Chapter 6: A Bad Blind Date? It’s Like Being in Hell!
Ella sat in the elegant dining room, the lighting low enough to set the mood but not dark enough so that you could forget who was sitting across from you. There were bouquets of elegantly set flowers across the dining area, and discreet waiters moved around offering excellent service to the patrons of the restaurant.
“I am going to kill Hebe! How could she do this to me? She knows how awkward I am in situations like these. She knows that I have a tendency to open my mouth, and wonders of wonders, there’s my foot ready to go in there.” Ella’s hands clenched around her dinner napkin, as she frowned lightly, trying to find a way to restart the conversation. “Why do I fall in with her schemes? How is it that she knows exactly how to twist me around her little finger?” She stared at the man in front of her, realizing with horror that she’d already forgotten his name. “Shit! What do I do now? Do I text Hebe and ask her for the info again? But if I do, she won’t ever let me forget this. Poor guy,” she thought to herself. “He doesn’t really make an impression, does he? I mean, I would’ve at least remembered his name if he was more … vibrant, more entertaining.”
She was pulled out of her reverie by a soft cough from across the table. She looked up to meet his puzzled gaze. She looked back at him, questioning.
“I’m sorry,” he finally said, “But I forgot your name. Could you tell me … again?” he requested apologetically.
Her eyes widened in surprise, and she blushed slightly, realizing that she hadn’t been leaving much of an impression herself.
“My name is Ella. Chen,” she blurted out. “And, uh …”
“My name?” he asked ruefully.
She nodded bashfully.
“Calvin. Calvin Chen.” He smiled, after saying his name.
She blinked at the sunny smile coming her way. Blinking her eyes again, she quirked her eyebrows. “Boy is that an eye-catching smile,” she muttered to herself. He gazed at her, his eyes widening, then flashed that dangerous smile once more.
“I work in a corporation. I’m one of the senior officers,” he continued, repeating his initial introduction. “I didn’t want to get into the corporate scene, but my friend dragged me along. He can get a bit nasty if you don’t do what he says,” he admitted.
“You changed your entire work life to make your friend happy?” Ella demanded incredulously. She was beginning to have serious doubts about this man’s intelligence.
“He needed me at the time. Anyways, I ended up enjoying my job more than I thought I would. So no worries there,” he said, finishing with a smile.
She blinked once more, and then deliberately turned her eyes away.
“Well, I’m an out of work temp,” Ella finally said. “I don’t have any ambitions. I don’t have any plans. I don’t have any idea what I want to do,” she said in a rush.
Calvin stared at her, absorbing her words. Then he softly sighed. “I know that we’re probably not going to start a grand, passionate affair,” he finally said, “but I’m sure we’ll be great friends.”
“And why wouldn’t we be starting a grand, passionate affair?” Ella demanded hotly, only realizing afterwards how loudly she had spoken.
Calvin looked at her in confusion. “Uh … do you want to start a grand, passionate affair with me?” he asked hesitantly.
She shook her head in instant denial.
“I don’t know,” she mumbled.
“You’re so cute,” he suddenly said, starting to laugh.
She blushed a fiery red. “What?”
“That’s why I don’t imagine we’ll be the great loves of each others lives,” he said with a smile. “You’re so cute, I just want to pinch your cheeks. Not a smart thing to do to a prospective girlfriend, but when I look at you, my fingers just itch.”
She frowned at him. “You’re weird.”
He shrugged. “A lot of people say that. Since we’re not the future great loves of each others lives, why don’t we talk frankly?” She looked at him silently. “You don’t have ambitions … no plans … no idea what you want to do, right?”
She nodded in agreement.
“Then why don’t you tell me about your dreams? What are your dreams?”
She looked at him, surprised by his odd question. “I … my dreams?”
“Yeah,” he said eagerly. “Without being realistic and concentrating on the logistics, why don’t you tell me about what you wish could be true? What do you want out of your life?”
She looked down and stared at her whitened fingers, as they clenched once more around the dinner napkin. What could she say? She stared around the restaurant once more … the candlelight, the flowers, and the discreet, elegant atmosphere.
She’d had none of this with Blake. He’d hidden her away. She thought back to the cool voice she’d heard in Chun’s office … Melanie’s, or rather Mel’s, voice. She thought back to the pictures she’d looked up on the Internet, wanting to know the face of the woman who had taken her Blake away from her without her even knowing. What could she say? How could she express how small she had felt, sitting in her room, in front of that computer screen, and saw the differences between her and Melanie. She was nothing in comparison.
She only knew one thing. Dreaming hurt.
“I used to dream … I don’t anymore.”
He blinked at her abrupt tone, and the conversational dead-end. “What about in the past?” he pressed gently. She stared at him, a hurt expression in her eyes. “You seem like you really want to talk about it,” he said.
She stared down for a moment, trying to find the courage to say something.
“I used to dream … that I wanted to get married. I wanted to have children,” she finally began, her voice rusty, as if the expression of her dreams was hurting her. “I wanted to be a lawyer. Not because I wanted to make money, but because I wanted to help people. All of that slipped away … died. When I lost him, I lost everything.”
“Him?” Calvin asked after a brief pause.
“My fiancé. Or at least, I think he was my fiancé. Recent facts have put that into doubt,” she admitted bitterly. “I took off my ring recently. And today I’m here with you. What did I think I was doing?” she muttered, wiping a hand over her eyes.
Calvin reached across the table, putting a hand over hers, trying to give her comfort. “I understand.”
She looked at him in surprise. “How could you understand what I’m going through,” she questioned him. “You with your abnormally sunny smile.”
“I used to have someone I loved with all my heart,” he confessed softly. “She was so precious to me, but she chose to walk away.”
“If she was as precious as you say to you, why would she have walked away?” Ella cried out in disbelief. “No woman walks away from love.”
“She … I didn’t cherish her,” he said sadly. “I took her for granted. I told her to wait. And wait and wait, with no end in sight. She became tired of waiting for a future that might never come to be. I was so busy with everything else in life … that I forgot about my time with her. We drifted apart, her more than me. And one day, she reached a point where she found that she could walk away from me. She found that she could live without me. That was the beginning of the end for us. Before I knew it, she was gone.”
Ella patted his hand in commiseration.
“You chose your friend over her?” she asked suddenly.
He choked on the wine he had been drinking. Putting down the glass, he glared at her. “How did you get there from the conversation we just had?” he asked touchily. “How the hell does your mind work?”
“You said your friend needed you, so you entered the corporate scene,” Ella began logically. “I take it you got busy with your new job. And being at a senior position now probably means that you were damn good at your job, which probably means you worked all kinds of crazy hours. So, to make your friend happy, you lost the only woman you could ever love.”
He stared at her grimly. “I didn’t say that she was the only woman I could ever love,” he argued.
“Well, isn’t she?” Ella queried.
His shoulders slumped in defeat. “Yes.”
“You did say we should be frank,” she said apologetically. “I called it like I saw it.”
There was an awkward silence between them.
“I regret losing her,” Calvin finally said. “But … I don’t regret helping a friend. If I was the kind of man that could’ve turned my back on a friend in need, then she would never have … could never have loved me in the first place.”
She patted his hand once more. “You know, I think you’re right,” she finally said brightly. “I think we can be friends. I don’t have to be bright and optimistic around you.”
“And you have to be like that around your other friends?”
“I have been for the last week,” she admitted. “It’s damn hard, especially when I’m a true pessimist.”
He smiled at her, liking her quirky sense of humor.
“Oh shit! Oh no!” Ella suddenly yelped, springing up from her seat and diving under the table.
“What is it?” Calvin asked worriedly, looking under the table.
“My boss! That jerk! He’s here. What is he doing here?”
“And why are you hiding from your boss?” he asked in confusion.
“Although, he’s not here with his fiancé. I wonder if he’s a womanizer,” Ella muttered to herself, completely ignoring Calvin for the moment. Suddenly, she reached out and grabbed Calvin’s foot. “Tell me when he’s gone,” she ordered.
“But which one is your bo…”
“Hush,” Ella ordered irritably.
After a few minutes, Calvin nudged her with a foot. Ella sneaked out from under the table.
“Thank god I didn’t have to talk to him. I’m so glad he didn’t see me. He’s such a jerk … a womanizer. I’m glad I slapped him in the office. I’m not sorry one little bit.” Ella was muttering, as she hurriedly brushed down her clothes, and pushed back her hair from her flushed face. She finally sat down, releasing a sigh of relief.
“I’m glad to hear you’re not losing any sleep over your violent behavior,” a sardonic voice said from across the table. Ella jumped in surprise. “Although, looking at your size, I didn’t think you could pack such a wallop. I still have a bruise. Look, Calvin,” he said, turning to the man on his right side.
Calvin chuckled. “Ella, I guess this is your jerk of a boss.”
Ella nodded reluctantly. “Well, no, not boss,” she corrected spiritedly. “He’s my ex-boss.” She said the last bit with relish. “Remember, I told you I was out of work?”
“Well, this is also my best friend, Wu Chun,” Calvin said quickly, before things could escalate.
Ella put her head down on the table, banging her head. The dishes began to rattle, as she hit the table with her head.
“Stop that, before you hurt yourself,” Chun ordered.
“Excuse my language,” she finally said hoarsely, looking up to meet Calvin’s eyes. “But … what the fuck, Calvin? Do not tell me that you lost the woman you loved because of this loser?”
Chapter 7: You Make Me Feel …
“Excuse my language,” she finally said hoarsely, looking up to meet Calvin’s eyes. “But … what the fuck, Calvin? Do not tell me that you lost the woman you loved because of this loser?”
The two friends stared at an incredulous Ella, surprised at the outburst. Calvin turned to look at Chun, wondering what he could say to explain the situation. But he found his friend glaring at Ella instead, his mouth tight. “Hmm,” Calvin thought to himself. “That’s more emotion than I’ve seen in him in the past three years.” He stared at the two, as the minutes ticked by, fascinated by how both were so into just glaring at each other. Neither one was willing to back down.
A cellphone rang in the silence, breaking the tense moment.
“Uh, excuse me,” Calvin said, answering the phone. “Yeah. Hi. No, it’s fine. I was waiting for your call. I wanted to talk to you about …” He got up and walked away from the table.
Ella continued to glare at Chun, wondering what was it about him that had inspired Calvin to such devotion. The man had lost his love because of all the time and energy he had spent in supporting his best friend. She tilted her head, trying to figure out that mysterious quality in Chun.
“Ah, well. It’s probably something I could never figure out,” she thought to herself. “The way he’s acted with me up till now, I’m surprised that he has any friends at all.”
“Dance with me.” Ella’s eyes jerked up to stare at Chun in amazement.
“What?” she finally asked. “Why?”
“It’s a normal activity,” Chun responded, smiling at her. Although, she was sure that it couldn’t really be called a smile. More like a grimace.
He got up and held out a hand to her, palm up.
She stared at the hand in front of her. “Why the hell would I dance with you?” she demanded. “After all the things you said to me, I didn’t even want to be in the same room with you. Imagine my luck when I saw you across the room. I hid under the table!” she reminded him in a shrill tone.
“I don’t think anyone here could forget that,” Chun said, glancing around at the interested patrons. “Do you want to cause another scene?”
“Refusing to dance with you will not be causing another scene,” Ella protested hotly. And then became aware of all the glances coming their way. “Sit down,” she hissed at him.
He cheerfully shook his head.
Getting up, she placed a reluctant hand in his. She glared at him mutinously. “I’m going to take this chance to squash as many toes as I can,” she promised him.
Moving onto the shadowy dance floor, she hesitantly placed her hands on his shoulder. She flinched slightly as his hands came to rest against her waist. She stiffened, trying to resist the gentle pressure he was exerting on her. Despite her struggles, he succeeded in pulling her closer.
Turning her gaze away from him, she turned to look around the restaurant. “Oh,” she said suddenly, turning to look at him.
“What is it?”
“What about your date?” she mumbled suddenly. “Won’t she be getting angry, seeing you with another woman? How many women do you have? Besides your fiancé, that is?” she asked acidly.
Ella jerked in surprised when he leaned down. “I didn’t know you were so interested in my personal life,” he said in her ear. She pulled back against his hands to glare at him once more. “You could have a harem of women and I wouldn’t care,” she blurted out angrily. “What business is it of mine?” She deliberately stumbled, placing all her weight on his foot. He grunted softly.
“She’s my younger sister,” he finally said, breaking the long silence. “She just came up to the city and wanted to see some of the nightlife. Her friends decided that this would be a good place to eat before they go out clubbing. I’m just the escort.”
Ella blushed at the revelation. She hadn’t expected that prosaic explanation. “But then, why do I feel so relieved to find out that he’s not with that woman. Why do I care? Why … why am I slightly exhilarated to find out that he’s not a cheater?” Pulling her hand down from his shoulder, she lightly tapped her heart. “Get a hold of yourself,” she silently told her heart. “This is not the time for you to go all weird on me. You’re with the enemy. Show no weakness.”
“You quit?” he finally asked.
She nodded silently.
“I called for you. I was told that you had quit after our conversation that day. Was it because of what I said?”
“I was there for three years,” she finally said, when she saw the regret in his eyes. That regret surprised her enough that she felt compelled to answer and let him off the hook. “It was never my dream to work there. I was just stuck in a rut. You were the push I needed to get me out of that rut. Don’t take it so personally.”
He stared at her, considering the confession she had just made.
“I didn’t quit because I was scared of you,” she began to babble nervously under his silent gaze. “You just look like Blake. I can look at you, and see the differences. It wasn’t because you look like him,” she said grimly. “It was just … time to leave.”
There was another moment of silence.
“How long have you known Calvin?’ she asked suddenly, wanting to break the silence. She saw something in Chun’s eyes that worried her. She didn’t want to ponder what that look in his eyes meant. She wanted to distract him, so that he would forget whatever it was that he was thinking about.
“I’ve known him since we were kids,” he finally replied. “We grew up together.”
“Ah, that explains the loyalty. Lifelong friendship. He probably became your friend before you’d turned rotten.”
He ignored her statement, going on with his explanation. “When I came here, he came with me. And, as you’ve already seemed to guess, he ended a relationship because of that choice. I feel at fault.”
“You should,” she promptly replied.
“I’m glad that he’s with you.”
“With me?” Ella gasped out. “This is our first date,” she began weakly. “A blind date,” she said, enunciating the words. “I’ve never met him before in my life. And besides, before you so rudely interrupted, we’d already decided that we weren’t even possible soulmates.”
“Because he thinks I’m so cute that he wants to pinch my cheeks, and you don’t do that with a soulmate, right? You want to kiss them. Touch them. Make love to them. But not pinch their cheeks.” The words were out before she could give them a second thought. She blushed a fiery red when she realized what she had said.
He frowned slightly, and then placed his hand over hers. Pulling it down off his shoulder, he stared at the bare hand.
“No ring,” he finally uttered, staring at the pale mark around her ring finger. “This mark tells me that you’ve kept it on for a long time. Now, suddenly, it’s off. I thought you loved Blake. At least, that’s what you were yelling the last time we talked.”
She flinched at the words said in a harsh tone, going pale.
“According to you, your brother didn’t love me. According to you,” she ground out, “he was incapable of loving me. Why do you care?”
He stared at her, inexplicably angry at her actions. He didn’t want to look too closely at that anger, because if he did, he might just find out the anger was more about her readiness to date again … to date other men, then it was about not being loyal to a brother he had never known.
“If it wasn’t for you, maybe Blake …,” he began harshly.
She clapped a hand over his mouth, stopping the words. Pulling out of his arms, she stepped away. Her eyes were dead now, showing none of the emotion that had been sparkling in her eyes all evening.
“Tell Calvin I was happy to meet him, but I can’t be around you anymore.” She stared at him silently, and then took a deep breath. “You caused him to lose his love before, and now you’ve lost him a good friend. I really do wonder at his continued loyalty to you.”
Turning, she dashed to the door. Accepting her coat, she pushed through the doors into the frigid night air outside. Temper made it difficult for her to put on her coat. As she struggled with the damn thing, hands came out to assist her.
Whirling around, she glared at the man who had the tendency to make her heart ache every time they met. “What are you doing here?” she asked in a choked tone. “Leave me alone. Why do you have to make me feel …” Her voice trailed off, her emotions overwhelming her.
“Feel what?” he demanded, moving into her personal space. He was so close that his warmth enveloped her. “What are you blaming me for now?”
“Leave me alone,’ she repeated in a hopeless tone. “Don’t you get it? You might be the better-looking twin, but Blake was … he was a lot nicer than you. A lot smoother. A lot warmer. I loved him,” she gritted out. “And when I see that face now, with none of the qualities that Blake had … it hurts. I’m nothing to you. So, why can’t you just leave me alone? Walk away.”
“That’s just it,” he finally said through gritted teeth. “I can’t do it.”
“Why not?” she shouted, at the end of her patience with all things named Wu.
“Because of this,” he finally said softly, pulling her into his arms. She blinked in surprise at finding herself in his arms. Tilting up her face, he leaned down to kiss her. His warm lips against hers. His breath mingling with hers. A hand coming up to cradle her cheek. Her hand flew up to grip his wrist, trying to wrest it away from her face. He refused to budge.
Ella’s eyes stared up into his, before losing the battle to stay open. And then, there were only sensations.
There was fire that hinted of immeasurable passion to come.
Warmth. Pushing this moment beyond mere lust, into something resembling possible love.
And, despite all odds, a feeling of coming home.
In that moment, her heart spoke to her for the first time in three years. Instead of silently hurting, it asserted something, and in that assertion, demanded something from her.
That scared her most of all.
Chapter 8: Aftermath
Blake … “No, not Blake. Never Blake. Never again. Why?” Ella wondered to herself, fighting the sensations that were overwhelming her senses. “Why does this feel so…? Why do I feel like I belong in his arms?” Forcing herself to get a hold of herself, she pulled away from him.
Her hands clenched, as she tried to control the maelstrom of emotions bursting inside of her. She felt like she was on fire … she felt alive for the first time in three years … she felt like a traitor. Staring up at Chun, her thoughts flew again to Blake. She felt like she’d betrayed him.
She moved back, and turned to walk away. But no … turning around, she lashed out, her hand coming out to slap him. There was a short, frozen pause as the two stared at each other. Reacting to the anger boiling up inside of her now, she brought her hand up once more, wanting to hit at him in any way that she could.
His hand came up to grab hers, staying the motion. “You’ve hit me twice now,” he said softly, forcing her hand down to her side. “Twice more than anyone else has ever dared to do.” He stared at her coldly, a smirk playing on his lips. “I’d recommend that you think twice about doing that again.”
There was only silence, disturbed by her ragged breaths. She glared at him, struggling to find the words that could soothe the chaos inside of her. “What do you want?” she finally whispered forlornly. “You’re not him.” Stepping out of his reach, she wiped a hand across her lips. “You can’t be him. I loved him,” she confessed with difficulty. “I can’t love again. And I could never … never,” she emphasized the words, “I could never love you.”
“I never said I wanted your love,” he replied, all emotion wiped clear from his eyes.
Ella stared into Chun’s eyes, moving her gaze across his face … and steeled herself against the rush of emotions she had gotten used to feeling around him. It was Blake’s face. The two looked so much alike that, of course, she would think about what she had lost whenever she came into contact with Chun. But, she reminded herself, it wasn’t the face she had loved. It lacked the warmth … the smile … that love she was so used to seeing. And it hurt. She rubbed a weary hand over her heart.
“Why …?” she cried, suddenly. “Why did you have to kiss me?” she demanded brokenly. “Why?” she demanded again, when he remained silent.
“What’s going on? Is everything alright?” a voice asked from behind them. “Guys?”
“I have to go home,” Ella said softly, turning to look at Calvin. “I can’t stay here anymore,” she blurted out. “I just … can’t. I’m sorry. You don’t have to come with me. I’ll just take a taxi home. Finish your dinner.”
Chun turned to Calvin, giving him a signal with his eyes. Calvin nodded, and turned to an already fleeing Ella. Reaching out a hand, he grabbed hold of Ella’s wrist.
“No, don’t rush off,” he ordered. “What kind of a man would I be if I didn’t take my date home? Let me just give the valet my keys.”
“No!” Ella blurted, horrified at the thought of being alone with Chun. “I told you … I can’t stay here,” she said again. “I can’t stay with him.”
“Give me your keys,” Chun ordered, holding out a hand. “I’ll get the valet to retrieve your car.”
Calvin handed over the keys, all the while asking questions with his eyes. He wanted to know what had happened to cause this frigid atmosphere between the two. Chun looked away, not willing to answer just yet.
“Ella,” Chun began, turning to look at Ella. She turned away, refusing to listen to any of his explanations. “We’ll talk later,” he finally said, on a sigh. Ella stubbornly shook her head in negation. “I’ll see you,” he said, affirming his earlier words, and turned to go.
Ella turned around, watching him walk away. A part of her wanted to call him back, and demand to know why he had felt the need to kiss her. But another part of her was afraid of the answers she would get. Was she even ready to hear his reasons? Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself.
“Let’s go,” Calvin said, putting a hand under her elbow. He guided her to the car. Seating her, he went around to the driver’s side and settled behind the wheel. Peeling out of the parking lot, he headed for her home.
Warmth. Softness. Tenderness. Ella quickly shook her head, trying to push those thoughts out of her mind. “You have no business remembering that kiss,” she silently berated herself. “He’s engaged; engaged to the same woman his brother was engaged to. He’s the brother of the man you loved. The man whose baby you lost.” She flinched as she deliberately reminded herself of that loss. The color that had returned to her cheeks on the drive home disappeared rapidly once more, leaving her pale as a ghost. “My baby.”
“Ella, we’re home,” Calvin softly said from beside her, afraid to disturb her any further. She turned to look at him, and then numbly turned to stare out the window. “So … I take it you don’t really like Chun?” he asked, knowing there was no way to delicately approach that issue.
“Why would you think that?” she finally murmured disjointedly, trying to concentrate … trying to appear normal. “He was my boss for half a day. And then I quit. I don’t even know him,” she finally said. “I don’t know anything about him, except for the fact that he’s engaged. I don’t know what he likes to do … what he likes to watch or listen to … I don’t know his favorite foods … colors. I know nothing about him,” she repeated grimly. “I don’t know enough about him to dislike him … or like him. But then … he knows nothing about me, either. Then, why? Why did he kiss me?” She shrugged, pushing those questions aside for now. Turning, she put a hand on the door handle, ready to leave this nightmare behind.
There was a short pause. “Kissed? He kissed you?” Calvin demanded incredulously. “Why?!”
Ella nodded, looking down at her hand wrapped around the door handle. “I don’t know.”
“Look, try not to judge him too harshly,” Calvin suddenly said, after another short pause.
Ella turned to stare at him blankly.
“I might be presuming too much on a friendship that has just begun,” he said hesitantly, “but, I feel that I have to say this.”
“What?” she finally asked.
“Chun is really bitter right now … he’s been that way for a while. That’s probably the reason he didn’t put his best foot forward with you.”
“Bitter?” Ella laughed at that. “He’s inherited the entire world. What more does he need? What reason does he have to be bitter?”
“If you had met Chun before all of this,” Calvin said, after a long pause, “You would have been surprised by who it was that you were meeting. He was content with his life. He was happy; the kind of happy that constantly put a smile on his face. Chun had dreams. Plans for his life that did not take into account being the sudden heir apparent to the Wu Empire. His dreams weren’t big; in fact, by today’s standards, they were quite small.”
Ella tilted her head, unwillingly pulled into this tale of a man she hadn’t yet seen in Chun.
Calvin turned to Ella, and flashed a quick smile. “He wanted to build houses that people would want to make into homes,” he related to his reluctantly eager audience. “He had plans,” Calvin repeated, suddenly somber. “He had a life that he’d painstakingly created and worked hard for. His mom wasn’t rich, and she didn’t marry a rich guy. But he worked hard, and on his own merit, moved forward in the world. And, most of all, he had a woman that he loved … a woman he wanted to build the rest of his life with. Samantha.”
“And then his father came into his life.” Calvin grimaced. “He took everything away from Chun, without a second thought. His dreams … Chun’s life was ripped away from him. Ella, he found out about Blake the day after Blake’s funeral.”
Ella flinched at that.
“Imagine his shock … his despair over finding out about his brother, after he’d lost him forever. He fought his father. He didn’t want to give in. He was being forced to take on a business empire, and a woman he didn’t love. And he was fighting it … he was saying no. The media exposed every inch of his life. They were everywhere. And Samantha couldn’t handle it. She couldn’t handle the publicity … or his newfound wealth. She didn’t trust him to remain the man he was. She didn’t trust him to stay true to his dreams. She didn’t trust him enough. She didn’t love him enough. So, she left him.”
Ella’s hands clenched in her lap at hearing this.
“Because of this wealth, he lost his dreams, his love, and his life as he knew it. He lost his will to fight. He gave in to Chase Wu, and came here. You said that you don’t dream anymore. Ella, neither does he. So, yes, he is a little bitter. Give him another chance.”
Ella turned her gaze away from the entreaty in Calvin’s eyes. “Why does it matter so much?” she asked hesitantly.
“Because … for the first time today, I saw the same spark in him that had been missing for three years. He was finally alive again. I know it was because of you.”
Ella turned to stare at him once more. The phone rang before she could open her mouth. Picking it up, she flinched at the screeching voice on the other end. “Yes. Yes, right outside. In the car. Sel, stop worrying. You’re both home. Lucky me. I’ll come in. No. No!! I said no, woman.” She sighed. “Okay.”
Turning to look at Calvin, she said the only thing she could say now. “Want to come in?”
“Your roommates want to check me out?” Calvin asked.
Together, the two walked to the door. “Ella, about Chun …”
“I have to think about it, Calvin,” she said. “There’s a lot more going on than you realize. A lot, lot more. I need to think about it. And you need to find out what Chun wants. He wasn’t even able to tell me that.”
The door flew open when they reached it. Stepping inside, she turned to smile ruefully at Calvin. Calvin stood frozen at her side, staring at the woman in front of him.
“What is it?” Ella asked worriedly, reaching out to shake his frozen form.
“Remember the girl I was talking about?” Calvin finally asked hoarsely.
Chapter 9: Grin and Bear It? I Think Not.
Ella looked at her roommates, and then back at Calvin’s frozen form. She could see the shock in his eyes slowly transforming into relief and then joy. He smiled. And for the first time that evening, she saw love in his eyes. Her eyes widened, and she turned back to her roommates.
Calvin pointed, unable to say a word.
“Calvin, say it,” she ordered, staring at Selina and Hebe.
“Selina,” he said on a gasp. “What … what are you doing here?”
Ella’s gaze flew back to Selina. Her friend … her confidante … who had kept such a big secret from her for years. Years. She shook her head, trying to grasp this reality.
Selina gasped lightly, and then taking a deep breath, she stepped back.
“Selina, answer me,” he demanded, moving forward. “Where have you been? Do you have any idea how long I’ve been looking for you?” His voice was rising, as he tried to come to grips with the fact that Selina was here … finally in front of him.
“I … I have nothing to say to you,” Selina said in a trembling voice, and whirled around, racing toward the back door.
Calvin made to follow, his heart beating frantically. He didn’t want to lose her now.
Hebe stepped in his way, preventing him from following Selina’s fleeing figure.
“Let me … let me…,” Calvin began frantically.
“No. She’ll call you when she’s ready to talk.”
“Can you guarantee that?” he growled at her. “What if she just disappears again?” Ella blinked at the clear antagonism in his voice. This was certainly a 180-degree transformation from the man she had come to know and like this evening.
They froze when they heard the slam of a car door, and the screech of tires as the car peeled out of the driveway. Calvin turned to glare at an unrepentant Hebe.
“Back then,” Hebe finally said, after a moment, “she needed to run. She still loved you. Despite how much you had hurt her, she still cared for you. She was weak because of those emotions. That’s why she moved away … or disappeared, as you like to call it. She doesn’t have that problem anymore.”
Calvin blinked at those words, refusing to admit how much that revelation hurt him.
“She won’t run away again,” Hebe said softly, before turning to leave.
Ella stared at her friend’s retreating figure, before turning to look at Calvin. “Umm, so I take it, you still love her? It’s not just about her being the only woman you could ever love. It’s about the fact that you can never stop loving her, huh?”
Calvin turned to look at her. His eyes still showed a shell-shocked expression. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “All I know is that I need to talk to her. I need to see if there is anything … left.”
Ella nodded in understanding. She smiled suddenly. “Don’t give up,” she encouraged him, reaching out a hand to pat him on the shoulder in commiseration. “Although Selina has never mentioned anything about you to me … frankly, I feel a little left out, but tonight Selina was different. You have to understand, the Selina I know doesn’t get overexcited. She doesn’t get nervous. She’s not someone who would panic. She’s compassionate. She’s warm. She’s a good listener. She’s a pool of calm.”
Calvin raised his eyebrows in question, wanting her to get to the point.
“Today she panicked and ran,” Ella reminded him. “She was nervous. She was shocked. She was excited. You brought all of that out in her. It was as if … you brought her to life. I don’t know if this is good or bad … but I hope you get your chance.”
She smiled at him.
Calvin nodded, and, with one final glance down the hallway, he reluctantly left.
Ella started when she heard the door open. Turning to look at the clock, she blinked when she saw that it was 3:00 a.m. She watched her usually calm friend stagger in the doorway, before finally getting the door shut. Ella turned to stare at Hebe, both surprised by the state that Selina was in. Ella raised her eyebrows at Hebe, silently questioning her earlier assertion that Selina was over Calvin.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ella had demanded, wanting to know why her friends had kept this a secret from her.
“I didn’t know the details,” Hebe had snapped back. “I never had any idea who he was. Selina kept that a secret from me, as well. All I knew was that while you were going through your breakdown, Selina was in the process of breaking up with her love. Remember when she moved in? You had just lost your baby. Do you think that Selina would have been so crass as to bother you with what she labeled as her petty troubles? And after that, I guess it just hurt her too much to talk about it. At that time, I was so busy trying to take care of the both of you, I’m sorry I didn’t think of burdening you either! Now, stop bothering me!”
Ella had finally accepted that, understanding that Selina had done what she thought was best for her at the time.
The two quickly got up when Selina fell to the floor, and just lay there. They heard her soft panting from the other side of the room.
“Selina!” Hebe exclaimed, running to the prone figure. “Let’s get her to bed for now. I don’t think she’s in any shape to talk and make some grand confession. God, she reeks of alcohol.”
Selina moaned softly, curling into a small ball.
“She still loves Calvin,” Ella blurted out, staring at the evidence in front of her eyes. “Look at her. She looks so defeated. So unlike the Selina we know. She must love him. That means he has another chance.”
“No! No second chances,” Selina asserted petulantly, turning her head up to glare at the two talking above her in hushed voices. “That worm could die for all I care. He deserves to get squished under a big … big … big … what was I saying again?”
Ella cleared her throat. “But it was only a misunderstanding!” she protested. “Calvin still loves you and if you love him …”
Hebe turned to glare at her. “Are you seriously going to argue with a drunk?”
“Oh, yeah. Calvin. That skunk.” Selina grimaced, as the image of him came flooding back into her mind.
“Selina, he didn’t mean to hurt you! He still loves you. He was just helping out a friend,” Ella argued passionately. “Don’t fault him for that. Could you truly love a man that turned his back on a friend?”
“A friend? Is that what he told you? That she was just a friend?”
There was a moment of silence between the three women.
“Uh, she?” Ella finally asked.
“I caught them in his office. Not that I let him see me,” Selina said with a grunt, struggling up off the floor. The two quickly grabbed her arms when it looked that she would fall down again. “Did he belve … that doesn’t sound right … boleve … think that I was going to show him how much he hurt me with that skank? They were sitting there … she had her hands all over him. I put up with so much sit from him …”
Ella turned to Hebe, mouthing a questioning “shit?” at her. Hebe nodded in answer.
“So much. I waited for that bustard because I thought that I loved him and that he loved me. But he cheated on me. On me! Selina. He was kissing her like there was no today.” She crinkled her brow, her thoughts growing hazy. Her words were beginning to slur even more, as the alcohol started taking its toll. “I wasn’t going to stay around and smile for his pleasure. Did he think I was going to pretend everything was okay? I think not. I hate him. Hate him. Oooh, I feel sick.” Selina rubbed her queasy stomach, trying to settle it down. “How dare he …? Oh God.” Putting a hand over her mouth, she ran to the bathroom.
As the two friends stood outside, hearing her retch in the other room. Hebe asked Ella sarcastically, “You really think that he loved her after what Selina just said?”
“I’m sure it was a misunderstanding,” Ella finally said. “He loves her. That’s what I saw tonight.”
Hebe shrugged, refusing to argue with Ella’s stubborn belief. “I guess there’s no point in asking how your date went? Seeing as how you can’t do anything about any connection you might have felt.”
Ella shook her head morosely. “I saw Chun again.”
“What? Why was he there?”
“I don’t know.” She paused, uncomfortably, wondering if she should share about the kiss. “He …,” she began hesitantly, “He kissed me.”
“That bastard,” Hebe hissed, her eyes narrowing in anger. “Is he trying to play with your mind? First he tells you that Blake was getting engaged to someone else, and now he tries to kiss you.”
“He didn’t try to kiss me, he did kiss me. And quite successfully, I might add,” Ella mumbled, blushing a fiery red in embarrassment.
Hebe’s eyes widened. “Ella … did you feel something when he kissed you?” Her tone was hesitant. It was as if she almost wanted Ella to deny that allegation.
“I don’t know,” Ella finally cried out. “What does it matter how I felt? I don’t know even know why he did it. One minute he was going off on me … and the next … Why is it so hard to just move on? I told myself that, didn’t I? I promised myself no more looking back. Then why?”
“Because the man you’re trying to forget keeps on coming back? Granted, he’s not Blake, but he looks enough like him that you get fooled.”
“It’s not that … I can tell that he’s not Blake. I know that he’s Chun. He’s separate from Blake. But …”
“What are you trying to say, Ella?” Hebe asked sharply.
Ella just shrugged helplessly. “I need to forget about him,” she finally said, not sure which “him” she was talking about anymore. “Let’s go help Selina. I think she’s done.”
Chun sat in his study, a shot of whiskey in front of him. He sat, staring unseeing out the window. The rain was pouring.
“So, you’re coming to luncheon tomorrow?” Melanie’s voice pressed him for an answer.
He didn’t react, still thinking about the kiss that had happened a mere 24-hours ago. Picking up the glass, he drank it down, hissing as the alcohol hit the back of his throat. He was so tired of all of this.
“Chun?” Melanie queried again.
“Melanie,” he finally said on a sigh, “I need to be alone right now.”
“Chun, I need an answer. It’s very important that we’re seen at this event. If we don’t …”
“The sky won’t fall,” he bit out. “The world won’t end if we miss one event. Leave me alone,” he said, evenly spacing out the words so that she would get the message.
Melanie pouted, glaring at him sullenly, before turning to leave. Chun sighed as the door slammed shut behind her. How had he allowed himself to get caught like this? He didn’t even like his fiancé, so how could he expect to spend the rest of his life with her?
After Samantha had walked away, Chun had had a hard time thinking about the future. He’d lost the will to fight. Instead of going ahead with his dreams, he’d let them slip away. Bowing to pressure, he’d accepted the mantle of responsibility that came with being the Wu heir apparent.
Moving his blotter, he stared at the picture underneath. He had found the picture in Blake’s rooms, the rooms that his father had allocated to him when Chun had moved in. He hadn’t even had a choice in that.
It was a picture of a smiling, loving Ella. For reasons unknown even to him, he had kept the picture over the years, instead of disposing of it. That was why she had looked so familiar when he had seen her in the office. The past three years had changed her so much, that he had had trouble recognizing her. The caption on the back of the picture stated “My Ella.” The date, also inscribed there, put the image at a time near Blake’s death.
His hands clenched around the empty glass, as he compared her smiling face to the picture hanging on the wall of the library. It was an engagement picture of him with Melanie, Melanie, with her plastic smile and her never-ending ambitions. He shuddered as he pictured their future together. Was this all he could look forward to? Would he have to put up with a woman who only cared about being seen, about surrounding herself with the right people, about the right looks and pedigree? Was he supposed to grin and bear it?
Getting up, he began to pace, wanting to distract himself from his morose thoughts. He just needed a minute to breathe. As he walked around the study, looking at the bookshelves with disinterest, his eyes passed over numerous first editions. “Probably bought for appearance than to be read and cherished,” he thought cynically to himself. His gaze landed on a tattered copy of the Hardy Boys. His movements arrested, he turned to the corner of the room that housed the remnants of a childhood favorite he had long forgotten. What were they doing here?
Reaching out a tentative hand, he pulled out a book. Opening it, he was surprised to find handwritten pages and not the printed text he had expected. Gingerly taking off the cover of the book, he looked at the cover. It was a nondescript notebook, like the ones people would use for journals.
Opening the first page, his eyes widened as he read the words.
Journal: Blake Wu. 1996-2001.
His hand reached out for the other Hardy Boys text. Grimly, he pulled off the cover, letting it fall to the floor.
Journal: Blake Wu. 2001-
Blake Wu’s journals.
His brother’s journals.
Chapter 10: Blake’s Journal, Part I
Chun’s hands shook slightly as he began to look through the journal. The pages were yellowed with age, the ink faded, but he recognized the writing on the journal. It was the same writing that had been on the back of Ella’s picture.
He blinked away moisture that he hadn’t even noticed gathering in his eyes. His lips formed a grim line, as he pushed down the emotions. He thought he’d tamped everything down and secured all emotion for his brother behind a wall, so then why was it coming out now?
Churn turned back to the beginning of the journal, and started reading from page one.
Suicide attempt? Why would I try to kill myself? Especially when I have so much to live for?
I am the charmed son of Chase and Belinda Wu. The heir apparent to a billion dollar empire. What reason do I have to kill myself?
I have everything I want. Everything, right? Cars. Girls. Money to flash around. Everything.
You and all the other psychiatrists are all idiots. It was a drug overdose. So what if it was my second overdose? I just got so high that I stopped paying attention to how much I’d taken. I wasn’t killing myself. I was having fun. Why the hell do they have to make such a big deal about this? So what if the coke was tainted? In life you have to take risks.
And now you’re insisting that I attend sessions with you.
What do you really want? Are you hoping to score points with my father?
I’m not going to cry all over you about my life. You think I haven’t gone to counselors before? No one … no one cares about me as a person. It’s all about helping the Wu empire and helping the Wu heir.
And what do I have to complain about? Am I going to cry about my cold bitch of a mother? Am I going to cry about a father who doesn’t give a damn whether I’m happy or not … as long as I keep up appearances? Am I going to talk about missed birthdays? Lonely holidays? Duty? Responsibility beaten into me until I knew that I was nothing else except their heir?
Would you comfort me if I broke down in front of you? No, you’d laugh in my face for being such a poor little rich boy.
You say that I have to write in this journal; otherwise you’ll keep me under observation. You tell me to express my anger in words.
You said I’m self-destructive; that I deliberately try to hurt myself. I think you’re the one that’s high. I just have bad luck with cars. So what if I got into multiple accidents? I’ve been driving since I was 13, so of course accidents happen. I wasn’t deliberately trying to bust a spleen, break ribs, or get a toe amputated. It just happened.
There is nothing wrong with the way I live. Don’t you know I can do no wrong? I am the Wu heir.
Why the hell would I want to give up a sweet deal like this?
Just because you’re a psychiatrist, just because you have a bunch of letters after your name, doesn’t mean you know what is wrong with me. You don’t know me. And why the hell should I trust you? Anyone can be bought. If I tell you anything, you’ll just go blabbing to my father.
Well, I’ll write in this journal. But you can go fuck yourself. And you can tell Belinda and Chase Wu to go to hell.
I finished my last session with Dr. Han today. He told me that he felt I was getting better. He said that I had learned to control my self-destructive tendencies. I told him that I hadn’t trusted him for a long time. I had been afraid that he’d been bought by my parents, the way everyone else around me had been bought by them.
I was thinking about all of the grades, certificates, and trophies they’d bought for me. It wasn’t important whether I was smart or not, as long as I kept up the appearance of being the most brilliant.
Dr. Han pulled out a copy of the first journal entry I’d ever written. I stared at the sentence where I’d told the great doctor to go fuck himself. I quickly apologized to this man I had come to idealize, and he just shook his head and said that he was glad that he could help me. He’d only ever read the first 2-3 entries, before gaining my trust. I’d said some pretty crazy shit in those pages, but he’d never revealed anything to my parents. I’d eventually come to realize that he only wanted to help me. It was weird to meet a person who cared nothing for my wealth or my connections … someone who only cared about me.
As I was leaving the office, he urged me to continue writing. Dr. Han knows how alone I feel sometimes. We’ve had many discussions about how I sometimes feel like a part of me is missing. I can’t get too close to people; it’s hard for me. He says that he knows that I have no other outlet, so I should write. And if I didn’t feel safe about putting it all down, I could burn the pages afterwards. I don’t think I’ll do that. I’ll just hide them. Who would even think to pull out cheap little books like the Hardy Boys?
Those bastards! My hands are literally shaking as I sit here, writing. How the fuck could they do this to me? To us? I know Chase Wu was a cold fish, but to do this to me? He separated me from … I want to kill him. I want to make him suffer. I want to … I need to calm down. That son of a bitch isn’t the important one now.
I heard Wu talking to my … well, not my mother, Belinda Wu yesterday. She was shrieking at him about something or other. I was going to walk by … what the hell did I care about their problems? But then I heard the words “that brat’s brother.” And so, I stopped to listen.
Those … people separated me from my mother. From my brother … my twin brother. They kept us apart. All these years … all these years, I’ve been separated from someone I shared a womb with … all this loneliness, this emptiness … could I have escaped all of this if I’d grown up with him? I didn’t even know his name.
Wu Chun. My younger brother. By 15 minutes, but younger brother nonetheless.
I found all the proof last night when I went through his safe. He had pictures and reports on Wu Chun. The reports started from 1996. I couldn’t find anything from before that. Not even a birth certificate. No school records, medical records, nothing.
1996. When I had my second overdose. I know … I know that bastard is keeping an eye on Chun so that if anything happens to me, he’ll bring Chun in as a replacement. I knew that he was cold, but I never thought that he was this cold … this … I can’t find the words to express this bone-deep chill I feel inside of me right now. He was plotting, even two years ago, that if I died, if his son died, he would have a competent heir to take my place. That sick bastard.
Wu Chun … no, just Chun, my brother, Chun, looks exactly like me. Except, there’s a smile on his face. I can see the joy in his eyes. He’s happy where he is.
I won’t … I can’t let Chase Wu take that from him. I have to become the heir Chase Wu wants. If I disappoint him in any way, he might not even wait for my death, he just might drag Chun into this hell because he can.
I need to protect him.
I saw him today.
I’ve waited months, wondering if I should or shouldn’t go. I don’t want to meet him. If he saw me, he would have proof positive that there was something wrong in his world. If he saw my face, he would have questions. How can I tell him that his … our mother was my … our father’s mistress? That our father wanted to abort us, and that she blackmailed him into allowing us to live. I found all of this out when I hired my own private investigator, but I don’t want him to know the bleak reality that surrounds our birth.
I don’t want him to know. If never meeting him is the result, I’ll live with it. I wasn’t sure if I should go, but I can’t stay away from him.
I can’t not see him.
He’s my brother.
I went to his campus. He was sitting in the quad, as the private investigator had told me he would be. I stared for a while. We have the exact same features, but why did he look so much younger than me? I look at this face in the mirror everyday, but he didn’t have that same grimness … the same lines that I do. Is it because he grew up far away from the coldness of Chase and Belinda Wu? His friends came and sat down next to him.
He has friends. He’s happy.
I couldn’t stay long; I had to go to tutoring. But my heart felt relieved. I know that whatever I have to do now will keep him away from this existence.
Today was our 21st birthday. I couldn’t make any plans, since I had to complete my final papers for the semester. Chase Wu insisted I take the summer term. But … whatever … as long as I can keep him satisfied with my work, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like I’ve ever had a birthday party. The Wus have only ever arranged spectacles for the public.
I stopped by the restaurant afterwards. It was the restaurant where Chun was having his birthday celebration.
I … saw her today. Mom. It surprised me. I don’t know what a mother looks like; I only have Belinda Wu as an example. But she really looked like one.
I’ve been keeping an eye on Chun, but I don’t want anything to do with her. I don’t want to know about her. Knowing the kind of man our father is, I know that she did not have a choice when she gave me away. I know, in my mind that she sacrificed one child to keep the other. But my heart only knows her as a woman who abandoned me to the cold life I’m living now. My heart can’t forgive her.
I didn’t notice her until she got up to toast him. My heart began to beat violently when my eyes landed on her. Stupid heart. I knew. Even before she spoke, I knew.
“Today my son turns 21. He’s stepped onto the threshold of adulthood, and looks toward the future. He has dreams and plans to make those dreams come true. My heart loves him, prays for him, and wishes him well. And my heart fears for him, just as it has feared for him for the past 21 years. Everyday I pray that you will achieve your goals. I pray that you will make a life for yourself that will make you happy. And I pray that you will be safe. Go out into the world, Chun, and make us proud. And most of all, don’t forget to look back. We’ll always be here for you.”
Chun got up and kissed his mother. I got up and left. I wonder if she says those prayers for me, as well.
Does she ever think about me?
I don’t know. I …
She gave birth to me, and the least I can do for her is to keep her son safe.
Today was Chun’s graduation. I wanted to see him walk. He was so excited. He was jumping around like a monkey. I am so proud of him … my brother graduated with top honors. He plans on getting a graduate degree afterwards. I’ve arranged for a scholarship for him. My own private trust fund allowed me the latitude.
A part of me wanted to get up and approach him. So much so that I had to grip the chair, holding on to stop myself from getting up. He was surrounded by his family. His mom and dad. His little sisters. His best friend was there. And a girl that I hadn’t seen before. I need to find out about her. My idiot of a brother was blushing every time he looked at her. And she was blushing right back. I think there’s something going on between the two.
The family was going to dinner after the graduation. While I wanted to go, too, I had to come home. Father has planned a graduation party for me, too. While I skipped the graduation, I doubt he will forgive me if I skip the party afterwards.
This is his time to show off his son, who graduated with honors with a business degree. He wanted me to get a degree in business, and I dutifully complied. I wonder what he would say if I told him that I’d also worked towards a degree in architecture. He’d probably laugh at me. I don’t care. Chun wants to build houses, and I dream, maybe foolishly hope that someday I could be right next to him, working on those homes with him.
God, I’m tired.
The past four years have not been easy.
Chun got engaged today. To the woman he has been dating for a year now. Samantha. She’s a teacher. She grew up in the same town as Chun; they’ve known each other forever. They were friends, and suddenly that friendship turned into love.
He has stars in his eyes now.
My heart is glad for him. He has found the woman he will spend the rest of his life with. This is the woman who will stand by him, and support him through every obstacle. They will have children together. They will build a future together. His dreams are coming true, one by one.
I’ve started working at the company, doing what my father wants once more. It keeps him satisfied if I dance to his tune. I’ve also begun to draw homes. I imagine working with Chun on these; it seems that I still foolishly hope for something that can never be. No matter the foolishness, I’ve framed a few to hang on the walls in private quarters.
I’ll be going on a trip tomorrow, but I wanted to be there for Chun’s engagement party. I wanted to be a part of this momentous occasion, in the only way that I can allow myself to be.
When I was leaving the restaurant, he turned to smile at her, his heart in his eyes. He’ll be happy. I know it deep down in my heart. And it doesn’t matter if his children will never call me uncle. It doesn’t matter if his wife won’t call me brother-in-law. And it doesn’t matter he won’t ever call me a brother.
As long as he’s happy.
I came back from my trip today. Two weeks and seven countries later, I am beat.
I met a girl today. A crazy girl. She was short, kind of chubby, and messy hair.
I don’t even know why I’m writing this. It’s not even important.
She was at a coffee shop I frequently go to. When I was walking by her table, she started screaming and waving her arms around. When I was right next to her table, her flailing hand caught her cup and splashed her coffee all over me. It was a good thing it was iced coffee.
The look on her face when she saw what she’d done was … priceless. She was like a guppy … mouth open, eyes round. Why did I feel the urge to reach out and pinch her cheeks? She jumped up and began to apologize. It took me 10 minutes to get her calmed down.
She gave me her card.
Her name is Ella.