Black Blood - [Valentine's Day Special]

by - 1:13 AM




















“Lhaden,” he said, “Hey.”

She smiled. “Is Phuntsho in?”  She tried not to look at his naked chest but those abs and biceps were hard to miss. The waistband of his striped PJ was plunged down, revealing a bit of his pelvic bones.

“Yeah,” he looked back over his shoulder and called for his girl friend, “We weren’t expecting you until next week.” He stepped aside and let her in.

  As soon as she stepped in and he closed the door after them, her best friend came out of the kitchen. “What is it…?” she froze when she saw Lhaden. 

Lhaden noticed that she was wearing an organdy see-through top over red underpants. Her best friend had moved in with her boy friend and she hadn’t been here during that significant transition. She had been hiding in some foreign country, too cowardly to face reality. She should have been here with the only girl she trusted, staying up late talking about her First Time, making her hot chocolate after an argument with her boyfriend, and rushing to the pharmacy when her period got delayed. She had failed as a best friend. A pang of guilt slapped her across the face.  

“Lhaden, when did you…?” Phuntsho came forward, looking confused. “I thought…”

She smiled. “Something came up so I had to rush. I should have informed you but everything just happened so fast,” without another word, she hugged Phuntsho. “I’m so sorry.” She wasn’t talking about the early flight.  

“Hey it’s alright,” Phuntsho hugged her back. “You’re always welcome here, OK? Oh it’s so good to see you.” 

“You girls catch up on each other,” Channing said. “I’ll fix us coffee.” 

“No,” she said. Channing stopped and Phuntsho’s eyes widened. “I’m not staying. I just came for the box.” 

“But…” Phuntsho’s face fell. There were faint red rashes on her chin and neck. Snog rash. “You just got here. Where will you go, and where are your stuff?”

“I got myself an apartment,” she answered, “I’ll be fine. It’s a nice place. You guys should come over tomorrow.” She smiled for convincement. 

“Are you sure?” Channing asked.

She nodded. “Oh of course. Don’t worry about me.”

“Well then,” Phuntsho said, biting her lip, “I’ll go get the box.”

***

 As she sat down, coldness of the empty bed seeped up through the fabric of her satin robe and made her shiver. She pulled a blanket around herself and looked down at the things she’d fished out of the box and displayed on the bed. Her hand reached out for the red fish-tail dress she’d worn to her senior year prom in college. Taylor Swift’s ‘Cold as you’ played at the back of her head. She squeezed her eyes shut in an abortive effort to make it vanish. 

It was the same song with which in the background he’d told her that he had had enough. Those words cut deep, she remembered. She thought he loved her. Perhaps that was too big a word. After graduation, she never saw him. He went to India and she busied herself with various freelance jobs. 
“I know you hate me,” he showed up at her doorstep two years later, “I just want to say that I’m sorry.” 

Then he saw that she had another man in the house. BayMax stood up from in front of the PC where they’d been playing Games and walked to the door. He was in an oversized T-shirt and frayed jeans, his big black glasses perched on his head. 

He brought the glasses back down on his nose, “Do you want me to leave?” he asked, looking from her to JP and back at her. 

“No,” she said. 

He looked awkward under JP’s glare. “So, I suppose you’re Jigme Palden.”

JP did not say anything. BayMax looked tired and red in the face from all the grappling with joysticks and laughter. But JP seemed to get the wrong message. He looked at her with a mixture of rage and remorse. “I should have known.” 

“Know what, I’m outta here,” BayMax threw his hands up, slipping past JP and getting out in the open. “See ya around, L,” he grinned at Lhaden and left. 

Lhaden stepped aside and held the door open. JP hesitated for a second, and then stepped in. She closed the door. Turning around, she saw that he was avoiding looking directly at her. She took the opportunity to take this new him in; he looked taller, more evenly tanned, unlike in college his hair was cleanly cropped, and his chin was beautifully stubbled. 

“Long time,” she said.

He looked up, “Yeah. I missed you,” he said in a barely audible whisper. 

She shook her head, “Don’t.”

He stepped forward. His eyes had darkened, she noticed. The lashes were damp, as if he’d been blinking back tears. He reached up a hand to touch her. She backed off and hit the door. His eyes hovered on her lips as his thumb gently stroked them. Then his eyes flickered and he stiffened. He pulled his hand away as if her face had suddenly turned white hot. He tore his gaze from her.
“I should leave,” he said. “Call your boyfriend back.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” the words were out of her mouth before she could stop them.

“He’s not?” his face lifted and he sounded expectant. 

She shook her head. 

Almost instantly, he reached up both his hands and cupped her face. Her heart pounded in her chest and she worried that he might hear it. This time, he looked directly in her eyes, and she felt her insides turn to water. His Adam’s apple bobbled endearingly as he swallowed. She’d never seen anyone’s eyes darken so much.

“You want to kiss me,” she said. “But you’re not sure if that’s a good thing.” 

He swallowed again, and before she knew it, he was already at her lips, brushing them gently. She’d spent the past two years trying to forget him but now that his lips were on hers, the wall crumbled. Her fury dwindled and she found herself parting her lips and letting his tongue in. Soon the kiss turned passionate and he was gnawing at her neck. His hands found the hem of her shirt and slipped them under it. She gritted her teeth as a moan escaped her lips. His hands hesitantly tugged at the waistband of her pants, and that was when she lightly pushed him back.

“No strings attached,” she breathed.

“What?” 

“You’re not allowed to fall in love with me. I mean it. It’s so tiring.”

He did not look pleased, “Really?” She could not help noticing the note of disappointment in his voice.

“Yes. And I want you to make me like this.”

 Without another word, he pressed his lips against hers and slipped his hands back under her shirt. “Is this your first time?” he asked, kissing her ear.

Her back arched forward. She snorted in between short pants. “I’m twenty-five and I find this question insulting.”

He laughed, sending a chill running down her spine.

“Why, is this your first time?”

He chuckled. “What do you expect? Nobody wants me.”

She breathed as he kissed his way down towards her chest. “You’ve better heard of protection.”

***

She nearly jumped when her phone beeped. It sounded unusually loud in the empty apartment. She glanced down at the phone and saw that it was Tashi calling her in Messenger. Her heart did a summersault, and then plummeted. As much as she wanted to hear his voice, she had told herself that it was over and she’d had enough crumbled walls to last her a lifetime. 

She imagined him sitting on the lavender vinyl couch in his apartment in Tokyo, staring down at his phone, not sure if he should be calling her. After all, it had been him who’d ended their relationship. When she said that she wanted to go back home, he told her that she could go. 

Won’t you come with me? She wanted to ask.

“No,” he said. “I won’t stop you.”

Somehow, she knew that it meant he won’t see her again.

***

Tonight he looked different. He did all he could to not meet her eyes. His hair was ruffled, as if he’d been repeatedly running his fingers through it. He looked tired; there were faint dark circles below his downcast eyes.

“Hey, JP?” she said, “Are you OK?”

He looked up, “Yeah. Sure.”

She leaned in and kissed him. He did not respond. She pulled back. “Right. What’s going on?”

  He sighed: a deep weary sigh. “I got a girlfriend.”

“O.K.,” she smiled. The corners of her lips trembled. Before she could break off, which she knew was going to happen because of the wave of ice spreading through her, she kissed him. She traced her palm over his chest, taking with her the warmth and the bits of short-lived happiness.

At quarter to four, she got out of bed. He was sleeping soundly, chest heaving evenly. Right at that moment, he looked so painfully beautiful. She gathered her clothes and without making any noise, slipped out of the apartment. A few minutes later she was standing at Phuntsho’s doorstep, drenched in rain and shivering. Her eyes were bloodshot and her throat felt raw. There was an undeniable shard of cold glass lodged inside her heart which had nothing to do with the rain. 

“He’s dating,” she said. The words came out in ragged gasps that hurt her throat. “We had sex but that was the last time.” 

She remembered crying the entire night. He’d made her cry again. She had let him make her cry again.

Seven days later, when she got a phone call from MOLHR asking if she was interested to work in Japan, she said, “Yes.” 

On the eve of her flight, she burned down all the vintage frills, cute pens, bright diaries and pink wedged shoes she owned. But somehow, she could not bring herself to throw away a few photographs and the prom dress. Then she got herself a huge tattoo under her left collarbone, right above her heart. It was a horde of injured crows flying to freedom. Lastly, she hacked off her long black hair into a messy bob. 

She’d never looked back after that day.

***

She was lying on the bed, almost asleep when the buzzer sounded from the door. She couldn’t imagine who it might be. No one but Phuntsho knew her new address. Reluctantly, she got out of bed and dragged herself to the door. When she opened it and saw a tall tanned man standing at the threshold, it was like she’d never left in the first place. When he smiled his hesitant half-grin at her, it was like she just left him last night and now he was back at her doorstep asking for forgiveness. 

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Phuntsho told me that you didn’t look so good. She told me to check on you,” Then his eyes hovered over her left chest, looking at parts of black ink the gown hadn’t covered. “You look… different.”

“J.P, what are you doing here?”

He seemed lost at words for a while. “You just… left,” was all he said.

She stepped aside to let him in but kept the door open. It was like in the old times. He was back and she found her determination waver. “How’s… she?”

It took a moment for the words to register. Then he said, “Oh uh… we broke up. It wasn’t the same.”

It wasn’t the same as what?

“I’ve missed you,” he said, his voice dropping a note. 

 “Not again.” She meant it. Not again. 

He took a step forward. 

“Lhaden,” a voice she knew too well spoke from behind him. She stiffened. When she looked at the door, to her surprise she saw that it was Tashi. He was in jeans and a grey linen jacket, looking exhausted and worn. As he looked at her, it was like JP did not even exist. He seemed to see only her. He stepped in. 

“I rang Phuntsho,” he said as a substitute for greeting.

“You came.” She walked towards him and hugged him. It felt good to be back in his arms. They felt warm, familiar and safe. Something JP’s arms never felt. When she leaned back, something inside her felt right, like a soreness that’d been with her for a long time was now gone.

“You must be a friend,” Tashi said to J.P, but somehow she could tell that he knew. “You should come back when the place is more settled.”

“Oh of course,” JP walked to the door. He stopped to look back at Lhaden, who lowered her eyes. He got the message. After standing there for a few seconds looking at her – eyes shinny and face crestfallen – he turned, and without a single word walked away. 

For the first time, it did not hurt to see him go.



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