Chapter 21: Without You, Within Me
Ella stared at the moon, asking it silently to perform some miracle and make the man behind her disappear. She didn’t want to face him now. Not after the conversation she had just had with drunk Calvin.
Drunk Calvin was mean. Stupid, drunk Calvin.
The cold breeze swept across her face, blowing her hair into her eyes. Running a hand through her hair, she took a deep breath. Straightening her shoulders, she turned to look at the doorway, ready to face the censor in those eyes.
“I …” she began defensively, unsure of how she would continue. Her eyes widened, when she saw the empty space. ‘Where did he go?’ Running into the ballroom, her frantic eyes searched for him, but he seemed to have disappeared. Going to her table, she picked up her purse, and turned to make her way to the doors.
She stumbled when someone bumped into her from behind. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” a breathless voice exclaimed. “I didn’t see you standing there.” Ella flinched, as she felt cold liquid sliding down the back of her dress. She closed her eyes in frustration. How many times was this going to happen to her in the same damned night? She turned a baleful gaze on the culprit, her eyes widening when she realized who had bumped into her.
“I am so sorry,” Melanie repeated.
“No, I’m fine,” Ella, starting to turn away.
“Let me take care of this,” Melanie insisted, putting out a hand and taking hold of Ella’s arm. They exited the ballroom, and entered the nearest bathroom. Ella didn’t know how to react. She stared at the woman who had become engaged to Chun tonight.
“Um, if you don’t mind my asking,” Melanie finally said tentatively, “But, have we met before? You look really familiar.”
Ella looked back at Melanie. She was closely supervising the attendant’s removal of the champagne that had fallen on Ella’s dress. That level of care surprised Ella more than anything.
“You have a good memory,” Ella murmured. “We didn’t really meet, but you saw me once in Chun’s office,” she offered. “I was lying on his couch, having fainted in his arms …”
“Oh, right. Why was that? Was it because Chun is so good looking?” she asked teasingly.
Ella’s eyes jerked to her face in shock.
“You were probably blinded by his beauty. That happens to me sometimes, as well,” Melanie continued on blithely, coming around to stand in front of Ella. “You just have to remind yourself that he’s just human.”
“No, um, his face wasn’t the reason,” Ella interjected hurriedly, lying through her teeth. “I’m … anemic,” Ella wildly supplied, grabbing for the first excuse that popped into her mind. “If I don’t get my daily dose of iron, I faint like that. Careless of me.” She chuckled uncomfortably, the sound trailing off into an awkward silence once more. Well, more awkward for her than Melanie. She could see that Chun’s fiancé was entirely comfortable in her presence. That meant that Chun hadn’t even mentioned her to Melanie. She knew that she had no right to feel anything about that. She clenched her fists against the tide of emotions that were rising up inside of her and making her confused.
“Is that how you got to know Chun?” Melanie asked in a curious tone. “Is that why he invited you here today?”
“No, I came with Jiro,” Ella supplied.
“Oh, Jiro! You’re Jiro’s girlfriend? That’s great. I’m so happy the two are talking again. Chun pretended not to care, but I’m sure it’s not easy cutting someone out of your life, especially when that person was such a good friend. Losing Samantha and Jiro at the same time must have been difficult.”
Ella stared at Melanie, surprised by the depth of her knowledge. ‘But then, what were you thinking?’ she chided herself. ‘Did you think that he was marrying Melanie out of a sense of obligation? Did you think that this engagement was just part and parcel of a business merge? Did you think that Chun would be treating his wife like a stranger? That he wouldn’t share with her? That she wouldn’t be a part of his life?’ His confidences to Melanie made sense, now that she thought about it. But why did it irritate her? Why was there a fire burning inside of her at the thought of Chun being intimate with someone else? She had no right to care, not when she had spent the last month dating Jiro.
“Congratulations on your engagement,” Ella got out past the knot that had formed in her throat. “I wish you all the happiness in the world.”
“Thank you,” Melanie replied, smiling her brilliant smile. “Chun’s a great guy. He’s not like Blake, but he is wonderful in his own way.”
Ella was shocked to find herself nodding her head in agreement. When had she begun to think of Chun being as wonderful as Blake?
“He can be so strong and forceful.”
Chun’s face appeared in front of her eyes. Helping her when her ankle was sprained. Chun convincing her to help him with Calvin and Selina, despite her reservations.
“He is so mesmerizing.”
Ella flinched as the memory of their kiss came into her mind. The fire and the passion had been frightening, and she hadn’t known how to deal with the blaze of emotion.
“He can be so … nice. I know some guys wouldn’t find that to be a compliment, but that’s important to a woman.”
Ella’s thoughts ran back to her weekend in his home. He’d been so different from the image she had formed in her mind of him. His relationship with his mother was a close one, and she could see how he doted on his sister. He was a thoughtful man, to her irritation.
“I knew that he was a fair man, but I got to see that with his relationship with Jiro,” Melanie said, smiling at Ella. “You must be happy about that too. I’m sure that Jiro was happy that they can stop fighting over a woman now.”
Ella just nodded helplessly. What could she say? No, there are bad feelings now over a new woman and that woman is me? Although, was she giving herself too much importance by thinking this? After all, how important was she to Chun if he was getting engaged to wonderful Melanie?
“I’ve done the best I can with the dress, ma’am,” the attendant stated. Melanie nodded, and shooed the her away. Turning to Ella, she smiled, and motioned for her to sit down. “At first I wasn’t sure, you know,” Melanie continued, “about Chun, I mean. I loved Blake with all of my heart,” she whispered suddenly, looking around to make sure that no one was near.
Ella’s gaze flew to Melanie’s face, shocked by the pain she could see in her eyes.
“I know that he didn’t love me. I know that he was only agreeing to the marriage because that was something his parents wanted, but I was willing to take him anyway I could get him. He was so quiet, so shy, and so sincere. At first I wasn’t sure about Chun,” she repeated. “He was completely different. But I’ve come to appreciate those differences. There’s just something about him that pulls people to him.”
Ella nodded her head in agreement. There was a part of her that seemed connected to Chun, a part of her that was always busy thinking about Chun … obsessed with him. ‘No matter how hard I try to pretend he doesn’t exist, I fail. Calvin was right. I’m not being fair to Jiro.’
“Look at me going on and on,” Melanie suddenly blurted out, clearly embarrassed about her words. “I don’t know why I’m saying all of this to you. You’re probably thinking that this is none of your business. I’m sorry,” she said, flashing Ella a dazzling smile. “Blame it on the champagne. So, are you still working at the company?” Melanie asked.
“No, I … I quit soon after.”
“Oh, so what are you doing right now?”
“Nothing much,” Ella blushing replied, feeling inadequate in front of the woman who had been called Taipei’s Businesswoman of the Year two years in a row.
“I’m sure you’ll find something,” Melanie suddenly said, understanding the blush that had appeared in Ella’s cheeks. “Don’t feel bad about it. You just haven’t found your dream yet. When you do, I’m sure you’ll pursue it with all of the passion you have in you. You won’t run away from it. I can see that in you.”
Ella nodded wordlessly.
“Well, Chun’s probably waiting for me. It was nice meeting you,” Melanie said, reaching out to shake Ella’s hand. “I hope we can meet again soon.
Ella nodded, and turned away, walking out the door. She rubbed at the ache that had sprung up in her heart. After meeting Melanie, she felt even worse for feeling this uncalled for jealousy.
“Ella,” Jiro called out from behind her. “Are you ready to go? The car’s waiting outside.”
Ella turned to stare at him. “I … yes,” she quickly said, wanting to leave this place behind.
“I … Jiro …,” Ella began hesitantly, turning to look at him when they were parked in front of her house. “
“You don’t have to say anything,” Jiro said suddenly. “I think that Calvin said more than enough. There’s not a lot left to say, is there?”
“You heard everything?” Ella demanded in a stricken tone.
“All the pertinent parts,” he replied bitterly. “Everything between Chun and you. Everything between you and Calvin.”
“I … please come inside. We can’t just sit here and talk about this. Let’s go,” she gently insisted, persuading him to come in. The two sat on the sofa, in the living room, a lamp giving off dim light in the corner. He finally turned to her and flashed a boyish smile, laughing a little bit. She winced when she saw a thin sheen of tears in his eyes.
“Why me? Why did you have to try to forget Chun with me? I’ve already had one woman in my life that was using me as a substitute,” he continued, gripping his knees. His knuckles turned white from the strength of his hold. “I already had one woman in my life who never loved me. Why did you have to do that too?” his voice cracked. He took a quick breath, trying to gain control of his anger … frustration … his pain.
Getting up, he came and knelt down in front of her, forcing her to look into his eyes. “Why, Ella?”
“You weren’t meant to be a substitute,” she said, desperation in her voice. “You are your own unique self, Jiro, and I hoped to form a relationship with you that would replace the one I lost. You were never meant to be just a substitute. In you, I saw the same warmth that I had seen in Blake. That same soothing manner and vulnerabilities. When Blake died, I lost all of that. I just wanted that same warmth back in my life.”
“So, I wasn’t mean to be a substitute for Chun,” he said, getting up and turning away. He stared out the window for a moment, and then turned to look at her. “You think it would make me feel better that I was meant to be a substitute for Blake instead?”
Ella’s eyes widened at the anger she could hear in his voice now. “That’s not …”
“I don’t want to be a substitute for anyone,” he said angrily. “I can’t go through that again.”
“I could be with you without hurting,” she finally revealed in a broken tone. “It was never about you being a stand in for Blake or an escape from Chun. You were Jiro, and you made me feel content. It was wonderful being part of your family. I love your mother. I love Sammy,” she said.
“Notice how you don’t say that you love me,” Jiro pointed out. “Samantha never loved me, either. And now you …”
“How can you say that?” Ella said, coming over to stand next to him. “Jiro,” she began, putting a hand on his shoulder, “She was your wife. She was the mother of your child. She saw something in you that made her want to be with you. She could’ve chosen anyone else in the world, but she didn’t. She chose you to be the father of her baby.”
“She wanted to be a mother more than she wanted me or Chun,” Jiro said quietly. “I get that and I resent it. Don’t I deserve to be loved for myself?” he demanded, glaring at her. “Why should I be loved for the child I can give a woman? Or for the memories I can revive of a past love?” He moved away from her, unable to look her in the eye anymore. “Chun apparently made you feel the fire that I and Blake never could. Calvin said he made you feel more. And, no matter what you say, you are running away. I don’t deserve that. Chun doesn’t deserve that. And … you don’t deserve that, Ella.” He went back and sat on the sofa, his gaze trained on her. He chuckle softly, shaking his head in wonder. “I wonder what is it about me that attracts women who are intent on running away from Chun?”
“I’m sorry,” she finally said. “I wasn’t being fair. I’m really, really sorry.” Tears welled up in her eyes, her voice beginning to wobble from the onslaught of emotions. “I didn’t think about anyone else’s pain. I was selfish enough to only think about my fear and my needs. I’m sorry,” she murmured, wiping away the tears that had begun to fall.
Jiro sighed, seeing the contrite expression on her face. He wanted to rail at her … for a moment he had wanted to make her feel the pain that she had caused him to feel today. He wanted to make her feel the same inadequacy he had begun to feel around her, but he couldn’t. He knew that she was sincere in her regret, but that didn’t make him feel any better. Why was he never enough? But he didn’t have it in him to press the point anymore.
Jiro got up, and walked over to Ella. Placing a kiss on her forehead, he smiled a final time before turning to leave.
“Jiro …” Ella began hesitantly.
“I don’t think there’s anything more to say,” Jiro replied, without turning around.
“Can we …?”
“Please don’t say ‘can we still be friends.’ The answer is probably yes, but I’m not feeling nice enough to say it right now. Bye, Ella.” Continuing, he walked down the hallway, making his way to the door.
The door burst open in front of him and a small tornado ran inside, stumbling into him. Jiro grabbed her, protecting her from a fall. Laughing softly, she pushed back the hair that had fallen across her face and gaze up into his eyes.
“Thank you,” she said, pulling back.
Jiro’s eyes widened, as he stared at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen
Ella lay in bed, thinking about the conversation she had had with Jiro the week before. Thoughts of his anger and pain had been running through her mind all week, and she couldn’t forgive herself for the fact that she was the cause of all that pain. How could she have been so selfish? Blake was gone. And Jiro was gone, as well. What was left?
Chun’s face flashed through her mind. She shook her head at the image. It was too late. There was no point in thinking about Chun. He was engaged, and she had herself turned her back on the fire she had felt between herself and Chun. She had been running scared. The emotions she felt had seemed a betrayal of her love for Blake. To feel emotions about another man … a man who looked like Blake … and emotions that were far more passionate, fierier than anything she had felt for Blake had felt wrong. And she had run away, telling herself to not look back. Fear had pushed her to run, and she had turned the coward without a second thought.
She turned over on the bed, resolutely ignoring the regret that had been constantly eating away at her for the past week. If she was honest with herself, the regret had been there far longer than that, but she didn’t feel like being honest.
“Have you seen the newspaper?” Hebe asked, bursting into her room.
Ella looked over, surprised. “What? What’s wrong?” Ella grew worried, seeing the somber look on Hebe’s face. “What’s wrong, Hebe? Tell me.”
Hebe stared down at the newspapers in her hands.
“I … maybe it doesn’t matter,” she finally muttered. “Why would you care? What was I thinking?”
Ella got out of bed, and stomped over to Hebe’s retreating figure. Clamping down on Hebe’s arm, she took a newspaper from her hands.
“What are you trying to hide from me?” Ella demanded, glancing down at the paper. Ella’s gaze landed on the headline shouting at her from the front page. Her eyes widened, and she stared up at Hebe, shocked. Her gaze fell to the newsprint once more.
“MELANIE ZHANG PREGNANT AND MARRIED!”
“This is what you wanted to show me?” Ella croaked out. “You’re right, why would I care about something like this?” Her fingers let go of the newspaper, watching it fall to her feet. “What were you thinking, Hebe?” She laughed weakly, wondering why her knees were feeling weak. “I need to sit down,” she muttered, stumbling to her bed.
Hebe stared at her still figure for a moment, surprised by the emotions she saw flitting across Ella’s face. Her eyes widened when she saw Ella begin to tremble. Silent tears began to trickle down Ella’s pale cheeks.
“Then, why are you crying?” Hebe asked softly.
“I don’t know!” Ella cried out, putting a hand to her mouth, trying to stifle the sobs. “I don’t know. It’s not like I knew him that well.”
“Your heart knew him,” Hebe reminded her. “It beat for him. You came back to life when he came into your life. Selina and I saw that. You might not have liked it, but he made you feel again.”
Ella turned her head away, choosing to stare at the wall. ‘Chun is married. He’s married. Married.’ She shook her head violently, wanting to shake the words out. ‘What the hell am I doing? So what if he is married?’
“Does it hurt?” Hebe asked suddenly, gazing at her quizzically.
“Stop it!” Ella said angrily. “Just … stop it. I’m … happy for him,” she asserted, swallowing down the knot that had formed in her throat. She smiled at Hebe to show her how happy she was.
Hebe cleared her throat, and held up the newspaper in her other hand. “I think you got the wrong paper. This one is a bit more informative,” she said, waving it at Ella.
Ella looked up, trying to ignore the hope that was welling up in her heart. Seriously, what else could it possibly be? That Melanie Zhang was married, but not to Chun? Who, in their right would reject a man like Chun.
Well … Samantha.
And … her.
But … not Melanie. That girl had been sparkling at that engagement party. She’d been bubbling with happiness. And when she’d talked about Chun … Ella had wanted to tell her to shut up. So no, no hope of that happening.
“What is it?” she asked, forcing herself to respond to Hebe’s expectant gaze.
“Melanie Zhang is married,” Hebe said, smilingly. “But not to Wu Chun.” Hebe held up the newspaper in her hands.
Ella jerked up from the bed, her eyes widening in horror when she saw the headline.
“WU HEIR JILTED!”
“It appears that she ran off with a childhood friend two nights ago; she’s out of the country by now. The media outlets were tipped off about her runaway wedding yesterday. Poor Wu Chun. Rejected again. First … what was her name, again?”
“Samantha,” Ella supplied hoarsely.
“And then by you.”
Ella clenched her fists, thinking about how this must be hurting Chun. To be rejected again.
“Now by his latest fiancé. God, think about how he must be feeling.” Hebe continued musingly, “Although, you have to think that there must be something really wrong with a guy that can’t even keep one woman by his side.”
“There’s nothing wrong with Chun!” Ella said, almost shouting. “He’s a great guy.”
“Then why were you running away from him?” Selina asked her from the doorway.
Chapter 22: Hold On Dear Life, Part I
Rrrriiiiinnnnggggg. Rrrrrriiiiiiiinnnnnnggggg. Rrrriiiinnnnngggg.
“Why isn’t he picking up?” she whispered to herself in frustration. “Pick up. Pick up,” she ordered, as the phone began to ring once more. There was no answer. Ella turned off the phone and threw it onto her bed angrily.
“Mr. Wu is unavailable to take any calls today.”
“But can you tell him that Ella is calling?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. Mr. Wu will not be taking any calls today.”
Where was he? She’d tried to get in touch with Chun at work, but that attempt had been unsuccessful. When she’d asked to be given his home number, the secretarial staff had stonewalled her.
“Look, I’m not a reporter. I’m a friend!”
“You’re not on the list, ma’am. I’m afraid that I cannot do anything. I’m sorry.”
“List? What list?”
“The list of people that I should immediately let through.”
“Can you at least tell me if he’s in the office?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am.”
It had been understandable the first day. The reporters had probably been hounding Chun to get his reaction. When she’d tried the second day and hit the same wall, she’d begun to lose patience.
“Chun, where are you?” she muttered to herself, biting her nails. He wasn’t answering his cell phone either. Where had he gone?
“Calvin! But do I really want to try Calvin again? He’ll tell me,” Ella muttered to herself, racing to pick up her phone once more. “He owes me.” But there was no answer.
Sometimes in life,
You run across a love unknown,
Without a reason,
It seems like you belong
Settling down on the bed, she tried to relax. A part of her kept on pushing her to go out and look for Chun, wanting to be with him. But what good could she do if she ran around like a chicken without its head? There wasn’t any doubt that she wanted to be with Chun right now, comforting him, but she needed to search for him in a cold reasoned manner.
Should she call Jiro? … No. She immediately shook her head; she did not want to abuse the fragile peace that she had reached with Jiro after their last conversation. Especially, after the conversation she had had with him regarding his dating one of her roommates and best friends. She smiled ruefully. At least that might go well, even if her love life wasn’t doing so great right now.
‘Where are you, Chun?’ she murmured to herself. ‘Why are you hiding? Why are you hiding from me?’ And why had she been running away from him? Selina’s words came back to haunt her. Why had she been running away?
This worry inside of her was eating away at her, and she didn’t think she could handle another day of this. Getting up, she thought to go to the window, hoping to get some distraction. Her gaze landed on the picture of Blake she had by her bedside table. She stilled, an old, familiar guilt appearing for a moment. She shook her head, pushing the destructive emotion away.
Sitting down in front of the picture, she stared at his smiling face for a moment. When she had first seen Chun, he had seemed identical to Blake, and her heart had beat with love. Reaching out a finger, she traced the smile on Blake’s beloved face. But now, she could see the differences. They were there, if you took the time to look. Turning to look at the newspaper photo, she noted each and every difference. Chun’s eyes were a bit farther apart, his lips a bit fuller. Even knowing the differences, her heart beat with love when she saw this face. Chun’s face.
Taking a deep breath, she turned back to look at Blake’s smiling face. “I’ve loved you for a long time. And I’ve mourned you for longer,” Ella whispered, a tear trickling down her cheek. “When I was with you, I was happy. And when I lost, I spiraled down into the depths of misery. I felt numb inside; it was as if I died with you. I loved you, but I cannot spend the rest of my life loving you.”
As the sun shined down on me,
I know with you, in love, is where I wanna be.
Turning her head, she stared down at Chun’s face and smiled briefly. “At first I could only see the similarities between you two, and now I see only the differences. He is … just Chun. I need to love him now. He brings me to life with his mere presence. He makes me want to live. I hope,” she paused, taking a deep breath. “I hope you don’t begrudge me this happiness.”
Picking up the photo and the ring beside it, she clutched them to her chest for a moment. “He’s hurting right now, and I need to reach him. I don’t know how he’ll be feeling right now, after losing another fiancé. The last time … he didn’t take it so well,” she confided in Blake’s picture. “He needs someone there to take care of him. And I want that someone to be me.” Opening a drawer, she placed the picture and the engagement ring inside of it.
Rrrrrriiiiinnng. Rrrrrriiiiinnng. Rrrrrriiiiinnng. Rrrrrriiiiinnng.
Getting up, Ella ran to her cell. Chun. It was Chun!
“Hello!” Ella barked into the phone. “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been trying to call you for the past two days.”
There was a sigh on the other end. “Ella, Chun was in a small accident.”
“Oh my God,” Ella muttered. “Is he okay?” she demanded, her hand clenching into a fist.
“He’s fine. A bit banged up, but he’ll be fine. No permanent damage.”
“Is he suicidal again?” Ella whispered, giving voice to the worry that had been nagging at her since he heard about Melanie running away.
“Just come over, Ella,” Calvin said, ignoring her question.
“We’re at my condo,” Calvin said. “Write down the address.”
Half an hour later, Ella was knocking on the door. She stepped back quickly when the door opened. “Calvin?” she asked, rushing in worriedly.
“He’s in the bedroom,” Calvin said softly. “I’m going out for a while.” Calvin walked around her and exited the condo, shutting the door behind him.
Ella looked around the condo, struck by the black and white décor. It was so cold; nothing like she would have expected from Calvin’s home. Walking hesitantly down the hallway, she peeked into one room and saw that it was an office, completely utilitarian. There was a desk, a computer and a bookshelf. Nothing else, no pictures, no decoration. Nothing. Moving back, she went further down the hallway, and saw a half-opened door. Peeking in, she saw a bed and a figure huddled under the blankets. Tiptoeing over, Ella leaned over the bed and saw Chun’s face. He was sleeping peacefully. Ella carefully reached out and brushed the hair back from his forehead. She winced in sympathy, seeing the bruises on his face. She could see no other injury and, thankfully, there were no bandages. Sitting down in a chair by the bed, she stared at Chun’s sleeping face. He seemed so innocent in sleep. She just wanted to cradle him in her arms and never let him go. But that thought was … foolish. Resting her head back against the chair, she allowed herself to relax; relaxation lead to the sleep she hadn’t been able to achieve for the past two days.
Ella didn’t know what it was that woke her, but something had pulled her out of deep slumber. Looking around, she immediately noticed that Chun was no longer there. Sitting up straight, she froze when she felt an unfamiliar constriction. Looking down, she saw that there was a blanket wrapped around her. It was the same blanket that had been covering Chun. The glowing numbers on the alarm clock showed that she had slept for two hours.
Walking out of the bedroom, she quickly made her way down the corridor. “Chun? Where are you?” Following the soft sounds of clinking glass, she entered the kitchen and saw Chun standing at the counter. He had a drink of something in front of him. She frowned at the sight of the amber liquid.
“Are you sure you should be drinking?” Ella demanded, coming over to him. “You’re not going to get drunk and be like Calvin, are you? I don’t want you getting mean,” she confessed, quickly pouring the drink down the drain.
Chun laughed softly. “You just poured my apple juice out,” he said smilingly. “Believe me, I know enough not to mix painkillers and alcohol.”
“Oh,” Ella murmured, blushing.
“As for Calvin, he’s not that bad,” Chun said, coming over to stand beside her.
“Uh uh,” Ella said, shaking her head vigorously. “He went off on me when he got drunk at your engagement party. And, what the hell, Chun? Did you put our plan into effect without me?”
“What do you mean?” Chun asked, turning his head to stare into her eyes.
“You know, when you were supposed to get Selina drunk and call me. Remember?” She turned to glare at him. Ella stepped back suddenly, realizing just how close they were. “He slept with Hebe!”
“But I told the bartender to call Selina,” Chun protested. “I gave him the number.”
“I don’t know what happened, but the result was that Hebe and Calvin were in bed together, leaving poor Selina heartbroken all over again. She’s barely been home in the last couple of weeks. No wonder Selina left him. You know it was probably true that he cheated on her. Women should leave losers like that.”
Chun abruptly turned away.
“Oh, my God.” Ella put a hand over her mouth, surprised by the cruel words that had come out of her mouth. Chun’s shoulders began to shake.
Ella was horrified. “No! I didn’t mean anything by that, Chun. Please,” she beseeched him, putting a hand on his shoulder. She tried to pull him into a hug, wanting to take back the words with all of her heart. “You are a great man. Any woman would be lucky to have you.” His shoulders continued to shake … there was a snort, and Ella’s eyes narrowed when she realized that Chun was laughing.
She hit him. “You idiot!” she shrieked at him, hitting him again on the chest. He flinched, and Ella realized that she had inadvertently hit him on one of his other injuries. “Oh my God, Chun! I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” she murmured, patting him on the chest. “Where else are you hurt?” she demanded.
“It’s nothing,” Chun assured her. “Just a couple of bruises on my chest from the seatbelt,” he explained. “But that’s it.”
Ella looked up at him anxiously. Chun pulled her into a hug, resting his head on hers.
“Are you okay?” she demanded, wanting more reassurance.
Ella felt him nod.
“But what happened?”
“An idiot ran a red light and hit me from the side,” Chun murmured, patting her comfortingly. “I wasn’t even unconscious. I’m telling you I’m fine.”
“How can you be? Melanie left you,” Ella muttered against his chest.
“Ella,” he said, sighing deeply. “This has been in the works for a while.”
Ella pulled back, looking up at him in confusion. “What?”
“We … Melanie and I … were never really engaged, because I wouldn’t agree to make it official. The Wus wanted it, and insisted on calling her my fiancé. I didn’t really care enough to deny it, because I knew that I was never going to marry her and Melanie knew that, as well. A couple of months ago, Melanie came to me and confided that she had fallen in love. She needed my help to make sure that she could successfully elope with her significant other.”
“Her significant other?” Ella yelped. “She was cheating on you? How dare she?”
“Ella, we were never really together. When she came to talk to me, it was the first time she had really opened up to me; up until that point we had just been faking with each other. Her request for help made me realize that Melanie’s not just a rich snob who only cares about prestige and money. It was just easier for her to fall in line with what her parents wanted, even going as far as to date me, until she realized what true love was.”
Ella pulled away, and moved around the counter. Chun’s words rang in her mind; she tried to grasp the fact that he had never been engaged. He hadn’t been acting the womanizer when he’d kissed her. He hadn’t been cheating on anybody when he had expressed his interest in her.
“Melanie wanted a pretend engagement until she could work out her plan to escape her parents’ hold safely without hurting her significant other, his family or her company. Mel is a businesswoman, after all,” he added, with a small smile. “The game was culminating when I found out you were dating Jiro.”
Ella blushed and kept her eyes downcast.
“At that point I didn’t think you would care one way or the other. So, I made our engagement public, and you appeared to be fine with it.” Coming to stand beside her, Chun placed his hands on her shoulders. Turning her to face him, he gently tilted up her chin. “Jiro and I talked after my engagement party. You two broke up?”
“It wouldn’t have been fair to him if we continued dating,” Ella confessed, looking bravely into his eyes. She reached up, and gently touched his cheek. Her cold fingers rested below a bruise, wanting to take away all of his pain.
“Why not?” he asked softly, gazing into her eyes.
“Because I have feelings for you,” she confessed in a small voice.
“Feelings?” he queried, silently asking her for more.
“Because I love you and I don’t know how it happened,” she blurted out, suddenly clutching at his collar. Her hands twisted in his collar while she awaited his answer.
He smiled and leaned down, as she stood up on her tiptoes. Their lips met in a soft, tender kiss; their breaths mingling, as he sought entrance into her mouth. She moaned lightly, as that familiar fire made itself known once more. Pulling back, he pulled her in for another hug. She breathed deeply, holding him tightly to her. Their heartbeats began to slow down, gradually settling into a matching rhythm.
“Let’s go out,” he prompted her gently. “I want to celebrate.”
“Like this?” she asked him, staring up at his bruises. “You’ve been hurt. Are you sure you are up to it? We can celebrate at home.”
“If we stayed at home, we might end up celebrating in ways you might not have intended,” he said, smiling down at her. Ella’s face flushed once more, as she felt his arousal. She abruptly pulled back, putting some space between them.
“Let’s go out,” he repeated.
She took a deep breath and, then nodded in agreement.
Hold on, dear life,
Don’t go off running from what’s new.
I became somebody
Through loving you
He held out his hand, a tender smile on his face. Ella allowed the happiness bubbling inside of her free. She smiled joyfully, and, taking a step forward, she placed her hand in his.
Pulling her close, he wrapped his arms around her soft, yielding body once more. Bringing up her hand, he placed a kiss on her knuckles.
“I’m so glad you came,” he murmured.
“So am I.”
Chapter 23: Hold On Dear Life, Part II
All my life I’ve been a shy girl, and I’ve always found it hard to relax when I am out in public. Because of this crippling shyness, I have never been able to open up to people. Girls always thought me snobby and were jealous of me. Guys just wanted to date me. But no one wanted to be my friend. And I guess I was okay with that, because I had my books. I had my dreams. And I had my parents.
Because of my shyness, I was always really close to my parents. My mom was my best friend, and my dad was my protector. When my parents told me that they wanted to move to a village when dad retired, I was a bit apprehensive but I was still happy for them. I moved out of the house we shared, and tried living on my own for the first time in my life. Despite my misgivings, I wanted my parents to be happy, and I wanted them to know that I did not begrudge them their new life. That was why I made sure to go down to help them settle into their new home.
Warm was the sun
That covered my body so.
Reminded me of you,
As I’d first known.
That’s when I met him. Calvin of the sunshine smile. The first time we met, he was walking home alone. He was going in the same direction I was. I stayed five steps behind him, not wanting to engage him if I didn’t have to. Calvin turned around and flashed me a smile. And for some reason, that smile made me let go of all of my anxieties. Maybe it was the warmth of that smile … or the moonlight … or maybe because he couldn’t really see me in the dark evening, but whatever it was, for the first time I was able to relax with someone who wasn’t a part of my family. I timidly moved up to walk by his side.
Calvin confessed that he was kind of tipsy, and told me that his friends did not want to give him a ride home because he tended to be too honest when he got drunk. He said the last time he had gotten drunk, he’d accidentally blurted out that one of his best friends loved the other best friend’s girl. It almost lead to a fight.
I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I didn’t really care, either. I just wanted to walk in the moonlight, and continue to listen to his husky voice. He told me I was beautiful, and asked me out on a date. I remember that I blushed a fiery red when he said those words.
We started dating and I fell deeper and deeper in love with him. With his scent … his touch … his smile. I loved him for his loyalty to his friends. I loved him for the fire between us and for the way he loved me. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. I was connected to someone in a way that made me more confident in myself. I was no longer isolated, and that felt good.
And then … Calvin started pulling away. He’d be gone for days, and, when he came back, he was worried and distracted. I knew that he had to be with his friend. I understood. Until the night that Calvin came home and broke up with me.
Those were the days,
The days that changed my life
And made me new.
I became somebody through loving you
I should’ve known that something was wrong. I still can’t believe that I was so naïve that I didn’t get the hints that he had been throwing out all those months. I had mistakenly attributed his distraction and pulling away to worry over Chun, but Calvin just wanted to get away from me.
Earlier that day, I showed up at his office, wanting to surprise him. I got the surprise of my life. At first, when I heard the soft noises in his office, I thought nothing of them. But then, I heard a gasp, a moan and my footsteps became hesitant. When I peeked around the half-opened doorway I saw my Calvin kissing another woman. I froze. It felt as if I had been stabbed through the heart. I couldn’t breathe. I was finally able to move back and I left the building before I could break down. Imagine my naiveté that even then I felt like there must be some explanation.
I went to his home that evening. I made dinner for him. And I waited for him to come home. When I heard his footsteps at the door, my heart began to beat rapidly and I waited with eager anticipation to hear his explanation for the spectacle I had seen in his office. I could imagine his smile when he walked in the door and said, “You cannot believe the day I’ve had. A girl tried to sexually assault me, and when I fought her off, she threatened to report me for sexual harassment!” He’d be sheepish about it and would apologize to me for involuntarily cheating. And I’d forgive him. Oh, how I hoped that it would be exactly as I imagined.
But … Calvin was drunk. That in itself was shocking. In all the time that I had known Calvin, he had not gotten drunk in front of me again. He was very zealous about keeping sober around me. He was quiet for a while, not eating the dinner I had made. When I asked him what was wrong for the tenth time, he started talking. Oh, how I wish that I’d never asked. He called me a burden. He said that he couldn’t be my whole world, that it was just too much pressure. He asked me why I couldn’t be like other girls. The image of him with that other woman, kissing her … holding her, flashed through my mind. I flinched.
“Relationships shouldn’t be this much work.”
I remember those words, as if they were burned across my heart. I broke down, crying. And he walked away. He broke my heart that day, but he probably doesn’t even remember all the things he said to me. I needed to get away. I asked for a transfer at work, and moved in with Ella and Hebe. Ella had been going through a horrible time; I decided to keep my heartache to myself. Hebe found out some of the details, and was so caring of me. I became closer to her much sooner than I did with Ella.
I never talked to Calvin again, because I was afraid that I would weaken and beg him to give me another chance. I didn’t want to be that weak. It has been almost three years since that experience. I tell myself that I’ve moved on, and that’s largely true. I’ve become close to my roommates … my friends, Ella and Hebe. I’ve learned how to deal with my shyness, and I go out, not on dates, but I was no longer a homebody, either.
Who knew that Hebe would know a person who would know Calvin? Who knew that Calvin would go on a blind date with Ella, and then show up in my home? I was so afraid of being around him once more, because I realized that despite all of the changes in my life, I had been unconsciously waiting for Calvin to come back. I always wondered what Calvin would think of the new and improved me, but that was before I saw Calvin in Hebe’s room. That was before I saw that the two had obviously spent the night together. That was before I realized that Calvin has really forgotten me.
But why do I have to see him with Hebe? She was the one who knew about my heartache from the beginning. I can’t help but feel betrayed, even though I know that it is unrealistic to expect anything after three years.
When I met Jiro for the first time, I saw a way to show Calvin indisputably that I had also moved on. After that debacle with meeting Calvin, I had stayed away whenever Ella went out on a date. All I knew was that Ella had broken up with Jiro … and that she didn’t love him, so I asked him out on a date. Why shouldn’t I date? I deserve to be happy, too. If Calvin can move on, so can I. I can be happy with another man.
Selina sat in front of her vanity mirror, putting on the final touches of makeup. He would be here soon, and she wanted to make a good impression. Her heart was racing, and her cheeks were flushed. Her hands trembled slightly, as she put lipstick on her lips.
There was a knock on the door, and Ella popped her head in. “Jiro’s here,” Ella said smilingly. “He’s in the living room, waiting for you.”
Selina nodded, taking a deep breath.
“I’m heading out,” Ella continued. “I’ll see you later tonight.”
“Have a good time,” Selina said, and smiled. The smile disappeared as soon as Ella closed the door.
She’d asked Jiro out on a date. She was still surprised by that move. She would go out with him, and have a great time. Maybe their time together would make her forget about her past for a while … maybe she would be able to forget the sight of Calvin in Hebe’s room. Maybe she’d be able to forget the feeling of having lost Calvin all over again.
Jiro sat in the living room, nervous clutching the flowers that he’d brought for Selina. Ella had let him in, promising to let Selina know that he was here.
He’d had doubts about going out with Ella’s roommates, but Ella had assured him that there was nothing wrong with it. She’d also said that if she could see him happily dating someone else it would lessen her own guilt. Jiro relaxed, and let his mind wander. Ella had told him that she didn’t love him a week ago, and the lack of any lasting pain had made him realize that he hadn’t fallen in love with Ella. She had only ever been a companion, never a possible soulmate. Ella would only have ever been a friend, and he was happy that she had revealed her true feelings before pulling him in any deeper.
Selina … now Selina had surprised him by asking him out when they first met. Despite what had happened with Ella, he wanted to hold onto the hope that he would find someone who could make him happy and whom he could make happy. And maybe … Selina would be the one.
“I’m going to head out.” He could hear Ella in the hallway. “Jiro’s waiting for Selina, I’ve let her know. So don’t be surprised by the strange man in the living room.”
“Sure,” a soft voice replied. “Have a good time.” There was a pause, and Jiro turned back to thinking about Selina. “Hi, you must be Jiro,” the same voice said from the doorway.
Sometimes in life,
You run across a love unknown.
Without a reason,
It seems like you belong
Jiro stood up, turning to look in the direction of the voice. His eyes widened when they landed on the petite pixie standing in the doorway. He felt dazed, as if he’d been hit in the head. She had hair the color of midnight, violet-tipped tendrils falling across her face. She had a quizzical smile on her face, and a delicate hand gripped a cookie in one hand and a glass of milk in the other. His gaze unconsciously moved over her body before retuning to meet her eyes. He nodded, a finger coming up to pull at his collar. ‘What the hell is wrong with me?’ he mentally growled to himself. ‘I’m here to go on a date with an elegant goddess, and it’s the pixie that’s getting me …’ His mind stopped, too embarrassed to finish the thought.
“My name is Hebe,” she said coming forward. Holding the cookie between her teeth, she swiped her hand across her jeans to get rid of the crumbs and held it out for him to shake.
Jiro hesitantly reached out, and then realized that he was holding flowers in the proffered hand. Quickly switching them over, his hand gently gripped hers. He jumped lightly at the electrical shock he got from her touch. Pulling his hand away, he wiped it against his slacks, wanting to dampen the tingling in his hand.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I get some crumbs on you?” Hebe asked, looking down at his hand. She moved forward, as if to touch him once more.
“No! It’s okay,” Jiro yelped, stepping back. The back of his knees hit the sofa, and he landed on his butt. Glancing up at her, he was once again mesmerized by the beauty of her delicate features.
Hebe came and sat down beside him. “It’s surprising how often you can live in the same house and not meet the man your roommate is dating,” she murmured. “We haven’t met before, since most of your dates with Ella were at your house and Ella just drove down to spend time with you,” Hebe said. She looked at him searchingly.
Jiro nodded, leaning back from her intent gaze.
“I wanted to ask you,” Hebe began hesitantly. She paused, stuffing the cookie into her mouth.
Jiro nodded encouragingly.
“Does Selina look familiar to you?” she finished abruptly, after she finished chewing.
Jiro cocked his head to the side, his brow crinkling in confusion. “I don’t …”
“I mean, doesn’t she look familiar at all? Like, maybe you’ve seen her somewhere?” Hebe prompted, leaning forward eagerly.
Her chocolate breath wafted across his lips, and Jiro pulled back warily.
“Well, does she?” Hebe demanded, leaning dangerously close.
“Huh? Could you please move back a little bit? I think you’re about to spill the milk on me.”
“What?” Hebe looked down and saw the teetering glass. Reaching out, she placed it on a side table. “Does Selina look familiar?” she repeated.
Jiro pulled his thoughts away from her glistening lips, and closed his eyes, wanting to shut her out. An image popped into his mind. Of Selina … standing in the grocery store. With a man. He couldn’t see the man’s face, but he somehow got the feeling that he was familiar. Someone that Jiro should know. Selina had her arm around the guy’s waist, and there was a glorious smile on her face. The memory placed Selina at their village’s grocery store. But when … Jiro’s eyes popped open, and he stared at the pixie in front of him. He nodded, gulping. “I do remember seeing her in our village.”
“Three years ago, she was dating someone in your town. She loved him, and still loves him,” Hebe said.
“Don’t tell me it’s Chun!” Jiro blurted out, cringing when he realized the words that had left his mouth. Of course it wasn’t Chun, but still …
“No, it was Calvin. They dated for months until the idiot broke up with her because Chun needed him more. Selina still doesn’t know that. She thinks he cheated on her, and wanted to be with another woman. She also thinks he didn’t think she was enough of a woman for him,” Hebe told him.
“How do you know that she’s still in love with him?” Jiro demanded. “It’s been three years.”
Hebe’s mouth tightened. “She saw me with Calvin, and hasn’t talked to me since.”
“She’s angry just because she saw the two of you together?” Jiro asked, confused.
“We were almost in bed together,” Hebe admitted. “He’d actually just gotten out of the bed we’d spent the night in.”
Jiro pulled back from her, and then got up from the couch. His fingers tightened around the flowers. He turned away from Hebe, his eyes staring, unseeing, at the wall. “You slept with the man your best friend loves?” he asked bleakly, wondering why he cared. He’d been about to go on a date with a goddess, and here he was obsessing about the sleeping habits of a pixie.
“No!” Hebe hotly denied. “I made it seem like we did,” she replied. “I swear the idea seemed brilliant when I first thought about it. But then again, I was a little buzzed at the time. Calvin was just sitting there, having cried himself out about how much he loved Selina. I thought that if we made her think that she was really losing him with no hope of a future reconciliation … that she would fight for him. Jealousy can make the truth come out about everything.”
“They’re not talking,” Jiro pointed out. “And she asked me out on a date. Was this what you intended when you came up with our brilliant plan?”
“Well, no,” Hebe admitted. “But I know she still has feelings for him, and she needs to resolve them, once and for all, if she’s going to move forward in life. Also …”
“Also?” Jiro asked.
“I didn’t want you to get hurt again,” Hebe murmured, smiling at him. Coming over to him, she reached out to grab hold of his hand and squeezed it gently. “You know … this would have made it the third time.”
Jiro’s eyes widened in consternation when he realized that Selina would have been using him as substitute for Calvin. “Hmph,” he muttered with a pout, glaring at the flowers in his other hand. He let the flowers drop, and gently pulled his hand out of Hebe’s grip. Moving back, he stared deeply into her eyes, searching for something. Maybe he just wanted to know how sincere she was about this.
“So … just tell her that you won’t be taking her out,” Hebe prompted, looking a little dazed by his proximity. She looked away, a slight blush appearing in her cheeks. He wanted to reach out and touch the pale rose complexion, but he restrained himself.
“Oh, I’m still going out with her,” Jiro interjected.
Hebe pulled back, her eyes widening at his words. The spell that he had been weaving over her senses broke upon his insistence. “You like to play with fire, don’t you?” she asked sardonically. “Are you going to risk your heart again on another unavailable woman?”
“No,” Jiro responded. “Get Calvin to this restaurant,” he said, handing Hebe a card. “I’m taking Selina there tonight; Chun recommended it. We’ll set them up. And for God’s sake, tell Calvin you didn’t sleep with him.”
“How do you know that I haven’t?” Hebe demanded.
“Anyone can tell by looking at his face,” Jiro shot back. “He looks like he’s lost his best friend. He’s been drinking like a fish, and you should have heard him at Chun’s engagement party,” he snapped at Jiro. “Knowing what I know now, I realize he looks that way because he feels like he’s lost his one true love.”
Hebe nodded. “I’ll call him right now and tell him we have to talk. He’ll have to come to clear the air.”
“I can’t believe there’s a devil behind that pixie face,” Jiro muttered, turning away once more.
“What?” Hebe asked.
“Nothing, just go get ready. And be at the restaurant in an hour.”
“I still can’t believe that you let me believe for weeks on end that we had slept together. Do you know how I felt?” Calvin demanded furiously, glaring down at Hebe, as they walked into the restaurant. “God when I woke up that morning after, and you seemed like a stranger to my blurry gaze, I was horrified. But when I realized you were Selina’s Hebe, and when I saw Selina in the doorway, you know how much worse I felt?” Calvin demanded. “I was suffering, and you couldn’t even tell me the truth?!”
“Well, you’re the idiot,” Hebe murmured complacently, patting him on the arm. “If you hadn’t ruined your relationship the first time, people wouldn’t have to come up with ideas to get you two back together.”
“God save me from idiots and their idiotic ideas,” Calvin muttered. “She looked like I’d broken her heart when she saw us in your bedroom. She hasn’t talked to me in weeks.”
“News flash, Calvin. She hasn’t talked to you in years,” Hebe shot back. “You did cheat on her and treat her like ‘sit’, to quote Selina when she’s drunk. She’s dating again, Calvin,” Hebe revealed to him.
Calvin paled, stumbling slightly at Hebe’s words. He hunched his shoulders and turned away for a moment, trying to tamp down the violent emotions that had erupted inside of him at Hebe’s revelation.
“Oh, look!” Hebe said, staring ahead. “Isn’t that … what are the chances?”
Calvin looked to where Hebe was pointing and flinched when his gaze landed on the couple in front of them.
“It’s Jiro and Selina,” Hebe exclaimed. “Selina, I didn’t know you’d be coming here for dinner.”
Selina tried to smile, but it seemed as if her face was frozen.
“Calvin, what are you doing here?” Jiro asked, stepping up to slap Calvin on the back. Calvin grunted slightly from the hit.
“We came for dinner,” Calvin muttered. “But it’s not a date.”
“Why don’t you join us?” Jiro asked jovially. “I think that it would be a great idea to sit together. This way, Hebe can learn more about me, and Selina can learn about one of my best friends.”
There was a short awkward silence.
“Madams and Sirs,” a voice said from the side, interrupting their frozen tableau. The four turned to look at the host. “A guest has invited you to join them for this evening.”
Turning, the group looked to where the host was pointing. Four pairs of eyes widened in surprise when they saw Chun and Ella sitting at a table in the restaurant.
Ella smiled, and waved. “Come on!” she silently mouthed, gesturing for the couples to join them.
Hebe and Jiro looked at each other and shrugged.
Chapter 24: Table for Six
The elegant décor of the restaurant was nicely complimented by the low lighting and the abundance of candles in every corner. The soft clinking of silverware did not detract from the romantic atmosphere created. Ella glanced around the table, and thought that there was definitely something amiss. There had been no lighthearted conversation, no nervous chatter, nothing. Besides ordering their food, all four had sat there quietly, with nothing to contribute to the multiple conversations that Ella had attempted to start. They’d talked about the weather, her new job (entirely imaginary), Selina’s upcoming vacation, and Chun’s jilting, but nothing had caught. She absently rubbed at the ache in her side; Chun had elbowed her when she’d mentioned Melanie. ‘Too soon to joke about it, I guess,’ she thought to herself.
She pouted, and then sighed softly, glancing around the table. Calvin was sitting next to her, with Hebe next to him. Both were concentrating on the soup in front of them. Jiro sat next to Hebe, and Selina sat at his left hand, with Chun rounding out the group. The minor struggle at the beginning of the evening had revealed how much Selina wanted to be as far away from Calvin as she could get. But her victory had resulted in her sitting directly across from him, which meant that Selina had kept her head lowered thus far.
Ella looked at Chun and raised her eyebrows, asking him silently, “What do you think is going on here?” She nodded her head at the four sitting in front of them.
Chun shrugged his shoulders, signaling his lack of knowledge. When Ella wrinkled her brow in worry, Chun reached out and placed his hand over hers, squeezing lightly. “It’s okay,” he indicated with a nod and a smile. Ella relaxed slightly, turning her hand to hold onto his.
“Since when did you two start dating? I thought that you were dating Jiro?” Calvin asked suddenly, catching them in the act. Ella jumped slightly, instinctively trying to pull her hand away from Chun. Chun’s hold tightened and he smiled at her. Ella relaxed, and then turned to glare at Calvin.
“You’re asking me this?” Ella asked, kicking at him under the table. How dare he bring up that night?
Hebe jumped sharply, yelping in pain. “Who kicked me? Who?” She turned to look at Calvin. “Did you kick me?”
“What? No! Why would I want to kick you?” he demanded, pulling away in the face of her aggression. He quickly put down his spoon, and edged his chair away from Hebe.
“Someone kicked me,” Hebe mumbled balefully, glaring around the table. “Who was it?”
Ella scrunched down, before confessing shamefacedly, “It was me.” Everyone turned to look at her in surprise. “I was aiming for Calvin,” she continued.
“Me? What did I do?” Calvin demanded, glaring at Ella.
“What did you do? What did you do?” Ella fiercely said in a whisper, glaring at him.
“Uh, yeah,” Calvin responded in a confused tone.
“Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember how you went off on me at Chun’s engagement party? How you made me feel horrible? And yeah, I might not have been doing the right thing, but you didn’t have to be so mean about it. It wasn’t a conscious decision you know,” Ella muttered. Chun patted her on the back, trying to calm her down. “Don’t you remember anything?” she asked suspiciously.
Calvin shook his head. “I swear I don’t,” Calvin said. “I know I got drunk that night, but I hoped that I hadn’t done anything too horrible. With the stuff that was happening in my life at the time, I just wanted to drown my sorrows,” he admitted, staring down at his soup once more. “I never know what I do when I drink. I just … forget.”
Selina snorted softly, but the sound was clear enough to be heard around the table. “What a great excuse,” she muttered after a short pause. She looked up and smirked at him. “You say, ‘I forgot,’ and everything is forgiven. You do that a lot, don’t you?” she said, tilting her head inquisitively. Her hands tightened around her wine glass, and she quickly picked it up for a sip. “You drink and then you say these awful but truthful things. You make people feel two inches tall, and you use your drinking as an excuse. But the things you say … the things you do … they’re not all forgiven. Some things are unforgiveable.”
“Selina, I …” Calvin began hesitantly.
“But … I don’t think that you really forget. You just find it easier to say you don’t remember,” she finished softly, staring at him coolly.
“Selina, I need to tell you something,” he said softly, staring into her eyes. His gaze was entreating, but Selina showed no response. Her expression seemed to tighten further at his words.
“I don’t need to hear anything. The last conversation we had before I left your life was more than enlightening. You made yourself quite clear when you said those words, even if you do not remember them. You cannot go back,” she said, shaking her head for emphasis. “You cannot wish those words unsaid.”
Calvin stared at her for a moment, and then looked away. His shoulders slumped, and his hands tightened around his glass of water. ‘What’s the use?’ he wondered to himself. ‘How can she forgive everything that happened in the past? How can I ask her to forget those words? Even if I explained … it won’t make the hurt go away. She’s right, I can’t wish them unsaid.’
He felt a touch on his arm. Turning his head, he saw Hebe nudging at him. “Tell her,” Hebe silently mouthed the words at him.
He shook his head, denying her order. “There’s no point,” he whispered close to her ear. “She’s been hurt enough.”
Selina’s eyes narrowed as she witnessed the intimate interaction between the two. Hebe cleared her throat, and Selina’s narrowed gaze focused on her. Hebe paled slightly and took a deep breath.
“Selina,” she began softly, her voice husky from the regret that was choking her throat. “I have to tell you something,” she continued, her voice breaking slightly. She cleared her throat. “I’m sorry.”
Selina winced and looked away.
“I … what you saw that day … it wasn’t …”
“I can’t hear this, Hebe,” Selina said in a thin voice. The silverware clattered onto the plate, falling from her numb fingers. “I don’t want to hear this.” She threw an apologetic glance Jiro’s way, remembering that she was on a first date with this man and couldn’t stop talking about an old relationship. “It’s none of my business. Calvin and I broke up years ago, and there’s nothing between us. No explanation is required.”
“Selina, you have to hear her out,” Ella interjected. “She’s your best friend. Doesn’t that deserve some kind of leeway?”
Selina stared at her mutely, her lips held in a stubborn line. Jiro patted her on the shoulder, silently encouraging her to listen.
“You think I don’t remember the pain that you went through when Calvin broke up with you?” Hebe said shakily. “There was a common wall between our rooms, and that first apartment had very thin walls. I remember hearing you cry in your bed every night, but the next morning you would go out and face the world. I remember how hard it was for you to meet new people and to socialize, but you went out every evening with us. I could see you fighting your own demons, and I had the utmost respect for you when you succeeded.”
“Then why?” Selina blurted out. “Why did it have to be you? I expected more from my friend.” A single tear slid down one porcelain cheek, and Selina angrily wiped it away.
Hebe took another deep breath. Jiro placed an encouraging hand over hers, squeezing it gently. Ella’s widened at this surprising show of support and solidarity. She noticed the grateful smile Hebe flashed at Jiro before turning back to look at Selina. Hebe visibly braced herself before meeting Selina’s irate gaze.
“When Calvin accidentally came back into your life, I saw real, true emotions on your face for the first time in three years. All this time, I realized that you had been pretending to be alive. I got to see the real Selina that night. And I hoped that you would work it out. But you stayed away from home, and Calvin was too much of a pansy to make any moves.”
“Hey,” Calvin protested loudly at that characterization.
“Well, aren’t you?” Hebe asked in a challenging tone, turning to glare at Calvin. “You obviously love this woman. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have been crying in your booze that night I came to pick you up at the bar.”
Calvin deflated, realizing that he had no defense.
“When I got that call from the bartender I had your phone. Remember how my phone broke, and you let me borrow yours for that evening?”
Selina reluctantly nodded.
“Well, after my meeting, I’d gone out drinking with some coworkers in a nearby bar. Calvin was so drunk that he didn’t even know who I was. I brought him home, because I had no idea where he lived. And then, being half tipsy, I got the brilliant idea of making you jealous. If you were jealous, you’d act out. Calvin would be forced to react and defend himself. But the thing was … both of you would be talking. I had this grand idea of how everything would work out wonderfully after that initial outburst upon discovery. But you just ran away.”
Selina had paled at Hebe’s words, her eyes widening when she realized what had motivated Hebe into acting this way. “So, because both of you were drunk, you went from wanting to help me to sleeping together?” Selina asked in a choked voice.
“What?! No! Didn’t I make myself clear?” Hebe yelped in surprise, looking around the table in question.
“No,” Jiro ruefully responded. “I kind of hoped that you would start with that. It would’ve lessened their agony somewhat.”
“Selina, we didn’t sleep together. Well, we slept together, but nothing of a sexual nature happened between us,” Hebe quickly said, turning to stare at her. “Please, believe me. I didn’t touch him. And he didn’t touch me. He didn’t know who I was, but he knew that I wasn’t you. The only person he talked about was you. The only thing he talked about was his love for you. When we got home, and I pointed him to the bed, he just took off his pants and got in and passed out. I admit that I was a bit surprised about the pants, but I rolled with it. I just lay down over the covers and went to sleep.”
Selina exhaled heavily, the sound coming out as a sob. Her hands tightened around her glass once more, as she pondered over what Hebe had said.
Hebe stared at her, waiting for her to say something. “Do you believe me?” she asked softly. “Please, know that I would never intentionally do anything to hurt you. If my thinking hadn’t been impaired that day, I would’ve brought Calvin home and pushed him into your bed instead. Do you?”
Selina sighed. “Yes, but only because it is you. I wouldn’t trust him,” she declared, staring at Calvin.
Calvin jumped at the look of anger on her face. “Selina …”
“You cheated on me. If that wasn’t enough, you said horrible, horrible things.” She stared at the wine in her glass. She fought the urge to fling the contents of the glass in his face, and mastered that instinct.
“It was all a set up,” Calvin admitted.
“What?” Selina said, looking up in surprise. “A set up?”
“That day at the office … I knew you were coming. I asked someone to help me. Touching another woman was the second most painful thing I’ve had to do. And that night was the most painful thing I’ve had to do. I wasn’t drunk. I know you don’t believe me, but I really do black out when I drink a lot. If I didn’t, do you really think you would’ve caught me with Hebe? My words were deliberately said. I pretended to be drunk, and said the words that I knew would send you away.”
“Why?” Selina asked, silent tears trickling down her face. Her lips trembled slightly before she formed them into a tight line.
Calvin stared down at his soup. He shook his head, and then looked at her with a wistful gaze. “Chun needed me.”
“I understood!” Selina fairly shouted. Heads turned toward their table, and Selina bowed her head when she realized how loud she had been. “I was willing to live with whatever time you could give me. I never asked for more. You can’t make that excuse.”
“But it wouldn’t have been fair to you. I couldn’t give you any time. Not anymore.”
“Why?” Selina demanded, slamming her hand down. “Give me an answer I can understand.”
Calvin remained silent, turning his head away from her. How could he tell her about Chun? It was Chun’s secret.
Chun cleared his throat, and glanced at Ella before speaking. “I’m afraid, that’s my fault. Calvin didn’t tell me that he was going to break up with you. After you were gone, he only ever told me that you’d left him.”
Selina gasped and glared at Calvin once more.
“Dude, you’re not helping,” Calvin muttered from the side of his mouth.
“I didn’t know the full story until years later,” Chun continued, ignoring Calvin. “I…”
“And here is the main course,” a voice said from the side. The six remained silent, waiting for the waiters to finish removing the appetizer plates, replacing them with the entrées. No one touched the food, turning to look at Chun once more.
“I was drinking constantly when Samantha left me,” Chun related heavily. Ella reached out and held his hand. “I’m sure that Calvin told you that.”
“Actually, he didn’t. Calvin stopped talking to me,” Selina said stiffly, opening her eyes wide to prevent any more tears from falling.
“I wasn’t taking responsibility for my own choices,” Chun said, staring down at Ella’s hand on his. “I blamed Samantha for deserting me, and I was willing to do anything to get rid of the pain. One night … Calvin found me on a cliff.”
“What kind of cliff?” Hebe asked, interrupting Chun’s words. “A metaphorical cliff?”
“No.” Chun shook his head impatiently, a blush covering his cheeks. “It’s an actual cliff near my home. High enough that, if someone jumped off of it, they would die. I was drunk out of my mind. I don’t even know how I got there. I sat there, thinking dark thoughts about what my life had become, and how I was suffering. I felt that no one cared and that I would just be better off dead.”
Selina inhaled sharply. Jiro had paled at Chun’s revelation, not having realized how far his friend had fallen. He bit his lip, wondering what he could say.
“Calvin cared,” Chun said softly. He swallowed past the lump in his throat, and took a deep breath. “He’d been keeping tabs on me. He knew where I was. He came after me. Calvin had to talk me down, or, rather, pull me up from the dark hole that I had fallen into. Even now I am surprised by how far I fell.” Chun stared down at his plate, unable to meet anyone’s eyes. “And Calvin made the decision to devote all of his time to me. He had to be there for me, and that meant that he couldn’t be there for you. He didn’t know how long it would take to help me. He decided to break up with you so that you would be free to find love with a man who could be there for you.”
Everyone was silent around the table, unsure of what they should say. For some, like Hebe, it was too much information, too soon, about a man she barely knew. For others, like Jiro, it was jolting to realize how far Chun had fallen. For Jiro, Chun had always seemed utterly strong, utterly stable. When he had started dating Samantha and then gotten engaged, he had never thought that it would affect Chun this deeply. What could he say now?
“I’m sorry, Selina; I was the reason you were separated from Calvin,” Chun said sincerely.
“All these years wasted …,” Selina murmured, staring at Calvin. “Why didn’t you come to me … after?” she asked hesitantly. “When Chun was all better … why not then?”
“I didn’t feel like I had the right to come after you,” Calvin said heavily. “Your parents said you were dating. They said that you were happy and confident; so different from the Selina they had worried about so. I couldn’t look for you. What if I came back into your life and ruined it?” Calvin demanded. “I deliberately avoided any news of you, and made the decision not to look for you. I didn’t even know that we were living in the same city until I ran into you at Ella’s.”
Selina began to laugh, and everyone smiled reflexively, happy that the issue between Calvin and Selina was finally resolved. But when the laughter continued, taking on a manic quality, the smiles turned into worried frowns.
“Selina, are you okay?” Ella asked, getting up to go to her side. Selina looked up at her, and Ella could see the tears in her eyes.
“I never dated anyone,” Selina revealed forlornly, looking at Calvin. “I waited and waited and you never came back.” She angrily swiped at her tears. “How pathetic does that make me? I lied to make them happy. I lied to my parents about dating.” Selina got up and picked up her glass of wine. Staring at it for a moment, she threw the contents in Calvin’s face. Hebe yelped as some of the liquid splashed onto her.
“You kind of deserve it,” Jiro whispered into her ear. “You didn’t really help the situation.”
Hebe shrugged and then nodded. “True.”
“You made a decision about what I deserved and you never even consulted me? What was I to you? I’m a human being with the capability of making my own decisions. And you just decided to break my heart for my own good? What kind of bullshit is that?!” she shouted angrily.
“Ma’am, please, you are disturbing the other diners,” a discreet voice said from the side.
Selina turned and stared at the strangers looking at her. Some in disgust. Others in pity. It was an old nightmare coming true right before her eyes. She turned and ran for the door.
Calvin stared after her, shocked at her outburst. His Selina would never have drawn attention to herself. She had always been a quiet mouse when they had been out in public. His Selina had only ever opened up to him, and that had made him feel special. He jumped slightly when he felt a kick against his shin, grunting at the burst of pain.
“Who kicked me?” he demanded, looking around the table. Ella crossed her arms across her chest and glared at him mutely. Hebe narrowed her eyes at him, but remained silent.
“I did.” The words came from two separate throats.
Calvin looked at his two friends. “What the hell?!”
“Go after her!” they yelled.
Calvin got up, moving around the table. His gaze was intent on the door that Selina had sailed through. Ella reached out and grabbed his arm. He turned to look at her. “Here,” she murmured, handing him Selina’s purse. “Take care of her,” she ordered before letting him go. Calvin raced to the door, his mind intent on only one thing. To get to Selina.
Ella smiled at Chun. Moving around the table, she came to sit beside him once more. Leaning over, she planted a swift on his cheek, blushing when he turned to stare at her in surprise. “I’m sorry about Selina,” she said, turning to look at Jiro. “I don’t think she meant to abandon you …,” she began, trying to minimize any damage that Selina may have done to Jiro’s ego.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jiro said with a sweet smile. “Hebe told me. It seems that she,” Jiro said, tilting his head at a silently eating Hebe, “Regretted the incredibly idiotic idea she had and wanted to atone for it.” Jiro turned to look at Hebe. Hebe pouted, and reached out to lightly punch him in the arm. “I just thought that I should help. Calvin has been a great friend to me,” he murmured. “If I could make his life a little easier, that would make me happy.”
Ella smiled. “And can I ask …” she began, looking at the two of them inquisitively.
Chun glanced at his phone. Chase Wu.
“Excuse me,” he murmured, getting up. Ella glanced at him worriedly, witnessing his agitation as he spoke to whoever was on the other end.
“I have to go,” Chun stated, moving back to the table. “Ella, please come with me.”
Ella glanced up, surprised. “Where?”
“I need to go speak with Chase Wu. I would like it if you were there.”
“I … I don’t think he would like me being there. They had issues with me when I was … dating … Blake,” she murmured disjointedly. “Maybe I shouldn’t go.”
“Trust me,” he said with an encouraging smile, offering her his hand.
Ella smiled hesitantly, putting her hand in his. Getting up, she turned to look at the two remaining at the table. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Hebe said blithely. “I’ll see you at home.”
“I’ll take care of the bill,” Chun promised, pulling Ella toward the door. Hebe and Jiro quietly watched their progress out the door.
“Do you think anything is wrong?” Hebe asked, turning to look at Jiro. “I don’t know Chun that well, so I don’t know if this kind of stuff happens often. And why would he take Ella with him, unless it concerned Ella?”
Jiro shook his head. “I doubt it. But even if there was some sort of issue, Chun will take care of it. He’s not going to let Ella go, now that she’s come into his life.”
Hebe nodded and then got up.
“Where are you going?” Jiro asked sharply.
“I’m going over there,” she said, pointing to Selina’s seat.
“Why?” Jiro asked, perplexed.
“I finished my dinner,” she responded, moving over to sit in Selina’s chair. “Selina didn’t touch her food. So, I thought I’d try it.”
Jiro broke out into a smile. “How can you eat at a time like this?”
“What time? I’m sure that Selina and Calvin will work it out, now that everything is out in the open. Ella is finally happy. You’re not heartbroken again. And I haven’t had a decent meal since Selina got angry at me. So there’s nothing wrong with me eating, right?”
“Right. You’re a bit different from other women, aren’t you?” he asked.
“You know, I’ve never thought about it,” she said, tilting her head to the side. “I don’t try to be,” Hebe finally said. “I am who I am. People can like it or lump it.”
Jiro got up.
“Where are you going?” Hebe asked in consternation.
“Nowhere. I just thought I’d try Calvin’s dish,” he said, flashing her a cheeky smile. “Since the food is paid for and all, why waste it?”
Hebe smiled slowly and then began to laugh. “Cute.”
Jiro smiled back, his head tilted to the side. The candlelight reflected off of Hebe’s hair, creating the illusion of a halo. He shook his head. ‘What is wrong with me? First she was a pixie. Then a devil. Now an angel. What am I thinking?’
“What are you thinking?” Hebe asked suddenly. “Something serious? Your smile is gone.”
“I was just thinking to myself …”
Hebe nodded encouragingly.
“Why am I so attracted to you?”
Hebe’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Do you like children?” he asked, giving into the inevitable.
Chapter 25: My Confession
“Now I feel myself surrender, each time I see your face.
I am staggered by your beauty, your unassuming grace.
And I feel my heart is turning, falling into place.
I can’t hide. Now hear my confession.”
Hebe stared at Jiro, her eyes wide with surprise. She took a deep breath and shook her head. “What did you say?” she asked, looking at him with narrowed eyes.
“I have a daughter,” Jiro said, smiling ruefully. “She’s a tiny, little thing and very precious to me. She needs a mother.”
“So you want me to be her mother?” Hebe asked, her eyes flashing with fire. That was not what she wanted to hear from this man.
“Hebe,” Jiro said, after a surprised pause, “I’m interested in you. After spending months dating Ella, a woman who couldn’t be honest about her feelings and seeing what miscommunication can do to a relationship … with Calvin and Selina being a good case in point … I’ve decided that I will not hide from my feelings. From the first moment I saw you and talked to you, I’ve been enchanted. I was fascinated by your pixie looks. I was charmed by your devil may care attitude, and impressed by your care of and loyalty to your friends,” he said, leaning forward. He gazed into her eyes, wanting her to see his sincerity.
“I …,” Hebe began, unsure of what to say. She waved a hand in front of her face, trying to cool the heat that she could feel welling up into her cheeks. “Am I blushing?” she murmured distractedly, continuing to wave her hands frantically.
Jiro grinned at her, happy to see her response. “But,” he continued, “being honest with you includes being honest about my daughter. The fact is that I have a daughter who is very much a part of my life. She grew very attached to Ella in the time that we spent together,” he said somberly, “and I can’t risk her getting close to another woman who would end up leaving her, as well. She’s already lost a mother.”
Hebe nodded in understanding and smiled at Jiro.
“Hence the question,” he said. “Do you like children?”
“Well … I don’t dislike them,” Hebe replied cheekily.
“Do you me—” he began.
“Would madam and sir like to order dessert?” a waiter appeared at the table to ask them, interrupting Jiro.
“Oooh, dessert,” Hebe said, staring at the dessert trolley.
Jiro stared at Hebe, amazed at how intent she was on picking just the right dessert. ‘Just my luck,’ he thought to himself, ‘I encounter the only woman in the world who can only focus on one thing at a time.’
“Would your daughter like some dessert?” Hebe asked in a thoughtful voice.
“Hmm?” Jiro looked up in surprise.
“I asked if Sammy would like something sweet. We can ask for it to be packed. Two year olds usually love sweets, right?” she asked with a quizzical smile.
“How do you know …?” he began, surprised by the breadth of her knowledge.
‘To be honest,” Hebe said, waving the waiter away, “I was interested in you, too. I’ve subtly pumped Ella for information about you, and Calvin was a great fountain of knowledge. You do have the worst luck in women don’t you?”
Jiro nodded sheepishly. “I don’t know what is so attractive about me to emotionally unavailable women.” They were silent for a moment, pondering Jiro’s supposed attraction.
“Well, I was just waiting for Ella to break up with you.” She cleared her throat, flushing, when she saw the shock on his eyes. “I was going to swoop in and you know….”
“No, I don’t know,” Jiro said.
“Before swooping in and mending your heart,” she completed in a whisper, staring at him intently. “I was kind of hoping that it wouldn’t be that broken. Only Selina swooped in and grabbed you first. Believe me, I was not going to wait for her to dump you before getting a chance at you.” Hebe smiled when Jiro gaped at her words.
“You … uh … were just waiting for Ella to dump me?” he cleared his throat. “And you couldn’t step in before we got this far?” Jiro demanded.
“It took me a while to figure out I was that interested,” Hebe admitted. “By then it was too late. It’s tacky to steal your best friend’s guy.” She ate a bite of her pie, and then smiled at him once more. “That’s partly why I stepped in today and told you about Selina before anything could get started. I love her. She’s my best friend. Telling you about Calvin was 95% about her. But I don’t want to see you hurt again because you once again had the bad luck to date a woman that was emotionally unavailable.” Hebe shrugged, and smiled before taking another quick bite of her pie. “I also didn’t want to wait to see if we could have something lasting.”
Jiro started to smile, flattered that someone had wanted him this much. It was a new feeling.
She blushed, and then looked away from him. “I do feel guilty. Selina is my best friend, and I just sabotaged her. I admit that I am surprised by this side of me.”
Jiro got up from the table, and stared at Hebe.
“Don’t go,” Hebe said, a hurt expression on her face. “I promise I won’t….” Her voice trailed off when she realized that Jiro was coming to her side of the table. She breathed a silent sigh of relief when he sat down beside her.
Jiro turned his head to look at Hebe with a small smile. Reaching out, he hesitantly put a hand over Hebe’s fingers and gave them a comforting squeeze. “Don’t feel too guilty. Selina clearly still had feelings for Calvin. Not only did you save me from possible heartache, but, also, we might have reunited them this time. Successfully,” he said, unsubtly referencing the spectacular failure of her last attempt.
Hebe lightly punched him in the arm with her other hand. She chuckled softly when he playfully pouted at her. Leaning over, she put her head on his shoulder. “This is nice,” she said softly.
“Promise me something,” she requested. “Let’s always be this honest. About everything. If one day … you realize that this is going nowhere, then be honest enough to tell me.”
“I don’t think I’d ever want to walk away from you,” Jiro said quietly. “This feeling right now … I think that it could get addicting.”
“Promise me anyways,” she insisted, giving him a stubborn look.
“I promise,” he said, leaning down to give her a gentle kiss on her forehead.
Hebe sighed, and then stared at her dessert. “Now, we should order some dessert for Sammy,” she said briskly. “This pie is great. I think she’ll love it. I’ll order it.”
Jiro smiled softly, watching Hebe call the waiter over. Sitting next to her, watching her in action was a delight. He could feel his heart turning and slowly falling into place. This felt right. This felt good. All because of Hebe.
“I have been blind, unwilling to see
The true love you’re giving.
I have ignored every blessing.
I’m on my knees confessing.”
“Chun, please, slow down,” Ella said breathlessly. “Where are we going?” she demanded.
Chun stopped abruptly, and then dragged her to the side of the hallway. He towered over her for a moment, before stepping back when he noticed the worried look in her eyes.
“The Wus are in a private dining room in this restaurant,” he explained. “They seem to have eyes everywhere,” he said, glancing around. “When Chase Wu heard that I was in the restaurant, he called and demanded to see me right away.”
“Why do you want me to go?” Ella added hesitantly. Her hand came out to grab at his, seeking comfort.
Chun squeezed her hand and smiled. “Because this meeting is about you,” he said. “Chase Wu is angry that I am seeing you, and I have to explain to him that this …,” he pointed to himself and then at her, “is none of his business.”
“But why do I have to be there?” she asked with a pout. “Why can’t you just tell me about it later? Look, I’m a coward,” she explained, leaning toward him. “I don’t want to be around your parents. They’re poisonous.”
“I don’t want to hide anything from you,” Chun replied. “I want everything to be clear. I felt you tugging at my heartstrings from the first moment I met you. I couldn’t forget you after our encounter at the airport. When I saw you in my office, I went to the trouble of investigating you. I brought you into my office, instead of pawning you off on the office staff. Whenever I encountered you, you lighted a fire inside of me. And now, Chase Wu is going to try taking that away from me. Well, he can try, but he’s not going to succeed. And I want you there,” he said implacably.
Ella glanced up and caught the bleak look in his eyes. She inhaled sharply, seeing his pain. “What’s wrong?” Ella asked.
He shook his head. “It’s nothing,” he said brusquely. “Don’t worry about anything I say in there,” he ordered. “Don’t forget that I’ll be by your side. We’re going to fight Chase Wu together.” He smiled at her gently.
Ella took a deep breath and then nodded. “You’re right,” she said, striving to smile. “We’re in this together. As long as you’re by my side, it’ll be okay.”
Pulling back, Chun grabbed her hand and pulled her to the door at the end of the hallway. Knocking once, he entered the private dining room. Chun led her to the table where the older couple was sitting, and pulled out a chair for her to sit across from Mrs. Wu. Ella sighed unhappily, but tried to muster up a smile. It didn’t work.
“How dare you bring this woman out in public? How dare you bring her into our company?” Chase Wu demanded, glaring at Ella.
Ella moved back slightly, unhappily aware of the hatred this man felt for her. She glanced at Chun out of the corner of her eye, wanting to see his reaction. She hated the fact that a relationship with her had put him in this kind of position.
“If you don’t break up with her,” Chase barked angrily, “I will make your life a living hell.”
Ella blanched at the threat. ‘Chase Wu is capable of destroying lives to get his way,’ she thought to herself. ‘Do I really want Chun to lose everything just because of me?’ She clenched her hands into fists, unsure of what to do. Chun reached out and placed his hand over hers. Ella glanced over and caught his reassuring smile.
“You’re going to waste all of your potential on a woman like this? You could have anybody … any heiress, and, yet, you choose a nobody like her? A gold-digger.”
Ella gasped, incredibly hurt by the characterization. ‘Why do rich people always think that people are after their money? What’s so important about money, anyways? Although, why am I surprised? When has this man ever taken the chance to get to know me? He made up his mind the day he met me based on how much I had and who my family was.’ Her shoulders slumped slightly.
“She was pregnant with someone else’s child and tried to pawn that child off on us as your brother’s get.” Chase Wu continued his rant, unaware of the dangerous territory he was getting into. Ella’s eyes widened in disbelief, her face paling at Chase Wu’s malevolence. How could he bring up her pregnancy? She had lost her child. She gasped, and tried to catch her breath.
“Did she think that we would take her word for it? We threw her out the day she dared to show her face at the Wu mansion. And I’m telling you to throw her out of your life, as well. You can’t trust a woman like her.”
“That’s enough,” Chun said coldly. “You’ve said enough, don’t you think?” Ella gazed at him, surprised by the level of frost in his tone. Ella could see that Chun was seething with anger. She pulled a hand out from under Chun’s hold, and placed it over his. She squeezed lightly, silently asking him to calm down.
“He was your grandson,” he growled at his father, ignoring Ella’s attempts to calm him. “And you didn’t do anything. What is wrong with you?” he demanded, leaning forward aggressively. “You may have threatened Blake,” he said softly, “but there is nothing you can do to me. Nothing you can do to her,” he said, nodding at Ella. “What are you going to hold over my head?”
Chase Wu’s eye widened when he realized what Chun was referencing with his words. It seemed that his son knew about his successful attempts at blackmailing Blake. But how? Shrugging, he pushed that aside for another time. He turned his focus back to the man sitting in front of him, daring to defy him.
“You need me,” Chun asserted confidently. He smiled coldly at the man that he had known for only three years. This man only cared about his empire and his legacy. He did not care one whit about whom he hurt in order to achieve what he wanted. “I don’t need you. I don’t need this world that you’ve constructed to rule over. I don’t need your wealth. I don’t need your connections.”
“Don’t think tha—,” Chase Wu began angrily, his face going red.
“What are you going to say?” Chun demanded, leaning forward to angrily glare at his father. “You’ll make sure that I never work again? If you think that you have enough power to make my life difficult in this country,” Chun said, slapping the table with an open palm, “Then I can leave. I have skills. A degree. A woman to support me,” he finished, turning to gaze lovingly at a silent Ella. Ella smiled tremulously back at him.
Chun took a deep breath, and sat back. “You’re the one who cares about your legacy,” Chun reminded Chase Wu. “Either you accept me with Ella, or you don’t get me at all. It’s your choice.”
Chase Wu blanched at the finality he heard in Chun’s voice. Chun smirked slightly, knowing that there was nothing his father could do to change his mind or to control him. There was no one else that Chase Wu could use to control his heir.
“This isn’t over yet,” Chase Wu said darkly before getting up. He walked out of the private dining room without a second glance.
Ella breathed a sigh of relief.
Chun turned to glare at Belinda Wu, who had remained behind despite her husband’s angry departure. He stared as Belinda Wu gracefully took another bite of her dinner.
“And you …” he began, after a moment of silence.
“I don’t care either way,” Belinda Wu said quietly, placing her utensils down and picking up a napkin to dab at her mouth.
Chun and Ella stared blankly, uncertain of what Belinda was actually asserting.
“I didn’t hate Blake,” she assured. “And I don’t hate you,” she said to Chun. She gave a wintry smile and took a sip of her wine before continuing. “I don’t feel anything for either of you. Chase Wu is a bastard, who only cares about appearances, his status, and his wealth. I made a bargain 30 years ago, and nothing that has happened since has made me feel that I got the losing end of the stick. When Chase realized that I could not give him an heir, he brought Blake home and raised him as he wished. I was not involved, and, even if I had wanted to be, I would not have been allowed to be involved.”
She got up and gathered her belongings.
“I hold no grudge against you,” she said to Ella. “Nor against you,” she said to Chun. “Whatever happens, I’ll continue my life as I wish, and I wish the two of you the best.” She began to walk to the door. “Although, I doubt Chase can do anything,” Belinda said, stopping in the open doorway, “I’d suggest you remain vigilant. Goodbye.” Stepping through the doorway, she disappeared.
“You are the air that I breathe.
You’re the ground beneath my feet.
When did I stop believing?”
Chun turned to Ella, who was pale with surprise. Her eyes were still wide and unblinking. He shook her slightly by the shoulder. She turned to look at Chun and then smiled, letting him see the love in her eyes.
“What is it?” Chun asked, smiling back helplessly.
She clasped his hands tightly, and then reached over to hesitantly kiss him on the lips. Her lips melded softly with his, her tongue licking shyly at his, before retreating swiftly. Pulling back, she cupped his cheek for a moment, gazing into his eyes. Letting go with a sigh, she held his hands once more.
“I’ve always needed someone who would love me and only me first,” Ella said hoarsely. “I would be the first priority in his life. The first thing he considered when making his decisions. Blake did that for me,” she whispered softly. “I was not sure of whether he would pick me in the end, but he did.”
Chun tensed slightly at her words, not knowing how to tell her the truth. But that truth was a well-buried secret. If he had anything to do with it, no one would ever find out.
“When I met you, I was instantly attracted to you. At first, I was sure it was because you looked like Blake, but the more I got to know you, the more you became an entirely separate being. I was relieved when I could see Chun and not Blake when I looked at you.” She laughed softly. “I hope I’m not confusing you. I think I’m confusing myself.”
Chun shook his head in negation. “I understand.” He leaned forward, and rested his forehead against Ella’s, wanting to feel her warmth once more.
Ella gazed at their joined hands. “And then I began to fall in love with Chun. I fought it. Oh, how I fought it. And in the process, I ended up hurting you and Jiro. The same issues were present in any relationship that I might have with you. But you took care of them all. You are no longer engaged. You fought Chase Wu for me, in front of me. You validated our relationship. And showed me how important I was to you,” she said, as tears began to trickle down her cheeks. She wiped at them, but they continued to flow. “You love me and you showed me that I was right in opening my heart again and right in opening it to you. Thank you.”
Chun pulled her close, and hugged her fiercely. The emotions that had welled up at her words were pushing to come free. His arms wanted to hold her close forever. His lips wanted to kiss her. And his eyes wanted to gaze at her until the end of days. But this was neither the time, nor the place. Pulling back, he gazed into her eyes.
“I want to marry you,” he said.
Ella gasped slightly, shocked by his words. “We’ve only been dating a week,” she protested weakly.
“I’m not asking right now,” Chun said with a smile. “I’m just giving you fair warning.”
Ella smiled joyfully, and pulled him into her arms. Leaning up, she kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“That’s all I get?” Chun asked teasingly.
Ella shook her head at him. Turning his head, she gently kissed the other cheek. Pulling him closer, she kissed his forehead, moving down, feathering a kiss over his closed eyelid before coming to rest against his lips. She let herself drown in that kiss, wanting to express all the love that he had awakened in her heart.
“I love you,” she murmured against his lips. She could feel his smile against her lips.
This was what she wanted. Chun was what she wanted now. And she would let nothing get between her and his love.
“I have been wrong about you.
Thought I was strong without you.
For so long nothing could move me.
For so long nothing could change me.”
“Selina!” Calvin called out angrily through the open car window, and she ignored him for the fiftieth time. “Please, just listen to me.” He quickly shut off the ignition of the car, and got out. His eyes tracked Selina’s progress to the front door of her house.
Selina glanced back and encountered the angry look on Calvin’s face. Dismissing him, she turned her back once more. Selina walked up the steps, and quickly unlocked the door. Stepping inside, she turned to quickly close the door, but Calvin’s foot was in the doorway, preventing that.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded, trying to shut the door on his foot. She was unsuccessful. Calvin quietly pushed at the door, and, sighing in frustration, Selina moved back, He took advantage of the opening, and quickly stepped inside. Selina stared at him mutely, unwilling to say anything to break the silence.
“What the hell was that on the road?” he said, through gritted teeth. “Did you pay that taxi driver extra to drive like a maniac? He was all over the road! What if something had happened?”
“Then something would’ve happened,” Selina said, shrugging her shoulders.
“You could have been hurt!” he shouted at her, losing control.
“I could’ve died,” Selina replied coldly. “Why would you care? What happens to me … whatever it may be, it’s none of your business. We have no relationship, Calvin Chen. Nothing connects us. You made sure of that. All on your own.” She sneered at him.
Calvin stepped back, hurt by the bitter words coming from Selina’s mouth. He took a deep breath, trying to cool down. He knew that getting angry right now would only worsen the situation. “Look … I just want a chance. I need to talk to you.”
Selina snorted lightly, and turned to walk into the living room. Calvin took hope that she wasn’t throwing him out. Following her, he entered the living room and took a seat beside her. He reached out to turn on a lamp.
“Leave it,” she muttered. He glanced at her, but Selina refused to look at him. It was hard to see what expression was on her face in the moonlight coming through the windows, but she hadn’t thrown him out yet.
“I still have feelings for you,” he admitted helplessly. “If you give us a chance … who knows what we could build again?”
“Feelings?” Selina asked. “What a pale, useless word,” she scoffed.
“My feelings are not pale and they aren’t useless,” he fairly growled at her. His hands clenched into fists. “I love you, dammit.”
“How charming.” Selina shot up agitatedly and moved away from him. She was so far away that he could hardly see her. “Love? If it’s really love, then I guess your feelings couldn’t be classified as pale or useless.” She moved back even more, increasing the distance between them.
Calvin waited, hoping for some sort of favorable response.
“But I would certainly classify that love as something worthless. I mean, what value could it have if you found it so easy to walk away from your love? And then, to compound that injury by staying away because you heard second-hand that I was with someone else.” She smirked, before turning her back on him once more. “Really, your actions have truly proven the worth of your love.”
“It wasn’t easy!” Calvin shouted, walking up behind her. Selina turned to look at him, jumping imperceptibly when she saw how close he had come.
“Calvin,” she protested, leaning back.
“It was never easy staying away from you.” He moved forward, leading Selina to quickly move back, wanting to keep him at a distance. Calvin followed closely, close enough to touch. Selina flinched when her back hit the wall, and she could retreat no farther. Staring up into his eyes, she saw the desperation she’d wanted to ignore. She moved to the right and then left, wanting to make her escape. But his hands were against the wall, his arms caging her within his grasp.
“It was never easy,” he repeated softly, staring into her eyes. Selina looked away. Reaching out, Calvin grasped her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. “I ached for you, and I couldn’t found relief, not until I immersed myself into Chun’s problems and my work. Days would go by without me thinking about you … and then I would remember. And my heart would start hurting again. This pain in my heart,” he muttered, “it wouldn’t go away. No matter what I did. I couldn’t forget you and I couldn’t do anything to fix the pain. You think that you were the only one hurting. At least you had someone to hate … someone to blame. How do you think I felt … knowing that I was the one who had destroyed something so precious? How do you think I’ve lived these three years hating myself?” he asked, moving in closer, his lips a hairsbreadth from hers.
Selina began to breathe heavily, her body awakening gradually. She bit her lip, and desperately fought the blush that was welling up in her cheeks. “You didn’t even bother to verify,” she muttered, trying to fire up her anger once more.
“I came to look for you!” Calvin protested, his eyes silently begging for her to understand. “Your parents wouldn’t tell me where you were, but I saw you at their home one day. You were with a man … wrapped around him. You were so happy. I walked away. I had to. How could I risk taking away your happiness once more? How could I risk hurting you again?” he demanded, pulling her into his arms. At first she fought him, but she quickly lost the battle. Her body relaxed against his, and Calvin allowed himself to sigh in relief. Her presence … her touch was beginning to soothe the years old ache inside his heart.
“There was no relationship,” she murmured into his chest. “You left me to suffer. I spent the past three years hating you for being so cruel. I hated you, but I still looked for you. I saw you in every man I encountered. I asked myself why I had to be so lacking in everything that would attract a man. Do you have any idea how much I loathed myself for my weaknesses? But I couldn’t make you go away.”
She pulled back angrily to beat at him with her fists. He let her, knowing that she needed to vent the anger and pain that she had hid inside of herself for so long. Selina soon grew tired, and slumped against him once more, wrapping her arms around his waist this time. Her curves fit against his, and their internal rhythms began to sync, their hearts slowly beginning to beat as one.
“I hate you,” she muttered into his chest. “I really hate you.”
“I know,” he murmured, tilting her face up to place a tender kiss against her lips. Selina moaned softly, and wrapped her arms around his neck. Calvin picked her up, cradling her close in his arms. Turning, he strode toward the sofa in the living room. Selina laid her head down against his shoulder, and breathed out, letting go of all of the anger and the pain. There was no need to talk anymore for now. Whatever issues were left over could be discussed tomorrow.
Right now, all that mattered was that she was with Calvin. She was in Calvin’s arms. She was with the man she loved and the man who loved her. That was all that mattered for now.
“Now I feel myself surrender, each time I see your face.
I am staggered by your beauty, your unassuming grace.
And I feel my heart is turning, falling into place.
I can’t hide. Now hear my confession.”
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A/N: The songs I used in the chapters above were Anthony Hamilton’s “Dear Life” and Josh Groban’s “My Confession”.