By the time Junming got himself together, he saw Ingrid pacing the pavement while talking into her phone. He came to a stop beside her. As he got off the bike, his legs faltered under him. He stumbled a little before righting himself. Damn it, his legs felt like jelly. Placing one hand on his knee for support, he coughed out, “Thanks, Ingrid. Here you go.”
Ingrid muttered a few words in a language he couldn’t recognize and ended the call. Her half-lidded eyes took in his pathetic state. Grimacing, she said in a concerned voice, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
No, he wasn’t. Despite the burning ache in his entire body and the sinking feeling in his heart, he managed a weak smile. “I’ll be fine. I couldn’t catch the thief but thank you for all your help.”
Ingrid wrapped both hands around the handlebar. She hesitated, craning her neck in the direction of the Centerfold bridge. “Do you want a ride back to your client?”
“No, it’s okay.” He waved her off. “I’ll walk.”
She gave him a questioning look that suggested she didn’t buy into his words. “Walk?”
“I’ll be alright. Really.” Putting on a wider smile now, he straightened and puffed out his chest. “I know you have to get back to your own stuff.”
He had no idea what business she was in but he knew time was always precious. She was a ConGroup volunteer after all and had a real job to attend to.
She glanced at her smartwatch and got on her bike. “Okay. But if the police can’t catch that thief, give me a holler.”
“You know a detective?”
Laughing, she threw him a wink. “Let’s just say the people I know aren’t exactly doing legal business.”
“Ah, okay.” He gave a high-strung chuckle but the voice in his head screamed “Are you part of the mafia??”
“Best of luck!” she called out before riding off.
Luck, huh. He was out of that these days. Right on cue, the heavens opened. Raindrops hit his sweat-drenched clothes, soaking them further.
He looked up at the dark sky. Why was he being punished like this? Why did he have to endure such terrible mishaps at every literal and figurative turn of his life? He imagined what it would be like if he were to break down in tears right now. He hadn’t cried in years, not after his parents’ funeral. That was the last time he let himself wail.
But if he were to cry now, his tears would be masked by the rain and no one would know. His chest heaved. A lump built in his throat as he closed his stinging eyes. Sucking in a breath, he let his misery wash over him like rain. Even this shall pass, he told himself.
It was enough to calm him down. It always was. His shoulders slumped as he began the slow trudge back to the bridge. The walk was long, dragging on for what seemed like an eternity until he found himself right back where everything started.
Through the mist of the growing rain, he squinted. No one was on the bridge. His eyes scanned the surroundings until he found his client taking shelter below a building. He ran towards her, eager to be away from the cold lash of the raindrops.
“Did you lose the thief?” Her voice was chillier than that of the rain. It stung, bitter and angry. “How could you let him get away?!”
Junming bowed his head in apology. “I’m so sorry. I really am. I’ll call the police-”
“Forget it!” She waved him off. “I’ll do it myself. Can’t even trust you to do a simple job.”
Cringing, he could only repeat “I’m sorry” over and over again. He refunded her the measly eighteen dollars out of his own pocket and then, she stomped off. Left stranded below the building, Junming looked down at his clothes. He was soaked to the bone. Not only that, he had no umbrella and-
He sneezed. Three times, in short, consecutive bursts. Well, he was falling sick.
How much more could his spirit be dampened? With a resigned sigh, he dug his phone out. Maybe this would help. He dialed the new number in his contacts. After three rings, he heard a cheery voice that sent a shot of warmth down his spine.
“Jamal?” He croaked out. “Can you come and fetch me? I’m at Centerfold bridge, it’s raining, and I don’t have-”
Hearing Jamal's quick response, Junming felt his spirit lighten. “Thanks. See you in fifteen minutes.”
He ended the call and chuckled, rocking on the balls of his feet before he realized how wet they were. Leaning back, he thought of Jamal. His eyes closed. He let himself be transported to his land of imagination where things like blueberry ice cream and snatch thieves didn’t exist.
Hopeless romantic Yu Junming is over the moon when he lands a job at the RomCon startup as a ConCoct agent. From meet-cutes to ultimate airport runs, he must re-enact surreal romantic scenes to fit a client’s dreams. Sadly, he botches his assignments and learns the hard way that romance needs a dash of practicality.
Despite his track record, he’s soon tasked to help his boss, Grayson Black - a die-hard cynic who dislikes him at first sight - to find love. Through disastrous dates, the two men grow closer and realize there’s more to each other than meets the eye.
Junming fantasizes of seeing even more of Grayson but he also finds himself drawn to Fernanda Morales, a spunky and eccentric undercover reporter who masquerades as a RomCon client. When Fernanda unexpectedly ends up heartbroken after an awful date, she falls for Junming. Pitiably ignorant of her mission to dig up dirt on RomCon, Junming is stuck between two people and a hard place called reality.
(Book cover done by Joanne Kwan: https://tapas.io/dashalutris
Banner done by Frappe7: https://www.instagram.com/frappitto/?hl=en)