It was the middle of March. Hannah's birthday had arrived.
The sky was a little dark. Thinking that it might rain, Li Du brought an umbrella with him when he left in the morning.
Spring rain was as precious as oil; especially so Arizona, one of the states with the least rainfall in America.
He brought Ah Meow with him to Hannah's apartment. Once he entered the door, Ah Meow's eyes became wide and round like saucers. It licked its lips, twitching its little nose, and went straight to the kitchen.
The house was full of the buttery aroma of baked goods—something only second to seafood in Ah Meow's book.
Hearing Ah Meow, Hannah, in her apron, knew who had arrived at once. Without even popping her head out, she called from the kitchen, "Hey, Li, you're early! Hans is still sleeping."
Hans's voice traveled down the stairs. "I can hear you. I woke up awhile ago!"
The siblings started bickering.
"Happy birthday, Hannah," Li Du greeted her. "I wish you happiness, and that every day, and every year, you will be just as happy as today. Big Fox, shut up. Hannah's the star today. Whatever she says goes."
"Fine. I'll listen to you, Li." Hans padded down the stairs lazily.
Li Du washed his hands and then went to help out in the kitchen. "Will there be many guests today?" he asked. "You're making the cake quite early."
"Of course!" Hannah smiled. "I'll need to welcome the guests, so I won't have time to do anything else later."
There were piles of ingredients in the fridge and the pantry. Li Du said, "I'll help you. Why don't you just go and rest after you finish the cake? This is your day. We can't let you do so much work."
Hannah didn't decline his offer. She left after thanking him.
"You won't change your mind?" Hans asked, leaning on the door. "Hannah is a really great girl."
Li Du pared the tomatoes effortlessly. "I agree with you. Hannah is a great girl," he said, "but there's no spark between us. We are good friends, but we wouldn't be a good couple."
Hans opened his mouth to say something, but Hannah's voice cut him off. "Big Fox, come over here. Help me put these lights up. Stop lazing around, alright?"
At around ten in the morning, the guests started arriving. The little house began to bustle merrily.
Hannah introduced Hans and Li Du to her guests. Most of those who had already arrived were her friends. She worked at a convenience store; it was quite large, with 14 people staffed in total. All eight of those who had the day off came to the party.
Hannah was obviously quite popular.
Her colleagues lined up like soldiers for review to greet Hans and Li Du. Wearing expressions of awe, they extended their hands in greeting.
Li Du smiled. "What is this? We're Hannah's brothers, not your commanders. Aren't you guys being a little too formal?"
A young man said, "Hello, Li. We've all heard about you. The whole of Flagstaff is talking about you two. We've heard amazing things about your treasure hunting!"
Li Du understood—Hannah had probably been talking about them. Otherwise, these people wouldn't gape at Hans and himself as if they were their idols.
Hans was very good at handling situations like this. He broke the ice and blended in with everyone very quickly. Very soon, he was heatedly discussing with some of the other guys about which girls from the red light district were good in bed and the details about their nice legs.
Hannah and Hans's relatives arrived a bit later. Family members such as their paternal aunt, maternal uncle, and many others walked rolled in. Altogether, there were probably twenty-something of them.
Americans placed a lot of weight on family ties. Hans put on a steady, reliable image in front of his elders.
At almost noon, another group of people dropped in; the mechanic Stephen, with some other people around his age. Hannah hugged them happily. From their conversations, Li Du inferred that they had been classmates in middle school.
Li Du was a quiet person. The house was full of born and bred Americans. He didn't really feel at ease there, so he volunteered to prepare food in the kitchen.
Hans saw him as a brother and pulled him back, saying, "Why would we need you to cook? We can just grill some meat or call some take-out. Come, let's get you introduced to your new relatives."
"My new relatives?" Li Du noticed that Stephen's face had turned pale, and he was staring intently at Li Du.
Hans seemed quite matter-of-fact. "Yeah. You're my brother. Doesn't that make my relatives yours as well?"
Stephen's face resumed its normal color. The dark clouds in the sky outside brightened as well.
Li Du insisted on going into the kitchen. Hannah asked if she could help, but he said to leave everything to him.
Stephen and some of his classmates also came into the kitchen. A guy with a head full of dreadlocks piped up, saying, "It's almost half past eleven. There's barely enough time for you to make one dish. What is this? Are you putting on a show?"
Hannah glared at the dreadlocks guy. "Clyne, don't say that."
Stephen shook his head at Clyne. "Li was in the kitchen all morning. That wasn't very fair to him."
In a low voice, Clyne said, "You idiot, Stephen. You're just as daft as you were in middle school. Do you want to just watch as Hannah gets snatched away? You should be using every chance you get to put him in his place!"
The kitchen was quite small, so everyone heard him. Stephen hastily waved his hand. "Don't, Clyne—for the sake of Mother Mary, don't say things like that."
Li Du looked at the dreadlocks guy with interest. "Your name is Clyne? It's now half past eleven. How about having lunch at twelve? I'll prepare a feast for you guys. A Chinese banquet."
"In half an hour?" Clyne sneered. "On your own? Impossible!"
"How about this—let's bet. The one who loses has to do something for the winner. Of course, it can't be too large a favor. Do you accept?"
Dreadlocks Guy wasn't a brash person. Seeing Li Du's confidence, he hesitated.
Some of his classmates egged him on.
"Go on, Clyne—there's no way he can whip up a feast in half an hour!"
"There are more than 30 of us! A feast for that many in half an hour, on his own? Ha! Not unless he's the magician, David Copperfield!"
"Beat him, Clyne, for Stephen!"
With so many people egging him on, Clyne couldn't back down. He folded his arms arrogantly and said, "Fine. Let's bet."
Stephen tried to stop him. "Don't, man. Hans told me that Li has a nickname called Gao Jing among the Chinese."
Dreadlocks Guy looked confused. "Who is Gao Jing?"
"The Chinese call him Gao Jing—the legendary God of Gamblers," explained Hannah.
Smiling, Li Du pushed them out of the kitchen. "Alright, the bet has started. Everyone give me some space. I'm going to start now."
On his way out, Dreadlocks Guy asked, "Are you really the God of Gamblers? Who's better—you, or Peter Eastgate?"
Peter Eastgate was a Danish man who was extremely well-known in the American gambling world. In 2008, Las Vegas held an international poker competition where Peter won the championship—his prize was 915,000 dollars and fame throughout America!
Li Du just smiled. "You'll find out in half an hour."