I’m pretty happy with this chapter 🙂
Ten minute read
Tom grinned when Sasi waved and called to him from her balcony. He returned her wave and walked faster. When he looked again she had gone. He pushed through the revolving door and strode through the lobby to the elevator. The clerk called to him but the words didn’t register. The elevator doors opened and Sasi ran out.
“Tom. Tom. How wonderful of you to come. I worried you mightn’t.”
She put her hand on his shoulder and kissed his cheek. He held her by her bare waist. His pulse quickened with the touch of her body. He took her arm and led her to the elevator. The clerk stood by, a look of anguish on his face. He spoke to Sasi in Thai. She replied, then wrote in the guest book to the clerk’s visible relief.
“Oh, Tom. You are a scofflaw. You failed to sign the guest book. I may have to call for the police.”
“Oh dear. Will you handcuff me so I don’t run away?”
“Of course. But the handcuffs are in my nightstand.”
Tom raised his eyebrows.
Sasi put on her best stern face, underlined by a slight smile. “Come with me, you felon. I am making a citizen’s arrest.”
His brow furrowed in thought. “Is that a thing in Thailand?”
Her own brow furrowed. “You know, I will have to ask the police when they arrive.”
“What did you write in the book? That I promise not to wriggle out of the handcuffs?”
“I wrote that I take responsibility for your actions, though you ravish me and make off with my sangria.”
They laughed at her joke and when the doors opened they entered the elevator. When the door opened to the foyer, the attendant bowed and spoke to her. She appeared to blush – the cast of shadow made it hard to tell. She smiled and said thank you in English. The attendant bowed again as the door closed, leaving them alone in the foyer.
The exchange with the normally dispassionate attendant piqued Tom’s curiosity. “What did he say?”
“He said it pleased him to see me laughing, that I most often look serious and it makes him reluctant to address me. I had not realized that. I must endeavor to smile more often.”
She stood close to Tom. He feared she would hear his heartbeat. Had she pressed her palm to his chest she would have felt its rapid beat.
“You make me smile, Tom. Perhaps you should see me every evening.”
Her moist, parted lips seemed to beg the press of his.
“Then we would both smile, Sasi.”
Neither spoke for a moment. Tom thought if she were any other woman he would kiss her. She wouldn’t turn away, but if he kissed her he would stay with her and there would be no turning back.
The long moment slipped past. Sasi opened the door and led the way to the kitchen. She had known he would come. A tray with two glasses and a pitcher of sangria occupied the end of the counter. She nodded toward the balcony.
“If you will get the door, Thomas, I will serve the drinks in Club Sasi.”
They sat at the same table as before and rested their feet the same way on the balcony rail. The cold sangria and the warm night air refreshed and relaxed Tom. He was glad he had come. Sasi wore shorts and a light blouse tied in front. Her manner expressed ease, and comfort in his company. They made light talk for a while, Sasi asking questions about the life of a Sailor, and Tom learning more of Sasi’s remarkable life as the daughter of a globetrotting diplomat. As they spoke, Tom’s fatigue drained away and he slid deeper into his chair.
Sasi walked to the kitchen and returned with a tray of steaming dishes. She set the tray on the table between them. They ate from small plates, using fingers for spring rolls and spoons for rice.
“Ummm, these spring rolls taste great. The fried rice is different but delicious. You’re a wonderful cook.”
“You’re sweet to say so, Tom. The spring rolls are my mother’s recipe, the fried rice is my creation.”
“I can’t put my finger on what makes the rice different.”
“We use shrimp paste in Thailand, and jasmine rice. I add coconut water when cooking the rice, though; perhaps that is what you notice.”
Sasi watched him eat, smiling as he scooped the last of the rice into his spoon with his finger. “I must remember to keep fried rice warm for your visits.”
“Fried rice is comfort food.” He sipped sangria to cleanse his mouth. “The first meal I ate in Pattaya was pineapple fried rice served in a hollowed-out pineapple, along with salad and red snapper – I selected the fish myself. Everything tasted wonderful. I must take you to that restaurant.”
He covered his mouth and yawned. “Excuse me. I guess eating made me sleepy.”
“You must be tired after such a long day of hard work.”
“I was, but your note relieved and invigorated me. Our date was on my mind all day, but as the work dragged on I grew less confident about seeing you. I didn’t want to appear presumptuous, though, and wondered if I should come.”
“I would have slept on the sofa all night waiting for you.”
“It must be a comfortable sofa. Does it double as a bed? If I pull up the cushions, will we find a squeaky, lumpy mattress or a satin divan fit for a seraglio?”
“Neither, but the sofa and chair cushions would make a suitable bed if laid on the floor, yes?”
“Hmm. What if we slipped between the cracks? Would we not disturb the people below us?”
The mischievous smile gave her away. “That would depend on how much noise we made.”
“I can’t picture you in an awkward position.”
“You haven’t seen me on my yoga mat.”
“Oh. Limber, are you?”
“Visualize a human pretzel and you will have an idea.”
He liked the image. It fit his own vivid image of Sasi. He wanted to tell her. “There is grace in all your movements, Sasi. You are purposeful, direct, funny, thoughtful, considerate.”
Pleasure showed in her face when she smiled. She looked at her hands, clasped in her lap. Tom went on.
“Your charm is seductive, you are beautiful beyond measure, and your smile reaches deep inside me so I want to cry with joy when I see you.” He paused, certain he had said too much, too soon. “Now, I’ve said too much and upset you.”
“No, Thomas. I’m not upset.”
“You’ve called me Thomas several times.”
“Should I not?”
Tom didn’t know what to say.
“Did Susanna call you Thomas?”
Is she the one, Susanna?
I do not know, Tomás
You must know, Susanna.
She makes me think of you.
She is not me.
I want you back, Susanna.
I cannot go back, Tomás.
You died too soon.
Why? Why? Tell me.
It was my time to die.
It isn’t fair.
Life is not always fair.
Sasi makes me feel the way you did.
Then you must be with her.
What if I forget you?
You must forget me to be happy with Sasi.
I lost half of my heart when you died.
Then Sasi must replace that part of your heart.
No, Susanna. I can’t.
Yes, Tomás. You must.
I don’t want to forget you. You have the piece of my heart that makes me whole.
You must let me go, Tomás, so you can find love and happiness again.
If Sasi is the one, she will hold the piece of your heart that makes you whole.
Truly. Love makes the heart whole, not the person, Tomás.
Do you love Sasi?
I’m falling in love with her, Susanna.
You must be fair to her, Tomás, and let her love you.
You must forget me to love her, Tomás, or you will not be happy.
Then I won’t be happy, Susanna.
I love you, Susanna.
I love you, Tomás.
Sasi’s eyes were pleading, her voice soft and tender. “Tell me about her.”
“No, Sasi. You don’t. You can’t understand.”
“No. Someday, I will tell you about Susanna. I’m not ready.”
“What if someday I am no longer here?” Her eyes held his in a steady gaze. “What if someday you are no longer here?”
“What do you mean?”
She rose from the chair and leaned on the balcony railing. Moonlight reflected in her black hair – the way it had done in Susanna’s. Where Susanna’s face was parchment white, Sasi’s face was tan. Their lips had the same fullness, the same dip in Cupid’s bow, the same red lipstick. On another woman, the red would have been garish; on Susanna, the color accentuated the beauty of her whiteness to a degree Velasquez would have struggled to paint.
“I don’t believe in chance, Thomas. I believe we met for a purpose.”
“For what purpose?”
“I don’t know.”
“What makes you think so?”
She turned toward him, her hands behind her on the rail. “When you came to the front desk that first day to mail your letter my heart beat faster.”
“Perhaps it was coincidence.”
“Yes. Perhaps. It happened a second time when you walked away. When I found you at the bar on the beach it happened a third time.”
“Maybe that’s when you fell passionately in love with me. Maybe angels were telling you “Fall in love, Sasi.”
Behind the smile lay hope. He wanted to hear the words “I love you, Thomas,” spill from her lips, but he was afraid to hear them. The pull she exerted on his heart was real, not a whisper of desire, not a wish. Susanna’s pull had affected him the same way. He feared what was happening. He feared, too, what she might tell him. It wasn’t wrong, it was just too late. Wasn’t it?
She turned to face the sea and he joined her, standing so close that their shoulders bumped. He inhaled the fresh, jasmine scent of Sasi’s perfume. The nearness of her body sent a thrill through him, lifting the hairs on the back of his neck. The thrill passed, but the feeling remained, a warmth that seemed to buzz about him, as the love potion cast by a fairy godmother sparkles around the virtuous lover. He would recall the moment many years later.
Then he knew he must go. The spell of Sasi was strong and he was too weak to break it. He had not come to Thailand to add guilt on top of guilt, but he could not step away from Sasi. Every bond between a man and a woman begins with a crucial moment. Tom and Sasi’s moment was at hand. Was lightning striking a third time?
“I did not want another relationship with a man, Thomas. My last one ended badly and left me with much anger and hurt. For a reason I do not understand, I wanted to learn more about you before you walked away. I had to see you before you saw anyone else. Before you saw another woman. I had to stop you before fate intervened and left us no more than hotel manager and guest.”
Sasi walked to the end of the balcony. She stood with arms crossed and leaned against the wall. The full moon shone on her face and reflected in her tears. He didn’t speak.
“I waited until you had gone, then picked up the bag of groceries and walked after you. I worried I had lost you until I saw you at the bar. Courage failed me, though, and I walked back to the hotel. I thought I should wait for your return, but that would have been too late. I had to go to you.”
Tom walked to her and she turned to him. “I am afraid of loneliness, Thomas, but loneliness flees when you are near. It flees now.” Her eyes were heavy with tears.
He felt tenderness for Sasi, but sorrow and regret for himself, too. Why had he let this come so far? Why had he left himself so vulnerable? Why hadn’t he walked away from her when he had the chance? If he had not stopped at the kickboxing bar, if he had continued to Walking Street, if, if, if. So many ifs. So many possible paths. So many possible pasts. How many futures had he embarked upon through his choices? Life would be easier without the twists and turns, false roads, and dead ends. Tom’s entire adult life had been a continual search for the true path to the love his parents had shared. Instead, he had scrambled through maze after maze, each one stacked atop the other and mashed down until every turn ended in disappointment, every twist ended in another crushed dream, every exit an entrance to another chasing of his own tail.
The warm breeze carried the muffled sound of waves crashing against the cliffs below. Tom wished he were back at sea. There, he would be surrounded by five thousand men like him, their only concerns food, work, sleep, and not being blown into the sea by jet blast. Life was simpler at sea.
“I don’t know what to say, Sasi.” He sought for words to express the feeling behind the pulsing in his temples. “I’m glad you came after me. I sensed as I walked away the bond between us. I questioned the feeling and – I shouldn’t say this – felt a similarity with the day I met Susanna. But you aren’t Susanna and what I feel for you is different than what I felt for her, and I don’t know why.”
Emotion surged within his breast. His chest heaved and he choked back a sob. He gripped Sasi’s arms. She gazed at him, tears rolling to the tips of her eyelashes, stretching, then dropping away. He didn’t want her to cry.
“I have wandered lost in passion since Susanna died.”
He didn’t want to cry.
“We were born in love, Sasi, and we spent our lives waiting for each other. When we met, we knew, we knew we had found the one we were born to love. Born to marry, to grow old with, to die next to in old age. When I held Susanna, the world ceased to exist and we were alone, as though the only two people created. When she looked in my eyes, I could have lived without air, without bread, without water. I needed nothing, I wanted nothing, I had nothing because Susanna was everything. Her touch thrilled me the way lovemaking does when you find yourself between passion and ecstasy and you feel the breath of God waft through your soul and you understand, you realize, you know at last she is a precious gift whose name is emblazoned on your heart.”
Sasi cried, but her eyes held his.
“Thomas. Thomas. I am so sorry.”
He held her tighter.
“We were cheated, Sasi. We were cheated and didn’t get the chance to marry and grow old together. We didn’t get the chance to die together because I wasn’t with her when she died!”
Passion gripped him. The tears wouldn’t stop. He let go of Sasi’s arm. She rubbed it as she cried. He ripped the necklace from his neck and held it up. Moonlight reflected in a brilliant burst of white from the medallion, the rubies, the engagement ring. His voice caught in his throat.
“This. This. This is my mother’s medallion. She died giving birth to me. Her death broke my father’s heart and left him unable to move beyond the passion of their burgeoning love. He never had the chance to experience intimacy, sharing, the companionship that comes with growing old together. This is Susanna’s engagement ring. She died when our love was still in its infancy. I knew her for a fraction of the time we should have had together. I never had the chance to feel our love grow. It isn’t fair, but then, life isn’t fair, is it?” He let go of her other arm. The necklace, medallion, and engagement ring slipped from his fingers.
“You have the half of my heart that belonged to Susanna, but I’m afraid to love you, Sasi. I’m afraid to love you and lose you. It seems the men in my family kill the women they love. If I don’t go now, you will die too, and I don’t want to love you if that is our future.”
“Tom. Tom.” Her cries floated from the balcony and into the night, lost in the roar of the sea. She knelt and picked up the necklace, but Tom turned away. The weight of two Susannas was too much to bear. Adding Sasi to the necklace would kill him as it killed her.
He left. His heart beat loud as passion surged and swelled and filled his chest. He knew why he didn’t feel for Sasi what he had felt with Susanna; this love held fear. He feared losing Sasi as his father had lost the one most dear to him, and he had lost the one most dear to him. He knew Sasi was the one. But he couldn’t bear to love her with the passion and ecstasy he had had with Susanna and then lose her. He couldn’t take the pain. Not again. He couldn’t take the pain of Sasi, Susanna, his father and mother upon his shoulders. He wasn’t a God who moved pieces around on a chess board with every whim. He was a man whose heart bled the same way in grief and love.