This was not Ko-sa’s wife Tomoko in the crowd at National Airport, but an exquisite younger woman who seemed to be smiling softly between barely parted lips. Her image captivated Nick as no other since the July 17, 1955 Life Magazine cover girl who had stirred his newly discovered puberty to frenzied masturbation.
It was not the exquisite lines of this woman’s breasts and belly on the cling-to-the-body blue chihpao that strewed his imagination, but the expression that was Angel’s. Nick stared over Ko-sa’s shoulder, speechless, overcome by hunger for recognition.
“Angel.” His lips formed the word, but whisper as he would his voice was soundless. Ko-sa didn’t notice it. The woman stared straight through him.
He steadied himself, hardly believing what he saw. She was and she wasn’t. She looked like Angel, but the nose he had kissed so tenderly three and a half years before was much higher, and too aquiline. No tiny bump on the tip, nostrils not wide enough. Eyes not quite the same. Her body was not the same at all. This woman had larger breasts, more curvaceous contours, wider hips.
Jade Phoenix had spotted Nick as he approached. She had no doubts about the identity of the man who Ko-sa said was his best American friend. That ghost was her only encounter with something the foreigners called romantic love. Evil spirits take over empty spaces. He betrayed her. It was all a trick to break down her jade gate.
So much of her response had been given to her in early childhood. Smile when frightened or embarrassed. Never cry when teacher punishes. The stick may hurt but don’t reveal pain. When conflict rages within, show only tranquility. Never give your tormentor the satisfaction of seeing your agony. When loss of face threatens, show nothing.
Jade Phoenix had never been told “I love you” by anyone but Nick. Those words were nothing but a honey trap. He had given her moments in the clouds and endless struggle to suppress pain and regret.
Spoken love was not part of her vocabulary, or Ko-sa’s. Their relationship was one of evolving tacit agreements to meet each other’s needs, his for a son, hers for protection from a family of wrath. He offered caring comfort. In travel he gave her glamour.
There was love between them – Jade Phoenix was sure of that – even though the foreign fantasy word was not something people talked about or mooned over like in the American movies. Feelings ran deeper than words, she knew, and there were far too many obligations to make life into a romantic movie. If you were together, love was supposed to be there. And if it wasn’t, you hid that knowledge as best you could. Jade was keenly aware that unless a woman was foolish or desperate enough to face the world through a veil of disgrace, she must follow a chicken or a dog as yuan fen would have it. She thanked Guan Yin for having her spill food over Ko-sa in the Tai Feng Lou Restaurant.
She had every reason to believe that the fortuneteller was right after all. Ko-sa was riches beyond belief, just as the witch lady predicted. Jade Phoenix would not let this ghost of a past life steal her destiny now. She would never reveal that she was Nick’s Angel. Shock, and those feelings for Nick that she could not suppress, flashed across her face for only a second. Nick did not see it.
…otherwise she looks just like Angel, but too tall.Jade Phoenix stood impassive behind the safety of Ko-sa, denying Nick even the faintest flicker of recognition. She turned away, unresponsive to the yearning in his eyes.
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