SOUL 16 – 20

Chapter 16

Confrontation and Truths

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Saw me? What do you mean?” Pei ci asked in confusion.

“Saw you! We mean he finally saw you for what you are!” her father explained angrily. “You couldn’t dance. You couldn’t socialize! You left the party with champagne and food covering your dress. And your dress . . . What is left to explain, Pei Ci?” her father asked.

“You disappointed us, Pei Ci. We’ve never asked much of you, have we? The only thing we asked you . . . to stay inside, you couldn’t even do that,” her mother said softly.

“But we’ve met before,” Pei Ci insisted. “He liked me. He found me cute,” she desperately explained.

“That meeting you had two years ago? Well, whatever impression you made, was overcome by the foolish spectacle you made of yourself in front of all those people. He has refused to marry you. His parents support him. There is nothing we can do now. We’ll have to leave the company to . . . you,” her father finished in disgust.

“I want to see him,” Pei Ci suddenly said. “I want to hear this from him.” There was a very real possibility that his parents had chosen to end the engagement because of their disappointment in her lack of social graces.

“Go ahead, it can’t hurt. You couldn’t possibly make anything worse. They’ve already refused,” her mother said.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Pace turned to look at her friends. Her eyes were filled with tears.

She wasn’t surprised to see the same tears in their eyes. Whatever hurt one of them, hurt all of them.

She took a deep breath.

The next part would be the hardest to tell.

“Pace, if this is too hard for you, we won’t insist anymore,” Winnie quietly offered.

“But maybe there was some kind of misunderstanding,” Barbie suddenly said, looking at Pace hopefully. “Maybe the lines got crossed somewhere, and you two didn’t communicate what you needed to communicate.”

Pace looked at the hopeful eyes of her three friends.

She hated to disappoint them.

She reluctantly shook her head in denial.

“There was no misunderstanding.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Pei Ci sat in her bedroom staring out a window. She couldn’t believe that things had turned out this way. She was too young for love, but even then she had felt something happening between them. She had thought that these feelings could someday turn into love.

But, no. She was a failure. She had disappointed her parents once more.

She wanted to try to talk to him. She wanted to ask what had happened to make him suddenly change his mind.

She wanted to ask what was wrong with him that he could hurt her so easily.

Rrrrriiiiiinnnnngggg.

“Hello,” she whispered into the phone.

“You called?” Vanness asked over the line.

“Y-yes, I did,” Pei Ci said, almost dropping the phone in surprise. She had been calling him for the past two days, having gotten his number from her parents. He never returned her calls.

“I want to see you,” she explained, hoping that he would say yes.

There was only silence.

“Vanness?” she asked plaintively.

“Fine,” he answered abruptly. “Come meet me at the Tan Café.”

“Thank you. I’ll be th—,” Pei Ci began.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

He had hung up.

She chose her outfit carefully, wanting to give him a much better impression of herself. Subconsciously, she was hoping that even if he had rejected her, that maybe this better dressed persona could persuade him to decide differently.

She went to the Tan Café. It was a place that she had ever been before. That alone made her uncomfortable.

She saw him sitting alone at a corner table.

She was taken to that table.

She sat down.

“Vanness,” Pei Ci began.

And a woman sat down beside him.

She leaned in to kiss him.

On the lips.

A kiss that was wholly passionate.

And Pei Ci was shocked. She was hurt. And for the first time she believed that her parents might have been telling the truth.

“Vanness, who is this?” she finally asked.

“This is Rebecca. Rebecca this is Pei Ci,” Vanness said introducing the two women. “Pei Ci, Rebecca is my girlfriend. Well, to be more exact, she’s my lover,” he said, smiling seductively at the other woman.

“W-what?” Pei Ci asked, horrified.

“Don’t be mad. I’m happy that this decision was made. Now that we’re no longer engaged, I can be with Rebecca in public, as well. You have no idea how hard it was to keep our relationship a secret.”

“But you were engaged to me!!” Pei Ci cried out.

“And we’re no longer engaged,” Vanness said calmly. “Now, it would be best if you left.”

And there was nothing more to say.

Pei Ci got up and left, her heart breaking silently inside of her.

He had been dating this woman while they were engaged. He had been that woman’s lover. He accepted that their engagement was at an end. In fact, he was happy that they were no long engaged. He was free to be with his lovers in the public’s eye.

She couldn’t comprehend how mistaken she could have been about him. She had created a man that had never existed.

She had loved a dream.

The man she had cared about had never existed.

And the man that actually existed had just rejected her.

He was a womanizer.

He was unfaithful.

He had never cared about her.

Her hand came up to her heart.

Then, why?

Why did it hurt so much?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 17

Harsh Reality

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Pace turned to her three friends. Their eyes had grown wide as the truth had come out, and now they were revealing the intense anger they felt towards the man that had hurt their dearest friend so much.

“Where is that jerk? Where is he? I want to make him hurt,” Barbie muttered in anger, as she got up to race out the door.

“I . . . I think I will join you,” Rainie said thoughtfully, getting up. Her hands were clenched.

“Guys, calm down,” Winnie murmured. “It’s not like we could really do any harm to that man. Let me think about this, I’m sure we could find some goons for hire . . . even on this ship. And they could do him some real damage,” she murmured, stroking her chin.

“Guys, stop it,” Pace urged.

“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” Barbie said, turning to look at her intently.

“What?” Pace asked.

“Why doesn’t he know who you are?” Barbie continued. “Have you changed so much that he couldn’t tell who you were?”

“I know you said you were different back then, but how much could you have changed that he can’t recognize you?” Winnie chimed in.

Pace turned to look at their questioning eyes.

“When I said I didn’t look like this, I didn’t mean that I was a caterpillar that hadn’t transformed into the ‘butterfly’ that I am now,” Pace said. “I looked totally different.”

“Why?” Rainie asked.

“I was in an accident.

My face was completely ruined.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Pei Ci stared out the window.

She couldn’t understand how much she had misjudged Vanness.

He had never been the person she had thought him.

I am such a failure, she thought sadly. I can do nothing right. This was the one thing my parents wanted me to do, and I couldn’t even do that. I disappointed them. I disappointed Vanness. He would’ve married me if I hadn’t done something to disgust him.

He was nice to me at first. She sighed. But that hadn’t mattered when she was so plain.

“Pei Ci! Come down here,” her father shouted from downstairs.

Pei Ci raced downstairs.

“What did you want to talk to me about?” her father demanded brusquely.

“I wanted to say . . .,” she took a deep breath. “You were worried about who would take over the business when you were gone. I promise you that I will run the business for you.”

“What?” her father asked in surprise.

“I’ll do it. I’ll run the business. Stop trying to make me the perfect bride of some random man. I want to learn about running a business,” she insisted.

Her father looked at her in surprise.

“Are you serious?” he finally asked.

She quietly nodded.

“I’m willing to teach you,” he finally said.

She looked up in surprise, her eyes shocked. She couldn’t believe how easily her father had given in.

“I want someone I can trust to run this business, Pei Ci. I thought that the Wu heir could do it, but that will no longer work. If I teach you . . . then I will have someone I trust at the helm. When I’m gone, I’m sure you will care for this business and our legacy as much as I do,” he said.

Pei Ci’s eyes widened in shock.

She couldn’t believe that those words had just come out of her father’s mouth. This was the man who always made her feel inadequate. And, here he was saying that he could trust her with his business.

She quietly went and hugged him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“My father agreed to teach me, and I was a willing student,” Pace said, turning to look at her friends. “For the first time I actually had a good relationship with my parents. They began to respect me for the intelligence I possessed, instead of just seeing me as a means to get their end. I was important in their eyes.”

Her gaze was beseeching, begging her friends to understand how important this had been for her.

“But it didn’t last long.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Today was the day they would’ve been married.

Pei Ci looked down at her hands, clenched to hide the trembling.

Her eyes couldn’t help but stray back to the television and the video that played on it.

It portrayed the engagement ceremony of Vanness Wu and Vivian Hsu.

She was so beautiful. She was rich. She was graceful. And she had it in her to bring Vanness to commit.

She was everything that Pei Ci could never imagine herself being.

She sighed.

It had been three years since she had learned about the end of their engagement. But the pain had only decreased with time; it had never truly gone away. He was now another’s. It had taken today to happen for her to realize that a part of her had never given up hope. There had been hope that he would come back. That it was all a misunderstanding. That they would somehow marry and live happily ever after.

But that was all it had been. Only hope. It could never turn into reality.

“Pei Ci, get your butt down here,” her grandfather shouted over the intercom in her room. “It’s time for your parents to be coming home from the damn cruise they’ve been on for two months, and you need to be there to greet them.”

Pei Ci brightened.

Her parents had been away for two months, and she had missed them. Their relationship had flourished over the past three years. She had begun to work at the company. She had gone to university at the same time, and the double experience helped her to quickly become proficient in how to run a business.

And out of necessity, her father and mother had begun to appreciate her.

But as it grew closer to the day they would have welcomed a son into their family, her parents found it harder to be in the same country as the new golden couple. Vanness Wu and Vivian Hsu.

They had left. The planned on returning only after the engagement had been taken care of. Unfortunately, the plan hadn’t been entirely successful, and they would be returning on the same day as the dreadful engagement.

Pei Ci had come to a point where she understood that their disappointment had nothing to do with her anymore. Their relationship had surpassed their desperate attempt to get a son.

“Pei Ci!” her grandfather shouted again.

She squealed, realizing that she only had a few minutes before leaving. The drive alone would take two hours.

. . . . . . .

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“My parents died that day,” Pace said softly.

There were gasps of horrified surprise around her.

“Something had happened. I really don’t know what happened, that part of my memory is completely blank,” she admitted. “All I know is that the ship sank . . . there were survivors, but my parents weren’t among them.”

“I called grandfather in absolute tears, shocked at what I would have to tell him. His only daughter was dead. My parents were dead. How could we survive? Grandfather urged me to wait there for someone to come get me, but I couldn’t stand to be around the thing that had stolen my parents from them. The ocean.”

“Pace, I’m sorry, we didn’t know,” Rainie murmured, coming up to put her arms around her.

“We would never have forced you to come, if we had known,” Barbie added.

“You’re not to blame. I came because I finally thought that it was time for me to see it . . . to be on it. It’s not that scary.”

“Then what happened, Pace?” Winnie finally asked, breaking the silence that had fallen over them all.

“I drove home. You know, you should never drive when you’re so emotional,” Pace said, digressing once more.

“What happened?” Barbie asked again, pushing for Pace to respond.

“I was in an accident. A horrible one. My face was completely disfigured, and they had to do plastic surgery,” she finally admitted.

“But . . .,” Rainie began.

“The bones in my face were broken in so many places. When they healed, I had a completely different look.

I was . . . glad to have a different face. I was tired of people judging me for the way I looked. I was tired of not being loved because of my looks,” she finally finished.

“The recovery was painful. I suffered. Of course I did. But I am a survivor. If I could survive my heart breaking, what was this in comparison?” she said.

“Pace . . . have you ever asked Vanness why he did what he did?” Winnie asked hesitantly. “The picture you paint of him at your first meeting, somehow . . . I can’t help but think that that was the real him. He was sweet. He was caring. He carried you back to your home. He never told you who he was; he knew that it would embarrass you even more to learn that from him. He kept your engagement for four years. Maybe something else was the catalyst. Not you, not your looks, not your social graces. Maybe if you learn the other side of the story, you would be more willing to forgive him. Look at how he’s pursuing you now. He has forsaken all other woman. Now it’s up to you,” she said.

Pace’s eyes sparkled with rage.

“There is no other side of the story. He could have nothing to say.

I don’t care that he’s interested in me. I don’t. All I know is that the last time I saw him, he was making out with a woman right in front of me. I gave him a chance to explain. I wanted to talk to him. But he destroyed any hope for us.

He listened to his mother, and broke my mother’s and father’s hearts. They died because of him. They would never have been on that ship, if he hadn’t broken the engagement.

And most of all . . . he got engaged on the day that we would’ve been married.

That’s all I need to know about him.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chapter 18

Every Step of the Way

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Flashback

“Grandpa, they’re dead! Mom and dad are dead,” Pei Ci sobbed over the line, unable to catch her breath after the shock of learning this news.

“Where are you right now?” her grandfather asked urgently.

“I’m on my way home,” she admitted. “I . . . couldn’t stay there. They couldn’t even find their bodies! How could I stay there? The ocean was right there. It took them!”

She began to cry harder, as the thought of never seeing her parents again, not even to say goodbye, hit her with agonizing force.

“Pei Ci, please calm down. Please,” her grandfather pleaded over the phone. “Pull over and calm down. It’s not safe for you to drive like this. I’ll send someone to pick you up,” he said brokenly.

“I can’t,” she said, wiping away the tears. “I want to be with you right now. You’re the only one I have left,” she softly said, sniffling back the tears.

She needed to calm down. She needed to. Her tears were breaking grandfather’s heart once more.

She could hear it in his voice.

As her hand moved away from her eyes, she saw the kid that had run out into the street. He was unwitting of the danger, intent only on getting his red ball.

Sssscccccrrrreeeeecccccch.

The car violently turned from the child, and crashed with a sickening sound against a pole on the side of the road.

“Pei Ci? Pei Ci? Answer me! Pe . . .”

Everything went black.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Get out of here. You’re not welcome,” a voice grated against Pei Ci’s ears.

“Grandpa,” she murmured.

She gasped, as she became aware of her body once more.

There was pain. There was so much pain.

“I’ve told you not to come here. It’s no use. Coming over every day won’t change my mind,” a voice said.

“Please get him out of here,” a voice could be heard shouting in the distance.

“We need to move her,” the voice could be heard coming closer. “We can’t risking people showing up just out of curiosity to see how the Wu heiress looks now. The pictures of her bloody face might have gotten out, but I will do all I can to protect her from any further media scrutiny.”

“Even that?” a strange voice asked.

“Yes, you have my instructions. Get everything done. We’re transferring her tonight, so get it on the market as soon as possible,” her grandfather ordered.

“Grandpa?” she called out again.

Her eyes finally opened. She was in a huge room. It was completely white. If she hadn’t heard her grandfather’s voice, she would have thought she was in heaven.

It was hot.

Her hands came up, and encountered . . . bandages.

Bandages.

Wrapped around her face. Her head.

“Grandpa?” she asked, as he entered the room.

He had aged. He had grown older so fast.

“Grandpa, what’s wrong?” she asked in a trembling voice.

“Honey, you don’t remember?” he asked softly.

. . . . . . . . .

“Of course I remember,” she replied. “Mom and dad are gone. They’ve left us.”

“You idiot!” her grandfather shouted. “I almost lost you!”

“I almost lost you too. I lost your mother, and now I almost lost you!” he said, coming over to hug her gently.

“Grandpa, what’s happened? Why are these bandages on my face? How long have I been here?”

“Honey, you’ve been in a coma for a week now,” he finally said.

“A week?”

“Yes, when they get you out of the car, you were unconscious. You’ve been like that for a week now.”

“My . . . face?”

“Honey, your face was completely destroyed in the accident. When your car hit the pole . . . they’re was a lot of damage.”

“What does that mean?”

“You won’t look the same. They couldn’t make you look the same,” he answered sympathetically.

A sob broke out into the silent room.

“Don’t cry,” he ordered.

“I’m not,” she replied.

“It might have been plain to the world. No one could’ve loved that face . . .but it was mine,” she said quietly.

“Pei Ci . . . .”

“Why didn’t you try harder to save my face?” she shouted, turning away.

He quietly hugged her, understanding her grief.

First she had lost that no good fiancé of hers.

Then she had lost her parents.

Now . . . she had lost herself.

She began to sob, hugging him close.

Grandpa . . . she still had him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

One year later . . .

She sat in the campus cafeteria, too lazy to go out and get some good food.

It was her second month in graduate school. Even if grandpa had sold the company, and she could never run the Wu Conglomerate, she still wanted to study business . . . for her father.

She wanted to make her parents proud.

“Hi,” a voice said.

She looked up. A tiny, beautiful woman was standing there. She had long, silky hair.

“We’re in the same Corporate Law class. My name is Barbie. Can we sit with you?” she asked, motioning to two girls standing behind her.

“Sure,” she murmured.

“These are my friends. Winnie Qian and Rainie Yang. Winnie is a med student at our university’s medical school, and Rainie is getting a Ph.D. in English,” Barbie said, introducing the girls.

“Nice to meet you,” she murmured.

“And you are?” Barbie asked.

“I’m Pe . . . My name is Pace Wu,” she introduced herself.

She wouldn’t look back.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chapter 19

His Pei Ci

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Where is she?” he asked the women eagerly, as he moved up to their table in the ship lounge. “Did you guys put some sense into her?”

They glared back at him, refusing to answer.

His hands clenched at their damning silence. He hadn’t seen Pace for a week now, ever since he had stopped her from kissing that jerk. She had walked away, and hadn’t looked back since. She had actively dated that jerk for the past week, and he was growing more and more afraid.

It was starting to feel the way it had felt that day so long ago. That pain had been unbearable. He would not let this woman put him through that again. But he would not quietly walk away, either. They would talk, and they would fix whatever had become broken. He couldn’t afford to lose another great woman.

“I need to talk to her,” he pleaded. “She’s throwing away something very important.”

He was tired of this. Tired of missing her. He had to see her. To know that she felt something for him, and that was why he had urged her friends to speak with her. But things apparently hadn’t turned out so great for him. Her friends . . . his only allies were glaring daggers at him.

“Maybe we should tell him,” Rainie suggested.

“She deserves this peace, at least once he sees her he’ll realize that it’s useless,” Winnie said.

“Fine, but I want to see this,” Barbie said determinedly. “She’s in the ship bar, getting something to drink,” she grudgingly informed him.

Vanness raced to the bar. He would finally get a chance to see her. To talk to her.

He saw her sitting alone at a corner table.

He was taken to that table, and he quickly sat down.

“Pace,” Vanness began.

And a man sat down beside her.

He leaned in to kiss Pace, full on the lips.

A kiss that was wholly passionate.

And Vanness was shocked. He was hurt. And for the first time he realized the possiblity that Pace might not want him. That she might not want him as much as he wanted her. That there might be no future for them.

“Pace, what are you doing?” he finally asked.

“This is Robert. Robert this is Vanness,” Pace said introducing the two men. “Vanness, we had the misfortune of being partnered together, but I’ve found Robert now. You’re free to do whatever you like, you don’t have to feel obligated in any way,” she said, smiling at the other man.

“W-what?” Vanness asked, surprised.

“Don’t be mad. Look, you’re engaged. You have women flocking all over you, and now you can feel free to chase them. I know that I’ve been a drag for you, so I’m setting you free.”

“But I don’t want to be set free!” Vanness cried out.

“Nevertheless, you are free,” Pace said calmly. “Now, it would be best if you left.”

“You let me kiss you!” he protested, reaching for anything that might open her eyes.

“I’ve never really been kissed before,” she admitted. “I wondered what it would be like to be kissed by a womanizer.”

“What about all the plans I was making? What about the fact that you lead me on?” he asked. “And what about when you were sick? Why did you let me open up to you? As if what I had to say was so important to you? As if I was important to you?” he growled.

She looked at him expressionlessly.

“Say something,” he pleaded.

“You were never important to me. That was your mistake. You could never be important to me. You’re not a good man, Vanness Wu. You hurt women. And I’d be a fool to leave myself open to all that pain, again.”

“Again?” he asked in confusion.

There was only silence.

“Answer me! Tell me what I’ve done to deserve this rejection,” he shouted, grabbing her by the arms. “We were getting along so well. Vivian explained everything to you, so why are you still punishing me?”

“Hey, man, don’t do that to my lady,” the jerk intervened. “She’s chosen me, so it would be better if you backed off,” he advised, pulling them apart.

“Pace, let’s go to your room,” Rainie quickly said, seeing the fire leap up into Vanness’s eyes at the interruption.

“Vanness, I suggest that you remain here,” Winnie said calmly, leading Pace and Robert away.

Barbie remained, looking at him angrily.

“Stay away from her,” she added, before turning to go.

“I can’t,” he said. “I won’t.”

“Try. You’ve already hurt Pei Ci enough. You won’t get another chance to hurt her again, you jerk.”

He froze at hearing that name.

“Wait, that name . . . what did you just say?” he forced past the constriction that was growing in his throat.

“I said that you’ve already hurt Pace enough,” she repeated, emphasizing the Pace.

“Pei Ci? Wu Pei Ci? How do you know her?” he asked, ignoring her denial.

She turned to go.

“Barbie, answer me,” he demanded. “What are you hiding from me? What is everyone hiding from me?”

No response.

“Barbie?” he demanded urgently.

“Come on, Vanness. You must have suspected,” she finally said.

“I . . .,” there was no answer. Suspicions that he hadn’t even be conscious of were rising to the surface.

“Pace is Pei Ci. She is the woman you were engaged to. The woman you hurt. She can’t forget that pain, and the consequences of your engagement ending. Things happened that you don’t even know about. And, then, you got engaged on the day that would have been yours and Pace’s wedding day, became a womanizer, and tried to seduce her when you were still engaged. What do you expect?” she asked angrily.

“Pei . . . Pei Ci,” he murmured, trying to deal with the effect her revelation was having on him. “She was al—,” his words were disjointed. He had to sit down, unable to deal with the shock that had been dealt. He covered his face, trying to hide the emotions that were coursing through him.

“Look, she has moved on,” Barbie said gently, surprising herself with the gentleness. The absolute shock and growing pain in his face touched even her heart. “You were young, maybe you just didn’t want to get married. But it’s too late now. Her life changed in ways that you can’t even imagine, and if she lets you back into her life, well . . . you would be a constant reminder of some very bad things. I have to go. But . . . just . . . don’t go near her. She’s happy with David. For the first time in her life, she wants to be with someone. You have to give her that.”

She walked away.

He sat there quietly, gazing unseeing into the distance.

The woman that he had been falling in love with all over again. The woman that he had thought was so different from anyone else was the same girl that he had been engaged to so long ago.

Pei Ci.

Wu Pei Ci.

The woman who he would have been married to, if . . . the woman that would’ve been the mother of his children, only if . . . the woman who he would have wholeheartedly loved above all else, only if . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . .

She hadn’t broken their engagement to go after a richer prize.

If she hadn’t stomped all over his heart.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Pace was Wu Pei Ci.

. . . . . . . . . . .

The only woman he could ever love.

But she thought that he had hurt her. That he was the one at fault.

Robert.

David.

The confusion in her new boyfriend’s name could only mean one thing. It was apparent that the boyfriend was just a smokescreen. She wanted a way to reject him that would ensure his refusal in continuing to pursue her. She knew exactly what would hurt his pride.

“Aaah,” he sighed. The birds were coming home to roost. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried the same hoax before.

Something had gone terribly wrong. Something that he hadn’t known about. Something that had torn them apart; not that he hadn’t helped in his own way.

. . . . . . . . . . .

He had a strong suspicion of exactly who had been at fault.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ 

Chapter 20

His Reality

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

PRESENT TIME

“Mr. Wu, there has been no engagement between Ms. Wu and Mr. Ling. And there has never been any possibility of it,” his assistant then hesitated.

“Continue,” Vanness ordered harshly.

“The Lings and the Wus were very close friends, and, while the two heirs are also very good friends, Mr. Ling has been engaged to the Qiao heiress from her birth. Ms. Wu did spend a year in Mr. Ling’s home in Paris after her accident.

This would explain what you saw that night, and why you couldn’t find her in any of the hospitals in Taiwan after she disappeared from that hospital,” his assistant explained. “Also . . .,” he hesitated once more.

“Tell me,” Vanness ordered.

“That servant, who told you everything, well . . .she was hired by your mother. Your mother apprised her of your arrival, and she was waiting for you.”

“I see. Thanks,” Vanness murmured finally.

All of the pain the misunderstandings had brought . . . he could lay all of that at his mother’s door.

Well, his mother and Pei Ci’s grandfather. The one who had dealt the biggest blow of all.

Vanness sat down at his desk. His hands shook as he opened the drawer, and pulled out a black box.

Setting it on the table, he stared quietly at a piece of his past. Reaching out, he finally opened it.

It was the gift that Pei Ci had given him so long ago.

At his birthday party, the last time he had spoken with her. The last time he had dreamed about their future together.

It wasn’t too late.

It couldn’t be.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

1 WEEK AFTER THE BIRTHDAY PARTY

“Wu Pei Ci won’t be marrying you,” his mother declared, sitting down at the dinner table.

Vanness froze, his fork held halfway to his mouth.

“W-what did you say?” he finally got out.

“You are no longer engaged to Wu Pei Ci,” his mother said.

“What the hell are you saying?!” he shouted, slamming down the fork. “Just a week ago she was at my party. You wouldn’t let me introduce her to everybody, but all of MY friends knew she was my fiancée. She said nothing last week,” he protested.

“Things have changed. You know that the Ling’s are close friends of the Wus. Well Mr. Wu has decided to merge his company with the Lings, and therefore he will marry his daughter to Daniel Ling,” his mother explained.

“Pei Ci would never agree to this,” Vanness insisted.

“She already has. Wu Pei Ci will NOT marry into this family,” his mother said firmly. “And we can all thank God for that.”

“I don’t believe you. I don’t . . .,” he murmured.

“Then, why don’t you go see her?” his mother suggested.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Vanness drove to her house, wanting to talk to her. To reassure himself that his mother had spoken only lies.

Why? Why did he care so much? They’d only met twice. Two times, and it seemed that he was ready to fall in love with her. Why?

Because she was the one that was so different. She was innocent. She was . . . cute. He couldn’t forget how she had protected herself from a kiss on the cheek. She was loyal. She was a serene person, and he felt that serenity when he was around her. She was strong. She could fight her fears.

And most of all, to him, she was beautiful.

She could never end their engagement.

She couldn’t.

“How may I help you, sir?” the servant asked quietly, opening the door.

“I’d like to see Pei Ci, where is she?” he asked.

“Well, Miss Pei Ci . . .,” the servant began hesitantly.

“Where is she?” he repeated impatiently.

“They are in the east dining hall,” the servant finally said. “In that room,” she murmured, pointing.

“They?”

“Miss Pei Ci and her . . . fiancé,” she quietly finished.

Vanness moved toward the half-open door, wanting to see with his own eyes.

He could hear voices. Hers and a man’s voice.

He heard laughter. Hers and a man’s.

His feet carried him to the door, without any realization of what he was doing.

She was there. Laughing with him. And then he heard the damning words.

“You are the greatest in the world,” she smilingly said, leaning in to hug him. “I love you for this. Promise me . . .”

Vanness didn’t need to hear anymore. He didn’t want to. Turning, he made his way to the door.

“Sir?” the same servant asked hesitantly.

“How long has this been going on?” he ground out.

“Sir . . .,” she hesitated.

“Tell me!” he demanded.

“They became engaged a few days ago. Their parents signed the documents just yesterday. I heard Mr. Wu say that the Wu family’s stock is going down, and the Ling stock is rising and their company has better prospects. Their company has more value,” she breathlessly explained. “Sir and Madam believe that Mr. Ling is a better prospect. So, they’ve decided to merge their company with Ling Industries.”

At that moment, Vanness didn’t wonder how a lowly servant could know this. He didn’t wonder why it sounded rehearsed. He never wondered what her motives could be.

Glancing back, he saw his ex-fiancé kiss her new fiancé. His hands clenched. He wanted to hurt something. To hurt someone.

To hurt her.

. . . . . . . . . .

“You saw everything you needed to?” his mother asked coldly.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Yes.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

HIS ENGAGEMENT

He slipped the ring on her finger, staring at the beautiful face beaming back at him.

It was his engagement party. He had only realized today that this would have been the day they would’ve married. This was his mother’s doing.

Vivian. She was a good friend. But he felt nothing for her. No love. No attraction. Not even a possibility of a future love.

Because . . . he didn’t trust women anymore. He wouldn’t . . . not with his heart. He couldn’t. Not unless, he wanted to be hurt again.

His mouth tightened. Pei Ci had done this. If she hadn’t been such a faithless bitch, he wouldn’t be here today. They probably would’ve been on their honeymoon right now. Loving each other.

He shook his head, trying to dispel the thoughts. He had no business thinking about her when he was getting engaged to another woman. Even if it was just pretend.

There was a roar of sudden conversation around him. People’s shock came through, even though they were talking in hushed tones. And then he heard the name Wu.

“What’s going on,” he quietly asked Ken, standing next to him.

“I don’t know. Let me find out,” he replied.

Vanness’s eyes followed Ken as he moved towards Jerry and Vic. They quietly talked together, and then Vic said something that shocked the other two. Ken nodded, and quickly came back.

“Well?” Vanness asked as Ken returned to his side.

“A few hours ago . . . an ocean liner sank near one of the main harbors near here. You’re ex-f. . . Mr. and Mrs. Wu were on that ship, and unfortunately, they didn’t survive,” Ken revealed.

“What?” Vanness exclaimed.

“There’s more,” Ken said reluctantly. He quickly looked away from Vanness’s eyes. Vanness had told him about Pei Ci, and despite all the anger and bitterness Vanness apparently felt for his ex-fiancé, he still had some tender feelings for her. Ken knew that this would hurt him.

“Their daughter was picking them up, and when she heard the news, she had an accident.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

“But . . . she’s okay, right?” Vanness asked in a hoarse voice.

“I . . . don’t know. Only this information was on the news, with some very bad pictures of her. She looked like she was badly injured,” Ken finished.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

“I have to go,” Vanness suddenly said.

“But, it’s your engagement party,” Ken protested.

“I don’t care. Vivian will understand. Tell her for me. . . I have to go,” Vanness insisted.

“Let Vic and Jerry go with you,” Ken finally said.

“No, I have to do this alone,” Vanness said, turning away.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

His hands shook as he parked the car in the hospital parking lot. He could see the reporters standing like vultures outside the hospital entrance for any news. He needed to find another way to get in.

He finally found a way to sneak in, and his able assistant had the room number ready for him. He reached her floor, only to find two guards standing ready outside.

“Look, I’m her fiancé,” he said. “Let me in,” he shouted, hoping that the lie would work.

“I’m sorry, sir. We have clear orders to let no one in, except for the patient’s grandfather,” one guard replied.

“Let me in!” he demanded, trying to force his way in.

“What’s going on here?” a voice asked from behind there.

“Grandfather,” Vanness said, “Please let me in to see her. I heard she’s badly hurt?” he said in a questioning tone.

“That’s none of your business,” her grandfather replied coldly.

“But—,” Vanness began.

“My Pei Ci wouldn’t want to see you. You’ve hurt my Pei Ci enough.”

“She’s my Pei Ci, too!!” Vanness shouted back.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Not anymore. Get out of here. You’re not welcome,” grandfather said. “Please get him out of here,” he said to the security guards.

Vanness felt a hand come down on his shoulder.

“Let go of me,” he shouted, turning around.

“Vanness, let’s go,” Vic said quietly.

“Can’t you see that I need to be here?” Vanness asked in frustration.

“Maybe, right now isn’t the best time,” Jerry said. “Come tomorrow,” he suggested in a low tone.

~*~*~*Day 2 ~*~*~

“I’ve told you not to come here. It’s no use. Coming over every day won’t change my mind,” a voice said.

“But, Grandfather,” he protested. “She’s in pain. Let me try to distract her, at least. Let me see her. Why can’t I see her? She ended the engagement, why are you punishing me?”

He stared at Vanness for a moment, as if surprised by what he had heard. Grandfather then shook his head.

“It’s not use. She’s in a coma right now,” he finally said. “Doctors say that she might be able to hear what’s being said around her. She might be able to hear you. And I can’t risk you upsetting her. I can’t.”

“But—,” Vanness began.

“Get him out of here,” her grandfather said to his friends.

~*~*~*~DAY 7*~*~*~*~

“You can’t see Pei Ci,” Grandfather insisted.

“Why the hell not?!” Vanness shouted. “I need to see that she’s okay.”

“Get out of here. You’re not welcome,” grandfather said. “Please get him out of here,” he said to the security guards.

“NO!! Not today. I won’t be thrown out today,” Vanness said quietly. The low voice in itself expressed his determination of staying here.

Pei Ci’s grandfather sighed. His shoulders slumped.

“She came out of her coma this morning,” he began.

Vanness began to smile.

“But—it wasn’t for long. She slipped back into a coma in the afternoon, and now . . .,” he trailed off.

“Now what? What happened?”

“She’s . . . dead. My Pei Ci is dead. So, you see, you can’t talk to her. You can’t,” grandfather murmured before leaving.

Vanness fell back against the wall.

“Are you alright?” someone asked anxiously.

‘It couldn’t be!’ the thought flashed through his mind.

He turned to look, opening his mouth . . .

‘IT couldn’t be!’ the thought flashed through his mind.

He couldn’t speak.

‘IT COULDN’T be!’ the thought flashed through his mind.

His hands pounded against his chest, trying to remind his lungs to breathe.

‘IT COULDN’T BE!’ the thought flashed through his mind.

There was hope. He was lying. He had to be.

And the world went black.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The box slammed shut. His hands clenched around it.

His mother had lied. Pei Ci hadn’t broken their engagement, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Her grandfather had lied. She was alive. She was here.

He had another chance.

And nothing would make him lose this opportunity.

Not even . . . Pei Ci.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

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