Lilly recounted her adventure to Adria and their moms, making sure to leave out the part about how she escaped from Emmy’s bedroom window. Lilly ended the story of her time in China by telling how Sarah went into labor aboard the airplane just as they were landing in California. (Bo had landed his helicopter in Seoul, South Korea, where they boarded a flight to America.) They rushed her off to a local hospital just in time to have her impatient newborn be delivered by professionals. When Bo returned to his home and workplace in China, he had made sure to send back all of Mr. Hill and Lilly’s personal items for them. “So we didn’t get to see the chocolate museum or camp on the Great Wall of China, but in the end, our trip to Beijing was totally worth it,” Lilly concluded.
The faces of Adria, Mrs. Sinise, and Mrs. Hill were spellbound—all three mouths open wide. Mrs. Hill was the first to speak.
“Honey, I wish I knew you were making all this up. As unlearned as I am in matters of law and foreign affairs, I know that the Chinese government is nothing to play with. And now, I wish I could have been on that helicopter to help out that brave lady – Sarah.”
Lilly stared at her mother from across the small table. “Um, Mom, we all know that you faint at the very sight of blood. A bloody little baby would just be the final blow. Remember the time I got that gash on my knee from falling off my bike. Dad had to bandage it up while you were passed out on the floor. Then we both had to revive you.”
Mrs. Hill wrinkled her forehead and laughed. “Forgive me, but I don’t quite remember it like that, girlfriend. Although it is a wonder how I use so much dark red in my fashion collections,” she mused.
“Hold a minute,” Adria said popping the last of her shrimp corn cake into her mouth. “Lilly, you never told us exactly how you were able to get free from the locked room.”
“Yeah,” Lilly acknowledged slowly. “That was on purpose. I’ll tell you later, Adria, in private. I don’t want to scare you, Momma.”
“O.K.,” Adria said.
“Please don’t,” Mrs. Hill agreed. “You have already scared me enough as is, but if I get wind of anything else dangerous your dad lets you do, I’m talking to him about this—not with him, to him. You hear?”
“It was all me,” Lilly said defending her father. She knew her Mom secretly enjoyed hearing about their frequent escapades and wouldn’t forcefully object to Lilly traveling unless she seriously got hurt, or unless the travels interfered with her education and other goals.
Mrs. Hill smiled lovingly. “Well, we better get going, baby. I want to cook something special tonight in honor of the Carrigs. It was wonderful meeting up with you girls, Ava and Adria. Let’s do it again soon.”
Lilly left a tip near her plate and said her goodbyes. She was eager to host Manchu, Sarah, and their newborn baby for dinner.
Later that evening, Lilly waltzed into her family’s sunny San Diego home kitchen to check on her mother who was whipping up the dish they had decided on—curry chicken with tawa pulao.
“Momma, the Manchus haven’t eaten real American food since they left China,” Lilly stated. “Why did we pick out an Indian meal?”
“Because we are weird like that,” Mrs. Hill answered matter-of-factly. “At least, it looks and smells delicious.”
Lilly laughed. “Exactly.”
“See, your dad would’ve grilled some all-American burgers and hot dogs,” Mrs. Hill continued.
“If dad had the choice,” Lilly agreed. “Do you want me to make dessert?”
“Not tonight, honey. Marco took that upon himself, but I’m sure he could use your help.”
Lilly turned on her socked heel to see Marco kneeling on a stool by the counter swiftly and silently stirring a big bowl of batter. Between intervals, he stuck one of his fingers into the bowl, brought up a glob of batter to his lips, stuck it in his mouth and sucked the glob off meditatively. “What! So you’re the person who stole my job?” Lilly said, sidling up to her little brother.
“No, no. I merely took that which was left undone and tended to it,” Marco said not looking up from mixing the batter.
“I see. What are you making?” Lilly asked.
“Macaroons,” Marco said happily.
“Macaroons,” Lilly gushed. “I suggest we have ice cream with them. Do you need any help? I’m free.”
“No, thanks, Sis. I want to make these all by myself tonight.”
“Why the sudden spurt of generosity and coyness?” Lilly teased.
“Can’t a man be so?” Marco asked.
“Perhaps,” Mrs. Hill piped in. “But a boy of mine can’t.”
“Ahh, Mom, you got me there,” Marco said spooning the batter onto a pan..
“I have, haven’t I?” Mrs. Hill replied.
“Thing is, I have a friend coming over tonight. She–”
“She?” Mrs. Hill asked.
“What’s that, son?” Mr. Hill asked coming into the kitchen. “We’re having a third guest? Interesting word choice you picked to describe her.”
Marco shook his head. “Dad, only you would wish to impose on me so great a delicate burden as that of a girlfriend.”
Lilly and Mrs. Hill chuckled as Marco continued. “Her name is Frigga Kite, and she’s playing Julius Caesar’s wife in the school play I told you all about.”
Mrs. Hill cleared her throat. “You better be careful, Brutus. You might end up the one dead on a stage, instead of Sir Caesar.”
“Going out with Caesar’s girl,” Mr. Hill said contemplatively, as if truly weighing the ramifications of the action. “My son, what have you done?”
Lilly withheld her urge to laugh. “Dad, calm down now. She must be a very beautiful somebody! He wants to impress her with his perfect baking skills.”
Marco turned to them and shook his head sternly. “Mother and Father, I am just ashamed to hear such childish silliness come from your mouths. And my dear sister, Lilly,” he said with an air of superiority, “it is beyond my understanding as to why you join them in this folly, especially since you have been through this same torture at their hands.” With that said, he slid the pan into the oven just as the doorbell rang. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
As soon as Marco disappeared around the kitchen doorway, Lilly and her parents bent over in laughter and shared a three-way highfive. They straightened up as Marco returned with Frigga, a pretty big-eyed Indian girl bringing with her the scent of hotel lotion. He shot them a warning look and proceeded to show her around.
“Welcome to our home,” Mrs. Hill said to Frigga.
“Thank you, Mrs. Hill,” Frigga replied. “Why does this say ‘Ask before ye eat’?” she asked, pointing up at the flowery paper bearing those words which was tacked to one of the glossy cabinets.
“Oh, that’s the cabinet storing my mother’s favorite snacks—the snacks she loves so much we must ask her before we take them so she’ll know when to replenish them for her own pleasure,” Marco reported.
“That’s true,” Mrs. Hill said smiling at Frigga.