“Mr. Ting knows what you need.”
I’m not sure what I was expecting. Okay, no, I know what I was expecting – Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, or Egg Shen from Big Trouble in Little China, or Lu-Tze from Thief of Time. In short, I expected a sterotype.
I know better. But it was really, really hot, and my brain was frying like an egg.
So into Mr. Ting’s we went, feeling a little jittery, a lot sweaty, and a tiny bit hopeful. If he didn’t have what we needed (despite the sign), well, we were down to leaving the fridge open or buying ice in giant bags. Or dousing everyone in water every four minutes. I didn’t think the cats would like that.
The store windows had been covered over with paper, so walking in, we were going in blind, accompanied by the sound of loudly jangling windchimes hitting the back of the door. Jordan headed in first; I took up the rear, nervously-if-ridiculously checking to see if we were observed. We weren’t; nobody else was dumb enough to be out in weather like this.
So at first, all I could see of the store was Jordan’s paused, tense shoulderblades sticking to the thinnest T-shirt possible. I wondered if we were going to have to make a hasty escape, and grabbed the door handle in preparation. I wondered if someone was going to shoot at us. Like I said, my brain was fried and I was feeling rather silly.
Then I noticed that the store was comfortable. Not freezing, like a lot of stores, but a nice pleasant temperature, just cool enough that we weren’t dying. And Jordan still wasn’t moving. We were getting to the shoving stage.
“Come in, come in, kiddos, let me pour you some lemonade. Take a load off your feet.” That was, I presumed, not Mr. Ting. For one, the accent was local. For another, the voice was female, or, at the very least, in a traditionally female register.
“What…” Jordan finally managed, and stumbled forward one step. Not enough for me to do much except look at the floor, which was blue-and-white tiled and prettier than anything else in the neighborhood except, possibly, one of our roommates. But Taylor was a special case. “What…” again. Broken record time; I gave a little shove.
“It’s all right, kids, I know, it’s hotter than hell outside and you’re got to be dehydrated. Here, have a skirt, dear, and here’s a vest for your friend, and there you go.” She bustled around Jordan, and then me, playing dress-up like we were dolls, and I finally got a look at her.
She was maybe late-fifties or a very nicely preserved late-sixties, her hair dyed improbably red, her eyes almost black. She had a lean figure not in keeping with that mother-of-the-world voice, and a lipstick smile the same unbelievable color as her hair. She caught me looking, and winked.
“Mr. Ting is out for a moment, so you two just have a seat, have some lemonade, and wait,” she insisted.
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