It's been raining here for a week; the heavens pour out their sorrows, the floods of misery gushing down the many mouths of the city. It's swollen belly heaves with the torrents and currents, water rushing deep underneath us as we walked over the concrete each day. The summer dust turned to mud in the cracks, and the bus stop benches were cold all week. I remember thinking on Thursday that the sun would never shine again on this city. Droplets of water cling to every scratched and worn surface of this place, trickling down, splashing like tears on the windowpanes; I stare through the dim grayness and see nothing at all.
Friday even she looked like a water-logged flower, dark circles under her eyes. Saturday, I though the world was dying, then, Sunday.
Sunday it stopped raining.
She was there shrieking, jumping Saturday night when we won; we both knew I was going to fly, fly down to New York for a league championship, part of the international High School Basketball program. But right then, it didn't mean much to me. I didn't even believe it, until Sunday morning rudely awoke me, bright and clear.
I felt myself slowly coming into consciousness, although I wasn't aware why; the first thing I felt was the soft linen of the sheets, and the surreal beam of sunlight pooling on me. I'd almost forgotten what sunlight felt like. I burrowed my head in my pillow, refusing to wake up, but it was that sound; that sound again that startled me.
She smiled, and I'd heard it.
Slowly, I turned my body face up and-
It was the sun, the sun that did it. It set her hair on fire, golds and reds blazing and shimmering in the brown as it swung over her face. She leaned back against my wall, and the first thing I saw the gentle concave curve of her stomach under the black shirt. Then I looked up.
She casually filed a fingernail as she flipped through one of my picture albums. Matter of fact, she's still filing. It's been two minutes and I haven't said a word, and neither has she. She's preoccupied, a small hmm or laugh escaping her lips every once in a while, and I think I must be dreaming. If I am, this is the strangest dream I've ever had. And I hope I don't wake up.
Then I get it. She doesn't see that I'm awake yet.
He looks like a baby when he's sleeping. I want to reach down and kiss his eyelids, then his mouth...then..
The sunlight plays in his hair, setting golden strands aflame, the pure blond flax messy and tangled in between the sunbeams. He's breathing slow and deep, his eyelashes fanning out across his cheeks. He looks so innocent, as though he'd never done anything bad, or understood the meaning of evil or sadness. I smile, and it's so pure in the silence, I can almost hear it.
He's rustling, and I put the nail file down, ready to say good morning, when I notice his eyes are still closed. The sheet's twisted around his middle, the soft gray t-shirt spread smoothly over the lean muscle. My tongue twists dry in my mouth. I take a small swallow, and resume filing quietly.
He's muttering small words all of a sudden; I bend down near him to hear, but they taper off into whispers. I lean even closer, hoping I'll get to hear what it is; maybe it's about me.......
The soft, warm feeling of his lips on my neck paralyzes me, and sends pleasant little currents down to my fingertips, then, I snap backwards, flushed and angry.
He smiles, golden and lazy and knowing.
"G'morning," he says amiably, and sits up, as though nothing had ever happened. He runs a hand through the gorgeously messy bed-head, leaving him with a little kid look. His mischievous grin lights me like the sunbeam, and I'm so mad I smile back. "Would it be too presumptuous to ask you what you might be doing in my room?"
I giggle, then, bat my eyelashes and say in a sultry voice,
"You must've been really drunk last night, tiger."
His grin goes a mile wide, and he picks up in a split second. Grabbing his head in mock sudden remembrance, he dramatizes.
"Oh yeah! It's all coming back to me now........" and in a second, his mouth is close to mine, than my ear as he springs up from the bed.
"By the way you were great," he whispers, and then disappears into the bathroom.
My face must be a deep red, but I suppress the mad urge to laugh. He took it too far; but then, he always takes it too far, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy all the joking we do. The sound of the water comes on, then his voice floating hollowly from behind the door.
"Naw, but really, why are you here?" it says, and I hear the sound of scrubbing. I suppress all mental images, and respond cheerfully.
"Oh your dad said I could go in and wake you up. It's nothing significant, just a little news...."
"Like what news?" comes the voice again.
I smile, wondering what the reaction will be before I speak.
"Oh, nothing big. I just found out that I'll be going with you to New York because I'm on a special assignment as captain of the pom squad. We're not allowed to all go, but I'm being sent to videotape cheers and routines, and give the team a full account.....I'll be staying with you because you need one person who knows you with you in case something happens to you and I have to identify the body."
I'm silently laughing as I hear the water suddenly go off, and in a split second, TK comes bounding in the room. He's got a toothbrush sticking out of his mouth, and foam between his lips; somewhere in the time he's been in there, he seems to have lost the shirt. God......
He's grinning, and he picks me up, swings me around, and then proceeds to deposit a toothpaste foam peck on my cheek before he disappears into the bathroom again.
"God Kari, that is so awesome! This is like something we've always dreamed about, going to see the world, you taking pictures and me playing ball....I can't believe it..."
I laugh, and walk into the kitchen where his ever tired dad sets down a coffee mug.
He smiles at me, and I feel his smile following me, something amused in it. I know what he's thinking, but I'm very good at deflating that sort of thing.
"Your son is a monster in the morning. Are you allowed to talk to him before he's had his Cheerios? I swear, if he ever growls at me again, I'll have to beat him with his own teddy bear."
I'm a little nervous now, since his smile is not going away. I'm really good at this, why is he not buying it?
"Matter of fact, does he always wake up looking like he has a hangover?" I continue, a little less sure. "Hey, why don't I make an American breakfast in honor of the great news?"
"Sure," he replies cheerfully, and points to the cupboards as he picks up his car keys. "Don't burn the place down."
He's still grinning at me in that mortifying way, and I nod bravely, hoping I'm not looking really stupid.
He turns to the door, and opens it; but before stepping out, he grins at me once again, and speaks.
"Um Kari?" he says, motioning to his cheek or his mouth or something.
"Yeah?" I chirp, doing my best to appear unconcerned.
"You got a little....toothpaste...or something, on your.....", and the door closes behind him.
Her cheeks are flushed from the steam; that's the first thing I note, and the second is the small smile on her features as the flips the eggs, adding cheese. It smells good, I can't deny, but slightly unfamiliar. The sunlight shines in the kitchen also, making the place look nice in a homey kind of way. Maybe it's the sunlight, the fact that the place is kinda clean for a change, or hell, maybe it's just the sight of her standing in my kitchen and that sudden disturbing thought; if we were married, that's what it'd be like everyday.
She looks up, one cheek slightly redder than the other, and smiles sweetly.
"Breakfast is ready honey," she says in that mother tone.
"Thanks darling. Let me get my Wall Street journal and coffee," I answer back with the father tone, and we crack up.
She pours the coffee expertly in my cup, and I can't help but want her.
"If you were a waitress I'd give you my Visa card as a tip," I tell her, and she laughs.
I love this warm, sunlighted morning feeling where everything smells like coffee, and there she is, masses of shiny brown hair tied back in a messy ponytail. The plain, stretchy black shirt accentuates her slim muscle and curves, as do the worn Dirty Denim jeans. She looks like a cat, lazy and relaxed, the danger lurking just ripples under the smooth surface. The way she sits on the chair, it's as though she slinks on it; each curve of her lean and powerful and slim, her fingertips carefully slicing and passing. She begins to eat, reading the comics and giggling to herself, and everything is so unreal.
"It's been a long time since you've been over for breakfast," I say between bites.
She nods, her eyes never leaving the paper.
"Partly due to the fire alarm incident, no doubt," she murmurs, and we both laugh quietly.
"Your cooking skills have definitely improved since," I tell her.
"Why thank you, TK, how nice of you to say so," she replies absently as she read, and impatient, I snatch the paper from her.
"Pay attention when I talk to you," I snap, grinning.
"And if I choose not to?" she answers languidly, sticking her tongue out with bits of chewed up food on it.
She is so real.
"I might have to hold the butter knife to your throat." I say, and never mean it.
And there we laugh, the warm golden beams between us that lazy, beautiful morning when the sun finally woke up. All I can remember is wanting, wanting so bad that everything else is blocked out. But she wouldn't have been able to tell, it was so normal. It was so normal it was absolutely out of the ordinary, and beneath it all, I drank coffee and watched her with my heart pounding behind my eyes. I'd love to have really waken up next to you, I'd like to tell her. But I don't, perhaps because she's still reading the comics and not paying attention to me. Or perhaps I just don't want to. For a fresh second I see her delicate, bare shoulders peeking out from under the linen sheets in that pool of gold, and then I'm ashamed. Ashamed because I have to right to dream if I have no courage to make it reality. She doesn't answer all my silent questions, instead, giggling and chewing on her bottom lip as she silently mouths out the words when she reads them. I want to tell her; I love you! because, you mouth your words. But as soon as I think it, it ceases to make sense, and I'm left puzzled staring at my eggs and wondering where that lost thought disappeared.
That night, I pack and leave everything in my living room. Apprehensive, I approach my mirror, afraid to see myself staring back. I don't want to see my reflection, because I don't want to see my fear. I lean my shoulders back, breathe deep, and stare at the boy looking back at me.
His eyes are deep and full of tremors that are unreadable. But somehow, I know I will succeed, because she's there. Everything's gonna be alright, says the boy in the mirror. And I believe him.
That night, I stare at the ceiling a long time before falling asleep.
The dawn has not broken through the clouds yet, and the world is pearly gray; in the stillness of the morning, we descend down the steps to the muted streets below. The world sleeps in it's fitful morning hours, the fog of a thousand rising lost dreams surrounding us as they go to that world where dreams go when they die. Through the thin mist, Tai lugs out the tall suitcase and the duffel bag. We drive in the early chill, onwards towards the future; I think we both somehow that when I come back I won't be the same anymore. It's a frightened, trembly feeling for me and a sad, slow realization for him. I don't understand what he's thinking, but I can be sure it's the worst. I want to reassure him that when I come back, we'll still roll on the rug and tickle, we'll still call sex "it" in that ridiculous mysterious tone, we'll still joke about Matt and Mimi and their escapades in elevators and closets, bathrooms and cars, and god knows where else. I want to tell him it's alright, everything's gonna be alright; but he doesn't believe it, I don't believe it and neither of us feel better.
"You know," I say, clearing my throat, "I'll be thinking bout you while I'm there....keeping your good advice in mind..."
He looks glum, as though he was driving me to my own funeral.
"Oh wow, did she just admit that I give good advice? Should have had a tape recorder!" he jokes a little, flatly, and keeps his eyes on the road.
I'm frustrated and I want him to talk, but there's a clutch and cupholders between us, not to mention the ocean that ever expands.
"Yeah," I tell him, slightly shaky. "You know, about not spitting down from tall buildings, not looking anyone in the eye, especially those that are wearing gang colors or stockbrokers....you know, dangerous types."
He smiles a little, but it takes an effort. I want to cry out, what do you want from me!!??
He shifts a little in his seat, and we come to a red light. He's not saying anything, but I guess that's better than something. It's building up inside of me though, and it hurts to be let out.
"What do you think I'm going to do in New York? Find a place to stay and never come back? Find somebody in a club, sleep with them and get STD's? Tai, you know you have less to worry about. You should be more worried for yourself." I say quietly, but the words have an intensity that I didn't plan.
We roll up to a stop sign, and he turns, looking directly in my eyes, quiet.
I know what he's thinking, and I guess I knew it all along. There's no use pretending anymore, but I don't know what to say; it infuriates me that he thinks I would, but there's a small, tiny, minuscule little part of me back there that agrees with him. I'm angry, not because of this; but because I'm fighting within myself. It's hard enough to fight him when I don't have the war won in my own head.
"Exactly." he says, and that's all he needed to say. He read me like an open book, and afraid when he found out he was right, he stepped on the gas with a vengeance.
Then it just all overflows, and I feel his bitterness, sadness and concern splashing down on me. I shed a small tear of my own inside my head for the lost feeling he's wandering around in, the sense that his baby sister is gone.
"Me and TK aren't doing "it" and I don't plan to either."
The words broke over both of us in the car like a hot bath, shocking and warming at the same time. I saw the broad smile waiting to pounce on his face, but he resisted and gave me a slight smirk.
"Who said all that? I don't think I was talking about that...........seems to be on your mind," he says, but his voice is ten million times lighter and the static tension is gone. Suddenly, the distance has disappeared, and we grin at each other like little kids. I'm a little embarrassed but defiant, a blush creeping on my face that I can feel like a small slap. His eyes are smiling now, and he looks resigned, somehow settled.
Deep inside I think both of know, and are sad; but for the moment, we're happy with what is. We pull up to the pale blue glass terminal, and his brown eyes glisten in the breaking dawn.
He unloads my stuff, and gets it checked through. Nervously, he looks down at his feet and sticks his hands in his pockets. Then, he rubs the back of his neck, and I have an overwhelming desire to laugh.
"Just give me a hug, you idiot," I tell him, and in that moment when his comforting arms squeeze me tight I want to be good, I want to stay only with him in the bunk bed with the whistle around my neck and Meeko between us; I want to hold on to him in the street as he protects me from the monsters, I want to play gin rummy with him just one more time before I go.
"I won't believe you," he whispers, and I hug him tighter to take the sadness away.
"I'll still be me," I whisper back. "I promise. Forgive me?"
"Yeah, I forgive you. Don't do anything stupid, hear? And take it easy. He'll never stop loving you, but he might screw up now and then. Go easy on him."
"Loving me?" I say, and step back.
"Yeah," he says, and his face is sad. "You'd have to be in a coma and brain-dead not to notice. But it's ok. I know you're kinda on the slow side....."
I throw a playful fist in his direction, and we step away from each other. TK and his duffel materialize out of nowhere beside me, and Tai steps up to TK and offers his hand.
"Have a good trip," says Tai in a friendly way, and smiles like an ax murderer about to cut his throat.
"I hope so," says TK cheerfully, but you can't miss the sheer terror in his eyes. I think he understands.
They both shake hands, and we depart behind the steel and glass structures; Tai waves, then dissapears behind a wall, receding..........
It's eleven on the plane, and TK's already fallen asleep on my lap. A shard of morning sunrise slashes across his face through the crack in the window shade. I close it completely, and lean my head back.
The trip has begun.
It's quite possibly tomorrow or yesterday when we stumble, bleary into the huge lobby. All that seems to go away as we stare at the surroundings, the beautiful ferns and expensive lamps draping the walls, the posh furniture and huge glass ceilings bathed in the warm, low rich light. Elevators pour like raindrops down the insides of the walls, waterfalls and fountains twinkling in the lush golden carpets.
"No mistake," says the man in an accent I can only describe as twisted. It must be New York. "Room 364, floor 5. No, we did not get orders for separate rooms. Extra accomodations, no.....let me check.....ok..can you hold on a minute? Have a call. ......-"
"Does it have two beds?" I interrupt, rude and half knocked out.
"Yes," he says, checking his computer with a amused air of importance.
"We'll take it, cut the shit. Have a room by tomorrow." I tell him, and he doesn't even flinch. What did you expect? It's New fucking-York.
Kari offers me a half-awake smile, not really understanding what's going on. Her cheeks are warm and flushed, her eyelids are half closed and her curious mouth is red and slightly smiling; bathed by the warm gold light she looks like a little child waiting to be tucked in.
Suppressing a yawn, I head to the elevator, and open the room door. She falls on a bed, twisted into a rag-doll shape and falls asleep. After that, I don't remember much.
There's a small magic to waking up in a room that's not your own; for a moment, you believe it's dream and you're not really awake. The first thing I see is the corner of the flowered bed-spread. Strange, I think. I don't have a flowered bed-spread.
I raise up, and it slowly floods me. Overwhelmed, I sink back on my pillow and feel very alone in the clean room.
Suddenly, I realize that's a shower running in the background, and I remember TK. The morning rushes back to me, and Tai's eyes stare at me in the chilly morning dawn. They fade instantly as the water turns off.
Embarrassed, I quickly lay back down and pretend to sleep. I hear the doorknob, then feel the clean, steamy fragrance drift into the room from the open bathroom door. I can almost taste his skin, and through slits in my eyelids I see him slink across the room with that hard, tight-wound grace of a jaguar. The towel curves snugly over the slope of his lower back down to the back of his knees; I realize my toes are curled tight all of a sudden, and slowly relax them.
He digs through his bags and heads back to the bathroom. There's a small smile on his face, and I know he knows I'm awake, and is enjoying the torture.
In the quiet of the room, I quickly undress and wrap a sheet around me and over my shoulders as modestly as I can. I don't play those games. We switch places, and the hot water pounding on my back fills me with a warm content. Relaxed, glowing and fresh I change and step out into the now-messy room.
He's laying on his bed, fully dressed, holding one of his Jordans. He examines the shoe, dabbing at a spot and admiring it's perfection, but I can feel his thoughts they're so deep. Throwing myself next to him, I give him my best jet lag smile. He chuckles.
"Impressive, but try to get rid of the bags under the eyes. We're trying to represent Japan today, and hopefully attract some tourism......not scare everyone away."
I swing a pillow at him, and he leans back out of it's way easily with an injured air.
"Hey! Watch the hair, watch the hair...."
"Like brother like.....brother," I mutter. "Ok, that made no sense..."
He laughs, but it's not an easy laugh and I lay my head down on his stomach and we both stare at the ceiling real quiet.
"You'll be alright; I know you will. Nobody can top you. You can make double crossovers like nobody else, you've played on our playgrounds since you were born. What're you worried about?"
He shrugs, and his eyes are cloudy blue.
"You gonna come and watch?" he asks, and he sounds far away.
"The whole time," I tell him, and his eyes then glow crystal blue.
"I'm fine then," he says cockily, and grins the mega-watt million dollar smile.
"You're not allowed to smile that when you talk to all the female fans," I tell him and glare, sad. Truth is, I see him fading and I know it's wrong.
"Hell no, I wouldn't. That one's just for you," he tells me, and he comes back real quick into focus. We smile, and I kiss his forehead, and we just stay there for a while that way ; my fingers brushing the cotton of his shirt lightly, the sound of his breath slow and deep above me. It's November now outside, I remember all of a sudden.
The first day of November.
Nobody else is sticking the blade in the fuckin' marmalade, is the only thing I think as I go up for the lay-up.
The bright glare of the lights reflects off the sweat covered players around me, but I feel cool and fresh; the ball is magic in my fingers tonight, and nobody else is taking their opportunity.
She's there, her face ahead of me all the time, shrieking; I can't lose with her on my side, and I don't.
"Nr. 20, TK Takaishi....." the tin voice drones, and I run out to the middle of the court. "and....Nr. 13, Jaysson Martin." it concludes, and the first round is over.
I made it, and I have no doubt. An easy smile tugs at the corners of my mouth.
"Ewww! You're getting your sweat all over me!" she's shrieking, but she's the one hugging me. I pull her down from the bleachers and suddenly, a curious lady with a camera and microphone approaches us quickly.
"Hi, Mr. Takaishi, can I take a picture of you and your friend?" she asks, and we look at each other and nod.
"Sure, whatever," I tell her, and she snaps away.
We escape from the crowd and the lights and the pure chaos, walking down a lighted avenue; purposeless, we climb into a bus and find ourselves walking in Times Square.
We watch the huge, flickering screens as new pictures appear instantly, disappearing and then reappearing; She seems mystified, and suddenly she screams.
"That's us, TK , look to the left!!!!!"
And it is.
On the huge screen, her eyes look even bigger and brighter than I remembered; there's a certain air of natural intimacy to the space between us, the look in her eyes as she looks down at me and the quiet, knowing smile on mine as I glance up. Her arms are slung loosely around my shoulders as she stands on the bleacher next to me, and I wrap my arms around her legs and lean my head back into her stomach. The headline reads, finals of NY international youth basketball tournament, the faces of the game; point guard Takaishi and "my Kari".
"Your Kari?" she grins, and sparkles in the changing lights behind the darkness.
"There's a blank between those words," I whisper between the traffic, and she hears.
"What do you want me to put in there?" she says, subdued, and looks up at me searchingly.
"Whatever you want," I answer low and quiet, and the picture stares back at me.
I remember nothing but her mouth then, the soft, warm lips between and on mine, and then, the traffic came to a stand still and the noise ceased in my head as I kissed her in the lighted darkness, the wind blowing around us. We were in our own world, and I heard nothing, saw nothing but her; the huge, flashing picture above us watched us knowingly, not saying a word.