I had gotten cocky and overconfident; as a result, I got careless and walked right into the dragons' ambush. The aunts were staring me down, and I could almost see the wheels turning in their heads. I tried to buy time,"You want an example of their arguments?"
The aunts just looked at me and didn't say anything, waiting for my answer. Their silence was a message that I got loud and clear. They were testing me. I had to tread carefully. If I told the aunts about some of the arguments between Hostess and Oaf, it would only give them more reason to move against Oaf. Oaf had developed a reputation as being rude and had offended a number people over the years. While most people would give any newcomer in the community a chance, Oaf had run out of chances. And the dragons only had so much patience until they would correct Oaf's offenses. The problem was, that correction was often harsh, and Hostess would feel the sting. I was not going to let any harm come to Hostess.
Even though I knew the dragons were only protective of their people, including Hostess, their methods could sometimes be cruel and severe. I recall last year, how a young Thai girl married this older divorced man. They opened up a small gas station and convenience store. They were doing quite well, until one day, the husband made the mistake of getting drunk at a wedding. He was a mean drunk, and started to cause a scene, accosting the waiters and some guests. When Moon Dragon told Thai girl perhaps it was time to take Drunk home, Thai girl scoffed, and said they would leave when they felt like it. Big mistake. By the end of the year, people had stopped shopping in their store, even driving a litte farther to buy gas elsewhere. All their merchandise was mysteriously either held up at the port, or was never delivered on time, if they were delivered at all. They were also ostracized from any parties or gatherings in the community. When I asked at one cookout where Thai girl was, Hostess said, no one knew, and no one really cared; then she told me what had happened. Eventually, Thai girl and Drunk were forced to sell their store and home to cover their mounting debt and move out of town.
Now, I don't want to make it sound like the dragons had a problem with those who weren't of Asian descent. No, in fact, two of them married white men. A lot of their children had also married other races. But the dragons took it upon themselves to protect their community, and they've kept their people safe from dangers outside and within the community. They represent order, and in some ways, they were the very backbone of the community. Their actions, however vicious and extreme, have always been made to protect the community. They inspired fear and that fear kept the peace for the most part. It also served to maintain their power over the community. But their might was also tempered with mercy and kindness. The dragons were quick to welcome outsiders into the fold; they were just as swift to punish and exile those who harmed their people.
In a way, I think the dragons had come to the same conclusion that I and some of my friends had reached: Hostess deserved so much better than Oaf. He was just useless and lazy. And as much as I wanted to see Hostess move on to someone better, I couldn't deny that she loved Oaf for some reason. And if that made her somewhat happy, then I would try to support her decision. Unfortunately, that meant defending Oaf, almost constantly, and I do admit that I was getting tired of it.
I'm not sure if Oaf is stupid lazy, you know, the kind of person who needs to be told what to do. Or if he was just a malingerer, always making up excuses to get out of work. I was once asked to drop them off at the airport one day. I had just gotten off work that morning, and I drove right to their house. Their luggage was by the front door, and Hostess was on the phone, giving her housesitter some last minute instructions. Oaf was standing by the stairs, next to the door. When Hostess reached for her suitcase, I told her, I would get it for her. We walked out to my car, and put the luggage up. Then we waited for Oaf.
After ten minutes, I started to wonder what was holding him up. I went back in to look for him, but he didn't answer my calls. I picked up his suitcase and carried it to the car. After I put it in the trunk, Oaf came out of the house. I thought, well, maybe he had to use the bathroom. When we got to the airport, however, Oaf put on his iPod then walked into the terminal, leaving Hostess and me with the luggage! That's when I started to think, 'That mofo! He thinks that just because I'm dropping them off at the airport, I am suppose to carry his damn bags!'
And it wasn't the first time he's run off from doing his damn job, either! When I helped them move some of their belongings into their new place, Oaf took a few of their stuff inside the house. Then stopped to talk to his buddies from the gym. His buddies were suppose to help move their crap, but no, Oaf and the gym b*tches just stood there while Hostess and I moved most of the stuff. When we got to the heavy furniture, I was like, "Yo, how about a hand moving in these sofas?" They moved one small loveseat...then stood around and resumed talking. I was thinking, 'Oh hell, no, mofo! I ain't moving the rest of your crap! These are your freakin sofas and mattresses, and I a'int here to do all the work while you just bullsh*t around!'
I told Hostess I had somewhere I needed to be, and she said they would get the rest of the stuff moved in. I left and went to a bar. The next morning, I was woken by the telephone; Oaf was calling to see if I could come by today, and help him move the rest of his furniture into the house! I was flabbergasted! 'What the hell did they do after I left? Just sit around and talk gym instead of moving the rest of his crap? Oh, hell, no!' I told Oaf that I was a experiencing a hangover, and I wouldn't make it today. Then I hung up. Bastard!
Sometimes, I blame his mother. Oaf was the youngest of 3 children. He had an older sister and brother. He was the youngest, and his mother babied him way too much. While the older siblings left the home shortly after high school to go to college or get jobs and their own places, Oaf stayed at home until he was 26. What's worse, he didn't pay any bills, as his mother paid all his bills and balanced his checkbook for him. This often caused arguments between his parents. Oaf's father kept telling his wife that Oaf was old enough to take care of himself and to stop babying Oaf so much.
The only reason why Oaf finally left the home was because his father threatened to cut off paying Oaf's tuition at the local university. So at 26, Oaf got an apt (his mom found it and signed the lease for him, and paid some of his rent!). He finally graduated after 7 years in college with a Bachelors Degree...in Physical Education. He met Hostess during his senior year (7th year). They were both in the same fitness club, and eventually joined a group of workout fanatics. Then they started dating.
I've always been a little suspicious of Hostess's relationship with Oaf. Hostess had just broken up with her college boyfriend of 4 years. Most of us thought that boyfriend was the one, because Hostess lit up and I could hear the smile in her voice when she talked about him. They lived together for over 3 years. He was from Wyoming, and he was in the National Guard. I called him Soldierboy. None of us who were childhood friends of Hostess had ever actually met Soldierboy. We all were scattered in different parts of the world at the time. But we all agreed that when Hostess said Soldierboy was the one, we all believed her. He made her happy, and that made the rest of us happy.
The terrorist attack on Sept 11, 2001, changed everything. Soldierboy's unit was activated and before he left for Afghanistan, he sat down with Hostess and discussed their future. He had given her a promise ring the year before, planning to get married after grad school. But on their last night together, he told her he couldn't keep his promise, and he feared he may not come back. He didn't want Hostess to wait and worry nor suffer should he not return alive. He wanted her to move on with her life. He thought breaking up would free them to move on, though they would always love each other. Then they cried until he left to report to his unit at midnight.
I was living on the East Coast at the time, so when Hostess called me, it was all ready past two in the morning. I didn't recognize her voice through the sobs, and my sleepiness vanished immediately when she said my name. It took a minute for me to realize what had happened. It was a long, terrifying minute, as I thought she was physically hurt and maybe her life was in danger. Though, I was somewhat relieved when I found out she was physically fine, I ached for her, because I felt her pain, her loss. Her sorrow was deep, and there was nothing I could do to ease her pain. For over four hours, she cried, and I felt a heavy pain in my heart. I've never seen nor heard her cry like this before, so I was quite at a loss about how to handle the crisis. I could only sit there and listen to her sobs; offering the occasional cliches; and finally confessing that I had no idea what to say or do to make her feel better. I was just sorry it happened.
When we finally hung up, her voice was hoarse and she said she was glad she could talk to me; I told her that's what friends are for, and that I would call her during lunch. I didn't get any sleep that night, and I don't remember what happened at work. But that was a long month of long phone calls and crying and sobbing and praying...for peace, for hope, and for Soldierboy to come home safely.
So when Hostess met Oaf, I was sure Oaf was the rebound guy. At times, I think he still is the rebound guy. When Oaf and Hostess got engaged, news came that Soldierboy was coming home--at least for a little while. It had been two years since Hostess and Soldierboy last saw each other. Hostess took a weekend to go visit Soldierboy, give him a hero's welcome. She never told me what happened that weekend, and I never asked. I don't think Hostess has ever told Oaf just who Soldierboy really was. And Oaf is either really confident in his relationship with Hostess, or just really too ignorant to realize that Soldierboy was not just any friend. Soldierboy was the one!
Soldierboy eventually married another girl and had a son; when his tour of duty was over, he finished college and got a job working for some gov't agency. He and Hostess often keep in touch. I always get a weird feeling when I look at Hostess's fridge, and I see a pic of Soldierboy (with his family, of course). Sure, it's a Xmas card, but I don't keep momentos of old lovers attached to a public space that anyone, including a current lover, might see and question. But, for now, Oaf seemed to be in the dark, and I wasn't going to tell him a damn thing.
Now, I looked at the dragons who were waiting for my response. They wanted to know the kind of fights Oaf and Hostess had. So I gave the aunts my answer,"Oh, yeah, like today, when we were setting up for the party, Oaf wanted to turn the A/C cooler; he said it was too hot. Hostess refused, saying it would get too cold. But, Oaf is from Colorado, and they get really cold up there; he's not used to the humidity. And you know Hostess grew up in a hot environment."
The dragons gave me a puzzled look. I think I had thrown them off. Well, they wanted an example of a fight, and I gave them one; it just wasn't what they expected. So I continued on,"But eventually we settled it by bringing out the fans. That way, if someone gets too hot, they can turn on the fan," and I gave them this brilliant smile, meant to convey,'wasn't that a genius solution?'
Then I saw Snow Dragon form a small smile on her lips. 'Oh, crap!', I thought,'now what?' And before she could open her mouth, I heard my the voice of my salvation saying,"Oh, Aunty Phine! Aunty June! Aunty Rose! It's so good to see you!"
Hostess had arrived, beaming with smiles at the aunts. She gave me a quick look, and in less than a second of eye contact, we exchanged vital information. As she was hugging the aunts, I started to spill out to Hostess a condensed version of the interrogation/conversation that had taken place. Their momentum broken, the dragons had to regroup and form a new attack plan. Only now, they would face a much tougher challenge.
With Hostess standing at their sides, she and I formed an impressive force ready to meet the dragons challenge. They tried to trick Hostess with the same line of questioning about the fight, but I had given Hostess enough info to fend off the attacks. When one of the aunts asked for Oaf's whereabouts, I jumped in and said I could go look for him, as he's probably talking with the other guests. Seeing the opportunity, Hostess asked them where were Moon Dragon's and Snow Dragon's spouses?
It was our standard deflect and redirect defense. It was a skill Hostess and I learned and practiced in high school debates. By the time we graduated, we perfected it by exposure to so many different social and scholastic circles. Those public speaking skills led to leadership positions in many clubs as well as release from trouble on the rare occasions school officials caught us skipping school or cutting classes. Take the focus off by putting it on something else. Flattery can be a powerful tool. Answer a question with another question. State an observation we could all agree on, then follow up with a question.
When the dragons finished answering Hostess's question, I jumped in and declared Hostess and I were going to get them some food. The aunts tried to protest, but Hostess insisted that she and I serve them as honored guests. It was our exit strategy, and it worked. We left the dining room and went into the kitchen to fix up the plates for the aunts. We set their plates and brought out some extra trays loaded with more food and drinks for the aunts. They asked us to sit down with them, but I told them to go ahead and eat, as I was going to help Hostess fix some more plates for the other guests. It was a total lie, but the aunts gave in. The dragons started to eat. We had reached a truce for now.
When Hostess followed me back into the kitchen, she let out a sigh, but then she looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. It was just like the old days. But then that troubled look reemerged on her face; earlier she said we would talk after the party. I thought about talking about something else to take her mind of her troubles. The only thing I could think to bring up was the first thing I saw on the fridge door. "So heard from Soldierboy lately?"
Hostess had this startled look on her face. She was quiet, and I thought that was curious. She said,"Oh, yeah, I saw him last month when I was up in Seattle."
"He moved to Seattle?", I asked.
"Yes; about a year now," she answered. Wow, I guess I've been a little behind on the news, but it's not like Soldierboy was someone I kept tabs on. He was an old part of Hostess world, never a part of mine.
"How's his family? They like Seattle?", I asked.
"He said his family is fine," she paused,"but they're not in Seattle."
"Oh?" I was a little confused. His family stayed in Wyoming while Soldierboy moved to Seattle?
"He got divorced last year, before moving to Seattle," she said.
"Oh," I replied,"Well, I hope it turns out all right for them."
I had more questions on my mind, and there was something significant in our little exchange; but at the moment, I didn't want to push it. Besides, she'll tell me whatever she wanted to later. I took out another bottled water and headed towards the living room.