MOA 01 – 05

Chapter 1

Angel of Death

Prologue II

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

“I heard that he hasn’t said anything for a month,” a voice whispered in the silent room.

“He doesn’t eat or sleep,” her mother sadly replied. “I just don’t know what to do. How can I make him feel better?” she asked the silent women sitting around her. “If you think about it, it was partly my fault. If I hadn’t spoiled her, if I hadn’t given her everything she wanted in the world . . . if I hadn’t given him to her . . . he wouldn’t be like this. He loved her and she . . . she’s left him.”

“It’s not your fault,” the women burst out around her.

“It was his fault . . .,” his mother murmured sadly. “He shouldn’t have loved this much. Loving someone like this . . . is emotional suicide. I’ve always told him to protect himself, and he couldn’t learn to keep his distance. And now that she’s gone, and he has to learn to live without her, it’s like learning to live again. He doesn’t have the strength. Something has to be done.”

“Where is he now?” her mother asked.

“He’s gone to his villa in Italy,” his mother replied.

“Where’s my granddaughter?” her mother asked.

“She’s at my home right now,” his mother. “She’s been crying since her mother left. It breaks my heart to see her without both her parents. He knows it, and it’s an added burden . . the knowledge that he’s abandoned his child, too. It hurts his heart too much to see that girl’s eyes in the child’s face.”

“I blame her,” her mother burst out. “Why did she have to do this? He is the sweetest man on this earth. He could’ve given her anything . . . emotionally, physically, spiritually. He was nothing like her father had been. He would’ve made her happy! Why did she have to do this? Why?”

“I’m sorry for saying this, but right now, I truly hate your daughter,” his mother finally said, with a heavy heart. She had considered the girl her own daughter. She had been delightful. Loving. She had been the perfect daughter-in-law, until . . . until she had broken her son’s heart. “My son is a broken man. He’s isolated himself from anything that could give him comfort. He has lost hope in living. And I’m afraid . . . I’m afraid that he’ll let himself die,” she said, bursting into tears once more. These days they seemed only too near the surface. It felt that her son had been lost to her, all because of the fickle feelings of a girl who she’d mistaken for a true daughter.

Her mother pulled the grief-stricken woman into her arms, trying to give her what comfort she could.

His mother wrapped her arms around her, and let the tears flow.

She hoped that the girl suffered for what she had done.

She hoped.

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

She stared at the flower petals pressed between the pages of her diary. He had given them to her so long ago on that summer day. The day she had still had her dreams. He had loved her. She could see it in his eyes.

When?

When had that love died?

She heard the voices coming up the stairs. She could hear the anger and disgust in their voices, and it could only remind her of his pain. He was hurting, and had retreated from the world.

She swiftly got up and closed the door.

She turned to see the flowers once more.

When had it become so hard to love him and be by his side?

They’d been so happy together.

. . . . . . . . . . .

And now, now she couldn’t even see him. He’d gone so far away.

It was her fault.

The pages began to blur in front of her eyes. She stiffened when she saw the tears falling on the pages of the open diary. She roughly brushed them away. She didn’t deserve to cry. She didn’t deserve the relief those tears could bring.

She got up, and began to make the preparations.

Her fault . . .

Placing the implements around the bathtub, she turned on the faucets.

. . . that he was suffering so much.

She took off her clothes, and sank into the water.

And she would atone for her sins. He was suffering because of her. If she’d had the courage to tell him the truth, to gently lull him into facing the reality, he wouldn’t be willing himself to die at this very moment.

Her fingers grabbed the razor. A forefinger, gently traced the edge, and flinched at its sharpness. This would get the job done.

She took a deep breath.

The blade slashed against her wrists.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four cuts decisively made.

The pain in her heart was so deep that she hardly felt the pain from the fresh cuts. Slipping her hands beneath the water, she watched the water turn red as her life force slowly drained out of her useless body.

It was time to rest.

She slowly leaned her head against the back of the tub. And closed her eyes.

It was time to let go.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered to him, hoping he could hear her words. Somehow.

It was time to sleep.

Chapter 2

Prince Charming. . . To the Rescue

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

Ella Chen Jia Hua. Staring at the daisies that spelled out her name, she smiled sadly. Grandma had helped her to plant them. They were blooming once more. The first time they’d bloomed, the grief had been too fresh. She couldn’t make herself look at them.

Even that smile quickly faded away. Grandma wasn’t here to see them. Grandma wasn’t here to sit next to her, and tell her stories about her prize-winning daisies. Or to tell her stories about grandpa and how they’d fallen in love when grandma was a hot, young thing. Or to tell her that she should forgive her mom, because her mom, when she was Jia Hua’s age, had not been the stick in the mud she was now. Grandma had always told Jia Hua to try to understand her mother.

Her shoulders began to shake, as she remembered that last night. She had begged her mother to stay with grandma. When asked why, she could only say that she had a feeling. Her mother had assured her that nothing would happen, and left.

Jia Hua sighed, her shoulders slumping. More and more, she was beginning to see regret in mom’s eyes. She knew now that mom hadn’t really wanted to go, but her new husband, Jia Hua’s new stepfather, had insisted. He just hadn’t thought of the consequences; that a daughter wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to her mother because of a stupid weekend party in the countryside.

Jia Hua had stopped resenting him for taking mom away that night. Grandma would’ve died either way, and her favorite, albeit only, granddaughter had been there to keep her company. Though, even she’d left her grandma in those last moments.

Sitting down next to the daisies, she resolutely turned her back on the party going on in the house behind her. Grandma’s death anniversary had been yesterday, and they’d done all the rites. But today was mom’s wedding anniversary, and they were celebrating with abandon. Jia Hua hadn’t wanted to join that revelry. She was in no mood to make merry just a day after.

Her shoulders slumped. She hated herself for thinking about this now, but it seemed that everyone had forgotten. She hadn’t cared. She hadn’t hoped. But she had thought that at least one person would’ve remembered that today was also her birthday. This only proved that the only person that really cared for her was forever gone.

Staring down at the necklace she cradled in her hands, she thought back to her 14th birthday. The year before last, grandma had awakened her, and they’d blown the candle out on a chocolate cupcake. Grandma always did that first thing on her birthday. She’d then given Jia Hua the necklace, saying that it had been passed down mother to daughter for centuries. But since her daughter didn’t want such an old-fashioned thing, then she could give it to her beloved Jia Hua.

Of course, mom hadn’t been around at her 14th. She’d been on her honeymoon with Tien Da Wei. And no one had missed her. They’d spent the week moving into Mr. Tien’s house. Then there had been the wedding ceremony, after which the couple had quickly flown away. Her mother didn’t care that Jia Hua had driven herself crazy wondering if she’d fit in at the new school. Whether she’d fit into the neighborhood. Could she make new friends? Would she be able to see her old ones? But that birthday cupcake had taken all the worries away. She’d known that no matter what happened, she’d always have grandma.

But that wasn’t true. She thought back to that night. Mom had been gone, and Grandma insisted that Jia Hua go to bed. Jia Hua had reluctantly gone in the face of her grandmother’s insistence that she wouldn’t sleep unless Jia Hua slept. She’d slept in the anteroom, wanting to be close, in case grandma called out. She’d awakened on her 15th birthday to find her grandmother had passed away the night before. The pain had been so intense, and she realized that her birthday would forever be associated with this painful memory. And she knew that she would NEVER want to celebrate this day again. Nothing and no one would make her.

Grandma was gone. And so was the only person that saw her as a center of their universe. She had been the most important person in Grandma’s life, and now, no one cared about Ella Chen Jia Hua. And the sad thing was that she couldn’t make herself care about that. All she could think about was grandma, and know, that as long as these daisies lasted, her grandma would remain fresh in her memory.

Her thoughts were disturbed by voices behind her. Turning she saw the future movers and shakers of Taiwanese society; the children of the current crop attending the Tien bash. No one would miss this party, not if they wanted to stay on Mr. Tien’s good side. She squinted her eyes, trying to see how many people had invaded her territory, but quickly lost interest.

“Go long!” a male voice shouted, and Jia Hua turned, just in time to see someone barreling toward her.

“Watch out!” that same male voice cried out, seeing the near catastrophe before his friend could. It was too late. When the male turned, he saw Jia Hua’s widened, frightened eyes, as he was almost on top of her.

She scrunched herself down.

He jumped over her.

And a catastrophe was avoided. Or so everyone thought.

“Oh, no! Oh, no!” Jia Hua began to cry, looking at the figure laying on the daisies she had planted with grandma. Her name was gone, crushed beneath that hulk of a body. “Oh, no!”

Her name was gone. Her grandma was gone.

Jumping on the figure laying in the daisies, she began to pummel him with her fists.

“How could you? How could you?” she shouted over and over again. “How could you? Are you blind?!” she cried out at him, as hands pulled her off the figure lying in the daisies. Abruptly pulling herself free, she ran away. She wanted to get away from these monsters. Unshed tears shimmered in her eyes, but she wouldn’t show her feelings to these uncaring socialites.

Going around the house, she went to the pond on the other side of the estate. When she was finally seated in front of the pond, the tears began to fall. Her hands clenched in her lap, as the sobs finally broke free. Everything had seemed okay, as long as those daisies had been there. They were gone. Laying face down on the grass, she let the tears flow freely. She hadn’t allowed herself to cry for so long, knowing that if she loosened her control, she wouldn’t stop. Not for a long, long time.

Her sobs were loud in the silent atmosphere, accompanied only by the ducks quacking in the pond. Her hands grabbed at the grass, ruthlessly pulling it free. How could they?

The tears wouldn’t stop. She didn’t know how long she stayed there, but the tears wouldn’t stop. And she let them out, making no attempt to silence her sobs.

Finally. Finally they stopped flowing. Turning on her back, she sniffled. Her hands came up to brush away her tears, but a hand was there before her. A handkerchief gently wiped her cheeks, and then placed it on top of her nose, telling her to blow.

Getting up, she turned to look at the owner of the handkerchief.

Her eyes widened.

The daisy-killer had followed her.

She made an attempt to get up. To get away from him. Not only had he seen her humiliating tears, he’d also been the cause of them.

His hand reached out to grab her wrist.

“Let go,” she ordered.

“Not until you let me apologize.”

She struggled, but his hold was too strong. Sulkily, she sat back down, and crossed her legs. He waited patiently for her to settle down.

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

“I didn’t know they meant that much to you, Ella,” he finally said. “I’m deeply sorry for the fact that I destroyed your beloved daisies. I’ll have someone plant new ones for you,” he promised.

“You think I’m crying about the daisies,” she asked, blowing her nose. “Oh god, grandma,” she moaned, running her hands through her hair.

“What? Your grandma wasn’t buried there, was she?” he asked, horrified at disrespecting an elder’s grave. “In your backyard?” he asked in confusion.

A small smile tugged at her lips before she could quell it. She hid it from him. She was surprised that she could smile so easily.

“I really am sorry,” he said, turning to her. “Let’s go,” he said, getting up and grabbing her hand to pull her up.

“Where?” she asked, holding back.

“I have to bow to your grandmother and ask her forgiveness.”

“What?” Jia Hua cried out, trying to stop him. “Why?”

“I landed on her resting place,” he explained, surprised that she’d forgotten so easily.

“You didn’t desecrate my grandmother’s grave,” she quickly explained. His shock allowed her to pull her hand away. “Who buries their family in their own backyard?” she asked in astonishment. Turning away, she went back to the edge of the pond, and sat down once more.

“Then why were you crying as if your heart had been broken?” he asked quietly asked, coming to sit down beside her.

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

“Ella?” he prompted.

“Why do you keep on calling me Ella?” she demanded in frustration.

“Because there was enough of the flowers left in their place for me to figure out your first name was Ella,” he explained. “Or . . . it was your name, wasn’t it?”

“Well, no one calls me that,” she asserted. “Call me Jia Hua.”

“Why were you crying, Jia Hua?” he repeated his question.

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

“My grandma passed away a year ago from yesterday,” she confessed softly. “We planted those daisies together. I couldn’t see them last year, but I worked on that plot, took care of it, so that I could see them this year. And when you landed on them, along with everything else, it was just the last straw. It was just so frustrating that they had to have this anniversary party just one year after she died. It’s not respectful to my grandma. But no one cares what I think. Especially not mom,” she murmured resentfully.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he murmured.

. . . . . . . . . . .

“But you have to understand, that people mourn in different ways. Maybe your mother can’t bear to sit quietly at home, remembering your grandmother all alone,” he tried to reason out.

“Of course, she doesn’t want to remember Grandma,” Jia Hua retorted. “She was the one that went to a weekend party when Grandma was so sick.”

“Had your grandma been ill for a long time?” he asked gently.

“Well, six months,” she admitted grudgingly.

“Did the doctors say that she was getting worse?” he asked

“No,” she admitted.

“Then, did your mother purposefully go away on that weekend just so . . . Jia Hua, you have to see that it wasn’t her fault. She didn’t know. And now she’s regretting that she couldn’t say goodbye to her mother. I know she is, because that’s what I did when my father died when I was at college two years ago. It was too late by the time I returned. She regrets it. Don’t make her feel more badly than she already does. If this is her way of coping, by celebrating, then let her forget for a while,” he softly entreated. “Let her enjoy her day.”

“Well . . . if she wanted to celebrate, then why did she forget my—,” she cut herself off.

“Forget what?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she said, getting up. “I need to go back.”

“Why?” he asked, getting up as well.

“None of your business. I have to go,” she insisted.

He grabbed her fragile wrist once more, ignoring her struggles.

“I’m going to get a bruise,” she complained.

“Then stop struggling. Now tell me,” he ordered.

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

“We can stand here all night,” he assured her.

“It’s my birthday today,” she said in a small voice.

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

He was shocked. She could see it.

“And your mother forgot?”

“Well, grandma used to celebrate it with me,” she explained defensively. “Mom just got used to letting grandma take care of it.”

“Come with me,” he ordered, pulling her after him, as he began to run.

“Where are we going?” she asked breathlessly, as they raced away from the pond, back to the house.

“Sit here,” he ordered her, pushing her into a chair in the blue dining room. No one else was present. “Promise me.”

“I promise,” she finally said.

A few minutes went by, and then a few minutes more. She began to wonder if he’d played her for a fool. Disgruntled from the waiting, she finally got up to go.

“You’re not leaving are you?” he asked from outside the door. “I had to look high and low for this.”

“You’re back,” she said in surprise.

“I’m back. Close your eyes.”

“Why?”

“Just do it,” he ordered.

“Why do you have to be so bossy?” she complained, nonetheless, closing her eyes.

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

“Good, open them now,” he ordered.

“Bossy. Bossy,” she murmured, opening her eyes. Her eyes widened when she saw what he’d placed in front of her. Those big, brown eyes flooded with tears once more.

A chocolate cupcake. With one candle.

“I wanted to make you happy,” he explained, appalled at the reaction.

Jumping up, she hugged him. He froze at the contact.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you . . . ,” her voice trailed off, realizing that she didn’t even know his name.

“Wu Chun,” he supplied.

“Thank you, Wu Chun,” she said, sighing into his chest. For the first time in a year, the heavy cloud of grief had lifted. She had hope once more.

Her hands tightened around his waist. His arms came up to wrap themselves around her, knowing that she needed this contact.

“Thank you.”

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

That was how we met.

I had just turned sixteen.

He was twenty, and back from college.

I needed comfort. I needed human warmth. Something I hadn’t had since grandma had died.

And he was willing to be there for a stranger.

I’d sworn never to celebrate my birthday because the only one who celebrated it with me was gone. But then Chun came. Within a half an hour of meeting him, I was going back on my promise.

That was the beginning of our relationship.

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

Who knew that ten years later we’d be getting married?

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

Chapter 3

My Ugly Step-Sister

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

TWO YEARS LATER . . .

“Mom said Mr. Tien’s daughter is coming to live with us. She’s coming today. The parents are at the airport, picking her up.”

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

“Mom said I should be happy, since I’ll have a sister now. How am I supposed to be happy? I haven’t even been able to accept Mr. Tien as a father, and now I’m supposed to like his daughter? You know they say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

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

“Tien Fu Zhen. I’m sure she’ll be cold, and imposing like her father. He always looks so emotionless. I don’t know how mom fell in love with him. And now, mom wants me to become friends with this Fu Zhen. How am I supposed to be friends with someone I don’t even like?”

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

“I saw a picture of her. She’s petite and gorgeous. Think of how I’ll compare. I’m short, but fat. And nowhere near gorgeous. Her skin is clear, her hair full and shiny. And she has the prettiest smile. I have acne, dull hair, and my braces ruin my smile. She’ll probably be a total snob.”

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

“They kicked me out of my room. Well, not really. They said my room had the best view, next to theirs. That it’s the biggest room in the house, next to theirs. They were just saying how she’s older by a year. Blah blah blah. I guess I was just tired of hearing the damn comments. I offered to give it up. They took me up on it, and now I’m stuck with the third best room,” she murmured. “How will I ever show my face in society with that third best room?” then came in a sarcastic tone.

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

“I am scared,” she softly whispered. “What little attention I get from mom . . . I’m just afraid that it’ll all disappear once Fu Zhen appears. I don’t know how I’ll compare. Mom says she’s really smart, along with being beautiful. And me . . . I can’t even keep my head out of the clouds long enough to pay attention in my classes. If it wasn’t for Mr. Tien’s influence I wouldn’t have even been admitted into a university.”

“Are you still talking to yourself?” a voice called out from behind her.

Jia Hua turned to look at the source, her eyes widening as they landed on the figure making his way toward her.

“Chun!” she shouted joyfully, getting up and running to him. Her arms wrapped themselves around his muscled body, and she jumped up and down in her excitement. “You’re home,” she murmured. “When did you get back?”

“About half an hour ago,” he replied, hugging her back. “And what do I find when I walk over to see my best girl friend? She’s gone completely crazy.”

“Hey!” she protested, pulling back. “You know what these daisies mean to me. It’s like grandma is sitting here, next to me, when I come out here. And this is where I tell her everything.”

“I know. I know,” he murmured. “I’m glad that we replanted the flowers. Or you’d really look like you’d lost your mind, you know,” he murmured, ruffling her hair.

‘Yeah, like talking to flowers made her any less weird.’ She snorted quietly.

Jia Hua stepped back and looked at him. Just looked at him. The first time they’d met, she’d been still heartbroken over her grandmother’s passing. She’d cried over losing those flowers, and he’d insisted on helping her replant them. She hadn’t thought that they would give the same feeling. But they had. She felt grandma whenever she sat next to those flowers. Chun always teased her when he caught her doing that.

It had been two years since that first meeting. Chun had spent more and more time with her, trying to pull her out of her shell. She’d always wondered what had made him interested in a short, uninteresting teen when there was so much more interesting stuff out there. He’d admitted once that he wanted to be a psychologist. A part of her had begun to wonder if that was why he was around her. Was there relationship based on his need to fix her? She hadn’t looked at that too closely because she’d needed him too much.

He had recently graduated from college, and was now working on his Masters in Business. He’d decided to follow his deceased father’s desires, and had begun to prepare to join the business. He also went to the offices in whatever free time he had. The changes had been immediate. He was becoming more businesslike in his appearance. In the way he carried himself. In the way he talked.

When she’d first met him she’d thought him so unassuming, so simple, that she’d wondered if he was one of the servant’s sons. Imagine her surprise, when she’d discovered that he was actually the son of one of the richest men in their circles, second only to Mr. Tien. But she hadn’t been surprised when she saw how comfortable he was in these circles. He was nothing like her. And, yet, he’d chosen to be her friend.

“So, I heard that your sister is coming,” he began.

“Step-sister,” she insisted.

“I heard that your step-sister is coming,” he said, correcting himself. “How do you feel about that?”

“Chun, you can stop being my psychologist now,” she protested. “It’s not like you’re going to get that Ph.D. anyways. I mean, you’re getting that Masters now, so stop practicing on me!” she said, turning away.

“Jia Hua,” he murmured, turning her to face him once more. “Why do you pretend that you don’t feel anything, when we both know you feel more than any one of us. Why do you pretend you’re not afraid or hurt, when you know that you live everyday with that pain and fear gnawing away at you? Don’t you notice how rarely you express yourself?” he asked gently, shaking her a little to get his point across.

“You . . . you just don’t get it, do you?” she asked grimly, pulling away from him.

“Then tell me,” he demanded. “Tell me. Unburden yourself. We’ve known each other for two years now, and I’ve tried to be there for you. You still don’t express yourself. Tell me what you feel. If not me, then tell someone. It’s not right. You feel too much. And you express too little.”

“I . . . Chun . . . I’m not happy,” she finally confessed. “I . . . ,” her voice trailed off as she lost the courage. What would he say if she confessed her love? What would he say if she confessed all the feelings that had been growing inside of her since the day they’d met? What if she told him that everything about him made her just love him more?

His kindness. His laughter. His caring. His simplicity.

When he’d taken care of her the day he’d trampled her flowers. He’d celebrated her birthday with her. He’d brought her a present the next day.

His gentle touch. His warmth.

When he’d taken her out despite her wishes. He’d dragged her to a movie, saying she needed to do stuff like this. He’d given her a first date. When he’d held her hand when she started to cry at the sad parts. She would always remember the feel of his lips against her skin, when he’d kissed her goodnight.

His voice. His scent. His feel.

When he sat with her and just talked to her. He’d spent hours just getting to know her and had gradually became a friend. She began to miss him when he wasn’t there. He’d taken her grandma’s place in her life. And she didn’t even need grandma as much anymore.

How could she say it? If she started telling him her feelings, she was afraid that she would never stop. If she started telling him the truth now, it could only end with her confession of love for him.

And then what would he do?

She’d looked at herself enough times in the mirror to realize that no man could ever love this face. No man could ever want to touch this body. Her own mother didn’t love her, barely tolerating her, then how could this gorgeous god-like creature love her? But if she didn’t try, she might always regret it.

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

Could she take the risk?

“I . . . ,” she began uncertainly.

“What are you two doing here?” another voice called out, interrupting their conversation.

“Jia Xuan? What are you doing here? I thought you were going on your summer trip today?” Jia Hua asked in surprise. “What happened? Did you oversleep and miss the flight?”

Jia Xuan’s eyes narrowed in mock anger.

Selina Ren Jia Xuan. She was another gorgeous creature who had entered her life when she’d moved here. Initially, Jia Hua had kept to herself when they’d moved into Mr. Tien’s house. Grandma had been her best friend; no one understood her like Grandma did. And then, when grandma was gone, her grief had caused her indifference to her environment. It was only when Chun had gradually begun to encourage her to socialize had she noticed Jia Xuan. She had always been nice to Jia Hua. She’d always greeted her, and had tried to strike up a conversation multiple times. It was only Jia Hua’s grief that had blinded her to these friendly gestures.

It hadn’t taken long for the two to become friends. They had a lot more in common than she had initially supposed. Both loved books. And writing. Both loved to dream rather than study. They loved to sleep late, and gorge out on chocolate. Only, Jia Xuan never got fat. And Jia Hua always gained weight for any indiscretion. She knew that if Jia Xuan hadn’t been her friend, and nice too boot, she would’ve hated her.

She was everything Jia Hua wanted to be and wasn’t.

“I didn’t oversleep,” Jia Xuan protested. “I just decided to take a flight later on this week,” she said.

“But why? You were looking forward to going to Paris,” Jia Hua said in surprise, gesturing for Jia Xuan to sit in one of the lawn chairs.

“Paris can wait,” Jia Xuan replied, taking a seat. “I just wanted to know how you’re doing.”

“Did you tell her?” Jia Hua asked Chun, turning to look at him questioningly.

“No, of course not,” Jia Xuan said. “Chun would never betray you. But my mom heard from your mom and told me. I thought I’d keep you company, but just for today. Paris awaits, and I can’t keep it waiting, can I?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” Jia Hua protested. “I’m fine. I just . . . it’ll take getting used to,” she confessed. “And that’s all I’m going to say. I’ll get used to it.”

“We’ll keep you company nevertheless,” Chun said, sitting down beside the two.

“Hello, my lowly subjects! Your Jiro Almighty is here!”

“You didn’t . . . ,” Jia Hua said, turning to Jia Xuan.

“What?” she asked. “He called me, and I had to tell him I was on my way here. Jia Hua, you have to accept him sometime. He’s part of this group.”

“He’s a daisy killer,” Jia Hua protested. “If he hadn’t thrown that football, then Chun wouldn’t have jumped to catch it, and my daisies wouldn’t have died.”

“You forgave me,” Chun said, looking at her intently. “Then why not him?”

“He never apologized,” she stubbornly replied.

“Jia Hua, he’s my boyfriend. I’m almost your sister. He’ll be almost your brother-in-law when we get married. By not accepting him, you’re hurting me,” Jia Xuan said sadly.

“Da Dong, you’re here,” Jia Xuan said, getting up to plant a kiss on his lips.

“Hey, princess,” he replied, sinking down into Jia Xuan’s chair and pulling her onto his lap. “Hey, Chun. When did you get back?”

“Oh, it’s been a while,” Chun replied.

“Hey, brat,” Da Dong said, turning to smile at Jia Hua.

She humphed, and then turned her face away.

“Jia Hua,” her friend pleaded.

“Hello,” Jia Hua reluctantly said, briefly smiling at him. “How are you Dong Cheng?”

“Ah, the brat finally spoke politely to me,” Da Dong said. “What’s the occasion? You got my name wrong, but I’ll forgive that. I told you I liked being called Da Dong. DA DONG,” he enunciated carefully, staring at her. “Hey, is that a new pimple I see on your chin?”

Jia Hua’s eyes widened with hurt. Amidst cries of reproach and scoldings, she left the three and headed to the house.

“Jia Hua, ignore the moron,” Chun called out from behind her. “His brain really isn’t connected to his mouth.”

Her hands were clenched, as she stalked to the house. She’d tried to forget what he’d so unapologetically done, but to do this when she was being nice? He wasn’t worth it. He was a total loser. All she had to do now was get Jia Xuan to see the truth. Chun and Jia Xuan were entreating her to ignore him, asking her to stay outside and enjoy the sun with them. She ignored their calls.

Continuing to the house, she froze when her eyes landed on the figure coming towards her from the house. Her eyes traced the features of the woman walking toward the now silent group. She was as beautiful as she had been in the picture. Except, she was more fragile. Looked more innocent. Her pink sundress only extenuated the blush of her cheeks. Her hair curled gently around her face, and danced in the breeze. A delicate chain hung around her neck.

Jia Hua looked down at her grubby jeans and stained T-shirt. Her hair stood on its ends from when she’d run her fingers through it. Usually, she didn’t mind how she looked. Strangely, today she did.

“Hi,” she said in a soft voice. “I’m Hebe. You must be Ella,” she said to Jia Hua. Jia Hua nodded, dumbstruck. “I’m so glad to meet you,” Hebe said, engulfing her in a tight hug. “I’ve always wanted a sister. We’ll have so much fun.”

Jia Hua quietly submitted to the hug, and then pulled back at the first sign of Hebe’s hold loosening.

“Ella, I’ve heard so much about you from your mother. I think we’ll have a lot in common,” Hebe said, letting Jia Hua go. Jia Hua could see the anxiety in Hebe’s eyes.

“Call me Jia Hua,” she said, retreating back a few steps. “That’s what everyone calls me.”

“Aw, but I love the name Ella,” Hebe protested. “You know, like Cinderella, she’s my favorite female character. And it’s just easier for me to say Ella. You know I’ve been studying in the US for the past few years, and I’ve just gotten used to saying those names instead of our own. I’ve almost forgotten that I was once called Fu Zhen. Please don’t mind if I call you by those easier names,” she begged, addressing the whole group. “And I get easily confused,” she said, scrunching her face in embarrassment. “So, if you could use those names too . . . ,” her voice trailed off, her face red at making such a request. Her hands shook, and she quickly put them behind her back.

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

But . . . but grandma had always called her Jia Hua.

Jia Xuan nudged her, urging her to respond.

Jia Hua reluctantly nodded. Ella? She needed to start thinking of herself in that name. Otherwise it would be too hard. And she didn’t want to ruin this first meeting, which might ruin their entire relationship.

“Introduce me to your friends,” Hebe requested, reaching out to grab a hold of her hand.

“This is Jia-Selina,” Jia Hua said, awkwardly gesturing to her friend, with her other hand. “She’s just finished her first year at university, and is on her way out of the country. But she wanted to stop over to see you before leaving.”

“This is her boyfriend, Da-Jiro,” she briefly said.

“And this is Chun, my best friend,” Jia Hua said, patting Chun on the arm. “Chun just finished his university studies, and is now doing a masters in business. He’s . . .,” her voice trailed off as she saw that Hebe wasn’t listening. Her hand had slipped away from Jia Hua’s. Jia Hua turned to look at Chun. He was staring, mesmerized, at Hebe. His eyes trained on her.

“I . . .,” Hebe said in confusion, blushing slightly. “Nice to meet you.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Chun murmured distractedly. His hand reached out as if to shake hers, and then he pulled back, rethinking the gesture. Hebe reached out her hand, and then didn’t know what to do with it. He quickly reached out his own once more, and the two just held hands, all the while gazing into each other’s eyes. His thumb smoothed over the back of her hand, reveling in touching her soft skin.

“Chun, why don’t you show Hebe around the estate?” Da Dong addressed the stunned couple.

“Shouldn’t J-Ella be doing that?” Chun asked distractedly.

“Ji-Ella won’t mind,” Jia Xu-Selina said hurriedly. “Please, go ahead.”

Jia Hua watched them walk away. Her eyes remained glued to the figures, as they slowly moved across the yard and to the other side of the house. Chun was getting farther and farther away, and there was nothing she could do about it.

“Love at first sight, huh?” Da Dong said quietly.

“There were entranced by each other,” Jia Xuan said, sighing in pure pleasure.

Jia Hua stood there quietly, here eyes trained on the spot where the two had disappeared.

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

Chun was gone.

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

When I heard that Hebe would be entering our lives, I was unhappy. I was afraid.

But of course, I didn’t tell anyone.

When I met her, I was jealous.

But I wasn’t afraid any longer. I didn’t have to fear anything anymore, when I’d already lost the most important battle to her. It was over before I even knew the fight had begun.

Unspoken wishes, suppressed dreams were all crushed.

Years later, I asked Chun how he felt the first time he met Hebe.

He told me it was as if he’d been blindsided.

It was as if he could only see her. He could only hear her.

The rest of the world ceased to exist. Meaning that I ceased to exist for him.

It was then . . .

It was then that he knew he’d fallen in love. With an angel.

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

Chapter 4

Bridal Bouquet

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

“I’m sorry I haven’t come to talk to you in so long,” Ella murmured, running her hand gently through the daisies. She quickly plucked one out. “I’m sorry that I’ve forgotten you in all my misery.” Her hand brought the flower to her nose, and she inhaled the soft scent.

……………………

“Grandma, it hurts,” she quietly admitted. “It really, really hurts. I’ve known Chun for four years, and dreamed about him for almost all of that time. I knew I wanted to marry him when I was 16. I hoped it was just an infatuation, especially when Hebe came and I saw how quickly the attraction flowered between them . . . I’m twenty, and my love for him hasn’t disappeared. It’s like this constant ache inside of me, and I don’t know how I’ll handle it.”

……………………

“I really wish you were here,” she whispered, her fingers plucking out another daisy. “I thought my heard broke when I saw him walk away with Hebe and forget completely about me. I thought my heart broke when they officially became a couple. I thought my heart broke when he asked for her hand in marriage.”

…“But that was nothing compared to today.”

……………………

“I can’t feel it beating anymore. When I walked down the aisle toward Chun, I could pretend for a while. I looked more pretty in my pink bridesmaid’s dress than I’ve ever looked in my life. He looked sooo gorgeous standing there in his tuxedo, just waiting. He looked nervous. But he looked happy. At the end of the aisle, the hardest thing for me to do was step aside and make way for the bride. Hebe looked heartbreakingly beautiful. She glowed with her joy. And his love was shining through him. All he could see was Hebe.”

……………………

“You would think I’d be used to that by now. I mean, he stopped seeing me the moment Hebe entered our lives. As irritating as his analytical questions used to be, I miss them now. I miss the fact that he doesn’t pressure me to talk about my feelings.”

Turning to look at the throng of people milling around behind her, her eyes landed on the golden couple. Hebe’s white wedding dress stood out in the glow of all the lanterns hanging around the garden. Hebe had insisted that she wanted her reception in the home gardens. No one had expected her to be that sentimental. Her mother and the wedding planner had tried to entice her away from that idea with visions of big hotels where her every fantasy could come true, but Hebe wouldn’t listen.

“Isn’t it funny?” she asked, laughing sadly. “That I miss him so much that I’m sitting here talking to my dead grandma?” She winced as the words left her mouth. Grandma had been gone for five years. It still felt sacrilegious to say she was dead.

She couldn’t let her go.

She’d never allowed herself to be that comfortable with anyone.

If she let grandma go, she would have no one to confide in.

“Ella?” Hebe’s voice called softly from behind her.

“Hebe,” Ella said in greeting, getting up and brushing the dirt off of her dress. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to talk to you,” Hebe said. “Thank you for being my bridesmaid today,” she said. “You were great. I know how hard it was for you to be there today.”

“Hard?” Ella asked quizzically. Hebe didn’t know about her feelings, did she?

“Because you’re so shy,” Hebe said, coming up to put her arm around Ella’s waist. “I wanted my sister to share my special day with me. So, thank you for giving me this.”

“I didn’t really mind,” Ella swiftly lied, hiding her feelings easily enough. “It is your special day.”

“But still, thank you,” Hebe said, leaning in to kiss one sunburned cheek.

“Hebe! They want us to take pictures with the parents!” Chun called out from the stage area, his voice easily cutting through the noisy crowd’s chatter.

Hebe waved her hand, signaling that she’d heard him. She began to walk away. “Ella?” she asked, turning back to her.

“Hmm?”

“Do you know why I wanted to have the reception here?” she asked suddenly.

Ella shook her head.

“This is where your grandma is for you. She’s special to you. And you’re special to me. I don’t know . . . I just wanted her to share this day with us,” Hebe murmured. “I wouldn’t have mentioned it, but you seemed so lonely sitting here. Please know, that I appreciate her position in your life and her importance to you. You’re not alone in this.” Smiling mistily, she turned to walk toward Chun.

Ella’s knees bent, and she landed on the grass beside the daisies.

Hebe had taken away the only man she could ever love.

But she could never hate her. Because Hebe was special.

~*~*~*~*

“Ella?” a forlorn voice asked from behind her.

“Selina?” Ella asked turning in surprise.

“Ella,” the petite figure said, beginning to sob. Her shoulders shook, as she fell on the grass in her grief.

“Selina? What happened?” Ella cried out, running to her best friend. Selina had been Hebe’s other bridesmaid at the wedding, and she’d been radiant throughout the ceremony. When asked, she’d confided that Jiro wanted to “talk” to her. He had something IMPORTANT to say. Ella could tell that Selina hoped that it was the long-awaited proposal. While she was only 20 like Ella, she was ready for marriage. Because marriage meant she could be with the man of her dreams.

“Selina, what’s wrong?” Ella asked anxiously, pulling the tearful girl into her arms. Patting her on the back, she wondered what could have happened. Her mind began to run through the possible catastrophes.

“I can’t believe that he did this,” she said brokenly.

“What did he do?”

“He broke up with me?” she replied in disbelief, still in a daze. It was more of a question than anything.

“What?” Ella asked, her eyes blinking in surprise.

“He broke up with me. Jiro broke up with me!” Selina said, gasping as the words left her mouth. “He broke up with me,” she repeated brokenly. “He broke up with me!” she shouted softly, attracting a few curious stares from the merry crowd.

Ella quickly pulled the distressed girl into one of the gazebos sprinkled throughout the gardens. Making sure Selina’s back was turned to the crowd, she turned her full attention to her friend.

“But why?” Ella finally asked, coming to sit down beside her. “You loved him so much. And he . . . loved you.”

“That’s what I thought. He was supposed to ask me to marry him,” Selina said, burying her face into Ella’s shoulder. “We’ve been going out since we were 14. I’ve loved him as long as I can remember. We grew up side by side, and he was always my hero. He protected me. He made me laugh. He took me on adventures. I always knew that I wanted to be with him. He was my dream. He was my first kiss. He was my first.”

“Oh, Selina,” Ella murmured in a commiserating tone, her arm coming around Selina’s trembling shoulders. “Wait, your first?”

“I gave him all of me Ella!” Selina whispered furiously. “When he came to me in his time of need, I gave him everything he wanted. He needed to be with me in that way, I let him. I let him and he breaks up with me in the same week. The same week? He was the only dream I had, Ella,” Selina murmured. Her arms gripped Ella’s waist tightly, taking comfort in her quiet strength. “He was my only dream. And he’s taken that away from me.”

“But . . . why? No matter what I think of him, he loved you. You were always together.”

………………………

“Ella, he s-said he was in love with another girl,” Selina finally

“What? That bastard,” Ella cried furiously, rising to her feet. “You give him twenty years of your life! You give him your first love! Your first kiss! You give him everything, and this is how he repays you? What kind of bastard is he?” She ran toward the crowd.

“Ella!” Selina gasped, running after her. “Don’t make a scene. He’s gone. He left right after he spoke with me. He said he couldn’t be with me anymore, not when he loved another woman. He said he’d tried. He’d tried to be happy with me. To make himself feel the same emotions for me that he had felt before she stepped into his life. But he couldn’t. He said that every time he was with me, he felt that he was betraying her. And he just … broke up with me.”

“Selina,” Ella said softly, hearing the tearing pain in her voice. This was breaking her apart, and Ella feared for her friend’s mental and physical health.

“I don’t know what to do,” Selina confessed forlornly. “He’s gone.”

“Where?”

“To find his happiness,” she replied. “What do I do? I didn’t have anything else planned. God, I didn’t even choose my major wisely. It hasn’t prepared me for any career. I can’t live off of my parents forever. What do I do? I was going to be a housewife. I was going to be Jiro’s wife,” she murmured sadly.

Ella’s hands balled up into fists, and her face scrunched up angrily. That bastard. That total rat bastard. He’d used Selina and thrown her away and now he’d gone away to live happily ever after with his hussy? How could he do this to Selina? How could he betray the woman who loved him more than life itself? How could he?

“Selina,” she said finally, keeping her voice calm. “You need to think of this rationally. He’s gone. He shouldn’t be the center of your world anymore. He walked away. He’s gone,” she repeated firmly. “You have to move on.”

“How can you say that?” Selina asked angrily. “He was my life and you’re telling me to forget him that easily? He was my life, Ella,” she whispered furiously.

“He wasn’t worthy enough to be the ground beneath your feet. Why did you make him the sky reigning above your head?” Ella demanded angrily.

“You don’t understand!” Selina shouted, pulling away. “You don’t understand how important he was to me. And you’re telling me to walk away as if those years of my life were nothing.”

“I know it hurts,” Ella said gently. “But it’s not like you have a choice. He left you. You have to deal with it gracefully.”

“Deal with it? Deal with it? You really don’t understand, do you?” Selina said bitterly, turning away.

“I do understand,” Ella said insistently, tears springing into her eyes.

“How?! If you understood how I was feeling right now, you would NEVER advise me to walk away. You would NEVER tell me to give up so easily. This is about my happiness,” Selina said desperately.

“You’re 20. You’ll grow out of that love. You’ll learn to love another,” Ella replied.

“What do you know?” Selina remarked in frustration, turning to leave the gazebo. She couldn’t believe that Ella was saying these words to her. She couldn’t believe that her best friend couldn’t even begin to understand the pain that she was going through right now.

“I do understand,” Ella repeated softly, staring at the happy couple taking pictures across the garden.

“Ella?” Selina asked, catching the almost imperceptible hint of agony underneath those words. She heard the grief for the first time. It was almost as if Ella had finally opened a door into her inner self, and for the first time Selina could hear real emotions in Ella’s voice. For the first time, she felt that she was seeing the real Ella.

“I do understand,” Ella repeated a third time. “You think I don’t understand?” she asked, her eyes turning to glare at Selina. Selina stepped back at the fury flashing at her from those cold eyes. The warmth had disappeared. The vulnerable creature that she’d always seen in Ella’s eyes, was gone. In her place was a woman torn by grief and anger. She was furious at the world. And she was silently weeping for her loss.

“I just watched the man I love marry another, and you think I don’t understand?”

“Ella . . .”

“Chun was mine before he was hers. And she stole him from me.”

“Ella, please . . .”

“And I was a bridesmaid at her wedding. I helped her with preparations. I helped him get his tuxedo. I was the supportive best friend, when I should’ve been the bride.”

“Ella, I’m sorry . . .”

“What do you want me to do? She’s my sister. And I can’t hate her. She took him away, but I realized that the fact that he was taken away just proved that he was never mine to keep. I loved him. I adored him. I worshipped him. But I saw the way the wind was blowing. I saw their love from its conception. And I could do nothing . . . and you think I don’t understand?” the last words came out in a shout.

“Ella, I’m sorry,” Selina cried out, running up to grab the petite figure into her arms. “I’m sorry that you couldn’t be with Chun. I’m sorry that you loved him and lost him, and that I wasn’t there for you. I’m sorry that I let you down, and I’m sorry for forcing you to reveal your deepest emotions now, when you need yourt armor. I’m sorry.”

Ella stood stiffly in Selina’s arm . . . and then . . . her arms came up to slowly close around her.

There was a quiet sob, quickly muffled.

“I’m not going to do this,” Ella murmured. “I’ve said goodbye to him. I’m sorry if you think I’m harsh, but you have to do the same to Jiro,” she instructed Selina, pulling away to stare into Selina’s watery gaze.

Selina stared into Ella’s eyes.

“What is it?” Ella asked.

“Where are your tears?” Selina asked abruptly. Her eyes were as dry as they had been before her outburst. There were no traces of fallen tears.

Ella pulled away.

“Ella? I saw them in your eyes.”

“That’s as far as they get,” Ella replied, turning to gaze at the house. “I don’t cry,” she admitted softly. “Not anymore.”

……………………

“We’re both alone in the world now, aren’t we?” Selina murmured sadly.

“We’re not alone,” Ella protested. “You have me. And I have you, right?”

“You’re right. I have you for my support. Who needs a lousy man, right?” Selina said with a valiant, but wet, giggle.

“What are you two girls doing here?” her mother called from behind them.

Selina and Ella turned to look at her mother.

“Hebe’s about to throw the bridal bouquet. And I’m sure you girls want a chance at that,” she said smilingly.

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

Mom never did figure out why our faces grew so glum at the mention of that bridal bouquet.

As I think back on that day, it was the most painful time of my life. Up until then, that is. After living through all that happened afterwards, I think of that day as a walk in the park.

I watched the man I loved marry my sister.

I watched my hopes and dreams being crushed.

I watched my best friend’s heart being torn apart.

And irony of all ironies . . . I caught the bridal bouquet.

At that time I hated that most of all. Was God playing with me? ‘What the hell was that supposed to mean?’ I silently seethed to myself.

Who would know years later that bouquet would work its charm?

I mean, I didn’t get the usual luck that comes with it. Mine wasn’t the next wedding in our group.

I caught the bridal bouquet at their wedding.

……………………

Who knew that it came with the groom?

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

Chapter 5

Everybody’s Fool

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

Perfect by nature
Icons of self-indulgence
Just what we all need
More lies about a world that

Never was and never will be
Have you no shame? Don’t you see me?
You know you’ve got everybody fooled

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

Ella wandered into the living room looking for her missing sibling.

“Hebe, where are you? We were supposed to leave for dinner half an hour ago. Everyone’s waiting for us! I’m sorry I’m late, but you don’t have to hide,” she called out impatiently.

Walking through the living room, her gaze landed on the picture of the perfect family. Chun. The wealthy businessman. Hebe. The perfect housewife. And Cassandra. Their cute little daughter. They looked beautiful together.

She could never have looked that good with Chun. Hebe was the perfect wife and the perfect mother. Chun, Chun’s mother, and Ella’s mother could only sing praises about Hebe whenever Ella talked to them on the phone. It was clear that Hebe’s sweet nature helped her to live in harmony with everyone.

Ella smiled in acceptance. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt anymore. It didn’t hurt that the man she loved had married her sister. It didn’t hurt that he was happy with someone else. It didn’t hurt.

She’d moved on. And that experience had made her realize how strong she could be.

From that remembered pain she couldn’t help but recall another painful memory. The day she’d severed her only link to grandma. When mom had said goodbye to her soon to be ex-husband, she’d had to say goodbye to those daisies. She’d found it within herself to be strong in the face of that separation.

Ella thought back over the past three years. She’d kept busy, and finished college. She’d decided to major in psychology, so that she could help herself cope with the pain. But she didn’t really want to be a psychologist, and had decided to pursue her dream of writing. So, by day she worked as an assistant to a lowly cog in the corporate machinery, and she spent her nights writing. While she was tired during the day from the few hours of sleep she allowed herself, she was also satisfied with her efforts.

It was another thing that no one had really discovered her literary genius. But she knew that she would get published one day.

“Hebe where are you hiding? I haven’t seen you for half a year, and you’re hiding from your only sister?” she called out jokingly. “I have presents,” she offered enticingly.

There was no answer.

Ella thought back to her meeting with Chun. She’d been wandering around the city, familiarizing herself with her hometown once more, when he’d walked out of his office building. She had to wonder if subconsciously she had hoped to run into him. But no, it truly had been unintentional. Days of hoping that Chun would realize his mistake after the wedding had quickly disappeared when she saw how happy they truly were.

He’d been really happy to see her. Really happy. He’d even hugged her. It was surprising how uncomfortable that had felt. She did miss the close relationship they used to have before Hebe’s arrival.

A dinner was quickly planned. Chun called his mom, and told Ella to call her own.

Mom would be there. Even though Mr. Tien had divorced mom for a younger model a year ago, mom still considered Hebe her daughter. After all, it was the first time in her life that she’d had the perfect daughter. Mr. Tien had amply provided for mom. She’d gotten another mansion and alimony. And mom didn’t begrudge him anything. She’d said it was better this way. She got all the benefits of a husband without the burdens.

Ella had insisted that Chun not call Hebe. She wanted to surprise her sister. And she was here to pick her up.

……………………

“Hebe?”

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

Look here she comes now
Bow down and stare in wonder
Oh how we love you
No flaws when you’re pretending

But now I know she
Never was and never will be
You don’t know how you’ve betrayed me
And somehow you’ve got everybody fooled

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

Ella was beginning to get worried.

Where was Hebe?

Chun said she’d be home from her book club, but she hadn’t seen her.

And then she heard the soft sounds. The rustling of cloth. There were deep breaths. It almost sounded as if someone was hurt. A moan.

Was Hebe in pain?

Ella raced to the door from where the sounds had come.

Hebe was hurt and all alone. Ella’s heart began to pound as she reached the door. She didn’t know what she would do if something happened to Hebe. She didn’t know what Chun would do if he lost her. Hebe was the center of his world. Hebe was the center of Cassandra’s world. They’d be lost without her.

Her hands reached out to open the door. She controlled the urge to slam it open. She didn’t want to give Hebe a heart attack.

“He—,” she began desperately.

And the name got stuck in her throat. Her eyes were riveted on the scene before her.

Hebe.

With another man.

In the bedroom she shared with Chun.

“Why are you doing this?” Hebe asked tremulously, pulling her lips away from the man sitting on the bed. She knelt on the floor before him, her hands resting on his knees. “I’m married. I’ve been married for almost three years now. Chun loves me, and you’re asking me to betray him.”

Hebe shouldn’t be kissing another man! Hebe shouldn’t be touching another man’s knees!

He didn’t reply in words. Instead, his hands came up to cradle Hebe’s face. Tilting it up, he kissed her once more.

Ella could only stare as she saw the passionate display. She wanted to shout. She wanted to tell the man to leave. She wanted to turn back time. Her heart ached. She was seeing the sister she’d idolized kissing another man. She was seeing the sister she’d entrusted Chun with, betraying Chun in his own bedroom.

“Heb—,” she began hoarsely. But she couldn’t raise her voice above a whisper.

They didn’t hear her.

“I can’t do this,” Hebe murmured tearfully, getting up and moving away from the figure on the bed. “I can’t do what you want me to do … I … I do love you,” she murmured, staring at him helplessly, “but I made vows to Chun. And I have to keep them.”

…………………

“Why aren’t you saying anything,” she shouted in frustration. “What do you even want? You expect me to betray my husband, yet you’ve made me no promises. How can I leave my family for an uncertain future with you?”

……………………

There was no reply. Hebe glared at him, the tears falling from her eyes.

The silence was suffocating.

“Chun cares more for his business than he does about me,” she whispered softly. “He spends most nights at the office, and the nights that he is at home, he spends them with Cassandra. I’m not jealous of my own daughter, but I …I wished that he would notice me,” she said entreatingly, looking at the figure on the bed. It was as if she was trying to explain away her feelings for this man. It was as if she was trying to justify her betrayal.

“We fell in love so quickly. It was as if I was in love with him before I even knew who he was,” she confessed, coming to sit down beside the man on the bed. Her head slowly landed on one broad shoulder. Her hand reached out to clasp his, as if seeking comfort in that contact. “I hate myself for doing this. But how could I not love you? You were there when I lost my baby. Chun was sitting in one of his endless round of meetings. You were there to get me through my depression, when he was too busy at the office with his merger. I shouldn’t love you, but I do. I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t there. Especially that day when I came so close to …”

His arm came up and around her shoulders.

“You’ve been my support for so long that I didn’t even realize when I began to actually love you. You played the part my husband should have. You stepped into Chun’s empty shoes. At first I was grateful. And then I was angry. Finally, I realized that the only reason I was angry at you for being there for me was because I’d already begun to love you … and I don’t know how to stop,” she said tearfully. “This thing between us will break so many hearts, and even that doesn’t stop me from wanting to be with you.”

……………………

“Say something,” she demanded, pulling away to glare at him. “You don’t understand at all, do you?”

“Hebe,” he murmured, turning to face her.

Ella’s eyes widened in shock as she saw the profile.

“I’ve loved you from the moment you stepped into our lives. I’ve always been there for you, hoping that you would realize how much I loved you. Hoping that someday you would return my feelings. You think I don’t understand how much this will hurt everyone?” he growled, getting up to glare at her.

Ella closed her eyes, trying to grasp the truth.

“I broke up with the woman who worshipped the ground I walked on because of you. Even if there was no hope of having you, I couldn’t let myself be with anyone else. When I kissed her, it was as if I was betraying you. Do you have any idea how difficult it was for me when I learned of your engagement and then your wedding? I tried to find peace in her arms, but even that didn’t work. I betrayed the woman who loved me for you. Only you. And you’re saying that I can’t understand how you’re feeling right now?” he shouted. Reaching out he grabbed her arms and pulled her up into his arms.

“I spent the past three years alone, even when you were with Chun. I drank myself to sleep every night, because I couldn’t bear the thought of you in his bed. And you think I don’t understand?”

……………………

Jiro?

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

Without the mask, where will you hide?
Can’t find yourself lost in your lie

I know the truth now
I know who you are
And I don’t love you anymore

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

This would hurt Selina so much, Ella thought, staring at the scene before her. Selina had always held hope that Jiro would come back. Through the past three years of silence, Selina had held hope that she would end up with Jiro. She’d waited for him when he’d disappeared off the face of the earth. She’d waited for him even when he’d come back and continued to ignore her. Selina had waited. This would break her heart all over again.

“Hebe?” Ella finally got out in a normal tone.

Hebe and Jiro turned to look at her, horrified.

“How could you two do this?” she shouted at them, shaking from the emotions coursing through her body. “Hebe, Chun loves you,” she pleaded. “He does.” She felt betrayed.

Hebe stood up, her face pale from the shock . Hebe knew that she was making the right decision, but even so, she couldn’t bring herself to look Ella in the eyes.

“Ell—,” she began, unsure of what she’d say.

“And you,” Ella said, turning to look at Jiro. “You broke Selina’s heart so that you could wait for a married woman. You seduced Hebe into falling in love with you, didn’t you? She LOVED Chun, and you had to take her away from him because of some stupid notion you had of being in love with a woman that was taken.”

“Ell—,” he tried to respond.

“Hebe,” she said, turning her back on him. “It’s not too late. You’re not really in love with Jiro, right?” Ella said desperately, trying to convince Hebe of her mistakes. “He might have been there for you a time or two, but you’re MARRIED to Chun. You made a commitment. You can’t just walk away. Chun loves you,” she repeated.

“Ella, I love Jiro,” Hebe murmured, her hand coming out to grab her hand. Ella pulled away and stalked across the room. “It took me a while to realize it because I was blinded by Chun’s looks and his sweet nature. But he’s not the one for me,” Hebe said shakily, wrapping her arms around herself. It was as if she was forcing the words out. “He doesn’t love me. I’ve seen how he is with Cassandra. That is pure love. He’s never had that kind of devotion for me. He doesn’t miss me when I’m gone. He doesn’t understand what I want and what I need. He just wants me to be a beautiful picture on a wall, without feelings or desires. Does he really love me? I don’t think so.”

Ella sighed and thought of how she could convince Hebe that she was just confused. That it wasn’t too late to get rid of Jiro, and stay with Chun. How could she convince her?

“Chun doesn’t love me, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with a man that I don’t love anymore,” Hebe confessed. “I love Jiro. He loves me. I want to marry him and give him all of my days and nights. We need to be together, Ella.”

“How could you, Hebe?”

In the momentary silence, all three heard the soft noise in the hallway.

Ella froze. She didn’t want to turn around. She had a dreadful feeling that it would be the person they all least wanted to be here.

Hebe exhaled sharply.

Jiro turned away, ashamed.

Ella finally got the courage to turn around. Her worst fears were confirmed.

“Chun,” she said, moving toward him.

His jaw was tight, his face pale. His eyes were filled with fury.

“Chun, please …,” Hebe began.

He stared at Hebe, and then quietly turned and walked away.

Ella had seen the desolation in his eyes. He was angry, but beneath that there was so much pain. Ella winced as she remembered the look in his eyes. She could swear she’d felt his heart break.

……………………

“You’re going to regret this Hebe Tien.”

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

It never was and never will be
You don’t know how you’ve betrayed me
And somehow you’ve got everybody fooled

It never was and never will be
You’re not real and you can’t save me
Somehow now you’re everybody’s fool

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

A MONTH LATER . . .

Ella and Chun’s mothers sat in the living room of Ella’s home, trying to grasp what had happened.

They knew that Hebe loved Jiro, and not Chun. And that Jiro loved Hebe. But then, Hebe had sent him away. Ella had explained everything tearfully the night after Chun had left his home and the country. Hebe had silently packed her stuff and returned home. But not to her father’s house. She’d wanted to be with Ella’s mother, hoping to find some comfort in her stepmother’s arms. Ella’s mother hadn’t understood the reasons behind Hebe’s actions, but she’d still opened her home to him. After all, she considered Hebe her daughter too.

But even so, how could she have done this?

“I blame her,” her mother burst out. “Why did she have to do this? He is the sweetest man on this earth. He could’ve given her anything . . . emotionally, physically, spiritually. He was nothing like her father had been. He would’ve made her happy! Why did she have to do this? Why?”

“I’m sorry for saying this, but right now, I truly hate your daughter,” his mother finally said, with a heavy heart. She had considered the girl her own daughter. She had been delightful. Loving. She had been the perfect daughter-in-law, until . . . until she had broken her son’s heart. “My son is a broken man. He’s isolated himself from anything that could give him comfort. He has lost hope in living. And I’m afraid . . . I’m afraid that he’ll let himself die,” she said, bursting into tears once more. These days they seemed only too near the surface. It felt that her son had been lost to her, all because of the fickle feelings of a girl who she’d mistaken for a true daughter.

Her mother pulled the grief-stricken woman into her arms, trying to give her what comfort she could.

His mother wrapped her arms around her, and let the tears flow.

She hoped that the girl suffered for what she had done.

She hoped.

……………………

“Aaaahhhhhh! Miss Hebe! Miss Hebe!” the women heard the screams downstairs.

The two women raced up the stairs, their hearts pounding in fear.

“What happened?” Ella’s mother asked desperately, grabbing hold of the screaming servant.

“Miss Hebe…Miss Hebe isn’t moving,” the servant said with a gasp. “Miss Hebe tried to commit suicide.”

“Oh god, oh god,” Ella’s mother murmured, running in. “Oh god, Hebe. How could you do this?”

Hebe wasn’t moving. She was so still. Her breath barely there. The pale skin, the blue lips hinted of impending death.

“Call an ambulance,” Chun’s mother shouted desperately. “Tell them it’s an attempted suicide.”

“Madam, Miss Ella…,” a voice nervously said from outside.

“Can’t you see we’re busy,” her mother said, cradling Hebe’s body in her arms.

“But Miss Ella…,” the servant said.

“Not now, Lucinda,” her mother ordered.

“Just call an ambulance.”

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

That night my world changed.

My existence transformed into a nightmare.

I thought I’d seen love when Hebe and Chun were together. I knew that I didn’t belong with Chun because Hebe was his soul mate. I comforted myself with the knowledge that I’d never had a chance to be Chun’s partner; it made me feel just a little bit better about the fact that I’d never actually tried.

But I was wrong about their relationship.

That night changed everything.

I began to see the darkness in the light.

The indifference in love.

The hopelessness of life.

Chun left.

Hebe left.

And the only comfort I’d ever had in losing Chun to Hebe was abruptly ripped away.

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

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