I sat in his car for a long time trying to decide whether I should or should not reach for his hand. It was simpler than asking for an embrace or for a soft kiss on the lips—fingers were something I’ve always believed I could handle. So after seven hours of deliberation, I reached for him, thinking he would swat me away or, worse, simply ignore my hand resting against his wrist. But instead! He responded by holding me back tightly and I felt the air tremble in my throat, like a scream or the warbling call of a bird in the spring.
Now, I’ll tell you a secret. I’ve got a bad habit of buyer’s regret: I’ll buy something and two weeks later I’ll look at it and think, god, what a mistake, and I’ll think about that mistake for days and days. It was that way when I spent half-a-million rupiah on our lunch date, it was that way when I plucked a flower from the ground and stuck it in a vase and then a few days afterwards it died with all the aplomb of dying while asleep. I remember taking a few moments out of my day to watch its browned petals fall onto the counter. I told the maid not to clean it up, and those petals stayed wilted on the glass countertop for another month. It looked so ugly there, broken.
Several hours after I reached for his hand, he returned my favor and reached for my lips. I gave them to him and he drunk the ocean out of me with careless gulps. His fervor (as if he were pleading for salvation), was overwhelming. My skin felt prickly and I was a bit off-put by how damn religious the whole thing was turning out to be.
All around us as we were kissing there was no light and we were sitting quietly, we’d given up on outrunning the rain at that point and he smelled faintly of drugstore cologne and then I was tangling my hands in his hair, breathing into his open mouth which was whispering my name in the sweetest way, with his arms ’round my waist, I thought, yes, we could stay like this forever, I thought, this is fine, and I was trying my damnedest not to notice that his eyes, while he was kissing me that way, were still open.
I didn’t get home until very late that night. My father was sitting at the dining table in front of a plate of corn soup, now cold. He stretched a dry hand out to me and said, “Hey, come eat with me.” There was a gnawing need in my breast to see the boy again but I tucked it into the bed of my heart and instead reached into my handbag. With every step towards him I am sure my face grew uglier and when I finally stood before my father the hero I looked right into his quivering eyes. “Here,” I spat. I tossed all my receipts at him. I was not in any mood for dinner.
He did a very stupid thing then. He gathered them all and made a protective barrier around them with his hairy arms, as if, by holding them, he was holding me. He glanced down at them and mumbled, “You spent so much money today.” A vision of a valley in drought was stamped there in his eyes. (There were no flowers, if I recall, during the springs of his youth: he told me once).
“Do you need me to hold you?”
“Did he do anything to you?”
“No.” With as airy a voice as I could pull out of my throat: “The worst was done a long time ago, you know.”
I picked up one of the receipts and crumpled it up; threw it at his face. With a cool smirk I whipped around and slinked back to my bedroom. Later when I was in bed under the covers but on top of the cool bleached sheets he came to the doorway and murmured, “I’m sorry, my girl.” It was really terrible. I couldn’t think of any reason he had to be sorry. I had asked for it, after all.