Together hand in hand we walked through evening gloom 

Long shadows on the pavement, cast from the sunset sky

If only this would last until the end of time

And if this is forever I swear that I could cry

The northern wind starts to blow

And the smell of winter’s in the air

As we take each step upon the ground

The season of love grows near


Snowflower (Yuki No Hana), Mika Nakashima


* * *

“No thanks,” I glanced around, not even smiling cursorily. “I’m waiting for someone.” Repeated for the fiftieth time that evening. I might have sounded a little snappy but that wasn’t intentional, even if I was annoyed. Although of course I tried not to let it show in the slightest.

I didn’t enjoy sitting in bars by myself fending off gweilo’s trying to pick up a Chinese girl who wasn’t even that pretty, which just went to show how drunk they all were. I’d spent the last hour doing just that and here was yet another one wanting to buy me a drink I didn’t want. I didn’t blame them. That was what guys did when they’d had too much to drink and they saw a girl sitting in a bar on her own, even if she wasn’t that pretty.

I mean, I was honest with myself. I knew I wasn’t beautiful, I wasn’t even that pretty. But, okay, I wasn’t one of those girls that the guys said nasty things about brown paper bags about. I was better looking than that. Now, anyhow. Maybe not back at High School but that had been five years ago when I was living at home and I didn’t have an allowance from my parents for anything much and terrible acne and those horrible big square glasses that made me look like a complete caricature of an Asian student.

Not that I hadn’t been a nerd. But now I was working and I could dress a little better. I’d replaced my glasses too. I’d never forgiven my Mom for buying those just coz they were the cheapest.

But right now, not pretty or not, fending off guys was stressing me. I didn’t need that stress and I didn’t need gweilo guys trying to buy me drinks. I had a nice Chinese boyfriend who I was expecting to meet here any moment now. Work had been a bitch. My boss was a worse bitch, this was the night before Christmas Eve and I wasn’t due back at work till the New Year. Everyone was winding down big time.

Except me. I was stressing up big time. Kevin was supposed to have been here an hour ago. I checked the time. Again. Where the heck was he? I’d called him half a dozen times and he hadn’t answered and my cell was almost out because I hadn’t charged it for two days.

The big gweilo was still standing there, ignoring my brushoff. Go away, why don’t you.

“You are Sara, right?”

Huh? I looked back at him. “Yes. Do I know you?” I didn’t think I did but you never knew.

“No, but Kevin said you’d be here somewhere, he asked me to find you. You’re Kevin’s Sara, right?”

No. I was not “Kevin’s Sara.” I was my own Sara. But going into full bitch mode was just too much effort. It’d been that sort of day. I was wiped. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“Great, he was trying to call you just now, said you weren’t answering your phone. Asked if we could find you. And you’re the only asian girl in the bar so I figured you must be Sara. Kevin says to tell you he got called into an urgent meeting by his boss a couple of hours ago, he’s going to call again soon.”

That was just great. Kevin was always running late. Always getting called into urgent meetings. Always on the phone with an important client. Something always managed to come up. Why on earth had I expected anything different tonight?

I fished my cell out and looked. Well, it was dead now. Flat battery. I guess that explained that. I still wasn’t happy with Kevin. Dress up, he’d said. Little black dress, he’d said. Go out for dinner together on the night before Christmas Eve, he’d said. Why don’t you book the restaurant for us, he’d said. Pick one you really like, let’s make it a really special night, he’d said.

Hang around in bars by yourself looking silly? He hadn’t said that but he might as well have.

“Thanks,” I said, stuffing my useless cellphone back into the pretty little handbag that I’d spent so much time selecting to match my new dress. Not that it mattered, no one ever looked.

“I’m Teddy.” He smiled. A nice smile. Friendly.

I looked up at him properly for the first time. Not exactly handsome, but a strong jaw, tall, powerfully built, fit looking, a bit on the solid side. Not fat though. Just, solid. Nice suit. Nice tie. Cufflinks. Bright red suspenders. I didn’t know anyone who wore ties and cufflinks and suspenders and looked elegant in a suit. Not even to go out with girls wearing lovely little black dresses that they’d paid a small fortune for in Nordstrom because someone had suggested wearing one tonight for a romantic evening together. I’d never owned one before. I’d spent all Sunday shopping for it. Not that I was making snide comparisons.

I’d never do that. Really.

And if you believe that, I’ve got this luxury condo in Hong Kong to sell cheap that you might be interested in.

Looking up further. Light brown hair, really well styled, nice smile. Blue eyes. Somehow he exuded strength and magnetism, sucking the air from my lungs. I took a breath, shook my head. “Hi Teddy, I’m Sara. Sara Kuo. Pleased to meet you.” I did the handshake thing.

His hand was gentle, gentle but firm. Not sweaty at all. I liked that. Some guys liked to just crush your hand. I had no idea why. Maybe it was to show how strong they are. I’m five foot four. I’m petite. I really don’t need a guy crushing my hand. I already know he’s bigger and stronger than me. I like that in a guy. I don’t like a crushed hand. I’ve only got two. No spares.

He didn’t crush my hand.

“Come and join us until Kevin gets here?” He smiled. “We’ve got a table over there.” He gestured into the throng of office workers and wannabe executives, all drinking as if there was no tomorrow. Some of them were already hammered. Gotta love the lead-in to Christmas.

“Sure, love too.” Anything was better than sitting at the bar by myself turning down pickup attempts and feeling like a snooty bitch. Not that I wasn’t, but I didn’t like to feel like one. I slid to my feet, picked up my Long Island Iced Tea; followed Teddy as he worked his way through the teaming masses. Or maybe that should have been steaming masses. It was cold outside, somebody had turned the heat up way too high.

“The ugly one is Daniel, this fat guy’s Freddie. Guy’s, this is Kevin’s Sara.”

No I wasn’t, but let’s not go there again. Too much effort.

“Hi … Hi …” Teddy pulled a chair up for me. Polite too. I sat. I sipped. I couldn’t believe my taste buds. God, my drink was so warm, I’d been here long enough that the ice had melted. Before I could wrinkle my nose, a waitress had whisked it away, placed another one in front of me. Iced. Cold. Delicious.

“Thanks.” I probably looked surprised. Because I was surprised. Kevin never did things like that. Kevin would never have noticed. Unless it was his drink, and then of course he’d have asked me to get a fresh one for him before turning back to whoever else he was talking too.

Teddy grinned. “You’re welcome.” I hadn’t even noticed him ordering. When had he done that? His friends laughed. At Teddy, not at me. That was even nicer, usually it was me that got laughed at.

“Bear here is a sleaze, Sara, just remember that,” Daniel was grinning.

“Bear?” Okay, I got it after slightly more than a couple of seconds. I was never that quick on picking up on jokes. Teddy. And I guess he did look a bit like a bear. Big and solid. Was he furry as well under that suit? I actually liked big and solid guys. Furry? I wasn’t so sure if I liked furry. Kevin wasn’t hairy, let alone furry. Kevin wasn’t big and solid either. And Kevin was all I had to compare anyone to. Kevin was all I’d ever had and I was worried and annoyed. He was so late. I mean, I was used to him being late but this was longer than he usually kept me waiting.

Teddy didn’t answer. His phone had buzzed him or something, he was busy holding it to his ear, listening. One hand covering his other ear.

“Yeah.” Daniel was answering my question. I had Daniel pegged already. The Clown. Funny guy. “Coz that’s what he looks like.”

I had to smile. He did. He really did look like a big happy bear. A bear wearing an expensive Hugo Boss suit mind you.

Teddy interrupted, passing me his phone. “Kevin for you, Sara.”

“Kevin?” I said into the phone. “This better be good.” Bitchy? Me? I come with an attitude. Especially when my date is late for a romantic dinner date. Do you know what it takes to work like a bitch all day for a boss who’s a worse bitch by far, rush home to my downtown condo, get changed, fluffed and prettied up, then rush back to a downtown bar. Not to mention shoes, doing my makeup and everything else a girl needs for a romantic dinner date. It’s a major project all of its own. I’d had a shit of day. And Kevin hadn’t been waiting for me when I got here. If I haven’t mentioned it already, yes, I was feeling just a bit disappointed.

“Hi Sara, thought I should let you know I’m going to be working late.” Kevin was totally blasé about it. Way to blasé for someone who should be not just apologizing but groveling for leaving his date hanging.

On her own.

In a bar.

With about a thousand horny guys all thinking they’re god’s gift to a single girl after half a dozen drinks. All thinking the single and not even very pretty Chinese girl sitting at the bar was just waiting to be picked up by some middle-aged overweight drunk who’s very obviously married. Idiots. The last place I’d get picked up in is in a bar a couple of nights before Christmas. As if! Not that I’d ever been picked up anywhere in my life. By anyone.

“We’re bidding on a new contract, I gotta work on it, going to have to miss dinner, Sara. Sorry ’bout that.” He didn’t sound sorry at all though. He sounded distracted.

“Tonight? You mean you’re not just going to be late? I booked us.” Snide turned to utter disappointment.

“Uh, not just tonight, Sara, all weekend. We gotta have this proposal ready for Tuesday when the client gets back to work after the Christmas break. The boss is working through tonight and tomorrow and over Christmas on this one, it’s that important. This is huge, so I volunteered to help.” He lowered his voice. “Good impression and all that, and they decide on promotions in January.”

“Jesus, Kevin! It’s Christmas,” I exclaimed. “Screw impressing your boss, we’re supposed to be going to my parents tomorrow for the family get-together, then spending Christmas Day with my parents.”

I was their only child, this was important to my Mom and Dad, not just to me. I’d asked Kevin weeks ago, well before I’d told Mom and Dad I was bringing my boyfriend up to stay over Christmas. Kevin’d said “Sure baby. That sounds good.” I’d reminded him just this last weekend. “No problem, baby.” That’s what he’d said.

“Tomorrow night, remember. We’re going up and staying with my parents for Christmas.” Okay, I was panicking. Sweating. My voice shaking. Quavering. He couldn’t be saying this to me. He couldn’t be canceling on me, not now. Not at the last minute. “My Mom’s invited all the uncles and aunties to meet you. She’s been preparing for this all week. You said you’d come, Kevin,” I added. Some might have said desperately, although sort of desperate like an iceberg on the verge of collapsing into fragments or something might be a better simile.

“Not going to be able to make it. Sara. Tell your Mom and Dad sorry for me, okay. Like I said, this is huge. It’s work, you gotta do what you gotta do. Sorry, gotta run … call you next week when you’re back …. Hang on, I’m coming, Mark…. Got the projector right here … yeah, the numbers, they’re on their way…”


The jerk hung up. He hung up on me. He’d just destroyed my night and my Christmas. He’d just set me up for total humiliation with my family and he’d hung up on me! I looked at the phone in disbelief. Should I cry? Should I scream? Should I beat my head on the table? What was I going to say to my Mom and Dad? To my Uncles and Aunties and cousins. I’d never brought anyone home before. Not ever in my life. This year, everyone was expecting to meet Sara’s nice Chinese boyfriend for dinner on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day.

And now they weren’t.

This was going to be so utterly and completely humiliating.

One thing I did know. Whatever else happened, Kevin was history.

Oh shit! This was just so awful.

“Well, thank you Teddy.” On the verge of tears, I handed him back his phone. He took it, jerking my hand, then paused, both of us looking at the phone. I was holding it in a white knuckled grip. We looked at each other. I let go, my hand shaking.

“So, do you guys work with Kevin? Friends?” I hadn’t met any of them before. If they were friends of Kevin’s, I was going to stand up and leave. Although I wasn’t sure if I could walk. Shattered, that was all I felt.

Oh God! How was I going to explain this to my Mom and Dad? How? Oh god, how? “I’m sorry, my weasel of a so-called boyfriend had to work.” Over Christmas. Who was going to believe a word of it? Everyone would look at me, the aunties would all whisper about me, my cousins who always brought their girlfriends or boyfriends would make fun of me again, the way they always did every year when I came home by myself.

Mom would be so upset.

She’d been nagging me all through college and my first year at work to find a nice Chinese guy, get engaged, all that stuff. I wished she’d just stop. She knew I was hopeless with guys. She knew that and she still harassed me endlessly. Every time we talked, she reminded me I was closer and closer to my use by date and I hated it. That dreaded date when Chinese girls turn into maiden aunts for the rest of their lives. As if being me wasn’t enough pressure.

Kevin had seemed to be a good candidate to me. At least, he’d been the best candidate I could come up with on my own. The only candidate, actually. I wasn’t the most social person around, I knew. I wasn’t social at all, really. I never had been, although god knows I’d always wanted to be. It was just, the more I tried, the more disastrous things ended up being. I’d stopped trying a long time ago.

My social life now was made up of work, dates with Kevin, who was the only guy who’d ever asked me out on a date since I started my job, or in fact, ever, and workouts at the gym where nobody even remembered my name. The baristas at the Starbucks downstairs did know my name, but only coz I was in there every weekend for hours at a time. Sitting there drinking coffee and reading while I listened to other people talking at least gave me the illusion of a social life.

It was better than sitting alone in my apartment all day because I didn’t have that many friends I saw much of anymore. Anyway, they were the sort of friends that had always said “oh, would you like to come too, Sara,” as an afterthought. They’d never been that good friends and now they were all married. Half of them already had their first babies. When I did see them it was always “…and when are you getting married, Sara?” said so condescendingly.

After this, probably never. I’d never dated at High School or College. I wasn’t pretty but I wasn’t that bad looking either, I knew that, but maybe I was just too intense. Too serious. Too slow to get the jokes. Too quick with the snide comments. To slow to pick up on when guys actually really liked me. There were guys that I’d thought had liked me, and if they’d asked me out on a date or even just for a coffee I’d have said yes instantly, but then they’d dated some other girl, got engaged and gotten married just like that. All my friends were hooked up already. Just, not me.

With Kevin, I thought I’d been on a roll at last. He was Chinese, and bustling around looking self-important at work when I first met him. He wasn’t that good looking and his suits had that mothball smell and he needed to shower a lot more and hair stuck out of his nose and he needed to clean his teeth a bit more often. But he came from a good family, they had money and he drove a late model BMW. All the things my Mom wanted for me. He did live at home with his Mom and Dad, but then, a lot of Chinese guys did before they got married. When he’d asked me out after we’d met at work, I’d been so happy. Elated even.

After six months of dating, after him agreeing to come up and stay at my parents with me for Christmas, I’d been ecstatic. This was it! He was Chinese, I knew he understood those little rituals. He understood what it meant to come home with me and meet my parents and stay over. That was the first big step, after that it was pretty much accepted that he’d take me to meet his parents and then the next step was that engagement ring. I’d been so confident that I could live up to those family expectations at last.

Only, now I wasn’t. Now, I was going to be that family horror story. The one that would start out, “Do you remember that guy Sara was going to bring home for Christmas…”

Oh God, this was such a total and utter disaster. Now Mom was going to start calling back to China to arrange some guy from our home town for me. An arranged marriage to some mainland guy fresh of the plane? How totally utterly and completely humiliating.

How could Kevin do this to me! He was Chinese. He knew. He must know what he’d done.

“Friend of mine used to work with Kevin,” Teddy shrugged. “We’re not exactly friends, more that we know each other. Dan and Freddie, they’re buddies of mine.”

“How come Kevin called you?”

Teddy shrugged again. “He knows I come here every Friday, he’s got my number. He’s been here with us a few times. Sounded like he’s not going to make it.”

“No, he’s not.” Really, I was mad and I was sad and I wanted to burst into tears right there and then. My Mom had been so excited when I’d told her I was bringing Kevin to stay for Christmas, to meet the family. Even if he was only a boyfriend and nothing more. Yet. But when you brought a guy home, that was when the expectations started to get set in concrete and my Mom’s expectations were already setting solid. She’d been talking about this for four weeks straight. Every time I called home. Oh god, this was going to be so humiliating. So completely utterly and totally humiliating.

My mind was off in a panic-stricken loop again. How could Kevin possibly do this to me? He was Chinese. He knew what family meant. He knew what coming home with me to meet my parents meant. He’d said yes. And god knows I’d asked him half a dozen times before I even mentioned it to my parents. God knows I’d asked him a dozen times since, just to make sure. Kevin wasn’t the most reliable guy in the world, I knew that. But I’d asked him again and again. I’d checked. Every weekend. He’d said yes. He had. Every time. He had to know how this would make me look to my family. He had to.

Teddy was saying something. I looked up, blinking back tears. Honestly, I felt not just humiliated but also sick. Shaky. I’d been so convinced Kevin was the guy. Bring him home for Christmas. Engagement. Wedding. It’d all been so clear in my mind once he’d agreed to come meet my family. And now he’d cut my legs out from under me, just like that. Worse, he was going to make me look a total idiot to everyone I knew, coz I knew my Mom. She gossiped. She’d have told everyone. Including all my old friends who still lived nearby.