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“…what did you say?” asked a sudden voice.
Both Joe and Kris turned to see who abruptly came in between their sweet moment and stood speechless with fright written across their faces. They were in trouble.
Aunt Sally stood uncomfortably across the two lost souls until she awkwardly leaned over to Kris and flashed a smile.
“Honey, don’t spout nonsense,” she shook her head condescendingly. “I think all that smoke went in that little head of yours and clouded your senses!”
“Sally,” Joe tried to explain. “You don’t have to-
“No worries Joe,” she chuckled. “She’s a little scatterbrain. Kris has always had a big imagination. A little too big some may say.”
“I don’t say,” Kris made a small face over to Aunt Sally.
“Now, now, sweetie,” Sally continued to push Kris’ buttons. “We all know you can be quite impulsive. I think today might be a good example of that, right?”
“…blah!” she spat back.
“Kris, don’t be rude to your elders,” Joe poked at her shoulders.
She looked back at him with a stiff pout and a big frown as if he had just betrayed her.
“Honey,” Sally once again leaned down towards Kris. “I know you want to impress as many people as possible and prove that you are worthy. But you have to realize you are already special in many ways. You don’t have to prove anything to us. We love you just the way you are.”
Kris snapped her head to the side and raised one straight eyebrow up to the tip of her forehead. She wasn’t sure to be listening intently or strangely put off.
“I know you always wanted a daddy, but just because Joe is nice and loving to you, that doesn’t make him your father,” Sally finally struck a chord in Kris’ heart. “I know you have a great impression on him. But…honey he’s not your dad.”
Two stoic bodies stood firmly on the ground as the waves of emotions flooded their bodies. Joe couldn’t believe what was happening. He wanted to scream it out loud, he really was her father. It was all true. His mind was in the middle of exploding as he felt the torture of being brought down by his own demons.
Kris had mutual feelings. Except her mind was imploding; trying to forget all the love she felt for a man who wasn’t her father.
“He’s not my dad?” she quietly repeated.
“What’s going on?” Rainie came in the middle of the conversation once she spotted Kris’ fear-stricken face. “What’s the matter Kris?”
“Kris look at me,” Ella knelt down to see the tears roll down one by one. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh honey, please don’t cry,” Sally tried to console but the wound would soon spread.
“Who’s crying?!” Kris exploded her rage. “No one’s crying! Why would I cry if I know that’s not true? It’s not true! Joe really is my dad!”
Rainie and Ella’s eyes immediately meet Joe’s and they were in way too deep. He had to tell Aunt Sally the truth in order to save Kris from anymore heartbreaking comments that only confused her. Joe took a step in front of Kris and held her back.
“Kris, calm down,” he put an arm on her shoulder.
“Tell her! It’s not true right? You are my dad aren’t you?” her pitiful eyes expressed all her pain as she spoke. She tugged at his arm with the same amount of strength that was left in her heart. “C’mon Joe, tell her.”
“We’re here!” screamed voices from afar, amidst the echoes of the hospital walls.
Soon enough people to fill in the whole hall had surrounded them and Joe was dead center. The truth felt as compacted as he was in that moment of entrapment. He could hardly breathe with only Kris there still swinging at his arm as the hall soon filled with familiar faces; Calvin, Yi Zhen, Abe, Sally, Rainie, Ella, Jiro, Mike, a few teachers, Principal Feng, a couple of the nurses and doctors, a handful of patients who were curious of the commotion but Ariel was no where to be seen.
Joe took a breath. His hands were shaking at the anxiousness of finally being able to reveal his own secret that he had been hiding from the town, from his own flesh and blood and the love of his life.
“Joe, I know this must be an awkward situation so let me just take Kris home and I’ll explain things to her,” Sally nodded over to him while reaching over to Kris’ hand. “Let’s not make such a fiasco out of some silly assumptions.”
“What is she talking about Joe?” Jiro patted him on the shoulder to get Joe’s attention.
The crowd eyes him down once more with their painfully confused faces that only worsened his luck. Looking for some sort of support, Joe peered into Kris’ innocent expression and gave a small smile as he took her hand into his. He looked right into Sally’s eyes and explained.
“Aunt Sally,” he sighed deeply, letting out all of his fears out with that one exhale. “I really am her father.”
The crowd grew quiet as the truth floats in the still air. Even the ones who knew before had goose bumps rolling on their skin. No one knew what to make of it really. It was just out there.
“…what?” a small feminine voice cracked the silence.
One simultaneous movement was made from the crowd as the attention was shifted right across from Joe. There she stood, in unmoving silence. She looked confused and out of breath. Nobody even realized that Ariel was just calmly waiting behind the crowd as she stood staring at Joe and only him. Even from afar, her eyes could pierce through the bodies and separate them to pinpoint her target.
“What did you say?” Ariel asked.
Soon Joe was left alone to fend for himself as the crowd backed off and created a small empty space where he stood.
“You’re…you’re the father?” she stuttered. “It was you all along?”
Joe took a deep gulp. It took all the courage he had to say it once and lost it once she appeared.
“Ariel, I- I meant to tell you,” he suddenly felt that stinging twinge in his chest.
There fell another silence. This time it was a long awkward pause where not one person knew what to say. They waited for a sound, a noise but nothing could be heard. Anticipation grew into fear as Joe waited for Ariel to say anything but she was thinking about how to control her feelings that moment.
Kris looked at her mother’s expression for the longest time and couldn’t even see what was going through her mind. Ariel was not mad, nor was she sad. It was just utter shock. It took her a while to determine what she would do next. She wasn’t going to wipe that stray tear making its way down the side of her cheek. She wasn’t going to yell at him either for embarrassing her like this or praise the Lord for bringing the father of her only child back into her life. Her face changed from expression to expression to finally she shook her head lightly and sucked in a deep inhale before leaning over a bit to look directly at Kris.
“C’mon Kris, we have to go home now,” she kindly ordered her daughter with a gentle smile. It was as if nothing had happened.
Kris glanced over at her father, almost looking for approval, before walking over to her mother. She stopped half way and looked over at him again and spoke.
“Is daddy coming with us?” she pointed to Joe as she asked her mother.
Without hesitation, Ariel shook her head and continued to smile. “No honey.”
The lump in Joe’s throat, that hindered him from speaking, finally plunged into his stomach. “Ariel,” he pled.
She ignored him. As Kris made her way back into her mother’s arms, Ariel hugged her little girl and smiled genuinely back at her. Ariel took Kris’ hand and proceeded to walk out the door without another word until a hand fell on Ariel’s shoulder. She knew who it was.
“Ariel, can we please talk about this?” Joe asked quietly, enough for only her to hear it.
She turned over with a small smile. He knew she was fighting back her real self, her real emotions to maintain a calm atmosphere for Kris so she wouldn’t have to see her mother break down in front of her and the rest of the town.
“I think its best if we didn’t see each other for a while,” she stiffly remarked. “Take care of yourself, Joe.”
“Please, Ariel, I can explain all of this,” he continued to plead.
“Well you could have done a lot of things,” she laughed awkwardly. “A lot of things differently. But right now…God knows when we shall meet again.”
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