“Gōng xǐ fā cái.” Phil attempted once more feeling a little more confident with the pronunciation since arriving two hours ago.
The older couple just smiled and continued on into the parlour. They were speaking in Mandarin and he heard his partners name and that nice young man mentioned. He had that ‘meet the parents’ feeling again. Standing in the kitchen he finally had a moment to breath. He was grateful to May for inviting him. She had known what today was and was trying to keep his mind off of it.
“There you are.” His partner said as she entered the room. “Hiding out in the kitchen won’t help you.”
“I wasn’t hiding. Well not really.”
“You get enough to eat?” she asked motioning for him to sit down with her at the breakfast nook.
“Oh yeah. I’ve had so many dumplings and something called tāngyuán.” By May’s reaction he was certain that he had just butchered that particular word. “It’s all been delicious.”
“I think we need to continue those lessons.”
“I might not have the pronunciations down but I have been able to understand a lot. You didn’t tell anyone I had been learning the language?”
“Of course not. It’s more fun this way.”
“Fun for whom? I’ve been either that nice young man or Qiaolian’s young suitor all afternoon. I’m not that nice or that young.”
May laughed at him and poured herself some wine from a bottle sitting on the table.
“Count yourself lucky. I’ve been getting ‘when are you getting married’ crap since we walked in.”
“I don’t understand. Surely you’re mother has told your relatives we only work together.”
“She wouldn’t do that. Again it’s more fun that way.”
“I can see where you get that mean streak from.” He said laughing before grabbing her glass and finishing her wine.
“I learned to prank from the best.”
They were both laughing now as May refilled the empty glass. It became quiet as they shared the glass listening to the activity around other parts of the May household.
“I know why you invited me today and I want to thank you. I’ve had a really good time.” He told her.
“I didn’t think this would be a good day for you to be alone and it’s always fun to witness the madness of other people’s families.” She responded touching his arm lightly.
“It was nice to be involved in some family madness. I haven’t had that for quite some time.”
“We never really talked at the time but I’m so sorry Phil.”
“When it happened I didn’t think it would be too difficult. I had been through it with my Dad but it was worse. I never really knew my Dad. I see that now. I knew him with a kid’s eyes. My Mom I knew as an adult. I couldn’t thank you at the time but I can now.”
“For keeping me from doing something reckless. Those first weeks were tough. But you had my back and kept me in line. Thank you Melinda.” He said and pulled her into his arms. The move caught her off guard but after a moment she relaxed and hugged him back.
They held each other for a few minutes before being interrupted by someone hitting the kitchen table. They pulled apart to see a red envelope placed in front of May by her mother.
“I hope that,” Mrs May said pointing back and forth between the two of them, “means this will be the last one.”
“Mom,” May said more exasperated than usual, “we are just friends. The three of us have worked a few intercompany ops before. You more than anyone should know we work together.”
Phil held back a chuckle. It was nice for once to not be the source of bother for either of the May women. He heard her father calling out to his wife from another room. The older man appeared in the doorway with a look that mirrored his partner’s.
“Lian stop tormenting her. Come back out to our guests.”
Mrs May didn’t say anything but walked over to Phil. He wasn’t sure what to expect.
“Phillip I’m glad you were able to be here today. I hope you have had a pleasant time.”
“Gōng xǐ fā cái.” He said. Hoping this was the correct response.
“That was all right but it sounded a bit like Melinda’s accent. When you are in DC again for a stretch come and see me. We can work on that.”
The older woman didn’t say anything else but let Mr May guide her out of the kitchen.
“So how much is in the envelope?” he asked trying to change the subject for his friend’s sake.
May didn’t say anything but ripped the envelope open. He could see it was empty.
“Isn’t there supposed to be money in there?” Phil asked as she stood walking away in the direction her parents had.
He wasn’t sure what that meant but he knew Melinda wasn’t too happy. He got up to follow her into the other room. She was his family now and he would be there whenever she needed him.