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Authors: Katie Lynch

Confucius Jane (6 page)

BOOK: Confucius Jane
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“Hey, Min,” she called softly. “What's up?”

Sutton angled her body in order to keep the woman in sight as she moved toward the back of the restaurant, waving to the people she knew.

“Jane!” Min looked up with that overly distraught expression perfected by teenage girls and daytime soap stars. “I need you! This report is killing me!”

Jane. The mystery woman's name was Jane. Sutton wouldn't have guessed that, but it suited her somehow. She hid her smile behind her mug, even as she surreptitiously continued to watch as Jane slid into the chair next to Min.

“Hey, now, relax. You'll get through it. Do you want me to take a look?”

“Yes! I give up!” Min flopped dramatically onto her open book.

“No giving up, silly.” Jane looked down at Min's laptop. “Where are you stuck?”

As Min began to explain, Sutton forced herself to turn back to her own work. What a sweet thing to do, she mused, looking over her own introduction for what felt like the thousandth time. Jane had taken some precious moments out of her probably busy schedule to help her little sister. Idly, she wondered what her life would have been like growing up with a sibling. Someone who could have alleviated the boredom of so many interminable dinners with Very Important Persons; someone to play make-believe with while sequestered in the townhouse on a rainy Saturday; someone with whom she could have created a whole new language not understood by anyone else.

Of course, she thought as she caught snippets of Jane asking Min a question about the book's antagonist, that was a rather idyllic fantasy. Not everyone was so kind. What if her imaginary sibling had been cruel, or even just indifferent? Or perhaps her parents' high expectations would have made her competitive with a brother or sister. Her father might even have taken delight in two children vying for his affection.

“More tea, Dr. Sutton?” Benny's voice interrupted her musings, and she turned to the sight of him waiting near her elbow, teapot in hand.

“Yes, please,” she said, setting down her cup so he could refill it. “Thank you. How are you feeling today?”

He shook his head and clucked his tongue. “My hips are very sore.”

That was an ailment she'd never heard from him before. “Your hips?”

“Yes.” He made a gesture along the side of his body from his waist to his upper thigh. “I woke up with a very bad ache.”

Sutton flashed back to her gross anatomy course. “Were you more active than usual, yesterday?”

“After closing the restaurant, I rehearsed the lion dance. But I have been doing that every day this week.”

“The lion dance?”

“For the Spring Festival.” She must have given him a blank look, because he smiled and added, “Chinese New Year. The Year of the Monkey.”

“Oh, of course.” Sutton hated betraying ignorance. Frantically, she searched her memory for any information on the lunar new year celebrations. She didn't know much, but she'd seen the lion dance on television once or twice.

“Do you remember feeling any sharp pain last night?” she asked.

He frowned, then shook his head. “No, nothing like that.”

“In that case, you may have just mildly strained your hip flexor muscles.” As she gestured for him to move closer, she suddenly got the feeling that she was being watched. Had her discussion with Benny gotten Jane's attention? Tamping down a wave of self-consciousness, Sutton typed in a quick Internet search that yielded several diagrams.

“If you look here, you'll see these are all the muscles involved in moving your hips. Are you feeling some pain in your lower back, too?”

Benny seemed surprised at the question. “Yes, a little.”

Sutton reached for her notebook, tore off a page from the back, and wrote
hip flexor stretches
on it. “Here,” she said as she handed it over. “When you have some free time, try searching for this phrase online. You'll find photos, videos, and descriptions of some stretches that you can do to try to make those muscles more flexible. If you stretch daily, you'll be much less at risk of straining them.”

“Thank you very much.” Benny took the paper with a relieved smile. “And in case you were wondering, we will be open throughout the entire two weeks of the festival.”

Sutton hadn't even thought to wonder. Did some businesses close for an entire fortnight? Sometimes, she realized with chagrin, she forgot just how diverse this city was. Not everything revolved around the twenty-four/seven mindset of the hospitals and Wall Street.

“You should join us this Sunday,” Benny continued. “We will be serving a traditional Spring Festival meal after the parade.”

“Oh yes, please do.” At the sound of Mei's voice, Sutton turned to find her wiping down a table behind them. “You're very welcome to share the day with us.”

Touched as she was by their thoughtfulness, Sutton was about to make her excuses when Jane rose from her seat. Instantly, the words died in her throat. For some reason, she couldn't take her eyes off the small strip of flannel brushing Jane's collarbone. Why she was suddenly desperate to feel that skin against her lips, Sutton couldn't possibly say. She wanted no part of this feeling, but it had caught her up, and she was powerless to look away.

“The whole thing can be a little overwhelming, though.” Jane's soft alto voice was mildly accented in a way she couldn't place. “You might want a guide.”

“Oh?” Sutton had a hard time articulating even that simple syllable. Jane's eyes were a color she'd never seen—brown and green and gold all swirling together. Hazel, her logical brain filled in helpfully. But the word seemed inadequate to describe such complexity.

“The streets are really crowded. It's easy to get turned around, even if you know your way.”

“I've actually never been into the center of Chinatown,” Sutton admitted. “This is as far as I've come.”

Jane nodded, looking thoughtful. “Please don't take this the wrong way, but you're missing out.” She extended one hand. “I'm Jane. I'd be happy to be that guide, if you decide you want one.”

Her palm was very warm, and calloused at the base of each finger. Sutton felt her pulse jump as Jane's thumb brushed across her skin. When Jane's eyes widened slightly, Sutton wondered if she'd felt the same tiny shock, which had nothing to do with static electricity.

“You can't go wrong with Jane showing you around,” Min piped up. “She knows this neighborhood like the back of her hand.”

Jane rolled her eyes and spared a quick glance over her shoulder. “Where does that saying even come from? Who has honestly ever studied the back of their own hand?”

Sutton had to laugh. “I've never really understood it, either.” Suddenly, she realized she hadn't introduced herself. “And I'm Sutton.”

“Dr. Sutton,” Jane corrected her, tilting her head toward Benny. Her grin carried a hint of mischief. “And the eavesdropper back there is Min.”

“You were dropping just as many eaves as I was!” Min said loudly.

Jane shrugged, and with a squeeze so gentle Sutton thought she might have imagined it, let go of her hand. Was she blushing? The olive tone of her skin made it difficult to tell. In an effort to get her equilibrium back, Sutton squared her shoulders.

“Hi, Jane. Hi, Min. And outside the hospital, it's really just ‘Sutton.' Please.”

“All right, ‘just Sutton.'” Jane sounded at ease, but she had jammed both hands into her pockets. That simple sign of nerves gave Sutton a rush of badly needed confidence. “Let me show you the Spring Festival on Sunday. What do you say? The parade really shouldn't be missed.”

Sutton knew she should decline the invitation. She had more than enough to do, and besides, it made no sense for her to date—or even just make a new friend—with her future so up in the air. But as she looked from Jane to Min to Mei to Benny, she realized that she wanted to say yes. Over the past few months, they had made her feel a part of their community. Now, they were willing to share their special holiday with her. Besides, this wouldn't even count as a real date. What did she have to lose? Jane was proposing a parade, not marriage.

“I accept,” she said, secretly relishing the relief that flashed across Jane's face before her insouciant grin returned.

“Great. Excellent. I think you'll really enjoy it.”

“When shall I meet you?”

“How about here at ten o'clock? That should give us enough time to find a good spot along the parade route.”

“I'll be here,” she said, wondering what Jane could read in her own expression. Suddenly, she realized that everyone was watching as they negotiated the specifics of their not-date. The self-consciousness returned in a rush. “I'm, um, going to get back to work.” She glanced quickly at Benny and Mei. “Thank you all for inviting me.”

“See you soon,” Jane said. “Oh, and Sutton? Wear red.”



her face up to the sun, and smiled. The cold snap had finally ended yesterday, giving way to milder air that no longer hurt every time she took a breath. True spring was still a month away, but this reprieve from the biting chill of the past week made it feel much warmer. She could only imagine how fortunate the parade marchers felt.

As she walked toward Noodle Treasure, Sutton began to feel warm enough to unzip her coat. She didn't own any red jackets, but she had put on the scoop-neck red cashmere sweater that had been a gift from her mother this past Christmas. The soft fabric clung to her body. She wondered if Jane would notice, then shook her head in annoyance at the thought. No matter how charming Jane might turn out to be, Sutton had already promised herself not to get emotionally invested. They could be friends. Not even friends—acquaintances. Casual acquaintances. She wasn't in the market for anything more.

As Sutton rounded the corner, she saw Jane standing outside Noodle Treasure. Dressed in a red track jacket, black cargo pants, and sneakers, she looked at once athletic and a little edgy. Sutton felt her stomach flip-flop as Jane smiled and raised one hand in greeting.
Casual acquaintance,
she reminded herself.

Gong xi fa cai,
” Jane said as Sutton approached.

“Is that a traditional greeting?” This was her first time standing next to Jane, and Sutton was surprised at having to look up. She was above average height, but Jane was at least two inches taller.

“Yes. It means, ‘Congratulations, and be prosperous.'”

“Say it again, please. More slowly.”

“Gong-she-fah-tie,” Jane said, nodding as Sutton repeated it. “Nice. You've got it.”

Sutton felt absurdly proud at the praise. Unwilling to risk betraying the emotion, she looked away down the street. “So, what's the plan, guide?”

“Well, I thought we might wander through the neighborhood a bit and find a spot on the parade route. Does that sound okay? Maybe grab some breakfast along the way?”

“That sounds great. Though forgive me if I don't eat much—I had a little something earlier.”

Jane began to walk south at a leisurely pace, and Sutton fell in beside her. “Was it from a Chinese bakery?”

“It was an apple. So, no.”

“Hmm.” Jane's brows drew together in a frown, lending her an air of fierce perplexity that Sutton couldn't help but find endearing. “If an apple a day is supposed to keep the doctor away, but you are a doctor, what happens?”

Sutton had to laugh at the bizarre twist their conversation had already taken. “An existential crisis?”

“Then it's a good thing I'm about to show you another breakfast option.” Jane shot her a sideways grin.

How, Sutton wondered, had they managed to start bantering before they even knew the very basics about one another? This not-date wasn't even five minutes old and her head was already spinning.

“What?” Jane said.

Sutton was suddenly panicked that she had unintentionally voiced her inner monologue. “I'm sorry?”

“You were sort of half smiling just then. What were you thinking?”

“That we don't know anything about each other. I don't even know your last name.”

“Morrow. Yours?”

“St. James.” Sutton waited to see if Jane would make the connection to her father, but no recognition flared in her eyes. That was unexpected, and nice. Maybe she had done herself a disservice by not having socialized with anyone other than medical students for the past several years. She felt oddly liberated by being “just Sutton.”

“Sutton St. James. That has a nice alliterative quality.”

Again, Sutton laughed. “There's a response I've never heard before.”

Jane looked pleased with herself. “I like phrases that sound … right.”

Sutton could have let the statement pass, but decided to give Jane a taste of her own inquisitive medicine. “What do you mean by ‘right'?”

Jane didn't answer right away, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth as she considered the question. “I'm not sure I know. There's just a—a feel to some phrases, and even individual words. They have a good ring to them. I suppose I could sit down and try to parse it all out scientifically, but what would be the fun in that?”

“Oh? Science can't be fun?” Sutton put a slight edge in her voice, enjoying the opportunity to turn the tables in this verbal sparring match. She was gratified to see Jane's eyes widen as she realized her mistake.

“Please excuse me while I remove my foot from my mouth. How could I forget I was speaking to Doctor Sutton?”

Sutton had the urge to bump Jane lightly with her elbow, but she held herself back.
Casual acquaintance. Not date. No touching.

“Speaking of which,” Jane continued, “what's your medical specialty?”

BOOK: Confucius Jane
2.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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