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Author Archives: Debi Smith

Tainted Love Deleted Chapter

I’ve mentioned before that Tainted Love started out years ago as a single piece of flash fiction on this blog that turned into serial fiction. It’s gone through several versions since then before I published it in May. In one of the previous versions, there are more scenes where Ari calls Lola or her cousin Makana. I chose one of those to share with you. I cleaned up the dialogue but I left the rest as is, which includes Ari moving to D.C. in the winter instead of summer and she and J.D. were separated for 3 years instead of just under 1. If you follow me on Facebook, I recently shared a piece on the role of ninongs and ninangs in Filipino families. In this scene, Ari’s ninongs and ninangs are mentioned in a little more detail.

In a side of reality, St. Sophia’s is the church my dad’s side of the family attended for decades and I would attend with my lola and lolo when I was visiting. I saw many family members married there and memorialized loved ones who died, the last one being my lolo 12 years ago. My lolo and lola renewed their vows there for their 50th anniversary back in the 90s. Sadly, it was destroyed by a mysterious fire in early 2010 and demolished several months later. The church had already planned to tear it down later that year and rebuild a bigger, more modern building. By the time my lola died in 2012, the new St. Damien of Moloka’i Catholic Church was holding mass for parishioners.

If you haven’t read Tainted Love yet, the Kindle version is on sale 7/9 through 7/15 for $0.99 in the U.S. market only. Also, SPOILERS.

Chapter 44

Here Is the House

“Babes, wake up,” J.D. says in a hushed voice, nudging my shoulder.

“What time is it?” My voice is low and monotone as I blink my eyes open.

He stoops over the bed in light blue scrubs over gray thermal underwear. “Too early. I need to leave and I didn’t want you to wake up disoriented your first morning here.”

We left Hawaiˈi Saturday afternoon and arrived in D.C. Sunday—yesterday—morning. We spent the rest of the day grocery shopping, finding a winter coat and boots for me, unpacking, and doing laundry—J.D. didn’t have time to do any before coming home for the break and needed clean scrubs for the week.

“How thoughtful.” I yawn, still on Hawai’i time.

“There’s coffee in the pot and yesterday’s paper is on the table. And don’t forget your set of keys is on the dresser.” He leaves a kiss on my lips. “I’ll see you tonight.”

It’s late morning when I wake again and leave the warmth of the bed.

The studio apartment is long with an angle at the end, more than twice as big as my 512 square foot studio back home. An afterthought of a small square kitchen is set off to the right when you walk in the front door, with the bathroom and a walk-in closet on the left. A separate area for the bed and another closet is set into the acute angle of the end of the apartment.

I settle at J.D.’s desk, to the right of the lanai door, with coffee and the paper then riffle through a drawer for a pen. I take my time going through the classified ads, first circling anything related to my degree and then circling any administrative jobs. Next, I write down the ones that just require a cover letter and resume followed by the ones I need to go to personally to apply.

I run out of coffee and the cold winter air chills me to the bone. Checking the thermostat, I find it set to 70. I don’t want to crank it up without talking to J.D. so I leave it and take a hot shower. I forget that I don’t have winter clothes until I open a dresser drawer. Why I didn’t buy any while getting my winter coat and boots, I don’t know. I’ll blame jet lag and exhaustion. I close it and open one containing some of J.D.’s clothes. I pick out a pair of navy Georgetown University sweatpants and matching sweatshirt. I roll the pant legs and sleeves up so they don’t drag and roll the waistband down to make the pants fit better. I don a pair of socks but add another pair just in case.

Lola calls, checking on me even though I called after we got in yesterday. “Yes, we get food. I was just going make one sandwich,” I tell her.

“You so skinny. Eat more.” Lolas think their job isn’t done unless their grandchildren have some fat on them, asking if we’re hungry the second we walk through their door.

“You’ve seen me eat, Lola. No need eat more.”

“Mmmmm,” she drones in response. This one is monotone, expressing her displeasure in either that I’m not fat enough for her or that I’m disagreeing with her.

“I love you and I appreciate you taking care of me. I not going starve to death. Promise.”

“You went call your parents?”

“No. Why?”

“Tell them you went move.”

“I not going set myself up for disappointment. They no care and they went show me how much since Lexington.” I didn’t call them when I moved into my apartment, there’s no reason to start now.

“Aysos.” She pauses for a breath. I think a part of her still holds out hope that they’ll change and be the son and daughter-in-law they were before Ethan’s death. “I need the date for the wedding.”

“I’ll talk to J.D. tonight and den call you.”

“Cannot be at the church,” she adds. As if I needed reminding.

My family has attended mass at St. Sophia’s forever. No air conditioning, just window jalousies up high in the small church. The side door and front door are often left open during mass and events to help with airflow while fans oscillate back and forth with a low hum. It’s not much help in the heat and everyone ends up fanning themselves with the bulletin.

My parents were never regular churchgoers. Ethan and I usually played Tic-Tac-Toe on the back of the bulletin once the priest started the homily. We were both baptized as babies and Ethan had his first communion before he died. When we moved to Lexington, my parents stopped going to mass.

The only source of tension between me and my grandparents is that I’m not Catholic. My grandparents understood after several Sundays of attempting to force me to go that it was a battle they couldn’t win. I would never have first communion or go through confirmation. Getting married in St. Sophia’s didn’t feel right even if it’s where everyone else in the family got married and is a part of my community.

I know,” I answer, glad that she can’t see me rolling my eyes. “We do it at Papohaku Beach.”

“So windy.”

“I love it there and the ceremony will be quick.”

“I going send you fabric swatches for your dress.”

“No need, Lola. I trust you.”

“Your ninongs and ninangs stay arguing about who’s going pay for what.”

I chuckle. It happens for every big party so it doesn’t surprise me—all part of being raised by a village and having two dozen godparents made up of my dad’s siblings, and both parents’ cousins and friends. Mom’s siblings were some of Ethan’s godparents. “Just keep it simple. I don’t want anything fancy.”

“Weddings are supposed to be fancy.”

“I not and I not going pretend I am when I marry J.D.”

“Your Lolo or one of your uncles going give you away?”

“I not property. No one going give me away.”

“Mmmmm.” Her drone is tight and heavy.

If we continue this it might end in a big fight rather than a small disagreement. “I going call you tonight, yeah?”

“Mmmmm.” Looser and lighter than the last one.

I call Uncle Rizal’s house after hanging up. I need someone to intervene and make sure Lola doesn’t get carried away. Makana answers and I plead with her to talk to Lola after telling her about the conversation.

“You like me take over the planning?” she asks.

“Only if you like and can get Lola to give it up.” I know Makana will honor what I want.

“No worries, Cuz. I get ‘um.”

“T’anks, eh.”

“Shoots. How’s D.C.?”

“Fucking cold.”

She laughs and Shay’s tell-tale screech comes through the phone. “Shit. Gotta hele, Cuz.” She hangs up before I can say goodbye.

I spend the rest of the day working on preparing cover letters and my resume, finding enough envelopes and stamps in the desk so I don’t have to go out. I slide them in the outgoing mail slot downstairs before starting dinner.

When J.D. returns that evening, I’m sprinkling salt over the pot on the stove—kaldereta for the cold weather and a reminder of home. A whisper of a smile plays on my lips as our eyes lock. “Hi, baby.”

He removes his charcoal gray pea coat, hanging it up in the walk-in closet. “You’re wearing my sweats.”

I glance at my makeshift outfit. “I was freezing.”

He joins me in the kitchen, spinning me around. “They look better on you.” Covering my mouth hungrily with his, he pulls me closer. I slide my hands up his back and into his hair and then the liquid bubbling behind me turns angry and insistent.

Tearing myself away, I turn the burner off and pick out the bay leaves, setting them on the counter. “I need to get my own.”

He wraps his arms around my waist, kissing my neck before resting his chin on my shoulder. “I’ll get the metro map out for you. It’s easier than the bus in this weather. I should be off early Friday. We can go to the bank and I’ll add you to my account.”

I stir the kaldereta. “You don’t have to do that.”

He plays with my ring. “We’re getting married. Why shouldn’t I?”

I set the spoon on the counter and turn back to him, laying my palms on his chest. “I’m still getting used to this. You had everything planned out in your head before I did. Me coming out here for grad school. Getting married.”

“You said yes to both.”

“I know I did. You’re missing my point,” I state. “You’ve been thinking about this longer than I have. Go ahead, add me to your account on Friday. Just don’t be surprised at the moments when I have to reorient myself to you going from my boyfriend to my fiancé. And when we’re home next time, I’ll add you to my account.”

“That’s fair.” He dips in for a quick kiss and then presses his forehead to mine. “I like coming home to you.”

“I like not being separated by Lance or by distance, too,” I smile, winding my arms around his neck. For the first time in a long time, I feel at peace. I don’t need to be hyperaware here, worrying about who’s calling or finding dead roses with photos of myself at the door. I don’t have to focus so hard on my future. He’s right here in my arms and grad school is around the corner.

“Lola called and said we need to pick a date now,” I add.

“Now?”

“If you want to get married during your rather short summer break, yes.”

“June twenty-sixth. We can have the rest of the two weeks as our honeymoon before I have to be back. Where are we getting married? St. Sophia’s?” He breaks away and pulls out two bowls from the cabinet next to the stove.

“No.” I pull out spoons and a rice paddle from the utensil drawer, handing him one of the spoons and the rice paddle.

“Why not?” He’d gone to mass with us over the summer. My grandparents thought it would be a good way for him to meet extended family and friends.

“Because neither of us are Catholic or a member of the church,” I explain as he spoons rice from the rice cooker into the bowl and ladles the kaldereta over the rice.

“Does that matter?”

I spoon rice into my bowl. “We’d have to promise to become members and raise our kids Catholic to do so—I’m not making those promises.”

His face scrunches in irritation. “That’s ridiculous.”

I shrug, adding kaldereta to my rice. “I really don’t care about getting married in St. Sophia’s.”

“Where are we getting married, then?”

I break out into a wide grin before we head to the table. “Papohaku Beach.” I took him there last summer and he fell in love with the three mile stretch of white sand beach that was virtually deserted.

“Perfect.”

I call Lola after we eat as J.D. does the dishes. She mentions nothing else about the wedding or if she’s talked to Makana. She ends the call quickly, telling me she needs to make lunch. Her curtness tells me Makana took over the planning and Lola isn’t happy about it.

Unhappy lolas are a force to be reckoned with and we’re going to have our hands full. I’m going to owe Makana big for this.

© 2021 Debi V. Smith

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Tainted Love Sneak Peek

The following is one of the chapters from Tainted Love that isn’t the first chapter. Since the story isn’t told in a linear manner, I’m going to keep mum about which chapter this is. It does contain the three main characters and the direction the story takes. A trigger warning for AsAm women: some of the dialogue may trigger trauma echo for you.

Kindle pre-order U.S.: https://amazon.com/dp/B093ZCBRKL U.K: https://amazon.co.uk/dp/B093ZCBRKL Canada: https://amazon.ca/dp/B093ZCBRKL Paperback available 5/18.

Policy of Truth

March 1990

“Ari?” a male voice asked from J.D.’s empty stool behind me.

Running into people we know when we least expected it on a small urban island with eight hundred thousand people happened frequently. I never thought I’d run into anyone at The Row Bar though—an outdoor bar in Waterfront Plaza—where I was watching the downtown business crowd in their colorful aloha shirts and fitted muˈumuˈu heading for the parking garage or to a restaurant in Restaurant Row.

I maneuvered around, my heart stilling a beat as I faced my ex, Lance Byun, dressed in a gray T&C Surf logo t-shirt, jeans, a pair of black Docs, and a black leather jacket. He never cared how hot or humid it was, just that he thought he looked good in that jacket.

The first thing we discovered we had in common back in high school was that we’re the grandchildren of immigrants. For him it’s his Korean dad’s side while his great-great-great-great-grandparents on his mom’s side came from England. We dated for a few months and I broke up with him because the relationship became one-sided—his—but we remained friends. It was better that way.

Friends who haven’t seen each other since high school graduation. This could get awkward. I plastered on a smile. “Howzit.”

“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked.

“No, thanks,” I answered as the bartender sets a Guinness in front of me and Killian’s Red for J.D. in front of Lance.

He eyes J.D.’s beer. “You here with someone?”

“I am.”

“Warren?”

“No.” I didn’t feel the need to explain who I was with given how long it’s been since we last talked and took a sip of my beer.

“Oh.” He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. “How are you?”

“Well. You? How’s Ione?” Not long after they started dating he told me he was going to marry her. I sometimes wondered if he said that to see if I would get jealous. I really didn’t care. When I broke up with him, I didn’t look back.

“We broke up a while back.” His gaze fell to the ground.

“Sorry about that.”

“Thanks.”

Heavy silence descended like a final curtain. I didn’t know what to say to him and he, for once, seemed to be at a loss for words.

“How’s—” we started at the same time.

He chuckled, his gaze returning to me as I leaned against the bar. “How’s Warren?”

“Good. Deejaying at KTUH once a week. What have you been up to?”

“Just got accepted to U Dub.”

“Congrats.” For him, any college was fine as long as he wasn’t at Stanford with his brother and sister. Then, he put it off when he got involved with Ione. Much to the dismay of his parents and their exacting standards, I was sure.

“I needed to get away from here after the breakup.” He drew his shoulders in, shrinking in on himself. “New people. New scenery. Somewhere I can’t run into her.”

His eyes shifted to my left as a familiar warmth slipped next to me. “Lance, this is J.D.”

Every inch of Lance hardens as they shake hands; his eyes, his jaw, his stance.

I glanced at J.D. “Give us a minute?”

“Sure,” he said, grabbing our drinks and heading for a table.

“What the fuck was that?” I asked as soon as J.D. was out of earshot.

“You’re going out with a haole?”

“So what? You’re hapa haole. What’s your problem?”

“You should be with an Asian.”

I bristled, straightening on the stool. It was one thing to be bullied by racist classmates and have my teachers punish me for speaking Pidgin day in and day out until I capitulated and spoke the way they wanted me to when I lived in Lexington. It was another thing to get this dogma to date within my own race from an ex. A hapa ex. He never had a problem with our classmates in interracial relationships before or being in one himself. Or maybe he did and he hid it. It was misogyny wrapped in racial purity.

I folded my arms over my chest. “You don’t get to tell me who I can date.”

“Someone should.”

“Ione is haole.”

“That’s different.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Are you sleeping with him?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“You know that’s the only reason he’s with you.”

I gave him stink eye, wishing daggers would shoot from them. The fetishization of Asian women, particularly by haole men, wasn’t new to me or something I was oblivious to when interacting with men.

He sneered, leaning in a fraction and dropping his voice to a whisper. “You’re his submissive little Asian fuck toy.”

He might as well have given me a t-shirt that read: PROPERTY OF ASIAN MEN.

My blood boiled as I slid off the stool. I didn’t have a response for him. Not one that would’ve kept me out of jail, that is. It shouldn’t have surprised me the way it did given how he made sex about him and not about us when we were together.

He grabbed my arm while I scanned the seating area for J.D. Winding my arm backward, I loosened his grip as I stepped back. J.D. came into my peripheral vision like lightning and I held a palm up, stopping him in his tracks.

I locked my eyes on Lance. “It’s my life, not yours.”

His jaw was hard as steel as I left, pulling a reluctant J.D. with me.

“Race traitor,” Lance called out.

J.D. heaved against my grasp and I tugged on his arm, forcing him to look at me instead of my ex. “What do you think you’re doing?” I asked.

“He insulted you.”

“So now you gotta be one moke? How is fighting him going to solve the problem and who is it going to benefit?” I pressed my lips together. “Fighting him will make you feel better about how he treated me. It won’t change why he said what he did or how it affects me.”

He peered over his shoulder. Lance was gone. J.D.’s arm slackened and I let go. “Fair point. Who is he?”

“A classmate from Mid-Pac.” I eyed him as he took a swig of beer after settling into his seat. “And an ex.”

He coughed, grabbing the cocktail napkin to cover his mouth. Then, he gave me a shocked gape.

“He wasn’t like that when we were dating,” I added. “Not overtly.”

He cleared his throat. “What else did he say?”

Settling my chin in the heel of my hand, I glanced at the bar. Most of the patrons were glued to the overhead TV watching the first inning of the UH baseball game.

What do I tell him? All of it? Some of it? He’s going to be angry no matter what and none of what Lance said is true. I’m certain of that.

My gaze slid back to him, sitting forward, almost pressing into the table, I took his hand in mine. “He hates haoles now even though he’s hapa,” I said as a preface. Then, I told him verbatim the comments that Lance made.

Red burst over his face as he clenched his teeth. “That’s not what I think of you.” His tone was insistent and he leaned close. “I love you for your wit, intelligence, and compassion.”

I squeezed his hand. “I know. You don’t have to convince me of anything.”

“Do you wish I was Asian?”

“Do you wish I was haole?”

Sitting back, his hand slipped out of mine and he pursed his lips. “Babes.”

“It’s a ridiculous question. I’m with you because of who you are. My family didn’t immigrate here for racial purity. They came here for a better life.”

My lolo, Carlos Baraquio, came in the final sakadawave in 1945. He had every intention of returning to Nagbukel, using his savings to buy a home, until he met Alma Supnet—her father was brought over in the first sakada wave and stayed—in Maunaloa. They married and bought a house in Kaunakakai Town. Rizal “Riz”, Yvonne, Edwin, and my dad, Florencio “Flor,” were all born a year apart. By the time my brother Ethan was born, Lola was running her own restaurant in town.

“He said what he did to make me doubt you,” I continued. “Why would I believe anything he said when he just met you?”

His gaze fell. “You know him better.”

“Why? Because we went to school together for four years? That’s bullshit. The only thing time is a standard unit of measure for is time.” I grasped the arm of his chair and his attention snapped back to me. “Why are we arguing about this?”

“Maybe he has a point.”

“His point is based in homogeneity and intolerance.”

He weaved his fingers with mine, smiling and then kissing me soft and slow before saying, “You get points for ‘homogeneity.’”

“I pay attention in class.” I smirked as a snicker slipped out of him. “I’m not going to be with someone just because they’re Asian. I think it’s fucking ridiculous.” I squeezed his hand. “You are better at the give and take a relationship requires. That’s worth more than anything to me.”

Despite the little joke we shared moments ago, his expression was downcast. I never had to stroke his ego before. I dislike doing it because it felt disingenuous. I was willing to do it this time so he understood that Lance and his ideas carry no weight. “You’re also a much better lover,” I added with a coy grin.

“That’s not funny.”

“Baby.” I extracted my hand from his, placing it on his knee. “I’m not joking. You make sure I’m into it as much as you are, that you’re giving me as much pleasure as I’m giving you. Best sex I’ve ever had. My first two boyfriends”—I shrugged—“we were all inexperienced. Lance . . . well . . . I never had an orgasm with him and he never put in the effort. You make sure I do.”

“Are you saying he didn’t know how to use his equipment?” It took a few seconds but a lopsided grin appeared after he asked the question.

I scooted closer. “I’m saying he only had one tool in his toolbox and he couldn’t wield it effectively.”

He took my hand and twisted my ring, uttering in a low rumble, “I have a tool you can use.”

“Oh?” I played along, raising my brows. “Which one?”

“Anyone you want.” He dipped in, kissing the soft spot under my ear and his tongue taking a quick stroke as it lit a fire within me.

My breath hitched and I grabbed his shirt with my free hand, drawing him closer. He knew every inch of me and how I responded.

Lance could never say that.

“Your place or mine?” I asked. My roommate was spending the weekend at her boyfriend’s and J.D.’s roommate always went home for the weekend.

“Mine.”

A smile died before it reached my lips as I spotted Lance ducking around the corner in a hurry.

© Debi V. Smith, 2021

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Tainted Love Playlist

It’s no secret that I love writing with music playing. As I mentioned in the last post, Ari and J.D.’s story started with Daryl Hall’s “Why Was It So Easy?” Specifically, the version with Butch Walker featured on Live From Daryl’s House.

As the story grew, so did the song references. Not just in the titles for each blog post, but within the story itself, supporting the story and adding another voice. At one point, the music felt like an off-camera omniscient narrator throwing in J.D. and Lance’s point of view at times. As the story changed, so did the timelines and the songs. Some of the music has remained from the original but new music was added in the last rewrite as others were removed.

A lot of people connect to music and connect to others through music. That’s one of the purposes it serves in this story, not just Ari, Warren, and J.D. connected to music, but connecting to each other through it. We also tend to mark time and major events to songs we love and even songs we end up loathing. Like my sophomore year in college I was studying in my dorm (similar to Ari’s, but a different tower and closer to the apartments) and a local deejay decided to play “Just A Friend” by Biz Markie on repeat. It got to the comical stage where, because we all had our windows open, everyone listening to that station turned up the music and started singing along across the courtyard. Good times. Or the time my bestie went with me to Chula Vista to say goodbye to a friend who was leaving for boot camp and while listening to Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses, “Never Let Me Down Again” started and we got excited at the same time.

Even breakups are a time we fall into music, listening to the same sad song over and over again. For me, “The Flame” reminds me of one person and “One Last Cry” another. The last time I lived with my brother, he played “Missing” by Everything But The Girl on repeat when he and his girlfriend at the time were on the outs.

Like real life, music marks time and events, good and bad, for Ari. From “To Look At You” to “The Different Story” to “Higher Love” to “Sign Your Name,” each holds a specific memory, a specific emotion, and a connection for her.

Kindle pre-order available here.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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