Jah Love

By Laura Schiller

Based on: The Weetzie Bat series

Copyright: Francesca Lia Block

The Chong family's L. A. apartment was a neat little box of a place, decorated mainly in white and beige. A few landscape paintings hung on the walls, spare strokes of a black brush, remote and nearly colorless except for a few splashes of pink or green. Mr. and Mrs. Chong sat on the sofa like a pair of judges, staring at their daughter Ping across a glass-topped coffee table. She squirmed.

"I have to tell you something," she said, her little voice falling into the silence with all the looming finality of a temple gong. "I'm pregnant."

Her father gripped the arm of the sofa as if about to stand up, but then leaned back again as if it were too much effort. Her mother's crepey white hands covered her gasp of shock.

"Are you serious?" she asked. "Please don't play a joke on me, Ping. You know I'm too old for that."

"I'm serious," said Ping, looking down at her fuchsia-pink nails instead of her parents' faces.

"Who is the father?" Mr. Chong's face was as tight as a stretched rubber band. "What have you been doing, child?"

He was making it sound as if she'd slept with dozens of men. Ping began to wish she'd kept her mouth shut; her face was blazing hot with shame and fury.

"He's... someone I met on my trip to Jamaica," she made herself say. "His name is Valentine Jah-Love...he's an artist...he makes silkscreened fabrics and I came to his house to have a look at them and..."

She sounded horribly like a little girl caught in mischief. They could hardly ground her at twenty-seven, now could they?

"Stop right there," her father interrupted, his brown eyes turning into narrow black slits. "Are you telling me you did – this – with a complete stranger? A Jamaican? Is he one of those black people with greasy dreadlocks who say 'ain't' and smoke marijuana all day?"

At this, Ping's head snapped up. She knew her father was conservative, but...really!

"Yes, he's black," she said, a hard edge coming into her voice. "And yes, he's got dreadlocks. But no, he doesn't smoke marijuana and I don't see why you think he would, just because he's from Jamaica."

"How would you know?" Mr. Chong shot back. "After, what? Seven days?"

A shaky sob interrupted them; Ping realized, with a queasy feeling in her stomach, that her mother was crying. It was worse than even shouting would have been.

"I knew we shouldn't have let her get into fashion design," she said, hiding her face with an embroidered handkerchief. "With the pink hair and those short, short skirts...I knew she would get into trouble some day."

Her father looked daggers – see what you're doing to your poor mother – and Ping balled up her fists in her lap. Any self-respecting worm had to turn sometime.

"You make it sound like I'm some – some kind of – I'm not in trouble, okay? I'm just having a baby! It's got nothing to do with being a designer. Valentine is – he's special. I can't explain it. No, Father, let me finish. I'll write to him and tell him about the baby, but I refuse to guilt-trip him into marrying me if – if he doesn't want to. If he comes here, to L. A., fine – but I will raise this baby alone if I have to. And if you say one more nasty thing about Valentine, I'll never speak to you again!"

"You are a stubborn, disrespectful child." Mr. Chong never raised his voice, but when he was angry, it lashed out with the force of a coiled spring released. "I am very disappointed in you, Ping. Come back when you can talk like a civilized person."

Ping was through with being civilized. She snatched up her little green purse and stormed out the door, her high heels making sharp clicks on the linoleum that were as good as stomping boots.

Once she was outside in the warm spring air, with the jacaranda blossoms floating around her like purple snow, she took a deep breath and began to slow down. She could hardly believe what she had just done – shouted at her parents, all for defending Valentine and the baby. Would her father ever forgive her? She had a sinking feeling that he wouldn't; it was true that they hadn't been very close since her entering art school, and quite frankly, she couldn't say she'd miss him very much, but still...it was the principle of the thing. Being disowned was not a pleasant thing to contemplate. Perhaps Mother would come around – if she dared to do so without her husband's permission.

She would have liked to explain Valentine to them, but could not find the words – the deep connection she had felt, as if he wasn't a stranger but simply another part of herself she had not yet discovered. She had the idea that if her soul had a shape and sound, it would be like him – tall and sleek and wild, with a lion's mane of dreadlocks ('cables to heaven', he'd said) and a sweet, raspy drawl of a voice. She knew how rare it was to meet someone like that, and she was not greedy enough to insist on keeping him forever when only seven days had been so magical.

Her parents simply couldn't understand.

She could not leave L. A. – her boardwalk boutique, her favorite cafés and restaurants, the canyons, the movie-star glamour, all her friends. And she doubted that Valentine would leave his house in the hot green jungle, his island of shells and flowers and nightclubs and waterfalls, for the sake of a woman he had known for only seven days. All the same, she dearly hoped he would.

Ping surveyed herself in a shop window: a small woman with pale skin, a flat, slant-eyed face, and shoulder-length black hair dyed pink at the tips. She had done that right after coming back from Jamaica, thinking of lush hibiscus and bougainvilleas and the sunrises from Valentine's windows. It was, she thought, the only interesting thing about her. That was why she dressed in silk and linen and beads, bright clear colors to make herself look like an exotic flower, to make people see her. Valentine, however, had told her that she made her clothes beautiful, not the other way around.

Ping's apartment was a jumble of fabrics, mannequins, piles of sketches floating around and a sewing machine enthroned in one corner. Her walls were light green or blue or yellow; her furniture was Ikea, bright and clean-lined, with zigzag mirrors and red seats shaped like commas. She sat curled up in one of those seats with a pad of paper on her knees and a frown line between her eyes: writing, crossing out, erasing.

Dear Valentine,

I have good news.

I have bad news.

I'm sorry. I forgot to take the pill that one time and now

First of all, let me say that I have no intention of

Could you please

I wish you

How are you? Remember me? It's the Chinese girl with the silk

I realize it was just a 'seven-night stand' we had, but I think we have something really

She ripped off the entire sheet of paper, crumpled it up and threw it across the room, where it landed just shy of the wastepaper bin. There was just no way of saying everything she wanted to say, so maybe she could just give him the bare facts. Let him make of them what he wished.

Dear Valentine,

I am having your child. If you ever want to see us, you can find us at this address.

She hovered a bit more over the ending salutation, but with a final exasperated sigh, scribbled down: Yours sincerely, Ping Chong, folding up the paper without looking at it.

*

Two weeks later, the doorbell rang. Ping's pencil clattered to the floor; she jumped up and ran to the door, telling herself it was probably just the pizza guy to counteract the swelling of hope she felt. She peered through the spy-hole in the door, blinked, and pressed her nose to it to make sure she was seeing correctly.

There was Valentine Jah-Love, wearing a white, pink and orange tie-dyed shirt and ragged jeans, his dreadlocks shining like black snakes in the neon light. He carried a leather suitcase in one hand. She opened the door.

"I got a delivery for Miss Ping Chong," he said, white teeth flashing in his cinnamon-brown face. "One live-in lover and baby daddy, available as of now."

It took a while to process what he'd just said; once she did, her mouth suddenly went dry.

"Do you – " she coughed. "Do you mean to say you've come to live with me? Just like that? What about your home, your family?"

"Right here," he simply said, gesturing to her.

She remembered how he had told her, once, of the fire which had ended his parents' lives a few years ago. He had a brother who lived in Miami and sent him Christmas cards; that was about it. And now, apparently, this beautiful stranger considered her his family. It was too much to take in.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

He took a step closer and cupped her face in his big, warm hands, his wide eyes burning into hers.

"You can't tell me you haven't felt it," he said, his lion's purr of a voice sending shivers through her. "Soulmates, yin and yang, two halves of a whole – whatever. We're it, Ping. I never believed in it 'till I met you. And believe me, you don't want to throw it away."

She could not get a word past the lump in her throat. He knew exactly what she had been thinking, had been too embarrassed to admit.

She stood up on tiptoes as high as she could reach and kissed him.