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.
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“Shoots. How’s D.C.?”
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.
“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.
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