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The night had grown calmer since Ariel and Joe stopped by the gazebo in Town Square. The atmosphere had grown a bit different but Ariel still felt comfortable just walking side by side with Joe. She couldn’t think of anywhere else to go at this point, but it was already so late so ending their little tour here would be appropriate. Walking up the small couple of stairs to the apartment complex, Ariel opens up the gated door to her apartment.
“So the tour ends here?” Joe jokingly asked. “No wonder you don’t have a car. Your job ends at your front door.”
“It works out nicely doesn’t it?” she laughed, nodding back at him. “I had a very nice time, Joe.”
“Likewise,” he said as he slightly tilted his head forward. “You should go straight to bed so you can stay warm.”
“Will do,” Ariel smiled lightly as she rummages through her keys. “Oh my, it’s really late. Are you going home now?”
“That was the plan,” he nodded back a bit. “Why?”
“It’s not going to be easy trying to get a taxi at this hour,” she nervously cringed at his response. “Do you want to stay over? I have some extra sheets in the apartment somewhere.”
“No, I should probably get going,” Joe hesitantly declined. “I have an early flight tomorrow.”
“Oh right; the flight to London starts the day of the talent show,” she remembered. “I still can’t believe out of all those pilots, they chose you to go to London.”
“Lucky me,” he shook his head at his own misfortunes.
“I’ll take pictures of the show for you,” she mentioned casually to make him feel better.
Unable to continue their conversation any further, Ariel realized it was time for Joe to go home even though neither really wanted him to leave at that moment. Ariel wasn’t in the mood to go back to her quiet apartment after being so comfortable with Joe by her side, but things couldn’t be helped; the night needed to go on.
Cutting in at the awkwardness, Joe speaks. “I guess I better get going then.”
“W-wait. When are you coming back?” she asked nervously, hoping that she didn’t sound too eager.
“My flight comes back in a few days,” he answered with a dull expression.
“Oh ok,” she responded back with a soft disappointed sigh. “Good night.”
“Bye,” he nodded back. “Sleep well.”
Just as he was heading the opposite way, Ariel makes a small tug at the end of his jacket, hoping that the night wouldn’t end with just those simple words. Perhaps, just something more would make her heart stop beating so fast. She opened her mouth to say something but nothing came out. Only a small exhale escaped from her lips.
“Yes?” he turned to her and asked. “Is something wrong?”
Gently letting go of his jacket, Ariel quickly brought her hand up to her hair and ruffled it a bit. “Nothing, it’s nothing.”
“Ah I know,” he rolled his eyes in amusement. “God knows when we shall meet again, right?”
“Ach,” she groaned, embarrassed, with her hand still scratching at her head. “You remembered.”
Giving a slight smirk, Joe notices her nervous behavior and reaches over to meet her fingers which were driven deep in her long locks of hair. As their hands gently touch, Ariel trembles and her hand immediately goes limp in his. Brushing a warm thumb over her hand, Joe reaches for her other hand and his eyes immediately drop down to meet hers.
“Good night…” he tenderly spoke before he suddenly dipped his head low enough to whisper in her ear. “…Ms. Lin.”
Letting those words softly hover in her ear he places his lips gently on her cheek, in hopes to let his warmth rush into the small crevice of her face from the bitter night air. As Joe lingers there for a moment, he could feel the dimple forming from below as Ariel’s giggles capture the moment. Just watching her laugh was enough for him to miss her already. Finally unable to contain her excitement, Ariel draws her arms forward and wraps them around his neck to hug him.
“Stay just a little bit longer?” Ariel whispered back.
“It’s already so late and you want me to stay?” he chuckled back, unwrapping her arms from his neck. She only nodded. “…Do I have to?”
“Yes!” she quickly answered. “C’mon at least come up so I can get you a sweater or something to warm to warm you up. I wouldn’t want to be the reason you’re going to your trip sick tomorrow.”
Well she was right. He was the one who was complaining about the cold earlier anyways. They headed up the stairs and stepped in front of her door. Once she unlocked the knob, they both enter into a pitch black apartment. Joe tried his best to not stumble on something since he’s only been in the apartment only a few times before, but Ariel knew exactly where she was going even in the dark.
“Hey, I can’t see where I am going,” Joe probed around for a chair or a table. “Turn on the lights.”
“You can see perfectly,” Ariel teased, giggling to herself, as she flicked on the lights. She could already see him rolling his eyes at her cheekiness. “Are you still cold?”
“No, it’s quite warm in here,” he smiled back. “I’ll take that sweater that you offered earlier, though. You have one that’ll fit me?”
“Probably not,” he continued to laugh. “But let me check. Kris always comes back from Abe’s place with one of his sweaters since she keeps forgetting to bring hers when she visits him. I should have one laying around here somewhere. Take a seat, don’t mind me.”
Ariel was busy rummaging through her things as Joe sat down on the couch, patiently waiting. She went through the closets, the hamper, through Kris’ mess, everywhere. Somehow, she knew she had kept at least one of Abe’s sweaters around but right now she had no idea where. Coming out of her bedroom, Ariel had a frown plastered on her face and her hands were firmly placed on her hips. It seemed as if she was in deep thought.
Joe looked behind him and saw her expression. “Can’t find it?”
“I know I have it somewhere I just don’t know where. AH! But I do have a sweater of mine that you can try on. It’s quite big on me so it’ll probably fit you.”
Rushing back to the room, Ariel swats through her closet and pulls out a sweater Aunt Sally had made for her for Christmas one year. Now Aunt Sally has never been the crafty type, and this sweater wasn’t an exception. It fit like a garbage bag over Ariel and it looked like the festivities of the holidays had exploded on the material. Perfect.
“Ok, this might not be the best sweater in the world…” Ariel tried to explain as she walked into the living room holding onto the sweater far away from herself. “…but this is the only sweater I have that can fit you.”
“GAH!” Joe frightfully screamed back as he looked at the sweater. “I mean…it’s lovely.”
“It’s hideous,” Ariel frankly answered.
“Yeah, I lied, it’s pretty bad,” Joe truthfully nodded. “Do I have to wear it?”
“Do you want to freeze?” she quickly retaliated. “Just where it under your coat.”
“I’m afraid to be swallowed by the Christmas hobgoblins that live in that sweater,” he joked with not a hint of insincerity.
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you,” she shrugged, as she examined the sweater closely. “I know it’s ugly but I don’t have anything else that’ll fit you. C’mon just try it on.”
“…it wouldn’t hurt…” he winced.
Taking off his jacket, Joe tried slipping on the sweater over his dress shirt, but things sort have taken a wrong turn when he couldn’t fit his head over the sweater.
“Oh, I’m stuck,” Joe said a loud as his whole body was contorted in the sweater. “Ariel, help me out!”
She, however, was busy laughing at the sight to even going to try. If she could she would, but the pain in her side wouldn’t go away once the fits started coming.
Once he realized she wasn’t helping, he stood still, with his whole upper body still tangled within the tight sweater.
“Are you laughing at me?”
“Of course…” she continued grabbing at her side, with a cackle from her throat. “…not.”
“Get me out of this!” Joe yelled back at her. “I want out of this confinement!”
“Ok, ok, stop struggling,” she subsided her laughter for now. Taking a chair, Ariel stood on the seat and pulled the godforsaken sweater upward from his body and like a band-aid, the sweater ripped off.
“Geez!” Joe exhaled a deep breathe as he fell onto the couch. “I nearly suffocated in there and you still laughed!”
Stepping off the chair, Ariel walks over to the couch and crouches over him. She places her hands on top of his and she could feel his pulse palpitating like crazy.
“Well, it works,” she smirked. “You’re not cold anymore.” He glared back at her but it soon dissipated when she flashed him that those pearly whites. “How about you stay here for the night and leave early tomorrow?”
Joe gave a small chuckle. “Do I have a choice?”
“No,” she responded frankly. “And since you don’t have a choice, you are to stay right here and let me do all the work. I’ll take care of you. I’m going to get the sheets now.”
Just as she was about to leave, he sat up and grabbed her arm to pull her on the couch. She nearly fell off from his abrupt manner, but he quickly wrapped his arms around her from behind to stop her from falling.
“You’ll do,” he whispered into her ear.
With her still tight around his arms, Joe fell back into the end of the couch and began to fall asleep. It looked like he was a child holding onto his teddy bear.
“W-wait,” Ariel protested, turning around to face him. “This isn’t right.”
Trying to coax her into staying, he nuzzled his nose next to hers. “I thought you said you’d take care of me. I have no choice remember?”
“But…what if I fall off? This couch isn’t really big enough for the two of us.” Well that wasn’t about to stop him either.
“Who said I would let you fall?” he answered seriously.
“Well… what if you kick me off?” she continued to ask.
“Who said I would kick you off?” he repeated. “I sleep like a baby.”
“Well what if you let me go and then I fall off?” she kept refusing to sleep with him even when he kept giving excuses.
As if his arms weren’t tight around her already, he raised her body a bit higher to let her eyes meet his and held her even closer to him. “I won’t let you go.” He whispered softly.
And just like that, she was entranced by his sincerity of his words. “Promise?”
Joe saw the discomfort in her eyes soon go away as he drew her even closer. The only thing that separated them apart was her free hands roaming around playing with his face. Neither had been that comfortable with each other in a long time, but once they were, everything seemed to just fit like a glove. The way his hands curved perfectly to mold her body, the way her hands tickled his chin, everything.
“Joe?” she suddenly asked in a silent whisper. “Can you stay forever?”
“Forever and ever with you,” he whispered back.
“Will I still see you in the morning?” she continued to ask.
Her words soon loomed in his head as he spoke. Not the ones he just spoke, but the words he had heard years before when they were still together. That time, she had been 4 months pregnant and had that same soft smile she was sporting now which was why he thought about it in the first place. They were standing in front of her porch when she was smiling in front of him on a moonlit night with a stiff pinky pointed directly at him. Even then he couldn’t resist her charming ways.
“Promise me,” she said. “Once the moon is done settling downward, the sun upward, and birds are chirping us to wake as the fragrant smells of dewy greenery hits the air, I will be lying safely in your arms for years to come. This way, you’re not allowed to forget.”
If only that were true…then perhaps he could get some sleep after all these years. Snapping back to reality took only a few moments. And within those moments he went back to smiling foolishly to the only woman who was able to capture his heart for so long.
“Ariel,” he began to recite. “I promise, once the moon is done settling downward, the sun upward, and birds are chirping us to wake as the fragrant smells of dewy greenery hits the air, you will be lying safely in my arms.”
She looked at him with a weak smile and said “okay.”
Now they can finally get some sleep.
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