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Chapter 34

Surprisingly, Ariel had Mike on her mind. It had been too long since they’d had communicated with each other. What exactly happened that day Mike met Rainie’s father? Well whatever happened, nothing good came out of it. Everyone stopped talking to one another. Rainie ignored her phone calls and Joe never seemed to have the time to talk; everything seemed to have fallen apart.

As she walked the strangely, warm autumn streets, in her light summer dress, Ariel began to contemplate, that perhaps Mike had seriously gave up on his pursuit for Rainie. But that was a dumb idea; knowing how much he would fawn over silly things such as Rainie’s simplest kiss, Ariel rolled her eyes at the idea and brushed it off her shoulders. Letting out an exhausted sigh, she turns the corner to her favorite outdoor café shop only to abruptly stop as something caught her eye.

“Joe?”

Quickly, Ariel took a seat far away from him and pressed her menu hard on her face to dodge any awkwardness such as unwanted small talk, especially after their long break from seeing each other. It would have been the perfect situation to go and talk to him… if not for the other woman sitting across from him.

He looked quite happy as he sat in his seat; laughing and talking while taking a sip of coffee from the dainty café cup. Dressed quite sharply with a nice black suit and tie, he almost looked like a modern player in the 21 century bourgeois. For a second there, she thought he could quite possibly turn out to be this year’s model of Mr. Darcy. Even Jane Austen would certainly approve if she ever took a gander.

Suddenly, Ariel felt an irritating beating from within that seemed to nag at her incessantly; her heartbeat. It was pounding abnormally, so she tapped at her chest with a couple hard jabs, until she felt the twinge of pain and finally winced like a child. She rubbed at the sore spot and cringed automatically as she clutched her chest, but also in the process she hit her head on the table.

“OW!” she whined as she whimpers from pain. “Geez, why am I so nervous?”

Ariel softly patted her head to stop the throbbing, until Joe got up from his table and shook hands with the woman before she left and he takes his seat again.

“Oh, so maybe this wasn’t a date,” she says quietly to herself, finally getting a pang of relief over her body. Too bad her head and her chest were still sore. She laid her head on the table and softly sulked to herself as comfort.

“Ugh it still hurts!” she moaned as she rubbed her head and chest.

“Well maybe next time you should stop ease-dropping,” said a voice from above.

“Wah!” Ariel jumped a bit out of her chair. “J-Joe?”

Taking a seat next to her, Joe sighs a bit and lazily drops his body on the chair as he loosens his tie.

“What are you doing here?” Ariel asked.

“I should be asking you the same,” he says with a small smile. “You normally come here to eat by yourself.”

“Yes, yes I do,” she answered defensively.

“I see,” he laughed. “So you wouldn’t like it if I hung out with you a bit, right?”

“Uh…no, no it’s fine,” she nervously smiled back, with a bit of shyness.

“Good.” He shut his eyes tight as he groaned from fatigue, and rubbed his neck harshly.

“So…who was that woman you were with?” Ariel suddenly asked.

“Woman?” he asked as if never saw anything of the sort. “OH! You mean Ms. Jing.”

Ms. Jing? Surnames? How professional, Ariel thought. She was definitely not his date.

“She’s Mrs. Lee’s niece; you remember Mrs. Lee right?” he asked. She nodded back. “Well anyways, I promised her that I would take her niece on a date as a favor.”

“ Wha-What!” Ariel screamed. Her heart began to pound again.

“Yeah, she seems nice,” Joe said lightly. “We actually have a lot in common; I guess Mrs. Lee really does know me well, HA! Who knew! Plus she’s not that bad looking either.”

Oh here comes the pangs again, digging deeper and deeper into her.

“So you liked her,” Ariel tried to say calmly.

“Yeah,” he answered quickly. “We’d agree to exchange numbers and all that. I might ask her out again.”

“R-really?” Ariel manages to utter.

Joe looked like her was thinking hard for a second, but bluntly said…

“No.”

“What!” Ariel spat out. Her heart immediately fell to her stomach.

“You actually believed me!?” he laughed. “Geez, how slow are you really?”

“So you were lying this whole time?!” she exasperatedly asked.

“No, not lying,” he smugly replied. “I was ‘Playing ambiguous’. That sounds more pleasing.”

“Playing ambiguous?” she inquired. “So you were teasing me?!”

“I thought women liked mysterious men,” he said a bit too confidently.

“Mysterious yes, cruel no,” she hissed. “How do you feel about her really?”

“Why do you want to know so badly?” Joe laughed in curiosity.

“I-I don’t it’s just…it’s called interest,” she said poking her tongue at him.

“Well, what’s with all the interest,” he slyly asked. “Scared that she’d take me away from you?”

“NO!” she answered firmly. “As if that could ever be a possibility.”

“You’re just THAT confident in yourself huh?” he continued to mock her. “Of course you’re not scared because no one can take your precious boy-toy away from you, right?”

“I meant that she’d be insane to ever go after a delirious man like you!” Ariel hissed.

“Mmhmm,” he said as he rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry. No matter how smart, beautiful or perfect the specimen may be, no woman can match your bizarre and awkward disposition that for some reason has me intrigued to an absurd degree.”

“And yet…” she added sarcastically. “I am still not impressed.”

“Why do I like you?” he continued to fuel her burning anger. “It’s the strangest thing!”

“And you wonder why I haven’t openly fawned over your sensitivity and graciousness as a man!” she bitterly joked. “If I’m so strange, why did you admit your feelings for me?”

“…eh,” he shrugged. “Spur of the moment?”

Ariel was floored. Such an insensitive dolt he turned out to be. Or, perhaps he just liked seeing her suffer. Either way their chance of a “romantic relationship” started to fizzle away faster and faster.

“Oh I’ve been meaning to ask if Mike is still…” she began to ask with a wince.

“Yeah, he’s still locked in his room. Won’t come out to talk, won’t come out to watch TV; I’m not even sure if he’s eating. Ever since he came back from that meeting with Mr. Yang, he’s been like a bump on a log,” Joe sighed deeply.

“Poor guy,” she pouted back. “I wondered what Rainie’s father and Mike said to each other. Whatever it was, it must have hurt him pretty bad.”

“Whatever it was, it’s gotta be big!” Joe said.

“Yeah…” Ariel began to say, as she took another look at Joe, who was looking at her with an unusual amount of brain power.

Something was digging into Joe’s head like a jackhammer ready to crack the pavement but the words seemed to just grumble into a mesh of gibberish. What was he forgetting to tell Ariel? There was something he needed to say…

“What? Is there something on my face?” she asked.

“No,” he answered back. “I need to say something.”

“What is it?” she asked anxiously.

What’s with his face? He looked so handsome before, when he was talking with Mrs. Lee’s neice, but now he’s turned into such a ham…

“I know what I want to say…I just can’t seem to remember all the words” he answered vaguely. “I had it, I just had it!”

“Well…what does that mean?” Ariel asked a bit exasperated.

“I don’t know.”

Ugh, well this was getting them nowhere.

“Oh I got it! I remember!” he suddenly burst aloud.

“Yes?” Ariel cringed in apprehension.

“Mike’s mother is finally out of the hospital,” he nodded. “Yeah, right when Mike came back from his meeting with Mr. Yang, he asked me to take this envelope to the hospital and all of sudden the whole entire surgery was paid for!”

“Wow, that’s great!” Ariel excited gleamed. “How’d he get the money? I thought he still needed to work out the kinks since he needed to pay for the hospital bills too.”

“I’m not sure,” Joe shrugged. “But I guess he saved enough from the catering business to take care of both. I thought that bit of news would put Rainie at ease for a bit.”

“I’m sure it will,” she beamed. “AH!”

And all of a sudden, in this strange autumn day it began to lightly rain. Ariel’s light summer dressed was soaked and she had nowhere to go to change.

“Oh and now it’s raining!” she pouted. “I couldn’t even tell that it was cloudy!”

Joe rolled up a newspaper nearby and lightly smacked her upside the head with it.

“Don’t you read the newspaper?” he joked. “It says it’s gonna rain this whole week!”

“No way!” she gasped as she rummaged through the pages.

“Hold your horses,” he said looking at the cloud. “Yeah, it’s going to be pretty heavy.”

“I didn’t even bring an umbr-” Ariel continued to sulk.

Upon hearing her predicament, Joe didn’t hesitate to open his umbrella and hand it to her.

“Here- this should help a bit,” he smiled.

“Oh no, I can’t take your umbrella at a time like this! It’s raining too hard!” she argued.

“You’re not,” he answered frankly before heading back to his previous table to grab his overcoat.

“What are you doing?” she yelled back at him hesitantly.

Surprisingly, Joe came back with his coat and wrapped it tightly around her without saying anything patronizing. He smiled a bit and answered her briefly.

“Now don’t say I never did anything for you,” he joked.

Grabbing the newspaper he rolled up earlier, he looks at the dull sky and gives Ariel a final goodbye.

“See ya,” he winked.

“W-Wait!” she called back. “You don’t have to be like this.”

He only smirked. “Yes, I do. I’ll catch up with you some other time.”

And with that he left, without his coat and umbrella, running in the pouring rain with his best looking suit getting drenched and with only a newspaper covering his head. Ariel thought about what had all happened. For sure, he wasn’t her knight in shining armor, teasing and making fun of her for as long as he did. But he wasn’t the arch nemesis either but rather an endearing jester perhaps.

Smiling a bit, she takes a whiff of the oversized coat that Joe cloaked her in. Oh yeah, definitely needed cleaning. Whatever he was, she knew she needed him. She laughed a bit. She wasn’t sure what exactly their relationship was, but for sure-it wasn’t just friendship. Well at least…she didn’t want it to end there. Maybe this 21 century Mr. Darcy had more to him than she first thought.

 

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