Back in Nine Rivers, Jo was having just a little bit of trouble adapting to her new living situation. While she appreciated the company and uses of her new friends, Retardo and Sam, living with both of them was a bit of a struggle. It wasn’t that she minded getting cozy with new friends, despite their peculiar quirks. It was more to do with the size of her apartment. With just her and Tigger, it had been very cozy – with all four of them, a more apt description would be cramped. Still, Podunk Jo was determined to get planning on the next terms’ lessons, despite inconveniences. Despite her best attempts however, just a few short days before the start of the term, there was a knock on the door that could not be ignored.
When the tapping started, Jo was prepared to let Tigger or one of the others answer – she was in the groove of planning and not about to stop. When it continued insistently, however, she wandered out towards the front door to see what was the problem.
Out in the hall was a tableau of worried looks. Tigger, Retardo, and Sam were all watching the door, half in fear and half in curiosity. Podunk, confused as to the situation, nevertheless moved to open the door. Sam silently ran to stop her, shaking her hands and head in quiet irritation.
Retardo tiptoed over to Jo. ‘Whoever’s knocking is VERY DANGEROUS. Sam doesn’t want them to know anyone is home.’ She placed a gentle hand on Podunk Jo’s arm, whispering, ‘Let’s just all go back into the living room and wait till they go away.’
‘This is ridiculous,’ said Jo loudly. ‘I will not be made to cower in my own home. Especially by buffoonery.’ She strode quickly around Sam, whose head was low to her chest. Sam did not appreciate being called ridiculous, and went of to mope in solitude in the living room. Tigger pattered after her thoughtfully.
Jo unlocked the door cautiously, nervously looking over her shoulder at Retardo before doing so. It could be a criminal, or a proselytizer, or a spy. There, on the doorstep, was Crest Colgate.
“Would you like to go to Mongolia?” he asked.
Over a nice cup of tea inside, the two of them chatted.
“Sorry I so rudely abandoned you in Beijing,” Crest apologized. “I really did need to leave. My HR skills were urgently needed, you see. One of our tour managers was quite ill, and the Alaskans were finding it difficult to hire a replacement. ”
“Of course. You had an obligation. Thank you for the note. Though I am a bit surprised at how you were able to find me here in Nine Rivers.”
‘It wasn’t really that hard. Very few foreigners have such lush hair, or such a memorable companion.’ Crest smiled down at Tigger, who was shyly hiding behind a biscuit tin at the other end of the coffee table.
“Ah. And what’s all this about Mongolia?”
‘I need a companion for a new business trip. I am putting together an educational package on Mongolia to include various skills training – horseback riding, sheep shearing, hatha weaving. Naturally I thought of the most beautiful teacher in the Middle Kingdom to assist me in my research.’ He flashed her a dazzlingly brilliant smile.
“Well, I appreciate the offer, but unfortunately my teaching obligations begin in just a few short days. I couldn’t possibly come with you.”
‘Oh no, it’s all been taken care of. I spoke to your waiban – one of the Chinese teachers can cover your classes for the first few weeks.’ Jo could just barely make out Tigger doing a mini-jig on the thought of riding a horse.
“Still, these students are expecting a foreign teacher. It’s not fair to pawn them off on someone else.”
Crest patted her hand gently. “I admire your commitment. Never mind this week – we’ll just have to put off our trip until the holiday.”
Later, both Sam and Retardo came down hard on Jo.
‘You actually agreed to go? After Sam’s warning and without even checking with us?!?’ Retardo ranted.
“Well, it was my decision, after all…”
‘And I suppose we’re supposed to just sit here and worry about your return?’
“I don’t trust that man,” Sam added quietly. “You shouldn’t be alone with him. He’s obviously too charismatic for you.”
Jo remembered his brilliant whites. ‘He does have a nice smile. But really, I made the decision on my own. Also, Tigger wants very badly to go horseback riding.’
Sam sighed and Retardo threw up her hands. ‘So take him riding, already! There’s no need to go to Mongolia.’
But Jo had given her word, and she stood firm in that. Just a couple months after term start, she and Tigger started packing up for their trip. Sam and Retardo kept up loud protestations of the wrongness of the trip, to no avail. Truly, their last protests were more of a half-hearted act. They had already come to terms with the situation, and were preparing to take more drastic action.
Next Chapter: Stowaways.