My lover’s hand was cold in mine.
“Daiyu, where are we?” I asked. She shook her head in response.
“I’m not sure, Mei.” We were surrounded by others who wandered forward aimlessly on a long bridge. “Wherever it is, it sure smells bad.” She led me by the hand over to the bridge’s edge. I leaned across the black railing. The river below was dark in color, too dark to be considered normal. There seemed to be three levels of the bridge we stood on above the water. The first level, ours, was filled with mellow people in drab, white hanfu. But, below us, we heard shouts as people were chased by dogs, snakes, and what seemed to be silhouettes of humanoid creatures.
A large dog—no, a beast—howled as it chased a screaming man. “P-please! Help me! I’ll repent! Please forgive me. I beg you!” The shadowy beast snapped its jaw in response, its teeth gleaming in the dim, red lighting below. In response, the man screamed and hurled himself over the railing of the bridge.
“Daiyu! Daiyu! I think someone just fell into the river!” I called out, pointing to the man splashing in the water.
“Where?!” Daiyu looked at where I was pointing. “His…his hanfu; it’s stained red.” A grim frown formed on her lips.
I gripped onto her sleeve. “You don’t think…”
“Mei, I think this is a river of blood.”
“What should we do? Should we help him?” I shuddered at the mere thought of a blood-filled river. Daiyu slowly shook her head. When I looked back to the river, the man was gone.
“It’s too late for him. Let’s continue forward and see where this bridge leads,” Daiyu cracked a smile and grabbed me by the hand again. I took this chance to look around. Where was this? I didn’t recognize anything. All I could see was the bridge, the red river, and the people surrounding us.
“Do you think we should follow them?”
Daiyu shrugged, “No harm in trying.” We continued on uneasily. Eventually, near what seemed like the end of the bridge, we spotted a large crowd.
“Excuse me,” I said and made my way through the swarm. Just what had them all crowded around like this?
“Would you like some soup?” An older woman in an alluring, colorful hanfu offered the man in front of us. It was a striking red; she poked out like a sore thumb among our drab white clothes. She used her wooden ladle to scoop some of the soup from her cauldron and poured it into a bowl.
“Well, don’t mind if I do.” He quickly drank from the offered bowl. It was made of sturdy wood and seemed to be hand-carved. When he’d finished, he looked around in a daze. “Where...am I?”
The woman chuckled, “On you go now.” She directed him past her and he left without question. “Oh, you there.” The woman addressed me. “Would you like some soup?”
I immediately shook my head and took a step back, repulsed at the idea of possibly poisoning myself. But, when Daiyu reached around me as if to try some, I felt my stomach drop. The soup had made the man lose his memories; I didn’t want that to happen to Daiyu! As I grabbed her wrist and lowered it, I sent a glare at the elderly woman. “Thank you for the kind offer, ma’am. But we don’t take things from strangers.”
The lady’s smile tightened. “Please, dear, have some soup?”
I had no doubt in my mind that the lady would force us to drink her odd concoction if she had to. I tossed a panicked look at Daiyu. At this rate, whatever that soup did to the man would be done to us, too! I shoved past the woman forcefully, Daiyu in hand. We bottled and zigzagged through the crowd.
“Hey, you two! Get back here!”
I woke from a deep sleep. Groggily, I rubbed my eyes. “Mei!” My mother called, “You better be up! You’ll be late for school.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I grumbled and started to prepare myself for the day ahead. When I was dressed, I headed down the stairs and greeted my mother. “Morning,” I smiled.
“Good morning, how’d you sleep?” She poured herself a cup of coffee.
I grinned and started to eat the eggs and toast she had laid out for me. “I slept pretty well. Had an interesting dream. You?”
“Same as always,” she sighed. “Do you want soup for dinner tonight? I was looking around on my lunch break yesterday and found a great soup place called MengPoTang. Wanna try it?”
For some reason, soup sounded very unappetizing. “No, thanks,” I quickly denied.
“Oh, okay. You better get going or you’ll miss the bus.” I nodded and stood from the table, grabbing my backpack by the door.
“Thanks, mom, love you!” I called as I left the house.
I arrived at school around twenty minutes later and greeted my best friend, Daiyu. “Hey, Mei, wanna walk to class together?”
I smiled warmly at her and nodded. “How was dinner with your father? It’s been a while since you last saw him. Two years, was it?”
Daiyu sighed, “It could have been better. Speaking of, do you want to come over tonight? My parents are going out, and they said I could invite someone over.”
“Sure, but I’ll have to ask my mom first. I’ll let you know by lunch?”
“Yeah, sure. Have fun in first period!” She smiled cheerfully and waved as we parted ways. Before I went into my class, I quickly pulled out my phone and asked my mother if I could go to Daiyu’s house tonight. I grinned brightly when she said yes.
After several boring classes, I entered the Cafeteria and headed towards my table. “Daiyu! Mom said I can come tonight.”
“Really? That’s great!” A small blush graced her features. She smiled happily to herself and looked away bashfully.
“Mhm! So, what are you having for lunch today?” I asked curiously and stole food off of Daiyu’s tray. “Gross, these fries are soggy.”
“Well, that’s cafeteria food for you,” she laughed. “I bought some chips for you, though. Here.”
My face brightened, “Thanks, Dai! How could I ever live without you?”
She smirked playfully. “Simple, you wouldn’t.”
I smiled at her joking words.
While the school day had been uneventful, I was giddy at the thought of seeing Daiyu again after school. After we parted ways earlier, we rejoined in the single class we shared. Geometry. The whole period I felt her eyes on me; they searched me. I wasn't sure what she was trying to find, and speculating about the possibilities made me anxious. However, I eventually relaxed and welcomed the attention of her warm gaze.
Thinking about Daiyu once more brought a rosy color to my cheeks and a smile to my face. I was on the edge of my seat. I fantasized about how we’d spend the afternoon, and happiness bubbled about inside me.
The bell rang, and I hurried to gather my stuff.
“Ready to go?” Daiyu was waiting for me outside my classroom door. I nodded cheerfully and followed her out of the school. “So, bad news. My mom already left to go meet my dad, so we don’t have a ride.”
“What?” I groaned, “You expect me to walk to your house in this heat? No way!”
“Please, Mei? Do it for me?” She pleaded with large eyes. My breath hitched in my throat at the sight. When did those dewy eyes become my weakness? I turned my face away quickly, hoping Dai wouldn’t notice how flustered I had gotten.
“Yay!” She cheered and grabbed my hand, pulling me along. I looked at our tethered hands and felt the blood rush to my face. “Mei?” Daiyu called, “Hurry up! We’re almost there!”
“Ah, yeah,” I said and quickened my pace, still fully aware of our conjoined hands.
We arrived shortly and I took my shoes off before entering. “So, what are we going to eat for dinner? Pizza sound good?” Dai called from ahead of me. “Oh, and we can watch a movie, too. Go ahead and pick one while I order the pizza.”
“Okay,” I agreed. I walked over to her couch then turned on the TV, scrolling through what movies her streaming service had to offer.
Daiyu came back and quickly blanched at the screen. “Romance? Ew, I thought we were going to watch an action movie or something.” I grinned widely up at her with a chuckle and patted the couch next to me. She shook her head with a smile and took a seat, sitting a bit closer than usual.
Around halfway through the movie, Dai tapped my shoulder. “Um, Mei…” She took a deep breath. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
“Yeah? What is it? Is something wrong?” I asked, quickly pausing the movie.
“No, it’s just...we’ve been friends for a long time. And I mean, a long time. But I don’t want to be just friends anymore.” She grasped my hand and looked up at me with hopeful eyes.
I recoiled a bit from her touch. “You...you don’t want to be my friend?”
“No! No, Mei. I just…” When I turned to look back at Daiyu, I was surprised to see how close she had gotten. My eyes widened when I realized she was moving even closer. Soon, I felt her soft lips on mine. She quickly pulled away.
I sat frozen and heat colored my face. What just happened?
“Mei? Mei, please say something…” She pleaded and held my hand tightly in hers.
I stared at her a moment before my face split into a grin. “If you don’t want to be my friend, does that mean you want to be my girlfriend?”
“I...Well, yes, I—” I cut her off and grabbed her face softly. Her face was quick to change to one of shock, and her eyebrows disappeared under her bangs.
“Can I kiss you?” I whispered in her ear.
“Yes, please,” she gasped. Once again, her soft lips met mine. I couldn’t think straight when I pulled away and saw those deep brown eyes staring into mine.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang. “Oh! Must be the pizza! Let me go get that.” Daiyu jumped from the couch and answered the door. She returned with a box of pizza and set it on the short table across from us.
We ate in silence.
When half of the pizza was gone, Daiyu finally spoke up. “So, um, was that a yes?”
I smiled brightly. “Yes, it was.”
“D-Does that mean...we’re dating?” She asked hesitantly.
I chuckled, “Well, you’d have to take me out on a date first.”
“Oh! Oh yeah, totally! Sorry, I—”
“Dai, calm down. I was kidding,” I said with soft eyes. “I’d love to be your girlfriend.”
“You would?” Daiyu gasped as if the kiss was no confirmation. I nodded and snuggled into her arms. She froze for a moment before relaxing into the touch. She unpaused the movie and we sat in comfortable silence. I listened to Daiyu’s soft breathing and drifted to sleep in the arms of my partner.
Was it too soon to say I loved her?
Daiyu and I ran until we made it to the end of the bridge. Strangely, we weren’t out of breath. “What was that all about?” Dai asked and led me over to stand by a rock near the river’s edge.
“Didn’t you see what the soup did to that man? He completely forgot where he was! I was afraid that would happen to us, so…” I said defensively and scooted away.
“Oh, I see,” Daiyu smirked. “You didn’t want me to forget about you, did you?”
I giggled when she hugged my waist teasingly. “Dai, stop, there are other people here!”
“And?” She laughed and snuggled closer. I was going to say something more when the boulder beside us caught my eye.
“Hey, does that rock...say something?” I asked and pulled out of Daiyu’s grasp so I could take a closer look.
“Oh, yeah, it does. It’s about someone’s life, I think.”
“Hey, uh, Dai, this one in the middle sounds eerily similar to our life,” I pointed out.
She read the engraved rock silently. “Mei, I think I know where we are.”
“You do? Where?” I asked hopefully.
“The Underworld,” she responded with a straight face. “Look, here. It says we died together in a car crash. Weren't we just in the car? I think this is the ‘Rock Of Three Lives’ from the legend. The one about your past life, present life, and future life.”
“You mean, we died? We’re dead?” I whispered. “Then that means, that lady giving out soup was MengPo?! Does this mean we’ll still have these memories in our next life?”
“I’m not sure,” Daiyu said. “On the rock, it says we’ll end up together again, so at least that’s good,” she smiled.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to forget about you,” I grumbled.
“It’s alright, my love. We’ll find each other in our next life.”
“Is that a promise?” I said and hugged her loosely, my arms draped around her neck.
Her hands snaked around my waist. “Yes, it is.” Daiyu looked up and pointed at a gate shrouded in light. Many people flowed into it. “Now, let’s go, shall we?”
I nodded and we walked slowly up to the gate. “I love you,” I whispered to her and held her hand in mine.
She smiled as we crossed into the light, ready to be reborn. “Always, and forever.”