IFLT 16 – 20

Chapter 16

Soapy Mishaps

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

She slowly woke up, groaning as the pain returned along with her consciousness. Her throat ached, her body ached, even her eyes ached. Peeling them open, she saw that she was in her bedroom.

What had happened last night? She remembered going into the restaurant’s bathroom but after that it all became a bit blurry.

She got up, moaning slightly at the pain shooting through her head. She hated that her allergic reaction left her feeling like this. She felt like a person who had spent all night drinking. That’s why she’d gotten so careful about eating the damn things . . . how did it happen? Why didn’t she ask?

She always asked.

She sighed, reluctantly admitting that being with Lei had been the distracting factor. She wouldn’t ask herself why that was because she’d already decided that they could only be friends.

Jing carefully got out of bed, and turned to go to the bathroom. She froze in shock on seeing the figure sleeping in the chair on the other side of her bed.

“Lei,” she exhaled softly. What was he doing here?

She vaguely remembered him leaving. But then again she vaguely remembered him sticking his finger down her throat, and THAT could never have happened. So maybe she was wrong about him leaving.

Walking quietly around him, she went to the door instead. Sneaking outside, she quickly closed it behind her.

Turning to go to Min’s bedroom, she almost bumped into Mrs. Chen coming to her bedroom.

“What is he doing here?” she asked her housekeeper, gesturing to the door behind her. “I have a vague recollection of him leaving.”

“Master Lei left last night, but then he came back with Masters Min and Rui. He then went away again, but came back again saying that he couldn’t sleep,” Mrs. Chen smilingly explained. “And we all know how much Mr. Lei likes to sleep,” she continued, stating the obvious. “He said that he wanted to make sure that you were taken care of all night and that way he could get some peace.”

Jing nodded in puzzlement.

“He was in that chair all night?” she finally asked.

“Yes,” Mrs. Chen said, nodding her head vigorously. “I checked on you throughout the night, and he was sitting in that chair, with a book in his lap. Although he wasn’t reading much.”

Jing looked back at the closed door. Lei had spent the night here, taking care of her. Shrugging, she made her way to Min’s room. She froze when she saw her face in one of the hall mirrors. Shuddering, she quickly turned away. Min and Rui would be terrified if he saw her face. She didn’t want to terrorize the boys just because she was feeling shy about using the bathroom in her own room with Lei there.

She turned to go back to her bedroom. She’d brush her teeth and be out of there after a quick shower. If she believed what Mrs. Chen had said, Lei hadn’t slept all night. He wouldn’t even notice.

“Miss Jing, before I forget,” Mrs. Chen called out from behind her. “Mrs. Dao Ming called. She wanted to have a small get together for brunch, and she was wondering if you could make it.”

“When?”

“Today. In two hours,” Mrs. Chen replied. “And since Master Lei was with you,” Mrs. Chen continued ignoring the growing horror in Jing’s eyes, “she wondered if you could wake him up and bring him along.”

How had San Chai found out? And, more importantly, had she told anyone else. Jing moaned in embarrassment. She moved back to her bedroom door, all the while feverishly thinking of how to explain so that there would be no room for doubt. She opened the door once more and slipped inside. Grabbing a pair of jeans and a dressy top from her wardrobe, she quickly moved toward the bathroom door.

Jing stared at her face in the mirror above the sink as she brushed her teeth. Staring at the effect last night’s dinner had wrought, she began to wonder once more what all that had been about. Lei had agreed to be just friends, and to make this all easier for Min and Rui, but last night had begun to seem more and more like a date in the clear light of day.

The flowers.

A trip to the aquarium.

A candlelit dinner.

It might not have been her idea of a dream date, but she was sure a number of women would have gladly gone on this non-date.

She stripped off her clothes, and stepped into the shower, closing the glass doors behind her.

‘Why would anyone go to so much trouble for an old friend, an ex-girlfriend . . . the mother of his son?’ she mused to herself. ‘Why would he?’ They hadn’t really talked about Min, and all the stuff they did need to talk about. But she had gotten her point across; they just needed to have an in-depth discussion about it today or some time soon.

Jing turned on the water, keeping it to a barely lukewarm temperature. Jing made a face. As much as she would hate it, she kept the water on the cooler side, hoping the cold would make the swelling go down a bit. She shivered as she quickly began to use the loofah over her body. The water fell over her body, causing goosebumps to appear on her skin, and tightening her nipples. Quickly washing herself, the thought topmost in her mind was to be done with this and be out.

The rush of water was loud in the bathroom. Even so, she heard the door open behind her. Whirling around, her eyes widened as they landed on the figure standing in the doorway.

Her startled eyes met his equally startled ones. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what to do. Quickly bringing the loofah up, she tried to shield herself. She could almost feel his gaze leaving her face and moving down her body.

Lei was mesmerized by the womanly figure standing before him. She was vulnerable. Beautiful. He tried swallowing, but couldn’t get his throat to work. His eyes followed a rivulet of water as it fell from Jing’s chin, landing on her chest, and began to trail over a perfectly formed, hard-tipped breast, stopping on a pink edge.

Unconsciously, he moved forward, wanting to touch.

“Lei!” she shouted in panic. In anger. In embarrassment.

Her voice brought him out of his trance. Meeting her gaze once more, he quickly backed out of the door. Leaning in, he pulled the door shut behind him, but not without a final glance at her delectable body.

“Shit,” he murmured. Jing was going to kill him. Stepping away from the door, he began to move toward the bedroom door, ignoring his discomfort.

“What are you doing here daddy?” Min’s voice called from the bed.

“You’re mommy was si—I slept over,” Lei explained, not wanting to scare Min with the news that his mother had been sick.

“You left the water on,” Min said.

“I—uh,” he began, unsure of what to say. “Your mommy is in there taking a shower.”

“But, then, why were you in there?” Min said in confusion. “Mommy said it’s rude to go into the bathroom when someone else is using it.”

“It was an accident,” Lei quickly explained. “I was sleepy and didn’t really know that your mommy was in there.”

“But mommy is gonna be mad at you,” Min said anxiously. “She’s gonna get mad and then she might not let you come here anymore. Mommy said it is WRONG to go in when someone else was using the bathroom.

“Well—uh, you know Min, it’s alright for mommys and daddys to use the bathroom together. That’s what parents do.”

“Really? It’s okay for a daddy to be in there when a mommy is taking a shower?” he asked.

“Um, yeah?” Lei finally murmured, not sure of how to explain this.

“Even when a mommy has no clothes on?” he asked in a shocked tone.

“Yes,” Lei hurriedly replied, really hoping that Min wouldn’t mention this conversation to Jing.

“Okay. Let’s go eat breakfast,” Min urged. “Rui’s already at the table, waiting to eat. He was complaining that mommy was too slow, so I came to get her. We’ll wait for mommy and then we can eat breakfast like a REAL family.”

“Sure,” Lei replied, hurriedly pulling Min out the door.

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

“Jing, let’s talk,” Lei asked once more.

She didn’t respond. In fact, she hadn’t looked at him since the incident. Beyond telling him not to eat anything because of the brunch at Ah Si’s and San Chai’s she hadn’t spoken to him at all. They’d gotten through the drive and the brunch without a word being spoken. Whenever he tried to speak with her, she would only blush and quickly move on to speak to someone else. Sighing, he gave up for the moment. But he needed to fix this. She had to know that he hadn’t done it on purpose. Although, he had to admit that he wasn’t sorry that it had happened.

Looking around, he saw Jing talking to Mimi and Ching He. The two had come with their four-year-old son, who was happily playing with Min and Kenny. Rui was in the corner with Ah Si’s son, playing their own little quiet game of god knew what.

Ah Si and San Chai were huddled in a corner, arguing over her continuous activity endangering her pregnancy. The argument ended as it always did, with San Chai walking away and Ah Si running after her, apologizing profusely.

Ximen and Xiao You stood talking to Mei Zhou and Xiao Qiao. Ximen’s arm was protectively around Xiao You’s waist. The two had revealed that Xiao You was two months pregnant.

He’d noticed the almost imperceptible dimming of Jing’s smile before she had rushed over to congratulate the couple. He could only surmise that she was feeling the exact same way he had been. While he’d happy for Ximen, he wanted to be in that position. He wanted to be with the woman he loved, and to be sharing the news that they’re union had borne fruit. He wanted to be there with his arm around Jing.

Seeing Mimi and Ching He moving away, Lei quickly pounced on Jing, and grabbing her arm, dragged her to an isolated corner of the yard.

“Why are you avoiding me?” he asked. “You have to know it was an accident.”

She blushed, and tried to move away once more.

“Jing?” he questioned roughly, grabbing her arm to keep her from escaping.

“I . . . you weren’t the one standing there naked,” Jing finally got out.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” he quickly assured her.

“. . . That’s not the point. With where our relationship is right now . . . the fact that we’re starting all over again . . . it just wasn’t the best thing to happen,” she said in a rush.

“I see,” he murmured, realizing now why Jing had been so embarrassed. They’d just begun to renew an old relationship . . . and too much intimacy at the beginning, right after their first date, had spooked her.

“I promise to forget it,” he finally said. “It was an accident, and we’ll leave it at that. You don’t have to be so embarrassed about it. After all, we were together once, right?”

“I . . . you’re right,” she finally agreed. “It really isn’t that big a deal,” she repeated, trying to convince herself that she hadn’t wanted his touch when she had seen him in the doorway. “It’ll be our little secret.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

“He is too my daddy!” Min shouted out suddenly. “Rui isn’t his only son. And they’re like real mommys and daddys! Daddy slept in mommy’s bed. And daddy and mommy were naked in the bathroom together! So there!”

And there was enough of a lull in the conversation so that everyone there easily heard his words. There was a moment of silence, and then the excitement started. Eight pairs of shocked eyes turned to the couple in question.

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

“. . . spent the night together?”

“. . .’s the man.”

“. . . Lei’s son?”

“ . . . bathroom together?”

“. . . fast worker.”

“Wh-. . . ey do it?”

“ . . . shower together?”

“. . . just friends?”

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

“Oh, god,” she softly groaned, covering her burning face with her hands. Her next words were muffled, but were easily understood by the man standing next to her.

“I’m going to kill you Lei.”

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

Chapter 17

Perfect Kiss

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

“So, how was it?” Mei Zhou’s irrepressible question broke the silence.

“You are a real man, aren’t you?” Ximen asked admiringly.

“Dude, she was sick,” Ah Si protested in a shocked tone. “How could you do that?”

Lei stared at the three men silently. After Min’s revelation chaos had abounded. No matter how much Lei and Jing tried to deny what everyone had heard, everybody refused to believe a word. Lei had finally pulled the three men into the den, because these three had been the most disbelieving of all. And Lei had seen the anger growing in Jing’s eyes. He knew that if he didn’t take the three monkeys out of her sphere, she would explode. And not just explode, she would explode at him.

“You really want to know how it was?” he asked the three.

The three eagerly nodded.

“Come closer,” he prompted in a secretive tone, motioning them closer with his finger.

The three leaned closer, wanting to hear everything. They didn’t want to miss out on any of the juicy details.

Lei put out his hands, smiling all the while, and leaned in. Placing his hands on Ximen’s and Mei Zhou’s eager little heads, he pushed in his hands, slamming the two heads against Ah Si’s big one.

“Oww!” all three shouted, glaring at him. Their hands came up to rub the aches.

“Nothing happened,” he said to Mei Zhou. “But it’ll be damn good when it does happen. I am a real man. Did you have doubts?” he asked Ximen. “Do you really think that I fathered two children without losing my virginity? And, yes,” he said, turning to look at Ah Si, “she was sick. So stop looking at me like I’m a rapist,” he muttered, narrowing his eyes. “I’m not oversexed like these two playboys used to be.”

The three nodded understandingly, reluctantly letting go of their hopes for the night before.

“Then . . . what exactly happened?” Ah Si asked in confusion.

“Look, I was taking care of Jing last night. That’s why I spent the night in her bedroom, but NOT in her bed. And about the bathroom . . . we weren’t naked together. The only naked one was Jing.”

“Wait . . . what?” Ximen asked.

“No! I accidentally walked in on her. I was in there for a millisecond,” he protested. “That freaked Min out. I guess Jing has issues about that. But I didn’t know Min would blurt it out. He had an ‘Ah Si’ moment. You know, at times like this, it feels that he’s more of Ah Si’s son than mine.”

. . . . . . . . . . .

“A millisecond?” Mei Zhou began doubtfully.

“Well, okay not a millisecond,” Lei admitted with complete honesty. “I mean it’s Jing.”

There was only silence.

“What the . . . did you just insult ME?” Ah Si shouted angrily. He lunged at Lei’s sitting figure. Mei Zhou and Ximen quickly rushed in to stop him from doing serious damage to the sleepy Lei.

“Everything will work out,” Lei said confidently. “You heard what we talked about yesterday. She wants to start all over.”

“But you did say that you wanted to be the way you two were together before, right? Don’t you think . . . don’t you think that she might have thought you were alluding to the friendship you two had?” Ximen said, finally voicing his doubts.

“She does have a phobia of fish, maybe she wasn’t paying attention,” Mei Zhou quickly suggested, adding in his two cents worth.

“No,” Lei replied thoughtfully. “You guys weren’t there. We exchanged more than words,” he assured them. “There was contact, not something that happens a lot between friends. Plus, we were on a date. Why wouldn’t she have said anything? Frankly,” he continued, “I don’t see any reason that she wouldn’t want to be with me.”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit arrogant of you?” Ah Si queried.

“It’s not arrogance,” Lei defended himself. “It’s not. You guys have to understand, Jing and I have a history. She helped me when I was younger. I loved her for years, and we had a relationship. We’ve been together, in one way or another, for a long time. And right now, with Min, there is a link between us that can never be broken. Is it wrong of me to want only harmony between us? Is it wrong to act on the feelings that I’ve begun to feel for her once more? Is it wrong to try to make up for my desertion?”

“Are you sure that’s not all it is?” Ximen asked. “That you’re only trying to make for not let her explain why she didn’t show up in Spain.”

“Why now?” he asked through gritted teeth. “Why now? I’ve already made this decision. God, we even talked about my feelings. Why are the three of you grilling me about this?”

“No reason,” Mei Zhou quickly said, avoiding Lei’s gaze. The other two nodded in agreement. “No particular reason. But we have to ask you again, are these feelings true? If you were to . . . meet with disappointment, if you were to meet with Jing’s rejection, would you give up?”

“Would you give up as easily as you did before? You did go to France, but you also came back,” Ah Si finished.

“You guys were ragging on me when I was unsure about what to do. You told me to follow my instincts and to go after her. All three of you said that. Why are you guys being so girly now?” he demanded in frustratin.

“No reason,” Ximen repeated. “We just want you to be sure.”

“Did your respective wives say something?” Lei asked.

“No, of course not,” Ah Si replied. “They don’t share their secrets with us.”

“Then why are you doing this?” Lei repeated.

“We just want you to be sure,” Mei Zhou offered in appeasement. “We don’t want you to start something, when you might realize that you never truly wanted this in the first place.”

“I want her,” Lei uttered.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“I want her,” he repeated.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“What right do you guys have to ask me this? You’re happily married to the women you love. San Chai, Xiao You, and Xiao Qiao are all pregnant again. Your families are growing by the day, and I can see how all of you are so happy. I want that for myself. And I want that for my son. I don’t want to live this static existence anymore. Maya . . . Maya left because I couldn’t love her. But I truly think that I can love Jing.”

“You’re sure?” Ximen asked softly.

“Stop questioning my desire to be with the woman that I’ve known forever. She’s the woman that I’ve come to have feelings for once more, feelings that are beginning to look more and more like love. She’s what I want.”

“Then we’ll support you 100%,” Ah Si said. “A toast to your beautiful future with Jing.”

All four raised their glasses to toast the last bachelor in their midst. All three could see that their brother had lost his heart. They just hoped that it wouldn’t be broken again.

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

The four walked toward the living room, intending to join the women.

Lei was smiling. While he didn’t know what that conversation had been about, he was glad that his brothers had his back. While he might not need their advice to much, they would still offer the emotional support he would need in this courtship. They could hear the women laughing in the room.

“So, nothing happened?” San Chai was asking over the chatter of the other women.

“No,” Jing protested. “Like I said, Lei and I are ONLY friends. We discussed it. In fact, I’ve told you that I’ve fallen out of love with him. That is, if the feelings I initially had for him were love,” she threw in blithely.

“There’s no hope for a new relationship?” Xiao You asked softly. “He does care for you.”

“I can’t imagine that I’ll let myself fall in love again with someone that has repeatedly rejected me. There’s only so much rejection a body can take.”

“You guys have a son together,” Xiao Qiao protested. “Not even for him?”

“I can’t. Min wouldn’t want to see his parents unhappy and together, when they can be happy and just friends.”

“But Jing Jie, you look so good with Hua Ze Lei. You guys are the golden couple,” Mimi protested.

Lei could see Ching He nodding quickly in agreement.

“We’ve only ever looked good,” Jing replied sadly. “We were never good together. I was too human for Lei. You see,” she said, turning to look at the entire group, “he always had this concept of me. There was this image of me that he placed on a pedestal. I never quite measured up. And I’m that exact same Jing; I’m still the same woman he easily rejected.”

“What if he does want to renew that romance?” San Chai asked.

“Why do you all keep asking me this? I thought we discussed it,” Jing asked.

“No reason,” Xiao You quickly replied.

Lei’s eyes widened. He turned to look at his brothers. None of them would meet his eyes. So, they had discussed this with their significant others. This is what they’d been trying to hide. She didn’t want to renew their relationship? Why?

“What if he wants another chance with you?” Xiao Qiao asked again.

. . . . . . . . .

“I’d . . . I’d have to say no.”

Lei stepped back, his body reacting as if he’d been hit. His eyes widened at the answer Jing had given. More than the words, it was the tone that got to him. She had no doubts. She would easily say no. To him.

He had thought that he liked this new Jing. He had thought that he wanted her. That his body ached for hers. But only now, as he heard those words coming from her mouth, did he realize that he was already in love with her. He hadn’t intended it, but he did nonetheless. He loved the woman that was more than willing to reject him.

Without a thought, his legs began to move. In the next moment he was in the room. His arms came around Jing, without her even being aware of his presence. She turned as she felt his arms come around him.

“So, there can be nothing between us except for friendship?” he asked softly.

Her eyes widened upon seeing the anger in his eyes. It seared her. It burned through her. It scared her. She could almost believe that he hated her at that moment.

“We discussed it. You wanted to renew our old relationship,” she softly replied.

“Our romance,” he shot back.

“Our friendship before you had to go and ruin it. Let me go.”

“No. So, you feel nothing for me?”

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

“Tell me,” he ordered.

Her eyes glared back at him mutinously and then turned away. She refused to engage in this battle in front of all their friends.

His hand came up to grab her chin, raising it, forcing her to meet his gaze. “You feel nothing for me?”

“I feel nothing for you.”

“You were never in love with me.”

Her lips pursed, refusing to answer.

“Say it,” he ordered.

“Whether I was in love with you or not is irrelevant. All you have to know, here and now, is that I no longer love you. You can only be a friend. I mean, how . . . how could I love a man that chased me until he had me, and then didn’t want me any longer? How could I want such an unforgiving, cold, forgetful man?”

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

“How could I want a man that would fall in love with his best friend’s woman?” she concluded, taunting him with his inadequacies. Jing flinched inwardly as the words left her lips. She didn’t want to hurt him this much, but she felt shattered by his anger. It was unreasonable. Why would he expect her love? He didn’t deserve it.

His eyes burned with the anger coursing through his veins. All love was forgotten. He wanted to hurt her. To make her suffer the same pain that he was suffering right now. But even now, he couldn’t. But he would prove her wrong.

She saw his intent, and began to struggle. His arms loosened enough that she could step back. But it was too late.

She only had time for an indrawn breath before his mouth was on hers, as warm and hard as she remembered, his taste as heady as she remembered. His hands tightened on her waist and drew her to him. Then, his arms were around her once more, and the kiss deepened, his tongue sliding into her mouth. Hunger flared, fanned into instant life at his touch. She had always known that once she touched him again, she wouldn’t be able to get enough of him.

She softened, her body molding itself to him as she instinctively tried to get close enough to him to feed that burning hunger. Everything else and everyone else was forgotten. She had to admit that she was weak where he was concerned. Her arms were clinging around his neck, and in the end it was he who broke the kiss and gently set her away from him.

There was complete silence in the room, broken only by their heavy breaths. Her eyes were wide, as she tried to comprehend why her body had betrayed her so badly. She ached.

“You feel something for me,” he murmured, smirking at her.

Her eyes narrowed.

“Only lust,” she gritted out, turning to leave. Her cheeks were burning as she remembered they weren’t alone. She couldn’t meet anyone’s gaze. Her steps quickly covered the ground to the door. A hand stopped her at the door.

“That’s enough for now,” he murmured in her ear.

Jerking free, she stepped through the door. And when no one could see her any longer, she began to run. Her heart was pounding in her ears, drowning out her thoughts.

All she knew was . . .

She wouldn’t let him break her heart again.

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

 

Chapter 18

Dinner Date

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

Lei sighed, tugging at his tie as he walked into the dining room. Pulling off his tie, he slung it over the back of chair before taking a seat.

He was tired.

Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was exactly 6 P.M. Rui’s dinner time. He smiled, satisfied. He’d made it a point to come home early three days a week so that he could have dinner with Rui. Tonight, he had made the extra effort to be here another night, wanting to give his son more company after Jing had pulled back from both their lives.

Rui had become increasingly morose after Lei’s confrontation with Jing. She’d severed herself off from anything connected with him, and unfortunately that included Rui. Rui had been so disappointed when he found out that Jing had cancelled a previously planned dinner the night after San Chai’s brunch. When Lei had made his intentions clear, he’d never thought of the effect this would have on his son. Admittedly, he’d been thoughtless. But if he succeeded in his plans, it would only make Rui happier.

Staring at the empty plate set before him, he allowed his thoughts free rein. And they all centered around the fact that Jing had been avoiding him for the past month. She refused to take his calls. She went in to hiding when he showed up at the T.T., Inc offices. She was never at home. And when he finally thought that he had her cornered, she was amazingly adept at escaping from even those close confines.

He thought back to the business dinner he’d attended the night before. She had been standing, talking to some of her business contacts, parties that he also had a business relationship with, when he had walked into the room. She’d been wearing an intricately designed chocolate-brown dress. It matched the incredible warmth of her liquid dark eyes. Her hair had been flowing down her back. He’d had to stand there for a moment, allowing himself the chance to take in the gorgeous angel standing there in front of him.

He tried approaching her by joining in on her conversation with the group. She’d easily slipped away, making up some nonsensical excuse. In the process, she had ensured that he wouldn’t follow. He’d seen her walk away. She’d spent the rest of the night successfully avoiding him. That party was identical to what had happened on many other evenings in the past month. He’d try to approach her, and she’d easily escape. More and more, he was getting frustrated. And angry.

He admitted that he’d deliberately set out to excite her. He hadn’t thought of the consequences. He’d embarrassed her by forcing her surrender in front of an audience, and she had a right to hold her grudge. But time had passed, and she hadn’t cooled off one bit. She wasn’t any closer to accepting him.

Lei thought back to that brunch a month ago. He’d been so hopeful when he’d walked into that house. And he’d left hopeless. Not only had she rejected him, she’d done it after he’d been so confident. He’d been arrogant.

Lei tried to think about something else, but his thoughts woudl only revolve around how Jing had seemed a gorgeous angel last night. As the words went through his head, Lei froze, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.

For a moment he was afraid that he was putting her back on the pedestal she’d accused him of having her on before. And it was true; he admitted that he had placed her on one in their previous relationship. He’d expected too much. And that had only made the fall so much harder, such that that image had irrevocably shattered into a million pieces when she failed to meet those expectations. Maybe that’s why it had been so hard for him to see the love he felt for her, because it had shattered along with Jing’s image. The love, lying in pieces around him, had been easy to ignore, to step on in order to move on.

He’d never made room for her humanity. And when she became more than the beautiful image he’d dreamt of, it was a betrayal. He still remembered with awful clarity the day of her birthday party. When she’d refused to be a princess any longer and became a student. He’d never wondered what had caused her to make that decision. He’d walked away, nursing his own pain. When they were in France, he’d seen how hard she worked. Even then, he’d never asked her where this drive had come from. When she hadn’t shown up in Spain, that was another betrayal. That was the final betrayal. And that’s when he had given up. All he knew was that the woman he loved would have moved heaven and earth to come to him. And if she hadn’t done that, then there was no love.

Lei remembered the moment when that thought had finally crystallized in his mind over the past month. It was only then he was able to put into words why he’d rejected her Spain. Only then did he think to wonder when had he become so unbending? So hard? So blind?

He heard the clink of food being brought to the table, and was pulled out of his reverie. He stared at the staff, as they set the table. When he was left in peace once more, he quickly returned to the thoughts that had been eating away at him in the face of her silence.

When she hadn’t shown up in Spain, he had lost his rose-colored glasses. He no longer saw her as a goddess. He no longer saw her as being worthy of a pedestal. He no longer saw her as his woman.

But even then he hadn’t been able to see her clearly. He hadn’t seen her as a friend. He hadn’t seen her as a flawed human being. He had intentionally refused to see her as anything at all. She had become nothing in his eyes. And that hadn’t been the most constructive method of moving on.

Because now, when she was back in his world, he was forced to face the fact that he had never moved on. He was forced to question why he had felt it necessary to punish Jing far beyond what her actions might have warranted. He had to wonder why he’d felt it necessary to cut her so completely out of his life that she hadn’t even been invited to his wedding.

And now, when he wanted to get closer, she ran away. When he wanted to understand, it wasn’t an option. When he wanted to forget, she wouldn’t let him. When he was beginning to see her for who she really was, a wonderful mother, a good attorney, a charitable person, and a caring person, she had stopped looking at him.

His hands slammed down on the table.

He was tired of waiting.

He wanted to be with her. Every time he saw her, his desire to be with her grew . . . to touch her . . . to smell her scent . . . to taste her . . . he wanted spend his nights wrapped up in her arms, and he wanted to spend his days knowing that he had the absolute right to call her his own.

And she . . . couldn’t care less.

He was worried. Leaning his elbows on the table, he put his head in his hands. He surreptitiously rubbed at his aching eyes. He hadn’t slept last night. In fact, he hadn’t been sleeping for the past month.

“Master Lei?” his butler queried, “Dinner has been on the table for ten minutes. Won’t you be eating?”

“I’m just waiting for Rui,” he explained, leaning away from the table.

“Master Rui isn’t here,” came the reply.

“Where is he?”

“He’s at Miss Jing’s house. He’s been going there for dinner every night that you don’t come home early. We thought you . . . knew.”

Lei’s face tightened, and a sick feeling began to grow in the pit of his stomach. His cheeks reddened from the blood rushing to his head.

“How . . . long has this been going on?”

“Since the first night you allowed him to go to dinner at Miss Jing’s without you,” he replied.

“It’s been four months?” Lei asked.

“Yes.”

“And it continued throughout this past month, too?”

“Of course, sir. Master Rui depends on these little dinners,” his butler exclaimed.

Lei got up, automatically moving towards his cell phone. His fingers had just finished tapping out her number, when he forced himself to turn it off. ‘What could he say to her? That if you’ve rejected me, you have to stay away from my son?’ That would be like cutting off his own nose to spite his face. It would only end up hurting Rui, and by extension, hurting him.

His face revealed an expression of disgust as he faced the unpalatable truth. He was jealous. He was jealous of Rui’s relationship with Jing. He was jealous of the fact that he’d lost his place in Jing’s life.

His shoulders were slumped as he walked back to the table.

More and more, by the day, it was beginning to appear that he was nothing to her.

And more and more it seemed that he could do nothing about it.

He was just . . .

. . . . . . . . . . .

He was tired.

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

Chapter 19

Stolen Kisses

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

She sipped the brandy the bartender had placed in front of her. It was her sixth one. Tilting her head woozily to the side, she wondered if it had been a good idea to drink this much alone. Shrugging her shoulders, she finished off the drink. It was too late to worry about that, at least.

Pulling out her cell phone, she picked a number at random, hoping she wouldn’t be embarrassed at who she’d called.

“W-wei,” she said immediately, when the phone was picked up. “I’m at VS, and I’ve had too much to . . . dr-drink. Come get me,” she demanded in a slurred tone. “And whatever you do, don’t tell anybody that I’m drunk.”

There was only silence on the other end.

“Wei? Is anyone there?” she asked petulantly, as the silence continued.

She heard static over the phone, and thought that maybe a question had been asked. Not being able to hear it, she concluded that the voice wanted her to talk some more.

“I’m in the West Lounge,” she explained. “Wait, no, I’m in the south lounge. Wait, does VS even have lounges? Where am I?” she asked the bartender, turning to look at him.

“You’re at the bar, Ma’am,” he quickly replied.

“At the bar? Then why is—s it so quiet around me? Where’s all the shouting, the music, the heat?” she asked. Hearing another burst of static from the cell, she put it back to her ear. “Wait, I’m trying to solve a mystery here.” Turning to look at the bartender, she awaited his reply.

“Well, ma’am, we don’t get many customers at this time,” he apologetically explained.

She turned to look around. Squinting her eyes, she counted 1, 2, 3, 5 people.

“What time?” she asked, returning her gaze back to him.

“It’s 11 a.m., madam,” he explained.

“What am I doing here this early in the morning?”

“After your second drink, you said you’d dropped your daughter off at school, and now it was time to drown your sorrows,” he reminded her.

“Sorrows? What sorrows?” she mused, having forgotten everything from the golden haze of the alcohol.

“Something about a lei,” he explained.

“I don’t like leis? Why the hell would that make me sad? I mean I like flowers and I like being welcomed,” she reasoned. “And if it’s really bugging me, all I have to do is not go to Hawaii. Why am I drinking here, trying to forget leis?”

The bartender shrugged in reply.

“Oh, yeah,” she murmured, remembering that someone was on the other end of the line. “Hello, are you still there?”

Another burst of static.

“Okay, so I need a ride. Please, come and get me,” she politely requested. “I shouldn’t be driving drunk. And whatever you do, don’t bring a lei,” she instructed, ending the call.

“Bartender, another brandy,” she ordered.

“Are you sure, madam?”

“Well, I’m drunk . . . and I’ve called for a ride . . . I’m already drunk, and I’m not driving. So what’s it hurt?”

She heard a glass clink down on the counter beside her, and she turned to see a shadow seat itself on the stool to her left. Moving closer to the figure, she squinted her eyes, trying to see who it was.

“Oh, Lei? Lei, what are you doing here? Aaah, it wasn’t a lei, it was Lei! Mr. Bartender, I was talking about my friend,” she said excitedly, patting Lei on the shoulder, “not a lei.”

“I guess I called you, huh?” she asked, staring at his hands. For some reason they mesmerized her.

“And what are you doing here, beautiful?” he murmured.

She turned to look at him. A giggle escaped, as a blush spread over her cheeks.

“And why would you be drowning your sorrows?” he asked curiously.

“You remember,” she said insistently. “You kissed me in front of EVERYONE. And . . . you haven’t been to see me. We’ve had so many dinners, and you haven’t showed up to even one.”

“Well, I didn’t know you were waiting. I’ll be sure to come eat at your house,” he replied. “And maybe you can show me some hospitality.”

“You think I’m beautiful?” she asked, rewinding back to that point.

“You’re an angel. I can’t believe we’ve never had this chance before.”

“Well, you know you’re a stud, Lei. We’d match if we were a couple,” she mused. “Not that I want to be a couple . . . we’re going to friends.”

“Just friends?”

She nodded stubbornly.

“Friends with privileges?” he asked huskily.

She tilted her head in question.

“Let me show you,” he said softly.

He sounded almost amused, and then fastened his mouth over her own. His tongue traced the firm line of her lips, angling a little as she held back in shock. That had him nibbling her soft lower lip with the edges of his teeth, followed seconds later by a painful nip. Her mouth parted in a silent protest, and his tongue swept hers, teasing in an evocative dance that was all persuasive mastery.

She didn’t stand a chance. Her fingers speared through his hairs, pulling him desperately closer. She wanted more.

This Lei was different. He acted differently. He spoke differently. He tasted differently. She was plunging headlong into an erotic dream, and she didn’t want to wake up to her reality. Forgetting that she was in public, sitting at a bar, her tongue eagerly dueled with his, as her toes curled in ecstasy.

There was a bellow of rage behind her, and she was abruptly pulled from this fantasy.

Falling back against the bar, she saw an avenging angel pull Lei out of his chair and begin to pummel him with his fists.

The two were quickly pulled apart and Lei was taken away.

“Jing, are you ok?” the angel asked, sitting down beside her.

She began to hit him with her tiny fists. She was surprised that it didn’t hurt to be hurting an angel.

He grabbed her hands. “What are you doing?” he demanded.

“Why did you hurt my Lei?” she asked balefully, her eyebrows scrunched together.

“Your . . . Jing who do you think I am?”

“A bad angel,” she quickly replied.

“And, why do you think an angel is here?” he asked in a patient tone.

“I don’t know. But you’re too handsome for words, and all those goods looks are sending out rays of light and really hurting my eyes,” she moaned, covering her eyes.

His hands pulled away her hands from her eyes.

“Jing, I’m Lei,” he said softly. “When I got your call, I left my office immediately. When I arrived, I saw you . . . I saw you being assaulted by some jerk. So, I pulled him away.”

“That wasn’t Lei?” she asked. She turned to stare at him, and, yes, if she squinted a little bit, all the rays faded away and she could see it. Lei could be sitting in front of her right now.

“Then who was that?” she asked.

“Some jerk. Taking advantage of you.”

“No wonder I was enjoying the kiss,” she reflected.

“What do you mean by that?” he said, stiffening beside her.

“Lei, remember how we used to make out like crazy in France?”

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

“Ye-es,” he finally replied.

“Well, you were a novice back then. And while I imagined us doing it on every single, flat surface of that apartment, we never went beyond a few hot and heavy sessions.”

“O-kay,” he said.

“I was waiting impatiently for my first time. But you were being a dork about it, and said that you wanted us to be virgins for our wedding night. I mean, who does that? And then you dumped me. And then you got married. And then I got married. Can you believe that we have kids after our horrible experiences with sex?” she revealed, turning to look at him.

“Hor-rible experiences?”

“Hey, my personal angel is back,” she exclaimed excitedly, as her vision blurred once more. “Where did Lei go?”

“Jing, you were talking about your experience with Lei,” her angel impatiently reminded her.

“How did you know?” she queried. “Oh, it’s because you’re a bad angel. You were probably eavesdropping. You know, that’s really not a polite habit.”

“Jing, can we get back to the topic?” he growled.

“What topic?”

“Sex with Lei. How was it?”

“Aah, you want the details?” she teased.

“Just a basic outline will do,” he retorted.

“Well, the poor dear was drunk that night. He wasn’t really up to performing. And it was awkward, and painful, and not at all like the kisses he gave me before. I guess the poor guy didn’t learn from his wife. In short, he was just bad. Nothing like the romance novels portray it to be,” she whispered the last confession.

“Awkward? Painful? Bad?” he was shouting by the time he finished speaking.

“Don’t be so pissed about it. I get it; you’re a male angel. Are you feeling sorry for the guy’s dignity? Don’t worry, you’re the only I’ve told. I even told the girls that it was amazing. I sometimes try to convince myself that my ONLY experience up till now was a great one. Doesn’t really work,” she confided.

She jumped, as his hands suddenly slammed down on the bar, and he pushed himself up.

“Oh, Lei, you’re back,” she said, looking up at him. “I was just having the most delightful conversation with . . . someone,” she said craftily, hiding her angel’s existence.

“Let’s go,” he ordered, grabbing her by the arm.

“Where are we going?” she asked, as his hands roughly guided her out of VS.

“Home. To sober you up. What if Min saw you like this?” he asked.

“Min? He’s never seen me like this. He’d be scared,” she said worriedly.

“You should’ve thought of that when you decided to drink.”

“But it’s only 11. The bartender said so,” she argued.

“From the way you’re talking, I’d say it’ll take all day,” he muttered sarcastically.

Her body suddenly began to tilt downward. She lay back on a conveniently placed bed, and closed her eyes. It was heavenly, except for an annoying voice muttering beside her.

“I’ll show you who’s bad in the sack. Just you wait. We’ll be doing it all night, once I convince you that you love me.”

She moaned, and turned on her side, trying to drown out the voice.

“Stop moving or I’ll drop you.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“Drinking in the morning . . .

Kissing strange guys . . .

Lying about me being bad at sex.

I’ll show you.”

Her eyes scrunched up. The voice wouldn’t shut up!

“Could you be quiet?!” she shouted.

The muttering became quieter, but it was still constant.

“This is the thanks I get? Being told . . .

Jing is a mean drunk.

. . . .show . . . . . . who does she . . . .

I’ll get her testimonials.

. . . . . . . . . all night long.

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

I’m coming to dinner, and you’re not stopping me.”

Chapter 20

Stained T-Shirt

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

“And then, Min Ge told me to lie down on the blanket. And then he rolled me in it, until you could only see my face and my feet. And then Min’s mommy came in and asked us what we were doing. And do you know daddy? Do you know what happened?”

“What?” Lei asked, absentmindedly.

“And then we told her to guess. Guess what, daddy?”

“What Rui?”

“She guessed right, daddy!” Rui shouted, jumping on the sofa beside him. “She knew what we were doing.”

“And what were you doing?” he asked smilingly, staring with wonder at the little boy in front of him. Min and Jing had changed his son from an isolated being into a normal little boy. Lei couldn’t have been happier. He couldn’t have been more grateful to Jing.

“We were making a Rui dog!”

“Huh?” Lei then patted his lap, indicating that he wanted Rui to come sit down.

Rui eagerly came forward and sat in Lei’s lap. And this was the boy that had backed away from all human contact after Maya had left. He was relieved to see his son like this. More and more, he was seeing the changes that Jing had brought into his life. His son was happy. He was happy, and for first time, he had passionately in the pursuit of something; despite what had been revealed when a certain person had gotten drunk. He shrugged that off. He had enough time to get his revenge. He’d make her fall so deeply in love with him, that she’d be begging to go to bed with him.

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

He hoped. It couldn’t have been that bad, could it?

“Do you like going to Min’s house?” Lei asked, forcing his thoughts away from Jing and her eg-damaging, drunken revelations.

“I love it!” he replied, sighing and cuddling close. “Min Ge’s mommy is great. She’s funny and pretty. She plays with us and she’s so smart. Min Ge is nice, too,” he murmured, almost as an afterthought.

“It seems you really like her,” Lei said gently.

Rui sighed in response.

“Rui?” Lei questioned.

“She’s a good mommy. She doesn’t leave Min Ge all alone,” Rui said plaintively. “She . . . she smells like mommy,” he mumbled, hiding his face in Lei’s chest.

“Do you miss your mommy?” Lei asked softly, his hand coming up to rest on Rui’s head.

“I don’t want to see mommy,” came the mulish reply. “She left us.”

“But Rui . . .,” Lei began helplessly, “it wasn’t mommy’s fault. Sometimes mommys and daddys grow apart, and they have to live apart if they want to keep on liking each other. Mommy just wanted to keep on liking me, so she left.”

Rui pulled away.

“If mommy left you, then why doesn’t she come to see me?” Rui asked. “Mommy doesn’t call. Mommy doesn’t write. And mommy doesn’t visit me. Min’s daddy visits him.”

“Why don’t I call her?” Lei asked, with a guilty conscience. How could he tell his little boy that his mother had come to see him, and his father had gotten in the way.

“I don’t want to see mommy!” Rui shouted. “You can’t make me.” Getting up, he raced to the door.

“Where are you going?” Lei called after him.

“Getting ready to go to Auntie and Min Ge’s house,” came the reply.

“Get ready?” he asked in confusion.

“I have to get my stuff packed, daddy,” came the exasperated reply. “Auntie Jing invited me to spend the night.”

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

“Rui?” Lei called.

“What is it daddy?” Rui shouted back, in an you’re-bothering-me tone.

“I think I’ll join you, tonight.”

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

Rrrrrriiiiiiinnnnnnnggggg.

Rrrrrriiiiiiinnnnnnnnggggggg.

“Hello,” a voice said over the phone

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

“Hello? Is anyone there?” the voice asked impatiently at the silence.

“Maya?” Lei asked, clearing his throat. “How are you?”

“Lei? Lei, why are you calling me?” Maya asked nervously.

“Rui . . . Rui really wants to see his mother,” Lei said quickly, wanting to reassure her that he hadn’t called to throw recriminations at her. Once had been enough.

“Rui wants to see me? You mean you actually care?” Maya asked bitterly.

“Maya, I . . . I’m sorry for last time,” Lei replied. “You have to understand . . .” his voice trailed off.

“Understand what? I showed up at your doorstep, begging to see my son. The son that I left in your custody, because I knew how much you loved him. Because I felt guilty for reneging on the bargain my family had made with yours. I left him with you, and when I asked to see my son, you closed the door on me? And now you want me to . . . what?”

“Come see him,” Lei said quietly. “Please. Don’t punish him for my mistakes.”

“I’d love to see Rui,” Maya said quietly. “But I can’t bear to see you.”

“I won’t be there,” Lei promised.

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

“Maya?”

“I’ll think about it,” she said, abruptly ending the call.

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

Lei prepared for his evening with Jing. He wondered if he had time for a last minute powwow. Looking at his watch he saw that he had only 15 minutes before they had to leave for Jing’s house. That wouldn’t enough time to meet up. Which might not be a bad thing, he thought, when he began to think about what the guys would actually do if he told them that he’d traumatized Jing with that one experience. He shuddered.

Ah Si would shout at him for being stupid. His face would go red, and then he would run off, saying he wanted none of this. Of course, he’d be secretly listening in to see if he could pick up some pointers for San Chai’s enjoyment. He’d been married to San Chai for so many years, but new knowledge never hurt anyone.

Ximen would have charts graphing every high point of the act. He’d have a pointer stowed away in his pocket, ready to pull out for such lecturing opportunities. He’d probably make the wonderful, sensuous act of lovemaking dry and boring. Lei could feel his eyes closing just at the thought of it.

And Mei Zhou. Mei Zhou would be so excited to impart his knowledge. And he’d want to have live performances. He might even order a blow-up doll for the occasion, wanting Lei to make the moves on said blow-up doll, so that he could critique every aspect of Lei’s performance. Since that wouldn’t happen, Mei Zhou would insist on them watching pornographic videos together.

None of them would buy his excuse of being drunk. Or listen to the fact that he was much more experienced now. That was not his idea of a fun afternoon. It was better if he could get through this on his own.

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

“Lei, what are you doing here?” Jing asked in surprise, as he followed Rui into the room.

“I’m here for dinner,” he replied. His eyes traced over her features, and saw the damage yesterday’s excesses had done to her face. Her eyes were tired, bloodshot with blue shadows underneath. And she moved as if unsure of her steps, probably due to the headache too much alcohol had given her. Jing had always been sensitive to alcohol. Even so, she looked beautiful in a yellow dress that left her shoulders bare.

“But . . . why? I didn’t invite you,” she said, half in confusion, half angrily.

“But, don’t you remember? You invited me yesterday,” he coolly replied.

“Yesterday?”

“You’re not going to say you were so drunk that you don’t remember inviting me?”

“I wasn’t drunk!” she retorted.

“But I thought you were so drunk that someone had to bring you home? And that someone else had to drive your car home.”

“Did you get hit on the head?” she asked belligerently. “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I was in the office all day yesterday,” she said.

“And do you know who brought you home?” he asked, leaning in close to her ear.

“No one brought me home!” she shouted in irritation.

“I brought you home,” Lei revealed. “You were drunk out of your mind.”

Her eyes widened, and then narrowed at him in anger. She couldn’t believe he’d let her walk into that trap.

“You were kissing some strange man, your tongue halfway down his throat.”

“What?” she breathed in shock.

“And then when I saved you from exchanging more spit with that loser, you started to hit me. I still have the bruises.”

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

“I brought you home. You drooled on me when I was carrying you in. And when I put you to bed, you threw up on me.”

“God,” she murmured, covering her face in embarrassment.

“If my count is correct, this is the third time I’ve put you to bed. And twice because you were drunk,” Lei said coolly. “Are you sure you didn’t turn into a lush while you were in France? Was your marriage to Xiao Wei that bad?”

“Don’t talk like that about Xiao Wei!” she angrily said. “He’s a great man. Unlike you. You’re the reason that I’ve been driven to drink,” she muttered out of the side of her mouth.

“What? What was that?” Lei asked teasingly. “Are you saying I affect you so much that you’ve been driven to drink?” his hands grabbed her bare shoulders, and turned her to face him.

“NO! Shut up, this isn’t the time to talk about this,” she mumbled, nodding her head at the boys playing in the next room.

His eyes caught hers, and it took her a few moments to break free. His warmth was seducing her. She almost, almost allowed herself the freedom to sink into that warmth. When she struggled to get free, his eyes flashed fire as he held her still.

He looked incredible in a black evening suit, white dress shirt, and black tie. Together with the handcrafted Italian shoes, an elegant watch and a touch of her favorite cologne. But she realized one thing. It wasn’t his clothing that drew the attention, but the man who wore it. There was something dark and untamed beneath the sophisticated surface . . . a wary primitiveness apparent in the depths of his eyes that had the potential to both frighten and fascinate.

When he let her go, he made it clear that it was because he had decided to let her go, and for no other reason. It took all of her strength to move away. To keep her distance. She had admitted long ago that he had a certain power over her, just like a person would admit to an addiction. Now, all she had to do was keep her distance. And not to indulge.

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

It had been much easier while she was in France.

Finally it was time for dinner, and the four sat down around the circular table in the small dining room. Min and Rui eagerly began to tell the two parents about their day. And their plans for the night to come.

Lei and Jing kept up their part of the conversation, but all that was really required of them was to be passive listeners. Whenever Rui or Min would say something funny, the two shared a glance, like all proud parents would, basking in the knowledge that these little angels were theirs. Rui had become like a second son to Jing, and she made no differentiation between the two.

She scolded both equally when the juice spilled and the ketchup squirted. And she laughingly participated when the peas went flying. In Lei’s eyes, it was a picture of perfect familial harmony. And another incentive for him to win Jing’s heart again.

After dinner, the boys got ready for bed. They spent an hour splashing in the water, and getting everything and everyone wet. Whenever he glanced her way, it was as if he’d seen Venus rising from the sea. Her dress was plastered to her luscious body, lovingly molding itself to her shape. Water glistened on the tips of her eyelashes. Drops glistened in the waves of her hair, looking as if she was wearing a gossamer, thin veil. Her cheeks had grown rosy from the exertion of bathing two rambunctious children. But most beautiful of all was the twinkle in her eyes.

Sitting there, next to the bathtub, he helped the mother of his child give his children a bath. He’d never helped Maya do this. For the first time, he was beginning to realize how much he had been at fault for the end of his marriage. Maya hadn’t just left. He’d pushed her out the door. And now that he was seeing the prospect of his happiness, he knew that he could no longer begrudge Maya hers.

His lips pursed in determination. He would fight for it.

After the bath, Lei eagerly volunteered to put Min to bed, for the first time.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, Min?” Lei asked.

“Daddy, I am so happy that you were here,” he whispered, on the edge of sleep.

There was silence. Lei wondered if Min had fallen asleep.

“Daddy?” he murmured sleepily.

“Hm?” he asked, leaning down to plant a kiss on Min’s forehead.

“When will you be like Xiao Wei daddy?”

“What?” Lei asked in surprise.

“Because . . . because Xiao Wei daddy stayed with us all the time. And he tucked me into bed. And he told me that he loved me all the time. And Xiao Wei daddy ate breakfast and dinner with us everyday,” Min explained.

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

“I love you, Min,” Lei said, leaning to kiss a chubby cheek. “And, soon. I’ll try to be more like Xiao Wei daddy soon.”

Min smiled, putting his arms around Lei’s shoulders to give him an exuberant hug.

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

“Rui! Hurry, hurry,” Jing encouraged, “Min Ge’s already in bed.” Rui jumped out of the tub, and was immediately engulfed in a big, fleecy towel. She briskly dried him.

His eyes stared at her in wonder. And then he smiled.

“Thank you, mommy,” he said, putting his arms around her.

Both froze.

Rui pulled away and then looked down shamefacedly.

“I’m sorry, Auntie Jing,” he began tearfully.

Cupping his face with her hands, Jing brought his eyes up to meet hers.

“It’s okay, Rui. I know that you’re just missing your mommy.”

“I don’t,” he began.

She brought him in for a hug, and said nothing.

He struggled initially, and then settled into her arms quietly.

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

“Why doesn’t mommy come to see me? Doesn’t she love me?”

“She does love you,” Jing replied softly. “It’s just that sometimes that we forget to say it. Your mommy loves you, and I’m sure she’ll come to see you, I promise,” she murmured. “And now, it’s time for bed.”

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

Lei and Jing sat together in the living room, an awkward silence between them. After putting the boys to bed, Jing had offered Lei a drink, thinking he’d turn it down and be on his way. Lei had agreed. Jing nervously sipped at her wine, and realized that the glass was empty. Reaching over, she grabbed the bottle, and poured herself another glass.

“Are you sure you want to do that?” Lei asked.

“What do you mean?” she asked, her movement arrested by his words.

“Well, if I had gotten drunk the day before and talked the way I had, I would be more careful about how much I drank,” Lei murmured.

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

“I didn’t . . . say anything too embarrassing, did I?” Jing asked hesitantly.

“Embarrassing? No. Illuminating? Very much so,” Lei replied smilingly.

“What did I say?” Jing asked.

“Let’s just say, I have a lot of work to do before I can reach my goal,” Lei said enigmatically.

“Huh?” she asked in confusion.

His only response was to shiver.

“Oh, Lei, you’re soaked,” she murmured. “Would you like to change your clothes?”

“Do you have something in my size?”

“Well, Xiao Wei and his wife, Yun Xi, come to stay with us often. They have their own room,” she told him. “They keep their clothes in that bedroom. Let’s go find something for you.”

He quietly followed her; unsure of how he’d feel wearing Jing’s ex’s clothes. This was the man who’d made Jing happy in bed, unlike Lei. She’d been married to the guy for close to five years, and that marriage couldn’t have lasted if there had been dissatisfaction in the bedroom.

“Here are the clothes,” she said, opening the door to a walk-in closet. “These are Xiao Wei’s,” she said, pointing to one side.

Lei quietly looked through the clothes. His eyes landed on a yellow, long-sleeved T-shirt. His hands came out to grab it.

“Not that one,” Jing said, getting to it first. “I don’t even know why it’s here,” she said, balling it up. “It should’ve been thrown out long ago.”

“Why not?” he asked, trying to wrest it from her grip.

“Because it’s not fit for you to wear. Xiao Wei dropped something on it, and it’s disgusting,” Jing explained.

“Oh, okay,” he murmured, giving up.

She slowly relaxed.

And his hands quickly grabbed the shirt from her lax hands.

~*~*~*FLASHBACK~*~*~

“I can’t believe that you took the day off from school,” he murmured, sitting down next to her on the blanket.

“Hey, it’s not every day you see me ditching, and you want to bring up school?” she protested.

“Sorry, sorry. Those words will not pass my lips,” he promised.

The two quietly sat on the blankets, enjoying the breeze on the hillside. Jing had woken this morning, and said that she wanted to go on a picnic. She’d had enough of law school classes, and working hard with no relief. She wanted to have fun. Lei had quickly agreed, having grown bored out of his mind. He wanted to take this chance to reconnect with Jing. More and more, he was feeling unneeded. He had begun to feel that if he disappeared tomorrow, Jing wouldn’t even notice.

His stomach growled. And she began to laugh.

She began to quickly set out the various picnic dishes they’d prepared at home, before beginning their trek. His eyes stared at the food, mesmerized.

“What’s that?” he asked, looking at the box partly concealed behind Jing.

“That’s for after lunch,” she explained.

“What is it?” he asked.

“You’ll know after dinner.”

“Let me see it?” he asked, entreatingly, kissing her as a distraction. His hands slipped around her to grab the box.

She blocked him easily, and pulled away from the kiss.

He lunged for the box teasingly, and she laughingly moved away.

His foot slipped.

And he landed on the bottles of ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard in the center of the blanket. Staring down at his yellow T-shirt, they began to laugh.

It was a mess. All three had liberally smeared over his T-shirt.

Jing insisted that she could see the Eiffel Tower.

And he’d thrown it away at the end of the day.

~*~*~End of Flashback~*~*~

His eyes looked at her questioningly.

She turned away. “D-don’t r-read too much into it,” she stammered, blushing. “It’s not like I kept it as a memento of our time together. I mean, why would I want to remember the time you spent with me in France? Why would I want to remember when I got used to coming home to you? When I fell in love with your cooking, and found it hard to eat anything at all when you left. Why would I want to remember all of that?”

His footsteps were silent as he moved up around her.

“Why would I want to remember you?”

Saying nothing, he pulled her around.

“This means nothing.”

His hands pulled her into his embrace.

“Noth—.”

His lips stopped the word from leaving her mouth.

This T-shirt meant everything.

Everything.

He had hope once more.

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

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