IFLT 21 – End

Chapter 21

Tycoon’s Secret Love Child!

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

Lei’s lips pressed against her own.

Lei’s lips warming her, exciting her … loving her.

Lei’s tongue tracing her lips before slipping in.

Lei’s teeth nipping her bottom lip and then soothing it.

Lei’s arms wrapped around her waist, holding her close.

Her back was against the closet door, her hand gripping the T-shirt tightly.

Her eyes had closed long ago, unable to fight the seduction of that kiss.

She wanted to be in his arms. She wanted to be kissed by those lips. A large part of her knew that. But a smaller part, the logical part, wondered why. Why was he kissing her? What did this kiss mean?

……………………

Would he walk away after this?

“No,” she protested, pushing him away and reluctantly opening her eyes.

“Jing?” he asked, his slumberous eyes gazing into hers questioningly.

……………………

“I can’t do this Lei,” she finally murmured, her voice stark in the silence.

“Jing, I wa—,” he began, his hands reaching out to her once more.

“I don’t know why you’re doing this. I don’t know if I can trust what you’re saying. You’re saying you want another chance. You’re saying you want to be more than friends. But you’ve said those words before, Lei. You’ve said them and then you walked away. How could I ever trust you?”

“Because this time I won’t let misunderstandings affect my love for you,” he argued. “Jing, I want another chance. Can’t you see this might lead to something good?”

“How can I believe that?” she asked grimly. “I stopped believing you when you left me in France, Lei,” she confessed in a whisper, moving away from him. “I stopped believing in you.”

“Jing, that was different. Can’t you see it from my point of view?”

“What do you want me to see, Lei?” she asked, opening the closet door, and exiting the small, enclosed space. “That you loved me but disapproved of me having a career?”

“I never disapproved of your choices!” he argued, following her closely. He knew that he was fighting for their future right now. If he didn’t make her see what he’d believed, there would be no hope for a future together.

“Then why did you run away from my birthday party when I made the announcement?!” she shouted out. “Why did you resent the time I invested in my studies in France? Why did you leave me there all alone? Why was it that when I followed you to Taiwan and then Japan to explain, I found you kissing San Chai on that beach?”

“Jing,” he murmured desperately, his hands reaching out to her. “Why is all of this coming up now?”

“Don’t touch me,” she said, backing away. “You don’t have any answers, do you?” she asked bitterly. “You don’t get it, do you Lei? It’s not all just coming up now. You never gave me the chance to ask you anything. I came to you in Spain. Despite all that had been done, I came to you in Spain. I wanted to explain why I hadn’t been there that day. You didn’t even give me the chance. Why?” she asked, looking at him intently.

“Jing, I was hurt,” he tried to explain. “I thought that you really didn’t love me. How was I to know that you had been so badly beaten that you couldn’t even get out of that hospital bed for a full week?” he explained. “I didn’t know.”

“But wouldn’t a normal person give someone a chance to explain?” she argued heatedly. “You just erased me from you mind. Who does that?” she demanded. “It was as if the love you felt for me never even existed. It couldn’t have, not when it was so easy for you to kick me out of your life.”

……………………

“You were my goddess, my savior,” he finally admitted softly. “I had you on this pedestal,” he explained, telling her his innermost thoughts for the first time.

“I didn’t deserve to be on any pedestal,” she protested.

“I know,” he said harshly. “When you chose to be a lawyer over being with me …when you continuously treated me as a kid…when you ignored me in France…when you didn’t show up in Spain. Don’t worry, I realized that you weren’t meant to be on any pedestal.”

Tears welled up in her eyes at his harsh words. She turned her back, not wanting to see the anger in his eyes.

“Don’t turn your back on me,” he growled, coming up to roughly turn her around. “Don’t. You’ve done enough to make me feel unwanted. You say that I gave up on you too easily. That I never loved you, because it was so easy for me to erase you from my mind. But what about you?”

“Me?” she asked blankly.

“Did you ever tell me about Qi Mei?” he asked gently. “Did you ever explain what the driving force behind your decision to become a lawyer was? You made all these decisions without me and took it for granted that I would accept them.”

“I expected you to understand.”

“I’m not a mind-reader, Jing. I only thought to investigate when you revealed that little truth.”

“At least I didn’t run away and fall in love with the next person I saw,” Jing said angrily.

……………………

“How many times will you throw that in my face?” he said in a choked tone, looking at her accusingly. “Are you going to blame me for falling in love with San Chai for the rest of my life?” he demanded angrily. “She was here to support me when you, I believed, were sulking in France. She was strong enough to fight for her love. She protected not only herself, but also those weaker than her. She was strong enough to find her path in life and stick to it. How could I not have loved her? As easy as it was to love her, it was that much harder to fall out of love. But I did. Right now, she’s nothing more than a special friend. She’ll always have a place in my heart, but not my entire heart. And I don’t need you to remind me of my pain.”

“You’re right, I don’t need to do anything. Why don’t you leave?” she threw out sarcastically.

“Why won’t you accept that I want to try again?” he shouted, surprising her with the outburst.

“Based on what?”

“What do you mean?” he asked in confusion.

“Come on, Lei. We slept together. Once. And you don’t even remember it. You were so drunk that night, because you had to see San Chai getting married. You rejected me in Spain, ignored me at their rehearsal dinner and wedding, and you didn’t even invite me to your own wedding. And now suddenly you want to try again. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why you want that chance. You want to be Min’s dad, but you think you can only do that by being my husband. Don’t worry; I won’t stand in your way. Just don’t expect me to fall in line with your plans.”

His hands roughly grabbed her arms, bringing her close to his body. “You think I’ve been chasing you, and embarrassing myself in front of my friends just because I want this for Min? I love Min, but I don’t think that I have to be your husband just to be his father. You cannot stop me from being a father to my son, Jing.”

Her lips tightened at that statement.

Brining her closer, he planted a firm kiss on her lips, ignoring her struggles. “I want to be with you. That’s the only reason I want another a chance. Not because of Min and not because I have some old-fashioned notions about what a family should be. Jing, you’re different now. And it’s becoming more and more apparent that the change is not because you actually changed, but it’s because I’m finally seeing you for who you are. I idealized the person I though you were, but I’m beginning to love the person you really are.”

She could only stare at him silently, her body frozen in his arms.

“I’m at your feet, begging you for another chance,” he said softly, kneeling in front of her. “I’m asking you for forgiveness for not really seeing you and hurting you with my blindness.”

“Lei, what are you doing?” she asked, backing up in a panic.

“Give us another chance. This T-shirt and your response to me …that gives us hope. Give us another chance,” he repeated, bowing his head.

Jing hesitantly came forward, and her hand reached out slowly. She stopped herself from touching him in the nick of time. She backed up once more.

……………………

“I need time, Lei,” she said softly. “Give me a chance to think about this.”

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

“TYCOON’S SECRET LOVE CHILD!”

Byline: Ronald McDougall

Hua Ze Lei, the CEO of H.Z. Industries has been involved in a torrid affair with the T.T. Inc. heiress for more than two decades. Their relationship began when the two hit it off on the playground. The Teng Tang heiress was the older woman and had Mr. Hua Ze soon wrapped around her little finger.

They consummated their relationship at the Dao Ming nuptials …it was NOT the best start. Teng Tang Jing took advantage of Hua Ze Lei in his drunken state. Witnesses saw her dragging a passed out Lei into his room. She didn’t come out until the next morning. The experience itself was bad. A source tells us that Miss Teng Tang was recently overheard complaining about that experience as being the worst in her sexual history. Now we know how one of the F4 members is in bed. Ladies, it’s nothing to brag about; you can stop dreaming about jumping into bed with this F4 member. He’s nothing to write home about.

Miss Teng Tang became pregnant after that forced encounter with Hua Ze Lei. Teng Tang Yu Min was the result of that one-night stand. And you can see he doesn’t use his father’s name.

Mr. Hua Ze got married five months before the birth of his son from the Teng Tang heiress. Miss Teng Tang decided to hide her shame by getting married. The wedding was a mere month after Hua Ze Lei’s wedding, and one has to wonder if the groom knew his bride was carrying another man’s child.

Their affair continued throughout the years. Through his marriage and hers. Once Mr. Hua Ze’s wife became tired of this state of affairs and left him, Miss Teng Tang quickly divorced her poor cuckolded husband, business tycoon Wang Xiao Wei, and came running back to Mr. Hua Ze.

The two are now in an open relationship, carrying on their affair in the privacy of her home. Mr. Hua Ze has spent three nights in Miss Teng Tang’s room up till now. Reliable sources tell us their affair is going strong as ever.

Let’s wish them the best of luck, and pray for Miss Teng Tang’s soul for her actions over the past few years.

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

The headline was the first thing she saw when she opened the newspaper the next morning. She wondered what loser had gotten caught with his pants down now. And then she’d seen the names.

Hua Ze Lei.

Teng Tang Jing.

Teng Tang Yu Min.

“Oh my god, oh my god,” she moaned, her knees giving out from underneath her. Landing on the floor, she tried to catch her breath. They’d found out. Somehow, they’d found out. Forcing herself to turn her head, she began to read the text of the article.

“Oh, god. Oh, god,” she moaned, trying to grasp what they’d written. They’d made her out to be the older woman, seducing a much younger Lei. And that was when she was in elementary school!

They’d said she took advantage of him in his drunken state. Someone apparently had seen her dragging him into his room the night before Dao Ming Si’s wedding. And they claimed she hadn’t come out until the next morning.

Had she . . . had she taken advantage of him? A shudder ran through her body. How could they say that? Maybe . . . she had taken advantage of him. He didn’t even remember that night. Had she used him for her own desires? Had she imagined him reaching out to her?

Had she raped him? Wouldn’t it be called rape if a guy did that to a drunken woman? Wouldn’t it?

Her hands trembled, and the newspaper dropped from her hand. Covering her face, she tried to come to grips with the truth so glaringly written in the newspaper. Everyone would know now. Everyone would know how she’d … raped Lei. There had been no violence. There had been no force. Or at least, she’d thought that. Oh god. Running to the bathroom, she made it in time to throw up in the toilet.

As the strength left her legs once more, she quickly settled herself on the side of the bathtub. Thinking back on the article, she shuddered at the accusations of adultery thrown at her.

What would she do now? Not only had they insulted her, but they’d insulted Lei, called Min a bastard, and called Xiao Wei a cuckold. What would she do now?

Oh, god, the truth was out. How could she face anyone? What would they think when they saw that she’d taken advantage of Lei? At that moment, she wasn’t thinking like a lawyer. She was thinking as a woman, and that woman had been stripped bare by the truths revealed in the scandal sheets.

What would she do now?

……………………

They would leave.

They would have to leave. She couldn’t chance Min hearing about his sordid conception from anyone. She couldn’t handle this right now. They’d go back to France for a while. And hopefully, the news wouldn’t have reached there. She couldn’t imagine ever feeling secure enough to come back to Taiwan.

How had they found out?

……………………

The tears began to fall quickly, raining down her cheeks. Her sobs were loud in the silent bathroom. The more she tried to silence them, the louder they became.

What would she do? She had to leave.

Her hands trembled, as she began to pack her clothes. They would leave as soon as she had enough clothes to last them a while.

There was a knock on the door.

“Madam, a reporter is on the phone from the Taipei Times. He wants to get your statement regarding an article about you,” her butler called apologetically through the doors.

“I don’t want to speak to any reporters,” she shouted through the door.

……………………

“Madam, Dao Ming San Chai is on the phone. She insists that she speak with you,” her butler called through the door.

“Tell her I’m busy,” Jing said irritably.

……………………

“Madam, Master Hua Ze is on the line for you.”

“I don’t want to tal—,” she began.

“He says he knows the source of the article.”

She opened the door and reached out for the phone, hiding her face all the while. She didn’t want anyone to see that she was so weak that cried over this.

“Lei?” she said gruffly, hiding the huskiness her tears had caused.

“Jing, are you okay?” his voice came over the line.

She couldn’t speak. The tears began to fall once more. He’d read the article. This was the man she was accused of violating. She took a deep breath, which inadvertently turned into a sob.

“Jing, please say you’re okay,” he entreated.

This was the man she’d …raped. Oh, god. And he’d never said anything.

“Jing, I’m coming right over.”

“No, there’s no need,” she quickly said.

“Why?” he asked suspiciously. “You’re not thinking of running are you?” he asked. “You can’t do that, Jing. That’ll be proof of your guilt.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she quickly asserted, lying through her teeth. “Who was it?”

“Your housekeeper,” he said after a pause.

“My …housekeeper. But why?”

“The oldest incentive in the world. Money,” he replied dryly.

“I’ll…I’ll talk to you later,” she said softly, quickly turning off the phone. She resumed her packing, all the while trying to understand why a woman who’d worked for their family for years would betray her so badly. If she needed the money, why hadn’t she asked? Her hands clenched around the garment in her hand, crushing the silk as she tried to suppress her rising anger. This woman had exposed her to the world’s ridicule for money.

She automatically packed her clothes, keeping her mind on the goal. She’d be out of the country in a few hours, and this would be like a bad dream. She’d think of returning after the furor died down. She ignored the fact that her heart was telling her to never return again. How could she face everyone after what they’d read? She might not care about what everyone else thought, but how would she face her friends?

There was a soft sound behind her.

Turning abruptly, her lips open to reprimand whoever had invaded her privacy, her eyes widened when they landed on Lei.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, quickly turning away.

“We have to talk,” he said, shutting the door.

“Not now,” she replied.

“Yes, now. You lied to me,” he said quietly.

“Lei, we’ll talk about his later, ok,” she shouted, continuing to pack. “Can’t you see that I’m busy? I’ll talk to you later.”

“No, now,” he asserted.

Why did he have to be here now? She couldn’t face him. Didn’t he understand that?

Whirling around, she glared at him angrily, only to open her eyes wide in surprise as he softly shut the door behind him and locked it. The click was loud in the silence.

“We’re going to settle this now.”

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

Chapter 22

Far Away for Far Too Long

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

This time, this place
Misused, Mistakes
Too long, too late
Who was I to make you wait?

Just one chance
Just one breath
Just in case there’s just one left

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

“We’re settling this now,” he said implacably.

Tears continued to fall unnoticed down her porcelain cheeks. Turning away, she tried to put the distance of a bedroom between them. He was close. Too close.

His hand caught her wrist, and gently spun her around.

“No more distances, Jing,” he said softly.

“Why are we doing this now?!” she asked in defeat. “I’m . . . I feel broken Lei. Please, just have mercy on me and turn away for now. Let me build myself up again. If you see me this way . . . if you force me to face you now . . . if you see me as I really am, I don’t think that we could ever be friends again.”

“Would that be such a bad thing?” he asked musingly.

Her eyes flickered up to meet his in surprise, and then she quickly lowered them. She couldn’t make herself look at him. Lei’s eyes stripped her soul bare. They saw things that she wouldn’t let herself see in the mirror.

Things that she wasn’t strong enough to face.

“I love you, Jing,” he whispered, coming up behind her. His hands reached out to rest on her shoulders. He frowned when she began to move away.

For some reason, he’d always felt that Jing was strong. That she was invincible.

But his hands told another tale.

She seemed so fragile.

It was almost as if he could break her if he wasn’t careful.

She struggled once more, wanting to get away.

“Don’t do this, Lei,” she said feverishly, keeping her eyes away from his. “Don’t feel that you have to say those words. I don’t need to hear them … Not anymore.”

“Jing,” he protested, the shock loosening his hold on her.

“I know that you read that article. That you just want to protect my reputation. That’s why you’re here, right? You want to show everybody that our relationship was more than just one night of non-consensual sex. You want to show everybody that you weren’t violated. You want to show them that I could never have done anything so heinous,” she explained brokenly. Her voice faded away, as her thoughts tried to grasp how her feelings could have lead her to act that way. Why hadn’t she ever thought about what she was doing to Lei?

“You did nothing to me,” he implacably replied, his control back in place. “I don’t care what the newspapers say. I know you. You would never have done anything to hurt another human being,” he declared, his confidence unshaken. “I’ve been thinking over that night. Although I don’t remember much, I do remember passing out in front of my room. You probably dragged me inside. As for what happened next … I’m sure I was the one who wouldn’t let you go.”

“I…but you were drunk. You didn’t know what you were doing,” she argued, turning to gaze at him for the first time. “What do you know what really happened? You’re just making assumptions to make me feel better. To make yourself feel better.”

“I’m part of F4,” Lei replied softly, holding her gaze with his. “You could never make me do anything that I didn’t want to do. You could never make me go against my will, even if I was drunk out of mind. But we have the charm . . . the charisma to bend women to our will. F4 could seduce women before they even realize what’s happening. Especially . . . if that woman loved one of us. You were in that room, we made love, because I wanted it to happen.”

“I … well,” she began uncertainly, wringing her hands together. She wanted to believe. She wanted to believe that the night that had given her Min wasn’t sordid. It wasn’t a violation. She wanted it to be magical. She wanted to believe.

He moved toward her, his eyes steady on hers. Standing in front of her, his hands came out to cradle her face. Tilting her head, he brought her lips up to meet his in a gentle kiss. Reaching around her, his arms wrapped themselves around her, settling her body into his. His warmth slowly transferred into her body. The shivers that had been coursing through her body without her knowledge leached away.

“I made you stay in that room with me. I needed your comfort. I needed your warmth to fight away my despair that night. I used you,” he grimly said, tucking her head under his chin. “I was the one fighting my depression over San Chai and Ah Si’s wedding. I got drunk. And I was the one who latched onto you.”

Her body jerked as those words left his mouth.

“Lei …,” she began.

“I’m not done yet. Yes, at that time San Chai’s upcoming wedding haunted me, and so I used you. But after that night, it was you that haunted me. You were the goddess that I dreamt about for years. Yours was the skin I wanted to touch. Yours was the scent I wanted to breathe in. Yours was the taste I had begun to crave. No matter the countless of women I tried to find you in, I couldn’t. You were what I needed. You were what my body needed. You were what my soul couldn’t forget. And I couldn’t find you.”

……………………

“I never called it love. Because I thought of you as a dream. And how could anyone fall in love with a dream?” he asked softly. “But when I saw you again. When I realized that Jing and my goddess were one and the same, do you know what I realized? That it was you all along. And all I could think was … had I left it too long?”

……………………

“Had I lost the one thing it took me so long to realize that I couldn’t live without?”

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

‘Cause you know,
you know, you know
I love you, I loved you all along
And I miss you
For far away for far too long.

I keep dreaming, you’ll be with me
And you’ll never go.
Stop breathing, if I don’t see you anymore.

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

“I love you, Jing,” he said, his arms wrapped firmly around her, braced for her struggles.

She didn’t struggle. She stood motionless in his arms.

And that was most worrying of all.

“But …” she stopped abruptly.

“What is it?” he asked, his hand playing with the tips of her glossy, golden-brown hair.

“But how can I believe you? How could I trust you?” she asked softly. “You’re very good with your words, Lei. But it’s the actual follow through that’s always wanting.” She pulled away.

And he let her go, his hold slackening.

“How many times will we go through this, Jing?” he asked softly, as she turned away. “I do love you. Tell me how I can prove it. Tell me how I can make you believe…I need to make you believe. I made one mistake. And that was when I let you go. But I promise to never let go. To never give up. Tell me what I have to do?” he asked desperately.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. There were tears in her voice. There were tears in her eyes. “I don’t believe the words. I don’t believe that love. And how I can tell you what to do? How can I tell you when I don’t even know?” she began to sob softly. “Why … and why would I even want to?”

……………………

The silence continued, broken only by her near-silent sobs. His eyes remained glued to her slight figure, bowed under the stress she was feeling. His hands clenched at his side. And for the first time he felt helpless.

But then …

“All those times I was tested in our relationship I walked away, didn’t I?” he asked softly. “I’m sure that you’ve always felt that I’ve never bothered to look beneath your surface. You’ve probably always felt that I’ve never tried to see the person beneath the beauty.”

……………………

“Right?”

She shrugged her shoulders, more in agreement than anything.

“Well, that’s true. Do you know what brought me out of the world that I’d lived in until you came into my life? It was your beautiful face. It was the glow of purity behind that beauty that brought me back. I couldn’t believe that a goddess had sat down next to me on the playground that day. I couldn’t believe that a goddess was talking to me. I couldn’t believe that you were real. For a long, long time whenever you went away I was afraid that you would never come back. For a long time I believed that it was all a dream. And I was afraid to think about you. I was afraid to wonder who you were and where you came from. I was just afraid.”

Jing turned to look at him, her eyes wide as the words began to pour from his lips. She had never heard him talk about their past like this.

“So, for the first two years that we knew each other I never let myself think about you. Because I knew that if I thought about you, then I’d come to depend on you. I was afraid that if I depended on you, I would come to love you. And if I came to love you, then I couldn’t live without you. I’d already lost my mother. How much more pain would there be if I lost my goddess?”

He turned away from the questions in her eyes. He needed to get this out.

“And then not wondering . . . not asking just became a habit. You were my goddess. You were Jing. And that’s all you were. You weren’t your own person. You were my goddess. I guess as we grew up, on some level, you always remained my goddess. You were there for me. And so, when you left, it was a betrayal to me. It was never about what you needed,” he frankly admitted. “You didn’t … shouldn’t have had an existence separate from me. When you went to model, I knew that you were gone only for a while. I knew that you would return. Because your family empire was here. But when you returned, you came back with that news. You came back with your ambition of being an attorney. You came back with a desire for an existence that was wholly separate from mine.”

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

“No,” he, “Let me finish. Please. I finally began to ask the questions that I’d never asked before. I finally wanted to see beneath the surface. Not for any other reason than because I’d begun to realize how I’d willfully blinded myself to the real Jing.”

……………………

“And I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry that I pursued you. I’m sorry that I made you love me. I’m sorry that I deserted you when I thought you weren’t my Jing anymore.”

He landed on his knees in front of her, his eyes beseeching her.

“I’m sorry that I thought you weren’t worthy of my love. I’m sorry that I thought San Chai was more deserving of my love. I’m sorry that I decided to forget about you.”

Her hand had begun to reach out to him, but abruptly pulled back at those words. Her fingers clenched into a fist.

“I’m sorry that I…forgot you.”

Her eyes narrowed, but couldn’t stop the tears that had begun to fall from her eyes.

“Is this supposed to make me believe in your love?” she asked through gritted teeth.

“Yes, eventually,” he murmured. He began to crawl toward her, and she flinched back.

He stopped, sitting back on his haunches with a sigh.

“I finally began to ask the questions when you returned. It definitely wasn’t out of mere curiosity. It wasn’t because you were the mother of my child, like you accused me last time. It’s not about Min. I needed to know because I needed to know what made you the Jing I knew today. I needed to know.”

“And what did you find out?” she muttered sarcastically, turning away from him.

“You came after me, didn’t you?” he said, the tone forcing her to look back at him.

“After that missed meeting in Spain, you came after me. All the way to Japan. Even though you’d been hurt. You were barely out of that hospital bed, you came after me. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t speak to me?” he asked, looking at her.

“Well, there was the little matter of you kissing your best friend’s woman,” she coldly replied, remembering the pain. “How could I interrupt that precious moment?”

“I thought that might have been it,” he murmured ruefully. “We never did have the best timing, did we?”

“Never,” she agreed softly.

“You came back to tell me about Min, didn’t you? The only reason you were there on my wedding day was to tell me about our son. Despite what I had done to you, you wouldn’t have kept that a secret. You wouldn’t have kept my son away from me.”

“No,” she agreed.

“And then you went away because even then you were protecting me. My goddess,” he whispered.

“But most of all, I finally realized what made you want to be an attorney. And that more than anything tells me about you,” he said softly.

“Don’t say it,” she begged softly. “Don’t say her name again. You already know, why do we have to talk about her? We’ve already had this conversation the last time you were here.”

“Qi Mei,” he said softly, exhaling as her pain pierced through him. “You did all of this for her. You’ve spent all of this time protecting little Qi Mei’s in your part of the world. And now in Taiwan. She was the reason. And I never thought to ask. To wonder. I never thought to delve any deeper. This is who you are. A protector of innocents. And I thought of that as a betrayal to me,” he muttered in self-disgust.

He moved toward her, and gathered her into his arm.

She sighed, letting herself rest against him for a moment. Just a moment.

“I’m sorry that I wasn’t worthy of your love, Jing.”

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

On my knees, I’ll ask
Last chance for one last dance
‘Cause with you, I’d withstand
All of hell to hold your hand
I’d give it all
I’d give for us
Give anything but I won’t give up
‘Cause you know,
you know, you know

I keep dreaming, you’ll be with me
And you’ll never go
Stop breathing if I don’t see you anymore

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

“Don’t do this to us,” he softly whispered. “I know that I’ve been a blind fool, but I hope that you can be the bigger person in this relationship.”

“There’s never been any doubt about that,” she interjected.

“I need you to forgive me. Because without your forgiveness, we’d have no hope. And all I know is that if I don’t have you…that if I can’t be with you…I won’t be able to live.”

Her shoulders began to shake. Her face was buried against his chest.

“Jing?” he asked, worried that the next words would be her rejection of any hope for the two of them. “Jing, ple—.”

And all the breath left his body when she punched him with her clenched fist in the stomach.

*~*~*~*WARNING – RATED R for Sexual Content – Don’t read if you’re under 18 – WARNING*~*~*~*

“I guess you won’t forg—,” he began breathlessly.

Jing caught his face between her hands, turned it down, and abruptly captured the rest of his words in her mouth. And she proved she meant business, when she slid her hands up his chest and around his neck, holding him close and kissing him more deeply. Her body rubbed against his insistently, and with a slow pressure she pushed him to the floor. Lei felt a burgeoning pleasure and astonished joy that was almost past bearing.

Trying to atone for all the pain that he had previously caused her, both emotional and physical, he dragged his lips from hers and brushed a kiss along her jaw and cheek and temple, then he sought her mouth again, rubbing his lips over their soft contours. He traced the trembling line between her lips with his tongue, urging them to part, insisting, and when they did, he dove fully into her mouth—a starving man helplessly trying to satisfy a hunger by teaching her to intensify it. She was a willing and gifted student.

Long minutes later, Lei finally forced himself to lift his head, and he gazed down into her eyes, unconsciously memorizing the way she looked, all flushed and fresh and alluring. Trying to smile, he slid his hand around her nape and slowly rubbed his thumb over her soft bottom lip, but the deep chocolaty depths of her eyes were pulling him inexorably into their depths again. His thumb stopped moving, he pressed it down to force her lips apart and hungrily captured her mouth. Trembling in his arms, she leaned up over his body and the slight increase in pressure against his now rigid erection made his heart thunder and his fingers clenched convulsively against her back. He crushed her pliant body into his, his hands rushing over the sides of her breasts and back, then angling across her buttocks, holding her tightly against his straining body. He was losing control, and he knew it.

Lei told himself to slow down, ordered himself to stop before he did something that they weren’t ready for. They hadn’t finished talking yet. They hadn’t finished. She needed to forgive him before he began to behave like a sex-starved convict instead of the gentle lover he so wanted to be. It was the distant, nagging memory of his promise that finally made him try to prolong the prelude, to heed the warning of his pounding arousal that the culmination was going to happen much too quickly for her, once it began.

He forced his hands away from her breasts and settled them on the curve of her waist instead; but it was harder by far to stop the driving movements of his tongue when she was clinging to him and answering and digging her nails into his back. When he finally pulled his mouth an inch from hers, Lei wasn’t certain if it was she or he who moaned with the loss before she leaned her head weakly against his chest.

Eyes closed, his heart pumping fast, he dragged air into his lungs and slid his arms around her back bringing her closer into his body, needing the contact. It was no use, he had to have her, all of her, now. Drawing a ragged breath, he put his hand under her chin and tipped her face up. Her eyes were closed, long lashes lying on her creamy cheeks, as she instinctively lifted her lips to his.

Lei’s control snapped. He got up off the floor, and pulled her up with him. His mouth seized hers with fierce desperation, forcing her lips to part as his hands pulled down the straps of her nightgown, pushing the material down her arms and sending it to the floor in front of the fireplace, so that he could feast on the sight and touch of her skin.

Wrapped in his arms, Jing felt him lowering her onto the soft surface of the bed, but she didn’t surface from her state of mindless pleasure until he took his mouth and hands from her. She opened her eyes and saw him hurriedly unbutton his shirt and yank it out of his pants, tossing it aside, but not until he looked up at her did she feel the first stirrings of panic. In the firelight, his eyes had a fierce glitter as they moved restlessly over her body; passion had turned his face hard and intense, and when she lifted her arm self-consciously to cover her breasts, his voice was harsh, “Don’t!”

She shivered convulsively at that stranger’s voice, the stranger’s face, and when he pulled her hand away and covered her with his upper body, she realized instinctively that the preliminaries were abruptly over and he was going to be driving into her in a matter of moments unless she slowed him down. “Lei,” she whispered, trying to make him listen without just blurting out the situation. “Wait!”

The word didn’t register with Lei, but the panic in it struck a mildly discordant note, and so did the fact that she was shoving on his shoulders, and squirming against his thigh in a way that was wildly provocative.

Lei knew he was going too fast, cheating on the foreplay, and he thought she was objecting to that. With an effort that nearly sapped his strength, he made himself move onto his side, but when he bent his head to her breast to oblige her, she caught his face in her hands to stop and forced it up.

“Lei, please,” Jing murmured, trying to fight the rising tide of passion. She wanted more. She knew that she wanted a lot more. But…“There’s something that I need to tell you.”

“You talk, I’ll listen,” he said distractedly, his attention focused on her body beneath him.

“I … Ihaven’tbeenwithanothermansinceyou.”

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

I wanted, I wanted you to stay
‘Cause I needed, I need to hear you say
I love you,
I loved you all along
And I forgive you
For being away for far too long
So keep breathing
‘Cause I’m not leaving you anymore

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

“What?”

Lei stared at her, trying to comprehend what she’d told him.

“What?” he asked again.

“I . . . I haven’t been with another man since you,” she repeated, the red spreading to cover her entire face. “I just wanted to let you know before … before …”

There was only silence. Reaching out she grabbed the duvet, trying to bring it up to cover her body. His hands stopped her.

“I didn’t expect you to be this shocked,” she said. “Don’t you want me anymore?” she asked, misinterpreting the reason for his silence.

Jing hadn’t been with anyone else. Not even with her husband. Although it shouldn’t have, that thought sent joy coursing through him. Jing had been no one else’s. She’d always been his. Only his … And her first experience had been hell. He needed to slow down. He needed to make this the most beautiful moment of her life.

“I am shocked,” he said softly, leaning down to kiss her on the forehead. “Why?” he finally asked breaking the silence once more. “Was your experience with me that bad?”

“Do we have to get into this right now?” she asked. “I’d prefer to be doing more interesting things than talking,” she whispered provocatively, wrapping her arms around his neck.

“Jing, tell me,” he whispered entreatingly.

“Not now, Lei,” she murmured. “Can’t you see that I’m busy?” she asked, reaching up to nibble at his earlobe.

Sighing, he stopped fighting. “Nothing matters to me right now…,” he whispered, lowering his mouth to hers, “but this…” But her inexperience did matter. It mattered enough to Lei to make him break off the kiss and try to get his lust under control, so that he could start over with her. “Come here,” he whispered, gathering her into his arms and rolling onto his side so that he was facing him, her head pillowed against his shoulder. Breathing deeply, he waited for his pulse to return to normal, slowly running his hand down her trim back in a soothing caress, while he resolved to make this good for her, even if he died of unassuaged lust in the process. Somehow, he was going to have to arouse her thoroughly without arousing himself more than he already was.

Slower.

Go slowly.

Dying to kiss her, Lei drew a long steadying breath and bent his head, fighting to hold himself in check as he touched his tongue to her lips. “You are so sweet,” he whispered. “You are so damned sweet.”

Jing’s restraint broke. With a silent moan, she slid her hand around his nape and kissed him with all the passion building inside of her, pressing herself against his rigid length, glorying in the shudder that racked his body as his mouth opened over hers in a rough, tender kiss. With an instinct she didn’t know she possessed, she sensed his desperate struggle to prevent the kiss from becoming too erotic, and the tenderness she felt was almost past bearing. Brushing her parted lips over his, she coaxed him to deepen the kiss, and when that failed, she started kissing him the way he’d done earlier. She touched her tongue to his lips and felt the gasp of his indrawn breath; encouraged by that, she let her tongue make a brief, sensuous foray in his mouth, probing lightly…

And she accomplished her goal.

Lei’s restraint broke with a low groan as he rolled her onto her back, kissing her with a raw, urgent hunger that made her feel at once powerful and helpless. His hands and mouth claimed her body, sliding over her breasts and waist and back, and when his mouth returned to hers again, he shoved his fingers into her hair, holding her a willing prisoner. When he finally lifted his mouth from hers, Jing’s whole body was on fire.

“Open your eyes,” he whispered.

Jing obeyed and found herself staring into a muscular male chest. The mere sight of that chest made her pulse pound. Hesitantly she raised her gaze from his chest and beheld the changes that passion had made in him. A muscle was moving spasmodically in his throat, his face was hard and dark, and his eyes were burning. She watched his sensual lips form two words and heard the rasp in his voice as he enunciated them: “Touch me.” It was an invitation. An order. And a plea.

Jing responded equally to all three. Raising her hand, she laid it on his cheek. Without taking his eyes from hers, he turned his face into her hand and slid his lips back and forth against her sensitive palm. “Touch me.”

Her heart beginning to pound ferociously, she trailed her fingertips down his hard cheek, over the thick cords of his neck, to his shoulder, then lower along the rigid planes of his chest. His skin felt like satin over granite, and when she leaned forward and kissed his chest, his muscles contracted reflexively. Heady with her newfound power, she kissed his small nipples, and then trailed a long kiss downward toward his waist. A half-laugh, half-groan escaped him, and he abruptly rolled her onto her back, pinning her hands beside her head, his body half covering hers. His tongue plunged into her mouth, tangling with hers, plunging and retreating in blatant imitation of what he wanted to do to her with his body, and the fire that had been building up inside of Jing exploded into flames.

She pulled her wrists free from his hands, wound her arms around him, and turned into his arms, returning his drugging kisses, stroking his shoulders and back, moaning with joy as his mouth touched her breasts. So lost was she in the desire he was building in her that she scarcely noticed when his hand reached down between her thighs until his fingers began to explore her intimately. Clenching her eyes closed, she fought back waves of embarrassment and let herself yield to the exquisite pleasure his knowledgeable fingers were giving her.

Fighting back his rampaging desire, Lei watched the reactions flicker across her lovely face as her body submitted to the unfamiliar, intimate stroking of his fingers. Each sound she made, each restless movement of her head, each time she quivered at his touch, filled him with poignant tenderness. Each second became crystallized in his mind, as bright as a diamond. Beneath his fingers, she was opening for him, wet and warm, and he was desperate to bury himself in her. Instead, he held back, and bending his head, he kissed her long and thoroughly while he slid his finger deeply into her. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and shivered. He increased the depth of his exploration.

Her hands were moving over him, gaining courage, and his breath caught when she finally brushed her fingers over his rigid arousal and then took him into her hand. The moment her fingers wrapped around him, her eyes flew open in shock, riveting on his face. If the situation wasn’t so dire and so urgent, Lei would have chuckled at the expression in her eyes. But he was in no mood to laugh. Her shock just meant that he hadn’t been so impressive the first time around. He’d disappointed her in more ways than one.

In the firelight, she looked at him as if she were waiting for something—a decision from him, a movement, and all the while her fingers were driving him crazy, until he was on the verge of exploding in her hand. Her other hand lifted to his jaw, soothing away the tension, and the words she whispered to him made him melt. “You are worth the second chance, Mr. Hua Ze Lei.”

Lei lost control of his breathing. With his palms on either side of her flushed face, he bent his head to kiss her, awed by her innocence. She’d become a mother, but her purity still shone through. Jing was in his arms. Jing was allowing him a second chance.

With blood pounding in his ears and foreboding weighing him down, Lei eased himself on top of her, and between her legs, probing at the entrance of her body, easing his way into her tight, wet passage, expelling his breath at the exquisite sensation as her body expanded to take in her, her wet warmth clasping him. Her body stiffened at the intrusion, but before he could react, her arms were around him and she was opening for him like a flower…welcoming him, sheathing him.

Fighting to control the orgasm that was threatening to erupt, Lei moved slowly within her, but when she began moving with him, clutching him to her, his restraint broke along with his desire to prolong the act. Seizing her mouth in a plundering kiss, he drove into her, forcing her faster and faster to the peak, driving her toward it, reveling in her muffled cry as she dug her nails into his back and began to shudder convulsively beneath him. Lifting her hips higher and tighter to him, he plunged harder, driven by some uncontrollable need to be as deep within her as possible when he came. He exploded inside of her with a force that tore a low groan from him, and still he kept moving, as if she could somehow empty him of the bitterness of their past. The second climax erupted in a jolt of sensation that screamed down his nerve endings, shook his entire body, and left him weak. Spent.

In a state of boneless exhaustion, he collapsed on top of her and shifted onto his side, still joined with her. Breathless from exertion, Lei held her in his arms, stroking her spine, trying not to think, clinging to the fading euphoria as he fought to hold reality at bay.

*~*~*~END of the Rated-R section*~*~*~

There was only the sound of their breathing in the room, and the crackle of the fire. He wanted to speak, he wanted to ask, but there was fear. Too much fear. It paralyzed him. What if this hadn’t been the second chance he thought it was? What if it had been nothing more to Jing than a meaningless bout? What if this was her way of punishing him? To give him one night of perfection? And then to leave?

He needed her.

His arms tightened around her, as if afraid that she would try to escape right at this moment.

……………………

“I love you, Lei,” came the most beautiful words he had ever heard. “No matter how hard I try. No matter how I try to stop. It’s hopeless. I love you,” came here whispered confession.

There was disbelief.

Then joy.

She was his.

Jing was his forever.

His arms tightened around her.

……………………

“Marry me…”

……………………

There was a choking sound.

“I can’t breathe, Lei.”

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

Chapter 23

Picture Perfect

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

“Marry me . . .”

Those words bursting into the silent night.

She didn’t know what to say.

What else could she say?

“I need time to think.”

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

“He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not,” she murmured in her sleep, pulling the petals off a dream daisy.

“He loves me not,” she pouted as the last petal fell away.

She turned to glare at him.

He began to laugh softly.

“You’re not superstitious, are you?” he asked softly, pulling her into his arms.

“Not really,” she murmured, snuggling close. “But every little bit would help, right?”

“What does that mean?” he asked suspiciously.

“That means that you get to pick me another daisy,” she informed him smilingly. “And we stay here until I get that elusive ‘he loves me’ petal.”

“What?”

“Please,” she said insistently.

Sighing he retrieved another daisy from the bouquet he’d brought her.

“He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not . . .,” her voice trailed off.

He handed her another one silently.

……………………

“He loves me not.”

And another one.

……………………

“He loves me not.”

“Jing,” he said with a sigh of frustration.

“This is important, Lei,” she insisted. “I just need to . . .,” her eyes widened as they landed on the denuded bouquet. All the daisies were gone. “What does this mean?” she asked him.

“Nothing,” he murmured, leaning over to kiss her. “It means nothing, when I have you and you have me. You know I love you. Don’t doubt it,” he ordered.

“Lei,” she whispered softly, eagerly returning his kiss.

Her arms came out to wrap around him, but he was no longer there. She missed his warmth.

“Lei?” she called out frantically. “Lei, where’d you go?” she asked, turning around. He’d disappeared.

Her eyes widened when they landed on a tiny figure in the distance.

“Rui? Rui, where are you going?” she called out, running after the little boy. He was all alone in the mall. The people passing by ignored the little figure running in their midst, knocking at him from all sides to get to their own important destinations. But it didn’t matter to him. Rui quickly bounded upright again, running to his own destination. What was he doing here without Nanny, Lei or her? Who’d let him out alone?

“Rui, come back, it’s not safe. Don’t go running off on your own. Daddy talked to you about bad men and how they could take Rui away from us. Rui!” she said urgently.

The child ignored her calls.

“Rui, please come back,” she called out weakly, holding onto the stitch in her side. “It’s not safe. Come back.”

“Mommy!” a child’s voice said joyfully. “Mommy, you came back. Mommy, I missed you. Mommy, why’d you go away?” Rui’s voice could be heard asking plaintively.

Jing fell to her knees, shocked.

Maya.

Maya was back.

The woman who’d been married to Lei for so many years. The woman who had given Lei a son. The woman who had been chosen by his family. Accepted by society. Invited in by his friends. Loved by Lei?

“Mommy missed her little boy,” Maya said, hugging a clinging Rui back. “I promise never to go away again.”

Jing’s lips twisted in disgust. Even her voice was beautiful. It figured.

“Promise, mommy?” Rui asked.

“Promise. Mommy loves Rui too much. Mommy loves Rui’s daddy too much to ever leave again. Mommy promises never, never, never to leave Rui or daddy,” Maya’s voice promised.

“But you can’t,” Jing protested. “Lei doesn’t love you. Lei loves me. You can’t just come back. He’s with me now.”

“Is he?” Maya asked coolly, turning to look at her. “Or is it just a way for him to get his son, and you just come along with that package?”

They were no longer at the mall. They were in Lei’s house. In Lei’s bedroom.

“I never made him feel that he had to be with me to have access to his son!” Jing protested.

“Access?” Maya murmured scornfully. “Come now, Jing. You know that Lei is a very possessive man. He doesn’t just want access. He wants his son. And to get Min he has to put up with you.”

Jing fell back, shocked.

“You’re Min’s mother. The mother of Lei’s bastard child. I’m Rui’s mother. The mother of his legitimate child. You’ve known Lei forever, but when has he ever, and I mean EVER, told you he loved you and truly meant it? When has he ever asked you to marry him? When has he ever been so passionate about being with you? Aren’t you afraid that he’ll always be able to walk away because he doesn’t love you enough? You’ve always been the more loving one. That leaves you pathetically vulnerable, you know?” came the cold, piercing words. “The one time you two were together, he had to be drunk and thinking of another woman to get it up,” Maya pointed out disdainfully.

“But . . . but last night he was here with me. For the first time, he was actually on the same page as me. We have a chance,” Jing argued.

“What is one night compared to all the nights I spent in his arms? He’s found release in my arms, in my body, on this bed countless times. What is one night compared to that? Lei and I were together for a long, long time, Jing. And I’ve already been accepted as his wife. It would be easy for me to slip back into that role. You, you were always selfish. You wanted to save the world. You wanted to become a lawyer. You never once put Lei first.”

“Lei was always first in my heart!” Jing shouted. “He understands that now. He doesn’t want me to sacrifice my dreams to be with him. He’ll support me now.”

“Did he promise you that?” Maya asked quietly. “Did he promise you anything?”

“He asked me to marry him,” Jing whispered in reply.

“What does that mean? When I was his wife, I always, always put him first. Even to the point of not seeing my son when I left, because Lei was most important. I was always there to support him with his business dinners by being the perfect hostess. I entertained his colleagues. His friends. His family. And they all said I was perfect. The perfect mother. The perfect daughter-in-law. The perfect mate. Can you promise the same? You, who was rejected by her own parents. Reviled by society for her stupid decisions. Could you ever be an equal to my Lei?”

“I … I …,” Jing stuttered, trying to find an answer.

“Do you really think that love is enough and one-sided love at that?” Maya asked contemptuously. “Look at it this way. Lei doesn’t love. And right now, he’s faced with me and you. I am the mother of his legitimate heir. The supportive wife. The devil he knows. In other words, the favored choice. You . . . you’re Jing. You’ve let him down countless times. He hasn’t even acknowledged Min yet, except to his closest friends. And you insist on continuing your work. You can never be what he needs. When a man doesn’t love a woman, he looks to his own comforts first. Lei will do the same. And I can provide the most comfort.”

“Lei would never admit to emotions he doesn’t feel,” Jing argued furiously. “Whatever else you can say about him, he would never say what he doesn’t mean. He said he loves me, and I believe him. I choose to believe him.”

……………………

“You poor, naïve fool. May God save you.”

“I don’t need God. I have Lei.”

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

“I only need Lei,” Jing murmured sleepily, moving restlessly in bed. “Only Lei.”

Her eyes opened abruptly, her hands reaching out for the warmth she so badly needed right now. She only found cool sheets.

“Lei?” she asked frantically, her eyes bursting open.

He was gone. The cool sheets bespoke a long absence. He’d left her alone to face her doubts.

Her fingers curled into fists, as she slowly sat up in bed. Tears continued to flow down her cheeks.

Yesterday, and then last night, had been perfect. But today, all she remembered were the doubts. How would they work everything out? Could she be the perfect wife and mother and still be herself? The thoughts continued to race through her head, as she sat staring into space.

There were no easy answers.

She loved him.

But when had love ever been enough?

Her eyes landed on his pillow, and they widened in surprise.

Reaching over she picked up a yellow rosebud, and the note beneath.

“I know that yellow represents friendship, and even though we have something so much more than that, never forget that before anything else, I was your friend. I loved you as a friend for a long time. And then … I just loved you. Let me be your friend . . . your lover . . . your husband. Let us be together … you will always be my sunlight.”

Tears formed in her eyes once more.

Bringing the rose to her nose, she felt something drop from it. A ring. Topaz. Her birthstone. She slowly slipped it onto her finger, her eyes widening at the perfect fit.

It had to mean something.

Right?

Her gaze landed on the flower once more.

He loves me.

He loves me not.

He loves me.

……………………

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

“Mom, where’s dad?” Min asked impatiently, jumping on the sofa.

Looking up, Jing caught the scandalized gaze of the secretary staring at them. Red stained her cheeks as she read the shock in the secretary’s eyes, quickly veiled.

The news article had thrown her into turmoil, but she hadn’t thought about how Lei had handled it.

A sick feeling began to grow in her stomach.

Was he hiding the truth from everyone because he was ashamed?

Why else would the secretary be scandalized?

Telling Min to sit down, Jing nervously fixed her hair and lipstick.

This was the first time she had come to Lei’s office. Ever. She’d wanted to surprise him with a quick lunch, as a family. But Rui had already left for Lei’s office when she’d arrived at Lei’s house, and she’d hurried on over, not wanting to miss them.

She heard whispers behind her as the secretary talked to someone on the phone.

“Yeah, she’s here. She looks much older in person.”

Jing kept her gaze away, not wanting to reveal that she was eavesdropping on the conversation.

“I can’t believe that this woman is doing this to bossman,” came the condemning words. “He’s inside, and she sits here with her bastard child, trying to entrap him once more.”

Jing could feel the cold spreading through her body. Her hands clenched into fists. Is this what everyone was saying. Bastard. Her son was a bastard? He wasn’t. But somehow, she couldn’t move. She felt paralyzed.

Why had she thought that she could come here? The article had come out yesterday. She’d made no statements to the media.

And it was becoming apparent that Lei had made no such statements either.

She’d been left exposed to the world with no defenses. Everyone thought that she was the cold, manipulative bitch that article painted her. And a criminal to boot. And how could she explain? How could she? Not without Lei’s support.

But it was the next words that broke her already fragile heart.

“Yeah, he’s sitting inside with his wife and Master Rui, and I don’t know what she thinks is going to happen. Bossman was devastated when Maya Madam left him. And now she’s back. And this witch is ruining that moment.”

……………………

“No, I haven’t buzzed him yet. How can I disturb their private moment? I’d feel so bad. And anyways, let her wait. Hopefully, she’ll get the clue and leave. God, you’d have to be so insensitive to do this to the poor man twice. It’s probably not even his son.”

Jing’s eyes widened in anger. Whatever that woman had said before might have been understandable. But not this. Her son wasn’t an “it”. He WAS Lei’s son, and no bitch was going to say otherwise.

Getting up, she turned to glare at the secretary.

But before she could meet her eyes, she heard the door opening behind her.

Her gaze turned back to open doorway she could see from the waiting room.

Lei was coming out.

Rui came next, grabbing his hand, laughing with joy.

“Daddy!” he shouted gleefully. “Mommy said she’ll go to lunch with us.”

Lei smiled, and nodded down at Rui.

“Here’s your coat, Lei,” a voice called out from behind them.

Jing took a sharp breath. It was her.

The woman she’d seen next to Lei on his wedding day.

The woman she’d seen in her dream.

The same voice. The one that had spoken those vows. The one that had taunted her. The one that was laughing indulgently now.

Her hands smoothed over his shoulders, as she helped him with the coat. Her hands coming up to fix his tie.

That was okay. There was nothing wrong with an ex-wife doing that in front of her son. There was nothing wrong with an ex-wife going to lunch with her ex-husband to make her young son happy.

But then . . .

Her arms coming up to wrap around his neck.

Jing heard the soft taunting laughter behind her.

Maya’s body moving closer and closer to his.

Maya’s lips coming up to meet his waiting lips in a long kiss.

Jing’s eyes closed on the scene. She couldn’t breathe.

Maya pulled away, leaving Lei with lipstick on his lips. He smiled. Her thumb came up to wipe it away slowly.

She felt a small hand slipping into hers.

“Mommy,” Min said softly. “Daddy . . . daddy said he’d be like Xiao Wei daddy. I thought . . . I thought he’d live with us. But he’s kissing that woman. Xiao Wei daddy never did that. Mommy? Why isn’t he like Xiao Wei daddy?”

“Let’s go,” Jing said softly in reply.

“Where?” he asked quietly, his hand tightening in hers, his small fingers clenching at hers as the husband, wife, and favored son walked past the waiting room without a second glance. Their laughter rang out as they made their way to the elevators.

“Let’s go home,” Jing said.

“Home?”

……………………

“Yes, Min, home,” Jing swung her gaze down to meet his. “We’re going back to France. It’s time.”

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

Chapter 24

Breathe Me

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Help, I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And, the worst part is there’s no-one else to blame
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The figure sat huddling in the center of the bed, in room that was lighted only by the glow from the streetlights outside. Her hands were clenched together and her body was curled in on itself. Every few moments a shudder would run through her, as if she had lost control of even her muscles. If one looked closely, they would see that she had a man’s shirt wrapped around herself. Nothing more. And a keener observer would see the monogram HZL on one bedraggled cuff.

……………………

“Did I do the right thing?” Jing asked, turning to the shadow sitting in the chair beside the bed. She wiped at her eyes with a sleeve. “If I did, then why do I feel so empty inside? It’s true that being with him wasn’t any easier, but at least I was with him. Now I just feel so hopeless,” she admitted, sighing.

“If being with him made you insecure, then maybe the lack was in him?” Yun Xi suggested softly, coming to stand by the bed.

“It’s just that we have so much history that makes it hard for me to … trust him?” Jing said, trying to voice the doubts and the fears that had made her run back to France and the only constant support she’d had for the past few years. “It’s not like the trust that I feel for Xiao Wei and you,” she said. “You took me in unquestioningly when I showed up on your doorstep two days ago. I … I would never feel certain of that kind of welcome from Lei. Not … not even now,” she admitted, her hands tightening in a fist as she tried to grapple with that realization.

“You said he professed his love?” Yun Xi questioned.

“Yes.”

“And he asked you to marry him?”

“Yes.”

“And more than anything, this time he cared enough to see what was most important. He cared enough to ask why you chose your path. He cared enough to find out.”

“…Yes.”

“Then why wasn’t that enough for you, Jing?” Yun Xi asked softly.

“Because he’s said the words before. For the first 14-15 years of our relationship Lei professed to love me. I guess I came to depend on that love … to take it for granted. I always thought it would be there. That he would understand that I needed to do these things, and that he would welcome me back when I was done saving the world. But it was a far more ephemeral love than I had credited it to be.”

“It was never love, right?” Yun Xi said softly.

“It wasn’t. Only infatuation. And that 19-year old boy was the one who realized it first. He’d started to let go, even before I realized that I had nothing to hold on to. I know that he was already a little in love with San Chai when he came to me in France, but I still accepted him with open arms. And then he just left. He might say that it was because he believed that I didn’t love him, but more likely he’d realized that the bonds that held us together weren’t meant to last. Lei is smart that way. We weren’t meant to last.”

“But now he’s an adult. He’s been through loss. He’s been married. He’s become a father. He knows his own mind. And this adult, the one who had the intelligence to back away at 19, has told you he loves you now. Why are you hesitating?”

“What if it’s still not love?” Jing asked, turning to look at the other woman with desperation in her eyes. She ran her fingers through her hair in frustration. “He loved me once before. But it wasn’t love. He truly loved San Chai. He married Maya because he couldn’t have the woman he actually loved. How can I trust that his heart is capable of loving another when he’s already found his one true love? How can I trust that he’s stopped loving San Chai?”

“That’s just it, isn’t it? Trust is the issue. Can you trust him to tell you the truth? Can you trust him to know his emotions now?” Yun Xi murmured contemplatively. “When Xiao Wei told me that he loved me for the first time, a month after his divorce from you, I slapped him for the insult. How was I supposed to believe that the man, who had been by your side for so many years, could so easily turn around and love me? I felt that he was toying with me,” she softly admitted.

“Yun Xi, we never had that kind of relationship,” Jing quickly argued, turning to look at her in entreaty. “He saw me as a damsel in distress, and he’s always been a closet knight-in-shining-armor. He’ll always feel the urge to rescue anyone that needs rescuing. And that’s what he saw in me. He saw that I needed rescuing, and he set aside his needs and desires to save me. He never questioned whether what he felt for me was a man’s love or a knight’s duty to a damsel in distress. I would be the first to admit I spent far too long playing that role.”

“Oh, I know that now. Xiao Wei confused his need to protect you with love, and we both know that you never felt that way about him. He wasn’t Lei, correct? When he was finally forced to let go, only then did he realize what true love could be. I mean, I’d sat there, waiting for years for him to notice me. But even I was surprised by how quickly he did. And I felt … insecure. I didn’t trust his emotions. I didn’t trust him to know what love really was. He’d confused his feelings for you. What made me think that he could tell any more clearly what his feelings for me were? Who knew? Maybe I was a “damsel-in-distress” and in disguise too boot?”

Jing crawled over to the side of the bed and reached out to pat Yun Xi’s hand comfortingly. Yun Xi in turn grabbed onto Jing’s hand, and shook it gently.

“It was all about trust,” Yun Xi repeated gently. “I had to trust him to know his own emotions. I had to trust that he knew he loved me. I had to trust. I took a leap of faith and I’ve never regretted it since. Do you understand?”

“I don’t know if I can take that leap,” Jing confessed, pulling away and returning to the safety of the center of the bed. “If I’m wrong, and he leaves once more…” her voice trailed off.

“Then you’ll have tried,” Yun Xi said softly. “You’ll never ask yourself ‘what if?’ because you’ll have the answer. How could there be any regret in that? And what if you are right in taking that leap? What if he DOES truly love you? You’ll be the happiest woman on this earth. Well, next to me,” she said, flashing Jing a smile.

Jing lay down once more and quickly pulled the blanket over her head.

“Lei was the one I could never forget. Whenever I dated, I always compared those men to Lei,” she admitted, her voice muffled as she made the confession. “What if … what if San Chai is the one that he can never forget? What if he spends the rest of his life comparing me to her? Or to Maya? I mean I know that he settled for Maya. When she left he didn’t contest the divorce. Which means he didn’t want her back. But then, why did he kiss her in front of everybody? Why did he kiss her in front of his staff? And his bitch secret—,” her voice broke. She clenched her hands, and took a deep breath. “Why didn’t he push her away? If I think about it rationally, I know that he’s not the kind of man who would do something like that. He wouldn’t sleep with me and then go kiss another woman. But why couldn’t he have pushed her away?” her voice trembled. “If he’d just pushed her away …,” her voice trailed.

“What would’ve happened if he’d pushed her away?” Yun Xi prompted gently.

“I wouldn’t have realized … Maya is this perfect woman. Liked by his friends. Accepted by his parents. And revered by Taipei’s elite as the perfect wife for Hua Ze Lei. But he didn’t love her. He couldn’t love her. What if it’s all because of San Chai? And where would the hell would I stand a chance next to that perfection in his mind? My parents disowned me. I’ve barely talked to F4 and their significant others in the past few years. And right now I’m the joke of Taipei’s society. The heiress that had to drug a man to sleep with her.”

“You know I asked myself the same thing,” Yun Xi confided, ignoring the last part of Jing’s diatribe. “I asked myself, what if Teng Tang Jing was the woman that Xiao Wei could never forget?”

……………………

“But I was something more to Xiao Wei. I was the woman he not only wanted to save, but the woman he needed to love. I was the woman that could complete him. It’s never about the mind when it comes to love. It’s always the heart that gets the final vote.”

……………………

“Lei has far more of a past with you than Maya. He knows you inside and out, even when he was initially blinded by infatuation. The chance that Lei loves you is far higher than you are willing to believe. He’s known you his entire life, and you share a rich history that he doesn’t share with anyone else. You rescued him. And maybe, for a while, he was playing the damsel, but he outgrew that. That’s when he stepped back. But he asked you to meet him in Spain … when he left you in France, it wasn’t a simple admission that the bonds between you two were too fragile to last. It was more than that. He asked you for another chance.

Your absence in Spain scarred him, Jing. He may have only been attracted to San Chai’s fire, but when you weren’t there, it very likely pushed him into her arms. And then he became HER knight in shining armor. He was so busy saving her that he completely erased your existence from his mind. You weren’t a friend. It was as if you were a stranger and your relationship had never existed. Does that sound like a man that had decided he couldn’t love you and was simply moving on? You can be friends with a person you mistakenly thought you loved. You can’t be friends with someone you still have feelings for. So tell me, why do you feel that you can’t complete him?”

There was only silence from the bed.

Yun Xi sighed quietly.

“I’ll let you sleep,” she said, getting up. “Call me if you need anything.”

There was no response.

Yun Xi quietly closed the door behind her, after a final glance at the figure huddled on the bed. Her eyes met Xiao Wei’s, as her husband was leaving Min’s room.

“How’s he doing?” she asked, pulling him into the living room.

“He’s confused,” Xiao Wei admitted, reaching out to hold her hand. He needed her comfort. Although he and Jing had divorced, she would always be a part of his family, and Min would always be his son. And it was hard seeing his family suffer like this. “He misses his brother and his dad. And he saw how fragile Jing was, so he was too afraid to ask her what was happening. He wants to know when they’ll be going back. Did she say anything?”

“Jing’s afraid that Lei can never love her,” Yun Xi, playing with a lock of Xiao Wei’s hair. “She saw him kissing Maya.”

“That bastard,” Xiao Wei muttered, his lips tightening. “He assured me that he would take care of Jing and Min before we left Taiwan. He told me that he was going to propose soon. And that they’d then make a statement about Min being his son. I urged him to tell the media immediately, but he wanted Jing safely engaged to him before he released that information to the press. I knew nothing good would come out of waiting. And then that story broke. And once again they went after her reputation. They vilified her. And she didn’t even defend herself.”

“I just don’t think there was any time,” Yun Xi argued. “From what Jing’s told me, everything happened so quickly that he probably didn’t have time to clear things up.”

“There was time,” Xiao Wei argued. “When he should’ve been taking care of this problem, he was off playing happy family with Maya and Rui, leaving both Min and Jing out in the cold. Can you imagine the things that people must have been saying? About her? About Min? And he didn’t release any official press statement. What was he thinking?”

“Do you really think he worried about that after Jing left so suddenly? Who cares about reputations when the woman you love has gone missing? I’m sure that he’s probably out of his mind with worry, trying to figure out where she went.”

“It’s his fault that she’s in this condition,” Xiao Wei said stubbornly. “He didn’t handle this right. And now … she’s heartbroken all over again.”

“He’s only human, Xiao Wei. And you can’t tell me that you haven’t made mistakes,” Yun Xi said, reminding him of their own courtship. She saw the look on his face. He was hurting because both Jing and Min were hurting. He felt frustrated because he couldn’t help them. Not this time. She wordlessly moved into his arms, giving comfort in the only way she could.

“Hey, she’s strong,” she said quietly, comforting him. “She’ll get through this. Doesn’t she always?”

“It’s not about getting through it,” Xiao Wei argued. “Can’t you see? She’s merely existed for so long, and I finally thought … after seeing Lei and allowing him back into her life, she was learning how to live again. But now she’s regressing. You don’t know how bad it got, Yun Xi,” he said on an exhalation, holding her close. He breathed in deeply, needing her warmth. Her strength.

“I never told you about the time she accidentally cut herself, did I?” he asked, turning to look at her.

“No,” Yun Xi said quietly.

“It was right after she came back from Lei’s wedding,” Xiao Wei said, the memory still fresh in his mind. “Her eyes had this blank expression. It was as if she’d stopped processing the world around her. And one day, I saw her in the kitchen with a knife in her hands. She was cooking something, and she’d accidentally cut herself. Pretty deeply, in fact. But she just stood there, letting the blood flow, watching it pool at the bottom of the sink. It was as if she didn’t realize that she should stop it. She just stood there. It was then that I began to watch her.”

“How long did it take for her to get back to normal?”

“It was after she’d given birth to Min. I don’t know, something just woke up inside of her and she realized that she needed to take care of her son. But even then she was depressed. She didn’t smile or laugh. She was aware of everything around her. And she was always careful. But she was just going through the motions. I think the idea that Min would never know his father was driving her crazy.”

……………………

“And that state just continued. She was always calm. Serene. Beautiful. But she didn’t feel too deeply. When Rui was born, she had to finally face the permanent nature of Lei’s union with Maya. But there were no outbursts. Nothing.”

“I thought that maybe she had hope until that point, for what, I don’t know. I would have if I was in that situation. But maybe she knew better. He’d already lost San Chai, and he hadn’t turned back to her. He’d turned away to another woman. But she never reacted. I tried to get her to see a therapist. I got as far as meeting you and discussing a possibility of setting up something, but she refused. But at least you became her friend after that. But now this.”

“But she always comes back,” Yun Xi gently reminded him. “She always finds it within herself to find her way back to those who need her.”

“When will he stop hurting her? I thought they’d really make it work this time. But here she is. Back again. Broken again,” Xiao Wei said with a sigh. “And this time, I know that even if he comes back, she won’t have the courage to give them another chance.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Ouch I have lost myself again
Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found,
Yeah, I think that I might break
Lost myself again and I feel unsafe.
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The two sat in the living room, trying to make tentative plans for their lost friend. Xiao Wei insisted that Jing should fight the rumors and release her own statement. He wanted her to get back into the thick of things. Yun Xi would only say Jing needed more rest. She needed time to heal. But how much time would be enough to get over the love of your life?

The bell buzzed behind them.

“Who could it be at this hour?” Yun Xi asked, staring worriedly out at the dark night. It had been raining for two days straight. It was as if all of Paris was mourning. Nothing good ever happened in the middle of the night.

“Who is it?” Xiao Wei growled over the intercom, impatient at the interruption.

“It’s me,” a voice quietly replied. “Lei,” he supplied after a pause. “I need to see Jing.”

“She’s not here,” Xiao Wei said, lying through his teeth without a second thought.

Lei sighed over the intercom.

“Look, I know she’s here,” he said in reply. “My detectives confirmed this was the address Jing came to after getting off the plane. I don’t know why she’s here. I don’t know why she’s hiding from me. And I don’t know why you feel that you have to hide her from me. But I do know that I won’t leave here without seeing her.”

Yun Xi pushed Xiao Wei out of the way, and buzzed Lei in.

“They need to talk,” Yun Xi implacably answered the question in Xiao Wei’s eyes. “You said it yourself. Being back here isn’t helping Jing. So, we need to push her to confront her fears.”

There was a quiet knock a few minutes later, signaling Lei’s arrival. Xiao Wei reluctantly opened the door.

“Thanks for letting me in,” Lei began, stepping into the hallway.

“She’s resting,” Yun Xi said, gesturing for Lei to take a seat in the living room. “Before we can allow you to see her, you need to explain something.”

Lei nodded. He understood that these two were just guarding someone they both considered a good friend. He would do no less for F4. He guessed he should be thankful that Jing had them. Evidently she needed them if she felt that she couldn’t call on anyone in all of Taiwan in her time of need.

His hands clenched as he remembered the sense of betrayal that had coursed through his body when he’d come back to find her gone. He’d proposed to her but that hadn’t been enough. He’d felt like a fool when he’d come back to her with a ring and flowers only to find out that she’d left. No note. No explanation. Nothing. He hadn’t even known where to begin the search.

That, on top of seeing Maya again, had been the last straw. While Maya had finally agreed to see Rui, her phone call had come at the most inopportune time, forcing Lei to leave Jing’s arms before they could continue their conversation. He’d never thought that Jing would take the first chance to flee. He still didn’t know why.

When he’d arrived at her home, he’d met the censorious gazes of her loyal staff and realized that something was really wrong. Did they also blame him for failing to protect their mistress? Why hadn’t he prevented the truth from getting out in this manner? He’d hurt Jing by being too sure of himself.

For a bleak moment he’d been tempted to just give up. What was it about him that had made him so unlovable? He hadn’t been enough for Jing. Not that first time. He hadn’t been enough for San Chai. And he definitely hadn’t been enough for Maya. And now again. It was as if he was doomed to failure in all of his relationships. And her flight had come when he’d finally felt that they were getting somewhere. When he felt that he’d finally worked out all the problems that had separated them in the past, she’d left him stranded him once more. Floundering. Wondering what he’d done wrong. He’d been tempted to give up. But that urge had soon passed. His heart wouldn’t let him lose again. He would fix whatever was wrong.

And she’d be back in his arms.

“Lei? Lei, are you still with us?” Yun Xi asked insistently when there was no response.

“I’m here,” Lei responded, shaking himself to get rid of all the doubts. “How is she? Has she said why she came back so suddenly?” He needed to know.

“First, you can tell us what you did to take care of the furor created by that article,” Xiao Wei demanded aggressively, ignoring his question. “I told you it wasn’t a good idea to keep that a secret.”

……………………

“I was wrong,” Lei finally admitted. “But I did release a statement before I learned that Jing had left the country stating there was no truth in that article except that Min was my son and that I was marrying Teng Tang Jing in the near future. Now tell me why she left me,” he demanded.

“Does the name Maya and kisses ring any bells for you?” Xiao Wei asked sarcastically.

“She saw me kissing Maya?” Lei breathed incredulously. “But how?”

“She was at your office to meet you for lunch,” Yun Xi explained. “After having to sit there and listen to your secretary gossip about her in the most horrible fashion, such that she felt like the other woman, she turned to see you in the arms of your ex-wife. It made her realize a few things.”

“Jing would never have thought that I was getting back with Maya,” Lei argued. “She’s too rational for that.”

“When has love ever been rational?” Xiao Wei said, looking away.

“She knew that you had no interest in your ex-wife,” Yun Xi confided, wanting only to help Jing. “But that, in itself, made her doubt your feelings for her. In her eyes Maya is a paragon only because you decided to marry her. In her eyes if you can’t love a paragon, it could only be for one reason.”

……………………

“Because she thinks that I still love San Chai,” Lei quietly guessed.

“You are as intelligent as she says,” Yun Xi said, surprised. “So why haven’t you eradicated that belief in her heart? Why haven’t you made her feel that she is only woman in your heart now?”

“Because she knows that she isn’t.”

“Why you little—,” Xiao Wei began, glaring at him murderously.

“Wait, Xiao Wei, let’s hear why. If I don’t like the answer, we can throw him out,” Yun Xi promised, narrowing her eyes at Lei. “Why isn’t she?”

“San Chai was someone I once loved. And she will always be in my heart. I still love her. But I’m no longer in love with her. Also, like Xiao You and Xiao Qiao, she is a brother’s wife and as extensions of my brothers, they have pieces of my heart, as well. But I’ve told Jing over and over, ever since I discovered the truth, that Jing, and only Jing, has always had the biggest part of my heart. Even when I was loving San Chai. Even when I was married to Maya. It was Jing who controlled my heart. Even when I was ignoring her existence and telling myself that I never loved her, she controlled my thoughts. It was only when I was willing to forget my imagined grievances against Jing did I awaken to that love.”

……………………

“And you’re trying to say…,” Yun Xi quietly prompted.

“Jing is my heart. And I can’t lie to my heart. She knows who else is in there. She knows that San Chai will always be there. But she should also know that it is only platonic love now. Now, I think that I should be talking to her, not you two.”

He moved toward the back, guessing that the bedrooms were in that direction.

Xiao Wei moved to block his path.

“Xiao Wei,” Yun Xi called out, “please let him go in.”

“But…,” he began to protest.

“Trust me.”

He reluctantly moved aside.

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

The door opened and he quickly slipped inside.

“Jing?” he asked softly, nudging her, and all the while hovering uncertainly over the bed. He wanted to touch her, but he was afraid. What would he see in her eyes?

She slowly woke up, fighting for sleep the entire time. Her lips pouted, and she scrunched up her eyebrows. He began to wonder if that meant that her dreams were more enticing than the reality she’d face out here.

Her gaze landed on him silently.

He stared back, unable to say anything.

And she smiled gloriously. There was joy in that smile. There was acceptance. And there was love. She really did love him.

But then her gaze clouded up and her smile faded away. Reality was setting in. She was remembering. He needed to talk and he needed to be convincing. He knew that he was fighting for the rest of their lives together. If he didn’t get to her now, there would be no hope for them.

“You misunderstood,” he quickly stressed, wanting to get that out of the way. “There is no reunion between me and Maya. That kiss was a goodbye, and probably more ‘passionate’ than anything we had during our marriage,” he admitted deprecatingly. “I couldn’t push her away in front of everyone; it would’ve made it a bigger issue than it really was.”

“I guess I knew that even before I left,” she finally replied.

“Then … why did you leave me?” he asked in confusion. “If not the kiss, then what? We’d spent the most glorious night together, and I thought that everything was finally the way it was supposed to be. You were mine, finally. I had you in my arms the entire night. I told you I loved you in so many ways. And you finally admitted your love. I asked you to marry me. I soothed your fears. Or I thought I did. Tell me,” he demanded. “Tell me how can I get rid of all your fears that you never have to run from me again!”

“I can’t be with you … I’m afraid that nothing you say can change my mind,” she finally uttered. “Seeing that kiss made me realize a few things. And more than anything it made me realize that we don’t belong together. Not in that way,” she said grimly. “When I fall in love, it makes me the weak one. I feel too much when I’m with you. I can’t be that weak Jing anymore.”

“When have your emotions been a bad thing? When have emotions been wrong?” he asked. “Your passion and your compassion for a little girl pushed you to change your life. Because of her, you’ve saved so many lives. And that’s because you have the ability to feel.”

“That’s different,” she claimed, trying to turn away.

“I love you, Jing,” he argued passionately. “I love you so much that it’s a living ache inside of me. Every moment of my day is spent thinking about you. And even when I’m doing other things, you’re there, in the back of my mind. I wonder if you’ll laugh at something that I just laughed at. I wonder if you’ll enjoy the food I just ate. I wonder whether being with you would’ve made an enjoyable evening more memorable. I want to be with you because I know that having you in my life will only enrich mine. I won’t be the Lei I’ve been before, and that doesn’t scare me. Why can’t that be enough for you?”

“You never thought that way about San Chai? You never wondered whether you’d have been much happier in life if she had been by your side?” Jing asked implacably, her knuckles white under the covers. “You loved her. The Lei I know wouldn’t be so fickle with his feelings as to jump from woman to woman. You forget that in the past few months I’ve seen into your heart. And I’ve seen San Chai in there. She’s still there.”

“Look deeper,” he urged, pulling her from the bed. His gaze alighted on the familiar shirt. His eyes landed on the telltale monogram. It gave him the nerve to say the next words. “Have the courage to know who has the biggest part of my heart. And take responsibility for it. The only constant in my life and my heart has always been you. San Chai was strong enough to fight for her love. And I thought you weren’t. I was wrong. And San Chai needed me. You didn’t. I’ve always wondered if part of my love for her was based on the need to rescue her from the pain she faced in her relationship to Dao Ming Si and in fighting for her love. She was constantly being hurt by love, but still had the courage to fight on. And I had this urge to cocoon her from that pain and from the harsh realities of life. I needed to protect her.”

It was as if he had struck a chord. There was a moment of frozen silence. His hands hesitantly reached out to touch her face. His eyes entreated for her to understand.

There was shock in her eyes as she grappled with that statement. For a moment, her gaze softened, grew limpid. Her body leaned toward his, resting against him.

He bent down to kiss her, his need to touch her a physical ache in his body.

“I can’t,” her voice whispered brokenly, turning her face away in rejection. “I can’t let myself be that vulnerable with you. I can’t let myself trust you. Or that love.” She pulled away, breaking all contact.

“Even knowing that without trust, we can have nothing?”

She nodded in response.

“Even knowing that your lack of trust hurts me? Our son? Rui? That it’ll hurt you most of all?”

She nodded miserably.

“What if one day you hear that I’ve moved on? Can you live with that future? Can’t you reach out and grab onto our future. Can’t you live in the now?”

There was no response.

“Jing?” he asked hopefully into the silence.

She shook her head with finality.

“Why can’t we just pretend like the past few months never happened?” she asked hopefully. “Let’s just forget that we were ever more than friends. I mean we’ve done it before, right? In fact, it was only two nights that we really need to forget. You don’t even remember the first one. And it was based on a foundation of miserable memories that I’m sure you’d WANT to forget. And the second night can just be a beautiful mistake. I needed comfort. And you gave that to me. You made me feel wanted. You made me feel that I could never have done those heinous things the article accused me of. Why can’t we just think of it that way and move back? Why can’t we just be friends,” she pleaded desperately.

“No,” he asserted. “For I can’t bear to think of a world where I couldn’t see you as my lover. Where I couldn’t touch you as mine. Where I didn’t have the right to taste you. Or love you with all my heart. After our night together, I know that’s not what we’re meant to be,” he said softly. He paused, waiting for her to speak. She couldn’t.

“If I had to go back to ignoring you, as I’ve done for years or to pretend to be your friend,” he practically spat out the words, “Then … I’d rather not have you in my life at all.”

Before she suspected his intentions, he had her in his arms, pressed against his body. He was hard and hot, just the way she remembered, but less gentle … he wanted to kiss her and he no longer had the patience to control himself. This was a kiss as violent as a storm, as complete as a climax. He used his tongue in her mouth, his teeth on her lower lip. He held her with one arm across her back while the other cupped her rear and massaged so deeply she shuddered, halfway to yielding.

“I can’t make you see what I see when I look at us,” he said heartbreakingly… “I give up.”

Then he let her go. Let her go and stepped back. And walked out the door.

The door shut behind him. The soft click was deafening in the silent room.

Her body jerked in shock. Lei was leaving. He was leaving her. She fell back onto the bed, her knees giving out from beneath her. Her hands curled into the comforter. He was leaving her.

She couldn’t breathe. A trembling hand came up to clutch at her throat. She fought for air. Why was it so hard to breathe? She’d sent him away.

Lei was gone.

It had been her decision.

The finality of that kiss. The finality of that shutting of the door had abruptly pulled her out of her daze. So, why didn’t she feel safe now that he was gone?

What right did she have to feel so forlorn?

No right.

None at all.

Her hand came up to touch her lips.

Lei’s warmth.

It was fading. Disappearing as he’d just disappeared from her life.

He was gone.

He refused to live half an existence.

He refused to be with her on her terms.

He refused to pretend there was only friendship.

He refused to be a coward.

She hadn’t wanted to risk her heart again. She’d spent so many years anesthetizing herself to pain, that witnessing the kiss had become an insurmountable mountain, when it should have been a molehill. Why hadn’t she fought back? Why hadn’t she demanded respect from that bitch of a secretary?

When had she lost the right to raise her head public?

When had she lost the right to love a man and not be ostracized for it?

When had she decided that the easy path was the better path?

When?

When she accepted her parents’ decision to disown her and remained in France rather than returning to Spain?

When she’d walked away after she caught Lei kissing San Chai?

When Lei had rejected her in Spain?

After their night together?

His wedding?

And why?

Why had she stopped fighting?

His departure was forcing her to face the unpalatable truth that she hadn’t just let herself remain the damsel in distress for far too long.

She’d become a coward.

And her cowardliness hurt not only herself, but her son and the only man she could ever love.

Why was it so hard to take that final step when she knew she had nothing to fear? How could she justify wanting friendship, when she knew that love was just a heartbeat away? How could she have rejected love because she was afraid of pain?

Lei was gone.

……………………

What had she done?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Be my friend
Hold me,
Wrap me up, enfold me
I am small and needy
Warm me up
And breathe me
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Don’t go!” her voice rang into the cold, wet night. “Don’t leave me again,” she cried out. “I don’t think that I could bear it.”

Her eyes sought his figure out in the gloom, but she couldn’t see him anywhere. There was no car leaving. No figure walking away. It was as if he’d disappeared. Her body began to tremble in the cold air. Her arms came up to wrap themselves around her frail body. Her legs could no longer hold her up, and she collapsed onto the porch.

“Lei!” she cried out into the silent night. “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave us. If … the choice is between losing you now and risking my heart and being with you, then … I choose you! I choose you, Hua Ze Lei. I choose to trust you. And to love you till the end of my days. Come back. Please.”

“Jing,” his beautiful voice called out from behind her.

Her head jerked around, staring in shock at the shadows on the porch. His familiar figure stepped into the light; his hands were pushed deep into his pockets. His face was expressionless.

Her eyes begged him to understand. She didn’t know if she could find the words to explain. She also knew that if she didn’t, there would be no hope for them. She’d pushed their relationship into a state where all they did was go around in circles, trying to hash out her insecurities about his past love. Why hadn’t she realized it was the present that mattered right now and not the past?

Somehow, without even knowing it, she’d broken his heart. She needed to put it back together again.

She slowly got up, forcing her legs to work. Uncertainly, she made her way to his side, her slight figure shivering in the wind. Cold droplets of water fell against her back. But she noticed nothing but him.

Quietly, he shrugged out of his coat and wrapped it around her quivering body. He said nothing. It was her turn to speak.

“I. Love. You,” she finally whispered. Her words affirmed what he’d already known, but even so they eased the gnawing pain in his heart. They soothed away a little of the hurt he’d been feeling since he’d realized she’d abandoned him once more. But he needed more. He stared back at her, waiting.

“I know that was never in any doubt,” she murmured, clutching at his shirt, “but that was also why I couldn’t trust your love for me.”

He pulled her to sit with him on the porch bench, trying to protect her body from the wind and rain.

“I guess I’ve always loved you,” she admitted. “But for a long time, I told myself that it was the love for a younger brother. I’d pulled you out of your little world, and I told myself that it was only gratitude that you felt for me. You were younger. You had F4, whom I also considered my little siblings. Who was I but someone who’d helped you, but lived only on the periphery of your life? We were in different grades. We had different lives. But eventually, I began to realize that you held a special place in my heart and it was your persistence that made me face that.”

……………………

“That kiss really wasn’t the reason I ran away. It wasn’t anything you did that pushed me away,” she assured me. “It was more about what it represented.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, finally breaking his silence.

“It ripped away my protective shell in the worst way possible. I’d spent years building a shell around me so that I wouldn’t ever risk getting too close to anything. Especially, anything that had to do with you. But that kiss, somehow, witnessing your flesh meeting hers, an action that reminded me of the kiss I witnessed between you two on your wedding day … it ripped away that protection in one fell swoop. And all the pain came flooding through.”

“In a heartbeat, I relived all the events that I’d only allowed myself to witness and read about from a distance. Your love for another. When your heart had become another’s. Your marriage. When I couldn’t even imagine you coming back to me. Your son. The tie that made your marriage to Maya an unbreakable bond. Not that I don’t love Rui. But I’d deadened myself to all that. And in one moment I felt it all. And then I began relive the doubts I’d been having from the moment I’d admitted I loved you. What if you decided to go back to Maya for Rui, because that was what society expected? What if you decided you could only love San Chai? What if you decided you couldn’t accept me, like in Spain?”

……………………

“In that moment every rejection relived … and now, I was moving forward without that protective shell. I broke down. I couldn’t think. My mind was a blank. I did the only thing that I could. I ran.”

……………………

He pulled her into his arms, and she snuggled close without a protest. This was where she belonged. And it was finally, finally the right time for them.

“I’d become a coward, and I didn’t even know it. I told myself that I was protecting myself. I told myself that I was being expedient. That I was being smart. But I was only living a half-life. I wasn’t risking myself because I’d felt pain and knew I wanted no more of it. But I don’t want to be afraid any longer. I want to be with you. I know only one thing now. While there might be pain, there’s also joy. Loving and being loved are the two happiest states of being. I can’t be a coward any longer. I can’t stop loving because I’m afraid of hurting. Being a coward also means that I lose you. And I don’t want to live the rest of my life knowing that I lost you because I was too afraid. This was our last chance, wasn’t it?”

She cleared her throat, and turned her face into the open collar of his shirt. She inhaled deeply.

“Forgive me?” she asked, her voice muffled.

He cleared his throat.

His arms tightened

“I love you. Marry me.” The words a repeat from their night together.

“I can’t breathe, Lei,” she choked out.

His arms loosened in shock.

Reaching up with a smile, she planted a big kiss on his lips.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!”

And then there was only laughter in the soggy night as he got up and whirled her around in his exuberance. Her arms wrapped themselves around his neck, as if she would never let go. The streetlights and the couple standing in the open doorway were the only witnesses to this moment.

Jing had finally let go of her past.

And the future looked brighter than ever.

Deep down in her heart, she knew the truth.

They would live happily ever after because she truly was the queen of his heart.

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

 

Chapter 25

Epilogue: Feels Like Today

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

[YU MIN]

“Mommy told me that she’d call me Min when we came back to Taiwan a long time ago. I was confused at first. Did moving to a new country mean that I would have to change my name too? Mommy didn’t explain and I didn’t ask. I really didn’t care.”

Yu Min stared at the activity going on in front of him. Everyone was busy with the last minute preparations. Auntie San Chai had come early to help with the setting up, and Yu Min could hear her shouting at Uncle Ah Si to go talk to the old lady about the food.

“What old lady, you stupid woman?!” he shouted back. “They all look old to me!”

Yu Min winced when he heard the loud smack and quickly hid behind the flowers. He’d found out really quickly that Auntie San Chai liked to hit. But only Uncle Ah Si, and sometimes Uncle Ximen and Mei Zhou and sometimes daddy. But that was it. Uncle Ah Si didn’t mind, even if the smacking was really loud. He just picked up Auntie San Chai and threatened to throw her in the nearest body of water. Which, right now, was a champagne fountain. And Auntie San Chai would begin to laugh. Yu Min shrugged. People were so weird in Taiwan. He hoped that mommy and daddy wouldn’t get so goofy after they got married.

“Now, I’m not only Yu Min again, but I’m Hua Ze Yu Min. Mommy gave me back my name and then mommy gave me my daddy. I was so happy when I first saw daddy, even though I couldn’t call him that, and then I could. I got Rui, too. My little brother. He can be a pain sometimes, but I’m his big brother so I have to take care of him.”

“Ge,” Rui called insistently, racing over to Yu Min.

“What is it, Rui?” Yu Min asked, turning to look at the little brat.

“Fix my tie,” he ordered with a pout.

“What happened?” Yu Min asked with an aggravated scowl. “I just fixed it five minutes ago.”

“Stupid Xi Yuan grabbed it and then put it into her mouth and then when Auntie San Chai finally got it away from her, she started to cry and I was sorry for her, so I let her play with it for five minutes. And now it’s all messed up.”

“Don’t call her stupid,” Yu Min ordered, leaning in to fix the tie with his capable hands. “She’s smart. You know how Uncle Mei Zhou always says Xi Yuan’s as smart as her daddy; she was just playing with you.”

Rui nodded in understanding.

“Ge,” he said, “I want to marry Xi Yuan one day. I think she likes me.”

“No!” Yu Min practically screamed.

“Why not?” Rui asked, his lower lip trembling.

“Because Xi Yuan likes me,” Yu Min said. “She’ll be happy with me. Not you.”

“Are you sure?”

Yu Min nodded.

“Then what about me?” Rui said with a pout, crossing his arms.

“You can marry Cheng Lin,” Yu Min suggested. “She doesn’t have anyone to take care of her and Xiao Tian, or Kenny as he insists on being called, is too busy with his mei meis to pay attention to her.”

“But she’s a baby!” Rui said, “All she does is lay there and drool.”

“Well, you have Xi Yuan’s sister, Barbie, too,” Yu Min suggested. “She’ll be pretty like her sister. Or you can marry Pei Ci, Uncle Mei Zhou’s daughter.”

Rui nodded reflectively.

“Ge what if Kenny and Bao Long or MZ Jr. butt in and make their choices before I can decide? There won’t be any girls left!” he said in a worried tone.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” Yu Min blithely promised.

Rui nodded with complete trust. He knew that if his Ge promised something, he meant it. He turned to go.

“Where are you going?” Yu Min called out.

“To spend time with the girls!” Rui shouted back. “I want to start deciding soon. I can’t play with all of them, so I have to pick, right?”

“Right,” Yu Min nodded knowledgeably. “Remember.”

“Right,” Rui nodded. “Xi Yuan is my sister-in-law.”

Yu Min nodded imperiously and watched his little brother walk away.

“I was the happiest when they decided to ‘tell’ us the truth. I was happy with my mommy and daddy and I had a little brother. And I had aunts and uncles I didn’t have in France. And then something happened. I don’t know what but mommy said we were going back to France. And mommy wouldn’t tell me why. Daddy promised me that we would live together. I tried to tell mommy that, but she wouldn’t listen. She started to cry when I said that. That scared me, and I didn’t say anything more. One night I went to sleep in France, and the next morning, daddy woke me up to say we were going back. I was sad because I would miss Xiao Wei daddy and Auntie Yun Xi, but I was going back to everyone I loved and missed in Taiwan. Especially Rui. I’d been so worried about him when we left. I hadn’t even said goodbye.”

Yu Min watched his daddy pace back and forth. He stood under an arch a few feet away. There were chairs for the guests to sit in and a long white carpet down the middle for his mommy to walk on. He watched Uncle Ximen and Uncle Mei Zhou trying to talk to dad, and grab onto daddy’s arm, but daddy wouldn’t stop walking. He looked nervous. Oh no, daddy was messing up his tie too! Why couldn’t they keep their clothes fixed?

Turning away, he looked at the ocean. The waves were calm today, and the sand felt cool under his feet. It felt weird to be barefoot and wearing a tuxedo, but mommy had insisted. And Yu Min didn’t mind, he liked the feel of the sand beneath his feet. He wanted to play in the water, but he could see Auntie Xiao You shouting at Bao Long and Kenny to stay away from the water. She was saying they couldn’t, not until after the cere-ceremony. He could wait.

“We came back to Taiwan, and after a while, we moved into daddy’s home. And we were a family. And then one night daddy gave mommy a ring. It was turquoise and then daddy showed mommy a tattoo he’d gotten to comm-commemo-remind himself of the occasion. I didn’t want to hurt daddy’s feelings, but it was a really sissy tattoo. I mean, who gets a rose? At least it wasn’t pink. And mommy liked it. She said yes.”

Helicopters were flying overhead, raining rose petals over the private beach. The scent of flowers was rich in the air. And Yu Min could hear the caterers setting up the food inside the tent. It was almost sunset and mommy would come out soon.

“Even though daddy has the three uncles to choose from, he asked me and Rui to be his best men. Daddy told us that the uncles would pout if he picked one and not the others. I’d be sad too if daddy picked Rui and not me, or I’d feel bad for Rui if daddy picked me and not Rui. We both said yes. How else could all four of us get married if we weren’t standing next to mommy and daddy when they said ‘I do’?

“You’ve probably guessed it by now. We’re getting married today. I can’t wait.”

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

[RUI]

“Daddy is getting married to Auntie Jing today. And after they say I do, I’m going to surprise Auntie Jing by calling her mama. I talked it over with mommy, and mommy says I can call Auntie Jing whatever I want, as long as I’m happy with it. I chose mama. Mommy didn’t come back but I see her every month now, and I like my new dad, too. Mommy’s always smiling now. And so is daddy, so I guess I don’t mind that they’re not together anymore. All that matters is that they both love me.”

Rui stared intently at the three cribs in front of him, tapping a finger to his lips. Now that Ge had picked Xi Yuan, Rui had to hurry up and make his choice too.

Barbie was the oldest. She didn’t drool anymore. But she had a weird name.

Pei Ci was next. And she was pretty. But the last time he’d held her, she’d peed on him.

And Cheng Lin was the youngest, and did lie there and drool all the time. But she was the cutest. And she smiled at Rui whenever he played with her.

Who would he pick?

“What are you doing?” Bao Long asked, walking over to sit down next to his sister’s crib.

“I want to see which one I like best,” Rui explained.

“Why?” Kenny asked, waving goodbye to a mei mei before sitting down next to Cheng Lin.

“So, I can protect her until she grows up.”

“Why do you want to protect her?” MZ Jr. asked, coming around to sit next to Pei Ci. “That’s our job. We’re their brothers.”

“Because I’ll marry the one I protect,” Rui explained, still deciding which one he’d pick.

“What? You’re not marrying our sisters!” Bao Long vehemently protested.

“Why not?!” Rui asked with a thunderous brow.

“Because we’ve already decided who’s going to marry who,” Kenny said. “Yu Min already said he wants Xi Yuan, and so Bao Long will take care of Pei Ci, I’ll take care of Barbie (because of the whole Barbie and Ken thing), and MZ Jr. will take care of Cheng Lin. We’ve decided.”

“B-b-but what about me?” Rui asked tearfully.

“Well, you better hope the parents have more kids,” MZ Jr. said heartlessly. “Until then, we have dibs on these girls.”

“But you’re younger than me!” Rui protested, pointing at MZ Jr.

“Yeah, but you weren’t at our last meeting,” MZ Jr. said. “It’s your fault.”

Rui began to sob. Ge had promised. What would he do now?

“Rui, what’s wrong?” a voice asked gently.

“Auntie Xiao Qiao?” he asked, looking up tearfully.

“Did someone say something to you?” she asked gently.

Rui quickly looked around and gave a small sigh of relief. It had only been a bad daydream. Wiping his tears away, he shook his head at Auntie Xiao Qiao.

“Auntie Jing is ready to walk down the aisle, and Yu Min is waiting for you,” she told him, pulling him up. She gently brushed him off, and turned him in Yu Min’s direction. With a gentle pat, she pushed him on his way.

The music began to play.

“Daddy is waiting for us at the end of the aisle. And there’s Auntie San Chai, looking pretty and holding Yu Min’s hand. And now it’s my turn. I get to hold both Auntie Xiao You’s and Auntie Xiao Qiao’s hands as we walk down the aisle. And next it’s mama’s turn.”

He sighed quietly when he saw mama standing at the end of the aisle.

“Mama looks beautiful today. Her hair is open. It’s so long now. It reaches all the way down her back. Mama doesn’t usually wear it like that, but we asked her to for today. And she looks just like a fairytale princess. She has flowers in her hair, too. Roses. And a white, flowy dress. Daddy’s staring at mommy, too. She has flowers in her hand. I’m supposed to hold them when they say their vows. She’s not wearing any shoes. None of us are. I don’t know why the adults were making such a fuss about it. But we’re at the beach. Who wears shoes at the beach? The breeze is ruffling her a little bit, but even then she’s beautiful. Daddy says she is glowing. I don’t know how you can glow, but mama does look different today. She’s smiling so much.”

“Ge just told me to pay attention because they’re starting. My hands are trembling as I hold the flowers but I don’t know why. We’ll be a real family soon, and then we’ll live happily ever after. Mama won’t leave us and Ge will always take care of me. We’ll all be happy. Oh, our turn is coming up!”

“The priest is babbling. Here’s Ge poking me! That’s our signal”

……………………

“We do!”

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

3 thoughts on “IFLT 21 – End

  1. hehe…for this ff…
    its nice..one that arouses your interest…
    and its about lei..
    thank you for writing…
    i think I made a wrong post above..it should be for my only angel..sorry

  2. I think that you are a good writer.
    A good variation to what I’m currently reading (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)..
    Maybe because you’re also into reading and once my sociology prof told us that our writing style is from the different works we are reading and through time we develop our own…
    please continue writing and goodluck..
    hehe…can it be another chun-ella?hehe

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