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“Why didn’t you tell us!?!” Rainie screamed at Jiro once Ariel left the house. “Why are your parents coming to visit?”
Hovering to the corner, Jiro spoke inarticulately. “I- I thought it would be nice for them to meet Ella.”
“That’s it?” Mike asked with a bit of confusion. “You didn’t purposely invite them to meet Ariel did you?”
“S-so what if I did?” Jiro proudly spoke. “She’s my sister after all. Her parents deserve to know where she is after all this time.”
“Yes,” Rainie rolled her eyes. “But we haven’t even talked to Joe about it. If her parents come strolling in to meet her, everything will be revealed and she’s going to wonder why on Earth has Joe not told her about everything.”
“So why hasn’t Joe told her anything?” Mike asked to no one in specific.
“I don’t know, you ask him,” Rainie growled back.
“Exactly, so why don’t we just speed up the process,” Jiro included. “Besides, I didn’t know Joe was leaving the country to go on that trip. If I did, I would have postponed the meeting.”
“So now what?” Mike asked abruptly.
“Does Joe know that your parents are coming?” Rainie faced Jiro.
“Yeah, I told him about it a week ago, before we left for the flight,” Jiro casually mentioned. “He seemed Ok with it and glad that they’re coming.”
“But Joe doesn’t know that we know Ariel is here,” Rainie tried to understand the predicament.
“Exactly,” Jiro chimed. “I think…”
“We are so screwed,” Mike abruptly shook his head
After leaving the house, Ariel quietly walked around the nearby flea market that she had passed by earlier when she walked over to Rainie’s. Crowds of people were lightly pattering by with small talk, the night lanterns were brightly colored giving off a very welcoming atmosphere, and the cold night breeze ran through softly against the skin. It was perfect night for a late night walk to clear up some festering thoughts. It struck Ariel hard after leaving Rainie’s place. Never mind the expensive looking kitchen, the classy dinnerware and all. But Ariel just couldn’t get over the homey feeling she got when she entered. Going back to her apartment wouldn’t feel the same after that…
Even with the calming night rustle of the flea market, it was disturbingly cold. But Ariel had nothing better to do. Ella was going home with Jiro, and Yi Zhen was at work so there wasn’t a possibility of a girl’s night out. Perhaps it was time to call Rainie? She said anytime…right? It wouldn’t hurt to check up on Kris would it?
Picking up the phone Ariel started dialing random numbers, not really knowing what she was doing until the phone started ringing on the other end and suddenly a man’s voice woke her up from her absent mindedness.
“Hello?” he answered.
Widening her eyes, Ariel had completely forgotten to get Rainie’s number and quickly hung up. “Who did I just call?” Ariel grimaced to herself. “Oh please don’t have caller ID…”
And just as she suspected, he did. The phone rang once again and she slammed her head onto the palm on her hand.
“H-hello?” Ariel answered.
“Ariel?” the voice answered back.
“Who is this?” Ariel asked with a deep frown.
“Shouldn’t you know? You’re the one who called me just a second ago,” he continued to pester her. “Don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten about me?”
“Oh…shit,” she whispered to herself. “Sorry Joe, I accidently dialed your number. I was meaning to call a friend,” she stuttered the words as her thoughts ran a mile per second.
“Really? Are you looking for some company?” he said, catching her a bit off guard. “Or are you alright standing mindlessly in the middle of a flea market all by yourself with nothing but that atrocity of a sweater…”
“Where are you?” Ariel asked him anxiously as she began twirling her body back and forth to see where on earth he was.
“Let your heart show you the way,” he cheekily answered back, only to hear her scoff at the end of the receiver.
“You corn dog, you better tell me where you are before I leave,” she joked back.
And just within a quick glance she spotted Joe waving back to her with that smirk he had plastered on his face probably since when he first spotted her. He was sitting down at a nearby small restaurant that sold midnight snacks by the roadside. Grabbing his hot cup of tea from the table, Joe saunters over to her side and cocks his head to the side, relishing on being such a tease.
“How are you?” he manages to break his smirk with those words.
“I’m okay, I just dropped Kris off at a friend’s house,” she replied, shoving both her cold tight hands into her thin sweater. “Speaking of Kris, I have a bone to pick with you.”
“I don’t want another Lin reminding me that I’m pond scum for not going to the talent show,” Joe groaned as he shook his head.
“Well…” she frowned lightly. “I should yell at you but it seems like Kris knocked out all her energy on you. She’s been moping around the apartment ever since and I thought maybe she needs some comfort from someone other than her mother, so I took her over to her friend’s house.”
“She’s really mad at me huh?” he hesitantly asked.
“Don’t worry about it, she’ll get over it,” Ariel shrugged it off. “In the mean time, why don’t I take your mind off of and show you around. You’ve only been here for a couple months right? And all you’ve been doing is going back and forth to the airport? C’mon I’ll show the sights.”
“Ah my own personal tour guide to Caoya,” he chuckled a bit. “Sounds fun. Where are we going to first?”
“Well do you know where we’re standing?” Looking around at the surroundings herself, Ariel remembered all the memories she had right from where she was standing. “This is Cianjhen Harbor, one of the largest fish markets in Taiwan; when its day time, that is. At night the Harbor becomes a magnificent flea market for many local businesses. We pride our city on this Harbor and every year we celebrate it by having a Grand Ball.”
“Interesting,” he added in between her speech. “So I picked a good town to settle in huh?”
“A Great town,” she emphasized.
As they began their tour, Ariel took Joe to the many small sights only the locals new of. She took him to the end of the harbor, which was literally deserted now as the moon illuminated the pitch dark sky. She took him to the edge of town, which wasn’t that far away from where they were and finally she made her way to the middle of town square. This was the highlight of Caoya, therefore what better way to end a tour than with the heart and soul of the town.
“And this you should already know,” Ariel sighed at the sight before her. “Town square; it’s probably the most beautiful part of town, especially at night. Compared to all the places you have been this little piece of land isn’t much but you’ve got to admit, it’s something right?”
He looked at her with his hands buried deep into his pockets from the blistering cold night air. “It would be even better if I wasn’t frozen like a Popsicle,” he let out a small chuckle. “Then perhaps I could take in the beauty you’re referring to.”
“Don’t tell me a big, strong man such as yourself is shivering like a little girl?” she poked at his side, playfully letting a smile escape from her lips. “Do you want me to hold you like a baby?”
If his teeth weren’t chattering involuntarily and his body wasn’t convulsing he’d have something to say. But that was a pretty big “if.” It didn’t help that her cheekiness was making her offer utterly irresistible to his fluttering heart.
Joe took a small breathe and rolled his eyes as he spoke with a monotonous tone, “please hold me before I break into a tiny million pieces of frozen flesh.”
Ariel only giggled at him before she grappled his body with her arms from behind and walked him over to a nearby open Gazebo. “And here you were, harping at me for only bringing a thin sweater.”
“Are we staying in the cold? Why are we staying in the cold?” Joe asked, only focusing on the lack of heat he wasn’t receiving. “Is this the end of our tour?”
She quickly rubbed her hands on his arms and gave him a tight hug. “Better?”
“A little,” he managed to speak.
“Let’s stay a little longer before we go,” she requested with those long eyelashes batting back at him. She laid her chin right under his shoulder blade and nuzzled her head comfortably in his shirt. “I’ll keep you warm.”
From their view, other than the toe curling bitterness of the night air, the night sky was clear and the stars seemed to have tripled within the second. The dark clouds seemed to move away quicker than usual, letting the moon catch a glimpse of the couple from down below.
Ariel looked up at Joe’s face and saw that he was thinking about something insightful and brilliant. He had that look about him that just seemed like he knew everything and anything. “What are you thinking of?” she asked suddenly
“I’m thinking of warm thoughts, warm thoughts,” he spoke quickly letting quick breathes in and out.
“You have a very weak immune system,” she teased as she rubbed his arms more. “Can I ask you something?”
“Shoot,” he managed to say.
“What attracted you to me in the first place?” she abruptly asked without any embarrassment.
He rolled his eyes. “Why do you want to know?”
Not even hesitating, she answered bluntly “Because not every girl snags a guy within the first moment he sees her. And knowing my track record, you might be my first miracle.”
“Well,” he began as he lightly let out a small chortle. “Uh…I don’t know. It’s been a while since I thought about it.”
“So do I suit your normal criteria when you’re looking for a woman?” she continued to ask.
“Why are you asking me such questions? Oh I see, you’re making sure you have a good reference for your next suitor am I right?” Being the mischievous man he was Joe didn’t stop teasing Ariel. “Tsk, tsk. I’m not even cold yet and you’re moving on. It’s ok; just leave me in the pile of ruble with your picture in my hand.”
“That is so disturbing,” Ariel coughed up a chuckle in her throat. “I ask, because I want to know what was it about me that made you think, ‘I like her;’ and you went for it.”
He thought about it for a moment and wondered if she meant what made him love her the first time around, or what made him jump at the chance to talk to her 7 years later. In actuality, both were impulsive. It was as if his entire body pulled him toward her whether or not he wanted to. So to answer her question would probably reveal more than he wanted to at that point. First of all, the truth would scare her. Second, the entire truth would completely take over her. His only options were to reveal an obsession like feat or reveal more than she can handle.
“I guess, it was your smile that attracted me first,” he answered specifically. “It was oddly familiar; reminded me of someone I used to know.”
“May I ask who?” she kept prying.
“Someone very close to me,” he gave a weak smile. “She…was my best friend.”
“Were you in love with her?”
Turning his head over to face her, Joe stared at her curious expression that he couldn’t help but grin to because of the naivety she was evoking. For such a familiar face, she sure didn’t know much about herself. Of course he was in love with her. It was her whom he was reminiscing about.
“I was probably more in love with her than she thought,” he answered with a soft nod.
“Was she your first love?” Ariel kept asking more and more.
“She was my first real love, I think,” he tried to remember. “We knew each other a while back and everyone thought we were dating even though neither of us thought of each other that way before. It wasn’t till we were in high school when we were serious.”
“So what happened? Where’s the ‘happily ever after’ portion?” she asked as she poked fun at his fairytale beginning.
“Umm…it didn’t quite work out like that,” he managed to strain out his emotions as he said it. “Fate has a very odd way of panning things out for me that way.”
Ariel saw the wrinkles in his brow and immediately felt the twinge of heartache in his voice. “What do you mean?”
He looked at his trembling hands and forced them still. “Let’s just say, I lost her to something that I couldn’t stop from happening.”
“Fate,” she answered for him. “The both of you had different destinies right?”
“Something like that,” he winced from the lame entity that destroyed his soul.
“So what did you do after she left?” Ariel’s curiosity seemed to have peaked from his ambiguous answers.
“I got married,” he smiled largely.
Completely taken by his abrupt answer, Ariel nearly fell over when he said it. How could he have gotten married? Wasn’t that a bit too compulsive? Maybe she didn’t hear him clearly…but that was as clear as it was going to get!
“Your surprise worries me,” he jokingly made fun of her. “Perhaps I should have said that I was engaged three years after she left. It was my mother’s idea to set me up with a girl named Lilah, but I never officially got married.”
“Well aren’t you the one full of surprises today,” Ariel poked him with an elbow. “Keep going. Why didn’t you marry
Lilah? Was it because you didn’t love her?”
“Looking back at it, the only reason I wanted to marry her was…well I don’t know really. No. No, I wasn’t in love with her. I don’t even know why I even agreed to the marriage in the first place. At that time in my life, I was like a zombie. I worked a lot more than my body could handle, I was in school trying to get my degree. I didn’t think about my anything other than that. So when that day came, I couldn’t even breathe.”
At first glance, Joe never realized the emotional strain he put on himself that year. It was the same year he had encountered his first breakdown when he confronted a complete stranger whom he thought was Ariel. After that, he had put himself on lockdown; not letting in anyone in his life other than school and work. The only person he was even a bit social with other than Mike, Jiro and Rainie was Lilah. Even then, he wasn’t talking. He just focused on what needed to be done. That was why he pulled in excellent grades and graduated before any other person in his class.
“Why were you a zombie?” Ariel was still intrigued. “Didn’t Lilah make you happy?”
“My mind wasn’t exactly fixated on the wedding that day,” he revealed with a small voice. “All I was thinking was
‘what the hell am I doing here. This isn’t where I should be right now.’ So during the ceremony, when the priest asked me if I wanted to take this woman in every aspect that she had…I bolted.”
“You ran out on the wedding?” Ariel gasped at him. “You’re horrible! I can’t believe you would do something like that.”
“Listen,” Joe chuckled at her outrage. “I’m not done. I ran to where I needed to be at that moment.”
“And that was where now?” Ariel lowered her voice.
“I ran to the cemetery,” he quietly revealed, as he dipped his head down a bit.
“That’s a bit morbid, don’t you think?” she winced at the image in her head. “Why would you go to the cemetery on your wedding day?”
“I needed to apologize to someone,” he raised his brow at the indifference in his voice. Rubbing his chin roughly, he continued. “And to finally pay respects to the friend I lost. Finally.”
Ariel covered her mouth with her free hand as the sudden realization hit her right in the stomach. The best friend that had left him those years back had literally left him to go to the underworld. The wretched feeling in the pit of her gut churned as she tried to stop any tears that were forming.
That day was indeed a very horrible day for him. He had been running in the dark and gloomy afternoon for god knows how long just to find himself in front of Ariel’s grave. He wasn’t there on the day of the funeral because he knew it would be too hard on him. He never thought about visiting her there because he knew he’d never find her there. Not until that day.
“She died?” Ariel calmly asked.
“I never found her,” Joe sighed. “This was as close to her as I was going to get.”
“I’m so sorry, Joe,” Ariel clung to his arm as she let her head fall onto his shoulder.
“But it turns out that I have fate on my side whether it seems like it or not,” he grinned slowly.
“How?” she turned over to face him, with a single tear streaming down her eye.
“I have you don’t I?” he lightly smiled at her.
Even with that in mind, Ariel kept a still look on her face. She looked at his calm demeanor with such admiration. Though he had been through so much, he was still giving her that charming smile of his as she strained to keep that lump in her throat down. After a moment of taking in a deep inhale, Ariel leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips and snuck back down to hold his arm tightly.
“If I’m the one fate decided to return to you, you were robbed sir,” she lightly added, letting a stray tear hit her nose.
Letting out a quiet laugh, Joe gave Ariel a soft kiss on the top her head and rested his head there.
“Even till that day, you loved her…” she silently let out. “Do you still think about her?”
“Aren’t you putting me in a ‘no win’ situation?” Joe snickered. “How can I say that I do without having you pummeling me for thinking about other women whereas on the other hand I’m an insensitive jerk who doesn’t like reminiscing about his first real love?”
“Then it goes without saying that I would not compare to her in your heart as of right now, right?” Feeling that small hint of jealousy, Ariel could already hint at what Joe’s answer was going to be.
“Honey, you don’t even compare to Kris is my heart,” Joe retaliated back playfully at her hard question.
“HEY!” Ariel laughed back with a small frown that wasn’t overpowering her smile.
Lowering his head down to match her forehead, Joe nuzzles his nose over hers and teases her lips shut. “But you sure can kiss.”
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