Mo-Fan had just finished his workout at the fitness center. The exercise and the hot summer day left him drenched in sweat and he was anxious to get home and cool off in the shower. As he approached the door to the lobby of his apartment building, he was startled to see Xin-Xin standing there. She had removed herself from his life more than three weeks ago and she was the last person he expected to see. The surprise momentarily distracted his mind from his sweaty, sticky discomfort. They both stood silent for a moment and then Mo-Fan asked, “Why did you come here?” He really couldn’t guess what her purpose was. She didn’t need to wait outside because she had a key and could have gone inside, unless she came to have an argument with him.
She smiled sweetly as if there was nothing wrong between them. “I miss you so much and just had to see you again.”
She sounded as if she really meant it. The same words, the same smile but now they had the opposite effect on him. He was repulsed by them remembering how ugly their parting fight had been and how she had hurt him. Making him suffer for several weeks and now insulting him by pretending nothing had happened.
When she saw the disgusted look on his face she suddenly started to get angry again. Isn’t groveling on his doorstep enough to show my sincerity? And he expects me to apologize too? But she managed to suppress her anger remembering the admonishment from the fortune teller to avoid quarreling at all costs. She managed to conjure up a more playful tone and asked, “Aren’t you going to ask me up to sit for a while and cool off?”
Mo-Fan nodded and they both got into the elevator. But the atmosphere was not the usual coziness of two lovers out of sight from the public eye. They stood slightly apart in an awkward silence as if they were two strangers, each trying to avoid the other’s intrusion into their personal space.
Once in the apartment, he poured her a glass of cold water. “I’m covered in sweat and I smell terrible. If you don’t mind I want to take a quick shower. Make yourself comfortable and wait for me, unless you are in a hurry to be someplace else.”
“No rush, go ahead, take your time. I’ll wait here for you.” She heard him get in the shower and the rushing sound of the water dispelled her apprehension for the moment. She looked around at the all too familiar surroundings; the mohair couch, brown carpet rug and small coffee table with the glass top. What wasn’t familiar was the mess on the table; chips, empty beer cans, celebrity gossip magazines and a fishing magazine left open at the page where he had stopped reading.
Glancing downward after feeling something crunch under her foot, she saw pieces of biscuit and other crumbs of food half ground into the rug. This confirmed her conviction that if a man doesn’t have a woman to care for him, his home becomes a pig sty!
She continued to survey the apartment, not sure what she was looking for, half hoping to find some indication of why he had ignored her since the break up but also secretly dreading that she might. She smiled when she saw the answering machine on the kitchen counter that she had gotten for him by redeeming her credit card bonus points. She was also proud of the wine glasses she had selected hanging above the very well stocked wine rack and liquor cabinet. Very elegant she thought!
In the living room, next to the DVD player in the entertainment center, she spotted a rental movie that had not been meant to share with her. And the picture frames containing their photos that had been placed closely together were now laying face down with the tripod legs pointing skyward reminding her of dead sea gulls lying feet upward on the beach.
She picked up a stack of travel brochures and an itinerary for a trip to New Zealand. The departure date was for next week. She was still trying to determine the implications this discovery had for their relationship when Mo-Fan surprised her by coming out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, hair still wet. A rush of hot steamy air, in contrast to his icy demeanor, followed behind.
“Why didn’t you call me before you came? You were standing downstairs for a long time, right?”
“I was out for a walk and suddenly found myself at your door. I thought I would take a chance that you were home and rang the doorbell but there was no answer. I was just about to leave when you showed up.”
She didn’t think he could tell she was lying. In fact, the purpose of the unannounced visit was to catch him with another woman in his apartment. Or if he wasn’t home, catch him bringing a date back with him. She wasn’t ready to let go yet.
“So, why did you want to come up? His tone was polite but icy.
“You ... you want to go abroad?” Pointing to the travel packet in her hand. She only really cared to know if he was taking someone with him and who it was. If there was no third party involved then, as the fortune teller said, things would be easier to resolve.
“... I have not decided yet. You came all the way over here just to ask me this?”
“Of course not! These three weeks I have missed you so much and thought often about what will become of us. I realized that I cannot leave the relationship behind. Is it really over?” She wanted to know the answer now no matter what it was and she had to hear it directly from him.
“In fact, it doesn’t have to be this way. During our separation, I too missed the days when we were together and happy. But, I know that if we cannot communicate, our marriage would be a tragedy. I have been married before and know from experience that this is a fact. But you are young and I don’t want you to bear the suffering of this mistake.
Xin-Xin’s face turned pale when she heard this. He gives a pretty speech but really wants to break up with me and then pretends it’s for my own good! She felt like he had stabbed her in the heart and tears started to flow down her cheeks. “So that night when you called you wanted to break up with me but I was too stupid to hear what you were saying.”
Mo-Fan was surprised at her misunderstanding and hurriedly explained, “Not so. I just wanted to discuss with you the possibility of postponing the wedding and was shocked at how you over reacted when you said, ‘Break up’. After that I began to think that maybe we were not compatible enough to be together in a marriage.”
He spoke in a tone of great determination which disturbed her deeply. In the past, he would always acquiesce to her will but now she sensed that he was prepared to end their relationship permanently if he thought they could not be happy together. What she had feared seemed to be manifesting itself and she suddenly lost her confidence. The tears welling up in her eyes began to gush down her face in streams.
Mo-Fan handed her a box of tissues but didn’t say anything to comfort her. She knew she would have to face whatever lay ahead for them, but still couldn’t help crying. Finally, she managed to dry her eyes and took a deep breath. “I know I can be aggressive and pushy but I thought I could be loved by you forever; except, I forgot to take into account that people change. Maybe you have changed and want to leave me because you are tired of me. At least other women have had the chance to get married and have their husbands leave them. I did not even have that chance!
She sat and watched Mo-Fan for a minute to guess his feelings. “If we could have one more chance, maybe we could be completely different. I never imagined that I would be forced to learn such a hard lesson from the man I loved. Why are you trying to punish me this way for my mistake?”
Mo-Fan was at a loss for how to respond. All he could do is just hang his head, speechless.
“If you have now decided to break up then, that proves that you called me that day to tell me that and it really didn’t matter if it was because of another woman or not; it achieved the purpose. But, if not, why can’t we give each other another chance?”
Mo-Fan was visibly shaken as he burst out, “I don’t think so!”
Xin-Xin suddenly had the urge to comfort him despite her disappointment and gave him a hug. “I don’t want to lose you!” she said and kissed him tenderly on the cheek. Then she turned away with an air of regret and slowly left the apartment. Inwardly she was hoping that he would follow and ask her to stay but, he did not.
Out on the street she thought it was incredulous that he could treat her with such uncaring cruelty. The dilemma and her inability to control the situation were extremely disconcerting. The only thing she could do is to wait for him to call.
After a few days, languishing at her desk in the stifling office, she could no longer bear not knowing what Mo-Fan’s intentions were toward her. She picked up the phone to call him but before she could dial, another call came in. The caller ID listed “Li Fu-Rong”. Although disappointed, she decided to answer anyway.
“Hey Fu-Rong, how are you?”
“Really fantastic! I have some great news and wanted to call and share it with you.”
“Oh, a good thing? Did you do something really fun?”
“I’m going to get married!”
Xin-Xin was silent for a moment and then replied. “Why are you going to take a big chance like that? Don’t you know how high the divorce rate is these days?” She was suddenly embarrassed with her response to Fu-Rong, who was obviously ecstatic, but her jealousy took control of her emotion.
“What? No congratulations from you?” Fu-Rong asked with a chill in her voice.
“Sorry, just joking. Congratulations! Where will the wedding be and when?”
“We haven’t finalized our plan yet. My parents are checking to see what date will work out best. Will you come with me and give me some advice on what wedding dress to choose?”
“Well, have you chosen the bridal salon yet?”
“Yes, it’s the ‘Brides of France’ salon. My fiancée and I were passing in front of it when he asked me to marry him.”
“I’d love to go, what time?”
“About 6:30 p.m.”
“OK, see you later.”
After she hung up the phone, she thought about her situation and how differently Fu-Rong felt right now and felt the pang of heartache. But now it was time to leave the office so she straightened her desk quickly and as she picked up her purse and phone she noticed that a new message had been sent to her. She punched her time card and displayed the message on the way to the elevator. “Xin-Xin, are you interested in joining me for supper tonight? 7:00 p.m. at my place. Waiting for your reply. Mo-Fan. “YES!” she shouted to herself as she rushed out the door totally forgetting her meeting with Fu-Rong and caught a cab to meet her man.