All Jess wanted to do was crawl into bed – and sleep.
She doubted Ma ma would let her skip dinner when she got home, but it was what she wanted to do. It had been an exhausting day made worse by the persisting feeling of yearning she could not get rid of. She knew exactly what – or who could ease that yearning, but she chose to set it aside.
Jess had been in Hong Kong for over a week now; she left before Jeremy came back to Palo Alto from his trip to LA. Chicken, she told herself. Yes, she ran away – from him, from what he said that night they talked and kissed in the moonlight.
She told herself that she had things to get done in Hong Kong. There was her transfer from Hong Kong to New York. All her stuff needed to be shipped to the States. She wanted to spend the last of her vacation with her grandparents. Things had to be wrapped up at work and she ought to say goodbye to Andrew.
Jess smiled bitterly at that last thought – she never expected it to be so easy to let go of Andrew. He did not even know she was back in Hong Kong. Jess had spent the first days with her grandparents and with packing her things that were to be shipped to Cali.
A few more days and she would be done at work. Today was the first time she showed up at the office – she had to organize her computer, so she could easily hand information to the person taking over her responsibilities. During lunch break, she spotted Andrew with their colleague Linda at a coffee shop at the IFC mall. Linda leaned against Andrew and whispered something that made him laugh. They looked like a couple, Jess observed, with a little sting in her heart. But other than that, it surprised Jess that seeing Andrew with another woman did not bother her more.
The interest he showed her during his visit to Palo Alto was flattering – the fulfillment of a dream she’d had for nearly a year since she started working in i-Bank. But sometimes reality fell short of dreams – this one did, she discovered. When Andrew suddenly looked up and saw her, he was surprised. Jess simply smiled. No hard feelings, she thought. She did not have feelings for Andrew, anyway.
It helped that she decided to walk from work to her grandparents’ apartment in the Mid Levels. Jess could unload mentally before getting home. Not that it was difficult to relax there– her grandparents always managed to make her laugh and smile, their home was Jess’ refuge from the stress of her job.
She took off her shoes as soon as she entered her grandparents’ apartment, her body instantly relaxed. She could hear laughter coming from the kitchen. As she approached, she could hear a deeper voice mixed in with her grandparents’. This voice was talking in Cantonese, but with a distinct American twang.
No, she thought, it can’t be – not here.
Her heart was already beating fast, her gut twisting, remembering the last time she heard that voice. Jeremy stood in the kitchen with Jess’ Ma ma – he was helping prepare dinner and apparently needed a lot of instructions judging by what Ma ma was saying.
Jeremy knew she was home as soon as he smelled lavender. He looked up from what he was doing and locked eyes with Jess. She stood and watched them. He had never seen Jess in a skirt before. She had one of those suits and she looked really competent in it, he thought.
“Look who dropped by, Jessica,” Ma ma was saying, her gaze taking in Jeremy’s and Jessica’s expressions.
Jess walked over to her grandfather and gave him a kiss on the cheek- and did the same with her grandmother.
“Hi,” was the only thing she could say to Jeremy.
Jeremy wanted to bridge the gap – to give her a hug – anything to soothe the tiredness that was so evident on her face – but he was also conscious of her grandparents.
Oh, who cares… Jeremy decided he did not.
He approached Jess and covered her in an embrace meant to comfort and to tell her that this was where she belonged – in his arms. He felt her give in to the embrace. She buried her face in his chest, not saying anything even as Jeremy kissed the top of her head. When Jess lifted her face to look at him, Jeremy said “Hi back at you,” with that dimpled smile of his and Jess’ heart melted.
“Did you have a hard day at work, Jessica?” her grandfather asked – reminding both Jeremy and Jessica where they were. Jessica drew herself away from Jeremy’s embrace, but he kept his hand at the small of her back, quietly telling her that he was not ready to let her go.
“Just a long day, Yea yea,” she answered. “I’ll go change into something more comfortable,” she said. Jeremy relunctantly let her go.
When she came back, he was setting the table. “Let me help,” Jessica told him, remembering her manners. “You’re a guest.”
“I don’t feel like a guest,“ Jeremy told her.
“Why are you here, Jer?” Jess asked, while finding glasses.
Jeremy kept laying plates on the table as he explained, “I said no to a Yao Ming charity game in Taiwan a few weeks ago because my best friend was home in Cali and I wanted to spend time with her. When she left, I called him to ask if my spot was still available. I got lucky – a detour from Taiwan to Hong Kong was easy.”
He looked at Jessica. “I came to visit your grandparents,” he ended. When Jess kept staring at him with raised brows, he took her hands in his and said “Do you need to ask?”
Jess felt tingles run up her arms at Jeremy’s touch. They stood close – too close – Jess thought. She took a step back to put some distance between them. Jeremy looked surprised at her move, yet he did not say anything.
“I asked your parents for your address. We need to talk,” Jeremy finally said.
“I am too tired to talk,” Jess replied.
“I came all the way from Palo Alto via Taiwan to talk to you. I am not leaving until we get that done,” he persisted.
“It’ll have to wait until after dinner,” Jess told him.
It’s a start, Jeremy thought.
Dinner had been filled with laughter, despite the undercurrents that passed between Jessica and Jeremy. He took his gaze from her only when he talked with either of her grandparents. He was his usual charming self – that hadn’t changed. Geez, it’s only been a week, Jess, she told herself. It did not hurt that Ma ma and Yea yea were obviously crazy about Jeremy. Who wouldn’t be? the little voice in Jess’ head said. Once in a while that little voice crept into her thoughts – when she was missing him – and whenever she could, she ignored that little voice.
“Why don’t you and Jeremy take a walk around the neighborhood, Jess?” her grandmother said when they finished eating.
At her hesitation, Ma ma looked at her and said, “Go – we’ll take care of this.”
There was no mistaking the order, so Jessica gave in and started towards the door, followed by Jeremy.
“We don’t have to, you know,” Jeremy said in a quiet voice behind her. Jessica turned to look at him and said “She’s right. Besides, I need to stretch my legs after a whole day cooped up in a cubicle.”
The balmy, humid air hit them as soon as they trod out of the apartment building. More humid than Cali, Jeremy observed, but not uncomfortable. There was a light breeze.
Jess was suddenly aware that Jeremy had taken hold of her hand while they walked. Jeremy felt her tension, even as they quietly moved towards what looked like a small park with benches, but he did not let go.
He could remember the panic and pain he felt when he got home to Palo Alto and found out that Jess had left for Hong Kong without any word. He did not know what to think. Her body language tonight did not help at all.
How could she not be anything but happy about him being here – in Hong Kong?
A small sliver of fear crept into his heart – maybe she wasn’t interested in you, Jeremy. No, she kissed me back – as passionately and as emotionally, he told himself and remembered the kiss in her parents’ garden.
What about Andrew? the doubter in Jeremy continued. Maybe they bonded more in a year than you think, Dumbo. The thought of the sleek, Porsche-driving guy made Jeremy clench his teeth. He refused to accept that.
The Hong Kong Park was dimly lit by streetlamps. There were families walking around and talking or sitting at the benches. There were also couples walking hand in hand – like us, Jess thought with alarm. I am not ready for this, she kept thinking. But what is this? She did not know.
Jeremy looked at Jess and admired her profile in the soft light of the park lamps. Even now, his gut was in a twist and his heart was beating so fast. When he saw her arrive tonight, he realized that no one could take his breath away like Jess did.
Jeremy took Jess’s face in his palms and leaned in to kiss her – all of the feelings he had been bottling in rushed to the surface – the longing and the sadness and the love. Jessica sighed into the kiss – well, that was not bad, Jeremy thought. He never forgot how Jess’ lips felt against his, how the sweet smell of jasmine filled the air that night he put all his emotions into one kiss – of how it felt when he said the words I love you – and meant them. Jeremy deepened the kiss and he felt Jess slide her hands up his chest.
Just as he thought everything was alright, Jess broke off the kiss.
Jeremy looked at her like she slapped him and made Jess all the more determined about her decision.
“Jeremy, we need to talk.”
Something about the tone of her voice made Jeremy nervous.
“We can’t be together,” she said. “You are my best friend. Getting into a relationship is complicated. If this does not work out like you want it to be, I can end up losing you forever,” she added.
Jeremy thought he heard wrong. What is Jess saying?
“We are so young and have our lives ahead of us,” she continued; Jeremy’s silence lifted her confidence.
“Do you really want to commit to a relationship right now? What if at some point in the future you realize that I am not the one for you? I don’t even know what this is,” she ended.
“I know what this is,” Jeremy answered in a soft voice. He felt numb at what Jess was saying. “You are my best friend and I have always loved you. It just happens that after 21 years my love for you has grown to much more.”
Jessica flinched at the pain she could hear in his voice. Remember that you are doing this for him, too, she reminded herself.
“I might have rushed things,” Jeremy said as he tried to understand where Jess’ feelings were coming from. “If you need time, I can give you the time,” he added as he pulled her into a hug.
“I can wait for as long as you need to realize that you need me as much as I need you,” he said. “I love you and nothing you say will ever change that. Even if you stay in Hong Kong – I will wait. When that time comes that you are ready for us, I will be there- whenever and wherever.”
Jess did not say anything. She took the comfort Jeremy gave her and almost cried at the thought of not being able to feel the security of his arms in the future. Be strong, Jess, she told herself.
“We have to go back,” she murmured against his chest.
“I know,” Jeremy replied, “but do you blame me for wanting this moment to last for as long as it can?”
He sighed, “I have an early flight to LA tomorrow. I just needed to see you. There are rumors that the lock-out will continue.”
“I hope it ends soon,” Jess said with concern on her face when she looked at him. Her expression gave Jeremy hope for them. He kissed her one more time, softly, so she did not feel rushed or overwhelmed.
They walked quietly back to Jess’ grandparents’ apartment building. Ma ma and Yea yea refused to allow Jeremy to stay the night at a hotel and said he could sleep in Jonnie’s room. Jess and Jeremy both slept restlessly that night, conscious of the other person who slept in the room next door.
When Jessica got up the next morning, Jeremy was gone. Ma ma said he did not want to wake Jess up. He had left a note saying “Anytime, anywhere – just say when and where. Love Jeremy.”
Jessica barely ate breakfast. In the shower, she wept.
Barely six months later, Jessica sat in a bar with her friends and watched Jeremy in a New York Knicks jersey hold a breakout performance against the New Jersey Nets.
She had sent him a text after the game: You’ve made it, Dumbo.
He had answered: Wish you were here with me. Love, J.
Jess was barely a few blocks away from Madison Square Garden. They were so close to each other – yet she had never felt they were so much apart.