Surrounded by water, the house overlooked the lagoon. Beauty was everywhere, but with that came beasts.
Phoebe took JoJo for a walk around the lush tropical garden while waiting for the cops and the insurance guy to arrive. Red flowering vines tumbled over the veranda. She identified the plants that she could. Having design training gave her an advantage, and she knew the names of at least a dozen common tropical plants identical to those in Malaysia.
Excerpted from The American Boyfriend by Ivy Ngeow; published with permission from Penguin Random House SEA
If this place had been vacant for years, she considered herself lucky that Carter invited her. Was not his fault she got robbed. The locks might be shit, but she could not remember if she did lock up properly. Her baby brain was the problem. She had joked to him once that during childbirth, they gave her a lobotomy.
Phoebe studied ferns, lipstick palms, orchids. She pointed out to JoJo various cacti with neon pink flowers. A lizard ran away under the monstera leaves, shy and aware of their footfall. She never imagined such an enchanted house or location. Ocean view on one side, lagoon view on another, wide open and yet landscaped with two courtyards, one paved, with teak sun loungers and a matching set of garden table and chairs, and the other covered in lawn. A lap pool lay in the tiled courtyard.
Her heart soared. She was valued and appreciated. Much more than she ever had been with any of the others. Phoebe’s father and that drummer who shall not be mentioned. She had to stop thinking about past lovers. She could not let memories intrude on the joy that was here for her, for now. And losing stuff was not that bad. The British Consulate in Miami, the insurance guy, and the cops had said ‘All solvable’. Everything would be okay in forty-eight hours.
She checked the shutters which were open last night from the outside. They were under a timber frame veranda, with a cascade of Honolulu creepers over providing shading. She checked the outside of the open sliding patio doors of the living room.
But before she could focus on her amateur ‘inspections’, JoJo was getting very active. She was moving pots, snails, and rocks and trying to mount a four-person metal swing, the kind that looked like a giant birdcage. It was rusty but still worked. She had to hold on to JoJo and stop the tiny fingers getting caught on the hinging.
A text came in. It was Carter.
Hi! Are you OK? I be heading to LaGuardia now. Geddit? Behead.
She was not in the mood for witticisms after the morning’s fiasco.
She ran through last night’s events again. Should she call the cab driver instead? But what would be the point? How could the bag be in his cab? So many questions, but no answers. She put the phone away, but Carter messaged again immediately,
-What’s wrong? Be there soon as I can.
-See you soon XXX Mish yew.
If this house was in his family, she knew that they must be well off enough to afford its permanent vacancy. This was a prime location. Views from every angle. If she owned this house, she would be renting it out for additional income. She cringed at the amount the house was losing in rent.
Money was tight for Phoebe but only because she was a working single mum, an achievement in its own right. Her mother and her grandmother all had worked. Culturally, it would be inconceivable for the women in Phoebe’s family to be homemakers. The very word ‘Chinese’ was a euphemism for work. Being a single mother was not easy and her own mother became the co-parent. If her mother got ill and could not give her a hand with childcare, she would be struggling, and vice versa.
Although she was not with Carter for the money, for the first time, some family and financial security for JoJo and her was nice. Her mother had despaired at her previous X number of boyfriends and one husband because Phoebe had a knack for picking the penniless.
Carter, Phoebe, and JoJo looked like a family already. A Benetton family. No one could tell JoJo was not his daughter.
Hi, came a WhatsApp from Ellie, you lucky sod. Thinking of you guys. Well jell! How’s JoJo?
We slept well, thank you.
Phoebe replied. She wanted to add more but decided to call instead. The rusty swing was in its pendulum motion, and she had one hand on JoJo. She could not talk long.
‘Hey Feebs, you okay?’
‘No. I so am not,’ she blurted. It was good to hear a voice from home.
‘Oh, no. What’s wrong?’
‘Aaargh,’ she groaned. Phoebe pictured Ellie in her hall in Balham, as she would be at this time, putting on her coat, ready to do the school pick up.
‘What’s wrong, Feebs?’
‘You are not going to fucking believe it. I’ve been robbed. My first night here. They took my purse, my London flat keys, the passports … I just don’t know what to do. I’m just waiting for the cops to get here.’
‘I don’t understand. Where were you? Where did this happen?’ Ellie fired off.
‘I have no idea. Either I left my bag in the taxi which is unlikely since I paid the bugger. Or … somebody came in during the night because the windows were flapped open during the storm. Just don’t know.’