Xìngbié; part 1 (of 12): Takeout Chinese

Nathan poked at his food with a fork. Part of him found it ironic that a Chinese American family was eating Chinese takeout for dinner, but his mind wasn’t really on the food.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” his mother asked from across the table. She was frowning, but it was concern in her eyes.

Nathan’s younger brother snickered, and Nathan cast him a dark look.

“I’m just not very hungry, I guess,” he lied. He hated lying to his mother, but he really didn’t want to talk about it.

“He’s upset because he still doesn’t have a date for Valentine’s Day,” Tyler chimed in.

Nathan stabbed his beef with his fork, looking down to hide his grimace.

“Tyler, stop antagonizing your brother and eat your dinner,” their father said.

Tyler grumbled something under his breath, but didn’t respond.

Nathan silently thanked his father, but he knew that Tyler was right. He was fifteen now and still didn’t have a girlfriend. All his friends were always talking about girls, but Nathan had such a hard time getting a girl to go out with him.

Not that he hadn’t tried, of course. He’d asked out four different girls this school year already, and each one had said no. And every time they did he wished he could just disappear and never have to try again. But with Valentine’s Day coming up, he felt even worse than usual.

Nathan finished his food in silence and asked to be dismissed. He dropped his plate and silverware (why didn’t people use chopsticks anymore? he wondered) in the kitchen sink and turned to head back to his room, but stopped. There was a pile of fortune cookies on the counter. He leaned over and swiped one, quickly disposing of the plastic wrapper before walking away.

But as he closed the door to his room, Nathan noticed something odd about this cookie. It was a darker color than normal cookies, almost brown instead of tan.

Colored fortune cookies, Nathan thought, Now there’s an idea.

Sitting down, he broke open the cookie and winced as it sent a slight jolt through his arms.

“Ow! Yeah, I would get the world’s only electrified fortune cookie.”

He at it all the same—it certainly didn’t taste any different from other fortune cookies. When he saw the fortune inside, however, he scowled.

True love will reveal itself to you in time, it read. Nathan rolled his eyes, but turned it over to read the translation on back anyway. It was he word “xìngbié,” which was Chinese for “gender.”

Nathan threw the fortune away and leaned back in his chair. He had a history quiz the very next day and still needed to study for it, as well as an English test on Friday. He didn’t have time to waste.

On the other hand…

I think I can squeeze in a shower before bed, he decided.

A shower might help him unwind a bit. He could study afterward. Locking himself in the bathroom, Nathan stripped out of his clothes, dropping his pants and shirt into the hamper, where they were followed by his socks and boxers.

The hot water felt good running down Nathan’s back and chest. He must have been tenser than he realized, because only now, at the end of the day, did it feel like he could truly relax his muscles.

Getting out of the shower though, Nathan could just barely stifle a yawn as he rubbed himself down with a towel.

Must be more tired than I thought, he realized. It was already getting difficult to keep his eyes open.

He looked around for a hairdryer for almost a full minute before remembering that he didn’t even own a hairdryer. His hair was barely an inch long, if he had to guess; he’d never have to go to such lengths to get it dry.

It took yet another minute to remember that he didn’t own a bathrobe either, and thus had absolutely nothing to wear when leaving the bathroom.

Nathan wrapped the towel around himself and returned to his room. He put on his boxers and a tee shirt for bed and went to the tiny three-level bookshelf to grab a book. It surprised him at first that there were only video games on the top shelf and magazines below that, as if it hadn’t always been that way. Only the bottom shelf had books, and they were all extra books about math and science that his parents got him for additional studying.

He wasn’t sure why he thought there’d be something to read for leisure.

Maybe Nathan really was just too tired. He moved his coat from lying on the bed to being draped over his desk chair and slid beneath the covers, and quickly drifted off to sleep.

But in his dreams Nathan felt that something was wrong. His body was being distorted, stretched and pulled in different directions. The world flashed by him, awash in hues of red and blue. And somewhere, mixed in with all of that, there was a face. It was a face he recognized, a face that filled him with a warm and tingling sensation. He focused on that face, and it helped him to drift into a more comfortable rest.

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This story is 905 words long.