"Being in love is the most wonderful feeling you would ever experience in your lifetime", so that was what people said, or at least it was the message hammered into our minds by romance movies and novels. While it might be true to an extent, it could also create a source of frustration, that could progress into a state of misery, especially if you had no idea if the other person reciprocated your feelings or not, such in my case.
Things between Albert and me…
What things? Did we even have anything between us other than friendship?
To be blatantly honest, I wanted to be more than just a friend to him-–but I knew better than to force it on him.
What was I thinking, huh? But really, I couldn’t help myself. I had been powerless to stop my growing feelings for him.
When I had realized I had begun to harbor feelings that I had thought I would never have again for my so-called friend and employer, it hadn’t come as a shock to me. Obviously, I had been overwhelmed by the feelings in the beginning, thinking that it was too soon and inconceivable after I had sworn I would never fall in love again-–and it was Albert, for goodness sake. But eventually I had acknowledged there was no advantage to deny it or to fight it, for that matter. I hadn’t tried to conceal it and pretended that it hadn't been there. In the end, I had let the feelings flourish freely within me, consuming my every thought and filling my dreams night after night. Nevertheless, I had no intention to divulge my feelings to him, ever.
The fact that I was able to fall in love was already something I couldn't truly comprehend, even more so when it involved Albert. It made the whole experience felt like nothing short of a miracle.
It was true that just a year ago I'd still thought that I could never fall in love again. Love had been the last thing in my mind when I had been trapped in the pit of severe depression, which had been instigated by an unexpected turn of events.
To my utter disbelief, Terry had broken our engagement without offering any plausible reason. But I suspected that his reason had everything to do with the sweet and demure Miss Susanna Marlowe. Just two weeks prior to our break up, rumors about them had circulated everywhere, but I had refused to pay attention to the gossip.
My life had been in shambles for weeks following the abrupt annulment of my engagement, and I had had no motivation to continue my study, forfeiting admission into the University of Chicago medical program, which had been my ultimate dream. Heartbroken and hopeless, with no care for the future, I had departed Chicago to leave everything behind and somehow had ended up in New York city, working as a part-time waiter, waiting tables during the graveyard shift in a 24-hour diner, a favorite hang-out place for doctors, nurses, and interns from the nearby research university hospital.
But it wasn’t after a careless incident, involving a spilled pot of hot coffee and a visit to the ER that had brought me to cross paths with Dr. Laura Green, I had begun to stand up on my feet again.
Dr. Green had done so much for me that I didn’t think I could ever repay her in this lifetime. She was the heaven sent angel who had plucked me out of the dark abyss of my depression and had literally put me back on track so I could regain my life’s purpose. I cringed at the thought if she hadn’t been there to support me-–if that had been the case then I wouldn’t even be here right now, let alone reaching my goal to become a doctor. With Dr. Green’s assistance, I had been able to enroll into the medical program at the Columbia University, which held slightly better ranking than University of Chicago.
By my third year in the university, the teacher and student relationship between Dr. Green and me had inevitably morphed into a friendship. I couldn’t lie though that in the beginning, I had somehow envied Laura, wishing I could be just like her. She seemed to have everything: beauty, brain, success in life and in love. Now, however, I had only respect and great admiration for her. Aside from taking the role of my current mentor, as I had continued my residency in New York Presbyterian Hospital, she had become like the older sister I never had, and I loved her immensely for that.
Laura was also the one who had introduced me to Lizzie, one of her pediatric patients, and it was through Lizzie that I had had the pleasure of meeting the illustrious New York magnate, William Albert Andrew, who turned out to be no other than Lizzie’s father. In reality, that wasn’t even supposed to happen, but fate sometimes had its own mind.
Elizabeth Michelle Andrew--that was Lizzie’s full name–-suffered from a rare immune disorder in which her immune system became inactive to fight certain types of antigen. Fortunately, as long as she stayed on her immunotherapy regimen, her disease was not life-threatening.
It was Christmas Eve a year ago when I had literally bumped into little Lizzie as she had escaped Dr. Green’s office, barreling right into me. I remembered I had stood frozen on my spot when she tipped her head up to me, her blue eyes staring at me. There had been something about her that had reminded me of someone I had used to know in the past, but I had quickly dismissed the thought to a mere coincidence.
Little had I known, the floodgates of my past were about to be opened.
From that first encounter, it hadn’t taken long before the little girl with blond hair and blue eyes had gained a special spot in my heart. The more I had interacted with Lizzie the more I could see myself in her-–my young and naïve self.
The night I had met Lizzie, Laura had asked for a favor from me to take her young patient home since Lizzie’s father had an urgent meeting he had to attend. In spite of my fondness toward Lizzie, I hadn’t been as willing since it was after all Christmas Eve, but eventually I had relented.
The one thing my friend had neglected to do was to tell me who Lizzie really was. I had thought that Lizzie was just like her other patients, a young girl belonging to a middle class family. Suffice to say, I had been absolutely wrong.
I had realized my assumption had been completely wrong as soon as I had found myself standing, dumbfounded, in front of the multilevel historic apartment in the affluent neighborhood of Upper East Side – an impressive looking place which Lizzie had casually referred to as her home. The blond girl had to drag me along with her just to make me move out of my spot.
The house’s interior was as magnificent as I had imagined it. Feeling inadequate to step foot in such a stately home, I quickly excused myself, but Lizzie, with her angelic smile, had somehow managed to persuade me to stay. I didn’t want to overstay my welcome, but I just couldn’t bear to see Lizzie’s sky-blue eyes filled with tears while inwardly I cursed at her parents for being so careless and heartless to abandon their daughter in the huge house accompanied only by a housekeeper. And I was especially angry with her father for prioritizing his work over his very own daughter even on Christmas Eve.
Without wasting time, Lizzie had excitedly grabbed my hand and pulled me into her room. I didn’t remember exactly how long I had spent time talking to Lizzie in her spacious room that was the same size of my entire apartment, but I certainly had learned a lot about her in that one night. And at that time, the more I had known about her, the more I had felt compassion for her. Apparently, her mother had passed away a long while ago, at the time when she was nothing but an infant, and since then she had lived with her father. Lizzie had also mentioned that she and her father used to live in Chicago, which ironically was the city where I had originally come from, the same city that I had fled from right after Terry had punctured a sword right through my heart, leaving a deep gashing hole.
After telling some funny stories about her two seemingly eccentric uncles, Uncle Stear and Uncle Archie, Lizzie had suddenly made a request, asking me to read a book for her. So without thinking too much, I had chosen a Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, which should be perfect considering the occasion, but before I could even finish the first chapter, she had fallen fast asleep. At the same time, I had started to feel drowsy myself, so I had decided to take a quick rest before heading home. However, that brief rest had unexpectedly turned into a long nap.
Of course, I hadn’t realized I had been sleeping until a gentle voice had jolted me out of my dream, and the second my eyes snapped open, I stared right into a pair of bewildered sky-blue eyes belonging to a man, a very familiar looking man. Under the faint yellow glow from the small lamp sitting on the nightstand, the man standing before me, six feet, blond hair, and blue eyes, looked so very much like...
My mind drifted to how the moment had transpired at that time...
"Albert?!!!" I jumped onto my feet, the exhaustion that had consumed me earlier vanished.
"Sssh..." He held his index finger to his lips in a gesture to silence me, his eyes darting to the side toward the sleeping figure on the bed.
I pressed a hand against my mouth, my heart pounding. "What are you doing here?" the question flew out of my mouth before I could stop it.
He cocked an eyebrow, his low chuckle flitting into my ears. "Funny, you should ask. I thought I was supposed to be the one more entitled to ask that specific question. I stepped inside my daughter's room, finding a strange woman sleeping on the sofa. But it turns out the woman was not a stranger after all."
My eyes widened at the word 'daughter'. "Don't tell me that--"
"My turn--so Candice White," he cut me short, his eyes demanding an answer, "what are you doing here, in my house, with my daughter, at this very late hour?"
"Your daughter? You mean Lizzie is your daughter?"
He stared at me, looking partly bemused partly offended. "Yes, Lizzie is mine," he affirmed. Despite the polite tone, the underlying frustration was clear and it came to surface when he continued, "You still haven't answered my question. What are you doing here?"
"I--" I began in a whisper, glancing toward the bed at Lizzie's serene sleeping face. The commotion that was taking place in her room didn't seem to affect her.
"If this is just a dream... " Albert's voice sank lower with a touch of melancholy.
I shook my head weakly without turning to face him. "Sorry to disappoint you, Albert. This is as real as it can be." I slowly brought my gaze to him and offered him a rueful smile, mustering to appear calm despite the furious beating inside my chest
It wasn't that I had expected a warm big hug from him, but the way he was just standing there, even though it seemed as though he was staring at me intently, felt cold. It was as if I were standing in front of a stranger. I decided then that perhaps I should make my exit.
Just as I bent down to pick up my purse, his voice startled me and ceased me from moving.
"I'm sorry. I was just so…umm…shocked. I needed a few moments to allow my brain to process all of these."
I straightened my back, abandoning my purse on the carpeted floor, my eyes followed him as he let out a small awkward smile and stepped closer to bring his towering figure next to me. I forced a smile, but tears without my consent slowly formed in my eyes, making it even harder for me to maintain my smile.
"It's good to see you Candy…" he said in a soft murmur.
I was speechless. It felt like somebody had just injected an extra-strength dose of anesthesia into my mouth, numbing my tongue.
After wiping the moist from my eyes with the back of my hand, without thinking, I took one step closer to him.
Somehow the clock stopped ticking, and time had come to a standstill as we just stood there exchanging glances.
I'd really wanted to fling myself to embrace him. But he just, with apparent hesitation, outstretched his hand to me. I had been disappointed. I'd been so extremely and thoroughly disappointed.
Straining a smile as I struggled to keep the tears from flowing by biting hard on my lips, I took his proffered hand into mine. His hand felt cold to the touch, not at all like the way I remembered it a while ago. "Um…It's good to see you too, Albert." I shook his hand; my voice croaked with disappointment still lodging in my throat.
One drop of tear escaped, and it fell right on top of our hands. Simultaneously, we both looked down, and at that moment, I finally realized I had been squeezing his hand. Instantly, I retracted my hand.
The clock started ticking again, and the moment was gone.
That was how my unexpected reunion with Albert had unfolded a year ago. It had felt way too formal and way too… weird, for lack of a better word. No laughter. No squeal of joy. Just an air of awkwardness surrounding us.
But how it had happened didn't matter anymore.
Because now here I was, falling for him again.
Fate definitely had something up its sleeve when it had led me back to my first love last Christmas Eve.
To Be Continued