I’m glad Frank didn’t see my mouth hanging open as he left. By the time I collected myself the door had closed and shut him out of my sight. I understood then what people mean when they say their heart sank. I had lost something wonderful and my body was letting me know what a fool I had been. Instead of smiling politely and gazing enraptured into his eyes I had egged him on while trying to prove how superior I was. Naturally he took offense; who wouldn’t? Correcting a man, no matter how wrong he is, isn’t the best way to let him know you’re interested in him. I wanted to bang my head on the table but it was unclean.
I was deflated and leaned my forearms on the table to sulk but sat up again; I was so taken with Frank I had not realized just how dirty the table was. The more he talked, the faster my heart beat and the deeper I fell under his spell. Stunned is too mild a word to describe my feelings at the rapid change in our conversation. The deafening silence that filled the room after he had gone was replaced by the blood rushing in my head. Or was it embarrassment? Was I embarrassed that he had had the last word? Now I was mad; how dare he walk out on me.
But, no. No. The room was cold and empty without him. I had wanted to call out and tell him I craved knowing more of him too. But I could not. I was too proud to be the weak one. Too independent to act dependent. I had been wrong about one thing, though: he wasn’t unlike other Sailors. He was unlike any man I had ever known. He was confident without the slightest touch of arrogance. He walked with such self-assurance. He was strong, attractive, and he smelled sooo good. And I took such pleasure from his parting words: “Unlike any woman I’ve known.”
He was so completely different from the younger Sailors who came to Rufadora. He did not leer at the girls from the corner of his eye while I spoke to him. He did not brag tirelessly, nor did he have the slouching, ingratiating manner men assumed when asking to buy me a drink when all they wanted was to bed me. He didn’t make me feel like a piece of momentary pleasure or a substitute mother for a lonely boy trailing apron strings halfway around the world.
It truly pleased me that Frank had not come to see the barmaids, and I had enjoyed his company. I was relieved too; any desire I had felt to be with a man had flown after Edward cheated on me. Now, for it to return when a man like Frank came into my life, I realized how lonely I had been. But, what had I been thinking, to serve him? I shook my head, and then I smiled when I caught myself wiping the table with a napkin. I would, indeed, make a good barmaid.
I was too vehement though when I retorted that I wasn’t a barmaid. How could I have defended them moments later after so viciously denying that I was one of them? The virtues I attributed to them were true; my obvious distaste for being mistaken for one of them was wrong. Oh dear; was I a snob? I wondered if the girls thought I was.
I worried over my conduct around the girls and told myself I would be more understanding of them, but my thoughts turned to Frank again. I hoped I wasn’t about to experience another affair that would end up hurting me. I barely knew Frank—I didn’t know him—but oh, how I wanted to see him again. I loved his mellow voice; he could read me a bedtime story any time. And I liked the way he looked, just tall enough not to tower over me; I imagined resting my head against his shoulder. Were his shoulders bony knobs or broad enough to lean on? I loved, too, the way his shirt tightened over his chest when he moved. He wasn’t brawny or muscled, but fit. Very fit. Frank stirred something in me that I had not felt before. The way he looked at me melted my heart and his voice warmed me in a wholly unexpected manner. I had known him only a few hours and I wished he would ask me to marry him.
Edward and Frank were similar in many ways, including the way they leaned on the table and stirred their fingers in the water rings. But I hoped their similarities were only good ones. I did not want to ruin another pair of stilettos.
Edward. That bastard. I gave him everything and would have given more had there been anything left to give. I had placed my heart in his smooth hands with the long fingers and manicured nails. He held my heart, touched it, caressed it. Edward. Tall, dark, coal black hair and penetrating blue eyes. He looked like a ghost in certain light. Had he wore a white robe and halo I could not have worshipped him more. His touch seared my skin and made me tremble.
I recalled how my eyes had closed when Edward’s fingers played along my spine and I shivered and he expressed concern that he had hurt me, but I shook my head. I longed for him to keep touching me that way so I could feel the warmth and strength of his spirit through his fingertips. How could a man caress a woman with a touch so gentle yet so passionate along her entire body as to make her think of a wisp of breath flowing along her skin, raising goosebumps and laying them down again like a sigh of wind across blades of grass? Gentle was not the right word; Edward’s caress was less a touch than a feeling. A feeling as of a dream passing along my body so that I could not be sure I had felt anything but knew I had felt something. Something that trickled through my skin, spread within me, enveloped me, and soothed me until I could think of nothing but that it should never stop, and when it stopped, a sadness and a hope that it would start again. Edward felt like a dream and lifted me into the dream. I shivered. God, his touch had felt so good.
Edward. That bastard. We had loved passionately, or at least I had, until that Grace turned his head. Grace, who came out of nowhere, wiggled her ass at Edward, aroused him with her fake breasts, and charmed him with her bedroom eyes. He had soiled my own bed with Grace. He had fallen for her without a glance at me. I found them together after returning home early from a weekend visit to the orphanage. I expected to find Edward in bed and wanted to surprise him. And so I had. I cried out in anger and flung my shoe at him, a stiletto. I had good aim and left a long gash above his right eye. I told them both to get out, changed the locks, and sent all of Edward’s belongings to the charity house. I had not seen him since. I had loved him like no other. His betrayal hurt so deep. However, that belonged in the past. As far as I knew, he still managed his father’s construction firm miles away in Baguio. Baguio. Good: maybe he will die when his car plunges down a mountainside and catches fire and he will burn to death.
I stopped seeing men after Edward. They were all the same, professing love to a woman until fresh meat became available. I came to Olongapo to be near the orphanage and to forget Edward. I had left job, family, and possessions to help Aunt Helen out as manager of Rufadora Bar. I wanted to cleanse myself of the past and make a fresh start. I achieved all I wanted except forgetting Edward; he wouldn’t let go of me. He had me watched. I hated the constant suspicion, the constant fear of confrontation. The scar I left on his face had enraged him and he vowed retribution. I constantly looked over my shoulder. Maybe that was his retribution, his revenge. He could afford to pay thugs to make me nervous. That bastard.
I visited the sisters at the orphanage several times a week, the same sisters who had raised me after my parents died. I often slept overnight and in the same room I had grown up in before moving to Baguio with my new parents. I had no desire to return despite the pleadings of my parents. They had liked Edward, but his betrayal crushed them. They understood I needed time to heal and forget, “but, three years, Marie. Do you need so long?”
The door swung open admitting Amy and the jarring noise from the jukebox. I hated that awful thing.
Amy said “Marie, a man is looking for you in the bar. He say his name is Edward.” Her eyes grew wide and she whispered. “He is so handsome.”
I paled and froze. That’s all I needed.
“Amy. Do not tell him you have seen me. Tell him I have gone home. Do you understand? Will you do that for me?”
Amy nodded and left, confused, but happy to help me.