Charlie couldn’t believe he had been living in Taipei for nearly a month, working at his company’s branch office on projects requiring him to spend long hours there. It was a hectic period, and he was often exhausted when he left work.
Finally, after a demanding day at the office and a lingering weekend hangover, Charlie slowly wandered back to his temporary home to get some rest.
As he walked through the buzzing streets, the neon signs seemed to blur together, and Charlie couldn’t shake off the persistent headache that had haunted him all day. His phone had run out of battery hours ago, leaving Charlie unable to communicate with anyone.
Out of the blue, Charlie stumbled upon a small park on his way home, a serene oasis amid the urban chaos. The park’s stone bridges, and the koi fishpond offered a calming ambiance, prompting Charlie to choose a bench where he could relax his thoughts in this tranquil environment.
While Charlie observed the calm pond, a surge of emotions washed over him. He reflected his life’s unexpected turns since arriving in Taipei, uncovering emotions he hadn’t anticipated.
His journey in Taipei hadn’t been intended to seek romance; instead, it had begun as a mission to honor his mother’s last wish. It was also a personal attempt to escape the relentless sadness and grief that had clung to him in New York City, where memories of his mother’s absence and a failed relationship were a constant ache in his heart.
Just as Charlie was lost in thought, a voice behind him broke his reverie. “Charlie, is that you?”
Startled, Charlie turned around to see a man he didn’t recognize standing there. He was tall and elegant. Once this person strolled towards Charlie, it suddenly struck him, “Ling?” Charlie asked, surprised by the unexpected encounter.
“Well, well, well, Peng’s friend Charlie,” Ling said with a knowing smirk, masking a hint of jealousy. “Fancy meeting you here. Are you alone? Or are you waiting for Peng on a romantic rendezvous?” His words were laced with sarcasm as he spoke to Charlie directly.
Charlie was in no mood for Ling’s ridicule, and he replied with a hint of annoyance, “I hate to disappoint you, Ling, but I’m here on my own. No Peng, just me.”
“Well, that’s a shame,” Ling said, his voice now more civilized. “Peng would’ve added some drama to this otherwise ordinary evening in the park. So, what brings you here, Charlie?”
Charlie couldn’t help but crack a smile at Ling’s wisecracking remark, and he lightened his tone, “I am taking a breather after a long day at work. And what brings you to this park, Ling?”
Ling responded with a laugh and a self-deprecating tone, “Ah, I’m enroute to a dinner date, but no, it’s not with Peng, in case you were wondering. My social calendar is quite busy without him.”
Charlie’s curiosity got the best of him, and he asked, “Speaking of Peng, how are you holding up? You looked upset when you left the restaurant on that day.”
Ling’s expression turned slightly rueful as he replied, “Ah, Peng and I have had our moments. I must admit, I was a bit jealous when I saw you two together that morning at the breakfast place.”
Charlie raised an eyebrow in surprise, “Jealous? Why? I can’t say enough that Peng and I barely met, and that day was just breakfast.”
Ling shrugged, “I know, Charlie, but rational thinking tends to take a backseat when you’re really into someone. When I saw you two, it just seemed like you had a connection with Peng.”
Ling continued, “Truth be told, I had quite a thing for him, but it wasn’t exactly a two-way street. While Peng and I were seeing each other, I discovered he was also seeing other people. I saw something in Peng, but it seems he had other plans.”
Charlie was all too familiar with that feeling, thanks to his own experience with a cheating ex.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Ling, ” Charlie offered a sympathetic nod.
Ling let out a sigh, his stare thoughtful. “You know, we live, we learn, don’t we? Sometimes, you can’t push things that aren’t meant to be.”
“Anyway, Charlie,” Ling said, preparing to leave, “I should head to my dinner date. Just a friendly piece of advice: If you’re considering getting involved with Peng, proceed with caution. Don’t allow him to treat you the way he treated me.”
With those parting words, Ling got up from the bench, ready to continue his way to his dinner date. Charlie watched him go, a sense of understanding lingering in the air. Ling’s candidness had surprised him but also opened the door to more knowledge of Peng and his past.