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“Are you ready?” Ariel’s mother called for her husband.
“I have been ready since she told us she was pregnant,” he smirked. “Go get Jiro and have him start the car.”
Tonight they were on their way to visit Ariel and Joe for the first time in almost a year; ever since their dispute, Ariel’s parents had almost exiled their daughter for choosing to keep her baby rather than to…well, let’s just say that they weren’t all that pleased that she no college degree, barely a high school diploma, and no marriage license before she was about to bring a new life into the world.
“Ok, I’m finally ready,” Jiro smiled at his mother.
“Good!” she nodded happily. “Now, you know where he lives, correct?
“Yes, I got the directions from the last time they were here,” Jiro nodded, waving the piece of paper Ariel had given him personally almost of year ago if he ever needed a place to stay.
As they drove to Joe’s apartment, Ariel’s mother had already a stiff and high nose; disgusted by the neighborhood where her daughter was currently living. Sure they lived at the bad end of the city, but it was all they could afford with just a high school diploma. Arriving at the parking lot, they step out of the car and entered the apartment complex.
“Room 4D,” Jiro said to himself as he held the piece of paper. “Right there!”
Standing in front of the stained door, with the paint ready to chip off whole, Jiro knocks on the door. No response.
“What’s up with that?” Jiro said outloud.
“What dear?” his mother asked.
“No answer…” he muffled. “Hmm…”
As he knocks again, Jiro puts his ear on the door to listen intently to the sounds on the other side of the door.
“Odd…” his father murmured silently. “Do you hear anything, son?”
“No,” Jiro shook his head.
“Well where could they be?” his mother whined. “AH! You don’t think she’s hurt do you?”
“No, don’t talk like that,” her husband reassured. “It’s quite late, she must be sleeping.”
“It’s only 9:00pm, dad,” Jiro rolled his eyes.
“What if she’s at the hospital?!” Ariel’s mom thought aloud. “Oh dear…oh dear…”
“Calm down,” her husband soothed. “One more knock, son.”
Giving one more loud knock, Jiro listens intently at the door…
Suddenly the door quietly squeaks open, only to reveal an unfamiliar woman introducing herself. She was about Ariel’s age and she had a tall and slender frame.
“Yes?” she answered.
“Oh my mistake,” Jiro apologized. “We got the wrong apartment, um but maybe you can help us. Do you know where Joe Cheng lives?”
“Yes, he lives here.”
The three got quiet. Why was there another woman living with Joe? What happened to Ariel?
“He’s…out though. Can I help you?” she asked politely.
“Yes…” Ariel’s mother interrupted Jiro. “Where is my daughter!!”
“Excuse me?” she frightfully backed up.
“My daughter! My daughter Ariel Lin! Where is she!!!” she screamed.
The woman’s face turned pale. She quickly opened the door wide open and the three people standing outside the door could see the solemn looks on the people inside the apartment. Each person had a hand somewhere on their face, covering their disbelief, their pain, their deathlike appearance.
“It’s Ariel’s parents,” the woman sighed to the crowd. “Come in please.”
Entering the room, the three walk slowly into the room as if this room belonged to some eccentric circus featuring the world’s gloomiest people. A small elderly woman, who had been crying, stands up and walks to Ariel’s family.
“He couldn’t find her.”
That was her only statement. The only statement that the three poor souls never thought they’d hear nor ever feared of. As if a cold storm blew in, Ariel’s family grew stiff and a cold shiver ran down their spines.
“What does that mean?” Ariel’s mother asked her family.
“What do you mean he couldn’t find her?” Jiro asked.
The woman, who opened the door for them, stepped in and explained.
“I’ll take it from here, Mrs Cheng,” she softly spoke. “Uh, Hi I’m Rainie. I am actually a dear friend of both Ariel and Joe. There’s no easy way to say this but I guess it has to be said…they were on their way to the hospital when her water broke…”
Gripping her husband’s arm, the mom’ fear grew more and more real as she kept denying the worst.
“He didn’t know where he was going and he panicked,” she continued. “Joe tried to get help from a motel but when he came back to get her…she was gone.”
“What do you mean GONE?!” Ariel’s mother screamed. “How can he just lose a whole person!? Where is my DAUGHTER!?”
“We don’t know,” she shook her head.
Suddenly, the door banged to the side a bit further, and a familiar face entered the room. He was drenched in the darkness and emitted coldness through his thick overcoat. He seemed out of breathe as he took off his hat to reveal his distraught and tired face.
“When did you get here?” Joe asked the three people standing now in front of him.
“Where’s my daughter, Joe?” her mother quivered. “All I want is my daughter. Where is SHE!”
“I’m sorry,” he quietly spoke. “I don’t know. I-I can’t…I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t need your apologies!” she cried. “I want some answers!”
“Mom, stop,” Jiro tried to pacify his mother. “Joe…”
“She was right there. I left to get some help for two seconds and she was gone,” Joe explained with the same quiet voice. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know where she is.”
The elderly woman, Joe’s grandmother, took Ariel’s mom to the kitchen and Jiro followed. As Joe stood stiff as a board in front of Ariel’s father, his breathing has yet to falter. He was still out of breath and his chest kept pumping up and down. He stood silent in front of her father, who was stern and silent himself. Her father walked up to Joe with just a few words to say.
“You’ve been crying?” he asked.
Joe nodded, not fearing any embarrassment.
“I can tell,” he sighed. “You look tired. You search the hospital?”
“The roads?” he continued.
“Motels, restaurants, favorite places to be, movie theaters…” he rambled on.
Her father gulped in his last bit of saliva still swirling in his mouth.
“I know we haven’t exactly been on the same page with one another but,” he closed his eyes shut as he talked to him. “But please bring her back, Joe. You’re the only one who can. Whatever it takes; please bring her back.”
With those words still fresh in the air, Joe rushes back out to the dark night, panting harder and harder, trying to find where his heart had left him.
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