Xiao Ju’s life was ordinary. She went to work. She went home. She managed her father’s antics and got promoted to manager of the cafe.
It was almost as if the past couple of months were a dream but small reminders like the pain in Pipi’s eyes and the deafening emptiness in her life make it clear that it was real.
They told her they would come back for her. Everytime the door to the cafe opens, she looks up hoping to see their familiar faces and it takes her a month to stop expecting them to come around.
She walks home, settled back into her mundane ordinariness. Passing by familiar houses and stopping in front of her home. The ghost of the men she loved haunted her. Not directly, but the memories followed her around like a cold she couldn’t shake off.
”Which one will you choose….Kuan Yong or me?”
In the end she lost them both.
It was when she least expects it.
The cafe is busy, its lunch hour and an office just opened in the building next door so there’s an influx of tired office workers looking for a quick bite. Xiao Ju struggles to manage the line as the only cashier and waitstaff but she manages. They hired an extra hand but he didn’t start until next week, so when the door chimes indicating new customers she doesn’t hesitate to yell out a greeting and a promise to be right with them not bothering to look at them as she rushes to grab the order from the chef.
It is the startled screech of a customer that catches her attention and finally sees two small foxes in the middle of cafe standing alert and looking directly at her.
Some of the customers are in a panic, standing on chairs and some others calling animal control. Xiao Ju doesn’t stop to confirm that its Kuan Yong and Xiu Xan she just knows.
“Oh no! Xiuxiu! Kuankuan! How did you two get here? Dad must have forgotten to lock your gates!” She rushes to the two foxes picking them up in each of her arms, she’s sure that this is breaking twenty different health and safety regulations but Xiao Ju couldn’t lose them again. Much less to animal control.
She rushes out the door to the back of the cafe, in a secluded corner where the chef usually takes his smoke break. She sets them down and crouches to get to their eye level.
“You may not be human but I know you can understand me. I need you to stay put while I manage this lunch rush. You really had to come during that time huh? Couldn’t wait like an hour?” she chides them, choking back happy tears. They grey one, she suspects is Xiuxan, already more playful and active than the tempered tan one smiles baring his teeth. With one last pat, Xiao Ju returns to the cafe to manage the confusion she left behind.
She was relieved to see them and the hole they left behind didn’t feel so empty to her.
Even if they weren’t human, they were still there. They returned. To her.
They told her 800 years. Maybe 900. It had barely been two years since they left her on the shore, the raft taking them away and the image of the two was seared into her mind. Even though she missed Kuanyoung and Xiuxan, it was easy to fall into a routine. The foxes would circle around her, lazing around in the cafe keeping her company.
They would disappear sometimes, usually only a couple days at a time. Though they were human at one point, their more primal instincts were more present. Roughly playing with each other and going into the woods to hunt and Xiao Ju had grown accustomed to their random absences.
But this time it was different. They left a couple days before the Super Blue Blood Moon. Her father was ranting about it for a couple months now, something about the alignment with the moon and the sun changing energy currents. She ignored him as usual as he ranted to Kuankuan. Her father had taken to bouncing his various hypotheses to the tan fox, his human counterpart now no longer there to work with him on his equations.
It had been at least two months since she has seen the two foxes and even the customers had started to notice. She frets over their disappearance on her walk home, biting her nail while in deep thought. Her mind starts thinking of places where they could have gone, possibly up north to the northern clan’s territory now under Princess Zhao Yan’s rule. Or to Helan’s old residence. They might even be at the river where she last saw them. She needed to reach out to Su Mei.
So lost in her thoughts around finding her foxes again she collides into a warm, solid body.
“Are you okay, Miss?” a familiar voice asks. Despite it being two years, she never forgot his voice. Either of their voices. She looks up to see a pair of warm brown eyes, looking at her confused.
“Kuan Yong, are you okay?” Xiao Ju sees another face she never thought she’d see again. His long, built frame coming into view.
She can’t help but burst into tears, all the fears and frustrations of the last two years pouring out through her sobs. Kuan Yong places his hand on her shoulders looking into her now red and splotchy face, even more confused. She doesn’t hesitate to wrap her arms around him, crying into his shirt. She pulls Xiu Xan who was standing right next Kuan Yong into this group hug.
“I missed you so much. I missed you both,” she says through her sobs. The two men look at each other unsure what to do with girl crying in their arms but just pull her closer to them. Even if they don’t know why they were pulled to this street, in front of this house that felt drawn to. Looking down, they think they have found their answer