Last night, like a promise, Artemis had made sure that we left the summer house at 11:00 p.m. and got home at 1:00 a.m. After my nightly routine, I fell asleep right away the moment my body landed on the bed.
Currently, as I sat in class, I found it hard to keep my eyes open. I picked up my coffee and took a big gulp hoping that it would reenergize me for the next 10 minutes before I had to take another one.
After two classes, I was ready for lunch. Pru had texted me earlier to meet her at our favorite pizza place. On my way there, my phone rang.
"Hello." I said into the mouth piece.
"Hello Grace. It's Mr. Jame. How are you?"
"Oh hi Mr. Jame. I'm good. How are you?" I asked politely. I still couldn't bring myself to call him 'dad' just yet.
"I'm fine. I was wondering if you could spare me a few minutes?" He asked nonchalantly.
"Sure." I said hesitantly, unsure of what he wanted to talk about.
"Is there a good place to meet near your school? I'll meet you there since it'll probably be more convenient for you." He said thoughtfully.
"Yes. There's a nice cafe that we can meet at. I'll send you the address."
"Thank you. See you soon." He hung up before I could say 'bye.' Like father like son, I thought—always in a hurry to hang up first before the other person.
I texted Pru to let her know I couldn't meet up with her and then texted Mr. Jame the address.
As I walked to the agreed location, I looked at my watch to make sure I would have time for lunch after. It was only 11 in the morning, I had two hours to spare before my next class, that should be enough.
I entered the cafe and ordered a second cup of coffee for the day before I took my seat. After a few minutes, my name was called and I went to grab my drink.
While staring out the window as I sipped the last few drops of my delicious coffee, Mr. Jame arrived.
I stood up when he appeared at my table and sat back down again as he sat.
"Thank you for seeing me." He said gratefully as he put his coffee on the table.
"Sure. It's not a problem at all." I smiled. "What is it that you wanted to talk about?"
He looked around to make sure we weren't sitting near anyone. I had picked a corner table out of habit and there was no one within earshot so we were safe.
"It's about Artemis." He said it in a way that suggested I knew this was coming.
"Artemis?" I asked, surprised. "What about him?"
"Well, how much has he told you about his disappearance?" He asked curiously.
"Not much really." I said sadly. "He only told me where he went after Mrs. Jame's death but he didn't tell me why."
"In that case, I will start from the very beginning." He put his elbows on the table and his hands together as he began his story.
"I'm sure you remember this, but when Artemis was 12, his mother got into an accident. She was rushed to the hospital but they couldn't save her. She only stayed alive long enough for me to see her one last time as she voiced her last wishes." His eyes slightly glazed over as he recalled the incident. I could tell he really cared for Mrs. Jame.
"She said she loved us and that she hoped Artemis will have a happy life. She felt bad for not being there to see him grow up, go to college, date and get married." His voice trembled somewhat and he cleared his throat. "She hoped that if you were still single when you're 21, that Artemis should marry you."
My hand flew up to cover my gasp the moment I heard the last statement.
Seeing my surprise, Mr. Jame said. "I guess Artemis didn't tell you."
I could only shake my head. Mrs. Jame had wanted Artemis to marry me? I was really fond of her as a kid because she was really nice to me but I didn't know she liked me that much.
As if hearing my line of thought, he explained. "She saw how you guys interacted with each other and had hoped that if no one could make Artemis happy when he's an adult, then you could."
I could only stare at him as my brain slowly processed half of what he just said.
Seeing my silence, he continued with the narrative.
"Anyway, the accident wasn't an accident. A few months before it happened, my wife and I had been flying back and forth between the US and Shanghai to visit her parents. Her father was dying and had wanted to leave her his company and most of his shares. She did not want any of it because she was happy just simply being here with us."
His voice wavered faintly and he cleared his throat for the second time.
"After meeting me, she only wanted to start a family and didn't have any interest in running her father's company. However, her uncle didn't believe her and thought she was out to steal the company from under him. He had been the CEO ever since his older brother fell ill."
I could only nod a little bit here and there to show him that I heard every word. I knew he just wanted me listen at this point and nothing more.
"My wife was going to fix the will, despite her father's wishes, and legally return the company to her uncle after her father's funeral. However, her uncle was an impatient and greedy man. Instead of waiting for her to take legal actions, he ended up having her killed."
My eyes widened and my hand went up a second time to cover my open mouth. Artemis's mom was murdered? A chill went down my spine. He paused to let that sink it before he went on.
"The will stipulated that after her death, Artemis was the next one to take over but only until he turned 21 and had sufficient knowledge of how to run the company. Technically, I didn't have to worry for another 9 years but I didn't want to take the risk of Artemis getting hurt so I immediately sent him away for his own safety."
From his tone, sending Artemis away had hurt him as much as it had hurt Artemis.
My heart was breaking all over again as I hear this story a second time in more details. My heart ached for Artemis for losing his mom and dad almost in the same day even though for different reasons. He was only a child and yet was sent to a new foreign place. He didn't know anyone and had nobody familiar to comfort him. My eyes stung and I blinked rapidly to keep the tears from forming. I wanted to control my emotions but all I could feel was the pain in my heart.
Mr. Jame saw my poor attempt, took out a handkerchief from his suit pocket and handed it to me. I gladly accepted it.
"By the time he came back here, he had already started his own company. He really does have a talent for business." He said proudly with a small smile on his lips.
"Anyway, he has been flying back and forth between the US and Shanghai trying to take back the company. I don't think he wants it and he's only doing it out of hatred for his great uncle. Even though, legally, the company did belong to Artemis, but during the 11 years he was gone, his great uncle had utilized his time wisely by getting lawyers to make the company legally his."
He took a drink from his coffee and made a face as if surprised at how good the coffee was.
"This comes down to the favor I wanted to ask you today and that is: will you help Artemis forget about revenge so he could live his life to the fullest?" He asked hopefully.
"You see, I loved my wife and I was filled with anger and sadness after her death. I had thought about revenge as well but I knew it wouldn’t have solved anything. Eventually, I let it go because I knew she wouldn't want me to be stuck in hatred; she would want me to move on and live my life. I know she would want the same for Artemis. She wouldn't want him to waste his life away at revenge which will only end up eating him alive."
His face suddenly turned haggard like he was 10 years older.
"Revenge is cycle and it won't end until the ones involved stop and break it. I don't want to see my son keep going in this direction. He was so distant to me up until he flew back and saw you at the gala. After that, he had asked about you and something seemed to change in him. When I saw his interest in you, my hope ignited. I told him about his mother's last wish and he agreed. I thought it would take a lot to persuade him but he had agreed on the spot. Afterward, we had talked to your parents before making any moves and they happily consented. However, they cautioned Artemis about courting you head on since you had avoided all the other guys they had lined up for you. They were worried that you would shot Artemis down before he even had a chance so we came up the contract."
"Wait. The contract is a fake? The marriage is a fake? And my dad's company wasn't struggling?" I was so shocked that my voice came out as a whisper.
"Well, the marriage is real. We all signed it as your witnesses. However, the part about your dad's company near bankrupting is false. And the reason Artemis didn't give you a ring and a wedding reception is because we all wanted you to adjust to the idea of being with Artemis first before making it public knowledge. We didn't want people to bombard you with questions when you haven't had a chance to get to know each other."
"Oh. So it wasn't because Artemis was playing a game with me?" It came out more like a statement than a question. I had resented him at first thinking he was just playing a game and yet my parents knew and didn't tell me. I felt a little hurt but my heart was mainly aching for Artemis's childhood—11 years without physical parental love. I wonder what that would do to a person. A tear escaped and I dabbed at my face with the handkerchief.
"No. Of course not. Your parents would kill him if that were the case."
I nodded in agreement and he continued. "I saw drastic changes in him more so now that you both are married. So please." He begged. "Please help him."
I didn’t know what to do. Having Artemis's dad begging me was the last thing I thought would ever happen. But what he was asking is a lot. How could I promise something like that? What if I couldn’t do it? What if I didn’t have as much influence on Artemis as he thought? What if I failed?
"I-I...I-I...I don't kn-know if I can do it." I stuttered slowly. What if I failed? My heart squeezed painfully at the thought of failing. That would mean I failed Artemis and I failed myself.
"You can. You already have." He said decisively.