Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Director’s Commentary

(XUM’s den at home. XUM is seated at a modest desk dictating notes in a digital recorder while NAMIKO sits on a sofa behind him reading a printout of his next blog.)

NAMIKO: (Pointing to a paragraph in the middle of the page.) I can’t believe you are thinking of including this part.

XUM: Too much?

NAMIKO: Definitely too much.

XUM: That’s why I always have you read these first. Sometimes I get too… passionate.

NAMIKO: Hmm. I also thought you said that your blog is not intended to give advice.

XUM: Giving advice? Is that how you read that? I was just explaining how I…

NAMIKO: Uh, huh… And isn’t this blog supposed to be “family friendly”?

XUM: I thought what I wrote there was discreet and tasteful. You should see the first draft.

NAMIKO: Mmmm… you have a spicier version?

XUM: Spicy! That’s the word I wanted to use. Please hand that to me.

(NAMIKO hands the printout to XUM, who jots the word “spicy” on one line with a red pen.)

NAMIKO: (Reading the edit.) What? Oh, my! Is that supposed to be a compliment? (Laughter.)

XUM: I would say it describes the experience.

NAMIKO: The “experience”? (Laughter.) If you say so. Salt is a spice, isn’t it?

XUM: Here, would it be better if I take out these details about you and make it more about me?

NAMIKO: Xum, this is all about you.

XUM: (Laughter.)

NAMIKO: Say, you didn’t mention how I first noticed your…

XUM: On purpose. I don’t want to talk about that.

NAMIKO: Why not? It’s a good story, when you finally told me.

XUM: I don’t know if I want to share that with…

NAMIKO: Oh, come on. That’s pretty tame compared to what you’ll be revealing in this one, “Stitzer.”

XUM: Hmm…

NAMIKO: Tell you what. If you include that part, I’ll let you keep this section about your “not advice”… provided you tone it down a bit more.

XUM: I’ve already decided to take that part out.

NAMIKO: Really? You’ve got to admit, this blog entry is much stronger if you keep it in.

XUM: And that’s why I included it in the first place.

NAMIKO: So you’ll do it?

XUM: I… Let me think about it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

First Dance

October 2005

“Namiko? Wake up.”

She had dozed off in the car as I was driving her to the Caltrain station after our seventh date (and I considered all of our outings together as dates, even though she would not). She had been yawning from the moment I picked her up at the Ferry Building earlier that evening, apologizing with an explanation that she hasn’t had enough sleep. I was content with cancelling our plans so she could get some rest, but she insisted she wanted to spend time with me that Friday evening. So we continued the drive to the Kabuto restaurant in Richmond.

Tired as she was, it was up to me to keep up the lion’s share of the conversation through dinner, and I had done my best — even though I knew she was paying as much attention to me as she was to her entree, eating only a small amount of the sashimi teishoku in front of her and gently prodding the rest of it with her chopsticks. While I always enjoyed Namiko’s company, and was glad about how much she wanted to be with me, I could see her struggling to smile as she half-listened to my monologue of recent life events, and I felt a twinge of guilt with each listless look she gave me with her very dark eyes.

This was a mistake.

Namiko reluctantly agreed. We decided to forgo our plans for dessert at Joe’s Ice Cream and call it an evening.

“Please wake up.”

Namiko's lovely body arched as she stretched herself awake in the passenger seat. Then she immediately sat bolt upright when she realized that we weren’t at the Castro station, but in front of her home.

“Wait. How did you…?” She suddenly seemed more alert than she had been all evening; I wasn’t sure if it was due more to her surprise or to the fact that she had slept soundly through the hour-long drive to Mountain View.

“People Search. MapQuest. Luckily you weren’t unlisted.” I helped her out of my car, reassuring myself that my research into her home address a few weeks prior was not an act of obsession, but preparation for a situation such as this. There was no way I would allow Namiko to travel alone by train when she was more than half-asleep. Nor was I going to let her drive home from the Evelyn Avenue station. “I trust you can get your car from the carpark in the morning?”

Namiko’s beautiful eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Yeah. I can manage that. Thought of everything, didn’t you?” She looked at me intently. “You know, I’d invite you in, except…”

“It is all right, Namiko. You are tired. And I didn’t expect…”

She shook her dark, wispy hair. “It’s not that. I want to invite you in, but… well, I should tell you something first.” She glanced quickly to the narrow walkway to the door. “You see, I have a baby. A son. He’s almost a year old. His father was… well, he was a big mistake.” Her voice was suddenly faraway.

My heart was beating a little faster, yet I didn’t seem too surprised by the revelation. Perhaps I had unconsciously suspected it when she first mentioned her inability to travel. At the moment, I was more astonished by my inability to respond. All I could do was quietly look at the beautiful face that was still turned from me. I was suddenly filled with wonder about what it was like to raise a child, alone, while still maintaining her professional career. It made me respect — and love — Namiko all the more.

“This would be the part where the guy would turn tail and run,” she commented flatly, as if speaking from experience.

I finally found my voice. “I’m not going anywhere.” I said, pulling her close in an embrace. She stiffened.

“What are you doing?”

Surprised, I loosened my grip. Was I being too forward? “Sorry. I was only…” my heart seemed to catch in my throat as I saw Namiko’s rich chocolate eyes lock on mine. Our lips met… and danced together as time seemed to slide away.

Upon release, her gaze followed her finger that she playfully ran down the center of my chest. She looked up and smiled fetchingly at me. “So, was that like biting on foil?”

“That’s me all right…”

“Far from it,” I replied.

“…the ‘Tinfoil Girl.”’

“Good manners,” she said with a playful smirk. Her smile widened. “Well, I was right about you. You do…”

“And you, I bet you…”

“…melt in the mouth.” She immediately giggled at that, just like she did at the Tadich Grill weeks ago when she kept that phrase to herself.

Her laugh was infectious.  “So, when do I meet the man of the house?” I grinned.

My arm was suddenly locked in Namiko’s elbow. “How about right now?”

She was even more awake and alert now, and excited. She literally pulled me by the arm through her front door, through a breezy introduction to the babysitter, and into a modest nursery.

Her baby boy was in his crib, but still awake, and squealed and kicked with delight upon seeing his mother.  He had Namiko’s eyes, which locked right on me with such stark familiarity, as if he had known me for all of his then-short life.

“So this is what has been keeping you up at night,” I mused. I reached down toward his swinging hands, one of which suddenly became a tight tiny fist around my extended finger. He giggled appreciatively.

“He’s beautiful,” I said. “He’ll be quite the heartbreaker someday.”

Namiko’s smile failed to stifle a yawn, indicating her fatigue had returned.

The teenaged babysitter poked her head in the doorway. “I guess I should be heading out since you are home early,” she began.

“If I may,” I interrupted. “I don’t suppose you could stay as planned to watch over this little guy so Namiko can get some much-needed sleep?”

The teenager eyed me carefully in response to what I then realized was a very presumptive question, then looked at Namiko quizzically.

She nodded. “It is a good idea,” she said, “if you don’t mind…”

“Oh, no. No,” the babysitter reassured with a warm smile. “It’s fine.” The babysitter disappeared down the hall.

I turned to Namiko. “Her extra hours are on me, okay? You rest.”

“It’s all right. I was ready to pay her in full anyway. I should at least see you out.”

Namiko noticed that her son hadn’t let my finger go. “He likes you,” she said, her face shining with relief at my smile toward the boy. “So what do you think about being a dad? Because that’s what’s going to happen if we keep going forward with this.”

“I’m not really thinking about that,” I responded slowly, “but more about the three of us being a family.”

Her eyes widened. “You mean it?”

“I do. We can start by bringing this little guy along on our da—outings… if that’s all right with you.”

Namiko almost laughed. “If that’s all right?” she smirked.

“Have any plans for tomorrow?” I asked immediately.

She looked at her son tugging on my finger. “We do,” she sighed in mock-disappointment. “Guess you’ll just have to just come along.”

Namiko leaned her very warm body against me, as her son released my hand so I could envelop her in my arms. Our lips danced together again, while the baby boy in the crib below gurgled with approval.

Not the end.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Still Got It

Thunderous music crashed in his ears as the man tried to make his way through the swarming throng of nightclub patrons. His dark eyes roved around the room, his spectacled vision searching past the colored strobes that exploded around him, until he saw the reason for him being here.

The woman.

He arrived in this place with the woman a few hours before, for a much quieter corporate event hosted by her organization. She had a plus-one, and thus invited him to be her… well, not her date. Oh, no. She had made that quite clear. Their afternoon of kite flying in Crissy Field and Joe’s mocha chip ice cream in Richmond, as well as that lovely Sunday Dim Sum in the Financial District weeks later, were not dates either. Nor did the man and woman consider themselves a “couple.” They were just two friends, “hanging out”, and getting to know each other better.

And that was perfectly fine with the man, even as he saw her on the dance floor, and those sensuous curves that were swinging and undulating to the hard bass beat that threatened to rock the entire building. His gaze wandered to the wisps of her long dark hair that bounced with each movement, then studied her silken face carefully. Her eyes locked with his across the room, catching hold of his gaze almost… seductively.

God, she was lovely.

After her company event, the woman wanted to stay on as the venue prepared to open to the public for the evening, stating that she hadn’t “gone clubbing in years.” The man hadn’t ever “gone clubbing” per se, though he has visited a dance club or three in his lifetime (usually for business reasons). The last time was at the Buddha Bar in Paris, almost a decade before, but he wouldn’t tell the woman that. He knew how much she longed to travel the world, and tried to conceal her envy of him having lived in various “exotic” far-off places whenever their conversation turned to his past.

But now the man was envious of her. She was at least 10 years older than most of the people dancing around her, but she mingled with the crowd as if she were their college mate. The man was about 15 years the woman’s senior, and he couldn’t help but feel so out of place. It didn’t help that his business suit, which was appropriate for the function hours before, made him appear as an undertaker among the youthful crowd.

The man abruptly snapped out of his reverie as he saw another, younger man boldly brush up against the back of the woman. She tried to step away to politely give him room, but then discovered that his contact was no accident as he got uncomfortably closer to her.

The man’s eyes narrowed as he pushed his way toward the dance floor. He didn’t like what the brazen animal’s hands were doing. Neither did the woman; the crack of her sharp slap across the lecher’s face seemed to transcend the booming music.

The woman quickly slipped through the standing crowd, stepped up to the man, and surprisingly threw her arms around his neck. The man swallowed — hard — as his heart leapt to his throat. This was the first sign of physical affection she had ever displayed to him. “Now I remember why I haven’t gone clubbing in so long,” she said tersely, pulling the man by the arm toward the cloak room.  “Let’s get outta here.”

Once outside, the woman immediately unlocked her arm from the man’s elbow as they started the five-block walk to the man’s car. The man realized that her brief display of ardor in the club was solely meant to dissuade the lecher on the dance floor from further pursuit. But the man didn’t begrudge her for what might have been construed as a cruel tease. While he did have secret hopes of a romantic relationship with his strikingly beautiful companion, he was also very patient. This was only their third… not-date, after all. The man didn’t want to rush things, and he was more than happy to be used in this way to help get her out of that harassing situation.

However, a block later, they discovered that her ploy did not work.

“Hey, baby… what’s your hurry?”

The coupl… pair turned toward the hoarse drawl to see the lecher lumbering down the sidewalk toward them. He gave the woman a lascivious leer. His gaze turned sour as it disentangled from the woman’s breasts to her escort’s face. “And you… where do you think yer going with my girl?”

The woman was about to shout a protest — and rightfully so — but the man held up a hand as if to say, “He’s not worth it.”

The woman nodded and understood. They silently agreed to ignore the stranger and continue their way to the parking garage. From there, he would drive her to the Caltrain station, where she…

The lecher’s left hand snaked out and grabbed the shoulder of the man’s coat, as his free hand drew back into a fist aimed at the man’s head. “I said, where do you think yer…?”

Perhaps the lecher’s movement was dulled by the alcohol he consumed earlier that evening. Or possibly the man’s reflexes, honed from several youthful years of martial arts training, remained sharp despite the almost equal number of years of non-practice. Whatever the reason, the man dodged the attack effortlessly while his thin fingers immediately locked around the lecher’s wrist, and twisted.

With a howl of pain the lecher crumpled to the concrete, all the fight he had fled from his body.

“She is not your girl.” The guttural whisper hissed through the man’s clenched teeth as the lecher writhed in pain. The would-be-attacker’s wide, cornflower-blue eyes, ringed with red, could only gawk at the man’s dark steel irises that flickered with calm anger. “She doesn’t belong to anyone. She is her own person. Do you understand?”

The lecher could only grunt and nod hastily in acknowledgment, but the man didn’t release his grip. For a brief moment, the man actually thought about how easy it would be to twist his fingers just a little more and dislocate a few bones.  He almost gave in to that chilling temptation, as he thought with terror what this person would have done to his companion if the careless punch had managed to connect.


“Hey, man… ease up.”

The man turned to see two young men approaching him from the direction of the club. One was a scarecrow compared to the other, who was a living mountain of muscle. The man’s compact body tensed at the prospect of further conflict. “Is this man a friend of yours?”

The hulking newcomer surprisingly held up a reassuring hand as he slowly walked forward. “He’s just had a bit too much to drink… really. He…”

The man felt a sigh searching to escape from within his chest. The adrenalin coursing through his body suppressed it. “Take him home,” the man said, managing to keep his voice even, “and we’ll forget this ever happened.”

The man let go of the wrist, and waited patiently for the other men to haul their rag doll friend on his feet and lead him away without another word.

The woman’s rich brown eyes lit up as the man approached her. “Whoa,” she started, impressed. “You went all Miyagi on that guy! I had no idea you could…”

The man shrugged with indifference. He put his hands in his pockets as they continued the walk toward the carpark. He was disgusted with both the attacker and his reaction — his excitement — to the altercation.

The woman almost seemed to divine his thoughts. “Hey… I know we haven’t known each other for very long,” she began, “but I always saw you as a gentle soul. I’ll bet you’re…” she hesitated a second. “Well, I can see how what you did back there could be a little… unsettling for you. And you did that for me.”

The man thrust his hands deeper into his pockets, but he also felt his heart jump. There were already so many things he had admired about this woman in the few weeks he had known her — and now there was one more. “I would have done it for anyone,” he began ruefully, “if I had to.”

The woman’s eyes widened at the honesty of the man’s voice. “I believe you really would. But tonight, you did it for me. Thank you, Xum.”

Her smile was a flood of sunshine in the dark evening. The man lifted his chin to return it. “You are quite welcome, Namiko.”

He suddenly felt the woman’s slim arm slide under his coat and around the back of his not-so-slim waist. She seemed to snuggle up to him as they walked. “So,” the woman sighed, “can I expect more of our dates to be this exciting?”

“I wouldn’t know,” the man replied drily. “This isn’t a date, remember?”

The man’s right hand snapped up to immediately catch the woman’s fist before it could playfully jab him in the left shoulder. She looked at him with astonishment — not at the action, but at his slight smile of satisfaction. His reaction time hadn’t slowed in the least.

Not one bit.

To be continued.