The next day, Elle looked in the fridge and saw no food, so she knew she had to go to the grocery store. She was prepared to ignore JZ’s fans and the paparazzi on her way there, but was not prepared for what was at her door. They were at her door, shouting unintelligible things and the crazy flickering of flashes from taking so many photos of her blinded her momentarily. Elle wanted to shut the door but her empty stomach was stronger than her mind, so she braced herself and squeezed through the tight hallway with overflowing crowd and out of the building. She glared at a couple of her neighbors that were charging fans and paparazzi a fee to enter the building. She looked forward and saw a fortified wall of tightly packed people in the narrow pathways of her street.
The mob was incessant. The shouts and flashes kept coming at her as she was on her way to the grocery store, inside the grocery store, and on the way back to her apartment. Once she reached the building’s entrance, she saw the famous man standing casually like he belonged there. She went toward him with the crowd behind her. In a calm face and firm tone, she looked him straight in the eyes and said, “If you can get those people far away from me by the time I look behind me, I will go on one date with you.”
In a smooth voice, “You got it,” and he winked at her. He took out his phone, tapped the screen, and lots of buzzing and a myriad of loud music emanated behind her. Elle took a breath, turned back, and saw the crowd three meters away.
“That’s not enough,” Elle said.
He tapped on his phone again and the buzzing and music was quieter.
“Where do you plan on taking me?” she asked firmly.
With a smile and smooth voice, he said, “Hawaii.”
Elle’s eyes grew big, her eyebrows lifted so high she created wrinkles on her forehead, and her mouth was in the shape of a zero. JZ’s grin grew wider. Elle made a great effort to hide her feelings and responded in a dismissive tone, “I don’t want to go there.”
“I wasn’t really going to take you there,” he said with a chuckle.
“Then where are we going?” in another firm tone.
“England,” he said simply.
Hiding her feelings again, she responded calmly, “If you are serious, bring back those people and go away.”
He laughed and gave-in. “I’m taking you to Crown Jewel. I’ll come at 8pm.”
“Come at 6pm.”
With a generous smile, he said, “Ok.”
By 5:59pm, Elle had on light make-up with small loop earrings, and wore the only dress she brought with her from America. “I have never worn this dress,” she said to herself. “I’m so happy it still fits.” “It’s summer, you can leave the shawl,” her other self said. Then she put on her flats, grabbed her purse, and out the door she went.
In a white and sky blue seersucker suit and a dress shirt to match, JZ was casually waiting in front of the building with fans and paparazzi 5 meters away, snapping pictures and whispering loudly. When Elle emerged from the complex, she looked at JZ with soft big eyes. His enlarged eyes stared at her. The paparazzi, too, took a breath, then shouted at their photographers to take pictures. He saw her wearing a sleeveless satin ruby dress with a V-neck on the front to modestly show her ample bosom. Uncomfortable with everyone staring at her, she walked toward him and said in a calm tone, “Let’s go.”
He shook himself back to reality and responded, “These flowers are for you,” as he handed her the bouquet of red roses.
“Thank you. I’ll take them inside and then we can go, ok?”
“Ok,” and carefully watched her walk back in, seeing a V-neck on the back to show her strong spine.
Elle returned shortly. As he walked with her to downtown, he glanced at her every second or so. Finally, he said kindly with a smile, “You look more beautiful than the day I saw you.”
“Thank you,” Elle quietly said and smiled. “I know. You look very handsome.”
He chuckled. When they reached an expensive royal blue sports car, he opened the car door for her, she got in without a fuss, and he drove. “What are you feeling right now?” JZ asked curiously.
“Like I have no way out,” she answered.
He laughed and said, “We’ll be there soon.”
An awkward moment passed before Elle asked, “There are plenty of pretty girls in this city that are suited for you….Why did you choose me?”
Unsure of whether to tell the truth or lie, he said, “When I saw you, I felt that I didn’t want to separate from you.”
“How do you feel something like that from someone you don’t know?”
“I don’t know but that’s something scientists should work on.”
They finally arrived at the Crown Jewel. JZ opened his door, went to the passenger side and opened Elle’s door, then handed his keys to the valet, and escorted her into the restaurant. She was relieved that she packed the right dress. She took a breath at what her eyes were feasting at: the glittering chandelier, the expensive artworks, the perfectly dim lighting, and a few politicians she recognized from the news. There was smooth jazz playing in the background. She thought to herself, “The owner was right calling this place the Crown Jewel, because only rich people can afford to eat here.”
As Elle was taking in her new environment, JZ could not help but stare at her sparkling eyes gazing at the chandelier. The Maître d’ shortly arrived and guided JZ. JZ noticed that Elle was still observing the interior, so he held onto her small hand, followed the Maître d’ to their table, and was handed the menu.
The Maître d’ asked, “Are you ready to order?”
JZ asked Elle, “Are you allergic to anything?”
“No,” she answered nicely.
“Great,” he said to Elle, and ordered.
She was not sure what he ordered but she knew she heard him say “red wine,” so she rudely interrupted and said, “I don’t drink alcohol.”
“Is sparkling water ok?” he asked.
“Great. Two bowls of Shark Fin Soup and two glasses of sparkling water,” he told the Maître d’. Being more alone, he asked, “Have you ever had Shark Fin Soup?”
“I don’t know what it is,” she replied.
Surprised, “Really? Where are you from?” he asked rhetorically.
“America,” she replied simply. “I only understand ‘soup.’”
“Really?” he asked surprisingly.
She nodded her head.
As they were chatting, JZ learned that Elle looked like she belonged in China, but she knew very little Chinese to have a meaningful conversation with him in the three semesters of Mandarin she had taken. They used his phone to translate what the other was saying. He found out she was here on a grant primarily teaching first grade English but also other subjects, because there are not enough teachers.
The two conversed until the Shark Fin Soups arrived an hour later. By then, Elle was almost dead on the inside because she was starving. White sperm-shaped pieces of something were swimming in the bowl of dark yellow broth. “It looks like Egg Flower Soup but this is a ridiculously expensive restaurant so it must be something exotic, but what…” she wondered.
“Try some,” JZ said with a smile.
Without thinking, Elle did not hesitate and put a spoonful in her mouth. “It doesn’t taste like Egg Flower Soup, despite its appearance,” she thought, and still could not decipher what it was that was sliding down her throat and swishing around with the sparkling water in her stomach. As she continued to swallow more soup, JZ translated the dish’s name on his phone and showed it to her. She read the it, her eyes wide open, she took a pen out of her purse and began drawing a shark on the tablecloth and circled the fin.
JZ nodded in agreement. “What’s wrong?” he asked light-heartedly.
On the outside, Elle stared at the soup with wide eyes. On the inside, she felt contaminated. She wanted to run to the restroom and vomit the entire thing out, but she froze, unsure of what to do next without being rude but also freeing herself of contamination and guilt.
“What’s wrong?” he asked again, looking a bit concerned.
“I’m a vegetarian,” she said quietly.
In a concerned voice, “What can I do? Do you want to go to the hospital?”
A moment passed before she responded, “Can you take me home?” in a quiet voice.
Quickly, he said, “Are you sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?”
“Yes. Can you take me home?”
“Yes, yes, of course. Can you walk?”
“I think so.”
He set the payment on the table and left hurriedly with her.
Shortly in the car, Elle felt the stabbing pain in her stomach. Then there were loud thunderous sounds emanating from her belly, like a storm was already stirring. She tightly gripped her seat, panting heavily to avoid vocally expressing her pain.
JZ broke the verbal silence by asking earnestly with a little concern in his voice, “What usually happens now?”
“Wait until the stomach ache passes. I have never eaten that before, so I don’t know,” Elle said, out of breath.
He could see sweat glistening on her forehead and neck when the traffic lights shone on her. The more or less silence continued until they reached the closest parking spot to Elle’s apartment building. He opened her door and escorted her in to her apartment. Uncomfortable leaving her alone, JZ invited himself in. He helped her to her bed, the only place to sit. Right after she sat down, she said in pain, “Why are you still here? Go home.”
JZ was shocked that she would deal with that pain by herself. He tried to bring some light-heartedness to her by saying, “Ha-ha, you can’t get rid of me that easily.”
“Go home. I’ll be fine tomorrow,” she said in another burst of pain. “The toilet is very close,” she said, out of breath. She sweated through her dress. Her skin paler than before. Her eyes outlined in crimson.
In a serious tone, “No, I can’t let you suffer by yourself, since I was the one who caused your suffering.” Figuring she did not understand him, he typed it and showed her the translation on his phone.
Panting, “You’re right. Now give me what I want.”
Trapped in a moral dilemma, he opened a bottle of water and poured it into a cup he retrieved from the cupboards. “If you drink all of this, I will leave.”
With an evil eye in JZ’s direction, she grabbed the cup and downed it. “See?” she said. Her stomach rumbled. She covered her mouth and sped to the toilet.
“I see you need me,” he said in a cocky voice. “I’m staying.”
“I drank it,” she angrily shouted. “GO!”
He realized he could not talk her into letting him stay, so he said simply, “Ok,” and left.