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The first arrival of the day was supposed to come in hours ago. It was Joe’s flight, but there was no one coming out of that entrance gate anytime soon. The terminal was already in full gear without a notion of what had happened to flight KI 334. The gates stood silent with anticipation brimming from its screws. Calvin sat in the now darkened ATC Tower by himself as he was left with the only flight to bring back home. He continued to stare at the beeping machines that surrounded him, hoping to catch a glimpse of hope.

“…for the love of God,” he softly whispered to himself.

It had been quiet, with only the sound of winds breaking through the large metal contraption. The plane had already been touching clouds and singing with the birds from high above. The fog had cleared up nicely to a dull brimming of smog and light. As 400 souls stayed in soft slumber only one soul remained awake during the entirety. He was restless but pushed forwards as the caverns of his hell dwell in Limbo. Silence loomed the massive belly of the metal beast until a familiar sound of hope rang as loud as Heaven can bring to the levels of “touching ground”.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have arrived at Kaohsiung International Airport. Please stay seated until further notice from our pilot and thank you for choosing Kaohsiung International for all your transportation needs.”

Once the gates opened, the flood of passengers rushed through with the same amount of life the rest of the terminal had, as if nothing had happened. For Calvin, that was exactly what he wanted to happened. Taking a sigh, he leaned back on his seat and cradled his body in relief, relishing in a task well done. He grabbed a radio and walked downstairs to meet the hero.

“Ground,” Joe quietly savored in the word. “How I’ve missed you.”

Shaken a bit, Joe wobbled a little as he got used to a steady pace until he was confronted with Calvin. He smiled kindly with a small nod as he began approaching Joe, which was good because it meant Joe wasn’t in the trouble he thought he was in. That moment, Joe began to think about Kris suddenly. She always got into so much trouble. Where was she to help him take the blame? No tips? Nothing?

“Joe,” Calvin grinned to his friend as he put a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “You gave us quite a scare back there.”

“Who knew a little fog could cause so much damage?” Joe shook his head at the notion. “I’m a bit later than usual.”

“I guess ‘good things’ needed a bit of company when it comes to ‘small packages’,” Calvin beamed in a bright smile to lighten things up a bit. “It’s only 5 O’clock.

Joe could only snicker at Calvin’s cheekiness. He shoved a hand into his pocket to keep from looking too scared but it wasn’t helping. Shaking nervously, Joe gave a deep sigh and forced on a grin as he looked back at Calvin. Just at the moment, he felt his cell phone humming next to his hand in his pocket.

“Sorry, I have to take this,” he politely bowed to Calvin as he took his call. He looked at the number carefully and couldn’t believe his eyes. The call was from Ariel’s phone. “H-hello?”

Calvin stood at his side, trying not to overhear the conversation. He waited a while, patiently and saw Joe nodding a lot for a brief couple of minutes and then closes his phone.

“That little bugger,” Joe laughed a little to himself.

“Anything wrong?” Calvin asked abruptly.

“No,” Joe said giving a weak smile. “A friend just wanted me to stop by their house. She said had a little present for me when I got back from my flight.”

“She huh?” Calvin nudged at Joe. “She cute?”

“…very dangerous,” Joe snorted. “She’s a seven year old mischievous mesh of antics too big for her size, with an even bigger imagination, and a fascination of a pyromaniac, topped off with the cutest button nose ever to bestow human life.”

“She wouldn’t happen to be Kris Lin would she?” Calvin jeered with a laugh of his own. “That description alone hits it on the spot.”

“You know her?” Joe frowned lightly.

“I’ve met her a few times. I know her mother, Ariel,” Calvin explained without hesitation. “You’re headed over to her house huh?”

“Here’s the topper,” Joe sighed sheepishly as he shook his head. “She didn’t give me any directions. You wouldn’t happen to know where they live, would you?”

“Yeah,” he nodded approvingly. “I would take you there myself but I still have the night shift to handle. Seems like I have another wimp to cover for.”

Joe chuckled a bit at Calvin. “You have to see yourself in action before you judge your crew members. In person, you’re a lot nicer than you are in the Towers.”

“Well,” Calvin shrugged off the compliment. “It’s my job.”

As they parted from the terminal, Joe headed for Ariel’s place. He had never been there and he didn’t even know if Ariel would know he was coming. But after a near death experience, he didn’t quite care at the moment. He took a taxi to the address Calvin gave him and in half an hour, he was standing in front of a quaint apartment complex about a couple blocks away from where he himself lived. After all this time, Ariel had been living so close to him; the closest he has been to her in seven years.

Taking a deep breath, Joe walked up the firm cement stairs that prevented him from falling flat on his face with every step. He was about to buzz himself in but a neighbor had opened the door for him to enter. Soon enough he found himself standing in front of a brick red door with the numbers 334 plated on with tiny nails. Figures, he thought, just as things were getting even more coincidental. He looked at the door one last time and knocked softly enough for the people on the other side to stop their ruckus.

“…ssshhh!” hushed a voice from the other side.

Joe was getting a bit more anxious than he already was. With one brow raised, Joe looked in amusement as more rustling came closer and closer to him and suddenly the door creaked open to a nearly darkened apartment. He stepped in slowly and let the door swing all the way open until a jolt abruptly shook him tensely.

“SURPRISE!” screamed two high pitched voices as streamers and lights blared in front of a frightened Joe.

“How’d you like it?” Kris grinned from cheek to cheek with her arms stretched out far for him to examine the room.

“Mommy said you were coming back today so we planned out a surprise for you. You like?”

He was more than just amazed; he was in awe. For such a little apartment, and a few balloons, confetti and party items, the feeling of warmth and family brushed at him gently as the ambience sank into his skin. So this is what it felt like to come home…

“It’s perfect,” he said giving a faint smile, with his focus still on the room.

Unexpectedly, Kris rushed at him with a big hug to his hip and rocked him back and forth. She looked at him with those bright brown orbs of hers and shined her beautiful white pearly teeth like she hadn’t seen him in forever. To him, at that moment, it really did. Gently, he grazed a hand over her web of light black hair and gave a small chuckle.

“She’s been waiting for you ever since she got out of the hospital,” chimed in a voice at the side, interrupting his thoughts.

Joe looked over at the sweet, inviting woman who stood kindly by his side. She was even lovelier than he remembered her, especially with her hair pulled back in a messy pony tail and wearing a neat pale pink dress that wasn’t too flashy. She kept her hands behind her back, as if she was some sort of waitress, and gave him a sincere smile.

“I trust that your trip back was Ok?” Ariel asked anxiously. “I heard what happened today.”

“I’m Ok,” he nodded softly.

“What happened?” Kris asked with a frown. “Secrets aren’t cool!”

“Nothing in comparison to what you’ve done,” Joe taunted at the little girl below, giving her a soft pat on her head.

“C’mon, you said you have a present for me. I’m waiting.”

“This is it!” Kris smiled even wider, her hands still wrapped around his hips. “Momma said it’d be nice if you came over for dinner. Note to the wise, she’s not a very good cook.”

“Mother standing only four feet away!” Ariel scolded Kris at her blunt choice of words. “Go finish the plating before I serve you.”

“C’mon Joe! We have to finish plating.”

As the three had a cozy dinner together, Joe decided to remain silent about his near death experience to Kris. She didn’t need to know and why would she? It would only scare her. On the other hand, she’d be completely fascinated with the idea of crashing and burning limbs that he’d be too scared to talk about it. Another reason for his silence was he didn’t know what to say in front of Ariel. It had been so long since he had last seen her, and she couldn’t even remember his name when she first saw him.

During his trip to Moscow, Joe couldn’t stop thinking about her. From the moment she turned around with those confused eyes of hers he knew she never was and never will be that girl whom he met several years ago. She had a very different aura to her and he didn’t know who she was anymore. All that said, she still never failed to make his heart beat off the wall.

“Mommy, I’m finished. Can I show Joe my project for the Grand Fall Theater now?” Kris asked sweetly with her hands folded in a plea. “PLEASE!!”

“If you want to,” Ariel nodded back, shoving another piece of food into her mouth.

“C’mon, Joe! Get ready to be blown out of your mind!” Kris exclaimed with her wide eyes.

Well, he already faced that a couple hours ago…what’s this little girl got in store for him? As Kris took Joe’s hand, she led him inside her small darkened room. She flicked on the switch to reveal a wreckage of clothes thrown over her bed, a pile of what seemed to be more than just homework but the mysterious works of a madman, and reckless cartoon characters smeared from the wall the carpet floor. The wonders of a seven year old bag of tricks.

Suddenly, Kris drags in a big brown box in front of Joe and smiled. This can’t be good.

“What’s in the box?” Joe asked bluntly.

After a while of explaining things in great detail and with a lot of enthusiasm, Kris finally showed Joe exactly what’s in the box. As if the idea wasn’t big enough, the items in the box would surely knock his socks off.

“Are you insane?” Joe screeched at the sight of it. “You can’t possibly think this is a good idea.”

“Don’t worry, I got permission from the principal and from Ms. Chen too,” Kris explained. “The first prize winner gets to display their talent to the Formal Ball celebrating Cianjhen Harbor. I never had a chance to go so if I win, mom said we can go.”

“What’s the Formal Ball celebrating Cianjhen Harbor?” He asked, dumbfounded.

“…you don’t know what that is?!” she yelped. “It’s only like the biggest town party ever! But if you want all the boring stuff, you should ask Old man Abe to tell you about it.”

“Hmm…well I’m glad you showed me your talent,” Joe gave a polite nod. “I hope everything goes smoothly.”

“You’re coming right?” Kris asked with those round orbs already glistening at the sight of them.

“Oh I don’t know, I might have a flight that day,” Joe cautiously said. “When is it?”

“It’s two weeks from now,” Kris revealed. “You better come or I won’t forgive you.”

“What if it’s the day of the talent show and I’m flying above the ocean ready to crash due to massive amounts of fog?” Joe asked cheekily.

“You’d better crash at the talent show, if you know what’s good for you,” She frowned, giving a tight pout.

He chuckled at her response. His daughter sure had an imagination. What he failed to notice all this time was she resembled his mother. All this time, he was staring at his own blood without a hint of any kind, but there it was right in front of him. If it were a truck, it would have hit him so hard and so long ago, that he would have missed it. To say the least, he did. Clapping his hands twice for Kris to come, to his open arms, Joe grabbed Kris by the arms and lifted her up to carry her.

“Give me a hug slugger,” he softly whispered. His body soon flushed with the warmth of her arms around his neck. “I’ll be there rain or shine, ok?”

“YES!” Kris happily replied, digging her face deeper into his neck. “Superman comes through again.”

Ariel was cleaning the left over scraps of confetti as Joe entered the living room alone. Quickly, she got off her knees and brushed the wrinkles away form her dress. Funny, he didn’t even notice that there were wrinkles in the first place. He didn’t even notice she was wearing a dress. All he knew at that moment was her smile. That same half smile she does every time she was frazzled or worried about something.

“Is everything ok?” she asked kindly.

“Yeah,” he nodded. “Kris is getting ready for bed.”

“Oh good,” she smiled, peering at the bedroom door. “Did you see her project?”

“Um, yes I did,” he frowned at the confusion. “Do you?” She gave a shrug and nodded. “Just wanted to know.”

“I know, it’s completely absurd but she has her heart set on doing it. The point is she has permission and I hear the custodians are helping her with it too,” Ariel explained. “…if anything were to go wrong.”

“I see,” he nervously looked down at his shoe. “Well I guess I’d better be going.”

“I’ll walk you out.”

Making their way to the gated doors of the apartment building, Joe and Ariel looked at each to give a light bow to bid the other farewell.

“Let me get that for you,” Ariel politely tried to jingle the black metal gate open. “It gets kind of tricky.”

“I had a very nice time, Ariel,” he softly said to her with a weak smile. To have come this far and just to utter those few words were all it took to make his stomach tie up in knots.

“Well, the pleasure is all mine,” she smiled widely, the same smile she passed on to Kris. “I know we don’t know each other very well, but you’re more than welcome to come by again and visit. Kris is just crazy about you. It’s always ‘Joey this’ or ‘Superman that’. She never ceases to stop talking about you.”

“I know this is a bit abrupt to say,” Joe suddenly asked out of the blue. “But I’ve got to go home and get some rest; it’s been a long day.”

Truthfully, he didn’t mean to be so rude, but if she didn’t stop him then, he’d have to stab himself right there and then to stop himself from melting into a pile of flesh because she was killing him with every word she uttered out of those delicate lips of hers. If only she would remember who he was he wouldn’t have to keep this whole nice guy charade. If only he could take hold of her the way his body is yelling at him to do. If only he could kiss her to make his heart stop beating out of insanity.

“I’m sorry,” he sheepishly apologized. “Thanks for the meal.”

“No, no,” she laughed. “I tend to ramble. I know you had a near death experience and Kris was hoping to see you anyways so I thought a nice home cooked meal was what you needed.”

“Thank you,” he repeated once again.

“You said that already,” she laughed a bit, covering her shyness. “Do you need to call a cab? I can-

“I called for one earlier,” he interrupted.

As soon as those words left his mouth, the taxi arrived on the street and waited patiently for him. Taking one last look at Ariel, Joe stared at her face with the moon hitting it with just the right amount light to make her radiate the beauty only he knew. For the first time, she looked exactly the way he pictured her to be.

“That’s my ride,” Joe pointed his head to the direction of the cab. “I’ll see you around.”

“Farewell,” she brightly smiled. “God knows when we shall meet again. It’s Shakespeare.”

Taking his first steps out of the gated door, Joe could only think of those few words she last mentioned. God knows when we shall meet again…

Locking the gated door behind her, Ariel exhales a deep sigh from inside. She gave a small wince and pounded her head inward. God knows when we shall meet again?? Stupid, stupid, stupid!!

“I’m so lame. Shakespeare? NOW!? Stupid!” she mentally scolded herself. Banging her head with her palm several times, Ariel tried to block out the memory of her latest embarrassment from before when she stood in front of the man who suddenly gave her palpitations she never felt before. “Ugh, he was so handsome I just couldn’t think properly. Damn him!”

Just as she was about to slap one last palm onto her forehead, she heard another pounding coming from the other side of the door. She turned around with a frown plastered on her face and saw Joe just standing there, waiting to come in. Quickly, she unlocked the door for him.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said,” he quickly said, as he stood in front of her. “And you’re right. God knows when we shall meet again.”

“Well did it come out as stupid as it sounds?” Ariel cheekily yet sheepishly asked. “OK well if that didn’t this sure did. You know what I’m just going to stop talking.”

“Good-

All of a sudden, almost instinctively, Joe bent his head to capture Ariel’s lips with his and pressed against them softly but firm. It was the first touch of their lips that had already driven him mad with passion. He took her hands in the middle of their kiss, and held them close to his heart to let her feel the pounding instrument that was driving him wild. Slowly but surely, he parted himself from her and rested his head on hers.

“Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to do that,” he chuckled to himself. “When I was in Moscow the only things I could think of were you and Kris. Hell, when I was flying and couldn’t get in touch with the Towers all I could think of was how I would disappoint Kris and how I would never see you again. I can’t stop thinking about you; your amazingly beautiful eyes, your sweet voice, your delicate face, everything. I know its crazy, but you have to trust me when I say this. I don’t want to-

“You’ve just met me,” Ariel interrupted him as she quickly pulled her hands away from his grasp. She remained only a few inches away from him but was stopped by a wall from escaping. “How can that be possible? I barely said a word to you back at the hospital.”

Placing his hands softly onto her cheek, Joe traced her frame and with a thumb, he gently brushed her lips in hopes to kiss her again.

“I don’t even know your last name,” she continued to argue to no effect, because he was still nearing her.

His body was now so close to hers that she could feel his chest warmly covering hers. She felt a lump in her throat, enrapturing her to stop talking but this couldn’t go any further. She couldn’t get involved with a man she hardly even knew, but her body couldn’t refuse his soft touches as another hand snaked around her back to pull them closer. Soon enough, his trance had loomed over her and she was only peering into those kind innocent eyes of his that longed for her company. Calmly, he placed another kiss onto her lips and brushed away the stray strands of hair that fell down onto her face.

“…this can’t happen,” she suddenly began to cry. He gave her another small peck on her mouth. “I can’t do this.”

With her still refusing him in his arms, Joe only ignored her replies and continued laying kisses on her. The saltiness of her tears ran into their mouth as he gently pried open her mouth with his tongue and sent waves of shivers down her spine. His hands crawled up to her face to let him take full control as he wiped away those pesky stray tears that finally stopped falling from her eyes. Her heart couldn’t stop beating uncontrollably as her body began to go numb and all she felt was the warmth of his body tangled with hers. Reluctantly, he stopped kissing her for a moment to let them get a breath of air.

“…You’re really defiant,” she unexpectedly giggled.

“You talk too much,” he joked back.

 

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