Ren and a few other bodyguards closed in around me like a protective membrane. When people pushed against them, the force made the circle of security undulate as we moved through the narrow alley toward the van.
"'Lucky, I love you!'" a girl screamed. My instinct was to look toward the voice, to say, "Thank you!" But doing that would open the floodgates. I learned my lesson a long time ago.
Instead, I looked down, watching the steps of Ren in front of me. Keeping my eyes on his firm footsteps slowed my racing heart, gave me focus. I liked having something to focus on. Otherwise, I would spiral into sheer panic at the thought of being trampled, enclosed by a million people who all wanted a piece of me.
My guards slowed down, and I glanced up. The car was near, but people were blocking it. The police had arrived and the energy was feeding on itself—that stage of mania where absolutely no one had control. Where grown men with huge arms fought back teenage girls with dazed expressions, helplessly watching as the girls climbed over them as if they were trees, feral and hungry.
My heart raced, my palms grew sweaty, and a wave of nausea came over me.
"Stay close," Ren said in a low voice, stretching a thick arm across my torso.
"Like I have a choice?" I asked, my voice raspy from overuse. Feeling annoyed at Ren for no reason.
"Or you could get trampled," he replied mildly. Ren was my dad's age but had the fitness level of an Olympian. And the sense of humor of a Triscuit.
So I kept close—and within seconds, fresh air burst through the circle, breaking through the wall of bodies to reach me.
My heart resumed beating back to normal and I lifted my face up to the bright Hong Kong skyline. It flashed at me for a second before I was tucked safely into the van.
The first thing I did was take my freaking boots off.
I watched the president of Hong Kong Construction Bank wax on about quarterlies or something equally boring until my eyes started to water with general eyeball ache. Human eyeballs were not meant to be fixed on one thing for this long. I glanced at the time on my phone. Oh my God. It had been thirty minutes? 'Thirty minutes'! How long could a person talk about bank stuff for?
"Dad," I whispered, nudging him with my elbow.
Keeping his dark eyes fixed on the guy talking on the ballroom stage, my dad didn't respond. His square jaw was set stubbornly, and his meticulous hairline met the starched white collar of his shirt. Sitting up straight in his hotel banquet hall chair, an uncomfortable one covered with a cream-colored satin fabric.
I poked him until he finally looked over at me with exasperation, furrowing his brow. "What?" he whispered.
"At what point will this be & you know, fun?" I asked in a whisper.
"Kid, did you actually think a bank anniversary dinner would be fun?" he asked with a chuckle.
Good point. I looked around at the hotel ballroom full of banking people eating scallops in their formal wear. This was probably the most depressing Friday night of my life.
"Well, I thought the food would be good, at least," I muttered.
"Hey, it's free." He glanced over, squinting at me under sparse, straight eyebrows. "You have to stay."
I sighed and leaned back into my chair, smiling grimly at the other people at our table who had started to stare at us.
"You know, I had a very different gap year in mind. One that involved more backpacking, less ballrooms," I said.
"No kidding." His mouth twitched, holding back a smile.