“Ella! Listen to me,” Chun called out, chasing after his wife. His hand reached out to grab at her retreating figure but only encountered air. “Come back,” he shouted after her retreating figure. The panic was growing inside of him, choking him.
“Daddy! What are you doing here?” A little body slammed into his leg. He looked down in surprise.
“Cassandra? What are YOU doing here?” he asked in confusion. He looked around and saw Blake sleeping in his little carrier, his cheeks rosy. “I don’t understand,” he murmured to himself.
“Mommy said we were going on an adventure,” Cassie explained, pulling him over to the sofa and pushing him to sit down. She climbed onto his lap. “Mommy was really angry when you left and she said a curse word. And then she ran into her room and started throwing all these things into her suitcase. Nana was trying to stop her but mommy wouldn’t stop. And then Nana said, ‘What about Cassie? Are you going to abandon her?’” Cassie related this in an adult tone. “And then mommy stopped for a while and then said, ‘No. Just because Chun is a total bastard that doesn’t mean Cassie needs to be hurt. She can stay with me for a while.’ And then mommy packed my stuff and Blake’s. And now we’re here.”
Chun sat there, absorbing the information. Not only had she taken their son, but Ella had absconded with his daughter too. He stared down at Cassie’s little, innocent face. Even when her heart had been breaking, Ella had thought about how her leaving would affect Cassie and she’d decided to make the eventual parting between the two less traumatic by bringing Cassie along. His lips tightened with determination. If he had anything to say about it, Cassie would not be separated from her mother or her brother.
“Daddy,” Cassie’s voice muttered, intruding into his thoughts.
“What does ‘bastard’ mean?”
“That’s a bad word,” Chun hurriedly explained. “You shouldn’t say it.”
“But, daddy, isn’t your name Wu Chun? Does that mean mommy was calling you a bad word?” Her eyes turned round with horrified wonder. “What did you do, daddy?” And then the realization hit home. What had been a grand adventure took on sinister overtones. “You didn’t make mommy angry again, did you daddy? Is mommy going to go away? With Blake?”
Chun stared at her, not knowing how to answer the questions being thrown at him.
“Daddy!” Cassie screeched in anger, getting off his lap. Her shouts awakened Blake from sound sleep and he began to cry angrily at the interruption, his face going red with exertion. “Don’t make mommy angry again.” Chun stared at her panicked eyes and his heart squeezed with emotion. If Ella didn’t come back, he wouldn’t be the only one who would be heartbroken.
“I promise,” he whispered, hugging Cassie close to him. “I won’t let Ella get away so easily this time. I’ll bring mommy back.”
Giving her a quick kiss on the forehead, he called out to Calvin for help with the children and then ran out of the apartment. His steps were sure. He was on a mission and he would not accept failure. He had a wife to catch.
Ella exited the building. Her thoughts were chaotic and her steps uncertain. She paused for a minute trying to figure out where she could go. Who could she turn to? She shivered as the cold air blew against her, whipping her hair into a frenzy. Looking up, she saw that dark clouds had completely covered the sun. It felt like it was the middle of winter. Even the weather reflected her mood.
Chun had taken away everything. He’d taken away the one person she thought she could always depend on … the one person she had trusted above all else. When she’d lost the ability to trust in herself, Calvin had been the one to teach her how to trust once more. She’d learned to trust him before she could trust herself again. And now Calvin had betrayed her. Not that she could really blame him. Chun was just that persuasive.
But now what? She couldn’t turn to Calvin anymore. And Selina, her best friend, was Calvin’s wife. Who would aid her? Who would take her side? Arron? But no … he was Angela’s now. They’d formed a team. And she didn’t want him to be torn between his loyalties to her and to Angela. And Angela’s loyalty would always lie with Chun before her. What could she do? She ran her fingers through her head, trying to collect her thoughts.
Her lips turned down at the corners, her expression turning even grimmer. She hated this about herself. She hated that she needed to turn to someone for comfort. She hated that she wasn’t strong enough to stand on her own. But her heart ached, and she wanted … needed to be with people who would support her.
Not noticing the light had turned red, she began to cross the street. Maybe if she took her time … if she thought about it carefully, she could find a place to hide her head for a while. Maybe she could find a place to mend her heart, so that the next time she saw Chun she wouldn’t be so tempted to give in and go back home with him.
Her lips tightened. There was one thing she was sure about. He wouldn’t get another chance. He’d lied to her. Ever since she’d moved into his house, he’d tried to fool her. He remembered nothing about her. He knew nothing about her. Calvin had fed him all that information. Where did that leave their relationship? Nowhere. It had been something built on a mountain of lies and now it had come tumbling down. Her hands clenched into fists. If Chun were standing in front of her right now, she would punch him in the face. How could he try to fool her like this? How could there be love when there were only lies? Love without basis … without truth … without trust now.
Her body froze when she heard the blare of horns. There was a screech of tires. A harsh thump. A crowd began to gather. There were the sounds of doors opening and running feet. The sound of worried shouts and the cacophony of rising voices.
Ella shook her head dazedly. Her body suddenly felt free. It was as if she was floating. She tried to turn her thoughts back to what she’d been thinking about … but none of it seemed important anymore. She looked toward the source of the noise.
And then a woman’s horrified scream rang through the air. Ella clapped her hands over her ears.
“Oh my god. We have to get her to the hospital. Hurry!” She recognized that voice. It sounded concerned … worried.
“Miss Ella? Oh my,” the doorman’s voice rang out. Ella began to move toward the crowd. ‘Why were they calling her name?’
“Wake up! Ella! Do something!” There was Mrs. Roberts, her upstairs neighbor in the crowd. A mix of male and female voices all talking in unison. And still that hint of familiarity persisted … tugging at her swimming senses. There was something she was missing … something big.
Ella stared harder, wondering who wanted her to wake up. She was standing right here. Wide-awake. Were the people blind?
And then suddenly it was as if someone had turned off the lights. Everything became blurry. Ella shook her head, and all was clear again. It became colder, wet. Ella looked up and saw that it was raining. But she wasn’t wet. And then … for an instant … she was. The clouds had burst open but no one seemed to care. Ella crept closer and pushed through the crowd.
Her eyes widened. There was a blast of sudden, crippling pain.
And then … all was darkness.
Chun raced out of the building, his eyes frantically searching for Ella’s figure. She couldn’t have gotten too far. He turned frantically from left to right.
“How did you hear, sir? I was just about to call you,” Edward, the doorman, came over to say.
“I don’t have time to talk about any problems you may be having with my unit,” Chun interrupted him. “Talk to me later.”
“It’s not about your unit,” the doorman said insistently, reaching out to grip at Chun’s sleeve as he turned in one direction. “Sir, you have to listen to me.”
“I don’t have time for this,” Chun barked. “Nothing you can say right now is as important to me as finding my wife right now.”
“This concerns Miss Ella,” the doorman finally shouted in frustration. Chun turned to stare at him. His heart began to pound in his chest. He noticed for the first time the sweat running down Edward’s normally reserved face. He saw the concern and heard the worry in Edward’s voice.
“There was an accident, sir. Miss Ella … she wasn’t paying attention to where she was going and started to cross the street when the light had already turned red. I shouted out a warning to her, but I don’t think she heard me,” Edward said, hanging his head. “Before I could do anything … before I could run after her, a car turned at the corner and hit Miss Ella.”
Chun stared at him, trying to understand. His Ella … an accident. Her fragile body broken. She was out there … alone … in pain.
“Miss Ella was badly injured, but she was unconscious the entire time. There was no time to call an ambulance. The car that hit her … the driver took her to the hospital.”
“What hospital was she taken to?” Chun quickly asked.
“I don’t know, sir,” Edward replied with a helpless shrug.
“You let strangers carry off my wife!” Chun shouted, “You didn’t even think to ask where they were taking her?”
“There was no time, sir,” the doorman repeated. “She was in critical condition. They only had enough time to quickly load her into the car and be on their way. Any delay would have hurt Miss Ella even more.”
Chun stared at the doorman, overset with fear. What could he do? What should he do?
Turning, he went inside the building. Calvin would know what to do. He would know whom to contact. He would know the nearest hospital … the best doctors. And Chun had his own contacts. Someone would’ve made a police report.
“Sir?” the doorman called out hesitantly.
“What?” Chun barked out impatiently.
“They weren’t strangers.”
“The couple that took your wife to the hospital. I don’t believe they were strangers.”
“You didn’t know them,” Chun pointed out in plain English.
“But they knew Miss Ella.”
~*~*~*~ “But I thought we were supposed to have dinner together!’ she protested over the phone. “It’s my…” She paused, listening to the voice on the other end. “I understand. When are you coming home? Okay,” she finally said with a sigh. “I won’t wait up for you.”
She softly hung up the phone. There was no point in slamming it down. He’d already hung up. Another night, another missed occasion, another excuse. “Happy birthday to me,” she sang bitterly. Turning off the lights, she left the room. ~*~*~*~
As a little girl she’d heard her mother begging for her father’s attention. Her sweet, gentle mother had wanted to be loved in return. She’d wanted to spend time with the man she loved and be able to express all the emotions bottled up inside of her.
Her cold, workaholic of a father had never given her mother the chance. She believed that father had been faithful to mother throughout his marriage, but that was the only good, husbandly thing he’d done. He’d never been a good husband. He’d chosen work over her mother each and every time. And mom had just quietly given up one day. And in realizing that she could never get the love she wanted … she deserved … from her husband, mom had quietly given up on life.
“I know that you have responsibilities, but this is her 16th birthday. It’s her sweet sixteen. You know how girls are about this occasion. It’s supposed to be special. There will be pictures and you’ll be missing in each one. And they’ll always be a reminder that you weren’t here. These are the special moments in a person’s life. Why can’t you value them like you value your work? The way you value every other thing except for us? She needs you to be here.”
There was a short pause and then a spurt of argument. She abruptly hung up the phone.
What was the point in listening anymore? It wasn’t going to get them anywhere.
Even when mom had stopped fighting for herself, she’d still fought to give me good memories of my father. She’d wanted to make believe that even if father couldn’t be a good husband, he cared enough … that there was a spark of humanity in him that would … could make him into a good father. But he’d never made that time for me either. Work came first.
Mother was always so apologetic. She didn’t understand that I only needed her love. She validated me … she loved me. And I loved her and only her.
Seeing her depression … her unhappiness … I swore to myself that I would never marry a man like my father. I deserved more. Mother had deserved more. But mother didn’t have the courage to leave and fight for what she deserved. But I had a spark inside of me. In some ways I was like my father … stubborn, willing to go after what I wanted. And I promised myself that if I ever found myself in that situation … I would walk away. No matter what the cost.
“I know that you have responsibilities, but this is her first birthday. She may not remember if her daddy was there, but there will be pictures. These are the special moments in a person’s life. Why can’t you value them like you value your work? The way you value every other thing except for us? I need you to be here.”
There was a short pause and then a spurt of argument. She abruptly hung up the phone.
What was the point in listening anymore? It wasn’t going to get them anywhere.
The first time he’d missed an important occasion, she’d panicked. But after an evening alone, she’d pacified herself. It was an important deal. It was the first deal he was making without his father. Uncle had just passed away and the company needed him now. She’d made all the excuses and she’d blinded herself to the reality.
She’d promised herself that she would never marry a man like her father. So, her husband couldn’t be like her father. He wouldn’t choose his work over her and their daughter. He had to stay at work and she understood.
That’s what she told herself the first time.
“What do you mean where am I?” she asked in surprise. “Well I know it’s our anniversary, but you missed our first and second anniversary. You have missed our birthdays. What makes you think that I would know that today was any different? Look, it’s not my fault that you suddenly decided to come home. Did you even remember that it was our anniversary today or did the butler let the cat out of the bag?” She laughed softly in amusement. “I was right, wasn’t I? You really didn’t remember. We’re out celebrating.”
She violently shook her head.
“No, it’s too late. You can’t join us. You have to realize no one waits forever. No one has that capacity for patience … for forgiveness. I’m tired. I’m just … really, really tired.” Her voice broke on the words.
She stared out at the ocean … beautiful and calming. The sounds of the waves soothed the ache inside of her heart. It soothed the turmoil that had been growing inside of her over the past few months. There was no doubt in her mind. She was ready to move on with her life.
She was finished waiting.
“I have to go. Goodbye.”
She hung up the phone. She turned it off when it began to ring insistently.
“I’m sorry that I couldn’t be what you needed,” she whispered to the now silent phone. “Why did you ever marry me? I’m going to find my happiness,” she shouted, throwing the phone into the ocean. “I hope you find yours,” she whispered, before turning to look at the man sitting on the sand behind her.
By the time that anniversary had rolled around, she’d seen the truth. It had taken her time to figure out the truth. But by the time she realized it, it had become so hard to walk away. But she’d promised herself. She’d promised her mother. And in order to be true to herself … to be true to her heart and to the man she loved … she’d walked away. In the process, she’d abandoned her husband … her child … her life as she knew it.
She’d broken their hearts, and that was a crime she’d always have to live with.
“But they knew Miss Ella.”
Chun blinked in confusion, trying to take in the words that the doorman had just uttered. Who? Who could it be? His mind working frantically, he raced up the stairs. He didn’t have time to think. He didn’t have time to wonder. He needed to find out where they’d taken Ella. He needed to know that Ella was okay.
Pushing the elevator button, he waited anxiously. His hands were trembling. He noticed that fact with a detached interest. Why was he so worried? Everything would be fine. Everything always turned out fine. Ella always came back. Nothing could take her away from him.
His cellphone rang. Staring at the number, he debated not answering. But as the ringing continued insistently, he reluctantly picked up.
“Whatever it is, I can’t handle it right now, call—,” he barked into the phone.
“Sir, we got a call regarding Mrs. Wu’s whereabouts.”
“What?” Chun asked, clearly surprised.
“The couple that took her to the hospital called our main office with the information that they were taking her to Taipei General and requested that you be notified immediately.”
Chun hung up and ran outside to his waiting car.
Hebe stared out of the hospital room window. She’d wanted to come home for so long. She’d wanted to see her daughter, explain herself to Chun, and most of all, she’d wanted to ask for Ella’s forgiveness. But plans never worked out the way you intended them to.
They’d waited so long. And this was just … God’s idea of a big, horrible joke. She turned around and stared at Ella lying in the hospital bed. Was it true? Did she just hurt the people who loved her? Why did this have to happen? She’d been so happy this morning, but now…
“Wake up, Ella,” she murmured, looking down at the silent figure. “You have to wake up. I don’t want to be the reason for any more unhappiness. I don’t want to hurt Chun or Cassie or all the friends you’ll be leaving behind if you leave. Please, wake up,” she whispered brokenly, sitting down on the bed. Her hand hesitantly reached out to hold Ella’s hand. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for today. I’m sorry for that day so long ago.”
A tear fell on their joined hands.
“If … if I hadn’t been so infatuated with Chun, I might have seen the truth …,” she sighed softly. “Why didn’t you tell me you loved him? Why did you let me take him away? He never loved me. Why do you think it was so easy for me to walk away? It was easy because he never did anything to hold me back. When you can let someone go that easily … you never wanted them badly enough in the first place.”
She smoothed away the hair on Ella’s forehead and placed a kiss on her forehead.
“I’m sorry for how I acted after …. I’m sorry for everything. I’ve wanted to say that for so long. I was afraid that I would never get the chance because you’d never let me get too close … but now … I don’t think I’ll get the chance because …” Her voice broke and she began to sob.
The door opened and then arms wrapped around her body. Hebe turned around to bury her face in her husband’s shoulder, seeking the comfort and support she knew would always be there.
“Shh,” he softly urged. “The doctor said she’ll be fine. It was touch and go for a while, but they hope she’ll be fine. Let’s just hope she wakes up soon. The doctors say that if she wakes up within 24 hours, then she’ll make a full recovery.”
She continued to sob, her fingers clenching in his shirt.
“I told you it was too soon to come back,” he finally said. “Hebe, please, calm down,” he finally said when the sobs continued. “It’s not good for the baby.”
“Why did this have to happen, Jiro?” she mumbled into his shirt. “We were just coming home. If that car hadn’t … if that car had just stopped in time, Ella would’ve been fine. And it happened right before our eyes and we couldn’t do anything to stop it.” Her eyes were glazed over, remembering the horror of the scene that had played out right in front of them.
“Is it me? Is it because I’m bad luck?” she asked plaintively. “Whenever I’m around, people just get hurt.”
“Don’t think that way,” he ordered in frustration, gripping her shoulders. His hands eased up on the pressure when he saw the pain in her eyes. “It’s not your fault. Ella was distraught. The doorman said that she’d been crying and that she walked into traffic. It’s not because you decided to come back. You just need to calm your emotions, Hebe, or you’ll hurt our baby. After so many years we’ve been blessed with this child … and this is something that you’ve wanted for so long. Don’t take chances with your health. If you can’t calm down,” he finally said bluntly, “I’m going to take you back to the hotel.”
Hebe shook her head and pulled away. “No! I want to stay with Ella.” She wiped away her tears.
“I need to talk to Ella,” she said quietly. “Could you please give us time?” Jiro nodded reluctantly.
“No more crying,” he ordered.
Hebe nodded in agreement.
“Do you know why I fell in love with Chun?” she whispered to Ella’s silent figure, when Jiro had left the room. “Because of how he treated you. He took care of you. He looked out for you. When you weren’t there, he went looking for you. He knew what you wanted before you said it. He completed your sentences and protected you like you were this delicate being. But he knew when to step back and to let you struggle on your own. He was wonderful … he was caring … and he was exactly the opposite of what my father had been. He didn’t let other things distract him from taking care of you.”
She patted Ella’s hand, and then got up to walk to the window. “I know that guys fall in love with my looks and most of the time they don’t even look beyond the surface. So his infatuation with me was understandable. It was shallow. And it would’ve gone away on its own if we hadn’t done anything about it. But I fell in love with him, and I pursued him. Remember that conversation we had so long ago? … I asked you if you liked Chun, and you said ‘not in that way’. I took that as my green signal …. Why did you lie to me?” She turned to stare at the silent figure. “Why didn’t you have the courage to fight for your love?”
Hebe sighed despondently and turned back to the scene outside. “After our marriage, nothing was the same. Nothing was like it was supposed to be. You went away. He turned into this cold man. All we shared was a bed. He told me nothing about his daily life. He came home late. He missed important occasions. And I realized that without you … he was only a shell of a man. All that caring … all that warmth I’d seen in him … was only for one person. And that person was you. You were the only one he would let distract him from every other thing in the world. And when you left … he closed up. To give him credit, I don’t think he realized how much he was hurting me … he was doing his best. But his best with me wasn’t good enough when I knew he could do so much better. And I had to walk away to save myself. I felt so trapped in that marriage. And you witnessed my downfall. You witnessed when I reached the bottom and was willing to kill my own child … and I was punished for that.”
Hebe came and sat down beside Ella and picked up her hand again. For the first time, there was a smile on her face. “For so many years we’ve wanted this child, and now God had finally given us what we’ve prayed for. I want you to be here and share in my happiness. Wake up, Ella,” she begged, her voice thick with emotion. “Please wake up! Ella!” Hebe shouted her name hopelessly, wishing that some miracle would happen.
“I’m awake,” Ella whispered crankily. “Now, stop talking and let me sleep.”
Arms of the Angel
Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay
There’s always some reason
To feel not good enough
And it’s hard at the end of the day
Rain. Warm droplets on her skin. She tried to lift her hand. She couldn’t.
Everything was hazy. Why? Why couldn’t she move? The rain continued to fall. She heard the hiss of it as it hit against the hot pavement.
Voices. Beating against her senses. But she couldn’t understand anything. She tried to understand. But the one thing that made sense … the one thing that her brain could figure out … made no sense at all. The thought slipped away from her. The sounds of the falling rain beat against her eardrums, drowning out everything else.
She tried to move again. It wasn’t natural. Why was she on the ground? And the pain hit once more. Intense. It stole her breath. For a while, it took all of her to just hold in the moans. The pain was shattering. Everywhere. Surrounding her. Her fingers clenched as she tried to ride out the pain. Even her fingers hurt.
Hands picked her up. She wanted to open her eyes. She wanted to focus. But her thoughts kept wandering. In some corner of her mind she knew that was a blessing. If she fully awakened … her mind wouldn’t be able to handle all that would happen next. She’d never been good with pain.
Darkness was closing in. The sounds of rain, the voices, the rough hands … everything was retreating into the distance. A sea of endlessness lay before her. And she saw a light in the distance. She tried to make herself move toward that light … somehow she knew. She would find healing warmth there. She would finally find peace.
Before entering the light she hesitated … one thought tugging at her senses.
Why had she heard Hebe’s voice? Why now?
I need some distraction
Oh beautiful release
Memory seeps from my veins
Let me be empty
And weightless and maybe
I’ll find some peace tonight
A light breeze ruffled through her hair, pushing the strands onto her face. She impatiently brushed them away. They were growing too long again. She needed to get a haircut.
Opening her eyes, she sat up. Her eyes widened, shocked.
Why had she expected something else?
Her eyes took in the scenery around her. She was in a garden. A beautiful garden. The solitary beauty of the scene gradually seeped into her soul, calming her senses. It was as if they’d been on high alert, but now she could finally let go. She could finally relax. She heard laughter in the distance. Raising her hand, she shaded her eyes. She could see kids playing. Her brow crinkled, wondering whose kids they were.
Getting up, she brushed off the seat of her shorts and moved toward the kids. They were so tiny. So innocent. She looked around. Where were their parents? How could they leave them here … unsupervised? Didn’t they know what a scary world it was? Anything could happen.
“Hey guys!” she called out. They ignored her. “Where are your parents?” No response. “Do you want me to call them for you?” They continued on with their games. “Hey, you guys shouldn’t be playing alone. What if someone bad comes along?” Ella waited, and then sighed when once more there was no response.
She sat down on a bench near the children. She’d keep an eye on them until someone showed up. No one would get hurt on her watch.
For a while she enjoyed the breeze, but then she began to take notice of the children. There were two girls and two little boys.
A little girl, with short hair and cute, chubby cheeks, played in one part of the ‘playground’, tending to her flowers. The two boys were playing football nearby. Ella’s hands clenched, as something about the scene tugged at her memory.
The boys’ play brought them closer and closer to the flower patch. “Hey! Watch out!” Ella cried out in warning, but it was too late. One of the boys flew up to catch the ball and fell onto the flowers. The little girl screamed when she saw her beautiful flowers squashed. Ella’s heart clenched. The little girl’s bottom lip began to quiver and big tears began to fall from her eyes.
The boy got up and quickly ran over. He knelt down in front of the little girl and wiped away her tears. Gently squeezing her chubby cheeks, he said something that caused the little girl to giggle and nod her head. Getting up, he put out a hand. The little girl hesitantly took it, and got up to go with him.
Ella stared as the two children moved toward the two other kids. The other little girl was scolding the second boy. Ella could tell from the mulish expression on the other boy’s face. The four children began to play together after the second boy reluctantly apologized.
After a while a third little girl joined the children. Ella’s heart clenched. She didn’t want to see this. Her eyes closed involuntarily.
“Keep on watching,” a voice commanded gently. Ella’s eyes popped open. She looked around. There was no one else there. “You need to see this.” It was just a voice in the air.
As the third little girl joined the group, the ‘flower’ girl broke free from the group and began to walk away. For a few moments no one noticed her retreat, but then one of her friends noticed and began to follow. It was the same little boy who had brought her to join the group. He called out to her. He tried to run after her, but the little girl didn’t turn around. She didn’t respond. And after a while he stopped. He stared at her retreating figure. It was clear he wanted to follow, but for some reason he didn’t.
The new arrival shyly came to his side and took his hand. He let her.
“Do you see?” the voice asked.
“See what?” Ella asked bitterly. There was a sigh.
The new arrival tugged at his hand, but he refused to look away from the ‘flower’ girl. The new arrival finally let go and went back to the other children.
“Do you understand?” the voice asked.
Ella shook her head in confusion.
The little boy continued to stare after the retreating figure. The new girl left him behind as she moved away with the other little boy. The second little girl went off to join the ‘flower’ girl, who was then joined by other little friends.
“I … I don’t understand. Why is he just standing there? He’s … just standing there. He’s all alone. And he’s just standing there,” Ella repeated in frustration. “Why doesn’t he do something?”
“He ran after her,” the voice gently reminded her.
“He should’ve run faster.”
“He called out to her.”
“He should’ve been louder.”
“He couldn’t face any more rejection,” the voice said.
“Then he was a coward. And what is he doing now? Why is he just standing there?” Ella repeated. “I don’t understand.”
“For her to return.”
In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
“Did you see, Ella?” a voice asked.
“I … I don’t understand what you want me to see,” Ella murmured. “Am I supposed to believe that this is what the truth is? Am I supposed to believe that all of my pain … everything I’ve suffered is my fault?”
“Ella, you were always so insecure. So unaware of all the goodness in you. You were … are beautiful … inside and out. You hide from that truth. You refuse to see. You feel too intensely. And that hurts not only you, but everyone else around you.” A figure moved into her field of vision.
“Grandma.” Ella whispered the word, her eyes overflowing with emotion.
She sat down beside her. “I’ve missed you so much, my dear,” grandma said with a gentle smile.
Ella hugged her swiftly. “Grandma.” Her voice was breathless, as she whispered the word in a continuous litany. Her arms wrapped tightly around her grandma’s tiny but sturdy body.
“Am I dead?” Ella asked finally. “Is this heaven?”
“You’re not dead,” grandma whispered. “At least … not yet. I came to meet you.”
“I don’t understand. There was … I think there was an accident. I remember a crowd. And rain. I remember voices. And then I was here. If not heaven, then what?”
“Ella, I don’t think you’re ready to let go just yet.” Grandmother put out a hand and smoothed back Ella’s hair. “Look at them, Ella. They all love you. You mean so much to so many people. Can you freely leave them all behind?”
Ella turned to look at the children. If that was little Ella, she figured, staring at the ‘flower’ girl. Then … there was little Selina, and little Arron and little Calvin. There was little Hebe and little Jiro. Then that meant … her eyes went back to the little boy standing all alone in the middle.
“I’ve been watching him, Ella. He’s a good man. A loyal man. He faltered a bit, and you never forgave him for that. Even I can see … never mind,” Grandma shook her head. “He’s still waiting for you, Ella.”
Ella stared at the silent figure. He looked so lonely … so sad.
She remembered how he’d seemed when she’d seen him again after so many years. He’d been set on a self-destructive path, hurting all those who loved him. She’d thought it was because Hebe had left him … but was it because of her?
Grandma took her hand and squeezed gently. “The truth is never what you think it is. Everyone has their own perspective of what the truth is, Ella. You said that no one saw your pain, but did you ever think that sometimes the pain that everyone else is feeling is so severe that they don’t have the ability to see anyone else’s pain? You weren’t the only who was hurt and you also hurt others by your decisions.”
Ella blinked back tears, trying to figure out what she needed to do.
“The rest is up to you. You decide.”
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here
Ella stared at their join hands. She had found peace here after such a long time. Her heart was calm. And back there … if she went back … there was pain. Emotions … so intense that the thought of them scared her. Could she face everything again? How could she know that this was the truth? What if this was only what her heart desired?
Her eyes strayed to the figure standing alone. Did that mean she wanted Chun to be waiting for her? Chun. Her heart began to beat hard at the thought of him. No matter what … she would always love him. But could she … would she fight for him?
“I …,” Ella turned to look at her grandma. Before she could get the words out, there was a roaring rush in her ears. And then she heard … the beeping sound of machines. And a voice whispering desperately … calling to her.
“I’m sorry for how I acted after …. I’m sorry for everything. I’ve wanted to say that for so long…”
“Is it me? Is it because I’m bad luck …”
The voice. It was Hebe. She was crying.
Ella stared around her. She was still in the garden, but it had begun to grow hazy. The flowers in the distance had begun to blur.
“Do you know why I fell in love with Chun? Because of how he treated you. He took care of you. He looked out for you. When you weren’t there, he went looking for you. He knew what you wanted before you said it. He completed your sentences and protected you like you were this delicate being. But he knew when to step back and to let you struggle on your own. He was wonderful … he was caring …”
“… his infatuation with me was understandable. It was shallow. And it would’ve gone away on its own if we hadn’t done anything about it…”
“Why did you lie to me? Why didn’t you have the courage to fight for your love…”
The little boy had disappeared. He was gone when Ella’s eyes looked for him. She wanted to call out to him, but with what name? With what right? How could she call out to him? This time he was gone for real.
She looked around frantically. All the little children were gone. Only the little ‘flower’ girl remained. She turned to stare at Ella.
“What do I do?”
“You decide for us,” the ‘flower’ girl replied.
Ella’s heart began to beat frantically.
“After our marriage, nothing was the same. Nothing was like it was supposed to be. You went away. He turned into this cold man. All we shared was a bed. He told me nothing about his daily life. He came home late. He missed important occasions. And I realized that without you … he was only a shell of a man. All that caring … all that warmth I’d seen in him … was only for one person…”
“Wake up, Ella …”
Ella flinched at the noise. Tears began to fall once more from her eyes. “Hebe …”
“Ella?” Grandma’s voice was soft, gentle like the breeze, in her ear.
“I have to go back,” Ella whispered. She turned to look at her grandma. “I want to stay with you, but it isn’t time.” Grandma nodded and pulled her in for one final hug.
.“Please wake up! Ella!”
“I’m awake,” Ella whispered crankily. “Now, stop talking and let me sleep.”
“What are you doing here?” The voice was sharp, clearly expressing surprise. Its owner stood frozen in the doorway, unable to move forward. His ex-wife was the last person he had expected to see sitting next to his new wife.
“Chun, you finally got our message,” Hebe said, turning to look at him with a smile. Her eyes traveled over his figure, looking for any changes that time had wrought. “You haven’t changed one bit,” she finally murmured appreciatively, “except for the emotion on your face now.”
“What are you doing here, Hebe?” he repeated. “I got the message left at my office, but I never expected to find that it would be you.”
“We were the ones who brought Ella to the hospital,” she explained. “We arrived at the apartment building in time to see the accident. Ella was hurt badly. We didn’t even have time to call an ambulance; Jiro figured it would be faster if we just took her to the hospital ourselves.”
Chun’s eyes flew to the disturbingly silent body on the bed. Her face was covered with bruises, her head covered with bandages. There were bandages on her arms and needles stuck in her fragile skin. He could see that bruises had already to form around the area where the needles had been inserted. The machines beeped in the background. Her eyes remained closed.
She was silent. So silent. For a moment he was filled with dread.
“How is she?” he demanded, finally getting his feet to move. Walking over, he sat down on the side of the bed, grabbing hold of Ella’s hand. His fingers caressed her skin, and he gently pressed a hand against her wrist, seeking her pulse. He wanted proof of life. Not the beep of the machines, but actual proof that her heart was still pounding in her body. He exhaled in relief when he felt a pulse.
“T-the accident was bad,” Hebe hesitantly said, not wanting to express how damaging the accident had been. She didn’t want to scare him too much. “It’s going to take time for her to recover physically, but there won’t be any permanent damage. The doctors said that as long as she woke up quickly, they could guarantee there wouldn’t be any permanent brain damage.”
“Has she woken up since the accident?” he asked in a tormented tone, his hand gripping Ella’s tightly on the bed. Hope was written clearly across his face. He so badly wanted to hear the words that would allow some relief from the worry gnawing at him. Yes, Ella was hurt. But he didn’t know what he would do if Ella woke up, but she wasn’t his Ella anymore.
“She woke up a while ago,” Hebe replied eagerly. “She told me to let her sleep. But that was enough. Jiro is with the doctors now. They’re telling him about her course of treatment, and what we can expect next. Basically, now we just have to worry about her physical recovery. It’s going to be painful, and she’s going to need lots of support.”
Chun breathed a silent sigh of relief. Looking up, he inwardly thanked God for looking out for his Ella. She would be okay. Although it would be hard work, he would be at Ella’s side through every step of her therapy. He would take care of her.
“I was kind of shouting at her to wake up at the time,” Hebe admitted sheepishly. “It can be really depressing to be talking to someone and have them not hear you. Ella did. Even in her deep sleep, I think she heard me and woke up. Even now, in this condition, she was thinking about others.” Hebe smiled, placing a soothing hand on her womb. “I think she wanted to comfort me, so she pushed herself to respond. The process exhausted her; she quickly fell asleep.”
Chun nodded. “So, there won’t be any brain damage. We can handle anything else,” he asserted with determination. “Ella will be all right because I’ll be there for here.” His fingers began to feather across her delicate features … tracing a brow … a cheekbone. His thumb brushed across her lips, and for a moment he felt a slight pressure. His heart began to thump within his chest. Had she kissed him? Had he felt a kiss? He looked closely, but her eyes remained closed.
“I didn’t know that you and Ella had become this close,” Hebe finally remarked, breaking the silence that had fallen between them. “You’re so tenderly worried about her,” she gently teased.
Chun turned to look at her in surprise. “What do you mean? Why shouldn’t I be worried about my wife?”
“Your wife?!” Hebe’s voice rose in disbelief. “When did that happen?”
Chun stared at her quizzically. “We’ve been married for over a year,” he finally replied. “We … we have a child together. Where were you that you missed all the news coverage?”
“Jiro and I … Jiro and I were on our way home,” Hebe finally explained. “And before that, we were in a place where the outside world could very well not have existed and no one would have known the difference. That’s why we didn’t know that you two had gotten married. How did that happen? Were you finally able to express all the emotions inside of yourself?”
Chun shrugged, and looked down. “Stuff happened. Life happened,” he stiltedly replied. “There … there have been some problems, but I … I have to believe that we can work through them because I can’t let Ella go. She’s the very air I breathe.” His voice was pained as he made the confession. He stared at her face before him, and willed her to hear his words … his sincerity. “Without her, I can’t live.”
“So … you finally admitted it?” Hebe looked at him in surprise. “I didn’t think you would ever realize,” Hebe murmured softly. “Honestly, I thought that you would never figure it out. No wonder you can sit here and talk to me so naturally. You finally understand why I left.”
“Understand why you left? Admit what? What are you mumbling about?” Chun demanded, turning to stare at Hebe.
His eyes traced his ex-wife’s features. This was the woman who had broken his heart. This woman had betrayed him and left him for another man. This woman had made him the laughingstock of Taiwanese society. But now … sitting here with her, he realized there was no bitterness. There was no rancor. No pain and no pity. Just an appreciation for the moments they had shared … appreciation for their daughter, but nothing more. Why had he held onto the anger and the self-righteousness for so long? Why had he moved down that self-destructive path … why had he needed to hurt himself? Why hadn’t he understood that maybe Jiro had been the better man for her? He could see that now. The brightness in her eyes, the joy in her smile, and the easiness of her manner bespoke a soul-deep contentment that she’d never had with him. Leaving had been the best choice for her. He was glad that he was man enough to admit that to himself now. He could wish her happiness wholeheartedly.
Hebe stared at the surprise and growing irritation in Chun’s eyes. Gesturing him to the windows, she sat with him in the chairs placed there. Her eyes tried to convey a message that he had yet to grasp.
“Chun, we were never meant to be together. Maybe you can see that now, because you know now what I knew within a few months of our marriage. At first, you were fascinated by me. By my looks. I was new, and you were attracted to that. But that was just a flash in the pan.”’
Chun opened his mouth to argue, but Hebe put up a quick hand, staying his words. “No, let me finish.”
Chun slowly nodded in agreement.
“I pursued you. And you acquiesced. We got married. You said you loved me, but it wasn’t like any love that I had pictured in my mind. You were never home, and when you were … you were so calm and collected. I used to look at you and wonder. Where were the emotions? Where was the passion? You never got angry. You never got frustrated. At first, I was glad. But it finally dawned on me, these smooth waters between us weren’t a result of the understanding that is born between soulmates, but it was because you didn’t care enough. I finally realized …” Her voice trailed off.
“I finally realized that you loved her and only her, ” Hebe admitted painfully. “It has always been her.”
“What do you mean?” Chun looked at her in surprise. “My feelings for Ella changed only when she came back. Before that … before that we were just friends.”
She looked at the confusion in his face. Did he still not understand? Sighing, she leaned in closer. “Chun, it’s always been Ella. No matter where you were … who you were with … Ella was always the first one in your thoughts. You remembered her birthday, when you … when you forgot even my birthday … you remembered the anniversary of when the two of you had met, but you forgot our wedding anniversary. She was the one you considered when deciding anything big in your life. Don’t you remember?”
“Remember what?” He stared down at Hebe’s earnest expression.
“Before you went out with me … before you made any plans … before you bought anything, you always called Ella. You always looked to Ella. Granted you stopped doing that after a while, but that was because she’d stopped picking up your calls. But even then …” She trailed off, her voice beginning to shake as she fought the pain of the one memory that still stung.
“Even then what, Hebe?” he asked impatiently.
“Remember when I got that opportunity to study photography abroad, and at the same time you were given a chance to go oversee operations of one of your satellite companies?” she asked hesitantly.
“You absolutely refused to go,” she finally blurted out.
“It wasn’t the best time,” he exclaimed defensively. “I explained the reasons to you. And you were pregnant with Cassandra at the time.”
“But we didn’t know that!” Hebe fought back passionately. “The pregnancy was only discovered later. At the time … at the time you said it wasn’t a good idea. But the real reason for us not going was because you didn’t want to be away from Ella. She’d been thinking about going abroad as well, and for a while you were open to the idea of us going. But when she decided to continue her education here, you shot down the idea so quickly I didn’t even know what happened.”
“Hebe,” Chun began patiently after a long pause, “I’ve never felt a … romantic love for Ella. Honestly, all this time I’ve only thought of her as a friend. But now … now I feel all these emotions,” he confessed. “I feel a new love inside of me that I never thought to feel again.” He briefly explained the events that had occurred over the course of his new relationship with Ella. “But before I loved her, I loved you,” he boldly asserted. “Why do you think it took so long for me to get over you?”
Hebe began to grow angry. How could he be so willfully blind? “Why are you hiding from the truth? Why are you being such a coward? What is this about a new love? Why do you think it was so easy to care for her now when you’d closed yourself off to everyone else? Your mother … your friends … Chun, you pushed your own daughter away! Why were you so hurt when you thought that she felt only pity for you? You wanted to be a man to her, but she thought you were pitiful. You hurt her. She closed herself off. And even then you were willing to walk away because you were afraid of the power she has over you. Can’t you see it’s not possible to love so deeply … it’s not possible to fall so far unless you’ve already been falling?”
“We fell in ‘love’ quickly, but those were shallow emotions. It took me a lot longer to fall for Jiro … and that’s how I know that it was true love. That growth of gradual feeling … I had that with Jiro. And you … you had that with Ella. Chun … you’ll never love anybody … as much as you love her. She’ll always be first in your heart. She’ll always have your loyalty. She was always the other woman in our relationship. The sad thing was that neither you nor she saw it. No other woman could accept a relationship like that. I couldn’t.”
Chun stared at her in surprise. He moved back to Ella’s side, his eyes staring at her in wonder. Thinking back over the years, he thought about all their shared moments … their shared memories.
There had always been a compulsion inside of him to care for Ella … to protect her. She was 16 and vulnerable the first time they had met. He had felt it his duty to take care of her. He’d never wanted to take advantage of her. So when his emotions for her had begun to change … when he had slowly begun to fall in love … he had blinded himself to the truth. In his eyes, Ella had remained a delicate creature that needed to be protected. Honor required that he not take advantage by confessing his love … by forcing her in any way. That had ended up hurting not only her, but he’d hurt himself in the process. He hadn’t spent the past few years self-destructing over Hebe’s betrayal but because he had lost Ella at the same time. Hebe’s departure hadn’t pushed him into that black void … it was Ella’s complete disappearance from his life.
Hebe was right.
He had been a coward.
“So, are you and Jiro back for good?” His voice was hoarse, as he sought to distract himself from the revelations bombarding him.
“Yes,” Hebe replied quietly. “We got married after you facilitated the divorce between the two of us. We’ve spent the past few years just traveling. I take pictures, and Jiro writes travelogues to accompany those pictures. Recently a publishing company offered to compile the logs and pictures into a book. So, now we’re published.”
Chun smiled. “Congratulations. What made you come back now?”
“I got pregnant,” Hebe whispered, placing a hand on her womb. “After trying for so long, we were blessed. And I … we don’t want to take any risks. Anyways, I was tired of running. And, Chun?”
He looked at her questioningly.
“It’s time. I want to see my daughter. Now that you’ve found your happiness … I can finally look my daughter in the eyes again. I … I demand to see her,” she said bravely.
Chun nodded. “She wants to see her mother, too.” Hebe sagged with relief. “She loves Ella. But you’re her mother.”
Hebe nodded in satisfaction. “I’ll give you two time alone,” she murmured, getting up. “Jiro and I will head out and find a hotel. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
Chun shook his head.
“Here,” he said, pulling out a key from his pocket. “You can stay at my apartment. We’ve moved back into the mansion.”
Hebe nodded, and left the room, leaving him to his thoughts.
Chun watched Hebe walk out the door and turned back to look at Ella. His eyes traced her delicate features, his fingers coming out to smooth across the wrinkles that had appeared on her brow. Was she in pain? Was she hurting and he didn’t know? He wanted to do something to assuage her agony, but he didn’t know what he could do.
How long? How long had it been? The more he thought about it, the easier it was to accept. All those emotions he had felt … of gaining something … of losing … of feeling lost and alone when she had disappeared … all of those had been different facets of his love for her. Why hadn’t he known? Why hadn’t he accepted it? Why had he been such a coward?
“Why do we keep missing each other?” he whispered finally in a broken tone. “Why is it never our time? I love you. I love you so much. Everyone knows that. So … why is it that I can’t say it to you?”
“Say it to me now,” a voice whispered across his consciousness. His head jerked up in surprise. “Chun, tell me the words I need to hear,” Ella whispered, attempting a smile.
Never Dreamed That You’d Be Mine
“Don’t ask me …”
Chun stared at the woman lying in front of him. His drank in the sight of her glowing face. His eyes traced her features, wanting to commit this moment to memory. Every millisecond of it. He wanted to remember the relief coursing through his veins. The beat of his heart crying out her name constantly. He wanted to remember the feel of her warm breath on his face. He wanted to remember the feel of her hand in his. He couldn’t believe that this miracle had occurred, and now that it had … he wanted to remember.
“Don’t ever ask me to let you go again,” he finally got out past the lump in his throat. “You’re mine now. You came back to me.” She opened her mouth to speak. He placed a finger on her lips, silencing the protest he could see forming in her eyes. “And no one,” he whispered with promise, “no one will take you from me. Not even you.”
She shifted in bed, trying to get comfortable. When she’d whispered to him, he’d immediately called the medical personnel. And only after they’d given the all clear had the couple been allowed to sit alone in Ella’s hospital room. She was now pumped up with pain medication, but lucid enough to have the discussion they both needed to have. Chun pressed a button, and helped raise the bed slightly.
She silently reached out her hand. His hand flashed out to grab it before she could retreat back into herself. They sat there for a couple of minutes in silence, his fingers stroking her hand.
“Chun,” she finally said after a while, “I saw grandma.” His fingers tightened in reaction. “I was so glad,” she murmured, oblivious to his worry.
“What did she say?” he got out around the lump in his throat.
“First … tell me what you needed to say and what I need to hear. It’s time for you to go first, Chun. I don’t know …” Ella grew silent.
“You don’t know what?”
“I don’t know whether we can make it work,” she finally confessed. “You know that I love you. But what I don’t know is … I don’t know if you love me. Or is it just pity. Or some misguided sense of loyalty left over from our shared past. Chun, what do you feel for me? If I can’t hear the words … if I can’t understand where you’re coming from … I can’t trust your feelings … and if I can’t trust your feelings, then how could we ever make it work?” She began to grow more agitated as she thought about the possibilities or, rather, the impossibilities. Even though she’d seen something that had given her hope, but that had been a dream. Only a dream. How did she know that Chun really loved her? How could she know? She’d waited and hoped for so long, what if it was her subconscious just pushing her to hold onto hope for just a bit longer? The doubts had already begun to grow in her heart.
Chun stared down at their joined hands, his thoughts chaotic in his mind. He knew the next words were important … very important, and he knew a simple ‘I love you’ wouldn’t fix the problem. She needed to know he meant the words. And for that, he would need to tear apart his soul and let her see the pieces.
“When I first met you,” he finally began, “you needed me. You were this young, vulnerable girl who’d just lost her grandmother. You were like a lost puppy that I wanted to take home with me.”
“Lost puppy?” she began incredulously.
“It’s my turn, Ella,” he interrupted, cutting across her words ruthlessly. “You said you needed to hear what I feel. Then let me say it.”
She reluctantly nodded, subsiding back into bed.
“You were so cute with those big eyes and that sad little smile on your lips. I wanted to hug you and tell you everything would get better. But I couldn’t promise you that. I knew Mr. Tien and I knew your mother. But I could take care of you myself. So …,” he took a deep breath. “So, I became your protector. I was going to take care of you. I was going to make you smile. I wouldn’t let you retreat into depression. I became your self-appointed guardian. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Ella nodded. Then shook her head.
“I was your protector, Ella. I couldn’t … I was four years older than you. I couldn’t just turn around and start hitting on you when I began to notice you in a different way. There were moments when I wanted to reach out and brush your hair back from your face,” he confessed, giving action to his words. “I wanted to place a tender kiss on your forehead to comfort you,” he continued, leaning down to plant a swift kiss. “I wanted to nibble at your lips, wanting to share the emotions growing inside of me,” he whispered against her lips. “I wanted to breathe in your scent. I wanted to sit for hours, just holding your hand. I wanted to … gain a whole world of experiences with you. But you were oblivious. Or so it seemed. I couldn’t betray my feelings. I was your protector. I couldn’t take advantage of your trust.”
Ella’s lips began to tremble.
“Before I could even begin to name the emotions inside of me … Hebe came into our lives. She was … is gorgeous,” he frankly admitted. “I was dazzled, but only for a moment. Her flashy beauty was nothing next to your quiet serenity,” he asserted. “Now that I think about it … yes, she excited me, but you … you were my oasis. You gave me peace. And when I was arguing with my parents about my career path … when my father passed away … when I felt Hebe slipping away from me … I think my heart wanted nothing more than to be held in your arms and comforted. But you weren’t there. You had disappeared.” He raised accusing eyes to meet her gaze.
Ella blinked in surprise.
“Even before I started dating Hebe, you’d left me behind. I left you messages. You never called back. You didn’t show up when we had plans. You never talked to me. It was as if I was invisible. I lost my best friend, and that only pushed me to seek out Hebe … your sister … more to figure out what the problem was. And suddenly Hebe and I were dating. It wasn’t anything serious, but we’d been paired off by everyone before I knew it.”
Chun shook his head, trying to understand how that had happened. “Remember that night I called you and begged you to see me?”
Ella shook her head in negation.
“It was your birthday. And I wanted to spend it with you. But you were trying to make excuses. I finally wore you down.”
“I do remember that … that was the night Hebe asked me if she could seriously pursue you,” Ella finally said, breaking her silence.
He stared at her.
“You sent her instead. I was going to talk to you … ask you why we were drifting apart. I was going to confess, and ask you if you could ever return my feelings. And you sent Hebe.”
“Chun, I…” She broke off. She didn’t know what to say. She saw a glimmer of the betrayal he must have felt that night when Hebe showed up instead of her. She didn’t know how to answer that.
“Why did you give up on us, Ella? If you’ve loved me forever, why didn’t you fight for us then? Forget fighting, why didn’t you ever tell me?” His voice demanded answers. It stabbed at her. “That’s when I gave up hope.”
Ella stared down at their hands. She’d always thought she’d been the one who was left behind. First, when Hebe came and then when the marriage had broken apart. But from Chun’s point of view … she’d left first. Then, could she really blame him for everything? Could she blame him for letting her down when in his eyes, she was the one who had retreated?
“And then Hebe left with Jiro, and that turned me off all women. I couldn’t trust anyone after that. Not only had you left me, but my own wife had betrayed me with my best friend. I didn’t know who I could trust with my emotions. So, I decided to trust no one,” Chun admitted. “You know what my life was like when you returned. I had retreated from my mother … from Cassie … from all my friends. You changed that,” he murmured. “In a small amount of time, you made your place in my heart once more … no, not made … but you’d settled into the space especially reserved for you again. It was as if you’d never left. And before I knew it, I was hoping again.”
“Then why were you so hateful after I told you about Blake?” she burst out. “Why did you hurt me? Why did you use Angela to make me jealous?”
“I overheard your conversation with your friends. How you were doing this all out of pity. How you felt like you owed it to me to make me into a better man. That made … a mockery,” he said with a choked voice, “a mockery out of all my hopes. You didn’t feel love. You felt pity. And I lashed out. I did nothing with those women,” he swore, brushing her lips with his, “I wanted to do nothing with them. But I couldn’t forget your words whenever I saw you.”
Ella huffed and then pouted. “Why didn’t you just ask me? I’ve always loved you,” she burst out brokenly, the tears now beginning to fall. She’d been holding them at bay, but as the strings of their past slowly unraveled before her eyes, she realized how much they’d lost because they hadn’t been honest with each other.
“Why didn’t you tell me you loved me?” Chun asked roughly. “I had to hear it from everyone else. I wasn’t ready to be disappointed for a third time. Not until I found out that you’d tried to commit suicide and came so close to leaving me forever. That awakened me.”
“I don’t want to be with you out of pity or old loyalty. I want to be with you because of a love that has never gone away, and you … you wouldn’t let me close.” He expelled a frustrated breath. “I was trying so hard, but you were suspicious of my every move. I guess I can understand that, but it still hurt. I wanted to shake you sometimes and demand that you trust me the way you used to in the past. But I couldn’t demand the return of that Ella. We’d all been through too much. We’d all changed. All I knew was that I loved you, and that I would take any advantage I could in my pursuit of you. That’s when I turned to your brother. He agreed to help me, but only because he knew that you could never be happy without me. Just like I would only be half-alive without you. That thought scared me, and that’s why I backed off,” he confessed. “And that’s when you ran. Right in front of a car.”
He leaned forward and placed his lips against hers, at first tentative and then harder as the passion between them began to grow. She opened her lips slightly. Their breath mingled as his tongue slipped inside at her silent invitation. His teeth nibbled at her plump bottom lip, gently laving it. He pulled away reluctantly, and leaned his forehead against hers, trying to catch his breath.
“I love you. And apparently the whole world knew it before I did. We’ve been circling around each other, advancing and then retreating … never meeting because of our fears and insecurities. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Give us another chance, and I promise you that I … no, WE won’t let this chance slip away,” he said determinedly. His fingers gripped her hand tightly. “We’ll work at this marriage. Failure won’t be an option. We’ll succeed. And you know why?”
“Because we love each other … right?” There was hesitation in his tone, as if he was still unsure of her response.
There was a moment of silence as Ella gazed into his eyes. She saw the tenderness. The gentle warmth of the protector he used to be. She saw the passion and lust he felt for her. And more than all that, she saw the love. She saw his yearning and determination. It didn’t matter if she agreed or not. He wouldn’t let her go this time.
And that thought comforted her more than anything.
“I love you, too,” she murmured, as the tears began to flow once more. “Grandma said that I wouldn’t regret it if I returned,” she muttered. “I guess she knew your emotions better than I did, and she’s sitting on the other side.”
“Wait. What?” Chun looked surprised.
There was a sharp knock at the door.
“Are you up for visitors?”
The two looked up.
Calvin, Selina, Angela, Arron, Hebe, Jiro, and the children came into the room.
“Mommy!” Cassie shouted worriedly. “Are you okay, mommy?” Ella looked at Hebe and saw the latter flinch at the words that came from Cassie’s lips.
“Cassie, I’m fine,” she said with a smile, holding out her arms. Calvin set Cassie carefully on the bed and Ella enfolded her in a hug. “There’s someone I want you to meet,” she told Cassie. Cassie looked at her with big, trusting eyes.
“Hebe,” she said, putting out her hand. When Hebe came closer, Ella grabbed onto her hand.
“This is your mommy, Cassie.” As the two hesitantly hugged, Ella stared at Chun over the tops of their heads. She smiled blissfully.
This was the man who had always been in her heart. And apparently, she’d always been in his. Her hand reached out to clasp his once more. She wouldn’t let past regrets cloud their future. The past was in the past, and as far as she was concerned, it could stay there. They would deal with the future together, and no matter what, she wouldn’t let go of this hand again. She’d never dreamed that this day would come, but just like she was his … Chun was hers.
“And then what happened?” a little voice piped up.
“Hmm? What happened next?”
“Yeah, they promised to love each other and then what? You said, ‘Chun was hers. Only hers,’” the young voice said in a melodramatic tone, with a hint of impatience. “Grandma, you always stop there. Go on.”
“Well … they lived happily ever after, of course.”
“That’s such a cop out!” The cynical brother spoke up. “They agree to love each other and then they live happily ever after? It’s never that easy.”
“I didn’t say it was easy,” said grandma with a smile. “I said they lived happily ever after. But that doesn’t mean the happily ever after was easy to achieve. You have to work at it. You have to struggle and remember …”
“Remember what?” asked a third voice, more mature than the other two … of someone poised at the edge of puberty but still a year or two away from it.
“You have to remember to cherish that love. Over the years, as you move on in your lives, work at your careers, have children, meet friends, celebrate occasions … as time passes … it’s very easy to forget the commitment you made to cherish and keep your love alive. Life … life makes it easy to forget the feel of new love … the vulnerability … the fragility of that love you once shared. So, you have to remember to say ‘I love you’. You have to remember to make time for him. You have to remember to hug. To kiss. To cuddle.”
“Cuddle! Yuck!” the boy’s voice was ripe with disgust.
“And what’s wrong with cuddling?” Grandma asked in a teasing voice before swooping in to plant a big kiss on the young boy’s cheek. His face turned a fiery red.
“Aww, grandma! You made my cheek wet,” he exclaimed, swiping at it with the back of his hand with exaggerated disgust while trying to hold in a smile.
The girls giggled in their bed.
“Are you three still up?” a voice demanded from the doorway. The tone was exasperated. “Mom, it’s 6:30! Everyone’s waiting for you. The children promised to be good for tonight, so leave them be. Let’s get you ready.”
“Aww, mom,” the children protested. “Grandma was just telling us—”
“It’s not like I can’t guess what mom was telling you,” their mother interrupted. “What I can’t understand is why you three insist on hearing the same story every night.”
“Mom, you told us you wanted to hear that same story every night, too!” a little voice piped in with the reminder. “It was your favorite story.”
Their mother’s eyes softened as she thought back to her childhood. She sighed. “You’re right. I did want to hear the story every night. It’s a beautiful fairy tale. And what made it so magical was that it was true.” Walking over, she kissed each of the children and then turned to her children’s grandmother. “It’s time.”
“Good night, children.”
“Good night, grandma.”
As the women slowly walked out of the room, they could hear the children whispering behind them. Both knew that the children wouldn’t sleep tonight. They were too excited. But that was okay.
“Mom,” the younger woman began, “how does it feel to have been married for 25 years?”
“25 years, huh? It doesn’t feel like 25 years have gone by, Cassandra,” Ella murmured, as they walked to her room.
Ella stared at her daughter. Cassandra. Cassie.
Although Ella hadn’t given birth to her, and Hebe had come back into their lives, she had never felt anything but that Cassandra was her daughter. A part of her. Ella loved Cassandra with a mother’s devotion … a mother’s possessiveness … a mother’s love. Which meant that even when she wanted to protect and enfold Cassandra in her love, she could still share her with Hebe, with Cassandra’s husband, with Chun.
She could let go when she had to.
Cassandra was 30 now. Married. With three kids. But she would always be Ella’s little girl.
Ella leaned in and kissed her daughter’s cheek impulsively.
“What was that for?”
“No reason. I was just remembering your wedding day,” Ella said with a watery smile. “When I had to let you go to Roy. You were still my little girl. But I had to accept that you were grown up enough to make your decisions.” Ella remembered that chaotic period. Chun had exploded when Cassie had confessed she was pregnant at 18, that she was in love with the baby’s father, and was getting married. Their daughter had presented them with a fait accompli … but they’d worked through all that. And now … years had gone by and their daughter was a happy, content woman.
“Mom, why are you remembering my wedding day?” Cassandra asked with a chuckle. “It was no picnic. You wouldn’t stop crying. Frankly, it was a bit embarrassing. It was as if you were at my funeral, not my wedding.”
“I was being forced to give up my daughter at 18!” Ella protested vehemently. “I wanted to kill that fresh-faced boy standing at the altar. He was the one who had stolen my little girl away.”
Cassie just smiled and pulled her mother into the master bedroom. “Dad is downstairs pacing like crazy. He’s afraid that you’ll stand him up,” she quipped. Picking up the veil, she placed it on her stepmother’s hair. Putting up her hands, she caressed her mother’s cheek. “Why is it …,” she began in wonder, “Why is it that even after so many years, you still look exactly the way you did on the day of your wedding?” Cassie turned to stare at the gamine face smiling at her from the mirror.
“Your dad. Chun keeps me young. His love,” Ella clarified with a smile, “keeps me young. He gives my life joy. He keeps me smiling,” she admitted with a soft giggle, her hands coming up to cover the blush spreading over her cheeks.
“Mom, did you just giggle?”
“Why? I can’t giggle?” she asked, turning to stare at herself in the mirror. Twenty-five years had gone by. Even so, it felt like just yesterday when she and Chun had made their promises to love each other. And now it was 25 years later and they were renewing their vows.
“Auntie, uncle is demanding to know when you’re getting your ‘butt’ down there,” Anita said with a smile, coming into the room.
Ella turned to look at the young woman. Anita. Her daughter-in-law. Blake’s wife. The two had gotten married last year. Ella’s heart had wrenched, but she had comforted herself with the thought that she wasn’t losing a son. Instead, she was gaining a daughter. Besides, Anita was Angela and Arron’s daughter. She was a total sweetheart. Ella held out a hand. Anita came forward and gave Ella a quick hug.
“Tell your uncle he’ll wait as long as he has to and he’ll be patient about it. I’m going to take my time.”
“Mom knew you’d say that,” Anita confessed. “She’s down there ordering dad and the other uncles around to finish the decorating, and simultaneously trying to comfort uncle Chun. But he just won’t calm down.” Anita smiled and went out. “Uncle, auntie just started getting ready!” Ella heard her daughter-in-law shouting down the stairs.
Ella smiled and turned back to the mirror. Taking off the veil, she began to unbutton her dress. She smiled when she saw Selina coming up behind her to help her with the buttons down her back. “How are you feeling today?” she asked Ella softly.
Ella sighed softly and leaned into the hug that Selina was quick to give her. “I’m fine,” she whispered. “Mom … mom was mom. We’d never been close,” she whispered. “We’ve known that this was going to happen for a long time. And … and life goes on,” she finally finished with a broken smile. “She was never the mother I wanted. But she was my mother. I’ll miss her. But I know… I know that she’s in a better place now.” Selina gave her another hug and then pushed her toward the bathroom. “Time for you to put on the dress.”
Ella nodded and walked into the bathroom. Staring at her reflection once more, she pondered the changes that time had wrought over the years. Life had a way of moving so fast … so fast that it left you gasping sometimes. It never slowed down. All you could do was try to play catch-up and hope that you didn’t miss the small joys.
Staring down at the rings on her finger, she remembered the day that she had been released from the hospital after her accident. Chun had brought these rings to her and put them on her finger as a reminder of their promise. It had been a struggle. But they’d persevered. They’d opened up to each other. Stopped trying to hide their hearts behind walls of steel. They’d forced themselves to trust … to jump without looking to see if there was a safety net below.
And surprises of all surprises … they hadn’t failed each other.
Her heart still beat rapidly when she saw Chun. She wanted to touch him … to renew their love every moment of their lives. He was a part of her … his hold over her went so deep that she didn’t know if she could survive without him. And he had never … never made her feel that he loved her any less. He cherished her beyond life.
She slipped on her dress. And then laughed softly when she saw herself in the mirror. A 50+ year old bride. Who would’ve thought it? Chun had insisted on them renewing their vows in front of their close friends and families. A renewal of everything. Another beginning. An impish smile spread across her face. She’d agreed, but only if he took her on the honeymoon, too. He’d promptly agreed.
And that was why all the men … Calvin, Arron, Jiro and the children … her own two, Blake and Sammy, now 20, Michael (Jiro’s and Hebe’s son), and Trent (Calvin’s) were setting up the tables and the food. Anita and Marie, Selina’s daughter, were organizing them into efficiently performing the tasks left undone.
Stepping outside, she sat down at her vanity and began to put on her make-up. Angela was now upstairs, arguing with Selina over what shoes Ella would wear to the ceremony. Anita had returned and was sitting in the corner with Cassie, her hand absently placed on her stomach. Ella smiled. There would be another addition to their family soon. Blake and Anita hadn’t said anything, but Ella knew that she would be a grandma again in the near future. The thought filled her with delight. Her baby was going to have a baby.
She started when she felt something drop around her neck. Feeling the weight she looked down and glimpsed a pearl necklace being draped around her neck. Looking into the mirror, she gazed into Hebe’s eyes. “A present,” Hebe said, leaning down to pick up a brush. She began to push the brush through Ella’s hair. “I wasn’t here at your first wedding. And even if it’s 25 years later … you deserve a present from your sister when you get married. I hope you have another 50 years like the 25 before,” she murmured, putting a hand on Ella’s shoulder.
Ella’s hand came up to clasp Hebe’s and she smiled radiantly. “Thanks, sis.”
“Ella! Get your butt down here!” Chun roared from the living room. “You’re over five minutes late! I swear if you’re thinking of standing me up …”
There was a moment of silence and then a burst of laughter from the women gathered in the room.
“Is there a reason that Chun is so hyper today?” Selina asked, looking at Ella’s mischievous smile.
“I might have told Chun that since he made our first wedding so memorable for me, I might make this occasion a bit more memorable for him, and …”
“And?” Angela asked, raising a brow in inquiry.
“He’s decided I mean to leave him standing at the altar … although how that could be possible when we’re already married, I don’t know,” Ella admitted with a confused shake of her head. “Help me with the veil,” she told Hebe.
Turning she stared at herself in the mirror. Today, she would renew her vows. Their first wedding had been performed in turmoil and part of her had had no intention of ever keeping those vows beyond the birth of their son. But through the twists and turns of fate she had gotten what her heart had needed most of all. The years she’d lived and loved with Chun had been filled with struggles and joys. They’d never forgotten the promises they’d made to each other at the hospital, and Ella had kept those vows every day of the rest of her marriage.
She was loved. She knew it.
“Mom,” Cassie muttered insistently. Fingers poked at her, bringing her out of her daze. Looking up, she smiled at the impatient faces behind her.
It was time.
The music began to play softly.
The wedding march.
Ella stared down the aisle at the man she had loved for so long her heart had forgotten a time when it hadn’t loved him. Once again, it began to beat rapidly as she approached his figure. Thumping at it lightly, she silently ordered it to slow down. It probably wasn’t a good thing for the damn thing to go off racing whenever she was close to Chun. She was getting too old for this.
Her eyes traced over his handsome features, his gorgeous smile, and met his loving gaze, sparkling with temper. She sighed softly. It was that look that kept her heart beating. Well, okay, maybe not the temper part. But his love … as cheesy as it sounded … did make her world go round. And she wasn’t afraid to admit it.
Smiling, she stopped at his side. His hands reached out and gently lifted the veil from her face. Leaning down, he planted a quick kiss on her pouting lips.
“I love you,” she muttered. “Even if you are a paranoid pain in the ass,” she whispered with a naughty smile.
Chun glared at her and then smiled.
“I love you, too,” he whispered back, tweaking her nose. “Even if you can play the devil at incredibly inappropriate moments. It makes me forget sometimes …”
“Forget what?” she asked with her irrepressible smile, knowing the answer even before he spoke.
“That you’re my angel. My only Angel. Sent here to save me from my own darkness.”
She nodded sagely.
“And don’t you forget it.”