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As Ariel dreamt during the long ride, a voice had continued to plague her mind. Playing over and over in her memory, Ariel could only hear Alex’s disturbing voice echo…
“…useless piece of trash!”
Her eyes were shut tight, but you can sense the internal pain leaping out of her body as her lips pursed and curved down in a spasm-like form. Clutching onto her chest, she grips onto the fabric of her shirt as tight as possible leaving her hands rough and dry. For such a long time, Ariel was always being put down and called names. But to hear from the man whom she thought was her best friend was different. It was like a like a piece of her heart had been ripped off her chest and there was no way she can get it back now. As she wakes up in a cold sweat, she see’s a small dark figure.
“She’s not dead! I TOLD you!” said the dark figure. Its voice was really high from some reason.
A small little girl was sitting on Ariel’s stomach leaning her body closer and closer to hers. She was examining Ariel’s face checking for any sign of life in her eyes. Squinting her barely awaken eyes, Ariel looked at a strange dark room, decorated like antique relics and old wooden furniture. She was lying on a soft leather sofa with the small girl on top of her; she was maybe around 5 or 6.
“Did you poke her cheeks? If it’s soft and warm, get off or you’ll crush her. If it’s stiff and cold, tell her to go towards the light,” said a man from the kitchen.
“She’s blinking!” she screamed to the man
“It’s maybe a convulsion, when a body just barely passes away it may twitch from time to time.”
Suddenly the little girl pokes her small index finger onto Ariel’s cheek. “Nope, definitely not dead,” she said getting off of her.
Snapping back to reality, Ariel jolts out of the sofa. She recognizes the man’s voice…
“…Lieutenant??” she asks in eagerness.
“Yea?” said the voice from the kitchen
“Oh thank god…” she said falling back onto the sofa. “What happened? How come we’re not at the police station?” she yawned.
“I needed some provisions before we headed out again. Besides, you were knocked out cold. If I had brought you to the station, the other officers would have thought I brought back a drunken prostitute,” he said
“What’s a prostitute?” the little girl asked Ariel.
“Play-doh,” Joe said bluntly, coming out of the kitchen.
“They would have thought you brought back drunken ‘Play doh’?” said a suspicious Ariel.
“See, it doesn’t sound too good does it?” he said.
“Mmmm,” the little girl hummed in agreement.
“Breakfast’s in the kitchen, Kris,” he calmly spoke to the child, ruffling up her young hair at the same time. “Go wash up and eat it before it gets cold.”
“Wait a minute,” she said in disagreement. With her tiny hands, she grabs his right arm and swings it forcefully. “You have to eat with me,” she pouted.
“Of course,” he said tenderly
“Can Ariel eat with us too?” she asked sweetly.
“Well I don’t know. Why don’t you ask her yourself?” he asked encouragingly
She headed towards Ariel with a smile that resembled Joe’s. She wondered, how was this little girl related to him in the first place? Was she his sister? A cousin? HIS DAUGHTER???
“Ariel, eat with us please!!” she persuaded.
“Um…well I don’t really eat breakfast…”she gently said but was too busy being pulled out of the sofa by two small hands.
“Hurry, or Joe will eat up all the BACON!” screamed the little girl struggling to lift Ariel off the couch.
As they eat their breakfast, both the little girl and Joe scarf down their food as if they were on death row; Ariel had never seen such a sight before. She stared at them with her mouth wide-open. Barely touching her food, she gently picks up her fork and lowers her head.
“You gonna finish that?” Joe asked with his mouth full of bacon.
Without saying a word, Ariel pushes her plate forward and watches in awe as he devours her breakfast.
“You sure you don’t want some of this??” he said spitting bits of eggs all over the place.
The sight of him amused her to the point of laughter; he had bacon bits all along his lips, egg all over his teeth and maple syrup covering his cheeks. He was like a little child unable to properly eat. She thought about how her stepmothers would always criticize her about her manners. She was forced to be proper and have lady-like manners or else everyone around her would belittle her if she did anything less. But this man in front of her had broken every single rule she was ever taught, so she couldn’t help but smile a little at that. Trying not to laugh, she sighs hard.
“No,” she said sustaining her poise. “You can have it.”
She turns to see the little girl with almost the same face as Joe; food all over her face, forks on both her hands greedily grabbing the food away from Joe.
“Hey that’s my sausage!” screamed the little girl getting off her seat.
Joe, being the child that he was, opens his mouth wide and slides the sausage into his mouth. As his mouth closes, he makes the most satisfied grin appear on his face and rubs his stomach.
“Fine! I’ll just take this!” said an irate little girl, picking up his plate and turning around so he wouldn’t be able to take the food.
“Hey, that’s mine!” he said getting off his seat and struggling with the little girl.
“Finder’s keepers!” she screamed back.
“I made it!” he retaliated. Ariel smiled in disbelief.
“And I eat it!” she said devouring the rest of his plate.
Once she was done, she gives him back the plate. He takes the plate and glares at her. She glares back. Suddenly she backs up in bewilderment. Ariel, still sitting patiently looking at the scene, suspects something was about to happen.
“C’mon we just ate…” she pleaded.
“Nuh-uh, should have thought of that before you ate my breakfast,” he said gravely
“I’ll give you the rest of mine,” she bargained, showing her plate.
“Nuh-uh” he hummed while shaking his head.
By this time, Kris was already off her chair. “I’ll give you my lunch!”
Joe continued to shake his head. “Nope.”
So she pled. “I’ll give you my dinner!”
He kept his composure. “Nope.”
She tried to offer more. “I’ll give you my breakfast, lunch and dinner!”
“I don’t think so,” he shrugged, slowly hissing at her.
“I’ll give you my BARBIE COLLECTION!!!” she screamed closing her eyes.
“What am I suppose to do with that?” he asked annoyed
“I don’t know, but it gave me a head start…” she quickly said before she darted out of the room!
“She’ll be in the closet for a while. It’s always the closet,” he said calmly to Ariel who was awestruck.
“What was that?” asked a frightened Ariel.
“Oh, every time Kris …um, this is kinda embarrassing, forget it,” he said avoiding the question. He took a seat across from Ariel and continued eating.
She gave a disappointed look and that was enough to make him give up. He hated blatant signals.
“Ok I’ll tell you,” he said holding onto his stomach with his left hand and signaling her to stop with his right. She smiled at her small victory. “Whenever she does something wrong or makes me mad I tickle her.”
Ariel almost keeled over “…that’s it?”
Giving another one of his signature shrugs, he nodded and said “Yeah,”
“Oh,” she said disappointed
“What? Did you think I was gonna grab a mace and start pummeling her?” he asked in mock seriousness.
“NO! Of course not, it’s just…I guess I grew up differently from you guys that’s all,” she said sadly.
Joe looked at her sympathetically. He couldn’t possibly understand how she felt, so he did the only thing he could think of at the moment.
“You need a beer,” he said getting off his seat.
“For breakfast?” she said baffled.
“You look like you need it,” he ended.
He opens the fridge, pulls out two cans and puts one in front of her while opening one for himself. She gently slides her middle finger around the can in a circular motion and lets a deep sigh out. He takes the can away from her so she could stop.
“What do you want to know?” he asks her out of the blue. “Apparently beer isn’t gonna help, so…ask away. What do you want to know?” he said frankly.
“Where are we?” she starts
“My mom’s place. It was closer than mine.” He said directly.
“Who’s the little girl?” she asks
“My sister. Next question.”
“How does she know my name?”
“I told her. Geez, what a waste of a question.”
“HEY! Does she know anything else about me?”
“Just stuff a 5 year old can comprehend”
“Like…you’re a girl, you’re not my girlfriend, you’re not here to stay…and that you snore.”
“Oh dear god,” she said covering her mouth, making the words sound muffled.
“Yea, and pretty loud too,” he said rubbing his chin.
“Are you always this mean?” she pouted
“Only when I mean business.”
“Said the man with his breakfast still plastered on his face,” she retorted. “Then answer this, who are you really? Explain in detail please, I want to know who I am trusting.”
“God, this is going to be hell,” he winced. Chasing eggs with a beer had left him with a horrible stomach-ache. “My name is Joe Cheng and I am a lieutenant for the Taipei police force. I already sound like I belong in AA,” he added rolling his eyes.
“Please don’t babble nonsense and continue,” she said firmly.
She listened intently as he told her every detail of who he was in connection with Mike and Alex. Now, she knew why Alex manipulated her, where Mike was, and who she could trust. However, she still new nothing about the specifics of the case. Ariel is left again to wallow in her misery. She had been deceived so badly and yet she remained helpless.
“When I asked ‘what did you want to know’ I meant about the case,” he clarified.
“I’m still recovering from the information you gave me,” she said quietly. “Can I see the articles about my dad?”
“Soon enough, but right now I have to handcuff a little girl to the kitchen stove. That’ll teach her to eat my food,” he said calmly getting up his seat.
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