MOA 26 – 30

Chapter 26

Field of Daisies

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

“Love you, too. Bye,” she murmured into the telephone, and then sat back with her glass of wine. It was 9:00 p.m. and she still hadn’t received that all-important call from Ella. She sighed, leaning back into her favorite chair and wondered how her friend was doing all alone up there.

She wanted to be there with her so badly. Just like she’d wanted to be there for her in America after she’d found out the truth, but, as he had pointed out, there were some things a person had to go through alone. Ella needed to face this decision on her own, as well.

Selina stared at the night sky and thought back to those bleak days after Hebe and Jiro’s affair had come out in the press. Although Jiro had broken up with her long before his affair had begun with Hebe, it hadn’t been soon enough to prevent the damage to her reputation. The paparazzi had hounded her for weeks, trying to get her reaction to the whole fiasco.

How had she felt seeing her ex-lover (and yes … somehow … somehow they’d found out that Jiro had been her lover for one night) with her best friend’s wife?

Hmph! How had she felt? Were they that stupid?

Heart-broken. Betrayed. Angry. Resentful. Hurt. Bitter.

Bitter most of all.

And she hadn’t even had Ella to talk to about all those feelings swirling around inside of her. While she’d been missing Ella and trying to figure out why Ella was avoiding her, she’d tried to deal with the emotions on her own. That hadn’t worked. The whole situation had left a bad taste in her mouth … and left her believing that all men were pond scum.

Auntie Chen had kept Ella’s whereabouts a complete secret. It was only a chance encounter with Lucinda that had revealed Ella’s location and current situation. Selina still remembered how shocked she’d felt upon hearing the truth.

Her best friend … Ella had tried to commit suicide? Why?

Had Ella loved Chun that much? To give up her life just because a man she loved was hurting? Selina couldn’t understand that.

But no, she had known that Ella could never be that weak. She’d known that something more must have happened, and deep down she had known that Hebe was somehow at fault.

She’d gone to America. She’d seen Ella. She’d met Arron and Calvin.

Ella had refused to talk to anyone. Not even Selina. Selina’s heart still bled a little when she remembered how broken Ella had been. Selina had feared that she could never find the Ella she knew in that broken shell of a person.

Calvin had tried to comfort her, but he didn’t understand. He couldn’t understand how much Ella had changed, never having seen Ella as she’d originally been. Although she’d never found out why Ella had tried to end her life, her best friend had eventually come back to her. She’d been able to talk to Calvin and save herself from the brink of disaster. When Selina had gone back to America, Ella had become herself once more. Only she was a bit more quiet … a bit more introspective.

And now … Ella was gone again. In hiding. Trying to deal with her marriage to a total jerk. Chun’s cruelty had even surprised Selina. Although he had finally explained his behavior to Selina and, through her, to Ella, but it was too little too late. Ella’s heart had been broken one too many times, and she couldn’t find it in herself to trust anything he said. She was even now making the decision of whether she would remain with Chun or file for divorce immediately after the baby’s birth.

There was a knock at the door, interrupting her thoughts.

Selina sighed. She had a suspicion she knew who it was.

“Have you heard from her tonight?” the man asked impatiently as soon as Selina opened the door.

“Not yet, Chun,” she murmured, turning to walk back into the living room. “You need to stop doing this. She’ll call you once she’s made a decision.”

“Don’t you understand?” he growled angrily. “I can’t let this go. I can’t. She’s hurting because of me. I’ve been blind to everything … everything! I’ve been hurting her for so long, and I never even realized … never saw the pain I was inflicting on her. If only I’d seen her pain before … if only I’d figured it out … if only …”

“You know the old saying, Chun. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. You didn’t see her in the past … and you didn’t see the pain. Yes, I know that you’ve just found out about the suicide attempt, but you have to understand that what she did, she did for her own reasons. She might never be able to tell you the truth about the past … and that’s something you’ll have to accept. Stop torturing yourself.”

“I can’t stop thinking about it … not until I talk to her.”

“Forget about the past and think about the now. Feeling guilty about what happened long ago won’t help you. You acted like a total jerk now … when you had another chance to do everything over again … and you ruined it. You know why she’s gone away. You have to make this better or she’ll never return to you.”

“How can I make it better if she won’t even talk to me? I don’t know even know where she is!”

“I can’t help you,” Selina murmured regretfully. “She made me promise that I wouldn’t give you her phone number and I don’t even know where she is exactly. Only …”

“Only?” he asked hopefully.

“That wherever she is right now … she feels most at peace. When she looks down, she sees a field full of beautiful flowers. It makes her feel close to her grandmother and to an uncomplicated past. She wants to go back to that past.”

“A field of flowers?” he asked thoughtfully.

She nodded.

“A field of daisies?” he asked softly.

There was a short pause and then Selina nodded in surprise.

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

His heart raced as he raced up the hill, frantically searching for the signs. There! This was where the trail veered off the main track. He turned left, following the much narrower path, the one that almost no one knew about.

She was up there.

His hands clenched, his heart thumping uncomfortably inside of his chest. It had been so long since he’d seen her, and the pain he felt over that absence was surprising. He hadn’t realized how used to her he’d become.

He’d never appreciated her presence in the past, nor had he missed her the first two times she’d left. Not for the few years she’d been off studying, when he’d had his wife with him. Not for the two years she’d been in America, when he’d done all he could to forget the past. But now … having met her again … coming to know her again … coming to want her for such a short time … he’d found out how hard it was to live without a human being. No one else had meant this much.

He was coming to realize how hard it would be if he had to live the rest of his life without Ella.

The breath rushed fiercely from his lips as he came to a stop in front of the cabin. His chest continued to rise and fall rapidly as excitement coursed through his veins.

She’d been here. All this time. She’d been here. And he hadn’t known.

Why had it taken him so long to figure it out? At moments like these he wondered at his own dimness.

She’d been living here for the past six and half months. She’d been waiting here. He knew that she had been waiting … for him. If she’d wanted to hide, there were countless other places she could have gone. But no, she’d wanted him to find her.

And he’d almost let her down. Again.

Walking up the porch steps, he slowly exhaled and glanced upwards, asking for some sort of signal. There was nothing. He wasn’t discouraged.

Walking up to the door, he knocked softly.

There was no response.

He knocked again.

Nothing.

He grew desperate, his fists thumping against the wood. She had to be here. There was nowhere else she could be.

Silence. Oppressive silence.

Moving back, he stared at the wooden door. His hand came out to trace the grain on the wood. He rested his forehead against the door.

“Please,” he whispered softly to the wind. “You have to be here.”

Could he have been wrong?

His shoulders slumped, turning he walked down the steps. His hands clenched as he tried to deal with his disappointment. He’d come racing up here with so much hope … he’d been so certain that Ella was here.

But he’d been wrong.

Walking slowly, his body feeling like an old man’s, he started for home. He had no more hope.

He was lost.

And then …

The door creaked open behind him.

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

Chapter 27

Going Camping

The quite beep of the hospital machines greeted him when he finally awakened in the hospital bed, monitoring his life, his vital signs, everything. Blinking, he looked around, dazed. Where was he? Trying to understand … to remember. His hand came up to his head. He couldn’t remember.

He knew he was in bed. Turning to look out the window he saw the sun in the middle of the sky. From what he could judge, it was close to twelve p.m. What was he doing still in bed? Turning, he tried to vault out of bed and gasped as pain coursed through his body. His head exploded with indescribable pain, the likes of which he’d never encountered before, and his vision began to blur. His hand clutched at his ribs, trying to breathe through the pain that had exploded inside of him. Looking down, he saw a IV stuck in his hand.

He was in a hospital. Why?

And it slowly began to return to him. He closed his eyes, trying to fight the memories as they began to come back. The party. His mom … drunk once more. She’d insisted on driving. He’d tried to stop her, but she wouldn’t listen. She never listened, especially not when she was drunk. He’d tried to reason with her, but she ignored everything. And then he’d made that decision … the decision to get in the car with her, hoping he could prevent whatever disaster happened. But he’d failed.

Calvin and Ella had tried to stop him, but how could he abandon his mother?

He closed his eyes, his fuzzy mind still trying to wrap itself around the situation. What had happened after that? There must have been an accident. ‘How was his mother?’ he wondered, trying to focus.

He heard voices coming from the doorway.

“I’m afraid that his ribs are broken, and the lacerations on his face have gone deep enough to cause scarring. If he wants, we can try cosmetic surgery later. He also has a concussion. But the biggest thing of all …”

There was a short pause.

Arron strained to hear.

“He’s lost the use of his arm. I warned you about that possibility before. The nerves were damaged in the accident and he won’t be able to use that arm anymore … it’s completely paralyzed. I’m sorry.”

Arron stared down at the IV stuck in his hand. He hadn’t felt that IV pinching his skin. He didn’t feel anything. Reaching over, he hesitantly touched the hand and it just lay there uselessly. No sensation. He picked it up and it flopped uselessly back to the bed.

He took a deep breath, trying to stay calm. His one useful hand rubbed at his chest, trying to rub the pain away. His heart ached. It ached at the thought of never playing again. There was a sob … a low one escaped his lips, but then he quickly buttoned his lips, not wanting to alert the couple out there.

He heard a short slamming sound against the wall beside his door, and he looked over startled.

“Ella, calm down!” Calvin said angrily, pulling her away. “Hurting yourself won’t help him.”

“Her son is lying unconscious in that hospital bed in there, and Grace is trying to save her own butt from being thrown into jail! She hasn’t even asked about him. All she does is whine when she calls you about how cruel the police are being to her. Did you tell her to stop calling here?” Ella asked angrily.

“I gave her the number of my attorney,” Calvin admitted.

“Calvin, how could you?!!”

“Because that’s what Arron would want,” Calvin reminded her. “He loves his mother and he would want us to make sure that she doesn’t get thrown into jail and gets the help she needs.”

Arron stared down at his hand and then slowly wiped away the tears. He didn’t want that for his mother. She’d made a mistake, but this mistake had cost him so much. Even if he didn’t want her to go to prison … his hand clenched … he didn’t think that he could ever face her. Not after this. It was time to let go.

Lying back he tried to contemplate a future … a life without music. His music. The one way he could express himself. It was lost to him. His eyes watered once more. Angrily he wiped the tears away. There was nothing he could do about it.

“I hate her … I hate her,” Ella muttered angrily. “Why do people hurt other people? Why does loving hurt so much? It would be better not to love … it would be better to close our hearts.”

“She wasn’t doing this to him. She was doing it to herself … Arron just got caught in the middle.”

“She never means to do anything,” Ella said quietly. “But it’s always Arron who’s getting hurt.”

“He made the choice to get in the car, Ella.”

“Poor Arron. Poor, poor Arron.”

“He has us. We’ll be there for him, Ella. Just like we’re here for you.”

……………………

“If I told you … if I told you about my past,” Ella began softly, “you wouldn’t be so quick to support me. You’d hate me.”

Arron wondered at the anger and self-disgust he heard in Ella’s voice. He’d never heard so much emotion coming from her. At least one good thing had come from his accident. She was finally beginning to open up. It used to make his heart hurt to see how closed in she was. It was as if she was frozen and couldn’t let any of the emotions out. And he could see that her secret was slowly killing her.

“I could never hate you,” Calvin said softly. Arron nodded in agreement. They could never hate Ella. “…No matter what you do … no matter what you did … I would always support you without question, knowing that you had your reasons.”

……………………

“I loved him so much, but he only ever hurt me,” Ella began softly.

Him? Who was Ella talking about? Arron strained his ears, so he wouldn’t a moment of the dialogue. There was a short silence and Ella continued.

“I met him when I was 16 and I’ve loved him ever since. And now, I know that I can never go back to him. Because I’ve done something that he could never forgive me for.”

“What did you do?” Calvin’s voice, calm as always, prompted her to continue.

Arron tried to stay awake, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t keep his eyes open. The voices faded away. He wondered, as the darkness began to close in, what Ella had done that had affected her so horribly. He grew sleepier. One final thought moved sluggishly through his mind. It didn’t matter. Nothing could make him hate Ella.

~*~*~*~

“Cinderella! Cinderella! You’re not listening,” a child’s voice pulled at his consciousness. He felt a small hand tugging at him. Staring down at Cassandra, Arron marveled at how tiny she was. She made him feel like a giant.

“Cinderella is busy with more important things,” Angela murmured smilingly, coming to sit down beside him. As her jasmine scent came out to engulf him, he thanked whoever was up there for helping him to meet his angel. His life had been so empty without her. Angela was his life now.

Maybe his mother had made one or two good decisions in her life. Going into rehab had helped to save her, but marrying Calvin’s father had been her first good decision. If he hadn’t known Calvin … he’d never have met Ella … and through her he’d never have met Angela. So, he guessed his mother’s decisions hadn’t been all bad.

“Don’t you think you should call me Uncle Arron?” Arron said in exasperation. “I know I’m pretty and all, but I’m not a girl. And you like your Auntie Ella now, and she has part of the name. Call her Cinderella.”

“NO! I don’t like Auntie Ella!” Cassandra shouted. She ran to the other corner of the room.

Angela and Arron stared at the other with surprise in their eyes. “Cassandra, what’s wrong?” Angela asked hesitantly. “I thought you were getting along with Ella.”

There was silence and then a low sniffle.

“Cassandra?” Arron asked, moving over to hug the little girl to his body.

“She got married to my daddy and then went away. She didn’t even tell me she was leaving. She was supposed to be my new mommy but she went away. She hates me … like my real mommy. Daddy’s acting mean again and gramma is worried too. Auntie Ella went away, so I don’t like her either.”

Arron quietly hugged the little girl, trying to find the right words. “Sometimes adults have fights … it had nothing to do with you,” Arron tried to assure her.

Cassandra tried to shrug his hand away, pouting at him.

“Ella loves you, but she had a fight with your daddy. She’ll come back when she stops being mad,” he promised, desperately hoping that Ella would decide to return.

There was a knock on the door.

Angela opened the door, quietly greeted Chun and lead him into the living room.

“I need to talk to you about Ella,” Chun began abruptly.

“Not here,” Arron said quickly, noting the interest in Cassandra’s gaze. “Let’s go into the kitchen. What is it?”

“I talked to Selina last night, but she won’t give me Ella’s phone number. Look, Arron, I need to talk to her. Give me her number. Please.”

“You’ve only ever hurt her, Chun,” Arron reminded him quietly. “How can I trust that you won’t hurt her again? She doesn’t need the stress.”

“Trust me, I won’t!” Chun shouted in frustration. “I won’t hurt her ever again but I NEED to talk to her. If we can’t talk, then how can I tell her how sorry I am for everything? How can I begin to understand …”

“She’s loved you since she was 16,” Arron asserted somberly, “And all she’s received in return is constant pain. She goes away and comes back to more pain. What’s changed now?”

Chun’s eyes widened at that revelation. “Loved … loved me since she was 16?” he asked hoarsely, hitting at his chest to clear the frog stuck in his throat.

Arron blinked in surprise.

“You never … you never knew,” he whispered in realization. “Chun it’s not that I won’t give you the number … I can’t give you the number. She refuses to trust me with it. And I can’t tell you where she is. She won’t trust anyone with that information. Except …”

“Except?”

“She did say that it’s a wonderful place to set up camp and sit beside a cozy campfire, singing songs and cooking over the fire. But you can’t just sleep under the stars, she said, because it gets really wet at night. You need an actual tent,” Arron said thoughtfully.

Chun’s eyes widened in confusion, as he tried to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Turning he began to move slowly toward the door once more. He saw his daughter sitting with Angela in the living room and acknowledged them quickly before continuing on his way. He knew that he was neglecting his daughter for the moment, but Ella needed him right now.

He needed Ella right now.

“And the princess ran into the woods and became lost. And do you know what happened then, Auntie Angela?”

“What?”

“The prince went to rescue her but the he wasn’t too good with directions either. He got the princess lost even more until she was so tired she began to cry. To make her happy, the prince gave her a piggyback ride. It began to rain,” Cassandra whispered in a low voice. “And when they had lost all hope,” she said in a dark tone, as if mimicking someone else, “they found …”

“They found what?” Angela prompted.

“I forget,” Cassandra said with a giggle.

Chun froze in his tracks, whipping his head around to stare at his daughter.

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

“Ella?” he asked breathlessly, his eyes staring into the darkness now revealed behind the door.

There was silence.

“Ella, answer me! I know you’re in there.”

“Chun?” there was a moment, as if the speaker was trying to gather her thoughts. “What are you doing here?”

Her voice. His eyes closed in relief. She was here. She was six feet away. Close enough to touch, if only … if only he could gather his courage and approach her.

His Ella. His wife. The woman who had loved him since she was 16. Why had he been so blind?

“How did you find me?” Ella asked hesitantly, wondering who had betrayed her trust.

“Does that really matter?” he asked softly, moving toward the cabin once more.

“Don’t come any closer!” she ordered desperately. He saw a small, fragile hand clench at the door until the knuckles turned white. “I don’t want you … near me,” she breathed out with difficulty.

“Ella we need to talk,” Chun said insistently. “You can’t hide from me forever.”

“I’m not hiding from you,” Ella responded angrily. “I’m trying to get through my pregnancy in peace. If I … if I stayed with you, I’d only suffer more. This way … at least this way I have peace.”

“Ella, I’m sorry … I’m sorry for my behavior … I promise that if you come back, I won’t hurt you again.”

“Hurt me? You didn’t hurt me. We were only ever friends, and even that close friendship ended years ago, Chun. We had nothing now. Your behavior meant nothing to me. Why would I have been hurt?” Her tone was harsh.

“I know, Ella.”

“Know what?”

“I know that you’ve loved me since you were 16,” Chun admitted.

“Who …,” she cleared her throat, “Who told you that lie?”

“It’s not a lie,” Chun insisted. “And I know … I know about your suicide attempt.”

There was a stricken silence from behind the door, as if Ella couldn’t believe the words she’d heard.

“I think someone’s been playing with you,” Ella finally answered with a desperate laugh.

“No,” he said with quiet conviction. “All I need to know … all I need to know is why. Why did you do it?” His tone was ragged, revealing the pain in his heart.

“Oh God,” she finally cried out after a moment of silence, “Why did it have to be you? Why now? I’m not ready for this.”

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

Chapter 28

Lost Cabin in the Woods

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

“Look, someone’s waiting for me. I’ll talk to you later,” Calvin murmured into the phone. “I love you. Bye.” Quickly hanging up, he turned to look at the man sitting on the sofa in front of him. “What can I do for you?” His tone was formal … distant. His dislike for the person sitting in front of him was apparent to the listener.

“I feel like a patient,” Chun complained. “Do we have to do this in here?”

“We don’t have to do this at all,” Calvin replied. His trademark sunny smile was missing. He had no sympathy for this man. No patience with his shenanigans anymore. Chun had hurt his sister too many times. Chun had scarred that young, innocent girl too much … both emotionally and physically. That didn’t just make Chun oblivious or insensitive, it made him incredibly stupid and willfully blind.

Calvin had fallen in love with Ella the first time he saw her; his heart had been happy when he saw the gamine smile on that cute, young face. When he saw Ella’s picture, he’d wanted to protect his little sister from all the little hurts of the world. Never having known her, he knew that he would want to take care of her like a protective, big brother. He wanted to cherish her and only hand her over to a man who would know how to cherish her even more than him.

When he saw her at the airport, it was all wrong. Everything was different than he had expected. What he’d found was a hollow shell … something or someone had sucked the joy … the life … everything out of her. She was barely alive when she’d come to America, and he’d spent months carefully enticing her back to the land of the living. Even then it had been touch and go for a while when Arron’s accident occurred. But finally … finally Ella had opened up.

When Calvin had first met Chun, he’d tried to be patient. He’d tried to be understanding. This man hadn’t known that Ella loved him from the moment she met him … this man hadn’t known what a bitch Hebe was when he chose her over Ella … this man didn’t know what Hebe had put Ella through … this man hadn’t known about the suicide attempt … he’d tried to remember that. But all that patience and understanding had washed away as he’d seen him in action. He’d seen Ella regressing back to the lost and confused woman she’d been and it had hurt him.

Chun didn’t deserve any more chances. Chun didn’t deserve any more help. He was beneath contempt.

“Calvin …,” Chun began with a sigh, frustrated by Calvin’s resistance.

“I won’t tell you where Ella is, Chun. I won’t give her up to you. She wants peace, and I’m going to guarantee that she gets it,” Calvin said implacably. “She’s at a stage in her pregnancy where she doesn’t need more stress, especially not from the likes of you.”

“I’m not asking you to betray her confidences,” Chun argued, “I just need to know where my wife is.”

“Wife?” Calvin snorted with derision. “When did you ever consider her your wife? Wasn’t she the woman who trapped you by deliberately getting pregnant, even though it was the two of you on that couch that night?”

“You have to understand …”

“Then explain it to me!” Calvin barked out in anger. “Explain it to me so that I can understand why you felt it was necessary to constantly wound my sister with all of your women … your contemptible behavior … just because she had the misfortune of getting pregnant by you. Explain to me why you felt she should be punished for something that wasn’t her fault.”

“It wasn’t about punishing her for getting pregnant,” Chun began patiently. “It was her reason for why it happened.”

Calvin stared at him without comprehension.

“She pitied me!” he shouted. “Do you think that any man wants to be pitied?”

“So you hurt her? Out of some misplaced pride? She cares about you … she’s loved you for so long … and this is how you treat her?”

“I didn’t know she loved me,” Chun heatedly argued. “I … didn’t know. Don’t put that on my head.”

“I can do whatever I want,” Calvin replied. “You might not have known about her love, but she did care. You knew that. Your actions would hurt her. You knew that. And you still acted like a bastard.”

There was only silence. Chun couldn’t find the words that would convince Calvin to tell him where his Ella was.

“Get out,” Calvin said in disgust. “I will never trust you with my sister. She deserves better. After she has the baby, she’s going to divorce you. And the newspapers that chronicled your behavior in the weeks before the marriage will bear witness to why she should get the divorce and custody of her child.”

Chun exploded in anger, moving around the desk to wrap his hands around Calvin’s collar.

“Ella is mine,” he whispered hoarsely. “And nothing and no one will take her away from me.”

Calvin forcibly removed Chun’s hands and brought them down. “If she thinks you’re not good enough for her, nothing will keep her next to you.”

He pushed Chun away from him and sat back down.

“And believe me … I’m going to make damn sure she realizes how much more she deserves.”

Chun’s shoulders slumped, as he grappled with how to fight this obstacle. How did you convince a man that his sister would be happy with you? Especially when you’d already hurt said sister so much.

There was a beat of hostile silence between the two.

“How can I make you understand how much I regret everything I’ve done to her?”

“Just words.”

“They’re not just words! You don’t know our history … our relationship,” Chun argued desperately. “You’ve only seen the now. You don’t know about our past.”

“I’ve heard about it,” Calvin replied coolly. “And you were none too impressive than either.”

“How can I explain the missed moments … the missed hints that brought us here today?” Chun finally began, trying to show the emotions running in his heart. “I didn’t know that Ella loved me. There were moments when I did feel something for her, but when I tried to act on those newly discovered feelings … she scurried away like a little mouse. When I wanted to hold her close, she was nowhere to be found.”

Calvin remained silent, tapping his pencil against a notepad.

“And then Hebe came. I was young … 22. She looked like everything I’d dreamt about in a woman. She was my ideal. And I was easily distracted. I put away my budding feelings for Ella, and moved on to a more receptive audience. Hebe accepted me. She was there when I called. She told me in a million little ways that she liked me. She didn’t hide anything from me. Unlike Ella, she was an open book. She became my woman. She became my friend, when the woman that I considered my best friend had disappeared from my life.”

Calvin snorted at that claim.

“Like I said,” Chun said in a driven tone, “I was young. I didn’t question why Ella was behaving this way. All I knew was that she’d rejected me. It seemed as if we were no longer friends and I didn’t even know why. I was being punished for some heinous act, and she didn’t even tell me what that act was. I couldn’t fix it. I got angry and then I moved on. I stopped calling. I stopped trying to see her. I wholeheartedly threw myself into a relationship with Hebe. She became my life.”

Calvin stared at Chun, silently encouraging him to say more.

“When I found out about Hebe’s betrayal, Ella was there once more. But I was raw from the betrayal that Hebe and Jiro had dealt me. I couldn’t trust anyone to be there for me. Especially not Ella … I didn’t reject her because she was Hebe’s sister. I rejected her because she’d already abandoned me once. How could I trust her to be there for me now? I went away. I never knew about the suicide attempt. I still don’t understand why Ella did it. I need to understand. And if it was my fault … I need to make amends. I need a chance …”

“So … you pity her now?” Calvin asked. “Ella doesn’t need your pity.”

“It’s not pity,” Chun interjected. “I need a chance to clear the air about the past, and then move on with Ella. I want a chance to see if the feelings I had for her … still have for her can flourish. We need a chance.”

There was only silence.

“Please,” Chun finally begged.

There was no response.

Chun got up and moved toward the door, defeated by a brother’s love. His mind frantically tried to figure out the next step. Where could he go next? Who would know?

“You know,” Calvin said, “I hear there’s a beautiful camping spot in Taipei National Forest. In fact, if you move up one of the nearby trails, you can find a cabin with a beautiful view.”

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

Chun drove through the streets, his mind grappling with all he had heard. How could he forget that graduation trip they had taken into Taipei National Forest after Ella’s graduation? She had been looking forward to it for such a long time. She’d planned the trip all of her last year of high school. But then for some reason she’d become short-tempered before the trip, getting angry at everyone and everything.

His hands tightened around the wheel.

Was it because of … Hebe? She’d offered to ask Hebe along, and everyone had happily agreed, but maybe … he had been preoccupied by Hebe back then. Too much so. He’d been mesmerized by Hebe’s beauty … her innocence. He’d wanted to protect and cherish her fragility. He’d been the most vocal about his desire for Hebe to come … and maybe … maybe Ella had been jealous.

Why had he been so blind?

Now that he recalled it, the trip was so clear in his mind.

They’d set up the tents in a clearing, far away from all the others camping in the forest. Two tents. One for the girls and one for the boys. There hadn’t been any tension … at least none that he could remember. When had Ella become so good at hiding her emotions? Why had she felt the need to hide them?

He remembered Ella fighting with Jiro and getting lost in the woods. He remembered that he was the one who had found her, even with his incredibly bad sense of direction. It had been true miracle. But they’d only been allotted that one miracle. He wasn’t able to find his way back to the campsite.

‘What kind of guy doesn’t have a sense of direction? Aren’t you supposed to come built with a directional tool or something?’

He still remembered Ella’s caustic tone in his mind. She’d been verbally hitting at him the entire night, trying to make him angry. And at that point, he’d blown up, shouting at her to shut up. After a brief moment of silence, he’d heard quiet sniffles coming from behind him and then wails that began to progressively grow in volume. And when things couldn’t get any worse, the thunder and lightening started.

To appease her, he’d offered to give her a piggyback ride.

Chun’s eyes alighted on the exit sign for the camping grounds. He was only a few minutes away from those camping grounds. And, if he was correct, he was only a few minutes away from Ella.

His heart began to pound with excitement. So close. He was so close.

They’d eventually found that cabin. And because each had been soaked through by that time, they’d quickly stripped in their respective corners and wrapped themselves up in blankets. Ella had blushed red when she saw his torso for the first time.

Chun parked the car.

She’d shyly offered him the bed, saying she would take the uncomfortable looking chair. He’d insisted on sleeping together on the bed, knowing that the cold night air might do harm to Ella’s health.

And then … the next morning … a field of daisies down below. Ella had been enchanted. She’d insisted that they find a way to get to those daisies.

Stepping out of the car, he moved up the trail to the cabin. He wondered why it was so easy to remember a cabin he’d seen only once in his life?

Why hadn’t he noticed? Why hadn’t he noticed Ella’s trembling? Why had her body resting trustingly against his feel so natural? Why hadn’t he questioned his desire to kiss those rosy lips turned up to his in innocent sleep? Why hadn’t he fought the desire to kiss a porcelain cheek turned away from him?

Why had he been so blind?

He wasn’t a virgin. He’d been with a few women in his time, but he’d never spent the whole night through with a woman. He’d given his first night to his best friend. It hadn’t been uncomfortable. He hadn’t wanted to leave. He hadn’t hated her clinging form. It had been the most peaceful sleep he’d ever had. And he’d never noticed the importance of that fact …

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

“Ella?” Chun asked, the fear growing inside of him. “Are you okay?”

There was a moment of silence and then a groan of pain. It was as if she couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“Ella!” he shouted, running to the door. His heart was pounding with worry. “What’s happening? What’s wrong?”

Silence.

“Tell me,” he demanded, pushing open the door.

And there she stood. After six and half months, he was finally close enough to breathe in her scent. Close enough to touch, if she’d let him. Her body was tiny and fragile as ever … but her stomach was as big as a balloon.

She was nurturing their child inside of her body.

His hands clenched, as he tried to fight the desire to reach out and touch her apple red cheeks. She was as gorgeous as ever.

But something was wrong. Her eyes were glassy with pain. Sweat was running down her face and there were damp patches all over her body. Her hands clenched at the door, as her body seemed to spasm with pain.

“Get … help,” she muttered through gritted teeth. Tears appeared in her eyes and then began to trickle down her cheeks.

“What?” he asked, distracted by the sight of her. He wanted to hold her and to comfort her. But she looked so fragile, he was afraid to touch.

“Get help,” she repeated breathlessly. “Chun … I’m having the baby.”

“I know,” he said, staring at her stomach. His hands itched to reach out and touch. He’d missed this. He’d missed everything.

“Chun!” she shouted. He glanced up, startled. “Either I just peed in my pants or my water broke, and since I’ve never had any problems with my bladder, I’m guessing it’s the second one!! I’m having the baby right at this moment,” she barked out, worry transforming into anger at his inability to understand and do what was needed.

He nodded like an idiot.

There was a pause.

He remained standing there, trying to get his body to move. To hurry up. To get her help. To carry her to his car. Possibilities flashed through his mind.

“Get help. RIGHT NOW!”

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

 

Chapter 29

The Baby in Question

Her body ached from the exertion. Chun had been there with her every step of the way. He’d coached her in her breathing. He’d held her hand and encouraged her. He’d mopped her brow and put up with her curses. He’d barely winced at her punishing grip when the contractions came fast and furious. And at the end he’d cried when he first saw their son.

She’d never thought to see the sight.

She felt sleepy and yet so awake. She’d never felt so alive and tired in her life. She remembered the ride from the forest to the nearest hospital. It had been fraught with tension to say the least. She softly chuckled when she remembered Chun sweating at each stoplight. Maybe it hadn’t been such a great idea to still be up at the cabin so near her due date. Calvin had repeatedly warned her that not everything went as planned with the first pregnancy. Her lips curved ruefully for a moment … she should’ve listened.

She stared down at the child in her arms. His face was still red and all squashed from the birth. His eyes were closed in sleep. And his lips were scrunched up. But even then … even so … he was the most beautiful baby she’d ever seen. Her heart urged her to hold her baby in her arms forever … protecting him from life’s hurts. Her heart urged her to never let him go.

She would remember this moment for the rest of her life. She wondered if she was strong enough to do what needed to be done.

“I’ve decided.” There was finality in her tone. Chun glanced at her warily, wondering what she would say next. They hadn’t even had a chance to talk yet.

“I want a divorce,” she said abruptly. “This is why we got married. Our wedding has served its purpose. We can separate now. I’m sure that’s what you want, anyways.” Her tone held no inflections, no emotions. It was as if she felt nothing at making this decision.

“Ella…,” Chun’s voice trailed off. What could he say next? How could he convince her to change her mind? He needed a chance … a chance for her to reconsider everything. He needed a chance to find out about the past … a chance to fix the present … a chance for their future. But what would make her listen?

“I’ll agree to the divorce,” he responded coldly. “But my son stays with me.”

Ella’s eyes widened in surprise. The blood drained from her face and she grew lightheaded. Her arms unconsciously clenched around the tiny figure in her arms.

She finally lowered her head in acceptance.

“Fine.” The agreement was short and swift, startling in its succinctness.

“What do you mean?” His voice was hoarse with disbelief.

“You want your son. Fine. Take him and go.” She thrust the baby away from her. Chun lunged forward to grab at the child, his eyes widening in horror. This was not the reaction that he had expected. He cradled the baby close, as if trying to protect him from his mother’s rejection.

She stared at them for one long moment, trying to engrave the image in her memory. There stood the two most important men in her life. Her lips firmed in determination. She had to do this. She didn’t deserve any better, she silently reminded herself. She turned away to stare out the window. Unconsciousness began to pull her toward darkness; her body was losing the battle against sleep.

Chun stared helplessly at her back, trying to understand. How could a mother do this to her own child?

“Why?” he finally whispered.

There was only silence as Chun waited with bated breath, waiting for an answer … anything that would explain this cruel act. She spoke finally when he’d almost given up hope.

“It’s only fair.” Her voice was a mere whisper. He had to strain to hear the words. “Since I was the one …” Her voice began to slur with sleep.

“The one?”

“…who helped kill your other baby.” She heard him exclaim as if from a distance. She couldn’t fight sleep anymore. Her body relaxed into darkness, and her last conscious thought was only that she was glad to escape him for now.

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

The sky outside was so blue. It made Ella ache to be out there right now. She wanted to escape and go somewhere far, far away. Far away from everything and everyone. Her hands clenched under the covers, as tears began to blur her vision once more. She glanced at the clock once more.

He wasn’t here. She hadn’t expected him to be. Not after what she’d said. But she had to admit that a part of her, even in her dreams, a part of had hoped that he’d be here when she awakened.

The image of him laughing came into her mind. She flinched. She’d spent the past few hours dreaming about him. Him and Cassandra and their baby. She’d dreamt of them as a family. But even then she’d known it was a dream. Even then she knew she was being foolish.

The door squeaked open behind her. She didn’t turn around. What did it matter who it was?

“Ella?”

Her head whipped around and her heart beat fast in surprise. “What … what are you doing here?” she asked Angela, the surprise apparent in her voice.

“Chun called us,” Angela said with a smile. “No one was more surprised than we were when we got the call that you’d had the baby. You weren’t supposed to have him for another two weeks, and yet here you are,” Angela said. “He’s gorgeous.”

“You’ve seen him?” Ella asked eagerly, her heart aching to hear any news. “How does m—how does he look now?”

“Just like a little Chun,” Angela related, coming forward to squeeze Ella’s hand. “Everyone’s down at the nursery, cooing over him. Calvin, Arron, Selina, Chun and Cassandra. Especially Cassandra. She can’t believe how cute her little brother is. The questions are already starting.”

“What questions?” Ella asked weakly.

“The age old question,” Angela answered with a teasing smile. “Where do babies come from? She asked Calvin first and he blushed beetred and directed her to ask her daddy. She asked Arron, her Cinderella, but he ran off, saying he had to go to the bathroom. Chun’s in the hot seat now.”

Ella nodded, before turning away once more.

There was a beat of silence.

“What’s wrong?” Angela finally asked, her tone somber. “You’re missing that glow that new mothers always seem to have. You know the one … where they’re bone tired but their smile says that it was all worth it. Where’s that smile, Ella? I thought … I hoped that you might have had a chance to work everything out with Chun.”

“Chun and I don’t talk,” Ella replied bitterly. “We stopped talking the day Hebe came into our lives.”

“And whose fault was that?” Chun’s voice was filled with sadness.

Ella whipped around to stare at him.

“Whose fault was it that we stopped talking? Who started avoiding my calls? Who missed our appointments? Who ignored me when we were together? Who left me out in the cold? Who made the decision to end our relationship?” Chun’s voice had only increased in volume as he came closer to the bed. His eyes revealed his anger at the slights of the past.

“Chun, now isn’t the time,” Angela hissed at him, clutching at his arm in warning. “She’s not ready for this. Let her recover first.”

“She’s already made her decision. Haven’t you, Ella?” Chun turned to stare at her. “She’s already decided to leave us. And I know … I know that if we don’t talk now, that’ll be it. I’ll come back one day, having waited for her to grow stronger, and I’ll find her gone. That’s what you plan on doing, right Ella? You plan on running away again. You’re good at running away, right? You ran away to the cabin. You ran away when you got pregnant. You ran off to America. And before that … before that you tried to run off to a place where no one could ever follow you. You tried to run off to a place from where there would be no hope of return.”

Ella stared at him, trying to understand his anger.

“Isn’t that what you were doing when you tried to kill yourself?” he demanded harshly, his hand coming out to grab her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze when she tried to turn away from the accusation in his eyes. “You were running away from imagined wrongs … you were running away from life … you were running away from everyone you loved … choosing to leave us behind with NO explanations for your actions.”

“Chun! Stop it! What the hell are you saying?!” Angela tried to pull him away from Ella’s too fragile figure. “She just gave birth to your son! Doesn’t she deserve some compassion … some peace? Stop these crazy accusations. Ella would never try to kill herself. She’s too strong for that. She loves life too much.”

“Oh, really,” Chun said with a sneer. His hand suddenly latched onto Ella’s wrist, and stared down at the wristguard. “Do you know what this is, Angela?”

Angela stared at the two of them, trying to understand what was happening.

“These aren’t just wristguards … they hide Ella’s dirty little secret.”

“Don’t,” Ella said softly, trying to pull away. He was strong. Too strong. “Stop it,” she implored.

He was merciless. His hand began to pull off the guards, his gaze locked onto hers.

“Chun,” Ella cried desperately. “Leave it alone. Leave me alone.”

“I won’t ever leave you alone … not until …”

“Until when? When will you stop hurting me?”

“When you tell me why you did this,” he said softly, pulling the wristguard off completely. Angela stared at the scars revealed. Her eyes swiftly moved up from the evidence to stare into Ella’s eyes. Ella’s heart froze at the horror … the disbelief … and then the pity. That pity cut at her.

“Ella,” Angela began hesitantly. Her hand reached out to touch her wrist … unconsciously trying to soothe away the pain she saw in Ella’s eyes by … even she didn’t know how she could soothe away those physical scars. She finally saw the darkness deep within Ella’s gaze … a bleakness that she’d never noticed beneath the laughter.

“Don’t touch me!” Ella said sharply, slapping her hand away.

Angela stepped back in surprise, her hand coming up to soothe away the sting from Ella’s slap.

Ella turned away from the shock she saw in Angela’s gaze. She didn’t need anyone’s pity. She’d made a mistake … and she was stronger for it. She was stronger.

“Leave us for now,” Chun told Angela quietly. “Ella and I need to talk.” There was a pause, followed by footsteps and then the closing of the door.

Ella stared at the wall, wondering what was happening. She still felt his presence in the room and wondered what he was planning next. What did he want?

“Why did you do it?” she asked in a low voice. “Why did you strip away my last shield … why did you have to do that in front of her? Why?”

“You’ve been cosseted too long … you can’t hide from the truth by hiding your scars from the world. Your friends did you no favors by letting you hide. You haven’t faced the truth of your actions, have you?”

“Hide myself away from the truth?” She choked at the irony of that statement. “I’ve lived with the truth of my actions … with the reasons of my actions for years!” Her cry was desperate in the silent room. “Do you have any idea,” she whispered furiously, “how many times I begged God to help me forget? But I could never escape it. Never. That was why I …”

“The reason you decide to commit that cowardly act.” His tone condemned her.

“You wouldn’t say that. You would agree that it was only what I deserved,” she murmured in despair, “if you only knew. God, just leave me alone! Why are you bringing this up now?” Her voice was desperate, her eyes stinging from suppressed emotions.

“Then tell me. Make me understand,” he finally demanded. “Tell me, and I’ll leave you in peace.” His voice was cold, without any emotions. She wondered what he was thinking. How could he be so cold and uncaring?

“Promise,” she finally whispered in defeat.

“I’m waiting,” he replied implacably.

Ella stared at the wall, gathering her courage and then the words began to spill out, the truth harsh in the light of morning. She flinched as she said the words. Her body was small under the covers, her shoulders slumped, as if the burden she carried had finally become too much.

Hebe’s revulsion at carrying his child.

Her self-hatred.

The abortion. Her heart clenched at that dark word. Ella could barely breathe in the heavy silence … his presence behind her was like a strong force, oppressing her … making her feel so incredibly small and insignificant.

“Hebe was getting sicker and sicker. Her behavior grew more erratic by the day and eventually I gave in. I could’ve held on. I could’ve tried harder in contacting you, but nothing came to mind … I couldn’t …,” Ella stopped. Her voice had grown desperate as she tried to explain. She’d committed an unforgivable … an inexcusable act … why was she offering excuses now?

“I started researching … I made the appointment … I took Hebe to the doctor and … I sat outside while your child was killed inside that room.” She almost threw the words at him. Suddenly, she felt angry … so angry. She felt a hot rage burning inside of her.

She wanted him to suffer with the truth … just like she’d suffered for years.

What had she done to deserve this? It hadn’t been her choice to make, but she suffered because the choice was made. It hadn’t been her child, but she grieved for it as if it was hers. Hebe had gotten Jiro and went off to travel the world. Chun lived his life in blissful ignorance. She’d been the only one to suffer. But as suddenly as it had appeared, the rage disappeared, leaving a strange hollowness behind.

Tears began to course down her cheeks. He would leave now in disgust. She could never expect him to stay after what she had revealed. They’d killed his child. What man could ever forgive that? What man could move on from that and accept the woman who took part in such a heinous act?

She heard the door open and then close. She began to sob in earnest. It was all over. Her heart was breaking all over again. Why didn’t she ever learn? Why couldn’t she stop hoping? ‘This is the last time,’ she swore to herself. The last time she would break her heart over him.

She felt arms gather her into a warm embrace. Calvin. Her big brother. She clung to him, sobbing her heart out. His soothing presence was enough to hold the pain at bay for a few moments, allowing her a chance to breathe.

“Shh. Ella. Please. You’ll make yourself sick.”

Ella froze in the arms wrapped around her, trying to understand. Her cries broke off in mid-sob, and she began to hiccup in shock.

Chun.

She pulled away to stare up at him, trying to understand. Chun was here, comforting her. Chun was holding her. Chun hadn’t left.

“Wha—,” she rubbed at her swollen eyes, and then pinched herself, wondering if this was some sick dream.

He allowed her to move away. Getting her a glass of water, he sat down by her bedside.

“I … I don’t understand,” she said uncertainly. She wiped at her tears, the expression on her face revealed her disbelief at his continued presence in the room. “Did you understand what I just told you?” Her voice shook as she forced the words out, her eyes lowered to the glass in her hands. “I ki—”

“Ella.”

……………………

“Ella … Hebe didn’t have an abortion.”

Her head whipped up in surprise.

“She couldn’t go through with it. She miscarried while she was in the hospital after that incident with the sleeping pills.”

……………………

Ella began to laugh hysterically.

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

Chapter 30

No Second Chances

His heart pounded as he stared at the nameplate next to the hospital door. Wu Hebe.

The words he’d read in the newspaper flashed before his eyes once more.

“Tien Heiress’ Remorseful Suicide Attempt”

‘Why?’ He still couldn’t understand her motivations. His guilt had hounded him all thy way back from Italy. ‘Why had she done this? Why? Was it his fault? Had he been too harsh? Too cruel? But how could he have acted in any other way? She’d broken his heart. She’d left first. Wasn’t it only right that he have the right to leave, too?’

He slowly opened the door.

“Hebe,” he whispered softly, staring at the still figure lying on the bed, staring out the window.

“Go away,” came the reply in a dead voice. “Leave me to die here in peace.”

“How could you do this to yourself?” he finally asked bitterly after a silent moment. “If you had the courage to fall in love with another man … if you had the courage to embark on an affair with this other man … why weren’t you brave enough to face the consequences? Why did you have to do such a cowardly act? To run away from your problems … Was it to gain sympathy?”

There was a moment of silence … the shock palpable in the air between them.

“What are you talking about?” she finally asked, some interest finally showing in her voice. She turned to look at him inquisitively, trying to understand his words.

“I’m talking about the suicide attempt, Hebe!” His voice was angry. “Didn’t you think about us? Didn’t you think about Cassandra? How would she have felt … growing up … knowing that her beloved mother had tried to kill herself? Why would you try to escape this way? Nothing was so bad that you had to kill yourself.”

“Chun, I accidentally took too many sleeping pills,” Hebe tried to explain. “Didn’t the doctors tell you this before you came into the room?”

Chun frowned in confusion.

“The stupid maid saw the pills on the floor and thought that I’d taken half the bottle or something,” Hebe said in disgust, “but in reality I just dropped the bottle and didn’t care to pick up the pills in the middle of the night. I know that three pills is a bit much … that was the reason I was in the hospital before I could finally wake up … but I didn’t try to kill myself.”

Chun fell back a step in relief. She hadn’t tried to kill herself. It had all been a mistake. It wasn’t his fault. His anger hadn’t driven her to anything. He laughed silently at himself for thinking so much of himself. He hadn’t been as important as he thought.

“But now … now I wish I had,” she whispered in an aching whisper, tears beginning to fall from her eyes. She quickly wiped them away, trying to pretend they weren’t falling.

His hands clenched, as he tried to control the urge to move forward and comfort her. She was still so achingly beautiful. He wanted to be next to her. He wanted to take her into his arms and tell her everything would be okay, but that was no longer his right.

“Where is he?” he asked, looking around.

“Who?”

“The man you chose before your family,” he said, not wanting to say his name. “Why would he abandon you now?”

“I told him to go,” Hebe said, turning her face away. “I don’t deserve him. I don’t deserve to be happy.”

“I don’t understand you. You made the decision to be with him … and yet now you’re backing away from that decision. You broke my heart … abandoned me in this darkness,” he ground out, “and then you tell him to go away? He hated himself for revealing so much of himself to a woman who had betrayed him. Even so, the words wouldn’t stop. “You chose him … you rejected my love … you rejected me … but now you’re rejecting him? What do you want?”

“I don’t want anything,” Hebe said, shrinking in on herself. It was as if her shoulders couldn’t carry the burden weighing down on her anymore. “I don’t deserve to be happy.”

“I don’t understand,” he choked out. His heart ached. He wanted to move closer. He wanted to touch her … kiss her. It had been a month since he’d walked in on that scene … but it hadn’t changed a thing. He wanted his wife back. He wanted the life he used to have … the life he’d love … he wanted that life back. When would this craving end? When would his stupid, weak heart realize that it was hopeless? He began to move forward.

“I killed our baby,” she blurted out into the silence, arresting his movements. “I killed our baby.”

Chun stared at her in shock, trying to comprehend the words that had erupted from her lips. “What?” he choked out.

“I was pregnant,” she whispered, “and I hated it. I’d finally taken that final step away from you … from our life together … but then I found out I was pregnant. I know what you think,” she said, looking at him defiantly. “I know you think that I’ve been sleeping with Jiro. How do I even know who’s baby it was? But I’ve never … never slept with Jiro,” she said emphatically. “That night … that night Ella walked in on us … that night would’ve been …” her voice trailed off. “I knew the baby was yours, but I lied and told someone the baby could’ve been yours or Jiro’s. I told them I couldn’t live with that uncertainty. I told them I needed to tear this thing out of my body. And then … I went to an abortion clinic.” She began to sob loudly, her pain pouring out in front of him.

“You bitch,” he said in a low voice, the ice growing around his heart. “You hated me that much that you would kill my … your own child?” No matter how hard he tried to ignore it, the pain bled through the ice and settled into a piercing ache that he could feel with every breath he took.

Walking toward her, he gripped her arms tightly, bruising her fragile skin. “How could you do that to an innocent child? No matter how bad things were between us … no matter how badly you wanted to get out of our marriage … we could’ve worked something out.”

Hebe clutched at his arms, crying hysterically, as he shook her violently. His hands fell away in disgust when she went limp in his arms. She collapsed back on the bed.

“I killed our baby,” she repeated over and over, turning in on herself, her fingers pulling the blanket over her head.

“Mr. Wu, visiting hours are over,” a voice called out from behind him.

Chun turned to glare at the source of the intrusion. The nurse gasped at the quivering mess Hebe had become on the bed. She moved forward with intent, and motioned to Chun to get out. He stood there implacably, and then turned to go. He had nothing more to say to her. “The doctor would like to speak to you,” the nurse called out from behind him. Chun stopped for a brief moment, and then reluctantly nodded.

……………………

“Mr. Wu, when Mrs. Wu came into the hospital, we did think there had been a suicide attempt. But fortunately that wasn’t the case.”

“So I’ve been told,” Chun replied sardonically. “If there’s nothing else, I’ll be leav—.”

“Mr. Wu, I know that you might not want to hear this, but your wife is very depressed right now nonetheless and it is imperative that you keep an eye on her. She needs to be under constant watch.”

“That’s not my problem. I guess you don’t read the papers.”

“Mr. Wu I don’t question what goes on between a couple inside the privacy of their home, and I certainly don’t read the gossip rags to get my kicks. All I know is that woman in there miscarried your baby two nights ago, and she needs you to be there for her.”

Chun’s eyes widened in surprise.

“What do you mean? She was pregnant when she came here?” he asked slowly, trying to understand.

“She was months into the pregnancy,” the doctor replied. “As a consequence, the miscarriage almost took her life. She’s slowly getting physically better, but she still suffers emotionally from the loss. And only you can lessen her pain. That is why Mr. Wang had the hospital call you.”

Chun’s lip curled slightly at Jiro’s name.

“You need to be there for your wife. Even if there’s nothing between you more than this, your wife lost your child. Comfort her at this time, and then, I beseech you, forgive her and let her go in peace. Holding onto your bitterness helps nobody.”

Chun stared at the doctor. “Can you do something for me?” he asked suddenly.

The doctor nodded in reply.

……………………

“I talked to the doctor,” Chun murmured, stepping back into the room.

Hebe ignored his presence. Her eyes were red and swollen from the tears that had already fallen. Her fingers were shaking slightly.

“He told me you lost the baby … our baby … two nights ago. I thought you said you aborted it.”

There was only silence.

“Hebe? Tell me what the truth is,” he growled. “Stop hiding things from me. I deserve to know how my child died.”

Hebe’s shoulders began to shake once more, but she quickly sniffed back her tears.

“I went to the abortion clinic … but I couldn’t do it,” Hebe began in a low tone. “I wanted to … I thought I wanted to sever this last con-nection with you.” Her voice broke slightly over the words. “But I couldn’t do it. Not like that. I couldn’t hurt my child. So, I stopped them and left.”

“Then what happened?”

“I left, but it was too late. Our child knew … he knew that I had rejected him at first. He knew that I didn’t want him,” Hebe whispered. Her fingers clenched in the blanket. “He knew. And he just … he decided to leave. It was my fault. If I had loved him like a mother does from the beginning … if I hadn’t rejected him, then he would never have left.”

“Bullshit.”

Hebe’s eyes flew to meet his.

“It wasn’t your fault, and you know it,” Chun said harshly. He was fighting his own feelings of loss for a child that would never be. Clearing his throat, he moved to the bed and his hand came out to cover her clenched fingers. “The doctor told me your body was too weak … you’d been under too much stress …you were sick. The baby couldn’t have survived. It was just something … that happened.”

“Chun?” Hebe murmured after a moment of silence.

“What?”

“I’m sorry,” she finally whispered. “I never got a chance to say this, but I’m so sorry. I hope that someday … someday you’ll realize …”

“Maybe someday,” Chun said, interrupting. “But not right now. There’s someone here to see you.”

Hebe turned to the door, as it opened to reveal Jiro.

“I asked the doctor to call him,” Chun said quietly. “Don’t lose him just because you feel guilty. It wasn’t your fault. The baby … just wasn’t meant to be. Grieve for his loss, but don’t let it push you into doing something we’ll all regret. You need to move on. Both of us need to move on.” His hand came up to lightly brush her bangs away from her face. “I hope we can both meet someday with only the good memories in our minds,” he murmured. “Be happy.”

Turning from Hebe’s hospital bed, he moved toward the door. Ignoring the hopeful look in Jiro’s eyes, he quickly exited the room. Forgiving Hebe … understanding her and accepting that a part of this bitter circumstance was his fault had taken everything out of him. He had nothing more to give. Not even forgiveness to Jiro. Jiro would have to find his own redemption.

His gaze landed on a name two doors down.

‘Chen.’

He froze for a moment.

“Chen Jia Hua,” he silently read, his mind struggling to process the name. Wasn’t that … wasn’t that Ella’s Chinese name? Automatically his feet began to move toward the door. As his hand reached out to turn the knob, his phone rang. Looking down at the screen, he quickly picked up.

“Ah, Angel, what are you doing calling me at this time. Isn’t it already nighttime there? Don’t worry; I’ll be on the next flight back. And this time I’ll bring Cassandra with me. We’ll have a little holiday before I get back to work.”

He quickly moved away, everything else forgotten for the moment.

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

“I never seriously thought it was you. I mean, if you’d been in the hospital, wouldn’t someone have told me? Selina or any of our other friends?” he whispered to the silent figure on the bed. “If I had had any idea …”

“You would’ve what?” she murmured bitterly. “What would you have done?”

“I wouldn’t have walked away,” he assured her quietly. “You were important to me. I couldn’t have walked away.”

“It’s easy to say that now,” she said bitterly. “It looks like I’ve been paying forever for the foolish decisions my heart has made over the years.”

“Ella …”

“I fell in love with you and suffered for it. I helped Hebe and suffered for it. And neither one of you cared enough to look back even once. Neither one of you tried to understand.”

“I didn’t know. She didn’t know,” Chun argued. “Now that you know …”

“It changes nothing,” Ella said quietly. “This is the end,” she said softly. “I’m 26. Married to a man that embarrassed me every which way he could before he married me. He left me on our wedding night when I begged him not to go. I had a baby that was the product of a one-night stand. And now my paper husband is asking me for a second chance because he pities me. I can’t do this anymore, Chun. I can’t break my heart anymore over someone who’s not worth it. You’re not worth the pain, Chun.”

Ella turned to look at him. He was still wearing the clothes from yesterday, stubble on his chin, his eyes red from lack of sleep. Even so, he looked at handsome as ever. But there was something missing. Something she hadn’t seen for a long time.

“I can’t even see why I fell in love with you.”

“Don’t give up on me … don’t give up on us,” he pleaded huskily. “It’ll get better. We can work it out. I want to explain why I acted the way I did. I want to explore your feelings for me, and the new feelings that were growing between us before I ruined everything.”

……………………

“Ella, please.”

……………………

“I want a divorce.”

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