The DJ got back to the regular playlist, and the nightclub continued to club on. People flirted and drank, and as expected, Seng went to the bar to order a Macuá. Franco was left helpless to do anything but talk him out of it.
“It’s your fourth drink tonight,” he said.
“And I’m just gettin’ started!” His words started to run together. He took a sip of his drink. “Zoo heev!”
Franco’s eyes darted around the crowded room. He didn’t keep on any one person for too long, lest the wrong sex take it as an invite. Even if the guy in the pink tunic-top looked fantastic in something so bold…
…Good, he could stare and glower at Benji trying to repeat his prom night. Hannah took it as well as she did back then, but then she put her foot down. If she had a drink to throw in his face, she would.
“God, these things just don’t change,” Franco groaned. He buried his face in his palm. “And I can’t even drink about it.”
“You should,” said Seng, tearing himself away from the last of his drink. “This guy can do anything!” He slammed the glass on the linoleum once he was finished, shattering it.
Hannah was able to escape Benji, once some handsome older man got his attention instead. She clung to Franco and whispered in his ear “I don’t think I’m bisexual.”
“I…it doesn’t matter what I am. I just wanna leave too.”
Then Hannah giggled, which was more and more unusual from her as she grew older. “But I guess we have something fun to watch for a bit.”
The fourth drink, or a fifth that he slammed without Franco knowing about it, caught up to Seng fast. He climbed on one of the bar counters to dance for an audience. Maybe it was a latent instinct from stripping to pay for college, but with clothes on. He certainly had the moves for it.
“It’s funny, but he ain’t my type,” said Hannah. She gave Franco a tight squeeze around his round middle. “So don’t feel bad about this.”
“No, I think it’s funny too,” Franco said. But Seng’s exaggerated pelvic thrusts made him clammy and uncomfortable. Or was that just the heat generated by a club full of sweaty, tipsy bisexuals?
Eventually, the bartender kicked Seng off once it stopped being weird and amusing.
Seng was bored enough to turn to Franco again. He ignored all of Seng’s requests and pleas for him to drink. And he pressured for everyone to go home, or at least for the two of them and Hannah to ditch Benji.
“But I’m havin’ a blast!” Seng exclaimed. “And there are just…so many people here.”
“I can see that just fine,” said Franco. “But…look, I don’t want to ruin your special night, but I’m bored. I’m bored and sick of serving you and serving my mum and sick of…” He bit his tongue, almost piercing through it with one of his fangs. “Owwwwwwugh. I’m not sick of her!”
“Then why is she there?”
He pointed to Hannah, sitting at the bar and annoyed by the same woman who hated her singing. It wasn’t enough to get in the way of a crush.
For the last time, I’m straight!
Prettiest straight girl here, though.
“Obviously because you dragged me away…didn’t you?” Not really. Franco could have ignored him at any time.
“No…ah, Franco dear, kuv ntshai koj xam yuam kev lawm.”
“Huh?” But it was no time for translating, especially not for Seng.
He pulled Franco close. “I’m comin’ around to you guys. Your mum and I are…I gave up my dreams for you guys and it might be okay.”
“Let go of me,” Franco said, snarling. “I’m not turning bi for you.”
“That chubby in your pants says otherwise.”
Seng leaned in for a kiss, one that Franco only half-heartedly fought back. And he could have brushed Seng off him like he was dust or lint. He heard a go for the tongue! from Benji, who was sober that night.
Finally, Franco came to his senses. He pushed Seng off him, and realized how long he didn’t fight back.
Franco cowered. He shook in place. He feared looking behind him, if Hannah’s beautiful face frowned or disapproved for even a second.
“I…uh…you’re gonna have to find your own way home!”
He grabbed Hannah by the wrist and yanked her from her barstool and half-finished glass of diet cherry coke. She thanked him during the elevator ride down.
“I mean, she was pretty and all, but I dunno…I don’t see what you see in women.” She took and hand and grasped. “But whatever it takes, I’m glad you see something in me.”
It was snowing when they got outside. And Hannah’s mood went south, as it tended to.
“Oh, what am I saying? That was a lot worse for you. What was Seng even thinking?” She whined and let out a big, despairing exhale.
“I hope we can just never bring it up again. If he wants to bang my mum, so be it. She’ll probably say yes,” said Franco. “And I dunno what I was feeling, but that’s…that’s for another time.”
“Well, I guess if you would ever like a guy, it’d be him,” she said. “Laos and Thailand are right next to each other.”
He gave her a warm and welcoming smile. “But maybe I can end this on a high note,” he continued. “There’s this one place I always wanted to try for dinner.”
“Is it the place Youa works at?” Hannah asked.
“If you’re okay with that…it was part of the plan.”
Outlanders did not have much indoor seating, so it was tight that night, with only one table left by one of the big, foggy windows. Two waitresses were on duty. One had pink hair and a slightly thicker build. The other was none other than Youa.
The host gave them Table 4a, and Youa spent a full minute hanging out by the kitchen door and grumbling about it.
Meanwhile, Franco and Hannah had a look at the menu. He knew he was starving after having nothing more than an early lunch. He was starving enough for an appetizer. He was even starving enough for a slice of rosewater cheesecake, but he’d wait on that decision.
“Are you hungry?” he asked Hannah.
“Not much…alright, maybe the stuffed squash,” she said. “But…I dunno, you know how I eat.”
He’d live with just an entree.
Youa was stalling with greeting them, but her co-waitress gave her a friendly shove to get moving with Table 4. She scrambled over to the two of them at last.
“Welcome to Outlanders! Great to see some…strangers.” Youa couldn’t help but chuckle. “I’m sorry. Still nice to see you guys.”
“I’m shocked,” said Franco. He tapped his thick fingers on the table.
“Look, Youa, I’m not going to dance around this. I’ve had problems with you, and with your brother, and with your awf…with Benji.” He folded his hands as he thought about what to say. Having dinner there only came about because of his questions about Benji’s notes. If anyone would know more than him, it was the girl he banged.
“Yeah, pretty obvious,” she said. She put a hand on her hip, and cocked one of her eyebrows up. “So…it’ll take a lot for me to sell out my boyfriend.”
“Mum gave me a lot of cash,” said Franco. Hannah flopped and slumped over the table in boredom, or disappointment. “So I’ll just add more to your tip, the more you say. I know you have groceries and textbooks and…abortions-”
Youa stepped back. “Hey, can we not bring up the one thing I regret a lot? I know it’s weird to, but I…have a lot of feelings about that already.”
“But there’s nothing more about yourself that I can uncover. All you have left to ‘sell out’ is him. And I have a lot to give in return.” He waved a hundred-dollar note under the table. “I think it’s only fair.”
“I…uh, any drinks for you two tonight?”
“Well…this kind of dinner deserves alcohol,” said Hannah. “But I made a promise to stay sober.”
“I’m the only one insured to drive my car,” said Franco. “So water.”
Service was fast that night, and not even fifteen minutes passed before Youa had two hot dishes on her tray. One bowl of egg and greens soup for Hannah, and a modest piece of aubergine lasagna for Franco. It was his true weakness as a food, no matter who made it. Even the crap at the dining hall at art school hit the lasagna-needing spot.
“Let’s just make this quick, before it gets cold,” said Youa. She balanced the tray and plate on her one hand without even twitching. “How can I betray the man I love?”
“What is he trying to find out about my family?” Franco enunciated each word with unwavering calmness. Hannah picked at the poached egg floating on top of her soup. She glared at Franco.
“You’re gonna have to be more pointed than that,” said Youa. “I mean, heck, even I know that your mum and stepdad are ‘noble thieves’. But that was Seng’s doing.”
Franco glared up at Youa, clenching his mouth into a frown. “Why does Benji keep hating me?”
“I never thought you were so…dense,” said Youa. “You know what he hates you for.”
“It’s been years.”
“So? He had to find his twin’s and his niece’s corpses in the bathtub. He still can’t sleep well because of it…therapy doesn’t help. Just last night he woke up in a terror and I am the only one around to bring him back to earth. I don’t blame him at all.”
“Then what does he hope to accomplish with…trying…trying to snoop on our origins?!”
Youa sniffled a bit. “He just wants closure, okay? This is how he does it…I want him to be better.”
“Do you know what’s in there?” Franco asked.
“Fine, if you must, it’s just a compilation of police reports. I think some government reports about…extraterrestrials. I mean, you’re probably not that at all and just actual hellspawn,” said Youa. “But if he gets his closure by ruining you guys, well, the government is mighty fine at doing that.”
She gave Franco a sympathetic pout. “But I guess I should leave you two lovebirds to eat.” She set his lasagna down on the table. “Just so you know, I have to pay two hundred for Neuroscience 6th Edition alone. And it includes access to the online homework site, so I can’t just pirate it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said. He took a bite of his dinner. “It’s…zoo heev?”
“God, did Seng teach you that?”
“He drunkenly yelled it out tonight.”
“Yeah, I mean, it kind of stinks when you can’t really speak a language but it still likes to slip out,” Youa said. “But, eh, maybe you already knew that. I’ll come back for the dishes.”
Franco dug into the rest, cutting through layers of noodles and ricotta and thin aubergine and courgette slices. He was half-finished, and noticed Hannah’s bowl of soup still full and going cold.
“I thought we would have fun,” he said. “You’ve barely said a word all night.”
“Maybe we’re just different,” said Hannah. “And this is a weak broth. I think I expected something a lot more like pho broth…I mean, that’s still in, right?”
“Something’s gone wrong.”
“That’s just…normal, I guess. Normal around me.”
Franco look out the window, or at what he could, since the glass was still fogged over. But the snow fell even more, sticking to the grass and roads and even blowing over to the abandoned seating outside.
Things always went wrong for Hannah. And when it snowed, things usually died around Franco.
“No, we can get through this,” he said, reaching for her hand across the table. “It’s just a snag.”
A/N: So I found a Hmong phrasebook written by an actual person, so I got a little excited not having to rely on Google Translate and luck so much. 😀 (Granted, Google has come a long way from the shoddy online translators of old, by using context and especially as real living people can offer suggestions to improve its translations)
Zoo heev = “(This is) very good”
Kuv ntshai koj xam yuam kev lawm = “I’m afraid you made a mistake”