Chapter 26: I Want to Hold Your Hand
Hebe stared out of the car window, squinting as the sunlight almost blinded her. She shaded her eyes, and saw two figures sunbathing on the sand, near the blue, inviting waves. She sighed deeply and turned to look at Jiro with a pout. “I wanted to go the beach,” she said, almost whining in her disappointment. “It’s so hot and sticky.” She irritably pulled at her shirt, and then glared at him. “Look at how pale I am,” she ordered. “I wanted to get a tan.”
Jiro flashed her a quick, boyish smile, and then turned his attention back to the driving. “Yes, but you also said that you wanted to go to an amusement park today.”
“Or a picnic.”
“Or a baseball game. Or do a Bollywood movie marathon. You also wanted to take a trip to Italy. And to Fran—”
“I get it,” Hebe blurted out, interrupting the long list of things she knew still remained unsaid. She waved her hands helplessly. “But … it’s a date,” Hebe protested, “I wanted it to be special. I want every date we have to be special.”
Jiro was silent for a while. Turning his head briefly, he allowed his gaze to move over Hebe, his pixie with the pink-tipped hair now. “We don’t have to worry about making our dates special,” he murmured, gazing at her for a moment before turning his eyes back to the road. “They already are.”
Hebe looked at him questioningly.
“Because we’re together,” he said, flashing a radiant smile at her. “Spending time together. Living life together in these three-hour blocks.”
Hebe blinked at the joy she saw in his face.
Reaching out, Jiro clasped her hand, bringing it to his lips for a quick kiss.
Hebe blushed, and opened the window slightly, letting in the cool air.
“Where are we going today?” she asked for the hundredth time. “Why won’t you tell me?”
Jiro’s fingers tightened around hers, and he smiled once more. “You’ve been very patient,” he said. “We haven’t been able to see a lot of each other, and the time we did spend together was too short.” Jiro let go of her hand to reach out and caress her cheek. “I thought that today … we might just spend it at home.”
“Wait. So this whole thing of us driving for the past hour was just so that we could go back home?” Hebe demanded incredulously.
‘No.” Jiro shook his head. He flashed a smile at her. “Not your home.”
“Well, then, whose home …?” Her voice trailed off as realization set in. She pulled her hand away in uncertainty. “You mean …?” she began hesitantly.
Jiro nodded. “You’ve been very patient. After what happened with Ella, I didn’t want to introduce anyone new into my daughter’s life just to have them leave her, too.” He reached out and clasped her hand once more. “You’ve never pressured me. You’ve never questioned my decision. And I’m grateful for that. I want you to meet my daughter, Hebe,” he said softly. “Would you please come home with me?”
Hebe broke out into a big smile, and turned her head away. She laughed softly, happy beyond belief. Leaning over, she laid her head against Jiro’s shoulder. “You know what that means, right?”
“What,” he murmured, turning his head to place a quick kiss on her forehead.
“This means you think we’re going to last?” she whispered hopefully.
“I knew that the first time I met you,” he murmured. “I just needed to give you time to realize that.”
“What did I do that made you realize I was thinking in terms of eternity now?” Hebe demanded in curiosity. They’d even exchanged their ‘I love you’s a while ago.
“You asked my opinion before you changed your hair color,” Jiro said with a shrug.
Hebe’s eyes widened and then she began to smile. In the past six month she had changed her hair color 12 times. And two nights ago, she’d thought to ask Jiro if he had any preference. She giggled softly. She’d wanted to ask his opinion the first time she’d changed her hair color after they’d started dating, but had worried that he might find it too weird.
Hebe turned her head slightly and saw the ocean through the passenger side mirror. Placing her hand against the cool glass, she sighed in contentment. Who needed the ocean, when she was going to have the chance to entrench herself deeper into Jiro’s life?
She closed her eyes, allowing herself a moment of private joy.
It was just getting good.
Chun stared out the water, smiling softly as the wind ruffled his hair. Looking over, he saw that Ella had fallen asleep. Looked like she was still tired from the night before. Reaching over, he gently ruffled her hair and laughed when she irritably batted his hand away. Turning over, she began to snore. Chun wondered what she was dreaming about when he saw her brow wrinkle.
Was it about last night? His thoughts turned back to that debacle and he shook his head. He didn’t need to know why Ella had acted that way. As long as she was still by his side, he would give her all the time she needed to explain. Picking up his book, he settled back to read, all the while keeping guard over his Ella.
Ella stirred softly in sleep, sighing as the warmth of the sun penetrated through the blinds and forced her toward wakefulness. She sighed and stretched, not wanting to leave dreamland for a while. Turning her eyes, she gasped, pulling back from the shocking sight in front of her.
She quickly sat up and yelped, feeling the pain spike in her head to reach migraine proportions.
“What are you doing here?” Ella demanded, poking at one male shoulder. One very naked, male shoulder.
“Chun?” she demanded shrilly, wincing as the pain increased in her head. Ella hesitated slightly, tilting her head to the side. ‘Déjà vu? I feel like I’ve done this before. But, how …?’
Looking around, she saw that she was suddenly standing across the room now. She turned to the bed and saw Chun on her bed. With his arms around … her? She saw that other Ella snuggling closer and sighing in peace.
“Why are you here?” the Ella on the bed demanded against one naked shoulder.
“I couldn’t leave you after last night, could I?” Chun demanded, hugging her closer.
“About last night …,” the Ella on the bed began.
“Forget it. I do understand. I won’t ask you that question again,” he murmured, placing a comforting kiss on her forehead. “I won’t ever ask again.”
Ella had gripped him tightly, her body quivering. “I’m sorry,” the Ella on the bed mumbled. A part of her had been so thankful when he’d said those words.
“Let’s go to the beach,” he suggested. “Calvin has a beach house there. Why don’t we have a picnic on the beach, and then spend the evening at his beach house? We can roast marshmallows.”
That Ella had mumbled a sheepish yes, burying her head in his chest.
‘That’s right. They had gone to the beach. And this … this was all a dream. Probably too much tuna salad at lunch. It was just a dream.’
That scene melted into another. She was in front of Chun’s door again. Her hand reached out to open the door, and she stepped into a dark room, the only light coming from the candles in front of her. Dark? Why was it dark?
Her favorite chocolates.
A romantic dinner for two.
Everything lovingly prepared. For her. By her special someone. And that special someone was … Chun.
Ella was suddenly staring at Chun, from a foot away. She saw him staring at her, that other Ella, standing at the doorway. She saw his loving smile, and the way he took a deep breath to calm himself. She saw him forcibly relax his hands; the hands that had just been clenched into fists.
‘Why did I break down? Why did I do that to Chun?’ Her remembered reaction made her cringe in embarrassment all over again. ‘I don’t want to see this. Not again.’ Her heart clenched once more, as she saw that other Ella’s hands tighten in dismay. She saw Ella hyperventilating at the scene in front of her. She saw Chun’s smile dissolving into a look of worry.
“What’s wrong? Ella, are you okay?” Chun’s voice demanding what was wrong.
‘What could I say? How could I explain that this reminded me of Blake’s proposal? How could I explain that, as illogical as it was, I was afraid that if I said yes to him now, I would lose him just like I had lost Blake? The words wouldn’t come out!”
That other Ella had remained silent, as the tears began to fall. In the end she hadn’t had to say anything. Chun had figured it out all by himself. He’d put out the candles. He’d taken the flowers away. He’d turned on the lights. She’d ruined his proposal and he hadn’t expressed dismay, hadn’t demanded answers. He’d been there for her. He’d handed her that first glass of wine. And the second. And the third. Until it was all a blur. They’d gotten drunk together.
It was only distance and the fact that she was calm now that allowed her to see. She could see the pain in his eyes. The hurt.
‘I have to explain to him that my reaction wasn’t a rejection of him. It was just my stupid fears coming into play. Chun, I do love you.’
Before she could reach out to grab a hold of his hand, that scene melted into another. It was darkness all around her. Her heart was beating fast. She bit her lip and tried to remain calm.
‘Where am I? Why is it dark again?’
“Surprise!” Many voices, raised in excitement. She jumped when a cake was thrust in front of her face. “Happy birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Ella. Happy birthday to you! Blow out the candles. The candles, Ella!”
She looked around and smiled in joy. Her friends. They were all here for her. Wishing her the best. At her birthday.
This time the shift was quicker. The moment it had taken her to realize that this was her birthday party from two months ago, was the moment she needed to shift across the room. She could see things from the outside, things that her proximity wouldn’t have allowed her to see at the time. She saw the anxiety in Chun’s eyes. The glow that hadn’t been there before that night. She saw him take out a small box and then put it back in his pocket.
Her first birthday with Chun. The tears fell from her eyes once more. He’d made it so special. He made her feel special. And she’d known, she’d needed nothing more at that moment. Nothing more than him.
He was her life.
And, she could see now, he had thought the exact same thing.
Ella jumped at sound of ricocheting bullets. Her heart began to pump wildly. It was dark again. ‘Where am I now?’
“Don’t worry,” his beloved voice had whispered in her ear. “It’s just a movie.” The warmth of his arm around her shoulders had lulled her into relaxing.
The theater. She remembered this movie. It was their first date. Their first normal date.
Her hand reached for popcorn, and his fingers brushed against hers. She remembered that bucket of popcorn. They’d held hands inside of that bucket the entire movie.
She giggled softly, wondering why they’d been so shy about holding hands in public.
And that scene slipped away before she could grasp his hand once more.
‘Chun?’ she mumbled, looking around. ‘Where am I?’ White walls. Low lighting. Depressing atmosphere. Heavy steps took her to the open doorway. ‘Where are you?’
She flinched when she saw the figure on the bed, huddled under the covers. ‘Me.’ She bit her lip, as the figure began to cry softly, her body shuddering from the force of her sobs.
“Ella, please don’t cry anymore,” Selina beseeched, brushing the hair back from her damp forehead. “Hebe will be right back with the nurse and the pain medication.”
The Ella on the bed mumbled something, and Selina leaned forward to hear. Selina wouldn’t be able to understand she had said.
‘This isn’t the kind of pain that you can get rid of with meds.’
Chun wouldn’t be here. She was all alone. This was the dark time after Blake had left and before Chun had entered her life. Despite Selina’s and Hebe’s presence, she had felt so alone. Her fingers clenched into fists when that old pain of loss welled up inside of her.
“Do I want to go through this again?’ she wondered silently.
She saw a figure from the corner of her eye. She turned her head, expecting to see Hebe. Her eyes widened when she saw Blake standing next to her. She took a deep breath and moved back. “What are you …?”
“I’m sorry for not being here for you,” he whispered.
“Blake,” Ella murmured helplessly. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“I’m sorry for abandoning you,” he murmured, cupping her cheeks. His thumbs traced the soft, silky skin, savoring the sensation.
“Abandon me? You never abandoned me,” she protested.
“And now you’re abandoning me,” he whispered, gazing into her eyes.
Ella pulled back, surprised at the anger she saw in his eyes.
“You’re forgetting me,” he said.
“I would never …,” Ella began.
“I never thought ….”
“I never thought you’d find it so easy to forget me,” he finally said, his tone harsh. He stepped back and stared at her bleakly. “I no longer have a place here,” he muttered and turned away.
“Blake!” Ella protested, following him when he began to walk away. “Blake, listen to me.” He wouldn’t listen. He wouldn’t stop. Tears began to fall in earnest now, her breath coming in sobs. “Please, don’t leave.”
He didn’t turn around.
There was a steady drip, drip, drip … drops falling on her face. She felt her cheeks, and saw they were wet. Her tongue slipped out and tasted the salty wetness.
Tears? It was because she was crying, right? It was tears.
But no … that wasn’t right.
A steady drip, drip, drip.
“Wake up, sleepyhead. You lie here any longer and you’ll be burned,” a smooth voice whispered into her ear. Ella’s eyes reluctantly opened, and she jumped slightly, seeing Chun so close to her. She stared deeply into his eyes and smiled sleepily.
“What are you doing there?” she asked, pulling back to see the water cupped in his hands.
“You’ve been asleep for a while now,” he said, getting up. “We haven’t even been in the water. I thought I’d bring the water to you.” Pulling his hands apart, he let the rest of the water fall on Ella’s face.
Ella shrieked with shock and sprang up.
“Chun! You’re going to be sorry for this.”
Chun laughed huskily and began to run, with Ella following closely behind. As they neared the edge, she slipped, her arms wheeling, trying to find something to break her fall.
Chun reached out, catching her, but losing his own balance in the process. The two tumbled into the water, gasping as the cool water hit their sun-heated skin. Sitting up, Chun pulled Ella into his embrace. He wrapped his arms tightly around her, forcing her to remain in close contact in the eddies of the swiftly moving waves.
“Where were you?” he asked, nuzzling her ear.
“Hmm?” she murmured disjointedly.
“You looked like you were dreaming something troubling,” he murmured, placing a kiss on a wet patch of hair above her ear.
“I don’t know,” Ella mumbled. “I don’t remember.” She pulled away, and got up, making her way to the sandy beach once more. “Look at me. I’m a mess.” She shivered slightly, “It’s so cold now.” She raised her head and saw the clouds that had moved into cover the sun.
“You look beautiful,” Chun responded, slowly moving toward her.
Ella jumped at the growl of thunder and trembled as lightening flashed through the sky. She squealed when the rain began to fall in earnest, soaking her to the skin. She began to gather everything, and shouted at Chun, “Help me!”
Chun laughed, pushing the wet hair out of his eyes. Moving forward, he grabbed Ella and began to twirl her in his arms. Ella squeals of fright turned into robust laughter, and she clutched at him, closing her eyes to enjoy the sensation of defying gravity.
The cool rain. The warmth of his arms. Chun was her life now. He was the one she should look to, not the past. Nothing more was needed than this to make her feel this good.
Selina jumped slightly, hearing the thunder in the distance. The rain began to fall rapidly, drumming against the roof of the house she was standing in. Opening the window a bit wider, she reached out a hand and hissed softly as the cool drops fell against her hand.
She heard a shriek in the distant, and squinted her eyes, trying to see through the rain. She saw a couple playing around in the rain. She sighed softly, when she saw the taller figure (probably the man) pick up the slighter figure (his woman) and twirl her around.
“What? You want to be out there, too?” Calvin’s voice asked from behind her.
Selina jumped at the interruption of her lazy thoughts, and turned to glare daggers at an unrepentant Calvin.
“Do I look like I’m crazy?” she demanded, placing her hands on her hips. She broke into a fit of giggles. “I hope those two don’t catch a cold,” she remarked, already forgetting them. Moving away from the window, she sat down on the blanket in front of the fire. “How did you know that it was going to rain?” she asked, reaching up to take the warm chocolate he had prepared for her. Exactly the way she liked it.
“I’m Mr. Sunshine,” he said, sitting down beside her. Reaching out, he placed an arm around Selina, dragging her closer. “I can read the weather.” Selina snuggled closer, and sighed in contentment. She sipped the warm chocolate.
“This is so yummy,” she murmured, holding up the cup. “You’re getting better.”
“When you told me that I better know how to make hot chocolate; that it was the only surefire way to get you in a better mood once I’d put you in one of your funks, I had to learn, right?”
Selina chuckled softly, and sipped the brew once more. “Now, will you explain to me why we had to come all the way to your beach house?” she demanded, a hint of her earlier pique returning. “I told you that I was in no mood for a long drive. I’ve been traveling all week,” she muttered, sighing as Calvin began to massage the tense muscles in her neck.
“We had to come here,” Calvin murmured, continuing his ministrations.
“Why?” Selina demanded.
Using a remote, Calvin dimmed the lights. Selina stiffened, looking around warily. “What are you …?” she began hesitantly.
Another push of a button caused the music to come on. Selina’s eyes widened when she recognized their song. The song they’d danced to on their first date. The song they’d kissed to on the fifth date. And the song they’d … “Calvin?” she demanded tremulously.
Calvin moved away for a second, and then came back, engulfing her in his arms. Leaning forward, he placed a box in front of her.
Selina bit her lip, her eyes beginning to tear at what all this could mean. A part of her was afraid to hope, but her eyes were telling her something that she could not ignore.
“I love you,” he murmured against her ear, kissing the delicate shell. “Sometimes, it seems like I’ve loved you forever.”
Selina leaned back, snuggling more deeply into his arms. He tightened his hold.
“I did a very stupid thing during the course of our relationship. Instead of trusting you to stand by me, I walked away. I hurt you, thinking that if you remained by my side you’d be even more hurt. And despite that stupidity, you forgave me. You trusted me. You had the courage to love me again. And I will always be grateful for that. Give me the chance, Selina … give us the chance to live our lives together. To love forever. Give me the chance to show you my undying love.” Reaching out, he picked up the box and opened it. Selina inhaled sharply, gazing at the ring inside.
“Calvin, look at this!”
“I’m busy, Selina. Maybe later?” Calvin’s tone was abrupt and rife with frustration.
Selina winced slightly, but moved on, wanting to distract him from the worry that had been eating away at him for days by sharing this small bit of happiness. “No, please. Just a second. Look at this,” she urged him, holding out a magazine. “This ring … it’s almost exactly like the ring my grandmother used to have. My grandfather found the diamond and created the design.” She sighed happily, gazing at the magazine picture. “They were together for 20 blissful years. My grandmother had to sell it when my grandfather passed away, leaving my father and her all alone in the world. It almost broke her heart. But she always said it was better that she use the money to take care of the other precious treasure her husband had given her; she was talking about my father. They’d had him late in life and simply adored him. But even years later, she kept a picture of it by her bed.” There was a short, expectant pause. “Calvin?” she prompted. “What do you think? Don’t you think it’s beautiful?”
“I don’t have time for this right now, Selina. Maybe later?” Calvin repeated, without even bothering to look up.
Selina stared at him for a moment, biting her lip to still its trembling.
“Okay. Sorry. I’ll just go since you’re so busy. Why don’t you … why don’t you come to my house for dinner tomorrow night?”
“Hmm? Yeah, sure,” Calvin murmured distractedly, his gaze locked on the documents in front of him. Selina had walked away, turning to back continuously. Calvin hadn’t looked up once.
Selina swallowed the lump in her throat. “You bought it?” she asked hoarsely, her eyes searching his.
Calvin nodded, clearing his throat. “I … right after I forced you to leave,” he admitted. “It gave me hope that one day … one day I could come after you and maybe … I thought about it over and over. That I would bring you here, and ask you this question. And you would say yes.”
“Oh, Calvin,” she murmured, reaching up to place a soft kiss at the corner of his mouth. “I do love you,” she whispered.
“Selina, I love you. I will always love you. I promise to ask you before I do anything stupid ever again. Trust me that I will never willingly hurt you again. Will you marry me, please?” he asked, holding the ring out to her. “Will you accept me into your life and never let me go?” He smiled as he voiced the hidden desires of his heart.
Selina swallowed and then bobbed her head jerkily. “Yes, of course. I’ll marry you. How could I not? I love you,” she repeated, holding out her hand. Her fingers trembled slightly in the air, evidence of the joy bursting inside of her.
Calvin reverently placed the ring on her finger. His fingers came up and gently caressed her cheek. Pulling her into his arms, he sighed in contentment. They had the rest of their lives to live and love together.
This was good. Life was good.
Chapter 27: Broken Dreams
“You’ve reached Ella. I can’t answer the phone right now, so leave me a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Bye.”
“Ella, hey. Where are you? Well, I’m just calling to check in. I thought I’d let you know that I’ll be home in an hour. The meeting went great, but I missed you. You were supposed to be here, by my side, when I took this long drive home. You’re missing a beautiful sunset.” There was a soft sigh. “Wait for me. I really want to see you tonight.”
An hour later, Chun walked down the hallway, making his way toward the apartment. He chuckled softly when he realized that he had nearly been running. Unlocking the door, his eyes blinked at the sudden darkness.
‘Ella? Where are you?’ Turning on the light, his eyes roamed over the seemingly empty living room. He smiled when he saw Ella, lying on the sofa before him. He laughed silently when she began to softly snore.
Chun placed his briefcase on the floor beside him, before making his way to the sleeping figure. Kneeling down before her, he raised a hand to cautiously brush away the hair that had fallen across her face, not wanting to disturb her slumber. He smiled once more, seeing the peace in her face. Settling back onto the ground, he stared lovingly at her sleeping form. His heart clenched when he saw the soft smile playing on her lips.
‘This should be enough, but this damn heart wants so much more,’ he thought mockingly. ‘I have the chance to sit with the woman I love, to silently worship her. But I want to claim her as mine. I want the world to know that she is mine.’
They’d spent yesterday celebrating Calvin and Selina’s elopement. The two had decided to skip the entire hubbub of a big wedding, citing the fact that they’d waited long enough to be together. They’d revealed the elopement yesterday, turning a monthly dinner into an impromptu celebration. The party had lasted into the early hours of the morning, and Ella had decided to skip the trip she’d planned with Chun today, saying that he could go to his meeting all by himself.
‘That’s what I want. An engagement. A promise between two hearts. A wedding. A marriage. Life together. That’s what I want.‘
His hand crept into his side pocket and reverently touched the tiny box that he had brought with him today. Pulling it out, he opened it to glance at the ring inside. His finger trembled slightly when he reached out to touch the ring. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down.
Ella didn’t want the big proposal scene. She didn’t want the candlelight or the flowers. She didn’t want him to get down on his knees and declare his undying devotion. She didn’t want the big ring. Her anxiety attack, the last time he had tried, had told him that. But maybe she’d be happy with a small ring that he could slip onto her finger while she was sleeping.
‘It’s been six months since that aborted proposal. Six months for her to get used to the idea that we belong together. Six months for her to trust me. To know that I’ll always be here.‘
Reaching out, he gently threaded it onto her finger; wanting that symbol … something that would say that she was his … on her hand. He wanted that sign that said that Ella was Chun’s woman. This was something that he needed, and something so simple that even she could be happy with it.
Sighing softly, he got up, turning to go into the kitchen. There was a soft noise behind him. Turning around, he glanced at Ella. But she was still sleeping. Shaking his head, he turned back to walk to the kitchen.
“Blake.” Her voice was soft, loving.
Chun froze in his tracks, his eyes widening at that name.
“Blake, don’t be like that. Please.”
Chun whirled around to stare at Ella, his eyes widening with incredulity. “Ella?” he tried to speak, but he’d lost his voice. He swallowed and then took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. Just because she said Blake’s name, just because he was in her dreams, didn’t mean …
“I love you. I will always love you.”
Chun fell back at those words, feeling flayed by the desperate truth he could hear in her voice. He winced at the ache and urgency that was evident in Ella’s tone.
“It’s always been you. Always you. Never Chun. I won’t ever wear his ring.”
Chun glanced at the ring that he just placed around her finger, his eyes clouding with doubt.
“But … you’re gone, and he’s here. At least …”
Chun backed up, afraid of what he would hear next. He wanted to go to Ella and shake her awake. He wanted to tell her that Blake had been ready to abandon her. He wanted to demand that she rip Blake from her heart.
“At least, when I’m with him … I can pretend that he’s you. I can see your face. I can love you, through him.”
He fell to his knees, dazed at that final confession. ‘How can you do this to me? How can you treat me like this? You’re supposed to love me, and only me. How can you…?’ He wanted to awaken her and demand … he wanted to demand that she love him.
But what good would that do? What good was love when it was forced? When it was pretend? He couldn’t go back and pretend these words unsaid. He could never make himself forget that he had no place in Ella’s heart; that he was a mere substitute. He clenched his hands into fists, fighting the pain that was welling up inside. Struggling to stand up, he clumsily backed up, blindly finding his way to the bedroom. Reaching the darkness of the room, he closed the door softly behind him.
Ella’s eyes blinked open when she heard the retreating footsteps. Silent tears began to fall from Ella’s eyes, her gaze following Chun’s defeated retreat into his bedroom. She turned her head to gaze down at the silver ring on her finger, only wincing slightly when she heard the gentle thud of the closing door.
‘I told you I didn’t want to get engaged, Chun. Why didn’t you listen?’
Chapter 28: Dealing with the Devil
Twenty-Four Hours Earlier …
“Ella, aren’t you ready yet?” Chun asked through the door. “Selina and Calvin are waiting at the restaurant and demanding to know where we are. I think they have a surprise for us. Between you and me, I think they got married. They did make that trip to Las Vegas last month and they immediately went on a trip after that; that might have been their honeymoon. You know that place is known for their quickie weddings.”
There was no response. Chun knocked once more. “Hebe and Jiro just left. I told them not to wait for us. Ella?”
Ella stared at the cellphone in front of her, her eyes unblinking.
“I think that we should meet, Miss Chen.”
“There is nothing we have to talk about, Mr. Wu.”
“I think there is,” had come the cryptic reply. “When you see what I have in front of me, you’ll thank me for calling you.”
“I could never,” Ella had said through gritted teeth, her mind frantically wondering why Chase Wu had called. “I don’t trust you, Mr. Wu. So why would I give you the opportunity to play with my mind? I know how much you dislike me, and how much you want me out of Chun’s life. Tell me why would I give you that opportunity to destroy our relationship?”
Ella had hung up the phone then, not wanting to hear that cold voice anymore. But … she jumped when the phone rang once more. She stared at the flashing display. It was the same number. He was calling again. What did he want? The ringing stopped. Tears began to fall from her eyes, her lips trembling. This man had a lot of power; a lot of pull. What game was he playing now? What if he took Chun away from her?
The phone began to ring once more; even more insistently. Should she answer? Or should she just go to Chun and let him handle it? Her hands clenched into fists. She could handle this. What made her think that she couldn’t?
Reaching out, she grabbed the cell. “Look! I told you that I don’t want to talk to you,” Ella growled into the phone, feeling empowered. “You have nothing to say that could interest me. I’m going to hang up now and you will not call me again.” She smiled, getting ready to hang up.
“I wouldn’t be so quick to hang up, Miss Chen. Did you know that my son kept a journal?”
Ella stiffened at the question. “Blake? Are you … talking about Blake?”
“He put down all of his thoughts and desires into that little book, and hid them from the world,” Chase Wu continued. “There was no one he felt that he could share his thoughts with. I bet there are things in there that you don’t even know about.”
“If there were things that Blake felt that he could only keep to himself, then I respect his privacy and his right to do so,” Ella responded simply. “I don’t have to know everything about him. All I needed to know is that he loved me more than anyone else in the world.”
“Are you sure?” The question was asked gloatingly.
“What?” Ella swallowed nervously. Her eyes, reflected in the bathroom mirror, revealed her unhappiness. She hated the fact that she was still on the phone with this man.
“Are you sure that you were the one he loved most? What if that just wasn’t true?” The words were hurtful, the tone mocking.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ella finally said. “I don’t care.” She paused for a moment to take a deep breath. “I don’t even know if there is such a journal. I don’t trust you, Mr. Wu. After all you’ve done to your sons, why would anyone in their right minds trust you? How can I believe that you have this journal? How can I believe that Blake wrote anything?”
“I met a girl today. A crazy girl. … She was short, kind of chubby, and messy hair. She was at a coffee shop I frequently go to. When I was walking by her table, she started screaming and waving her arms around. When I was right next to her table, her flailing hand caught her cup and splashed her coffee all over me. It was a good thing it was iced coffee.
The look on her face when she saw what she’d done was … priceless. She was like a guppy … mouth open, eyes round. Why did I feel the urge to reach out and pinch her cheeks? She jumped up and began to apologize. It took me 10 minutes to get her calmed down.
She gave me her card. Her name is Ella…”
“Now, Miss Chen. Do you think that Blake would have shared this with me? Do you think that we have a father-son moment? How else could I know this unless I was reading from his journal?”
Ella stared at her reflection, trying to focus on his words, but the past was crowding out all other thoughts … all other considerations. She didn’t care that Chase Wu was obviously trying to manipulate her. It was Blake’s words.
“The first time I met you? That was at your office building. Remember, I almost fell in front of you? I was such a klutz, but that was entirely your fault. If you hadn’t been so hot and distracting …”
“That wasn’t the first time we met,” Blake had said, smiling secretly.
“I think that I would remember the first time,” Ella had retorted, glaring at Blake with a pout. “You were so gorgeous, and I cannot forget a gorgeous man.”
“What if you didn’t really look at the man in question? What if you were embarrassed out of your cute little mind?”
Ella had tilted her head slightly, her mouth open in surprise and her eyes crinkling in confusion.
“Try to remember. An outburst in a coffee shop. Your iced coffee. Splashing all over a stranger? You bowing and scraping for 10 minutes and then giving this stranger a card for the dry cleaning costs?”
“That was you?” Ella demanded.
Blake nodded, smiling lovingly at her. His hand reached out to smooth over her hair.
“I gave you my card?” Ella asked, tilting her head to the side.
“Why didn’t you call me then?!” she demanded, jumping on him.
“Miss Chen, are you still there?” Chase’s voice demanded over the phone.
Ella nodded, her heart clenching at the thought of reading Blake’s words. It was wrong of her. She was falling in with Chase’s plans, but this chance to get a glimpse of Blake’s thoughts and words … of his thoughts on when he was falling in love with her. It was wrong … but she couldn’t pass this up.
“I’m here …,” she said, clearing her throat. “If I come to see you, will you give me the journal?” Ella demanded, frowning at having to see this man again.
“But that’s just it, Miss Chen. I don’t have the journal. I believe that Chun has the journal now.”
“Why would Chun …” Ella began uncertainly.
“Those journals were here when Blake passed away, I know it, even though I couldn’t get my hands on them. Chun got Blake’s room when he moved in. When Chun left … to be with you … the journals went with him. It seems that, in the end, Chun got everything. His brother’s position in the company. His room. His woman.”
“Chun would not hide anything like this from me!” Ella protested, ignoring Chase Wu’s other words; she felt the sting, but they had no value. But she knew that Chun wouldn’t hide something like this from her. “He wouldn’t.”
“All I know is that the journals are no longer here,” Chase Wu responded. There was a small pause. “And no one but Chun had the chance to remove them.”
Ella’s heart clenched at that revelation. “Why are you telling me all this?” Ella demanded. “What is your game?”
“It’s one last gamble,” he replied honestly… coldly. “I want you out of my son’s life. I’m hoping that whatever you read in that journal will separate you two.”
“Why? What is so bad about me?” Ella asked, a painful constriction making itself known in her throat.
“I don’t think you’re good enough for him. I don’t think he loves you. I think he can do much better. I just don’t like you. Do you need any more reasons?” The words were said clearly and directly, with no effort to soften the blow they dealt Ella. “I saw him writing in that journal on the day he died, Miss Chen.”
Ella froze, her gaze turning inward to all the doubts she had had about Blake’s loyalty. After everything the newspapers had said … after what Chun had said … this would be the way to get rid of her doubts.
“What wouldn’t you give to find out what he was thinking on the day he died?”
Chapter 29: Swallowed in the Sea
11 Hours Earlier …
“I’ll be back this evening,” he spoke into the receiver, adjusting his tie with the other hand. “Ella, promise me something,” he requested hesitantly.
“Hmm?” Ella murmured sleepily, reluctantly opening one bleary eye. She stared questioningly at the cellphone in her hand before putting it back to her ear.
“Wait at my apartment. I wanted to ask you something important today at a special place.”
“Special place?” Ella murmured sleepily.
“But, since you’re not going with me, it’ll have to be when I come home,” he quickly finished, talking over her question.
“What?” she asked, clutching at the cellphone. ‘What do you want to ask me, Chun? What do you want to say? Does it have something to do with Blake?’
“What wouldn’t you give to find out what he was thinking on the day he died?”
Chase Wu’s voice asking that question slammed into her mind with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, making her wince. She shook her head hurriedly, trying to clear it. Because of Chase Wu, she had obsessed more about Blake in the past 12 hours than she had in the past eight months. And her thoughts made her feel like she was betraying Chun. She sighed, and waited anxiously for his answer.
“Just … be here,” he murmured, being irritatingly vague. “I’ll see you when I come home.”
“I’ll be there,” she promised warily. It wasn’t as if she was lying. She just planned on going there to look for Blake’s journal hours earlier than Chun would have expected. She was going to use the key that Chun had given her to find that journal; to get another chance to glimpse that happiness she had once shared with Blake.
‘What is wrong with me? Why can’t I let go of the past?’ There was no answering voice. Nothing that could guide her amidst this renewed turmoil. All thanks to Chase Wu, a man that hated her for no reason that she could ever understand.
Getting up, Ella hurriedly moved toward the bathroom. She didn’t know how long it would take to find that journal. She didn’t know how long it would take to read the journal … to come to terms with what was within those pages. She resolutely ignored the fact that if she found nothing … then she would have betrayed Chun and their relationship for nothing.
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, she stared at her reflection. Her head was aching from an excess of alcohol from the night before. Her eyes were bloodshot from the lack of a good night’s sleep. Her body ached from the tension that had coursed through her body during the long, sleepless night. A part of her had urged her to talk to Chun and tell him everything. But he was the one who had hid Blake’s journal from her from the beginning. She couldn’t risk warning him and have him hide it in a place that she could never find.
She took a deep breath, and firmed her lips. She was doing this. The truth was that she needed to know. If she walked away from this now it would nag at her for the rest of her life. The thought that Blake’s journal might be out there would weigh heavily on her. And it would taint everything else; every aspect of her life and any kind of relationship she would ever have with Chun.
7 Hours Earlier …
Ella groaned in frustration and sat back, staring at the mess around her. She’d looked everywhere. In fact, she’d done nothing but look for hours and she had found nothing! Absolutely nothing!
There was no journal in Chun’s closet. No journal in Chun’s cupboards. No journal in Chun’s bathroom or kitchen drawers. There were no hiding spots in his floorboards. No treasure chests to look through. No mysteriously locked boxes. No secret rooms or cubbies behind moving walls. Nothing.
She slumped forward, resting her aching head in her hands. Her fingers clutched at her hair, pulling at it ruthlessly, trying to get her blood flowing. She needed to think. If she were a secret journal … where would she keep herself? She shook her head at the sheer stupidity of that question, but she was running out of options.
A thought flashed through her mind. Ella stared around the room, thinking feverishly. She’d looked for a secret place, but what if she’d been thinking about this the wrong way? What if, instead of looking for where he could have hid the journal, she should be looking for something that didn’t really belong in this sophisticated, urbane apartment?
Her eyes narrowed on Chun’s Blu-ray collections. At first she went through the outlandish movies, movies that she would never have thought Chun could like. But no, they were all movies. She shook her head, distracted for a moment by the kind of questionable taste he had. Shrugging her shoulders, she quickly flipped through the other Blu-rays, but found nothing.
Ella then moved over to Chun’s CD collection. She quickly pulled out the thicker boxes, hoping that there might be some hint in there. But nope. All CDs.
Her gaze finally landed on Chun’s bookshelves. Her heart sank, seeing the multiple shelves, filled with hundreds of books. This was the only place she hadn’t looked at closely. Really, who would keep a journal with other books, where it could be easily found? She sighed and stared at the shelves. What if she didn’t find it here? She shook her head. She wouldn’t give up until she went through every book on this shelf. It was her only hope. If the journal wasn’t here, then it couldn’t exist.
Sighing, she trudged over to the books and stared at the book spines in front of her. ‘Ella, you can do this. What doesn’t belong?’
There was a shelf dedicated to … architecture.
Another to medical books.
Beautiful art books.
She froze. And children’s books. She narrowed her eyes, and moved closer. The Hardy Boys. They were squeezed in on a shelf between books on the African safari and polar bears. Ten … fifteen of them. Her gaze ran over the bookshelves and her eyes traced the spines of the expensive or new or carefully preserved first-edition books spread out before her. Out of all of those books, these tattered few stood out. They didn’t belong.
Her hands shook, as she slowly reached out and began to pull the books haphazardly from the shelf.
The first one. Not it.
The second. Nope.
The third … fourth … fifth … sixth. Nothing.
And then … her breath came in short gasps. She closed her eyes, before opening them and focusing on the words.
Chun got engaged today. To the woman he has been dating for a year now. Samantha. She’s a teacher. She grew up in the same town as Chun; they’ve known each other forever. They were friends, and suddenly that friendship turned into love. He has stars in his eyes now…
Ella slammed the book shut, almost dropping it in shock.
She’d found it. She halfheartedly rifled through the rest, and her eyes widened and she gasped once more when another Hardy Boy turned out to be another journal.
She sighed, settling back against the wall. Blake’s journals. She’d found them.
5 Hours Earlier …
I’ve lost. Again. But this time, I won’t be the only one who will suffer the consequences. My Ella will suffer right beside me.
I’m going to the reception hall in two hours. I’m going to get engaged to a woman my father has chosen for his heir. She is the polar opposite of my Ella. She lacks the warmth that I found in my Ella’s arms. She will never love me the way Ella loves me. She is exactly like my parents … cold, manipulative, and spoiled. She is used to getting everything in life, and now she’s decided that she wants me.
I will marry her. I will once again follow through on the plans my father has made for me.
I will abandon the only woman I could ever love. I will break her heart, and betray her trust in me.
After all, I made a promise that I can’t break.
I have to protect my brother. I have to protect Chun.
Ella … I’m sorry.
“I want to be happy.”
“I want Ella to be happy.”
“I need Chun to be happy.”
Ella stared at the words on the page, and noticed a wet splotch blurring the text. Her hands flew to her face, and she winced when she realized that her tears had marred Blake’s last words. She winced once more when she thought about what his last words had been. His last choice.
She pulled away from the open journal, the words seared in her mind. Crawling across the room, she curled up in the shadow of the coffee table, folding herself into a fetal position. The truth was in those pages. She hadn’t been first. She hadn’t even been a consideration. Blake had picked Chun. It would have always been Chun.
Tears began to fall rapidly, and the first sound escaped. A heartbroken sob. She trembled as the sobs tore through her slight body, shaking her, just as her belief in Blake had been shaken. She had mourned him almost as long as she had loved him. And now … she had nothing left to hold onto.
Sitting up, she stared at the journals lying open across the room. She had been so relieved when she found them. So happy to read his words and to read about his love for Chun. And then, to read about his love for her. But she’d been second. And being second meant that she had been the loser. Even if Blake had lived, he would not have been by her side. He would’ve left her far behind.
She began to laugh softly, rocking back and forth. The manic laughter became louder and louder, until it seemed to fill every corner of the room and bounce back at her in an eerie echo. She clutched at her head, trying to control herself. The hysteria wouldn’t allow her to breathe … it was constricting her lungs.
Her gaze landed on the journals once more and she froze, the terrifying laughter stopping. She began to breathe, and the tears began to flow once more. She’d mourned a man who hadn’t had the courage to call and end it with her before he got engaged to another woman. She’d loved a man who would have allowed her to find out about his engagement on the news. She fell back to the floor, and closed her eyes, trying to come to terms with this. She’d had so much faith in Blake. And this … this broke her heart all over again.
She stared blankly around Chun’s apartments. She’d found the journals in Chun’s apartment. He’d kept the truth from her. Why? Why? She tried to think but could find no answers. Ella curled up into a ball once more, and squeezed her eyes shut. She didn’t want to think. She didn’t want to feel. All she wanted to do was forget all of this. Just forget.
She was so tired.
Ella opened bleary eyes, and looked around, wondering what had awakened her.
Getting up, she stumbled to her cellphone, lying by those dreaded journals. Resolutely ignoring them, she stared at the screen display.
It was Chase Wu.
She didn’t answer.
The phone began to ring once more, and she flinched with every harsh ring. The ringing stopped. She sighed with relief, but tensed when the cellphone began to ring insistently once more.
Reaching out a shaking hand, she accepted the call.
“What?” she sullenly asked, refusing to give the proper greetings.
“Miss Chen?” His voice cool and confident, as if he already knew that he had won.
“What do you want?” she asked abruptly.
“You sound disgruntled, Miss Chen,” came back the amused reply. “I take it that you’ve had some unsettling news today?”
“I don’t want to talk to you right now,” she retorted furiously. “I don’t want to hear you gloat. I don’t want to hear how happy you were to successfully manipulate your son. I certainly don’t want to hear you trying to manipulate me.”
“Miss Chen … I would never …”
“It doesn’t matter. You might have taken Blake away, but you’re not going to take Chun away from me,” she fairly barked at him. “This journal has nothing to do with our relationship. It has no bearing on what we feel for each other. Chun loves me, and I will not betray his trust any longer by continuing to talk to you behind his back.”
“Do you really believe that?” came back the quick reply.
“What do you mean?” Ella demanded, after a pause.
“Do you really believe that Chun loves you, Miss Chen? Are you sure your relationship has nothing to do with this journal?”
“Why wouldn’t I be sure? He has been by my side all this time. He asked me to marry him. Chun loves me and nothing you say can take that away from me. He chose me, Mr Wu. And you have nothing to hold over his head. Nothing to make him leave me.”
“You found Blake’s journal in Chun’s apartment, right?”
“Yes,” Ella bit out balefully, reluctantly conceding that point.
“Then, we can safely assume that Chun has read these journals,” Chase Wu continued softly. “And if a man like Chun read these journals and found out that his brother had abandoned his own fiancé to safeguard him, how would a man like Chun react?”
“I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” Ella blurted out, silently telling herself to hang up the phone. She knew that she shouldn’t be hearing anymore of this, but her hands wouldn’t cooperate.
“What if this man found out that at the time of said abandonment, this poor, abandoned fiancé was pregnant with his brother’s child? What if he began to think, ‘If it wasn’t for me, then Blake wouldn’t have been on that road in those conditions?‘ What if he began to think that, because of him, this poor woman had lost not only her love but her child? How would that make a man like Chun feel?”
“I…” Ella couldn’t find the words to shut this man up. “Don’t…”
“Don’t you think there may be a possibility that he feels a little sorry for you? That he regrets that he was the cause of all of your pain? That he regrets the fact that he was the reason that Blake was out on that road?”
“Chun would never tell me he loves just because of that!” Ella protested vehemently. “He’s too honest.”
“Maybe he tried to tell you the truth about Blake’s behavior, but he couldn’t because of the condition you were in. Maybe he wanted to atone. Maybe … making you happy is his way of atoning. But forgetting all of that, tell me, why did he feel the need to hide this from you?”
Ella struggled to breathe, but the pain wouldn’t let her. Ella stared at the journals once more, that newer, deeper pain spreading to every centimeter of her being. Would Chun be capable of “loving her” because he felt responsible? Because she was some pathetic, little woman that needed to be saved from her grief? Because he felt guilty?
“Miss Chen? Miss Chen? Are you still there?” Chase Wu’s voice came over the line.
“I think you know what you have to do,” he suddenly said, his tone gracious in victory.
Ella fired up at that. “What I do from here on out is none of your concern, Mr. Wu. Don’t call me again,” Ella said firmly, before hanging up. She quickly turned the phone off, not wanting to hear the incessant ringing when Chase Wu invariably called again.
She stared at the mess around her. A day ago she’d had no doubts about her love. When Chase Wu had called, she’d wanted to find Blake’s journal, but … she’d never thought that successfully finding those journals would mean the end of any hope she might have had with Chun.
Did Chun love her? Her thoughts flashed back to the night he had come to her house and found her drunk and mourning her baby’s loss. He’d stayed the night and taken her on a trip with him, rather than leaving her alone. Was that when he had begun to feel that he had to take care of her? Was that when he had decided to sacrifice himself because of what Blake had done in the past? Was that why he had tried to ask her to marry him, going so far as to mimic the exact scene of Blake’s proposal? Maybe there were other journals that she didn’t even know about.
She clenched her fingers when they began to tremble. What was she going to do? What could she do? Her lips began to tremble, a sob welling up.
Her eyes widened when they landed on the clock. Chun would be home in an hour and a half. She needed to clean up. She needed to put everything back in its proper place.
What was she going to do?
Ella stared at the mess around her. She was the one that had come into Chun’s apartment and made this mess. She quickly wiped away the tears that had welled up anew in her eyes. She was the one that had come into Chun’s life and made this mess with her never-ending grief.
Her shoulders slumped in defeat.
Chun didn’t deserve this. He probably didn’t love her. This was atonement for his brother’s sins. And how did she know? It had been six months, and he hadn’t asked her to marry him again.
Staring at the mess, she straightened her shoulders and took a deep, fortifying breath. She knew exactly what she had to do.
Chapter 30: I Need Another Story
Ella gazed at the ring on her finger, as the tears pooled in her eyes and slowly trickled down her cheeks. Sitting up, she turned to stare at the closed door.
Her first instinct, after reading those journals, had been to run away. Chase Wu had almost succeeded in tainting the love she felt for Chun.
His words had made her doubt. She’d doubted Chun’s love, his constant support, and his friendship. She had doubted everything he had done since entering her life. Chun’s presence, once she’d accepted him, had soothed the part of her that had been hurting for so many years. Being around him brought her peace, and Chase Wu had stolen that peace from her. She’d wanted to escape from the man that had beguiled her into dreaming once more. She had wanted to go somewhere far away, where there would be no memories of Blake or Chun.
But if she left, she would have had to learn how to live without Chun. And losing Chun … the thought of losing Chun had crippled her. No matter how hard she’d tried, she couldn’t make herself move. She couldn’t make herself get up and walk out that door for the last time. She knew that if she walked through those doors, she would never have the courage to return. It was at that moment … when her hands had tightened around the journals and her legs had refused to function and support her weight … it was then that she’d fully come to realize how important Chun had become to her.
Losing Blake had broken her for a while, but losing Chun would kill her. Her future would have been bleak and hopeless without Chun in her life. He had brought the color back into her life. He made her complete. It was a picture of that darkness that had given her the courage to stay and find out.
But there was still this matter of Blake’s journals between them. Blake may have chosen him in the end, but that was in no way Chun’s fault. He didn’t deserve any of the blame in this. Blake had chosen Chun, and that stung a little, but nowhere close to how much it would hurt if she lost Chun because of this.
Merely asking Chun wouldn’t work. If Chun felt guilty about Blake’s decision, and he wanted to atone, merely asking for the truth would only get her reassurances that of course he loved her. His sincere desire to take care of her could easily be mistaken for the sincere love she desperately wanted to see in his eyes.
In the last half hour before he had come home, Ella had concocted a desperate scheme to get Chun to react. She knew it was half-baked, but it was all she could come up with when she’d heard his footsteps hurrying down the hallway and heard the key in the lock.
“Blake. Blake, don’t be like that. Please. I love you. I will always love you. It’s always been you. Always you. Never Chun. I won’t ever wear his ring. But … you’re gone, and he’s here. At least … At least, when I’m with him … I can pretend that he’s you. I can see your face. I can love you, through him.”
Ella ran a hand roughly through her hair, and stared at the closed bedroom door, thinking furiously. A part of her had begun to wonder … if Chun really loved her, wouldn’t he have said something?
‘Wouldn’t he have woken me up to demand answers if he cared? A man who loves you, the way Chun says that he does, would have demanded that you love him and only him. He would demand that you get rid of anyone else you might have in your heart. He would have the right to do so. But, Chun just walked away. Does this mean that you don’t really love me?’ she silently asked the closed door. She shook her head, trying to get rid of those dark thoughts. ‘You’re not going to think that way,’ she silently ordered herself. ‘You will not think that way unless you have undeniable proof. Maybe he …’ she couldn’t think of any other reason for his silence. But she wouldn’t leave. She would stay and find out what Chun really felt. She needed to give him time to process this.
She stared at the simple yet elegant ring on her finger. Her heart melted at the sight of it. If this ring represented Chun’s love, she would cherish it for all of her life. Raising her hand to her lips, she placed a loving kiss against the warm metal. It would never leave her finger, and nothing Chase Wu could do would tear them apart. If Chun truly loved her. But, if it only represented his way of minimizing his guilt, she would have to walk away … no matter how much she wanted to stay by his side.
Ella woke up to the clanking of dishes in the kitchen. She sat up in the early morning light, her gaze moving around the empty living room. Chun’s bedroom door was open. That explained the noise coming from the kitchen. Her eyes landed on the clock, and her eyes widened in surprise. What was Chun doing up at 5:00 A.M.?
Getting up, she walked to the kitchen and peeked inside. She took in the mess he had made; the countertops were covered with grease splatters, egg shells, and lots of powder. She sniffed the air and realized that something had burnt. Chun was cooking for her? Chun had never cooked for her.
“What are you doing?” she asked, traipsing in. She smiled at him when he looked over his shoulder.
“I’m making breakfast for my favorite person,” Chun said with a sweet smile, before turning back to the eggs on the stove. Ella’s eyes widened. He’d looked so tired, his eyes red; there were bags under his eyes. Ella waited for a beat, but Chun didn’t turn around. She cleared her throat, and stared down at the ring, lightly caressing it.
“Why didn’t you wake me up last night?” she suddenly asked, staring at his strong back. “I heard your voice mail, and you said that you really wanted to see me. Yesterday morning you said that you wanted to ask me something, but last night you just walked by me? You just left me sleeping on the couch? You didn’t even cover me with a blanket?”
Chun stiffened for a moment. Ella could see that small pause. If she hadn’t been looking closely, she wouldn’t have caught it.
“It was nothing important,” Chun muttered, turning to smile at her. He didn’t meet her gaze, staring at a point to the right of her.
“Nothing important?” Ella whispered, biting her bottom lip. “What about this?” she asked defiantly, holding up her hand. “This ring that you put on my finger last night. I wake up and you weren’t there, but this ring was on my finger. Doesn’t it mean anything?”
Chun stared at the ring for a moment, and then turned away. “I want you to marry me,” he said, facing the stove. She heard the click, as he turned off the fire.
“And … that’s how you’re asking me?” Ella asked softly, a lump forming in her throat. She could feel the distance growing between them.
“I’m not asking you,” Chun muttered. “I’m not giving you a choice. The last time I asked you, you had a panic attack, remember?” he remarked darkly. “I bypassed that this time. Don’t worry. The ring means we’re getting married.”
“But … but aren’t you going to say anything to make this moment special? Don’t you want to say that you love me and want us to be together forever?”
Chun was silent. Ella ached to see his face, but he wouldn’t turn around. He wouldn’t look into her eyes.
“Chun?” she whispered into the continuing silence. “Say something.”
“I don’t think that there is anything left to say.”
“Nothing that is important right now.”
“What is wrong with you?!” Ella demanded in a whisper, her heart breaking. She sniffled, trying to keep back the tears that had formed in her eyes.
Chun turned to stare at her, his eyes widening in surprise. “What’s wrong?”
Ella stared at him, shaking her head. She’d had such faith that Chun would react in the way she wanted and hoped for. She had dreamt that she’d wake up this morning and everything would work out. He would demand that she love him and only him and she would promise it. She hadn’t expected the silence. And for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what that silence meant. Guessing that the silence was proof of his guilt only hurt her more.
“Did I do something?” he finally asked, staring into her hurt eyes. She saw a hardness in his gaze that hadn’t been there before.
A part of her just wanted to leave. She wanted to walk away from the pain that she knew was coming. But walking away meant giving up on Chun, and she wasn’t ready to give him up without one final say. “It’s what you didn’t do,” she whispered. Her lips began to tremble, and she quickly looked away, not wanting him to witness her pain.
Chun moved toward her, and reached out a tentative hand. Ella felt him nearing, his warmth reaching out to embrace her cold body. She moved away, rejecting his touch … rejecting him. “Don’t touch me.”
He stepped back, his lips forming a grim line. “What is wrong with you?” he demanded, revealing his growing anger. “Why are you acting like this?”
“I … you can’t even say the words, can you?” she finally got out. Her lips trembled slightly, and she quickly trapped her bottom lip between her teeth, stilling that betraying act. “I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times you’ve told me that you love me.” She turned back to stare at him, her head tilted to the side. “Don’t you want to say it again? Don’t you want to say it right now?” she practically begged.
Chun’s lips tightened and he shook his head. “No.” He took a deep breath, and his voice shook slightly as he repeated, “No.”
“I can’t do this,” Ella muttered, backing away. “I can’t do this. I can’t be with you. Not when you …”
“No!” Chun barked at her.
Ella looked at him, startled by the anger in his voice.
“No! You are not going to say that you can’t be with me because I’m not Blake. You don’t get to compare me to Blake again!”
“Why shouldn’t I say it?” Ella shouted back, her hurt transforming into a dark fury in one fell swoop. “Why wouldn’t I say it? At least he loved me!”
“I love you!” Chun shouted back. He moved forward, and grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her slightly. “What do you think the last few months of silence and restraint have been about? Not pressuring you? Not telling you how much I love you? Not asking you to marry me? Not saying anything when you mumble his name in your sleep … at the beach … in my apartment, while you’re waiting for me. When you tell him that you love him and only him? When you call me the substitute? What do you think my silence has been about?! I love you, Ella Chen!”
Ella began to smile softly, her heart lifting at the emotion she heard in his voice. His shoulders slumped in defeat and he moved away.
“But you don’t love me.”
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