Iced Coffee, Thai Style
The thing I’ll always remember about you, Melony, is the way you smiled.
That’s what caught my attention that first time we met. You were a waitress at the tiny restaurant with the musical name of Yummy Bangkok Thai Cafe. I worked four doors away at Purdy, Tom and Mizumoto, AIA Inc. Architecture, Planning, Interior Design, Project Managing.
I still remember that first time I saw you, so very long ago. Our firm had just won the prestigious Kimball Adams Award for renovation work we did on a Waikiki hotel lobby. The company had lost money on the deal, but the bosses were happy because it was good publicity and they suggested we celebrate at a Thai restaurant. Me, I was hesitant. I’d never had anything close to Thai food before.
We walked into your restaurant. Travel posters of Thailand hung on the wall. Bangkok. Chiang Mai. Pattaya. There were golden buddhas and clay elephants and pink tablecloths and fresh flowers. Soft, foreign-sounding music played from hidden speakers.
That’s when you appeared, Melony. You walked right out of the kitchen. Brown sparkling eyes, dark shoulder length hair, sweet dimples, and that incredible smile of yours. The kind of smile you have no choice but to smile back, no matter what.
“Welcome,” you said, in a slightly sweet, broken English. Nasal, like you were talking while pinching your nostrils together. “Sit anywhere. You have Thai food before?”
“Uh, no,” someone said, as we selected a table looking out at King Street.
We asked you to order for us and you brought us Crispy Spring Rolls, Tom Yum Soup, Green Papaya Salad, Evil Jungle Prince, Garlic Shrimp, Pad Thai noodles and sticky rice. You explained how the dishes--and the air in the restaurant--were sprinkled with basil, lemongrass, peppers, fish sauce.
While we waited for our food, the bosses talked about contracts, bids, deals in the works. One of the partners in our firm, Bryant Purdy, thanked me for the long hours I’d put in on the Waikiki project.
“When I thought I’d come in early in the morning, your car was already in the garage,” he said. “When I thought I’d left late at night, your car still remained. When did you find the time to sleep?”
“I managed,” I said.
“Don’t work too hard, Emerson,” said Bryant Purdy. “Or you’ll burn out.”
“I hate to change the subject,” said Walter Tom, another partner. “But have any of you guys ever been in a fight?”
“Once,” said Bryant Purdy. “In high school. I licked some clown who cut me off on University Avenue.”
“A bunch of times,” said Joel Hee, an electrician. “There’s too many assholes in the world. How about you, Emerson? You ever been in a fight?”
“Me?” I said. “No.”
That’s when Walter Tom put his bright idea on the table. He said he’d been looking into signing up the entire company for boxing lessons. Twice a week at the Kalakaua Gym. After work. It’d be great for physical fitness and corporate morale. Everyone loved the idea. When they asked me, I told them I’d have to pass.
“C’mon, Emerson,” Bryant Purdy said. “Don’t be scared. Look at you. You look like you’re in decent shape. Heck, some time away from the office may do you some good.”
“No,” I said. “It’s my heart. My doctor says I have an irregular heartbeat.”
After we finished our lunches, Melony, you asked us if we wanted any dessert and we said no, thank you, we were so full. But you came back with tall, thin glasses of coffee.
“You must try this,” you said. “My treat. Iced Coffee, Thai Style.”
I took a sip. It was wonderful. Strong coffee--a stiff French Roast?--sweetened and mellowed with condensed milk. Cooled by marble-sized ice cubes.
When we got back to the office, it was clear that my colleagues--like me--had noticed your beauty. But they said the food was too spicy and they’d never go back to the Yummy Bangkok Thai Cafe. I promised myself I would. Partly because of the food. Mostly, I now readily admit, because of you.
It turns out Bryant Purdy was serious about those boxing lessons. After work one evening, a half dozen of us architect types walked into the Kalakaua Gym. There were holes in the plaster of the walls and the place smelled terrible, like sweat and piss and blood. Fighters sparred in boxing rings and old men in corners with stopwatches shouted, “Move! MOVE!” We didn’t belong in there. Everyone shot us dirty looks. Kids half our age gave us the stink eye.
A Portuguese guy with silver hair and bags under his eyes named Wally Silva led us through stretches, push ups, sits ups. One partner caught a cramp in his calf. Another fainted. Wally asked us to take turns hitting the heavy bag. My co-workers went at it. I tried to sit out, but Wally Silva wouldn’t have any of it.
“Emerson,” he said, to me. “Let’s go! Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a fricking bag! Da buggah don’t hit back! Jeez, if you’re scared of a bag, what da fuck are you gonna do if a real person wants to kick your sorry architect ass?”
My colleagues laughed.
“It’s, uh, my heart,” I said. “My doctor, uh…”
“Get your butt up here!” said Wally Silva, arms folded. “Your boss is paying me good money to get you jokers in shape! That means you, too, Emerson!”
I stood up. Wally Silva ordered me to hit the bag. After a while, I did. Once, twice, three times. Pow. Pow. Powpowpow. I get used to the feel of the canvas on my hands, the vibration of the contact firing through my forearms, the sound and the rhythm flooding my head. When I’m done, the whole gym is fucking quiet as hell.
Everyone is staring at me.
I visited the Yummy Bangkok Thai Cafe for lunch the next day. You managed to smile when you saw me. Even with both arms full of dishes. You asked me how I was and recited the daily specials. I selected Beef Masaman Curry and Crabs in Garlic Sauce and you scolded me for ordering too many meat entrees.
“Too much meat not good. Eat vegetables. Better for you. Owner grow papaya and string beans in her backyard.”
You brought over my lunch—Vegetarian Fried Rice and Thai String Beans--and, again, treated me to a cold glass of Iced Coffee, Thai Style. I thanked you and asked your name.
“Melony,” you said.
“Melony?” I said. “That’s a nice name. I’m Emerson. Have you been in Hawaii long?”
“No, I just move here two months ago.”
“You speak English very well.”
“I learn in Thailand.”
“You like Hawaii?”
“So far, I like it.”
“Good. What do you do for fun?” I said, sipping the sweet coffee.
“Fun?” you said. “No fun. I work. Every day.”
“Don’t work so hard,” I said. “Or you’ll burn out. Besides, Hawaii is such a beautiful place. Don’t you go to the beach? Hike in the mountains?”
“I have to work,” you said, hugging a serving tray to your chest. “Make money. I have big telephone bills to Thailand. I call my mom every day. Sometimes, I have four hundred dollar phone bills. Just for one month. All the money I make here goes to my phone bill.”
“What does your family do back home?”
“My dad raises fish. My mom crochets. My sister works for the electric company. I wish she worked for phone company.”
We laughed. All of a sudden, your boss began screaming at you in Thai. I also heard him yell, in broken English, “Get back to work!” You bowed to me and rushed over to him. I walked up to your boss and apologized. Then I told him his food was excellent and gave him a twenty-dollar tip. He smiled and thanked me and everything seemed fine.
Cyndree didn’t get it. She was my on again, off again girlfriend. We’d been dating for years. She was a former Junior Miss Runner-Up who now worked as a financial advisor in Bishop Square.
“The owner guy just started yelling at the poor girl,” I said, sitting on the sofa of the downtown luxury condominium we rented together.
“So what?” she said. “It sounds like the girl was slacking off on company time. She deserves to be reprimanded.”
“But here’s a girl from Thailand. Trying to find a better life for herself in America. Don’t you think she deserves to be treated with some dignity?”
“Uh, no. Why?”
“You should come with me to the restaurant. How’s tomorrow sound? I think you’d like this girl.”
“Emerson,” said Cyndree. “You know I hate Thai food…”
“What’s the big deal? Are you obsessed or something?”
“Do you and your friends still go to your boxing lessons?” you asked, while serving up a plate of steaming Ong Choy and Spicy Fresh Asparagus. “I’m sorry. I overheard you talking about it the first time you come in. My brother is boxer in Thailand. Muay Thai.”
“No,” I said. “I quit.”
“Why? You look like boxer. Just like my brother…”
Melony, I don’t know how you got me talking about boxing. I told you things I never told anybody. Not Cyndree, not the guys at the firm, nobody. The boxing lessons were my Dad’s idea. I must’ve been in the fourth grade. But I got into it pretty quick. I won more fights than I lost. Even played with the idea of turning pro one day. One night, I entered a Goodwill tournament at the Palama Settlement and fought a guy in the finals named Damon Sai. We were both in the eleventh grade.
Damon was a big kid from Kaneohe with long arms and thick legs. He came at me hard and fast and caught me with so many jabs to the face it felt like he was trying to shove his glove down my throat. But I wouldn’t go down. It was strange. I just kept moving forward, towards him, right into his punches. And pretty soon, he started backing up. I knew I was getting pounded, but it was like I was numb. I couldn’t feel anything. Before I knew it, I had him backed in his own corner and I unloaded, a series of combinations. Left-right-left. Boom-boom-boom. I laid one on his face and blood exploded out of his left eye and ran like tears down his cheeks. The referee quickly stepped between us and held my hands. Damon collapsed to the canvas.
“I can’t see!” Damon screamed, rolling around and leaving bloody streaks on the floor of the ring. “I’m fucking blind!”
My headgear, chest and trunks were soaked in his blood. Just as I was about to raise my hands in victory, I learned I had been disqualified, accused of intentionally jabbing the thumb of my glove into Damon Sai’s eye. It’s a call I still dispute. Turns out Damon Sai lost his vision in that eye. He never fought again. Neither did I. In fact, Damon Sai dropped out of school and disappeared. I read in the papers recently that he’s serving twenty years in Federal prison for selling crystal methamphetamine to kids.
“I can’t help but think it’s my fault,” I told you. “Maybe if I didn’t steal half his sight, things might’ve turned out differently for him. Maybe he’d be a doctor, healing people. Or a teacher. Instead, the guy wound up selling drugs. Maybe every kid he sold a hit to, every life the guy ruined, maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I should be in prison, too…”
“No,” you said. “That’s not true. You’re not being fair to yourself.”
“Thanks,” I said. “But…”
“When I lived in Thailand, I used to baby sit a little girl named Anna. My neighbor’s daughter. Cutest girl. Three years old. They owned import-export business and lived on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. One day, I’m at their home. Anna take me into Mama’s room and starts playing with makeup. I say no. But she insists. First time, I put rouge on my cheeks, mascara on eyelashes. I look in mirror and see different person. Pretty soon, Anna is bored and goes outside to watch TV. I stay. I don’t know how long I’m in room. I arrange my hair differently. I try on Mama’s dresses, jewelry. When I come out to check on little Anna, she is gone. The next day, police find her body several miles downstream. Anna fall in and drown…”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“That’s why I leave home,” you said, looking at the floor. “That’s why I come here to Hawaii. I cannot live in Thailand. I ruin too many things, destroy too many lives. I’m sorry to tell you this…”
More customers walked into the restaurant and you excused yourself with a tiny bow.
Melony, do you remember those early days? The talks we had as you served Steamed Fish with Basil, Spicy Dried Chili and Tofu, Choy Sum, and—of course—Iced Coffee, Thai Style? These were nice times. Sometimes you asked me about architecture. Other times, you complained about how addictive American TV can be. You said you could watch anything. Your favorites were MTV and reruns of old Mary Tyler Moore and Taxi episodes. You never again mentioned why you left your home in Thailand to come to Hawaii.
Then, one rainy day, I walked in for lunch and you gave me the bad news.
“The restaurant is closing down,” you said. “What am I going to do now?”
“I don’t know,” I said, helpless. “You’ll find something.”
“I have no skills. I can’t speak English well. I can’t type. I can’t even drive a car.”
The next day, the sign on the door of the Yummy Bangkok Thai Cafe read “closed.” I looked in the window. Darkness. I spent the next year looking for you. I went to every Thai restaurant in Honolulu. I wondered if you had returned to Thailand. I even played with the idea of flying to Bangkok. Here’s the crazy thing, Melony. It was only after you were gone that I wondered why I never had the balls to ask you out. Dinner. Maybe a movie. It would’ve been nice, don’t you think? It might have changed the way everything turned out.
Years later, Darwin Mizumoto--one of the partners at the firm--was getting married and all of the architects threw him a bachelor’s party. At three in the morning--our heads clouded with Chivas, tequila and beer--we stumbled into some dismal Hotel Street porno theater. I remember walking up a narrow flight of steps into an incredibly dark room filled with tiny booths. About six of us squeezed into one of the booths. The smell: alcohol, cologne, sweat, something else I couldn’t quite make out.
Someone stuck a quarter into the machine. There on the screen, some guy with a beard was having sex with two Asian women dressed like French maids. One of the women was short, a tad chubby, with eyebrows plucked too thin and eye shadow several shades too blue. The other girl--glitter in her hair, eyes closed in mock ecstasy--was you.
The movie credits made it all too clear. You were no longer Melony, sweet waitress at the Yummy Bangkok Thai Cafe. You were Melon Thai and you were Wet! Wild! and Uninhibited! You were The Oriental Sex Kitten Starving for Action! As I leaned over to puke my guts out, my friends grabbed for a nearby box of Kleenex and told me that I’d had way too much to drink.
“Have you ever, uh, watched porno?” I asked Cyndree one night, lying in bed.
“What?” she said, disgusted. “No. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know.”
“Gosh, Emerson, what’s wrong with you nowadays? Are you, like, turning into a sicko?”
Now, to be totally honest with you, pornography was never really my thing. I’d never watched an X-rated movie, never visited a porno website, never even bought a Playboy Magazine. So it was a very unusual, somewhat unnerving experience returning to the Hotel Street video store the next evening. Surrounded by assorted condoms, dildos, and flavored lubricants, I asked about you.
“Do you have any, uh, Melon Thai videos?” I said.
“Sure,” said the young clerk behind the counter. “Melon Thai is very popular. I’ve got a bunch of her stuff in stock. Take your pick.”
I selected a DVD with the title Melon Thai-Revealed! I took it home but couldn’t work up the courage to watch it. For weeks, it remained hidden behind a cabinet in the home entertainment center. But one day, I came home from another long day at work and found Cyndree sitting on the living room sofa, playing your DVD. There you were, after all these years. In documentary style, some pervert holding a shaky camera interviewed you and asked you a bunch of questions. In your nasally voice, you told him everything--from your favorite animals to your favorite sexual positions. The fucker with the camera then asked if you were wearing underwear. You said yes. He asked what kind. You said a bra and panties. He asked what color. You said black. He asked you to take them off. You did.
“Is this what you like?” said Cyndree, glaring at me. Her eyes were as red as Damon Sai’s the night I stole half his vision.
“I can explain…”
“Get the hell out of my sight, you sick fuck.”
Cyndree ejected the DVD and threw it at me. I took the movie and left. Then came the fucked up times. I rented a hotel room and played and replayed the DVD and forgot to go to work. The next day, I returned to the video store and purchased another one of your movies--Melon Thai-EXPOSED!
“I guess you liked what you saw, huh?” said the clerk.
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess.”
“There’s a rumor Melon Thai used to live here in Hawaii,” said the young man. “Before she hit the big time.”
I was surprised to see my hands trembling as I tore off the plastic wrapping of the package and shoved the DVD into the player. In a week, I bought every Melon Thai movie the store had in stock. DVDs with titles like Unsatiable Asian Princess, Oriental Love Machine, and Apollo 69! I spent every moment I could watching your movies and thinking about you, Melony. In one DVD, you’re a nurse. In another, you’re a slave in a sultan’s harem. In another, you’re an astronaut. Some days--many days--I called in sick and stayed in bed with the lights off and the curtains drawn eating Doritos and drinking too much Jim Beam. Melony, I could just lie there and watch your videos over and over again. Sometimes I played them in slow motion. I didn’t want to miss a thing.
Somehow, folks at work started acting differently towards me. Like they could sense something had short circuited in my brain. They asked if anything had happened at home, was I having family problems, money problems, was there anything they could do? I started missing deadlines, forgetting appointments with clients, blowing assignments. The bosses hinted I should take some time off, get some sun, watch what I’m eating. I didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about.
We met several months later. I saw the ad in the sports section of the newspaper. A photo of you in a lace negligee pouting at the camera. You were appearing in a Triple XXX show at the Club Octopus, one week only, two-drink minimum, fifteen-dollar cover charge.
Of course, I had to be there.
A line had formed outside of Club Octopus. A neon sign on the wall proudly proclaimed:
HAWAII’S ADULT ENTERTAINMENT HEADQUARTERS!!!
THE 50TH STATE’S LARGEST SELECTION OF ADULT BOOKS,
MAGAZINES AND BEDROOM TOYS!!!
A large bouncer with a goatee, dark glasses and Oakland Raiders jacket waved a metal detecting wand over every patron. The man—who would have problems fitting into an airline restroom and most elevators--looked vaguely familiar.
“Howzit, Architect Man,” the bouncer said, when he saw me. “I work part-time in your building downtown. Larsen. Da night watchman. You used to come in after hours all da time and work. Now I hardly see you…”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Larsen.”
Larsen shook my hand and let me into the club for free. Inside, the place was dark and smelled of stale cigarette smoke and toilet deodorant cakes. Girls danced naked on a stage to very loud AC/DC, Guns n’ Roses, Metallica. A big screen television hanging on the wall showed a video of three girls showering together.
“And now,” the public address announcer said, in a loud trying-too-hard-to-be-a-disc-jockey voice. “Are you ready for the main attraction?” A smattering of unenthusiastic applause. “I can’t heaaaaaaar you!” the announcer said, screaming even louder than before. “I said are you reaaaaady for the main attraction?” More applause this time, probably just to shut the guy up. “Okay,” the announcer said, apparently satisfied. “Put your hands together for the Star of the Evening! You’ve seen her in Penthouse, Swank, Club, Gallery and Hustler! You’ve enjoyed her films! Now she’s in Club Octopus ready to wrap her tentacles around you! She’s here just for you...and she’s hungry for a man! Are you man enough for her? Give it up for the beautiful, the sensual, the sexy MELON THAI!”
And there you were.
Tight leather skirt, red. Matching bra. Breast implants. Red high heel shoes. Glitter in your hair. Red lipstick. Red fingernail polish. But, Melony, you still had that lovely smile. Just like the first time I saw you.
Men sat around the stage, trying desperately to make eye contact with you. Fat guys in baseball caps, skinny guys in t-shirts, business types in reverse print aloha shirts, one or two in suits, Japanese tourists, a couple of youth-gang bangers wearing professional basketball jerseys sporting the names and numbers of their favorite players. They all clutched dollar bills and waved them in the air, hooting and hollering. Some called out your name. Others called you things no one should be called.
Still, you gave your smile to each of them. Me, I stood in a dark corner and watched. You posed in provocative positions, flirted with your eyes, revealed yourself to strangers, smiling all along. When your three-song set was finished, they stood in line to talk to you, to get their photographs taken with you, to have you autograph nude centerfolds from Oriental Babes Magazine. I waited until they all were done, catching you just before you disappeared in what I assumed was the dressing room.
“Melony?” I said.
You turned towards me, remember? With that confused look in your eyes, like you hadn’t heard that name in ages. And, maybe, you hadn’t. At first, you didn’t seem to recognize me. And then, thank goodness, you did.
“I’m Emerson,” I said. “Remember? From the old days at the restaurant?”
“Emerson? Yes. The Boxer!” you said, again with that smile. “How are you?”
“I’ve been okay. I’ve missed you…”
“You look different.”
“It’s been years. And I…”
”Has everything been okay? Are you all right?”
“I’m okay. How have you been?”
“Okay,” you said, nodding slowly. “A little tired. How you find me here?”
“Let’s have dinner,” I said. “Catch up on old times. I need to see you. Maybe we can talk about things. Like the old times. Remember? Please?”
You asked Larsen the bouncer for a pen. He’d come in to watch your performance. Who could blame him? Then you wrote your phone number on a cocktail napkin, placed it in my breast pocket, and asked me to call you tomorrow.
“I’ll call you,” I said. “Please don’t forget.”
“I won’t forget,” you said, picking up another cocktail napkin and writing a note to yourself. You wrote in Thai, I remember. The undecipherable letters on the paper looked like the symbol for pi I struggled with in high school trigonometry class.
It’s hard to describe the feelings that went through my mind the night I picked you up. I was nervous, no question about it. And excited to see you. But another part of me was saying, jeez, what are you doing? Having dinner with a porn star. In public. Would you show up wearing fish net stockings and carrying a bullwhip? What if the guys at work saw me with you? Then what?
I pressed the intercom to your downtown high-rise and you said, “are you downstairs?” and I said ‘yes’ and you said ‘I’ll be right down.’ I sat on a wooden bench, trying to strike a cool pose. You walked out of the heavy glass doors of the condo and, wow, I couldn’t recognize you. You looked like a schoolgirl going to a friend’s house to study. You wore a simple black blouse and black jeans and your hair, glitterless, was combed straight down. The Melony of Old.
“Hello, Emerson,” you said, slipping your hand in mine. “I’m so glad you didn’t forget me.”
“You look nice,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” you said. “I didn’t have time to do my hair.”
“It’s perfect,” I said, meaning every word.
“Really?” you said, looking somewhat confused.
I took you to the best Thai restaurant in Honolulu and asked for a booth in the back. A waiter walked up to our table and asked us if we ever had Thai food before. I didn’t feel like explaining how you’re Thai and once worked in a Thai restaurant so he described the basics of Thai cuisine. All the while, you nodded and smiled politely, never interrupting, as if you were hearing all of this for the very first time.
“What shall we eat?” you said, looking at the menu when the waiter left. “There’s so many choices.”
“Order anything,” I said.
“Anything?” you said, your eyes wide open like a kid in a candy store.
“Oh, no,” I thought. “You’re a porno star. You’ll order lobster, the fresh catch of the day, the most expensive wines.”
“Can I have eggplant?” you said. “I love eggplant.”
Eggplant? The simplest thing on the menu. I was beginning to fall in love with you all over again. The waiter took our orders and asked us if we wanted anything to drink. You said water was fine. Another surprise. For some reason, I always assumed porn stars were heavy drinkers.
“I just return from two weeks in Thailand,” you said.
“Vacation?” I said.
“No. I dance at club in Patpong. Ping Pong Palace. Have you been to Thailand? Patpong?”
“Patpong is huge. Like Ala Moana Center. Hundreds of shops and businesses. Except no Macy’s, Long’s Drugs, Sears. Instead, you get Boy on Girl Place, Girl on Girl Place, Girl on Horse Place.”
“Do you like what you’re doing now?” I asked, the inevitable question.
“No,” you said. “I hate it. I’m tired. I meet scary people.”
“Do you have any friends?”
“All my friends are in Thailand,” you said. “I only have you, a few people here, that’s it. The girls in the industry, they hate me. I don’t know why. I’m nice to them, you know? But they’re so mean to me. They’re not nice people.”
“They’re jealous,” I said.
“You. You have a good heart.”
I asked how you wound up in the business. You explained that after the restaurant here closed, you eventually returned to Bangkok, a city you said you hated. Too hot, too crowded, too dirty, too polluted. Still, it was home. You worked in a hotel restaurant and one day, a man from Los Angeles offered you an incredible life in the States. He promised you fame and fortune. His name was Rick Nads. You would find out much later he was a one-time porno star turned producer.
“Rick is not bad man,” you said, enjoying your Green Papaya Salad. “He actually nice guy. This salad is sooooo good. Rick is nice guy. Sometimes in L.A., he let me stay his house for free. He buy me clothes, he feed me. And he never ask for sex. Never.”
The food kept coming. Eggplant with Chicken, Steak in Wine Sauce and Shiitake Mushrooms, Giant Prawns.
“Everything is so good,” you said. “Awesome.”
“How about you, Emerson? You look very different. I almost didn’t recognize you in the club last night. Everything at work okay? Or you have too much stress? Stress no good. You gain little weight? Your body used to be so fit. Like a boxer…”
“Melony,” I said. “You’ve gotta get out of that business.”
“But I’m stupid,” you said, eating the sticky rice daintily with your fingers. “What else can I do?”
“There’s got to be something else.”
“The money is good. I work hard. I send the money back home to Thailand. All of it. I buy my parents a television, a car. My sister just had a little girl. She so cute. My family send me pictures. I want her to go to a good school. So she don’t turn out like me. One day, not too long ago, my mother ask me what I do. She say all her friends think I sell drugs in America.” You laugh, covering your mouth. Then you turn serious. “I tell her I waitress. I lie to her for the last year. I knew it would kill her if I told her the truth. But I feel so bad. So last week, I tell her the truth. She no talk to me. Every time I call, she hang up. One day, she call me. She say okay, she accept what I do. She cry. I cry. We make up.”
You look at me and smile. Are those tears in your eyes?
After dinner, the waiter asked us if we wanted dessert and we ordered a chocolate tort with caramel filling. We shared it with two forks. I’m sorry. I couldn’t help but avoid eating any part of the dessert your fork touched. It sounds shitty to say but it was because of some of the things I had watched you do in your movies. Maybe it’s silly, but one thing you did really touched me. I picked off a small piece of cake with my fork. The piece broke, half of it falling back to the plate. You picked up the tiny piece with your fork and placed it in your mouth. A tiny moment. You don’t even remember it, I’m sure. But, for me, it was probably the highlight of the evening.
Then we sipped Iced Coffee, Thai Style and you said it’s a pity you have to go to work tonight. I agreed.
“One day, you should meet Rick,” you said. “I think you would like each other.”
“Maybe,” I said, lying.
I drove you to Club Octopus and you kissed me on the cheek, gave me a hug, and walked into the bar with a carry-on bag, like a flight attendant. I thought about visiting you the next night, but I couldn’t. The thought of you on stage, naked, dancing for tips from strangers. It broke my heart.
The last night of your show, I knew I couldn’t stay away any longer. This was my plan. I’d go to Club Octopus with two cups of Iced Coffee, Thai Style, and convince you to quit the business, once and for all. You could stay with me. If you didn’t want to do that, I’d put you up somewhere. Until you found something. I bought the coffee at a tiny Thai restaurant down the street from where I lived. It began to rain. Then it began to pour.
I pulled into the parking lot of Club Octopus and rushed for the door. I balanced the two cups of coffee and tried not to get too wet. You came walking out of the club, with an overcoat and an umbrella.
“How are you?” you asked, holding the umbrella over my head.
“Okay,” I said. “How are you?”
“I’m so tired,” you said, smiling wearily.
“I brought you something,” I said.
“Iced coffee,” you said, smiling. “My favorite. Thank you.”
You sipped your coffee and told me you were flying off to Los Angeles tonight. You said in two days, you’d start filming a new movie.
“Rick wants me to do more scenes with other girls,” you said. “He say men folk like all women scenes best. Is that true?”
“Melony,” I said. “Please stop what you’re doing. You’ve become a cliché. A China doll. An Asian dream girl. You’re so much better than all of this...”
“Thank you,” you said. “But cliché has given me food, clothes, three bedroom condo in Hollywood, money for my family back home in Thailand. What can I do? Go back to restaurant? Or hope to find nice man? Nice man like you?”
“No,” you said. “You don’t want someone like me. You want nice girl. Maybe another architect. Have nice kids. Life can be easy for people like you. For cliché like me, life can be hard.”
A red Ferrari circled the parking lot like a shark searching a reef for prey. Then the car pulled up in front of us. The powerful engine hummed in neutral and the tinted power windows came down. An impatient-looking man with oily hair and a three-day-old beard sat in the driver’s seat. He wore a black leather jacket and black leather pants. You didn’t introduce us, Melony, but the look in your eyes told me this was Rick Nads.
“Let’s go, girl,” the man said to you.
“Just one more minute, Rick,” you said. “Please.”
“One more minute?” Rick Nads said. “Do you want to miss our flight? And who the fuck is this?” Rick Nads shot me a look like he wanted to jump me. I was ready. I would’ve been happy to kick his porn star ass back across the Pacific Ocean, where it belonged. “Get in the car, you stupid bitch.”
“Watch your mouth,” I said.
“You gonna make me?” said Rick Nads, getting out of the car.
“Yeah,” I said, walking up to him. I knew I could take this mother fucker out with a well-placed right to the temple. Or maybe I’d take out an eye, like I did with poor Damon Sai. Taking out one of Rick Nads’ eyes. There’d be some cool justice to that.
“Get lost, you fat fuck,” said Rick Nads.
“Fat?” I said, confused. Fat?
“Is there a problem here, gentlemen?” It was Larsen the doorman, my old buddy, stepping between me and Rick Nads.
“Yeah,” said Rick Nads. “This fat fuck is threatening me.”
“You’re gonna have to leave,” said Larsen the doorman, to me.
“Me?” I said, shocked. “Larsen, look, all I’m doing is…”
“Please,” said Larsen, placing his large hands on my shoulders.
At this point, Rick Nads grabbed your iced coffee and threw it at me. The sweet drink exploded in my face. I tried to rush the asshole but Larsen held me back. A sloppy brown mess of coffee and melting marble-sized ice cubes stained my clothes and the parking lot of Club Octopus.
“Rick!” you screamed.
“Let’s go bitch,” said Rick Nads, grabbing your arm. “I can’t wait for you forever. Or else I’ll leave you here with your fat loser friend....”
“Who the fuck are you calling fat?” I said.
“Don’t worry about me,” you whispered into my ear. That and the cold rain made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. “I have a plan. I’m going to do this for two years. And then I’m getting out. Make enough money. Then do something else.”
“Take care,” I said, my fingers sticky with sweetened condensed milk.
“No,” you said. “You take care.”
Then you smiled and drove off into the rainy night. The Ferrari’s blood red taillights lit up the wet asphalt of the parking lot. The sleek car’s license plate read NADS.
Melony, I haven’t seen you since. It’s been years now. And you were right. I’d let myself go. Too much frozen pizza, Dr. Pepper, Taco Bell, Bacardi 151. But guess what? I’m going back to the gym now. Yep. I’ve already lost forty pounds. When I lose forty more, I’ll be pretty close to the old fighting weight. I’ve got a lot of time to go to the gym now. Unfortunately, I got laid off from Purdy, Tom. But the partners are cool. They say if I ever straighten out my shit, I’ll always be welcome to reapply for my old position.
I still miss you so much. And I’m still waiting for that nice girl you thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. Remember? I think about you all the time. Especially when I walk by the old Yummy Bangkok Thai Cafe. The windows are boarded up with plywood now and the doorway smells like urine. A cop friend tells me high stakes poker games are sometimes played upstairs. I never watch your movies anymore. The memory of your smile is plenty, more than enough. I hope you’re all right. Maybe you’ve given up that crazy business you were never meant for. But, Melony, wherever you are--wherever you may wind up--good luck to you.
About the Author: Cedric Yamanaka was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is the recipient of the Helen Deutsch Fellowship for Creative Writing at Boston University, where he earned a Master’s Degree in English. At the University of Hawaii, he received the Ernest Hemingway Memorial Award for Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of literary journals, and he is the author of "In Good Company", a collection of short stories. He is currently working on a novel.