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It had been a couple weeks after Mike was released from the hospital and the case is now in full force. Every detail and every possible clue would soon face Ariel.
“Where are we going?” Ariel asked Joe as he drove.
“We’re going to Mike and Rainie’s place,” he said in his frank manner. “Mike said he’ll give us the rest of the information there and hopefully we can find some more clues to help you remember something about the treasure, if there is any memory that is.”
“I hope so…” she said nonchalantly.
Ariel hadn’t thought about the case in so long, she had completely forgotten about the treasure. To her, it just meant another obstacle between her past and her future.
“You know,” Joe started as he tried to break the ice. “If you cheered up and smile from time to time, that’ll be great. It’s like watching a Nicolas Sparks book come to life every time I see ya. Mandy Moore can only die so many times, ya know, and have the movie still be good. After a while, you just sit there and ask yourself ‘What the hell am I doing? Why the hell am I watching this movie AGAIN?’ It’s depressing.”
Ariel smirked at that remark. He was right; to an extent everything was becoming more and more depressing as they looked deeper into the case. Everything about her life was so sad and therefore she wanted no part of it. If only there was a way to breakaway from her past and start anew.
As they reached Mike and Rainie’s place, Ariel reached for the door, but it suddenly yanked out of her grip.
A whole group of men and women were staring right in front of Joe and Ariel. Frightened, Ariel pulls her twin swords from the casings and lunges forward trying to protect Joe.
“WHOA!!! I didn’t know Joe brought the main attraction…” joked one man.
“Wait, wait, hold up…” said Rainie from the back. “It’s only Ariel,” she scoffed.
Ariel, who had been too scared to move out of her position, see’s a gleaming Rainie from afar and slowly lets her guard down.
“You guys finally made it! Oh Ariel, put those down and stop terrifying everyone,” Rainie said with a smile. “You’re just in time for the celebration!”
Soon the people started piling presents upon Joe who had been shocked as well. Ariel was taken away by the way these people treated him; some of the men patted him on the back, some women kissed him on the cheek. Everyone’s disposition had drastically changed from how they saw her and how they saw him.
“What celebration?” asked a very confused Ariel.
“It’s Joe’s birthday, silly! Didn’t he tell you?” Rainie told her.
“It’s…Joe’s…birthday?” Ariel asked still mortified.
“mm,” Rainie nodded her head. “Those women over there are Mike and Joe’s aunts, those men are his uncles, the tall man with Joe’s mother is his dad, Mike’s over there playing with Kris, the man over there with the three kids is Mike’s brother and that’s my grandmother over there with his grandmother. They’ve been friends just as long as I’ve been friends with Joe.”
Scary, Ariel thought. Their families were so connected even though they were just friends. It was fine that Rainie and Mike’s families knew each other well because they were getting married. But Joe; his family was connected as well. Why? How can these three families be so close to each other as if they had a much exaggerated extended family, Ariel thought and how come she had nobody anymore. The only family she had left was all on paper; her father’s obituaries and her family’s name on her birth certificate. Ariel pled to herself; please let her be a part of this family.
“Hey JOE!” yelled the man next to his mother. “Why don’t you introduce us to your friend here?”
“Oh, everyone…” Joe started as he approached Ariel. “This is the one and only…Twin Sword Warrior!”
And in that instance, Ariel knew she wouldn’t be considered anything. She was her title; The Twin Sword Warrior and nothing else. The fact that Joe, the one man who had opened her up to the world after everything she had been through, said indirectly that she is just another criminal and not a human being had crushed her.
Oooh’s and ah’s could be heard throughout the room.
“ARIEL!!!” screamed a tiny voice from afar. “You made it, you made it!!!”
She see’s a blurry small vision running towards her, desperately trying to wiggle their way through the crowd, and suddenly it bumps into her waist not willing to let go.
“You finally made it!!!!” Kris screamed still hugging her.
Ariel laughed a little and said “oh, yeah. How are you Kris?”
“I’m great! Now we can play! Uncle Mike’s no fun, he only wants to talk about boy stuff,” Kris pouted.
The crowd laughed as Ariel did. Soon they huddled around her and Ariel grew quite anxious. What would they ask her?
“So you’re the Twin Sword Warrior,” said Joe’s aunt. “Wow, I don’t think I have ever seen one of those before.”
“yeah…”Ariel said nervously trying to give a fake smile.
“Have you ever beaten anyone up to a bloody pulp?” asked an uncle.
“How about mangle?” asked another uncle.
“Twin Swords don’t mangle! They stab! STAB! STAB! STAB!” said another aunt trying to imitate a stab.
Ariel was getting really nervous; she barely had enough time to answer all their questions and yet they kept on going.
“OK you vultures,” said Joe’s mom. “Get away from her with that. She is not only the Twin Sword Warrior, she has a life too ya know?”
Finally someone treated her like a person, Ariel thought with a smile.
“She’s my future daughter in law!!!!” his mom said proudly.
“WAHHH!!!!!” screamed the crowd.
Ariel who had her eyes wide, whipped her hands back and forth saying, “no, no I’m not, seriously!” desperately trying to persuade Joe’s family from thinking otherwise.
“The Twin Sword Warrior will be in our family?” asked an overly excited aunt.
“Wah! This is so great to have such a hero in the family!” said another aunt.
“What attracted you to Joe in the first place?” asked another.
“Did his mother tell you he’s a good kisser? Cause he is. It runs in the family. Our lips can wake up even the sleepiest beauties!!!” said an overly zealous uncle.
“Oh, my Gosh…” said Joe’s father with his arms wide open and tears in his eyes. “I finally have a daughter in law!”
He then went in for a hug which Ariel tried to stop, but wasn’t strong enough.
“Um…sir, I’m not going to marry your son…” she said trying to breathe.
“Poppy cock!” Joe’s mother interrupted. “Of course you are. You rescued him from a thug so valiantly!”
“Yes!” his dad said in agreement. “I would be proud to call you my daughter,” he continued as he held her.
“Daughter?” Ariel said amazed.
Everything had hit her too fast for her to think properly. She wasn’t sure if she was happy to finally have the attention of the loving family, or scared because…well she had the attention of the loving family.
“Ok, enough!” Rainie said interrupting their huddle fest. “I think this is enough excitement for Ariel.”
“Thanks,” Ariel whispered to Rainie.
“No problem,” she winked.
Joe on the other hand, was sitting in the corner with Mike, completely mortified to the extreme.
“I can’t believe they just did that…” he said shaking his head.
“Don’t worry, Joe” Mike said with a smile. “At least they didn’t take out the baby pictures.”
“3…2…1…” Joe counted with one hand, and leveled his aching head with the other.
“Let’s take out the baby pictures!!!!” his mom screamed from afar.
“Should I worry now, Mike?”
Suddenly Kris tugs on Joe’s shirt.
“What is it Kris?” he asked still having a migraine.
“My leg hurts,” she whined.
“Why does your leg hurt?” he asked.
Shaking her head, she said “I don’t know,” with a pout fully ready to explode into tears.
“Ok, don’t worry lets go to the bathroom and I’ll take a look at it,” he said with a worried expression.
As they head to the bathroom, Joe locks up the door and pulls one of Kris’ pant legs up.
“Kris! When did you get this bruise?” he said frightened.
“I don’t know,” she cried. She began to rub at the bruise which hurt her so.
“Don’t rub it, Kris. Let me see…” he said beginning to examine it with more scrutiny. “Does this hurt?”
“mm…yea!!!” she pouted.
“Well did you bump into something these last couple of days?” he asked.
“No…” she thought.
“Did you get hit in any way?” he continued to probe.
“No…” she thought harder.
“Did you trip over something?”
Suddenly it hit her; the glass bottle she tripped over when she and Ariel were confronted by the thug. That was why she had the bruise. That was why her leg hurt so much. But she couldn’t tell Joe the truth or else she’d break Ariel’s promise.
“Kris? Did you trip over something?” he asked once more.
“Um…” she said nervously trying to think of an excuse.
“Kris…” he asked with more suspicion.
“Um…I don’t know,” she said pouting. She hated lying to her brother.
“Are you lying to me?” he asked more seriously. “Why can’t you tell me what happened?”
She sat there silently. If she couldn’t tell him the truth, she wasn’t about to lie.
“Kris,” he said sternly looking at her eyes. “I’m your brother. We shouldn’t keep secrets from one another.”
She still sat quietly fiddling with her buttons on her shirt.
“I can’t tell you,” she said on the verge of tears.
“Why?” he asked firmly.
“Because…Because I promise I wouldn’t,” she pouted.
“Kris…if something like this happened to me, wouldn’t you want to know why I got hurt so badly?” he asked.
“But…Ariel said as long as I kept this secret she’ll always be there for me…”
“Ariel?” he asked surprised.
Covering her mouth with both hands, Kris realizes her mistake.
“Kris, tell me what happened…” he asked once more.
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