This is the final edit of chapter one. Feedback is welcome. Would you continue reading?
Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam
They say you don’t hear the bullet that kills you.
How could anyone know that?
Because, they also say, bullets move faster than the speed of sound. By the time you hear the sound of the bullet in your back, you’re dead.
What if you’re only wounded; you’d hear that bullet, wouldn’t you?
Sam McBride pushed the thought away as he struggled to lift Frank over his shoulders. The safety of the maintenance shack was a short sprint away, but Frank was dead weight and Sam had to run hunched over to run at all. He struggled for breath.
Almost there. Almost there. We’re gonna make it, Frank. Hang on. Hang on, buddy.
The bullet smashed into his back, ripping through muscle and tendon and pulverizing bone. Excruciating pain filled Sam’s brain, wrenching a groan from behind clenched teeth. Sam staggered, took another step, and staggered again as another bullet smashed into his back. His knees buckled and he fell forward. He reached out to brace himself. His wrist snapped with a loud crack on impact. His sunglasses and helmet flew off when his head slammed into the concrete taxiway. Frank’s body rolled from his shoulders and over his head, mashing his face into the hot, jagged surface that scraped the flesh from his chin and cheek.
The blazing sun beat down on the black tarmac heating it to a point just short of boiling. Sam’s cheek burned and he tried to roll onto his back, but his legs wouldn’t move. He twisted his upper body and forced himself over with his good arm, his legs flopping over like the legs of a stuffed doll. His head screamed with pain when he turned to find Frank. His still body lay just out of reach. Sam stretched to pull him closer but screamed in agony at the hot, sharp pop in his back. A moment later the pain was gone.
Strange. You’d think two bullets would have a lasting impact.
Blood pooled beneath him.
They’re right; you don’t hear the bullet that kills you.
The sun burned his face. Someone called his name, the voice echoing from some far away point. The voice called again.
Otis? No, Otis. Not me. Frank. Frank’s hurt. Help Frank.
He closed his eyes against the blazing sun. His eyelids sizzled.
Where are my sunglasses? I need my sunglasses.
Sam coughed and spit up the blood filling his throat, praying silently that Frank wasn’t dead. Frank. Frank. Wake up, Frank. Please be okay, buddy. Wake up, Frank. Please don’t die.
Otis reached him and knelt by his side. He lifted Sam’s head into his lap and brushed away the flecks of dirt and gravel on his face. The pool of blood spread beneath him, an ominous, dark red that soaked into the concrete and stained Otis’s olive drab trousers.
Sam’s eyes followed the sound of shots beyond the perimeter as Marines pursued the sniper. Two Hueys flew a tight circle and fired into the brush. The Corpsman, Lopez, checked Frank’s wound. He pursed his lips and shook his head.
Anguish contorted Sam’s face as he cried out for Frank. “Where’s Frank? Frank? Frank? Wipe my eyes, Otis. I can’t see.”
Otis wiped his own eyes before wiping Sam’s. There was nothing he could do for Sam but hold him. He pressed his lips to his forehead. “Hang in there, buddy. Don’t you die on me. Don’t you dare die on me.”
“Okay, Otis, I’ll try.” He coughed again. Blood bubbled from his mouth, dribbled down his chin, and onto his neck.
“Otis. Take my necklace…and the medallion…give them to Little Lucy…. My boy…my boy…Tom…has the other…. I haven’t seen my boy…since he was a baby.” He strained to remove the necklace.
“Here, Sam. Let me.”
The medallion flashed in the sunlight as Otis removed the necklace.
“Not since…I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I couldn’t…take care of him. She died, Otis, Susanna died and…they said they would adopt him…. They said they would adopt him….”
His voice drifted away as he drifted into delirium. The cloud filling his mind gave way to peace. His heart beat with joy as memory returned him to the Matador Club in Rota, Spain. Susanna smiled at him from across the bar. Susanna.
I think I fell in love with you this morning, dear lady.
You think you did? Are you not sure? Perhaps we should try again. Shall we meet for an apple in the morning?
I had already planned to meet you for an apple tomorrow. And the next day, and the next, and the next, and every day until….
Every day until what?
Every day until you marry me?
That is a question I am not quite prepared to answer. Let me ask you a question.
Okay. Yes. I will marry you.
What will you have, silly boy?
A glass of Rioja, lovely lady.
Gran Reserva. I want to celebrate that you didn’t return to wherever you came from.
That’s my favorite city!
Oh! You know Barcelona?
No! But I’m going there with you.
Oh. I see. And when will this highly anticipated excursion take place?
I thought Spanish women had brown eyes.
I am not Spanish.
You’re not Spanish?
I am not Spanish. I am Catalan.
That explains the green eyes?
Perhaps. Though my sister has blue eyes.
Is her hair also black as a starless night?
I feel like I’m dreaming. I don’t want to wake up.
I have thought about you all day.
Yes…. By the way, what is your name?
I am Susanna. But you may call me…Susanna.
I love the way your eyes crinkle when you’re being silly.
Will you tell me your name?
My name is Sam.
Sam. Hmmm; I think I will call you…Samuel. May I?
You must always call me Samuel, Susanna.
Will I tell you something, Samuel?
I knew you when you entered the room. I turned so you would not see my smile.
He was falling, falling, spinning. The blue sky dissolved far above him. His body was dead but his mind alive and free. He reached out. Susanna.
A shadow fell over him. The ground was hard against his back. He wanted to float again.
Why is Otis crying? He blinked against the tears falling on his face. They dotted the dust on his cheek and dribbled to his chin where they hung, trembled, and dripped away. He moved his lips but made no sound. He moved his lips again. They were dry and cracked.
“It’s okay, Sam. You did the right thing. She would have wanted it that way. It’s okay.”
“Yes. I did the right thing…. Susanna would have….” He coughed, a dying rattle in his throat. “I’m thirsty, Otis.”
“Sure, Sam.” Otis pulled the canteen from his belt and loosened the cap. He brought the canteen to Sam’s lips. He hesitated, then set the canteen down. Otis brushed his fingers through Sam’s bright red hair. He caressed his cheek.
“You did the right thing, Sam. You did the right thing. You did the right thing. Don’t die, Sam. Please don’t die.”
Sam stared past Otis, his eyes fixed on the vanishing point of light. The flow of blood dribbling from the corner of his mouth had slowed.
“Frank is dead, Otis…. What am I going…to tell Marie?”
Subic Bay, Philippines
Aida, sweet and lovely, like the opera, loved a man who loved a ghost who loved him. This flowering Filipina in the full bloom of her twenty-one years had fallen in love right away with the ghost lover without knowing he loved another. She had liked Tom when he wandered into Rufadora Bar on his first night in the Philippines, and had flirted with him when he returned on his second night. She told him before the third night ended in a glorious burst of golden sunrise that she loved him. She hadn’t known of the ghost then, although she would later connect it with the hint of sadness behind the tender eyes and his manner of looking at nothing when looking far away. Rather than deter her attentions, Tom’s daydreaming had endeared him to her. The trait made her want to mother Tom. But the mother in Aida hated the ghost while the woman in her understood why Tom loved it. The ghost was never far from Aida’s thoughts just as it was never far from Tom’s. However, Aida might have felt more secure in Tom’s love had she understood how loath the ghost was to come between them. Aida, however, had no way of knowing this since she wasn’t the one wrestling with the ghost.
The ghost wasn’t on Aida Pinoy’s mind as she searched bare-foot for treasure among the debris washed ashore by the latest storm of the monsoon. Her booty so far, a bright and colorful smorgasbord of seashells, pebbles, smooth-worn glass, and curious shapes of driftwood. She collected her treasure in a net bag that let sand fall away rather than follow her home and make a mess of the wood floors of her neat, tidy apartment. The driftwood she’d let dry in the courtyard for later use in her art. The seashells Aida would boil to remove any smelly creatures that might remain inside. She’d add the shells to jars that lined the sill of the window over the kitchen sink. The mix of colors, shapes, and textures looked pretty in the bright afternoon sunlight that filled the window in the tiny kitchen.
Holding the bag in both hands behind her back as she crept along, Aida scanned the beach for those simple little touches that bring the outdoors indoors and render an apartment a warm, cozy, and welcoming home. A glint of reflected sunlight in the sand drew her attention as she stepped across a rivulet running across the beach from the jungle to the sea. She stooped to turn over a fist-sized rock and screamed when a fiddler crab darted from beneath and sidled away snapping its huge pincer claw high in a menacing gesture of bravado. She laughed, and the wind blew away her tinkling laughter as she fell onto her bottom. Tom Nelson, three-years older than Aida’s twenty-one years, waded bare-chested in the surf a few yards away.
“Are you okay, Aida?” Tom’s concern melted away at her laugh.
“Yes, Tommy. I’m okay.”
He stifled his own laugh as she brushed away the sand clinging to her bathing suit. Tom, aroused, pressed his hand to her bottom and spoke close to her ear. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Oh, Tommy. Not now, honey ko. So many people might see us.” She kissed his cheek and they moved together along the beach. “A crab surprise me when I am turning over a rock. He looks so funny snapping his claw at me. Maybe he thinks I’m going to eat him.”
“It would take a bucketful of those little guys to make a meal. Why don’t we buy some big crabs at the market on the way home?”
“If you like, I will buy the crabs tomorrow and make the soup for your supper, honey ko.”
“Okay. Buy crackers too—oyster crackers; you can’t have crab soup without oyster crackers.”
“Oh, they don’t sell those at the market.”
“I’ll stop at the commissary after work then, and buy them. Let me know if you need me to pick up anything else.”
“I need napkins too.”
“There’s a whole case of napkins and paper towels in the hall closet, Aida.”
“Not that kind of napkin, Tommy.”
“Ohhh. Okay. Too bad you can’t come with me; I feel weird buying those things.”
“You’re so shy, Tommy. Nobody noticing when men buying napkins for their wives. If they do, they thinking like the man is helping his wife and how sweet of him. But it’s okay; I will buy them at the market. But they are more expensive and not good like on the base.”
“No, no. I’ll get them for you, Aida. I’m only kidding. I’ll just pile a bunch of other stuff around them so none of my buddies sees them.”
“You’re too funny, Tommy.”
The storm had washed away the brown haze of smog and the ennui of stifling heat and humidity that normally hung over Subic Bay, and left behind a brilliant, deep blue sky that flooded Tom’s heart with an indescribable joy and a gaiety that bubbled over at the slightest provocation. He put on his shirt against the increasing intensity of the sun and he and Aida continued their search, stooping now and again to examine a shell or some other potential decorative piece, occasionally keeping one while tossing another. A gust of wind peppered Tom’s cheek with sand and sea spray and he turned away as the wind billowed Aida’s loose, black wrap behind her and folded back the brim of her hat. She laughed as she held the hat to keep it from flying away and the graceful curve of her arm and the outline of her happy face reminded him of Susanna. Aida’s brown eyes crinkled when she laughed and pierced Tom’s heart the same way Susanna’s green eyes had done. His throat tightened and he looked away. Not now. The chills would start and his body would shake if he didn’t push Susanna away. Already, his jaw hurt as he gritted his teeth and closed his eyes hard against her image. Not now.
As so often happened when Susanna intruded on his happiness with Aida, his father’s words rang in Tom’s ears. “Never find yourself having to choose between two women, Tom. You’ll hurt one of them, and hurting a woman lowers a man.”
But I love Aida. I love Susanna, too, but Susanna died. What reason have I to choose?
He wanted more than anything to let go of Susanna. He wanted to love Aida with a clear conscience, one free of ties to another woman. But he couldn’t forget Susanna, couldn’t forget she had died alone, without him by her side. He couldn’t forget. He couldn’t forget that he had caused her death. Grief, never far away since Susanna died, bared Tom’s heart. His eyes welled at the thought of his lost love, his first true love and the love that still gripped him with the memory of the future he had planned with a woman whose sudden death had broken his heart and left him dispirited, an empty man who, for a while, lost even the will to live.
He willed the pain away and wiped his eyes with a knuckle. He took a deep breath. Aida looked at him but he pretended not to notice and kicked at a clump of seaweed, loosening an odor that mingled with the fragrance of tropical flowers that grew in the sunlight along the fringe of the jungle. Tom leaned over to examine a seashell knocked loose from the clump and the medallion swung against his chin. Two flaws in the ruby set in the medallion blinked like evil red eyes in the sunlight. He placed the medallion inside his shirt and picked up the shell and placed it with others in a red plastic cup that still smelled of San Miguel. Moving along the beach he nearly stepped on a sand dollar—its edges unbroken—and picked it up.
“Here you go, Aida; look what I found.”
“Ooh, that’s a big one, honey ko. Don’t break the edge.” She squatted on her heels and leaned over her knees, turning the wet sand with her fingers, and picking out several tiny shells the size of a thumbnail.
“Honey ko, if we find enough of these little shells, I will make a soup for you instead of crab soup.”
“How many does it take, Aida?”
“Two cups, Tommy. I tell you that last time we come here. You are so forgetful.”
He grinned and placed the sand dollar in the cup. He was forgetful, but Aida’s iron-clad memory could recall what she had had for dinner any night of the week months ago while he could barely remember his lunch the previous day. He moved along the shoreline, turning away from breaking waves and sifting the sand with his toes.
Near the narrow causeway to Banana Island, accessible at low tide, several palm trees heavy with coconuts leaned out over the water. Tom tried to dislodge the coconuts by throwing rocks at them. When that failed, Aida encouraged him to climb the tall, slender trees and cut them loose with a pocketknife.
“Climb up the trunk, Tommy. That’s what my brothers do. You just have to walk up the tree bent over like you are going to touch your toes. See? Watch me.”
Aida bent over and stretched her arms toward her toes and took a few awkward steps.
“See? It’s easy. Go ahead, Tommy. I catch you if you fall.”
She looked funny bent in half, and Tom had to try hard to resist the urge to smack her butt. He didn’t like heights nor did he like coconuts enough to risk his life clinging to a swaying tree.
“If it’s so easy, you climb up and I’ll catch you if you fall.”
“Oh, Tommy. You can do it.”
“No way, Aida; I’m not your brothers. If you want a coconut that bad, sweetheart, we’ll stop by the commissary and buy some on the way home.”
Leaving the coconuts free to taunt others, Tom and Aida returned to the hunt. Aida called out in excitement when she spotted rare, blue-green glass balls that had broken away from fishing nets and drifted ashore. She picked her way among the seaweed covered rocks, careful to avoid sea urchins, and placed the baseball-sized floats in a small bag.
“Honey ko, I will hang them from the ceiling in a net. They will look so nice reflecting sunlight in the window.”
“Here, Aida. I have another one for you.”
“Ohhh, it’s big like a football. And it have still the net around it. You carry it, Tommy. It’s too big for the bag; I don’t want to break it.”
Tom’s hands were full, but he crooked a finger under the net to hold the ball and then stood still, at a loss what to do next.
“Aida. My hands are full. Let’s go back to the cottage and drop off all this stuff and then go eat. It’s past lunchtime and I’m starving.”
“You always starving, honey ko. Why you aren’t fat?”
“It must be all the sex you force on me. It’s great exercise.” He winked at Aida and gave her a lecherous grin. “We could eat in the room, you know. What do you think? Hmmm?”
“Ha ha. You’re so funny, Tommy. We play later. Come, we gonna go and eat.”
Aida put her arm through Tom’s and led him along the trail to the cottage. Leaving the bags of treasure behind, they carried their lunch to the pavilion where Tom grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and reheated the fried lumpia Aida had prepared at home. They sat close together making small talk or not talking at all.
The breeze was cooler under the pavilion and lunch had filled them. Aida rested her head on Tom’s shoulder and they both gazed across the water, watching container ships pass by, and the ferry boat from Subic Bay Naval Station arrive and depart twice each way. Aida stirred and yawned, then hugged her knees while contemplating the distant horizon and her home in Bataan.
“Look, Tommy. My home is so close. Only thirty miles if we fly.”
“Only sixty miles if we swim. If we start now, we might make it by Christmas.”
“Oh, we never make it. You’ll drown without food to eat every five minutes. You have no fat anyway, so how you gonna float?”
“You can tow me while I lie on an air mattress.”
“Then I’m too tired to play.”
“We’d better take the Victory Liner, then.”
Aida’s gaze carried her the thirty miles to Lamao in Bataan Province, and to her home on the shores of Manila Bay where her father and brothers fished for the family’s livelihood. Her wistful voice carried a yearning that differed from the other yearning, the one that filled her heart with both hope and trepidation for marriage.
“I miss my home, Tommy.”
“I know, sweetheart; I miss mine too. Why don’t you go home this week?”
“Maybe. I thinking tomorrow I will ask Cora to go home with me. She’s not visiting her family there for longer time than me. I know she miss her family too.”
Near dusk, they packed the remains of the picnic, showered at the beach house, and changed into street clothes. They left their bags on the ferry pier, and strolled hand-in-hand along the trail to the seawall overlooking the dark-blue water of the bay. A warm, salt-laden breeze carrying the scent of sea weed rustled through palm trees above the high-tide mark. Tom helped Aida onto the seawall to await the ferry to Fleet Landing.
They kicked off their flip-flops and dangled their legs above the waves lapping below them. The setting sun’s golden rays changed from orange to purple to red through the filter of ash drifting from Mount Pinatubo. For miles around the bay, strings of colored lights winked on at clubs and resorts dotting the shoreline. F-14 Tomcats from the USS Midway roared overhead, the orange-blue flame of their afterburners splitting the twilit sky. The warm night air wrapped around them like a soft, cozy blanket, and the tranquility of the evening pushed the noise of the aircraft into the background. Tom slipped his arm around Aida’s slender waist. She leaned her head against his shoulder and tickled him.
His leg jumped. “Ow! Aida, stop. It tickles. No, no. Stop! Stop Aida.” He laughed his staccato laugh and leaned away from Aida’s reach.
She screeched and said, “Oh, Tommy, you are so ticklish.” She moved closer, threatening Tom with her fingers. “I’m going to tickle you again honey ko.” She reached to tickle him but laughed instead until tears rolled from her eyes.
Tom leaned over and kissed her in mid-laugh, his lips rubbing against her teeth. She snuggled closer, her honey-brown skin warm against his. Aida, sweet and lovely, like the opera, breathed softly against his cheek.
“Oh, Tommy. You make me so happy. I’m glad you bring me here. This is where you say you love me for true the first time, remember?”
“I could never forget that, honey.”
“I like when you call me honey, honey ko.”
“I like when you call me honey ko, honey.”
“Stop it, Tommy. You are so funny.”
“Oh, Aida, we’re both so funny, aren’t we?”
“Oh, you,” she said with feigned exasperation.
She rubbed her cheek against the stubble of his five o’clock shadow. “I love the scratch of your beard, and the sound it makes against my cheek.”
“I remember one night, Aida, after we made love and you lay with your head on my chest. You said you loved the sound of me made intimate by my closeness and the warmth of my body.”
She pressed her nose to the hollow behind his earlobe. “I love also the smell of you, masculine and gentle. I like to breathe in your scent. When it fill my lungs, it’s like you are filling me inside.” She moved against him. “Hug me, Tommy, so I feel you.”
She kissed his neck and he put his arms around her because she wanted to feel the muscles of his body, and they sat close, so close that their hearts beat as one. After a while, her body ceased to be separate from his and he moved away and back so he could feel her again. She pressed against him and her sexual magnetism tugged at him.
Aida wasn’t voluptuous but possessed a perfect figure. She wasn’t a striking beauty but was beautiful. Her voice wasn’t high-pitched or low-pitched, but inviting. Her accent wasn’t awkward, but endearing. Some women made themselves alluring or attractive. They puffed up their breasts, preened their feathers, and strutted their stuff. Not Aida. She had no need to present herself. She attracted men naturally, like hummingbirds to nectar. Men hovered about, hoping for a lick of Aida.
The flicker of lights along the shoreline to Subic City snapped his reverie. The rising moon with the mountains in silhouette, the soft lapping of the waves, the warm night, his full stomach all induced a languidness he didn’t want to disturb. Satisfaction with the moment, the weekend, the treasure hunt with Aida all combined to lift his spirit and for a moment his constant companion, the pain of loss that never left his side for long, fell away. Tom rubbed his eyes.
Aida caressed his cheek. “Are you sleepy, honey ko? The ferry will be here soon. You can sleep on the ride back.”
“Um hmm,” Tom said as he stretched and yawned. “I love to sleep on the boat, but I’m not sleepy, just relaxed. It’s been a wonderful day; I wish it didn’t have to end.”
“We should come here more often.”
Aida said, “Yes, we should, but you always want to visit Manila. I like Manila too, but we run around taking so many photos we don’t have a chance to relax. Someday, we’ll see if you enjoy Manila without a viewfinder as your guide.” She hugged his arm. “I will be your guide, honey ko.”
“There’s so much to see in Manila, though.” Tom leaned forward, his palms on either side of him on the seawall. He looked away across the bay toward Manila. “Especially Rizal Park and the zoo, and the national palace. And my favorite place in the whole world to watch the sunset is from the seawall along Manila Bay. The colors are so vivid and run through almost the whole rainbow of colors.”
“That’s because the air is dirty with smog.”
“Aida. Where’s your sense of romance?”
“The smog makes it hard to breathe and I cough too much.”
“Well, maybe I’ll bring you a gas mask from the base.”
“Honey ko. I gonna tickle you again if you keep joking to me.”
“All right. I’ll be a good boy.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Haha. Okay, Aida. I promise.”
Tom leaned his head against hers, fingering the medallion through his shirt the way people drum their fingertips together or sit with their hands behind their head. His thoughts were far away and his breathing softened as the sounds of the evening faded. He reflected on his relationship with Aida and the false starts and near-proposals. Something always held him back from voicing the words he knew Aida wanted to hear—he could see it in her eyes when the air grew heavy with their silence and their hearts beat fast with anticipation. His heart said one thing, his head another. He wanted to commit, wanted to marry her, but feared another loss. He feared betrayal too. He loved Aida, but what would Susanna think? How could he betray her memory by marrying another, even a woman he loved as much as he loved Aida? He had not had the chance to marry Susanna, so how could he marry another as if she were a stand-in, a substitute for the woman he had loved at first sight?
Remember when we met, Susanna?
You were behind the bar. All I could see were your eyes.
I was arranging bottles on the lower shelves.
I thought you were short, a dwarf.
You were concerned; your eyes showed it.
When you stood, I was amazed.
Why were you amazed, Tomás?
You were beautiful.
Are not dwarves beautiful?
I’m sure of it Susanna, but I had already fixed your image in my mind.
So, my beauty surprised you?
Is that not superficial, Tomás?
No, Susanna. My heart skipped two beats and my throat grew tight.
Oh, I made you ill, Tomás?
Oh no, Susanna.
What then, Tomás?
That’s when I fell in love with you, Susanna.
Love at first sight, Tomás?
Is that not too much like a fairy tale, Tomás?
Do you believe in fairy tales, Tomás?
All my life.
Was our love a fairy tale, Tomás?
You were my Prince Charming, Tomás.
You were my Princess.
Your eyes told me you had fallen in love with me, Tomás.
Did my eyes tell you I had fallen in love with you, Tomás?
I love you, Tomás.
I love you, Susanna.
His birth parents, Sam and Susanna McBride, had fallen in love at first sight. The intimate connection they made at their first, brief encounter—over an apple, of all things—blossomed into love during their second encounter later that same day. Sam proposed to Susanna on the third day of their acquaintance and they married two months later. They remained inseparable until Susanna died giving birth to Tom in the third year of their short life together.
By coincidence, or fate, Tom had loved his own Susanna while stationed with the Navy in Spain, just as Sam had. Tom’s Susanna was also a bartender. They too, fell in love after a brief romance, but Tom’s Susanna died before they could marry. He had had to cancel their wedding; the chapel, the priest, the flowers, the dinner with friends and her family, the honeymoon in Barcelona. Their future. Except the ring. The wedding ring that had not touched her finger.
He had walked beside her casket from the chapel to the cemetery under a clear, bright, blue sky, then helped lift her into the vault, three rows up and two rows from the end. They hadn’t wanted him to help, but he wouldn’t be moved. Birds chirped in the landscaped shrubs, taunting him with their joyful songs as he stared misty-eyed under a heavy brow as the mason cemented each brick into place to close the opening. Tom had closed his eyes and whispered a prayer as the mason sealed the vault, the tap-tap-tap of the hammer forever echoing in his head as it set the final brick. After the mourners left, after the mason packed up his tools and left, Tom opened his fist and placed Susanna’s wedding ring on the necklace. Next to his mother’s medallion. It had felt right.
He knew his birth parents only through what his adoptive parents told him, through letters between Sam and Susanna, and through essays Sam had written after Susanna’s death. The letters and essays told him that theirs was a fairy tale romance, the kind of romance others only dreamed of experiencing, of which writers wrote books, young girls sighed for, and parents hoped for their children. The kind that came once in a thousand years.
Twice in two decades. He and his Susanna had had that kind of love. Did it run in the family? Would his own son find that kind of love? No; that kind of magic was rare if it existed at all. Lightning didn’t strike twice in one place. But magic wasn’t lightning, and magic had struck twice in the same place for his father and him.
He swung his leg up to straddle the seawall and faced Aida. Magic didn’t strike a second time for me though. He pressed his lips to her hands. It wasn’t love at first sight with Aida. Our love took time to develop. She smiled the way she did when he became passionate. Two years have passed since we met, and we spent one of those years apart. Her lips parted, and she tilted her head. We carried on our relationship through phone calls and letters without committing to one another. Her eyes grew wide and fixed on his as if anticipating him. My return to the Philippines has seen our passion grow. I haven’t gotten over Susanna—I never will—but I no longer mourn for her. Or do I? He held her hands in front of his lips. Susanna will always be a part of me, and I will always wear her ring next to my mother’s medallion. It feels right.
In a burst of emotion, he whispered, “I love you, Aida. Will you marry me?”
Sometimes, though, the weight of two Susannas was too much.