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Everything was quiet. It was amazing how frozen Joe felt just standing still with Ariel’s arms wrapped so tightly against his body. Even though he managed to raise his own hands to barely form the shape of her body, he couldn’t understand why he felt something was wrong. As perfect as this moment was played in his head, something just didn’t feel right about holding her. However, before he could react to this strange new feeling, she had already grabbed at his arms and pushed him away from her.
“I’m sorry,” she laughed a bit, before taking a few small breathes. She was nervous and shaky, which was understandable under theses conditions. “You don’t even know me, and I am already pouncing on you like some sort of…pouncing thing. I’m Ariel, by the way. I don’t think I have ever introduced myself. I mean I knew in an instant that you Mr. Joe because of the pilot attire but this…I’m not always this jittery if you can’t tell. I’m just a little…anxious, I guess. I don’t normally make trips to the emergency room. I’ve been everywhere, looking for you. I tried to call you but you never picked up. I took several trips from the airport then to the hospital; it was all a mess. So did she come out yet? Is she Ok?”
All gibberish. How can he not know who she was? She was the woman he longed for his whole life, the woman who he dreamt of ever since he could remember. She was his. And him; he wasn’t just Mr. Joe. He wasn’t just some guy in a pilot suit. He was…hers. Just the same as before. Just Joe. Why couldn’t she see that?
“Ariel…” he managed to whisper.
Suddenly, a barrage of commoners came rushing into the hospital, all frantic and loud, ready to stampede in no matter how many human obstacles stood in its way. Both Ariel and Joe turn over to the front of the hospital where Old man Abe, Sally, Yi Zhen and Ella came rushing into the scene.
“ARIEL!” the all screamed as they rushed with open arms to her.
“There you are,” Sally smiled. “I’m so glad that you’re all right.”
“Is Kris out, yet?” Yi Zhen asked.
“Yeah, is she out?” Abe reiterated. “I just gotta see her again!”
“She’s not dead, Abe,” Ella rolled her eyes. “Is she?”
“No, no she’s not dead,” Ariel chuckled a bit. “Is she?” she asked Joe.
All five adults look over to the stiff pilot standing in front of them in disbelief.
His voice trailed along as another wave of shudders crashed into him and he could feel the cold air beating down on him as if he was a tree stripped of its leaves with only its bare branches to keep off the stinging winter snow from overpowering him. He couldn’t breathe. His perfect world had returned, but something was wrong.
“Joe?” Ariel shook him lightly by the shoulders and he only gave a small gasp of fright. “She’s alright, right?”
He said nothing. His pained expression said it all. Kris was fine. But he wasn’t. Why was she acting this way? In those seven years that they’ve lost, what had happened to her? Did she really forget who he was? Because he didn’t forget her; not even for a moment. Not in between that first bite into his breakfast, not when he sets into the last flight of the day, not in those brief moments when he’s silently drifting to sleep; never.
“Oh god,” she exhaled under her breath, leaving a hand to cover her mouth. “She’s hurt isn’t she? Is it her head? I couldn’t—I don’t think I can take it if she hurt her head,” Ariel continued to babble. “Ugh. I don’t know. What? What is it?”
Joe gave a final, pain filled breath. She was right in front of him. The image of her was right in front of him but here stood a total different person. They weren’t lovers, but instead strangers. Was his mind toying with him again? Was this all just some sick twisted game he came across? He was just so weak under her presence until finally she grabbed him by his arms forcefully and shook the life out of him.
“Speak!” she yelled frantically. “You’re scaring the crap out of me!”
That was the only thing he could think of at the moment. The sweetest and most beautiful thing he could think of was just her name. Perhaps he could take hold of her name, if that was the only thing he could find at the moment. Nothing was for sure, just the name.
“Mom!” yelled a sudden voice from afar. Ariel’s heart skipped a beat when she heard the name. Just the name.
“OH, thank GOD!” the four remaining adults sighed.
“Oh geez!” Quickly, Ariel lightly pushed Joe aside and went straight for Kris, whom as well, gripped onto her mother as tightly as possible. “Don’t you ever do that to me again, you hear me?”
“…bbbrrrggg…” Kris managed to mutter under her mother’s shoulder as Ariel lifted her off her feet and gently rocked her closely on her arm.
“I love you too, my baby,” Ariel smiled to herself as she kissed Kris on the top of her head.
“Looks, like just another fractured wrist,” sighed Yi Zhen as she wiped away a bead of sweat. “Bones aren’t like teeth, dear. These are the only ones you’ll have for the rest of your life.”
“You little rascal!” laughed Old man Abe. “I’m glad you’re alright.”
“Maybe this time, she’ll behave,” Sally quipped. “Right Kris? No more adventures?”
Ariel nodded at Aunt Sally and patted Kris’ back. “Honey, I think we have to talk about your behavior when we get back home ok?”
“NO!” Kris screamed in her mother’s shirt. “I’ll be good! I’ll be good! I don’t want social services to take me away!”
“H-How did you know?” Ella asked for everyone.
“She’ll be good,” Joe finally said quietly.
Everyone looked at Joe with disbelief; shocked that he could actually speak. But there it was; his complete family standing so close to one another, holding onto each other as if they loved nothing as much as the other. Both Ariel and Kris thrived in each other’s grasps and tighter embraces that not even a crack can be seen between the two. And there he was; standing all alone. No one held onto him, no tight embrace. His missing piece to his heart was standing not two feet away and yet he couldn’t have it. He’d be crazy to rush over to them and offer himself so vulnerably. But nothing seemed as sweet and as perfect if only he had the chance to belong to that. Oh how he longed to feel them around him. If only she knew who he was. If only this wasn’t some cruel dream he was having. It wasn’t real.
“Well I’m glad,” Ariel sighed, still carrying Kris in her arms, rocking her child back and forth. “As long as I can have you, that’s all that matters.”
“Indeed,” Sally cheerfully said as she rubbed Kris’ back.
“Well said,” Abe chirped in. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
“Wait a minute,” Ella called out. She took a breath in and frowned. “Joe, how come you’re back so early? I thought you guys weren’t coming home until…Monday.”
She looked back at where Joe had stood and found nothing. He had left without another word said or heard. Ariel looked around and saw that he really did leave without saying goodbye. She felt a bit saddened that she wasn’t even able to thank him properly.
“Darn it!’ Ariel yelped suddenly. “He didn’t even give me a chance to thank him.”
“Just text him,” Yi Zhen suggested.
“I can’t text him,” Ariel cringed. “I want to show him that I really appreciate him doing this for me. He missed a flight back for her. He could get fired for that.”
“Oh I see,” Yi Zhen smirked at her. “You want to show him a good time?” she winked.
“Don’t do that,” Ariel said dead-panned.
“He is pretty cute,” Aunt Sally nudged at Ariel’s arm. “I wonder if he’s single.”
“Not you too, Sally,” Ariel rolled her eyes, making a face.
“I don’t know much about anything,” Abe chirped in once again. “But I can tell you that he does live in Caoya, with no family and no wife.”
“It’ll be great!” Ella butted in. “Then we can go on double dates! It won’t be awkward because Jiro and I know him. And here’s the kicker; Jiro tells me that Joe hasn’t dated anyone in years because of some freak accident. He’s like a mystery wrapped in that handsome frame! He’s perfect.”
Ariel glared at Ella. “I don’t need a mystery! I got my own problems; I’m not here to take on his! This is ridiculous. I have better things to do than to go lounging around with some man I barely met. Besides, I just want to thank him!”
“Then thank him,” Yi Zhen said slyly as she nudged Ariel’s shoulder.
Everyone winked to each other in fits of giggles and laughter as Ariel just looked on with a glare of disapproval. Disgusting sight, she thought. She didn’t have time for men, not when she had Kris. Ever since she could remember, Ariel had already made a pact to herself that she wouldn’t get involved with a man she met in a whim. She had to think about Kris and how she needed a real father; someone to take care of her and remain in her life. As much as Ariel wanted a love life, she needed to think of what’s best for her daughter.
“I’m going home and making him a cake and that is final,” Ariel exasperatedly said as she left the hospital with the horde of followers still intact, trying desperately to fix her up with the mysterious man.
Meanwhile, Joe was back at his apartment, huddled by his lonesome in the corner of his bedroom floor. He was back in his solitude and he didn’t know how to get out. All this time, she didn’t remember him. Why? Was it really that easy to forget someone you loved? Maybe she never loved him…perhaps it was just all his head. The love he sustained in his heart for so long wasn’t real. No, never. It couldn’t have been that way. He knew in his heart that she loved him. So was it a freak accident? He didn’t know. Was the image of her real? He didn’t know either. But it felt real; her touch, the image, her beauty, her fragility. It was altered though. The bitterness of her demeanor now, as if he was just another stranger, left him cold. If only he could just touch her the way it was before. If only he could feel her the way he felt her before. If only he didn’t live in the past. But suddenly, the only thought that came to mind was something even more awful.
In a way he knew Kris was his daughter. Not every time but, something was definitely strange about that kid, and it wasn’t just Kris. After all that they’ve been through that little rascal was his. Strange, how fate intertwined his meeting with his own daughter without him knowing it. He had been talking, joking, and playing with this little girl who just so happened to be his. And in the end, he fell in love with her. To much of his own surprise, in between the antics, the scares, the emotional drains of the day, he fell in love with his own daughter without even knowing it.
As he got up from his position on the floor, Joe started repacking. He had already been offered to take the flight to Moscow a few dew days ago, but his trip to America hindered his chances. Since he came back early, this trip would probably now serve him a great deal of purpose. He had an opening to go, so he’ll take it. Maybe forgetting something so meaningful in his life was what he needed. She already lives in the present and lives for the future. Maybe he should too.
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