The truth hurts sometimes.
After the very silent and speedy car ride to the concert, JZ carried the still handcuffed Elle backstage.
“WHOA!!” said all three members of Nine Hands as their eyes landed on Elle. “What’s going on here?”
“Sorry we’re late,” JZ said tiredly, sweat forming on his forehead and breathing hard. “It took much longer than I thought to get a girl ready.”
“That’s why you let her get herself ready. All you have to do is wait,” said Gong, proud of the experience under his belt.
“Did she do all that herself?” asked Bi, waving his hand over Elle’s body.
“My makeup artist did all that. She can still open for you guys, right?”
“Yeah, no problem,” all three members replied. “Did she pick a song yet?” asked Peng.
“She wouldn’t talk to me the whole day,” JZ tiredly said, as he put Elle down to stand. “I think Teresa Teng’s The Moon Represents My Heart is perfect for her. Do you guys have that on one your playlists?”
Nine Hands looked at each other, “Who doesn’t have that song on their playlist? Let me get the sound lady. She’s right there!” and Peng jumped and waved hysterically to the short lady with black hair wearing a Nine Hands tour T-shirt. JZ looked behind him and the lady turned to look back.
“Ah JZ! Long time no see!”
JZ had a confused face, not remembering the lady.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “I don’t expect you to remember me. I’m your sound lady for a few of your tours over the years.” She walked around to see the girl in the sapphire-cobalt dress and said, “Hey Elle! Long time no see! You look really different!”
“Were you the sound lady on my last concert tour with her?” JZ asked with surprise and anxiously waited for an answer.
“I was. I see you remember the young one but not me.”
“I didn’t even remember her on that tour; she told me she was there.”
Um, not to be impolite but let’s get going. We’re a little behind schedule,” said Peng. “She needs to pick a song and get out there or she’s not going on at all. The crowd is getting restless.”
“Of course. Thanks again for this opportunity. I won’t ruin this concert for you guys,” JZ quickly said. Nine Hands left them. JZ got down on one knee and asked while typing and looking up at Elle’s blank face, “Baby, I know you like Nine Hands so you don’t want to mess up their concert tonight. I know you can sing. What can I do or say to make you sing?” He handed her the phone and she began typing.
He read, “I want you to immediately take off these handcuffs and never to restrain me in any form. You never stop me from working, never stop me from doing what I want, never stop me from teaching, never stop me from going where I want to go alone.” He immediately unlocked the ankle cuffs first then the wrist ones. He looked back up at her still expressionless face and said, “I’ll never restrain you in any form. I promise,” and typed it to hand the phone to her.
She read it and typed back, “I want to sing Stupid Child.
He was surprised. “How will you show the world you have a feminine voice if you sing that song? Please reconsider The Moon Represents My Heart. Or you can sing, Butterfly With the Broken Wings by Ding Wei. How do I get you to sing either one of those songs?”
“How do I sing songs I don’t know? This isn’t karaoke.”
“How do you not know those songs? I know Chinese people brought it overseas.”
Caught in a trap, Elle typed back, “I am willing to sing Truly Forever.”
“What is it with you and Andy Lau? What can I give you so you will sing either of the songs I suggested?”
“You won’t do anything boyfriend-related at work. We are not a couple.”
He read it and said, “Ok,” to Elle and to the sound lady, “Set up The Moon Represents My Heart. She’ll be out there in two minutes.”
Elle began loosening her joints and muscles by stretching her arms and shoulders and body. “Water,” she said and continued stretching. He came back seconds later with a bottle of water. She opened it and drank half of it and said, “Ah,” in relief.
Nine Hands returned and expected an answer to know what’s going on.
“She’s going to sing The Moon Represents My Heart,” he said as he scooped Elle back in his arms.
“Don’t forget the mike,” said Peng, and handed it to her.
“Thank you. It’s nice to meet all of you,” she said calmly with a smile and waving. “I’m a big fan!” she shouted before the many suns were on her.
The crowd was stunned to see JZ carrying Elle to the stage, then Elle’s body in zebra stripes.
When she saw JZ was off the stage, she said in her normal voice, “Good evening everyone, Nine Hands will perform soon. I would like to thank them for letting me sing tonight.” The music came on and she began singing the song.
JZ was amazed watching his angel singing as if Teresa Teng was singing – the same hand movements, the same sparkle in her eyes. If both her ankles could support her, she would have swayed like her. All the lights were on her like a star.
After the music stopped, the crowd was silent. JZ quickly walked on stage, took the mike from Elle and asked the audience, “Wasn’t she excellent?” The crowd was still silent. He took two steps away from her, took out a small box from his pocket, got down on one knee, looked up at his angel’s sparkling brown eyes, and asked, “Will you marry me?” He opened the box to show a white gold ring with a big diamond in the center and several smaller diamonds around the big one, blindingly sparkling under the lights.
She looked at him, then the ring, then back at him. His face was sincere. She had angry eyebrows but her eyes said something indistinguishable. She shook her head and ungracefully began limping off stage.
“Why?” she heard the familiar voice echo. She turned back to see he was still down on one knee with the box in his hand, facing her. “Because I don’t want you,” she mouthed sadly, and turned around, trying to tolerate her injured ankle as she continued going off stage.
Gong and Peng came on stage to get JZ to the back, and Bi let her lean on him as she hopped somewhere to stand out of the crowd’s view. When the five of them were in the same spot, JZ sadly said, “Don’t worry about me. I need some alone time with her.”
“Take my dressing room,” said Gong, and patted JZ on the back. Then the other two came and patted him on the back and they went on stage. JZ did not cuff her. He scooped her into his arms and slowly and quietly brought her to his car.
In his car, he drove around for some time, not talking, not looking at her, not speeding. He knew that whenever a girl rejected him, he always played his piano or cello, or wrote lyrics, but this time he did not have any instruments. He wanted to stop in a music store and do what he usually did, but knew he couldn’t risk the additional publicity. It took some time before he realized he had the rare opportunity of being in the same space as her to ask her. He parked somewhere dark, did not look in her direction, and quietly asked, “Why do you not want me?”
“Let me use your phone,” she said gently, observing this strange behavior she had never seen on him.
“No. Use your words and tell me,” he sadly responded.
“Because you don’t show me you love me. Because you don’t make me happy. Because you don’t really love me. That’s why I don’t want you,” she said gently.
“How could you say I don’t show you I love you?” he yelled. “How could you say I don’t make you happy? How could you say that I don’t really love you?”
“Remember when you asked me ‘what is enough?’ I told you I wanted you to love me. I told you I wanted you to show me that you love me. And to show me that you love me, I wanted to be happier than I was. If you see me smile, I’m happy. I ask you, do I smile? If you don’t want to make me happy, you don’t really love me,” she replied calmly.
She heard his hands gripping the steering wheel harder as she answered. “I wanted to marry you,” she quietly said. He turned to look at her silhouette and she continued. “I wanted to marry the boy who wanted people to listen to his music because it was very good and important, not because he was cute. I wanted to marry the boy who thinks his family is the most important in his life, then his music is the second most important in his life. You were that boy when you started but you are not that boy today.”
He took some time to think, then quietly replied, “I’m not that boy today. I am a man today. I am a man who gets things done.”
“You’re right,” she gently said, “You are a man today, but you are a man who lost his way.”
“How did I lose my way?”
“Neither your family nor your music are important to you anymore. You have a lot of CDs but you’re only putting your face on the CD, not your heart in it.”
He turned back to the steering wheel and sighed.
“Want to go back to the studio?”
“Let’s just go home.”
After the long silent car ride back to the silver building, JZ carried Elle in his arms. In the elevator he pressed the button, 36, and she did not correct him. She was surprised to see the hallway was void of her apartment’s furniture. He set her down, took out a separate set of keys let her in, and left.
Elle entered and gathered her things, hoping to find her toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, and towel. “Why do I feel so sick for telling him the truth?” she asked herself. “I don’t know, maybe it’s because some of the things he does did represent him trying to make you happy, and you treated them like they were no good. A man shows his masculinity and love for a woman by being the provider. If you reject his effort in providing for you, he feels emasculated, and you feel guilty for unintentionally doing that.”
“He’s not doing what I told him I want. All he has to do is follow my instructions. My instructions aren’t hard to follow.” “Maybe the things or gifts he gives you are the battles you don’t fight him on. Just smile and accept.”
“Why are you leading me in a different direction? I feel sick for telling someone the truth. That never happens. Honesty is the only way to go.” “Girl, I don’t know then.”
“He does plenty of bad things to me. I was right, he’s so dramatic. Drama is something I don’t need.” “Dramatic or not, he definitely defends and protects you when you really need it.” “Really? Were you not there earlier today when I almost died twice? Sitting me on all those nasty things without panties? Showing off my everything the whole day? Humiliating and unsanitary.” “Guys like to show off what they have. Since he considers you someone he has, he shows you off the way husbands show their trophy wives off.” “He should be more modest and keep it in private quarters. He’s only doing what he wants to do. Selfish, selfish, selfish.”
“Just go brush your teeth and shower to cool yourself down.” “I don’t know if these fake tattoos will come off. Making me look like an animal attraction in front of all those people. It all goes back to being natural. If he really respected and accepted me the way I am, he would’ve left all my bruises for everyone to see. I have nothing to hide.” “You don’t but he does.” “He should be held accountable for doing all this to me. I don’t want anyone abusive in my life. More abuse, more drama.” “I can’t defend his abusive behavior. All I can say is, maybe it’s a fluke. He doesn’t seem like an abusive guy. He seems like a fun, laid-back kind of guy.” “Of course not! He only shows his true form in private when he’s not getting what he wants and can get away with everything.” “You show your true from when you don’t get what you want.” “Mine is for defensive purposes; his is for offensive purposes.”
After taking a shower Elle was picking up her other things that were thrown all over, and heard the piano playing somewhere nearby. It doesn’t sound like it’s from his suite; this sound is clear, not muffled by walls. Elle went to the wall-size window by the kitchen and opened it. The piano was much clearer. She stood in her dress, letting the wind hit her while she listened to the piano’s cries of emotional pain. Obstacle after obstacle. Strike after strike.
“You really got to hear what he feels and thinks. Are you satisfied?” “I didn’t want to be the cause of his pain, but if that’s what it takes to bring him back to the top, bring him back to his roots, then it’s for the greater good. His recent works are fake and they show he was aligned with the others in the genre. His style was new and unique. He can evolve but I don’t think his evolution is supposed to change to better conform to the genre that’s closest to his. What I’m trying to say is, he lost his style while producing album after album so quickly.” “I know what you’re saying.”
Elle listened to the piano until it stopped when the sun rose.