Authors: Helen Hoang
He was mentally rerouting his daily commute when he noticed the black Ducati parked next to his bird-shit-smattered Porsche on the curb. Quan was here, and he’d driven
, even though their mom hated it and Khai had provided him with all the death and brain damage statistics multiple times. Giving the motorcycle a wide berth, he jogged to his front door, avoided the thorny weed bush that thrived in the shade beneath the awning, and let himself in.
Inside, he removed his shoes and immediately peeled his socks off. Heaven was bare feet sinking into his house’s 1970s shag carpet. Initially, he’d hated it— the pea-green color was offensive— but walking on it felt a lot like taking a stroll in the clouds Mary Poppins style. It used to smell funny, but time had fixed it. Either that, or he’d assimilated the scents of mothballs and old ladies into his identity. He was going to keep the carpet until the house became officially condemned by Santa Clara County.
There Quan was, sitting on Khai’s couch with his feet up on Khai’s coffee table, watching some finance program on CNBC as he drank Khai’s only cold can of Coca-Cola— he could see the condensation dripping over the cursive lettering just like in a commercial. The rest of his soda was room temperature because you could only fit one can into his fridge at a time. The valuable real estate was taken by Tupperware containers filled with his mom’s cooking. She thought he was going to starve to death if she didn’t personally feed him, and in true Mom fashion, she never did anything halfway.
“Yo, you’re home. How’s it going?” Quan asked as he took a long slurp of Coke and then hissed as the burn worked down his throat.
“Fine.” Khai narrowed his eyes at his brother. The hiss and burn from the cold Coke was one of Khai’s favorite things, and now he had to wait four hours until a new can was ready. “Why are you here?”
“Dunno. Mom told me to come. Apparently, she’s on her way.”
Ah shit, he saw nonsensical errands in his near future. What would it be this time? Driving to the grocery store all the way in San Jose to buy discount oranges? Or importing commercial quantities of seaweed extract from Japan to cure his aunt’s cancer? No, it had to be something worse, because she needed both her sons involved. He couldn’t begin to imagine what it might be.
“I need to take a shower.” His clothes were wet and sticky, and he wanted them off.
“You might wanna be fast. I just heard someone pull into the driveway.” Quan took a good look at Khai then, and his eyebrows arched. “Did you just run home from work in a suit?”
“Yeah, I do every day. This kind is engineered for motion.” He pointed to the elastic cuffs at his ankles. “And the fabric breathes really well. It’s also machine washable.”
Quan grinned and took another slurp from his pilfered Coke. “So my brother’s been running the streets of Silicon Valley like an evil Asian Terminator. I like it.”
The strange imagery made Khai hesitate, and just as he opened his mouth to respond, a familiar voice outside the house announced in Vietnamese, “Here, here, here, here, I have lots of food. Help me bring it in.” His mom never spoke English unless she absolutely had to. Basically, she spoke English to the health inspector at her restaurant.
“What?” Khai asked in English. He honestly didn’t know how to speak Vietnamese, though he understood it well enough. “I still
lots of food. I’m going to start feeding the homeless if you—”
His mom appeared in the doorway with a proud smile and three boxes of mangoes. “Hi,
Because he didn’t want her to break her back, he stuffed his socks in his pocket and took the boxes from her. “I don’t eat fruit, remember? They’re going to go bad.”
He was almost back out the door with them when she said, “No, no, they’re not for you. They’re for Mỹ. So she doesn’t miss home too much.”
He paused. Who the hell was Mỹ?
Quan got to his feet. “What’s going on?”
“Help me bring in more fruit first.” To Khai, she said, “Put those in the kitchen.”
Khai walked the boxes into his kitchen in a state of utter confusion. Why was this fruit in
house when it was supposed to prevent
, whoever she was, from feeling homesick? He set the boxes on his Formica countertop and noted they were three different varieties of mango. There were big red-green ones, medium yellow ones, and small green ones in the box that bore Thai script. Had his mom purchased him some manner of fruit-eating jungle monkey? Why would she do that? She didn’t even like dogs and cats.
Why was it taking Quan so long to bring the boxes inside? Khai went to investigate and found his brother and mom deep in discussion out by her beat-up Camry. Khai and his siblings had pitched in together to get her a Lexus SUV for Mother’s Day last year, but she insisted upon driving this two-decades-old Toyota unless it was a special occasion. He noted there was no one sitting inside it. No
“Mom, it’s wrong. This is the United States. People don’t
that,” Quan said, sounding more exasperated than usual with their mom.
“I had to do something, and you need to support me. He listens to you.”
Quan looked heavenward. “He listens to me because I’m reasonable. This isn’t.”
“You’re just like that stinky father of yours. You both let me down when I need you,” their mom said. “Your brother is always reliable.”
Quan made a huffing sound and scrubbed his hands over his face and buzzed head before he took three more fruit boxes from the trunk. When he saw Khai, he halted midstep. “Brace yourself.” Then he carried the boxes inside.
Well, that was ominous. In Khai’s head, the hypothetical jungle monkey morphed into a giant male gorilla. This fruit would probably feed such a creature for one day. On the positive side, he wouldn’t need to pay to get his house bulldozed, and he might even be able to file a claim on his homeowner’s insurance.
Reason for damage: rogue gorilla in a mango rage.
“Grab the jackfruit and come inside. I need to talk to you,” his mom said.
He hefted up the spiky jackfruit— holy fuck, it weighed like thirty pounds— and followed her into his kitchen, where Quan had set the new boxes next to the mangoes and seated himself at the kitchen table with his Coke. Worrying about the sturdiness of his counter, Khai carefully eased the jackfruit next to the other fruit. When the counter didn’t immediately collapse to the floor, he sighed in relief.
His mom considered his seventies kitchen with a frown. That look on her face was textbook dissatisfaction. If he lined up his old facial expression flash cards with her face right now, they’d match perfectly.
“You need to get a new house,” she said. “This one is too old. And you need to move all those exercise machines out of the living room. Only bachelors live like this.”
Khai happened to
a bachelor, so he didn’t see what the problem was. “This location is convenient for work, and I like exercising where I can watch TV.”
She waved his comments away, muttering, “This boy.”
A long silence ensued, broken only by the occasional slurping of Coke— Khai’s Coke, goddammit. When he couldn’t take it anymore, he looked from his brother to his mom and said, “ So ... who is Mỹ?” As far as he knew,
, but it was also how you said
in Vietnamese. Whichever way he looked at it, it seemed an odd name for a gorilla, but what did he know?
His mom squared her shoulders. “She’s the girl you need to pick up from the airport Saturday night.”
“Oh, okay.” That wasn’t horrible. He didn’t like the idea of ferrying around someone he didn’t know and changing his schedule, but he was glad he didn’t need a rabies shot or an FDA permit. “Just send me her flight schedule. Where do I drop her off?”
“She’s staying here with you,” she said.
“What? Why?” Khai’s entire body stiffened at the idea. It was an invasion, clear and simple.
“Don’t sound so upset,” she said in a cajoling tone. “She’s young and very pretty.”
He looked to Quan. “Why can’t she stay with you? You like women.”
Quan choked in the middle of drinking Coke and pounded his chest with a fist as he coughed.
Their mom aimed her dissatisfied look at Quan before she focused on Khai and straightened to her full height of four feet ten inches. “She can’t stay with Quan because she’s
“What?” He laughed a little. This had to be a joke, but he didn’t understand the humor.
“I chose her for you when I went to Việt Nam. You’ll like her. She’s perfect for you,” she said.
“I don’ t— You can’ t— I—” He shook his head.
“Yeah,” Quan said. “That was my reaction, too. She got you a mail-order bride from Vietnam, Khai.”
Their mom glowered at Quan. “Why do you say it so it sounds so bad? She’s not a ‘ mail-order bride.’ I met her in person. This is how they used to do it in the olden days. If I followed tradition, I would already have found you a wife the same way, but you don’t need my help. Your brother does.”
Khai didn’t even try to talk then. His brain had shorted and refused to compute.
“I bought her all sorts of fruit.” She moved the boxes on the counter around. “Lychees, rambutans ...”
As she continued to list off tropical fruits, his mind finally caught up with him. “Mom,
.” The words came out with unintentional strength and volume, but it was justified. He ignored the instinct that told him he was committing sacrilege by saying no to his mom. “I’m not
, and she’s not staying here, and you can’t
things like this.” This was the twenty-first century, for fuck’s sake. People didn’t run around purchasing wives for their sons anymore.
She pursed her lips and propped her hands on her hips, looking like an aerobics instructor from the eighties in her hot-pink sweat suit and short hair with a flattening perm. “I already booked the banquet hall for the wedding. The deposit was a thousand dollars.”
“I picked August eighth. I know how much you like the number eight.”
He raked his fingers through his hair and suppressed a growl. “I’ll refund you the thousand dollars. Please give me the contact information for the banquet hall so I can cancel.”
“Don’t be this way, Khải. Keep an open mind,” she said. “I don’t want you to be lonely.”
He released a disbelieving breath. “I’m not lonely. I
Lonely was for people who had feelings, which he didn’t.
It wasn’t loneliness if it could be eradicated with work or a Netflix marathon or a good book. Real loneliness would stick with you all the time. Real loneliness would hurt you nonstop.
Khai didn’t hurt. He felt nothing most of the time.
That was exactly why he steered clear of romantic relationships. If someone liked him that way, he’d only end up disappointing them when he couldn’t reciprocate. It wouldn’t be right.
“Mom, I won’t do it, and you can’t force me.”
She crossed her arms. “I know I can’t force you. I don’t
to force you. If you honestly don’t like her, then you shouldn’t marry her. But I’m asking you to give her a chance. Let her stay here for the summer. If you still don’t like her at the end, send her home. It’s that easy.” She switched her attention to Quan. “Talk some sense into your brother.”
Quan held his hands up as a constipated kind of smile stretched over his mouth. “I got nothing.”
Their mom glared at him.
“This is all useless,” Khai said. “I won’t change my mind.” And he really didn’t want a strange woman living in his house. His house was his sanctuary, the one place where he could escape people and just be.
When his family wasn’t breaking in, at least.
“You can’t make up your mind before you’ve met her. That’s not fair. Besides, I need her at the restaurant. The new waitress quit, and I need people for the daytime shift. Help me with this,” she said.
Khai scowled at his mom. He keenly sensed she was manipulating him— he wasn’t completely oblivious— but he didn’t know how to get out of this. Also, when she was short on hands, she made Khai and his siblings take time off their day jobs and come in to help. If he had to choose between waiting tables while simultaneously dealing with his mom all day and having a strange woman in his house ...
As if sensing weakness, she dove in for the kill. “Tolerate some difficulty and do it for me. It’ll make me happy.”
Shit, shit, shit. Frustration built into a giant ball inside of him, growing bigger and bigger and verging on explosion. There was nothing he could say to that, and she knew it.
She was his mom.
Clinging to his last shred of control, he said, “Only if you promise the matchmaking stops after this. You won’t try to hook me up with Dr. Son’s daughter or the dentist’s daughter or Vy’s friends or anyone. You won’t ambush me with surprise guests when I come over for dinner.”
“Of course,” his mom said as she nodded eagerly. “I promise. Only this summer, only this one time. If you don’t like her, I’ll stop. I don’t think I can find a better girl than Mỹ anyway, and ... ” She hesitated midsentence, and a thoughtful look crossed her face. “But you have to really
. If I don’t see you trying to make it work, I’ll
to do it again. Do you understand, Khải?”
He narrowed his eyes. “What does it mean ‘to try’?”
“It means you’ll do what a real fiancé does. You’ll take her out, introduce her to your friends and family, do things together, things like that. You’ll take her to all the weddings this summer.”
He couldn’t help grimacing, and Quan burst out laughing.
“You know, Mom, maybe this was a good idea after all,” Quan said.
“See? You kids think I’m crazy, but Mom knows best.”
That was questionable, but Khai had no choice but to say, “Fine. I’ll do all that stuff this summer if you promise to stop with the wife planning after this.”
“I promise, I promise, I promise. I’m so glad you’re being reasonable on this. You’ll like her. You’ll see,” she said, smiling ear to ear like she’d won the Powerball lottery.