Kowloon, Hong Kong, 1997
"Someone's outside. Who could it be?" Jillian thought as she hesitantly approached the front door. Both of her parents were out and though they had explicitly told her not to answer it for anyone, she couldn't help but stand on her toes to look through the peephole.
There was no mistaking the distorted but familiar figure outside for anybody else. She stepped away from the door with an excited smile and made a quick rush to the bathroom to check her reflection, before running back to greet the visitor.
It was none other than her classmate and crush Peter Tsui, whom she had known since primary school. Of course, he had come a long way from being a goofy little kid with missing teeth and she now considered him to be the most attractive boy in her social circle.
She opened the door and there he stood in the hall, dressed in a white suit while holding a bouquet of roses and a bunch of brightly colored balloons.
"Hello. Is it me you're looking for?" He inquired in a sing-song voice while giving her a charming smile.
Jillian placed both hands where her heart was and squealed in delight.
"Oh my God, yes!"
"Hey, stop dreaming!" Cecilia urged while pinching her in the arm hard. "We need to get back to class now!"
Jillian returned to reality with a gasp and threw her head around in alarm before remembering that she was still at school. She must have started daydreaming at the sight of Peter looking nicer than usual, though now that he was gone, she had missed another chance to search for signs of interest.
"How am I supposed to know whether he likes me or not?"
They left the schoolyard while their mutual friend Vicki Lo tagged along. The latter noticed Jillian's glum expression and piped up in her bubbly voice.
"You look sad. Is something bothering you?"
"Nothing. I'm just tired..." Jillian replied in an attempt to deter Vicki from asking too many questions, but Cecilia intervened.
"No, she's not. Jillian here, is in love. That's what's going on."
"Really?!" Vicki exclaimed with wide eyes. "With who?"
"Nobody! I'm not in love with anyone!"
"Of course you aren't..." Cecilia deadpanned before the subject was quickly abandoned. This did not mean that it would be forgotten however, as the girl became determined to 'help' Jillian win over the boy she happened to like.
Two candles lit up the bridal chamber as Kwok Jyu-ling sat down beside her husband-to-be on the night of their wedding. She could vaguely make out his features through her veil and from what it seemed, he was quite handsome.
Her heart raced and she took a deep breath when he extended both hands to slowly unveil her face.
His eyes dilated the moment the veil was off completely and Jyu-ling blushed at the discovery that he looked even better without anything obstructing her view.
"You're beautiful..." He murmured in awe while sitting back down.
"I...I know..." Jyu-ling answered foolishly with a bashful smile, something which attracted a chuckle of amusement from him.
"Isn't this great? We're agreeing on things already, I think-"
Unfortunately, Tsui Pak Hei's words were interrupted by a loud crash outside, followed by panicked arguing. He and Jyu-ling stood up in alarm to figure out what was happening, before the door to the chamber swung open.
"My daughter, there's been a mistake!" Mr Kwok cried out as he charged into the room, out of breath. "Step away from him now!"
Jyu-ling froze and stared at her father in shock.
"F-Father, what's going on?!"
"The matchmaker was drunk. They sent you to the wrong household!"
"No, father! That can't be true!" Jyu-ling protested hysterically, glancing toward Pak Hei and refusing to believe their time together was over already.
"It is. Now, come with me. We can still make things right..."
He grabbed her by the arm, prompting her to scream and resist.
"Please, let me go! I want to stay!"
"So, are you going to watch the Handover Ceremony? I am...ouch!"
Jillian briefly stopped combing her hair in front of the mirror and turned to respond to Cecilia while the latter tried with little avail to pluck her eyebrows.
"Are you okay?" She asked in concern as Cecilia gave up and shoved the tweezers back inside her school bag.
"Yeah, of course I am. I'll just try again later..."
"I think your brows are nice enough on their own."
"Don't use such blatant flattery. I know false reassurance when I hear it..."
"What?" Jillian said quietly, blinking in surprise at her friend's sudden use of complicated phrases. "Speak normally, please..."
"I'm saying that it's obvious when you're trying to make me feel better. By the way, you haven't answered my question. Are you watching-"
"No, I doubt it. My parents only allow me to stay up late during New Year's."
"Cecilia, is that a bad thing?"
"No, not at all. If I'm going to be honest, I think this Handover business is just a farce. They say nothing's really going to change for us..."
"Well..." Jillian began, remembering that her parents were from Mainland China as she placed her comb away. "...I hope that's true. It would be terrible if we had to start driving on the right. Or follow their other laws."
"You mean their lack of them..." Cecilia replied derisively. "Have you heard of what happens in Beijing?"
Jillian wasn't exactly sure what made her want to don a blonde wig and large sunglasses to hide her identity for a night out, but it seemed like a fun idea regardless.
The disguise had the effect of making her look rather alien and mysterious to other people on the street, which resulted in them steering clear away from her.
"Who do you think that woman is?" One bystander whispered to another.
"I don't know. Some gangster's girlfriend? We'd better not mess with her..."
Jillian was able to enter a bar without getting hassled for identification, partially because of the bartender being intimidated by her ambiguous appearance. He distracted himself by focusing solely on the other customers.
A lonely young man soon walked in as well and rather bravely sat down right beside her.
"Hello, cool and exotic lady. My name's Pak Hei, what's your's?"
"It's none of your business."
"Can I buy you a drink?"
"Get lost. You don't mean anything to me..."
"Uh, okay..." He said dejectedly, though he did not leave his seat.
"You're not going to move somewhere else?"
"I think I know what you're going through. You've just been wronged by your boyfriend or some other man and came here to drown your sorrows. You think that by hiding your face, others won't see the tears and you'll feel less vulnerable..."
Jillian turned to face him with a mixture of annoyance and surprise at his insight. However, she wasn't about to let him win so easily.
"Me, vulnerable? If you ask me, you just described yourself."
Jillian once again scolded herself for dreaming as it became clear that she'd been brushing the same strands of hair repeatedly for the past few minutes. The sound of her father's footsteps outside were a sign that she needed to hurry up, for he was the sort of man who tended to become irritable when anyone kept him waiting.
"Ling! You'd better finish soon! Your father doesn't have as much time as you!" He bellowed just as expected, prompting her to immediately stop what she was doing and charge out of the bathroom to finish things in her bedroom instead.
He gave a loud grunt and hardly acknowledged her as they passed each other, though Jillian had grown quite accustomed to such indifference from him by now. He was a traditional man with no chance of getting a son after a surgical operation had rendered Mrs Kwok unable to fall pregnant again.
Regardless, the attention Jillian received from her mother didn't always feel like enough and it was for that reason, she couldn't wait to attend university in a couple of years. It would be a relief to live away from her parents for once and perhaps, she would even get a job that paid enough to allow a chance to pamper herself.
"It would be so great if I could dye my hair and wear makeup. Or maybe even get my ears pierced..."
Peter Tsui adjusted his spectacles as Jillian arrived by his side to observe the latest picture he'd completed. The two of them sported hairstyles and outfits reminiscent of the fashionable upper class during the 1960s.
"So, you paint?" Jillian asked while peering over his shoulder in admiration.
"Yes..." He replied, turning to look at her with great restraint. "But I like to draw as well..."
"Really?" She said in surprise before lowering her voice to a whisper. "Can I ask you for a favor then? I want you to draw me like one of your Japanese girls..."
"Um, okay. I'd be glad to..." Peter agreed, clearly flustered by her bold request. "Pose in front of the sofa for me..."
Jillian complied by striking the sassiest pose she could imagine and staying still for as long as it would take for him to finish drawing. The minutes ticked by at a snail's pace and Peter had to wipe the sweat off his brow several times from the sheer effort and concentration his next masterpiece required.
"It's finished at last..." He muttered wearily in triumph an hour later and stood up to relax his legs. "You can start moving again."
A sigh of relief escaped Jillian's lips and she too, began stretching her limbs to loosen them up. Once she was done, Peter called for her attention so that he could show off the result of his hard work.
She held her breath in anticipation as he slowly turned the easel around to reveal a large and crude drawing of Sailor Mercury from the Sailor Moon animated series.
"Oh my God, Peter! It's amazing!"
Jillian Kwok: Jyun Choi-nei
Cecilia Chan: Lau Piu-piu
Vicki Lo: Zhao Fangfang
Peter Tsui: Tom Hao
Mr Kwok: Cheung Wan-To
Mrs Kwok: Sandy Koh