IFLT 06 – 10

Chapter 6

Dinner Parties

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

I woke up this morning
With this feeling inside me that I can’t explain
Like a weight that I’ve carried
Been carried away, away

But I know something is coming
I don’t know what it is
But I know it’s amazing, you save me
My time is coming
And I’ll find my way out of this long drought

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Jing walked into the Dao Ming Mansion, her eyes noting the changes that San Chai had wrought in the years since her marriage.

She had to say she approved. Dao Ming Si’s mother had not had the capability to make it as warm and inviting as San Chai had. It was now a place that people, other than F4, would want to be.

Entering the living room, Jing’s eyes widened when she realized that the big party she had expected was really a small, intimate dinner. The kind of dinner where you actually had to hold meaningful conversations with your dinner partners.

With her luck, she would have to hold meaningful conversations with the one person she wanted to stay far, far away from.

There was San Chai and Dao Ming Si in one corner.

They were standing next to Ximen and Xiao You.

Mei Zhou and Xiao Qiao sat in another corner, chatting with Mimi and Ching He.

And then . . . there was Lei in the 3rd corner . . . staring at her.

Jing’s eyes quickly turned away. “Why had she agreed to this party?” She silently wondered to herself.

Right. Because San Chai had lied. San Chai had promised a big party . . . and anonymity. The intimate atmosphere wouldn’t allow any of that.

Jing went to San Chai.

“Jing Jie, you’re here. How are you?” San Chai asked smilingly.

“I’m good, San Chai. I thought that this was a big anniversary party for the Dao Ming couple,” Jing said, handing over a gift.

“Let me see—,” Ah Si began, reaching out to grab the gift.

San Chai elbowed him into silence.

“Well, the big party was last month. You missed that. This is just for our friends. You can’t get the kind of intimacy I wanted in a big group. It’s really easy to get lost at one of those parties and ignore people you don’t want to speak with, right?”

“Right,” Jing agreed dryly.

As the evening progressed, Jing made extensive efforts to stay away from Lei. She didn’t want to finish the conversation they had started at the school function. She made sure to be in a different corner of the room from wherever he stood. If he moved to her corner, she quickly moved away, not allowing him to trap her into anything meaningful.

It wasn’t comfortable being in the same room with a man you . . . used to love.

It wasn’t easy standing next to a man that had rejected your heart.

And it hadn’t been easy loving a man that was flawless, even if he did have a tendency to fall in love with his best friend’s woman. The consequence of that general flawlessness made it so that he would allow no mistakes on anyone else’s part. Not even the one he professed to love.

Hua Ze Lei finally ran her down after dinner.

She was determined.

But his determination had far surpassed hers. No one could win against that legendary F4 determination.

“I’ve taken time off of work so that I can help Min adjust to the new environment,” Jing said, answering Ximen’s question regarding her absence from the Taiwan Businessman’s Luncheon last week.

“Maybe you can get some pointers from Lei,” Ximen suggested, looking over Jing’s shoulder to the individual that had just walked up. “Rui started this year. Lei why don’t you talk to Jing about how you helped Rui to adjust to a Taiwanese primary school?”

Jing turned to look at Hua Ze Lei, shocked at how close he had come without her being aware. Her eyes locked with his, and she couldn’t look away.

Ximen quickly walked away, flashing a conspiratorial smile at San Chai.

“Lei,” Jing said, quietly greeting him. Her eyes turned away.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” he commented, getting right to the point.

Jing grabbed a glass from a passing waiter, and tossed it down before turning to Lei. She was careful to keep her eyes from meeting his.

“I haven’t been avoiding you,” she argued. “I just . . . I don’t feel comfortable around you, Lei,” she admitted, getting right to her point.

“Why not?” he queried.

“Are you trying to be dense?” Jing asked, taking another glass of wine and tossing it back just as quickly. “We have a history. And the more I think about it, whenever I see you, the more foolish I feel. That’s not a comfortable feeling.”

“But we were friends long before we became more,” Lei insisted. “Why can’t we be friends again?”

He didn’t understand why it was so important for her to agree. But all he knew was that if there could be something more between them . . if he had any chance of acting on the feelings that had moved through him after meeting Jing again . . it could only come after they had become friends again.

She needed to agree.

“Friends?” Jing murmured. “But after you rejected me in Barcelona . . . you were the one who turned away. Admit it. After that moment we had nothing. Not even friendship to fall back on. Don’t you remember? You said that you didn’t care about my business any longer.

Why would you even . . .? Forget it. I don’t want to talk about it,” she muttered, turning to get another glass of wine.

Lei watched her drink.

“I’m sorry about your divorce,” she said, slurring her words, turning to finally look into his eyes again.

“I’m fine,” he assured her.

“Of course you are,” Jing murmured. “You’re Hua Ze Lei. I’m sure once your wife left you, you no longer cared about her business either, right?”

“Jing,” he warned softly, reaching out to steady her as she stumbled under the influence of the alcohol.

“Let go,” she demanded, pulling away. “Just . . . stop trying to be my friend. Stop trying to recreate a relationship that wasn’t even strong enough to withstand the first blow.”

“Why can’t we be friends again?” Lei argued, surprising her with his persistence.

“Friends? O.K. Friends know stuff about each other. Things that the Dao Mings, Ximens, and Lings know about me. Things that you DON’T know. What have I been doing for the past six years, Lei? What’s been happening in my life? Did I miss your condolence call when my parents died?” Jing asked sarcastically, Her voice filled with bitterness.

Lei could find nothing to say in the face of that bitterness. For the first time, he didn’t have the perfect thing to say. He couldn’t diffuse this volatile situation with some well-placed advice.

“I don’t want to be your friend, Hua Ze Lei,” Jing spat out.

“Being your friend is too hard. The standards you set . . . no one can meet them . . . well except for F3 and San Chai. You make exceptions for them, because you want to. I failed once . . . I didn’t hear from you for years. I doubt we would be talking now if I hadn’t come back to Taiwan.”

“Jing . . .,” he began.

“No,” she interrupted. “you don’t know me. You never did. I think it would be better if we remained the strangers that we have now become. Let’s just leave it at that.”

She turned to leave. The three glasses of after-dinner wine, coupled with the two glasses with dinner, caught up with Jing.

She swayed.

She stumbled.

She fell.

Only this time . . . he caught her.

Lei caught her.

But she missed it all.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Lei gently laid Jing down on her bed . . . in her bedroom.

Leaning down, he kissed her on the forehead, taking a moment to breathe in her scent.

The more he was around her, the more he realized how much he had missed her.

Her scent.

Her warmth.

The things that made her uniquely Jing.

She whimpered softly, turning on her side.

He wanted to comfort her but . . . it seemed as if he was the last person in the world she would turn to for comfort.

They had lost touch for so long, and that had been his fault. Admittedly, it had been by choice . . . and there had never been any guilt. His decision had alwasy felt justified.

But after seeing her . . . and Min . . . he regretted missing out on those years.

It felt as if he might have lost out on something very important.

Something . . . if he could figure out what it was . . . that would make him regret the missing years even more than he did now.

Getting up to go . . . Lei’s eyes landed on a picture frame.

He froze.

There was Jing.

Min.

And a strange man.

“Jing,” he said, gently shaking her.

“Jing,” he said insistently, pulling her back to consciousness.

She awakened, and looked at him. Her lips formed a happy smile upon seeing him.

“Who is that?” he asked.

“Who?”

“There,” he said, pointing to the picture frame.

Jing looked to the bedside table. Her smile grew warmer. Wider.

She turned to him.

“My husband,” she finally answered.

. . . . . . . . . . .

She turned away.

“Good night, Lei.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chapter 7

His Arrival

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was a birthday party.

It looked like it.

And it certainly sounded like it.

Lei winced as a child shrieked nearby.

He looked down at Rui, clutching at his hand. When Rui had found out they were going to Auntie Jing’s house, he had almost run out the door in his eagerness to be with her.

Lei could only marvel at the bond that had grown so quickly between Jing and Rui. He didn’t want to hurt his son, but he was worried that Jing might reject Rui because of his rejection of her so long ago.

But no . . . Jing wasn’t like that. The girl that had held out her hand to an autistic child when she was so young herself, could never have grown up to be a woman that would reject a young and vulnerable child like Rui.

A thought crossed his mind, but before he could ponder on it, it slipped away as another child shrieked in joy near him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Lei finally spotted Min, and felt that same tug in his heart that he felt every time he was around the child.

Rui tugged free from Lei’s hold, and ran to the birthday boy. He excitedly handed over the present to Min.

Min leaned down to hug Rui in thanks, and then looked towards Hua Ze Lei. Min took Rui’s hand, and ran over to him.

Lei stared down at the boys as they reached him.

“Thank you, Uncle Lei,” Min shouted over the din, and held out his arms.

Lei hesitated.

And then leaned to pick him up. The boy hugged him, and planted a quick kiss on his cheek.

“Thank you,” he repeated, after having wriggled down from Lei’s arms. He turned to run away. He hesitated.

He turned back and took Rui’s hand, and pulled him along to their next adventure.

“Hua Ze Lei, you’re finally here,” Jing murmured, coming up behind him. “I didn’t expect you.”

“Why not?” he asked, turning to look at her. He couldn’t believe that he had pulled himself out of this woman’s life so much that he hadn’t even known when she married. When she had Min. When had that happened? When? He hadn’t known.

And most of all, he had pulled away so much, he didn’t even know how much it would matter to him once he found out.

And, surprisingly, it did matter.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Flashbacks – Over the past two weeks

~*~*~*~ Dao Ming Si and San Chai ~*~*~*~

Lei turned to the couple sitting innocently on the sofa.

“Why didn’t you tell me that Jing got married?” he demanded.

Their eyes widened in surprise.

“But Lei—,” Ah Si began.

San Chai sharply elbowed him in the side.

“Let me talk,” she ordered her gasping husband.

“Why do you care to know?” she asked.

“Because she’s my . . . she used to be a friend,” Lei explained. For the first time in his life, he was actually flustered.

Ah Si’s eyes widened at the tell-tale stumble.

“Lei, Jing is happily married right now. She loves that man,” San Chai explained. “I don’t think you can have the place you used to hold in Jing’s life.”

Lei’s mouth tightened. He had never said he wanted to have that place back. San Chai was presuming too much.

“I never said—,” he began.

“That you wanted that place back,” San Chai finished for him. “I know that, but do you really think that she would give you a chance now? You haven’t spoken to her in six years, Lei. Not even when she came to your wedding five years ago,” San Chai said with a sigh. “She’s married. You didn’t know, but now you do. That’s all there is to it,” she finished firmly.

“But San Ch—,” Ah Si began.

She slapped a hand over his mouth.

Dao Ming Si began to struggle, and muffled shouts came from behind San Chai’s clamped hand.

“You can go now, Lei,” she ordered.

As Lei left the room, he could hear the struggles become louder as the Dao Ming couple got down to a real fight. A really loud fight.

~*~*~*~ Ximen and Xiao You ~*~*~*~

Lei turned to the couple sitting innocently on the sofa.

“Why didn’t you tell me that Jing got married?” he demanded.

Their eyes widened in surprise.

“Lei, you changed after you came back from France,” Ximen explained. “We all saw the pain you were in. You ignored everything that had to do with Jing, and we could see that you were actively trying to forget her.”

“We just thought that it would be better not to mention her,” Xiao You said. “You fell in love with San Chai, and we all thought that you had forgotten about her. And then you got married to Maya. We believed that you had left that part of your life, the one that had Jing in it, in the past. No one wanted to bring that old painful topic up.”

“But we did think that you would need to know someday,” Ximen said, settling back into the chair. “We were just waiting for one thing.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me?” he demanded in frustration, turning to look at them in inquiry. They knew that he had needed to know. And yet, no one had thought to tell him.

“You never asked,” Xiao You supplied quietly.

“And if you never asked, how could we bring up the topic. We were waiting for the day that you would ask. Isn’t it strange how completely you erased Jing from your life?” Ximen said musingly.

“I never thought that you could be capable of that.”

~*~*~*~ Mei Zhuo and Xiao Qiao ~*~*~*~

Lei turned to the couple sitting innocently on the sofa.

“Why didn’t you tell me that Jing got married?” he demanded.

Their eyes widened in surprise.

Mei Zhou turned to look at Xiao Qiao.

Xiao Qiao looked at Mei Zhou questioningly.

They turned back to him.

“You didn’t know?!!” they exclaimed in surprise.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“But—,” he began, wanting to explain.

“We can be friends again,” Jing said abruptly.

His eyes turned to her in surprise. He had so many questions.

She turned away.

“Thank you,” he finally said into the silence.

He leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. The touch was electric. His body tightened in shock at the sensations that began to course through his body at that simple touch. He abruptly pulled away.

She turned to look at him in surprise. He could see that she had felt that same electricity . . . the same sensations.

“Jing, I . . .,” he began. He wanted to say . . to say that he was sorry. Sorry for giving up so easily on them. He wanted another chance. That he wanted to know what had happened that day . . . when she hadn’t come to the church.

But she was turning away from him.

“Xiao Wei,” she exclaimed, her eyes looking over at Lei’s shoulders.

Lei turned around. There was the man he had seen in the picture. The man he had spent the last two weeks wondering about.

And here he was.

“Jing—,” Lei said insistently. He was ignored.

His hands clenched.

Suddenly she was running away from him.

And she was running to her . . . husband.

She seemed so happy.

She reached the stranger.

She hugged the stranger.

Min shrieked in joy and came running over to greet the man.

The three made a circle that seemed to exclude everyone else.

A small hand clutched his.

He looked down to see Rui staring up at him.

Rui’s lower lip quivered.

And that thought that had raced through his mind before, came back.

Jing had approached him when he was an autistic child. She had approached him when everyone else had left him in isolation.

She treated his son with almost the same affection that she showed to her own son. There was no resentment. There was no desire for revenge against his rejection of her.

Then, why?

Why had he never asked why she hadn’t come to the church that day?

Why had he never given her a chance to explain herself?

When had he become so unbending?

. . . . . . . . . .

Why had he fallen so quickly in love with San Chai?

Maybe . . .

Maybe after all these years, after rejecting her and deliberately forgetting about her, maybe it was now the time to face the truth.

When it was too late.

Maybe everything hadn’t been her fault.

Maybe the loss that he had been feeling so acutely today . . .

Was completely his fault after all.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 8

A New Truth

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Hua Ze Lei Shao Ye,” the waiter murmured, “your party is waiting. This way, please.”

Lei walked towards the table where his people were sitting.

“Shao Ye,” his manager murmured, springing up as Lei walked up to table.

Manager Tan quickly made the introductions, nodding to each person, as he stated their name.

Lei sighed, and sat down, ready to begin the business meeting.

He did not want to be here. F3 and their spouses were having a welcome back party for Jing and Min today, and he couldn’t be there. He didn’t question why he regretted missing the party so much.

He just knew that now was not the time to leave Jing alone with that Xiao Wei.

“Shao Ye, the CEO of Choi, Inc. is willing to make the contract with Hua Ze Industries, but they wanted to go over some of the terms they have concerns with,” Manager Tan stated quietly. “Shao Ye . . . shao ye,” he murmured, as Lei’s wandered away from their party and onto the next table.

Lei’s eyes widened. He mumbled something.

“Sir?” his manager asked.

“I can’t believe it! What is that bastard doing here?” Lei demanded, his eyes trained on the one man that he did not want to see.

“What . . . bastard?” his employee asked in confusion.

Lei ignored the worried man, and walked over to the couple cuddling at the next table.

He tapped Xiao Wei on the shoulder. Xiao Wei looked around, his lips smiling, and joy in his eyes. Lei’s fists clenched. What right did this man have to be happy with a woman that wasn’t Jing?

He had lost Jing to this man. And this man had no compunction in betraying her.

His fist struck suddenly, straight into Xiao Wei’s face.

He heard the man grunt.

He heard a woman scream.

He heard his manager buzzing away at him to calm down.

And he left.

There was only one place that he needed to go right now.

. . . . . . .

Jing needed to be told.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The tires screeched, as Lei stopped in front of the Dao Ming residence.

While this was the last place that he wanted to be when he talked to Jing, she needed to be told as soon as possible.

He walked into the foyer, and asked Butler Liu of Jing’s location.

“Jing Shao Jie is in the pool room. She requested that you be brought to her when you arrived,” the butler responded.

As Lei entered the room, his eyes zeroed in on where she was sitting.

There was no one else in the room

“Lei,” she murmured in greeting, getting up to come towards him.

“Jing, I wanted to tell you—,” his breath whooshed out as her fist connected with his abdomen.

She had hit him! She had a strong right hook.

“I would’ve hit you in the face, like you did to poor Xiao Wei,” Jing murmured, coming up next to him. “But this face is just too beautiful,” she finished, reaching up to touch his cheek.

“What is wrong with you,” she demanded, moving away from him. “I can’t believe that you could be so violent,” she muttered to herself in disbelief.

“I had a good reason,” he argued back.

“What reason could you possible have to attack poor, innocent Xiao Wei?” she asked.

“Xiao Wei is not innocent,” he explained. “He was with another woman when I was at the restaurant. And I can tell you that they were not platonic friends.”

“Why would his being with another woman bother you so much?” she asked in confusion, waiting for him to continue.

“Your husband was with another woman! Isn’t that enough?” he demanded abruptly. “He was cheating on you!”

Jing looked at him in surprise, her eyes wide. Her eyes then filled with wonder, as she realized the problem he was having with that scenario.

She suddenly began to laugh. Her knees gave out, and she had to sit down on the lounge chair from laughing so hard.

Lei looked at her with anger. How could she laugh at a time like this?

She looked up. There were tears in her eyes from the laughter.

She slowly wiped them away, all the while smiling.

His eyes blazed with another emotion, and suddenly he came to kneel at her feet.

She leaned back, surprised at the sudden movement.

“Was I wrong?” he asked gently.

She quietly nodded.

“You’ve been living in France all these years. Could it be that the city of love has corrupted you?” he continued in the same tone.

Her brows crinkled in confusion.

“I mean, you probably were taught to follow the affairs of the heart above all else in that permissive society, correct?” he asked.

Her eyes widened in shock as she realized what he had asked her.

“Lei—,” she began.

“You two have an open marriage?” he interrupted languidly.

“Don’t do this—,” she started again.

“If he’s free to date another woman . . . touch her, does that mean that I can touch you?” he asked, reaching up to capture her chin.

She was silent.

“I’m willing to be your affair of the heart, Jing,” he murmured seductively into her ear.

There was an angry buzzing in his ears. He could hardly hear what he was saying. The anger in him left no room for the legendary control that made him the serene Lei that he used to be before her return.

“I want to be with you, if not in any other way, then this one will do,” he whispered, lightly kissing her lips.

She moaned softly, reacting to the intimate touch.

He encouraged that reaction. He leaned in to deepen the kiss, wanting to prolong the contact.

She gasped, and abruptly pulled away.

“Go away, Lei,” she finally said, after a moment of silence. “Please.”

She got up, almost toppling him over. As he got up, she reached out and placed her hands on his chest, and then gave an unladylike push.

He stumbled back.

“Get out,” she repeated.

He suddenly reached out, his hands grabbing her arms. She struggled away. His hands tightened roughly.

“Stop it!” she said in anger, pulling away. There was honest anger in her eyes.

“Jing—,” he murmured, reaching out. He could see the pain in her eyes. He had seriously made a mistake somewhere.

“I’m sorry, Jing. I guess I misunderstood,” he finally said into the silence. He turned to go, realizing that staying would only make her angrier. He was ashamed of himself. How could he have acted so impetuously.

“Lei,” he heard her say from behind him.

He turned to look at her in question.

“You don’t have to worry that this will hurt me,” she continued. “In fact I’m happy that he found someone to love.”

“Jing, why?” he asked in shock. “Why would you allow yourself to be trapped in such a relationship? You deserve better,” he argued.

“It’s true then,” she murmured. “You really don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?” he asked in frustration.

. . . . . . . . .

“We’re divorced,” she revealed.

“It’s . . . been a year since the divorce. He’s finally married to someone he loves. And I couldn’t be happier for him.”

“Why did you divorce?” he asked. “You once said that you would be very careful in choosing a mate. Once you did marry, you wouldn’t divorce him. You said your marriage would be for life.”

“Lei . . . I never loved him. I didn’t marry him out of love. And I promised myself that I would release him someday.”

He could only stare.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Flash Forward – the next day

~*~*~*~ Dao Ming Si and San Chai ~*~*~*~

Lei turned to the couple sitting innocently on the sofa.

“Why didn’t you tell me that Jing was divorced?” he demanded.

Their eyes widened in surprise.

They took a moment to digest this.

“You didn’t ask,” they finally said in unison.

~*~*~*~ Ximen and Xiao You ~*~*~*~

Lei turned to the couple sitting innocently on the sofa.

“Why didn’t you tell me that Jing was divorced?” he demanded.

Their eyes widened in surprise.

There was a moment of silence.

“You didn’t ask,” they finally replied.

~*~*~*~ Mei Zhuo and Xiao Qiao ~*~*~*~

Lei turned to the couple sitting innocently on the sofa.

“Why didn’t you tell me that Jing was divorced?” he demanded.

Their eyes widened in surprise.

Mei Zhou turned to look at Xiao Qiao.

Xiao Qiao looked at Mei Zhou questioningly.

They turned back to him.

“You didn’t know?!!” they exclaimed in surprise.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 9

Forgetting the Past

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

PRESENT TIME

 

He walked away.

 

Of course he did. Lei was very good at wanting someone from afar, but when he actually got the girl, he became aloof. He had always been good at doing that.

 

How could he even think that she could have changed so much? He had never known her for the person that she really was. It was as if . . . he had fallen in love with the perception he had of her . . . but had never taken the time to delve deeper.

 

He had never understood how much she needed to help other people.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

HER MODELING YEARS . . .

 

Jing stood outside the shelter at which she had just volunteered. It was the agency’s way of getting publicity for their models. They wanted to trumpet how compassionate these beautiful women were.

 

But it hadn’t just been a publicity stunt for her.

 

For the first time she had seen how the other half lived. And it had hurt her to her soul to see how people could be suffering so much.

 

She didn’t want to just go back to her life and forget everything she had seen here today. She didn’t want to forget. These women deserved more than that.

 

Men . . . and society trampled on their rights, and then turned their back on them. These women . . . and their children didn’t deserve that.

 

“Miss Jing! Miss Jing!” a girl’s little voice called out.

 

Jing turned towards the voice, seeing the little girl, Qi Mei, who had trailed behind her all day, wanting to be near someone who was “so beautiful” according to her.

 

She was so young. So fragile. So precious.

 

Her father had the habit of beating her whenever he got drunk. The last beating had been so brutal, that she had ended up in the hospital.

 

Her mother had no power to protect Qi Mei. She had nowhere to go; she had to stay with the man that brutalized not only her, but this innocent life, as well. But seeing the pain the man had inflicted on her child, she finally had the courage to leave.

 

“Hi, precious, what can I do for you?” Jing asked gently, reaching out to brush her hair away from her face. The bruises had begun to fade a bit.

 

“You’ll be returning next week?” she asked in a plaintive tone. “The other kids said that you wouldn’t.”

 

“I’ll be here, I promise,” Jing replied, leaning down to kiss one thin cheek. “I’ll be here, and I’ll bring all of you presents,” she promised, thinking that all her wealth could be put to some good use.

 

“I’ll be waiting,” Qi Mei said happily.

 

Jing stood up, and watched her run away.

 

She shook off the depression that had fallen over her. She would see Qi Mei next week.

 

. . . . . . . . . .

 

“I’m sorry, Miss Tang, Qi Mei’s mother took her home two days ago. Her husband promised that he wouldn’t hurt them anymore, and what other choice did she have? We can’t keep them here forever; our funding is limited,” one of the shelter employees told her.

 

“Please give me their address. I promised her a gift,” Jing said, worried about the consequences of the woman’s decision.

 

“I’m sorry, that won’t help,” the employee replied solemnly.

 

“What do you mean?” Jing asked, fear coursing through her body.

 

“The father was lying, of course, and he was very angry. He beat them both . . . and this time he didn’t stop. Qi Mei died from the injuries he inflicted on her,” he said. “At least, that’s what we think happened. Qi Mei’s mother will say nothing. She won’t file any charges against him. All she says is that Qi Mei fell down the stairs. She’s too afraid.”

 

. . . . . . . . . . .

 

Jing sat in the living room of her apartment. She couldn’t cry anymore, there were no tears left. But the pain still remained, and there was anger, as well. ‘What kind of world was this?’ she wondered angrily. What kind of man killed his own child?

 

She couldn’t just stand back and let this happen.

 

She had to do something to help these women . . . these children.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

HER BIRTHDAY SURPRISE . . .

 

She took a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heartbeat. There . . . she had done it. She had told everyone that she would stop being a Barbie doll, and actually become someone who could contribute to society.

 

She wanted to be a lawyer . . . had wanted that for months. But it was only now, after telling her family, could she take the first step to helping those who had no help.

 

She looked at Lei needing his approval. He had finally said he wanted to be with her. And . . . she could no longer reject him. She had tried multiple times on this trip, but he wouldn’t give up.

 

And she knew that he was one person that she could depend on. He would understand.

 

She looked to him.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . .

 

He walked away.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

WHEN LEI COMES TO VISIT . . . .

 

The doorbell rang.

 

“Who is it?” she said, coming to the door. She looked into the peephole.

 

It was Lei.

 

“Lei, what are you doing here?” she asked in surprise.

 

He stepped into her apartment, shutting the door behind him. Leaning down, he kissed her before replying.

 

“Jing,” he said. “I couldn’t stay away. Not when we’ve started something so special.”

 

“Oh, Lei . . .,” she said tearfully, reaching out to embrace him.

 

“I love you, and if that means I have to be with you here, then that’s where I’ll be,” he said softly, leaning in to kiss her.

 

“I . . . love you too,” she finally admitted.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

“I’ve been here for two weeks, and you don’t even have time to talk with me!” he exclaimed in anger. “I don’t feel that I’m welcome.”

 

“Lei, it’s my first year of law school. This is extremely hard for me. Please, understand. I need to put in this extra time to make sure I succeed. I can’t make any time for you when I don’t have it,” she finished in frustration.

 

“Then, maybe, I should leave,” he said quietly.

 

Her eyes widened. How could he say that? Wasn’t it enough that they were seeing each other every day? Why couldn’t he understand how important this was to her? If he couldn’t understand this . . . she couldn’t give this up. Too many innocents suffered everyday. She didn’t want any more Qi Meis on her conscience.

 

“If you feel that way . . . then leave,” she replied, and turned away.

 

. . . . . . . . . . .

 

She heard the door slam.

 

“Lei! Lei!” she called, running out of the bedroom.

 

He had walked away.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

CHURCH MEETING . . .

 

She found the letter.

 

“ . . . come to me.”

 

He was giving her another chance. She wouldn’t let him down. They could make this work.

 

She hurriedly packed. Called the airport to book a flight, and was ready to go. She’d be there by 5, tomorrow morning. And he would be waiting.

 

She smiled in anticipation. She couldn’t wait to see the look on his face. She couldn’t wait to see his face. Period.

 

She opened the door.

 

There was a strange man there.

 

“Are you Jing Tang?” he asked roughly.

 

“Ye-es,” she replied hesitantly.

 

“Good,” he said.

 

And then her world exploded in pain.

 

. . . . . . . . . . .

 

She awoke in a hospital room.

 

“Oh, you’re awake,” a cheery voice said.

 

She turned to the sound.

 

“Where am I?” she asked. It was so hard to speak. It was so hard to breathe.

 

“The hospital. You’ve been unconscious for three days now. A man attacked you at your apartment. Fortunately, a neighbor saw and called the police.”

 

It was a nurse. She was in a hospital. That man had attacked her.

 

“Wh-who was it?” she asked painfully. “Did the police catch him?”

 

“Yes, they arrived just as he was leaving. If they had been just a minute late . . . well, they weren’t. Apparently, one of the women you helped to escape from her abusive husband was his wife. He found out, and was really angry. He thought that he could beat you into telling him where his wife was, but since you became unconscious he just beat you ‘to teach you a lesson’.”

 

Lei. The thought of him waiting for her flashed through her mind.

 

“I have to go. I have to go. He’s waiting,” she said frantically, trying to get up. A sharp pain coursed through her body, forcing her to lie back down.

 

“Ms. Tang, calm down. You have two broken ribs. I’m afraid you’re not going anywhere for a while,” the nurse said soothingly.

 

Jing lay back, winded and afraid. Afraid that she may have lost any chance of being with Lei.

 

She felt a prick in her arm, and saw that the nurse had injected her with something.

 

“What—,” she forced the words out.

 

“It’s just a sedative. Things will look better after you’ve had some sleep,” the nurse said.

 

“But—,” she began, but trailed off. It was a fast-acting drug, and she couldn’t concentrate anymore.

 

But Lei . . .

 

He was waiting.

 

She tried to comfort herself.

 

He would understand.

 

He would.

 

. . . . . . . . .

 

He wouldn’t leave her. He couldn’t just stop loving her.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

JAPAN

 

Jing got out of the taxi, eager to see him. He was here. At this hotel.

 

And she was in Japan.

 

She had gone to his home in Taiwan, but had been told that Master Lei had gone on a trip to Japan with other F4 members.

 

She couldn’t wait to see the look on his face. He would understand why she couldn’t come. She couldn’t wait to see him, but it was nighttime. She did NOT want to disturb his sleep.

 

After putting her suitcase in her room, she decided to go to the beach. She wanted to spend some time there, and just relax. It had been a hard couple of weeks, and she was exhausted.

 

As she walked down the hallway, she saw a figure walking in front of her. He seemed to be looking for something.

 

. . . . . . . .

 

It was Dao Ming Si. She couldn’t believe that he was awake. She hurried to follow him.

 

He froze.

 

She looked to where he was looking . . . and froze.

 

He quietly walked to the couple sitting in the sand. The couple kissing passionately.

 

San Chai.

 

And Lei.

 

She backed up, clutching at her wildly beating heart.

 

They were kissing.

 

He was kissing someone else.

 

She couldn’t breathe. She pounded at her chest. And gasped at the pain it caused her still healing ribs.

 

How quickly. How quickly guys forgot.

 

She didn’t belong here.

 

She walked away.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

SPAIN

 

“Lei, I’m so glad to see you,” she said quietly, coming up behind him to hug him. When she had seen him . . . in that moment, everything was forgotten.

 

San Chai was with Dao Ming Si. Not Lei.

 

Maybe . . . they had a chance. She looked hopefully into his eyes, when he turned around. Whenever she had looked into his eyes in the past, all she could see was herself. But now . . . she was no longer there. No matter how hard she searched, she was nowhere. He had erased all emotion for her from his heart . . . his eyes.

 

He felt nothing for her.

 

She turned away in shock.

 

And . . . . . .

 

He walked away.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

DAO MING NUPTIALS

 

Dao Ming Si and San Chai were getting married. Finally.

 

Today was their rehearsal dinner.

 

“Congratulations,” she murmured, handing Ah Si the gift and leaning down to give San Chai a kiss of greeting.

 

“Jing Jie, you made it,” she said happily. “We haven’t see you in a while.”

 

“Work,” she explained in apology. “I just can’t make myself take any time off, but how could I miss your wedding? I’m sorry that I’ll be leaving tomorrow evening. I wanted to spend some time with all of you.”

 

“You haven’t checked in yet?” San Chai asked, looking at Jing’s luggage.

 

“No, I was running late, so I wanted to come and greet you both first. I’ll go check in now, and be down in a jiffy.”

 

The dinner was wonderful. She was so happy to see all of them again. Especially Lei. Even if it was still painful, she didn’t regret that.

 

. . . . . . . . . . .

 

She walked into the elevator. Since she was staying here, she had been the last one to leave. Lei had left long before. She could see how painful it would be for him, and wished him the best of luck in dealing with this. Just as she had dealt with her own.

 

The elevator doors opened. As she walked down the hallway, her steps faltered when she saw a figure passed out near her door. She walked to the door, and quickly pushed the key in, planning to get in and shut the door.

 

The figure snored.

 

She would know that snore anywhere.

 

It was Lei!

 

“Lei, Lei, wake up!” she said, leaning down to lightly slap at his cheeks. He finally awoke.

 

“Jing, what are you doing here?” he asked sleepily.

 

“What? You’re in front of my door!” she exclaimed. “What the hell are you doing here, Lei?”

 

“I have a room here,” he responded, after repeated poking from her brought him back to consciousness.

 

“What? Why? Your house is a few miles away,” she blurted out.

 

“I’m drunk,” he said.

 

“I know that. I can smell the fumes.”

 

“I couldn’t drive home, and I didn’t want anyone else to see me like this,” he finally said.

 

“Ei, don’t fall asleep. What is your room number?” she asked anxiously.

 

“2007,” he finally mumbled.

 

“Huh. Two doors down,” she murmured, deciding that if he had gone to such lengths to make sure no one saw him, she wouldn’t call anyone either.

 

. . . . . . . . . .  .

 

She was breathing heavily by the time she had dragged him to his room, found his key, and dragged him inside. He was really heavy.

 

She pulled the covers over him, and turned to go.

 

He grabbed her arm.

 

She turned back, startled.

 

His eyes were still closed.

 

“Don’t go,” he entreated. “Don’t go.”

 

Her eyes softened. She began to sit down next to him.

 

“Don’t go, San Chai.”

 

She froze

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

PRESENT TIME

 

She thought back to that night. He had been so drunk because of the San Chai’s impending marriage. She guessed even Lei could be so vulnerable.

 

She had left. Of course, ultimately, she had to leave. He didn’t want her. He only wanted San Chai.

 

Jing never thought for a moment that now that San Chai was married, that he would give her a chance. Lei had shown himself to be too stubborn. And she was stubborn in her own way.

 

He always left. Always. Even if she had explained, chances were he would have left in the end anyways. That thought had made her bitter. Why did he have to make her love him before realizing that HE had never truly loved her? It was amazing though . . . that the most “dependable” man in their group could, in the end, be so irresponsible.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Chapter 10

Roses Have Thorns

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It’s the one thing that’s missin’
The one thing I’m wishin’
Life’s sacred blessin’ and then
It feels like today.
Feels like today.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Lei’s eyes opened. Feeling the bed move, he turned his head to investigate.

There was a woman there. Her naked back was turned towards him. His eyes trailed up, viewing the smooth back she presented to him, his hands wanting to reach out and touch.

There was a tattoo. On her shoulder. A rose on that white, seemingly pure, skin.

A turquoise rose. With silver leaves.

It was beautiful.

She put on her dress, slipping it over her naked body. Covering the tattoo.

Her hand reached to the doorknob.

She was leaving.

“Don’t leave,” he called out. “Don’t leave.”

She began to turn towards him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Shao Ye, please wake up,” Butler Yang entreated the sleeping figure. “You’re at the breakfast table, not in your bed. Please stop talking about turquoise roses. There’s no such thing. And I assure you, I’m not leaving. At least, not until I wake you up.”

He shook Lei’s shoulder once more.

“Why am I here?” Lei asked grouchily. “I should be sleeping right now.”

“Shao Ye, you asked me to wake you early today. The party at Master Dao Ming Si’s house starts at noon. Little Rui was up hours ago. Nanny reported that he couldn’t sleep due to his excitement. Master Ling and Madame Xiao Qiao picked him up on their way there,” Butler Yang replied smilingly.

“Oh, yeah. I have to go, don’t I?” he said, rubbing his face, trying to rub away the sleep.

“Yes, Shao Ye. Madam Dao Ming called this morning and threatened me. She said that if I didn’t wake you up and send you on your way, she would leave me with all the children for an entire day. I can’t handle kids,” Yang admitted sheepishly.

“Fine,” Lei sighed.

He had to go today.

He had to talk to Jing to make sure that their new friendship hadn’t been ruined by his actions the last time they had met. He had tried to see her multiple times over the past month, but she always managed to have an excuse.

She had to be there today.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He heard the shrieks of the children as they happily played in the water.

And he heard San Chai, as well.

“Ah Si, you pighead! Put me down! I don’t want to go in the water,” San Chai shouted, as she struggled to get out of her husband’s arms.

“San Chai you have to get wet sometime,” he said teasingly. “Look, Xiao Qiao has promised to take care of Bao Long and Xi Yuan. You don’t have to worry about Bao Long wandering into the pool,” he promised.

“I don’t want to risk it,” she protested, hitting at him.

“Risk what? It’s only water,” he cajoled her.

“You idiot! It’s all your fault,” she finally burst out.

“What is?” he asked, truly baffled now.

“I’m pregnant! Again! Because of you!” she shouted at full volume.

Ah Si’s eyes widened.

His body slackened.

His arms fell to his sides.

And she fell into the water.

Her shrieks could be heard 10 miles away.

His eyes turned to the others. Xiao Qiao was sitting next to the kids, as she had promised. Mei Zhou was next to her, with their baby cradled in his big arms.

Lei shook his head. It was hard to believe that this man had been the biggest womanizer in all of Taiwan, second only to Ximen.

And speaking of Ximen . . .

He was on the other side of the pool. His head in Xiao You’s lap. There was such peace in their faces, as if they could only be content when they were with each other. Touching each other.

Their eyes were trained on Kenny, Rui and Min playing in the kiddy pool.

Even from here, Lei could see that Min was taking care of both of the younger kids.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Having fun?” he asked the kids, leaning over the kiddy pool.

“Yes!!” they shouted back, splashing each other and him with water.

“Uncle Lei, you’re here!” Min said excitedly. “Rui said you were still sleeping when he left. Mommy said that you would probably sleep through the entire party.”

“Well, no, I don’t sleep that much,” Lei said in embarrassment.

“I sleep just like you,” Min confided. “Mommy asks God each morning why she had to have a son that loved sleeping more than he loved her. I don’t, but mommy likes to tease,” he said, stepping out of the pool.

“Well, your mom can get by on four hours of sleep a night. I don’t know where she gets the energy. You must have gotten your sleeping habits from your father,” he said.

Min became quiet, his face turning red.

“Min? What’s wrong?” Lei asked, knowing that he had put his foot in his mouth, but not sure about how that could possibly have happened.

“Xiao Wei Daddy . . . isn’t really my daddy,” Min confessed. “I’ve never met my real daddy.”

“Do you know who your real father is?” he asked. Lei did not want to fluster Min even more, but he couldn’t help the words slipping past his lips.

Min got up quickly.

“Min?” he asked again.

“I . . . ask my mommy,” he finally said, before running away.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Jing was lounging in a chair away from everybody else.

He knew where he had to go next.

“Jing,” Lei murmured, sitting down next to her.

She was lying back in the sunlight, reading a book. She had been so focused on the text, that she had failed to notice his approach.

“Oh, it’s you,” she murmured, looking up.

“I wanted to talk to you,” he confessed.

“Haven’t you said enough?” she asked. “I mean you punched poor Xiao Wei, propositioned me when you thought I was married . . . is there anything left?”

“You said that you understood,” he protested.

“Did I?” she asked.

“Let me repeat my apology then. I am sorry,” he said. “I just thought that he was cheating on you.”

“But why would you care?” she asked skeptically. “I mean if my supposed husband was supposedly cheating on me. Why would you care?”

“Because I’m your friend. And more and more . . . I feel . . .,” he trailed off.

“Feel what?” she queried.

“I feel that you were abandoned . . . by me . . . by all of us. When I left you, it was as if everyone else erased you from their lives, as well. I feel like that hurt you. That I hurt you. And I don’t want you to be hurt again,” he admitted.

“They didn’t cut me out of their lives, you were the only one,” she interjected.

He ignored that.

“I never did ask you why you weren’t there that day, did I? At the church?”

Her face darkened.

“What’s the point of asking now?” she gritted out, turning her face away.

“Jing,” he said, turning her face back. “It’s not too late. I would never have come after you again. You know that. But you returned to Taiwan. And now that I’ve seen you again . . . this could be a new beginning for us,” he urged softly.

She violently shook her head.

Her hand went to her stomach.

“You see this scar?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“And this one?” she asked again, putting her hand on her leg.

“Yes,” he replied again.

“And this one?” she asked, pushing her hair aside to show the nape of her neck.

“Yes, but what does this have to do with you not being in the church that day?” he asked in confusion.

“The scar on my stomach is from the time they took out my kidney. My leg . . . where my bone broke and pushed through the skin. And my neck . . . where someone’s ring cut me as he was severely beating me,” she revealed expressionlessly.

“Jing? What? When? . . . How?” he asked in shock.

“You never did understand why I wanted to be a lawyer did you?” she asked curiously. “You never tried.”

“But what does this have to do with the church . . . the beating?”

“Lei, I helped women that were the victims of domestic abuse. For my own personal reasons. That was why I wanted to be a lawyer, so I could help them legally, as well. I helped a woman escape her husband, and he punished me for it. I lost a kidney and got these scars.”

“But . . . the church . . . don’t tell me . . .”

“That was the day I was supposed to meet you. Unfortunately, I had other things to worry about,” she said sarcastically.

“Jing . . . why did you never explain?” he asked in frustration.

. . . . . . . . .

“You never asked,” she said.

“We can’t have anything more than friendship. I could never forget that you didn’t wait, didn’t try to figure out why I wasn’t there,” she said quietly. “That memory will never completely disappear. Just like these scars.”

She got up to go.

“Jing,” he protested, his hands coming up to pull her down again. “I was hurt. You didn’t come. There were no explanations. What else could I think? I was hurt,” he repeated.

“Hurt enough, that you went to Japan? That you met San Chai on the beach at night? That you kissed her?” she asked revealingly.

“Jing . . .,” he began.

“It’s too late, Lei. Just accept it and move on. I have,” she broke in. “We have nothing now.”

She got up, and walked away.

He sat there, winded, trying to deal with the shocking blow that she had dealt him.

Why had he never asked?

Was it because there had never been love? Was it because that he had forgotten an infatuation so quickly?

Of course not.

He had been hurt at that perceived rejection. He had given her three chances, and she had never accepted him. How much more could he have stood at her hands?

“Jing!” he called out, looking up at her retreating figure.

He got up to follow.

“Jing, listen to m—,” he froze.

Jing was walking away.

Her figure looked lovely in a bathing suit.

A bathing suit that left her shoulders bare.

And on one bare shoulder, there was a tattoo.

A rose on that white, seemingly pure, skin.

A turquoise rose. With silver leaves.

It was beautiful.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Who is his father? Where’s his father?”

“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?”

. . . . . . . . . . .

Her bitter words were racing through his mind.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“It’s . . . been a year since the divorce. He’s finally married to someone he loves. And I couldn’t be happier for him.”

“Lei . . . I never loved him. I didn’t marry him out of love. And I promised myself that I would release him someday.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

She had never loved Xiao Wei. She had married him for a reason other than love. Why would she have had to marry him?

. . . . . . . . . .

“Lei, Lei, wake up!” she said, leaning down to lightly slap at his cheeks. He finally awoke.

. . . . . . . . . .

Her face leaning over him, in the hallway. It had been the night of San Chai’s and Ah Si’s rehearsal dinner.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Ei, don’t fall asleep. What is your room number?” she had asked anxiously.

. . . . . . . . . .

He remembered landing on the bed, as she leaned over him, pulling off his tie.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Don’t go,” he entreated. “Don’t go.”

. . . . . . . . . .

His words ringing out into the silence of the hotel room.

She had stared at him.

And then she had come to him. Into his arms.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

“Shao Wei daddy . . . isn’t really my daddy,” Min confessed. “I’ve never met my real father.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

Min’s confession rang in his ears.

. . . . . . . . . . .

It hadn’t been a dream, after all.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Yu Min, it’s time to leave,” Jing called out in the background.

There was a rushing sound in his ears.

And then everything became silent.

He finally heard the words that she had spoken so long ago. Before all the misunderstandings had torn them apart. He finally remembered.

Jing’s voice resounded in his ears.

His first night in France. When they had sat on the rooftop of her building, looking up at the stars.

“Lei. When we have kids . . .,” she began shyly.

“You’re already thinking about that?” he asked teasingly.

“When we have kids, I want to name our first son,” she said serenely.

“What will you name our son?” he asked curiously, his voice almost drowned out by the fireworks lighting up the sky.

“I’ll name him after your grandfather,” she promised. “The one you love so much.”

“I’ll name him Yu Min.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

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