Chapter 26 - All at Once

“Cheng Dong Shing?!”  Fei blinked a few times but he was still seeing the man who was supposed to be imprisioned.

The man who looked like Cheng Dong Shing began to laugh.  “No, but my name is Peter!”  He extended his hand to Fei.  “Peter Springfield.”

Fei looked at the man and wondered if he was a fugitive who had changed his name.  He was certain this man looked very Asian and couldn’t possibly have any non-Asian blood in him.  Then again, Fei also told himself he didn’t know anything.  His mind was clouded with frustration, anger, pain, sorrows and regrets.  You name it, he had it.

After Fei shook his hand, Peter asked if he could join him.  When Fei gestured towards the seat across from him, Peter shouted his order to the bartender and then sat down across from Fei.  “Funny you should mention that name.  You’re the second person to call me by that name … … Jing Dung … something like that!”

Fei let out a laugh for the first time in three days.  He laughed because he heard the word ‘dung’ and thought of cow dung which also reminded him of what Cheng Dong Shing did to Chin Chin.  He mumbled under his breath.  “Yeah, definitely a piece of dung!”

Peter looked confused by what Fei said.  “Beg your pardon?”

Fei took another look at Peter and came to the conclusion this man in front of him couldn’t be the notorious Hong Kong prisoner.  First of all, Chi Shan would have informed him if Cheng Dong Shing had escaped and was at large.  Also, the guy in front of him looked too happy and carefree to be Cheng Dong Sing.  In fact, he had the exact opposite personality. 

When he realized Peter was still waiting for a respond, he finally explained.  “Nothing, you just look a lot like someone I used to know.”

“Yes!  I remember now!  Your wife was the first person who called me by that name!”  Peter stated.  Peter grabbed the beer bottle that was served him.

Fei almost choked when Peter mentioned the word ‘wife’, especially his wife.  “When did you meet my wife?”

“She’s staying with Megan, is she not?”  Peter asked with a raised brow.  “Quin!  She’s your wife, right?”

Fei gave Peter a stern look as if to tell him that was none of his business, but in reality he didn’t know if Quin would still consider him to be her husband. 

“Haven’t patched things up yet, huh?!”  Peter asked.  But Fei wasn’t in the mood to discuss his marriage to a perfect stranger.  So he just took another sip of his beer.  “Well, legally speaking, she’s still your wife!”

It was as if doubts were written all over Fei’s face for Peter to read, he padded Fei on the shoulder.  “If it’s any consolation, she’s still wearing your wedding ring!”  Fei gave him a look and he read the question on his mind.  “I had dinner with her and Megan last night, flew in this morning.”

A recollection of a bedside conversation with Quin came to Fei’s memory.  “So you are the new man in Megan’s life?”

Peter chuckled aloud.  “I didn’t know she had a used one before me!”

This time they laughed together and Fei was beginning to find this stranger’s company rather enjoyable.  Perhaps Peter truly was the ‘Perfect Stranger’ and Fei was curious.  “Do you have a long lost twin brother?”

Peter laughed even louder at the question.  “That’s what your wife asked as well!  You two are really a match made in Heaven!  She said I look exactly like that guy you’ve mentioned!” 

Fei watched Peter gobbled down half the bottle of beer in one shot and was amazed by the resemblance.  “Yeah, you even drink like him too!”

Peter gave out a hearty laugh.  “Oh, you don’t know what I’ve been through in court today.  I am so glad it’s all over.”  He gave Fei a toast and drank the other half of the bottle.  “This is how I reward myself!”

Just when Peter was about to put the bottle down, the bartender served him another bottle followed by a pat on his back.  “This one is on the house!”

Fei studied the man sitting next to him who was wearing a baseball cap and T-shirt that looked like he belonged to some minor sport league.  He also had on a pair of Nike runners.  Fei wondered what crime he was accused of.  “Why were you in court?”

Peter paused to look at him in surprise and gave out another hearty laugh.  “Isn’t that part of a lawyer’s job?”

“You’re a lawyer?”

“And you’re supposed to be one of the best FBI agents?”

They both ended up laughing together at the same time.  Then Peter gave him a pat on the back.  “Quin told me you graduated with the highest honor!  Congratulations!  I can tell she’s really proud of you!”  Fei turned quiet again at the mention of his wife in order to conceal his emotions. 

Soon they started talking about all kinds of nonsense.  As the evening hours rolled by, Fei came to the conclusion that Peter was a regular customer in this place.  He was definitely on good terms with everyone, and most of the customers here were law enforcers.

“Mind if I ask how you got your last name?”  Fei looked at Peter.

“From my father, of course!”  Peter saw the question mark in his eyes and thought he would spare him the agony of the guessing game.  “I’m adopted!”
The following days were freezing cold due to the heavy snowstorm.  Quin remained in New York but she struggled tremendously to keep her emotions in check after Fei left.  Though she tried her utmost, she couldn’t hold back her tears whenever she thought about their last conversation.  She couldn’t let anger overwhelm her being but it disappointed her that Fei never attempted to call her.  Every time she picked up the phone wanting to call him, her stubborn nature won the battle against her own fits and she hung up.

Back in Baltimore, Fei drowned himself in sorrow by frequenting the bar whenever he thought about Quin’s piercing words.  On several occasions, he thought he was able to forgive her.  He would find himself sitting next to the phone and wanting very much to call her.  But every time he thought about the child who could have been, his resentment towards Quin grew deeper and he couldn’t find the strength to forgive her.

During the last few days of classes, some of his classmates noticed his dark mood.  Though they didn’t know his wife was no longer with him, they sensed something wasn’t quite right at home because he was eating instant noodles instead of the usual home-cooked meals.  On the last day of class, they invited him to join them for dinner at an annual Christmas celebration.  He accepted the invitation because he didn’t want to return to an empty apartment.  Especially on the night before he was to board a flight back to Hong Kong to face the imminent reality of his broken marriage. 

The celebration was a combination of dinner followed by a live presentation similar to a Broadway Musical Show.  The audience was super excited because The Grand Ballet Group made a special appearance that night.  Fei, of course was naturally reminded of Chin Chin and a heavy sense of guilt drove him to silently wish God would one day allow him to watch Chin Chin perform with a Ballet Group.

Perhaps it was the conversation he initiated with God, or perhaps it was the Spirit of Christmas in the sanctuary, Fei’s attention was captivated by the soloist voice during the performance of Baruch Hashem Adonai.  As he listened to the lyrics and watched the ballet dancers performed, his heart was stirred with all kinds of emotions, so much so his eyes turned misty.

Who am I to be part of your people, the ones that are called by Your Name?
Could I be chosen as one of your own? Could it be that our blood is the same?
How can a stranger, a remnant of nations, belong to the Royal Line?

The words brought Fei back to his childhood days, then to Cheng Dong Sing and finally to Peter Springfield.   He realized he was no different from them and that they were no different from him.  He could have turned out just like Cheng Dong Shing, a prisoner behind bars today.  Or he could be like Peter Springfield, fighting for innocent people so they do not end up in jail.  It was a matter of personal choices and decisions one made along the pathway of life.

How could you show me such bountiful mercy by taking the life of the lamb? 
Your love is greater than I can imagine…

The more he listened to the song, the more his heart was stirred.  In his life so far, he had struggled to be free of something that his mother used to constantly lecture him on as he was growing up.  It was to live up to why she named him, Tsui Fei.  It was a reminder to be a man of stability, not one who would get involved with a woman and take off at the end.  (In Chinese, the word ‘Tsui’ has the same sound as the verb to strip naked.  And the word ‘Fei’ is also a slang meaning to dump the person one is in a relationship with).

While growing up, he had been told numerous times by his late mother and other relatives how his father took off before he was even born.  His mother often reminded him not to follow his father’s footsteps which led to heartache and abandonment.  Thus he had always felt guilty whenever he failed to meet someone’s expectation.  As he thought about his relationship with Chin Chin and with Quin, he realized guilt and fear were constantly fighting for the driver’s seat in the relationship.  Guilt kept him from committing to Quin and asking Chin Chin to marry him in the first place was done out of fear of losing her.  He now realized the foundation of any relationship could not be built upon fear and guilt.

While listening to the song and watching the plot of the drama unfold, Fei understood there was indeed a difference between Peter Springfield and Cheng Dong Shing.  They may be born of the same father, but the latter chose to follow the footsteps of a triad leader which led to the destruction of his life.  Peter chose to follow the steps of his adopted father and that led him to a purposeful driven life.  Regardless of where life may lead, the freedom to make a positive choice was always an option.  It may not be the easiest option, sometimes it may be a painful one, but the heart will always grow stronger when the right choice was made.
As for Fei, he had always thought he was a loner; a kid left on the street to fend for himself; an unwanted child who did not deserve a loving family.  At the end of the Christmas play, after listening to the poem Footprint in the Sand read by a little girl; Fei came to realize he was never alone but that the single set of footprints in his life belonged to the Heavenly Father, who was always there to carry him through the storms.  It was a concept Fei never thought about until tonight. 

Baruch Hashem Adonai – what once was a secret is known,
now I can cry to you as one of your own.

In New York, the day came for Quin to board the flight back to Hong Kong.  On the way to the airport, she felt as if her life was falling apart all at once.  She knew for certain she could never forget Fei, but she wasn’t sure if she could ever stop loving him.  However, one thing she knew for sure was that she would never allow herself a future with him knowing his heart was still in love with Chin Chin.  

Fei reached home shortly after midnight and his heart was still affected by the evening’s performances.  He was in no mood to pack for his flight which would be taking off in less than 10 hours.  Lying in bed, he reminisced about his past relationships, his marriage and his future.  Tears started to flow from his eyes when he thought about their lost child.  His heart felt heavy as if a ton of dead weight was placed on his chest.  Once again, he allowed guilt to set in and started blaming himself which led him to become angry at Quin for taking away without his consent, the life he had a part in creating.

His anger kept him turning and tossing in bed, thus he got out of bed and started packing.  When he opened his luggage, a wedding gift was staring at him as if it was a message sent from Heaven.  He read the wedding card and the Shout it Out gift coupons once again.  This time he understood the true meaning of the gift.  After a silent prayer, the heaviness in his heart was starting to drift away.  As he continued going through the rest of the items in the luggage, something caught his eyes.  It was the souvenir he bought from The New York City Ballet.  He took the Sugar Plum figurine out of the box.  Fei felt the heaviness in his heart was completely gone, replaced by love and compassion once again.  He was empowered with the strength to do what he needed to do.  So he picked up his phone to make a call.

Several hours later, Fei boarded the flight that would take him back to Hong Kong with an apprehensive heart.  That was because the call he made went to an answering machine and he did not hear back from the person before being asked to turn off his cell phone by the flight attendant.  However, his heart was still hopeful; especially when he held the Sugar Plum Fairy doll in his hands as the plane took off into the sky.  And despite the funny glances he got from the passengers next to him, he kept Sugar Plum Fairy by his side throughout the entire flight.

Just an hour into the final segment of the flight back to Hong Kong, Quin dreamt of Fei holding another woman in his arms.  Though she was standing from afar, she knew the woman was Chin Chin.  All at once, she felt there was nothing left in her heart except for the butterflies in her stomach causing her to feel sick all over again.  That was when she woke up feeling disoriented and felt the uncomfortable gastric pain in her abdomen.  Checking her watch, she sighed because there was another 10 hours of flight over the Pacific Ocean she needed to endure.  She was also feeling nauseous from the smell of food warming in the workstation area.   However, the main reason she dreaded the long flight was for fear of seeing her dream come true.  But she decided to look on the bright side and use the remaining flight time to overcome her fear.
When Fei exited the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International Airport, he was disappointed when the woman he was hoping to see wasn’t there to greet him.  Just before his flight, he left a heart warming message asking for forgiveness and another chance to make things right.  He went on to mention about their future together and how he was going to renew that promise with her in Hong Kong.  Just before ending his message, Fei told her that she was the first person he would like to see after landing in Hong Kong. 

After waiting 30 minutes, he dejectedly headed to the ticketing counter.  Just before ordering, he felt a tap on his shoulder.  Turning around, his face lit up and he was happy to see Chin Chin smiling at him.  He breathed a sigh of relief.

“Fei! Welcome home!” Chin Chin reached out and hugged him.

All At Once - by Whitney Houston