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Time Takes a Toll on Us

Joe made his way into the living room just as he calmed his beating heart. It had only been a couple minutes since Kris had revealed that she knew he was her father. Whether or not he confirmed it, meant nothing to him as of right now since his legs were still wobbling at the fact that maybe, just maybe, everything will unveil itself at the worst time. What if Ariel had knew about it all along?

“Hey!” a sudden voiced popped in front of him. “Is she tucked in?” Ariel had been cleaning, he supposed, since she was up in arms in rubber gloves.

“Y-yeah,” Joe shook his head back and forth to get his attention focused on Ariel. “I just got her to go to sleep.”

“Good, well I’ll be back in a minute, I just have to wash these dishes and I’ll walk you out.” She quickly rushed back to the kitchen and resumed her work.

She looked kind of funny bouncing up and down the living room into the kitchen in those green, completely festive, rubber gloves she was wearing. He leaned over a bit check out the view from behind as Ariel quietly washed the few plates and cups from the sink. It reminded him of the time when he used to come home from work and watch her do the exact same thing.

Those days were much simpler than today. Back then, he would know everything was alright when he could easily walk toward the kitchen and stand there watching her simply wipe down the dishes dry. His memory soon flooded of such a familiar scene; he’d walk towards her, gently graze her arms right before wrapping his arms loosely on her hip and placing his chin on her shoulder. He knew it made her so angry when she’d be done cleaning only to find him asleep in that awkward position.

“I wonder if she’s still ticklish,” he chortled to himself at the thought.

Nervously shoving his hands in his pockets, Joe walked into the kitchen and saw the familiar scene: the woman he loved washing those few soapy dishes on the counter under the dim sink light. The sporadic beating of his pulse racing was really annoying him as he neared her since he couldn’t stop his anxious body from being too eager. Ariel, however, was as calm as a dove. Lucky girl, he thought.

Joe took a silent breath and soon he was right in back of her. He could smell the gentle aroma she was sporting, in the air. Slowing taking his trembling hands out of his pockets, he nervously placed his hands barely on her shoulders and slid them downward across her arms. Feeling the strange new sensation, Ariel immediately froze in place.

“Don’t worry, it’s just me,” Joe quietly laughed from behind.

“What are you doing?” she asked suspiciously. She turned around to watch him, but he was too quick.

Letting his nerves settle with the hint of laughter in the air, Joe lightly wrapped his arms around her mid section and buried his nose deep in the crook of her warm neck.

“Hey,” she giggled.

Yep she’s still ticklish.

He softly whispered in her ear before resting his head on her shoulder. “You’re also slow at doing the dishes.”

“Then why don’t you help me dry them,” she quipped.

“I’m good where I am,” he laughed, letting his chuckle vibrate against her shoulder.

“Then don’t complain,” Ariel tapped at his nose with a rubber finger.

Home, he thought, was exactly where he was right now. Closing his eyes he held onto Ariel even tighter for support. He’ll see if she gets mad this time.

“Done!” Ariel nodded to herself, slapping the counter with a stiff hand. “Are you ready, Joe? Joe?”

Wait for it…

“Joe…” she turned to see him softly snoring on her shoulder like a certain little seven year old would. “I know you’re awake. Don’t even try to pretend.”

Still nothing. Well, it didn’t anger her to see him sleeping on her shoulder. Actually, it was just the opposite. She even smiled! Letting out a soft chuckle, Ariel held Joe’s arms with a hand, which was placed warmly on her belly, while brushing his hair off his face with her other hand. At such close contact with his face, she placed a brief kiss on his warm cheek which automatically caught his attention.

“Ah, now you’re up” she rolled her eyes and turned her face around, making sure he thought she was mad at him.

Still in his semi-unconscious state, Joe groggily looked at her but noticed she was looking back. He did however, have a great view of her beautiful neck. He decided to take full advantage of opportunity given seeing as she was in such a vulnerable prey. Well, at least her neck was.

Ariel was snickering to herself as she waited for his next move. She thought she was playing too coy, but it wouldn’t hurt if she was a bit cheeky tonight seeing as he had the audacity to sleep on her shoulders when she was slaving over the sink, cleaning dirty dishes. Suddenly, she felt a warm energy rushing on her skin. She grew silent…only breathing in and breathing out. The bumps on her skin shivered as her cheek flushed red when Joe’s soft lips pressed firmly on her neck and he was reaching near her collarbone.

“Ok, that’s enough,” she quickly diverted into shy laughter, as she rolled her shoulder against him to push him away. If this wasn’t embarrassing enough, her tomato colored face would have been just as bad if she had turned around to face him. Ariel even tried patting her cheeks to stop the reddening.

After a while she still couldn’t stare him right in the face, so he thought for a second, and instantly turned around.

“Ok, well then I guess I’m going home.”

And just like that, his planned worked. Ariel undid her hands and rushed over to grab his arm.

“Ah!” he winced from her nails digging into his pilot blazer.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Dang, you’re stronger than I thought,” he rubbed at his arm. “Ah, I know what it is. I got hurt a bit from trying to jump over the fence of the school.”

“Let me see,” she began as she took off his jacket to reveal a small gash on his clean, white dress shirt which was now covered in blood. “Oh, geez! You’re bleeding. I’ll get the bandages.”

“Oh crap,” Joe couldn’t even believe he couldn’t feel the pain until just now. It was like he just woke up from a dream.

“Those damn barbed wire.”

“Take off your shirt,” she ordered nonchalantly. “C’mon don’t be shy.”

“Now I’m the one being shy?” he joked.

Not even smiling a little, Ariel stared at him until he did what he was told. He unbuttoned his dress shirt before taking it off, revealing a white sleeveless top, and sat down on the couch to let her examine the wound. Not even a second was spared before Ariel brought her first aid kit, was about the size of the coffee table, and dropped the heavy box with a dull thud. Ariel took out the antiseptic and dabbed a bit on a small cloth. Carefully, she took his arm and wiped away the stiff, coagulated blood still sticking quite close to his skin.

“Does this hurt?” she asked.

“Just a little,” he cringed.

“Well, I’m only going to bandage this up. You should still go see a doctor tomorrow and get it checked out for infections,” Ariel reprimanded as she let his arm dangle loosely in front of her. “That is unless you want your arm amputated.”

“No ma’am,” he answered straightforwardly. “But I must ask: why do you such a large first aid kit?”

“You’ve known Kris long enough, you still want to ask that question?” she calmly spoke nonchalantly. “Well, in all actuality I used to work at the nearby clinic. I used to work lots of places before I took the job at the terminal.”

“How come you don’t work there now?” he probed.

“Loss of interest.”

Joe noticed the hesitation in her voice as she said that, but brushed it off. Whipping out some gauze from the kit, Ariel continued diligently caring for his arm.

“What would you do without me?” she feigned a deep sigh. “Consider yourself lucky.”

“I do,” he nodded firmly. Looking at the bandage, he noticed the precision on her wrapping. Same as before. She always did know exactly how to take care of him.

“What’s the matter? Is it too tight?” she cautiously examined. “Let me loosen it up a bit.”
He looked her straight in the eyes and whispered “…I love you.”

Ariel stopped bandaging his arm and stared at him back with a bit of worry in her eyes. Noticeably uncomfortable, she gave a deep gulp and her hands gripped tighter onto the gauze.

“Um…Ariel?” Joe broke the silence. “It’s a bit too tight.”

“Oh!” she suddenly snapped back as she loosened her grip on the bandage. “I’m sorry. I- I…umm…”

“Hey.” Placing his other hand on hers, which were quivering, he spoke calmly. “You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to be afraid.”

“What do I have to be afraid of?” she gave a nervous laugh.

“Then why were you so quiet?” he questioned. “Or do you normally shake this much?”

Ariel tapped her leg slightly and raised a hand to rustle her hair to loosen her nerves just a bit. She hadn’t been close to someone in a romantic way in ages. It had been a long time since the last time she’s had butterflies in her stomach and she didn’t even remember it.

“…It’s not everyday a man comes in my life and says that he loves me,” she feigned a brief smile all the while still wrapping his arm. “You might be the first for all I can remember.”

“Really?” Joe snickered silently to himself, almost reveling in a small victory.

“Don’t sound so smug,” she warned with a stiff tone, but with a slight smirk. “You didn’t win the lottery.”

“By the sound of your voice, who would think I did?”

She wanted to slap him for that, but one look at his self-satisfied face and she held back. He was already injured, so she didn’t have to add any more battle scars…for now.

Joe chuckled at her irritation. After a few seconds of silence, as Joe waited for his shoulder to be completely bandaged up, he ducked his head under her face and kissed her lightly on her lips. Right away she was radiating a deep shade of red. He laughed silently and took her face into the palm of his only able hand, cupping her cheek gently in his embrace. Her face was warm from the blood rushing to her pores so he brushed her cheek lightly with his thumb.

“Oh, Joe you know I’m too old to play coy,” she laughed heartily as he continued to milk her shyness for all she’s worth.

“I’m a bit too old for a lot of things. There are a lot of things I can’t do anymore,” she stiffly let her words fade.  He took a free hand and placed a knuckle close to her, letting it lightly graze her cheek. “You can do anything you want. I’ll make sure of it.”

With another soft scoff from her lips, she speaks. “You make me feel like I can.”

The feeling was so reminiscent of years before but then again, when it came to Ariel, everything seemed to speak Déjà vu. Everything was all coming back to him now; from the way see looked him in the eyes, they way her lips seemed to curl into a sweet smile. Softly, he pressed a tender kiss on her cheek. Her scent, the feeling of her skin next to his, and the moments of endless pleasure were all too much for him.

“Can you keep a secret?” she suddenly asked of him. Again the hesitation in her voice presumed. “I didn’t exactly tell you the whole truth a little while ago. There is a reason why I didn’t stay at the clinic or anywhere else for a long period of time for that matter.”

“Joe quietly asked her, “What do you mean?”

“I had, um, tremors, here and there,” she tried to calmly speak as her ragged breathing got the best of her. “Whenever I saw a patient, or I was near the tools…things of that sort, I’d immediately start trembling, sweating. I was like that for a while so they decided to let me go. It wasn’t until a long time till I could control myself. It wasn’t like I was scared to do the job, it…its hard to explain.”

“Ariel, you don’t have to be afraid to tell me,” Joe comforted by placing a hand on hers.

“I know, and that’s why I am,” she smiled briefly. “Um…please don’t laugh, but…there’s a lot about me that you don’t know and ironically, neither do I. Heh…this is actually harder than I imagined it in my head. Joe, do you worry about the past?”

“Is that what this is about? Well, I guess from time to time I wonder if I made the right choices in life.”

“What if life doesn’t give you a choice? Fate, I mean.” she immediately fired back. “Life is kind of forced that way, don’t you think? You don’t really have a choice. Things just happen.”

“What are getting at, Ariel?” Joe sternly looked at her, hoping to finally understand her babbling.

“What if I were to tell you, when I was 19, I was forced to have a baby without any knowledge of how I got pregnant in the first place?” she dryly admitted. “Would you run away?”

“No,” he quickly swallowed the lump in his throat. He wasn’t liking where this was heading, but then again, this is the place he NEEDS to be.

She too took a deep swallow and rewetted her lips to continue. “Joe, I don’t remember anything that happened to me prior to Kris’ birth.”

And the bomb hits Joe right in the pit of his stomach. It churns and rumbles there till tears welled up at the edge of his eyes but faltered to hit his cheek.

“The night I gave birth, was the day I was born,” she sobbed a bit. “I can’t remember how I got to the hospital, how the baby was delivered…”

“You were at a hospital,” he interrupted, turning to her as if looking for the answer on her face.

“Mmhmm, and that’s not the best part,” she chuckled out of her tears. “No one else was with me. I couldn’t tell you how scared I was. I didn’t even know my own name. The only thing I knew was I had a baby in my arms and that some man had left me there without saying a word.”

“…did you know who it was?” Joe hesitantly asked, afraid of any more answers.

“All I knew at that point was he was heading into the only town near the hospital so I followed the path…straight to Caoya,” she continued to smile proudly, as if the story was getting better and better, even though it pained her to speak.

“From the things that I do remember, I do remember the first person who spoke to me that day and I remember it vividly. It was a strange man and I can laugh about it now, but…well, the first thing he said was ‘Welcome to C- wait a minute… reckon I know you! You’re the pregnant girl I found! Well honey, I don’t know much about anything, but I sure know who you are’ which immediately made me bawl terribly because I couldn’t even remember who I was.”

“And this man…was?” Joe cautiously readied himself.

“Who else could it be?” she shrugged lightly. “It was Abe.”

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