My parents would try to make it better by buying me little treats or whispering in my ear how special I was in my own way. My father would take me for walks, just the two of us, holding my hand so I wouldn’t get lost. We’d stop off in Chinatown to buy some special dumplings or pastries filled with barbecued pork or red beans or whatever. My absolute favorite were the buns filled with a sweet custard. My dad would buy two and let me eat them all by myself. He never said a word about saving one for my sister or my mother. He would buy two, along with a bottle of sweetened soy milk, hand me a bun and the bottle while he held the other. When I was done with the first bun, he would hand me the second and smile in pleasure as I gobbled it up. I invariably ended up with a stomachache after finishing the two buns plus the bottle of milk, but it was worth it. We’d walk home with bags bulging with food, but no custard-filled buns. Those were mine alone, and I dearly loved my father for making that treat exclusively mine. It didn’t take away the sting of my sister’s beauty, but it helped mitigate it.
I grimace as I think of him. Even though it’s been nine years, I still ache to see him again. He was my confidante as well as my father, and he listened to me better than anyone else ever had. He would look at me, focusing his entire attention on what I was saying. No television, no radio, nothing to distract him. Sometimes, if a problem was especially tough, we’d hop a bus to Chinatown and buy some buns. Strolling through the heart of Chinatown, we’d eat, drink soy milk, and talk about my problems. I spoke mostly Taiwanese with my father, as he preferred it that way. My father was patient and wise, telling me exactly what I needed to hear. It may not have been what I wanted to hear, but it was invariably what I needed to know. He never pulled punches with me or tried to sugarcoat the truth, for which I was grateful. I knew that if my father said something, he meant it. I appreciated that quality about him.
“Rayne! I need ten copies of this yesterday!” Alicia tosses a pile of papers on my desk, a scowl creasing her fat features. Everything about her is round from the bun of gray hair on her head to her cheeks to her body. Her cheeks are so fat, they push her eyes into slits. I look away as she has a morsel of tuna melt clinging to her lower lip. I briefly entertain fantasies of telling Alicia off, but I tamp down the irritation. I know much of it is residual from Libby’s emails, so I try to let it go.
“Not a problem,” I say, standing with documents in hand. I walk over to the copier and punch the proper buttons. It collates and staples for me before I can even whistle a happy tune. I detour to Alicia’s office and drop it on her desk. She just grunts at me before turning back to her work.
“How are the invoices coming along?” Sandra, my supervisor, is at my desk when I reappear. “There were a couple last week that you were late on.” Because the counselors didn’t get them to me until after the deadline, I want to say, but hold my tongue. Sandra doesn’t like excuses.
“It won’t happen again,” I shrug, but don’t apologize. I have already decided that I’ll email Alicia once a week for the invoices, saving a copy in my send folder, which is known as covering my ass. She’ll hate me for it, but I don’t care. I don’t like being chided for something that isn’t my fault.
“Good.” Sandra nods before returning to her desk. Since her desk is in the room just off the ‘foyer’, I can see her firing up a movie on her computer. I can only assume the director is doing the same. I do a slow burn, but manage to keep my mouth shut. I work on the invoices for the next couple hours, making sure everything is up-to-date.