The weather was gathering itself for a hurricane. He was warned that it was not a good season, but he did not come to be a tourist, he just came because he needed to leave where he was. The hot and humid air felt pregnant with something ominous; and the stillness of the wind, which suddenly evaporated into the grey clouds that just got fatter and fatter, but would not explode into the rain, was uncanny.
There was nothing, absolutely nothing to do in this place. Everybody seemed to disappear from the streets and warning signs with red letters announced that stores will not be selling alcohol once the hurricane hits, prompting long lines and crowds at the supermarket and creating a stampede in a parking lot. His phone connection was spotty and it took him a while to reach the dispatcher to get a taxi.
The driver from the last night waved at him, sporting a friendly smile. "I will give you my card. We will stop running, once the hurricane hits, but I do private work for hire. Call me if you need a lift."
He was dropped of at the chicken place, having arrived earlier than usual, he was surprised to see the place completely empty. So much for going unnoticed. He ordered an extra large drink and some spicy chicken; a guy at the counter looked like he was bored to death. Pulling out his phone and settling the tray, the customer sighed, predicting a very uneventful evening. Maybe, it was not such a good idea to come to a place where he did not know anybody.
Giselle was not here and the clock was ticking particularly slow tonight. Why am I even here? Am I waiting for something? Her heard a car pulling up in the parking lot and the jerk with his girlfriend walked in, placing an order. Their arms wrapped around each other's waists, they waited. Bored as well, the jerk took matters into his hands and turning his girlfriend toward him, decided to make out. He was sucking her face off and she practically climbed on him, ignoring the fact that they were in a public place after all (although in their defense, there was no public here).
The man shook his head and turned to watch the empty parking lot again, wondering if Giselle had a day off. He was so used to her constant presence that without her, the place lost its quirky appeal. And there was another reason he was waiting for her – the jerk and his girlfriend. If she saw them together, she would be hurt, and he hated to see her hurt, as if he could actually do anything about it anyway. He will count till hundred. If she does not show up, he will leave.
90, 91, 92… he looked nervously at the watch. Should he change it to two hundred? The jerk and his girlfriend just got their order and took a table next to him, as if there were no free tables anywhere. Just my luck. The couple looked quite happy and cute together, and if he did not see the jerk with Giselle, he could have actually liked them.
Giselle was here for a while. She was hiding in the kitchen, having switched with a coworker, who gave up his post without complaint, as working in the front was less stressful and unpleasant. She was not blind, she saw the car in the parking lot, and at first squealed with excitement, running out to greet him, but quickly stopped, noticing the couple. She stared for a while, her feet stuck to the ground, trying to comprehend was she saw. Her first instinct was to come up to them, punch him hard in the gut and kick him in the groin and then slap the bitch, who took her man. But then he was not her man. They were only flirting with each other, keeping the excitement of the anticipation going. He was slutty, but not in a repulsive kind of way, he looked like he enjoyed sex and would enjoy to have it with her. He was also fun, playful and interested in her. Or at least he was interested to listen to her during the 15 minutes of her break they usually met. They never met anywhere else or did anything else, but he showed up every night after texting her something vaguely suggestive.
She did not even remember how she has fallen into his trap. Probably, it was his suave way with the words and the sparkle of the white smile. He threw compliments at her, and she was immediately taken by him, not being used to the men so bold with her.
She was an odd one, taller than most, smarter and different. The chicken place was an accident that would not stop. She needed this little bit of money to pay for the car and the uncomfortable night shift allowed her to write at night and sleep during the day. Of course, this schedule also did not give much time for dating or anything else. But she did not mind. She was hopelessly romantic, waiting for her knight in shining armor sweep her off her feet one day when the time came. However, she was waiting for a while now.
And her mother in her bluntly loving manner warned her that she will be single and leaving off her elderly parents, while other girls of her age already changed two to three husbands and were collecting fat checks from them for alimony. "You are not rich or beautiful. You can't get a man on your smarts. Wiggle your ass a little more and make sure your boobs stick up. They like that kind of stuff."
Her mother was something else, but she loved her daughter, and wanted her to get herself a man, at least not be so lonely. "Don't you want to have kids?" she asked.
"No, I don't like children," answered Giselle honestly. She did not see much value in getting knocked up like a lot of her cohort, only to be left as single mothers or even worse, getting stuck with a husband because of the baby. Of course, if she met a man who would change her mind, then she would plan for kids.
The jerk did not push for sex, although always did little things to make her tingle and excited. She thought it was cute and old fashioned of him to take it slow, and her body rushed her toward a bit more closeness, but she was not the kind of girl to make advances. She waited patiently for him to ask her on a real date and was hoping that things will progress naturally. How wrong she was!
I guess she is not coming. The handsome customer felt a bit let down, as if she promised to meet him; putting his cap back on, he went into the parking lot, searching his pocket for the taxi driver's card.
He was not looking and bumped into something, or rather somebody. Surprised, he exclaimed without thinking, "Giselle? Kinchane - yo? Nu wae go re? Mu shun ill shi-se-yo?"
She heard her name and lifted the head, revealing her face, wet with tears, completely confused at the strange man, speaking to her in a foreign tongue.
He looked very worried; "Wae il ka issa-yo? Ul ji malo-yo," he continued as if what he was saying had any meaning to her.
Giselle was squatting in the corner, by the wall of the building, protected from the plain view. She was embarrassed to be seen like that by this person, who could not even speak normally.
"Biyane-yo," his sad expression was of concern and compassion. She just blinked at him and got up.
"So-rry", he said with a strong accent, making her smile unintentionally. He responded back with a smile that was so warm and kind, she could not disregard him.
"How do you know my name?"
He pointed to the name card on her shirt.
"Who are you?" curiosity for a moment made her forget about her puffy face with the trails of tears on her cheeks and that she was discovered in this embarrassing position by this tall man, right here in the parking lot…
He grinned, "Lee Tae Soo."
"Come again?" Was he Chinese or something? His eyes had this beautiful almond shape, slightly narrowing at the ends; dark, straight hair and the shape of his jaw with plump lips all pointed to him being Asian.
"Minute, please," he spoke in this funny cut off English, which was just a little better, than her Chinese. The man pulled a phone out of his pocket and typed something, then scrolled through some pages, and handed it to her.
The marvels of modern technology – a translator:
"My name is Lee Tae Soo. I came here to eat chicken. I saw you here. You look sad. I asked if you were OK, what happened, are you crying?"
She looked up at him, not knowing how to respond, he flipped to another screen, "Don't cry." And he added in a soft voice, "Giselle."
She chuckled and felt suddenly very shy, something fluttered in her stomach and warmth spread in her heart. "I'm OK. Thank you," she said.
"The hurricane is coming. You better stay indoors," she warned the man. "Do you understand English?" she checked, realizing that he may not even comprehend what she just said.
"Understand good, speak little," he answered, lowering his eyes, shy.
"What language do you speak?"
"Are you Korean? What are you doing here?"
"Ahh. Welcome to Puerto Rico," she said running out of the topics for conversation. She felt like she had to be polite and gracious, because he cared to check on her. But after their encounter she hoped not to ever run into him again. Thankfully, he was not a local, so the chances of them meeting were slim.
"I am here for a month."
"A month? Why?" She could not fathom why a cute Korean guy would be spending a whole month on this island. There were much more popular places for tourists and she has not really seen many Asians traveling alone, without big tour buses and overly cheerful guides.
"Moment," he typed something else. "I ran away. I needed to escape my life."
Wow, too much information. Is there something wrong with this dude, why is he sharing with me about his life? He looked normal, but she tends to attract weirdoes and freaks, the only normal guy she thought liked her, turned out to be a huge jerk.
"You don't know me, right?" he asked with hope in his eyes.
He looked strangely happy at her response. Giselle already forgot about the jerk and that she was crying a few minutes ago, feeling like the world has ended. The Korean had this effect on her with his weird directness and sincerity on his face.
He typed something else and gave her the phone, looking away, "Don't cry because of him. He is a jerk. I saw him with that girl last night also. He does not deserve you. Forget him. You will find a better man."
Her eyes rounded in surprise. This was too much. How did he know about the cheating bastard and that he made her cry, why and where did he see him with another woman? Why was he telling her that and why was she feeling better? Was he a therapist or something? Maybe he was doing a research and studied human behavior. "Thanks for advice, but it is none of your business," that's what she should say, turn around and leave before he does something else to keep her engaged.
"Can you show me where to get good coffee?"
"El Meson?" Giselle did not know how to get rid of this man, but continued to talk to him, nevertheless.
"OK. I will see you tomorrow."
"Yes. You can take me to coffee," he explained in broken English.
Presumptuous, but she could not help, but smile in the corners of her mouth.
He was really tired of not having good coffee and of that fried chicken. If he could have some decent meat somewhere else, he would love it. He missed a good old Korean BBQ. This is not an episode of "Survivor" – eat only chicken, no coffee, and nobody talk to - see how long you can last. It is supposed to be a vacation, a time for self reflection and exploration, not to be stuck in a chicken land, watching a personal drama run in front of your eyes.
He was frustrated today. In fact, he was upset. The weather was too hot and too humid, as if it was not enough to suffer hot summers in Seoul. The jerk dared to waltz in with his girl and perform tongue dance in front of Giselle, making her cry. Heartless, stupid jerk! What a two-timing bastard!
He was getting worked up, getting physically hot even more with the anger fueling him, he cranked up air conditioning to the max and took off T-shirt, letting his body cool down. He grabbed cold water bottle out of the fridge and sat in front of the floor to ceiling glass panel, covering the whole front of the house, overlooking the beach.
"Unbelievable," he said out loud to himself. After a week of nothingness and boredom, when time dragged its feet, today was racy and unexpectedly full of emotion. Why was he overreacting about some girl's love life going south? They don't even know each other. It's not like they are friends.
He spent the rest of the evening playing his videogames and relaxing on the sofa. The next day he woke up in a better mood. There was an expectation of good coffee and good company. For the first time since he arrived in Puerto Rico he actually picked out clothes and checked his hair.
Behind the large panoramic window the surf was getting stronger, and water choppier. He saw the wind lower the tall palms and slam the tree branches against each other. The clouds now completely covered the skies, and the atmosphere felt like something would happen very soon.
His driver spoke English fast and with a Spanish accent, and out of everything the man was saying, Tae Soo could only catch the word he recognized – hurricane. He tensed in his seat, remembering the images of hurricanes he saw on the internet and TV, not wanting to be caught in the middle of a natural disaster. "Is it safe?"
"Yes, it is. Just make sure your house is hurricane proof and have food and water for a couple of days. Get candles."
He understood most of what the driver said, but it did not increase his comfort. He decided to ask Giselle. After all she lives here and would give him advice. She spoke clearly, not like this man. Why was he so sure that she will be there waiting for him? What if she does not come to work or does not want to take him to Starbucks? The thought was unpleasant, he never even considered this option. He was so used to all the women simply agreeing to anything he offered. But this woman did not seem to be affected by his natural charms and he was uncharacteristically worried.
Giselle actually had a day off. She hated the chicken place for many reasons, but mainly because it was a stupid place to work, with stupid coworkers and a stupid boss and the boss of the boss that was less stupid, but still an idiot. She hated the smell of chicken on her hair and her skin after she got off work. And it was the place where she met the jerk, who broke her heart even before she had a chance to enjoy a real kiss from him.
She contemplated about meeting with the Korean tonight. Why should she? Although he was a bit stalkerish, he seemed like a nice guy, and who was she kidding – she did not have anybody else stalking her right now. She tried to recall how he looked. He was tall, a nice height for her, compared to most of the guys around, face was handsome; she thought he was cute. So it would not be that horrible of an idea to show him where he can get coffee. It might be fun to talk to a foreigner. She did not travel much and having an opportunity to learn about another culture and country intrigued her. The only problem with today's meeting was that the hurricane was coming. She already got everything prepared at home. Her car's gas tank was full and she would not get stuck without fuel, if she had to evacuate due to rock or mud slides.
Giselle did not go out much. She did not wear skimpy skirts, high heels and tight blouses with low cuts. She did not go out to bars and discos flaunting her assets, which she had plenty of. She was not one of those girls who dressed up and put make up on every time they stepped out the door. Her preferred outfits were jeans, comfy sneakers and t-shirts. She did own a few sun dresses and a more expensive looking dress she wore once for a wedding. She splurged just for a couple of pairs of heels, also for special occasions. She looked inside her closet, sighing. Her choices were quite limited: a blue t-shirt, a dark blue t-shirt, a striped blue t-shirt, and more of the same. She usually let her hair down when she was dressing up. It made her stop and think about what kind of meeting it was, anyway: it was not a date, but it was not a casual meeting with a long time friend either. She still wanted to be presentable and… attractive. She usually did not care much for her appearance, but as a representative of her country, she wanted to do well.
She arrived at the chicken place at the usual time, curious where the guy was. She noticed a lone figure, sitting inside the empty restaurant, and he perked up when he saw her drive in. The man quickly came out and approached her car. She waved for him to get in, and he inserted his tall body in a small space of the seat, his knees sticking up. "You can move the seat back," she suggested and he granted, pushing the chair back till the very end and reclining into it, still barely stretching his long limbs. Giselle had to laugh and he gave an apologetic smile, slightly embarrassed.
The cafe was busy with people ordering large take out cartons of coffee and ground beans. It seemed that they were getting ready for the storm, piling up all the necessities, coffee included.
"What is good?" he asked.
"White chocolate mockachino."
"I like chocolate also," he smiled.
She caught all of his smiles, wide and small, shy ones and more open, kind and sweet. She did not think much of it till this moment, when this boyish, expressive, wholehearted big smile was born. She realized that every time he smiled, everything lit up around him, and Giselle could not take her eyes of this man till the smile's bright light slowly faded. A small shiver went down her spine and she had to shake it off quickly before he noticed.
"The hurricane is coming," she said, looking out the window where a light drizzle signaled the start of what will later become a powerful storm with the winds so violent, it was no longer safe to be outside. "We need to get home."
"I don't have a car. Let me call the taxi."
"I can give you a ride," she offered.
"Really?" another smile was dispensed like balsam on her broken heart.
"Where to?" He gave her a paper with his address and she looked at him like he was crazy. "It is too far and too risky, by the time we get to your house, the wind will be too strong. I'm sorry, I can not drive you there, it is dangerous."
The man looked at her with a question mark, having understood the main point of her speech that it was dangerous.
"Tell me what to do," he asked for her direction, trusting this person, whom he barely knew, yet somehow felt like he has known her for a while. He observed enough of her to know that she was smart and responsible and would not do anything careless.
Giselle thought for a minute and decided, "What the heck, you are coming with me." She started the car and headed home, which was only a few minutes ride from the café.