The hurricane raged outside. Sounds of nature taking over; trees played with like twigs, water thrown on roof of the building from an enormous heavenly pail, splashing down the wall and on the windows. The house creaking and moaning under the pressure of the forces to reckon with.
There was not much between them and the elements: just some blocks of the walls and the glass of the windows. A loud thud made them turn – the storm finally managed to prove its power – a tree came rushing through the window, glass shattering. They both screamed from surprise and involuntary huddled closer, his arm wrapped around her shoulder and he pulled her tightly, gripping her shoulder for comfort.
"Yes." Too frequently he had to ask her. Yes, she was OK. She understood already.
A gust of wind, free to roam as it pleased now, ran threw the house, brushing their faces and limbs, making them shudder, and blew out the candles. Giselle muttered something in Spanish angrily and quickly overcoming the shock, started searching the table for the box of matches. "Fire," he said, obviously thinking about the same. The cooktop was still on and he started lighting candle after candle till they could see.
She exhaled loudly. "I should check on the damage," she said getting up, but he held her arm, not letting her go. "Why? Are you scared?" she smirked.
"No!" Resented Tae Soo. "Your feet. There is glass on the floor. You will cut your feet."
"Ahh," embarrassed, she freed her arm.
They both looked at each other trying to figure out what to do next.
"The water will get in now," she pouted with a sigh.
"We should cover the window," suggested Tae Soo.
"It won't help. The wind is too strong." She picked up a candle and turned, directing the light toward where the tree branches were growing out from the window into her living room. "It's not that bad. The tree launched pretty snuggly. We are lucky."
"It could have been worse. Either way, we can't stay in this room."
"No, I don't think it is safe with the glass and everything. If there is another accident, we don't want to be in the way of the tree," she chuckled.
"No," he pushed out a smile. But where would they go?
"Come on. But don't look at anything. I will have to straighten up." She took his hand and carrying a large candle to show the way, guided him toward her bedroom.
Tae Soo stopped by the door, looking at her nervously, shifting from foot to foot, he just stared, as if asking, "Are you taking me to your bedroom?"
"Relax, just because it has a bed, it does not mean anything," she laughed, realizing that this was a bit unorthodox.
"What? I'm fine. Whatever," he produced I don't care about going with a woman into her bedroom in the middle of the night expression.
"Like I said, close your eyes, while I fix the mess."
"Sure." His insides tightened. It was not a big deal. It's not like she was inviting him for sex or anything. She was right. The living room was no longer safe. He was not old fashioned, but he was brought up not do this kind of thing lightly. Despite whatever people thought about celebrities, he had certain principles. Going into a woman's room was an indication of a certain direction in a relationship. They say if you put a man and a woman in a room together anything can happen. He was not the kind to take advantage of women or put them into vulnerable situations.
Giselle was frantically grabbing all the clothes she dropped over the bed when she was picking her outfit earlier. She shoved the pile of blue t-shirts and jeans into the closet. Then she gathered all the dirty clothes scattered around the floor and stuffed them into a plastic bag, pushing it under the bed. Since it is dark, he won't notice anything, right?
"You can look now."
Tae Soo opened his eyes. It was a small space. The main feature of the room was a bed. A bedside table crowded with books and papers was next to it and a small reading lamp was attached to the wall. The rest of the room was pretty much a narrow path around the bed. If he stretched his arm – he would touch it, if he took a step, he would land on it. Suddenly he missed traditional Korean roll out mattresses which could be placed on the floor just for sleeping; the rest of the time the floor was empty from any clutter and a room could be used for sitting, eating and doing any other activity. However, in Puerto Rico they did not seem to be familiar with a concept of a bedroom where the bed was not the only major piece of furniture. Where would he sit?
"Don't be shy," Giselle plopped on the bed and cuffed lightly a spot next to her. "Seat."
"Here." She pointed to the bed.
"Is there somebody else here?" Why was he being so coy?
"I think I will stand," he answered, leaning with his back on the door. If he had to stand for a long time, he might as well make himself more comfortable.
"Are you seriously planning to stand there?"
"Why not? This door is very comfortable."
"Hey, I don't bite, what do you think I will do to you?"
"Never mind." She sighed. Of course he did not understand the hidden meaning. What did she expect anyway. But she was somewhat offended. Is she that repulsive that he would not even sit down next to her?
"Why won't you sit on the bed?"
Damn, this girl was direct. Who asks such a question? And furthermore, how can he answer?
"Hmm, well, you are a girl, I mean, a woman, not a woman woman, but a young woman. The thing is, the thing is… I am not," He produced in an awkward attempt.
Giselle listened with full attention; each word he's said made less sense than the one before. In a way, it was a twisted kind of fun to watch him fumble and explain.
"You are not what?"
"I'm not a woman. I'm a man, Giselle." How else could he put it? Did not she understand that he was trying to be respectful?
"Wow, really? For a second there I was confused, especially when you were shirtless. You got me then." Her sarcasm fell on the flat ears, as he stared at her like she was nuts.
Was not she crazy to respond with such spite? He is such a nice guy, why is she so mean and making fun of him? "Sorry, I get mean when I get nervous. Of course I know you are man. I know that too well," she sighed. "It is weird that we are in my bedroom, but there is no other place to seat, but the bed. Unless you want to lie down?"
"Sitting is good. I like sitting." They are not in the kind of relationship where they should be so selfconscious. In fact, they are not in any kind of relationship at the moment. He might have watched her from a side for a while and they have exchanged a few words. But they are not friends yet and are just barely acquaintances.
He sat on the bed, his long legs firmly planted on the floor.
"So, what shall we do?"
"I don't know."
Lee Tae Soo required his beauty sleep. To maintain perfect complexion, good genetic code was only a part of the equation. He had to have a cleaning and moisturizing routine and of course eat, rest and sleep well. Stress attacked the skin first, before it targeted other parts of the body. When he traveled, and he traveled a lot, sometimes flying from country to country and from city to city on the same day, he would be forced to use make up to look good for the cameras to cover the redness on his skin or dark circles under his eyes.
He was lucky; before he became famous he never had to be bothered with such details, but for a few years now, he collectively spent more time in front of a mirror than his mother and sister combined. That's how serious he had to be about it. Soon it has become a second nature to him. He did not like to do things half-assed. He committed to his "flower boy" image and to keep up with the demands of the public, he worked hard at it.
Even on vacation, his skin care line of facial cleansers, toners, creams and masks was used daily. He was willing to compromise on food and even be more lax about clothes, but skincare was his top priority just ahead of another top contestant – his hair.
Both of these precious commodities that made him the spokesperson for cosmetic brands and put him on the covers of fashion magazines had to be treated as if they were entities in their own right. Not parts of his appearance, but his important assets. Somebody joked that they needed to insure his looks since that's how he made his money. Funny, but true. His manager supposedly was in negotiations with this company that catered to high profile celebrities, creating tailored insurance packages to cover any damages to their precious bodies.
The sad part of it – the joke was on him: his looks opened up the doors of opportunities for him in the cutthroat and hard to get ahead entertainment industry, but Lee Tae Soo was a truly talented actor. He was good, he knew it and he fought to be recognized for his craft, but the road to acting fame was difficult and paved with disappointment. Others might have dismissed his struggles – why would he complain, with his perfect hair and complexion, almond eyes and a killer jaw line, plus his height - girls fainting at his sight. But for him finding a decent role to highlight his acting abilities was not easy. This was one of the reasons for his escape from this encompassing personal crisis.
Such thoughts were floating around his head, perched on little clouds, which moved about leisurely. These deep worries were not getting to him, they just existed somewhere in the back of his mind, while he was happily asleep. He was aware that he was sleeping and that he was relaxed. He was warm and something gave him a sense of stable soothing rhythm, like a metronome for his heat beat, tuk-tuk, tuk-tuk, and his heart went along with it, tuk-tuk, tuk-tuk.
Smell of freshness and silky texture of something soft tickled his nostrils; he scratched his itching nose, which was snuggled in that "something" which also emanated warmth. He moved his head, nuzzling against this source of comfort when he heard a light noise. It was as if breath needed to be acknowledged , puff of air so close to his ear that it sounded more like a loud sigh, and that metronome beat suddenly became louder, echoing in perfect unison with the thumping of his heart.
He shifted; cool emptiness between him and that soft "something", and the metronome's tic-tac became distant. He started to come out of the haze, noticing the absence of the loud bellowing of the wind outside and no rain drumroll on the roof. The storm has passed. Tae Soo felt light sneaking underneath his eyelids and with sadness, he registered the understanding that despite his best efforts, he was awake.
Giselle woke up just a few minutes before. Silence hit her and she knew right away what it meant. The hurricane came and left. She opened her eyes, not moving yet, and saw him. She was asleep on his shoulder, his large palm was covering her hand, which rested on her thigh. And his breathing stroked the tip of her head; he was also asleep, peacefully resting his head on hers. Giselle closed her eyes and thought with regret that her dream could have been more exciting. Is it all she could come up with, falling asleep so innocently, sitting on the bed? Darn! And she called herself a writer!
He moved and it became clear – this was not a dream. Many spooked tiny butterflies fluttered in her stomach and even found their way to her throat, making her slow her breathing. She emulated ignorance, but it was too late. She could feel his almond eyes on her, shamelessly studying her face up close, serious, with a hint of wondrous curiosity. Well, it was much better than some made up dream, Lee Tae Soo wanted to look at her.
So she smiled at him. And he smiled back, tentatively, shy, lowering his eyes, but then looked up again, smile catching up with his eyes, which reflected no discomfort.
"How do you say 'Good Morning' in Korean?" A dewy blush glowed on her cheeks.
"Annyohaseyo." He shined right back at her.
"Then Annyohaseyo… My neck is stiff," she rubbed it, still smiling. Her knuckles pressed taught muscles, and Giselle moaned; then stretched, containing a yawn, making him snicker. "What?"
"You are cute." He plainly thought so. A calm smile rested on his face. Tae Soo's clear almond eyes softly narrowed at the edges with cautious crinkles creeping out. It was like watching art in the making, tiny changes transforming him from simply beautiful into absolutely irresistible. The final touch of the artist's brush, placed a crescent indentation forming a dimple on his left cheek. Giselle was in awe; her lips slightly opened and she absorbed the sight of this man next to her.
Tae Soo was surprisingly refreshed. Inhaling the fragrance of her hair proven to be a good aromatherapy for him. He felt like doing something reckless and possibly with dangerous consequences for him, something unexpectedly exciting, letting himself express the gratitude for her warmth through the night and the peace that her presence gave him. Easily with gentle force he turned Giselle, whose eyes opened up with a question mark and trusting expectation, and pulled her forward, encircling her back to hug her tightly. She did not protest and held her breath, unsure once again if this was not a dream, but this sense of his chest pressing against her, she felt it a few times before already, it was familiar and comforting, yet exhilarating. Marveling at the simplicity with which he managed to be so intimate without making it into a big deal, she lifted her arms and for the first time, hugged him back.
He snuggled the chin on her shoulder, taking his time to fill his body with her closeness. He did not get to have such moments of connection often. A hug of pure sincerity. This embrace was lustless, but sensual, in the best kind of way, where a gentle sensation trickled within, waking up the man in him, who wanted to express himself to her. A kiss formed on his lips and he pulled away to stop himself, worried that he might be rushing. This slowly building anticipation of something sweet and hopeful in the air was so delicate, he had to honor it.
Giselle was serious, she studied him as if for the first time. During the day he was even more breathtaking. The almond eyes sparkled from within and she was drawn into his gaze, still letting the aftereffects of the hug to sink in. She felt the fragility of the moment as well, any wrong move and the spell would be broken.
The door opened with a loud thump and a male voice roared, "Giselle!"
"Dad?" She jolted from the bed, while Tae Soo froze, unable to swallow fear stuck in his throat as the man's eyes sliced him with the sharpness of a knife.
For a second, everyone stared back and forth at each other and then the volcano of her father's fury erupted, spewing lava of fire, promising death.
Spanish was a language suited for such occasion; it was a language of passion, heated arguments and vocabulary full of powerful descriptions for hate, murder and other such life threatening topics.
The man was yelling, words flying faster than the speed of light, complimented by highly animated gesturing. Giselle was not running behind, either. She was screaming back, cracking phrases like nutshells, all the words merging into multi-wagon runaway train headed for an unstoppable collision. They exchanged a series of snappy attacks deflected by swift defensive replies; Tae Soo could swear he saw the temperature in the room soar and he thought that a case of spontaneous combustion was about to occur right in front of his very eyes.
Suddenly, a man's hand went for something in his pocket, and he heard loud and clear, and in English, "I will kill that son of a bitch right now!"
Lee Tae Soo closed his eyes, ready for a certain bullet in his brain.
"Dad, stop it!"
"Where is my gun?" he asked, surprised to find his pocket empty.
"You stopped carrying it, after that incident with police, remember?"
Grabbing the gun was a reflex, developed over the years. "Why did I have to do that?"
"Because you kept drawing it on everybody, freaking people out."
"Well, I sure wish I had it on me this second."
"Come on, calm down, have not you heard anything I said?" She huffed, hands on her hips and glaring with frustration at her father.
For the first time actually addressing the actor, the father screamed in his direction, "And who are you?"
Tae Soo slowly opened one eye and then another. He was alive, he did not hear the cock of the gun or the sound of shooting, his brain was not pierced with a speeding bullet; he even rubbed his forehead to make sure there was no round hole in the middle.
He finally looked at the perpetrator and there was no weapon in the man's hand.
"Who are you, I asked? What are you doing in my daughter's bed? With your pants on!"
"Ah?" Is her father upset that I am dressed?
Maybe, it was some Puerto Rican thing, which he did not read about in his travel book, in the first chapter that described customs of the island. If a man and a woman are to be found in bed together – the worst offense would be for a man to be clothed. Maybe, it was the unspoken rule that pants are off when you are in bed, just like the shoes come off when you enter a Korean home.
"Are you deaf or mute?"
"Dad, he does not speak English well."
"So he is stupid? Are you sleeping with a retard now? Could not you find anything better? Look at you, you are beautiful. Are you that desperate?"
"Shut up, Dad! People don't say retard, it is offensive; and he is not stupid, he is not from here."
"Oh, no!" He slapped his forehead, hit by a realization, "Are you feeling sorry for another gay guy? Are you running a charity?"
Giselle huffed in anger, her father was still talking about that incident years ago in college when she dated a boy, who turned out to be gay.
"Excuse me," the actor found his voice, which returned from hiding in his stomach. "I'm Lee Tae Soo," he got up and straitening his clothes, bowed. "Nice to meet you, father."
"Father? Oj, Dios Mio. He is calling me father already." The man let out exasperated loud sigh and clasped his head, muttering something fast in Spanish again.
Giselle turned and winked at Tae Soo, as if saying that the worst has passed.
Her Dad finally sad down on the bed, still holding his head.
"Are you Chinese?"
"Korean? South or North Korea?"
"South Korea, sir," he answered respectfully, although confused by a change in the line of questioning. It was a huge leap from wearing pants in bed to assuming that he was some kind of communist defector.
"We are allies."
"Have you served in the army?"
"You are not permitted to sleep with my daughter, if you are not a man." He replied with all seriousness, making Tae Soo swallow hard and stare up at Giselle for help. Why did her father keep assuming they were sleeping together? Was not there any other activity that a man and a woman can enjoy on this island besides sex? Giselle had a point before, all the men seemed to be oversexed pigs in her world, and her father shared her opinion.
"Dad," she tugged at the man's shirt. "You are scaring him. He is not that kind of a guy. Please," she hugged her father's shoulders, nodding to Tae Soo to come closer.
"He thinks that if you never served, you are not a man yet. He is old fashioned. He is career military, that's why."
"No army, sir. No yet." He desperately wished he could speak better and demonstrate that he is not a wearing pants in bed, Chinese looking North Korean, who has not served his duty yet, but a proud South Korean citizen, a member of an ally nation, who will enlist as soon as he can work out all the details with his agency and the managers. In his field, many actors took extensions to work on careers first. He was never embarrassed about it before as much as now.
"You should go soon. Maybe, you can put on some weight, get some exercise. Look at yourself, a poor excuse for a man's body! I can see your bones through the shirt!" The father lectured with more grumbling, rather than angry tone. "Nice pants."
He glanced again at the Korean and then back at his daughter. "Wait a minute, Giselle, did not I give you pajamas for you graduation gift that look just like that?"
Tae Soo kept his head down and nodded in agreement with everything said. At the mentioning of the pajamas he vividly recalled yesterday's incident and quickly grabbed the sides of his pants, just in case.
Her father abruptly ended talking to Tae Soo and switched back to Giselle and to Spanish. Their conversation started friendly, but in a minute it escalated again, with her screaming back, "Oh you stop it! There's a tree in my living room and a Chinese guy in my bed! Get over it!"
"I'm Korean," voiced Tae Soo offended.
"I know," yelled back Giselle and turned to her father, "Does it even matter at this point?"
"I came because I was worried!"
"Great!" She screamed and stomped out, leaving Tae Soo and her father looking at each other.
"Lee, is it? I knew a guy named Lee once, we served together. He ended up having his head blown off because he was slow…" the man sighed solemnly. "So you speak Chinese?"
"No, I don't." Gritted through his teeth Tae Soo, losing his patience.
Respect your elders, my ass! How many times he should say he is not Chinese. He does not look anything like Chinese!
"And Lee is my last name," he added emphatically.
Unexpectedly, the man looked at him warmly, even with sympathy, "She is a good girl, but has a temper. I don't know who she takes after…" he wondered clueless. Then completely out of the blue came the most unexpected question of them all, "Do you live with her?"
"No, sir. Absolutely not!" denied adamantly Tae Soo. "I rent a house on the beach. It is very nice. I live there."
"Good. I was telling her to stay with me, but she is refusing. Something about me being overbearing and sticking my nose into her business. Do you think I'm controlling?" He looked at the actor, as if sincerely expecting his support.
Luckily, it was more of a rhetorical question. "Her house needs to be repaired. Since she won't stay with me, she will stay with you then."
"Good. Come over tonight with Giselle for dinner at my house. My wife would love to meet you." And he smiled at the completely stunned actor, while the man grabbed his hand and shook it violently in a friendly gesture of acceptance.
"Giselle?" Tae Soo called meekly. What the heck had just happened?