Generation Three, Chapter Eleven
"You can't walk the entire length of Great Wall Lochi," I said, trying hard not to laugh. Standing near the base of the wall, we were on number sixteen out of his twenty things to do with a few days left to round off the list. "For one, it's not one complete wall – bits and pieces have eroded away or broken off or simply over grown. So you'd run into impassable parts..."
Lochi frowned but nodded as he accepted my statement as fact. "It's also thousands of miles long," he offered, holding up the tourist guide for me. "And we have three and a half days..." He gazed up toward the top of the wall for a long moment and then turned toward me once more.
"We can still go up if you want – I think there's a guard tower," I glanced to my left, where I knew the next watchtower was and pointed it out for him but he shook his head. "Okay, what's next on the list?" The sky had turned a gorgeous purple as the sun began to set but we'd made a few night time trips during our Greatest Hits of China tour.
"Actually, I think we pick up at the Temple of the Heaven tomorrow," Lochi said. "I don't know about you, but I'm eager for an early night." When I didn't protests, he turned back toward the road where we'd parked our bikes. When he'd showed up at the hostel last week with the pair of bikes, I thought he was crazy – half our time was spent on the things just getting from one place to the next! But after a few nights with long, soaking baths to rest my weary body, I'd grown used to the thing and even looked forward to spend the day riding around the countryside. I did insist on taking a car when we traveled into the city though.
It took almost an hour to get back to the hostel and, by now, the sun was fully set. We chained the bikes up at the base of the stairs and leaned against each other as we climbed up the fifty-six steps – yes we counted! By the time we reached the main lobby and common room, Lochi and I were eying the couches. I made a few feeble steps toward the closest one before Lochi pulled me back and motioned toward the balcony, where Ferra was laying in wait. With renewed energy, we scurried toward the stairs and made our way back to our room. "That was close," Lochi said, grinning as he collapsed onto the couch. "No early night there."
"No kidding," I said, falling down beside him. "Sucks though, I was hoping to snag a snack from the kitchen."
"Don't look at me, I'm not going down there," he said. "You did get that package yesterday though, maybe it will have snacks."
The aforementioned package sat on the side table, unopened. It wasn't really a package so much as a super thick envelope. I convinced myself it was full of my mail – none of which I needed to look at right now - and proceeded to ignore it since its arrival. I glanced over at it now and then shook my head, "I doubt my brother would send snacks all the way to China," I said, trying to push the package out of my mind. In truth, I had no idea what it was – I could have called Cobalt to ask but I hadn't mustered the courage. I'd sent him and Sapphy a few emails and pictures, just to check in and assure them I was alive, but hadn't spoken to anyone back home the entire time I'd been here.
"You never know," Lochi said, trying to sound nonchalant. I could see the curiosity burning in his eyes but he didn't press any farther – allowing me to ignore it as usual.
I got to my feet quickly, turning my back on the package, "I'm going to go take a bath. Do you need the bathroom first?"
"No, I'm good," Lochi said. "I can always pop into the hall one if needed."
"Great." Ignoring the pit of unease in my gut, I grabbed the pajamas I'd bought on arrival and disappeared into the bathroom. Leaning against the door, I took several long breaths before turning on the faucet in the great tub. When the water was steaming, I slid into the tub and let go of the tension in my shoulders.
I couldn't have been soaking for more than five minutes when I heard the familiar jingle of my phone from the room. After a few rings, Lochi knocked on the door. "Zuli – your phone's ringing."
"I'll call them back," I lied, pinching my eyes closed and trying to ignore it and him.
"It says Cobalt," Lochi pressed. After another minute, the ringing stopped and I heard Lochi begin to walk away. Not to be ignored, the phone started ringing again almost immediately. "Now it says Lotus – that's your brother-in-law yes? Perhaps it's important..."
"I'm sure it's not," I groaned. "I will call them back when I get out in a bit. Just let it go to voicemail." Lochi, too much of a gentleman to intercede, did as I asked and the phone grew silent for a few minutes.
Then the text messages started. I imagined Lochi trying not to look but seeing snippets of messages as they flashed on the home screen. "Zuli I really think..." By then I was out of the tub with a towel wrapped tightly around me. I flung open the door and glared at him for a second before snatching the phone from his hand. "I am sorry..." he said, his eyes trailing over my barely covered form for a second before he turned away with a blush.
I barely heard him stammering out an apology as I scrolled through the rapidly flowing messages. Each was similar to the one before.
COBALT: I know you got the envelope – I need a response ASAP. Call me anytime!
LOTUS: Your brother is starting to freak out Zuli, please call us.
COBALT: I've already checked the timezones, I know it's not totally the middle of night! Answer your damn phone!
"What the hell?" I muttered. Without bothering to get on clothes, I made a beeline for the envelope and ripped it open while Lochi stood helplessly by. DEED OF SALE was emblazoned across the top of the first document. The second was a court document concerning an appeal to move Sapphire, Cerulean and Chambray Dust out of Caramel Canyon. Finally there was a carefully folded note from Cobalt explaining their desire to move back into Grandma and Grandpa's house in Sugar Valley. As both our names were on the house and as we shared custody of our brother and sisters, he need my signature on everything before they could proceed.
As the reality of returning to Caramel Canyon without Cobalt waiting hit me, the note and papers fell from my hands in a small flurry. I gasped, trying desperately to take in air as my lungs seemed to deflate instantly. Without a word, Lochi was at my side, holding me up as my legs buckled underneath me. He wrapped a robe around my shoulders and scooped me up, carrying me to the bed before I could fall. "Zuli..." When my phone trilled to life once more, I jumped and nearly threw it across the room in surprise. Lochi grabbed it from me and hit the button to answer it. Part of me wanted to scream no but it was too late. "Hello, yes, is this Cobalt? Mmhmm, my name is Lochi – I met your sister on the flight over. She's only just opened your envelope and is..." he paused a moment, searching for the right word. On the other end of the phone I could hear Cobalt speaking, though I couldn't make out the words. "I'll have her call you back, I assure you." Another pause, this time he looked at me carefully, as if following Cobalt's instructions. "No, I think she's just a bit surprised," he glanced over at the fallen documents and then back toward me. "Yes, I'll have her call you back soon. Goodbye," he tossed the phone on the bed and then grabbed my hands. "Zuli, are you alright?"
I felt the tears a fraction of a second before they began to fall. I didn't have time to respond. Then his arms were around me and I was sobbing into his chest. Lochi didn't say anything as we sat there, only occasionally rubbing my arm or back until the tears slowly faded and I was able to straighten up. I wiped a few of them away and offered him a faint smile of appreciation. As I got to my feet, he reached out to steady me but I waved his hand away. I slipped my arms into the robe and tied it carefully. "I think I'll get dressed... then I'll call him back," I reassured him. I stepped around the fallen papers, trying hard not to look at them, and disappeared into the bathroom. All cried out, sadness was replaced with anger and frustration.
After getting dressed, I stepped back into the room to find that Lochi had collected all the papers and placed them, and my phone, on the bed. He'd scrawled a quick note offering privacy and had disappeared. I stared at the phone for several minutes, trying to will myself to dial the number, but I couldn't do it. Finally, emotionally exhausted, I sent a quick text.
LAZULI: I'll sign the papers and be home in a few days. Don't leave yet.
Cobalt's response came within a couple minutes.
COBALT: I wouldn't leave before you came home – but we have to start making plans. I'm sorry it happened this way – I tried to reach you Zuzu.
LAZULI: I'll call you tomorrow – I swear. I'm just... I can't do it right now.
COBALT: Fair enough. Hey, who's the guy? Italian right?
Without waiting for a response, I shoved the papers and my phone into my suitcase and curled up under the covers. As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered where Lochi had gone. And when he'd be back.
"Zuli! Zuli, wake up!" My eyes fluttered open with a started and Lochi released his grip on my shoulders. The empty streets of Caramel Canyon faded from my mind as I stared at him. "You were crying out in your sleep, thrashing... did you have a bad dream?"
His words registered slowly, slower than they should, but I finally nodded. Although the details were already disappearing, I recalled the feeling of absolute loneliness with a pang. "Yeah, I.. I guess," I shook my head and yawned. "I don't really remember most of it..." Lochi nodded and started to get to his feet. Without thinking about, I reached out for his arm, halting his departure. "Please don't... just.." I closed my eyes tightly, trying to find the words. "I don't want to be alone," I said finally, a fresh set of tears welling in my eyes.
Without question, Lochi climbed over me and laid down on the other side of the bed – on top of the covers – and wrapped his arm around me. He didn't protest as I entwined my fingers with his or as I snuggled closer. With his breath on the back of my neck and the warmth of his embrace, I fell asleep quickly.
When I woke up, he was still there.
After watching him sleep for a moment, and trying not to giggle at his cute little snore, I slid out from under his arm and pulled the blanket over him. After changing, I slipped out of room for the kitchen downstairs. When I returned with brunch twenty minutes later, Lochi was sitting up in bed looking disheveled. "I was wondering where you'd wandered off to," he said with a lopsided grin.
I held up a plate of food and a glass of juice. "Brunch," I offered, setting the plate on the bed beside him and holding out the glass. "As a thank you."
"Aren't you going to eat?" Lochi asked, as he pulled the plate into his lap.
"I grabbed something already," I said. While he was distracted with his food, I slipped out onto the balcony and stared out across the gorgeous Chinese landscape. I knew he'd follow me out there sooner or later so I waited, considering my words carefully. Perhaps sensing my awkwardness, Lochi took his time finishing his brunch and getting dressed before joining me on the balcony. "So Temple of the Heavens today yeah?" I asked.
"Actually, I was thinking... maybe we could just stay in today," Lochi suggested, edging closer to me.
"No sightseeing? What about your list?" I didn't have time to stop him, and I'm not sure I would have, before he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me against him.
The kiss was rushed and awkward.
It came out of nowhere.
It was full of pent up emotion and desire.
It was perfect.
When he pulled away and began to stammer out an apology, I put my fingers to lips and then pulled him back toward me. "Just kiss me," I whispered, wrapping my arms around his neck.
"Damn I've wanted to do that since you showed up at my door," Lochi said.
"Really?" I asked, genuinely surprised. "What else have you wanted to do?"
"I'm working on a new top twenty list..." he said with a playful grin. "On the other hand, I know you're just..."
"No," I interrupted. I took his hand and guided him back inside the room. "No other hand. What's on the list?"
He hesitated only a moment before following me toward the bed. With his palm cupping my cheek, he leaned closer, preparing to kiss me again – slower and more tenderly. "I'm almost afraid to ask, but are you sure about this?" As an answer, I slid back onto the bed and grabbed his collar. He followed without further question.