STROPHE, Chapter XXVI: Narcissus
Sunday, November 18, 2001
Every time Tsunami left Irene’s house in the evening, beams from the setting sun shot into his face as he headed west, and now, in the morning, the rising sun was doing the same—piercing his eyes like millions of knives. Sunglasses didn’t help, and neither did the hand he had placed over his brow to create shade like a visor. He squinted until the tears stung.
Tsunami fixated on the road ahead of him, on the lookout for the white Audi that belonged to Irene’s parents. They would be headed to church, and she would be home alone, feigning sleep because it was her birthday, and in her words, I’m allowed to indulge myself a little bit.
When he saw the white car in the distance, he pulled into the driveway of the house nearest him and waited until the car passed. The four interconnected rings on the back of the car gleamed at him, and he watched them for a while as the car continued down the road and eventually disappeared around the bend. They were definitely gone. A shiver ran through him. Irene. Alone with him. For the first time since they had started dating last year.
The truck growled as he pummeled the gas pedal and sent it barreling down the road, swinging into her subdivision, and rumbling up her driveway. In all its glory, Irene’s parents’ house looked down upon him, its two attic windows glaring disapprovingly. Tsunami was not a coffee drinker, but he took a tiny sip from the cup beside him—a stimulant that would kick his ass into gear, unlike alcohol, which would send him spiraling down, back into arms that did not belong to Irene.
Love me, love me, she had said.
He fought the urge to toss back the entire cup of coffee. Instead, he took the box of blueberry biscuits and the coffee cup and entered through the unlocked front door.
Irene lifted her head from an old-fashioned chaise longue in the large foyer. Textbooks threatened to tip over from their precarious stack beside her. A bottle of eye makeup remover sat on top of one of the books. “Tsunami?”
“I’m here,” he said. “Were you pulling an all-nighter again?”
She ignored the question, but she didn’t need to answer. He knew the truth. “You brought biscuits!” Irene rose, her long nightgown—like a child’s, falling into place around her upper thighs. She hastily pulled it down over her knees, then her calves, her ankles, then the tops of her feet, so only her pedicured toenails poked out. “Sorry, Nami. I didn’t mean to sleep this late,” she said. “I’m not even dressed. Let me go upstairs and change.” She turned toward the stairway, but Tsunami caught her in one arm. Her hair brushed his cheek, the scent of her narcissus oil perfume filling his nostrils.
“Happy birthday, babe. You don’t need to get dressed right away. I brought you food. Can we eat?” Tsunami felt her trembling.
Irene slumped against him. Her breathing slowed. “I’m sorry,” she apologized again. “I did stay up all night. You know that big test we have in AP Government on Monday. Then Ruby came over and did my toenails. I shouldn’t have let her. I should have been studying.”
“You have nothing to worry about,” Tsunami said. At least Sandra didn’t come over. The image of Sandra painting anyone’s toenails almost made him laugh out loud to himself, but he refused to dwell on anything about the girl.
Irene straightened the stack of books and checked the bottle of eye makeup remover to make sure it was tightly shut. She let him into the kitchen, which was so bright, Tsunami felt like he was back in his truck again, heading due east. One wall of the room was patterned with daffodil wallpaper that he hadn’t seen before. Irene’s mother was always in the middle of a home improvement project.
They sat across from each other at the large breakfast bar and ate the biscuits. “I’m glad you came,” said Irene. “You didn’t have to get up so early just because of me.”
He smiled, picking at the top of the last biscuit, which he didn’t have the heart to eat. “It’s nice to be here without your parents breathing down our necks. I still can’t believe they let you skip church.”
She shrugged, then drew a wisp of her hair over her upper lip—her new habit that he hated. “They know I stayed up late studying, so they gave me a pass.”
“Speaking of pass, yeah, I hope I pass that test, too,” Tsunami said. “But you know me. I’ll probably end up playing video games with Lyger tonight.”
Sandra spoke up in his head. AP classes are a bunch of bullshit. Why do you bother taking them? College is easy. Straight-up partying and drinking, man! Then he imagined a much less brash version of her, the one who had curled up in his arms and actually cried.
He put his head in his hands.
Irene leaned across the bar and put her hands over his. “I could help you study, Tsunami.”
He looked at her face, still puffy from sleep. “Oh, yeah, the test. I guess so, yeah. You could.” She smiled, the tender smile that he saw on no other girl’s face. Tenderness was not a trait to ascribe to most girls he knew at Anima. That was why he loved Irene, who was worth more than that… drunken Sandra!
If only she knew what an asshole I am.
Irene got up from her barstool and stood beside him. His arms went around her reflexively, and he breathed in the scent of her narcissus oil. “I love you,” Irene said.
“Mmhmm,” he mumbled.
The tenderness left her voice so abruptly that he looked up, startled out of his ruminations. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” she said. She turned around to look at him, an expression of utmost seriousness on her face. “About, you know, how you lied to me about Saisami. Maybe it was because you didn’t think you could trust me. Which doesn’t seem fair to me because I… I really trust you, you know. Well, I did… until I found out you lied.”
His first instinct would have been to call her out for making him feel guilty, but the lie about Saisami seemed so much less important than the lie about Sandra. Tsunami took in a breath and prepared to explain. She was still trembling.
“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want anyone finding out,” Tsunami said. “Like yesterday, when you were with Ruby. If I had told you the truth, she would have gotten it out of you eventually.”
“So you’re saying I can’t keep a secret?” Irene dropped her arms from around him and stepped back. He made a gesture to draw her closer, but she kept her distance.
“No. I’m saying that Ruby can get anything out of anyone. She can’t keep a secret. If she found out, the entire football team would know, and I sure as hell don’t want them after my sister.” Or me, he thought.
Irene pondered that. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” She took his arms and wrapped them back around herself as if they were the sleeves of a jacket. Another beam of light cut across them, and he realized why the light reminded him of Sandra—the moonlight had glared angrily from the window when he awakened in the middle of that night to find her lying beside him.
“Do you understand why I did it now?” he asked.
Irene ran a hand through his hair. “Yes.”
Relief made him laugh. “I know her ‘career choice’ is questionable, but she loves it. Don’t think differently about her, OK?” The laughter caught in his throat and turned to a cough. Irene patted him on the back until his breath returned.
“The more I think about it, the more I see that you were right to not say anything,” she said. “You were trying to protect your sister. Right?” She leaned into him, and he nodded, although his mind was a million miles away from the night he told that lie—he was focused on a different one.
Irene kissed him with such fervor that he was taken aback. Normally she never initiated any kind of contact that might remotely be deemed sexual.
Tsunami forced his mind back to the present. It was her birthday. She should be the absolute center of his attention at this moment. He shouldn’t be fighting with her on her birthday. Anger at Sandra surged through him. Dumb slut. That dumb drunken slut!
Irene broke the kiss, and when she breathed his name, the sound was laced with something beyond tenderness: passion.
“What?” he asked, still fighting back anger at himself.
“I’ve decided to show you that I trust you.” She brought her lips back to his and deepened the kiss until the rush of it all made his head spin.
She pulled back with a coy smile, biting her lower lip—the stuff of many of his wet dreams, but he was too stunned to say anything for a few long moments. I have to tell her about all the stupid shit that happened, but I can’t. She trusts me. When she can’t trust me. I can’t break her trust, but I already did. But if I don’t tell her, she’ll never find out. Because Sandra’s not telling.
Irene stopped the firestorm of his thoughts with another passionate kiss. She’s made up her mind, he thought. The reason she did not want her parents home today made itself clear and brilliant to him.
“Are you sure?” He pulled away to look at her. “I mean, are you positive?”
Irene stared at him with such intensity that he wanted to look away. “Yes. You can trust me.” She clung to him and buried her head in his shoulder as she covered the flesh of his neck with lingering kisses. Tsunami tried to barricade his mind against the storm of thoughts.
He lifted her up easily; she was tall, but she was slender. The scent of narcissus oil permeated his senses.
The master bathroom in Irene’s house had a shower with frosted glass panels, large enough to easily fit three people. She directed Tsunami to this bathroom, and once she stepped inside, she slowly removed her nightgown and panties.
Tsunami watched, paralyzed. He had imagined this exact scenario in thousands of frustrated fantasies, and here it was, coming to life before his eyes. Irene stepped over her discarded clothes and into his arms. Her skin was flawless and silken, her curves perfect. He almost feared to touch her, but she put his hands on her, and she pressed her naked body against him and began to take off his clothes.
Emotion carried him away as he let her take what she wanted from him. “Are you sure?” he asked again, unable to tear his eyes from her body.
She laughed as if he had asked the silliest question in the world and kissed him hard. “Yes,” she repeated.
They could barely hear each other speak over the roar of the water in the shower—they could barely even see each other through the rising steam. The way the water cascaded and rippled over Irene’s skin felt like something out of a movie. Tsunami could not hold her. She was too slippery, yet she still clung to him somehow. His thoughts had faded into a lesser roar when the water had been turned on.
The scent of narcissus oil filled the walls of the shower. Tsunami pinned Irene against the paneling as best as he could and tried to suck the nectar from her skin. His teeth scraped the hollow of her neck, his lips caressed her flushing skin. He felt her throat vibrate with moans. Irene’s hands reached out to caress him, wandering over his back and clutching him tight against her.
He thrust against her experimentally a few times and was surprised by how receptive she was to it. Her eyes were shut as if in passion, and she was making a kind of crying sound. Her hair looked so dark against the white walls of the shower.
All I am is a dumb blonde! Sandra had wept on one occasion after a particularly grueling stint at Black Kat. He had patted her shoulder and felt her lean into him. Tsunami shook the thought out of his head so it was lost in the dull roar.
He parted Irene’s legs with his hands and tried to get a good grip, but she kept slipping away, sliding down the shower wall as if desire had made her boneless. She slid to the bottom of the tub, her hair flowing around her head like a mermaid’s, her eyes open, her arms reaching for him. Tsunami tried to position himself, but she kept slipping away. I’m not supposed to do this, that’s why. I lied to her. I betrayed her.
“Are you sure?” he heard himself ask one last time. His own voice clotted with tears.
“Yes,” Irene whispered again. She wrapped her hand around him, guided him to her.
Every time he thrust forward, she would slide away. He felt stupid for a moment. They were just splashing around like children, but he finally opened up that first exquisitely tight part of her. He hardly heard her quiet cry over his own gasp, but he saw a rush of blood ruining the clarity of the water.
The sight of the blood shocked him.
Sandra cried! I remember it—she cried she hid her face and I touched her where I broke her. Her blood was on my hands!
Tsunami watched the blood wisp away toward the drain and felt Irene’s hands slipping on his back. He let his desire take over as he moved against the water and deeper into her, listening to each of her gasps. He felt like he was breaking her slender body into shards of glass.
Sunlight moved over the water. He wasn’t sure where it was coming from. Maybe he was only imagining it. Ecstasy filled his every pore. Narcissus, she smelled like narcissus.
A spicy scent. Darkness. Her eyes glittered they were luminous in darkness. There was no sunlight none at all just her eyes how they glittered.
“No,” Tsunami heard himself say, not sure how loud he was really saying it. “No.” The word became an incoherent moan as he neared climax.
Irene was breathing, “Yes, yes!” and finally the water stopped moving against their bodies as they slowed, and the blood stopped spiraling down the drain.
When it was finished, he lifted her from the shower, turned off the water, sat her down on the edge of the tub like she was a child, and kissed her cheeks until all he could taste was her skin—not narcissus-scented water, not the salt of his own tears.
I’m sorry I’m so sorry.
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