I staggered from the Tulip totally spermed out. Never in my wildest imaginings did I ever expect to meet a woman like her in a place like that. Smart, savvy, college-educated, Lek was a true free spirit. Blessed with an infinite number of sexual permutations and combinations, she was a lecher’s dream. What’s more, her body–ripe, rounded, and ravenous–was a highly tuned machine, perfect for kinky contortions and fantasyland fornication.
But it was her creativity and stamina that made me marvel. At sixty-seven the best I could expect in a two-hour session was to blow my wad twice. Lek had other ideas. Somehow she made me come thrice. No wonder I was spermed out. No wonder the desire for a woman had as much appeal right now as a romp with a T Rex.
Thankfully Ahmed’s Restaurant was only a few blocks away. There, Fred Ficken had agreed to meet me for a Middle Eastern dinner. Despite opposing worldviews and conflicting moral codes Fred and I had become friends the previous year. As a retired CIA agent, I knew the world for what it was: capitalistic, warlike, devious, malicious, and downright insane. Fred on the other hand believed that political and economic systems would one day usurp capitalism, supplant human greed. No, he was not a socialist per se. Instead he believed that the human race was still evolving, still striving for universal peace and the Brotherhood of Man.
Of course it was all bullshit. We are born, we live, and we die. That is the full extent of our existence. Still there was something inside Fred that I liked and something inside me that he liked too. Perhaps we were both nuts.
The door to Ahmed’s Restaurant stood before me. I could feel my legs buckle as I pushed open the door and stumbled forward. The greeter met me with horror in his eyes. Luckily I spied Fred sitting at an isolated table to the right rear of the restaurant.
“My name is Remmer,” I said to the greeter. “Rob Remmer. I have a dinner date with Mr. Ficken.”
“This way, sir,” he said walking past a group of unoccupied tables. I nearly collapsed in the chair opposite Fred.
“My God,” he said. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “But my brain is rather fried. I just finished a two-hour session with a gal named Lek. She was absolutely astonishing. She drained every last spermling from my body. Give me a few moments to collect my thoughts. I’m a bit out of it right now.”
Fred gave me a level, unsympathetic gaze.
“You really must cut back on the whoring,” he said. “It’ll be the death of you.”
“No, it won’t,” I said. “Quite the contrary, I’d be dead without it. Indeed I must get you over to the Tulip one day. It would add years to your life.”
“I doubt that. One of those Thai babes would probably dislodge my stent.”
“Oh, don’t give me that rubbish. That heart attack of yours was some seven years back. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. I’ve seen men ten years your senior shagging ass in Thailand. Now tell me. What were you up to while I was having my mustache waxed?”
“I attended a lecture at Chulalongkorn University,” he said. “The speaker gave a fascinating talk on the architecture of Buddhist temples. I’d no idea that the most salient features came from India.”
“Well, at least we were on the same page,” I said. “Whereas I was working with form and function that lives and breathes, you were working with form and function long dead and lifeless.”
“That’s rather hard.”
“Hard is what I’m all about, Fred. And it’s what you should be about, too. Why dwell on the past? You only have a few years left. I want you to get out in the world and live life.”
“But I do live life. I honestly enjoy what I did today.”
“I’m sure you did. And I would be the last to deny you your lectures on Thai Buddhism. All I ask is for some balance, for you to give your physical side some release, some means of expression. Hell, any urologist will tell you that it’s good to squeeze your prostate dry once or twice a week.”
Fred gave me a penetrating look.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Listen to me, Fred,” I said putting my elbows on the table and looking him square in the eye. “The world’s divided into two kinds of men: those that do and those that don’t.”
“I don’t get you.”
“Well,” I said. “To put it another way, those who press flesh and those who don’t, those that savor the hunt versus those that live in a nincompoop Never Land.”
“Life’s not that simple,” he said. “Life cannot be reduced to opposing forces–what Lao Tzu called yin-yang and Zoroaster called the forces of light and the forces of darkness. Where does that leave the twilight? Where does that leave the dawn? They’re a mixture of the two.”
“What are you driving at?”
“Just this,” Fred said. “That the forces of human nature are most complex, that we cannot label them white or black, yin or yang, good or bad. Instead they are in constant flux. The moment we try to pigeonhole one it transmutes into something else.”
“Nothing new there. Sounds like Heraclitus’ dictum: ‘All is flux.’”
“Yes and no,” said Fred. “The problem lies when a person latches onto a fixed idea and forgets that such a notion is ephemeral. Unfortunately this often occurs with love and romance.”
“Now you’re starting to lose me. Would you mind clarifying your thoughts?”
“Not without boring you with another Peace Corps story, I’m afraid.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t dream this shit up,” said Fred. “Two of my PCV pals actually lived it.”
“Is it a good story?”
“That depends on the person. Do you want to hear it or not? I warn you that it will take most of the dinner to relate.”
Still drained from Lek’s wondrous workout, I was in a more receptive, absorbent mood.
“Okay,” I said. “Spin your tale. But not before we put in our order.”
Since neither Fred nor I knew much about Middle Eastern cuisine, it took a good ten minutes to iron out the right dishes with the waiter. Still it was worth the dickering. Even if Fred’s tale was a bomb, the aromatic Arab food and the India pale ale would more than make up for it.
With a flagon of ale in hand Fred launched into his story.
“They were an odd couple, even by Peace Corps standards. They met during PC training in Prachuab, a small seaside village on the Thai panhandle. Colin MacGregor, brimming with confidence and enthusiasm after three years as a volunteer, had applied and been accepted as a cross-cultural trainer. In many ways Colin was a poster boy PCV. Though not exactly handsome, he’d been blessed with a commanding presence, an innate gift for leadership, an infectious laugh, and incredible foreign language skills.
“Rick Skinner was not as lucky. Though far from inept, he came with baggage. As a congenital epileptic, he’d taken anticonvulsant drugs all his life to control his petite and grand mal seizures. Barring a few instances during adolescence, these drugs had worked remarkably well but came at a heavy price: they dulled his short-term memory. As a result he struggled learning Thai. To an outsider this may be of little consequence but it wasn’t in the Peace Corps. All social groups have a mechanism upon which they base their pecking order. With mathematicians it’s an aptitude with numbers. With medical doctors it’s diagnostic skills. With lawyers it’s cunning arguments. And with PCVs it’s a felicity with foreign languages–what some vols call ‘our ego thing.’
“Despite these differences however Colin and Rick hit it off. Both came from New England and both had been raised with similar core values and beliefs.
“After a month’s training Dr. Sonnen, the in-country physician, came to Prachuab to visit Group 43. All trainees were told to report to him with any physical or mental issues, no matter how insignificant and minor. Rick, feeling fine, did not go. Instead he trotted off to lunch, only to be waylaid by Colin in the hallway.
“‘Sonnen wants to see you immediately,’ he said. ‘I don’t know why. You seem to be healthy enough.’
“‘I suppose he wants to touch base with me on my epilepsy. I can’t blame him for that.’
“‘I hope nothing’s wrong,’ said Colin. ‘He seemed damned serious when he told me. Do you mind if I wait for you?’
“‘Not at all. I’ll be right back.’
“Rick returned in fifteen minutes crestfallen.
“‘What’s wrong?’ asked Colin.
“‘I might be going back to the States.’
“‘You’re shitting me. How can that be?’
“‘A Peace Corps screener misread the lab results on my application. My white blood count is too low; hence I’m susceptible to disease. Sonnen has ordered me back to Bangkok for a CBC. If my numbers are up, I stay. If my numbers are down, I’m gone.’
“‘You’re kidding,’ Colin said incredulously.
“‘I wish I were.’
“It was times like this that Colin could get emotional, that his true humanity rose to the surface. Instinctively he reached out, grabbed Rick by the shirt, twisted it into a ball with his fist, and pulled him forward. The two men were now literally face-to-face.
“‘Listen, Rick, and listen good,’ he said sententiously. ‘I can’t have you leaving Thailand without having a massage, without experiencing the magic fingers.’
“‘Thanks, Colin. But getting laid is not part of the program right now.’
“‘I’m not talking about getting laid,’ he said. ‘I’m talking about you having a true cross-cultural experience, about you leaving Thailand on a high instead of a low. So here’s what you must do. As soon as you’re done at the lab, grab a cab and hightail it to the Chavala Massage Parlor. The gals there truly know how to press flesh. The only extras are hand jobs. Now promise.’
“That weekend Rick not only had his blood tested but succumbed to the magic fingers for the first time. Two days later the results came back and the numbers were up. Returning to Prachuab, Rick found Colin as elated and upbeat as he was. It was the beginning of a deep and abiding friendship.
“At training’s end Colin returned to the United States. Rick saw him off at the airport with a degree of trepidation. Being a PCV is not a superficial experience. Indeed it is a life-altering one. It affects every volunteer in a deep and profound way. And Colin was no exception. Colin’s father, though proud of his son, did not want him to stay in teaching, did not want him to mold young people’s minds. Instead he wanted his boy to follow in his footsteps, to be a high-powered banker, to be a mover and shaker of men.
“At first Colin resisted. Going from the freewheeling Peace Corps life to that of a young organizational man is a huge abyss to leap in a single bound. But eventually Colin relented, first taking an intensive course with Chase Manhattan Bank then earning his MBA at the Thunderbird School in Arizona.
“It was at this juncture that Colin deviated from his father’s plan. Rather than take a domestic position at Chase in the City, he opted to be a loan officer with Chase in Hong Kong. The marriage was a perfect one. With one stroke Colin was able to placate his father while asserting his independence. Now he could become a true Asia hand.
“As Colin was systematically scurrying up the corporate ladder, Rick had finished his two years as a PCV and was now working for the Thai Ministry of Education as an English language expert. Though not making much money, Rick was happy. After all, teaching Thai students is a far cry from the battlefield of an American classroom.
“One day Rick received a letter from Colin. It read in part:
Six months ago I met a young Chinese woman at the bank and we have been dating off and on ever since. I can’t say I’m madly in love. You know me. I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it but never believed in this romantic crap. Sure, I was tempted a few times in Thailand to link up with a stunner. But I don’t want a wife that is drop-dead gorgeous, someone who I have to guard like a citadel. No, I want someone solid, someone who will love me and who I can confide in. In a word I need a friend, not a sexpot, for a wife. I have therefore decided to marry May-ling this coming December. She came to Hong Kong from Mainland China with her grandmother when she was only nine years old. She therefore knows how to cook and work hard. In life logic must rule the heart.
“This letter disturbed Rick at many levels. First, despite Colin’s protestations to the contrary, he was at heart a romantic. Indeed Rick had never met a PCV who wasn’t. Second, what was this rubbish about beautiful women? Colin had attracted them in droves for years. Why not marry one? Wasn’t shunning them some sort of perverted chauvinism? Third, what was this emphasis on friendship and cooking? Couldn’t a man have those plus romance? After all, romance did not exclude other feminine assets. Or did it?
“Rick’s response was blunt and to the point:
I’m a bit stunned by your recent decision to marry May-ling. I’m sure she’s a wonderful woman and will be loyal and faithful to you. As your friend however I must warn you: there is such a thing as love at first sight and you are susceptible to it as much as any man. I would therefore like you to reconsider your decision. What will happen when you meet the woman of your dreams and you turn to May-ling and find her wanting? What will you do then? Will you divorce May-ling to marry your dream girl or drop your dream girl to stay with May-ling? Either way you lose! Please give this a good think. And please realize that you are not immune to romantic love. No one is.
“But Rick’s letter fell on deaf ears. Colin and May-ling married that December and a year later moved to Manila. There, Colin worked as a loan officer for the Asia Development Bank. ‘I guess Colin was right and I was wrong,’ thought Rick. ‘He is indeed immune to romantic love.’
“Then it happened. Colin and May-ling flew into Bangkok for a short visit. May-ling didn’t stay around long since Colin had work to do and she wanted to see Burma. But Rick got one good look at her eyes and that was enough. Normally composed, self-contained, and at peace with herself, May-ling wasn’t now. Now she was struck dumb by fear and insecurity. As soon as she left, Rick confronted his friend.
“‘Boy, you must be having one helluva affair,’ he said.
“Colin stopped dead in his tracks. For a moment it appeared his three-piece suit would fall off and that his incisors would drop out.
“‘Is it that obvious?’ he said sheepishly.
“‘I wouldn’t say so if it wasn’t,’ Rick said. ‘You’ve many fine qualities, my friend, but masking a tryst isn’t one of them.’
“Colin winced; then, true to form, collected himself.
“‘I’ve got to apologize to you, old buddy. You warned me. You said that I’d crash one day and I have. But, my God, if you could only see her, you’d understand. Every single man at the bank has the hots for her. And with good reason. She’s the most luscious piece of femininity ever to grace the face of the earth. Still, above and beyond that, there’s a divine sweetness to her soul, a scintillating spirit that leaves me breathless. At first, being married, I tried to shun her, to avoid her at all costs. I was positive she’d fall for one of the single guys. Then I noticed something odd: she was not just a fox looking for an up-and-coming banker. She was looking for a man who cared about people. Whenever I spoke about the Peace Corps, whenever I mentioned the poverty and deprivation I’d witnessed with upcountry Thais, tears would well up in her eyes. She didn’t want to hear about stocks and bonds, about interest rates and loans. She wanted to understand me. She wanted to know how my mind worked, what made my heart tick. It was then that I fell madly in love with her.’
“‘Did she know about May-ling?’
“‘Yes, yes, of course she did. And that stood in our way for a while. You see she’s a devout Catholic. She’d always assumed she’d fall for a single guy.’
“‘So what are you going to do?’
“‘We don’t really know. Lisa–that’s her name–and I are so entangled with our feelings we can’t think straight.’
“‘Shades of Dr. Zhivago.’
“‘You remember Dr. Zhivago’s wife. There was nothing wrong with her. Zhivago seemed to love her but it was with his head, not his heart. Then along came Lara….’
“‘Yes,’ said Colin sadly shaking his head. ‘Lisa and Lara. That sums it up, doesn’t it? But how do I resolve this? I can’t ditch May-ling. After all, she came first.’
“Rick was stunned, downright perplexed.
“‘I don’t get you,’ he said. ‘What does coming first have to do with the workings of your heart?’
“‘I–I–I’m not exactly sure. But it means something. It means a lot. I suppose it has something to do with commitment. Yes, that’s it. I committed myself to May-ling first.’
“‘Don’t talk rubbish,’ said Rick. ‘Of course you committed yourself to May-ling first. You didn’t even know Lisa existed. Come on, Colin. This is not astrophysics. You cannot explain it via a space-time continuum. If you’re trying to rationalize your way through this labyrinth, through this fog of emotion, you’re doing a crumby job of it.’
“‘What do you mean by that?’ he said vehemently.
“‘Listen, Colin. I know you. I know you damn well. By nature you’re a pragmatist. You’re always on the lookout for a practical solution no matter how dicey the problem.’
“‘This is true, old buddy. This is true.’
“‘Well, this time, my friend, I fear you’re up a tree. You’ve stumbled upon a problem that has nothing but negative outcomes. You hate to hurt people but this time someone will have to be hurt. It’s the nature of the beast.’
“‘I refuse to accept that,’ he said doggedly. ‘I’ll fight this to the bitter end. I swear I will.’
“Less than a month later Colin bounced back into Bangkok and rang Rick up at school. His voice over the phone sounded out of character–weird, mysterious, almost insidious.
“‘Meet me at the Montien Hotel tonight at eight,’ Colin said conspiratorially. ‘Room 323. And be sure to come alone.’
“Rick sailed into Colin’s room like the Blue Nose only to be stopped like the Titanic. There, stretched out on the queen-sized bed, lay this bewitching, beguiling, breathtaking babe. Superlatives could not begin to describe her physicality, her animal allure. Suffice to say what this woman didn’t have wasn’t worth having.
“Of course Colin was beaming like a man who’d just bagged his first cheetah. Somehow Rick kept his cool but inside he was seething. Not so much because he’d been placed in an awkward position but because of the girl. Colin had reduced her to an object.
“‘Old buddy,’ he said triumphantly. ‘I’d like you to meet Lisa. Lisa, I’d like you to meet Rick.’
“Lisa rose from the bed in one long, languorous, serpentine motion. With most other women such a maneuver would’ve seemed cheap and cheesy. She made it look elegant and smart.
“‘It’s a pleasure meeting you,’ she said. ‘Colin talks about you all the time. I almost feel as if I know you.’
“There was a soft lilt to her voice, a gentle timbre that lent sincerity to anything she uttered. For an instant Rick too fell under her spell. But it didn’t last long. Though normally diffident around women, especially beautiful women, he felt courageous with Lisa. Was it her manner? Was it her inner grace? Or was it the fact that his best friend was banging the bejesus out of her? He wasn’t sure. All he knew was that he had to speak his mind and speak his mind he did.
“‘I don’t mean to hurt you, Lisa,’ he said looking straight into her smoldering big brown eyes. ‘But I don’t think you’re that good-looking.’
“Lisa titled her head and smiled.
“‘I’ve had many things said to me,’ she said wryly. ‘But that’s a new one.’
“Colin looked on incredulously. His eyes seemed to be saying: ‘Are you nuts? No one can say that about my Venus.’
“Suddenly the telephone rang in the other room.
“‘Excuse me,’ said Colin. ‘I’d better get that.’
“Colin was on the phone for a good ten minutes. Coming back into the room, he was visibly shaken.
“‘Are you all right?’ said Lisa.
“‘That was the home front. Something’s come up. I’d planned to take you guys out to dinner but now I’d better call if off. Could you come here for dinner tomorrow at six, old buddy? I’d like to see you again before flying back to Manila.’
“Rick knew his friend too well to ask questions.
“‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘I’ll see you then. In the meantime I hope you sort things out.’
“‘I do too,’ said Colin cryptically. ‘I do too.’
“As promised, Rick arrived promptly at the Montien the next night. To his surprise, Colin was sitting alone at a table in the hotel restaurant.
“‘Where’s Lisa?’ said Rick. ‘Gone to powder her nose?’
“‘No,’ said Colin. ‘She’s up in the room. I wanted to talk with you man-to-man.’
“Rick pulled out a chair and sat down directly opposite his friend. The table was covered with a thick white tablecloth and the cutlery befitted that of a first-class hotel.
“A Thai waiter walked to the table and filled their glasses with water.
“‘I’ll be back with the menus in a minute,’ he said.
“‘That won’t be necessary,’ said Colin taking charge. ‘The roast beef dinner is superb here, old buddy. I’d highly recommend it.’
“‘That sounds wonderful. I’ll have the same as my friend.’
“As the waiter turned and walked away, Colin put both hands in his lap dejectedly, something Rick had never seen him do before. Usually Colin was buoyant and lively; hence he gesticulated with abandon. Not so tonight. Something was weighing on his mind.
“‘That phone call last night threw me for a loop,’ he said.
“Rick said nothing.
“‘It was May-ling,’ Colin continued. ‘I’ve never heard her so happy. She’d just returned from seeing the doctor. She’s two months pregnant.’
“‘Congratulations,’ Rick said automatically. ‘Was it planned?’
“‘Yes, it was. We’ve been trying to have a baby for two years now.’
“‘How about Lisa?’
“‘She wants to have a baby with me too. She says that she doesn’t care if we’re married or not.’
“‘Colin, I didn’t mean that. How does Lisa feel?’
“‘She cried on and off all last night. Even our lovemaking couldn’t block the pain. Finally she fell asleep in my arms around five a.m. That gave me some time to think.’
“‘Have you reached any decisions?’
“‘Yes, I have. I’ve decided to stay with May-ling. She came first.’
“There was that odd sentence again. What did it mean? Was it some sort of Scottish-American loyalty code?
“‘Remember, old buddy, what you said about this being a no-win situation, that at least two or three people would be hurt?’
“‘But what would happen if you took Lisa off my hands?’
“‘What are you talking about? Lisa isn’t interested in me. She’s in love with you.’
“‘I know,’ he said. ‘But she might learn to love you. Lisa likes you, Rick. I could sense that last night when you make that crazy crack about her looks. No one at the bank would dare say that to her, not even me.’
“‘Well, it’s this way,’ he said. ‘My colleagues at the bank are not bad guys but they’re not right for Lisa. They’re go-getters. They’re only interested in making money.’
“‘Doesn’t that make them better prospects? Listen, Colin. As a teacher I’ll make a middle-class income at best. Lisa, it strikes me, wants more than that. Much more. A woman like that demands the frilly things in life. You know, the finest from lingerie to lipstick.’
“‘You’re wrong there, good buddy. Lisa may have her faults but being a gold-digger isn’t one of them. Yes, I admit, this is a screwy idea. But tell me: do you really think you’ll get another shot at a woman like that?’
“‘And what makes you think Lisa would go for such a scheme?’
“‘I can be pretty convincing when I set my mind to it,’ he said. ‘I talked with her at length this morning about it.’
“‘You did what?’
“‘Take it easy, old buddy. Of course, Lisa is embarrassed and asked for time to think it over. I agreed and told her that I’d talk to you. Tomorrow morning I have to catch an early flight to Manila. I suggested to Lisa that she stay for another night or two. That way you guys could get better acquainted.’
“Rick was struck speechless. Fortunately the waiter arrived with the roast beef dinners. That gave him enough time to collect his thoughts. Rick had always respected women. Indeed he might have respected them too much. Sure he had had a few serious relationships but never with anyone in Lisa’s league. Suddenly he felt piqued, downright upset with the way Colin wished to pawn her off.
“‘How can you be so cavalier?’ Rick said. ‘Isn’t this tearing you apart?’
“Colin’s face grew dark and somber.
“‘It’s like my heart has been ripped out of my chest,’ he said. ‘But don’t you understand? I want Lisa to be happy. I want you to be happy.’
“‘There’s only one problem,’ Rick said.
“‘Well, suppose this zany idea does work. Suppose I learn to love Lisa and Lisa learns to love me, where does that leave you and me? To my mind, something has to be sacrificed and that sacrifice has to be our friendship. In other words, if Lisa and I hook up, you must promise never to see us again. Do I have your word on that?’
“‘I didn’t see that side of it,’ he said. ‘But you’re right. There’s an opening in Eastern Europe. The job is mine for the asking. I guess it’s time for Asia and me to part, to go our separate ways. As you said, I’m a pragmatic man.’
“‘That leaves Lisa.’
“‘Yes, that leaves Lisa,’ Colin said. ‘Here’s how we play it. Lisa still needs time to mull this over. So tonight I’ll give you the key. Sometime late tomorrow evening you come back to the hotel and let yourself into Room 323. Either Lisa will be there or she won’t be. If she’s not, return the key to the desk. If she is, stay the night. Okay?’
Rick shuddered. Colin was one of his best friends and the thought of never seeing him again cut deep. But the thought of Lisa and her languorous beauty held him enthralled.
“‘You know this might be the last time we see each other?’ he said.
“‘I know,’ said Colin. ‘But we’ll always be friends wherever we are. I love that woman more than life itself. If she decides to go with you, take good care of her. You’ll never be sorry.’
“Rick arrived at the Montien Hotel late the next day. He was about to turn the key in the lock to Room 323 when the door swung open and Lisa stood before him. She was clad casually in faded blue jeans and an oversized T-shirt with the words ‘HUG ME’ in big red letters. She appeared completely at ease. No one would have guessed that her heart was broken.
“‘Please come in,’ she said.
“Rick could see that she was trying to be debonair and nonchalant. He admired her for that. No one could be trained for such a bizarre, insane situation.
“‘Thank you,’ he said.
“‘Would you like a drink?’
“‘A Coke would be fine. Being a controlled epileptic, I try not to drink alcohol. I hope Colin told you about my malady.’
“‘He did,’ she said.
“‘And it doesn’t bother you?’
“‘Not in the slightest. Were I a Buddhist it might. Then I’d be fixated on the sanctity of the human mind. As it is I find you rather brave.’
“‘I bet there are not many epileptics in the Peace Corps,’ she said simply.
“‘Say, Lisa, tell me. Why are you doing this? Certainly you could have almost any man you want.’
“‘Do you think I’m crazy?’
“‘Not at all, I think you love Colin with all your heart.’
“‘I do,’ she said. ‘And I know he loves me. I can feel it.’
“‘It’s that strong?’
“‘Yes, it’s that strong.’
“There was a pause–a long pause.
“‘I don’t care for the other men at the bank,’ she said. ‘All they see is my body. They try to strip me bare with their eyes. It gets old. Colin said you were different. He said you tried hard to understand people from the inside out rather than the other way around.’
“‘I’m trying hard to understand you now,’ Rick said with a laugh. ‘I’m afraid I’m not doing a good job of it. You’re a complicated woman.’
“‘Not really,’ she said softly. ‘I want to be loved and to be loved deeply. That’s all. I want to be the sun of a man’s life and I want him to be the sun of mine. And I want three or four kids to revolve around us like planets. Is that complicated? Is that asking too much?’
“‘Not with the right man.’
“‘Are you the right man, Rick?’
“‘I’m not sure, Lisa. I hope so.’
“‘Hope is not enough,’ she said. ‘You must want me. You must need me. You must desire me with all your heart and all your soul. Otherwise we don’t stand a chance.’
“The hours flew by and the talk grew light and breezy. For the most part they sat on the sofa and asked each other questions–questions about their families, about childhood cares and triumphs, about adolescent fears and aspirations, about adult wants and desires.
“Finally around 10:30 they decided to turn in. There was an awkward moment in the bedroom. Taking off her jeans and T-shirt in the walk-in closet, Lisa emerged wearing a two-layered semi-transparent satin negligee. The inner layer was an olive green and the outer layer was charcoal black. It set Lisa’s entire body off to perfection.
“‘I apologize for the flamboyant nightwear,’ she said flatly. ‘Colin bought it for me. I don’t have anything modest.’
“Clad only in his boxer shorts and a plain T-shirt, Rick felt like a truck driver in the boudoir of a princess.
“‘It’s most becoming,’ he said.
“Lisa was now standing to the left of the queen-sized bed while Rick stood directly opposite to the right. Normally the bed would be viewed as a place of rest and relaxation. Not now. Now it was a barrier–something that had to be overcome and conquered.
“Rick was about to speak, to say something to break the tension, to ease the electricity in the air. But some inner voice urged him to remain silent. It proved to be a good decision.
“‘I’ve something to tell you, Rick,’ Lisa said hesitantly. ‘Colin is the only man I’ve ever slept with. You might not believe that but it’s the truth.’
“Rick still didn’t say a word. Still listening to his inner voice, he drew the sheet back and got into bed. Lisa followed suit. She lay down on her side with her back facing him. Even without tactile contact, Rick could sense the tightness, the tension in her body.
“‘I promise I won’t hurt you,’ he said.
“‘Don’t make promises you can’t keep,’ she whispered back.
“Lisa was starting to relax, starting to breathe normally when Rick made his move. Gently placing his left hand on her hip, he ran his fingers up and under her waist. He couldn’t believe how petite she was. Without a doubt he could encircle her waist with both hands.
“Lisa stirred and turned over. They were now eye-to-eye in the dim light of the room. What Rick now saw in those magnificent orbs took his breath away. It wasn’t anything physical. It was more mystical and spiritual. ‘No man,’ he said to himself, ‘could view them up close and not be shaken to the core.’
“‘So Colin was wrong,’ she said. ‘You too cannot resist me.’
“‘Gimme your right hand,’ said Rick.
“‘The Thais have a way of telling how many children a woman is going to have. I was wondering about you.’
“‘Oh, don’t be silly.’
“‘Come on. Don’t be a spoil sport.’
“Lisa reluctantly gave Rick her hand. The fingers were long and beautifully formed.
“‘Now I have to do something odd,’ he said. ‘I have to slap the palm of the hand, roll the fingers into a fist then squeeze the veins and arteries at the wrist. The light is dim but we should be able to see some bubbles. The big bubbles stand for boys. The little bubbles stand for girls. Are you ready?’
“‘Go ahead,’ she said.
“Rick performed the procedure.
“‘Ah ha,’ he said. ‘One big bubble and three little ones. One boy and three girls.’
“Lisa didn’t say a word. Rick looked deep into those mystical deep brown eyes.
“‘Oh, Lisa,’ he said. ‘I want you so much.’
“‘I don’t love you,’ she said. ‘Not yet. All I can give you now is my body. What kind of love is that? Oh, Rick, we need more time. At best I can only give you an infinitesimal speck of my heart. Nothing more.’
“‘I know,’ he said. ‘But I rather have an infinitesimal speck of your heart than the entire heart of any other woman. You are my fate. I must accept my fate.
“Lisa’s eyes grew wide with wonder. A vast tenderness, an immense tolerance stirred from within. It wasn’t love, not by a long shot. What was it then? What was this force that drew her to this strange man, this odd creature she’d only known for two days? Instinctively her arms went around him and her legs went up and locked his pelvis onto hers. She could feel him move inside her now. At first she kept her wits about her. But as it went on and on and on, she lost all sense of time and space. Not only was her whole body on fire but her soul as well. Somehow she was able to maintain control, even as their bodies attained heavenly heights, even as they exploded into one. Laying there in a wet sweat, all she could do was nibble like a child at his ear and whisper: ‘Oh Colin, oh Colin, oh Colin….’
“Two days later Rick saw Lisa off at Don Muang International Airport. Before boarding the aircraft, Lisa warned him of the coming storm.
“‘Expect nothing but grief from my family,’ she said. ‘My mother and father are very traditional. Your not courting me in the proper manner will not go down well. In a word you’ll be unfairly judged. There’s no way I could tell them the truth, that I’ve had premarital sex. Do you love me enough to take such heat?’
“‘Yes,’ Rick said. ‘But isn’t there some way to placate them?’
“‘Not now. I’ve broken too many rules, committed too many taboos. My parents know nothing of my affair with Colin but they do know that young men at the bank have been hitting on me something fierce. So I’m afraid you’ll have to take the brunt of the criticism. Patience and tolerance are our only allies. Defer to my parents in all things. And, oh yes, bring pasabubong whenever you come to visit the house. Gift giving is terribly important in our culture. We have a saying: ‘Courting a Filipina means courting the family too.’”
“Things went pretty much as Lisa predicted, especially after she insisted on a speedy and simple wedding ceremony. But Rick’s innate goodness, his sincere devotion to his wife eventually won them over. Then Lisa gave birth to their first child–a boy–nine months after their tryst at the Montien Hotel. Three more children–all girls–followed in the next seven years. So, as Rick had predicted and Lisa had hoped, the twin stars with their four planets came into being.”
“Well,” said Fred. “What do you make of that? Doesn’t that show the glory of romantic love?”
“I presume you want me to connect the dots,” I said.
“I don’t get you.”
“You should, my friend. You should. You see, I need to tie off a few loose ends before I pass judgment.”
“Okay,” said Fred. “Fire away.”
“First tell me what happened to Colin. Did he keep his word and stay away from Lisa? A man with such a competitive streak might find that difficult.”
“Yes,” said Fred. “Colin proved to be a man of his word. Rick never heard from him again, except to know he went to work in Europe where he and his family prospered.”
“And what about their offspring? How many kids did Colin and May-ling have?”
“Just the one,” said Fred. “A girl. Rick heard that she took after her father in both looks and disposition.”
“So Lisa outpaced May-ling in the motherhood department.”
“What do you mean?”
“Simply arithmetic, my friend. Lisa had four children, whereas May-ling had one.”
“I still don’t get you.”
“All I’m suggesting is that Colin might not be the only competitive person here. Indeed the basis of their love might not be romantic love but an inherent competitive drive. That would explain Lisa’s abhorrence to playing second fiddle to May-ling.”
“Oh, that’s hogwash.”
“Really? Then why did Lisa want to have Colin’s child?”
“Because she loved him.”
“Yes, that’s true. But I would argue that there’s more to it than that. Tell me. Did you ever see Rick and Lisa’s son?”
“No, but I hear he was the spitting image of his mother.”
“How about his mental capabilities? Did Rick mention a talent that the boy had that the three daughters lacked?”
“Hmm,” said Fred. “Come to think of it he did. Rick said the boy had a felicity for foreign languages.”
“We can therefore deduce that the boy is Colin’s son, not Rick’s.”
“Isn’t that a stretch?”
“Not at all. Indeed the stretch is presuming the boy to be Rick’s. After all, the law of averages favors Colin. He was not only the first man in but the one who was in most often.”
“What are you implying?”
“Simply this. At the Montien Hotel that night Lisa had every intention of having sex with Rick. How else could she convince him that he was the father? Judging by what you say about Rick, he’d have loved the boy to death anyway. But women don’t think like that. They think at a more elementary, ovarian level. Still, Lisa was lucky that the boy came out with her physical characteristics. Had he come out like his father, the jig would have been up.”
“That makes sense,” said Fred. “That makes perfect sense. But what does this say about Lisa? Was she a shrewd, conniving woman or was she a raging romantic as Colin and Rick claimed?”
“Both. As far as I’m concerned, Lisa is the jewel in the crown. Though bested by May-ling in the war over Colin, she not only found true love but whipped Colin and his Chinese wife at their own game. Tally it up. May-ling one, Colin two, Rick three, and Lisa four. And in so doing, Lisa never breathed a word, never revealed her secret. Thanks to her every player came out victorious, every player came home a winner. That’s what I call a true woman, a female in a class by herself. Second to none.”
Author’s Bio: Girard Richard Christmas is a seventy-year-old retired American ESL teacher. As a young man, he was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand and Western Samoa from 1973-1978. He subsequently taught English in China, Japan, and the United States. Mr. Christmas is the author of two books: Reports of My Death: Beyond-the-Grave Confessions of North American Writers and The Orawan Poems. He currently lives in Bangkok.