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Midnight Burn

The windshield definitely needed to be cleaned. Fat droplets of rain weren’t making the drive any easier either. Midnight wasn’t exactly the best time to drive anyways. Next time she decides to take Abe’s car at a time like this would be when she rolls dead in her coffin. Crammed in that infernal tin icebox she had to keep going as the night had been growing darker by each passing lamp post. Her cooing daughter seemed to be ok with it, sleeping soundly at the backseat. If it wasn’t for Kris’ incessant nagging, she wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.

As if her surroundings weren’t putting her off, voices in her head kept knocking around; one trying to be louder than the one before. She could here Kris from this morning, Yi Zhen at work, and Rainie from this afternoon. All had something to do with Joe. She could still hear it…

“Mommy!” was the first voice she heard screaming from the kitchen in the morning. “When can I see daddy again?”

“Now’s not a good time,” she said, ignoring the question. “You’re going to be late for school, so put on some clothes and hurry.”

“Hmm, if Joe were here, he’d be taking me to school because that’s what daddies do right mom?” her daughter would ask. “I miss daddy. He needs to come by more often. Can we visit him today, mom?”

With all that added nonsense of course, she gave in and began the drive. To Kris, all this trivial drama was just dirt on the shoulder; easily brushed off. But for Joe and her…their situation was a mess. When he called, she would immediately hang up. When he came over to talk, she refused to let him in. She even tore up every letter he wrote that came her way. To her, avoiding confrontation was the best way to settle her wounds. She had decided to stop thinking about him. For a good week she didn’t speak of him, didn’t talk to him, nor did she allow for him to talk to her. It was as if nothing has happened; from the time he came into her life, to the moment where it all ended.

Expectedly so, she went about her life once more. She went to work, happily smiling to her co-workers. The shock had unaffected her at that time; not a glimpse of pain, or sadness could be read through her face or the way she carried herself. It was the same as always when she walked in the airport. Life had already began; restaurants had already been through the afternoon hustle and bustle, passengers ready for their departure, relatives, loved ones crying their eyes out and of course the score board was glittering up its hard day’s work. But it was there where her decision for the midnight drive had begun.

“I knew,” were the trigger words that ended up grinding at her innards.

The image of Yi Zhen’s lips mouthing those words kept looming during the entire drive. The dark shadowing from the sides, every time thunder sounded, seemed to have beamed those words in front of the car. It was as if those words were surrounding her this whole time. Drop, drop, drop, it would flash in front of her so brightly. Another left turn to make and then another flash. What else did she say?

Yi Zhen rolled her eyes and scoffed. “Ariel, I’ve seen you how you are when you’re with him. You love him.”

“Stop right there, I’ve never said I loved him,” she put up a stiff finger. “I didn’t fall for him; I guess it’s for the best that I didn’t.”

“You’re being stubborn Ms. Lin,” Yi Zhen stuck out her tongue, the image still quite vivid. “I know you better than you know yourself, and I know that you’ve been dying to see him again. Your happy-go-lucky expressions can’t mask your true feelings. If you miss him just forgive him and let him back into your life.”

She groaned at the memory. The night still dark, like her memories. Another roll of her eyes and a shake of head would do the trick. Perhaps the radio would offer some much needed hallucinations to veer her mind away from it all. Oh, but it only offers stupid love songs at this hour. The decent melody would cradle her daughter at least. Lyrics seemed corny though… something about being lucky…

“Ariel!” Rainie growled lowly, irritated by her best friend’s stubborn ways.

Ah the scream still resonates in her mind from this afternoon when Rainie decided to visit.

“How can you be like this? You don’t realize how lucky you really are to be able to find your family. You don’t realize how lucky you are to have a man who loves you in every way. Lucky to have a best friend who loves you so much that she could cry just by looking at you again and thanking God you’re not dead!”

“My best friend, huh? You knew didn’t you?” Ariel abruptly asked. “You’ve known all along too, right? You- you’re supposed to be my friend!” She could hear the despair in her voice as it cracked in the room. “And you couldn’t even tell me THAT!? I’m so lucky!”

A stop light. At last, a stop light came and snapped her back to reality. And by this time another song has hit the air and it doesn’t go with the situation at all. The most inappropriate song chiming its way through the cold tin bucket…such luck, indeed.

But both Rainie and Yi Zhen were right. She did love him, even though she would not admit it. Crying on the bus helped a little so she wouldn’t cry in front of Kris. Honestly, deep inside her heart where barriers of steel, brick and barbed wire were blockading her own truths, she missed him. But then her old feelings had never changed her perception of who Kris’ father was supposed to be. He was supposed to be hopelessly deranged, uncaring and completely wrong for her. She never could have imagined that he’d be the exact opposite. It hurt even more to realize that. To realize that someone whom she could be so honest with could hurt her as badly as he did.

Another left turn. Left turns were not a friend of hers. Well four way stops were not friends either. Good reasons she never owned a car. The rain poured a lot harder than before, she could tell, probably because she was heading closer to him. Finally, she could say what she needed to say to him.

Damn her shaky hands; they even shook while she opened the back door trying to haul her dreary daughter onto her shoulder. His apartment building was darker than she had imagined. But what was she expecting at this hour? Kris was softly muttering the inappropriate lyrics from the song before. Hopefully, that’s all she would be doing right now.

A man was kind enough to have let her inside the building and from there she walked those never ending flights of stairs that seemed to drag on and on. She was growing more and more annoyed of her huffing and puffing. By the time she stood in front of his door, she took in a quick breathe and remembered one last thing that lingered in her mind for a while. His face soon lit in her mind and his breath still sitting strong on her neck.

“Joe?” she suddenly asked in a silent whisper. “Can you stay forever?”

“Forever and ever with you,” he whispered back.

Who knew at this point, she would be the one to break the promise. The doorbell rung suddenly and she realizes the deed had come from her own hand. Footsteps drop lazily in echoes that grew louder as it nears the door. The creak halts her pounding heartbeat from bursting and instead, bleeds it in coldly into her pulse.

“A-ariel?” he spoke. “What are you doing here?”

Her face suddenly grew wet. Perspiration, tears, saliva, you name it, it was there. The hallway light beamed so dimly, she could barely make out his handsome face. Be strong, she whispered to herself in her darkest hour as she trembled in his presence.

“Did I come at a bad time?” she asked, knowingly. It was midnight, for goodness sakes.

“No,” he shook his head lightly. “It’s just…it’s been a while since we’ve last talked. You haven’t picked up any of my calls, you won’t answer your door…”

“I’ve been busy,” she lied, cradling her daughter lightly to point of the source of her “busy” lifestyle.

“I see,” he sighed disappointedly. “Well, I am glad you’re here now.”

“Yeah…well, Kris was complaining on and on about not being able to see her father,” she spoke quickly to stop her head from pounding on. “I didn’t think it was fair to keep her away from you. She really wanted to see you again. It was non-stop, her complaining and nonsensical babbling about not being able to see ‘daddy’. Either way she ended up sleeping during the car ride over and I didn’t want to wake her up, but I’m here now so…”

“You’re rambling,” he scoffed a soft laugh under his breath.

She looked up at him and noticed his stance was much closer to her than before. Damn, these walls were closing in on her already. The ceiling should be spinning by now…

“How is she?” he interrupted, patting her daughter’s head softly not to wake her. “She doing ok?”

“She’s fine,” she nodded politely, continually rocking Kris in her arms. “She’s asking a lot of questions though.”

“Ah,” he raised his eyebrows in response. “How’ve you been?”

“Terrible,” she answered honestly, without feigning a smile back. “You?”

“Same,” he said, mirroring her tone.

And just as quick as their conversation was, a dead silence set up the awkwardness between the once timely lovers. Just the soft snores that radiated out of Kris kept them from doing anything too stupid. He had been staring at her ever since he laid eyes on her, but she couldn’t even look back. Frustrated by the lack of tact in the situation, he guiltily responded.

“I’m sorry for not telling you before,” he muttered. “You deserved to hear the truth. I was just scared that you would have run away from me, just like you’re doing now.”

“Finding out that the man I’ve been seeing for the past couple months is actually the father of my only child, doesn’t exactly put me in the best mood to be seen. Especially if I thought the father of my child was a complete jackass,” she added.

“Understandable,” he grunted, remorseful of mentioning it in the first place.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she quietly shook her head. “This is too much for me Joe. I know you want this to work out, but I don’t think I can make you happy.”

“What are you talking about?” His worry grew the closer he got to her. “Ariel, I’m sorry about this whole thing but-

“It’s just not the best time for me to accept you,” she said, stabbing his heart with every word. “You had a life before you met me. There was nothing you had to worry about, and now…trust me when I say that you were better off not knowing where I was.”

He couldn’t believe his ears. The numb feeling in the pit of his stomach spread quickly to his skin and shook him to the core. All he wanted to do was to hold her tightly and tell her she was all wrong.

“That’s not true,” he explained shallowly. “You are the reason I do the things I do from day to day.”

“I know it’s hard, but you have to understand that there must have been a reason for us to have separated for so long,” she strained to speak, hoping the crack in her voice wouldn’t sound. “It was fate who separated us-

“And it was fate who brought us back together,” he interrupted, frustrated by her narrow-mindedness. “Our destiny was just…a little delayed.

“I wouldn’t call 7 years a delay,” she scoffed lowly. “I would call it an answer to all your problems. Look, I don’t know why things happened the way it did but everything just fell into place just too coincidentally. My memory loss was just one minor set back. Who knows what else I have yet to know, but the point is I have to have lost it for a reason and I think that reason is to remove you from my life.”

“This isn’t right, you’ve got it completely wrong!” he fought back aggressively.

“But it’s all true isn’t it? To some degree it’s all true,” she finally wept out a few tears. “Joe, I just came for Kris. If not for her, I wouldn’t have come here at all. She’s the one who wanted to see you, not me, so don’t expect me to forgive you so easily.”

“Fine, I don’t care if you can’t forgive me just yet.” He grasped her by the shoulders and tugged her lightly to look directly at his fear-streaked face. She could feel Kris already slipping from her arms. “Just, please don’t hate me.”

Hate was meant for the man who left her. Hate was buried inside of her to unleash it upon the man who couldn’t love her enough during the times where she was most vulnerable. But she didn’t hate this man; the man who stood in front of her. Even her heart wanted to hate him, but she couldn’t look him dead in the eye and say she did. His hands still gripped on softly against her cold, shivering skin.

“I shouldn’t have come,” she muttered in between a sniffle. “I can’t do this right now.”

With his hands still gripped on softly against her cold, shivering skin, Joe kept her from leaving him. Who knew when he would be able to see her again? This time, he wasn’t going to let her slip away so easily.

“Don’t go,” he pled with a whisper.

“I can’t stay,” she argued back. “I can’t-

Suddenly, like a strong warm wind brushing against skin, he grappled her tightly into a deep hold that struck every vein in her body and woke her up. With Kris lodged between them, Ariel could only struggle to keep her arms from giving out.

“Don’t leave me.”

She could feel the tears slowly falling down her cheek, her lips trembled with every involuntary twitch, but that was the last of her worries. Kris was falling and so was her heart…both heading straight to her gut.

“Don’t make this harder than it already is,” she was able to whimper out of his embrace. “I-

“Ariel, you know how much I love you,” he calmly said in her ear. “It was already hard enough to lose you the first time. I’m not ready to lose you a second time.”

“She’s slipping!” Ariel cried out suddenly, hoping to God to make him stop saying such things.

Aggravated by her, Joe quickly let her go and grappled a hold onto Kris and swung her onto his shoulder. Ariel felt the weight melt away and suddenly she could feel all the heaviness in her heart lodge in her throat, stopping her from swallowing the tears the flowed down. The pain was excruciating and without Kris, another blanket of cold air drenched over her chest and her arms. Gripping onto her fists, Ariel tried to raise them to close her mouth from crying anymore until a strong hand wrapped around her neck pulled her forward and an abrupt kiss followed.

It was then where the sudden warmth of his lips surged onto her skin and the gentle shiver scattered. The lump was still there in her throat, her twitching lips still frowned, and her tears still dampened her face. But with his hand now stationed nicely behind the crook of her back, his lips still pressed symmetrical to hers, and Kris jammed right in between, was all it took to melt away the pain.

“Don’t go. Stay with me,” was all he said. His eyes spoke more than he did and they were calling for her in the most romantic way.

“I’m sorry,” seemed to be the only words she could think of at the moment.

He kindly let her go, and gave her daughter back. The familiar weight dragged her body low once again.

“I’m really sorry Joe,” she cried. “But I don’t think we’ll be seeing anymore of each other.”

“Ju-just wait a minute,” he took another step towards her. “Give me a chance, that’s all I ask. In a few days, I’ll be heading to Italy for a week. Can we talk once more before I leave? I just want one more day.”

Without an answer, she left silently. Just a day is all he asks for. Luck may or may not be on his side.

 

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