by green papaya
illustrated by PizzaCat
In the end, the solution was simple.
“A jade-bellied wasp,” Ronnie explained to the skeptical officers. “They’d have no problem traveling through a vent such as the one above Mrs. Hwasun’s bed, and they’re attracted to lilac water. All the perpetrator had to do was set one loose in the house and let it follow the scent right to her. If you’ll recall, she liked to mist the water over her pillows and linens to help her sleep at night. One startled movement and the wasp would have stung her—the venom only takes seconds to stop the heart and is virtually undetectable.”
“Then how did you detect it?” Christopher Hwasun, whose disgruntled presence Ronnie had requested, asked. “Are we just supposed to take your word for it?”
Ronnie considered skewering him through the eye but decided against it. Too much mess. “The victim’s blood. Once infected with the venom, it turns an interesting shade of chartreuse when mixed with something acidic. I asked my friends at the coroner’s office for a favor. All it took was a few drops of lime juice.”
Officer Snotty, whose real name Ronnie had forgotten long ago, blew his nose loudly. “That’s all well and good, Miss, but that still doesn’t tell us who the criminal is.”
Ronnie pointed to Christopher. “Why don’t you ask him? He made an interesting purchase at the insect vendor’s stall down by the harbor market last week. The seller will confirm it for you. How much did you stand to inherit from your aunt’s death again, Mr. Hwasun? Enough to cover the cost of a jade-bellied wasp ten times over, I’m sure.”
Christopher Hwasun was a strong man, but he was also spoiled and untrained. Ronnie easily sidestepped his clumsy lunge, his claws extending without need for conscious thought. It only took a flick of his wrist to slice Hwasun’s cheek to the bone, a centimeter under his left eye.
Hwasun went to his knees howling and Ronnie grabbed his chin. His claws pricked the man’s skin hard enough to gouge a few more holes. “It’s going to scar, but that’s a small price for taking your aunt’s life. Next time you feel the urge to murder a defenseless woman for her money, remember that I just might come back to collect your debt on this one.”
He wiped his claws clean on Hwasun’s expensive suit, blood staining the delicate yellow silk a rusted brown. “Tell your captain to wire me the rest of my fee,” he told Officer Snotty and his partner. “I’ll expect it within the hour.”
Officer Snotty sputtered. “Wait! You can’t just leave after doing—that!” He gestured at Hwasun, who, to Ronnie’s utter disgust, had started crying.
“I’m paid to solve the crime, and that’s exactly what I did. Be grateful I’m not going to charge extra for having to defend myself. Now if you’ll excuse me, officers.” He walked away, waving with his claws still extended. “I have an engagement tonight and I’m afraid I just can’t miss it.”
When he left the late Mrs. Hwasun’s home, the sun was already setting. That didn’t change much in terms of temperature—Xa Phia was always warm and muggy, even in the depths of night. The disappearing sunlight did, however, wake up the more interesting side of the city. Teahouses opened their doors, slowly filling to the brim with lights and customers and the combined fragrance of perfume and tea leaves, and vendors began offering alcohol alongside their dishes of glazed pig’s feet and pork-bone broth made hearty with blood clubes.
Ronnie hailed a taxi and the driver pulled up to the curb, rolling down his window. “And where can I take you tonight, missy?” he asked, leering.
Ronnie leaned into the cab’s window, his still-extended claws curling over the sill and screeching against metal. “The Lost Bird Inn, please. You know where that is?”
The driver’s sweat glistened in the glow of the overhead streetlamp. “O-Of course, Miss. Be happy to take you there.”
Ronnie slid into the backseat and made a show of examining his claws as the driver pulled away from the curb and into growing traffic.
“Don’t cut your nails much, do you?” he asked.
“It’s a genetic condition,” Ronnie said. “Runs in the family.”
Of course, Luna had had perfectly normal-length nails. Unlike Ronnie, who hadn’t learned to control his claws until he went to Sau Preparatory, their friends and family hadn’t been able to tell that there was anything different about her. Only Ronnie noticed her affinity with machines: the way the TV and radio always worked again when she touched them or the refrigerator seemed to hum in greeting when she sat at the kitchen counter, waiting for Ronnie to make them breakfast toast.
Wherever she was now, Ronnie hoped that she had the company of machines to keep her warm and sing her to sleep.
Ronnie and the driver sat in complete silence as they wove through Xa Phia’s congested streets. The man was visibly relieved to drop Ronnie off. He sped away as soon as Ronnie handed him the bills, and Ronnie chuckled. One more man who would think twice before looking at a girl the wrong way.
He retracted his claws before going into the Lost Bird Inn. There was no need to startle the other guests. Many of them were in the lounge, reclining in red velvet seats and drinking from crystal glasses as they chatted about the latest trade. They paid no attention to Ronnie as he passed by, which was exactly why he always stayed at the Inn when he was in Xa Phia.
His room had been tidied while he was gone. A plate of shortbread biscuits and a pot of tea sat on a tray by his bed, and he poured himself a cup before sliding the closet doors open and examining his options. Tonight’s function was only semi-formal, but his host did like it when he dressed up. He donned the canary yellow ao dai with the lacquered lotus-shaped buttons. Then he slicked his hair into a combover and applied orange blossom cologne to his wrists and throat.
All of his grooming would be undone before the night was over, but that was no reason to show up less than immaculate.
He hesitated before taking out a wooden box hidden in the compartment he’d made the last time he stayed at the Inn. A single ruby ring lay nestled against the black velvet, the stone cut into an oval and set with teardrop diamonds. It was obscenely large and as red as if it had been soaked in blood. Ronnie stroked its cut edges before sliding the ring onto his left index finger.
This time, when he passed through the lobby, the other guests did stare. Ronnie ignored them and headed back into Xa Phia’s humid nighttime, the ring heavy on his finger as he hailed another taxi and gave the driver his destination: “The Lotus Manor, please. You can take your time. I’m expected late.”
The Lotus Manor was lavishly decorated for the occasion: quaint paper lanterns hung from the entrance gates and eaves of the house, and the carefully tended peach trees on the lawn were strung with fairy lights. The flowerbeds and trellises had all been planted with night-blooming flowers, filling the night with the cloying scent of evening jasmine, wisteria, and tuberoses. It was all as unnecessarily decadent as the ring that Ronnie wore.
Berenice and her guests were sitting on the back veranda, which had a view of the Manor’s namesake: a large pond filled with lotuses in every shade from white to red. From the looks of it, they’d already finished dinner. The tablecloth was crisp and pristine, most likely a new one laid down after all the dishes were cleared, and the scent of lotus tea drifted from the tea pots on the table. Ronnie approached the table unheard and unseen, and announced himself by biting loudly into one of the sesame brittles piled on a porcelain platter.
The guests, a bunch of pedantics from the local university, collectively jumped. Ronnie found them boring, but they were at the tops of their respective fields. Berenice liked to fete them so she could listen to their theories and make innocuous comments that found their way into the next groundbreaking research and city policies.
Only she remained unruffled by his entrance. Ronnie wondered if she’d noticed him after all, or whether she just had a very good poker face.
“Hi,” he said, smiling widely. “Sorry I’m late.”
Berenice sounded amused as she said, “Hello, Veronica. You know how to make an entrance, as usual.”
“Says you. You’re making a bit of a statement yourself.”
As she often did when entertaining, Berenice wore a wig, but it wasn’t a staid one like other rich women wore. It was arranged in elaborate coils leaning precariously to one side and ornamented with jeweled pins and combs that glittered even more vividly against the wig’s dyed silver. She wore an ao tu than with an outer tunic made of pale blue chiffon and an yem of midnight blue brocaded silk, hand-stitched with gold thread in the pattern of phoenix feathers. There was a crinoline underneath the skirt, Ronnie noted with interest; it made the silk puff out into a bell shape.
“Anyone who wants a chance at being fashionable will be attempting to copy this look by the end of the week,” Ronnie said, walking around the table to kiss Berenice on the cheek. “The silver is a good touch.”
“Oh my, do you think so? I just didn’t want anyone to laugh at an old lady like me still pretending to have black hair.”
She was a picture of delicate beauty underneath the lamplight. Playing the part of a charming and frivolous aristocrat suited her well, but it wasn’t the act that Ronnie had come here for. “Nobody would dare laugh at you,” he said, quite serious. Berenice would never brook such insult. “If I could have a moment of your time?”
“Oh, of course.”
She made her excuses with the scholars—“A young friend of mine. He’s a detective, you know. Do help yourselves to the tea and dessert, and let the servants know if you require anything. I’ll be back shortly.”—and led Ronnie into the house.
“How did your case go?” she asked once they were out of earshot.
“Uneventfully,” he said. “I imagine it’ll be otherwise when Christopher Hwasun shows up to his murder trial with a scar across his face, but I’ll be gone by then.”
Berenice paused at the top of the stairs and turned around. She still looked the part of a smiling host, but her voice was too light-hearted as she asked, “You won’t be staying long?”
“You know I won’t. I need to keep looking for Luna.”
“If you stayed here, I could help you. All my resources would be yours. You’d find your sister much sooner.”
“And what then? You act like you’re being generous, but you’d charge a heavy price for that much help. What will it be? Being trapped here forever and groomed into the perfect heir for you?”
“You wouldn’t need much grooming,” she said dryly. “I’ve told you before, Veronica. You have everything I want in a successor. You already make your living by unraveling others’ conspiracies and plots. You just have to learn how to weave your own.”
She was the only person he let call him by his full name, the only person he loved hearing it from, but this was an old argument. “I don’t want your empire of lies and bribery, Berenice. I don’t want to spend my days spoonfeeding politicians and scholars too uninspired to write their own speeches and letting them take the credit for my brilliance.”
“Then what do you want?” Her voice had grown as sharp as the diamond pins she wore. “To waste your time traipsing from city to city, solving mundane problems for ineffectual police?”
Ronnie sighed. He lifted Berenice’s hand and kissed it softly. “Right now? I want to be your good girl, in a way that we’ll both enjoy.”
Her hand was paper light in his, the skin soft and cool. For a moment, she clenched her fist as if getting ready to pull away. But then she said, “You’re wearing the ring.”
“I wanted to please you,” he said quietly. An offering; a concession he could live with.
Berenice threaded her fingers through his, holding on with a strength that was always surprising, and pulled him the rest of the way up the stairs and down the hallway.
Until he’d met Berenice, Ronnie had been lost, a storm lashing over the ocean with no particular target or destination. He’d only wanted to find Luna. Luna, whom he’d left at Sau Preparatory with the promise of coming back for her after he’d found a cottage on the mountainside that was just like their childhood home. Luna, who had vanished by the time he came back. There were no records of her ever having been there, just like there were no records of him. All he could get out of the headmaster, even after shredding his face to ribbons, was that she had vanished, too.
Berenice found him a few months later in one of her political darling’s bedrooms, elbows-deep in his viscera.
“Oh,” she said, closing the door behind her. “I hope you don’t intend to kill me, too, now that I’ve seen this.”
He was still raw with grief from Luna’s disappearance, angry with everyone and with himself for having left her. He didn’t bother hiding his claws as he withdrew them from the man’s chest. His secret, the one his parents and the administrators at Sau Preparatory had worked so hard to hide from the world, bared to a stranger who didn’t even flinch. “That depends. Are you going to tell anyone?”
“That depends,” she echoed. “Why did you do this?”
“He killed a girl. The fishmonger’s sister. He told her he had a job for her, and then he took her to his basement and murdered her. I thought I’d return the favor.”
“How noble of you.”
“Not really. She fed me when I was starving, so I helped her.” He stood up, claws dripping blood and gore to the floor. “Are you going to call the police now?”
She reached inside her sleeve and Ronnie tensed, ready to cut her down. But all she withdrew was a crystal vial filled with pale, purple liquid. “I will, but I won’t let them arrest you. It would be a shame to send someone to prison after she saved me the trouble of wasting this very expensive poison.”
“He,” Ronnie said.
“Forgive me. I assumed you were a woman.”
“I am. I just…like those words better.”
She accepted it with ease, just like she would later accept everything else about him. “All right then. So tell me, my strange vigilante. How did you know he was a murderer?”
It had been eight years, but Ronnie remembered everything about that day, even the pattern of interlocking moons and stars on Berenice’s ao dai. She had ostentatious taste in clothing, and over time Ronnie found himself enjoying more colorful touches in his clothing as well. The ao dai he wore now had been something he designed himself, and Berenice noticed the little reminder of her when they sat down together on her bed.
“I don’t understand you,” she said, fingering the lotus-shaped buttons. “You do things like this but then when I try to draw you close, you make yourself cold and unapproachable.”
“Is it keeping me close or trapping me?”
“I would never trap you. When have you ever been anything but free to come and go as you please, to make your own decisions and carry out your own plans, even if they’re detrimental to mine?” Her voice had grown sharp, but it was a weapon wielded to fend off more injury.
Ronnie cradled her face in his hands and kissed her gently. “I’m sorry. That was a poor choice of words. You’ve been very careful of what I need.”
She forgave him by pulling him in again and pressing her lips to his, more insistent than he had been. The scent of her white plum perfume and the sweet, waxy taste of her lipstick filled him with something almost like homesickness. No matter how often he left, afraid of a life full of manners and masquerades, he would always come back to her. She had made a place for him even after Sau Preparatory had washed their hands of him, in house as well as heart.
When they parted at last she said, “Tell me what you want.”
He had been thinking about this since he started tracing his steps back to Xa Phia, so the answer came easily. “I want the chance to please you. I want to prove that I can be a good girl.”
“Do you want to show Mommy how well you can follow her instructions?”
The familiar title sent anticipation shivering down his spine. “Yes.”
“Is there anything you don’t want?”
It took him a little longer to answer this time, but in the strange longing that had filled him, something crystallized. “No spanking or any other pain, physical or otherwise. I don’t want to be punished tonight.”
The way she looked at him, like she understood exactly what he meant, made him feel bared to the bone. She nodded and said, “Then I only have one request.”
He waited while she went to her walk-in closet. When she returned, she held a wooden box in her hands, thinner and longer than the one which had housed Ronnie’s ring.
“It’s a birthday present,” she said, giving it to him. “I’d like to see you wearing them with the ring.”
He’d forgotten that his birthday was last week. As usual, Berenice hadn’t. “Isn’t thirty-three a little old for birthday presents?”
“Nonsense. You’ll never be too old for me to spoil.” She kissed him on the forehead, warm and soft. “Now be a good girl for Mommy and open the box.”
Ronnie didn’t like to listen to anyone, not even Berenice, on most days. But when it was just the two of them like this, intimate and safe with all the rules and boundaries defined, he could relax enough to let her take charge. It felt good not to think about anything except doing what he was told to. He opened the box and took out the studded earrings inside. Each was set with a ruby the same blood red as the one on his ring, this time cut into squares.
“Thank you, Mommy. They’re beautiful.”
Her pleased smile only made him want more approval. “You’re very welcome. I’ll put them in for you.”
He sat still, letting her stand close and caress his face and neck as she slid the earrings in and secured them. Then she turned his head side to side, admiring him. “What a handsome girl. I don’t think the earrings go with your ao dai, though. Take it off.”
Heat spread on Ronnie’s skin, thicker and heavier than Xa Phia’s congested air. By the time he finished undressing in front of Berenice’s intent gaze—“Everything, darling. I want to see you bared”—his skin was flushed and his nipples hard. Only the ring and earrings remained cool, just like Berenice’s hand as she trailed it down his neck and chest, only barely grazing over his nipples.
“Perfect,” she breathed. “I knew a matching set would suit you.”
Even though Ronnie knew the jewelry held no real power, the earrings and ring felt like a sigil binding him to Berenice. She’d picked them out for him, decorated him just the way she liked, and he’d agreed to it because he wanted to please her. Even more than that, he wanted to feel her mark on him.
Full of that need, he went to his knees on the floor and looked up at her. “Tell me what I need to do, Mommy.”
She cupped his face in her hands, a light touch that nevertheless held him in place, rapt. “Mommy is tired, dear. Help me get out of these clothes.”
Ronnie started with her wig. He set it gently on the wig stand, then returned to unpin her hair. When he’d first met her it had still been mostly black; now it was completely silver, though slightly duller than the wig’s glittering false color. He loosened the pins one by one, kissing her neck and throat as he did so, and her hair tumbled down her back.
“Should I brush it?” he asked, carding his fingers through the strands.
“In a little bit. Take some of these clothes off, first.”
The crinoline took a little bit of work, but eventually Berenice wore nothing except for the underskirt and yem. Without the wig and elaborate clothes, the careworn lines on her face were more apparent. Yet she moved with the same poise as she sat on the bed and crooked her finger at Ronnie, summoning him. “Now you can brush my hair, sweetheart.”
He kneeled behind her and carefully worked a boar bristle brush through her hair, untangling any knots by hand. It was mindless but enjoyable work. Berenice’s shoulders relaxed and her breathing became deeper with every stroke of the brush. She would never let anyone else see her like this, so the fact that she trusted him to do it, to take care of her when she wasn’t wearing a veneer, filled him with pleasure.
Eventually Berenice stopped him with a touch on his wrist. “That’s enough for now, sweetheart. Put the brush away. Mommy has something else for you to do.”
She leaned back against the headboard and untied her yem, letting the dark silk flutter onto the mattress, then patted the space between her legs. Ronnie crawled there eagerly, gaze fixed on her nipples, which were already stiff.
“That’s right. Mommy wants you to suck her tits. Do you want to?”
“Be a good girl then, and put your mouth to use.”
Ronnie wrapped his hands around Berenice’s breasts and squeezed, moaning at how heavy they were, before taking a nipple into his mouth and sucking. Her skin here was soft, the scent of white plum even stronger. Ronnie imagined her sitting in front of her mirror and dabbing perfume between her breasts, growing wet with the anticipation of having Ronnie’s mouth on her like this. He wanted to taste her down there, too, to be inside her already, but he knew he had to wait. He was a good girl who followed her instructions, and right now her instructions were to make her feel good just like this.
He lapped at her tits, circling his tongue around each of her nipples in turn before taking them back into his mouth. Remembering the last time they’d done this, he grazed his teeth gently over the swollen nubs and was rewarded with a loud cry of approval.
“That’s my good girl,” Berenice moaned, clutching at his hair. “Oh, yes. You’ve missed Mommy’s milk, haven’t you?”
Ronnie could only nod, his mouth stuffed with her tits. He couldn’t stop sucking on them, even as they grew slick with spit. It felt too good to have her in his mouth like this and to feel her writhing underneath him, her skin as hot as a branding iron now. But Berenice had other things in mind, because she pushed him away and said, “Go get your toy, sweetheart.”
He knew exactly what she meant and where to find it. Berenice had a large collection of dildos that she enjoyed using on him, but there was only one that she liked when he was penetrating her. She kept it in a wooden chest lined with red velvet, along with the harness that she’d had made especially to fit him. It cinched snugly around his waist, and he let out a pleased moan once everything was secured and he could see the dildo jutting out from between his legs.
Even better was seeing the hungry expression on Berenice’s face as she stroked and squeezed the dildo. “What a pretty cock for my pretty little girl. It’s perfect for making Mommy feel good.” She spread her legs, her skirt falling past her knees. “Use your fingers first. Stretch Mommy open so I can take your cock.”
Her clit was as swollen as her nipples, and Ronnie payed the same attention to it, rubbing in circles and long strokes until her cum was soaking the bed sheets. Only then did he thrust in, hard and even, his fingers quickly growing sticky. With every stroke, every moan or cry he coaxed from Berenice, his cunt grew wetter and more aching as well. He splayed his left hand against the mattress to brace himself, and when he glanced down he saw the ruby ring there, still cold and glittering and sharp, reminding him who he belonged to.
“Mommy,” he gasped. “Mommy, am I being a good girl?”
Berenice arched her back, grinding down on his fingers. “You’re being the best girl. On your back now. Mommy’s going to ride you.”
Everything in Ronnie’s mind and body was attuned to the simple task of obeying Berenice. Listening to her, gaining her approval, was its own form of pleasure. It even felt good to hold her hips as she straddled him and lowered herself onto the dildo.
“Oh, sweetheart,” she breathed. “You’re splitting me open.”
Ronnie couldn’t help laughing. “My cock isn’t that big, Mommy.” It was only average in width and length, nothing like the dildos she fucked him with. Berenice didn’t like pain or discomfort, unless she was inflicting it on Ronnie.
Berenice began rocking her hips. Her knees squeezed around Ronnie painfully and her nails, blunt as they were, dug into his skin where she gripped his shoulders for support. “It’s big enough. You’re stuffing my cunt, you sweet little girl.”
Even though it wasn’t the same as using his fingers and getting to feel for himself, Ronnie loved it when Berenice rode his cock. There was still intimacy in things like her skirt pooling around his waist and chest in an embrace; or looking up and seeing her mouth slack with pleasure, her hair clinging to her neck with perspiration. She was beautiful like this, as she was in every other way, and Ronnie felt fulfilled as she shook and moaned and used his body for her pleasure. That was the way things should be: belonging to someone, taking care of them and being useful to them.
“Sweetheart, oh my darling little girl. Touch my clit,” Berenice demanded, her breath coming in short gasps.
Ronnie slid his thumb between the folds of her cunt with practiced ease and stroked. He could tell from the fact that she was dripping cum and her thighs were shaking that she was close to climax. When it hit, he held on to her tightly, steadying her through the violent shudders that rocked her body.
For a few minutes, she lay slumped over him, her hair fanning over his chest. Ronnie missed her warmth and weight after she pulled off, but he obeyed her next instructions: “Lie back against the pillows and spread your legs. It’s your turn now.”
“What about this?” Ronnie ran his finger down the dildo, all slick and sullied now.
“Keep it on. You look pretty with it.”
She didn’t fuck him right away even though his cunt was aching, but he could be patient. He leaned into the soft pillows and let her take her time with his body. As always, she wanted to touch him everywhere. She stroked his hair, kissed his neck, ran her tongue over the shell of his ear and the studded earrings she’d bestowed on him. She tweaked and pinched his nipples to make them as swollen as he’d made hers, and tugged on the thick, wiry hair over his crotch until he was whimpering with pleasure at the sharp little sensations. All the while, she leaned so close to him that her hair and tits kept brushing against his sensitive skin, deepening the ache in his cunt.
He was sopping wet by the time she finally started touching his clit. He would have come right away if she hadn’t said, “Don’t come. Not until I tell you to.”
Ronnie wanted to cry from the pent up frustration. Of course it would be like this, though. He’d told her that he wanted the chance to prove he was a good girl, and she was giving it to him. He couldn’t disappoint her now. Clenching his teeth, he rode the waves of pleasure that zipped down his spine and suppressed the urge to let go.
Berenice might not have been punishing him, but that didn’t mean she had mercy. She pulled her fingers away every time he came close to orgasm, and the only comfort she gave was praise about what a good girl he was.
“Just a little more,” she crooned as he keened and thrusted his hips in a futile attempt to fill his empty cunt. “You’re being such a good girl for me right now. Wait a little more and I’ll reward you.”
It was difficult to bear having his arousal built up to such a peak, then have it all taken away until the moment had passed and all he was left with was desperation. Ronnie writhed and whined, but Berenice only kissed his forehead and told him to hold on a little longer. He didn’t even realize he was crying until the hot, salty tears stung his lips. Instead of failure, it only felt like a sweet release, all the self control he practiced in his everyday life unburdened from his shoulders at last.
Berenice licked his tears away. “Poor little darling. I’m pushing you too hard, aren’t I?”
All Ronnie could manage, his voice cracked, was, “Mommy, please.”
“I know, I know. You’ve been such a good girl for Mommy. You can come now. Let it all go, sweetheart.”
She pushed her fingers deep into his cunt and the sudden burning stretch brought Ronnie back to the peak in an instant. He only had a moment to revel in being filled up at last before his orgasm rolled over him, wiping every thought from his mind and leaving behind only pleasant white noise.
He lay still even after the sensations had subsided, content to remain in that suspended state. The only thing he could focus on was Berenice’s hand stroking his hair and her kiss on his forehead as she whispered, “Rest now, my precious girl. You did very, very well today.”
Ronnie woke up early the next morning to see that Berenice had laid out a blue silk robe for him, complete with a black velvet sash.
“Ostentatious, as always,” he murmured.
He found her on the back patio, platters of boiled pork, lettuce, cucumbers, and pickled vegetables spread on the table. She was dressed in a plain white cotton ao dai and her hair was neatly plaited.
“You look the complete opposite of last night,” he said, sitting across from her. “Now you’re only a simple but refined aristocrat, content to live in the countryside and avoid lavish parties.”
She waved her hand airily. “Oh Veronica. Last night was all a disguise. This is who I really am, you know.”
Ronnie smiled. “You wear it all so naturally.”
Soon he would leave, but for now he could stay and make spring rolls with Berenice in the warm, balmy morning. The memory would bring him back to her no matter how long he stayed away this time.
For she was everything and nothing she claimed to be, and what she truly wanted was too grand and ambitious for Ronnie to give her. Maybe one day it would be different; one day, after he’d found Luna and they had their little cottage on the mountainside. He would wear the ruby ring and earrings every day then, and wait for the flash of colorful silk and the smell of white plum blossom.