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7 Years Later

The police station was filled with noise and people crammed in small, corner cubicles. Ariel took her coffee mug and walked over to her seat to see all the paperwork that was piling up in front of her. She looked around and saw her coworkers dealing with impatient clients and jamming crooks into the makeshift cells. Her phone was lit up with calls, so she sat down and answered a few of them before her boss called her into the office. Apparently, the station had a big break into one of her old, unsolved cases.

She walked into the office and saw a man sitting across from her boss. Her boss motioned her forward and introduced him to her. Carrying an expensive camera around his neck, he looked like a professional photographer. Strangely though, he looked like he hadn’t showered for days but still had a clean shave and as he turned around, his smile turned stiff from astonishment.

“Officer Lin, this gentleman here would like to assist you in a case,” her boss said, as she pointed over to the photographer. “He seems to have some evidence you would be interested in.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Ariel nodded.

“Hey Ariel,” the photographer said to her, with that same familiar half smile and shy wave.

“Hi Joe.”

For the first time, she gave a him small smile. She took him over to her desk and he showed her a few photos he took on his digital SRL. After close examination and review, she asked him if he could print out a copy for her for investigation and he wholeheartedly obliged.

“This is kind of new for me, dealing with criminals and such,” he said as Ariel got back from the copy machine with more than a few files at hand.”I just recently heard about helping out in cases like these on the news.”

“Oh. Well, just so you know, these photos will remain in police custody and no one else will be able to access them without my approval,” she reassured him as she placed the photo in a manila file. “So you don’t have to worry about your identity.”

“Thanks, Ariel,” he said, with that same goofy smile as he sat with his hands firmly placed on his camera.

The familiarity of that phrase made her laugh to herself. “It’s standard policy.”

“Ah,” he nodded.

“Okay, so is there anything else I can help you with today?” she added.

“Nope, just wanted to give you the photos,” he said, shaking his head back and forth. “It was nice seeing you again, Ariel. Maybe we can catch up on old times?”

Old times? Which ones, when she trashed his flowers or when she dismissed him in front of her friends, she wondered to herself. Old times. Surely he doesn’t want anything to do with her, right?

“”What did you have in mind?” She was cautious; she didn’t want to seem too available and yet she wanted some time to properly apologize for her behavior in the past.

“Nothing fancy, just wanted to catch up,” he smiled innocently enough.

He’s up to something, Ariel thought. “Sure.”

Now that wasn’t something she was supposed to say. Joe’s face beamed in delight as he heard it. Ariel, however, didn’t know what had gotten herself into.

“Great!” Joe said, with a bit of relief escaping his breathe. “You busy tonight? When are you getting off?”

“Um…in a bit,” she answered. “Do you mind waiting?”

With a smile and a salute, he said “no problem.”

After work, Ariel showed Joe the way to a nearby coffee stand before they headed over to a nearby park. The sun was still out for another couple of hours so it was a good time to get some fresh air, because both Ariel and Joe could hardly breathe.

“So you actually became a police officer, that’s so great,” Joe said, as they both walked the concrete path in the park. “I’m glad, you got to do something you’ve always wanted to do.”

“Yes, I did,” Ariel nodded, stirring her coffee with her wooden stirrer. She noticed him fiddling with his camera and pointed towards it with a nudge of her head. “Looks like you did too, right? With photography?”

“Ah, not exactly,” he shyly looked down at his SRL. “Just weddings, and the like. Haven’t made my way to the rest of the world just yet. I’m surprised you remembered.”

“You want to sit down, or just walk?” Ariel interrupted him, pointing toward the bench in front of him.

“Let’s walk,” he smiled, gestured her to the path. “Seems more appropriate for us.”

He wasn’t making this easy on her. She kept re-living that moment in high school where she just rode away on her skateboard leaving him twice behind. But that didn’t stop him from being friendly towards her. So she let him ask all the questions he wanted to ask her and she answered most of them. Joe had a good laugh when Ariel mentioned that she finally learned how to drive because the police department wouldn’t hire her if she didn’t have a valid driver’s license. She still took the bus to and from work thought. She told him about her family, and how she’s matured and learned to love her brothers even if they drive her crazy. Joe remained quiet, as normal, but would interject here and there for her to explain bits and pieces.

They reached a nearby side street and decided to prowl for something sweet. Joe still hadn’t talked much about himself and Ariel was done spilling everything she could think of. It felt like a confessional.

“I don’t normally see police officers without their uniform on,” Joe mentioned as he noticed her clothes were quite casual.

Ariel stared at her cup of coffee in her hands as she spoke. “We have to if our assignment calls for it, but I was mostly doing file work at the office today. So…what have you been up to?

“Me?” he gestured a finger to his chest. “Not much.”

“It’s been 7 years, how could there not be much?” she questioned, with a darted look.

He laughed a little at that. “My life since high school was pretty calm. I majored in photography and photojournalism in college and took a few odd jobs, but nothing too permanent.”

“Anything interesting?” she asked, sipping the last drop of coffee from her mug.

“Yeah,” he remembered with a giggle and a smile. “I once took a job as a freelance photographer for a 5 year old’s birthday party. I was paid in orange juice and cake for 50 photos of the kid crying in front of clowns.”

Ariel laughed at that and Joe swore he had never seen or heard it before. It was delightful and fresh compared ro her normally blunt disposition. They way she held a hand over her mouth was adorable and her giggle radiated over her face. He couldn’t help but laugh with her.

It wasn’t long before the sky got dark and the two needed to head on home. They found a nearby ice cream parlor and both got some to take home before saying their goodbyes. Luckily, Ariel was a few blocks away from her apartment and Joe could take a taxi back downtown.

“Next time, I’ll treat you instead,” Ariel said, poking at her ice cream.

“Next time?” he asked with a bit of amusement. “Are you asking me out?”

Ariel could feel the atmosphere change as a strange chill went up her spine. Oh damn, was she asking him out?? She turned to face Joe, with her spoon still in her mouth, hoping to make things less awkward.

“Kidding,” he laughed, holding both hands up in front of her as precaution.

Even though he was just joking, her face still flushed red and she was glad that the night sky hid her face well. Joe offered to walk Ariel home, since they were so close anyways. They continued over to the next street over to the bus stop when he decided to say what he wanted to say since the first time he saw her today but never got a chance to.

“Is yours any good?” he asked, pointing to Ariel’s ice cream cup.

“You’ve never tried green tea ice cream?” she asked, scooping up a bit and shoving it into her mouth.

“It sounds gross,” he laughed. “A tea flavored ice cream? Eh…”

“It doesn’t taste bad,” she nudged him with her elbow. “I just prefer it because it’s not as sweet as everything else.”

He scrunched his nose a bit. “I’ll stick to my mint chip. You know, I almost forgot,” Joe said, as they walked to the street corner.

Ariel looked over at him and asked, “forgot what?”

“How much I liked you,” he shyly answered without looking at her.

Ariel grew quiet as a new lump in her throat began to form and her head was filled with different ways to answer him. “….why?” was the only thing that came out.

“Hmm?” he asked, tossing his cup into a nearby trashcan.

“Why did you like me?” she asked, looking down at her cup of now liquefied ice cream.

He stood by her side as he gave a light-hearted scoff. “I just did.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat and said, “I’m sorry for what I did to you back in high school.”

Joe was caught off guard by that, but he smiled and just nodded at her. “I know.”

“I’m sorry if I hurt you in any way,” she continued. “What I did to you…it was dumb.”

He laughed a bit and repeated, “I know, it’s okay.”

Ariel stopped walking and stopped stirring her ice cream. She thought to herself, was this really just that simple? I know…it’s okay. Was it really? Tossing her cup into the trashcan, Ariel then stuffed her hands into her coat pocket and continued walking towards Joe.

“Where do you live?” Joe asked, as she caught up with him.

“Down the street,” Ariel answered, pointing to the tall apartment complex.

By this time, they had reached her apartment and stopped in front of her steps. “I tell you what,” Joe sparked up. “Maybe you can make it up to me.”

“Make it up?” she asked, lightening back up. “Like what? I don’t owe you a prom do I?”

“No,” he laughed. “Hmm…maybe one less rejection would do the trick. You still hate driving right? How about I take you to work from now on? The station isn’t that far from where I work and we get off around the same time.” he suggested.”I’ll even pick you up from work and drive you home.”

“How is that me making it up to you?” Ariel laughed, as she gave him a crooked smile. “Besides, It’s a little much, don’t you think?”

“Is it? Well, just treat it as making it up for all those times we missed when we were younger, when I couldn’t walk you home or to school, ” he beamed. “Maybe this time we can actually be friends?”

There it was, the sneakiness that burrowed inside the seemingly innocent little suggestion. Playing the guilt card, huh she thought to herself. Having such an ambiguous friendship was dangerous since, by now, she knew that Joe still liked her a lot. Now, how can she deny him after all the stuff that happened in the past? Inevitable, she thought. He won this round. It didn’t help that he looked so darn cheeky about it too and it seemed like something he had caught on from her.

“You’re learning,” she said, as she walked up the stairs. “This is not good.”

He frowned a bit, before asking, “What is that supposed to mean?”

“You know,” she chimed, mocking him. “See you tomorrow.”

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