Note: This is a first draft that is a part of a longer story. Drafts posted may (is definitely) not be in sequence. It is very rough and unedited; typos and grammatical errors are a given.
They said goodbyes outside the restaurant to the others. He hugged his Mom and watched her get into the car with his sister and waved at them till the rear lights of his sister's Preve disappeared around the corner. He retraced his steps back to his car when he saw her crossing the street. She sat by herself at the taxi stand. His brow furrowed and he jogged over to her.
"Where's your car?"
"Didn't feel like driving this morning so I took the cab. What do you care?" she glared at him. He thought it was unfair that she still looked glorious under the unflattering fluorescent lighting of the taxi stand, whatever makeup she put on this morning was probably long gone. How on earth can she be looking at him down her nose in that queen-of-all-she-surveys manner of hers when he towered over her seated self?
"Come on and I'll drive you home," he said.
"No, thanks. A cab will be passing soon. You go on ahead," she flipped her ponytail over her shoulder and deliberately turned her head towards the oncoming traffic.
"This place is not so safe for a woman at this hour. Your place is on my way. Come on and I'll drive you," he extended his hand.
"I'll be fine."
"Stop being a stubborn git and come on. Not two days ago a woman broke her wrist from a snatch thief just down the road. My car is just over there," he exasperatedly wondered why did he bother arguing with her. She's a city girl born and bred and she knew how to take care of herself.
"Okay. Whatever," she rose, reluctance in every line of her body.
He blipped the remote and his dusty ten year old Nissan chirped. She didn't wait for him to hold the door for her, letting herself in at the passenger side. He half thought that she'd make her way to the backseat and pretended that he was the taxi driver sending her home. When he slid into the driver's seat, she had buckled the seat belt and sat composedly, looking straight ahead with her tote bag tucked neatly against the door. He sniffed surreptitiously for the smell of eau de McDonald that he had as a hurried lunch in his car yesterday. The lemon pine air freshener he stuck on the dashboard overpowered any possible old food and socks smell. Good. And he kicked himself for caring enough to think to make a good impression with her.
The radio blared cheerfully as he cranked the engine that he lovingly restored at his pal's auto shop. The car may not look like much but the engine purred like it rolled out of AMG's assembly line and was just as responsive. Without asking for permission she lowered the volume of his radio and randomly pressed the change button until she found a station playing classic rock. He thought of taking her to task for it but his favourite Def Leppard song was on and he cranked up the volume.
They did not talk at all during the ride to her apartment. Instead, they both sang along to the classic rock hits playing on the radio that night. He pulled to a stop at the kerb outside her apartment to the accompaniment of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine.
"I can't believe you know the lyrics to The Crystal Ship," he muttered. He wasn't looking but he was sure she curled her lips at him.
"Do you have anything going after this?" she unbuckled her seat belt and angled herself to look at him.
"Not really. Why?" he glanced at her.
"I need a favour with something. Come up with me for a minute?" The streetlight made her eyes sparkle like an anime character on speed. He had thought to catch some of the match playbacks on his new 72" tv
but there's a strange hollow intensity in her eyes that he couldn't
identify or ignore.
"Okay." He turned off the engine and followed her out of the car. The night doorman opened the door obsequiously for her. She waved at him absently with a greeting as they walked to the bank of elevators, their sneakers squeaking slightly on the marble floor. The lobby was luxuriously appointed with hard wood paneling and polished brass accents, not unlike a five star hotel. He deliberately pressed his palm on the shiny brass railing, smudging it. The elevator ride was quick and silent, his ears popped slightly at the speed of ascent.
They exited the elevator to a hallway carpeted in plush pile that muffled their footsteps. There were only three doors in the corridor she took. He estimated that each apartment was about 1,300 square feet. She must have some serious money. She keyed in her code on the number panel next to the door at the end of the corridor and opened the door by placing her palm on the reader.
"Come on in," she threw over her shoulder as she toed off her sneakers at the shoe rack just inside the door, leaving it wide open as she sauntered in. He had a bad feeling about this, and he knew that he should step back and walk away, but his feet moved into the doorway. The next thing he knew, the door was shut and his feet was also bare.
He followed her through a short hallway that ( ... description of apartment with post modern simple elegant design with ethnic accents ...). She tossed her tote bag on the breakfast counter separating the kitchen and the dining area.
"You want something to drink?"
"No, thanks. What was the favour that you wanted?"
She said nothing but just smiled as she walked past him. The sliding door to the balcony was open. The filmy curtains framing it was billowing gently from the night air, aided by the lazily rotating fan on the ceiling. He could feel the slight dampness and the heavy humidity, harbinger of a possible storm later in the night. She leaned on the balcony railing, on tip toes like a young girl. The long muscles of her calves bunched and relaxed as she lowered herself on her heels and went tippy toes again. He dragged his eyes away from the enticing sight but his vision was stuck on the rounded mounds of her firm butt clad in yoga pants, the hem of her shirt had ridden up to expose a thin line of bare flesh.
Inhaling deeply, he closed his eyes, averted his head slightly before opening them again and saw a near life sized photograph of her on the wall. It was a black and white print from the waist up. She was wearing some white fuzzy sweater which hugged her body in a real good way. Her hair was pulled back starkly from her face, leaving those strong
features unframed. Her cheeks held some of the roundness of youth, not
yet developed into the current angular structure that lent her profile a
regal aspect.She was unsmiling.
"You know what I miss about living in the city?" there was an uncharacteristic wistful tone in her voice.
"What?" he asked absently. There was something about that picture that niggled at the back of his head.
"The stars. I once went camping with some friends near Alice Spring in Australia, and I was blown away by the amazing clarity of the night sky there. It looked like midnight velvet with diamonds carelessly strewn over it. I actually pulled my bedroll out of the tent and just lay back staring at the sky for the three nights that we were there, falling asleep with the stars all shining on me."
"A star shines on you daily."
"Come again?" she came back inside to stand beside him, watching as he studied her portrait. She brought with her the scent of cool, rain-laced wind, mingled with the perfume she spritzed on in the morning and her own unique smell. He felt a little dizzy.
"The sun is a star. If you go out in the day, you have a star shining on you too," he said. Her lips quirked up in a slight smile at his reply. He felt like kicking himself. She knew he's a geek, he didn't need to confirm it for her. She aligned herself beside him, cocking her head to the side as she looked at the picture on the wall.
"What do you think?" she gestured at the picture.
She leveled him a look from under her lashes. It was a devastating glance designed to slay men right where they stood. He had to lock his knees just to stay upright.
"That was my best memory from my modelling days. It was taken by Klaus Hinger, a really famous fashion photographer."
"Never heard of him," he could feel the sweat trickling down his back and beading on his upper lip.
"I'm not surprised. Besides, he's already dead. An argument with a jealous boy toy that went south." She moved away from him and fiddled with a remote on the table. Norah Jones' dulcet croon emanated from hidden speakers.
"Norah Jones? Really? Isn't it a little cliched?" he folded his arms. She widened her eyes innocently, laughter sparkling in her eyes and shrugged. No wonder she's got a whole battalion of former boyfriends; that faux innocence was really something.
"It usually works. Personally, I prefer Dave Gahan's growl to her saccharine mellowness, but ..."
"Don't go there. I like Depeche Mode too and I don't want you to spoil it for me," his growl could have matched the band front man's bass-y baritone.
She met his gaze levelly and leaned closer to him. Her soft hand trailed up his forearm. He didn't know the inner part of his elbow was so sensitive. Without breaking eye contact, she stepped right into his personal space and pressed that incredible body against him. She was tall for a woman, and her lips only reached his collarbone, against which she pressed her pillowy mouth in random scattering. She gripped his biceps with a surprising amount of force; she's a lot stronger than she appeared.
"I won't spoil it for you. In fact, the next time you listen to DM, you'll be enjoying some excellent memories, I promise," she purred. Her hot breath feathered his throat, raising goosebumps. Her scent reminded him of the sundal malam flowers that blossomed in the night outside his grandmother's window, spiced with her heat. Desire flowed from the top of his head, heating the back of his neck and the soldier between his legs stood up and saluted. Her firm and rounded breasts teased his pecs, a thigh sinuously rubbed against the vee of his braced legs.
For a while, there was only the sound of their rough cast breathing and Ms. Jones' mellow voice in the apartment. Her hand crept under his shirt to trace his back, tongues of flame following each stroke. He couldn't think, could only stood there with his feet apart like a soldier standing at attention while she explored with her lips and hot hands. His own hands were not exactly holding her away, and he discovered the lithe curves draped by her clothes. She tasted like heat and the zing of the coriander that flavoured her dinner.
"C'mon. My room is just over there," she murmured, linking her hand with his, tugging him. The slight space gave him the much needed reprieve from her drugging scent and his head cleared slightly. He hasn't panted this hard since the nature run his pal conned him into entering.
"Where's your DVD collection?" his voice was a hoarse rasp. He's so going to regret this later.
"What?" she found out that she couldn't tug him along when he planted his feet.
"You DVD collection. You're in advertising; with all the product placement Hollywood has going now, I bet you have a great selection to watch as homework." It felt like his dick was staging a sit-in protest in his pants but he vowed that this time, the larger head was going to take control.
"I don't believe this. You want to watch a movie? Now?" she was incensed, her cheeks flushed as she gritted those words through clenched teeth.
He disentangled himself from her limbs and blindly wandered over to where her television was mounted on the wall. There was a ______________ and he pawed open the door to a selection of DVDs and Blu-Ray disks that would make any illegal DVD seller jealous. He randomly picked a disk and pulled it out.
"It's been ages since I've watched ... Pride and Prejudice?" he squinted at the cover. "Hell no." And went back pawing through her disks. He could feel her fuming behind him but he searched determinedly until he unearthed Hot Fuzz.
She marched to the front door with an angry swish to her hips. Furious fingers stabbed the code on the panel and she jerked the door open.
"Get out," her voice was chillingly low.
"No. You offered me a drink earlier. I'll take whatever soft drink you've got. Or tap water," he fumbled the disk cover open and inserted it into her Blu-Ray player. It whirred softly and he turned on the television.
"I'm not giving you a drink or anything at all. I want you to get out of my house. Right. Now." Her fury was almost palpable.
"No. You asked me for a favour. Whether you like it or not, I'm up here and I'm gonna do exactly that." They glared at each other over the expanse of her living room.
"Well, I don't need you to do me any favours now, so just go," she crossed her arms under those fantastic breasts and his pecs mourned the loss of contact. He debated with himself for the right words and decided to just get on with it.
"You don't need a boink tonight," he said bluntly. "What you need is a friend. Did you think nobody noticed how your eyes were fixed on Huda's engagement ring for the whole day? I know there's something else going on. You're going to tell me what it is, we'll hash it out and then have a good time watching Nick Frost and Simon Pegg shoot up the English countryside."
"There's nothing going on and there's nothing wrong with a girl admiring another girl's engagement ring. that damned thing was at least one and a half carat of Cartier's finest, and ..." her face crumpled at the last word. Oh God. The monsoon has arrived.
He walked swiftly towards her as the fat sobs escaped her. With one hand he shoved the door close and the other embraced her. Her knees gave way and he lifted her up like he did his niece when she tripped at the playground and he sat with her on his lap on the plush sofa. His erection took some time to get down; her splotchy face and hiccupy tears notwithstanding, that world class ass was *on his lap*. He ain't dead, for God's sake.
She cried like her world was ending. He rubbed her back in circles and made the crooning noise that never failed to calm his nieces and sisters when they were on a crying jag. His t-shirt was soaked by her tears. He saw a box of tissue at the end table and reached over to snag it.
"You want some?" he waved the box in the vicinity of her head. She blindly reached out, grabbed a few and began blowing her nose noisily.
She'd reached the end of her crying jag and pushed herself off to sit next to him on the sofa, with her legs still draped over him. "Gimme a minute," she mumbled and went off to where presumably the bathroom was located. He heard water run for a minute and then silence. The night wind coming in from the open sliding door blew cool on his torso; he forgot that his t-shirt was wet.
She returned to the living room in an oversized sweat shirt that hid her curves completely and a tatty pair of shorts that showcased her fantastic legs. She gave him an uncharacteristically shy glance and walked past him to the kitchen.
"Turn on the dvd," she called to him. He could hear some clanging, the fridge opening and closing, a cabinet. Was she extracting a cleaver to use on him? he wondered irreverently. For a short while, he reconsidered his idiocy for turning her offer down, but he knew that he couldn't live with himself if he did say yes. He leaned back on the plush sofa and exhaled. Oh well.
She reappeared with two chilled bottles of Bundaberg root beer and large packet of fried keropok ikan tamban and emping melinjau. This woman knows her snack. Without a word, she handed him a bottle slippery with condensation and plopped next to him on the couch, the crunchy titbits between them.
They spent the next two hours giggling madly at Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's antics on screen, decimating the large bags of snack between the two of them with a short break while he scrounged for cold water and glasses to quench their mutual thirst. As the credits rolled, they both leaned back on the sofa. He reached over for the remote and turned off the tv.
"So ... " he twirled the remote in a complicated move over and over. She couldn't stop staring at his long fingers nimbly manipulating the plastic piece. It was evident that he's a man who worked with his hands; there were nicks that had whitened with time all over the back of his hands and she recalled with great pleasure the roughened tips on her skin. She caught her absorbed reverie and busied herself picking up the remnants of their late night snacking. When she rose to her feet to bring all the garbage to the kitchen, he snagged her wrist.
How could a man have such long, curly lashes? she marveled. It's not fair that she needed the assistance of Ms. Revlon and an industrial strength eyelash curler to get a similar effect. She thought that his eyes are the common brown of most Malay men, but somehow the light above his head captured slivers of crystalline amber flecks in those dark depths.
"Sit," he invited softly, pulling all the garbage from her unresisting hands and dumping them on the floor beside the sofa. To her mortification, she flopped gracelessly beside him, her wrist still imprisoned by his implacable hand. They stared at each other for a long time, synchronising their breathing as the moment played out.
"You want to tell me what happened?" he asked quietly. She broke away from his gaze and stared down at her lap, her hair having escaped the claw she used to secure the topknot swung brushing her cheeks.
"I ... used to date Huda's fiance," she began reluctantly. But once she started, it all poured out. The euphoria of finding someone who hit all the sweet spots, the dreams and fantasies that she wove around him, the pain of the fall, everything. It was like lancing an old suppurating wound. She didn't realise that her tears began to fall again until she felt him gently blotting her cheeks with tissue paper.
"There you are, all the horrible and pathetic story like you wanted," she gave him a watery grin and blew her nose. She'll need a decongestant tomorrow with all the crying she did tonight.
"That son of a bitch."
She looked at him closer at the low growl he emitted, which had a similar texture to the cough of a tiger in the forest. His incredible eyes were flashing with anger, much to her surprise.
"He had no right to treat you like that," his hands knotted into formidable fists.
She shrugged, "Well, he wanted someone who can save him, apparently. You should have seen his face when he told me, as gently as he could, that he cannot picture introducing me to his mom. I mean, talk about a blow to the old ego."
"Wait, what? Save him?"
"You know the old chestnut. A good woman for a good man, and vice versa? That one should look for a spouse who will guide one to Paradise?"
He stared at her like she'd grown another head.
"No. You got that wrong. He got it wrong," he stared into her eyes, one hand gripping the back of the sofa behind her head. He closed his eyes and opened them again on an exhale.
"You don't need to be saved by anyone," he said quietly. "You will save yourself. You don't need him to get to Paradise. You'll get there on your own merit. The Quran says that we are all responsible for our own deeds, good and bad. No one will be punished for the transgression of others. God is kind. He is just. So the idea that your spouse is going to save you is an idiotic one. Forget it."
"But ... that's what all those ustaz and ustazah has been teaching us since way back when ..." she couldn't hide her bewilderment.
"No.They got it wrong. Read the Quran. All this nonsense stems from some fabricated hadith that said that women led men to go to hell. It's wrong. Don't believe it," his conviction resonated with her. He was so close in his urgency to convince her that his scent, male and delicious, permeated her senses.
"I am sorry that the bastard hurt you for no good reason. I am sorry that he will hurt Huda too with this nonsense idea. But really, heaven or hell is nobody's judgement but God. I know that there are people who say that paradise is under the husband's feet, but that's bullshit too."
"You're saying that all the things that the preachers taught us about marriage and relationship is wrong?" she was skeptical.
"I'm saying that we should go back to the Quran and stop listening to rubbish. God would never punish you for someone else's sins; that was promised in the Quran. And if you are evil, you will go to Hell for it, no escape if you didn't repent. That's also in the Quran. Anything else is rubbish. Men have used religion for their own purpose for years. It's convenient for them to make women feel bad."
"Golly. You're a feminist," her eyes were wide with wonder. He snorted and leaned back, taking away all that delightful scent much to her sorrow.
"I lived with seven women in the house. You think I can get away with things just cause I'm a guy?" he laughed. "My Mom taught me that women are just as good as men. I've seen so many families that are held together by the womenfolk because the men dropped the ball on responsibility. And I've read too much to believe nonsense ideas shoved down our gullet that made women somehow lesser just because of their gender. Is that being a feminist? I don't know."
His grin really transformed his face, she thought. If taken individually his features may seem harsh and older, but his smile changed it completely. She was still trying to wrap her mind around the idea (....) but his physique kinda distracted her brain. Here was a man who actually said no to her advances, and had the cheek to invite himself over for a movie and made her spill her guts out, telling him things that she'd never said to anyone before.
"Tell me more about this weird feministic ideas of yours," she said, and pulled her legs up to sit tailor-style on the sofa. To her surprise, she enjoyed listening to his philosophy and ideas about religion and people and a host of other things. He was articulate and thoughtful, and explained the things she didn't understand without making her feel stupid about it. The conversation meandered on over a variety of topic. She couldn't remember the last time she had such a fun time just talking to a man.
He yawned widely, cracking his jaws. His eyes widened when he looked at his watch. "Damn. It's almost 4 a.m. I better get a move on."
She stayed him with a touch on his forearms. "It's super late. Or rather, super early. And you're sleepy. Better not risk driving home right now. Just sleep now and go back later in the morning. I'll get you some pillows and stuff."
"You sure?" he yawned again. He has really excellent teeth, she couldn't see any dental filling on any of his molars, that was how wide he yawned.
"I'll get you an extra toothbrush. I got loads of 'em from the airlines," she rose and went to her room to get them. She had only just realised how sleepy she was too. She took a couple of spare pillows and a duvet from the closet and dug out a pack of disposable toothbrush and toothpaste from Etihad.
When she came out again, he was guzzling the last of the water on the table. She plumped up the pillows and placed them neatly at one end of the sofa. He eyed it with some skepticism.
"Do you mind if I just bunk on the floor? I don't think the sofa is long enough for me," he matched it with action by spreading the duvet on the carpet to the side of the couch and plopped the pillows on it haphazardly.
"I ... guess it's okay. Let me get you another blanket," she said.
"No need. I'm a warm guy, I don't usually sleep with covers anyway. It's all good. The bathroom's that way, right?" he pointed to the powder room door. She nodded distractedly as he picked up the toothbrush pack and walked towards it.
"Well. Good night. Or morning." Why on earth was she flustered?
He stopped in front of the open door of the powder room, half turned towards her with that impish smile. "Yeah. Night," and closed the door behind him.
She crawled under her fluffy duvet and thought about the man settling down to sleep outside. He wasn't the first man to sleep in her apartment platonically, but he was definitely the first to do so after being invited for more. She closed her eyes and fell asleep to visions of wicked smiles and amber flecked eyes speaking to her wordlessly.