IFLT 11 – 15

Chapter 11

Sunrise

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

So while this storm is breaking
While there’s light at the end of the tunnel,
You keep running, towards it,
Releasing the pressure, that’s my heartache
Soon this dam will break.

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

Jing finally got home after a hard day at the office. ‘While I might be stuck here running the business,’ she thought to herself, ‘that doesn’t mean that I have to give up the work that satisfies me.’ Her eyes landed on the documents lying on the table. The charitable foundation would be up and running in a few days. She couldn’t wait to start working again.

‘I’ll do this,’ she promised herself. ‘Nothing will make me forget Qi Mei, and all those like her in the world. Suffering, and with no way to help themselves. So innocent. So defenseless.’ While she couldn’t comprehend how people could hurt little children, how evil someone would have to be to do that, she would try her best to help those she could.

And then the phone rang, interrupting her thoughts.

“Ms. Tang, Mr. Hua Ze came to see you at the office.” Her assistant was on the other end.

“Did he say what he wanted?” Jing asked in bemused surprise.

“No, ma’am. When I said that you had already left for the day, he just walked out,” she replied. “You know ma’am, he’s been calling all day, but you were always too busy. I felt so bad saying that he missed you this time too.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll call him,” Jing replied, and hung up the phone. She began to dial the number, and then turned the phone off. Her eyes stared at the phone in her hand; she couldn’t believe her fingers still remembered that number. She didn’t even know if that was still his number. ‘Some habits are hard to break,’ she mused, putting the phone down.

‘I definitely don’t want to fall back into that habit.’

She didn’t have to wonder why Lei had been calling all day. She knew it had something to do with what happened yesterday. She admitted that she had said too much. It was all water under the bridge. Why had she brought it up? She hadn’t talked to anyone about that incident. Not once since it had happened. Had she wanted him to regret his actions? She had wanted to hurt him. To make him realize that he wasn’t infallible. The great and wise Hua Ze Lei had made a mistake. Would he apologize? Would he finally realize that she was his only lov . . . forget it. She didn’t even know why she still held on to her hopes. She needed to stop dreaming.

“Ms. Jing,” the housekeeper called out, “Master Lei is here to see you.”

Jing looked at her quizzically, and then, sighing, nodded to let him in.

Lei came in, and sat down near her. He was quiet, quieter than usual. And he wore a serious expression on his face, more serious than usual. He stared at her intently, not saying anything for a few moments.

”I wanted to talk to you about yesterday,” he stated, confirming her guess as to why he was here.

“I did too,” she began guiltily. “I said too much. It’s all part of a past that’s long gone and we’ve decided to leave behind. We’re friends again, right? I don’t want this to ruin our newfound relationship,” she asserted smilingly.

“Jing . . . I’ve been having this dream for a long time . . . years. It’s of a beautiful woman. With milky skin. Smooth, glowing in the sunlight that’s peeking through the blinds of a hotel room window. My body feels sated, and I just know I’ve spent the night making love to her . . .,” he stared at her.

“Lei, I don’t think you should be telling me about your romantic escapades disguised as dreams,” Jing began, highly embarrassed and hurt by what he was saying.

“As I lie there, savoring that sensation,” he continued, ignoring her interruption, “she gets up to leave. As if, the night we had is of no consequence to her. And I want to stop her, to ask her to stay. Because at that moment, I’m more content than I’ve ever been in my life. After a long period of darkness, I’m finally beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. After living through the long night, I’m finally seeing a beautiful sunrise. And it seems a miracle. I realize that I don’t just want to observe life anymore; I don’t want to see my friends going on their merry way, living happily with their significant others while I’m all alone. I want to act, and I want to love. I want to stop her from leaving, because once she leaves, it’s going to be very hard to see another miracle happen for a long, long time. I call out to her, and she begins to turn. I am so close to seeing her face, but then I awaken. And that face remains a mystery.”

“So, it’s really just a dream? Lei, what’s this all about?” she asked, surprisingly relieved.

“Always . . . I always feel this sense of loss upon awakening after that dream. That I’ve missed out on something big, something so important . . . something that could change my entire life. But it’s always out of my reach. I wake up with the desire to be with her, with desire for her. This woman is haunting my dreams, and has been for years; she haunted me through my marriage. Can you understand how I felt? How I wanted to be loyal to my wife, but instead I betrayed her every night in my dreams,” he muttered, clenching his hands.

“Lei, I don’t know what to tell you, maybe it’s just a dream that you have to work out,” she suggested.

“I started to wonder whether she was just a dream creation,” he explained, “a figment of my imagination. She even carried my mark, the Hua Ze logo. She had a tattoo on her shoulder, a turquoise rose with silver petals. It mirrors the one I have in the exact same location. I saw that rose yesterday,” he coldly stated, turning to meet her horrified gaze.

“Lei . . .,” she began, unsure of what to say.

“And I realized that the woman I had thought only a figment of my imagination, was in reality the woman I had once loved. That woman was now the mother of my son; a son she’d kept away from me.”

“Lei, that tattoo means nothing now. I got it when I thought I was still in love with you, and now it’s just a symbol of my foolish, naïve past,” she hurriedly explained. “Don’t start hallucinating that something happened between us. You probably saw it somewhere and your subconscious placed it into your dreams.”

“Don’t lie,” he growled out. “He’s my son, isn’t he? You had Yu Min, and you kept me away from him. Yu Min is my son.”

“I . . . ,” she began, trying to find the words that would convince him.

“Yu Min? My grandfather’s name? Do you think that I could have forgotten your promise to me?”

“What promise?” she asked, seeming genuinely perplexed.

“That conversation we had on the roof of your apartment in France. You said you’d name our first son Yu Min.”

. . . . . . . . .

“The rose. The name. What you said about Yu Min’s father. Yu Min’s admission that Xiao Wei wasn’t his dad. And a memory of you in my hotel room the night before Dao Ming Si’s wedding. I can do the math, Jing,” he stated.

She stared at him, her eyes saying nothing.

“Yu Min is none of your business.”

“Don’t lie to me, Jing!” he shouted, getting up.

“Do you remember us ever being together?” she shouted back. “Do you remember this momentous occasion of insemination?”

He could say nothing in response. The truth was, he really didn’t remember.

“Don’t you see how ridiculous this is? You’re not thinking straight, Lei.”

“Then why don’t you say it?” he asked. “Why don’t you say that he’s NOT my son,” he shouted, grabbing her arms roughly.

“I . . .,” her voice trailed off.

“Say it, Jing. Say he’s not my son,” he repeated, shaking her.

. . . . . . . . .

“He’s not your son.”

His hands fell away.

“Say my blood isn’t running through his veins.”

“Your blood isn’t running through his veins.”

He stepped away from her.

“Say that we were never together.”

“We were never together.”

“No!” a child’s voice screamed and resonated through the tension-filled room. And then the sound of running feet pattering toward the room.

“No! Mommy! Why are you saying that?!” Yu Min shouted, launching himself at Jing. His little fists began to hit at her. He was crying brokenly, sobbing as he hit at the mother who had betrayed him.

“How can you say I’m not daddy’s son?! Mommy, you’re lying. Lying is bad. You’ve told me many times. Why are you . . .,” he fell down, out of breath from the exertion.

He curled into a fetal position, continuing to cry brokenheartedly.

“We came back to meet daddy. I was going to see my real daddy. He said . . .,” his voice broke.

“Yu Min,” Jing sadly said, kneeling down beside him. Her hands began to smooth over his head, but he jerked away. She looked up at Lei, but he could only look back silently. He was waiting for her to make the decision.

“Honey,” Jing said, trying again. “I was just playing a game with daddy. It was just a joke,” she murmured, picking him up. “You’re right. Of course, you’re right baby. This is your daddy,” she murmured, leaning down to kiss one chubby cheek.

“Really?” he asked, peeking up at her. “You told him he was my daddy, and then you were just playing a joke?” he asked hopefully. “Really, mommy?”

“Really, honeybuns,” she murmured, reaching out to wipe away his tears. “Come on now, get up. I’ll introduce you to your daddy formally. Let’s make a better impression, okay?”

“Okay mommy,” he replied eagerly, jumping up. His little hands began to hit at his clothes.

“What are you doing?” she asked, grabbing his hands.

“I’m cleaning up,” he loudly whispered back, “just in case daddy wants to hug me.”

Her eyes teared up, and she glanced up at Lei. Yu Min continued to hit at his clothes, while she shared her love for this little boy with a father who was just discovering his own special love. Don’t hurt him, she silently begged him, as she took Yu Min’s hand and brought him closer to Lei.

“Yu Min,” she said lightly, “this is your daddy.”

“Lei, this is your son,” she introduced, and then stepped back.

Lei looked at her once and then all of his concentration was on Yu Min. There had been gratitude in that glance for giving him this son. A promise, that he would do his best to protect this child. And anger, for keeping him away.

They would deal with all of that later.

For now, she could only be a witness. She didn’t exist for the moment.

It was their first meeting as father and son.

Their first shared smile. Their first hesitant steps toward each other. Their first hug. And not for the first time . . . She wondered if she had made the right decision.

Chapter 12

Upon Discovery

ONE YEAR AGO . . . .

Xiao Wei groaned, as he sat up in bed. The sunlight was piercing, stabbing at his eyes with needles. He slowly got up and moved toward the bathroom, wobbling to and fro. His eyes met the bloodshot ones staring back at him from the mirror. He quickly looked away.

He disgusted himself. He couldn’t bear to think of how he had acted last night. He didn’t want to think about it.

He had forced Jing to say the words he’d been afraid of hearing all these years.

His hands shook as he washed his face, and quickly brushed his teeth. He ran his fingers through his hair, and turned toward the door. His eyes once again caught his reflection in the mirror.

It was over.

Jing wanted a divorce. And he couldn’t blame her. They’d had a marriage of convenience, and he’d promised her that she wouldn’t be a burden on him, and he wouldn’t be a burden to her. He had wanted to be a good friend. He wanted to protect her and take care of her child.

He had done that for years.

He didn’t know . . .

Even he didn’t know how that caring, that friendship had turned into love.

When had he started loving her? He could understand why he had fallen in love with her. It was the when that bothered him. When had he let himself become so vulnerable? When had he allowed his guard to slip? When had he been so stupid?

He met Jing in law school. Even then he had seen the distance she kept between herself and others. But somehow they had managed to become friends. When he had seen the countless rejections she had quickly and harshly handed out to her hopeful suitors, he had promised himself never to fall in love with her. Loving Jing would be suicide. He had seen the joy in her eyes when her boyfriend had come to her. He had seen the heartbreak when he left. And he had seen that same look in her eyes when she returned from Dao Ming Si’s wedding. That and the resolve to move on.

But then she had found out that she was pregnant. Joy had sparkled in her eyes, and she had gone back to Taiwan to see someone, presumably the father, and had returned once more with grief in her eyes.

He knew then that baby wouldn’t have a father. Rumors had begun to fly on Jing’s lack of morals. Her temerity to have a baby without a husband. And most malicious of all, that she probably didn’t even know who her baby’s father was. While that might have been unimportant to any other career woman, but the kind of work Jing wanted to do made it imperative that she be above reproach. She couldn’t afford to have her morals and character called into question.

Xiao Wei ran his fingers over the stubble on his chin, as he walked out of the bathroom. Sitting down, he thought once more of that day. When he had seen the sneer worn by a husband of one of her rescued women as he called her names.

“Everyone knows you’re a whore. You can’t even find your own man, and now you try to convince other women to leave their husbands, their duty, and become whores like you.”

He still remembered those words. Jing had quietly listened to it all, and walked away. Xiao Wei didn’t have that much control. He had beaten up that guy to within an inch of his life. And then he had gone to Jing. He had seen the tears shining in her eyes, he had seen the hurt in her face, and he had seen her resolve to continue despite the whispers.

What could he have done?

What else could he have done?

He asked her to marry him.

And she had said yes. He had no illusions as to why she had agreed.

They had grown closer, and her vulnerability had brought out a side of her that he had never seen before. She had been more beautiful in her pregnancy than he had ever seen her before and since. He loved her and he couldn’t even tell when it happened. When he had held Jing in her arms as she got emotional during that time? When she had those cravings for bananas and chicken curry? As he had held her through the birth? When he had held Yu Min in his arms for the first time?

He didn’t know. But he knew that it was something that he needed to grow out of. He couldn’t afford to love her any more. Loving her was making him into an obsessive man. Loving her was making him her burden.

Last night had been the last straw. He’d tried to kiss her, tried to touch her. She had resisted. And he had confessed his love.

And she . . . had asked for a divorce.

. . . . . . . . . .

It was over. He hadn’t known that it would hurt so much.

He lay back in the bed, wanting to close out the day for a bit more.

And he landed partly on a small lump, curled under the covers.

“Ouch!” the lump screamed shrilly and wiggled out from under the covers.

Xiao Wei squinted his eyes at the blurry figure.

“Yu Min? What are you doing here?” he asked his son.

“Xiao Wei daddy!” Yu Min screamed in response. Xiao Wei winced at the noise and his sudden movement, that had began to rock the bed.

Yu Min launched himself on Xiao Wei, who had lain back in bed once more. There was an oof as Yu Min landed on Xiao Wei’s stomach. Straddling his chest, he placed his hands up to cradle Xiao Wei’s face.

“What is it, Yu Min?” Xiao Wei asked gently, seeing the half-earnest, half-fearful look in Yu Min’s eyes.

“Is it true?” he asked.

“What?” Xiao Wei asked in confusion.

“What you said last night?”

“Son, I don’t remember anything about last night,” Xiao Wei admitted. “This is why you should never drink,” Xiao Wei lectured, hugging him close.

“Xiao Wei daddy?” Yu Min asked, burying his head in Xiao Wei’s chest.

“Yes?” he asked, ruffling the boys hair.

“Last night you were singing loudly. I got scared,” Yu Min said. “But . . . but I came to your room because you were singing that song . . . you know that sad one we saw on TV last night. And I thought you might be hurt, so I came into your room. And you were laying in bed then, with your arm over your eyes,” Yu Min got out.

“I didn’t say anything mean did I?” Xiao Wei exclaimed. “You know I love you, right?”

“No. You were just sad, and I began to pat your arm.”

“Thank you for comforting me.”

“You said you loved me.”

“I do,” he quickly agreed.

“But then . . . and then . . . and then . . . you said ‘this is your daddy’ and held out a picture you had by your side,” Yu Min admitted in a rush.

“Oh God,” he groaned.

He remembered Jing walking out of the house.

“He was this really handsome guy.”

“Oh God.”

He remembered drinking and drinking and drinking.

“Xiao Wei daddy I was so happy you told me who my daddy was,” he smilingly said, leaning down to kiss one cheek.

“Oh God.”

He remembered Jing’s bedroom.

“Xiao Wei daddy?” Yu Min asked. “What’s wrong?”

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” he murmured frantically, getting off the bed.

He saw the Jing’s dresser in his mind. His hands opening a drawer.

“But isn’t this when you were going to tell me? You and mommy told me that you weren’t my real daddy, but that you loved me just as much as any daddy would their son, right?” he asked, repeating the exact words they always told him.

It was something that Xiao Wei had insisted on. He didn’t want to lie to Yu Min about something so important. He knew how it was to feel betrayed by everyone around you when the truth finally came out; it had come out about his own past. He had shattered completely, and had spent the next 10 years trying to put the pieces back together.

Jing had only agreed if they didn’t tell Yu Min about his father until she was ready.

“Oh my God.”

He saw the picture . . . that man’s picture. He remembered bringing it to his own room. He remembered shouting at it, crying to it, and then sleeping with it. He shuddered.

“Xiao Wei daddy I was so happy,” Yu Min confessed, leaning into Xiao Wei’s body. “I was so happy,” he murmured.

Xiao Wei looked down at the child he had called his own from the day of his birth. He looked at the love for him shining in those cute, little eyes. He saw the happiness Yu Min felt on learning the big secret.

“I want to meet him,” Yu Min said, looking up at him with entreating eyes.

“I . . . I . . . promise me you won’t tell your mommy,” he bargained.

“I promise,” he said with complete trust, without any questions.

“Then I promise I’ll convince your mother to take you back home. To take you back to him, okay?”

. . . . . . . . .

‘Oh God.’

. . . . . . . . .

‘If she finds out I’ll be dead.’

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

THE PRESENT . . . .

“Uh huh.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Uh huh.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Uh huh.”

. . . . . . . . .

“Ok, bye,” he said, concluding the call. He put down the phone.

Getting his keys off the coffee table, he raced to the door.

“Bye, honey! I’ll see you.”

“What’s the matter?” Yun Xi laughingly asked, seeing the panic in his eyes.

“You know that BIG slip-up I told you about?”

“The one where you told a three-year-old who his real father was without discussing it with his mother?” Yun Xi asked reflectively.

“Yeah. Well, Jing found out about that, and that I manipulated her into coming back here by playing on her sympathies for the company’s employees,” he said in a rush.

“And?”

“She’s coming here to kick my butt,” he said.

“I . . . fine, you can go,” Yun Xi said. “I’ll calm her down.”

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” he said, kissing her cheek and running out the door.

“I just hope she’s willing to listen.”

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

Chapter 13

We Have to Talk

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

She quickly put on her clothes, trying to be as quiet as possible. A twinge of pain stopped her hurried movements, and then she forced herself to begin once more. Her body was protesting this hurried activity after all that had occurred last night and into the early hours of the morning.

It had been as if he truly needed her. Her body, her presence, her.

Her eyes, without volition, turned to the figure lying on the bed behind her.

. . . . . . . . . .

Lei.

He had been everything she’d ever wanted in a man. He was still everything she wanted in a man. It had taken her time to look past her prejudices to see the truth. It had taken her time to realize that he wasn’t too young for her. And maybe this relationship had a chance.

Things had happened in between. Things that made it appear they could never be together. He had left France and her non-appearance in Spain had pushed him into San Chai’s arms. And then he had fallen in love with San Chai. And once Lei loved, he loved whole-heartedly. There was no going back for him.

There had been no hope.

But last night . . . last night he wanted her. Something inside of him, something had called out for her. He might have called San Chai’s name at the beginning, but after that he had known it was Jing in his arms. She remembered how his voice hand constantly called out her name.

And . . .

She was happy that her first time had been with him. With Lei.

Putting on her earrings, she turned toward the door.

“Don’t go,” Lei called out from behind her. “Don’t . . .”

Jing spun around, surprised, but he was asleep once more. It seemed as if nothing could keep Lei from his sleep when he hadn’t had his full cycle.

She moved back to the bed, and stared down at his face, relaxed in sleep, and so achingly beautiful.

She loved him.

And this might be another chance for them both.

. . . . . . . . . .

Another chance.

She had hope once more.

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

Jing quietly snorted, as she thought about that morning. How could she have been so naïve?

But she doubted any woman could’ve foreseen the possibility that the man she’d slept with the night before could forget all about it.

But if a man had been that drunk . . . could he have really performed at all? Apparently, Lei could. And while she cursed him everyday for forgetting, she couldn’t hate him for all of it. After all, that night had given her Min, the most precious person in her life.

“Jing, are you listening to me?” Lei asked from behind her.

“What is it now?” she asked, sighing.

“I have to tell Rui that he has a brother,” Lei said, repeating what he had said a moment ago. “And I hope that you’d feel comfortable being there with me when I do it. He might not really understand, and I . . . I’d appreciate the support.”

Her mouth curled, as she mulled over the idea of supporting him.

“Are you going to tell him that you married his mother while I was pregnant with Min?” she asked abruptly.

His eyes narrowed.

She laughed, and then quickly wiped the smiled from her face.

“I was just joking,” she quickly said, seeing the dark look he shot her way. “I don’t see why you want me there.”

“Because Min and Rui are brothers, and I want him to understand that.”

“But why would I need to be there?”

“So, I can show him Min’s mommy, and explain that while they might not have the same mothers, they are still brothers.”

“Right. But . . .”

“What is it?”

“I don’t see why I should help you with this? I mean why should I make it easier for you. When I came to tell you about you being a father, you were getting married to another woman. And you didn’t even bother inviting me to the wedding. Do you get what a slap in the face that was to me? So tell me Lei, why should I make it any easier for you?”

“Because you’re a good mother, and you wouldn’t want any child to be confused or hurt when you could alleviate that pain and help clear up any confusion.”

“That’s not fair Lei,” she protested, coming to sit across from him.

“But you’re doing it, right? You’ll be there,” he said confidently.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Fine.”

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

Lei pulled Jing to sit down next to him, ignoring her intention to sit at the other end of the sofa. They needed to present a united front.

Min and Rui sat in front of them. Min was jumping with energy, while Rui sat beside him trembling with his own emotions. While he might not have known what was going on today, Rui was just happy to have Auntie Jing and Min visiting them for the first time.

“Rui, we want to tell you something,” Lei began hesitantly. “I hope you won’t be confused or hurt by what I say.”

“What is it daddy?” Rui asked.

“Well . . . well, I wanted to tell you about Jing and Min.”

“What daddy?”

“I . . . you know that Min’s full name is Yu Min, right?”

“Yes, daddy. He told me.”

“And that you had a great-grandpa Yu Min? Remember him? We were so sad when grandpa Yu Min passed away.”

“Yes, daddy,” came the tearful reply.

“What I’m trying to say is that you don’t just have me and your mommy anymore.”

“Okay, daddy.”

Lei sighed with relief, and looked at Jing triumphantly. He had finally explained it to Rui.

Jing just shook her head, and nodded her head toward Rui.

“But daddy . . . who else do I have?” Rui asked in confusion, tugging at his arm.

Lei turned to see the confusion very evident in Rui’s eyes.

“Rui,” Jing began, pulling Rui to stand in front of her. “What your father’s trying to say is that Yu Min is your brother. He’s your older brother. He’s also your family, besides your mommy and daddy.”

“But . . . then . . . did you take Min away from us, Auntie Jing?” he asked.

“I . . . no, honey. Min is my son, too.”

“Then am I your son, too?” he asked eagerly.

She lovingly cupped his face and shook her head. “You’re not.”

“Why not?” Rui cried out. . . .“Then how can Min be my brother?”

There was a sigh of exasperation from behind him, and Min got up from the couch.

“Rui,” he said to his little brother, turning Rui around to face him. “What mommy and daddy are trying to say is that mommy, your auntie Jing, and Daddy, also your daddy, loved each other very much. But then mommy and daddy got into a fight, and daddy came back home. Daddy told mommy to come meet him, but mommy was late, and daddy got even more mad. So, he came home and married your mommy. But before that, daddy and mommy made me together. So, they are my mommy and daddy. But when daddy married your mommy, they made you together. We both have the same daddy. So, now, we’re brothers. Do you get it?” Min asked.

“My daddy is your daddy?”

“Yes.”

“Your mommy isn’t my mommy?”

“No.”

“My mommy isn’t your mommy?”

“No.”

“We’re brothers?”

“Yes.”

“We’ll be brothers forever?”

“Yes.”

“Will you stay here forever? Can I see you everyday?”

“Well, now that might not be poss—,” Jing began.

“Yes,” Lei and Min replied simultaneously.

“So, do you understand, Rui?” Jing asked, turing him to face her.

“Yes,” Rui replied. “Auntie Jing,” Rui whispered.

“Hmm?” she asked, just as softly.

“Can I pretend sometimes that you’re my mommy, too?” he whispered into her ear.

She pulled back, a refusal on her lips. She could never take Maya’s place in Rui’s life, and she didn’t want him to try. She saw the hope in his eyes. She saw the way he was wringing his hands together.

Hope.

How could she say no and break his heart?

“Of course,” she whispered into his ear.

“Now, let’s eat dinner,” Lei said, getting up.

“Wait!” Rui’s little voice piped up. “I have one more question.”

“What is it?” Min asked, the authority on everything.

Rui whispered his question to Min. “I . . . don’t know,” Min replied.

Both heads turned to the parents, and trained their bright eyes on them.

“What is it?” Lei asked.

“I don’t have a good feeling about this,” Jing murmured.

“How did you make us?” they asked in unison.

Chapter 14

Is it Really Love?

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

You treat life like a picture
But its not a moment frozen in time
It’s not gonna wait
Til you make up your mind, at all

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

((Jing’s house))

The doorbell rang, abruptly bringing Jing out of her reverie. She heard footsteps moving toward the door, and then the sound a child’s laughter.

Footsteps ran toward the room where she sat.

“Auntie Jing!” Rui shouted, as his small body launched itself at her figure.

“Rui. What are you doing here?” she asked laughingly, hugging him close to her.

“Daddy said I could spend the day here,” he excitedly replied, snuggling close. “Where’s Ge?” came the next question, as he pulled away.

“He’s upstairs sleeping,” Jing replied.

“Why isn’t Min Ge up? I wanted to play with him,” Rui complained.

“Well, it’s time for him to get up. So, you can have the honor,” Jing said.

“Okay,” he shouted, running to the door, almost colliding into the figure standing at the door.

Jing’s eyes turned towards him.

“What’s this all about?” she asked quizzically.

“Could you look after Rui for today?” he asked. “I called a meeting for today, and didn’t realize there would be no one to look after Rui.”

“What about his nanny?”

“It’s her week off,” he explained.

“Well, why not a replacement?” she asked, coming over to stand in front of him.

“Does it bother you that much?” he asked irritably.

“No, but . . . why not a replacement? What are you going to do the rest of the week?”

“I did hire one, but she showed up drunk. I’ve called the agency, and they’ll send another tomorrow.”

Jing’s eyes narrowed at the explanation.

“I can’t believe there are people like that out there,” she muttered crossly. “Fine. Go.”

“Thanks,” he quickly said, automatically leaning down to plant a kiss her cheek. Both froze at the unexpected contact.

“Who do you ki-you’re welcome. Bye,” she murmured, quickly moving away.

Her gaze followed him out the door.

Shaking her head, she tried to smack the thoughts away. She needed to stop thinking, and go see what the boys were doing.

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

((Jing’s House))

The doorbell rang shrilly; interrupting the shrieking that had been going before.

“Min, Rui, please calm down. It looks like we have guests,” Jing said, turning to look at the three women entering the hallway in surprise.

“San Chai, Xiao You, Xiao Qiao . . . what are you all doing here?” she asked happily.

“Well, it’s been a while since we’ve seen you Jing Jie,” San Chai replied.

“We thought that we might spend some time together,” Xiao You said softly.

“We’ve never actually met beyond the big occasions. You know, at Lei’s, San Chai and Dao Ming Si’s wedding, and Xiao You and Ximen’s wedding. And especially mine. It was all so hectic. And you can’t get any deeper than the pleasantries. We’ve never actually had a chance to talk. So I just wanted to really meet the great Jing Jie that San Chai so idolizes,” Xiao Qiao said, taking a deep breath at the end.

San Chai elbowed her in the side.

Jing smiled, pretending that she hadn’t seen the elbow, before ushering the women into the blue room. She asked for tea and urged the women to sit down.

“So, why are you all really here?”

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

((VS))

The music was loud in the bar. The pounding rhythm could be felt in the walls of the upstairs private room. The lights were low, and the atmosphere smoky.

The four men sat quietly, lounging back in the sofas provided by the establishment. They stared into their drinks, each wondering why he was here.

“Okay, Lei, can you explain to us why we’re all here at a bar at 11 in the morning?” Ah Si asked irritably. “I should be at work right now.”

“Same here,” Mei Zhou added.

“Well, I was taking some well-earned rest, when you called,” Ximen grumbled. “I can just imagine poor Xiao You sitting at home alone, waiting for her handsome hubby to come home.”

“Well, actually . . .” Ah Si began.

“Xiao You’s out with the girls. She said that if you could have a guy date, why couldn’t she have a get together with the women,” Mei Zhou said gleefully. “According to Xiao Qiao, Xiao You was muttering a lot about week-long vacations on pink sofas.”

“Why the hell are we here, Lei?!” Ximen demanded anxiously.

“And how long do we have to stay?”

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

((Jing’s House))

“Rui’s already here,” San Chai commented, seeing the two boys playing in the corner.

“Yes, Lei dropped him off,” Jing replied. “Don’t try to change the subject.”

“But that is the subject,” Xiao You quickly said. “We can see how close Rui and Min are, and how close you are to Rui. So, is this . . .”

“Is this what?” Jing asked.

“Is this indicative of a romance between you two?” Xiao Qiao said.

“Is there something going on that we don’t know about?” San Chai pressed.

“Any happily ever afters for us to look forward to?” Xiao You asked.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“No. No romance.”

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

((VS))

“Lei, talk,” Ah Si commanded.

“Is this about Jing?” Ximen asked reflectively.

Lei’s eyes widened in surprise, wondering how they could’ve known.

“We’ve seen how you look at her,” Mei Zhou said teasingly.

“Are you and Jing having an affair?” Ah Si asked in shock.

“Or do you want to start an affair, and you need advice?” Ximen asked.

“NO. Will you guys zip it about the affair?”

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

((Jing’s House))

“I have to tell you guys something,” Jing began seriously.

“It’s not something bad, is it?” San Chai asked worriedly.

“No, not bad. It’s just something I’ve been hiding. Actually . . . Min, my Yu Min, is . . . Lei’s son,” Jing said hesitantly. “The truth might come out later on, and I didn’t want you to feel that we’d kept you in the dark.”

“We would never think that Jing Jie,” San Chai quickly assured her.

“And we promise, we won’t tell anyone until you feel comfortable with this,” Xiao Qiao quickly added.

“Are you okay about us knowing?” Xiao You asked.

“It’s fine,” Jing assured them. “In fact, it’s important to me that all of you know.”

. . . . . . . . . .

San Chai looked at Xiao You and Xiao Qiao. The same question was reflected in their eyes.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“How did this happen?” Xiao Qiao asked.

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

((VS))

“I have to tell you guys something,” Lei began seriously.

“Did someone die?” Mei Zhou asked irreverently.

“No. It’s just something I found out recently. Actually . . . Min, Yu Min, is . . . my son,” Lei revealed. “The truth might come out later on, and I don’t want all of you getting on my case about it and saying dumb, thoughtless things to the media,” Lei said, looking at Ah Si.

“Hey, why are you singling me out. I wasn’t the one who told the media that Xiao Qiao liked a certain ‘position’ near the end of her pregnancy. And wouldn’t let her husband do it any other way,” Ah Si protested.

“What the f–, Ah Si! Let’s not even go there,” Mei Zhou said darkly. “At least I wasn’t the one that told the media his wife looked like a PREGNANT whale when she was in her 6th month of pregnancy.”

“Shut up!” Ah Si shouted.

“No, you shut up!”

“Stop it, guys. Can we focus, please?” Lei ground out.

“Stop arguing,” Ximen said. “What I want to know is how did this happen?”

“Me, too,” Dao Ming Si and Mei Zhou shouted simultaneously.

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

((Jing’s House))

“It was . . . during your wedding,” Jing said, turning to San Chai. “Lei was drunk . . . and I was just unhappy. And . . . it happened.”

“But . . . that would mean you were pregnant when you came to Lei’s wedding,” Xiao You said.

“You came to tell him, didn’t you?” Xiao Qiao said in distress. “You must’ve been so hurt.”

“I . . . was,” Jing agreed softly. “But don’t think of it too much. I had Xiao Wei. He helped me through the pregnancy and long afterwards. I was never alone,” she assured them.

“But Lei knows now. I’m glad that it’s no longer a secret. I can imagine how it must’ve weighed on you,” Xiao You said in understanding.

“You’re right,” Jing admitted. “Lei accepted it well enough, and we’re trying to work through it. We told the kids last night.”

“I hate to be crass about this, but how was it?” Xiao Qiao asked.

“Xiao Qiao!” the girls shouted at her.

“What? I’m pregnant again, blame it on my hormones,” she defensively explained. “I need details.”

“Xiao Qiao, why didn’t you tell us before?” they cried converging on her to offer their congratulations. She smilingly accepted the good wishes, and turned her enquiring eyes toward Jing.

“Well?” San Chai blurted out.

. . . . . . . . .

“It was wonderful. Fantastic for my first time. My every dream come true,” she dryly responded. “Happy?”

. . . . . . . . .

“You didn’t do it when Lei came to France?” San Chai asked tactlessly.

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

((VS))

“It was the night before your wedding, Ah Si,” Lei replied.

“How was it?” Mei Zhou asked immediately.

“Mei Zhou,” Lei said warningly.

“What? Blame it on Xiao Qiao’s pregnancy.”

“What again? You need to slow down, man,” Ximen advised.

Lei just narrowed his eyes at him.

“Don’t be such a gentleman, Lei,” Ximen urged.

“I don’t remember.”

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

“I can’t believe those words came out of Hua Ze Lei’s mouth,” Ximen said.

“I was drunk out of my mind,” Lei protested.

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

“I can’t believe THOSE words just came out of Hua Ze Lei’s mouth,” Mei Zhou murmured.

“I didn’t even remember that we’d been together. Not until a week ago, and even then only flashes of what occurred before the actual act,” Lei said, trying to explain just how drunk he had been.

“Even I’m not that forgetful,” Ah Si muttered, staring at Lei reproachfully.

“Hey! Don’t blame me. It was Jing who came on to me when I was at my most vulnerable.”

“Blaming the woman,” Ximen murmured, shaking his head.

“So not cool,” Mei Zhou tagged on.

“It’s always the man’s responsibility,” Ah Si said piously.

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

((Jing’s House))

“So, what will happen now, Jing Jie?” San Chai asked. “I know you’re trying to work this out for Min and Rui, but what about between you two?”

“I don’t know. He’s the father of my son. He was my . . . first love. And I still have feelings for him. We’ll be connected for the rest of our lives, and no matter how much I might want to keep my distance, it’s not possible.”

“Awww,” the girls cried out emotionally.

“Look into your heart, Jing,” Xiao You finally said. “See what it’s telling you. And if what you’re feeling right now for Lei really is love, and not some nostalgic attempt at re-living your past with Lei, then go for it.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“I think . . .”

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

((VS))

“So, what’s going to happen now?” Mei Zhou asked, after a moment of silence.

“I don’t know . . . she’s my son’s mother. She was my first love. And I dream about her every night. No matter how much I want to forget the many ways we’re connected, it’s just not possible.”

“Aww,” the guys said mockingly.

“Dude!” Ximen exclaimed. “Stop being such a woman about this. Be a man. Decide what it is that you really want. And if it is Jing, go for it. Go for her.”

“Don’t sit on your ass thinking about it,” Mei Zhou urged.

“Don’t waste too much time looking into your heart,” Ah Si continued. “You either feel it or you don’t.”

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

((Jing’s House))

Jing sat amongst them, and tried to think about what she really wanted. The girls quietly talked in a corner, letting her mull it over undisturbed.

What did she feel for Lei?

Their relationship and her feelings for him had existed for a long, long time. An eternity. So much so, that she’d stopped asking her heart what it felt about the situation. The relationship was complicated. It was bitter. And it was painful.

But what else did she feel?

For the first time, in a long time, she talked to her heart. And was surprised by the answers she received.

She quickly exhaled. Shocked.

“Jing Jie?” San Chai asked, coming to sit next to her.

Jing grabbed San Chai’s hand, wanting the warmth.

“Jing?” Xiao Qiao asked softly, reaching for her other hand.

“I . . . I think . . . I don’t love him anymore.”

“What?” Xiao You exclaimed, not expecting this answer.

“I don’t think what I feel is love. It’s complicated, but I don’t think it’s love anymore. I . . . was bitter about being misunderstood. I’ve talked to him about that. I felt guilty for hiding Min. Now, that secret is out. I hated that he’d forgotten our night together, and I admit that I would’ve NEVER told him unless he had remembered. And he did. He might not know that he took my virginity, but he knows we’d been that close. Close enough to make a baby. He cares enough, now, to connect the dots. And all the complicated feelings are slipping away. The bitterness isn’t important anymore.”

“But, Jing Jie,” Xiao Qiao began, unsure of what to say. They’d been hoping for another answer altogether.

“I . . . thought that I couldn’t love a great guy like Xiao Wei because I still loved Lei. But it was just that I was afraid to love again, to trust someone with a once-broken heart. I didn’t trust Xiao Wei to not break that heart again. And Xiao Wei had his own soulmate out there; if we had truly been married, then what would’ve happened to Yun Xi?”

“What does this mean?” Xiao You asked.

“To me . . . now. . . Lei is a beautiful dream I had, and like all dreams, it had to end. I like Lei. I respect him. I want my son to grow up and be a man just like Lei, but, for me, it’s time to move on.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“Are you saying this because that’s what you truly believe?” San Chai asked softly, looking into Jing’s eyes.

“Or is that what you want to believe? He’s hurt you. Are you sure it’s just not that fear talking again?”

“I . . .,” Jing’s voice trailed off. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s what my heart believes or what it wants to believe. This is what my heart wants.”

“Ok, what are you going to do now?” came the replies.

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

((VS))

Lei sat there thinking about what he wanted to do. What he had to do.

“Lei what you have decided?” Ah Si asked, leaning forward.

“I’m thinking,” Lei said in exasperation. It had been the third such interruption in the past five minutes.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Lei?” Ximen’s voice called out two minutes later.

“Not yet,” Lei ground out.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Lei, aren’t you done yet?” Mei Zhou’s plaintive voice.

“Shut up, all of you,” Lei ground out.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“And we thought you were the fast thinker,” Ah Si muttered.

Lei’s fists clenched.

“Damn woman,” Ximen muttered.

Lei’s lips tightened.

“Don’t insult women,” Mei Zhou said out of the side of his mouth.

“Fine! I want her. She’s different from before,” he shouted, getting up. “She was damn beautiful before, but now she’s a goddess,” he spat out. “She’s more emotional,” he said through clenched teeth. “That cold part of her, the one that made me believe that she could never love me, is gone.” He turned away in embarrassment, ashamed of the words pouring out of his mouth. He couldn’t control his emotions.

“I’m excited by her. Her scent turns me on. Her taste turns me on. Dreams of her exhaust me at night. My attraction to her is both physical and psychological! She makes me come alive, and I’m beginning to feel emotions that I haven’t felt in a long, long time. When I’m with her, I want to live actively. Happy?!”

“Exhaust?” a voice mumbled behind him.

“Wet dreams of Jing?” a voice whispered in shock.

“Way too much detail, dude,” a third voice murmured simultaneously.

He spun around.

“So, what are you going to do about it?” they quickly asked.

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

((Jing’s House))

“I’m just going to be a friend.”

. . . . . . . . .

“Anything more is unacceptable.”

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

((VS))

“I’m going to make her mine.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Anything less is unacceptable.”

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

 

Chapter 15

Three Stooges

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

Rrrrrriiiiiiiinnnnnnnngggggg.

Someone groaned in the silent room.

Rrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnngggggggg.

Hands reached out to grab a pillow and throw it in the direction of the offensive noise.

Rrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnggggggggggg.

“What the hell!” he muttered darkly, finally getting up.

Rrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnggggggggggggggg.

“What the f— is wrong with you?” he shouted into his private line. Not many had this number. And those few that did, knew him well enough to not call before 11 a.m. “I’m battling the urge to reach through this line and make you feel sorry that you were ever born,” he growled.

There was a short, charged silence.

And then gentle laughter spilled through the phone. The sounds were music to his ears.

“Lei?” Jing’s voice called over the line. “You’ve gotten more expressive with your feelings.”

“Jing?” Lei asked, his surprise almost making him drop the phone on the floor.

“. . . ry. I didn’t know that you were sleeping an hour later now,” Jing was saying by the time he brought the receiver back to his ear.

“Well, yeah,” he mumbled. “Sorry about that. I just didn’t get enough sleep,” he quickly explained. “Now, what can I do for you?”

“I wanted to know if we could meet tonight,” she said.

“What’s the matter?” he asked, on the alert.

“No, nothing,” she responded. “I don’t always call you when something’s the matter, do I?” Jing laughingly protested.

“Actually, you don’t really call me at all,” Lei explained cautiously.

“Well, nothing’s the matter. I thought we’d drop the kids off with San Chai and then you I can spend some time together. I really want our old relationship back,” she murmured.

“I’m available tonight,” he murmured thoughtfully, trying to sound calm and cool.

“Then, I’ll see you tonight at seven?” Jing asked. “We can have dinner at my house.”

“Actually, why don’t you let me plan something?” he quickly asked.

“Uh, sure,” she agreed.

“I’ll pick you up at seven,” he promised. “I’ll have Ah Si pick up the kids.”

“Okay, I’ll see you tonight. Bye,” she said over the phone.

“Bye,” he grunted into the phone.

As soon as the call ended, he headed toward bed, the phone forgotten in his hand.

And he dreamt dreams. Weird ones.

Of calling Mei Zhou.

Of calling Ximen.

Of calling Ah Si.

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

Lei looked around him.

It hadn’t been a dream. Damn it.

“Here’s the earpiece,” Mei Zhou said, handing it over.

Lei looked at him quietly.

The sun peeked through the windows of the mansion, shining on the four men sitting at the dining room table, huddled close together. Their body language indicated something sneaky was occurring.

“I’m 29,” Lei responded dryly. “Do you really think that I can’t get through one date without your help?”

Ximen, Mei Zhou and Ah Si all looked at each other. They then looked at him.

“Yes.”

Lei sighed, and reached out to grab the phone. He didn’t know why he had told these three about Jing asking him out last night. He must’ve been gone crazy from all the excitement. ‘What the hell was happening to him?’ he silently wondered, his hand coming up to his lips. ‘Why couldn’t he keep it shut?’ Seriously, who called his friends while he was sleeping? He should’ve kept it a secret. These three stooges just might ruin everything.

“Here’s the transceiver thing,” Ah Si said, interrupting the thoughts racing through Lei’s head.

Sighing, he reached for that as well.

“Put the transceiver into your shirt pocket. Because the earpiece is wireless, we don’t want any static that might ruin our listening in on your date,” Ximen explained solemnly.

“What do you guys even know about electronics?” Lei asked suspiciously.

“Nothing,” they truthfully replied. “But it makes sense, doesn’t it?” Mei Zhou asked.

Lei sighed, but followed their directions without argument.

He had to admit that while a part of him did regret calling them, another part was secretly greatful. He hadn’t been on a date for so long. In fact, the last time had been with the blonde woman, when he’d been trying to forget Jing. Those times with San Chai hadn’t really counted, and he’d never felt it necessary to date Maya. Since the two families had brokered their marriage for business reasons, he hadn’t had to face the trouble of wooing her.

“Now, we’ve discussed the places you’ll go, and the equipment,” Ah Si said. Walking around the table, he put his hands on Lei’s shoulders. He looked straight into Lei’s eyes. “Remember, we’ll be here for you. If you have any questions, just talk to us, Lei.”

“Most of all, remember our code names, just in case the mission is compromised,” Mei Zhou inserted.

Lei narrowed his eyes.

Ex-Playboy #1.

Ex-Playboy #2.

And Ex-Pineapple Head.

His lips curled into a smile. If they could make him use code names, he got to pick the names.

He got up to go on his date with Jing, and slapped the hands that came up to fix his hair, collar, and tie away.

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

((10 A.M. at Jing’s House))

Jing stared at the phone in her hands. She couldn’t believe she’d done it. San Chai, Xiao You and Xiao Qiao had insisted that she needed to meet with Lei and clear the air. She needed to have him understand what her hopes were for their future.

Her hands shook as she put the receiver back into its cradle.

Why did it feel like she’d just asked a guy out on a date for the first time in her life?

“But won’t he misunderstand,” she’d asked three in confusion.

“Why would he? It’s Lei,” San Chai had insisted.

“He’s almost psychic,” Xiao You had assured her.

“He’ll know what you’re doing,” Xiao Qiao had said. “And if he does misunderstand, you can explain it easily, right?”

She’d gone along with it. They were right. It was time for Lei and her to talk. It was time for them to map out their relationship, and make sure their past wouldn’t hurt Min now. They needed to move on. He wouldn’t think that she was asking him on a date, right?

Would he?

He’d already turned her down in Spain, and moved on. He knew she was smart enough to know when to give up.

He wouldn’t think that.

No, of course not, it was Lei.

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

She just hoped she didn’t get rejected before she could explain.

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

Lei stared down at the flowers in his hands. Daffodils. Seriously, who gave a date daffodils? Ah Si had insisted. He remembered something about Jing and daffodils, and that could only be because she liked them, right? And with that logic, he’d sent his butler out to buy a dozen.

When Lei had protested, citing the fact that they were at HIS house, Ah Si said he only trusted Butler Liu to get the flowers he liked. The fact that this was Lei’s date didn’t really matter. He’d given in, because he DID want to make Jing happy.

He slowly walked up the steps, toward the open door.

Jing was standing there, looking beautiful in a yellow sundress. Her hair was pulled away from her face, and allowed to fall free down her back. She barely wore any makeup, her lip gloss leaving the pink color of her plump lips to shine through. He wanted to kiss those lips.

Her eyes smiled at him, as she opened her mouth for a greeting.

Her eyes landed on the flowers in his hands, cradled against his chest. They widened.

At least Ah Si had gotten this right.

And Jing slammed the door shut.

His eyes widened, and he walked to the door.

“Jing?” he called, knocking on the door.

“Master Lei?” the housekeeper called from the other side.

“Where’s Jing?” he demanded.

“Miss Jing is at the other end of the house,” the voice explained.

“But, why? We have a date,” he insisted. “She was right here. Now she’s there. What’s going on?”

“Miss Jing is allergic to daffodils.”

“What?!”

“Miss Jing had a horrible incident with them when she was younger. She was in the hospital for a week. Miss Jing almost died. Master Ah Si was there, and took her to the hospital when she had the attack. Miss Jing is saying how could that moron not have told you?” the housekeeper apologetically related.

“What?” Lei ground out. Picking up the transceiver, he related all that had been told.

There was total silence on the other end.

“Ex-Pineapple Head?” he asked.

. . . . . . . . . .

“My bad,” Ah Si muttered.

“Miss Jing asks that you go change, because even the pollen that might have transferred to your clothes may very well be deadly to her. Miss Jing will await your return.”

Lei walked back to his car, all the while muttering death threats against the person who deserved it most. There went two hours agonizing over this outfit down the drain. Not that he’d ever tell anyone that.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Lei stepped out of the building, and moved toward his car. Getting inside, he slowly shook his head, staring down at the jeans and t-shirt he’d bought at the nearest outlet.

“We’ll make sure there won’t be anymore problems,” Ah Si promised.

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

The two walked into the aquarium, sighing as the cool air hit them. It was a relief after the hot, humid weather outside.

Lei looked at the dark interior. Ximen had recommended the venue, citing the fact that all his weekly lovers had loved the cool atmosphere. Lei had to agree that this wasn’t such a bad idea. He felt it was especially better when Jing reached out, taking his hand. Her body moved closer to his.

“Jing?” he murmured solicitously, “why don’t we have a seat?” He ushered her to a bench in front of the biggest tank, and they watched the sea life beyond the glass in silence. Her hand gripped his tighter, and he tightened his hold in response.

Not a bad idea at all.

“Jing, I wanted to talk to you about something important,” he began.

“Hmm?” she queried softly.

“I want all of the awkwardness between us to disappear,” he began urgently.

She turned to look at him in surprise.

“Me too,” she murmured.

“I want us to be as we were before,” he suggested, alluding to their time together in France. “We were friends, but we were so much more, correct?”

Jing looked away for a second, and was mesmerized by the shark behind the glass, opening its big mouth to reveal big teeth.

“I do too,” she distractedly murmured, latching onto the ‘before’ and ‘friends’. “I miss that relationship, Lei. And I’m sure that if we try again, it would work beautifully now. Now that we’re older, and more understanding of each other.”

“Same here,” Lei murmured, putting his arm around her. She snuggled closer.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Lei, can we go?” Jing asked apologetically.

“What’s wrong?” he asked in concern.

“I . . . I have this phobia about fishes, well any kind of sea life. I’m . . . just not very comfortable here. I mean look at their eyes, they don’t blink and just stare and stare,” she shamefacedly confessed. She shivered as the shark made another pass in front of them. “Can we?” she repeated in a small voice.

For the first time he noticed the shivering. Her skin had grown pale, and he could see sweat beading on her forehead. Her eyes were wide, and she was hardly blinking.

“I’m sorry, Jing. We’ll go right away,” Lei assured her. “Why didn’t you say anything before?”

“We were talking,” she explained. “And these were things that needed to be said and I’m glad they’re out in the open. But, can we go now?” she desperately asked.

He began to pull her down the hall toward the exit. As they crossed by the open pool area, a voice called out in panic, “Watch out!”

In another second, water came splashing out, and onto Lei, completely soaking him. Jing had moved away just in time.

“Hey Lei, Ex-Playboy #1 here. I just wanted to warn to you,” Ximen’s voice said through the earpiece. “Stay as far away from the open pool area as you can. Passersby can easily get soaked. I doubt you want to change your clothes again today.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

Lei stared at the water dripping down his body, soaking him to the bone. He shook his head, a thought running through his mind.

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

Lei, in a new set of clothes, and Jing sat in the restaurant that Mei Zhou had picked for them. He’d also insisted on picking the perfect menu, and Lei had to admit that everything was going great.

They’d had easy conversation. Good food. And he could feel her opening up to him. This was, by far, the best part of their date. Even if the three stooges were snoring away in his earpiece.

Dessert was served, and they began to eat. Her eyes longingly looked at the plate in front of him. She’d asked for a lemon sorbet, trying to keep the calories down after the sumptuous meal they’d just had.

“Jing, here,” he urged her softly, offering her a spoon filled with the light dessert.

“I couldn’t,” she protested.

“Come on, for me?” he asked.

He could see that she was tempted. And if she shared his spoon that would mean that she had really accepted their new relationship. Juvenile thinking, he knew it, but he couldn’t help himself.

As a 12-year old Ximen had said, “Sharing spit is a big deal. Do it only with the girls you like.” Ironic, that.

She nodded, and leaned forward, and her lips parted.

He watched her eat the spoonful, and moan in delight, her eyes closing at the heavenly taste.

“Oh, shit! Lei come in, Ex-Playboy #2 here. Lei, are you listening?” he asked urgently.

Lei didn’t bother to respond.

“If you can hear me, this is very important. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT let Jing eat the dessert we chose. She’s allergic to chestnuts, and this might cause an incident. We were just notified by our detectives of this allergy. Do not let her eat it.”

Lei’s eyes flashed to Jing. He saw her swallowing.

“No!” he shouted, running around the table, and pulled her up by the arm.

“Lei, what is it?” Jing asked, startled.

“Are you allergic to chestnuts?” he asked urgently.

Her eyes widened. He started to pull her out the door, intent on getting her to hospital.

“No,” she pulled away, “we need to get them out right now.”

“Get them out?”

“I need to throw up,” she explained, running to the door.

He followed her to the bathroom, and could hear her gagging.

He heard her moan, and she stuck her head out of the stall.

“I can’t do it. I can’t,” she cried, her eyes beseeching.

He didn’t argue. He was a man, and he would get the job done.

Stepping inside, he instructed Jing to pull her hair away from her face. Without another thought, he stuck his finger down her throat.

Meanwhile, the three stooges were still shouting in the background. They were trying to yell out helpful suggestions. He angrily pulled the earpiece, and watched as Jing threw up . . . on him.

She was so weak, afterwards.

“I want to go home,” she murmured, turning her face up to him.

He nodded, and picked her up. Soon, they were on their way to her house. He couldn’t believe what a debacle this evening had been. They had known each other all their lives; he had professed to love her for more than half of his. But still . . . how could he not have known this much? She was allergic to daffodils, to chestnuts. She had a phobia. And he hadn’t known.

Reaching home, he saw that she had slipped into a deep slumber. Going across to her side, he pulled open the door. Pulling her out of the car, he gasped as the lights fell on her face and he saw the damage one spoonfull had done. Her face was swollen, and she was hot. He tried to push her back into the car, intending to take her to the hospital.

“No,” Jing murmured, divining his intent. “I’m okay. This just looks bad. I’ll be fine. Take me inside.”

He carried her out of the car, and upstairs, putting her into bed. The housekeeper helped to get her clean. He sat with her, watching her drop off to sleep once more. Right before she fell into slumber, her hand reached out to hold his. He gently kissed a cheek, not wanting to hurt her anymore, and turned to leave.

He stared at his pants, staring at the mess. On his first date with Jing, when he had decided to start their relationship once more, let’s list all he’d done.

He’d almost put her in the hospital and near death in the first few seconds of that date.

He’d forced her to face her hidden phobia of fish. Who knew?

And he’d definitely injured her by allowing Mei Zhou to pick the “perfect” menu for her.

His ignorance had almost caused Jing irreparable harm, but he wasn’t going to take this excuse to run away. He would get to know her, and he would ensure that he never hurt Jing again.

And that same thought was racing through his mind, the one he’d been having all day.

How could this be happening to him?

He was Hua Ze Lei. This kind of stuff didn’t happen to him. Never.

Mei Zhou he could understand. He’d shown his true colors by jumping into the lake for Xiao Qiao’s cello. And this was BEFORE he’d admitted he loved her.

Ximen. He could understand that also. This was the guy who made a life-long enemy out of a man for a girl he barely knew. This was a man who, with a picture in his hand and no memory, had traveled all over Canada looking for Xiao You*.

And Ah Si. Definitely Ah Si. Witnessing the crazy things that love had made him do, no one could ever doubt that his love would put him in situations like this.

But he was Hua Ze Lei.

And Hua Ze Lei didn’t do things like this.

But there was always a first time for everything.

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

Rrrrrriiiiiiiinnnnnnggggg.

“What the f—, what is wrong with you asses?” he growled into the phone once more, the second day in a row.

“How was it?” three voices asked him in unison, ignoring the fury he directed their way.

“Why are you guys calling my at . . . 6 AM IN THE MORNING??!!!” Lei shouted into the phone.

“The transceiver wasn’t working,” Mei Zhou protested.

“We needed to know,” Ximen insisted.

“I got them to wait until 6,” Ah Si said.

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

“We won’t let you sleep until you tell us,” they all said at once.

Lei ran his hand down his face, and turned to stare back at his bed. The faster he told them, the faster he could go to sleep.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“You know . . . despite everything that went wrong thanks to all of you, it wasn’t horrible. I think it was a good start.”

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

* Alluding to “Love Is You” (www.winglin.net/fanfic/darkice_04). As I haven’t been incorporating that fic into this story as much as I planned to, I’m thinking most of you have probably forgotten that this is a continuation of that XM/XY story. Sorry if I confused anyone. 🙂

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