On August 18th, the year I was sixteen, I fell in love three times. The first time, I fell in love with a town. Stjernelys was easily the most gorgeous place I had ever been in my life. The simple, colorful homes were nestled between the wide, gray sea and high, rocky cliffs dotted with evergreen trees.
The people of Stjernelys were strangely beautiful, too. After years of living in China, were pretty much everyone had small, dark eyes and sleek, black hair, it was sort of a shock to see a town filled with pink-skinned faces and pale features. Of course, they must have thought the same of me, because I could feel their blue and gray and green eyes following me with curiosity everywhere I went. I didn’t blame them. They were a land of golden retrievers, and I was a shih tzu.
The second time I fell in love was when I met my host family. The Bergfalks were…okay, I hate to use this word, but…perfect. They were all gorgeous, like Barbie dolls or fashion models. And you know those families you read about in old-fashioned books, who do everything together and are always saying I love you to each other? That was the Bergfalks.
Mr. Bergfalk (“Call me Niklas.”) was so good-natured – always ready with a joke and never angry, even when, in my nervousness, I tripped against the wall and caused a framed portrait to fall and shatter. Mrs. Bergfalk (“Lita, dear.”) was so sweet, like the homemade buns she often baked for the family for breakfast. Katje…well, I could tell right away that Katje and I were going to become best friends. And then there was Arvid.
I can’t even come up with the words to describe how I felt when I first met Arvid. To say that I fell in love in that moment would be an understatement. I fell, all right. Into a bright blue pool of steaming water. Into air, tumbling over and over with no ground below to catch me. I fell for Arvid, and suddenly, Arvid and Stjernelys became synonymous, and I knew that I had found my future home.
Of course, first, I had to change. There was no way that I could fit in here as Xifeng Jin, the nerdy little chess-playing Chinese girl. Besides, that was not me. I was fierce. I was spirited and smart and capable of taking on the world.
“Then we should get you a makeover,” said Katje. She took me to her salon, where her favorite stylist spent twenty minutes looking me over before he pulled out his shears and began to snip. As feathery tufts of my hair fell to the floor, I began to feel lighter inside, different. I was no longer Xifeng. I was a new person, with a new family, ready for anything.
When the stylist had finished transforming me into a whole new me, Katje clapped her hands in delight. “Oh Xifeng – you look amazing!” she said.
I smiled. “No more Chinese,” I said. “Call me Phoenix.”