The knots inside Tao’s stomach during the flight from New
York City to Hong Kong finally relaxed. He wasn’t used to flying or to sitting still for 18 hours on the plane filled to capacity with all nationalities of people talking in their various languages. The noise gave him a headache. The confinement of the plane made him claustrophobic, and by the time the plane landed, his entire body ached. He desperately wished for one of the pain pills packed in his suitcase.
Lee’s reassuring hand dropped on his shoulder.
“Hang in there.”
Tao knew Lee had suffered, too. Grimaces of pain on Lee’s face during the long flight were telling. One passenger sitting in the seat next to Lee accidentally tripped over his leg. Lee’s face actually went white. Lee’s legs were still very sensitive and sore from surgery.
Monica looked over her shoulder at Tao. Tao noticed, despite her smile, the tale-tell look of concern. She knew he was hurting. He caught up to her and she wrapped her arm through his as they walked into the terminal.
The last time Tao had seen Hong Kong, he had been 17, returning from his parents’ memorial service in China. He barely remembered the trip. He didn’t remember the airport being so huge or so crowded. Like ants, people moved in, around, and through the terminal, a kaleidoscope of races and dress. The claustrophobic feeling returned and all he wanted was to get out of the airport.
There was a brief hesitation at customs when the agents came across the medication in his and Lee’s bags, but they were ready with the proper paperwork.
He and Lee had pulled together, determined not to spend their lives dependent on crutches of any kind. Officially on medical leave of absence, Lieutenant Detective Tao Wong had neither the inclination nor the desire to return to the San Francisco Police Department Homicide Division. Even before the near fatal shooting crippled him, the 27-year-old detective had given serious consideration to retiring. The shooting only prompted him to take the final steps.
Captain Greg Arama assured him he still had a job, but Tao knew his injury had given the brass the excuse they had wanted to put him permanently behind a desk. He opted to use up his considerable vacation and sick leave then retire permanently from the service on the disability pension the Department approved for him.
Captain Lee Wong of the China Town Fire Department in New York City had suffered devastating burns to his legs in a fire.
Those burns made his to return to his 10-year career impossible.
Newly retired and fully compensated by the Service, he was returning home to Hong Kong where he had been born and raised. His fiancée, Sophie, walked with him, her arm through his, her head on his shoulder.
Tao and Lee had spent long hours discussing what they would do once they arrived in Hong Kong. Lee’s parents, Meng and Kai Chi Wong, assured them they would have a place to live in the family home until they found a place of their own.
Tao saw Kai Chi and Meng waiting for the two couples at the Security gate of the airport.
Meng, a tiny woman at 5 feet tall, in her late 60’s, her gray hair stylishly cut to frame her still pretty oval face, waved frantically at her son and nephew as she caught sight of them.
Monica and Sophie were first to reach the older Wongs and were clutched in tight embraces by their new mother-in-law. Much the same in build, slender curved figures instead of the emaciated slimness that was so much the sought after and mostly unobtainable style, the women turned many heads on the flight from America. They were both the same age, the dark-haired, hazel-eyed Sophie older by only a couple of months. Monica’s Scandinavian roots were clearly evident in her bright blue eyes and long blonde hair.
“I am so excited you are finally here,” Meng said, releasing the women. She grabbed Tao and Lee in the same type of bear hug. “I have missed you.”
Kai Chi, an older copy of his handsome son, athletically built from years spent as a fisherman and exercise from the Martial Arts when he was younger, stood at her side grinning at his wife’s antics and offered his hand to Lee and Tao after Meng released them.
“You are both looking much better since I last saw you,” Kai Chi said, leaning forward to be heard above the din of the airport.
Two years older, a little bit taller and heavier, Lee was a perfect match in looks to Tao. Tao’s thick black locks had been cut short due to the surgeries for the head injury he suffered in the shooting.
Now, his hair grown out, he wore it similar to Lee’s, down to his collar and framing his face. Tao and Lee’s eyes were dark brown rimmed by thick black lashes, and deep dimples creased their cheeks when they smiled.
“You two look more than ever like twins,” Kai Chi said.
“What?” Lee asked, shouting a little.
Kai Chi waved his hands to indicate for them to wait.
The terminal was too loud for anyone to be heard, so they didn’t speak again until they reached Kai Chi’s car.
Tao and Lee dropped the bags into the trunk and then collapsed with Monica and Sophie in the back seat of the silver luxury sedan.
Tao began to fidget again as Kai Chi drove inched through the busy, congested streets of Hong Kong.
“Take it easy.” Lee noticed the anxiety on his face. “We’re almost there.”
“Take deep breaths,” Sophie advised.
The ride took almost an hour through the heavy traffic. By the
time they arrived at their destination, Tao was chewing on his
lip and shaking his right knee, desperate to get out of the car.
The Wong home, situated on Victoria Peak, was a combination of modern western and traditional Chinese elegance, a rambling single-story house surrounded by sculptured Chinese gardens.
Meng practically dragged the young couples each to their separate suites in different wings of the house.
Once they had settled their things in their rooms, they joined Kai Chi and Meng for tea. Only then did Kai Chi tell them of the family get together that evening.
“It will just be family,” he said. “Your uncles are anxious to see you.”
Tao was tired, in a bad mood, sore, and not given to being very sociable. The last thing was to face a group of people who were strangers to him.
Monica saw the anxiety on Tao’s face and gently coaxed him into making the effort. I know you’re exhausted, but to refuse the invitation could be seen as an insult by the family. We don’t know them, and we certainly don’t want to get off to the wrong start.”
Tao didn’t reply.
Lee was equally unenthusiastic.
Sophie managed to talk him into going. “You have to, Lee. They’re your family and they’ve not seen you in a long time. Besides, Tao will be against the idea, but he’ll attend Monica’s sake.”
“If she talks him into going,” Lee said. Lee felt he should be there to offer support to his cousin.
Sophie hugged him. “She already has.”
Tao stood by the window of the bedroom looking out at the sunset on the city that was both new and old to him. He was apprehensive at the steady increase of voices coming from the main part of the house. He thought of the life he’d left behind and the life he’d come to. He felt out of place and a little afraid of what life would be from that moment on. He wondered if he really wanted to know.