The young woman stood outside Ms. Lee’s office, her hands clasped tightly as she wait for the verdict. Tomorrow, if Ms. Lee and the nuns agree, she will pledge to become a nun…a bride of God. She grew up an orphan and it was the nuns at St. Mary’s Church that raised her and taught her about the meaning of life and the happiness of spreading God’s love. The young woman knew that her fate was to become a nun. When she was eighteen years old, she told Ms. Lee of her intent and everybody at the nunnery had helped her prepared…however just days before she pledge her vow to God, Ms. Lee told her there was a change of plan.
“I don’t understand Ms. Lee, why can’t I join the other girls in the pledge?” The young woman remembered asking Ms. Lee and the other nuns.
“I’m sorry Ariel, we were told you could not be a part of the ceremony…there’s been a change…” Ms. Lee answered and no other information was given. After begging Ms. Lee, she was told to wait for their final decision. Since very early in the morning, Ariel had been standing outside of Ms. Lee’s office…it’s been at least three hours. After a loud sigh, Ariel heard the door opened. Ms. Lee smiled at Ariel and motioned her in the room. The young woman saw the head nun, Ms. Tan and three other prominent nuns sitting around Ms. Lee’s desk.
“Ariel, we decided you can not be apart of tomorrow’s ceremony. We received a letter from your parent’s friend, Mr. Zhang that you are already engaged to his grandson at birth. Mr. Zhang has been searching for you since the death of your parents. We confirmed that he is telling the truth and made arrangement for you to live with him.”
“I don’t understand…Ms.Lee I thought you said you don’t have any information on my parents.”
“We wanted to wait until you were older to tell you the truth.” One of the nuns said.
“Your parents did not die in a car accident, they were murdered…and you were sent here in hiding. Your parent’s attorney, you know him as well, Mr. Ming has been watching over you all these years. He was the one that decided to give us Mr. Zhang’s letter.”
Ms. Lee handed Ariel a picture. Speechless, the young woman stared at a picture of a man and a woman with a little girl in her arm.
“My parents?” She asked even though she already knew the answer.
“Yes.” Ms. Lee answered.
“It sounds like I will be safer here. I want to stay here.” Ariel said. Ms. Lee shook her head.
“There is a binding clause in your engagement to Mr. Zhang’s grandson. Your parents when they were alive borrowed a lot of money from Mr. Zhang, and because he adored your mother, he had asked that their daughter marry his grandson and produce an heir within the first two years of their marriage. This according to Mr. Zhang will speed thing up and he can see his great grandchild before his death. At the time of the contract, it was all done in jest…however your parents did sign the contract with the understanding that they will pay back the money. After your parents’ untimely death, Mr. Zhang notarized the contract so now it is legal and binding. He also included in the contract that his grandson can not inherit anything from him if he is not in agreement with the contract.”
“I still don’t understand…I have to give birth to Mr. Zhang’s grandson’s baby in order to fulfill the contract?” Ariel asked. Everybody in the room nodded.
“But…this really has nothing to do with me. My parents are dead and I don’t have any obligations to Mr. Zhang. My duty is to God” Ariel reasoned.
“This is a letter from your mom…you will understand why we made the decisions we did after reading.” Ms. Lee said as she handed Ariel a letter.
The nuns stood and one by one left. Ariel opened the letter to read.
Dear sunshine Ariel,
If you are reading this letter it means that I am no longer with you. I’m sorry sunshine, I’m sorry that I am not with you and even more sorry the burdens you will have to carry. I want to tell you that your father and I love you very much and we will be watching over you. As I am writing this letter to you, your father has already passed away. Please listen to Ms. Lee (Cecelia) and do whatever she tells you to do. I trust Ms. Lee’s judgment; she is one of my dearest friends. You will be asked to marry Mr. Zhang’s grandson, Joe Cheng, he is eight years old, four years older than you. A quiet handsome little boy. Please marry him and follow the terms of the contract set by Mr. Zhang. Mr. Zhang has been very supportive of me and has been like a father to me. I owed him my life. I’m sorry that I am asking you to do this…I don’t have the rights to. However, it is the only way to pay off the debt I owed Mr. Zhang. Please once you are free, live your life for yourself and be happy.
I love you Sunshine,
Ariel read the letter over and over. The letter was brief, written in a rush, yet Ariel knew from the dept of her heart that this letter was from her mother. There was a sense of love and warmth as she read the letter. As predicted by Ms. Lee, after reading her mother’s letter, there was no way she could refused her mother’s last request…marry a stranger by the name of Joe Cheng and produce a grandson within two years. Ariel wondered what happen if she couldn’t give birth to Mr. Zhang’s grandchild…
Chapter 9 Steadfast love
Silence. I felt Joe leaning towards me slowly, cautiously as if he was afraid he'll scare me if he moved too quickly. I felt his arms encircled my back and slowly he pulled me against him. I could feel his heart beating rapidly.
He took one of my hand and placed it over his chest.
"Do you hear my heart beating?" He asked. I nodded.
"As long as my heart is beating, I promise you Ariel my love for you will not wavered. It took me over a year to finally understood my feelings for you, at first I thought it was gratitude...I lied to myself...I told myself you're just a good friend, someone I am indebted to...I've never been in love before...this strange feelings I have for you...I knew it was love the morning I woke up and saw you in the kitchen cooking and humming nursery rhymes. At that moment, I knew waking up to your cooking, your singing, waking up to you was what I wanted for the rest of my life. Will I love you tomorrow? Hell yes. Will I love you ten years, twenty years, one hundred years? I will love you to the day I die...that Ariel, I can promise."
And then he kissed me with such gentleness I felt tears welled up in my eyes. Dare I believe Joe? Suddenly Danson's images flashes through my head, the happy times we shared, Danson saying he loved me..., Danson marrying my sister...Danson saying he stopped loving me. I felt my heart constricted in remembered pain and knew...I...I couldn't go through that pain again.
"Danson...I loved him...for eight years, I loved him...I trusted him, not once did I doubt his love for me. He proposed to me and said I was the love of his life. I couldn't ask for anything more...having his love..having him beside me...I was content with my life. He too said he'll love me forever...so what happened to my forever? On my wedding day...he...he married my sister! I'm sorry Joe...I can't..."
I tried opening the door but Joe kept his arms so tightly around me that I could not even moved an inch.
"I am not Danson." Joe forced me to look him in the eyes.
"...I don't love you." I lied.
Joe grinned and kissed me on my forehead.
"That's a lie, your very actions proved that you love me as much as I love you...unless you still love Danson." Joe teased.
I never once asked myself that question. Do I still love Danson? I shook my head, no, my love for him died the day he married my sister.
In a serious tone, Joe again lifted my chin up so that we were eye to eye.
"Listen to me Ariel...it's time you let go of your fear, let me love you. Little Lei and I need you....Will you stay?"
I nodded my head.
Chapter 10 Wedding
Today....I am getting marry. Grandma and my stepmother was busy trying to fixed my hair. My sister was busy running after my nephew and little Lei, both the boys was in their tuxedo. I was nervous, a lot more nervous than the first time I was a bride. Little Lei ran up to me and shouted,
"Mom! Why are you dressed in white?"
"I'm getting marry darling." I answered. Little Lei climbed onto my lap and asked,
"Why are you all in white? You're pretty mommy." He said and gave me a wet kiss on my cheek.
"Little Lei! No kissing, mommy's make up is all messy now!" Grandma chastised him. Little Lei stuck his tongue out at grandma and ran off.
Grandma powdered my face and smiled,
"Are you ready?"
I nodded. My stepmother clasped my hair with white roses and helped me up.
"Joe's waiting for you." She said softly. I nodded. My father was waiting for me outside my room. He smiled widely when he saw me. I looped my arms around his elbow with one hand and the other I was holding onto his hand.
"Ariel..." my father said softly. There was unshed tears in his eyes. He smiled and patted my back.
"Joe...you will be happy with him." He said. I nodded.
I took a deep breath and started walking down the aisle with my father. I saw familiar faces, families and friends, the same faces at my last wedding. I felt a knot forming at the pit of my stomach. I paused a moment and my father stopped and waited for me. I saw Danson standing next to Joe...Joe smiling at me with twinkles in his eyes. He looked so happy...the knot in my stomach slowly loosen and I started walking toward him again.
Each step I took...I felt lighter and I was breathing easier, I remembered the first time Joe met my father. Joe declared he was going to marry me and asked if my father would approved. My father was so stunned he didn't respond right away. Later he told Joe, he'll approve only if I approve. He didn't say much, but I knew a weight has been lifted off of my father's shoulder.
Seeing Danson standing next to Joe reminded me of the first time Joe met Danson and Rainie. Instead of a hand shake, Joe punched Danson on the face...twice.
"Whoosh! this is for being a coward!"
"POW! this one is for hurting Ariel."
Surprisingly, Danson took the punch in stride. Actually I think he felt relieved because he was finally smiling at me without looking so apologetic. I too, felt relieved. The disastrous wedding was a blessing in disguise.
I was now standing in front of Joe. He thanked my father and then grabbed my hand. Hand in hand we faced the priest.
I couldn't remember everything that I was asked to repeat, the only thing I remember vividly was my joyous tears cascading down my cheek and me whispering,
"I do" over and over again. I remembered Joe lifting me up in the air, hugging and kissing me and then my family surrounding us with their congratulations and happy wishes.
This was a wedding to remember....
Chapter 7 That special feeling....
It became a habit with Joe stopping by for dinner after work and sometimes spending the night on the couch. Little Lei has been staying with grandma and I since the day Joe hired me...a little over six months. Little Lei was now one years old, he called grandma " nai nai" and called me "ma ma". Joe and I went out every once in a while to dinner, movies, sometimes taking little Lei to the park. I don't know what kind of relationship I have with Joe...my boss? My friend? Grandma assumed we were dating, however Joe and I never discussed our relationship. I don't think I'll ever be ready for a new relationship, and Joe...appeared too tired to even consider being in a relationship with anybody. Over time I realized Joe was an workaholic, a highly respected lawyer in his field. Sometimes when he comes home really late, I would leave his dinner on the table with a hot cup of tea. Just in case he decides to sleep over, I would leave a pillow and blanket on the couch.
Today was just like any other morning...except...Joe did something he had never done before. Grandma left early in the morning with little Lei and I was in the kitchen cooking breakfast. Joe walked in the room and paused when he saw me.
"Morning!" I chirped with a smile. He did not answer.
"Sit down. Let me cook the eggs a sec longer. Breakfast's almost done."
Joe was staring at me, there was something different about the way he looked at me this morning. I didn't know how to describe it...there was a hint of wistfulness, surprise...and affection? After a long torturous silence, Joe shook his head and sat down.
"Did...you ironed my shirts and pants last night?" He asked softly. Ahh...he must be upset because I touched his clothes without permission. I nodded and replied,
"Sorry, after washing your clothes, I thought it needed to be ironed." Joe nodded and was quiet again.
"This isn't...ahem..." He cleared his throat and stated,
"This isn't the first time you washed my clothes." I filled his plate with sunny side eggs, toasted muffins and placed it in front of him.
"Coffee?" I asked. He nodded and I placed a cup of coffee next to his breakfast plate. He took a quick sip of coffee and said,
"No sugar and a half spoon milk. You remember."
"Ariel...." he murmured.
Joe stood up suddenly and placed both his hands on my face.
I was too shock to move.
"Ariel..." He said again, this time staring intensely in my eyes. I saw a flicker of something warm, something familiar and my stomach suddenly tightened in knots. What was this feeling?
"What are we to each other?" He asked. The question was so out of the blue that I was left speechless. I took a step away from Joe.
"Ariel..." he covered his arms around me. Should I push him off? Should I stay still? Joe's behavior this morning was too bizarre, I didn't know what to make of it.
"Thank you..." He whispered in my ear.
"For what?" I couldn't resist asking. Instead of answering me, Joe lifted my chin up and kissed me gently on my lips. I felt something akin to electricity spiral through my body and I knew in that instant...Joe was not just my boss and not just my friend. The feelings I have for him was too special....it was a special feeling reserved only for him. Why did I not realized it? Perhaps I was too afraid to acknowledge it...being in love, being in a relationship...I don't think I will survive a second time if my heart was to break again.
I pushed Joe off of me and rush out the kitchen.
Chapter 8 Confrontation
After the kiss, I avoided Joe like the plaque. I leave the room the minute he steps inside grandma's condo. During dinner I avoided any conversation with him and pretended he was not there. I knew I was behaving very childishly, but I didn't know what else to do.
Grandma kept lecturing me over and over about giving love a second chance...but I don't think even she understood what it felt like to lose the person you thought loved you unconditionally. The fear of having your heart shredded into pieces...love was too fickle and I refused to fall into love's trap.
After a few months, Joe stopped coming by grandma's condo every evening. He stopped sleeping over and only visited little Lei on the weekend for a few hours. I was relieved at first that I didn't have to see Joe every day. But, after a few weeks I realized I missed him. I longed for Joe Cheng, and I felt hurt when he only acknowledge grandma and little Lei and not me. He was being childish....just like I was. I missed his tired smile, and his exhausted snores during the night.
I missed him, but because I missed him so much I knew I was in danger of losing my heart to him. With little Lei turning two years old soon...I knew eventually Joe will put little Lei in daycare. I had to mentally prepared myself....little Lei and I will soon have to part ways.
My father and I talked on the phone every once in a while. He kept me up to date with all the happenings in our hometown. One day my father asked if I wanted to move back home. Rainie and Danson had moved into their own home and the house was too empty. I had applied for a teaching position two years ago, and the position at the local elementary school was now open. The school principal had already arranged my employment with my father. Everything fell into place, it was time to resigned as little Lei's nanny.
The last time I stepped foot in Joe's office was almost a year and a half ago. The secretary looked the same. She smiled when she saw him, as if she recognized me.
"I need to see Joe Cheng." I said. She nodded and told me to wait. I sat down and skimped through a few pages of magazine when I heard the secretary asked,
"How is little Lei?"
"He's doing fine." I answered.
"Mr. Cheng has pictures of you and little Lei in his office, I was wondering why you never visit. Normally, girlfriends sometimes visit their boyfriends at work right?" She asked. I was startled,
"Joe is not...."
"Wait...yes Mr. Cheng, okay..." The secretary grinned at me and said,
"You can go in now."
What did Joe tell his secretary? Girlfriend? I knew Joe was not the type to talk about his personal life. Perhaps his secretary assumed I was his girlfriend because of the pictures in his office. But, why would he have pictures of me?
The first thing I noticed was the big frame picture of little Lei, grandma, Joe and I hanging on his wall. I did not realized how much we looked like a family until I saw the wall picture.
"Why are you here?" Joe asked. He pushed his chair back and motioned for me to sit down.
I suddenly felt nervous. I handed him my letter of resignation. Joe glanced at my the envelope and asked,
"What is that?"
"Letter of resignation. I'm moving back home next week." I answered.
Joe paused for a few second and did not say anything. I heard him sighed and then he said,
"You're running away."
"I'm not running away, I'm moving back home. Little Lei's turning two soon... you can't expect that I be his nanny forever." This was the answer I practiced over and over on my way here. It felt a little forced but I was glad my voice sounded calm.
Joe walked around his desk and stood in front of me. He was so close our nose was almost touching. I shifted nervously. What was he doing?
"You are running away." He stated again.
"No I am not." I answered and quickly placed my letter on his desk.
He took my letter and torn it in half.
"What are you doing?" I asked surprised. I did not expect this behavior from him.
"What's waiting for you back home? Your ex-fiancé? Do you love him so much that there's no space in your heart for someone else? Do you want to be near him so much that you're willing to sacrifice your own happiness? Wake up Ariel! Wake the fuck up!" Joe shouted, this was the first time I saw him so angry.
"I don't know what you're screaming about! I'm leaving!" I felt my voice raised. I told myself to stay calm. How did he find out about Danson and Rainie? I knew grandma probably told him what happened...then he knew I was jilted on the day of my wedding. I felt my face turning hot in embarrassment. Joe blocked the exit.
"Ariel...don't...." Joe grabbed my hand.
"How long do you need? A few more months, a few more years? How much longer till you look my way? I gave you space, I gave you time...if you need more time....I'll give you all the time you need...just don't go..."
There was a catch in his voice. I glanced at Joe quickly before averting my eyes. For months, we barely said spoke to each other. So...why is this so hard?
"Please stop...." I tried pulling my hand out of his grasp.
"I can't let you go Ariel. How can I when I love you so much?" Joe held my hand tighter.
Joe.....Joe....what are you doing to my heart? I'm too scared...too scared...
"Yes, I'm running away Joe... You see, I....can't believe that someone can love me forever....you say you love me today...but will you love me tomorrow? Ten years, twenty years? Love die Joe...and I'm too afraid...please don't do this to me."
For the first time since my was my almost wedding...I felt tears streaming down my cheek.
The sobbing grew louder and louder, Ariel wanted to tell whoever that was crying to put a cork in it, but she realized the crying was coming from her. Tears, endless tears streaming down her face, and painful wails coming from her throat…she couldn’t stop. Her brain was demanding her heart to stop crying, but her heart was in so much pain that it wouldn’t listen. Ariel balled her body and wrapped her arms around her knees. She didn’t like feeling so weak, so hopeless…but she was so emotionally drained she couldn’t control her emotions anymore. “You want to know how they met?” Mr. Lin snarled at Mrs. Cheng. He pointed at Joe and said,
“Ask your son how they met!”
Mrs. Cheng raised an eyebrow at her son. Joe shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The moment his eyes met Ariel’s he remembered everything…including the fact that she was a virgin the night they met. Maybe they were at his house demanding payment because he broke her virginity? If so, how much did they want? Joe groaned, hating himself for thinking that way.
He was at fault, she was obviously drunk that night but he…he didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop, he didn’t know if it was because he was overly intoxicated or because he needed, wanted her. Maybe it was a combination of both, he was broken hearted, lonely and she…she was a warm willing body. She was so beautiful that night, her feverish untutored kisses, her eagerness, her sweet scent…he didn’t even pondered the possibility that she was a virgin. By the time he realized she was…he had already…changed her.
He closed his eyes and massaged his forehead, he felt a headache sneaking its way up his head.
“We were introduced by mutual friends.” He said crisply without elaborating.
Mr. Lin balled his fist and shook fiercely at Joe.
“You did more than that! Do you know why we’re here tonight?”
“No” Joe replied his forehead furrowed deep in thought, as if he was still trying to connect the puzzles.
“You fucking knocked her up that’s why you snob!” Mr. Lin shouted and kicked the chair from underneath him. He rushed toward Joe and lifted him up by the collar.
“That’s right pretty boy, you’ve made a big mistake…now what’re you gonna do about it?” Mr. Lin taunted his eyes glowering.
Joe’s face paled and he turned to his parents. Director Cheng and Mrs. Cheng stood up from their chairs. Director Cheng grabbed hold of Mr. Lin’s arm and said softly,
“Let go of my son.”
Mr. Lin towered over the short, stubby director and dared the man to make him. Director Cheng cleared his throat and called,
“Guards” Within minutes, two tall well muscled guards walked in the room. They stood next to Mr. Lin and waited for the man to loosen his hold on the young master. Mr. Lin let go of Joe but remained standing. He turned toward Director Cheng and said,
“Let’s cut all this bullshit and get down to business. You know why I’m here, tell me how much you’re willing to pay.”
“What are you doing?” Ariel asked her father, her face flush again in embarrassment. He glared at her and hissed,
“Shut the fuck up whore, I’m doing this for you!”
“Do not use that kind of language in this house Mr. Lin, we are all adults here. Let’s sit down and have civilized conversations.” Mrs. Cheng said. She signaled the guardsman and they pushed Mr. Lin onto a nearby chair.
“What do you mean how much?” Director Cheng asked. Mr. Lin laughed and said,
“How much are you willing to pay for an abortion and keeping our mouths shut? What? Are you going to offer marriage?” Mr. Lin laughed hysterically at his joke.
“Yes, I think marriage is the best option for the kids.” Mrs. Cheng said, her eyes never once leaving Mr. Lin’s. She wanted him to know she was serious. The gleeful, greedy look on Mr. Lin’s face suddenly disappears, in its place was anger. He shook his head and shouted,
“No! If you don’t pay me I’ll tell every newspaper in Taiwan what your son did! Fucking playboy probably knocked up all the girls in Taipei and getting away too! Fucking rich people think the world belongs to them! Well not this time! Not this time!”
He stood up again and started thrashing everything in the room that was within his reach.
“Stop…please stop embarrassing yourself…” Mrs. Lin pleaded softly, she shrunk her body as Mr. Lin grabbed her and smacked her across the face. The guards tackled Ariel’s father, after a few minutes of struggling they finally arm locked him and dragged him out the door. Director Cheng motioned for one of the guards and whispered in the guard’s ear.
“Take him to the police station for trespassing, destruction of property and assault.”
Ariel wanted the ground to open up and swallowed her whole. She wanted to disappear from thin air and never have to see the pitiful looks on Mrs. Cheng’s and Director Cheng’s face. With her mother sobbing in her arms, she raised her chin up and refused to apologize for her father’s behavior. She was sick and tired of always apologizing and cleaning up his mess… not anymore, she was too tired. She lifted her mother up gently and proceeded to walk out the door.
“Don’t go, a doctor is on his way.” Director Cheng said in a tired tone.
“We don’t want charity.” Ariel said and continued walking towards the front door.
“It’s not charity Ariel, please stay for your mother. Look at her.” Mrs. Cheng pleaded. Ariel sighed and wiped the tears from her mother’s eyes. She hesitated, it's been such a long time since her mother last seen a doctor…perhaps…
“It wouldn’t be charity if you pay for the doctor’s fee. You can pay in installments, your mom need a doctor tonight.” Joe said matter-of-factly.
“I’m sorry mom…” She whispered. Mrs. Lin shook her head and said softly,
“Ariel…I should be the one apologizing, I…I’m a failure…”
“Leave your mother with my mom…I need to talk to you, let’s go out.” Joe said firmly. He sat Mrs. Lin down and faced Ariel.
“Let’s go.” Ariel glanced at her mother, then Mrs. Cheng and Director Cheng. She sighed again, it was time to clear the air with Joe Cheng whether she wanted to or not. With a hand over her stomach, she followed Joe to his car. He opened the door for her and waited until she was seated. Within seconds, he put the car in the drive gear and they were off.
He tilted his head and avoided looking her in the eyes. They were seated across from each other at a Japanese restaurant. The light in the room was dimmed low, as if to match the awkward moods of the two strangers. The silence etched on, the two plates of food left untouched on the table. Every once in a while Ariel would sneak a glance at Joe, her baby’s father but the longer she looked at him the more uncomfortable she became. What was he thinking? What is she suppose to say? She wanted to clear the air with him, she was filled with confidence in the car on the way to the restaurant, but now that they’re facing each other across the table…she felt tongue tied and unsure.
Joe drummed his fingers lightly on the table, his forehead furrowed in a frown as if he was deep in thought. He glanced sideway at Ariel and saw the worried lines on her face. He tapped the table a little bit louder and Ariel glanced at him. He pointed to the plate of food in front of her and said,
“I’m not hungry.”
“Eat for the baby.” Joe mumbled staring at the table.
Ariel lifted her fork and after a few seconds of debating, her stomach made howling hungry sounds. Her face flushed in embarrassment Ariel started eating. She didn’t bothered looking at what she was eating, but whatever it was tasted so good Ariel finished the plate of food within minutes. She did not realize how ravenous she was.
“When was the last time you ate?” Joe asked pushing his plate of food towards Ariel.
“No thanks.” She said and pushed his plate aside.
“I just ate so I’m not hungry. It’s okay, eat some more.” He said. Ariel mumbled thanks and started eating again. Joe watched in amazement as the small petite girl in front of him clean the plate of food like there was no tomorrow. He wondered if she was going to lick the plate too. She’s pregnant…she’s eating for two. Joe reminded himself.
“Are you still hungry?” He asked. Ariel shook her head suddenly embarrassed. She gulped down a cup of water and sighed in satisfaction. She couldn’t remember the last time she ate so much.
“How many months?” Joe finally asked, glancing at her stomach.
“Are you really keeping the baby?” He asked softly. Ariel stared down at her folded hands and nodded.
“I don’t know what I’m suppose to do…do you want to marry?” he asked in a bleak voice. Ariel shook her head quickly. She heard Joe let out a relieved sigh. Ariel closed her eyes for a brief second and took a deep breath. She wanted to be as honest with Joe as possible.
“I don’t want anything from you Joe. I think it’s enough that you know I’m pregnant. I want to raise this baby by myself. You have to promise me that you’re not going to take my baby away from me…that’s all I want from you.” Ariel said. She saw the conflicting emotions on Joe’s face, confusion, relief and guilt.
“That’s not fair to you Ariel. Are you really okay with not having me around?” He asked.
“This is what I want…I don’t know you. The night we spent together was a mistake. I don’t think it’s fair to the baby if you’re around, she or he will start asking questions when it’s older. It’s best if I raise the baby by myself without a father…”
Joe lowered his head and covered his face in his hands as if he was pondering whether to agree with Ariel’s decision. After a long silence he finally nodded his head in agreement.
“If this is what you want than I will support you.” Joe said, hating himself for not being more persistent. Joe knew he was being a jerk, but he actually felt relieved that Ariel didn’t want anything from him, he was too young…a baby would be a roadblock to his already mapped out future with Tiffany. He cringe thinking about his girlfriend, not quite sure if he should tell her about the baby or not.
“It’s probably best that I don’t know anything about the baby anyway…especially if I’m not going to be a part of her life.” Joe said softly. The decisions made, Joe and Ariel left the restaurant still as heavy hearted as when they first walked in.
Mrs. Cheng glared at her son; she could not believe her ears. She glanced at her husband and saw disbelief on his face.
“What?” She asked. Ariel shifted uncomfortably under the scrutinizing stares from Director Cheng and Mrs. Cheng.
“She wants to raise the baby by herself. We agreed to part ways.” Joe said his face lowered in shame.
“Joe, I am so disappointed in you. How could you only think about yourself?” Mrs. Cheng covered her face sobbing. Director Cheng handed his wife a tissue and turned to his son.
“She’s seventeen years old, and you’re eighteen years old. You are both young and life is already filled with uncertainties. Even without being pregnant life is already hard. Is it fair that you go on about your life as if nothing happen while her whole life is changed because of you?” Director Cheng shook his head and didn’t wait for Joe to respond.
“I can not consciously allow or agreed to the decision the two of you have made. I am the grandfather…as the grandfather I can not let you, Ariel take my grandchild away from this family…”
Ariel felt her heart thundered in fear. She shook her head in protest wanting to curse and scream.
“We want to be a part of your family; we want to be involved in our grandchild’s life.” Mrs. Cheng said softly. Her voice soothing, she caressed Ariel’s head in understanding. Gently she lifted Ariel’s face,
“Please…forgive Joe and let’s come up with a different plan.” Ariel's heart ached looking at Mrs. Cheng’s tear streak face.
“Ariel, I think it’s only fair if Joe experience your pregnancy with you. I promise after the two of you go through the pregnancy together and in the end the two of you still agreed to part ways than we will not stop you.” Director Cheng said.
“What do you mean?” Ariel frowned.
“I know it’s unorthodox but I want the two of you to live in the same home, go to all the doctor appointments together, experience the baby’s first movement together and decide on the baby’s name together. I don’t want to hear any arguments…do it or I will be force to legally adopt my own grandchild.” Director Cheng was dead serious.
Ariel glanced at Joe and Mrs. Cheng. Mrs. Cheng’s eyes brightened and she grinned at her husband. Joe’s face was as pale as a ghost, he kept his eyes glued to the carpet, head still lowered.
“I don’t like being threatened Director Cheng. How do I know you’re not going to break your words?”
Director Cheng rubbed his tired eyes and said,
“Please trust me Ariel, I don’t break my words. I’m doing this not only for my stupid son but for you too Ariel.”
Ariel didn’t know what to do. She glared at Director Cheng, he gave them the ultimatum because he knew she was in no position to fight him.
“Agreed.” Joe said softly. Ariel felt her heart flop, her hope of Joe resisting his father’s decision disappear. Without a choice, Ariel reluctantly nodded her head in agreement. Her hope for the future now covered in dark clouds without a hint of sunlight.
The color of the room was pale pink exactly the color she wanted…there was a sliding glass door in the place of a window. The room was simple yet beautifully designed…it was shaped in a perfect square and small, but just the right size for her. She didn’t want anything fancy or extravagant. Mrs. Cheng had exquisite hidden interior design talent, every room she decorated looks elegant and glamorous. Ariel leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. It's been a long day. She moved a few of the boxes into her room and decided to rest for a few minutes. She could hear Mrs. Cheng chatting excitedly with Mrs. Xu…Joe’s girlfriend’s mother. Ariel groaned softly,her face heating up again in embarrassment. Will there be no end to her humiliation? She wondered. Mrs. Xu and her husband were the Cheng's best friends and business associates. Ariel knew one of their plan was for Joe and Tiffany to marry in the future for business partnership and security. If she had known he already had a girlfriend earlier she wouldn’t have agreed so easily to Director Cheng’s term. Not that it would make a difference how hard of a fight she put, but still…she couldn’t help feeling guilty every time she saw Joe and Tiffany together. She and Joe was never meant to be, their world were so different…if not for that one night of carelessness she and Joe would remained strangers forever. Ariel looked outside the sliding door and saw the moving people hauling boxes up the steps to the apartment. Ariel opened the sliding door and stepped onto the balcony. She felt the beat of her heart quickened and she started to panic…it was really happening. Those people were carrying boxes of her clothes, her books, everything that belonged to her…up into the small apartment. A apartment that she was going to share with Joe Cheng.
Watching the men carrying boxes after boxes, Ariel wanted to cry, she wanted to just let the tears stream down her cheeks like ever flowing river, she wanted to scream, she wanted to curse at god and the world but she held everything inside...her tears, her pain, her fears. She knew no matter how loud she screams or how long…nothing would change. Ariel already knew nothing would change…because she grew up in that world. A world without miracles, a world without dreams…a world filled with hopelessness.
Hopelessness… is Ariel’s best friend, it was sad and depressing to be so well acquainted with the feeling of hopelessness at such a young age…but she already accepted it as a fact of life. After living for seventeen years…Ariel decided she was hopelessness’s best friend…that was why even when she wanted to cry until the river runs dry, she knew it was pointless to shed tears. It was pointless…so why bother?
Joe stopped and glared at the long steps leading upward toward the apartment. Why did his father choose this apartment of all the apartments that they own? Of course logically it makes sense…it was nearby to his parent’s home, his school and Ariel’s school. But the apartment was so damn small! Joe felt sweat dripping down his face, he was in the process of wiping his face with his shirt but someone else pressed a cloth on his forehead. He glanced up and saw Tiffany. She grinned in a half smile and continue wiping his face then slowly lowered it down to his neck and work her way to his sweaty torso.
"You're wet all over." Tiffany said playfully.
“Stop teasing me, Tiff.” Joe said half heartedly trying to push her hand away.
Tiffany shrugged and dropped the cloth she was holding. She kissed him gently on the lips and asked,
“Is this better?”
Joe sighed and stepped back from her.
“I told you not to come help! Why didn't you listen? How are you taking all of this? Tell me the truth, Tiff.”
Tiffany shrugged and picked the cloth from the floor. She leaned toward Joe and gently wiped the sweats from his forehead.
“I don’t blame you…this happened because of me, so I have no one to blame but me. You said you were tired of playing games with me…but I didn’t listen, I wanted it to be my way…I wanted you to chase after me, to begged me. I should have known you were serious when you said you wanted to stop playing the merry go round games with me…but you and me, Joe we’re the same we’re both too stubborn and wants things our ways only. How am I taking it? I’m pissed as hell, but I’m more angry at myself for letting you go, for causing you such pain that you sought comfort in someone else’s arms.”
Joe stared into her eyes and hated himself for causing the hurt visible in her eyes.
“Ah Tiff, I’m so sorry baby.” He pulled her close to him and kissed her long and hard, his arms encircled her possessively.
“Don’t fall in love with her Joe, promise me.” Tiffany whispered, she lowered her eyes in shame. She didn’t want to say that to him, she didn’t want to appear weak and afraid…but she was. Another woman was carrying his baby, another woman was going to live with him for the next few months…it was only natural that they develop a bond, a closeness…and it was that bond and closeness that she fear the most.
“Shhh…why would I fall in love with her when I have you? I promise Tiff, there’s no one for me but you. You’re my world, you’re my everything…” Joe promised earnestly, deepening their kiss.
Ariel took a deep breath, slowly in and out, in and out until her stomach settles and she felt a little bit better. She grabbed the balcony rail and lifted her body up. She was only two and a half months pregnant but her stomach was already swelling and morning sickness comes and goes all day. In a few more months she was going to look like a whale and walk like a penguin. Ariel chuckled imagining herself walking like a penguin. The wind suddenly caresses her face, blowing her hair back. Ariel leaned over the railing hoping the wind would blow her way again. She glanced briefly over the balcony and saw Joe and Tiffany kissing. She sighed, her heart filled with guilt again. They were meant to be….they were perfect for each other. She and Joe…they were a mistake.
The room was freezing cold, but she didn’t care. She left the sliding door wide open not even bothering to close it. The wind was blowing the curtain back and forth making loud rustling sound from the papers that she threw scatter all over the carpet just a few minutes ago. Ariel sat on her bed and stared blankly at the ceiling, her face void of any emotions. She didn’t know how she was suppose to react…was she suppose to be angry? Sad? Ariel wanted to feel angry and betray…but all she felt was emptiness…nothingness. She refused to show any emotions, she was sick and tired of being used and hurt because of her ‘feelings’, ‘emotions’,…all she wanted was to be left alone.
She blinked a couple of times, forcing back the tears.
“Never, I will never cry again.” She promised silently to herself. Hold it in, Ariel…don’t show your emotions. No one can hurt you if you just keep it all inside. She touched her stomach briefly, her heart filled with pain for her unborn child.
The wind blew one of the papers from the floor and it clung to Ariel’s ankle. She got up from the bed and picked the paper up. It was one of the letters from her principal. She was told to look for ‘a different school’ and they ‘regret not being able to accommodate her.’
Ariel balled the paper up and threw it in the trash can. She picked up another paper and threw it in the trash can. The letters reminded her of what happened in school earlier. Ariel cringed and sat on the floor, shoulder slump as if she aged ten years. The memory of what happened earlier was too fresh in her mind, she tried to forget but couldn’t. The students’ voices were flashing through her head again and Ariel crawled up in bed and covered her body in blankets hoping to forget.
Flashback Earlier in School~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“Did you guys hear about Ariel?”
“I heard she’s pregnant!”
“No! You got to be kidding! Where did you hear it from?”
“The nurse and the teachers!”
“Who’s the guy?”
The buzzing continued as Ariel walked from one class period to the next. The students were whispering as she walked pass, their eyes glued to her as if they had never seen her before. Ella glared at the whispering students but it did not deter them from giving her friend dirty looks.
Ariel lowered her head and avoided looking at the gossiping students. A few of the students purposely bumped hard into her not even bothering to apologize. Ella with her sense of justice became so infuriated for her friend that she actually got into a few fist fights with some of the students.
Ella held her head high and walked to each of the class with Ariel, her face black and blue from fighting. Every once in a while she glanced at Ariel and her heart tightened in pain, she was hurting for her friend. Ariel held her head low, her hair covering her face…as if she was ashamed.
“Ariel look up! Don’t hide your face; you got nothing to be ashamed of! Hold your head up!” Ella ordered, but Ariel continued walking blinding down the hall. Ella shook her head at her hopeless friend and ran after her.
Ariel cringed as she felt something cold hit her on the head. It rolled down her face and dripped on the ground. Eggs, somebody threw eggs at her. Her eyes suddenly became moist; she blinked hard as the tears threaten to roll down her face.
‘Don’t cry Ariel. Don’t cry!” She muttered to herself, she refuse to cry!
Ella slit her eyes and turned toward the group of students that threw eggs at her friend. She jumped on them as if she had gone berserk, screaming and throwing punches after punches. A few minutes later, Ariel saw Jiro running down the hallway and he too jumped in the fight.
The principal and the teachers grabbed hold of Jiro and Ella and motioned for Ariel to follow them.
Today was hell…somehow news of her pregnancy leaked and now the whole school was in chaos...the parents with their righteous indignation demanding the school to expel her, and the students spreading outrageous malicious rumors throughout the school about her.
In the principal’s office she was given a box of letters from the students and parents…who all encouraged her to ‘stay home’, ‘don’t ruin the school’s reputation’ and an official letter from the school with the principal’s signature. The letter basically gave her exactly one week to clear her locker, and enroll in a different school.
Someone was crying? Joe frowned. He gently closed the front door and walked toward his room. He thought he heard muffled crying but wasn’t sure. He checked his watch, and wondered if Ariel was already home. There it was again! Someone was crying! Joe walked to Ariel’s room and knocked on the door. No one answer.
He turned on the knob and the door was unlocked. Hesitantly he sticks his head inside the room and saw papers scattered all over the carpet. Joe took a few steps inside the small room and picked up some of the papers. He quickly scanned a few of the papers and muttered a curse. Who the hell write crap like this!? Joe cursed again in anger.
‘Your father was telling the truth when he announced that you were a whore! Don’t dirty our school with your presence!’
‘I don’t want to be mean but you’re not a good influence for my daughters. Please don’t walk around the campus with your unsightly stomach.’
‘If you wanted some, why didn’t you ask me?’
Joe grabbed all the letters from the floor and threw it inside the trash can. He then sat on Ariel’s bed watching her cry; he was at a loss of what to do next.
“Leave me alone” Ariel demanded but Joe did not listen.
He pulled the blanket down and stared at Ariel. Her eyes were red, her face covered with tear-streaks.
“You’ve been crying.” He stated.
“No. I never cry!” She denied. She took the blanket out of Joe’s hands and tried to cover herself again but he wouldn’t let go.
“I’m sorry.” He said remorsefully.
Ariel stopped and let go of the blanket. She stared blankly at her hands her face turned away from Joe.
“I’m sorry…Ariel” He whispered and gently pulled her in his arms. She tried pushing him off but he was like a rock.
“I’m so sorry.”
Ariel closed her eyes. She felt hot tears cascading down her face soaking Joe’s shirt, his arms wrapped protectively around her. She refuse to cry! She refuse to cry…but the tears just wouldn’t stop flowing from her eyes. Slowly, slowly the heat from Joe’s body warmed Ariel and she drifted into a dreamless sleep.
The young man threw one ball after another against the gym wall. His face filled with frustration. He was angry that he couldn’t protect Ariel; he couldn’t even protect the girl he likes.
Flashes of what happened a few weeks ago at school made him threw the ball even harder. The taunting, the whisperings as Ariel walked down the hall, the students’ sneer and malicious rumors…and the school’s lack of support really put him in a foul mood.
Ella stood at the sideline shaking her head at Jiro as he continues to torture himself.
“I’m leaving Jiro. You’re really pathetic you know that?” Ella chided and turned to leave but stopped when Jiro shouted,
He walked up to her and shoved his hands in his back pocket, his feet shifting awkwardly. He hesitated as if he did not really want to know the truth but had to ask for the sake of his sanity. He glanced at the ground, his eyes avoiding hers.
“Ella…is she really pregnant?” Jiro asked holding his breath.
Ella felt her heart constricted; she wanted to cry for her friend...for both Jiro and Ariel. Jiro, the boy Ariel had loved all through middle school and high school finally took notice of her…and it was too late.
“Yes, she really is pregnant.” Ella said sadly. Jiro took the news calmly but Ella noticed his hands balling up into fists, it was clenched so hard Ella fear he might injured himself. For a moment Ella thought Jiro was going to cry. His eyes brimmed with unshed tears, but he conveniently sneezed hard, then he wiped his eyes and nose with his sweaty t-shirt.
“I didn’t know she have a boyfriend.” He said to himself. Nonchalantly as if the news didn’t hurt him at all, he chuckled,
“If I had known she already had a boyfriend I wouldn’t have made a fool of myself by giving her the couple rings.”
Ella scowled at him and hissed,
“You really are a fool! You think if Ariel really had a boyfriend she wouldn’t already introduce you to him? You were her protector! Even now she still really likes you…” Ella covered her mouth and turned away from Jiro. She said too much, she cursed at herself for having such a loose mouth.
Jiro felt his face heat up as his hand involuntarily touched the rings still in his pocket. When Ella gave him the couple rings and told him Ariel said she couldn’t be with him, he felt cheated and confused. All the signs that she liked him was there…he wanted to make sure, absolutely sure that she was the girl for him. But in the end she turned him down.
“If she felt the same way about me then why?” He wondered out loud.
Ella heaved a sad sigh and reluctantly answered,
“She found out she was pregnant. Blame me if you want. I was the one that forced her to go to the bonfire party. She didn’t want to…but I didn’t listen. I should have paid more attention when she started drinking but I didn’t…”
Jiro picked up another ball and threw it against the wall.
“Stupid girl. She should’ve told me the truth, why did she suffer all by herself?!”
Jiro shouted, his legs kicking and arms throwing the balls one after another as if he was possessed. The gym echoed with sounds of Jiro's angry screams and balls slamming against the wall. Finally exhaustion took over his body, with his arms and legs numb from over exertion he fell on the ground laying flat on his back.
“I…I think I love her Ella. I love Ariel.” Jiro laughed at himself and shouted,
“I am a pathetic fool!”
He took the rings out and handed to Ella.
“Give this to Ariel. Tell her it belongs to her.”
Ella didn’t take the rings. She fought the tears that threaten to roll down her eyes. She felt somehow responsible for the relationship between Ariel and Jiro…her two best friends. Theirs was a relationship that should have been…could have been…but now never will be. Jiro Wang, the school’s most popular guy, the school’s best basketball player with girls clamoring all over him…is in love with a girl he could never have.
Ella knelt next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. With remorse in her voice Ella tried to make him understand.
“Jiro, she is pregnant. You want me to give her the rings? What does that mean? You said you love her? You are only seventeen years old, how are you going to take care of her? What about your parents? Don’t give her false hope. Ask yourself, you say you love her but do you really? What if this is only puppy love? What about her baby, are you going to take responsibility for the baby too? What she needs is someone that can give her security, stability, something that lasts a lifetime not just…high school love, but a lasting love. You have your whole life ahead of you…that’s why Ariel didn’t take your rings; she didn’t want to burden you.”
Jiro was quiet for a long time. He stared blankly at the ceiling, Ella’s words replaying in his head over and over again.
‘What she needs is someone that can give her security, stability, something that lasts a lifetime…a lasting love.’
“A lasting love…” Jiro whispered to himself and clasped the rings tighter in his hand.
The wind was howling angrily outside, and rain splashed against the pink painted window. Ariel leaned her head against her beloved life size brown bear and allowed the hot tears to flow ceaselessly down her face. She squeezed her teddy bear and pulled it closer for comfort. Pregnant…she was only seventeen years old…in her last year of high school…and pregnant. What was she suppose to do now? How could god be so cruel to her? Ariel wanted to shout and cursed but knew if she did, she would feel even guiltier later. Instead she sobbed quietly against her soft teddy bear all the while praying her mother would not hear her cries. She did not want to burden her mother, she did not want to worry her mother and most of all…she did not want to bring shame to her mother. Ariel sighed, her mother already has so much to worry about, how could she add more stress for her?
She heard hushed voices inside her parents’ room and Ariel wondered if her father came home early from work. She felt her heart pounding and anxiously she lifted her body up and pressed her ear against the bed board. She heard her mother humming a song but did not hear her father’s voice. Ariel let out a relieved sigh; out of habit she was holding her breath already expecting the worse.
The house has been quiet for a few days now. Ariel knew her parents were going through the “honeymoon” stage, where she and her mother cautiously walked on “egg shells” around the house not knowing when her father was going to explode.
Ariel knew all about domestic violence and the repetitive cycle. Her father would beat the crap out of her mother, and if she interfered she would get the crap beaten out of her. Then her father would usually calm now, and swears sweet empty promises to her mother. The “honeymoon” stage is where they’re at right now. Ariel felt her eyes brimmed with tears again remembering the bruises on her mother’s face.
How much longer mother? How much longer before enough is enough? Ariel was also afraid of what would happen to her if her father finds out she was pregnant. She knew getting an abortion was out of the question, but she was afraid to search for the baby’s daddy. She met him only once…how could she possibly tell him she’s pregnant with his baby…would he even believe her?
Joe Cheng walks leisurely inside the club house and briefly scanned the surrounding. He ignored all the barely dressed heiress and focused his attention on one girl only. She was dressed in a simple cream color blouse and skirt but she outshined all the other girls in the room.
He took off his jacket and headed toward his childhood best friend and now girlfriend Tiffany Xu with a grin on his face. He thought he was going crazy the last few months they were apart, but they were finally back together again. After their last break up,he thought he was going crazy. This time they were going to make it work. Joe couldn’t remember if he called her first or if she called him first. But it didn’t matter, breaking up and making up was part of their relationship.
She was waiting for him with a glass of champagne in each hand smiling smugly. Joe chuckled at the sight of her smug, he knew that look too well. It was Tiffany’s infamous haughty smug…even if she was dressed in rags she still has the look of a wealthy heiress. It was in the way she carried herself, it was in the way she tilted her head, it was something special only Tiffany has. Joe threw his tan leather jacket against a nearby chair and kissed Tiffany softly on her neck.
She handed him a glass of champagne and without a word exchanged they locked eyes and drank. In one gulp they drank every drop of champagne and smiled at each other. Just looking at her, Joe knew he made the right choice. Tiffany was the girl for him…they fit each other perfectly in every way. They were, in fact, the perfect couple, not only because they complimented each other so well in the “physical appearance” department but because they also share the same dreams and goals in life.
“Hi love, I miss you,” Tiffany whispered seductively as she pulled Joe in for a deep kiss. He wrapped his arms around her and replied,
“I miss you more.”
The squeaky chalk sound woke Ariel up from her nap. Thank god! The teacher’s back was still turn away from the class. She felt something wet on her hand and realized it was her drool. She quickly wiped it against her school uniform and glanced side to side hoping no one saw her.
Jiro grinned at her and mouthed,
“I won’t tell anybody!” Ariel nodded and mouthed,
“You better not!”
She frown as Jiro made some hand signals, he pointed to the classroom door then at Ariel.
“What?” She mouthed. Just as Jiro was about to answer the bell rang. He jumped over his desk and landed in front of Ariel.
“I have something special for you!”
“What?” there was apprehension in Ariel’s voice. Her friend has a habit of giving her surprises that scared the skin out of her.
For example, he gave her a frog for her birthday when she was five years old. He gave her a garden snake to keep her “company” when she was ten years old because he had to leave Taiwan on a family trip over the summer. Jiro gave her a Dummy boyfriend when she was fourteen years old. He told her he felt sorry for her because out of the group of girls he was friends with…she was the only one without a boyfriend.
“What’s with the tone? You’ll like it, I promise!” Jiro said excitedly, his face flush as he grabbed her hands speed racing to his locker.
They stopped in front of his locker. Ariel tapped her feet waiting impatiently as Jiro fumbled with his locker combination. She frowned at the slight blush seeping all over his face.
“Are you embarrassed about something?” She teased. Jiro nodded then quickly shook his head.
The locker door finally open with a bang as it slammed against the other locker.
“N…no. I’m not embarrassed about anything…Here!” He opened her hands and covered it over a small box.
“Give me the answer tomorrow…or call me tonight!” He said loudly causing other students in the hallway to look their way. Ariel nodded and chuckled at her friend as he ran down the hallway.
She lifted the small box to her face and shook it gently. The outside of the box was dark blue and made out of silk. It was a really beautiful box, it must have been costly. Why would Jiro give her something so costly? Maybe it belonged to one of his sisters and they probably didn’t want it. She thought to herself and nodded. Yeah, that must be it. She grinned, how sweet of her friend to think of her. He probably knew she couldn’t afford anything nice.
Unable to contain her curiosity, Ariel lifted the cover and opened the box. Inside were two rings, the rings were made out of silver with initials engraved on the inside. It was her initials and Jiro’s. There was also a note sticking on the side; with trembling hands Ariel opened the note:
“Ariel, we’ve been friends for so long…I think it’s time to dump your Dummy boyfriend (I know you still have him hidden in your closet!) and take me. I like you, do you like me?”
Ariel dropped the note and ran blindly down the hall her eyes filled with tears. She did not see Jiro hiding a few lockers away watching her silently. His expression went from shy expectation, to that of confusion and then his shoulders slumped in defeat. Ariel Lin, the only girl he had ever like…didn’t like him.
“What’s wrong with Ariel? She’s been crying a lot lately…” “Yeah I know, I heard her mom got beat up again…poor girl.”
“I feel so bad for her, everybody knows about her drunken deadbeat dad and her weak mom; she couldn’t leave because of her mom…if I were her I would’ve left that shitty house a long time ago”
“I know…I still can’t believe she turned down a scholarship to Harvard! That was her ticket to a better life, maybe she like living with her deadbeat dad!”
Ella kicked the bathroom door open and pointed her fingers at the girls standing in front of the bathroom mirror.
“Stop wasting time gossiping and go study!” The girls immediately ran out the moment Ella stepped inside the room.
“Ariel…I know you’re in here. Are you going to hide forever?” Ella walked to each stall and looked underneath. She stopped at the last stall and leaned against the door. She knew her friend was inside.
“Ariel! The whole school is talking about you! Open the door right now and tell me what the problem is!” Ella demanded her eye brows furrowed with worry lines. The girl did not answer; the only sound coming from the inside was low agonizing sobs. Ella realized screaming at her best friend was the wrong approach. She pressed her hands on the bathroom door and whispered gently,
“I’m sorry Ariel, I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now…just the thought of it…I’m sorry okay? Please open the door and let me see you…” Ella pleaded. Still now answer. Ella glanced at her watch, school was almost over.
“Ariel…please talk to me.” Ella knocked on the door and waited. Slowly the crying ceased and Ella back away from the door waiting for her friend to come out.
“Jiro…gave me a ring…today…he wanted me to be his girl” Ariel whispered her voice so dry from crying Ella had to press her ear to the door to hear.
“After waiting for this moment for so long, dreaming and hoping that he would feel the same about me…it’s too late now.” Ella sighed, what bad timing.
“Open the door please.”
The door finally opened and Ella peered down at her friend shaking her head at the pitiful sight before her. Ariel sat on top of the toilet seat her arms wrapped around her knees, eyes red and puffy from crying.
Ella pulled her friend up and hugged her. She felt her eyes sting and knew she was in danger of crying. Ariel had waited for Jiro for so long… since the day he gave her a dummy boyfriend. All the girls laughed when Jiro gave Ariel a dummy doll and told her it was her boyfriend. But Ariel loved the doll…she secretly called him Jiro.
“So that blockhead finally realizes how much you mean to him? What took him so long?” Ella wanted to hit Jiro on the head for being so slow.
“You’re sad because of the baby right?…let’s go talk to the nurse…we should look at all the options available before making a decision. What do you think?” Ella asked.
“I’m keeping this baby Ella.” Ariel said her voice filled with determination. Looking at her friend’s face, Ella knew Ariel did not just decided to keep the baby overnight…it was a decision made after many sleepless nights. She nodded and squeezed her friend’s hand in support and comfort.
“Give this back to Jiro for me Ella, and tell him I’m sorry.” Ariel handed Ella the box with the couple rings.
“Please Ella; tell him I’m really really sorry.”
Ariel stared blindly out the window, her expression so forlorn the nurse stopped talking and waited for the girl to take notice of her presence. After a long silence, the nurse finally cleared her throat.
“I’m sorry Ms. Han…” Ariel muttered embarrassed. She quickly straightened up in the chair.
“I haven’t seen you in ages…are you feeling sick?” Ms. Han asked concern. Ariel shook her head and lowered her eyes.
“I…What…if…a girl is pregnant at a very young age…what are some of the available options?” Ariel asked avoiding eye contact with the nurse.
“Well, there are different options available…is she absolutely positive she is pregnant?” Ms. Han asked watching Ariel’s expression carefully. Ariel nodded, her eyes brimmed with unshed tears.
“She can get married to the baby’s father, she can get an abortion, she can attend an all girls school for pregnant teens, and or she can continue her education in the home…it’s what we call home study.” Ms. Han explained. Ariel listened closely as if she was taking note of the different options. Ms. Han quickly glanced at the girl’s stomach.
“All the options I shared with you need your parent’s support…have you…?” Ms. Han started to ask but Ariel jumped up from the chair and shouted,
“It’s not me!” but she knew the nurse did not believe her.
“Who’s the mother fucker that knocked you up?!” The man grabbed Ariel by the throat and yanked her off the chair. Ariel saw her mother in the corner crying, her face already bruised black and blue.
“I don’t know.” She replied for the hundredth time. Her father wrapped his hands around her neck and squeezed hard. For a brief second Ariel thought she was going to die, she couldn’t breath and everything suddenly became blurry. The hands around her throat finally loosen but without time to breath she was thrown against the wall. Her father lifted her mother up from the floor and pulled her up by the hair so that they were face to face. He turned to Ariel and snarled,
“Who’s the damn fuck that knocked you up!?”
“I don’t know.” She whispered and winced when her father punched her mother hard on the stomach.
“Who is he?” He asked again. Ariel couldn’t answer. Her heart was breaking staring at the blood dripping from her mother’s face.
The man kicked her mother across the room and walked furiously toward Ariel. He suddenly stopped midway and turned toward the kitchen. Ariel’s mom lifted her head and begged her daughter,
“Run away! Please go!” Ariel couldn’t move, her body felt numb. She wanted to scream but her body felt like it was frozen in ice. She saw her father walked back in the room with a butcher’s knife.
“You deserve to die for raising such a whore of a daughter, how many damn punks did she fuck that she can’t even remember who got her pregnant?!” Ariel saw everything in slow motion, her father walking with the butcher knife in position and her mother helpless on the floor. Mom’s going to die! Mom’s going to die and it’s because of me!
The man raised the knife in the air and plunged down without hesitation. Ariel opened her mouth and screamed,
“JOE CHENG! The baby’s daddy is…Joe Cheng!”
The man stopped in front of a tall glass building and hastily tucked in his beer smelling shirt and attempted to zip his too tight pant over the pouch he called stomach. He sauntered slowly inside the building whistling nonchalantly as if he had every right to be in there.He halted in front of the information desk and waited for the receptionist to acknowledge him. The receptionist glanced briefly at him with a frown. She pointed to a sign in sheet on the counter and asked,
“Did you sign in sir?”
The man thrust his chest out and said loudly,
“I don’t need to sign in. You tell Director Cheng I am the father of Ariel Lin and if he knows what’s good for him he will make time for me!”
The receptionist pointed to the sign in sheet and said,
“You still need to sign in sir. It’s company policy.” The man stomped his feet and screeched angrily,
“Let me see Director Cheng right now or you’ll regret this mistake for the rest of your life!”
The receptionist surprised at the intensity of the man’s anger took a couple steps back and nodded quickly. She lowered her hand underneath the desk and pressed a red button. A few minutes later two security officers headed toward the information desk. The man saw the two security officers and scowled at the receptionist.
“You bitch! You’ll regret this!”
The security officers grabbed the man on each arms and tried to drag him out the building but the man quickly turned his body limp on the floor and refused to move.
“Stop embarrassing yourself sir and get up!” One of the security officers hissed as more and more people gathered around the three men their faces filled with curiosity. The man on the floor grinned smugly and replied,
“Let me see Director Cheng.”
“Director Cheng is a busy man.” The other officer answered.
“Not too busy to hear what I have to say. How much do you care about this company’s reputation and Director Cheng’s honor?” The man asked. The two officers looked at each other, silently communicating. Finally one of the officers grabbed his cell phone and called Director Cheng.
Director Cheng was a short plump man with a big slightly red nose. The plumb man carried an air of friendliness about him that put other people at ease, he had a way of calming the enironment. However the atmosphere in the room today was anyting but calm. Director Cheng sat behind his desk and eyed the man in front of him with a perplex frown on his face. What the man told him was preposterous, it couldn’t possibly be true.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying…please repeat again.”
“Your son Director Cheng knocked my daughter up. She’s pregnant with his child.” The other man said gleefully. There was a greedy gleam in his eyes as his eyes traveled around the office taking note of all the expensive artifacts and antique in the room.
“I need to confirm this with my son first. Bring your daughter to my house tonight; we’re going to talk this through.” Director Cheng said as he quickly jotted down the main family house address. The other man pocketed the paper with the address and lazily walked out the office with a gleeful expression on his face.
After the man left his office, Director Cheng dialed his son’s cell phone number. After a few rings, Joe finally answered.
“Son, I need to see you tonight. It’s very important.”
“What is it about?” Joe asked wondering if his father was feeling ill.
“Promise to swing by the main house tonight for dinner.”
“Okay, I’ll stop by.” Joe promised.
“Please don’t make me go inside!” Ariel begged as her father dragged her across the Cheng’s yard. She glance furtively side to side hoping to grab hold of something but there were not a single tree in sight or sturdy objects to hold on to. Ariel could hear her mother’s hesitant footsteps following from behind.
“Shut up bitch and let me do the talking you understand?” her father snarled. The man dragged her up the steps and finally they stopped in front of the house and her father rang the door bell. Ariel felt her whole body shaking as she waited for someone to open the door. This couldn’t be happening; this is just a dream…a nightmare. The door swung open and Ariel saw HIM…the man she prayed never to see again standing in front of her. He smiled and pushed the door back wider.
“You must be the dinner guests, right?” He asked and grinned at Ariel glad that there were someone close to his age at the dinner table. His face so carefree and relaxed, she felt a twinge of guilt. Ariel’s father grunted and askws,
“Joe Cheng?” The young man nodded his eye browse rose in question.
“Do you know who this is?” The older man grabbed the young girl and yanked her in front of him. She lowered her eyes her face blushing in embarrassment and anger. Joe stared at the young girl, she seemed very familiar…he’d seen her before…but where? Slowly the girl lifted her face and her eyes glared into his…a hot molten glare that dared him to remember. Those eyes, he’d seen those eyes before. As if the world suddenly stopped, Joe Cheng realized he’d met her before…that night…that night on the beach.
If Ariel could turn back the hand of time, she would…unfortunately that was out of the question and unless a miracle happens she was stuck in the room with her parents, Joe Cheng and his parents. The room was filled with tense awkward silence. Ariel saw Mrs. Cheng glancing around the room, her eyes shifting between Joe and her. Ariel expected to see hatred and disgust in her eyes but surprisingly, Mrs. Cheng’s eyes were filled with curiosity and a hint of interest. Joe sat between his parents, his body still as a statue and his eyes frowning at Ariel. She felt his unwavering gaze and felt her face flush. Ariel clasped her hands together and lowered her eyes to avoid looking at Joe Cheng and his parents.
“Mr…un Lin, thank you coming…” Director Cheng said tiredly. He turned toward Joe and asked,
“Do you know who she is?” Joe distracted momentarily by his father, nodded a frown still on his face, almost as if he was trying very hard to connect the dots. He knew something was wrong.
“How did the two of you meet?” Mrs. Cheng asked her voice filled with curiosity. Joe glanced over at her, and Ariel lifted her head at the exact moment Joe glanced at her. Their eyes met and held.
“Ella! You know I don’t like going to parties, especially NOT to bonfire at the beach. Besides, Jiro is coming by my house tonight.” Ariel lied hoping that would persuade her friend but it was no use, Ella was determined to take Ariel out.
“Ariel you’re lying. Jiro has basketball practice and I know you wouldn’t want him to go to your house anyway. Don’t you want to meet Wu Zun? Remember I told you about him a few weeks ago?” Ella asked with a pout. Ariel sighed and nodded briefly. She was curious about the mysterious Wu Zun. According to Ella, he was attending Taipei private school on a scholarship and was the smartest student in the school. Knowing her friend, Ella was probably exaggerating but she tends to exaggerate only when she really like somebody.
“You like him a lot?” Ariel asked. Ella grinned from ear to ear and nodded eagerly.
“Yes, but don’t you dare tell him I like him! Come on, you’re my best friend and I really really want you to meet him, please?” Ella pleaded her eyes begging Ariel to say yes. Ariel threw her hands up in the air in defeat. Ella jumped up and down and hugged Ariel tightly.
“I love you!” Ella shouted excitedly.
Wu saw his friend leaning against the school old willow tree with a broken heart expression on his face. Wu rolled his eyes and muttered to himself, ‘Here we go again…” He walked up to Joe and asked
“Broke up with Tiffany again?” Joe nodded and shrugged.
“This time it’s for real or what?” Wu asked dumbfounded at his friend’s behavior when it comes to Tiffany.
“I don’t know and I don’t care…she said she needed some space.” Joe sneered and kicked the tree.
“What did the old willow tree ever do to you? Why are you kicking it?” Wu asked. The question was so elementary, so like a five year old that the two of them started chuckling.
“Ah…I remembered. You asked me the same question when we were younger too. How did I answer? Nothing, the old willow tree didn’t do anything to me…” Joe grinned; Wu always knew exactly what to say to distract him.
“There’s a beach bonfire party tonight, why don’t you join me? You know get Tiffany out of your system” Wu said.
“Yeah sure, I’ll meet you there.” Joe grinned slyly at Wu.
“Got a new girl already?” Joe asked and shook his head at his friend. Wu shrugged smiled mischievously,
“Nah, this one is playing a little bit hard to get but she’ll be mine sooner or later.”
“What are you going to do with her once she’s yours?” Joe asked even though he already knew the answer.
“Depends on how soon I’ll get tired of her.” Wu responded already bored with the conversation.
There were already a lot of teenagers sitting around the bonfire, eating, drinking and a few dancing next to a radio. Ariel slide out of Ella’s small Honda and headed toward the drink stand. She needed a drink, something to help her forget. Once again she went home to another fight between her parents. Her father was upset about her mother hiding money from him; he called her mother all kinds of names and accused her of hiding money for her secret lover.
Ariel was sick and tired of their constant fighting, she was sick of her father’s abusive behaviors. She was angry that her mother chooses to stay in such a violence relationship. Despite all the flaws in the relationship, Mrs. Lin vowed to be with Mr. Lin till death do them part…Ariel fear one day her mother will die in the hands of her father.
Without hesitation, Ariel drank a whole bottle of strawberry flavor champagne, wiped the residue from her mouth and opened another bottle. She was going to drink until her stomach burst; she was going to drink until she can’t think anymore. Ella in her excitement did not realize her friend already drank one bottle of champagne. She grabbed a few more bottles and handed Ariel one more.
“Thank you Ella!” Ariel said giddily and grinned happily at the bottle. Ella frowned and asked,
“Are you okay?”
“Yup! I am A OKAY!” Ariel answered, and hiccupped. Ella laughed,
“Don’t drink anymore Ariel, I don’t think you tolerate alcohol very well.”
“No…mine yummy strawberry drink. I love it!” Ariel pouted and took another gulp of champagne. Ella was about to take the champagne from Ariel but was interrupted.
“Ella! Hi!” She turned around and her smile became wider and felt an electric thrill shot up her body.
“Wu!” Ella saw that he was not alone.
“This is Joe, friend from school.” Wu said. Ella pulled Ariel next to her and said,
“This is my best friend Ariel, Ariel this is Wu…and this is Wu’s friend from school Joe.” Ariel smiled politely and whispered,
“Hi” and then she giggled at her shyness. No wonder Ella was so goo-goo gaga over Wu Zun, he was hawt! She glanced at Wu’s friend and thought he was good looking too. He had wavy shoulder length hair, and wore a black collar shirt and a black leather jacket. He looked like he had just stepped out from a photo shoot; everything on him was so perfectly matched and suited him so well.
Ella saw Ariel gaping at Joe Cheng and quickly closed her friend’s mouth.
“You’re staring with your mouth open.” Ella whispered in her ear. Ariel blushed and avoided looking at Joe; she did not want him to catch her with her mouth wide open in awe again. After the introduction, Ella and Wu headed toward the bonfire.
Ariel had two bottles one in each hand, she tucked one bottle between her armpit and grabbed another bottle. With three champagne bottles secured on her body, Ariel headed toward a more secluded area, away from the bonfire. She did not realize Joe was following her until she heard footsteps behind her.
“Don’t follow me.” She said but he followed her anyway.
“This is a beautiful night for drinking isn’t it?” She asked and giggled.
“Do you drink often?” he asked curious.
“No, this is the first time I drank so much…I don’t know why, I think it’s because I’m sad.” Ariel said. She handed Joe a bottle and motioned for him to drink.
“I’m sad too.” He said softly and opened the champagne bottle.
“Why are you sad?”
“Love” he answered. Ariel nodded,
“Me too, I’m sad because of love too.”
“Everything…today I just want to forget everything… but I’ll tell you a secret. There’s this boy, I think I love him, but he doesn’t love me.” There was such sadness in her voice; Joe felt as if they were both feeling the same pain.
“I love her but she doesn’t love me.” He said. The two looked at each other, bonded on that night by circumstances beyond their control. He lifted the champagne to his mouth and drank for a very long time.
“This is so good.” He said surprised something so cheap could taste so good.
“I know, taste so good.” Ariel whispered fascinated with the way his mouth look. He finished the first bottle and Ariel handed him another bottle.
“I’ve never been kiss before.” She suddenly said still staring at his lips. Joe grinned,
“I’ve kissed too many times.”
“Could you…teach me how to kiss…the boy that I really really like, I think I even love him. If one day he feels the same about me, I want to…know how to kiss him properly.”
Joe chuckled; the second bottle was really hyping him up. The girl next to him suddenly looked so beautiful, why didn’t he notice how beautiful she was before? Her raven waist length black hair, beautiful dark brown eyes that seemed to have so many secrets and her lips…kissable red strawberry lips…just like the champagne.
“I’ll kiss you…” He slurred and leaned toward her. Ariel tilted her head and closed her eyes. The kiss tasted so good…a hint of cologne mixed with strawberry flavor…the kiss went on and on and on until his lips traveled from her lips to her neck, her collarbone…down…down…everywhere.