Malichai and I spent the next two days uninterrupted either in his bed or in the bath. He held me as I cried rivers of tears that had been dammed for the last four years, he rocked me slow as we talked and shared things neither of us had ever spoken about with anyone else. We played, and laughed as we revisited our child hoods while we used the bed as a trampoline. We made love, my God how we made love! Again he held me tight as new tears fell, this time from fear of myself and my feelings for him; and our retreat ended while he massaged my head in the bath.
“Marry me Justine …” The words slipped from his mouth slow and clear.
“I can’t …” I whispered without a seconds thought.
“You can’t? What do you mean you can’t? What, do you have to ask your other husband first? He chuckled as I shifted away from him to get out of the tub. “Justine, come on, I’m serious, marry me!”
Grabbing a towel I looked over at him. I guess I thought if I looked at him long enough I would see the future, our future, together. I wanted to see that if I agreed to marry him, we would live happily ever after, but all I saw were two pleading eyes bluer than the clearest seas starring back at me.
“I’m serious too Malichai, I can’t marry you.”
As I left the bathroom I heard water splashing as he gave chase after me foregoing his own towel.
“Justine, talk to me.” He said as he crossed the threshold to my room.
“You’re dripping on my carpet Malichai.”
“Um, because you don’t have a towel, dork” I said attempting to change the subject.
“Why won’t you marry me Justine?
I turned my back to him as I towel dried my hair. He waited patiently for me to answer him, and after five minutes passed in silence I felt him leave the room. I did not turn to face him until he slammed his bedroom door rattling my walls. I could not remember if I had breathed since his proposal, but when I heard “The Thing About Love” blaring from his stereo I inhaled deep. And that breath rushed from my lungs again in one huge sob as I collapsed in a heap onto the floor.
“Hi Mama, is everything alright?” My voice was raw from crying as I answered the phone.
“Hey Baby, I’m calling to see if you are alright, why haven’t I heard from you in three days!”
“Oh Mama, I’ve been busy that’s all … you know how I get when I’m writing…” I said trying my best to put on a smile for her through the phone.
“Yes, Justine, I know how you get when you are writing … but somehow, I don’t think that is why I have not heard from you. What’s the matter? You sound like you’ve been crying.” My mother was psychic. I could never hide anything from her, good or bad. She knows me better than anyone, and rightly so, she is my mother. I had not told her Malichai had come to town, and I certainly had not told her he was living with me indefinitely.
I was careful to visit her often lest she make a surprise visit to my place and die of a heart attack on seeing Malichai. She never really liked Malichai. She tolerated him at one time, because I loved him, but if she had had it her way we would have never have met. When I came back home from New York, she vowed to…
“stomp a mud hole in that white boy” if she ever saw him again. “I just don’t know what you see in that big lump of nothing living off a trust. I know Mr. New York City ain’t worked a day in his life! How would he have taken care of you like a man should take care of a woman playing finger paint all day long?” She said to me as I cried my eyes out in her lap the night I got back home.
“Mama he’s a sculptor, not a painter. And he is a good man, well he used to be anyways …” I said between sobs.
“Hupmh seems to me that a good man wants a good woman … not another man!” she’d replied.
My mother may be psychic, but when it comes to giving consolation, her skills are lacking. And now I found myself at a loss as to what to tell her. It was rare that she actually caught me upset, and she is a smart lady, so I am sure she already had an inkling I was upset behind Malichai yet again; to her chagrin, she knew we still talked often after the break up.
“Justine, are you still there?” She said into dead air left by my silence.
“Yes Mama, I’m here.” I sniffed back tears as I answered here.
“What’s wrong Justine? Do I need to come over there?” She asked nervously.
“No Mama, I’ll be alright. It’s just that … um, Mama, someone proposed to me tonight.” I mumbled hoping she did not catch what I had said.
“Proposed! What? Like marriage? Who Justine? You never said you were even dating! And why are you sitting there crying? Is he there with you now?”
“Um, yes Mama, like marriage. I’m not dating; he’s someone I have known for a while, years. He is here now, but in the other room.”
“Justine, no please tell me that boy is not…”
“Mama, Malichai is here, he has been for a month or so now, and he asked me to marry him.” I squeaked into the phone through unending tears.
“Well, I’d be sobbing too. What did you tell him Justine?” My mother sounded unnervingly calm as she posed the million dollar question.
“I told him I can’t Mama …”
Now it was her turn to hold the phone. A couple of minutes passed before I heard the click of a cigarette lighter. And when I heard her take the first few puffs of her cigarette I just knew I was in for it.
“What about his … boy-f … I mean … what about that other…” I had never heard my mother struggle for words. Normally nothing phases her, but Malichai’s ‘bisexual curiosity had her squirming.
“They are finished Mama.” I said with more certainty than I actually felt.
“Are they now? And he’s gotten this ‘man’ thing out of his system?”
“Is he finished with men Justine?”
“It was just the one time Mama, and he says he loves me.”
She took another long drag of her cigarette, held it, and blew it out as if she were attempting to blow Malichai right out of my head.
“It was one time, so he says, for four years! And he said he loved you before! So, is the boy finished with the men Justine?”
“Yes Mama, yes he is finished with men, he wants me, and he loves me.”
“And you want him too, you love him?” She asked flatly. A few minutes passed before I answered, for once content to listen to her smoke.
“Yes Mama, I love him, I want him, I need him …”
“Then baby, if you love him so much what’s the problem? Why are you sitting there crying? Why can’t you marry Malichai?”
I was taken aback by my mother’s reply. I had expected her to have jumped in the car as soon as I told her Malichai was within striking distance. Beyond that, she has never called him by his name. To her, Malichai was always ‘that white boy’ or ‘Mark’ when she wanted to be really facetious.
“Mama, you approve?” I asked feeling like I was sixteen again asking if I could have a boyfriend.
“Justine, it’s not for me to approve or disapprove. This is your life, you are a grown woman. Now, I am not thrilled, I know you know that. But I also know you know I want you to be happy. And Baby, if Malichai makes you happy, and can continue to make you happy, then I will be happy for you. Now, when are you going to tell him the good news?”
“Mama, I told you, I cannot marry Malichai!” As my voice bounced off my walls I did not know who I was trying to convince.
“Why can’t you Baby?” She asked sounding like she was kissing an injury to make it better. I broke into Renéewed sobs as I grasped for reasons Malichai and I could never be married. And although my cop-outs were weak, I offered them up with vehemence.
“Mama, he will be just like the others, he already has been. Eventually they all break my heart; I just can’t take that again, I’ll die Mama! He has proved it once before that all he can offer me is heart ache … what happens when he wants to ‘experiment’ again? What if the next little adventure he wants to try involves adding partners, or worse? I love him bad Mama, but I just cannot marry him!” She did not get to reply to my rant.
“I’m not him anymore Justine. I am not the man who broke your heart four years ago Bubbles. And I am not those other guys either, nothing like them, not anymore Love. What I am is here Justine. I am standing here before you needing to love you for the rest of my life!” Malichai’s voice was tired, but determined as he made his case.
“Mama I have to …”
“I know Baby. Go, talk to him, and when you two set the date …”
“Justine, let me finish. When you tell my son-in-law you will be his wife, you have him call me ok?”
“Mama I don’t …”
“Ok Mama …”
“My Mom and Dad never really had a chance …” I said as I shoved a bit of chocolate chip cookie into my mouth.
“How am I making this again Justine? You wanted a shot of espresso in your coco right?”
“Yes, a shot of espresso, and a double shot of brandy, topped off with whipped cream sprinkled with chocolate …”
“Yeah yeah, I had everything else …”
Somehow Malichai had become the house bartender since he had taken up residence with me. He made my adult beverages to such perfection that I was conflicted as to weather or not he should continue his studies in sculpture, or open up his very own pub.
“Did they love each other?” He asked as he served our night caps.
It had been an excruciatingly long day turned night, and it was only eight in the evening.
“No … I really don’t think they did. My mom was a country girl from East Texas. She’d never been to Dallas when she moved here, never had a job, or had ever lived on her own. She was fresh out of high school, and ripe for the picking. The way she tells it, she moved here with a relative, got a job at Blue Cross Blue Shield, my grandfather was her boss, his son worked under him. Kenneth Wayne, my dad, was wild. He had grown up in the city, loved fast living, and harbored no regrets … I guarantee my grandparents were thoroughly exhausted and looking for someone to unload my father on when my mother came along. She was a god send as far as my grandparents were concerned.”
I sipped my spiked chocolate as I tried to explain why I could not marry Malichai, but the more I spoke, the less sense I made. My issue had nothing to do with my parents. I was reaching for excuses that just were not there.
“My Papa found out his son and my mother were having sex. That was all he needed to decree that they would be married, said that he would be damned if his grandkids would be born bastards. He got his way, we were not born bastards, but my parents divorced two years after they were joined. I wonder what my grandfather considered my brother and me then?”
“Was the divorce messy?” Malichai asked as he stroked a fingertip along the back of my hand.
“Aren’t they all? It was 1979, sex and drugs were the norm, and my dad couldn’t get enough of either. He embraced decadence with gusto, carousing the streets of Dallas with this or that floozy, blitzed out of his mind on cocaine and alcohol.
My mother on the other hand, was more practical. She begged him to settle down, to be the husband and father she honestly thought he could be, but he would have none of it. Eventually my mother got fed up. She sold the house my grandfather had given us when my parents were married for a pittance of two-hundred dollars. She said by the time she had made up her mind to leave, things were so bad that she could not stand the idea of waiting for a more realistic offer for the house. I was two years old, my brother a newborn. She packed the three of us up and never looked back.”
“How come you never talk about your Dad Justine? Come to think of it, you have never said much about any family outside of your mother and brother.”
“What’s to say?” I asked shrugging.
“Well how did you and your dad get along later in life?”
Malichai let my terse answer end the conversation about my father and family. I saw understanding in his eyes. We had both learned something profound about me and my attitude towards love and affection in this one conversation. Granted, my history with Malichai offered ample reason for me not to trust him, but the damage had been done long before he and I had ever met.
“Justine …” He said taking my hands in his. The sympathetic tone in his voice made me uncomfortable, but when I tried to pull away from him his grip tightened.
“I am so sorry about your relationship with your father, I am sorry about the way his and your Mother’s relationship turned out. Justine, I am so sorry for the past awful relationships you’ve had leading up to right now, and most of all, I am sorry for my hand in that awfulness …”
“Malichai … please let go …” I could not take this … this … love.
“I can’t Justine …” He said pulling me into his lap. As he wrapped his arms around my stiff frame I could not help but to look into his eyes happy to drown within their sapphire depths.
“I am sorry, Justine, forgive me, forgive me, and then marry me …”
And there it was again. The proposal I had so long coveted jealously when seeing a newly wed couple exiting a church. Hell, I couldn’t even watch television commercials for jewelers advertising engagement bands without spiraling into a full nasty funk wondering ‘where’s my ring, where’s my man?’
And now here I satin Malichai’s lap in front of his offer of, everything, and I falter? In his eyes I saw the promise of endless nights of passion, days filled with laughter, and some tears, but shared. I saw long walks hand in hand along the Mediterranean cost as we celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I saw a house … our home. In his hope filled eyes, I saw our children.
“I think I’m breaking you down, Love …” He said kissing away a lone tear that had fallen as I gazed at him. “Listen; don’t give me your answer now. You’re tired, you should rest, and I haven’t worked in the past few days, that piece is not going to sculpt itself I’m afraid.”
“Malichai I, it’s just that ..”
“Shhh, Love, later. It’s late, you should go to bed. We’ll talk in the morning.” He left me with a tender peck atop my lips and a look that told me he needed so much more than a small kiss right then as he pushed the door to my room open. I did not realize how tight a grip I had on his hand until he pulled himself from me. I did not want to let go for fear that this be some elaborate dream in which after so much torment, heart break, and loss, I finally get everything I ever wanted.
For the first time in forever I lay my head down sober. It felt good. My thoughts no longer rolled and broke like choppy frigid nighttime waters. When I closed my eyes it was twilight over tranquil seas. A warm gust seemed wash my soul in the briny sea breeze that was my contemplation. Way off in the distance I heard a gull seem to cry out “say yes, say yes” And before sleep finally overtook me, in thinking of Malichai, I was whole.
He changed plans on me again! The bastard! He’s so inconsiderate that I’m only just finding out that he changed his plans now that I’m standing outside his building. When he didn’t buzz me in when I rung his doorbell, I called him to let him know I was standing outside. The arrogant ass didn’t even apologize for inconveniencing me. He just said, “Oh, I forgot to call and tell you that my brothers came by to take me fishing.” How could he not be home when he knew I’d be coming over! I’m sick of him! And I’m sick of me for putting up with him! I hate failure and want our relationship to work so badly that I’ve put up with way more than anyone should have to.
So here I am in my car wondering what to do. I don’t really want to go home and I love my best friend, but know I can’t go hang with her. She’s probably tired and fussing with the kids. Plus, I don’t want her telling me what I already know…that he’s no good for me. We’ll have a margarita night soon for that discussion. As I ponder over my options, my mind keeps wandering to Jae. She’s always asking me to come and chill with her. I haven’t taken her up on it though because he has a problem with me hanging out with lesbians. He only accepts my best friend because I’ve assured him that nothing has ever happened between us, and she’s married to a woman that I also consider a friend.
Sitting in my car angry and more than a little depressed, I decided to call and see if Jae was busy. When she answered, she said that she was at home drinking a few beers and watching TV. I told her that my plans for the day had changed and was wondering what she were up to. She immediately invited me over. I tried to ignore the sense of anticipation I was feeling at finally making plans to be alone with her. On the drive over, I found that I was nervous. Not nervous enough to go home, but nervously giddy (and I don’t do giddy). When I pulled up in front of her house, I had to take a few calming breaths before getting out of the car. I told myself that I was just nervous because I knew that he would be angry when he found out who I spent the day with. It wasn’t because I was curious or attracted to her in any way.
She must have heard me pull up because she was standing in the doorway when I looked up. I could feel the pounding of my heart as I got out of the car and made the short walk toward her. When I reached her, I was pulled into the biggest hug that I’ve received in a long time. It was so wonderful that for a moment I forgot my nerves. When she released me, she grabbed my hand and led me into her apartment.
Once inside, I saw that she was watching a horror movie. Not quite my style, but I sat while she went to get me something to drink. When she returned and found me covering my eyes she started laughing. She told me that she could put in another movie, but I told her that I could handle it. She sat on the sofa beside me and I was immediately distracted by the feel of her leg touching mine. She was wearing gym shorts and I had on a skirt so we had direct skin contact. I was further distracted when she placed her hand on my thigh and told me that she was glad that I decided to come over. I faced her to respond, but no words would come out. She just smiled at me and said, “I got you during the scariest parts.” When she turned to once again focus on the movie, I felt relief.
My mind is whirling with questions as I sit beside her; questions like…What was I really doing here? Did she have certain expectations? Did I want her to have expectations? What would I do if she made a move? Finally, I told myself to stop it and just enjoy the company and deal with things as they come. Easier said than done but I like Jae and if nothing else, we can have a fun day together.
Once I resolved to relax, I discovered that we naturally began leaning into each other. Better still, she had one arm placed casually across my shoulders. It was nice feeling supported since, he never cared to sit and relax with me. I’m not certain, but Jae must have sensed that my mood had changed when I was thinking about him because she asked if anything was wrong. When I looked up into her face and saw her concern, I just started crying. I could just slap myself… I hated crying and I couldn’t stop. She just held me and let me cry. Her voice was so soothing and her arms were so comforting that I eventually fell asleep.
I woke up slowly and a little confused. I was definitely comfortable, but I was in someone’s arms. Actually, I was laying on them! Then it hit me where I was and who I was with. I opened my eyes and looked to find Jae watching me. I didn’t know what to say as I realized how intimately we were arranged on the couch. She was on her back leaning against an armrest with my head resting on her chest and my legs between hers. I noticed that she was lightly rubbing my back with one hand as she stared down into my face. When I asked how long I had been asleep. Her reply was to say not long enough if I planned to move. If I could blush…now would be the time. I hid my face in her chest and whispered, “I never want to move.”
As I lay there with my head on her chest I became aware of two things. First I noticed that one of my hands was tangled up in her braids, and secondly that her hand which was caressing my back was slowly moving lower. It felt like I was in a dream when I lifted my face up only to have her join her lips to mine. All thought left my brain as I focused on the sensation of her soft lips moving against my own. A shiver went down my spine as I wrapped my arms around her neck to pull myself closer. I felt her hands as they slid up and down my back before stopping at my butt to give a firm squeeze.
After what seemed like hours, I pulled away to look into her eyes. We were both lightly panting. Both of my hands were now in her hair, while both of her hands were kneading my buttocks. We lost eye contact when she became distracted by me licking my lips. When I moved one hand down to trail a finger down the side of her face, she moved to intercept it with her lips. Sucking on my finger for a moment before her lips kissed my brow, my eyes, my nose, and finally reclaiming my lips. I was drowning in emotions and sensations. Lost in how her body felt against mine. I was overwhelmed with the pleasure of her kisses.
Again I was the first to break the kiss. I’m not sure what I want to say as I struggle to form words, but she stops me with three little words. “I got you.”