Chapter 1: Late for a Meeting
“I love you.” His words whispered across her skin, making her tremble with emotion. “I don’t know how I ever thought I could live my life without you. I’m sorry, Ella. I’m sorry.”
He leaned in for a soft, tender kiss. His gentle touch did more to convey his feelings than all the words in the world.
“Blake,” Ella whispered against his lips. “You’re here. You’re okay. I had a horrible, horrible dream,” she murmured brokenly. “They told me …”
“Told you what?”
“They told me you were dead. I didn’t want to believe them … but …”
“I would never leave you.”
“Blake,” she whispered, falling eagerly into his embrace. “Promise me that you’ll never leave me again. Promise.”
“I promise,” he replied, picking her up in his arms. Placing her on the bed, he lay down beside her, hugging her to his side. “We’ll have a wonderful future together, trust me.’
There was a sudden ringing in the air.
“Is that your phone?” Ella asked irritably.
There was a beat of silence.
“Wait!” Ella said in a panic. “Don’t pick it up. We don’t need to…”
“I’m sorry,” Blake said grimly, his hand reaching for the phone.
“Don’t!” Ella cried out with terror. “Please don’t.”
“I’m sorry, Ella.”
“Stop saying you’re sorry. Just stay here with me.”
“You know I can’t do that,” Blake replied softly, his hand reaching out to touch her cheek. “I’m sorry … it seems that I can’t keep our promises. “
“Turn off that alarm!” a cranky voice called out, banging on the wall.
Ella grumbled as she turned to the alarm and pressed the off button. Sighing, she stared at the time. Squinting, she checked again. It was 6:00 A.M. on a Saturday morning! What sadistic bastard had set the alarm? Turning on her side, she let her eyes drift close, wanting to drift back into dreamland.
Two hours later her sleep was once again interrupted by the ring of a bell. Only this time, she saw when she finally turned over, it was her cellphone.
“Hello,” she mumbled gruffly into the phone.
“Ella, aren’t you awake yet?” a voice demanded on the other end, the tone exasperated.
“Who … Hebe? What the hell are you doing calling me this early in the morning?” Ella demanded angrily. “Do you have any idea what time it is over here?”
“I know what time it is,” Hebe replied drily. “Did you forget?”
“You were supposed to pick us up at the airport 10 minutes ago. I was going to call you as soon as we landed, knowing that you’d be asleep, but Selina told me to give you the benefit of the doubt.”
“I … I’m sorry,” Ella blurted, jumping out of bed. “I’ll be there in half an hour. It’ll take me two minutes to wash my face and grab my keys.”
“It’s okay,” Hebe replied with a sigh. “We’ll take a taxi.”
“No, don’t,” Ella protested. “You guys are coming back after so long, and I don’t want to ruin your homecoming. Let me pick you up like I promised. Please, let me do this.”
“Fine,” Hebe said with an exasperated sigh. “We’ll be in one of the cafés. Call me when you get here.”
“Take the extra minute …’
“To brush your teeth.”
“Hebe, I’m going to …,” Ella began grumpily, only to be interrupted by the dial tone. “That Hebe…” Ella grumbled to herself, getting ready. How could she have forgotten that her best friends were coming back from the convention today? She’d set the alarm, gotten her clothes ready, and still she’d messed it up.
Sighing, she ran a comb through her hair and raced out the door. She didn’t want to delay this a moment longer.
“Gate 21. Gate 21. Where the hell are you?” Ella murmured, staring at the diagram in front of her. Hebe had said that they were in the café in front of Gate 21. The only problem was that she couldn’t find Gate 21.
The phone began to ring once more. Hebe was getting impatient. Ella ignored the ring, and turned hurriedly in the direction she believed gate 21 would be.
“Oomph,” she gasped, as she ran into the man standing behind her. Recoiling from the force, her hands reached out to grab at air, as she felt herself falling to the hard, unforgiving ground. Closing her eyes, she waited for the impact.
“Woah there,” a male voice said cheerfully, as arms wrapped around her body, and pulled her into an impromptu embrace. “I’m sorry, I guess I got in your way,” the voice said.
Ella opened her eyes and squinted up into the face of the man whose arms she’d fallen into. “No, it’s my fault,” Ella said with embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t watching where I …”
Her voice trailed off. She gasped for air as she encountered the warm brown eyes staring into her own.
“Are you okay?” the man asked her gently, helping her to stand on her own two feet.
“I … B.” She coughed, trying to clear her throat.
Ella stared into the eyes of the man who had saved her from falling. Her hand trembled as she stretched it out to cup his cheek, her fingers caressing his skin. Her eyes flooded with tears.
“Excuse me,” he began hesitantly, stepping back. “Are you okay?”
“Ella! I told you gate 21! This is gate 12,” Hebe said irritably. “Selina wanted to wait, saying we should give you the benefit of the doubt, but it was my turn to win the argument. And I was right, wasn’t I? You were at gate 12, like I said you’d be.”
Ella jerked around to look at her irritated friends. “You guys found me,” Ella murmured. “I was just a little lost, but I …” Remembering with a gasp, she turned back to the stranger … but he was gone. She stared at the space he had stood at, trying to figure out if she had dreamt the whole thing.
“Who was that?” Selina asked, setting her bags down.
“Yeah, you were practically all over him,” Hebe said irritably. “Did you come to the airport to flirt?”
“That was … “
Ella turned to stare at her friends, tears falling from her eyes.
“Ella?” Selina began worriedly.
“Blake,” Ella finally whispered hoarsely, wiping the tears from her eyes. “That was … Blake.”
Chapter 2: First Kiss
“Blake!” Ella shouted, sitting up in bed. Her hands clutched at air, as if she’d been trying to grasp him. But he was nowhere to be found.
“Ella? Ella, are you okay?” Selina asked worriedly, hurrying into the room. She sat down beside her dazed friend, and put a comforting arm around her trembling body.
“Where am I?” Ella asked in confusion, looking around. “What happened?” She leaned against her friend, trying to gain the strength to sit up on her own.
“We’re at the apartment, and as for what happened to you … we don’t know,” Hebe said, chiming in. “At the airport you were kind of out of it, but you were fine enough that we didn’t notice anything wrong with you. At least, not until we reached the car, and instead of reaching for the keys, you just … fainted. You’ve been out of it for two hours now. You really had us worried.”
Ella stared at her clenched hands, and then sighed deeply. “I saw … I saw Blake at the airport,” she finally admitted. “Right before you two found me.”
There was a moment of shocked silence. She could feel them exchanging worried glances above her head.
“I wasn’t hallucinating,” she said abruptly, glaring up at them with tears in her eyes. “He was there. I wanted to ask him … talk to him … to find out …”. Her voice trailed off, as she stared at them helplessly, wanting them to understand. “It was him. I know it. The same features, the same scent … it had to be him.”
“Ella,” Selina began softly, “Blake’s dead. You know he was in a car accident three years ago.”
“But I didn’t see his body,” Ella protested hotly. “They wouldn’t allow me to go to his funeral, saying that it was only for family. You remember what John said … what if …”
“What if what?” Hebe asked abruptly, her glance raking over Ella’s unhappy face. “What are you thinking, Ella? What are you hoping for?”
Selina leaned over and cupped a hand to Ella’s cheek, gently wiping away a tear. “What are you dreaming?”
“John,” Ella began with a voice thickened with emotion, “John said that Blake’s parents were against our relationship. Had been so since the beginning. That’s why …,” she swallowed and then continued, “That’s why he hid me from them. What if …”
“What if what, Ella?” Hebe asked irritably.
“What if he didn’t really die,” Ella said, almost with an eerie calm. Her eyes stared unseeingly into space. “What if they convinced him to turn his back on me? What if they convinced him that I wasn’t good enough for him? What if, instead of having the courage to break it off with me, what if he concocted this whole scheme so that I would think he was dead and not bother him? What if he’s still out there … alive … while I’ve been living … while I’ve been living…”
“That’s just it, isn’t it?” Selina asked softly, tears falling from her eyes in sympathy. “You haven’t been living since you lost him and …”
“Don’t mention … don’t mention our baby,” Ella burst out raggedly. “I can’t bear to think … to remember her. Don’t mention her.”
“Ella, Blake’s dead. He’s from a prominent family. His death was a shock to all of society. It was covered by the media. His family, and Blake himself, wouldn’t perpetuate such a fraud on the whole world just so the heir could end a relationship with an …”
“Why don’t you finish that thought, Hebe?” Ella challenged. “With a what?”
“With an insignificant little nobody like you, Ella,” Hebe said in a pained tone. “As much as it hurts me to say it and for you to hear it, to them, you were nothing. According to John, they refused to meet you, even though Blake pressed them to set up a meeting. They were willing to wait until Blake overcame his infatuation with you. If they wanted to get Blake out of that relationship … and if their son was coward enough to give in to them … then he would’ve just broken up with you. Don’t hope for … don’t dream of something so outlandish, just so that you can have him out there … alive. Because that’s what you really want, isn’t it? Even if he’s not with you, even if he’s the biggest coward in the world and someone who’s abandoned you … you want him to alive. You want him to be on some part of this Earth.”
Ella’s hands clenched once more, her nails biting deep into the palm of her hands. Slowly, she nodded. “At least he would be alive,” she finally murmured.
“Ella, I’m sorry,” Selina murmured unhappily. “I’m sorry that he couldn’t be alive today. I’m sorry that it wasn’t him at the airport. I’m sorry.”
“I guess a part of me just wanted to hope for a little while,” Ella finally admitted brokenly. “I can’t believe that I actually thought it was him. He can’t be alive. He can’t be. You’re right. Of course, you’re right.”
The three sat quietly, each lost in her own thoughts.
“I’m glad that’s taken care of,” Hebe said cheerfully. “Let’s go get something to eat, I’m hungry.”
Ella nodded, and got up. “Let me just go wash my face and we’ll go out for something. I don’t have any food at home.”
“The new boss is coming in today,” Angie said, coming to sit on Ella’s desk.
Ella looked up in surprise. “What? Already? What have you heard?”
“Well, the company that took over ours,” Angie began, “is actually a new company. It’s one of the arms of the newly merged Comlink. Comlink wanted to get into electronics, so, here we are. Taken over.”
‘Blake’s company.’ Ella nodded. “Have you heard anything about the boss?”
“When do secretaries in the temp pool ever hear anything good?” Angie complained good-naturedly. “It doesn’t matter to us anyways. It’s not likely we’ll ever come into contact with the upper echelons of this company.”
Ella nodded in agreement. Murmuring a quick goodbye to Angie, she began to type once more. As she inputted data into the computer, she allowed her mind to wander. ‘Why am I doing this?’ she murmured to herself in disgust. ‘What happened to person I was? The person I wanted to be? What happened to all the dreams I had?’ She stared blankly at her hands flying over the keyboard. This job was so mind-numbingly easy that she could do it without engaging any portion of her brain in the task. How had she allowed her life to slip away? Instead of living her life, she’d merely existed for the past three years. Seeing that man had given her a jolt. ‘If I saw Blake today, what would I tell him? The Ella he fell in love with doesn’t even exist anymore. How could I explain this pathetic person I’ve become, someone whose merely moving through life?’
Getting up, she began to take her stack of files to the elevators. Her fingers clenched as she came to a decision. She would do something about her half-life. She needed to make plans.
“Oomph,” Ella muttered as someone bumped into her. With nary a sorry the person continued on his way. Moving quickly, she was able to save the files from falling. “Jerk,” she said under her breath, glaring at the retreating back. Turning around, she continued on her way.
“Oomph,” Ella muttered, as she slammed into another hard body. Only this time, the files went flying. “Watch where you’re going!” she shouted irritably. Getting down on her knees, she began to pick up the files angrily. Was she really that tiny that people just overlooked her?
A hand appeared in her line of vision, and picked up a couple of files, holding them out to her. Ella tilted her head slightly, staring at the hand. It was beautiful … in a masculine way, of course. Reaching out, she almost touched it before coming to her senses. Muttering a quick thanks, she grabbed the files.
“Are you okay?” a deep voice asked above her head.
Ella froze, the voice sending her into shock. ‘No,’ she murmured to herself. ‘It can’t be.’ Her gaze slowly moved up the legs in front of her, skimmed over broad shoulders, a strong chin, and met the eyes … of the man she had loved and lost three years ago.
His name rang in her ears. There was a great roaring sound.
“Are you okay?”
It was the same voice.
The files fell from her hands once more.
“Blake?” she murmured hopefully, even as her mind begged her to be logical.
His eyes widened in surprise.
Jumping up, she threw her arms around him, hugging him close.
“Blake,” she cried out softly. “I’ve missed you so much.” Reaching up, she pulled him close for a kiss. His lips landed against hers.
And … the world began to whirl crazily around her. Gasping, she pulled away from him. His eyes stared into hers. As the world began to recede, and darkness came before her eyes, one thought raced through her mind.
It wasn’t Blake’s kiss. It wasn’t Blake’s touch.
It wasn’t Blake.
Chapter 3: Dreams Fly Away
She moaned softly, turning her face away from the light. It was too bright. Pain was beginning to throb in her temples, and she just wanted to slip back into the oblivion she had fallen into after the kiss. The kiss. She scrunched her eyes, trying to block the mental images flooding her mind. She didn’t even want to think about that kiss. She’d kissed a damned stranger!
“Are you okay?” a voice asked persistently in her ear. Fgers tapped lightly against her cheeks. “Please wake up.”
This stranger. What the hell was this man thinking? Did he expect her to jump and say she was okay? It was going to take some time, dammit!
She didn’t want to open her eyes and meet his gaze. How would she explain herself? How could she explain the mistake? It would only make her look crazy. Demented. Come on, what woman would think her boyfriend was still alive years later? Dead. Once again, she screwed up her eyes. Only this time, it was to keep the tears from flowing out.
“Do you think that we should call a doctor? She just fainted on me,” the male voice asked. It was only then that Ella realized they weren’t alone in this place. Where ever this place was. She’d passed out in the arms of a strange man, and she didn’t even know where she was! What would Hebe say? After smacking her on the head for being an idiot, she might have some sensible advice. As it was, Ella had no idea how to get out of this situation. And the man was sitting close to her … too close. She could feel the heat from his body near her … hemming her in.
“I don’t know about that.” The reply came in smooth, cool tones. It was as if the speaker was secretly amused. Ella hated that voice immediately. “Do you want to create so much unnecessary publicity? I mean … the heir to the throne being attacked by a temp, or so I assume, on his first day on the job.”
“It was just so bizarre,” the male voice continued from somewhere above her head. Ella could hear the exasperation in his voice. “I had just walked out of the elevators and she was suddenly there. And then she was just kissing me … and if that wasn’t strange enough, she then fainted! It was as if I attacked her or something.” The tone was aggrieved now.
“Are you sure she isn’t some secret girlfriend that you’ve been hiding from me?” the cool voice asked. Ella could hear the patent unconcern in the tone. The speaker felt in no danger from Ella’s kiss. “You have been in America for the past few years, who knows what kind of shenanigans you’ve been getting into without any of us knowing.”
“Mel, I assure you I have no idea who she is,” the man quickly replied, before chuckling. “Almost gave me a heart attack. It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t a woman from my past. It’s not everyday that a total stranger comes up to you and plants one on you.”
“Did she say anything before or after she kissed you?” the woman asked, coming closer.
“She did mumble something,” the man responded reflectively. “I didn’t quite catch it though.”
“Were you so mesmerized by her kiss that you zoned out on everything else?” the woman said curtly. “I don’t see what’s so special about her. She’s a skinny little thing, isn’t she? She looks like a strong wind could blow her over. Look at her. Pale and almost transparent. Someone who could be easily overlooked, even when she is in the same room with you. And what is with that atrocious haircut?”
Ella’s eyebrows scrunched together. ‘Pale? Transparent? Skinny? What is that bitch’s problem?’ She pouted. ‘There is nothing wrong with my body! Some people even consider me pretty, and most people think I have acceptable features. And some people … one person … thought I was beautiful … worth loving.’ She clenched her hands into fists.
“Mel, that’s not nice,” the man reprimanded the female speaker. “But … she does look familiar … I wonder where I have seen her before.” There was a beat of silence. “Anyways, why did you show up today? I thought we were going to meet for dinner and have a talk.” His weight shifted on the sofa, and he got up and moved away. She heard his voice getting further and further away.
“Of course, but I wanted to welcome you to your first day at the company,” Mel replied. “And I also got the chance to see you. I haven’t seen you for such a long time,” she said with a sigh. “How was everyone in the country?”
“Grandfather and grandmother are fine,” he replied. “I also had the chance to relax. I’m surprised he let me stay so long. I thought he wanted me to come back and takeover immediately.”
“There’s nothing your father wouldn’t give his future daughter-in-law,” Mel said smugly. “All I had to do was ask.”
“You did that for me?” The man sounded surprised. “Since when did you get so … wifely?”
“Practice. I knew that you were bone tired after the series of conferences and negotiations you had over the past few months. I wanted you to have the chance to recuperate. I would’ve joined you if it wasn’t for that seminar last week.” Ella could hear the pouting in her voice from across the room.
“Thank you.” The words were simple and all the more meaningful for their succinctness.
Ella heard the sounds of the couple kissing. She blushed, cringing inwardly at intruding on this private moment. She did not want to be here, but she didn’t know how to notify them of her consciousness. Should she just to try to quietly slip out? Slightly opening one eye, she peeped through her lashes. Thankfully, the two had stopped kissing.
“Well, I can’t wait around all day to solve this mystery,” Mel said. “Tell me about it at dinner. I have to go meet with a patient, and then I’ll be having a quick meet with the wedding planner. We can discuss the details at dinner.”
“Yippee.” The reply was short and sardonic.
“Don’t be that way,” Mel protested. “I know that you don’t have much interest in the wedding, but you are the groom. You have to at least know some of the major details. Like where the wedding will take place, what date, etc. I’ll see you at eight.”
There were sounds of movement, and then the sound of the door opening and shutting.
Then, there was only silence. Ella wondered frantically on what she should do next.
“So, would you like to tell me what that was all about, Ms. Chen?”
Ella cocked her head, confused. He knew who she was? Then why hadn’t he said so?
“I’m talking to you, Ms. Chen.”
Ella warily raised her head to meet his eyes. He was staring at her. Ella’s eyes traced over his features. He looked so much like Blake. So much that her heart began to beat heavily in her chest once more. Even though she knew … she knew he wasn’t Blake, but his eyes … there was something there that made her heart insist.
“You knew I was conscious?” she questioned tremulously.
“From the moment you awakened,” he replied. “So, why don’t you tell me what that was all about?”
“I …” Ella stared at her hands. What could she say? How could she explain so that she didn’t look like a fool?
“Yes?” she asked, looking up once more.
“Would you care to explain how you knew my brother?”
“Your … brother?”
Chapter 4: No Loyalty
“You … know who I am?” Ella asked hesitantly.
“While I was carrying you in here,” he replied, “one of your co-workers rushed over to see what was wrong with you. She called you Ella. And while I was waiting for you to wake up, I had my assistant do research on you so that I could know more about you,” he concluded. She froze when she saw that he was staring at her silently; she saw a question in his eyes.
She looked down, staring at her hands. “Then, why didn’t you tell your … fiancé who I was when she asked?” She was thoroughly confused, trying to figure out what she could say, and trying to delay the explanation as long as possible. He looked like Blake so much … that her heart hurt to look at him.
“I wanted to find out myself first,” he answered.
“I don’t understand. You know my name. You know that I work here. What else do you need to know?”
“I know your name,” he said. “I know you’ve worked for this company for three years. I know that you are competent and efficient. But I also know that you kissed me. I know that you called me Blake. So, what I want to know now is how you knew my brother. I don’t know who you are. I wanted to find all of that out before I discussed you with my … fiancé.” He frowned at that small hesitation in his voice.
Ella noticed the frown, and quickly turned her head away, wondering how she had annoyed him. Her nails bit into the palm of her hand. Pain was pounding in her temples, and she wanted nothing more than to lie down and go to sleep. If she could, she would close out this moment … close out the world … and worry about nothing anymore. She wanted to erase the last hour, so that she didn’t have to face her delusions. She wondered briefly if, given the choice, she would be willing to erase her time with Blake, as well?
“Who are you?” he repeated.
“Who are you?” she countered, turning the question back on him. “How is it that you’re Blake’s brother? He never said anything.”
He smiled bitterly. “For now, all you need to know is that my name is Wu Chun. I am your boss now. And I am Blake’s brother. Now, I want to know who, exactly, are you?”
“I …”, she began hesitantly. “I knew Blake before he … before he died,” she said softly. “We were close,” she blurted out the last few words.
“What?” he asked impatiently.
“I said … we were close,” she forced herself to repeat the words, squeezing the words out past the lump in her throat. “When he died, I wasn’t able to go to his funeral,” she said brokenly. “Your parents … your parents didn’t like me. They barred me from the funeral.”
“Why didn’t they like you?”
“I guess I wasn’t from the right circles … they weren’t willing to accept me into your brother’s life,” Ella said bitterly. “No matter how much I tried to beg, how my friends tried to intervene, your parents didn’t relent.”
“I take it, by ‘close’ that you mean that he was more than just a friend?” Chun queried.
She quickly nodded. “We were dating. He … asked me to marry me. When he was on his way to ask your parents for their approval … they had ignored me the entire time Blake and I were dating … he was involved in a car accident.”
“He actually asked you to marry him?” Chun asked skeptically.
Ella’s eyes narrowed angrily. “What makes you doubt me? Why would I be lying? What would I get out of that?”
He shrugged in response. “From what I have heard, Blake wasn’t the type to commit,” he finally said. “I didn’t think he was capable.”
“He gave me this ring,” Ella retorted, sticking out her hand, “When he asked me to marry him. It is one of my most prized possessions. It’s also proof positive that he loved me.”
Chun stared at the ring for a long time and then blinked, before looking away.
“Blake died three years ago,” he finally said.
“I know how long it’s been,” she retorted angrily.
“How long did you know him?”
“Why do you want to know?” she asked suspiciously, her lips forming a pout.
“A year.” Her reply was grudging. A part of her didn’t want to share anything with this cool stranger. He might have Blake’s face, but he didn’t have his warmth. The more time she spent with him, the more she knew that he wasn’t the man she had fallen in love with. His behavior … his mannerisms were miles away from who Blake had been.
“He’s been gone a longer time than you knew him,” Chun mused. His fingers tapped his chin, as he thought about this revelation.
She stared at him, hurt by that reminder. He was right. She’d only known Blake for such a short amount of time, and he’d been gone for much, much longer than that. Her bottom lip trembled. There were moments that she couldn’t even remember his face … that she had to turn to pictures to remember exactly what he looked like. But even pictures were a pale representation of what he had been like … alive and loving. She missed that love most of all.
“You loved him that much?” Chun’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
She looked up at him, startled. “What?”
“You loved my brother that much?” he repeated his question quietly. “So much so that you would wear his ring when he is no longer in the world. You would wear his ring when he’s been gone for so long?”
“He was the man that I thought I would spend the rest of my life with,” she whispered helplessly. He leaned forward to hear her words. “For a minute amount of time …,” she sighed, “For a small amount of time he was my whole world. How could I forget him so easily? Three years? Three years is nothing.”
He smiled, shaking his head.
“What is it?” she asked, noticing the smile.
“I didn’t even think my brother was worth loving,” he replied softly, almost as if he was speaking to himself. “Couldn’t be worth loving, especially when you consider …,” he shook his head. “Your love … shines so brightly … it’s blinding. A moment ago you were this faded little thing, but now … now you seem like the most beautiful woman in the world. Your love for him changed you right before my eyes. Should I attribute this change to the paragon my brother apparently used to be or to your ability to love so wholeheartedly … so foolishly?”
“Just what do you mean by that?” she asked angrily, jumping to her feet. “He was a wonderful man! The more I talk to you, the more differences I can see between the two of you. Yeah, you might be the more handsome one, but he was kinder. Whenever we were together, he only thought about me. He always put others first. Can you say the same?”
Chun stared at her, speechless for the first time. His eyes traced over her features, trying to find that answer once more. He opened his mouth, as if to say something, but then closed it again.
“Why are you acting this way?” Ella said tearfully, all the energy leaving her body. She sat back down on the sofa. “Why are you saying these horrible things about him? Where is your loyalty?” she demanded hotly.
“Loyalty? To whom?” he asked cynically.
“To your brother … your sibling … your family,” she shouted out in vexation. “No matter what you thought of him, he was your family. Why are you running him down to a complete stranger?”
“The fact is, Miss Chen,” Chun said quietly, coming to stand over her, “I know you more than I ever knew my brother.”
Ella stared at him in confusion. “I don’t understand,” she finally murmured. “I’m a stranger. You’ve never met me before. How could you…?”
“I might never have met you before,” he replied, moving back. “But I’ve met you today and I’ll remember this meeting.”
“You don’t remember Blake? Do you … do you have amnesia?” Ella asked, thunderstruck by that possibility.
He laughed, throwing back his head. Shaking his head, he stared at her with a smile. Ella blinked, awestruck by the change that had come over his features. “The truth is … the reason you’ve never heard about me from Blake or anyone else … is because up until three years ago I wasn’t even officially part of the Wu family.”
Ella’s brow crinkled in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“I am my mother’s son,” Chun said.
Ella nodded, trying to understand that.
“But my mother is not Belinda Wu.”
Ella tried to process that. Belinda Wu was Blake’s mother. She was Chase Wu’s wife, who was Blake’s father. She shook her head, unable to figure out what he was trying to tell her. “If you’re not Belinda Wu’s son …,” her voice trailed off.
“My mother was Chase Wu’s … mistress, for want of a better word. She got pregnant and gave birth to twins.” Chun smiled humorously. “At that same time, doctors told Belinda that she couldn’t have children. And Chase … who up until that point had declared that he would have nothing to do with his mistress’ children … decided that he wanted a future heir. It was only when my mother threatened to publicize their affair, did he back off from his demand for both children.”
Ella gulped as that fact was revealed.
“He made do with Blake,” Chun said, concluding his revelations. Ella’s eyes were wide with surprise.
“What about you?” Ella asked hoarsely.
“While Blake spent his life living in luxury under the purview of Chase and Belinda, I … I spent the past 20+ years in blissful ignorance. I was left with my mother. That is, until Chase Wu showed up at my door and demanded that I come into the family fold … his family,” he said the words with contempt. “In one day, life as I knew it changed. I became the heir to an empire … gained a pedigree … inherited a fiancé … and lost a brother I never knew.”
There was a short pause, as Ella digested all of this.
“Wait a minute. Inherited a fiancé?” she blurted out.
“On the day of his accident,” Chun said softly, “Blake was on his way to his engagement ceremony. To Melanie. The woman who is currently my fiancé.”
“No.” The word was silent. A breath of air. Ella struggled to grasp what he was saying. The world was a blur before her eyes.
“This ring,” he continued, coming over to grab hold of her hand, “Never really meant anything. He died with the ring he would have put on Melanie’s hand in his pocket. You were never going to spend the rest of your life with him, Miss Chen. You wouldn’t have even had him for a year. Plans were already in motion to separate the two of you. Now tell me something.”
“Three years. You’ve apparently spent three years mourning him.”
She nodded, unable to speak … unable to breathe.
“Was he really worth loving?”
Chapter 5: Put Away the Old
Ella pulled her hand away from his, her eyes revealing her horror at the words that had just escaped his lips. Chun looked chagrined, almost as if he regretted what he had said. Her hand came up of its own volition, and she slapped him across the face, her eyes blazing. She was so furious that she was shaking from the emotion.
“I have believed in Blake for three years. I believed in him when his parents were against us. I believed in him when they ignored me, and made me feel like dirt the one time I was unfortunate enough to meet them. I believed in him when no one believed in us and our relationship. And no one … not you and not some trumped up fiancé will take him away from me. You can’t taint his memory. I won’t let you.” Her voice trembled at the last words.
He stared after her as she stormed out of the office, tears streaming down her face. Ella slammed the door shut behind her, ignoring the shocked expression on the secretary’s face as she dashed past. The depth of her anger surpassed anything else she had felt in a long, long time. And she wanted to take it out on someone … take it out on him. She wanted to make him suffer the way his words were making her suffer again. But beneath it all, she could feel it. She tried to use her anger to cover that softer, more fragile emotion. But she could hear it.
She could feel her heart breaking once more and it terrified her.
Ella drove up to her house, and parked in the driveway. Putting her hand on the door handle, she hesitated. A part of her didn’t want to go inside. She didn’t want to face her friends. She didn’t even know what she would say. Her hand left the door and came back to grip the steering wheel. She tried to fight the chaos going on inside of her, trying to soothe herself. But … it wasn’t working.
There was a sudden burst of noise near her head. Ella shrieked in shock, turning to the source of the noise. It was Hebe. Knocking on the window.
“Come out of the car,” Hebe said insistently. She looked at her friend strangely. Ella blushed, and turned her head away from the questions she saw in Hebe’s eyes. Getting out of the car, she reluctantly made her way into the house. Hebe followed closely behind.
“What is it?” Hebe asked sharply.
Ella shook her head shakily, and turned toward her bedroom. Hebe pulled her back and forced her to sit down on the couch. “What is it?” Hebe repeated. “You look exactly the way you looked when you lost Blake. What’s wrong? Tell me, Ella, please.”
“Remember when I said that I saw him?” Ella finally whispered hoarsely, forcing the words out past the lump in her throat.
“Oh, Ella. Not again. Don’t do this to yourself,” Hebe begged. “Please. He’s dead. You know that. Up here,” she said, gently tapping Ella’s head, “You know that up here. And no matter how much your heart wishes it otherwise, he’s gone.”
“I know it wasn’t him,” Ella interjected shakily. “I know it wasn’t him. I knew it then … somewhere inside of myself, I knew it even then … when I had only had a glimpse of him. But … did you know that Blake had a twin brother? He looks just like him. Just a little bit taller … a bit leaner … a bit … cuter.” She mumbled the last word, forcing herself to speak the truth even in this.
Hebe’s eyebrows rose in surprise, unsure of what to say.
“Ella, you were out of it for a while when Blake died. You had no idea what was going in the world around you. When … Wu Chun came out in the public eye, he came out big. The news was everywhere. Although his origins still remain a mystery … although no one knows where he was all this time, but he was the new Wu heir. You … you had closed yourself off from the world, and we made sure that whatever leaked through didn’t have any mention of him. We, Selina and I, didn’t think you could bear to see another face like Blake’s and know that it was not and could not be the one you loved. And when you lost the baby, you consciously made the choice to stay away from everything the media said about the Wus.”
Ella stared at Hebe in disbelief. “How could I …?”
“I didn’t know you were talking about Wu Chun when you said you saw Blake. I was afraid that you’d started to see Blake’s ghost,” Hebe admitted in a rush. There was a moment of silence as the two friends tried to comprehend the situation as it was now. “How did it feel … seeing him?” Hebe queried tentatively.
“At first, I was fooled. I was so happy. And then I kissed him.”
“Kissed who?” an excited voice asked from across the room. Ella looked up and caught Selina’s quizzical gaze. “What is this juicy gossip that I’m missing out on?” Selina asked brightly. “Tell me everything. Who did you kiss?”
“Chun. Blake’s brother,” came Hebe’s sardonic reply.
“Oh,” Selina finally said, staring at Ella, openmouthed.
Ella shrugged helplessly, acknowledging her friend’s wide-eyed surprise. “When I kissed him, it just confirmed what I already knew. It wasn’t Blake. I’ve only kissed one man, you know.”
Selina and Hebe blinked at her, unsure of what to say.
“Well, at least I can now say that I’ve kissed two,” Ella uttered with a hint of self-deprecating humor. “I was so happy to see him … but Wu Chun told me …” Her voice trailed off. “He told me that Blake died with a ring in his pocket, an engagement ring meant for another woman. A woman that his parents had picked out and approved of. Wu Chun told me that Blake was going to the engagement ceremony when the accident happened.”
“Ella, no,” Selina protested, reaching out to put her arms around her friend’s slender frame.
“Don’t believe him,” Hebe urged stoutly. “Blake loved you. Anyone who met him could see how much he thought of you.”
“Ella, he cherished you,” Selina whispered against Ella’s ear.
“I want to believe in Blake,” Ella whispered. “I don’t know if what Wu Chun told me was right or wrong … I don’t know what his purpose was in telling me … but it is time.”
“Time for what?” Selina asked.
“Time for me to move on,” Ella said. “Before I left the office today, I resigned. I’m not going back. I don’t want to see him again. I want to put all of this … everything about Blake and everything connected to him in the past.”
Ella turned to stare at the picture of her and Blake hanging on the wall. She stared at their smiling, young faces, and yearned for that happiness once more. She could never have that happiness with Blake, but she was still alive and her heart ached to love. Taking off her engagement ring, she put it on the table underneath the picture. “He’s a part of my past. And this,” she said, staring at the ring, “This needs to stay in the past with him. I need to move on, for my own sanity.”
Hebe and Selina silently hugged her, giving her their support. “We’re here for you,” Selina said softly, smoothing back Ella’s bangs.
“You know what? I think it’s time for you to date,” Hebe said suddenly.
“Date?” Ella squeaked out. “No. Uh uh. I just took off that ring.” Her protests were loud and panicked.
“I really think that this is the best next step,” Hebe insisted.
“No!” Ella shouted, springing up off the couch.
“You don’t have a job now, and no excuses to wiggle out of any date I set up for you.”
“I know a great guy.”
“Read my lips, woman! No means no!”
“He’s a friend of a friend.”
“What are you doing? Hebe?! What the hell are doing?”
“Let me just call … Don’t worry, Ella. You’ll love him …”