I leaned against the wall, thinking about Shannon and Aaron. They had been a couple ever since they met at the U ten years ago. He had been a philosophy major; she, a fine arts major. They were one of those couples who simply belonged together. You could tell it when you looked at them and you envied them for it, but you didn’t get in their way. I met them a year ago at a cabaret. I had been performing—it was an Asian event, and I did a piece on the role of Asian women in American cinema. I was in my element, mimicking all the stereotypes foisted upon Asian women by aging white males with geisha-girl fetishes.
Aaron and Shannon approached me after the performance. While Shannon gushed about the intricacies of my work and the implications on the dialogue between the East and the West, not to mention the Diaspora of Asians born in America who have no place to call home, Aaron stood slightly to the side and just smiled. He caught my eye immediately as he was an intriguing mixture of African American, Cherokee Indian and Mexican. He was over six feet tall with a tight body and even tighter mind. His dark brown eyes, slanted cheekbones and full lips made him look like a model—which he was. As much as I tried to ignore him, I was instantly attracted to him. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he felt the same.
Shannon blathered on, oblivious to the growing tension between Aaron and me. Far from stepping back, Aaron subtly egged me on. He would smile slowly, revealing even, white teeth, then dip his head in a nod. He was leaning against a railing, his arms casually crossed in front of him. He was wearing a leather jacket, despite the heat. He would interject a trenchant comment now and then whenever Shannon took a second to breathe, which was once every five minutes or so. She paid no attention to the side dialogue that Aaron and I were carrying out, continuing to dissect my performance. I was surprised that she didn’t throw in her thoughts on oppression and slavery while she was at it, not to mention the Chinese prostitution trade when Chinese men were first allowed in the country. I pegged her as one of those liberal white women who were fraught with guilt. Not my kind of person, but she was nice enough.
We became friends of sort. I saw them once a month or so for the next half year. Every time, Shannon would shoulder the bulk of the conversational burden while Aaron and I communicated without words. We never openly flirted with each other as that would be disrespectful, not to mention breaking my moral code. Instead, we relied on heavy eye contact to do our talking for us. Any time my hand accidentally brushed against his, a tremor ran its way up my arm and jolted my brain. I found myself invented ways of brushing against him whenever I could.
How did this sordid little story end? With Aaron and me in bed, fucking each other’s brains out, of course. I wish I could say it was just once, that we were both drunk, and that we both felt horribly guilty after, but nothing would be further from the truth. A month after I met Rafe, I panicked because things were going too well. Deep down, I believed that if my life was going smoothly, something catastrophic was bound to happen. With Rafe, we were so simpatico; I went bonkers and fucked Aaron. I put the moves on him; I initiated the whole thing—not to say he wasn’t willing—and it snowballed from there. Aaron was fantastic in the sack, and I kept coming back for more. We had a torrid affair for two weeks before Shannon caught us, at my place of all things. I didn’t know—and still don’t to this day—how she found out about us, but it was an ugly scene.
She threatened to kill the both of us, but especially me. She seemed to think I was some kind of succubus who put an Asian secret love spell on her man. Poor Aaron couldn’t help himself, that dirty bastard. She ranted; she raved, tearing around my apartment. I don’t even know how she got in the apartment complex, but I’ve always assumed that someone let her in. Her face was streaked with her mascara as tears spurted from her eyes. I thought she was more angry than sad, but I couldn’t tell by looking at her. Suddenly, she pulled a butcher knife from her bag and charged at me. I jumped aside, and she fell to the floor, the knife clattering to the ground besides her. She was drunk, of course, and she dissolved into a blubbery heap.
Aaron hustled her out of my apartment, but she continued to threaten me for weeks. I was terrified that she would find out about Rafe and either do something to him or tell him out of spite. I was even afraid that she would seduce him as payback, but I would have forgiven him for that because I would have deserved it. By then, I knew that I wanted to date Rafe and not Aaron, and it would have been my last fuck with Aaron even if Shannon hadn’t found out about us. Aaron wanted to keep seeing me, but I demurred. He wasn’t happy about it, but what could he do, really? I periodically get emails from him asking if I wanted to hook up. I never replied.
“Hey, what happened to you?” Rafe said, causing me to jump. “You holding up the wall?”
“No, just thinking,” I said, forcing a smile to my face.
“About what?” Rafe wasn’t fooled by my apparent nonchalance, and he pressed the issue.
“You know, this and that,” I hedged, not wanting to confess my sins. “It’s been a pretty hectic day.” Rafe watched me carefully, not saying a word. He waited me out, knowing that I had a hard time keeping secrets. “Can we not do this right now?” I asked, an edge to my voice. Though Rafe was usually an easygoing guy, he had a stubborn streak that was deeper than mine. In the end, I would give in and tell him what he wanted to know even if he didn’t say another word. I hated that, I thought it was a weakness on my part, but I always ended up giving in.
“Do what?” Rafe asked, his eyes not straying from my face. I didn’t know if he was being purposefully dense or if he really didn’t know, but it irritated me either way.
“I’m the inscrutable one; you’re the excitable Mexican, remember?” There wasn’t the usual flippancy to my words, and I immediately regretted my snide tone. I waved a hand in apology, but Rafe wasn’t deterred. Damn it, if I had just told him something plausible to begin with, we wouldn’t be in the position. “Ok, um, let’s go up to my room. I don’t want to do this in the hallway.” Rafe followed me up the stairs to my bedroom and sat down on my queen-sized bed minus the canopy. I had taken that down my last year in high school over the strident protests of my mother. Rafe looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to spill my guts. I closed the door before sitting down next to him. I collected my thoughts and tried to decide the best way to proceed.
“Well?” He asked when it became clear that I wasn’t going to say anything. I sighed, taking his hand in mine.
“Rafe, if I’m going to tell you this, I need you to listen and not interrupt until I’m done, ok?” I didn’t look at him as it would make the confession harder. I saw him nod out of the corner of my eye, then proceeded. “Remember back in the beginning of our relationship when I wigged out?” He nodded more vigorously this time. It was the dark spot in our otherwise satisfying relationship. We never talked about it, but it was still clear as day. “Well, there’s something I didn’t tell you at the time.”
Taking a deep breath, I plunged into the story, figuring it would be easier if I just confessed everything on the spot. I didn’t look at him as I told him about meeting Aaron and Shannon, befriending them, then ultimately, of my affair with Aaron after freaking out about Rafe. I didn’t spare myself in the telling, making sure that he knew all the gruesome details. My impulse was to gloss over certain information that made me look really bad, but I knew that it would only be detrimental if I told him anything but the entire truth. I talked as fast as I could and still make sense so I wouldn’t become too scared to continue.
Rafe grew completely still as I talked until he was a statue incarnate. The frozen expression on his face didn’t change an iota, no matter what I said. I never looked him directly in the face, but I could feel the disapproval emanating from his body. Sometime during my recitation, he removed his hand from mine. I didn’t give him specifics such as how many times I fucked Aaron over the two-week period—seven—or how many orgasms I had—thirteen—but I gave him enough details to make it real. I jabbered on and on about the confusion I had felt at being with someone so great and my intense desire to fuck it up. It was as if someone had started my mouth, and I had no control over it. I was almost tempted to confess that I had stolen a Snickers from the drugstore when I was a kid, but stopped myself in time. I wisely held my tongue when I was done telling my tale and waited for Rafe to respond. He was quiet for so long, I was beginning to think he wasn’t going to talk.
“I knew, you know,” Rafe finally said, his voice steely, leaning away from me as if I had something catching. “I knew you were fucking someone else.” Whatever I was expecting, that wasn’t it. I blinked at the venom—not to mention the bitterness—in his voice.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked, timidly reaching out my hand. I wanted to touch him, but I didn’t quite dare. I let my hand drop to my side and waited again for him to speak.
“Don’t you want to know how I knew?” Rafe asked, his voice husky. “He left a pair of underwear in your bedroom. I found them. I knew they weren’t mine, so I knew.” I winced at the thought; it would be an especially brutal way to find out about a dalliance.
“I’m sorry, Rafe,” I said humbly, hoping that I hadn’t fucked up our relationship for good. “I should have told you.”
“Yes, you should have,” Rafe glared, turning so he was fully facing me. “We weren’t exclusive then, so I don’t know why you went behind my back like that. It nearly broke my heart.”
“I was fucked up, what can I say?” I sighed, pushing my hair out of my eyes. “I wanted to get caught, but I didn’t. I was just scared of getting too close to you.” This time, I did put my hand on his arm and to my relief, he didn’t pull away.
“What does this have to do with someone wanting to shoot you?” Rafe asked, clearly wanting to change the subject. Though I didn’t feel as if we’d discussed my infidelity enough, I was willing to respect his wishes for now.
“Shannon was pretty messed up when she found out about Aaron and me. She made some threats, but never followed up on it. However, I got an email from her recently saying she was going to make me pay for what I did to her. It was pretty scary.”
“Mother of God, Bet, is there anything else you haven’t told me?” Rafe’s chest swelled to twice its size as he observed me. “Do you have any idea what you put me through when you don’t tell me this shit? Do you?” He was shouting by now, jabbing a finger in the direction of my face.
“Stop that, Rafe,” I said, my voice sharp. While I am the first to admit when I fuck up, I didn’t need him acting like my father. I had one of those, one I cared about a great deal. “I’m not a little girl; I can take care of myself.”
“This isn’t about you being female,” Rafe growled, jumping up from the bed. “This is about…” He trailed off, having the grace to look abashed. “Ok, it’s about me protecting you. But you’d do the same for me, right? You’d want to know if I was in trouble.”
“True, that is true.” I sighed and pulled Rafe down onto the bed next to me. “I’m sorry, Rafe. My head’s spinning, and I don’t know what to think. It’s insane to believe that someone is trying to kill me, but it’s even more impossible to believe that it’s merely coincidence or that someone was just randomly shooting Maisie Mouse.” Rafe wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close. I looked up at him and whispered, “I’m scared, Rafe.” The minute I said it, I wished I hadn’t. I didn’t like to show weakness to anybody, not even to Rafe, but he didn’t make a big deal of it. He simply held me, tucking my head under his chin. For a minute, I felt safe.