Do You . . .
Jing stood quietly at the doors of the church.
It was the same church
. . . . the one that Lei had invited her to so long ago.
. . . . the one in which Dao Ming Si and San Chai had gotten married.
. . . . the one where she had met Lei once more.
And they were here again today.
It was the most important day of her life, and she didn’t even know whether she was ready.
“The bride is so beautiful,” she heard a woman whispering in the background.
“She’s absolutely glowing,” another woman whispered back. “Do you think she’s pregnant,” the woman continued in a shocked whisper.
Jing winced at the words. Lei wouldn’t want that rumor getting out, even if it was all lies.
Tuning out the gossiping women in the background, Jing turned her attention once more to the decorated church.
Everything was so beautiful, Jing saw, as she peeked in.
Tulips and lavender roses covered every inch of the church . . . her favorite flowers.
And candles gave the room an intensely romantic glow.
Everything was exactly as she had pictured it . . . exactly as she would have wanted it.
Lei stood ready at the altar. Dao Ming Si and Ximen stood next to him as his groomsmen. Ah Si had an almost ridiculous look of serious concentration on his face. Jing knew that Ah Si had been chosen as the best man and he was trying to take his duty with the utmost seriousness.
Ximen stood quietly, staring . . . at Xiao You. Although they had married six months ago, they hadn’t had time to be really together. The fall out from Ximen’s father’s death had created a furor in the marketplace. The poor couple hadn’t even had time to go on a honeymoon. Jing didn’t envy them their life in a fishbowl.
But . . . they had each other.
And then . . .
The organ began to play the wedding march. Jing’s eyes turned to look at Mei Zhuo pounding away with joyous abandon, accompanied by Xiao Qiao. He looked so happy for his brother.
Someone silently passed by, and Jing turned to look.
The bridesmaids in lavender glided past on their way to the altar, to announce the impending arrival of the bride.
Jing took a deep breath.
And then it was the bride’s turn.
. . . . . . . . .
Jing stared at Lei. Marveling at how he had matured over the past few years. He was as handsome as ever, but there was something missing.
She wished she could stop the ceremony to ask him what was wrong.
But it wasn’t the right time.
It seemed like it never was.
The minister droned on in the background as she gazed helplessly at his serious face.
Finally, the moment of decision was here.
“Do you, Hua Ze Lei, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
Jing’s eyes traced his features as he confidently replied, “I do.”
The minister turned.
“And do you Nakagawa Maya take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
Those words pulled Jing out of her reverie.
It had all been a dream. It wasn’t her wedding.
None of it was real. None of it could be real.
The voice speaking those words wasn’t hers.
She wasn’t standing at the altar.
Lei hadn’t become her husband . . .
He had irrevocably become another’s.
It was over.
There was no more hope . . . not that she had much hope anyways.
She didn’t want to think about the reasons that had brought her here today. It was too late.
And the promises that she had made . . . now broken . . . broke her heart.
She had no excuse.
It was just too late.
She quietly turned to go.
Somehow . . . somehow he felt her presence.
Tearing his eyes away from his smiling bride, Lei turned to look at the church doors.
Jing turned for a final look . . .
And their eyes met, as the congregation arose to greet the now wedded couple.
Lei looked at Jing, surprised and curious. Something was different about her. She wasn’t the same Jing that he had known before.
Jing quietly nodded her congratulations.
She had finally come to the church that he had invited her to that day. He had invited her today as well . . . only it was to his wedding to another woman.
She lifted a final hand in farewell. She didn’t belong here anymore.
She had lost F4 the day San Chai came into their lives as their weed princess.
She had later lost Lei to that same weed princess.
But there was no bitterness.
There was no reason to stay.
Lei was truly in the past now.
. . . . . . . . .
And she would learn to live without him.
Lei quietly sat in the now silent living room.
His eyes watched Rui playing with Kenny, and his jaw clenched.
He looked at the paper that had been in his hands, crumpled, for the past hour.
He opened it once more to read.
I’m leaving . . . you know why. I’ve waited too long for the day . . . that you would turn to me, and call me your own. You never did. I don’t know why you agreed to marry me. It wasn’t love. You told me that. I don’t know why I kept hoping for something more.
Our marriage lasted for four years; that’s more than most, right? I won’t fight you for Rui. He loves you too much . . . and I know that you at least love him. I know that I am being selfish, leaving you like this, but I wouldn’t so selfish as to take away the only person you love in this world.
Find the one you can truly love. It’s too lonely a world to live in without love. I know . . . from personal experience.
His hand crushed the paper once more.
Meeting the Past
Jing stood outside, after hours of endless meetings and felt that she had escaped a dark and dank prison. The air had been stifling in that study, and, as the hours had crawled by, the urge to escape had grown until it could no longer be ignored.
She had asked the lawyers to leave, and after taking care of some other matters, had run out into the waiting sunlight.
It was amazing how good the sun could feel.
The sun, shining over Taiwan.
It had been so long since she had returned home, and somehow it felt as if she had never been away.
So much time had passed.
So many decisions had been made.
She had changed.
She was sure that all those she had left behind had changed.
But right now . . .
Standing in the sunlight, enjoying its warmth on her upturned face, it was as if she was that same child she had been so long ago.
A child who had only needed to worry about herself, her friends, and the next day.
The future had never played a big part in her consciousness.
Now it was all that she could think about.
Without conscious thought her feet began taking her to an old place.
And with that journey came the memories of a past she had long striven to forget.
Jing slowly walked into the park, the cries of a lost soul tugging at her heart. She didn’t know who it was, but she knew that she couldn’t leave without offering some sort of comfort.
Her hands clenched as she saw the small figure curled in on itself, letting loose a string of anguished sobs.
The sobs turned to sniffles.
And then there was only silence.
But Jing knew that he was still crying. The way he held himself revealed the anguish this boy was going through.
Jing quietly moved over to where he sat, and then sat down beside him.
The boy stiffened.
“Are you okay?” she finally asked.
He remained silent.
Jing softly nudged him, urging him to answer, while simultaneously comforting him with her touch.
“Your parents . . . your mom must be very worried about you,” Jing urged, stretching out her hand to grab hold of his.
His hand was very cold.
Who knew how long he had been out here?
“I don’t have a mommy,” he finally muttered softly.
Jing blinked back tears at the pain evident in the young tone.
“Mommy left us,” he continued softly, his fingers clutching at Jing’s hand. “Daddy . . . daddy sent her away.”
“But what are you doing here?” Jing asked.
“Dad-daddy doesn’t like to see me cry,” he finally admitted.
Jing nodded in understanding, knowing that this young child had escaped from the pain at home. This park had been his place of solitude, a place where he could shed his tears without worrying about anyone witnessing his shame.
Jing leaned over to hug his small body, and he slowly relaxed against her.
And then the dam broke.
His body began to shake as the tears flowed out once more.
Jing let him cry, trying to draw out all of his grief.
His arms came up to wrap around her, as he began to loudly sob. His face buried itself in her body, trying to get comfort.
“Daddy doesn’t love me,” he mumbled into her body.
“Don’t say that. All daddies love their children. Maybe . . . maybe he just doesn’t know how to show it,” she explained.
“Daddy doesn’t love me,” he insisted. “He won’t bring mommy back. I asked him to.”
Jing was silent.
She knew nothing she could say would be of any comfort to the whimpering child.
All he needed was for her to listen.
There was only silence.
The boy quieted down once more.
“I’m sure your daddy is worrying about you right now. What’s your name? Maybe we can find him,” she finally said, nudging the young boy.
Jing froze, and then turned to the direction from where the voice had come.
A hand came out to nudge her face back into the child’s direction.
“My name is Hua Ze Rui, and that’s my daddy,” Rui said.
Jing stared down into his eyes for the very first time.
If she had seen them sooner . . . if only she had seen them sooner, she would have been prepared for this shock.
She rose, and helped Rui up, unconsciously straightening his clothes before turning to fix her own appearance.
They both turned to await Rui’s father’s arrival.
The figure froze a few yards away.
“Jing?” Lei’s voice asked in astonishment.
Jing quickly nodded.
She smiled, and then shrugged.
“Hello, Lei. I’m back.”
Jing quietly walked besides a silent Lei.
They were making their way back to her home, after having returned Rui to his grateful nanny.
That small distance between their homes and the park used to be a blessing in the past.
Right now it was only a curse.
She did not want to be here.
To be with this man.
He was somebody’s husband, but that thought didn’t help at all.
She glanced at his face.
He had changed.
The last time she had seen him he had only been a boy. Even on his wedding day.
But today, today he looked like a man. His face finally reflected the maturity that he was well known for.
Lei glanced at her questioningly.
“Nothing,” Jing quickly said. “I was just noticing how much you’ve changed.”
“Are you saying that I’ve grown old?” Lei asked smilingly.
“Of course not,” Jing protested laughingly. “You could never look old, Lei. Just . . . mature.”
“You haven’t changed,” Lei finally said. “You’re still the same Jing you were five years ago.”
“Really?” Jing asked in astonishment. “I haven’t changed at all?”
“No,” he softly replied.
There was a stark silence.
“What are you doing back here?” he asked abruptly, breaking the unnatural silence.
“You know that my parents passed away, right?” Jing asked.
“I do. I’m sorry about that, but I wouldn’t think that your estrangement would have let you return.”
“Lei . . .,” Jing sighed. “They were my parents. I still loved them, even if they did never forgive my decisions. They never understood that. They never understood me. But that didn’t mean I didn’t love them. And . . . and that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel their loss.”
Lei quietly nodded, his eyes refusing to meet hers.
That was the one thing that had always frustrated her about Lei. While he could be so intuitive and so understanding of other people’s needs and foibles, he had never understood what she needed and wanted.
He had never . . . made the effort.
The past was the past and there was no use dredging it all up now.
“They never changed their will. And I am their sole heir. The thought of the havoc my refusal to inherit could cause forced me to come back. I don’t want their business assets to be frozen, because that would put their employees’ livelihoods in jeopardy. I don’t want that on my shoulders,” she admitted.
“I understood that might have been problem, but I am still surprised that you returned. You weren’t at their funeral.”
“Yeah, stuff came up. There was an unavoidable emergency,” Jing explained.
“And what was the emergency?” Lei queried.
“Mom!!” a voice stridently cried out in the background, demanding to be noticed.
Both figures turned to look at the young child standing in the doorway.
Lei’s eyes widened as they saw Jing’s features in a miniaturized, yet masculine, face. He turned to look at Jing in surprise, his eyes asking a question he never thought his lips would ever need to ask.
“That was my emergency.”
An Unwelcome Surprise?
Hua Ze Lei sat in his study, his eyes gazing off far into the distance. It had been almost a year since Maya’s departure.
Rui was 3 and ½ years old now, and was constantly asking for his mother. But he had stopped crying constantly.
He didn’t know what to tell Rui.
He didn’t know how to comfort his own son.
How could you tell a child that his mother might never come back because of his father?
So . . . he had kept silent.
F3 and their better halves would’ve said that he had become even more of a recluse since Maya had left.
They had all tried to bring him out of his grief.
But they just didn’t understand.
Mei Zhou had dragged him to the gym.
“Men bond together when they’re working out and sweating together,” he had insisted.
Lei sighed, looking at the splinted fingers on his left hand.
That hadn’t been a good idea.
Ximen had taken him to a quarry. It seemed that Ximen had worked in a place like that when he had amnesia.
Ximen had insisted there was nothing better than working with your hands and sweating under the hot sun.
“This kind of hard work and environment helps men to bond together. You need that right now. It helps a man to think and discover where he is mentally and emotionally. Besides you wouldn’t find this experience in an artificial setting like a gym,” Ximen had insisted.
Lei sighed, staring at the splinted fingers on his right hand.
Had they really thought that he could work with rocks with one hand out of commission?
That hadn’t been a good idea either.
San Chai and Dao Ming Si had come next.
Dao Ming Si wanted to give him a cooking lesson.
“There is nothing like the feeling of cooking the best tasting eggs on this side of the world. And then feeding them to the one you love is the most delightful feeling in the world,” he stated, urging Lei to give in.
Lei had to gently remind Ah Si that he had learned to cook the most scrumptious dishes from the best chefs in all of Taiwan.
But the truth was that he had never put that talent to use. He had wanted to learn for Jing, and she had left his life and his heart long before he had perfected his cooking techniques.
His talent was probably greater than Ah Si’s in the area of cooking.
San Chai had then told Ah Si to shut up about the loved ones because Lei’s lack of one was so obviously the reason that they were here today.
San Chai had then seen the state of his hands.
She had exploded.
“I told those two little pigheads to bond with you!!! To see where you were at mentally and emotionally! Not to break your fingers!!! I’m going to get them,” she muttered angrily, leaving the two men to stare after her in silence.
Lei had to explain to Ah Si that his tiny wife was off to do some serious damage to Ximen and Mei Zhou for hurting her precious Lei.
“Ei, Lei, you’re not her precious anything. She calls me her precious,” Dao Ming Si had blushingly muttered, shaking a fist at his friend.
He then ran after San Chai.
“Ei, you stupid woman! I only have three friends in the world, and you CANNOT kill the two active ones. Lei sleeps 15 hours, and you know he’s no fun because he’s either sleeping or sleepy.”
Xiao Qiao had come after. She had taken one look at his hands, and sheepishly explained her plans to play a few duets with him and his violin.
The next moment little Mei Zhou junior had called for his mommy, and Mei Zhou Sr. was insisting that his wife return home to protect him from San Chai’s wrath.
Finally, Xiao You had come.
The only one of the group that had actually understood a little bit of what was happening in Lei’s mind.
“You don’t have to hide yourself from the world, Lei,” she had gently stated.
Her voice broke through the silence that had fallen over them in the past hour.
Lei looked at her questioningly.
“Whatever you’re feeling right now . . .whatever it is . . . you can tell us. We wouldn’t condemn you for your feelings,” she continued.
Lei looked away.
Xiao You patted his hand and got up to leave.
“Don’t get so wrapped up in your guilt over what you’re feeling and over what has happened that you forget Rui. He needs you right now.”
Leaving behind words that tore at him in the silence.
Xiao You understood that it may not be just grief keeping him locked away.
Yes, Maya had left.
His wife had left him.
He had believed that their lives were moving along smoothly, but Maya had always needed something from him that he couldn’t give.
He thought back to their wedding day, and all he could remember was the desire to finish the ceremony and move on.
Their union was based on business mergers and acquisitions, and he had never ever contemplated the need to make it anything more than the friendly tandem that their relationship had very quickly fallen into.
He had never loved her.
And she needed love.
It didn’t have to be his.
In the end, she had been the brave one. She found someone who could give her the love she needed.
She had left.
He didn’t feel grief.
More than anything, there was relief. It was as if he no longer had to pretend to the world (which wasn’t hard) and to his friends (which was much, much harder) that theirs was a love match.
And behind it all, buried in the corners of his mind, was envy.
Envy that she had found her true love when he hadn’t. Envy over the fact that she would live happily, while he could only ever hope only to be content.
And that relief and envy brought on its own guilt. Guilt because he had no right to these feelings. And that guilt kept him away from his friends.
That guilt kept him away from his son. How could he tell him the truth?
The door suddenly burst open.
“Hua Ze Lei, Master Rui has gone missing!” Nanny exclaimed, wringing her hands with worry. “I’ve checked the grounds and the house but he is nowhere to be found! All we know is that he has not left through the front gates.”
Lei looked at his old Nanny . . . now his son’s nurturer . . . and realized that Rui had a lot more in common with him than just this nanny.
“I know where he is,” Lei assured the worried woman, and went to the one place where he knew that Rui would feel safe. The one place that he had showed Rui a while ago.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
He had found Rui.
He had found Jing.
He had hid his hands behind his back, not wanting her to witness his clumsiness.
For a moment his mind was at peace. It was uneasy. It was awkward. But there was peace.
But then . . . .
He had found Jing’s son . . . the son she had had with another man.
And for a moment . . . a small, millisecond of a moment . . . a thought had raced through his mind.
“He should’ve been my child.”
. . . . . . . . .
But that wasn’t a possibility.
Hua Ze Lei stood at the school gates, his eyes taking in the buildings standing high in front of him.
It had been years since he had been here, and never for a moment had he thought that he would come back. But now that he was here, it felt as if he had never left.
For a moment he felt exactly the same as that scared 5 year old that he had been when his own mother had disappeared from his life. He had been trapped in his own world of grief, and nothing could bring him out of that stupor.
Not even the three constant irritations, also known as Ah Si, Mei Zhou, and Ximen.
And then she had come.
And his world had changed.
As he stood here, intending to attend the talent show that the prestigious elementary school had set up for all the rich little darlings to showcase their mostly nonexistent talents, he felt trapped once more.
He didn’t want to be the frozen, icy, distant father that his own had become upon his mother’s death.
But he had forgotten how to reach out to his own son.
At certain times, in the middle of the night, he feared that he had never known how to reach his son.
And that thought frightened him most of all.
He was alone today, because only Rui came here. But he knew that soon . . . soon F4 Generation Next, as Ah Si insisted on calling them, would join his own son. It was just Rui’s bad luck that he was the oldest, thereby being the only one, attending the school at the moment.
Lei’s eyes traveled over the crowd as he entered the school’s common area, which was dressed up for the occasion to let the parents know that the exorbitant fees they paid for their children to attend such an establishment were well spent.
His eyes chanced upon a child standing quietly in the chaos. In a crowd where kids were running around like dizzy birds, flocking around their parents and nannies, the child’s stillness seemed unnatural.
And then that unnatural stillness disappeared . . . that quiet face broke out into a happy grin, and he suddenly began to run like another dizzy bird.
Without a thought to coordination.
Without a second glance to where his feet might lead him. The child was intent only on his destination.
And as was wont to happen, he bumped into the almost stranger he had not seen in his headlong rush.
He bumped into Lei.
Lei gently picked him, and brushed him down.
“Are you okay?” he asked quietly.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
It was Jing’s son.
Lei realized that he didn’t even know his name.
“Hi! You’re the man who was talking to my mommy,” the boy uttered excitedly.
Lei nodded quietly.
“My name is Hua Ze Lei. And you are?” he gently probed.
“Min!” the boy murmured distractedly. “Mommy!!” he shouted in glee turning away from Lei.
“Min. How’s my little boy?” Jing asked.
She knelt down to hug the boy. In his excitement, Min toppled her over, carrying her to the ground. The two collapsed, laughing, as Min continued to hug his mother.
Jing laughed joyfully, and hugged him tighter. Suddenly her son was pulled from her arms, and a hand came near to assist her. Jing looked up, and smilingly took his hand.
As soon as she was up, she let him go.
And turned to Min.
Her hands cradled his smilingly face, and lovingly kissed him on the forehead, before she knelt down again to wipe the dust from his knees.
“Did you miss your mommy, my little man?” she murmured, her hands coming up to smooth his hair back. “See, I promised you that I would be here. And I kept my promise. Now, what does that mean?” she asked sternly.
“I’ll be good and be in the stupid play,” Min muttered balefully.
“Good boy. We’ll go for a treat afterwards, okay?” Jing promised.
“Jing,” Lei said, trying to capture her attention. As he watched her interacting with her son, he saw a new Jing. He had seen a woman that he had never seen before. One that he had never expected to see.
Jing had been a savior. The one who had dragged him out of his grief.
Jing had been a princess. One who needed to be worshipped.
Jing had been a crush. The one that had infatuated him.
Jing had been a heartless deserter. The one that had left him to wait 24 hours in a church.
Jing was a mother. The one that was the most beautiful of all.
And that thought sent fear coursing through Lei’s body. He did not want to find anything of interest in a woman that he had rejected so long ago.
“Lei. What are you doing here?” she asked finally, turning her attention away from her son.
“Rui.” The one word answer explained it all.
“Well, Min. This rascal is the star of his play. And can you believe that he didn’t want to participate because he thought that it would be too embarrassing,” Jing bragged unrepentantly, hugging her child close.
“Where’s Rui?” she asked, turning to look at him.
Lei pointed to the preschool class, getting ready for their singing performance. They would be the first up once the talent show began.
Jing moved over to the group of little kids.
Rui’s eyes widened when he saw her approaching. He ran over, ignoring everything else.
And for a moment, Lei saw his own son acting like a dizzy bird. He hadn’t seen that sight since his wife had left.
Nanny instinctively moved to stop Rui’s headlong rush, and then sighed quietly when she saw the reason of his excitement. She wouldn’t begrudge the boy a mother’s love. Even if the lady wasn’t his own mother.
Jing’s arms opened wide just as Rui launched his little body at her warm body.
She picked him up, twirling him around, and then kissed his forehead. Just as she had kissed Min a moment ago. Lei glanced down at Min, standing next to him. To his surprise there were no pouts, there was no sulking. Min merely looked interested.
Rui’s hands clutched at Jing, wanting to keep her closer for a little while. For some reason she reminded him of his mommy, and he didn’t want to let go.
Jing gently disengaged herself, and brought him over to Lei and Min.
“Min, this is Rui. Rui is Uncle Lei’s son,” Jing explained.
“Rui, this is Min. He’s my son. Now I want you two to be close friends, ok? Like your daddy and me,” Jing said, hugging the two boys.
The boys agreed, shaking hands under Jing’s motherly eyes, wanting to please her.
Lei stared at the woman sitting next to him in the now silent audience. She had changed, and the changes had blindsided him.
The play started. The performances were . . . the best kindergarten age kids could do. And mercifully, the play was short.
As the curtains closed, and then opened for the kids to take a bow, the polite applause began to come from the audience.
And then . . . . .
“Min!!!! Wooooo!!!” a lone voice began to shout, unabashedly encouraging her son.
Lei was jolted out of the trance he had fallen into.
Heads were turning.
People had begun to talk.
“Jing! Sit down,” he ordered, pulling her down.
As soon as he pulled his hand away, she sprang back up.
And if that wasn’t enough . . . . .
The whole thing started over again when Rui’s performance ended.
That caused even more of an uproar. People talked about the strange lady that was cheering for the Hua Ze heir and about her motives in doing so.
Most people hadn’t realized that it was the Teng Tang heiress behaving so brashly.
Her behavior only drove home the point that she had changed. She was no longer the Jing he had known, and he was surprised that he hadn’t noticed immediately.
He ignored the fact that he might have deliberately closed his eyes to such changes, choosing to remain ignorant so that his heart could remain unaffected.
At the end of the talent show, as the silence once again transformed into chaos as bored, impatient parents and nannies looked for their heirs and charges, Lei asked the question that had bothered him since the moment he had laid eyes on Min.
“Who is his father? Where’s his father?”
Jing froze, and then turned to stare at him.
“I don’t think that is any of your business.” She turned away. “Besides, I thought you didn’t care about other people’s business?
“You’re not just anyone. You’re a friend,” he asserted.
“Really? You claim me as a friend when we haven’t spoken for more than five years?” she asked incredulously.
“Jing,” he said intently, reaching out to grab her hand. “I have to know.”
She angrily pulled away, and once again turned away.
“Jing,” Lei protested.
She angrily turned back.
“He’s not in our lives. He never was. And he never will be. Not if I have anything to say about it. He was a bastard that used my body and acted as if nothing had happened the next day. Is there anything else you’d like to know?” she asked sarcastically.
There was a frozen silence between the two, as she glared accusingly into his impassive eyes. Lei turned away, trying to hide the pity that had suddenly welled up inside of him.
Rui and Min walked over, their hands held lovingly by Rui’s doting nanny.
Jing grabbed Min’s hand, and, with a final glance at Lei, turned away in frustration.
“Jing Jie!” a loud voice intruded into their private world.
It was San Chai and Dao Ming Si, with their two children held in their arms.
San Chai’s eyes widened when she saw the scene in front of her eyes.
All holding hands.
And looking remarkably like a family.
San Chai’s eyes brightened as thoughts began to race through her mind.