Chapter 16 – Pieces of Chun
Ella sat in the dining room, munching away at her toast, mind still sleepy after a disturbed night. She didn’t like sleeping in strange places. She didn’t like not being at home. She didn’t like … being this cranky. Reaching up, she knuckled at her eyes, trying to rub the sleep away. The sun was out. It was a nice day, for a change, and she still couldn’t get her mind to wake up.
“I fixed the cabinet doors, and put up the shelves, mom,” a deep voice rumbled from the doorway. “Anything else you need me to do before I head out?”
Ella looked, her eyes widening at the sight that met her gaze. “Chun?” she whispered, almost silently, surprised to see the changes. Her gaze moved over his jean-clad body, traveled over a close-fitting T-shirt (Chun was wearing a T-shirt?), and across his smiling face. Her eyes froze on that smile. Ever since she had met this guy, he had been serious or coolly confident. Not once had she seen a smile cross his face. And now … he was almost grinning. He was relaxed. Reaching up, he pushed back the hair that had fallen across his forehead, his movements more casual than she’d ever seen them.
Where was the suit? The tie? The serious expression?
“How many times have I told you that I want you to rest when you come home?” Chun’s mother demanded, coming over with a mug of coffee. “It’s not like you get a chance to relax at the Wu headquarters. I can only imagine how hard they work you over there. And I can’t even be there to take care of you.”
Chun shrugged. “You know working with my hands is my way of relaxing,” he said, taking a grateful sip of the piping hot coffee.
“I don’t think your friend is much of a morning person,” Elizabeth murmured, turning to glance at a hunched over Ella. “I asked her if she wanted to eat breakfast; that I’d be willing to make her anything … she just grunted at me,” Elizabeth said with a grin.
Turning, Chun glanced at Ella. Taking a bite of toast, she blinked up at him with sleepy eyes. He had to fight a sudden urge to pinch a cheek. Walking over, he glanced down at her half-eaten toast. He raised his eyebrows at her. “Good morning.”
Ella grunted once more, before taking another bite of her cold toast.
“You should take Ella for a walk around our town,” Elizabeth suggested. Ella looked up, surprised out of her sleepiness.
“Shouldn’t we be going home?” she finally ventured hesitantly. “I have to … I have to …” her voice trailed off. The truth was she had nothing else to do.
“After our walk,” he said, putting out a hand. Looking into his eyes, she saw the entreaty. He wanted to stay here for a little bit longer.
Who was she to take a man away from his home? And this was his home. It was easy to forget, when dealing with him, that this was where he had grown up. It was easy to forget, that this woman was the one that had raised Chun to be the man he was. It was easy to judge him by his suit, and his cool eyes. It was easy to judge when she told herself that he only looked like Blake.
It was getting harder to tell herself that lie.
Ella got up, ignoring the hand. Pushing by him, she got her coat.
“It’s so nice today,” she murmured, walking slowly down the walkway. She stumbled slightly, as her ankle started to act up again. “Damn it.”
Putting out his arm, he wrapped it around her waist.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, unsuccessfully trying to escape his hold.
“Supporting you,” he replied. “Let me.”
Ella struggled quietly for a moment, before relaxing into his arm. She let herself enjoy the sights and smells of a small town. The scent of honeysuckle was heavy in the air, and the crisp air, itself, was a pleasure to breathe. She inhaled, closing her eyes. Smiling, she glanced up at Chun and quickly looked away.
In looking away, Ella became aware of other things. Of his warmth. The strength of his arm, wrapped around her waist.
The firmness of his body.
His scent. Unique. Special.
She inhaled once more, taking it inside of her. Unlike last night, when she had been in Jiro’s arms, the scent wasn’t comforting. Her heart was beating too fast. Her breath, coming too quickly. Her hands were growing clammy.
She hated to admit that it was because of Chun’s proximity.
“Ella? Are you listening? Ella?” He shook her gently.
Ella jumped slightly, surprised to realize that they were already in the middle of town.
“I’ve been pointing out the sights to you, and you haven’t heard a word I said, have you?” Chun asked incredulously, looking down at her blushing face.
“I … you were too boring,” Ella hotly defended herself.
“You must have been, if I was able to drift off so easily.”
Chun stopped suddenly, and turned his body toward her.
Ella tried to pull away, wanting to create some much needed distance between them.
He wrapped his other arm around her, and pulled her in close, settling her body against his. Her heart began to thump away frantically, startled by his actions. “What are you doing?” she muttered, pushing at his chest.
He leaned down suddenly, making her flinch. His face was only a few inches away from hers, his eyes staring into hers, as he moved closer. Their breaths began to mingle, and Ella froze.
“Do I have your attention now?” he whispered, a hairsbreadth away from her lips.
“Chun, what are you …” she began hesitantly. “Don’t.” She hurriedly pulled way. “Damn it!” Ella hissed in frustration, when she landed wrong on her weak ankle. Reaching out, she grabbed Chun once more. “Don’t play with me!” she yelled at him, before wrapping an arm around his waist.
His hand came out and gently cradled her face. “I’m not playing,” he leaned down to whisper in her ear. She moved back slightly, her eyes widening as his gaze moved to her lips once more.
“Sammy! Come back!” a strident voice cried out, surprising the two. They turned to stare as a toddler stumbled toward them. Behind her, ran her worried grandmother, her arms held out to catch her.
There was gleeful laughter. Exuberant. And it brought a pang to Ella’s heart. But suddenly the laughter was transformed into shrieks of shock, as the child fell down, landing in a heap at Chun’s feet. Bending down, he quickly gathered her up, and started to murmur soothingly to her. Chun began to hum softly, rocking the little girl, until her shrieks had turned to soft whimpers, and, then, even those were transformed into content sighs, as the little girl leaned her head trustingly against Chun’s shoulder. Her eyes began to quickly droop, and she fell asleep almost instantly, in the way of all little children.
“Wu Chun? What are you doing here?” the same grandmotherly voice demanded. Ella saw the change that came over Chun’s face … his body stiffened, and his hold on the child loosened for a moment, causing Ella to move forward in concern. But the lapse was momentary, and Chun was back to cradling the child close to his body, sharing his warmth with the little body.
“Mrs. Wang, I haven’t seen you in a while,” Chun murmured, turning to smile at the older lady.
“Not since …” Mrs. Wang’s voice trailed off in embarrassment. “You’re right; it’s been a while. How have you been?”
“Fine,” he replied shortly. “I take it … this is …”
“Little Sammy,” Mrs. Wang replied. “Jiro’s and … Samantha’s daughter.”
Ella gazed at Chun’s face, wondering how he would react to this piece of news. Apparently, this was the first time he was coming face to face with Samantha’s child. She worried silently about how this could be affecting him. ‘Why do I care so much?’ she wondered silently, nibbling at her bottom lip. ‘Why does it matter?’
I hate to ask,” Mrs. Wang finally said, after a short pause, “But could you help me to carry her home? The child’s growing faster than I can believe, and we’ve come too far from home. I’d call Jiro, but …”
“It’s not a problem,” Chun said, flashing another smile. If Ella hadn’t been looking closely, she would have missed the slight tightening around his eyes before he made that response. He froze when little Sammy huffed slightly, and snuggled closer to him.
“Maybe I can carry her,” she offered, moving forward.
“With that ankle?” Chun shot back.
Ella looked down and then shrugged, not sure of how she could help. Chun patted her shoulder, as if silently telling her that he would be okay. He then moved around her, turning in the direction of what she assumed was the Wang’s home.
Sammy began to make noises, awakening from her doze. Chun began to hum softly to her, a melody that was at once familiar and comforting. It was an old lullaby, Ella realized. One her mother used to sing to her. Ella walked on behind the two, keeping Mrs. Wang company.
“And who are you?” Mrs. Wang asked, turning, wide enquiring eyes to Ella.
“My name is Ella,” Ella replied. “I’m … Chun’s friend,” she finally said, not wanting to get into their relationship. How could she tell a complete stranger that Chun might have been her brother-in-law, if his brother had not died? A brother-in-law that she would never have known … would never have met, if Blake hadn’t died.
“Chun’s friend?” Mrs. Wang asked, with a smile. “I’m happy to meet you. Ever since Chun left … no since before that, ever since Samantha left Chun, and married Jiro, I have seen Chun more alone than not. In all those pictures those reporters insist on taking of the Wu heir, he always looks unhappy. I’m glad that he has a friend in you.”
Ella just nodded, uncomfortable, but uncertain of how to correct the impression she had given.
“Sammy is growing so fast,” Mrs. Wang said, changing the subject, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to take care of her anymore. I just can’t keep up with her. She has the energy that all young children have, and I … I am an old woman.”
“All she needs is your love,” Ella replied, patting Mrs. Wang’s arm. “Children thrive on love.”
“She deserves the love and care of a mother,” Mrs. Wang said, turning somber eyes toward Ella. “But my son … he is not ready. Even though he knew that his wife did not love him, he still mourns her.”
“I …” Ella began, certainly uncomfortable with this topic.
“I’m sorry for unburdening on you like this,” Mrs. Wang said, blotting at her eyes with a tissue. “It is just that, I have no one to talk to, and you’re a stranger. I am sorry.”
Ella shook her head, “It’s alright. I understand.”
“We’re here,” Chun called out, turning to look at the two women. “What’s wrong?” he asked, catching the somber looks on their faces.
“Nothing,” Ella quickly replied. “You have a beautiful home, Mrs. Wang.”
“Please, come in for some tea,” Mrs. Wang invited, opening the door.
“We can’t,” Chun replied, “We have to head back to the city. Ella has to go to work, early tomorrow.”
Ella turned a sharp gaze on Chun, and he silently shook his head at her, wanting her to remain silent.
Placing a kiss on one soft, chubby cheek, Chun handed over his light burden. “Take care,” he whispered to the sleeping child, before walking toward Ella. Reaching her, he put an arm around her waist and the two began to walk toward Chun’s home.
“Are you okay?” she finally asked, breaking the silence.
“Fine,” he replied curtly.
“Are you sure?” she asked, wondering why she was pressing him like this.
“Shouldn’t I be?” he asked sharply, glancing down at her.
“I … Calvin told me …” Ella began.
Chun sighed. “Calvin and his big mouth. I’ve told him to keep it shut a hundred times.”
“You can’t help but think … she could’ve been your daughter,” Ella finally said, prodding at him once more.
He stiffened. “She could not be,” he said finally. “I knew the dangers to Samantha … I would never have let her get pregnant.” There was anger in his voice, but that wasn’t what got to Ella. It was the suppressed pain beneath that anger that tugged at her heartstrings. She patted the arm that he had wrapped around her waist.
He stopped, moving slightly away from her, as if he needed to put distance between them for that next confession. “If it had been up to me … that little girl would never have existed. No matter how much I wish that Samantha was still alive, I can’t wish that little child out of existence.”
“And?” Ella prompted, reaching out to touch his arm.
“I can’t blame Jiro anymore, can I?”
Ella shook her head, leaning her head against his shoulder, wanting to give him comfort. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, bringing her in closer.
“I knew Samantha,” he murmured, putting his head against hers. “When she made up her mind, no one could change it. When she decided to leave me … when she decided, no matter what I said, it wasn’t enough to persuade her. I’m sure that if she made the decision to keep her baby, then it didn’t matter what anyone thought or how Jiro would live without her … she would bring her child into this world.”
They remained silent for a moment, holding each other. Ella shifted slightly, biting at her lower lip once more, wondering how should could get out of this … hug without looking like a fool.
She finally just pulled back, and looked up at him, smiling. “Let’s go home,” she murmured. ‘Home?!’ she thought to herself, wondering where that word had come from.
Chun tilted his head to the side to look at her closely, and then grinned in response. “Let’s go home,” he agreed.
Chapter 17 – Run
“Thank you so much for the trip!” Milly had squealed, launching herself at her brother. Chun caught her in his arms, twirling her twice, before setting her on her feet, next to her husband.
“Shouldn’t you already be on that honeymoon?” Chun asked, reaching out to tweak a curl. “I thought I told you to keep it a surprise,” he said, turning to look at his brother-in-law, who’d only shrugged in response.
“I love you for this,” Milly said, latching on to her brother once more. “You know that I’ve wanted to go on a cruise for like forever. It’s a dream come true. I love you. I love you. I love you, big brother.”
Chun had ruffled her hair, and sent her on her way with a big smile.
“It’s only a trip,” Chun had muttered after Milly had left. “I don’t get why she’s making such a big deal about it. It’s not like I can’t afford it.”
Ella stared out of the car window, as they drove back to the city. Her mind was on the scene they had left behind. She could still see the flush that had appeared on Chun’s face. The man had been embarrassed by his sister’s enthusiastic gratitude.
She jumped at the ringing of Chun’s cellphone. He quickly picked up, giving her an apologetic glance. “Hello. Cal. Where are you?”
He paused for a moment, listening to Calvin’s answer.
“No. I looked for you before we left, but I couldn’t find you anywhere. Did you sneak out? Needed some alone time with your woman.”
His lips tightened, when he heard Calvin’s response. “Then when will be the time?” He paused for a moment. “Fine. I won’t talk about it anymore. I wanted you to go with us.” Chun cocked his head to the side. “What alone time? You know it’s not like that.”
Ella looked at him, aghast at what she could only assume Calvin was saying. “Ella isn’t … dude, I’m eng—” He stopped. “Right. I’ll see you in the office tomorrow.” He hung up.
After a moment of silence, he sighed.
“Can I ask you for a favor?” he asked abruptly, turning to glance at her before looking away.
“What kind of favor?” Ella asked suspiciously.
“Is there any way that you can help me get Selina and Calvin back together again?”
Ella’s eyes widened in surprise. “Since when did you start caring?” she blurted out.
“I have always cared,” Chun shot back.
“Hmph,” Ella muttered, turning to glare out of the window. There was complete silence between the two for the next five miles.
Chun sighed in defeat. “I’m sorry,” he finally offered. “This is a sore point with me, and you just have a knack of saying the exact wrong thing.”
Ella made a face at him, while secretly acknowledging the veracity of his claim.
“Three years ago …,” he began, when she continued to be silent, “It was a crazy time. I was self-destructive.”
Ella raised her eyebrows at this admission, revealing her surprise.
He nodded. “I was close to imploding. Calvin had to talk me down more than once. It was really a matter of life and death … for me. Calvin was between a rock and a hard place. He chose my life, and closed his eyes to the death of his relationship with Selina.”
“I don’t get it,” Ella said softly. “I just don’t see Selina as someone who would give up so easily.”
“Their relationship was relatively new,” Chun admitted. “It was too fragile to withstand Calvin’s preoccupation with me … to withstand Calvin’s neglect. He would go days … sometimes weeks without calling Selina. And even then, I think that Selina would have stuck in there, but …”
“When he decided to focus on me 100%, he told Selina to go away.”
“He dumped her,” Chun confessed. “He says that they were drifting apart; that Selina didn’t need him, like I did. Hell, he’ll tell you that she was ready to go. But he’d be lying. She left because he told her he didn’t need her. He made her feel horrible about it. The fool thought it wouldn’t be fair to ask her to wait.”
“And how do you know all of this?” Ella demanded.
“Calvin is a lousy drunk,” Chun revealed. “Don’t tell him any secrets that you wouldn’t want revealed when he’s had too much to drink. He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t make a general fool of himself. He talks. Incessantly.”
Ella sat silently, thinking on what Chun had told her. She wanted to help, but it would mean spending time with Chun. ‘Do I even want to see any more of Chun?’ she wondered to herself. ‘But Selina? What about Selina? Doesn’t she deserve to be happy? What if Calvin is her happiness? And, it’s not like Calvin’s a bad guy. I liked him.’
She sighed in defeat, her shoulders slumping.
“I’ll do it,” Ella said, giving in to the inevitable.
“I never doubted it for a moment,” Chun said, smiling. Ella manfully ignored the triumphant glint she could see in his eyes.
Ella sat in her window seat, glad to be home again. Chun had dropped her off, after insisting on feeding her dinner. Ella sighed. Instead of taking her to some fancy restaurant, he’d taken her to a diner close to her home. They’d enjoyed hamburgers and fries before he’d left her on her doorstep. He was just so … protective, Ella mused, tugging at her hair thoughtfully. He’d checked for intruders before leaving. He’d made sure that Selina and Hebe would be home in a couple of hours. He had waited until she’d gone inside before driving away.
Ella wrapped her arms around her knees, and placed her forehead against them. She closed her eyes, wanting to calm the emotional confusion that was growing inside of her. ‘Why did I have to see that side of Chun? Why do I care, now that I have seen that side? I felt a pull toward him before, but I could control it, as long as I thought that it was only physical. I could ignore my feelings, as long as I thought that he was not a good man, but the more I learn about him … it scares me. Chun scares me,’ she acknowledged to herself.
Images from the past two days ran through her mind. She’d seen him working without rest on his sister’s wedding day. He’d been everywhere at once. He’d been gentle with Sammy. Fair about not blaming his best friend anymore. She’d seen him be generous and caring. He’d been protective … all of these images were in direct contrast to the image she had created of Chun in her mind. Where was the corporate shark? The cold, sarcastic person? The womanizer? Where was the guy who forced his attentions on unwary bystanders? Wait … no, that one was still true. Chun had kissed her, even when she had explicitly said no. She had said no, right? Ella touched her lips, remembering the warmth and softness of his lips against hers. There had been gentleness, but there had also been fire. She trembled softly, as memories of that kiss began to run through her mind.
‘Stop thinking about him!’
The phone rang shrilly, shattering the silence of the room. Ella jumped, pulled from her musings. Walking over, she picked up the receiver, wondering who could be calling at this time of night? ‘Hebe and Selina should be on their way home. They wouldn’t be calling. Chun? It can’t be Chun,’ she told her furiously beating heart ‘We just talked. He has no reason to call,’ she warned herself.
“Hello, this is Ella,” she said.
She paused, trying to recognize that voice. It sounded familiar. “I’m sorry …” she began, unable to place it.
“This is Jiro. Jiro Wang. We met yesterday,” he said in a rush.
“Ah, Jiro,” she paused. “How can I help you?” she finally asked, unsure of what to say. She didn’t know how he had gotten her number and couldn’t even begin to guess why he was calling.
“Mom told me about your help with Sammy yesterday,” he said quietly. “I just wanted to thank you.”
“I didn’t do much,” Ella protested. “Chun was the one who carried Sammy home. He was the one who comforted her, despite …” her voice trailed off, unsure of how to continue.
He was silent for a moment. “I take it that you’ve heard about my hostile relationship with Chun,” he finally said.
“Calvin did mention something,” Ella offered in explanation.
Jiro inhaled, and then sighed ruefully. “Calvin and his big mouth. I’ve told him to keep it shut a hundred times.”
Ella’s mouth dropped open at those words. “Chun said the exact same thing!” Ella exclaimed.
“Calvin has that big a mouth,” Jiro claimed dryly. “No matter how much we try to put a muzzle on him, if he wants to let something slip, he’ll do it. Even if he needs to deliberately get drunk to do it.”
“I see,” she replied. There was a beat of silence. “How did you get my number?” she asked suddenly, needing to break the silence.
“Mom told me that you and Chun helped carry Sammy home, and she insisted that I call and thank Chun in front of her,” he admitted. “Being the filial son that I am, I complied, and got your number from Chun.”
“Chun doesn’t blame you anymore,” Ella offered.
“I know. He wasn’t as hostile as he usually is,” Jiro said, the surprise still apparent in his tone. “I don’t know what brought about that change, but I’m glad. He used to be my best friend. I don’t want my best friend to be angry at me.”
Ella smiled at the relief apparent in Jiro’s tone.
“Mom said something else,” he finally confessed.
“She said that she wanted me to start dating again,” Jiro replied.
“Your mom did say something about that,” Ella admitted. “She just wants you to be happy.”
“I … can I tell you something? I find it surprisingly easy to talk to you,” he offered in explanation.
“I’d be happy to lend a ear.”
Jiro hesitated for a moment. “I don’t think I’m ready to fall in love again. It was too painful the first time,” Jiro admitted on a heartfelt sigh. “I don’t think that I want to go down that road again. Sammy is enough for me.”
“That’s a big burden to put on a little girl, making her your whole life. Besides, what makes you think that things will turn out the exact same way?” Ella argued. “You might end up on the path to your own happily ever after. But you’ll never know, unless you try. Also,” she said, after a pause to think about it, “Who says that you have to fall in love immediately? You say that you can’t even talk to anyone in your life. Why not go on dates, and meet new people? Think of it as trying for friendship first. And when you find that one friend, and that friendship turns into love, all the better.”
Jiro was silent for a while, thinking about what Ella had said. “Would you be willing …?”
“Would I be willing to what?”
“Ella Chen, would you be my friend?” he asked in a rush.
“I …” Ella hesitated, unsure of what Jiro was asking of her.
“Would you like to go on a date with me?”
Ella froze for a moment, surprised at the question. She’d never thought to date again. If you looked at it, she had the exact same fears and worries that Jiro had. It had not been easy the first time. Was she ready to try again? But could she really push Jiro into action, and stay a coward herself?
“Was I too forward?” Jiro asked, and Ella could hear the smile in his voice. “I enjoyed talking to you,” he continued, “And I thought that I would like for you to be a friend. If you don’t fe—”
“Yes, I’ll go out with you, Jiro,” Ella said firmly, ignoring the little voice inside of her that was crying out, ‘What about Chun!” Chun had nothing to do this. Chun could have nothing to do with this.
She fingered Blake’s ring. She didn’t know what had changed, but maybe it was time. Maybe she was ready to try again. If not Jiro, then someone else.
But not Chun. Never Chun.
Chapter 18: I Can’t Win
Ella sat in a chair outside the café, drinking her espresso. Periodically, she shot a look at a silent Jiro before returning her gaze back to the cup in her hands. She brought a hand up to wave it at her still-flushed face, and then caught Jiro’s eyes. It was too much. She suddenly began to giggle helplessly.
“I’m really, really sorry,” Jiro said for the twentieth time. “I swear I did not know that it was a X-rated film. I just asked the ticket seller what he thought would be a good movie for me to watch.”
“I guess that tells you what he thought about you,” Ella replied, giggling once more. He laughed with her, shaking his head.
“I can’t believe that I brought you to a dirty movie on our first date,” Jiro complained.
“Yeah, you save that for the tenth date,” Ella quipped, settling back in her chair.
“I wanted to impress you,” Jiro confessed, sighing. “I wanted to make this night memorable.”
“Well, it was certainly memorable,” Ella replied. Leaning forward, she looked into his eyes. “The title didn’t give it away for you?”
He shrugged, the tips of his ears going red.
“Don’t make such a big deal out of it,” she instructed him. “It happens. Actually, I’ve never had a date that’s really gone smoothly. I remember my first date. I was so excited. He went home with another girl. And my second date … he forgot where he’d told me to wait, and we spent the night searching for each other.”
“You couldn’t just call each other?”
“No cell phone reception. The third one … tried to take me to a hotel room.”
“Not as much as you,” Ella teased him. Jiro huffed lightly, pretending to be angry. “I gave that one a black eye. Another date, well that one was a doozie. I went sailing.”
“I hate the water,” Ella muttered darkly. “Spent the whole trip hanging over the side. As long as you don’t ditch me for anyone else, don’t plan on going to a hotel …
“Please, I don’t think I have the courage for that,” Jiro murmured.
“And don’t take me home over a body of water, you’ll be safe.”
“What about … your dates with the man you lost?” Jiro asked quietly.
Ella shrugged. “Blake and I … we never actually went out on any formal dates. We always felt the most comfortable when we were together, at home, relaxing. Not to say that he didn’t make that time special.”
The two got up, and started walking to his car. “You can probably tell I don’t have a lot of experience with this,” Jiro said lightly. “I haven’t dated that much,” he explained, assisting her into the car. Going to the driver’s side, he settled in before continuing the conversation. “I’ve only ever loved one woman in my life, and when she came to me … we just got married. It’s what she wanted,” he said, with a shrug, answering her silent question. “I was happy. But losing her and being back on the dating scene … well, the lack of practice leads to this kind of stuff happening.”
Ella lightly patted his hand. “It wasn’t so bad. Well, until the moaning and groaning started.”
“I can’t believe you sat through half an hour of that stuff,” Jiro commented with a grin. “I waited for you to exclaim in horror … demand what the hell was wrong with me … do something. When you didn’t, I began to think that maybe you watched this kind of stuff. I think that freaked me out more than the fact that we were watching a dirty movie.”
“I was trying to be fair,” Ella said primly. “Well, I can now say that I’ve watched a dirty film in a theater. Not an entire movie, but this counts.”
“And who would you brag to about that experience?” Jiro asked incredulously.
Ella shrugged. “Who knows?”
“Where do you want to go eat?” Jiro asked, “I’ve made a reservation, but if you have a preference …” The phone rang before he could continue.
“Hello. What? Did you call the doctor? Are you sure? I don’t think I can do that, mom. Bye.”
“What’s the matter?” Ella asked.
“Sammy’s running a fever. Mom said it’s not a big deal, but she knew I would want to know.” He sat there quietly.
“Even though it’s not a big deal,” Ella said softly, “I’m sure that little girl wants her daddy with her right now.”
“Would you mind?” he asked, turning to look at her.
Ella smiled. “Of course not. Just let me off here, and I’ll take a taxi home. You can go.”
Jiro shook his head, before starting the car. “I’ll take you home first, it’s the least I can do.”
Fifteen minutes later, they pulled up in front of her house. Ella opened the door, and quickly got out.
She turned around.
“I hope tonight’s little misadventure hasn’t put you off seeing me?” Jiro said in a questioning tone.
Ella shook her head. “It was interesting. I’m thinking of giving you another chance.”
“I’ll call you,” Jiro said, flashing her a relieved smile.
Ella nodded and stepped back. She waved, as the car pulled away from the curb and Jiro drove off.
“Who was that?” The voice came from behind her. Ella jumped and turned to stare at the dark figure standing on her porch. She couldn’t see anything in the dim lighting, not even a silhouette. But she knew it was Chun. Her hands trembled slightly, and she hesitated before making her way up the steps.
“No one you know,” she said, deciding to keep Jiro’s presence a secret. Although why she felt the need to hide it, she didn’t know. She couldn’t delve too deeply into her motives for keeping this a secret.
“You were out on a date,” Chun noted.
Ella nodded silently, moving to open the door. Noting her affirmation, Chun stopped for a moment and then forced himself to move to the open doorway. “I wanted to talk to you about Calvin.”
Ella turned around, and stared at him from the center of the room. She hesitated briefly, and then motioned for him to come inside. As Chun entered, it felt as if the room had become smaller. It was as if the air had disappeared. Forcing herself to take a deep breath, she sat down. She shrank away slightly when he came to sit next to her. Forcing herself to relax, she turned to look at him. ‘Don’t let him have noticed me cowering away,’ she pleaded silently.
Chun cleared his throat, and then asked, “Where are Selina and Hebe? I don’t want Selina overhearing us.”
“They’re out. A business meeting,” she explained. Her fingers began to knot together; she forced herself to relax. “So what idea did you have?”
“I thought we’d get Calvin to a bar,” Chun finally said.
Ella waited for a beat. “That’s it?”
“Well, I told you about Calvin, right? How he likes to talk so much when he’s drunk? Well, if we get him drunk and get Selina there, I’m sure they’d work it out.”
Ella thought about it. “But, why would Selina go there? She hates bars.”
“I thought up how to get Calvin to open up. It’s your job to find a way to get Selina to a bar,” Chun asserted loftily.
Ella’s eyes narrowed. “Very funny. How hard is it, really, to get someone drunk? I’m the one who has to figure out how to get Selina to a place that she hates.”
“It’s really hard. Calvin knows his weakness. He stays away from anything alcoholic. I’m going to have to spike his drink, and in such small amounts that he won’t get suspicious. It’ll take hours.”
Ella smiled slightly, hearing the disgruntled tone in Chun’s voice.
“Not that I’m not willing to put the time in, but Calvin’s obnoxious when he’s buzzed. He gets better the more he drinks, but that’ll take time.”
“It’s your turn to make a sacrifice,” Ella reminded him.
“You think I don’t know that?” Chun asked, turning to her. “I’d willingly make any sacrifice to give him back his happiness. His friendship is very important to me. He’s my best friend, next to Ji—” He cut himself off.
Ella stared at him, waiting for him to continue.
“I’m going to get going,” he said abruptly, getting up. “I won’t take up anymore of your time.”
Ella got up, stumbling slightly. Chun reached out, catching her in his arms. “Be careful,” he said softly, brushing back the hair that had fallen across her face.
She stared, mesmerized, into his eyes, and her hand slowly came up against his cheek. She cradled his face in her hand, uncertain of what she was doing. Chun turned his head slightly, and kissed the center of her palm. Ella trembled slightly at the touch of his lips, and then pulled away. For a moment his fingers refused to let go, and Ella stiffened in fear. But suddenly she was free, and Chun was on the other side of the room. Taking a deep breath, she attempted to tamp down the fire that had come to life inside of her. She surreptitiously waved a hand in front of her face, hoping to cool her burning cheeks.
“Call me…,” she cleared her throat. “Call me whenever you’re ready to put the plan into motion,” Ella said. “I’ll think of a way to get Selina there.”
Chun nodded and walked to the door. Opening the door, he stepped out. Pausing, he turned to glance at her once more.
“Was there anything else?” Ella asked hesitantly.
Chun shook his head in negation. Turning, he left. Ella’s hands shook as she locked the door behind him. Why did she have to feel this way? Why did he always throw her emotions into chaos? Why him?
“Would you like to something to drink?” Mrs. Wang asked, coming into the room.
Ella shook her head. “No, I’m fine. Thank you. I wish that you were coming with us to the picnic.”
“Oh, I don’t think these old bones can handle a trek through the forest. Don’t worry. I’m going to have company over, and enjoy a bit of the peace. Not to say I don’t love Sammy, but …”
Ella nodded in understanding. “Sammy’s a wonderful girl,” she said softly. “She’s like a ray of sunshine. Does she ever cry?”
“Not much,” Mrs. Wang said proudly. “Only ever gives me a bit of trouble when she’s hungry or sleepy. Otherwise, she just loves everybody and is a joy to care for. And I’m not saying that just because I’m her grandmother.”
Ella turned her head when she heard the laughter of father and daughter, as they came into the room. The two were laughing together over some private joke that she didn’t know just yet.
“We’re just about ready,” Jiro said. “Let me grab the picnic basket, and we’ll be on our way.”
“Let me hold her,” Ella said, reaching out for Sammy. She cradled the toddler close to her body, reveling in her softness. The first time she had held Sammy had been harrowing. She’d fought the panic and tamped down the pain. She’d ignored it, as she’d listened to the child giggle happily in her arms. And gradually that pain had been drowned out by Sammy’s voice. Pretty soon, she’d begun to laugh along with Sammy. The pain in her heart, the one that had been her constant companion, had lessened until she barely felt its presence. Picking up a toy, she began to play with Sammy, distracting her.
“Let’s go,” Jiro said, coming out with the hamper. Ella nodded, getting up with Sammy in her arms. Together, they moved toward the door.
“Hi. You’ve reached Ella. I can’t answer the phone right now. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Bye.”
Chun disconnected the call in frustration. Where the hell was she? He had not expected Ella to be missing in action. Getting Selina here was the whole purpose of this thing. If he didn’t get her here, than the past two hours would have all been wasted.
“You know, I don’t think that you should be marrying Melanie,” Calvin said, leaning over in a confiding manner. “I saw her kick at a dog. Can you believe that? She was going to hurt a dog!” Calvin looked suitably shocked by the thought.
“Is that the extent of your reasoning?” Chun asked, staring at Calvin. Yep, he was drunk. The truths were going to start coming out. Where the hell was Ella?
“Well, I can’t really put my finger on why I don’t like her. She’s a bit snobby. But she did get you that vacation when she saw that you were tired. But I just can’t warm up to her. Not to say she isn’t pretty, but really. Can you imagine spending the rest of your life with her? She won’t warm you at night.”
“She’s not a block of ice, Calvin. She is human.”
“But I really think she is,” Calvin said in a rush. “She didn’t even cry at your brother’s funeral. And she was going to marry him!”
“I’ll think about it,” Chun said shortly, before turning to stare into his scotch. He did not want to talk about his brother right now.
“And I saw the way you looked at Ella,” Calvin continued. “You were into her.”
“Not really,” Chun said in a dismissive tone.
“Yes, really. I know something that you don’t know I know,” Calvin said.
Chun looked at him, his brow crinkled in confusion.
Calvin leaned in once more. “I saw you kiss her outside the restaurant.”
Chun pulled back, glaring at Calvin.
“That was so not cool. You know, making the moves on my date.”
The tips of Chun’s ears reddened. He opened his mouth, and then slammed it shut, having no way to defend himself.
“It’s a good thing that I’d already decided we weren’t meant to be together,” Calvin said. “There was no warmth. No spark. Nothing like I had with Selina.”
Chun’s eyes widened.
“Remember Selina? My goddess. She was an angel. If only I hadn’t been such an idiot. Not that I regret …,” Calvin said suddenly. “I would never. When I found you that night … you believe me, right?”
Chun nodded, reaching out to pat his shoulder. “I can only thank you for all you did.”
“I didn’t do it for a thank you,” Calvin protested. “You were my friend! How could I abandon you?”
“But, did you have to abandon her?” Chun asked.
“I didn’t want to … why am I talking about Selina? That’s done and over with. No going back now. No matter how much I begged. No matter how much I cried,” Calvin mumbled.
Chun winced at that truth. His fingers clenched, and he came to a decision.
“Bartender, could you do me a favor?”
“Please call this number and tell the person that picks up that the owner of this phone is lying, passed out in this bar. And that she’s the only one you can reach. Please give her the address and hang up.”
Chun turned to stare at his friend, who had gotten up to wander around the bar. Calvin was a happy and talkative drunk. He chatted amiably with the other patrons, before coming back to his seat.
“You really need to forgive Jiro, Chun.”
“I’ve already forgiven him,” Chun protested.
“But, have you gone to see him since you supposedly forgave him?”
Chun shook his head.
“Without seeing him, without talking face to face, how can you truthfully say you forgave him? When you were so angry at him when Samantha died … it was like you were kicking a man when he was already down. He lost his wife. He lost the only woman he had ever loved!”
“So did I,” Chun replied grimly.
“I know you both loved her. But when Samantha chose you, Jiro knew it wasn’t your fault. He didn’t blame you. He didn’t go behind your back to try to get her. And when she chose him … why can’t you be the bigger man? Blame her for wanting safety over her love for you. Blame her for wanting a child more than life. Blame her and forgive him. He needs all the friends he can get. He needs you,” Calvin said morosely. “He misses you.”
Chun sat back. Maybe it was time to get out there and talk to Jiro. Maybe it was time to let go of the past. The love he had felt for Samantha had faded over time, until he’d finally let it go. Then why was he still holding on to his anger? Even the pain had lessened over time. And when Ella had entered his life, that pain had faded completely away.
Maybe it really was time to see Jiro face to face. Maybe it was time to have a talk.
“I’m looking for Calvin Chen. Where is he?” Chun heard the voice clearly from the doorway. Chun quickly got up.
“I’ve called you a ride, buddy,” Chun told Calvin, tugging on his jacket.
“What? What ride?” Calvin demanded.
“I’ll see you later.” Chun quickly started moving away.
Chun’s parked in the driveway, and stared at the house. He’d talked to Mrs. Wang, who had said that Jiro was due back soon. That had been an hour ago. Jiro should be home by now. Steeling himself, he got out of the car. He wanted to have this conversation with Jiro. It had been a long time coming. Maybe, once they’d talked it over, maybe then they could be friends once more. Jiro had been a big part of his life, and when he’d cut him out, it was as if he’d been missing a limb. Now that he had let go of the pain and the anger, he could admit to himself that he wanted this. He wanted his friend back.
Looking up, he saw Jiro coming down the steps.
“Mom said you called.” His tone was questioning.
“I wanted to talk to you,” Chun said. “How are you?” he finally asked.
“Do you really care?”
Chun nodded tightly. “I just wanted to say … I’m sorry for your loss. I know that it’s years too late.
Jiro froze and stared at him in shock.
“I never said the words, but you loved her too. And I ignored that. I’m sorry you lost her. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry you lost her, too,” Jiro finally replied. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry that I hurt you when I accepted her into my life. I’m sorry that I couldn’t be a better friend. I’m sorry that I needed her more than your friendship.”
Chun took a deep breath. “She chose to leave me. It wasn’t your fault. She chose you. And that wasn’t your fault, either.”
Jiro relaxed at the words. They traded wary smiles.
“Jiro!” a voice called from the background. “Sammy is missing her daddy. And don’t you think that we should be leaving for dinner soon?”
Chun froze. While he had heard that voice many times before, dreamt that voice and thought about it, he’d never heard it when it sounded like this. There was joy in that voice. Peace.
He heard a woman’s laughter and a child’s giggles. Forcing himself to look up, his gaze landed on the woman standing in the doorway. There was a baby cradled in her arms. A smile on her face. Life in her eyes.
Chapter 19: Unforeseen Mistakes
There was pain. Intense, shooting pain. Dull, throbbing pain. Different types of pain happily co-existing in his unwary head. Moaning softly, he tried to get up. Mistake. Big mistake. He fell back. Raising his hands cautiously, he clutched at his aching head. Taking a deep breath, he pried open his scrunched up eyelids, and cursed as the sun’s rays hit his unwary pupils. Intense, shooting pain made itself known once more.
Turning over, he nestled his head into the soft, forgiving pillow. The cool breeze, coming in from an open window, almost soothed his relentless headache. Almost. His mind pushed away the niggling thought that he didn’t have a window in his bedroom. What had happened last night? Why didn’t he remember?
Click. Click. Click. Click.
“Where is he?”
Click. Click. Click. Click.
Flashbacks came back from the night before. He had been at the bar with Chun, and Chun had left. He’d sat there, slumped over his apple cider, and then he’d heard the sound of heels. An angry sound. A sound any man would be wary of. He’d wondered vaguely who those heels had been coming for. He hadn’t realized those angry clicks had been coming for him.
The bed jiggled slightly. Calvin froze, hearing the rustling of sheets … the soft hush of silk on silk. There was a soft, feminine snore.
“Why did you have to leave me? Couldn’t you have looked beyond the words I was saying? I told you to go, but I needed you to stay. I was wrong. I pushed you away. But you left.”
A sudden weight around his waist. The warmth of a body snuggling up behind him. A soft sigh. Calvin reached down and stroked the delicate arm.
“I love you, Selina. I love you. I will always love you.”
Calvin turned around, moving slowly. He winced as the pain increased in his head. His gaze landed on the figure lying in the bed with him. Cursing softly, he closed his eyes, wanting to shut out this reality.
He forced himself to open his eyes once more, forcing himself to face the truth.
He was staring into the eyes of a stranger. Kind of.
Ella sat at the window, drinking a cup of hot coffee. Sighing, she banged her head lightly against the window. Why couldn’t she get Chun’s face out of her mind? Why couldn’t she stop thinking about him?
“And, you know Ella, right?”
Chun nodded, wordlessly. There was a short, awkward pause.
“Uh … hi,” Chun murmured, staring at Ella. His eyes followed Jiro, as he walked up the steps and put an arm around Ella’s waist.
Ella squeezed her eyes shut, trying to fight the memory. She’d flinched. She’d flinched when the man she had been dating for a month had put his arm around her! She’d quickly flashed a smile at the two men, before making an excuse to go back inside.
“I don’t know if you know about our history,” Jiro said, walking in. Ella cocked her head, hearing Chun’s car driving away. “But Chun was just here … to talk. But since you’re here, he didn’t feel comfortable about staying. He didn’t want to interrupt.
“He wasn’t interrupting anything,” Ella quickly blurted. “You told him that, right?”
“Yeah, but he said he’d see me later.”
There was a reflective silence between the two.
“Chun has been a part of my life forever,” Jiro said, breaking the silence. “Calvin, him and I have been best friends since we were eight. When I moved into this neighborhood, I had just lost my father. Mom was busy dealing with her own grief. Chun and Calvin took me under their wings. They were a year older, and seemed a whole lot wiser. Samantha was our little princess. We grew up, and there was never any doubt that she and Chun would marry and live happily ever after.”
Ella put out a hand, and patted Jiro on the shoulder.
“But when she left Chun, and came to me … I forgot everything … all of our years of friendship, for her. Because, she was my princess, too. She might have never loved me as much as she loved Chun …”
“How do you know that?” Ella demanded. “She was your wife. The mother of your child.”
“I knew,” Jiro asserted. “I knew it, but it was okay. Because I had her.” Jiro put up a hand and grabbed hers. Smoothing his finger over her soft skin, he paused for a moment.
“Jiro, I …”
“I’m just so happy. I have my friend back.”
He’d smiled that endearing smile of his, and Ella hadn’t said anymore. What could she say?
Ella set down the cup, and looked at the ringing phone. Picking it up, she stared at the number. Jiro. She fought against the instinct that made her want to ignore the caller, and quickly picked up.
“Hey. I wanted to know if you wanted to go to a party.”
“Party? Um, sure …”
Calvin reared back, his eyes widening in horror. Sliding back, before he knew it, he was over the side of the bed and onto the floor. He groaned as the rough landing pushed his headache up a notch.
“Are you alright?” the woman asked, sliding over to glance down at him.
“Hey, I just wanted to ask you if you’re up for some breakfast. We’re thinking of heading out and getting some pancakes.”
Calvin’s eyes widened in horror, and he ducked down, trying to hide himself.
“Um, sure. Let me just get rid of my guest,” the woman murmured, turning to glance down at Calvin.
“Guest? Since when did you start having guests?”
Calvin closed his eyes, wanting to pretend that this was all a dream. A dream or even a nightmare. ‘Please, don’t let her come over here.’
“Since now,” the woman replied.
“Well, invite your guest, if they want to come. We’ll be waiting outside.” The door closed.
Calvin jumped up, and ran to get his pants.
“Do you want to go out to breakfast?”
“No! I need to get out of here.”
“Are you okay?” she asked in concern.
“No! Look, I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened last night. And I hope that nothing happened.” He looked at her hopefully.
“I don’t even know your name,” he blurted out.
She smiled and held out a hand. Calvin automatically reached out and shook it.
“Nice to officially meet you,” she murmured. “My name is Hebe. I don’t know if you remember me. We met when you came to drop off Ella after your blind date?”
“Hebe, Ella said that she’s not in the moo—” The door opened and the voice cut off, staring in shock at the scene in front of her.
Calvin’s shoulders slumped and he turned his head to meet her shocked gaze.
“Fancy dress does not suit me,” Ella murmured ruefully, staring down at the red fabric. “Selina insisted I wear this when she found out that we were coming to the Four Seasons. And heels to match,” she complained, wobbling slightly. “I don’t ever wear heels.”
“I noticed,” Jiro replied, putting a supporting hand around her.
“Whose party is this?” Ella asked, looking around in interest at the celebrities flocking into the ballroom. There were reporters. Statesmen.
She stumbled slightly, as they entered the room. The elegant décor made her feel even more out of place.
“Didn’t I tell you? I thought I did.”
“Ladies and gentleman. Thank you for joining us here today on this …” a voice droned on in the background.
“Tell me now,” Ella ordered. “Who knows this many peo—” She inhaled sharply, her gaze landing on the man standing on the stage. “Chun?”
“Today we are announcing a merger. A merger between two great companies …”
“Yeah, it’s Chun’s party. His family is throwing this party. He wanted his friends to be there. Look, there’s Calvin,” Jiro exclaimed, smiling at the man standing in the corner. Calvin grimaced slightly, before turning back to the stage.
“But, why? What’s the occasion?” Ella demanded.
“And today, we announce a merger between our two families. Today, I would like to announce Wu Chun’s engagement to Melanice Zhang.”
Chapter 20: Angels and Their Wicked Schemes
Ella stared at the couple making their way to their corner of the room. She forced herself to look away from the hand Melanie had placed on Chun’s arm.
He was engaged. To the woman that had made sardonic fun of her on the day they had first met.
He was engaged.
Ella shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs. Why was she shocked? Why did she care so much? Why?
She pulled away, only then realizing that she had been clutching at Jiro’s hand. She saw her nail marks on his skin.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, aghast at the damage that she had done.
“Are you alright? Is something wrong?” Jiro asked, clearly worried.
“I just need to get a breath of fresh air,” Ella muttered, looking around frantically. Her gaze landed on the open balcony doors on the other side of the ballroom. Her only avenue of escape. She did not want to make happy conversation with Chun and his fiancé. She didn’t even want to see his smiling face.
Jiro reached out and took her hand once more. He squeezed it, silently giving her support. It didn’t work.
She stared down at her dress, and back up at the beautiful vision making her way towards them. They didn’t even compare. Had all of it just been in her head? The tension and the awkwardness? Had she been projecting her emotions onto Chun? Absently tugging at her stylized hair, she realized that it must have all been her imagination. Why would Chun be interested in her when he had someone like Melanie in his life?
“I’ll be back,” she threw over her shoulder, making her way to those doors.
“Ella, watch out!” Jiro called out from behind her. Her balance, already precarious, disappeared all together when she crashed into the hapless waiter blocking her way. Bouncing back, she felt the heel of one spiky shoe break and she was falling, face first into the unforgiving marble floor. As her head hit the marble, she was quickly enveloped by blessed darkness.
‘At least I won’t have to congratulate Melanie,’ the thought whispered through her head, as she sank into accidental slumber.
“I’m going to get some water and aspirin.”
Ella moaned softly, slowly coming back to consciousness.
“She’s going to have a headache when she gets up.”
Ella inwardly nodded in agreement. The pain in her head was too much for her to make the actual physical effort of nodding in agreement.
“I have to get this,” another voice said. “It might be important.” The words were followed by the sound of a door opening and closing.
And then all was quiet. In the silence, Ella finally noticed that someone was ministering to her head. The touch was gentle and there was no pain. Well, except for the dull ache inside of her head. The hands were cool and the touch almost soothing.
Who …? Reluctantly, she opened her eyes, wincing as the light hit her sensitive pupils.
“Chun?” she murmured, her gaze landing on the figure sitting in the bed beside her. For a moment, the light behind his head and the tears in her eyes made it seem as if there was a halo around his head. But that halo disappeared, leaving behind a mortal with godlike features.
Chun turned back, his concerned gaze quickly moving over her. “Are you okay?” he asked, reaching out a hand to cup her cheek.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, staring up at him. The move to snuggle her cheek into his warmth was unconscious, going unnoticed by both him and her. “Isn’t this your engagement party?” she demanded, closing her eyes once more. “You should be with your fiancé.”
“You needed me,” he responded softly.
“Where’s Calvin?” Ella demanded crossly, ignoring his words. “I consider him a friend. Doesn’t he even care enough to see how I’m doing?”
“He was worried so much, that he ran off to get you some aspirin and a water,” Chun dryly stated.
“And what’s wrong with that?” Ella asked, surprised by his amusement.
“There’s water and aspirin right here,” Chun said, smiling. Ella giggled softly, when she realized the extent of Calvin’s worry.
Ella moved away slightly, realizing that he’d been sitting there, with his hand on her cheek for the past few minutes.
“Where is Jiro?” she asked, clearing her throat.
“Mrs. Wang called,” Chun replied. “Sammy will always be his first priority,” he inserted ruthlessly into the silence that had fallen between them.
“I know that,” Ella snapped back. “I don’t begrudge Sammy a father’s love.”
“Then, why are you crying?” he asked softly. Ella jumped, as she felt his fingers wiping away the tears that she hadn’t even known were falling. “Does it hurt somewhere else?” Chun asked, getting up.
Ella’s hand shot out and grabbed his, her eyes widening in worry when she realized that he was leaving.
Chun stared down at their joined hands, and then sat down, when he felt her hand weakly tugging at him. “What is it?”
Ella swallowed, and then let go. “Nothing,” she murmured, trying to get up. She gasped as her headache grew. Before she could even decide to fall back into the bed, Chun was there, firmly pushing her back against the pillows.
“Lie down,” he grimly ordered. “Stay still. Or do you want me to hold you down?”
A fiery blush bloomed on Ella’s face, and she turned her face with a muttered ‘idiot.’
There was silence between the two; each enjoying the uncomplicated warmth without the tension that always seemed to exist between them.
“Where are we?”
“I booked a suite in the hotel,” Chun replied. “We needed to see to you.”
“Shouldn’t you be down there, with your fiancé?” Ella asked pettishly.
“This is the second time you’ve mentioned my fiancé. She has a name, you know,” Chun replied. “A very beautiful one. Me-la-nie.”
Ella turned her head to glare at him. “Why are you marrying her?” Ella demanded, the words falling from her mouth before she could have those important second thoughts about questioning him about this.
Ella’s face crumpled. “If that was the kind of woman you liked,” Ella muttered balefully, “Then why did you kiss me?” Ella closed her eyes in mortification, aghast by the question she had just asked. ‘What the hell is the matter with me!’
Chun reached out, and placed a hand under her chin. Forcing her to turn her head, he waited until she met his gaze. He could see the confusion, the anger and the pain in her eyes.
“You’re beautiful to me, Ella Chen,” he finally murmured. His thumb came up and gently brushed across her petal soft lips. “There is nothing more that I want than to hold you in my arms and kiss these lips.”
Ella reached up, grasping at his hand. “Don’t,” she muttered, trying to pull his hand away.
Chun leaned down, his lips so close to hers, that their breaths were mingling.
“But you decided to date Jiro. My best friend. You made that decision, and you don’t have the right to ask me anything.” Letting go of her chin, Chun got up and moved to the door. “I’ll send Jiro in. You’re right, I shouldn’t be here. My fiancé is waiting for me.”
The two froze when the bedroom door opened, slamming against the wall.
Ella sat up, ignoring the ache in her head. “Jiro.”
“I found you some shoes,” he said, holding them up.
“Jiro, I …” Ella began uncertainly. The two were walking down the hallway, making their way slowly back to the ballroom. ‘I do not want to leave. We can’t leave yet! What would Chun say?’ Ella had insisted. She did not want to seem like a coward. She was not going to run away. “Back there …”
“Are you okay?” Jiro asked gently, putting a hand under her elbow. “Your head isn’t hurting, is it?”
“I’m fine. I just … I know that you haven’t had a chance to talk to Chun, and maybe you don’t know ..”
“Know what?” he asked, prompting her to continue when she remained quiet.
“Can we sit down for a moment?” Jiro nodded and guided her to a bench by the elevators. “I knew Blake,” she explained, taking a taut breath and steeling herself for the upcoming ordeal.
“What?” Jiro asked, surprised at the direction this conversation was taking.
“Remember, I told you about the man I lost?” Ella asked in a rush.
Jiro nodded, staring down at her.
“I had a relationship with Blake, Chun’s twin brother. I was pretty broken up after I lost him. When I saw Chun for the first time, I thought that I had my Blake back. It’s been difficult dealing with the face of a beloved, knowing that he is not my beloved.”
Jiro put his arm around her shoulders, silently providing what comfort he could.
“That’s why, whatever you heard back there, I don’t want you to think that there is anything going on between Chun and I,” Ella concluded in a small voice. She wanted him to believe her. She needed him to believe her.
Jiro was quiet for a moment.
“Jiro?” Ella asked hesitantly, moving away to gaze into his eyes. Jiro stared back at her in confusion.
“I don’t think there was going on between the two of you today,” he finally said. “But …”
“You believe me? You believe me, truly?” Ella asked, pressing. She put a hand up to Jiro’s shoulder, needing that contact. His warmth was comforting, but … there was no fire. Where was the fire?
“Ella … let’s talk about this later, okay?”
Ella nodded, reluctantly letting go of the subject. The two got up and silently entered the elevator.
“I need to get some fresh air,” Ella mumbled to Jiro. They’d been sitting here for two hours, eating an excellent dinner and listening to endless speeches. The champagne had continued to flow, and Ella had drunk a couple of glasses. She was regretting that decision now. Her head was pounding. The lights were too bright. The music too loud. The conversation too boring. She wanted to go home and go to sleep, but she was not going to run away.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Jiro asked in concern, putting down his fork.
“No. Please, finish your dessert. I’ll be fine. I think the champagne’s getting to me,” Ella murmured distractedly. She needed to get out of here. She needed to get away from the sickening sight of Chun being pleasant to Melanie. She couldn’t even say that he was deliberately playing up to his debutant fiancé, but seeing him smile at her … seeing him touch her companionably was getting to her. Putting down her napkin, she arose and made her way to the balcony doors.
Stepping out, she took a deep breath, and then immediately shivered. The winter night was cold, causing goosebumps to crop up on her arms. She rubbed at them. Nothing would make her go back into that stifling atmosphere.
Staring down at her red dress, she lightly fingered the dress. She had come here with such hope. This was the first time that she and Jiro had been out as a couple. After their first, abbreviated date, they’d only ever hung out at Jiro’s house, with his mother and daughter. Being here, tonight, with just Jiro, made her realize how comfortable she had gotten with the family unit. It made her realize that while her bond with Sammy and Mrs. Wang had grown, it hadn’t gotten any deeper with Jiro.
It had taken her this long to realize that she felt no spark with Jiro. There was no chemistry. Her hands fisted into the red material. What was she going to do now? She forcibly pulled her thoughts back when they began to move toward the scene that had occurred in the hotel room. She could not think about that now. Like it or not … she had made a commitment to Jiro. And she should not be thinking about another man.
There was a soft noise behind her, and then a suit jacket was covering her bare shoulders. Ella turned, surprised, and found Calvin standing there.
“Thank you,” she murmured, reaching up to clutch at the material. He nodded, flashing her a rueful smile.
“Your headache?” Calvin asked.
“Better,” Ella replied through gritted teeth.
“You’re lying,” Calvin stated, noting her taut frame.
“Mind your own business,” Ella shot back. He shrugged in reply.
The two walked over the balcony rail, and leaned against it, silent for the moment. Calvin offered her one of the champagne glasses he was carrying, and she quickly shook her head in refusal. The last thing she needed right now was more champagne. Calvin brought the glass to his mouth and quickly downed the liquid inside.
“What are you doing?” Ella gasped in shock. “I thought you were very careful about drinking. I thought that you said that you shouldn’t drink no matter what the reason.”
“When did I ever say that?” Calvin demanded imperiously, turning to stare at her.
Ella shrugged. “Well, maybe Chun and Jiro mentioned it.”
“What does it matter?” he softly muttered, turning to stare out into the hotel garden. “I’ve already made the biggest mistake of my life. What does it matter now?”
“Right. What was this morning about?” Ella demanded, turning to glare at Calvin. “You said that you loved Selina. How could you do that to her? With her own roommate? With one of her best friends?”
“If we’re asking questions here,” Calvin remarked sardonically, “Then what about you and Chun?”
“What about us?” Ella bit back.
“There was something going on between the two of you. I know it. I saw the two of you kissing.”
Ella gasped, shocked at that reminder.
“I saw you outside of that restaurant,” Calvin said. “I saw how happy Chun was. I saw it. And now … he’s engaged to Melanie. And you … why are you with Jiro?”
“I made the decision to be with Jiro,” Ella said, after a pause to gather her thoughts. “He makes me feel good.”
“Good? Just good?” Calvin asked. “Does he make you feel those fireworks that we talked about on our blind date? Or … did you see him, and want to pinch his cheeks? Did he look cute, Ella?” Calvin asked solemnly. “Did you secretly want to do it?”
“Not pinch his cheeks, exactly,” Ella said defensively. “There is more than that.”
“But enough to start that grand, passionate affair we talked about?” Calvin countered.
“What right do you have to ask me these questions?” Ella blurted out. “You have no right.”
“I do have the right,” Calvin shot back. “Samantha came between Jiro and Chun before. And now … you. Do you think that Jiro deserves this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Jiro married a woman who loved Chun more than him. She chose Jiro because he could give the small-town life that she wanted.” Calvin picked up the second glass of champagne and downed it. Ella watched, fascinated by the quick work he was making of the alcohol.
“Are you sure that you should be drinking that much?” Ella asked hesitantly. “You might get drunk. And then, where would I be?”
“I’m already drunk,” Calvin confided, giving her a dark look.
“I’m going to leave you to your champagne,” Ella said, moving away from him.
“No. You’re going to hear me out,” Calvin said, reaching out to grab her arm.
“Let go, Calvin,” Ella ordered, struggling against his surprisingly strong hold. Ella gradually ceased struggling, realizing that she would not get free until Calvin decided to let her go.
“Why are you with Jiro, Ella?” Calvin finally said, breaking the tense silence between the two. “Is it because he can give you the illusion that you’re not betraying Blake? Because you know that you will never feel for Jiro, what you felt for Blake?”
“Calvin, stop. Please.”
“Why aren’t you giving Chun a chance?” Calvin continued, hammering at her with his words. “Because Chun makes you feel more than you’ve ever felt in your life? And that scares you?”
Ella pulled free, aided by his loosening hold. Without a second thought, she slapped him across the face. There was a short, sharp silence between the two. Ella stepped back, a hand over her mouth. “Why…?” She cleared her throat. “Why are you saying this? Why did you drink tonight?”
“Wouldn’t you be drinking after finding yourself in the bed of the best friend of the woman you loved?” Calvin asked. He smiled coldly. “Actually, I’m surprised that you aren’t drinking. After all, you are dating the best friend of the man you might love, if you weren’t too afraid to see it. And you did see that man get engaged tonight,” he reminded her heartlessly.
Ella took a deep breath, surprising herself with the sob that came out.
“That’s enough, Calvin,” a male voice said from behind the ballroom doors. “I think you’ve said enough.”
Ella froze, unable to bear the thought of turning around and facing those eyes.
“You’re going to have to turn around some time,” Calvin whispered in her ear, before moving around her and entering the ballroom.
Leaving her with the one man she so did not want to see right now.
A/N: Please, you guys, if you’re reading this story, leave a comment. Just a line will do. It’s a bit disheartening to make the effort to write this and post it up, when it seems like only three readers are reading it. Not to say, I don’t love those three readers for making the effort to let me know that they’re still interested. To all the silent readers, just let me know what you guys think. Honestly, how soon I update after this will depend on what kind of response I get. Thanks.