.
Xiao Xing let go and backed away toward Mike. “Sorry, I-I heard that Americans like to hug and they hug all the time,” she said, covering the sides of her face burning of embarrassment.
Elle looked up at JZ, waiting for a translation. “Talk with Mike, he knows English,” said JZ with a slight attitude.
“What did she say?” Elle asked Mike.
“She’s very sorry. She heard that Americans like to hug and they hug all the time,” said Mike, grinning. “That may have been my fault.”
“Oh. Can you tell her that Americans do hug all the time, just not me? The odds are in her favor for the next American that enters this building and gladly accepts her generous hug. Really there’s no need to be that embarrassed. How does she know I’m an American?”
“We talked to CeeCee at the party last night. By the way, that was quite a spicy kiss he gave you,” Mike said, which made Elle blush, and translated what she had said.
Xiao Xing smiled, but was still embarrassed. “What can I help you with today?” glancing at the two.
Elle stepped forward toward Mike and Xiao Xing and showed the notebook. “I’m having dinner with JZ’s parents tonight. I want to know which dress you can make the fastest,” Elle said in Mandarin, flipping through her designs. “I like this one, this one, and this one, but I want his parents to like it, too.”
“I’m going to go outside and make a few phone calls,” JZ announced but the three were too involved with the notebook to pay attention. “I’ll come back in a few minutes,” he said to the air.
“His parents might like this one,” said Xiao Xing, pointing to the sleeveless wrap dress.
“Good,” Elle said in an affirmative tone in Mandarin. She asked Mike, “I had a pure blue in mind. Is there such a thing as pure blue? What I mean is, I want something like cobalt or sapphire but a little darker. I also want the fabric to be something like satin; it has an expensive look and it’s a cool fabric temperature-wise. I want it look like an evening gown, but I want it to end just above the knee. But I don’t want to stand out. Do you have something with all of these qualities?”
Mike went to the scraps bin and after a minute of searching, he returned with a small square of shiny medium to dark blue fabric. “Is this what you had in mind?” he asked.
Elle’s face lit up. “That’s not what I had in mind. That’s better than what I had in mind. Does the roll of fabric come with a seamless transition of two-tone blue like this?”
He said happily, “You’re in luck. It does. We’ll just have to go to our supplier and get some.”
“Does your supplier do business on Sunday?”
“She does for us. It’s Xiao Xing’s mum.”
“That’s wonderful!” Elle exclaimed with a smile on her face. “Um,” she started again, returning to her normal face and voice, “I spent the entire car ride here drawing designs for the dress to impress his parents, but the dress is not the only thing I need. I gave JZ an assignment, so can you ask him? Just so you know ahead of time, whatever he tells you, he wouldn’t let me go home to get my own, and don’t make it transparent.”
Mike laughed light-heartily. “She said she gave you an assignment. Said that you wouldn’t let her go home to get her own and to not make whatever you say transparent. I’m curious, what was your assignment?” he asked JZ.
JZ looked at Elle with a sly smile and bedroom eyes, then returned to his regular self to talk to Mike. “What she said was not true. I did not not let her go home; I suggested that you guys make her a bra and panty set to save time, not because I wouldn’t let her go home. She lives three hours away from my suite and it took me an hour to get here. We’re having dinner at 7 and it’s already 1:15. She’s making me out to be the bad guy,” sounding innocent.
Mike and Xiao Xing looked at each other and laughed. They quickly regained their composure and Mike asked him, “Was she making you out to be the bad guy when she instructed to not make whatever you had in mind, see-through?”
He smiled, “She wasn’t making me out to be the bad guy for that, because I wanted you guys to make them out of lace. Don’t be so good with the needle-work, either. I want it to accidentally come apart.”
Xiao Xing’s eyes grew big, then gave Mike a look that said “Go explain to him what he’s doing wrong.”
“Why don’t we talk over here,” Mike suggested to JZ, leading him to a corner. In a low voice, “I know you like her a lot, but lace undergarments is the wrong choice for an event like this.”
“My parents aren’t going to see them. Besides, if dinner goes well, I can see those garments and take them off like a magician,” he said with a grin and eyebrows hopped.
“You have to worry about dinner first, and then what you might be getting for dessert. Anyway, this is obviously important. If something happened to her dress, would you want your parents or anyone else to see her in what was meant for your eyes only?”
“Of course not, but wouldn’t you be thinking about dessert before you had breakfast?” he asked smiling. “Give me some leeway. You had the same thoughts about Xiao Xing, so don’t be a hypocrite.”
Mike went to Xiao Xing and said, “I can’t get through to him.” Xiao Xing put on her serious face and went toward JZ.
“How long have you known her?” she asked.
“A week and a half,” he replied.
“You brought other girls in here for us to make gowns so you guys can go to an award ceremony or something. But since you’re here with this one going to have dinner with your parents, this must be-” JZ swiftly walked away.
“What do you think you’re doing to my girl?” JZ coolly said to Mike, without showing any anger.
“I-” Mike began.
“Don’t pretend to act innocent. You don’t get to do that to her. Let Xiao Xing do it,” he coolly said, seeing Mike with one knee on the floor measuring Elle’s bust from the front. “Why don’t you go do something else,” and led Mike to the farthest corner of the room as he took the tape measure from Mike’s hands, then returned to Elle with Xiao Xing standing there.
Elle had a new look, one that showed she disapproved JZ’s absurd behavior. “Tell him you are sorry,” Elle said in a firm tone with a very serious face.
“He got too close to you,” he said, maintaining his demeanor.
“He was doing his job. What else can he do without…” she said in a firmer Mandarin tone then switched to English, “ask him what else you can do without measurements for my body? This also has to be done quickly, right?”
Mike translated in a loud voice so his wife and JZ could hear him clearly.
JZ’s voice was a little tense, but did not want to concede. “You’re mine, not his,” he said in a firmer tone.
Elle took a breath to control her temper. “Did you purchase me?”
“Did anyone give me to you?”
“Then how did I become yours?”
“I-” he began but took out his phone and typed what he wanted to say.
She read, “I kissed you a lot and you liked it. You spent the night. What we did in the morning. I saw you in the changing stall. I rescued you on Friday. I cooked dinner for you. I don’t rescue just anybody or cook for just anyone.” Elle blushed and her eyes softened. She typed something and handed it back to him.
“I like that you kissed me. It was quite exceptional that you cooked me dinner and rescue me when I need to be rescued. I also expect my boyfriend to protect me, which I think was your intention, but I was not in danger. If I was in danger, I would have hit him myself. What you have done for me for the past week is a good start but is not enough. To be honest, you are moving this relationship too quickly for me. You don’t even know my favorite color and you are introducing me to your parents. Your mother sounded like she did not like me last night but we are having dinner tonight. I will go because I see you as a potential boyfriend. If you still want me to go, please behave yourself because I want your parents to like me.”
He smiled. “I still want you to go. I’ll try my best to be on my best behavior.”
“I don’t want you to try to be on your best behavior; I want you to be on your best behavior.”
“I will be on my best behavior.”
“Good. Now go apologize to Mike and bring him back.”
JZ put the phone back in his pocket and went over to Mike. JZ said something, then they hit each other on the arm. They returned with smiles on their faces. JZ returned the tape measure to Mike, but Mike decided to hand it to Xiao Xing. She measured Elle’s bust, waist, and hips and had Mike write the numbers down.
“You were smart in bringing her in. She’s a bit bigger than the red dress you had us make,” said Xiao Xing. “How about I draw some embellishments on the designs and you two can pick something out so we can get started?”
JZ nodded his head in agreement.
“What did she say?” Elle asked Mike, and he translated. Elle then shook her head in disagreement. “No embellishments. I want to look plain,” she said and Mike translated.
“Plain?” JZ said with a tinge of absurdity in his voice. “I understand why she wants to look plain, but she’s not going to look plain,” and JZ shook his head. Elle nodded her head then asked him, “Who will wear it?”
He retorted, “Who will pay for it?”
“Aiya. You can choose the next one. Is that better?”
After some consideration, he agreed.
“Good, wait in the car for me, I’ll be there in a moment.”
JZ slouched and left the office. Elle arrived at the car a minute later. “It will take them two, three hours,” she said in her normal voice. “Ey, what’s wrong?” she asked a little concerned, seeing that he was looking forward as if he was very concentrated on something, and his hands were on the wheel.
He continued to look forward and did not respond. “Are you mad at me?”
He continued to look forward and did not respond. “Ey, what’s wrong?”
He turned to her with a normal face. “How much is enough?” he asked with all seriousness.
“I don’t know but it’s a lot more,” she answered quietly.
“What can I do?”
She picked up his phone from the charger connected to his car, and began typing but placed it back. “I want you to love me. Show me that you love me.”
He was taken aback. “I already showed you that.”
She shook her head.
“How do I show you that?”
She picked up the phone again and typed, “You have to sincerely make me happier than I currently am. That is the most important thing you can do to show me you love me. If you see me smiling or laughing, you know I am happy. I also like home-cooked meals. You’ll have to figure out what other things make me happy. Kiss me and see me smile.”
She handed the phone to him and he read it, smiling with his relaxed eyes and thinking, “Is this all she wants? To be happier than she is right now?” He put the phone back and placed his hand on the nape of her neck, looked at her sparkling brown and relaxed eyes, leaned in, and kissed her lips while holding some of his passion back. She accepted it and reciprocated. When their lips parted, he saw her big, brown, soft, joyful, and tender eyes. Her lips were slightly parted and slightly smiling. Her cheeks were redder than usual. He leaned into her again and kissed her cheek. He felt her smile. Then he stretched his neck to kiss her forehead. She giggled. “What are you doing?” she asked, still giggling.
“I’m making you happier than you currently are,” he happily replied, and kissed her other cheek, then her chin. Then he kissed her neck and unbuttoned the top button of her shirt. She stopped giggling and grabbed his wrists. He looked up at her serious face with her head shaking “no.” She released his wrists to button her shirt, and he watched her strapped in her seatbelt. He put his hands on the wheel and drove.