Not What It Seems Ch. 11byAscii©
Did she still love him like he loved her? After all that happened, would she still give him another chance?
Bringing John Haltor down should have made him happy. But Jared found he couldn't even smile. Gaining success, proving to everyone that he was the best in the business should have made him happy, since that was what he vowed to do one day after getting knocked back so many times by ruthless people. None of this success meant anything though, because Alin wasn't there to share it with him.
Jared opened the draws and took out a photograph he secretly treasured of him and Alin when they went to the theme park with Ryan, Hallie and the kids. He had one arm draped across her shoulder whilst she had hers around his waist. She was laughing at something he whispered in her ear. The moment was captured by Hallie and when she sent those pictures to them, Jared secretly took it to develop.
He'd do anything to see that smile again.
Alin tried so hard to wait patiently, glancing at her watch for the sixth time in the space of twenty minutes. Ryan was finally coming over and there was nothing she could do to wipe the smile off of her face. There was no doubt she loved being in Beijing. The people were friendly, and she even made a few friends she knew she would never lose contact with even after leaving. Also, she even managed to learn a bit of mandarin and even the locals and her colleagues were impressed with her ability to speak it so well! But having Ryan around would be less lonely for her.
She glanced at her watch for the umpteenth time. He should have arrived twenty minutes ago. If she was right, Ryan should be collecting his baggages right now. Where the hell was he?
Hearing her name she turned and quickly gasped in shock, but it was quickly replaced with a big smile on her face. She crouched down and opened her arms to an over enthusiastic Alex as he ran up to her and hugged her tightly; the intensity nearly tumbled her over!
"Oh honey," she picked him up and flung him up high before catching him again, "I miss you!"
"I miss you too." He pouted.
Over her shoulders Alin could see the big smiles on Hallie's and Ryan's faces from afar as they waved at her almost manically. Ryan carried some of their hand luggage whilst he pushed the trolley with the larger luggages on. Hallie had Penny in her arms and was chatting happily away with him. As he pushed the trolley, he gave a small kiss on Penny's cheek as she gurgled happily at him.
Alin watched them and saw the big smile on both of their faces. They were happy in each other's company. For a long time, Alin knew their relationship was a little more than platonic... but seeing them now, they looked like one happy family. She would have to talk some sense into Hallie soon.
Alin strolled towards the smiling couple hand in hand with Alex. When she reached them, she threw her arms around both of them. Pulling back and with tears in her eyes she punched Ryan softly on his arms, "You liar! And you," She turned to Hallie with mock accusation in her eyes, "How dare you not tell me BOTH of you were coming?"
"I wanted to surprise you!" Hallie grinned.
"It was a good surprise!"
Penny grew restless in Hallie's arm and was reaching towards Alin, still gurgling happily. Alin cooed at the baby, "Looks like you missed me too!" She took hold of the baby and cradled her.
"Let me take you guys home."
"Oh my god, this place sure is amazing!" Hallie marvelled, as Alin took her on a tour. "This place is so grand, yet it's so warm. I love it! Do you think Steven would mind us staying here?"
Alin shook her head as she took a bite out of her sandwich, "Steven offered to find an apartment just like this one for Ryan, but I told him we wouldn't mind staying together. Since you're here this makes it even better. Anyway where is Ryan?"
Hallie shrugged, "Not sure he said he was gonna take a shower. Then he told me to rest and he'll bathe Alex and ready him for bed. Alex is still running on NY time, I guess-"
Currently fast asleep in the guest room's bed, his hair still wet and in a bathrobe was Ryan, and curled up beside him was Alex. The way Ryan was with Alex touched Hallie's heart. She couldn't comprehend why a friend of hers could be more caring to her son, than his own father. She was about to say something, anything to wake them up so that she could retain some sort of control over the situation. It wasn't right that this man could show so much love to her son.
Alin stopped her, and placed her finger on her own lips, motioning her friend to be quiet. Closing the door, she ushered Hallie towards the living room, while she went to the open kitchen and told her to wait for her whilst she fixed something for her to eat.
After a few minutes, Alin came out with two bowls of steaming noodle with soup, one mildly spicy for Hallie and one extra spicy for herself. Though she missed her bagel and hot dog fix, the food here was definitely something she was fast coming to adore.
Handing it to Hallie she sat down on the couch and switched on the TV. Keeping the volume low, she turned to see Hallie gazing into the bowl of noodles.
"Try it, it's really nice!" Alin said in between mouthful of noodles.
Hallie shook her head, "It's not that. I-" she sighed, "I'm so worried about Alex getting too attached. Last week he asked me if Ryan was coming along and when I told him I wasn't sure, he burst into tears and said that he wanted 'Daddy' to come. I patiently explained to him Jack's going to be busy with work but he just shook his head and said Ryan was his daddy..."
She continued to gaze into her bowl. Alin waited patiently and shifted so that she had her arm around her friend.
"Alin, I'm so confused." She looked from the bowl, "I just don't understand how he could be so nice and caring to me and the kids. It's just I-"
They were interrupted by a loud whack and then a giggling child. They rushed to the guest room to see Ryan on the floor, Alex on the bed, each with a pillow in a hand. Alex was laughing so loud at his obvious victory over Ryan.
When they spotted Hallie and Alin, both smiled at them goofily. "MOM!" He exclaimed happily getting off the bed to drag her in. "Come play with us. This is soooo much fun! I love this house!"
It was much later in the night when Alin found Hallie on the balcony, leaning on the railing.
"Alex had a nightmare earlier and asked if Ryan could stay with him." Hallie said breaking the silence. "Ryan was the first one to rush to him when he cried out. He held Alex in his arms, patting him on the back to get him to calm down. He's never even shown that much affection to his own father. Alex's never once asked for Jack."
"Hallie," Alin started but unsure whether she should really tell her friend how she felt about the situation. She wanted nothing more than Hallie to be happy, and in these few years she had tried to get her friend to open up but to no avail. Alin desperately wanted her friend to be happy again, "Jack...he doesn't deserve you."
Hallie gasped, about to say something, even deny it but Alin stopped her.
"Hallie, I hope one day you can open up to me. I love you and I want you to be happy. I know you're not ready to talk to me, but know that I'll always be there for you."
Alin smiled at her warmly, but she was momentarily taken aback when suddenly Hallie threw her arms around her. "I love you, Alin. You're the best."
Alin chuckled and patted Hallie on the head, "Anytime."
Hallie remained in her friend's arm for a few minutes before she broke apart from her. She looked at her and said, "Alin... would you ever forgive Jared?"
She took in her shocked expression. Ever since Alin moved to Beijing, Hallie hadn't said anything about Jared, save from telling her about what happened to John. Hallie sincerely hoped she wasn't going to be mad at her.
"I..." Alin started as Hallie looked at her intently. "Um..." she wasn't sure if she wanted to tell the truth, "Hallie...I went to see Jared the day before I left."
"That day was his birthday..." Hallie stopped herself. Taking in Alin's faint blush, she couldn't help but laugh.
Alin glared at her friend, "Hey... it's n-not funny!"
Hallie tried to control her laughter, "I'm laughing at the way you're blushing guiltily. Okay, okay." She tried to put on a serious face, "Serious face now."
"Hallie, I'm not going to lie and tell you I don't miss him. I do. Maybe that's why I went to his place that night...and well I...um stayed the night. But afterwards, it felt so wrong. I can't look at him without thinking back to the way he's treated me. I love him, but I feel so foolish if I was to go back to him."
"But that's it...you love him. He's done stupid things, but you have no idea how sorry he is. Alin, trust your heart."
Hallie waved her hand dismissively, a slight grin on her face "BUT, I'm not telling you to let him off easily. Let him work for it. He deserves to be left in the gutter for a few days before you even look at him."
"Jared, can you hear me?" Hallie whispered. "Everyone else is out, so I'm going to talk quietly just in case they come back."
"No problem Hals, how is it over there anyway?"
"Yeah it's good..." Hallie rolled her eyes, "Jared, cut the diplomatic bullshit. Say it"
Jared smiled guiltily, "H-how is she?"
Hallie smiled slyly, "Who?"
"Oh man... you're kinda evil. H-How's Alin?"
"But she'd be happier if someone grew some balls and got on the next flight to see her-"
"Of course I am-
"But she doesn't answer my calls, she doesn't respond to my letters, she doesn't-"
"Funny for an intelligent guy you sure can be stupid."
"Ouch. That's just mean Hals" Jared clutched his heart pretending to be hurt.
Hallie laughed, "I know, harsh but true."
"But are you saying she really, I mean really wants to see me?"
"Jared, get here and find out yourself."
Jared sighed, "But what if she doesn't want to see me? What if she-"
Hallie waved her hand dismissively, "You're Jared Valentine...find a way."
The end of spring brought on incredibly hot weather. It was unusual for late June, nearly thirty five degrees but Alin smiled as she headed to work. After staying for nearly three weeks, Hallie had left a week ago, but had promised to come back as soon as she could.
Steven had told her a few weeks back that a new investor with connection with one of Beijing's powerful real estate tycoon had agreed to 'help' them with the red tape. Therefore with this new investor on board, they were able to carry on with the original plan. This meant, working in two locations in Beijing, travelling for three hours every day between locations for Alin, and Ryan flying to Kuwait with Steven to discuss the finer details with the investors and hold a press conference.
Still in between her busy schedule, she still found time to think of him. I have known him since I was nineteen...he was my first love... he was my first- Alin stopped herself, because she hated going down that territory. With each message he left her and each time she thought about him, Alin felt her defence lowering.
She loved him too much to let go, she sincerely he'd give up on her, because she knew she couldn't let go, as much as she wanted too. Ignoring him was hard, and she didn't know how much she could take if she was to see him again.
"I'm so nervous about this. I'm not much of a public speaker. I- I mean when I was at college I used to dread doing presentations."
Steven noted Alin's shaking hand, "Honey, relax. You're doing well. The shareholders will be wrapped around your lil' finger by the time you're finished. And you'd charm the hell out of those journalists. They won't be able to dismiss an intelligent pretty young thing." He got up from the seat, "Come on you're up."
"Can I practice one more time?"
"No, if you don't remember everything, that's okay. It's better if you were natural rather than trying to recite a script. Don't worry you've got Hallie and J- Ryan to cheer you on. Don't you worry." As he walked behind Alin, Steven let out the breath he didn't know he held in. That was too close.
"...and lastly I just want to personally thank Mr Steven Daniels and the Daniels Group for giving me this opportunity to work on this amazing project. May we carry on our success in China and the Middle East."
After the speech champagne and wine were flowing with people chatting happily. Steven told Alin he would introduce her to the investor who had helped them with getting around the red tape, but he wanted her to first meet one of the shareholders.
Alin conversed with him and his wife for a few minutes before she excused herself to seek out Steven, since he had told her he wanted her to meet the other investor, but when she couldn't find him, she tried to find Hallie and Ryan. However, they were nowhere to be seen either, so Alin went out to the large balcony to get some fresh air. She decided to go to a more secluded part of the balcony so that she could enjoy the beautiful scenery alone. The light evening air blew gently and it made her feel instantly better.
She was still buzzing from the adrenaline from the successful speech after nervously reciting and practising for days on end. She leaned across the glass railing and watched the sunset. After a while she felt a shiver, as she was wearing a red floor length off-the shoulder dress. Alin rubbed her arms to fend off the chills but decided that it was best to head back inside.
Just as she was about to turn back inside, someone laid a tuxedo jacket on her shoulders. Surprised at the kind yet strange gesture, Alin turned around to thank the person, but what she saw surprised her.
"Ryan, are you sure they'd be okay? I mean don't you think we should be there to act as a peacemaker in case something turns bad."
He smiled at her, "Trust me, Jared will know what to do, he loves Alin, he'd do anything not to mess up. Besides, Alin will be happy to see him... in her own way."
"I guess you're right, but we should still see in maybe twenty minutes. You know I still feel bad for leaving her!"
"If we didn't leave her, how would Jared get the chance to be alone with her?"
Seeing Alin out in the balcony, wearing a red dress with her hair loosely curled was reminisce of their first meeting. Jared felt a sudden wave of longing because he knew this was a world apart from how they first met.
He waited for a long time thinking of ways to approach Alin. He had kept a low profile so that no one knew he was here, save for Ryan, Hallie and Steven. He had waited for everyone to be occupied, before slipping outside onto the balcony. Watching Alin from behind, he itched to have his arms around her. He contemplated for a long time how he could go to her without scaring her. Hi Alin how are you? Yeah as if that works Jared thought thinking how stupid he was. He was nervous as hell. He looked back and saw Alin rub her arms warding off the light breeze, without thinking he took his tuxedo jacket off and walked to her. He laid the jacket on her shoulders.
Sensing her slightly tense from the possible intrusion, he watched her turn with a smile on her face, but when she saw him, he watched her surprise expression. He heard her whisper his name in disbelief.
"Why are you here?" Alin said quietly breaking the silence.
Jared was slightly taken aback by the question and the icy tone that accompanied it. He did expect it, but it still hurt to know that she was still indifferent to him. Without thinking he blurted out, "I'm here b-because I invested in the Daniels Group."
Jared had pondered the best way to win Alin back and he decided that if he wanted to at least be close to her and see her, he had to do this via her involvement with The Daniels Group. He knew that the hotel chains they were planning in Beijing had hit a dead end due to planning permission, but luckily because of Tao Zhang's connection with powerful political figures and retail estate moguls, he was able to influence the decision. However, though that was sorted out, the delay meant more investors were pulling out of the project, therefore seeing the potential in the project and the major reason being able to be close to Alin, Jared decided to invest in the hotels.
However, taking in her current expression, Jared knew she was not impressed.
Alin slipped his jacket off and handed it back to him, "I must thank you for saving hundreds of jobs. The mysterious investor that Steven told me about must have been you. I thought it was strange how one minute we couldn't get the contracts and the next we could get it."
"Well, it was nice meeting you but I think I'll head back inside now."
"Wait!" he held onto her wrist and Alin turned. He saw the sudden hurt in her eyes and he hated himself for hurting her.
"Jared, what do you want from me?" she whispered.
"I miss you. I invested in the chains, because I knew how much you wanted to work out here. Ryan told me as much. And I wanted to see you."
"Jared, stop throwing money at me! Just because you're wealthy, it doesn't give you the right to control me!"
"No! Alin," He shook his head furiously, "That's not what I mean. I... I truly wanted to see you, I want to see you happy. Maybe I took the wrong approach. I know why you're ignoring, but I wanted so badly to see you. I don't know what else I can do to see you so I-"
"You can't just come h-here and-" She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, "Why won't you let me move on?"
"Because I love you and I know you feel the same for me. That night when you came to me I couldn't forget it, I-"
She held her hand stopping him, "Don't." she shook her head, "Jared, please I beg you, please don't. I came to you because I wanted to say goodbye, and yes I'll admit I've never stopped thinking about you even being thousands of miles apart from you. But even knowing the truth about what John did doesn't change anything. Do you really think our relationship could ever be the same?"
Her words tugged at his heart. He knew winning her back wasn't going to be easy, "I know it will never be the same. But I can't give up on what we have. You're the one for me and I know I'll never find a girl like you again. Because I truly love you, and I'm begging you to give me another chance to prove to you I've changed."
A tear slid down her cheek, "J-Jared, I've given you too many chances."
He dropped his head in shame, "Alin, I know how wrong I am. I know that it wasn't Haltor, Faye or Charles who tore us apart. It was me. I let those people sabotage our relationship. I let them manipulate me in mistrusting you. And you're right, you've given me so many chances that I don't even deserve to ask you again, but... don't you think we can start again? I know it would take time for you to trust me, and I'll wait for you, I'll wait for you for a year, five, ten or however many years it takes for you to trust me, but don't push me away. I never expected you to forgive me straight away. I don't deserve that. I don't deserve anything from you, but I'm begging you not to push me away."
"Jared, that day you left me. I was so hurt... I-I'm scared you'll do that to me again."
Jared walked closer to her hesitantly and sensing she no longer had barriers erected, he walked even closer and eventually wrapped his arms around her, "Alin, I'll never do that again. I love you, I'll never hurt you. Because seeing you hurt, seeing you cry, it kills me inside."
She pulled back from him and hit his chest lightly, "Why do you always, always do this? Why do you make me feel this way? Why can't I move on?" He heard her cry.