Right in Front of Me
Chapter 1: The World I Wanted At My Feet
She hummed softly, putting the flowers in order. Putting a final flower in just the right position, she set the bouquet aside. Now, on to the next project. Standing in front of the mirror, she began to apply the makeup, wanting to get it just right for the pictures.
Smiling secretly, she thought about last night. Their time together had been so happy. It was as if all of the tension that had been there since they had gotten engaged had disappeared. He’d been so relaxed last night. There was no tension. No hidden resentment. She had finally gotten back the man she had let herself fall in love with.
Applying a final coat of lipstick, she picked up a hairbrush. Combing through the strands, her gaze landed on the dress behind her. Her heart clenched slightly. It was the dress her mother had worn on the day she had married her father. Her parents were no longer with her, and she … she was all alone on the most important day of her life.
Walking over to the door, she slipped the dress off the hangar. Putting her arms through the sleeves, she tugged it down. Her eyes filled with tears once more, and she quickly blinked them away, not wanting to ruin her makeup. She looked around the empty room. There was no one else here to help her fix it.
Her shoulders slumped. This was not the wedding day she had dreamed about and planned for so long. Her parents were gone. Her friends would not be told until after the fact. She was getting married at a registrar’s office. There would be no church wedding. There would be no celebration. No flowers. No champagne. Nothing. Just a civil ceremony.
She began to put on her earrings and necklace. After she was done, she stared down at her ring. Her heart ached for the happiness that this would have brought her mother. But … even so … it was all worth it. Because she was marrying the man she loved. She stared down at the ring on her finger, caressing it lightly. ‘I am marrying the man I love.’ She repeated the words to herself, silently.
She gently placed a veil on her head, pulling it over her head to cover her face. Picking up the bouquet, she took a deep breath. Turning to throw one final glance in the mirror, she reached out a trembling hand and turned the knob.
Ella was finally ready to get married.
“What are you doing here?!”
Ella’s hand froze around the knob, unable to let go even though the door was now fully open. The door was open enough for her to hear the voices outside. His voice was angry. So angry.
“I told you not to come here! I told you …,” his voice trailed off. She’d never heard that much emotion in his voice. Never when he was with her. “Whatever relationship we had … it’s over. You chose someone else.”
“You’re wrong,” came back the quick reply. She sniffled. “I never chose anyone else. It was yo-u.” Her voice broke over the words. “It was always you. Why don’t you understand that? I love you. I’ve always loved you.”
“But I …” he began.
‘Say it. Say that you love me,’ Ella urged him silently. ‘Say the words. Please.’
He fell silent.
“You love me, too, don’t you?” the woman pleaded. “Don’t marry her.”
There was a longer pause this time. Ella peeked around the door and saw a couple, entwined. She could see the passion in his touch. He sighed and pulled away. Ella could see the reluctance in his movements.
“I can’t hurt Ella. I can’t leave her today of all days,” he finally said grimly. “Maybe we weren’t meant to be together. Maybe, it wouldn’t have worked even if there had been no misunderstandings between us. I’m here today because we couldn’t make it work,” he said softly. “I’m engaged to another woman. We’re supposed to marry today. I promised her.”
“I am going to marry her today,” he said implacably.
“But … but would she want to marry you, if she kne—”
“I’m not going to give her the chance to find out,” he cut in. “She doesn’t deserve this. Any of this. She loves me.”
“But can you honestly say that you love her back? Doesn’t she deserve to be loved?”
“I care for her,” he said softly.
“She deserves to be loved! She has the right to expect her husband’s heart! How can you give her your heart, when you’ve already given it to me?”
He didn’t say anything to defend himself. He didn’t say anything about loving her. And Ella’s heart broke.
Chapter 2: Reason for Letting Go
Ella stared down at her clenched hands, and took a deep breath. She firmed her lips. The course was clear, but she needed the courage to begin the end of a dream she had dreamt. Tilting up her chin, she angrily brushed the tears away and strode out. She wasn’t going to remain hiding behind a closed door, waiting for others to make decisions regarding her life.
“Jerry,” she called out softly from behind. She saw his body give a jerk before he turned to look at her. She saw him glance behind him, and then gently push Barbie behind his back, as if he was protecting her … from his own fiancé. Ella’s eyes blinked fiercely, fighting the tears that had sprung up at his action.
“Jerry, what’s going on?”
“Nothing,” he said, grimly, relaxing when he heard no anger in her voice.
‘Maybe he thinks that I didn’t hear anything,’ she thought to herself. She could see the relief on his face.
“Even though I wanted to do this alone, Barbie wanted to be at the wedding,” he said, lying through his teeth. “I was just asking her to leave. It wouldn’t be fair to you.”
Ella stared at him. “It wouldn’t be fair to me, if you have Barbie by your side?” she asked, tilting her head in inquiry. “It wouldn’t be fair to me because she’s here at the wedding when I have no one else with me …,” she began softly, “or it wouldn’t be fair to me because you love her?”
Jerry froze for a moment, staring at the naked pain in her eyes. He flinched when he saw a tear slowly trickle down her cheek. She angrily wiped it away. “I swore to myself that I wouldn’t cry,” she muttered fiercely. “How did this happen?” she demanded suddenly. “How did you get engaged to me … set a wedding date … show up here, when you were in love with someone else?”
“Ella, I …” he moved over to her, and gripped her hands. Ella stared down, startled to realize that she still held the bouquet. “Do you know how funny this is?” she asked. “Here we are. Me, in a wedding gown. You, in your tuxedo. Both holding the bridal bouquet. It would make a perfect picture, wouldn’t it?”
“Ella, please, believe me. I … did love her once,” he began, “but that love was unrequited. I gave up hope long ago.”
“It doesn’t look unrequited to me,” she argued. “She’s here, isn’t she? You told me she was your best friend. You lied by omission. Why didn’t you tell me that you loved her?!”
Jerry stepped back, letting go of her hands. The bouquet slipped from her fingers, falling unnoticed to the floor. “I don’t love her,” he said hoarsely. “I don’t. She chose another. She betrayed everything we had together. How could I still love her?”
“Fine, let’s forget whatever feelings you might or might not have for her. Let’s say that I believe you don’t love her. But let me ask you this … can you say you love me?”
Jerry stared down at the floor, his lips pursed, before looking into her eyes in defeat. “I care about you. I will marry you and be by your side.”
“Can you say you could love me … someday?” she asked, pressing for an answer.
He remained silent, not wanting to hurt her.
Ella looked away for a moment, struggling to find her voice. Clearing her throat, she looked back at him, determination in her eyes. “I always thought … believed that you loved me,” she finally said. “I could have married you, even knowing that you only cared about me, but I can’t … won’t marry you, knowing you love another. And you do. You love her, not me.”
“Ella,” he said, reaching to hold her.
She stepped back.
“Don’t. Please, just … don’t. Go.”
“Ella, how can I just leave you here …?”
“You’ll go,” she said after a short pause, “Because you need to follow the one you love.” Jerry turned to where Barbie had been standing, and saw that she was there no longer. “And I’ll tell you to go,” she continued, “Because I deserve more than you were willing to give. Go.”
Jerry stared at her for a moment, before taking a step back. And another. And then another.
“I’m sorry.” Turning, he began to run.
Ella stared at the flowers on the floor. He’d stepped on them, and hadn’t even noticed. Picking them, she trudged back into the room and sat down, trying to get her bearings. ‘What right did he have to …? He might have never touched her, but he’d given that woman his heart. He’d been prepared to come to me an empty shell, and he thought that I would be happy with this? … It hurts,’ she thought, rubbing at her chest.
“Surprise!” a voice called out cheerfully from behind her.
Ella started and turned. The flowers fell from her startled fingers. Closing her eyes, she thought about this new intrusion. The one comfort she’d had, living through the hell of the past few minutes, was that her friends weren’t here to witness this. She no longer had that comfort.
“I know that you didn’t want anyone to be here, but how could we let you get married alone?” Hebe demanded, striding over to put a hand on Ella’s shoulder. “We wanted to share this happy occasion with you. Don’t be mad.”
“Oh, Ella, what happened to your bouquet?” Selina asked, gasping. “You worked on this all night!” Kneeling down, she picked up the flowers, tenderly cradling them in her hands. “You put all of your hopes and dreams in these flowers.” Turning, she saw the desolate look in Ella’s eyes. “Ella, what happened?”
Hebe sat down beside Ella, and quickly put an arm around Ella’s shaking shoulders. Ella began to cry, sobbing at the pain that was finally making itself felt with a vengeance. “Ella, where’s Jerry?”
“He … he had to go,” Ella whispered, the tears continuing to trickle down her pale cheeks. “Actually, I sent him away. He didn’t love me,” she revealed softly. “He never loved me.”
Hebe and Selina shared a glance over Ella’s oblivious head. “Why didn’t I figure it out before? Why didn’t I realize?” she mumbled to herself, absently rubbing her forehead, trying to drive away the pain that had awakened once the numbness wore off.
Selina reached out and placed a comforting hand on Ella’s arm. “I’m sorry,” Selina offered sincerely. “I am so sorry.”
Hebe handed Ella a tissue, and hugged her once more. “That bastard,” she muttered balefully. “He didn’t have to do it like this …”
“I … I thought that it would be better to have none of him than to live with an empty shell. He was in pain, but he would’ve stayed. He would’ve married me. And, being who he is, he would’ve honored his vows. But … how could I stand in the way of his happiness?”
Selina got up, and came to sit beside Ella, as well. Wrapping their arms around her, the two friends silently comforted the hurt girl. Neither wanted to say they had known Jerry hadn’t loved Ella for a long time. While the man had done nothing overt to hurt their friend, they had seen the lack of love on his part. Not to say that he hadn’t cared, but that wasn’t enough. Both had felt that Ella was settling for so little, when she deserved so much more. Neither could figure out the why of it.
Ella sniffled, and then wiped the tears away. “Thank you for being here,” she finally murmured. “I don’t know what I would have done after sending him away.”
“Well, it wasn’t entirely our idea,” Selina said ruefully. “We wanted to come, but we were still hesitating when the decision was taken away from us.”
“Yep. Your brother showed up and told us to get ready,” Hebe said. “Not to say that we argued too hard against it. He wanted to be there for your wedding. And so did we.”
Ella froze, and then abruptly got up. “He’s not … don’t tell me that he’s here?” she asked in a choked voice.
“Yes, I’m here,” a voice smoothly called out from behind her. “How could I let my … little sister get married without her big brother to give her away?”
Ella turned around, staring at the tall, charismatic man standing in the waiting room doorway. He smiled gently, and walked over to place a hand on her cheek, cradling it in the palm of his hand. “I saw Jerry leaving with another woman. Are you okay?” he asked softly.
“I’m fine,” she said, with a shuddering sigh, pressing her cheek into the comforting warmth of his hand. She closed her eyes on a sigh of relief. She hadn’t wanted him here; she’d never dared to ask, but now that he was …“Now that you’re here, Chun.”
Chapter 3: Ge
“Ge! Ge,” a young voice moaned in the darkness. Her young fingers clutched fretfully at the cloth covering her thin, frail body. Sweat drenched her form, as she struggled against the terrors that attacked her in her delirium.
“What do we do?” an unhappy voice asked, standing over the young child’s figure. “How can we …?”
“Ge,” the girl repeated, beginning to cry, her sobs taking a violent toll on her body. She began to cough.
“You know what you have to do,” the figure in the corner of the room. There was a moment of silence … a moment of heartbreak. “I’ll get him.”
The girl continued to cry; waiting for her Ge to came. Her fingers clutched at his hands, only to find nothing there. There was nothing there, no matter how hard she tried to hold on. “Ge.”
After a while, soft footsteps could be heard plodding up the stairs. There was a moment of silence before two figures came into the room. “She’s really sick. Help her.” The words were said softly … entreatingly.
The young boy shuffled over to the young child, lying in the bed. His eyes were big in his face, shocked to see the changes that had come over the usually sunny child. His long, slender fingers reached out and held her hand, squeezing gently. “I’m here,” he murmured, reaching down to kiss a hollow cheek.
Despite all odds, the little girl forced her eyes to open, wanting to look at her brother. A look of confusion passed over her features, her fingers tightening desperately around his fingers. She clutched at them, even as she searched his face in the dark.
“Ella,” a voice said softly.
“Mommy?” Ella turned her head towards the figure standing to the side of the bed. “Mommy …”
“Ella, it’s your Ge. It’s Chun Ge,” her mother said, leaning down the kiss her child’s fevered brow. “You wanted to see him, right? Look, he’s okay. Now, will you take your medicine like a good girl?”
Ella stared at Chun, and timidly brought his hand to her cheek, before clutching it to her chest. “Chun Ge,” she murmured, smiling weakly. She obediently opened her mouth and drank the medicine her mother fed her. She coughed weakly, and then relaxed. Snuggling down into the bed, she went to sleep, never letting go of her brother’s hand.
Chun saw Ella’s peaceful slumber, and smiled with relief. She would be okay. He began to list to the side, weakened by the effort it had taken to get out of bed. Ella’s mother cried out, and strong arms came out to grab hold of Chun. The same arms cradled him close, and took him into the bedroom next door. Gentle fingers tucked him into bed, and a soft kiss was placed on his forehead. He slipped into sleep, content in having done his part.
“Monkey girl! Monkey girl! Monkey girl!” Childish shrieks sounded in the air, tearing at the young heart of the girl they were meant to torment.
“Stop it! Stop saying that,” she shouted, fighting back in the only way she knew how. “Don’t you dare call me names!” She clenched her hands in frustration.
“Or what?” one young voice asked, taunting her. “What will you do, monkey girl?”
“I will … I …” Her voice trailed off. The truth was that her young mind couldn’t come up with a threat dire enough to scare the bullies in front of her.
“You can’t do anything monkey girl! Monkey girl!”
The little girl flinched every time she heard the words, her shoulders slowly drooping as she faced the hostility of the other children. She didn’t know why they hated her so. She’d tried so hard to be friendly, but not one child had reciprocated. Her young mind couldn’t comprehend the differences in their stations, and didn’t understand why they couldn’t be friends even if she did live in the big house.
“Hey!” a voice shouted out from behind the group, and then the sound of racing feet came from behind her. Ella turned around, surprised by his presence. “Leave her alone! Pick on someone your own size!” Ella smiled, happy to see him here. Even under these circumstances.
His young, sturdy body came to stand in front of her, protecting her from the malevolent gazes of the crowd. “Ella won’t tell on you,” he said softly, “she’s too nice. But don’t think that I won’t. If you don’t stop bullying her, I will tell mom and dad. And then where will you be? What do you think your parents will do?”
Ella’s small hands came out to grab at the back of his T-shirt. “Ge,” she protested, leaning her head against the small of his back. “Ge, don’t.”
He reached behind and patted her on the head. “It’s okay, munchkin” he whispered to her. “I’ll take care of it.”
Ella blushed as she heard her favored Ge defend her to the bullies. She dug her hands deeply into his shirt, and held on. She didn’t care that the other children had been taunting her once again. She didn’t care that they’d called her monkey girl. She didn’t care, because her beloved Ge was back home from boarding school.
She tugged impatiently on his shirt when she saw that the lecture would not be stopping anytime soon. “Let’s go, Ge. They got it, right?” she glanced at the others belligerently, her courage returning now that her brother was home. “They won’t say anything more, right?” She tugged again at his hand, wrapping her chubby little fingers around his fingers.
He looked down at her pleading face, and smiled, before reaching out and ruffling her hair. “Fine,” he said with a sigh. “But only because you say so.” Kneeling down, he waited for her weight to settle against his back, and waited for her young arms to come around his neck. “Let’s go,” he said, getting up and racing down the street.
“I brought you a present,” he said, as he made his way down the hill.
“What is it?” she asked, nearly choking him in her excitement.
“It’s in my shirt pocket,” he said. “Take a look.”
Ella’s fingers reached in and grabbed the present. Her eyes widened when she saw the locket he brought her. Opening it one-handed, she saw a picture of the entire family. He smiled when he heard her squeal of joy. Her giggles were like a balm to his heart, and he made a wish that day. He wished that his little Ella would always be this happy. That his little munchkin would always be this joyful.
“Where’s Mom, Ge?” she whispered frantically, clutching at his shirt. “Where are mom and dad?” She snuggled her face into his thin chest, wanting the comfort only her brother could give.
He hugged her tightly, not knowing what to say. How could he explain this reality to seven -year-old girl, when even his 12-year-old heart didn’t understand how this could have happened? He kissed a tear-stained cheek, and wrapped her close into his arms. “It’s okay, munchkin” he murmured. “Everything will be okay.”
“Of course everything will be okay, Ge,” Ella stated. “As long as you are with me, everything will be okay.”
His lips tightened at the first hint of a tremble. “Munchkin,” he said softly, manfully pushing the tears down. “I might have to go away for a while.”
She stiffened in his arms. “Without me? Like mom and dad?”
“Mom and dad … mom and dad had to go away. Far … far aw-ay.” His voice trembled slightly at the words. He tightened his arms around her once more. “They won’t be coming back.”
“They left without us?” Ella asked softly. “They left us?” Her little body shook, as she began to cry once more. Her sobs grew louder as she tried to grapple with the loss of both her beloved parents.
He nodded. “They had to.”
“But Ge, are you going away like them?”
“No!” he exclaimed. “No,” he repeated softly. “Aunt Robin will take care of you now. She has a small house; we can’t all live in it together. So I … I have to go away.”
“But Ge … how will you find your shoes? And your comb? I do that for your, right? Ge, how … how can auntie do that? Where will you go?”
“I’m older than you, munchkin,” he said with a sad smile. “I can take care of myself.”
“Then … then can’t you take care of me?”
“When I grow a little bit older,” he promised. “I’ll come back. And I’ll take care of you for the rest of your life.”
“But .. Ge … how can I stay at auntie’s house without you?”
“You stayed without me when I went to school, right? Think of it as me going away to school.”
“But, Ge …”
“Ella, you have to be a big girl. If you can’t help me, then who will?” he asked, ruffling her hair. “Be a good girl for auntie, and I promise that I will come back. Okay?”
“Promise?” she asked in a tear-soaked voice, knuckling at her eyes.
YEARS LATER ….
Today was going to be a good day. She was starting her first day of work, and she was excited. After a final look in the mirror, she turned toward the door. Her gaze landed on the locket her brother had given her so long ago. It was the only thing that she had been able to save from her childhood. Her aunt had ruthlessly discarded everything else. Her lips trembled softly. Sometimes she wondered if her aunt was the reason … she shook her head. She wasn’t going to be depressed on this important day. “Wish me luck,” she whispered before going through the door, after placing a kiss on the locket.
“Good morning!” Ella called out cheerfully, as she came upon Hebe and Selina. “You guys weren’t waiting long, right?”
“No, but let’s go,” Selina urged, grabbing Ella’s hand and dragging her to the elevators.
“Where’s the fire?” Ella asked, racing along with her friends.
“The bosses are coming today,” Hebe related. “Selina heard that they were hotties, so she wants to get a good look at them, and maybe pick out the one she’ll marry.”
“Selina!” Ella gasped, turning to look at her friend. “You’re engaged.”
“Hebe’s just joking,” Selina said, looking in the mirrored wall of the elevator. “But what does it hurt to feast my eyes on some serious eye candy, as I’ve heard them being called.”
The elevator pinged open, and the girls stepped out. Ella shrugged and followed behind. “Oh, shoot,” she murmured. “I forgot my bag in the car.” She tapped an intent Selina on the shoulder. “I’m going to grab my bag from the car.”
“You’re going to miss out,” Selina warned, looking around for any hint of the promised eye candy.
“Not a big deal,” Ella murmured.
Ella walked back to the elevator, after retrieving her bag, and froze when she saw the two handsome men standing in front of the elevator. She could see they were busy discussing something, and she slowed down. Scratching her head in confusion, she wondered if she should just wait for the next elevator.
Her eyes strayed to the figure on the right, her eyes lingering on his handsome features … his almond shaped eyes, his smooth complexion, his silky hair. Unconsciously, she moved forward. Her heart clenched, as his scent washed over.
‘Hi, my name is Ella. Ella Chen. I just started working at this company Today’s my first day.’
Without realizing it, she was suddenly standing right behind them, and she smiled when she heard his husky voice, not really paying attention to the words that were being spoken.
‘What is your name? What do you do here?’
‘You have beautiful eyes.’
“… meeting with department heads …
‘Your hair is so silky, that I just want to run my fingers through it. May I?’
“leave for Heathrow …”
‘Are your lips as soft as they look?’
Only as the words started making sense, did she realize that she was eavesdropping on her new boss’s conversations. Moving back silently, she desperately hoped that they hadn’t noticed her intrusion.
‘I don’t usually do this, but … would you like to go out to dinner? Tonight? Or … whenever … you decide.‘
The elevator doors pinged open and the two stepped in. Ella hung back, deciding that waiting for the next one would be the sensible thing to do.
“Coming in?” a deep voice asked, interrupting her attempts to be invisible.
Ella turned around, to stare into the eyes of the man that she had been holding a silent conversation with for the past two minutes.
“Coming in?” he repeated, gesturing into the elevator.
“Oh, no, I’ll, um, take the next elevator, I guess?” Ella mumbled, staring at her feet.
“Don’t be silly,” he said, motioning for her to come in.
Ella timidly walked into the elevator, and turned to stare at the doors, praying for the elevator to reach its destination.
Sneaking a peek at the male standing behind her, she caught his gaze traveling over her figure. Ella’s eyebrows arched in surprise, and were still arched when he caught her gaze in the mirrored elevator doors.
Ella hurriedly looked away, wondering why her heart was pounding so desperately. She hoped that her cheeks weren’t as red as they felt. Reaching up, she smoothed her hair back and then dropped it guiltily when she heard the voice behind her.
“I’m sorry?” she mumbled, glancing at him over her shoulder.
“Your hair looks good,” he said with a small smile.
Ella nodded her head in acknowledgment.
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” he asked suddenly.
Ella turned to stare at him. She crinkled her brow, confused. She didn’t remember meeting anyone like him. And if she had … she would’ve definitely remembered.
“How have you been …”
“I’m sorry, I don’t …” she began uncertainly.
“…munchkin?” he completed softly, smiling once more.
And for Ella, the world froze. ‘Oh, God … no.‘
Chapter 4: Finding Him, Finding …
Ella picked up the cup of coffee the secretary had placed in front of her, and carefully took a sip. She quickly put it back down when she realized that her hands were still shaking. Glancing across the room, she allowed herself another long look at her brother, sitting behind his desk. He was talking on the phone … again. They’d been in Ge’s office for the past half hour, and he hadn’t said one word to her.
Sitting back, she thought about all the questions she wanted to ask him.
‘Where were you?’
‘Why didn’t you come back for me?’
‘Why did you break your promise?’
‘Why did you make we wait?’
Putting out a finger, she traced the rim of the cup. Would she ever have the courage to ask these questions? Especially when her aunt had told her the truth about his absence. Could she bring herself to risk more rejection? Did she even have the right to demand any answers?
‘Are you here to stay, Ge?’
Did she have the right to make any demands?
‘Don’t ever leave me again.’
“I’ll call you later.” Chun hung up the phone, and Ella straightened in expectation. Chun picked up the phone once more, and Ella deflated like a pricked balloon. “Ms. Thompson, please hold all of my calls.” Ella straightened once more, her eyes glued to him.
Setting down the phone, Chun turned to look at her. Ella smiled hopefully. Chun took a deep breath, and then got up to approach her. Sitting down beside her, he reached out and covered her clenched fists. And, slowly, her hands relaxed, warmed by his touch.
“Where have you been all this time?” she finally asked tremulously, wanting to know everything that had happened in his life.
“School. College. Work. And now this,” he replied, glossing over the years he had spent in an orphanage, the 18-hour days he had pulled saving for an education, setting up his business, and the ambition that still drove him to work long hours to this day. “You?”
“Um, school. College. And now this,” she replied succinctly, copying his method of delivery. She smiled, her lips trembling, when he turned to look at her. “Why didn’t you come back?” she blurted out.
“Why didn’t I …” his voice trailed off. It was as if he was lost for an answer.
“It’s okay,” Ella said abruptly, getting up. “I don’t know why I asked. Auntie told me everything.” She put some much-needed distance between them.
“Everything?” Chun asked in a choked tone of voice.
Ella turned and looked at him. Ignoring the curious expression she saw on his face, she nodded her head resolutely. “Auntie said … well, it doesn’t matter what she said, right? But I know everything. I understand,” she muttered, gritting her teeth against the tide of emotions that was welling up inside of her. “I understand that we don’t really have the kind of relationship that would have pulled you back.”
“I see.” Chun’s brows lowered, a dark expression stealing over his face.
“We belong in different worlds, right?”
“You’re right,” Chun replied coldly. “Maybe you should ret—”
There was a knock at the door, interrupting what Chun had been about to say.
“Can I come in?” an apologetic male voice asked around the door. Ella turned to look at the man entering the room, and realized that it was the same man that she had seen talking to Chun earlier.
Chun took a deep breath. “Come on in, you’re not interrupting anything.”
Ella’s brow wrinkled in confusion. ‘What does Ge have to be so bitter about?’ she wondered silently. ‘He was the one who abandoned me. He was the one who built this new life for himself, and never looked back! I thought Auntie had been lying, but she was right. Ge forgot all about me.’
“Ella, I’d like you to meet my business partner and good friend, Jerry Yan.” Ella turned her attention to the conversation once more. Reaching out, she shook Jerry’s hand and then turned back to Chun, forgetting about the other man. “I’m going back to work. It’s not right that I should be so late on my first day.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Chun instructed, moving with her to the door.
“How can I not worry?” Ella yelped, her gaze finally landing on the clock. “I’m an hour late. How am I going to explain this to my supervisor?”
“Tell your supervisor to contract me if she has any questions.”
Ella turned to look at him in surprise.
“After all, the fact that your … that I’m the owner of this company should be of some benefit to you.”
Ella nodded dumbly, before walking through the door. She thought about the past awkward hour, and tried to fit this awkwardness with the relationship they used to have.
Ella suddenly squared her shoulders in determination, coming to a decision. She didn’t care what luck or coincidence had brought Chun back into her life, and she didn’t care why he hadn’t come back before now … she didn’t care if he had forgotten about her, she was just happy that they were together now. She would rebuild their relationship, even if she had to force him into it.
“Then … I’ll talk to you later,” Ella finally said, waiting for him to say something. Anything beyond the yes and no he had limited himself to during their entire conversation.
“Fine,” Chun replied curtly.
There was a pause.
“Chun?” Ella made sure to call him by name, respecting his wish that she stop calling him Ge. It had hurt when he’d made her stop.
“Can’t we do something together?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean … it’s been so long since we’ve had a chance to sit down and talk,” her voice quavered slightly, as she begged him to not continue this way.
“I thought you didn’t want to talk,” Chun replied. “I thought that you said that we were from different worlds.”
“That doesn’t mean we can’t spend time together,” Ella shot back, hurt by his continuous rejection of their past relationship. “You know what? Fine. If you don’t want this, why am I even bothering? You made your decision years ago, and I should respect that. I don’t even know why you revealed yourself as my Ge. I wouldn’t have even known if you hadn’t said anything. I didn’t even remember your face!” she shot at him, wanting to hurt him for the way he had hurt her in countless ways over the years.
Chun remained silent.
“I guess whatever we had … it’s all part of the past now. We don’t have to recreate that relationship, right? I can just move on and forget everything. It seems that you already have.” Ella sniffled slightly, quickly stifling the sound. She did not want him to know she was crying. She didn’t want him to know how much he could still hurt her.
“I haven’t forgotten anything,” Chun finally replied, his voice stilted.
“Whatever,” Ella replied, pretending to be indifferent now. If he didn’t care, why was she trying so hard? “I’m going to hang up now.”
“Ella,” Chun began.
There was a pause.
“What?” Ella demanded ungraciously.
“I … let’s go on a picnic,” Chun finally offered.
“A picnic? I’d love to go on a picnic,” Ella said with excitement, her anger forgotten in a heartbeat.
“That’s great. You can meet Barbie,” Chun said, injecting enthusiasm into his tone.
“Barbie? You want me to meet a Barbie doll?” Ella asked, confused.
“No, Barbie. My girlfriend.”
It was a sunny day, and the perfect weather for a picnic. Chun had invited her to this picnic, along with Jerry and Chun’s girlfriend. Ella stared at the couple sitting on the other end of the blanket, and her lip curled slightly. Barbie? What kind of name was Barbie? And to top it off, she was gorgeous, sophisticated, and elegant.
Ella looked down at her rumpled clothes and grimaced. Who could look so calm and collected on a picnic? Barbie, of course. Her eyes widened when she saw Chun feeding the woman grapes. Ella quickly looked away. This wasn’t any of her business.
She couldn’t be … jealous, right? What right did she have to be jealous? To be possessive? She had no hold over Chun. She had no claim on him. Except for the claim of a sister that he had abandoned so long ago. Her nails bit into the skin of her palms, as she sought to control the anger that was bubbling inside of her. ‘Something is wrong with you,’ she silently told herself. ‘Calm down.’ Despite all of her attempts, she had not been able to get any closer to Chun, and it was eating at her. Her dislike of Barbie … it was just sour grapes. She had no reason to dislike such a paragon of a woman.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Barbie suggested.
“I think I’ll take a nap,” Chun said with a smile. “Ella can keep me company.”
Ella’s eyes widened as she saw Barbie cajoling Jerry into walking with her. Barbie had her arm wrapped around Jerry’s arm. Ella turned to look at Chun. He didn’t seem worried. She shrugged her shoulders, and silently repeated once more, ‘It isn’t any of my business.’
Chun lay back, and closed his eyes. “Wake me up in half an hour.”
Ella stared at the sky, wanting to fly away from the chaotic emotions that had been eating away at her ever since Chun had come back into her life. She couldn’t understand what was wrong with her. She didn’t know how to treat Chun like a brother, especially when he fought her every step of the way. It had been so long since they’d been together as a family, and she only felt awkwardness around him. Awkwardness and something else.
“Chun?” Ella shook his shoulder. “Chun, wake up,” she said, shaking his shoulder once more. “Shouldn’t we be leaving? We were supposed to meet …” she trailed off.
His only response was a soft snore. Ella quickly shifted back when Chun turned on his side, facing her. His face was turned to the light and he squinted in annoyance. Ella moved, providing him shade with her body.
The wind picked up once more, and Ella shivered slightly, looking around for Jerry and Barbie. They hadn’t yet returned from their walk. She squinted, putting a hand up to shade her eyes, but she couldn’t see them anywhere. Turning, she looked down at a sleeping Chun once more.
She bit her lip, her eyes helplessly tracing the beauty of his features. He looked so innocent when his face was relaxed in sleep. There was none of that cynicism that she had come to expect on his face. She reached out, her hand trembling, as she traced a perfectly arched eyebrow. He moved slightly, and Ella pulled back, as if burned. She stared down at her hand, wondering what she was doing.
‘What is wrong with me?’
She reached out once more, unable to resist his lure. Her finger traced his lips, and she flinched slightly as his warm breath landed on her sensitized skin. Moving closer, mesmerized, like a moth to a flame, she bent down, wanting … wanting what?
Chun’s eyes opened, and Ella pulled back, staring at him in horror. He closed them once more, going back to sleep. Ella put a hand on her racing heart, trying to calm it … trying to calm herself down.
‘What was I doing? What was I thinking?!’ Ella got up, moving away from Chun. ‘Oh God.’ A shaking finger came up to trace her lips. They were burning, although she hadn’t done anything. She hadn’t let it get that far. She shuddered slightly.
“He’s my brother. I’m sick. There must be something wrong with me,” Ella murmured disjointedly, walking away. Her heartbeat wouldn’t slow down. She heaved suddenly, as if the miniscule amount of food that she had been able to choke down today was about to make a reappearance.
She didn’t know where she was going. All she knew was that she had to get away. Far away. She rubbed at her chest, trying to soothe that had suddenly awakened in her heart.
Ella turned to see Jerry walking to her. ‘Where’s Chun?”
“Still napping. And Barbie?”
“She went back to Chun,” Jerry replied curtly. Ella stared at him, surprised at the bitterness in his tone.
“Is something wrong?” Ella asked, placing a hand on his arm. She didn’t know Jerry that well, had only met him a couple of times before, but something seemed off.
“Everything’s fine,” Jerry replied, forcing a smile. “I just need to get away from here.”
“Take me with you,” Ella blurted out. Jerry turned to look at her. “Please, I can’t stay here. I … I just need to go.”
“Did something happen?” Jerry asked in concern.
“No, nothing. I just need to leave. Please.”
Jerry nodded. “I’ll take you home,” he said softly, extending his arm.
Ella placed a hand on his arm, and relaxed as his proximity allowed some of his warmth to seep into her. She smiled for the first time that day. Now, this … this was better. This was okay. This was normal.
Chapter 5: The Truth She Never Knew
The PRESENT …
Ella sat down, resting her aching head against the back of the couch. She just wanted to go to sleep, but she knew that Chun was waiting for some answers. She reluctantly opened her eyes, searching for him.
“Selina and Hebe have gone home,” Chun said, coming to sit down beside her. He handed her a glass of wine.
Ella quickly finished the glass, needing the courage only alcohol could give her now. “I’m glad they were there,” she murmured. “I didn’t think that things would turn out this way.”
“You didn’t?” Chun asked sardonically, filling her glass once more.
“Of course I didn’t,” Ella denied hotly. “I was marrying the guy! Do you think I would have even looked at him if I knew that he was in love with Barbie! You were dating her,” she exclaimed. “If she was in love with him, why was she dating you?” She tipped her head back once more, finishing the second glass of wine.
“She was trying to make him jealous,” Chun replied, his hand coming out to take the glass away from her. “You see, Jerry decided long ago that they were just good friends, and it seemed that he wasn’t ready to see her as anything else. She was tired of waiting. Barbie felt that if she didn’t do something, Jerry would always see her as a friend.”
Ella nodded, finally grasping the truth of the bitterness she had seen in Jerry on that long ago picnic day. “No wonder Jerry was so angry that day. I always felt like there was a distance between us. No matter how hard I tried to ignore it, it was there.” She ran her fingers through her hair, and winced as she encountered the pins that held her veil in place. “I can’t believe I’m still wearing this,” she muttered, tugging ruthlessly at the veil.
“Let me,” Chun said, moving forward. He gently began to pull the pins from her hair, and ran his fingers through her tresses, massaging her scalp. “Ella?”
“Hmm?” Ella asked, almost asleep from the effects of the wine and his tender ministrations.
“I know that you didn’t love Jerry,” he said bluntly. “I didn’t see any pain in your eyes today.”
Ella nodded reluctantly in agreement.
“Then, why were you marrying him,” he demanded.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she murmured, turning away from him.
“We need to talk about it,” he replied grimly, turning her back to face him.
“It’s because my feelings for him … whatever feelings I had,” Ella muttered, “they were right. They weren’t wrong.”
He leaned closer, wanting a clearer answer. “And … did you have the wrong feelings for someone else?”
Ella began to breathe deeply, moving towards slumber. The stress of the day had taken its toll. She had thought that she would marry Jerry today, and that marriage would have created the distance she needed between Chun and her emotions. But now, she was back here. In Chun’s apartment. In Chun’s … arms.
“Maybe,” she murmured, struggling to turn away. She forced herself to wake up, knowing that she had to be alert for this conversation, but her mind was too fuzzy. “This is wrong,” she muttered balefully.
“What are you talking about?”
Ella got up, and moved away from his drugging presence. “How can I want to love you?” she finally asked brokenly. “You’re my brother. It’s wrong. It’s sick…”
Chun stared at her.
“I’m sick. I’ve been having these feelings since you came back into my life.” She closed her eyes, wanting to shut out the world. “These feelings started before I even knew who you were, but I couldn’t get them to stop even when I knew who you were. I couldn’t get them to stop when I found out what you were to me. What do I do? How do I stop it? I tried to fall in love with a great guy … I almost married him, but even on my wedding day, I had to convince myself that I was in love with him. Even on my wedding day, your image kept on appearing in my mind.” She rubbed at her arms, trying to fight the chill that was invading her body. Her throat felt so raw; it physically hurt to say the words.
“I’m sick,” she repeated, bending to get her purse. “I’ll leave,” she said, aware of his continued silence. “I’ll understand if you want to end our relationship, and keep away from me and my issues.”
“Ella?” Chun finally said, clearing his throat. “What exactly did your aunt tell you?”
“That’s all you can ask?” Ella asked, turning to look at him in surprise. “I just confessed that I love you!” she shouted hysterically. “I can’t … I can’t be around you and keep on feeling this way. It makes me feel … I need to leave. I can’t talk about this right now.”
“If you leave without talking about this,” Chun said, “Then you’ll never have the courage to face me. Even with all these years between us, I know you Ella. It hurt you to speak those words. But now that you have … you won’t ever come willingly near me again, right?” Chun began to walk toward her. “You’re already having wild ideas about quitting your work. Running off.” He latched onto her wrist, and took the purse away from her. “You’re already thinking of how you can disappear from our lives.” He set the purse aside. “But you know that won’t work.” He pulled her back to the couch. Pushing her gently, he made her sit down once more. “Now, tell me what your aunt told you.”
“She told me,” Ella sniffled, “She told me that you had made a life for yourself. She told me that you didn’t have time to take care of a brat like me. She told me that you had chosen to move on, and that I would only be a burden to you.”
“Ella … I …”
“You never wrote back!”
“I wrote you so many letters, and you never wrote back. I begged you to just keep in touch. I didn’t care if you couldn’t take care of me. I just wanted to talk to my beloved brother. I just wanted to read your words. Maybe hear your voice. But you ignored every plea! It broke me a little bit … when each of my letters to you went unanswered. You were my world, but I was nothing to you. I finally realized that. And then you came back into my life and started confusing me.”
Chun pulled her into his arms, shocked by the pain he heard in her voice. She struggled mightily, trying to get free. “If you had answered, if you had maintained our relationship … I wouldn’t be so confused right now,” she said accusingly. “Let me go,” she shouted, suddenly tired of it all. She began to beat at him with her fists, wanting to hurt him as much as he had hurt her.
Chun sighed and pulled her close. “I’m sorry,” he finally said.
“What are you sorry about?” Ella muttered into his shirt. “I’m the sick one.”
He laughed softly, and cradled her close, smoothing a hand over her hair.
“Even though we were only together for three years,” he finally murmured, “I always kept an image of you in my heart. You were the one that kept me going.”
Ella pulled away and looked at him. “What? But I was seven when …”
“I wanted to keep in touch,” he said suddenly, “But your aunt wouldn’t have liked it.” Ella was distracted.
“Why?” she asked angrily, grabbing onto his shirt. “What possible reason could she have for keeping siblings apart?”
“That’s just it,” Chun murmured, hugging her tightly. He knew that she would need warmth, because of what he was about to tell her next. “We’re not siblings. We’re not even related.”
“I don’t understand …” Ella began hesitantly, feeling a chill growing inside of her once more. “What are you saying?”
“I was just someone your parents took in when my mother abandoned me. She was a servant in your family’s house, and one day … she was just gone. Instead of throwing me into an orphanage, your parents took me in and decided to take care of me. No one in your family thought this was a good idea, but your parents didn’t care. They were wonderful, compassionate people, and they would never have thrown a young, vulnerable child out.”
“But then why did I …?”
“Why did you consider me your brother?”
She nodded into his shirt, anchored to him by her hold on his shirt. A part of her was afraid of what he was going to say next, but another part of her … the part that was tired of feeling horrible … wanted that truth.
“When you were four … there was an accident.”
‘What kind of accident?”
“You did have a brother, Ella,” Chun explained. “He loved you, and you … you adored him. He was the sun that made your world bright. You were always following him around, asking him to smile for you. You’d go into a fit of giggles when you were around him. No one else existed for you when he was in the room.”
Ella froze, uncomprehending. “I don’t understand.”
“One day, during the winter, we went out on a walk. I don’t know what happened … suddenly, you were in the water. The water was so swift. Your brother jumped into save you. But he wasn’t a strong swimmer either, and … he drowned. You swallowed a lot of water, before I could get to you. You were sick for so many days, and when you came out of it … you had erased him from your memory. It was as if he had never existed. And I … I became your Ge”
Ella pulled away and got up, wanting to put some distance between them. She moved to the other side of the room, and then turned to look at him. “What are you saying?” she finally uttered, shocked to the bottom of her soul. “How could I have just erased my brother from my mind?”
“You needed him so much, and you couldn’t comprehend a world without him. You wouldn’t eat … you wouldn’t drink your medicine … you would only ask for your Ge. Your parents asked me to come in, hoping that it would be enough. And for some reason, you called me your Ge and latched onto my hand. The doctors said it was due to the trauma of almost drowning, and seeing your brother disappear right in front of your eyes. And then the fever …”
Ella’s shoulders slumped, weighed down by the burden of memories she couldn’t recall. “What about you?”
“I wasn’t related to you,” he replied. “At least, your aunt was willing to take you in.
“But what about you?” Ella demanded. “Who took care of you?”
“I went to an orphanage.”
Ella stared at him in horror. “She just threw you out?”
“She didn’t want any contact between us,” Chun continued. “I had to respect that, especially when she had it in her to make your life miserable because she was a miserable woman herself.” He moved to stand behind her. Reaching out, he placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Ella turned to gaze into his eyes. “I can’t believe that out of all the companies that I applied to, I got a job in this one. What a coincidence, huh?”
Chun raised an eyebrow at her.
“It wasn’t a coincidence?” she asked, wanting confirmation.
He shook his head in negation. “As soon as I was able to, I started keeping an eye on you. I had you hired, when your resume came in.”
Ella paused, and then wrinkled her brows. “But … then, what does all of this mean?”
“It means,” he said softly, reaching out to pull her into his arms. “Your feelings aren’t wrong.”
Ella blushed and tried to pull away. Her feelings might not have been wrong anymore, but she’d still left herself open to rejection. Chun would be gentle in his rejection, but her crazy confession would always stay between them.
“Ella, I love you, too.”
“You don’t have to say that,” she began, her heart beginning to beat rapidly.
“You’re right. I don’t. I’m saying it because I want to. I knew it was you the moment I saw you in the parking garage, even though I haven’t allowed myself to look at any pictures of you. You were still that bright, sunny girl that I remembered. Still enchanted by the simplest things. You still liked picnics and walks, and playing in the rain. You remind me of warmth, compassion, love … everything I lost when I lost you. The more time I spent with you, the more I realized that you are my home,” Chun confessed, kissing her on the forehead.
Ella snuggled into his arms, reveling in the freedom of being able to embrace him.
“And you decided to marry Jerry,” he muttered, mock angrily.
Ella pulled back to look at him sheepishly. “Well, you know it wasn’t love,” she explained shamefacedly. “It was me running as fast as I could from you and my feelings for you.”
Chun pulled her back into his arms and squeezed her tight. “You won’t ever have to be ashamed of your feelings for me.”
Ella smiled into his shirt, relieved. She wasn’t wrong in wanting to love Chun. She wasn’t perverse in her feelings. “I love you.”
“I will always love you.” Raising her head, he bent down and kissed her lightly on the lips. Ella closed her eyes, allowing herself to sink into the kiss. She didn’t know what she thought about the fact that she had lost a brother so long ago … a brother that she had adored. She didn’t know what she felt about the fact that her aunt had put Chun in an orphanage, and blocked all contact between the two. It was too much to think about now. For now … this was enough. She allowed herself to relax.
This was happiness. And they would live happily ever after.
AN: I was inspired to write this story when I watched bits and pieces of Autumn’s Tale. In it, the hero (H) and heroine (h) grow up as brother and sister, until the truth comes out that h was switched at birth with another of her classmates. Until this point, there was a pure sibling love between the two, and H absolutely treasured his younger sister. h has to go live with her biological parents, and H’s parents, in all of their wisdom, decide that a complete severance of all relationships between the girls and their “parents” would be the best thing. H and h don’t see each other for years. When they are reunited, they realize that the love they felt for each still exists, but it has transformed into something more. All these years, their parents have said they were NOT siblings, so H and h can’t call their love a sibling love. But when they give it a romantic label, they are criticized by everyone around them. I believe that even the H and h, themselves, don’t know what they are feeling. The one time they try to kiss in the drama, it looks as if it is so painful for them. If they are trying to emote the characters’ confusion, then they do so successfully. H and h so clearly love each other as siblings, but the world is constantly telling them that they are NOT siblings. That one platonic kiss is the one attempt they make to step outside their comfort zone. But if that wasn’t the purpose of the kiss scene between H and h, then it was just bad acting.
I wanted to bring some of that torment and confusion into this story, but I don’t think I succeeded. Even so, I hope that you enjoyed this story and let me know what you thought of it.