Giselle was taking a nap on the couch while Tae Soo was surfing the web. He picked a spot at her feet, letting his back fall against the support of the couch. He soon seemed to have nodded off himself, his hand dropping lightly on top of Giselle's shin, his breathing steady and slow.
The doorbell rang, jolting them out of their slumber, and they stared at each other confused and hazy-eyed. "Who is there?"
"It's me. Came to visit." An uninvited guest answered.
"It's my father." Giselle whispered, looking quite freaked.
"Your father?" whispered back the actor. "Just a minute!"
"Don't let him in."
"No good will come out of it."
"Don't worry, he is probably just curious about this place." He yelled, "Coming!"
Her father walked into the house, looking annoyed.
"Hello," welcomed him politely Tae Soo and quickly removed his slippers offering them to the guest, standing barefoot. "This is for you."
Her father did not even spare them a glance and stomped in his dirty boots, dragging sand and mud into the house, past by the actor, who swallowed the obvious disregard with a stoic face and repeated, "This is for you. Can you please take your shoes off?"
The father scoffed and folding his arms looked up at the tall young man. "Why? What's wrong with my boots?"
Tae Soo bit his tongue before he said something he would regret forever and luckily, Giselle came to his aid, "Dad, it's the house rule. We don't wear shoes in here. If you don't like slippers, just go without."
The man moaned, bending, and theatrically rubbed his lower back, taking off the shoes, continually darting dirty looks at Tae Soo, who apologetically smiled and mouthed "thank you" to Giselle.
"So, this is the villa?"
"It's just a house, Dad."
"Well, you got yourself a rich sugar daddy."
"Dad!" She raised her voice and got up from the couch, frowning and ready for a fight.
"Well, truthfully, I came because I was worried. I heard about the rumors at your work," the father mumbled, looking a bit uncomfortable.
How sweet! Giselle was indeed grateful. It was unlike her father to be so caring, but she was too happy to accept any sign of genuine concern about her welfare. With that, Giselle relaxed and tried to reassure him, "I'm fine. Thank you, Daddy. You did not have to come."
She started toward her father for a warm hug... when he turned to Tae Soo and blurted, "Did you know she was a lesbian? I mean, does she not like your equipment?"
Tae Soo took some moments to process the question and when he was sure he comprehended correctly, a gurgling sound came out of the actor's throat, suddenly choking, he began coughing violently, his eyes jumping out of the orbits, while the father casually tried to hit his back. "Are you all right?"
"Father!" Giselle stopped a distance between her and her father growing huge as usual. She regretted being so gullible, hoping for something he could never give. That was fast. She pulled Tae Soo away from her crazy Dad and whispered, "I'm sorry, really sorry. I knew it would be bad. I will deal with him."
The Korean, red from the coughing attack and completely ambushed, caught a few breaths and finally stood up straight beside her. He took her hand firmly and glared at her father with a clearly non-friendly attitude.
"What? I mean, I had to ask," explained her father nonchalantly. "I mean, I find you in her bed, dressed; before that she dated a gay guy and when she was a child, she had a girlfriend sleep over. A lot. By the way, where does she sleep?" and he moved without invitation to snoop around the house.
The actor rushed behind him, but the man, who spent half of his life finding faults with others and the rest of his life making sure those faults were exposed and rubbed into people's noses, seemed to find some kind of sick satisfaction in proving his point, not caring much whether it was based on reality or his own presuppositions.
Giselle felt that her only refuge from the craziness of the world and the utter humiliation she just had endured at work has been cruelly taken away, and her happy day with Tae Soo ruined. Her head throbbed from a sudden onset of a splitting headache, making her lower on the couch and hide her face in the knees, hurt to the point of numbness.
"Ah-ha!" The man yelled triumphantly, "You have separate bedrooms," as he pushed Tae Soo out of the way and stuck his head into the door of his bedroom, where his clothes hung on the chair and a bunk bed was made up neatly. "My hunch was on the money. Look," he addressed Tae Soo, who was not sure how to stop this disaster of a person that swept through his home. "Either there is something wrong with you or with her, but if you ain't sleeping together, why do you keep her around? Is she like a maid or something? I guess, the girl can clean and cook," he continued, as Tae Soo sizzled with anger and rudely ignoring the elder, which was the first time ever in his life, ran over to Giselle, checking on her. "Giselle, Giselle. I'll send him out. Just give me a moment."
She only nodded in response.
The father followed after the actor and appeared in front of his daughter, persistently pushing her buttons, without even realizing what kind of horrible damage he was causing to her already hurt self-esteem. "You have not visited ever since you moved in with this Chino. And why did not you come to me when you had these troubles?"
Hearing him flipped some kind of an emergency adrenaline switch in Giselle's body. Her blood boiled; all the years of him slowly pouring acid over her soul, grinding salt into her wounds, gloating about her misfortunes under the guise of parental guidance and heartfelt advice, all these years of abuse, she never knew she was taking, led up to this point. She lifted her head and wiped off her nonexistent tears.
"Father, shut up!" She said loud and clear. "Shut up and leave!"
The man stumbled midsentence, but quickly regained his speed and continued, "What are you doing here, you should be getting your job back!"
Giselle blinked and stared at the man in total disbelief.
"What?" He asked almost too innocently. "Maybe, I was a bit harsh before. I kind of get where they are coming from, with you not having a boyfriend and all, but if you say it's not true, then I will believe you. You are my daughter after all, so it can't be true, right?"
"I asked you to leave, if you still want to have a daughter," Giselle repeated with a steely determination in her eyes.
The man nodded, as if understanding, but instead added the rest of the tirade he must have prepared in advance, "I know it's hard to hear those kinds of things, but since we know it's not true, you should just suck it up and continue working. Eventually they'll give up and leave you alone."
"Are you crazy? There is no reason why I should go back there and listen to that crap!" Was he even listening? Why would he? He never did!
"Things are not good in the job market, Giselle, you should just keep working there till something else falls in your lap."
"I can't believe this; you are telling me to return… even after all that happened?" She scoffed. She was beyond angry, she was so pissed, she could have squashed her own father and not looked back. This situation was so ironic, she had to laugh, since she could not cry. Strained, pretentious laughter twisted her pretty face and both men stared at her in surprise.
"You'll be fine, you've gone through worse while working there, right?" Her father attempted to calm her.
"No! No I haven't! I hated it there!" Her voice started breaking, hitting high notes and to her dismay, she felt tears clouding her eyes.
Tae Soo did his best to let Giselle fight her own war. But it was evident her father wasn't giving up on this. But why would he want his own daughter to go back where she'd suffered so much? Tae Soo had seen her work pretty hard; while her coworkers slacked, she diligently moved around, filling in for them, always doing a good job, always responsible, even at that brainless chicken place. And for her attitude, she was rewarded by backstabbing rumors and people pointing fingers at her.
"You are acting like a baby, just suck it up and get back to work. Your boss already called me to ask if you were doing fine." Her father persisted, not moved by his daughter's pain and desperation.
Tae Soo could not stay still. He suspected that Giselle was not very comfortable with him always acting as her protector, making her into a helpless victim, but not saying anything was more than he could deal with. The deep disdain he felt toward her father was even worse than the rage he had against cocky, but inconsequential Mr. Jerk. He was infuriated by the sheer lack of compassion this man had for his daughter. In fact, he's never been incensed so much with an adult before. This was the person whom Tae Soo should be respecting, but on the contrary, respect was the furthest thing from what he felt toward the poor excuse for a parent. Tae Soo did not know exactly why he said what came out next, but what he stated was the smartest thing he's said in a while: "She is working for me. She is my tour guide and interpreter."
"What?" Giselle turned to him in confusion.
"She is helping me." He repeated, staring down the father, who was stunned into silence for a change.
"Are you taking advantage of my daughter?" the father narrowed his eyes and challenged the actor. "Are you playing games with her? She is a working girl and if you like, you can sleep with her and have fun, but as far as the job goes, don't play with her."
"I'm taking advantage of her very well," replied Tae Soo in his crooked English, with a hard smirk, so strangely cold and calculated, coming from him, Giselle gasped. She could not believe her ears. Genuine hurt was painted on her face. Did he just admit he was playing with her?
Both Giselle and her father were speechless.
"But she has a job." Her father recovered first and was not as amused as he was before.
"She just told you she hates that job." He said stressing each word pointedly. Tae Soo grabbed Giselle's hand and pulled her closer. She jerked it back angrily, but he only held it stronger. She could feel him shaking in rage and it somehow made everything better for her immediately. She huddled to his side and looked up at him, liking that he stood up for her, even if she asked him not to.
"It is a good steady job. You will leave when, like in a month? What then? My daughter will be unemployed."
"Look at her," Tae Soo pushed Giselle forward and held her shoulders firmly in place.
She appeared little and scared, her eyes filled with tears.
"Look at her! She wants to become a famous writer. She is smart and beautiful. Why do you make her feel so little?"
"You. You little punk, how dare you speak to me like that?!"
"She is working for me now and that's it." The anger was oozing through his pores, the scent of testosterone and adrenaline intoxicating Giselle; he was beautifully masculine right now, the same way he was when he fought for her honor with Mr. Jerk. She looked at him with adoration, forgetting that her father was still standing in front of them, she hugged Tae Soo's middle tightly and leaned her head on him.
"I think this conversation is over," concluded Tae Soo. "If you are finished, I can offer you some water, juice or tea. We can seat down and talk like adults, if you can. Otherwise, it is time for you to leave."
The father grumbled something, fuming, but turned around, having realized he was actually being kicked out, yet not understanding why they were so angry at him. Sadly enough, clueless as usual that he possibly damaged his relationship with his daughter beyond repair.
Lifting up on tippy toes, Giselle made an attempt to match his eye level. "Thank you. You are such a good friend."
What the heck did I just say? Giselle could not believe the words that flew out of her mouth. What a pathetic subterfuge to mask her real feelings in front of him. That would have been a perfect moment to tell him that she was ready for something more than a vaguely noncommittal roommate status with flirtation and sexual tension on the side. And in her typical dorky manner she blew this chance.
Tae Soo's facial muscles moved unnoticeably, tiny fluctuations to contain huge disappointment and hurt. He hid himself all too well for her to notice. The feeling so fleeting, only a camera lens could capture. That was his 'thing' – imperceptible changes, reflected in the depth of his almond eyes, in the way his face adjusted to the turmoil in his heart, all without words or strained efforts to reveal his inner world to the spectators. The directors loved Tae Soo's ability to express complex emotions through his eyes. His eyes were his tool, his secret weapon to success, besides his overall dashing looks and other charms of his character he had learned to use to his advantage in his career.
But he was not acting at this moment.
She thought of him as a friend. A good word. A solid word. A good foundation for stability and some far-far away future promise of more... closeness? But why did he feel like he was just flat out rejected?
And he thought they were moving toward something more. Careful not to define it, he was happy after the National park trip this morning. She was so beautiful and sexy and tender... They had so much fun at the waterfall and he felt all these unambiguous vibes from her, and she was adorably coy and shy at the same time. And she hugged him in front of her father, like he was her pillar, her strength, she leaned on him figuratively and physically...
The simple words she uttered were like a slap on the face.
But this apparently was not the end. "I'm sorry for hugging you," she added with sincerity. A small apologetic smile lurked on her face and her eyes pleaded for him to forgive her indiscretion.
He swallowed hard and felt his stomach twist in knots; forget the slap, this was definitely a kick in the balls. "Don't be," he said most definitely offended. "I guess, hugging me is a bad thing."
"No, no, I just... I am not supposed to," she grabbed his arm and then caught herself with this natural reaction, "in the house. Because of this rule. And I was too upset to think straight, I was not trying to take advantage of your kindness." And she gave him another look of admiration.
She unceremoniously stomped all over his heart with those heavy words, just like her father stomped over the floors in his dirty boots. Tae Soo gave her a regretful glance and shrugged his shoulders as if saying, "not a big deal." But a momentary loss of control revealed the deep hurt. He could not imagine she would react this way.
"Excuse me," he said, gathering himself and trying to pull a friendly smile out of his practiced repertoire of facial expressions. It came out good enough and he found his way into the bathroom, where he ran the facet and leaned over the sink, looking at himself in a mirror. Was he going about it the wrong way? He was taking it slowly and cautiously, and Giselle was doing the same thing... till she said she was sorry for hugging him and called him a good friend. Being in a friend territory was the one place on earth he refused to reside in.
Giselle looked quite defeated herself. Damn it! She broke her own rule and she had not way of wiggling out of her transgression. The excuse of her father making her so upset, she could not help herself, was obvious, but it still did not cancel the fact that she hugged Tae Soo first. It was not a light touch or even a purposeful grip, like he did to prove a point to her father. It was a hug full of hidden and not so hidden meanings and layers upon layers of gratitude, affection and trust... She was seeking solace in him, and his body was always there to give her comfort and safety.
She groaned loudly, her fingers messing up and back-combing her straight hair so it stick up from its roots like a coarse pile on the broom. She had to admit to crossing the line and make sure he knew she was not about to ruin the equilibrium of their co-existence in the same house. If she were to work for him, their relationship, already complicated as it is, would add another level of confusion. Why couldn't her life be any easier? Why could not she just date the guy and live in her house and work at a job, where he was not her boss?
"Tae Soo-shi, may I please come in?" she probed the door and it opened easily. Tae Soo wondered if she was going to say something like "I did not mean to" or "it meant nothing", but neither happened.
"If I were to work for you, then how can we..." She looked at him with a big question mark in her beautiful dark eyes. "How will it..." She kept stopping midsentence, glancing at him and then trying to say it again. "I'm just not sure..."
In the heat of the moment he did not think his offer through. Him being her employer was awkward, to say the least. Yet, it was awesome, because they could do fun things and call it a job.
"I appreciate what you were trying to do, but I don't think I can work for you," she finally muttered under the breath. "I don't think I can work for you and be with you," she said even softer, so quietly that he strained to understand.
Did she just admit she wants to be with me? Tae Soo needed to catch a breath and stop his heart from jumping out of his body and doing a happy dance with a twirl and a little jump. Making sure he sounded very casual and trying not to give his tone any more weight than he needed to, the actor remarked, "We'll figure it out. We can discuss your job duties and your salary. You will be like my private guide to the island. Working for me won't change anything, besides that you will just have to show me all the secret places where natives go, teach me Spanish and English and feed me delicious homemade and street food, deal?" He gave her a smile of a charmer, sparkling as usual, while his stubborn heart was practicing for a dance competition inside the constraints of his chest.
"Then, you think we can pull this off," Giselle made half a statement and half a question, her tone somewhere in between, and sought him out hopefully with her eyes.
"Absolutely." He nodded with an emphasis.
She responded with an agreeable smile herself. "Then I shall work for you, Mr. Lee," she tittered and shook his hand.
The next few days were rather uneventful, compared to the whirlwind of excitement that surrounded them from day one. They would get up, get ready for a day out, Giselle would present an itinerary she developed the night before, surprising him at how seriously and professionally she took to her new duties. She organized everything very neatly, creating a mini presentation on the computer, showing him the highlights of the trip and discussing his interests and optional excursions. If she really wanted to, she could probably do this for a living, only Tae Soo wanted her all to himself and got jealous at the thought of her smiling friendly at some rich American, while he was checking her out in revealing shorts and a tank.
This arrangement allowed them to actually spend more time together like on a real vacation, as if they were a couple on a trip together, just going around the island and sightseeing. As Tae Soo requested, there was no shortage of local food: Lots of fried goods, broiled pork, chicken, rice, veggies and a Puerto Rican staple of 'limber' – flavored block of ice with coconut shavings and variety of yummy toppings, making any hot day more bearable in an instant.
Meanwhile, the times they spent at home posed some challenges to both of them. At least for Tae Soo. He had to think about how to navigate the treacherous passages of the house rules. They were quite simple. To be respectful of privacy, always knock and wait to enter, to make sure to lock the bathroom, not to litter, clean after self... Simple things that roommates usually agree on.
And the "no touching" rule.
Tae Soo was acutely aware of his long limbs, how lanky and dangly his arms were all of a sudden and how long his fingers seem to be always inching closer to Giselle's hand. He liked to hold her palm securely, her fingers curled around to maintain the grip and at that moment he knew that she actually did not mind to be touched. Yet, she shrieked away and moved every time he was close. He did not understand her. She was very confusing.
They never explicitly discussed how the 'no touching' would work: If there was a penalty for accidentally brushing against each other or purposefully putting a hand on someone's shoulder. Was she not allowed to touch him? If she did, could he bestow a punishment on her by forcing her to give him a hug or seat side by side, holding hands on a couch, while watching a movie. He wanted to feel her warmth, their shoulders to touch, their sides glued together, the trickling anxiety of closeness to keep them in heightened awareness of each other's presence and to know how precious such feelings could be.
Tae Soo's head was spinning in all kinds of directions in response to the contradictory signals from Giselle; she was puzzling him at every turn. When they went out, she was more relaxed, comfortable to hold hands and completely natural in her interactions with him. She was flirtatious and not shy with the opportunities to get cozy. A few times, she let him place his arm over her shoulder or tousle her hair. They nightly walks by the beach were highlighted by hand holding that became as normal as breathing the salty air from the sea.
Wherever he looked in the house, here she was within his reach, teasing and tantalizing him with the sway of her head and hair flowing in ripples down her shoulders, with the neck that curved as she tilted her head inevitably, whenever the precious gems of her laughter bounced like the flat stones off the water surface thrown by a skillful hand. And then her lips that perfectly framed her smiling mouth - they tasted like cherries and he wanted to taste them again and again.
"What are you thinking about?"
She came from the back spooking him out of his dream world. Poor guy jumped up, blushing as if he was doing something inappropriate and forbidden.
"I was thinking we should go dancing tonight. They play music by the sea, cafes are open late and it's a lot of fun to hang out with the crowd. Let's change and we can go." He offered silent agreement as she smiled mysteriously and went to her room to get ready.
Tae Soo ruffled through his closet, trying on jeans, then bermudas, than linen pants, finally settling on a pair of white slacks and a white long sleeved linen-silk blend shirt. He checked his hair, running the fingers through his bangs, squinted at himself, checking his reflection from each angle and undid one more button on the front; then rolled up the sleeves loosely, fashionably lax, but still managing to give himself a sexy, 'don't care about taking time to get my shirt pressed' look, despite all the preparations that went into this outfit.
When he came out to the living room, Giselle was not there and he sat on the couch, crossing one leg over to dangle in the air, while anxiously tapping the other foot. He was very curious what was her idea of dressing up. He did not have to bother guessing for too long when he heard her steps.
She stood in front of him, her eyes stuck to the floor, fingers nervously tugging at the sides of her dress. It was very summery and pretty, completely matching her personality, open, sexy, but not over the top, revealing her lovely shoulders and showing some cleavage, synched at the waist with a slick contrasting belt, the hem of the billowing skirt hitting just above the knee, very proper, yet feminine. The outfit was finished by the pair of nude colored open sandals with a small heel, shaping up her calves prettily. "Sorry about the shoes. I just wanted to get your opinion about the whole look," she explained.
He smiled completely smitten, a huge grin of approval and satisfaction and then cute dimples deepened, marking self confidence – he managed to land such a foreign beauty for a date. "You look stunning!" He noticed that small dots of earrings were catching the reflection of the light, as she pulled up her hair in a sleek high ponytail, and another shiny dot of a tiny pendant was hitting her right below collarbone. This was the most amount of accessories he's ever seen her wear. Was there a lipstick as well?
"You look nice also," she murmured, tinkering with a thin ring on her finger. She then looked at him more attentively. "I love you in white. It is your color, Taecito." And she winked at him, followed by a mischievous smile.
Did she just openly flirt? In the house?
The evening was promising to be something good, possibly even great.