After school, Brian meets Jian and Lien Fēng at the debate club. Lien seems to like him, but Jian doesn’t. After the meeting is over, he confronts Jian to find out why the other boy is angry with him.
Jian’s lips twitched and a shy smile flickered. “My sister has a way of making friends instantly. She’s never met a stranger. Walk in a group like this, she’s everyone’s best friend when she leaves. She instinctively attaches herself to the alpha male.”
“And you think that’s me.”
Jian shrugged, shaking his head. “Aren’t you? You walk in like you own the room. Everyone listens when you speak.”
Brian was surprised. He’d never considered that before. He knew he’d changed from the shy freshman he was three years ago, but had no idea it was so much.
“Wasn’t my intention to offend,” he apologized, bowing slightly. “We’re all equal around here.”
“But some garner more respect than others.” Jian challenged, moving into Brian’s personal space.
Exasperated, Brian moved back half a step, stopping before he retreated too far. He wasn’t scared of this young man, and he didn’t want to give that impression. He was more afraid he’d lose his temper and hurt him.
“You think whatever you want, Fēng. You’re going to take offense to anything I say. Fine. I’m trying to be polite and welcome you to the team.”
“You are so sure of yourself, so cocky.”
“If my confidence offends you, you’re welcome to leave. I’m not keeping you here.” Brian spread his arms, taking a step forward, sending an unspoken challenge to the other boy.
Fēng Jian straightened, his dark eyes flashing dangerously. He took a step toward Brian, who held his ground.
“Brian, who’s your new friend?” Jordan said from behind him. “Hi, I’m Jordan Barrett, Brian’s better half. And you are?” She held out her hand to Jian, smiling and bubbly. It was an act, but a very good one. No doubt, Jian had no idea.
“Fēng Jian,” he replied, bowing over her hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Jordan Barrett.”
Lien walked over, smiling, angling for an introduction. Her brother did the honors. Brian was too annoyed to do the polite thing.
“Do you two know your way around?” Jordan asked. “Maybe you’d like to go out for ice cream?”
“Today?” Brian asked, hardly able to contain his irritation.
“Sure, why not?” Jordan asked. “Do you have a car? Do you need a ride?” she asked Jian.
“I have a car. I drive,” Jian replied with pride. “Lien hasn’t been taught.”
“Don’t feel bad,” Jordan said, taking Lien’s arm, propelling her toward the door. “I don’t get to drive either. Brian always drives.” She wrinkled her nose.
“But you know how?”
“Yes, Dad taught me. Mom is far too emotional to do something like that. She took me out once and I thought we were both going to die of a fit of vapors.” Giggling, she tipped her head at Brian. “You should see about signing up for driver’s ed.”
“I don’t have a permit and Papa won’t allow it.”
“Oh, well. Nice idea. You guys coming or not?” Jordan cast over her shoulder at Brian. “I hear a hot fudge sundae calling my name.”
The Fēngs’ car wasn’t far from Brian’s, so Jordan walked the entire way with Lien, leaving Brian with Jian. The two boys didn’t talk much, each quietly taking the measure of the other. Brian still couldn’t get a firm read off Jian, but he was pretty sure the other guy was used to being the alpha male, as he’d labeled Brian. That being the case, he was probably going to fight for the position all year. It wasn’t so much that Brian wanted the spot, he was annoyed that someone wanted to challenge him for something he cared so little about. It got his back up.
Jian followed them to the ice cream parlor where Jordan introduced Lien to everyone. Jian stood by, looking sullen and frustrated. Brian didn’t feel compelled to take him around. If Jordan wanted to, that was her prerogative. He ate his hot fudge sundae in silence, watching Jordan with Lien. He had no idea why she was so taken with the girl. She seemed nice enough….
“Do you work?” Jian asked rather abruptly.
“I work with a carpenter part time on weekends and pretty much full time during the summer. He wants me to apprentice with him when I graduate.”
“You will not go to college?”
“Yes, I will. But every man needs a trade, something to help support his family if things go to shit. People always need builders.”
Jian nodded. “That makes sense. My father is a craftsman. He makes pottery. Some is art, but he has contracts with many restaurants all over the world. He has been teaching me.”
“That’s a pretty cool trade,” Brian admitted. “Something about shaping earth that’s very satisfying.”
Jian’s expression changed to one of surprise. “Yes. He fires his pots in a pit or an outdoor oven, the old way. They have more character that way.”
© 2018 Dellani Oakes
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