A uniformed doorman nodded and smiled to Sasi, but gave me the once-over and a frown as we passed. Revolving doors led to an expansive lobby buzzing with activity and the heady fragrance of incense. Another doorman took the groceries from me and gave them to yet another employee who disappeared who-knew-where with them. Plush, high-end sofas and chairs furnished sitting areas where visitors and residents mixed. A long, brass-railed bar, busy with the lunch crowd, dominated the far end of the room. Dark, polished bookcases, and panels inset with frosted, etched glass hinted at the luxury contained within the walls of Sasi’s home.
The front desk attendant smiled and bowed non-stop while Sasi signed the register, then bowed again while handing her the key. The elevator boy gave the same obeisance when Sasi entered the elevator. I had the impression the staff considered Sasi royalty.
The elevator opened onto a small, carpeted lobby decorated with vases of fresh-cut flowers and walls hung with oil paintings of old Siam. Sasi took my arm as she opened the apartment door and led me into a bright, well-appointed room decorated in creamy white leather furniture and sheer curtains tied back with ribbons.
“Here we are, Thomas. What do you think?”
The large, open floor plan led from the sunken living room to the raised dining room topped by a large, round skylight. Three bedrooms bounded one side of the apartment with the kitchen on another. A grand piano filled the area between the kitchen and living room. Beyond, a curved wall of sliding glass doors opened onto an equally curved balcony that displayed the Gulf of Thailand as if it belonged to Sasi alone.
I took in the surroundings and the view, speechless at the contrast between Sasi at the hotel and Sasi at home. Not that she had changed, but at the change in my impression of her as a hotel employee of modest means. Everything around me increased my curiosity for Sasi. Surprises poured from her.
“How beautiful, Sasi. And the piano. Do you play?”
“I’ve played since I could reach the keys. Do you play?”
“Oh, yes. My mother taught me, and I played throughout my school years.”
“We must duet while you are here. In Thailand, I mean. Or today, if you like. What is your favorite music?”
“Classical, but I love jazz too. And you?”
“Classical. I practiced every day as a child. My mother taught piano from our home.”
“Your apartment is lovely. I’ve never seen such a beautiful view.” I scanned the view to the south. “There’s the Pattaya lighthouse at the end of Walking Street.”
“It is lovely, is it not? I felt such joy when my parents offered to let me live here. I could live here forever.”
“You own this?”
“No. My parents own it, but I pay the utilities, and other bills. I could not afford this on a hotel manager’s salary.”
“You manage the Tropicana?”
“You amaze me, Sasi.”
“Come. Let us speak of other things. The folding doors behind you open to the bar. You will find beer in the refrigerator. If you’d like, you may make me a gimlet while I put away the groceries. There is also sangria, wine, water, and soft drinks. Take whichever you prefer.”
“You’ll have to tell me how to make a gimlet.” I spoke from behind the bar as I studied the contents of the refrigerator. “I may have tasted one, but I’ve never made one.” I removed a pitcher of sangria and poured a glassful. “I’ll have sangria.”
“One-part sweetened lime juice, four parts gin. Add a slice of lime. All the ingredients are right there. Oh, no rocks. Help yourself.”
She pressed a button on a light switch, and the wall opened at the end of the counter, revealing a dumbwaiter. She removed the bag of groceries and pushed the button again, closing the door.
“Well, that’s convenient. What other surprises do you have in store for me?”
“No more, I assure you. The dumbwaiter is such a luxury, and the staff receive an extra-large tip since they see to my groceries for me.” She placed her hands on her hips and smiled.
“So, what would you like to eat?” She picked up the phone to make a call. “I’m sending to the restaurant for lunch.”
“Whatever you’re having.”
“Okay. We shall have club sandwiches and chips.”
She placed the order and joined me. I handed her the gimlet. “Mmm. Perfect. I thought you said you never made a gimlet? You will be my bartender.”
I smiled at the compliment. “Cocktails are like beautiful women: one-part beauty, four-parts temper. Add a slice of sweetness.”
“Interesting theory. Rocks or no?”
“Rocks. Every relationship is rocky.”
“Do you speak from experience?”
“Have you ever been in a smooth relationship?”
“Completely smooth? No. But no one is perfect, and forgiveness is the key to happiness, is it not?”
“Only if one can forgive himself.”
“Uh-oh, that sounds deep when we should be lighthearted. Let’s save that for another conversation, shall we?”
“By all means.” I carried my sangria to the glass doors. “I love this balcony, or should I call it a terrace? This would be a great place for a barbecue. Do you like to cook outside?”
“No, although there is a grill in the utility room. My father loved to cook outside. He became enamored of it while we lived in Washington. However, I love the aroma of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.” Sasi joined me. “Do you like to grill outside?”
“Yes, although I’m a better eater of grilled foods than I am a cook. George and I often cook outdoors back in Hawaii. Well, George cooks. I eat.”
“You’re so funny, Thomas. Come. Let’s sit outside. This is the club I said I would take you to: Club Sasi. There is always a nice breeze, and the building shields us from the heat of all but the late afternoon sun. No tourists either. You may relax here.”
Like old friends who reunite after years apart, Sasi put me at ease. I slid the door open for her and she led me to a round, ceramic tiled café table with two seats. Sasi kicked off her sandals and sat back, resting her feet on the balcony. I did the same. We passed the time making small talk. When lunch arrived, we ate from a platter of salad, sandwiches, and chips. Afterwards, I helped Sasi clear the table and bring out fresh glasses and sangria. I settled back in a chaise lounge and yawned.
“Excuse me. Lunch made me drowsy.”
“Me too. I could fall asleep right here.” She had settled into an adjacent chaise lounge. Her arms were behind her head. She looked over her shoulder to me. “I like to drink sangria on the balcony in the evening. I learned to love sangria, balconies, and sunrises when I lived in Barcelona.”
“You lived in Barcelona?”
“Yes. I worked for a hotel there after I finished university. I stayed for two years. I miss it so very much. I have not been back since, but I will return someday.”
“My girlfriend was raised there.” The words were out before I could stop them.
I didn’t continue, and Sasi didn’t press, but returned to Spain. “Barcelona is a lover’s city. So many places to fall in love and be in love. I miss the plazas and dancing in discotheques until early morning and having breakfast as the sun rose. Did you and Susanna dance until the early morning hours?”
“Yes. Often. We used to take the bus or drive there from Rota. When we didn’t stay with her family, we stayed in a hotel near Las Rambla. Our favorite plaza was the Plaça Reial.”
“Oh! I know the Plaça Reial. In the Gothic Quarter. I spent many wonderful hours there. I worked a short walk away at the Mandarin Oriental.”
“I loved Barcelona.”
“You speak with melancholy. Is something wrong?”
I looked out over the sea as I sipped sangria. Seagulls rose on the wind and flew past, the same way they had done when I sat with Susanna in the rooftop bar of the hotel. Below, cruise ships sailed into port as they had there too. Sasi might have been Susanna drinking sangria with me. They had the same midnight black hair, the same direct manner, but Sasi was tall where Susanna had been petite, tinier than petite. Not now. Not now.
“No. Barcelona is my favorite city. I miss it.”
“Yes. It is so romantic and beautiful.”
Silence lingered and grew heavy. I worried what Sasi might ask about Susanna. That could be the only explanation for her silence.
“Is … I don’t want to intrude, Thomas, but is Susanna still your girlfriend? Is she in Spain?”
“No. She isn’t my girlfriend anymore. I left her in Spain when I transferred to Hawaii.”
“Oh. I see. Well, you will …. She hesitated again. “You will love again. It is our nature to be in love. Or want to be loved.”
The conversation had veered onto ground that couldn’t hold me. I’d sink beneath the pain of discussing Susanna with a woman who resembled her in so many ways. If I didn’t leave soon, I would crumble in front of Sasi.
“Sasi. I’d — ”
“Thomas. I have a confession to make. I left work early so I could follow you. I’m sorry if I was wrong to do so.”
“But the groceries. How did — where did — didn’t you go shopping?”
“Yes. I bought the groceries this morning on the way to the hotel. I planned to go home for lunch, but I had so much fun with you. I had to see you again.” She put her hand on my arm. “It has been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a man’s company so much. A very long time.”
The longing in her eyes touched me. They held a deeper softness than they had a moment before. I looked for the right words to express my feelings without making a commitment. I couldn’t just say hello at the front desk and nothing else. Not now. She expected more and, to tell the truth, I wanted more. I didn’t know how much more I wanted, or how much she wanted to give, but she’d be disappointed if all I did was wave as I left the hotel. I told myself I wouldn’t do more than have dinner with her once or twice. That’s all. But she needed more.
“I’m glad you followed me, Sasi. I’ve had a great time, and
I’d like to spend more time with you.” Again, my mouth spoke before my brain had time to shut it. “You remind me of Susanna in so many ways.”
“I am both happy and flattered. Although, I must tread carefully so you don’t leave me behind, as I am sure Susanna must have felt sad when you left.”
“When do you work again?”
Did I hope to avoid her, or hope to see her? I had mixed feelings for Sasi. The pain of seeing Susanna in her was hard to bear.
“I am generally at the hotel from five in the morning until five in the afternoon.”
“Why don’t we have dinner tomorrow night? I should be back from Utapao in the late afternoon. What do you say?”
“I say yes! I would like that very much. But it seems so far off, I don’t know if I can stand the wait.”
“Neither do I, my lady, but we must be patient. I think we’ll have so much fun.”
“I’m sure of it, Thomas.”
Something she had said earlier prompted me to ask, “Sasi, what did you mean a little while ago when you said or want to be loved?”
Her next words pierced my heart.
“You did say, Thomas, that the van doesn’t leave the hotel until five tomorrow morning, yes?”
End of Book 3, Chapter 14, Part 2
Chapter 15 will be available on November 21st
Previous Chapters may be found here