Outtake - Mr. Chan
"Hello?" A soft, timid voice interrupts my work.
"What you need?" I ask, looking at the clock and wondering what this girl wants at 10:00 in the morning. There's work to be done, and Lin is late. Again. "Spit out, girl. I busy."
"Uh, my friend told me you might have a room that I could rent… an, uh, apartment?"
"Took sign down. No longer available."
I changed my mind. I'd thought about renting out the small space upstairs that's been empty for so long, but I don't want the headache of collecting rent and fixing problems. I have enough problems, like nieces and nephews showing up to work when they feel like it. Looking at the clock again, I let out a sigh.
I should ship Lin back to my brother in Chicago.
"Okay," the girl says. Her voice sounds defeated. "Thank you anyway."
I look up to see a young lady, probably the same age as my granddaughter. There is a bit of fear and trepidation in her eyes, and it softens me.
"Why you need apartment anyway?"
"My mother is in Freedmont. It's, uh—"
"Rehab," I say, cutting her off. I'm not stupid. I know what Freedmont is. I've lived in this neighborhood for over fifty years. I've seen and heard a lot. I look at the girl carefully. She doesn't look like she's a druggie. Her arms are clean, and her eyes are clear.
"Yes, sir. I'm looking for a place to stay to be closer to her."
"You live alone?" A girl her age and as pretty as she is should not live alone in the city. Too dangerous.
"Yes. No pets or anything." She bites her lip as a hopeful expression begins to form on her face.
I think about it for a minute, and I can't turn her away. Living alone in the city is not only dangerous, it's expensive. "Fine. I rent you room. Two hundred dollars a week. I pay water and electric. You take trash to dumpster out back. No funny business."
"Really?" she asks with an edge of excitement in her voice.
"You may change mind after you see room." I wipe my hands on my apron and take the keys out of the drawer. "It nothing special."
"I... I don't need special. Just a room," she gushes, following me to the hallway.
"You can either come through front door or use key for side door, if restaurant closed."
She nods her head and follows me up the stairs.
"Just small room with stove and refrigerator. I leave table if you want," I tell her, opening the door. Dust flies around the room that hasn't been occupied in so long. "Has big window." It's really the only selling point. Other than the good lighting, this place is shit.
"I'll take it."
I watch as the girl walks out the side door and offers me a small, shy smile and a wave when she sees me look up. She's lived here a couple of weeks, and she's probably only said a few words. Her rent is always on time. I never hear her when she's home, and she hasn't complained. I figured I'd at least hear about the leaky faucet in the bathroom, but I haven't. The only thing she's asked me was about a pair of binoculars she found in an old box that belonged to my uncle. I told her she could have them.
The story behind the man and the box is a long one. My uncle betrayed my father by marrying the girl he had been in love with while my father was deployed. Of course, when my father returned, he met my mother, and they eventually married, but he never forgave his brother. The box was the only thing he had from him after he died. He never read the letter inside or told me about the significance of the book. The binoculars had been his from the war. I never understood the items, but I've kept them all these years. They've sat in the small space collecting dust for the last twenty-five years.
I had my son do a background check on Bella. I wanted to know who she is and why she's in the city all alone. The only thing he could find on her is that she's originally from a small town a couple of hours from here and her father died about nine years ago. Her mother is in Freedmont after being picked up on possession. It was her fourth offense, and the court offered her six months in rehab instead of prison. Why a young woman like Bella would uproot her life in a small quiet town and move to a big city just to be close to a mother who I doubt has ever been there for her is a mystery to me.
"Hi, Mr. Chan," Bella says as she walks up to the counter. "Here's rent for this week."
I grunt and nod my head, busy with preparing for the evening rush of customers. "Lay it by register."
"Okay," she says meekly. "Oh, and I added ten extra dollars to cover the money I owed you for dinner."
I grunt again, but I don't need her to pay me back for food. I give it to her because she needs to eat more. She's lost weight since she moved here, and I hardly ever see her bring in groceries. Occasionally, she'll come in from work and have a sack with her from the store down the street, but that's only once every week or so.
"You eat dinner?" I ask, finally looking up from the cutting board.
"Oh, I'm not hungry." She smiles, but it doesn't reach her eyes. I don't believe her. I pour up a bowl of soup and then make a carton of rice. Before she gets to the stairs, I call out to her and hand her a bag. "Eat anyway."
She blushes and slowly takes the bag. "Thank you, Mr. Chan."
I smile and nod. "Don't pay me back," I instruct before going back to my work.
After a minute or so, I hear her quietly leave, taking the bag with her.
She's working so hard to look out for her mother. She needs someone to look out for her.
I'll look out for Bella.
Looking out the window of the restaurant, I see the same man who was with Bella a week or so ago. He's pacing in front of the building, but it's early.
I don't like it.
For a second, I think about walking up to Bella's apartment and telling her he's down here. I assume they're dating, but I'm not certain. If he's here unannounced and unwanted, I could tell him to leave.
I don't like people loitering outside my building.
A few minutes later, I hear the door upstairs close and then footsteps on the stairs. The door to the restaurant is still closed, so I watch for Bella to walk out the side door. I can tell by the way she's standing that she's caught off guard. I watch closely, waiting for any sign that she might need my help, but eventually, she relaxes and walks away with him.
I'm going to be keeping my eye on that one.
I don't trust him.
It's a busy night, and the restaurant is full. That makes me happy. Customers mean money.
What doesn't make me happy is that creepy fucker that I saw hanging outside of the building the other day. He's been back, and I don't like it.
Bella walks in, and she looks tired. I immediately go to the counter and pour her some soup. She should eat, and I know this is her favorite. Her eyes always light up when I hand her the brown paper bag. When I look back up to make sure I catch her before she goes upstairs, I see her talking to a man sitting at a table by the window. He likes her. I can tell by the way he looks at her. I've been around the block a time or two.
I watch them as he asks her to sit and she eventually does. Her posture is reserved and guarded. I'm glad. She should be. It's easy to be taken advantage of when you're beautiful like Bella. I don't think she notices her beauty. It's been covered up by responsibility and obligation. She doesn't get to live her life for herself. I've never met her mother, but I don't like her. Anyone who wouldn't want to love a girl like Bella is useless in my book.
She deserves more than that.
He makes her laugh.
Maybe he'll be okay.
Today, Bella came in, and she was upset. I could tell by the redness in her eyes. I wanted to ask, but I'm guessing it has something to do with the man she's been seeing from time to time. I'm not good at girl stuff. She needs a mother. I know the one she has isn't there for her. I guess the tears could be for the junkie. I've never disliked someone so much in my life.
Bella deserves better.
She's a sweet girl who cares for others without expecting anything in return. She's also responsible and thoughtful. I always thought that the way a person turned out depended on how they were raised, but Bella proves that some people are just born good. She has every reason in the world to make excuses for herself and succumb to the demons like her mother, but she doesn't. She also has every reason in the world to turn away from her mother and go make a life for herself, but she doesn't do that either.
I walk up the stairs and go to knock on her door to check on her, but I hear the sobs from inside and decide that maybe giving her some time alone is better.
The next morning, she comes down the stairs with resolve in her eyes. They're still red, but whatever she's setting out to do today, she looks determined. She tries to walk out without speaking to me, but I need to check on her, make sure she's okay.
"Bella," I call out, keeping my head down as I chop vegetables.
"Hi, Mr. Chan," she says, and I can hear the sadness in her voice.
"How's your mother?"
"She's, uh, getting better, I guess." She pauses, and her feet shift. There's more than what she's willing to say. "She's had some bad days," she finally says. "But it takes bad ones to get to the good ones, I suppose."
I can tell she's trying to force herself to believe that. I look up from the vegetables and look her over carefully. "You need to do what's right for Bella," I tell her. "Mother need to take care of herself. It be good for her."
I know I can't tell her what to do. As much as I like to think she's part of my family, she's not. I'm just the old man she rents a shitty room from. "Have good day, Bella," I tell her as I go back to chopping my vegetables.
"Thanks, Mr. Chan." There's a glimpse of happiness in her voice, and I hope she takes my advice. It's time she does something for herself. She deserves to be happy.
Bella moved out a few weeks ago, but tonight, he's here. She didn't give me a lot of explanation as to why she would no longer be living upstairs. She simply said she needed to move, that it's what is best. I hope she means what is best for her. I hope she's taking my advice and taking care of Bella. At least she still comes by and sees me every Wednesday. I'd be more worried if she didn't.
It's Thursday, though, and Bella isn't here, so why is he?
"Can I have a cup of soup, please?" He doesn't look good tonight. His eyes are red and droopy, like he hasn't slept in days. He reminds me of how Bella has looked lately, and I wonder what has happened between them. If he has hurt that sweet girl in any way, I'll make him regret it.
"You not here with Bella?" I ask the pitiful man. I think I once heard Bella call him Edward.
The look of guilt that covers his face is unmistakable. He clears his throat before shaking his head.
I ladle the soup into a cup, and while he's taking his wallet out of his pocket, I quickly pour a generous dose of Mama Chan's five pepper sauce and mix it into the broth. As I hand the dinner to him, I give him an evil-eye glare that's sure to make his balls shrivel, and if the glare doesn't work, the soup is sure to do the job.
The restaurant is nice and quiet when I first hear the muffled coughing. I don't have to look at the man to know he just took his first sip of the soup. While I chop the vegetables in front of me, I notice him make frequent trips to refill his glass of water. I have to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing at him.
Eventually, he brings me his cup, and it's completely empty. Impressive.
His face is red, and his messy hair is drenched with sweat and plastered to his face. Again, laughter tries to escape my mouth, but I manage to swallow it before he notices.
"It was very good. Thank you." He grimaces before clearing his throat and walking out the front door.
I'm still not sure if he's the one Bella should be with, especially if he's the reason she's been so sad, but he's earned a tiny bit of respect back tonight.
The bell on the door chimes, and I glance up to see Bella walk through. It's her night. I've been expecting her. I can tell by the look in her eyes and the way she holds her shoulders that she's in a good place. I like this look on her. She's started taking classes at one of the local colleges, and she's working—a little more than I think she should, but if it makes her happy, then I guess it's okay.
Every Wednesday, she comes in and eats, and I let her help me, mostly because I enjoy her company. She tells me about her classes and work, but I still see the slight sadness in her eyes, and I have to guess that it lingers because of her mother. There's something else there too, though, something more than her disappointment of a mother. It's a hurt heart that comes from lost love. I've seen it before.
Mr. Chan's no dummy.
Every Thursday, Edward comes in and eats my hot soup. I see the same look in his eyes. Gradually, I've been easing up on the pepper sauce. I'm not ready to let him off the hook yet.
If he still thinks he's going to win Bella's forgiveness and her heart, I have to make sure he's worthy.
Last week, Edward showed up on a Wednesday… with Bella. For a while, I thought I was going to have to force them to see each other. I didn't want to have to interfere, but it was getting ridiculous. I couldn't take much more of the moping.
I watched them as they talked. Bella leaned in toward him, and I could tell she was starting to trust him again. Edward has seemed desperate when we've talked on his Thursday visits. He's started opening up about his feelings for Bella, and he's been sticking around after hours, sweeping floors, same thing Bella does on Wednesdays. Those two are more alike than they think. I knew it was only a matter of time before they found their way back to each other.
I'm no romantic, but I want Bella taken care of, and if Edward can do that, then I'll do what I can to make sure those two end up together.
Even if it means hiding ice cream in my freezer.
Bella's mom died today. Edward called the restaurant right before closing and said he just wanted to let me know. He seemed worn down and tired, but he assured me that he was taking care of Bella.
My heart hurts for the girl I've become so fond of, but I feel nothing but relief that her mother is no longer around to cause her pain.
My hope now is that she'll find a way to live and be happy.
One Year Later
I glance up to the door as the bell chimes, and I watch as Bella enters, followed closely by Edward. They both smile at me and take a seat at the long table by the window. I watch them as they sit close together. Edward can't keep his eyes off her, and I can see the love there. It makes an old man smile.
Since the first day I met Bella, I've known she needed someone in this world. Edward is her someone, which makes him one of my favorite people, by association. As long as he makes her happy, I'm happy.
I think we both have an understanding that when and if the time comes where he no longer makes her happy, he'll have to deal with me. I hope that time never comes.
Bella's laugh fills the small space, and it makes me smile even bigger.
For some reason, she feels indebted to me, but that's not necessary. She owes me nothing. However, I let her feel like she's paying me back by keeping me company one night a week.
"Hey, Mr. Chan," Alice calls out when she walks in the door. Bella's best friend is a spunky one. I like her.
"Mr. Chan, my man," Jasper says, walking up to the counter. "You got the good stuff tonight?" he asks, leaning over my counter.
"I fix you up," I tell him, continuing to stir my pan of vegetables. Jasper loves the hot stuff. When they found out about the pepper sauce I used to put in Edward's soup to teach him a lesson, Jasper asked if I could put it in his all the time.
He's crazy, that one.
A few minutes later, Rosalie walks in with Emmett in tow and Baby Emmy in the carrier.
And my restaurant fills with laughter and loud talking. Just the way I like it.
They meet here every Wednesday night. I pretend to work, but most of the time, I watch them, and I'm happy with what I see.
Their friends are all here.
My heart feels full.
Jenny Kate: Well, our dear readers, this is the end. We've enjoyed taking this journey with all of you. It's been quite a ride, with lots of ups and downs, but we hope you enjoyed it!
Jiff: This story was very different for us and it stretched us in ways we weren't expecting so, it really means a lot to us that you stuck with us.
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