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The Wedding Kimono

Prequel novella in the Warubozu Spa Chronicles

Raised by a single father with two older brothers, tomboy Lila has often been mistaken for a young man because of her androgynous looks. However, she's very popular with the women at the massage therapy spa where she works, who love her older-sister vibe. She feels this is where God wants her to be, helping women feel beautiful and good about themselves. Secretly she's attracted to her boss at work, spa manager Fred, but she holds no hope since there's nothing feminine about her, and she's four inches taller than he is.

Then, when cleaning out the attic for her father, she finds her maternal grandmother's gorgeous antique wedding kimono. Being half-Japanese and half-Chinese, she recognizes some Chinese character calligraphy hidden amongst the hand-sewn embroidery that she can't quite read.

A chance mention of the kimono and calligraphy results in Fred offering his help, since he knows a Japanese history professor at the University of Hawaii. But then Lila notices some strangers following her, and their interest in her appears to be connected to the kimono.

Lila and Fred must work together to uncover the mystery of the wedding kimono. Can her grandmother's legacy help her see her inner beauty and open herself up to love?

NOTE: A shorter version of The Wedding Kimono released in the Save the Date anthology in September 2021. The expanded version is only available as a free ebook for my email newsletter subscribers. Join my email newsletter today and get a FREE copy of The Wedding Kimono!

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The Wedding Kimono is a prequel to my Warubozu Spa Chronicles series. Join my email newsletter and get this humorous Christian contemporary romance novella FREE!

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Excerpt from Chapter One

The Wedding Kimono

A novella
Prequel to the Warubozu Spa Chronicles

Camy Tang

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
—Psalm 139:13–14

Chapter One

Waialua, Hawaii. August, Monday

“You would be such a handsome boy.”

At her client’s words, massage therapist Lila Wong straightened from tossing the used towels into the hamper in her massage room and regarded Mrs. Nanase with her head tilted to the side. “But I’m a girl, Mrs. Nanase.”

The older woman studied her with a smile as she put on a terry robe, so Lila knew she didn’t mean anything cruel by her words, but the familiar phrase still pricked her.

“I know that,” Mrs. Nanase said, “but your face is so …”

Lila stifled a sigh. “Masculine?” Did her voice betray her resignation?

“No, not masculine.” Mrs. Nanase was tying the belt on her robe, so she didn’t notice Lila’s expression. “But if you were a boy, you’d be like one of those Korean pop stars. They’re so cute!”

Wasn’t that the same thing as saying she looked masculine?!

Lila opened the door to her massage room and stood aside so the older woman could step out. She normally didn’t mind chatting with Mrs. Nanase, but today Lila had a question to ask the spa receptionist, Sakura, before her next client arrived, so she wanted to settle her in the client lounge area as quickly as possible. She followed her into the hallway and tried to laugh it off. “I already know my looks are completely androgynous.”

“Not exactly androgynous …” Mrs. Nanase paused in the hallway.

The door to the adjacent massage room opened, and another client, Amber, entered the hallway just as Mrs. Nanase continued.

“But if you were a boy, you’d have tons of girlfriends!” Mrs. Nanase beamed at her.

Lila sighed.

Mrs. Nanase noticed the other client. “Oh, hello, Amber. I was just telling Lila that she could be a model. Don’t you think so?”

Lila felt her face flush, because according to Amber’s massage therapist, the woman actually had been a model in her teens. Even now, in her early twenties, she still looked five years younger.

However, Amber very kindly smiled at her and Mrs. Nanase. “Yes, Lila is tall and slender like a model.”

“See, Lila?” Mrs. Nanase’s expression held a hint of triumph, although Lila wasn’t certain what she was triumphant about. But then she sighed as she gave Lila a once-over. “It’s just too bad you don’t jiggle in all the right places.”

“Mrs. Nanase!”

Amber rescued her. “Mrs. Nanase, let’s go out to the back veranda. It’s such a nice day today.”

“That’s a great idea.”

The two clients headed down the hallway. As Lila passed the open doorway of the next massage room, she spotted her coworker, Harper, who was Amber’s massage therapist.

“Yeah,” Harper said, feigning confusion, “why would anyone think you’re masculine?”

Lila punched him in the gut.

“Oof!” He doubled over. “Be careful! I’m delicate!”

“You’re hardly delicate.” Harper was rather slender, but he was also tall, only a couple inches below six feet.

“How the heck do you punch so hard?” He rubbed his stomach.

Lila flexed her bicep. “Two older brothers who showed no mercy.”

“That’s not something to be proud of!”

Lila put up her fists. “Wanna go? I could take you.”

Harper glared at her. “You’re so weird.” He gestured down the hallway. “Go take care of your client. And take care of mine while you’re at it.”

She began walking backward down the hallway. “What’ll you give me if I do?”

“I’m not going to give you anything! You’re supposed to do it out of the goodness of your heart for your senior coworker!”

The hallway was a long one that ran down the length of the building, but midway were two open doorways on the right and left. Amber and Mrs. Nanase turned right to head toward the back porch area. The large open doorway on the left led to the front reception area, and Lila peeked in. A cute, petite girl looked a little lonely sitting at the long receptionist desk, which was made for two or three people, but the spa was shorthanded at the moment. Sakura was on the phone with someone, so Lila would have to wait to speak to her.

Lila hurried to the outdoor client lounge area at the back of the building. The Warubozu Spa operated out of what used to be a large, rather pretentious plantation manor, so the wide veranda looked out onto a beautiful hibiscus garden, laid out in geometric walks and lush with different colored flowers. A cool trade wind breezed in under the eaves, smelling of the ocean several miles away.

Mrs. Nanase and Amber had settled into padded lounge chairs. “Do you want your usual, Mrs. Nanase?” Lila asked.

“Yes, please. It’s so sweet of you to remember.”

“What would you like, Amber?”

“What are you getting, Mrs. Nanase?”

“Lilikoi iced tea. The one served here is so good!”

“Oh? What brand is it?” Amber asked Lila.

“Sorry, can’t tell you. It’s a closely guarded secret.”

“It is?” Amber’s finely sculpted eyebrows rose.

“Yup,” Lila said. “The owner of the spa told me she’d pluck out my eyes and feed them to the mynah birds if I told anyone.”

The two women stared at Lila. “That … seems a bit extreme,” Mrs. Nanase said weakly.

“I know, right? She had a really mean look in her eyes when she said it, too.”

After a pause, Amber said, “I’ll have that, too, Lila. Thanks.”

Lila brought out two glasses and set them on the small table between the ladies’ chairs. She was just wondering if Sakura was off the phone yet when she noticed that Mrs. Nanase was rubbing her neck. “Are you all right? I didn’t knead it too hard, did I?”

“Oh, no, it’s fine. You worked on my neck a little more than usual today.”

“It was like a Gordian knot! Is your neighbor still causing you stress?”

Mrs. Nanase vented about her neighbor who played loud music very late at night, despite the fact that multiple neighbors had called the police to complain.

“I’ll keep praying for a resolution,” Lila said.

“You’re so open and friendly with your clients, Lila,” Amber said.

“Is Harper not open and friendly? I’ll beat him up if he’s being cranky to you.”

“He’s friendly, but … you’re so concerned about Mrs. Nanase. It’s obvious you care about her.” Amber smiled a bit wistfully.

Mrs. Nanase said to Amber, “Lila is a wonderful massage therapist. She’s kind and thoughtful.” She patted Lila’s hand where it hung at her side, gazing up at her face. “And she would be such a handsome boy.”

Lila resisted the urge to beat her head against the wall.

“Don’t say that, Mrs. Nanase,” a deep voice intruded.

The spa manager, Fred Kwan, walked up to them. His short brown hair, bleached from the sun because he spent a lot of time playing outdoor basketball, looked almost blond in the afternoon light. He looked professional and clean-cut in his cotton button-down shirt. “It makes it sound like Lila has no attraction except as a man, and that isn’t fair to her.” He chided the older woman with a smile, which took away any sting from his words.

To Lila, his defense of her was a soft, warm spot in her chest.

Mrs. Nanase looked stricken. “Oh, I’m sorry, Lila.”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Nanase. I know you didn’t mean any offense.”

“Lila, you have another client coming soon,” Fred reminded her. He wore his I’m being extra polite in front of a guest but if we were alone I’d be yelling at you smile.

“Oh, that’s right. I’ll see you later, Mrs. Nanase, Amber.” Lila followed Fred back inside. “Is my next client here already?”

“Not yet. I just figured it was about time for you to be done chatting with Mrs. Nanase.”

“How did you know? Do you know my schedule?” After all, Fred was the spa manager. He wouldn’t memorize everybody’s schedule. Was it just her? She suddenly felt a bit like a dog excitedly wagging her tail and cocking her ears at him.

He kept walking toward the front reception area. “No, you’re just predictable.”

Ears and tail drooping, she followed him.

He noticed her sad face and said, “Stop looking like I kicked a puppy! You’re going to give me a bad reputation.”

“Oh, don’t worry. It won’t affect your reputation at all.” Because he already had a reputation as a demon spa manager.

He glared at her. “You just thought something disrespectful, didn’t you?”

“I didn—I was joking! Joking!”

“When you say you’re joking, it means it was really bad.” He glanced at her, and his frown deepened. “Are you okay?”

“Huh?” That was totally out of left field.

“You look …” He cleared his throat. “Did Mrs. Nanase … talk about something?”

Lila stared blankly at him.

“You two always talk a lot.” He sounded awkward, for some reason.

The two of them had entered the reception area in the front of the building. Sakura was now off the phone, and she glanced at them as they passed through the open doorway.

“Mrs. Nanase’s not that talkative,” Lila said.

“But you are.”

“Sorry.” She bit her lip.

“I’m not complaining about it.” Fred stopped and turned to her, his hands resting lightly on his hips. “I know I give you grief, but it’s one of the reasons the clients love you. You talk with them and remember things about their lives, and it makes them feel appreciated.”

Whoa, she was getting whiplash. How had his lecture turned into a compliment?

“And … um …” He seemed to be glaring at somewhere near the top of her head.

“Why are you staring at me like I have a third eye growing out of my forehead?” Lila nudged closer to the reception desk and farther from him and his weird looks.

“I am not staring at you,” Fred groused, although strangely, the tips of his ears were pink. “But you might have a pimple on your forehead.”

“What? No way.” Lila opened one of the drawers of the reception desk to rummage for the small hand mirror Sakura always kept there.

“You don’t have a pimple. Fred, stop bullying her,” Sakura said, scowling at him.

“What is wrong with you?” Lila demanded.

“Nothing’s wrong with me. Something’s wrong with you.”

Lila and Sakura stared at him, then looked at each other in puzzlement at the exact same time. “What?” she asked him.

Her boss, who always looked confident and organized, was suddenly self-conscious and a little agitated. “You looked … I don’t know, upset?”

“Upset? I’m not …” She stared off at the far corner of the ceiling, her mouth open as she replayed her conversation with Mrs. Nanase. “Oh. Well …”

“See? It wasn’t just me being weird,” Fred said defensively.

“It doesn’t mean something’s wrong with me,” Lila retorted.

“Well …” Fred rubbed the back of his neck, then started easing away from her. “I don’t know what’s wrong, but go … talk to Sakura or somebody about it.” He sounded irritated rather than concerned. Then he hastily left the reception area.

“Awww, he’s so cute when he can’t communicate.” Sakura set her elbows on the desk and rested her chin on her folded hands.

“He’s not cute, he’s annoying.”

“But he was right, wasn’t he? Something upset you?” It was as if the young woman saw more than what Lila said.

She didn’t want to rehash what Mrs. Nanase said, but she also couldn’t blow off Sakura’s question. She was a good friend and genuinely cared for Lila.

“It wasn’t anything new.” Lila tried for a nonchalant tone of voice. “Mrs. Nanase said I would be a beautiful boy.”

“You’re having a baby?” She innocently blinked.

“Brat! Don’t start wild rumors.”

Sakura snickered. “Are you feeling unfeminine?”

She could have answered flippantly, but she leaned against the reception desk and thought about the question. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt feminine.”

Sakura tilted her head, making the ribbon bows she used to hold back the sides of her hair dangle. “What do you mean?”

“You know … with guys, they treat me like a guy friend. I don’t think they even register I’m female.”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s because you wear stuff like that.” She nodded disdainfully toward Lila’s jeans—which were actually men’s jeans—and the polo shirt that hung like a rectangle on her board-shaped torso.

“I admit, I’m not super comfortable with dresses, but that’s only because I was traumatized. When I had my five-year birthday party, my male cousins spent the entire time flipping up my skirt. So I refused to wear them anymore.”

“You haven’t worn a dress since you were five?”

“I did wear one once in high school to a dance,” Lila said, “but a boy thought I was another boy wearing a dress.”

“Urk,” Sakura said.

The two of them shared a moment of silent commiseration.

“How about a new hairstyle and makeup? Makeover!” Sakura shot to her feet with her hand up in the air, presumably to volunteer for the job.

Lila fingered her pixie-cut hairstyle, which suited her fine dark hair. “I grew my hair out in college … but people kept thinking I was a man with long hair.”


They shared another moment of silent commiseration.

Somehow, seeing Sakura so upset for her made Lila feel better. “It’s okaaaaay. I’ve long since learned to accept this is who I am. I can’t change my face, so might as well get used to it, right?”

Sakura’s gaze was comforting and warm, like a cup of hot tea. “I’m not saying every girl should be frilly and feminine, but … you’ve never wanted to be anything else?”

Lila had asked herself that, but never came up with an answer that satisfied her. “It’s not a bad thing. It usually doesn’t bother me much. But today, I think I’m just a little sensitive to the subject because of what happened yesterday.”

“What happened?”

Lila brought out her phone and showed the photo to Sakura. “I was helping Dad clear out his closet, and we found this.”

“Whoa!” Sakura grabbed the phone and stuck her face close to the screen.

The wedding kimono had been carefully folded and put away in a plastic bin. Lila had been stunned to lift it from the folds of yellowed tissue paper and hold it up to the sunlight streaming through the window, making the red silk shimmer like liquid rubies. It was lavishly embroidered with a garden of flowers in amazing detail. Some of the flower designs were rather unusual, but it was still obvious what they were—peonies, mums, irises, wisteria. In the background were scrolling designs that wove between the outlines of cranes and folded fans.

“Did this belong to your mom?” Sakura asked.

Lila nodded. “It originally belonged to my grandmother, who got it from her mom. Dad said my great-grandmother embroidered it back in the 1930s. Her name is sewn in kanji on the inside lining near the bottom.”

“Wow!” Sakura said. “It’s so beautiful!”

“You’re taking Japanese classes, right? Don’t you think the scrolly designs in the background look like kanji characters?” This was the question she’d wanted to ask Sakura, who was attending Waialua Community College.

Sakura squinted at it. “It does look like kanji, but I can’t read it.”

“Why not?”

“I think it’s calligraphy, which is super hard to read. I’m only in first-year Japanese class.”

“Oh.” Lila sighed. “It didn’t even occur to me that there would be different ways of writing Japanese that a student couldn’t read.”

“I thought you already know Japanese and Chinese.”

“I only speak them both, I can’t read either of them.”

“You didn’t take one of them in high school or college?”

“I took Korean as my foreign language.”

Sakura looked perplexed. “But you don’t have a drop of Korean blood.”

“Dad was getting Korean tourists at our hotel, so he told me to take it.”

“Ah.” Sakura had already met Lila’s father. She understood his high standards for his kids, who were required to help with the family hotel in Haleiwa. “Oh, I know who you can ask. One of the guys Fred plays basketball with is a Japanese history professor at UH. A history professor would definitely know how to read calligraphy.”

Lila glanced in the direction he’d left. “I’ll have to wait until he’s less irritated with me before I ask him. He’s in a bizarre mood today.”

Sakura pursed her lips. “I think he’s being unusually nice to you.”

“What world are you living in?”

“He was worried about you.”

“He has a strange way of showing it. He’s much more gentle with any other female employee in the spa. Do you think he doesn’t see me as a woman?”

“What are you talking about? Of course he sees you as a woman.” Sakura’s eyes suddenly widened, and she leaned forward, staring at Lila.

Lila leaned away from her. “What is it?” she asked uneasily.

“Do you like Fred?”

“Urk.” Her heart felt like it stopped, painfully, for a moment. She’d thought she’d been doing really well because she’d kept it from Sakura, one of the most observant of all her coworkers.

Lila covered her reaction by clearing her throat. “Of course not. I just respect him. Even if I do things that annoy him, he’s always considerate and willing to help me out when I need it. He’s a dependable kind of guy.”

Sakura’s eyes narrowed. “Mmhm. You’re talking an awful lot about a guy you don’t have feelings for.”

“Of course I have feelings for him—of respect. He’s a good boss. He’s really great.” Ugh, she was running off at the mouth again. She really couldn’t shut up when she was nervous.

She was rescued (Praise God! Hallelujah!) when the door opened and her next client arrived.

She said hurriedly to Sakura, “Well, thanks, I’ll ask Fred.” She turned an overly bright smile to her longtime client. “Hi, Jennifer! How are you doing? How’s the cosplay going? Did you make anything new?”

Lila walked back to her massage room with Jennifer but felt Sakura’s eyes boring into her back.