The papers in the sink are burning blood red, spurting reflected flames on the kitchen window. She has her back to me, framed in crimson.
I wonder if, in her haste to destroy it all, she might have mixed a love letter in the pile. A note on tissue that I had scribbled, perhaps. Seated at a roadside cafe, waiting for the first glimpse of her purposeful stride, her blonde hair glinting in the harsh noon-day sun. Knowing that the Chinese men near the entrance would look on in curious envy as she ignored them all and came straight to me, the insignificant girl at the corner table. Anticipating the rush of wet that still had not yet learnt to control itself. Savoring the sting of desire that always came. Gleefully writing it down, just to fuck with my own brain twice. Once in the pre-saging. And then again when she would actually appear.
I know she wouldn't burn my words intentionally, wouldn't lose them if she could. But she's in a hurry. We're only into the second box. The first took so long to sink into ash. And there are three more on the floor.
If they came now, driving up in their unmarked cars with the QX plates (as if everybody didn't know that all unmarked police cars carried QX plates), banging on the door with their warrants, they would catch us red-handed. Bathed, bathed in red. Desperately trying to destroy the evidence that might destroy the life we had so recently built for ourselves.
She turns then, fear radiating from her. Grotequely, perversly like sex. Pulsing. I take her breasts suddenly, hard, twisting. I can see that it has happened for her too. The terror turned to aggressive desire. We both understand. We forgive. At that moment, pain seems the only thing that might reassure us that we are alive and vital still. Not some defeated dream waiting to drain away.
Her mouth is warm and wet through my thin t-shirt. My nipples tighten and stand up. I push her away so that I can lift the shirt, hungry to feel her tongue without the veil of cotton. She knows what I need even before I pull her back to me. Her teeth nip and I almost come immediately. Behind us, the crackle of paper crumbling arrests our heated fumbling for a second. In the pause, I want to tell her I love her. That if tonight they came for her and we never had more than these last few weeks, my body would not forget, my heart would not heal, my soul would never accept the imprint of another.
She groans my name. "Please. Now. Inside." My hand is grabbed, thrust against her shorts, so quickly soaked through. I forget all thought and slide in, I am barely there when her walls stretch taut and ridged. She is so close to the edge. I try to slow my fingers but she won't let me, pushing against my hand until I give in. Give in to her, to the rhythmn of her orgasm, to my own incoherent cresting.
We hold each other as we sob and pretend the tears are happy. After I take her again, still standing in the middle of the kitchen, we return to feeding the blaze. We say no other words to each other that night. It takes us till dawn to burn it all.
Two days later, they serve the notice. They go to her office in the day. There is no drama. Just a police order served on a foreign journalist who is viewed as a trouble-maker for commenting on matters of domestic politics. They revoke her work permit and order her to leave the country within 24 hours. They take her notes and files, and even her precious laptop, but we know they won't find what they want. Her editor, from the safety of Lexington Avenue, N.Y., N.Y., makes a half-hearted protest. As if this little Asian experiment in controlled democracy cares that the liberal Western media might trash it further. The magazine promises to pursue all available remedies on her behalf, but by then the deadline is upon us.
Isn't it funny that when the moment actually comes, we concentrate on practicalities and logistics? I booked her flight to New York. She packed incredibly efficiently. We weren't even late getting to the airport.
When you might as well be dead, everything becomes simple again.
The peanuts were stale but the stewardess rocked. The one, salted Chinese. The other, sweet Thai (possibly Vietnamese). Her cross and her consolation.
Kris sighed. What was she doing on a flight to Singapore chasing down a new property when she had several documentary projects by proven houses waiting for her sign-off back in New York? True, the lure of Asian mystique probably had a year or two left before it went the way of Mafia exposes. And the proposal that ASEAN HQ emailed her did have potential - a no-holds-barred biography of a prominent local public personality. Who happened to be lesbian and, until now, semi-closetted. ASEAN HQ assured her that the subject was willing to co-operate. Fully. In this conservative Asian society, if the story really panned out, it would be a major coup for her network. Well, at least, that was the pitch.
But then again, she'd never seen anything from this particular Asian country that wasn't earnestly sincere and stiltedly careful. Even Switzerland was sexier than Singapore. By a long shot.
Kris sighed again, popping a stale Chinese peanut in her mouth. And consoled herself with contemplating sweet Thai.
The humidity was like a burlap sack descending on her as she left the plane. After all her trips to this part of the world, she was still never prepared when it hit her, literally taking her breath away for a while. She could feel the flood of sweat run down the back of her blouse. She was going to need a shower. Quick.
Changi Airport was smooth and unobtrusive. She barely noticed the time it took to get from plane to cab rank, and she even managed to grab a pack of Marlborough Lights along the way. Although the country heavily taxed cigarettes and alcohol in its bid to maintain its puritanical image, it was always willing to milk the tourist buck for all it was worth. The duty-free shop was a well-oiled machine with pre-packaged sets of alcohol at the checkout counter featuring every conceivable combination of rum, vodka and chablis which met the total quota. Kris bought one just for good measure. Twenty minutes after the plane landed, seated comfortably in the back of a taxi speeding into the city, Kris had to admit grudgingly that Singapore did airports well. JFK at the best of times had been trying. After 9/11, it was an obstacle course.
The taxi driver chattered on in the local polyglot, a slightly guttural, clipped version of English that constantly slipped into other languages which Kris did not recognise. "You come from Hong Kong?" he asked anxiously.
"Do I look like I come from Hong Kong?" Kris teased. But when he simply blinked anxiously again, she obliged "America."
" Direct? No transit in Hong Kong?" he insisted.
"Frankfurt. Why the interest?"
"Sick people come from Hong Kong." he explained rather cryptically.
Kris shook her head in amusement. If there was a conspiracy theory to be had, trust a taxi driver to acquaint you with it. She checked her mobile for messages and smiled at the one from her mother.
"Go 4 spicy, honey. Don't 4get pkge for E." Her mother had almost seemed more excited about this trip, her first to Singapore, than her. Breaking the unspoken rule of many years, she had driven into the city on a weekend night to have dinner with Kris the night before Kris's flight.
"Why must you always pick steak and country music, dear? There's a new Burnese restuarant on 78th that's gotten great reviews, you know. Excellent curries, it seems." Cass Bretton, at 50, was always determinedly trying to get her oldest daughter to expand her cultural horizons. Admittedly, her elegant mother looked 35 and was the only person Kris knew who could carry off a Chinese cheongsam - the tight silk dress setting off her fair coloring and long legs. She was also the only person Kris knew who could wear a Chinese cheongsam to Harry's Meathook and not look entirely out of place when Deana Carter crooned "I'm just a girl."
"I have an aversion to unidentifiiable vegetable matter in murky stews. I prefer my protein in openly bleeding muscle."
"You are an incorrigible throwback. You must get it from your Dad. He sends love. As do Damon and Cindy."
"I just saw you guys last weekend."
"That doesn't mean we love you any less, silly."
"Yes, Mom," Kris grinned, settling goodnaturedly into the usual routine of affectionate chiding.
After ribeye (Kris's) and sirloin (lean, Cass's), her mother had dug into her bag.
"This is for your Auntie Ellen. The address and mobile are on the package. You can just get the hotel to send it to her if she's too busy to meet up." If Kris didn't know Cass better, she'd have sworn her mother was nervous. "Ellen can be very busy." Cass repeated for emphasis.
"Don't worry. I shall stay out of her hair. Call. Arrange delivery. Send love. You can trust me."
"I know how you are, Kris."
"Really. And how's that? Shy and retiring like you?"
"Just make sure she gets this. Please?"
Kris leaned across then and gave her fretful mother a quick hug. "I live to deliver. Stop worrying. Auntie Ellen will receive her Chrismas present as instructed. 6 months early this year."
All her life, Kris remembered, the box that would come in mid-December, bearing the Singapore postmark and colorful stamps. There would be gifts for her mom and dad, and something for each of the kids. Interestingly, the gifts were always appropriate, as if her mother's friend, whom she had never met, knew what was happening in her life. At 15, the chunky early-model digital camera had seemed an unlikely extravagance even for someone who was obviously a close family friend but her mother had simply smiled and said, "Take some pictures of Cindy." That first shot had sucked her into a career fascinated with the capture and manipulation of images, the chronicling of visual tales. Her first short documentary had garnered her recognition as an up and comer in an industry of tyros. She had risen so quickly that she'd been press-ganged into management at the tender age of 26. She missed being behind the lens but she enjoyed nurturing new work. And she had an uncanny ability to pick the stories that stirred hearts, stimulated minds and picked up audience share. It was hard to argue against that kind of success.
Kris patted the small book-sized package in her back pack. She hoped Auntie Ellen wouldn't be too busy to meet.
The taxi lurched to a sudden stop, jerking her from contemplation.
Jo was waiting for her curbside when the cab drew up to the tall, anonymous building in which her local office was housed. The taxi had barely stopped before she threw open the back door and plonked her lanky frame next to Kris's.
"Change of plans. The local production company we're working with can't make it this afternoon. Power breakfast tomorrow instead." "Hyatt," she barked at the taxi driver, without pausing. Then turned back to Kris, "You must be tired. I'll get you settled in at the hotel and brief you on the Bangkok financials over a beer. There's a party tonight. You up to it, mate?"
An Australian who had lived in Singapore for close to 10 years, Jo was talented, resourceful and almost embarrasingly enthusiastic about Asian women. Kris and Jo had met several times, typically in Thailand, where their company had several active projects. Jo's constant invitations to Singapore were peppered with descriptions from what appeared to be an extensive catalog of female companions whom Jo was sure Kris would like. Even without asking, Kris had a pretty good idea what kind of party Jo was talking about.
"Private, exclusive. Held just twice a month. Can you believe your luck? Good music. Really cute chicks. I guarantee you've never have seen so many Asian dykes in one place."
"I'll take your word for it." Kris remarked drily.
"No joshing. And a few of them look like Joan Chen."
"In Wild Things or Crouching Tiger?"
"Wild Sides. And that was Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger. Also very hot. You should brush up on your Asian cinema."
"I should get a good shower and some profit margins on the Thai property."
"I can promise you at least one out of two," grinned Jo.
"You're not getting into my bathroom."
"But I know some nubile young things who might..." Jo teased back, launching into an unlikely story that involved orchids, red peppers, two Indian girls and many sexual positions that Kris suspected were anatomically impossible.
Kris relaxed into her seat, letting the blonde go on.
Welcome to Singapore!
By the time Kris and Jo were sipping latte and Heineken at the hotel coffee house, Kris was exhausted by the sexual possibilities that apparently lay beneath the surface of repressed probity. As Jo geared up for another account of tropical island lust, Kris leaned back in the plush leather armchair and surveyed her surroundings. Like so many five star hotels in Asian countries, this one tried to help the discerning Western traveller discern practically nothing. The objective was obviously to make a North American guest feel as if she had never stepped out from the midtown Hyatt in New York. If not for the ethnicity of the extremely attractive women at the front desk, Kris might have imagined that the 24 hour flight she'd just taken had brought her full circle to yet another American city. Even the sushi bar fronting the very expensive-looking restaurant featuring fusion cuisine was discretely designed for (oh just say it, Kris) white sensibilities.
Kris wondered what really went on underneath the bland welcome. Apparently, sex, sex and more sex, if Jo was to be believed.
"She conveniently had her tongue in my ear at that point. And she would announce the positions before demonstrating them. ... " Jo paused. "Are you listening to me?"
"I think so. You were talking about positions. Still. "
"The Karma Sutra, honey. Familiar with every single permutation. All eight hundred bloody over of them. She got me so hot just talking about them, I was creaming in my pants. It was fucking amazing. And she's got friends."
Jo looked so eager, Kris didn't have the heart to disabuse her. But the truth of the matter was that, for all her outward confidence and poise, Kris had never really been, well, sexually adventurous. Her career had kept her passionately engaged for most of her adult life. And the two women who had sexually engaged her, one while she was still at NYU film school during a hazily drunken encounter and the other whom she'd dated to please her group of well-meaning friends, had never really held her passion. So although Kris had known, without too much trauma, from a fairly early age, which team she batted for, she had come to accept that she was unlikely to ever make MVP.
"Look. I really am a little tired from the flight," she gave as an excuse. "I think I'll just go up to my room, maybe take a nap. We can go over the Thai numbers over dinner."
"Why didn't you say so earlier? And here I was thinking that you might be bored , coming from the Big Apple, with our piddling outback escapades." For the barest second, Jo's cheery blue eyes darkened and Kris suddenly spied the uncertainty in them and understood.
How fragile we all are. So insecure behind the bravado. Ten years in what must seem to her to be an insignificant posting. How we all crave validation.
Kris leaned across the table impulsively and held Jo's hands, "Hey. Sounds pretty hip to me. Don't believe everything you read. Most of my friends would kill to have half the excitement you seem to be getting out here. "
The shadow lifted from Jo's eyes, "Really, huh? You mean it's not all dancing and debauchery in New York?"
"Hardly, my dear."
"Well, it's definitely not boring here."
"I can tell. " Kris couldn't stop the yawn that slipped through then. She shook her head, trying to dislodge the haze, and the ache she suddenly felt in her shoulders.
"OK. OK. Let's get you to your room. I'll head back to the office, pull together those numbers you keep harping on about and come get you later for the evening's revelries." Jo signalled for the check and the handsome Malay waiter who had been standing discreetly by their table quickly and quietly melted away to get it.
"By the way, I highly recommend the sauna in the hotel. Work out those cricks in the neck."
A sauna. That sounded heavenly.
"Sounds like bliss," Kris admitted.
"Oh you bet." Jo's natural exuberance had returned in full force as had her irrepressible talents as sexual tour guide. "By the way, the gym here has a real reputation."
Jo nodded sagely signing the bill with a flourish, "The Tai-tais sometimes hunt there. Rich society women, usually Chinese. Looking for something on the side while their business conglomerate husbands play golf and keep mistresses. It's an open secret. As long as you're discrete, they're often up to a little afternoon delight. It's a nice arrangement. They get some fun. No obligations on either side. Too much to lose if it gets out. The other day, I heard ...."
Kris closed her eyes and let Jo sweep her along.
After Jo deposited her in the luxurious room, Kris decided to take a quick swim. The Hyatt's pool was on the fifth floor, in a beatifully landscaped open-air garden that almost made you forget you were in the middle of a big city until you heard the background hum and honk of street traffic. There was no one else around except the buff pool attendant and a middle-aged Caucasian man who was unduly interested in listening to the pool attendant describe the hotel's gymn facilities. Kris was content to let them flirt while they ignored her. The little pool didn't really test her but it was good to get her limbs moving and the taut knot in her back had loosened up after 30 mini-laps. Some quality time in a sauna seemed a fitting way to wrap up the session, Kris thought as she towelled her thick straight dark hair.
The attendants at the sauna facilities were as pleasant, efficient and unobtrusive as all the other staff she'd met so far.
"Just one other person here, miss," smiled the girl with the unlikely name of "Camelia" on her tag as she showed Kris to the sauna, with its two heated pools and narrow stalls. "Let me know if you need anything."
The other person was a small, slim, Chinese woman who sat quietly, her face turned towards the wooden slatted walls, in one corner of the sauna. She might be asleep, she was so still.
Respecting her privacy, Kris chose a spot as far away as she could and settled in. She wondered if the woman was one of Jo's tai-tais. The lazy heat soon calmed and overwhelmed her. She closed her eyes.
The feel of sweat seeping between her eyelashes made Kris open her eyes to wipe them. She'd almost dozed off in the warm, damp cabin, the hot steam rising off the coals. Jo had been right, at least in part. The Hyatt had a very nice sauna indeed.
Floating in that pleasurable no-mans-land between consciousness and sleep, Kris slowly became aware that her companion was no longer still nor asleep. Her face was not turned to the wall anymore. Heartshaped and delicate, the skin flawless, the bones fine, it was ageless. With her eyes closed, without any window to her experience or soul to give Kris any clues, she could have been 15. Or 40. She was beautiful.
It also gradually became uncomfortably clear that the woman thought Kris was asleep and herself unnoticed. Kris knew she shouldn't stare but there was something hynoptic about the slow, spiral movement of the woman's hand underneath her towel, the thigh golden-tanned against fluffy white cotton. In the cocooned silence of the sauna, Kris could hear every catch of breath, could sense every twitch of pleasure, could feel every tightening.
The painful release of moisture caught Kris by surprise. Unable to stop herself, drawn in some warped way to want to share the moment with this stranger, she slid her fingers under the flap of her own towel and found herself ready. In some faraway part of her brain, she registered the thought that she was never ready like this. It usually took quite a bit of foreplay to prime her and even then she preferred to bring her partner to orgasm first, letting the thrill of that moment bring her closer to the point from which she could fall. Sex had always been somewhat deliberate for Kris.
Now, suddenly, just looking at a stranger touch herself had made her wet. Not just wet. But slick, thick and urgent. Her clitoris so hard and grown so large that she didn't recognise her own own body when she touched it. Just catching a shadow of pleasure rush across the woman's face made her walls start to clench of their own accord, her buttocks rubbing against the wooden seat now slippery with her juice. She started to match her movements to the woman's, their hands moving in rhythm. Now faster. Now slowing down. Kris was so aroused that, within seconds, she was poised to fall. She wanted to come so badly, she had to will herself to stay with her companion. And still the sensuous spiral continued its slow teasing torture.
It occured to Kris in one of the few moments when her mind managed to re-assert itself that Jo had been entirely right. These Asian women were hot. And that she owed Jo an apology for doubting, even for a second, the veracity of her sexual exploits. But her mind quickly lost the struggle and Kris left all the thinking behind. Left it behind to follow the beautiful stranger as her pace quickened, her hips thrusting, her head thrown back. Close now.
God, let it be soon. Give me permission to surrender.
"Please." Kris whispered. Or was it just in her own head? I can't hold on any longer. Please. Let me.
She must have heard her. Her hand thrust in. Hard. Once. Twice. Deep. Kris joined her. Oh God.
They both stilled at the same moment, the current of orgasm passing like electricity from one to the other. Joined. Then the tremors began. Simultaneously. Uncontrollably. From deep within them both. Kris had never felt so abandoned and unrestrained before. It took everything she had not to scream. She couldn't stop herself from shaking. The bench shook.
The stranger's eyes flew open at the movement and locked on Kris'. Unguarded and uncertain, mindful of Jo's advice that these tai-tais wanted nothing more than fun (God knows, what just happened feels too raw to be fun! ) , Kris gave what she hoped was a nonchalent smile.
She was totally unprepared for the response.
In one glance, the stranger took everything in. The rape of her privacy. Her cruel exposure. Kris' hand still inside herself. Not yet withdrawn from their connection.
The dark orbs filled with seering desolation. They are sloe-eyed. Kris thought.
She caught the quick flash of angry tears. And a deep pain so abraded that Kris knew. This woman was not 15. This woman had already lived a lifetime of agony. Kris lowered her eyes in shame. When she raised them again, the woman was gone, leaving a faint scent of jasmine and arousal behind.
TO BE CONTINUED.
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