Sunday, September 13, 2015

Jordan/"Missy" Yuan-wei: Early Homecoming

I'd figured on my next post being about the strangeness of being back in college again, but it's been both strange and familiar enough that I'm still not sure I've got anything to say about it yet.  Similarly, I didn't expect to make a trip back to New York for a few weeks or even months, because it really wouldn't do to get homesick this early, and, hey, if I were in Benny's shoes, I don't know if I'd want to have me or Annette around.  But he's not me.

He emailed Benjamin while I was in Hong Kong, asking if there was anything else he needed to know, also mentioning that this year's big North American Chinese Invitational Volleyball Tournament (NACIVT 71) was being held in New York and the team that he and Max were on had registered.  It's not a big deal, he said - they would be a low seed - but maybe, if he had some folks like us in town for the weekend, it would help him feel less like an impostor in the middle of this very Chinese-American event.

We hemmed and hawed about it - even if Benny didn't think it was going to be weird, it was going to be weird, Benjamin had pavement to pound to find a job, and I had no idea how busy school stuff was going to keep me.  But it was a hard invitation to refuse, especially since I knew Mom, Dad, and Max would be there, and even if I hadn't seen them much over the past year or so, I didn't like the feeling that they'd been cut out of my life just like that.  Even if I didn't talk to them, just to see them might be a big thing.

Once we decided we were doing it, Benjamin asked if we were going to be flying first class, but I don't exactly know what sort of charges on this credit card will make Chen-ai freak out and cut me off.  You hear stories about Chinese kids coming to America and just spending stupid money without bothering to go to classes at all, but that's mostly mainlanders, and while I didn't see anything in Hong Kong to imply that the Lee family put a particular value on thrift, I'd hate to blow it on the first week.  I did spring for the Acela train, since I have done the Chinatown bus before and... No.

Saturday

Benjamin came over early to help me pack, asking what our itinerary was.  Leaving Saturday and returning Monday apparently does not mean two changes of clothes if you're a girl like Yuan-wei - it means at least five, as you'll need day stuff, night stuff, and contingency night stuff.  Fortunately, some of that stuff doesn't take up much space, which is kind of nerve-wracking on its own, but it meant bringing an actual suitcase rather than a backpack.

The train ride was pretty uneventful - not that much faster than the bus, or even the regular train, but much more comfortable.  I also booked us a decent hotel - not flashy, but in midtown, and not a place where we'd feel uncomfortable getting in late.

Still...  After we got off the train and walked there, we stopped while still across the street and looked up.  I turned to Benjamin and started the question we were both thinking.  "You don't think...?"

"Cursed?  No way!  This is right in the middle of Manhattan, not some small town on the coast of Maine!  You couldn't hide that, right?"

"Nah, you're right."

"Still...  Ladies first, especially if they're paying for it."

Near as I can tell, there were no ill effects.

After getting our things stowed, we took the subway down to Chinatown, and I kind of enjoyed the trip, telling Benjamin how, although my family would come there to shop, we actually lived at the other end of the "Orient Express" in Queens.  It was kind of fun to walk to Seward Park and point stuff out; we really didn't have the chance to do that much when we were living on the other end of the island.  Okay, maybe we had chances but I was never in any mood.

We got there and asked about the Queens Kings, got a schedule, and found out that they'd be playing in an hour or so.  We walked around, scoping things out, Benjamin texting a bunch.  When we got to the court where Benny & Max would be, we set up a few yards away from where my parents and Kareena were, where we could sort of keep an eye on them without necessarily being with them.  Still, the fact that they were standing together had Benjamin leaning in to comment.  "Must be working out."

"Well, it had better."

"Quiet, rich sexy bilingual girl."

I shushed, although I whooped a little when it was time for Max and Benny to come out.  More, I'll have you note, than Tina Chen, who was there but sort of stood with her arms folded, looking angry.  I'm guessing that "Jordan's" new Hindu girlfriend was not a hit with her.

Anyway, I was never really into 9-man, as I wasn't athletic even as a kid, but it's a pretty good game, and Jordan really seemed to have improved the team.  They won, and as they came off the field, Benjamin grabbed my hand to head in Benny's direction.

(Shit, that looks ridiculous, but I can't call him Jordan yet.  I just fucking can't.)

He staggered a little bit when he realized who we were.  "Benny...  I didn't think you'd come."

"Benjamin, these days."  He smiled.  "And this must be Kareena."

"Uh, hi.  Sorry, I'm just meeting Jordan's friends, and I don't think he's mentioned you."

Benjamin froze, so I jumped in.  "Call of Duty co-op.  Killed a lot of nights together, until he started finding something better to do." I reached out my hand.  "Lee Yuan-wai, although I go by 'Missy' here."

She seemed to like Benjamin more than me, even though I'd tried to look pretty unthreatening, from flip-flops to light make-up.  Maybe on some level she recognized me as either old-Jordan or Deirdre, or that Benjamin had her lover's true face, or that the version of Ravi that really dug her and was eventually honest was underneath.  Or he's good-looking and I'm a pretty girl in her boyfriend's life she didn't know about.

We faked small talk for a little bit, and then Benjamin got a call.  "Hi...  You are?  Cool, we're at the other corner; Missy's in the cute yellow dress.  See you in a few!"  She hung up, and then gave us a look that screamed "teenage girl" to Benny and me.  "So, that was another member of our, uh--"

"Party?"

"Yeah, our 'party'!  She's from Philly and -- oh, there she is!"  Benjamin reached up a hand to signal a woman who stood out, and not just for being white in the middle of a big Chinatown event.  She was hot, in her mid-twenties, wearing tight shorts and a t-shirt with a plunging neckline to show off some pretty nice tits.  "Hey, Tori - don't think I've ever seen you off-line!"

"Well, I stick close to home."  She looked around and started pointing.  "Benjamin, Missy, Jordan, Kareena?  What about, uh...?"

"Chris and Ahmir?  The other members of our, uh, gaming party said they'd meet up later if that was okay."  He turned to Benny and looked apologetic.  "Hey, I didn't mean to derail this, but we so seldom get to meet in person, so I kind of texted everyone I knew in the area, and when Tori said she'd be in Jersey for the weekend, well, I kind of didn't want to pass up the chance to meet her.  You mad?"

Benny looked about as mad as one could be when a girl who looks like Tori just comes over to talk to you rather than vice versa, which is a pretty small amount.  "I just didn't realize it was going to be a big thing, was all."

"I know, I'm sorry, I just couldn't help myself!"

"Well, I've got to get back with the team; we've got another match, but I'll see you all after."

He didn't quite run away, but he made some haste, and then Kareena turned to us, looking amused and skeptical.  "So.  Gamers."

I don't know how much Tori played, but Benjamin mostly just went for casual off-line stuff, so I stepped in.  "Yeah, we've been playing together for a few years, although the new campaign has been kind of tricky without good old JordoNYC, but I can't blame him for staying offline so much now that I see you."  I felt like I was repeating myself, but I really didn't want Kareena thinking of me as competition when I spent time around Benny.

"You just don't, I don't know, look that part like Jordan used to."

That stung a bit, but I tried not to let it get to me.  "That's what folks told me, but sometimes looks are deceiving."  Needing to improvise, I grabbed Benjamin's hand.  "But it led me to this guy, and we've sort of been together for a year now."

"Really?  You must have just been out of high school!"  I didn't see it going that way, since Benjamin doesn't look that much older than he actually is - I think his driver's license has him born in 1991 - but, hey, if it shifted Kareena's attention from me...

Kareena's phone rang, which was a nice interruption, and we went our separate ways.

Saturday evening

There are a million great restaurants in New York, but somehow we wound up in one of those Times Square places, seated at a table for six, although initially it was just me, Tori, and Benjamin.  She leaned over the table and raised her voice a bit to get heard over the noise.  "So I thought I was cool with being a girl quickly, but look at you, actually choosing it and wearing it so well!  I'm jealous!"

"Well, I didn't entirely choose it--"

"Girl, that dress is choosing it."

"Really?  I wasn't going for sexy."

"There's more to being feminine than being sexy, Missy, and you might not quite be a natural, but you're learning."

"Well, I've got a pretty good teacher."

''Heh, I could have used that at times. Along with everything else - you really hit the jackpot!''

I shrugged - what do you say to that? - and she somehow shifted conversational gears in a way that I was never good at to talk to Benjamin. ''And how are you doing? I remember when I found out that Willy was keeping my life, and even though I didn't have as much to lose as you did, I was devastated. Are you okay?"

"I don't know... I mean, it's been a year since I was that person, and this is exciting.  I miss my mom, but a lot of the other things, like college and stuff, I never really had."

"Good attitude! Hey, here comes Benny!" she stood and waved the guy at the door over. When he got there, she asked if he would rather be called Benny or Jordan in groups like this.

"Well, I'm not in many of them, and I've gotten pretty used to Jordan, but... I guess it would be nice to hear the other one again. Unless it's too confusing?"

I jumped in, saying it wasn't too hard to tell "Benny" from "Benjamin". It made him look at Benjamin weird again, them me. ''How did this not drive you nuts?"

"Hey, you made me pretty fucking hard to recognize.  Usually that tops out at a new hair color, from what I've heard."

''Heh, I suppose that's true. So, about earlier, are you two...?"

Benjamin quickly shook his head no. ''Everyone thinks we are, because they were, but you can't come into a relationship halfway and have it be real, right?"

"No, but sometimes I worry about what I'm not telling Kareena. At least you guys wouldn't have that."

Tori leaned in toward Benjamin and kind of purred. "Don't make assumptions about his plans... maybe Benjamin would like to play the field a bit?"

Benjamin almost choked on his beer, and from the way he squirmed before Tori smiled and turned her attention elsewhere, I'm guessing that Tori grabbed his knee under the table, if not something a bit higher up.

After a few minutes of small talk - Tori had evidently adopted the Phillies enough that I, as a Mets fan, could do a bit of smack-talking - the server brought both our appetizers and the last couple members of our group.

Erin hasn't posted much, and Rosie not at all, but they were a funny looking pair. Whether or not I'm shorter than Erin is as Chris depends on my footwear, while Rosie/Ahmir is almost a foot taller, but Erin gives the impression of being bigger in some ways.  She was the one who reached out her hand to introduce herself, seemed really curious about what it was like for me seeing Benny take things up that I hadn't done before, like 9-man, and then asked the group if any of us had experienced any sort of muscle memory or other skills that seemed to come with the body. She was kind of disappointed to hear that not only did Benny not speak Cantonese, but he had really felt at sea in his first class. Tori mentioned that she hadn't been able to do hair at all when she first entered this life, and quickly stopped trying.

"Well, bummer. No shortcuts, eh?" We all shook our heads. "Okay. I do have one question for 'Benjamin' specifically: Do you spend, like, an hour on your hair before heading out to do stuff? I swear, I'm so used to make-up and trying on different outfits and stuff that I must have brushed this five thousand times because it felt like I wasn't doing enough. And Rosie doesn't even have that!"

We all chuckled - Rosie had come out of the Inn with a shaved head, although a month or two worth of growth had come in. She didn't seem terribly fucking amused, though.

''How can you all joke about this?"

Tori shrugged. "Because it's funny. There's this whole list of things you assume and then they aren't true and you fall on your face, but sometimes it turns out that the bad things aren't true, either. And once you decide that this is your life, the differences become really funny. And that kind of applies to the people I know who have gone back. I know this guy who spent eleven months as a girl, and he laughs so hard whenever he sees some dude get all uncomfortable around feminine health stuff, because to him it's just like toothpaste now. Once you know who you're going to be-"

"But we don't know! You all had people steal your old lives-"

"Benny and I didn't," I interjected. 

"You kind of did! He changed so much that going back seemed wrong! And what if things go wrong? Like, what if it doesn't work out with him and Kareena, or the real Missy decides being a housewife isn't for her? You'd have to give them their old lives back, right?''

"Maybe, but I can't worry about that now, or I'd never fucking do anything!"

Benjamin grabbed my hand to calm me down, and then got us onto another subject: New sexes, ethnicities, and all aside, how was everybody enjoying New York? That got Benny talking about how he had found work at a gym that the team's coach managed, while I talked about some places I really liked and Benjamin did the same.  Erin wasn't quite taking notes, but she was certainly paying attention.

That took us through dinner, at which point ton said "speaking of things to do, I've got a friend of a friend who can get us into a pretty great club. You guys in?"

Benny demurred, saying that he had another match on Sunday and, besides, Kareena would already be wandering what was up. Erin was interested, but even if Rosie was saying she might, I could tell they were going to have to keep convincing her all the way to the door. 

Thinking of the door, I laughed bitterly.  "'Yuan-wei' just turned twenty, and I haven't even thought to look for any sort of fake ID yet.  Goddamn it, this wasn't a problem in Hong Kong!"

Benjamin laughed and hoisted his drink. "Well, at least I'm not underage like this!"

Tori looked more disappointed. ''Aw no, I wanted to party with my new former-guy friend! A girl as cute as you - and I'll bet you've got a killer dress back at your hotel room -should still set in, though! Wanna try?"

I kind of did, but... "Not tonight; you guys have fun.  I'll make sure to be better prepared next time."

Tori said she was holding me to that, and us we went to head our separate ways, Benjamin came over and said that if I'd rather do anything else, she was down for it. I told her to go have fun - Tori obviously wanted him grinding on her, and the new guys clearly needed a bad example to learn from.  I'd catch the new Jackie Chan movie, which wasn't playing Boston, just in case our paths crossed the next time I was in Hong Kong, as apparently happens on occasion. He thanked me for continuing to be a dick.

As expected, the movie wasn't very good, and I sighed a little looking at the dress I had packed for clubbing, not quite sure whether I had missed out or dodged a bullet.

Sunday

That was an even tougher question when I saw Benjamin the next morning. We were going to hit one of his favorite brunch places, but the way he looked as he opened the door suggested we should hit a place with Bloody Marys instead. "Tori really did a number on you, huh?"

''She's had practice," he groaned. "You should learn from her. That thing where she seems to be matching you drink for drink but somehow winds up the one loading you into a cab despite being a petite little thing is something you should know."

''At least she put you in that cab."

"The lady's a gentleman."

Whatever state she had been in when Benjamin left her, she was also a bit hung over when we met up at Seward Park for the next day of 9-Man.  Oh, she looked good in her plain white T-shirt and knee-length jean shorts, but she was accessorizing with dark sunglasses and a giant iced coffee. She started to say something, then just motioned to a bench.

We kept it pretty quiet for a while, as the sun was feeling pretty merciless. Given that 9-man is generally played in parking lots and other asphalt surfaces - unlike regular volleyball, you can play on a bounce - it was likely to be a rough day.

We hung out like that until it started to get crowded, when we wandered back over to the court and Tori nodded at my/Benny's group. "Check it out; Kareena decided to bring the heat today."

I glanced over and she had, decked out in running shorts and a sleeveless, midriff-baring top to match. The earrings and hair a bit more elaborate than a ponytail contradicted the "just out for a run" look a bit, but she didn't look tarty or anything.

Benjamin rolled his eyes. "You girls give yourselves way too much credit; it's just a hot day where she's trying to keep cool."

I shook my head.  "Anyone else, I'd probably agree, but you forget I knew her for a year before going to the Inn. She was pretty conservative clothes-wise, even in the middle of a heat wave that might actually compare to what she grew up with in India. She's sending a message, and it looks like she's delivering it in person."

Benjamin did a bit of a double-take at that, and before we knew it, Karena was standing next to us; those long legs can cover some ground. ''Hi; can we talk? Maybe over there?'' She dropped her voice a bit. "Jordan's parents."

I wasn't sure what that was about, but we moved over to the bench we'd been on before. ''First, I want to apologize for doubting you yesterday; Jordan says he never would have had the nerve to, well, let things with us happen if not for you guys."

That should have made me feel good, but I couldn't help but think of how it severely understated my contribution.  Benjamin must have seen that on my face, because he jumped in. ''That's us, pep-talk masters! Although I think we just gave him the last push he needed."

Uh-huh. I guess there have been more disheartening Inn-related fictions. though.

"Anyway, thanks for pushing him, although it's still kind of a weird situation - my folks are I not /I pleased with me leaving his roommate, and some of the talk at dinner about how Max should have known his last girlfriend was no good because she'd been seeing someone else when they started going out... well, we're probably going to wait to tell then the whole stay of how we met for some time!"

I snickered a bit. "I imagine so!" Truth be told, though, I was kind of wondering about Mom's & Dad's pickiness. I couldn't remember ever experiencing it. Had it been there all along and I didn't see it because I was the one they might think was too good for some girl, or was it the opposite - that they had higher standards for Benny than me?

Kareena then said something about wishing she had joined us last night, although Tori assured her that it was a night full of boring gaming staff and in-jokes that we barely got. Then Benjamin gave an example that sounded like just any nerdy thing, but which he knew from the past year that Kareena was into - old-school Doctor Who or something - and they started chatting away while Tori and I watched the guys play and I refused to tell her which one was my brother. I like her, but there's weird drama when she sets involved with guys.

The match ended with Max and Benny on the losing team, so Kareena ran off to tell her boyfriend that he was great anyway... with Benjamin awkwardly shaking his hand and then just continuing to sit there. 

It took a minute for the scene to register with me, and then I burst out laughing.  "Tori, I think that Benjamin really likes Kareena!"

"You mean... Aw, our little girl is becoming a man. Or at least, a heterosexual one!"

Benjamin had turned red. "Shut up, guys! what am I supposed to do with this?"  He did a quick nod toward his groin in case someone didn't get it.

We looked around; there was a pretty good crowd. "Just wait it out," I said, "though this can't be your first random boner."

Tori giggled and said she didn't think that there was anything random about it. Benjamin flashed her the stink-eye and and said he'd had morning wood, but you could generally take care of that under the covers. I shrugged and said he was going to have to wait it out.

Tori took our leave of us then, saying she really did want to see the extended family and, besides, it wasn't going to get any better than this.  Benjamin flipped her the bird, and I joked that this is when you know you've made a good friend quickly. He didn't disagree.

I did my best to help, talking about non-sexy things, and when Benjamin was finally feeling ready to stand, we decided to head out.  It seemed Kareena and company weren't done with us for the day, though.  She, Benny, and my parents were watching another match that some of my old neighbors were involved with, and while I was trying to think of a good way to come introduce myself, Benjamin was apparently checking out the horizon a little further out and saw something that made him start running.  I looked up at the path he was following and picked up my pace once I saw why.

Ravi.

By the time I got through the crowd, Benjamin had apparently already introduced himself, and while the argument wasn't heated yet, I could see it was on the way there, with Ravi saying he didn't care that Benny and Kareena hadn't told my parents everything and that Benny should have thought of that before stealing his girlfriend, with Benjamin answering that he didn't seem to be all about maintaining relationships when he was fucking Gary's ex.

Probably not the best time for me to butt it, but I did anyway, pushing them away from each other and saying this was not the time and place, and that my parents didn't need any part of what was...  Well, not even between Ravi and Benny, because the situation was resolved, and it was time to accept things and move the fuck on.

It didn't even take him a second to realize who I was, and he said that was rich coming from me, because if I'd have been so willing to accept things a year ago--

I cut him off.  "Nothing would have changed except that we all would have spent the last year even more miserable.  You wouldn't have had the excuse of Deirdre not being around when you wound up sleeping with Gary's ex - and you would have, because I can't imagine deciding to actually act like your fiancĂ©e - so they would have been left an even bigger mess.  Everything up here would have played out the same, except Benny probably gives me my life back and I'm stuck in a fucking love triangle with you and Kareena while Annette winds up with this life but having no way to navigate the Chinese part of it.  How the hell is that better?"

"I could have gotten Kareena back afterward."

"You're fucking gay!  Seriously, do you realize how much more fucking sense your life makes if you just accept that?  I wasn't exactly in any position to act jealous, but he--" head nod toward Benjamin "-- hooked up with some pretty sexy guys when he was you!  You could probably even be friends with Kareena again, and you must notice how much happier she is with someone who actually wants her rather than seeing her as an obligation or a way to avoid facing what's goddamn obvious!"

That's when I noticed he was clenching his fist.  "What, trying to decide which one of us is the guy you can hit?  Do you think that's going to impress Kareena at all?"

He opened his hand, but didn't look like he was particularly buying what I was selling.  "It's pretty rich to get a lecture on taking what we're given from you.  Guess it's different when the Inn makes you pretty and rich."

"Hey, she was pretty as Deirdre!"

I smiled a bit at that, and smiled at Benjamin by way of thanks before turning back to Ravi.  "Yeah, this does make it a little easier,  But so fucking what?  It's the right thing for me right now, just like staying in New York was the right thing for me a year ago.  I probably got lucky there, but if you think leaving my life behind was an easy decision, before or after Yuan-wei was part of the equation, you're out of your damn mind.  So why don't you spend some time deciding what's best for you rather than bitching about other people who have already done so?"

And then we stood there, Benjamin texting something along the lines of "Ravi's around and starting shit" to Benny.  Eventually, Ravi turned and left, saying we'd be gone tomorrow.

"Man," I said, "dude turned into a fucking creep."

Benjamin's nice, so he tried to make apologies.  "It's got to be weird to come back to a life that's not as you left it.  I mean, you can't expect everything to be the same, and the three of us did sort of leave his the biggest mess."

I grunted, saying I could use some lunch.  So we hit up an authentic Chinese restaurant, which was a little surprising to Benjamin, who still equated "Chinese" with "General Tso's Chicken", and he wasn't sure what he thought of it.  I had to admit, I had found myself with a bit more of a taste for it after spending a week in Hong Kong.

I wish I could say we put all that behind us and had fun for the rest of our stay, but both of us were kind of seeing Ravi out of the corner of our eyes for the rest of the day, so we opted to stay in for the evening and then took the train "home" to Boston fairly early on Labor Day.  And I guess I am going to have to think of this city and Hong Kong as home now - there just doesn't seem to be as much of a place for me in New York any more.

-Yuan-wei/Missy/Jordan

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