Chapter 25

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The next day marked the beginning of many new things. The beginning of my swearing off hotel eggs forever (long story). The beginning of Dad’s switch from feeling disgruntled to being all-out offended by Alexander’s presence (an even longer story). Most importantly, it marked the beginning of Kevin’s music career. So of course I had to be in the audience to heckle him for it.

That evening, Alexander and I walked together to the front door of The Ark, the venue for Kevin’s concert. The sun was still setting, so the darkening sky was painted with stretches of red and pink. The evening set a warm sort of glow around the outside world. It would’ve been completely romantic if it weren’t for the fact that Dad was right on Alexander’s heels, practically breathing down his neck as per rule number one of Overbearing Father Mode. Oh, and if Mom weren’t blowing her nose as noisily as possible every three minutes.

Take notes, kids. These are the ways in which you can ruin the potential for a romantic atmosphere.

“Zhan Ni, slow down. You are stepping on Alexander’s shoes,” Mom pointed out, pulling her husband back. Dad had all but trampled Alexander’s shoelaces.

“Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed.” Dad’s sad attempt at feigning innocence convinced exactly no one. “Are you hurt?”

Alexander let out a nervous laugh and sent me a look full of terror. “Not at all, sir.”

“Good.” Dad turned to Mom looking oddly triumphant. “See? The boy said he’s fine.” This earned an eye-roll and another impressively loud sneeze from Mom.

My mind was stuck on Alexander’s weird response and expression. Sir? Since when had he referred to my dad as sir?

I threw Alexander a look, like, What exactly happened between you and my dad last night? The expression with which he responded clearly indicated that he was at a loss for an explanation, too. Either that or the horrific experience had given him PTSD. 

Whatever. I chalked it up to one of Dad’s all-too-familiar PMS episodes and tried to put the thought out of my mind.

At the entrance, we were greeted by the chatter of milling people and none other than Vanessa, who was accepting and selling tickets by the door. I say ‘greeted’. It was really more like ‘blankly stared at with mouth half-hung open’.

If it weren’t for the nametag, I would’ve walked right past Vanessa. I hardly recognized her; she had this really edgy, dark look about her. She’d shortened her hair to a pixie cut and was rocking dark black makeup along with a sparkly purple vest and black skinny jeans. To best honest, though, I couldn’t say for sure whether it was makeup under her eyes or bags.

“Whoa,” was the first thing I said to Vanessa as Alexander and I handed her our tickets. “On your way to a human sacrificing ritual after the performance?”

Vanessa yawned and raised her eyebrow. “Is that really the first thing you want to say to me after we haven’t seen each other for months?”

“Fine.” I rolled my eyes. “Hello. How are you?”

“Kind of stressed, actually. And exhausted. If you ask me, this concert has been way more trouble than it was wor—”

“So what’s the deal with the getup?” I interrupted. “You look like you escaped from the set of The Walking Dead. And then were attacked by the eighties.”

“Oh, good,” Vanessa said sarcastically. “I told Kevin something similar, but he said ‘that’s the point’. I’ll never understand that guy for as long as I live.”

“Trust me, you’re not alone.”

She tugged at her vest with a disgruntled look on her face. “So yeah, you have your wonderful big brother to thank for our depressing wardrobes. Along with many other things, such as the complete disaster of this concert.” Despite her attempt to pass that statement off as a joke, I could definitely detect a note of spite in Vanessa’s voice when she said the last bit.

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