I asked myself if I was mad when we met at the airport bus station, then again when we arrived at the terminal, and a third time when we found our seats and buckled in. There's a thousand and one ways this could go wrong, too many potential disasters to even name let alone contemplate. Sakura had dressed up for the occasion in a cheerful red blouse and fluffy skirt, all smiles and anticipation of what Hong Kong would hold for her. Didn't she remember the last time she saw it? Or the time before that? So many bad memories, but still she held onto my hand and watched our descent towards HKI airport with eager green eyes.
"Ne, ne, Syaoran! This airport is huge. It's so beautiful!"
"Wow, look at the Christmas tree! I think it's taller than the penguin slide!"
"Wasn't it here last time you came?"
"Mmm... come to think of it, I think it was! It's still very beautiful, though." She linked her fingers through mine and beamed, typical Sakura. She followed me faithfully out of the baggage claim area, but looked surprised when I turned toward the exit instead of the train stop. "Isn't the Airport Express the best way to get to the island? I remember that's what Onii-chan read in the guide book when we came."
"Yes, if you're a guide-book reading tourist." I tried to keep the smugness out of my voice. "But my family's car is waiting to pick us up. Come on."
I led her outside and she bubbled over with delight at the temperate afternoon that greeted us, cool and dry compared to the bitter and slushy cold of a Japanese winter. Then she got a good look at the car door I was opening and her jaw really dropped.
"Sugoi! That's your car, Syaoran?"
"Not my car," I mumbled, tossing in the luggage before Chang could get out and do it for me. "Everyone uses it."
"But still..." Her eyes were perfectly round, and I wished we had taken the Express after all. I never wanted Sakura to be intimidated by my family's money, especially since her brother has some kind of problem with it. I held open the door for her and she crept it, still looking awed. "Nihao. I'm-"
She broke off when she found herself staring at the tinted divider, a little puzzled. "Syaoran, why is that glass up? The driver can't hear me."
"He's, uh, not used to people introducing themselves in this car, Sakura, most of the people in this car don't talk to him. That's up for privacy."
"Oh." Her eyes kept getting bigger, and I tried to distract her by pointing out the scenery. That at least rekindled her enthusiasm, and she passed the short trip trying to pick out the landmarks that she remembered and match buildings to names. We dipped below the harbor to drive through the underground tunnel, then turned the opposite way to climb Victoria Peak's steep roads. She boggled at the impressive view, then boggled some more when we swept into the driveway of my home.
"Sakura, you've seen it before."
"I know... but it's so much bigger than I remember." She tilted her chin up to take it all in while I struggled to carry both her suitcases and mine. "It's a very old mansion, isn't it? Has your family owned it for a long time?"
"This one and all the others," I grumbled. "None of them have air-conditioning."
"That's alright; the weather is just right how it is. The winters must be so nice here."
"Only until typhoon season." She climbed the steps to our front porch and I almost jumped in front of her, ignoring the way the straps dug painfully into my shoulders. "Wait!"
"Sakura, I- I just want you to know that, whatever happens inside this house over the next two weeks, I really love you." I took her hand and grasped it firmly. "Remember that."
"Syaoran!" she laughed. "It's your sister's wedding! What on earth do you think is going to happen?" She tugged her hand out of mine and opened the door for me, and we entered my house. Three seconds later, all hell broke loose.
As if they'd been lying in wait, all four of my sisters converged on the front sitting room, stampeding toward a paralyzed Sakura. Weighed down by luggage, I could do nothing before they'd simultaneously tackled her in a hug. Fei Mei actually pushed me into the door to clear her path.
"It's Sakura! He brought her, he really brought her this time!"
"Oh my god, she's just as cute as I remember!"
"But she's beautiful like a grown up woman too!"
"Yes, yes, doesn't she look amazing! What a cute skirt! I love it, where did you buy it?"
"Did Xiao Lang promise to take you shopping? I sure hope he did, because Hong Kong has the best shopping in the world and we'll definitely take you to all the 'in' shops!"
"And we can take you to the best restaurants too! But maybe Xiao Lang already promised to take you to the most romantic places -"
"Silly, our brother would never do that!"
"Oh, you're right. But don't worry, Sakura, we'll make him take you!"
"Hey!" I tried, only to be ignored.
"Are you hungry, Sakura? Thirsty? I hope you didn't eat any of that horrible airplane food, because we just set out tea and were waiting for you to begin."
"Mama just can't wait to see you again!"
And without even glancing in my direction they herded her down the hall and into the rear parlor, with its bay windows open to catch the mild breeze. Wei was putting the final touches on the table when they all entered, me trailing behind, and looked up with a pleased smile.
"Sakura-sama. How lovely to see you again."
"Wei-san!" Sakura looked relieved to see someone she knew a little better than the rest, and after a moment's awkwardness on how to greet him settled for a generous hug around the chest. "You look wonderful! It's so great to see you too!"
"I hope you have been taking good care of Syaoran-sama for all of us."
"I try." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and then Fu Di propelled her to the couch, sitting her firmly down in the middle so that Fu Di, Fei Mei, and Fan Ren could squeeze in around her. Mother was already seated in one of the armchairs and Shi Fua shoved me out of the way when I tried to sit in the other. Huffily I dropped into a cross-legged posture on the carpet.
"Sakura," my mother said graciously, "I'm very happy you were able to come visit us for the holiday. Xiao Lang's sisters and I have been anxious to see you again for a long time."
"Forever!" broke in Fei Mei, and everyone nodded vociferously.
"Yes, we've asked him and asked him and he always refused! It's like he's ashamed of us or something!"
"Imagine that," I muttered, helping myself to a generous slice of chocolate cake.
"She-she," Sakura anunciated in careful Cantonese. "I'm very glad to be here. I'm sorry I couldn't come sooner, but it really isn't Syaoran's fault. We've both been so busy."
"He's been busy keeping you all to himself, you mean!"
"No, no, really. Syaoran is on the football team, and he's been working so hard. And I'm a cheerleader, so I have a lot of practicing in addition to the game performances."
Everyone squealed. "She's a cheerleader!"
"Oh, of course, doesn't she just have the cutest face for it?"
"And she's got such a perfect figure too, I'm really envious!"
"Does Xiao Lang kiss you on the field for good luck before a game?"
I choked on my cake and Sakura's face turned the color of her blouse. "Ano..."
"Or does he kiss you afterwards in the celebration?"
"Does our female-phobic brother even kiss you at all?"
"Girls," my mother remonstrated, not nearly sharply enough, and they subsided. The worst thing about looking at Sakura's bright blush was knowing I probably had a similar one on my face. What is it with my sisters? "Please do tell us more about your activities at the Japanese college. It's very difficult to get my son to share anything."
"Er, well..." She plucked up her smile again and proceeded to tell my family all about Towa: about living with Tomoyo in the dorms, about the football team and the cheerleader squad, about all her difficult classes and how well I always did in mine, including her father's. "Did he tell you? My father selected him to be on the school's archaeology team to Belize. It's all the way over in South America! He was the only first-year student asked to go."
"EHHH?" shrieked all my sisters, and turned accusing eyes on me.
"I was going to tell you," I muttered into my cup. "Eventually."
"Our little brother is going to America! It's so exciting!"
"South America, Fan Ren."
"Even so! Even we've never been to the Americas!"
"Are you going somewhere dangerous?"
"Will there be ferocious natives?"
"Don't be ridiculous," I sighed.
Sakura was smiling more naturally now. "He's really excited about it, even though he doesn't talk about it very much. He's got lots of books on Belize and the Mayans in his apartment. I'm so glad that he and my father will have this chance to work together, but I'm a little worried that my father won't be able to get away from the site in time for our wedding."
All of my sisters' jabber cut short abruptly, and four pairs of eyes snapped back to Sakura. "What?" they asked in unison.
Oh - shit - no.
"The wedding. We decided we wanted it to be in the spring, but we haven't decided on a date yet." Her hands had been folded neatly in her lap all this time, but she raised her left one and held it out so all could see the ring. "You haven't seen it yet, have you? My friend Tomoyo-chan helped him pick it out. He really surprised me when he asked!"
I threw myself at the doorway a heartbeat too late; Shi Fua caught my hair and held on with the grip of a praying mantis. "Yeoowch!"
"You... proposed?" Fei Mei asked quietly, the air around her dark with menace. The other three looked the same.
"I meant to tell you," I gasped, trying without success to pry Shi Fua's fingers off. "I just-"
"ForGOT! You FORGOT to tell us you asked Sakura to MARRY you! Your own family!"
"I told Mother!" Tears were starting to come to my eyes. "I told her in June!"
"But you left US out?"
"Mother..." I appealed, but all she did was take a sip of her tea.
"It was your responsibility to tell them, Xiao Lang. Don't look at me."
"You heartless thing!" Fu Di wept. "And I was sure to tell you about my proposal right away! Don't you care about us at all?"
"I- ouch! Let go, damn it!"
"No! Not until you say you're sorry!"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"
"Hmph!" She released me and I collapsed to the floor, massaging my tender scalp. Sakura wasn't used to seeing someone physically abuse me and stared with wide eyes. "You deserve it, Xiao Lang. Imagine, being engaged for six months and not even telling your own sisters. Why don't you just pretend we don't exist?"
"Futile experience has taught me better?"
"Meanie! We're not talking to you!" All at once they turned their attention back on Sakura.
"So how did he ask?"
"Was it romantic?"
"Or did he just stumble over the words and throw the ring at you?"
"What month will you be married in?"
"You'll marry here, won't you?"
"Yes, it's tradition for all the Lis to marry here on the hill, overlooking Victoria Harbor. I'll be getting married here in our backyard. You could do the same!"
"Will you come and live here?"
"Will you want to have children right away?"
Looking absolutely overwhelmed, Sakura pressed back against the cushions under the barrage of questions. Again my mother intervened.
"Girls, these are difficult decisions. Do allow her time to consider the answers."
"Gome- I mean, I'm sorry. I really don't know yet; we haven't talked about those things." She sent me a fleeting look of panic, as if to ask why we hadn't. I could only shrug; I didn't know why anymore than she did.
"That's enough interrogation for now, girls, Sakura seems very tired. Why don't you let her go freshen up and unpack?"
"Yes, of course, sorry about that, Sakura."
"We'll talk later, okay? I've got all my bridal magazines that you can read."
"And you must meet my little boy when he wakes up - he's just adorable!"
"And my girls, too!"
"Xiao Lang, why are you just sitting there? Go get Sakura's bags already. I'm sure you weren't going to make her carry them up the stairs."
I shot Fu Di a dark look and stood, head still in considerable pain. "I'm getting up, already. C'mon, Sakura, I'll show you to my room."
Collectively, all four of them gasped.
"Xiao Lang, I hope you don't think you're going to keep Sakura in your bedroom while you stay!"
Fu Di and Fan Ren jumped to their feet and pulled Sakura and me apart, shaking their heads and clucking their tongues. "There are little children in this house, Xiao Lang! And besides, it's my wedding and I don't want any 'impure' activities going on under this roof."
"I don't care if she is your fiance, you're not married yet and you should not be engaging in naughty behavior."
If it hadn't been red before, my face certainly was now. "Fu Di, stop talking. NOW." Thank God she'd switched to Chinese and Sakura was merely following the conversation with an expression of bemusement.
"Sakura can sleep in Fan Ren's old room with Meilin, when she arrives," my sister continued, blithely ignoring my embarrassment. "And her American boyfriend and Guo-Gia will sleep in your room."
"Oh, don't bother with that horrified look, Xiao Lang. It's not as if it's that long of a time. And we give you permission to kiss her in the hallway before you go to bed."
Everyone giggled, and I thought about crawling under the couch and not coming out for, oh, two weeks. Instead I clenched my jaw and extended a hand.
"Come on, Sakura. I will show you to... where you'll be sleeping."
"Door is open at all times when you're inside!" crowed Fan Ren, and they all dissolved into laughter.
"What did she say that was so funny, Syaoran?"
Only a thousand and one ways to go wrong, this trip. And we were already well under way.