Some time later, Sheng-Hao and Yi-Shan, two of his old classmates from the drama club days at the university, called him up and invited him to have supper together. After reminiscing about their times together in college, they told him that they wanted to introduce him to a friend of theirs. They were very mysterious and would not say anything more than that he would not regret meeting this person.
The much anticipated evening for the appointment finally arrived and he was anxious to satisfy his curiosity. He arrived at the address he was given and knocked on the door. He heard hurried footsteps and then the door opened. To his amazement, he was face-to-face with Yan-Luo. Their eyes locked and neither of them spoke for several minutes.
The feeling was so familiar and yet at the same time so surreal to meet again after a decade apart. Both were filled with unanswered questions about what had transpired in each other’s lives during their time apart. Yet, both of them felt trepidation at the thought of what might be revealed.
“Come in”. Yan finally broke the silence, barely managing a greeting smile from her melancholy visage.
“Are the house owners home?” Qian looked around for any signs of others in the house.
“Sheng-Hao and her husband are not here. They took the children on an outing and plan to return tomorrow. They wanted us to have ample private time together so we could catch up on the past.”
He felt more comfortable knowing that they were alone and motioned her to sit with him on the sofa. She poured him a glass of jasmine tea from the pot she had prepared in advance. He was surprised that seeing her face transformed him into the shy youthful boy of their college days. In her presence, he was no longer the sophisticated bachelor connoisseur of the female gender.
At first their conversation consisted of small talk centered around the owners of the house. Then she asked him if he would like anything to eat.
“I haven’t seen you for so many years and I guess I hadn’t anticipated that you had developed any cooking skills.”
“I learned to cook some Malaysian local dishes but they are not suited to the taste of anyone used to Taiwanese food. I did learn how to cook many traditional dishes from my mother after I returned from Malaysia.”
The years had been kind to her in some respects. Her figure was still thin and shapely and although her face was still beautiful, some wrinkling betrayed the years of suffering she had endured. He likened her to a soon to fade beautiful rose in full blossom but her eyes still had the clear deep look that had always mesmerized him. The sudden realization of all the years together they had lost caused his heart to nearly burst with pain.
He followed her to the kitchen to watch her cook the meal. Now that he had found her again, he wanted to be with her every possible minute. His sentiment grew into a conviction that they were fated to be together. Why else would their lives diverge so dramatically and then come full circle to rejoin them in what seemed a pre-ordained reunion? In a split second, he was overwhelmed by the impulse to marry her and enjoy a happy life together like their friends.
After supper, they opened a bottle of wine and began chatting again. The initial awkwardness of their meeting after so many years gradually fell away and they began to interact with each other as in the past. They began to talk about what had transpired in the ten years since they were together. They each had questions for each other but Yan-Luo in particular was curious to know about Qian’s relationships.
“Are you married?”
Seeing him shake his from side to side quelled her apprehension and gave rise to hope. She was relieved that her questions did not offend him but more than that, he gave the answer she had secretly wished for but was dreading to hear. Still, there were many gaps in his life that she was anxious to fill.
They talked through the night and gradually the old feelings of their love returned. It seemed like they had to endure that separation until all the obstacles impeding their relationship had dissipated and they felt the freedom to engage each other in an uninhibited happiness.
“I left her that night determined to ask her to marry me the next day. I stopped at a jewelry store on the way home and bought her a beautiful diamond ring.”
“You mean like the one you’ve been fondling for the last half hour?”
Qian had been recalling how excited he was to surprise her and how happy they both were when she accepted his proposal. They hugged cheek to cheek and their tears of joy mingled together into an inseparable bond.
“Yes, this is the very ring.”
The ring slowly rose up from the palm of his hand. The inside of the ring started to glow in ever increasing intensity until it filled the entire room with a golden light as bright as the sun. His focus returned to the mission at hand and he quickly removed the stopper from the hulu gourd to capture the soul of his joy.
Qian was now embarrassed, recalling his words to Qu about Yan-Luo not having any relevance to his search for his souls. “You were right Qu. Yan-Luo was an important key. But I never expected to find the ring in her bedroom and hadn’t imagined its significance in my life.”
“Actually, I was surprised that it was here too. It seemed that you two were finally able to enjoy the happiness together that you had always hoped for. But, obviously that didn’t happen. What transpired after you’re engagement that split you apart again?”
“We decided to get married right away but I wasn’t sure what to do about Kaori. I knew I couldn’t let Yan-Luo know about her and I wasn’t sure how to tell Kaori I was getting married or how she would react. I persuaded myself that she should be happy for me. After all, she knew more about me than anyone else in the world; especially about the pain and struggle in my life.
For a time, I avoided the inevitable but finally decided that, in all fairness to Kaori and for my peace of mind, I would have to break the news to her. I also felt a haunting guilt in my heart for ignoring her for so long. I left the house with the excuse that I had to go out for cigarettes. When I got to Kaori’s house, I could hear her playing a beautiful song on the piano so I quietly opened the door with my key and went in.”
“I did not expect you to come today. I have already eaten supper but, I can cook something for you.”
“That’s OK. I have already eaten and am very full”
“Are you going to stay with me tonight?”
“No, actually I have a meeting early tomorrow morning and can’t stay.”
“She went to the kitchen and made a glass of juice from fruit she had cut up in the refrigerator. I drank the juice down in one gulp and then stared at the rim of the glass being careful to avoid looking into her eyes.”
“I met an old friend recently. I think you know her. Can you guess who it is?”
“You mean Yan-Luo? Is she alright?” She had an ominous premonition about Qian’s announcement but tried to conceal her concern.
“She was divorced form her husband in Malaysia and recently returned to Taiwan. I was so surprised to see her and we were both so happy to be reunited after so many years that we decided not to waste any more of our lives apart from each other.”
“You mean…” The color suddenly drained from her face.
“We are going to get married.” Qian felt much more at ease now that he had finally blurted out the dreaded news to Kaori. “Do you wish me a happy life? You know me better than anyone.”
“And what do you intend to do about me?” She could not believe how cruel this man was. For years she had devoted her life to him and loved him unconditionally. And now she realized that he had only loved one woman in his life.
“I don’t understand what you mean. My marriage won’t affect our past. Nothing has changed between us.”
“Nothing has changed? You will have a wife now. Can she accept me as your mistress?”
“She won’t know anything about us unless you tell her. If it will make you feel better, I will register the house in you name and double your monthly living allowance.”
How could the man she adored be so cruel to her? Kaori was crushed could no longer hold back her emotions. A flood of hot tears burned her cheeks. Qian quickly put his arms around her and wiped her tears away.
“Please don’t cry. You are a smart woman and you always knew what I was capable of giving you. My marriage will not affect our future just as it cannot change the past. Believe what I say.”
Kaori always knew that Qian would see other women from time to time but then always evaporated from his life like the morning dew. She had always hoped that she was more to him than just a passing amusement.
“Do you love me?”
Qian did not answer because he did not know for sure if he loved her or not. He hesitated for a moment and then turned and walked away.