Pattaya Beach, Thailand. 1983. Photo Credit: Will Pennington
Adrenaline pumped my system into a throbbing, vibrating engine burning on twenty-four cylinders. I rubbed my leg to make it stop tapping the foot rail. My mind churned with anxiety and uncertainty. Shooting up caffeine wouldn’t have given me a bigger buzz. I rested my elbow on the bar and chewed my thumbnail as I stared through Amporn.
Why do you torture me, Susanna?
It is not I, Tomás.
It must be. I feel you watching me.
No, Tomás. I am not there. I’m dead. You know that.
Yes. I killed you. I left you in the cold and the rain.
No, Tomás. I died of pneumonia in hospital after the car accident with my sister.
I was lost in Puerto, Susanna. When I found you, the rain was pouring in torrents as you waited for me on the steps of the Chapel. You were wet. So cold and wet.
Yes, and angry too, but my anger passed, Tomás.
I only came to the hospital once. You were alone while your friends had company; my heart broke for you.
I was so happy when you came. Remember how I jumped from the bed and leaped into your arms?
Yes, Susanna; I remember. I remember, too, the smell of orange blossoms as your hair swept across my face. I feel you now, in my arms, and the softness of your lips. I taste the salt of your tears.
You are lonely, Tomás.
You must not be lonely, Tomás.
No, Susanna, but I miss you. I lived a life with you in my dreams. I died when you died.
I lived a life with you in my dreams too, Tomás, but you must go on living. You will have a life with someone else, but you must first forget me.
Of what are you afraid, Tomás?
I’m afraid of losing you again, Susanna.
Oh, Tomás. I will always walk beside you. I will always be with you. Someday, we will be together again.
I love you, Susanna.
I love you, Tomás.
I drank from the bottle of beer. The golden liquid ran cold through my throat. The sun was near zenith. It was still hot. Hell hot. I constantly wiped sweat from my eyes. My thumb was bleeding where I had bitten away the nail.
Amporn stared at me, her red lips parted, tongue touching her upper lip as she wiped the deep-polished teak of the bar with a towel. She set the towel down and leaned on her forearms. Her fine, black hair fell over her shoulders and brushed my fingers. She smelled of vanilla.
She spoke in a softer voice as she traced her fingers along my arm. “You want another beer?”
I should not see this woman, but this was my last chance for a fling before I married Aida. Everybody did it. Why shouldn’t I? It didn’t mean I wasn’t in love with Aida. When I returned to PI, it would be the two of us. Wouldn’t it? I might never return to Thailand. I didn’t want to have regrets later in life.
Regrets. Everyone had regrets. That’s what made them mean and bitter in old age. Regrets over a life not lived full. Regrets over a wasted life. Or did they regret the things they had done, things they were ashamed of having done? Would I regret cheating on Aida, or not sleeping with Amporn? Which was worse, infidelity before or after marriage? Were they equally evil? What did the Bible say? Was infidelity, or was it fornication, a deadly sin? Yes, but only after a promise of marriage. Great. I was screwed. I was going to hell. It was hot in hell. It was hot in Thailand. It was hot everywhere. It hadn’t been hot in Spain. It hadn’t been hot with Susanna.
I had never cheated on Susanna. The thought of infidelity never crossed my mind. How would she have reacted if I had? Susanna was direct and purposeful and possessed a clearly defined sense of right and wrong. Her faith had instilled in her a strict sense of morality, a code she lived by and expected others to respect. Susanna disliked when others crossed the line. She never hesitated to lash out at cheaters, whether vendors cheating customers, or men and women cheating on each other. Susanna wasn’t afraid to be feared or disliked.
I wavered, weighing the guilt I would feel against the hurt Aida would feel. Righteous hurt against unrighteousness. Was it wrong to cheat if you weren’t married? Yes. Without having said the words, we had committed to one another in faithfulness, trust, confidence, support. Without having our union blessed in the Church, we had implicitly promised to love, honor, and obey one another. A brief, sexual encounter was a momentary pleasure when considered against the backdrop of a lifetime spent with the woman you claimed to love and promised to marry. An afternoon’s delight with Amporn could cost me a lifetime of love and companionship. I had lost it once. I knew the pain. I knew how to compartmentalize it so life could go on with a partially numbed heart. I could bear it. No. I couldn’t. Susanna was proof of that.
“Maybe. What time do you — ?”
Her voice pierced my brain like a gunshot, and I jumped in my seat.
“Sasi. What a surprise.” There was no reason to feel guilty, but I couldn’t help it.
“I didn’t expect to see you again today, Thomas.”
I stood as she approached. My heart was pumped. I forced calm into my voice. “I always exceed expectations. Or should it be, I didn’t meet your expectations? That requires deep thought.”
We laughed together, and Sasi, radiant and exuding pleasure and warmth, bumped her shoulder into mine. “Either way, my day turned brighter when I saw you.”
“Here. Let me.” I took the groceries from her arms. “Where to, dear lady? Is it far to your castle?”
“Kind sir! What will people think if you enter my abode? I am yet unmarried and you…” She paused, her eyes questioning me. “Are you indeed free after all, Thomas?”
“George expects me at Whiskey A Go Go later.”
“Ooh. That’s a rather wild club.”
“George wanted to go to Caligula Club.”
“Oh, that’s a rather raunchy club.” She pointed north toward the Tropicana. “I live that way. Shall we?”
Amporn frowned as she called after us. “Hey.”
“You don’t pay your beer!”
I paid the tab and tipped her.
“I’m sorry, but I have to go.”
“Okay. I wait you.”
Amporn, my treasure of tempting seduction, faded into the background as if she had never existed. I wasn’t purposely cruel, but I was relieved Sasi had come along. She had saved me. Saviors, though, came with a price.
Sasi put her arm through mine, and we walked toward the Tropicana, my heart thrumming with excitement.
“Thomas, I didn’t interrupt a passionate love affair just now, did I?”
Her lyrical voice, slightly accented, filled me with a tingling sensation. I could have listened to her all day.
“Not at all. I am, however, passionate about beer. I was contemplating an affair with a second one when you called my name.”
“We can fix that. Would you like to stop for a drink?”
“I will do anything that pleases you, dear lady. I’m free for a few hours.” A warning in my brain short circuited, and the words were out before I could think. “I don’t have to be back until tomorrow morning. The van doesn’t leave for U-Tapao until five.” My intentions were innocent, but I had suffered one of those lapses wherein an emotional desire overcomes the brain’s check on impulsive actions.
If she inferred meaning to my statement, she didn’t say. We passed the Tropicana and walked another mile on side streets before turning onto Saranchol Alley and walking toward the Gulf. I was glad we hadn’t taken a cab. Sasi made me forget the heat, Amporn, Lek, everything and everyone but Aida and Susanna. Both nagged at the back of my head, wagging reproachful fingers in my face. But each time Sasi spoke or laughed, or bumped her hip against mine, I warmed inside as the tension that knotted my insides melted away. I felt almost free.
“Almost there. We’ll put the groceries away, then go to a small club I frequent away from tourist areas. The view of the ocean is heavenly. I think you will love it.”
She turned us onto a long, circular driveway leading to a tall building with large balconies overlooking lush gardens and a large pool. It resembled a resort but lacked hotel signage and the constant coming and going of tour buses and swimsuit-clad guests.
“Nice place,” I said. “It looks like a hotel.”
“This is my castle. I live in the penthouse. There.” She pointed toward the center of the highest floor. “Directly above the swimming pool terrace, but waaaaaaay up at the top.”
I stared at Sasi’s neck, my vision flowing along perfect lines from the dip above her breasts to the hollow behind her ear. A Renaissance master might have sculpted its smooth and flawless perfection. The more time I spent with Sasi, the more enamored I became of her grace and manner, and my infatuation deepened with every pulse of my heartbeat.
End of Book 3, Chapter 14, Part 1
Part 2 will be available on November 17th
Previous Chapters may be found here