Bai checked her Fitbit stats on the laptop screen. “I’m 60 calories over my limit for the day. But wait — your massage will cause me to burn those off. I’ve got to eat something. Hmm…”
“A piece of bread.”
“Toast? With tofu?”
“Yeah, like what you brought to the studio.”
Bai pulled a cellophane-wrapped square of yellow-orange American cheese out of the fridge and folded a slice of bread into half a cheese sandwich, the cellophane (Mr. Cellophane, do you know my name?) disappearing ritually yet unceremoniously into the rubbish bin.
Almost blending into the futon, Bai’s assistant, Aluar, looked up from her tablet PC. “Hi, Lee.”
Lee waved. “Want some moonshine?”
“No, thanks.” She poked her Scotty dog asleep beside her. “Wakey, wakey! You aren’t going to fall asleep on me now and want to play in the middle of the night.”
Bai padded the folding massage table. “Okay, Lee, I’m ready. Lie on your back.” She turned from Lee to Alaur. “And you can start packing bags for my six a.m. departure and worry about your dog later.”
“When do I get my massage?”
“Sorry I’m running late, but I’ll get you both in, I promise.”
George stood up. “I’ll see you guys later.”
Bai looked disappointed. “You aren’t staying for a movie.”
“Naw. I’ve got something else going on.”
Lee leaned up from the table. “Tell her I said hello.”
“Sure. Thanks. See ya.”
Bai leaned her face in toward Lee’s, purposefully moving closer until she’d satisfactorily broken through his personal zone, Lee unable to push his head deeper into the folding table’s mat. “Are you ready?”
Lee looked into Bai’s dark eyes, her chin a few inches from his, smelling her breath, her body wash, the dye in her hair, telling himself, alone with two women on a cold night, his hands and wrists aching, chilled to the bone, his body cooling down after a group dance lesson, that Bai’s first admonition she gave him the moment they met in the merry month of May, that it wasn’t always about his male thoughts and what was in his pants.
What was in his pants?
His jeans pockets were empty.
Lee wanted to pull Bai closer, taste her breath, feel her lips on his, his hand holding the stiff violet locks of hair on the back of her head as they tested the internal magic of a new dance.
Lee sensed a deep happiness in Bai that had been missing the last time they shared this position three weeks before.
She all but begged him to stay, having just heard her gentle boyfriend yell at her on the phone from Paris. She had wanted comfort, to be held for two or three hours, seeking solace in the company of a man she could trust.
Lee didn’t always understand women, although he had gotten the hint Bai was hurting when she banged around the kitchen, insisting Lee stay until she had started supper, thrashing through the fridge’s freezer compartment to find a large frozen length of turkey sausage which she proceeded to scald in a frying pan, torturing the meat with a spatula in ways that made Lee more fearful than usual of his dominatrix dance partner, massage therapist and friend.
When Lee said he probably should go, Bai looked at him with reddened eyes that opened her thoughts to him, a view he hadn’t seen with another woman in years.
She had been in severe pain.
Lee knew what that meant.
Bai was vulnerable.
Lee, ever sympathetic, even empathetic, sometimes pathetic, prefix unneeded, wanted to stay.
He wasn’t sure what held him in place like a statue, just as he’d been the first time he played spin the bottle at age ten, the times backstage in high school when girls wanted his hugs, which he gave, disappointed he didn’t know he was supposed to kiss them, too, all the way up to a recent visit with a former college girl friend who lived alone, invited him inside, and kissed him on the lips as a dare, shocked when Lee continued to hold her but broke away the kiss in a sense of…what did he convince himself it was…propriety? Respect? Fear?
Lee stood at the door that night as Bai gave him one last lost puppy dog look and wanted to kick himself for carrying in his thoughts the subcultural training that all but forbid him staying a few more minutes in close proximity with the woman he wholly trusted with his body.
His will had been strong before but he hadn’t been arm-in-arm for hours, or stretched out on a massage table with those women.
Lee didn’t kid himself. He knew polyamorous relationships were unique, intertwined, complicated, unfettered by time or pretense.
But his wife wasn’t polyamorous, he reminded himself, preferring one man, him, for her dance partner.
Lee had started keeping a secret journal, secure from the analytics and prying eyes of computer networks, in which he documented his innermost feelings, compartmentalising his thoughts, pulling apart his blended self, creating a schizophrenic existence that twisted space and time.
In the journal, he wrote to himself about his true desires, his true self not typed for the sake of a global audience composed of strangers, friends and family whom he did not want to offend with his personal opinions that, like noses, mostly smelled.
In the journal, he tasked himself to design one or more futures that branched from the one currently on track.
Lee looked at the details of Bai’s face looming over him, her lips so close to his chin he couldn’t see them.
Lee knew with his worsening hearing loss came memory store-and-recall changes, his sense of reality shifting outside of “normal” spacetime, his fiction masking facts in favour of a good storyline.
Lee couldn’t remember how much Bai had whispered in his ear as she began to massage his right shoulder because he couldn’t hear what she was saying.
An incantation? A prayer?
He only knew she had put a spell on him for life.
She did not have to wear her public face for him.
The whispers echoed a day later. “I want you to relax. I want you to be mine for as long as I say this time, all right? You cannot control every moment of your life. You are my experiment and will have to deal with it. You say you love me, then you say you hate me, but you keep coming back for more, like everyone else, don’t you?”
Lee closed his eyes. Bai brushed his face with a finger and Lee involuntarily shook his head. “Sorry. I’m trying not to flinch.”
Her face still lined with his, Lee admitted with words what he could not fully articulate emotionally, either alone with Bai or in the presence of her assistant. “I do love you, you know?”
She nodded. “I hear what you’re saying.”
They both left what was unsaid as a small cushion between them.
Lee felt Bai wince. She rubbed her right pinky finger where her fingernail had fallen off.
Right after he had left her flat that night three weeks before, Bai was emotionally distraught, torn up over the argument with her French boyfriend and rejection by Lee the same night.
She closed the door, hearing Lee bound down the outside stairwell. Then, unstable on her feet, she stumbled across the room, reaching out for a doorway and falling, jamming the top edge of her fingernail into a doorway, tearing the root of the nail and peeling it back, the nail attached to her finger by two hangnail points.
“I’m sorry [I wasn’t there for you when you needed me most,” Lee finished saying with the intonation of his voice].
“That’s okay [there’ll be time to make up for it in the future,” Bai finished saying with her eyes as she kissed her sore pinky finger].
To be continued…