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Chapter 59: The Silly Season

I had planned a long lazy weekend in KPC with Stephan, perhaps a reprise of our intimate time together on the mountain—certainly not a repeat of the last one. “CJ, it is not to be. I must go to Phnom Penh to secure my Christmas leave and flight to Poland,” he told me, throwing his shaver into his rucksack. Within an hour, we were on the road.

After a morning of chauffeuring Stephan around to various UN offices and airline agents, his seat on the flight to Poland was finally confirmed. He would arrive home on Christmas Eve. Stephan’s relief was palpable, but I felt shredded. I had expedited his leave to spend the holidays with his family. My brain was acting like a brain on drugs, or else my raging sex hormones fueled my conflicted behavior. I was smug about taking the high road but appalled at my self-deception and rife with misery at the prospect of his trip home. The ride back to KPC was quiet. Although we were together, we were alone with our own thoughts.

Instead of spending a romantic weekend under the stars, we checked into the gritty Mekong Hotel for a single night before Stephan’s departure. Luckily we were several floors above the blaring music of the Animals’ psychedelic hard rock band. Even the cockroaches in the corner and the line of ants from the windowsill to the shelf above the barely full-size bed didn’t deter me. I walked out of the bathroom―wrapped sarong-style in an extra-long, gauzy, leopard print scarf.

“CJ.” Stephan stammered my name.

“Yes, you like?” I asked. My voice was so throaty that I hardly recognized it as my own. Then, teasing, I whirled around to his appreciative gaze. “I’ve got one last ganja cigarette. Do you want to light it?”

We sat facing each other cross-legged on the bed and smoked the last stuffed Marlboro. Fatigue, emotional angst and marijuana combined to create a storm of passion and acrobatics that continued long after we were conscious of anything beyond our insatiable lust.

Unlike our lovemaking the night before, our goodbye in the morning was brief and restrained, with no emotional outburst or lingering needy kisses. Stephan was happy to be going home, and I—I pretended to be happy for him.

If catching the holiday spirit was contagious, so was the gloom that descended like a blanket on the Untac personnel unlucky enough to be stuck in Cambodia. There were fairy lights on a few palm trees in Phnom Penh and even some Charlie Brown plastic Christmas trees in the restaurants that catered to European expatriates but, for those of us left behind in our districts, the holidays passed unnoticed.

Brielle stopped throwing clothes into a backpack, smiled at me as I stood in the doorway of her bedroom and said, “Mon amie, you come with us to the seaside for New Years. Leannán is agreed, we don’t leave you in Skon to be all mélancolique.”

“Why not?”

Ochheuteal Beach was a favorite of Westerners, with luxurious amenities like lounge chairs and shower stalls that didn’t exist at other beaches occupied by local Cambodians. I did my best to enjoy the sand and warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, but even the fresh squid grilled on the beach by the locals barely whet my appetite.

Sand was still in my shoes as I climbed the stairs to our balcony. Spending the holidays at the seaside with Brie and Leannán had been relaxing, although not enough to make me forget that I was in Cambodia and Stephan was in Poland.

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