Dim Sum Loans
Love and Hate
"Can we go one day without fuckin' rain in this God-forsaken hellhole?" Ken mumbles to himself as he steps out of the Coastline Inn.
Dark clouds are overhead and the distinct scent of that dirty city rain is in the air. Moisture is already cloaked around him. A shiver runs up his spine and his entire body dramatically shakes, even his lips, which causes him to make a funny little noise. At least he has a place to go, a place to sleep, a place that will keep him warm, dry, and safe. And if it weren't for the fact he's about to keel over from exhaustion, he'd turn right back around and stay at work.
Wrapping himself in his thin suit coat, he steps into the decrepit parking lot and heads to his car, splashing his leather shoes in the small, oily puddles of gathered water. He needs to rest, he knows that, but it is hard stepping away sometimes. Currently, he's working seven days a week, sometimes up to twenty hours a day. It doesn't make a difference to his pay. It's a sense of obligation that he has that keeps him there for so long and so consistently.
Sex work has a bad reputation and that's the only reason he has a job. In truth, he wishes it would just be legalized. Then all the girls that he frets about all day in that disgusting motel wouldn't be shamed, they wouldn't be hidden. They could be protected, properly, with real benefits and respect. Maybe he'd be out of the business then, since he wouldn't have to beat up johns that harass these poor girls. How many of those harmless girls ended up beaten, hospitalized, traumatized, or worse – dead? With great clarify he can recall all of the faces of every girl that's ever crossed his path in this line of work, and somehow, in each one, he sees a little bit of –
He squeaks at the sight of her near his decades-old clunker of a car. God, she looks even more beautiful in her maturity. Now that she's eating healthy, she's filled out properly, like a happy mother should, and her skin is flawless, not a single mark or wrinkle. The hair she's always kept long is cut precisely at her shoulders, and even the moisture in the air seems to have no effect on its condition. Dressed modestly in a pencil skirt, designer flats, and a button-up white blouse with a red cardigan, she looks like a respectable office woman, someone who is far above his status as a mere thug.
"You still drive this piece of shit?" she asks with a laugh.
He missed that sound. The sound of her voice, the music of her laugh. How long has it been since he saw her? Sure, he's seen her in passing; he's caught a glimpse of her walking home with Jian or eating in the dim sum restaurant. But he's always kept his distance. And, yeah, they've chatted in text messages and over social media, as she keeps him up to date on how Cora is doing. This, though… seeing her in person, this close, having her speak to him – this can't be real. He's breathless.
"Come on, let's go get drinks," she tells him with a gorgeous, welcoming smile.
There's a place nearby, not to far from the little row house he lives in, that he's always dreamed of taking her to. It's a shabby little dive, barely big enough to fit ten people, where everyone knows everybody and there's always plenty of laughs. All the guys there have heard about Jenny and Cora, because when Ken gets drunk, he doesn't shut up about them. One night – he can't remember when exactly, he was too drunk – he blurted out that he'd bring Jennifer there, just to shut up all the men who doubted her existence.
Upon opening the grungy wooden door, all six men present inside the establishment call out to him. A few hoot and holler at Jennifer, who takes it all in stride. Smiling warmly, she waves to them and introduces herself. Every man attempts to buy her a drink, calling her "Ken's mermaid," but he vehemently demands that they don't.
Inside smells of cheap beer and old cigar smoke. Dimly lit, there's only three square wooden tables and the bar, all of which are cluttered with napkin holders, menus, and other nonsense. There's no music. Every word spoken is heard crystal clear above the clinking of glass and dinging of silverware.
As the couple gets situated at the bar, he orders for her, remembering exactly what she likes. If she's surprised that he knows, she doesn't show it. He doesn't want her to be surprised. She shouldn't be. Not once has he pretended that he's moved on from her. He doubts he ever will.
Word vomiting, he asks a million questions. He wants to know about Cora; how is she, how is school for her, is she in sports, how are her friends treating her, does she need anything? How tall is she now, what hobbies does she have, what is she talented at, what does she struggle with? It hurts him more than anything that he can't be there for her but hearing how great she's doing eases the sting a little.
Confessing that to Jennifer, he sees the pain flash across her eyes, and he wants to take it back. But he can't. He can't take anything back.
"I've missed you," she says.
"Me, too," he says.
She shakes her head. "No, Ken. I've missed you. I've missed us," she says. All he can do is stare blankly at her, not understanding her meaning. After a sigh she clarifies, "I want to have sex. With you."
She wonders if she's said something wrong. Ken is awfully serious and tense. His dark eyes narrow, his jaw clenches. Red stains the tips of ears. The hand that was resting on the bar clamps into a fist. "Finish your drink," he commands sternly. Before she can argue, he's pulled out a handful of cash from his wallet and slammed it on the bar for the tab. Hurriedly, she downs the remaining few gulps of her drink.
Ken is waiting at the door for her, his expression growing more irritated by the second. Should she apologize? She had assumed that he was still interested in her, that he was available, that he would at least be polite enough to gently turn her down. Instead, she feels like he's rushing her out the door, evicting her from his life.
Rain is pummeling the outside world. Neither has an umbrella. "Hurry, hurry," he ushers her along like an impatient father. A hand on her lower back pushes her along. Ken sets the speed, getting her to his car relatively dry.
Once both are inside, they sit in silence. Pitter-patting of raindrops are the only noise. Even after he starts his car, the radio doesn't work, so they are comforted by the hum of the engine and the melodic weather. Although they don't know they share the same thoughts, they both are brought back to the first rainstorm they were caught in together, the first time they felt the chill of that city in the harshest way.
"Do you still live Belltown?" he asks, his voice on edge.
The words she wants to say is, "I'm sorry, can we just talk, at least?" But she doesn't have the courage. All she can manage is a simple, "Yeah."
"My place is closer," he says. Popping the car into gear, he peels out on the slippery pavement as he speeds off. It's then that Jennifer realizes his haste wasn't from anger. It was from desire. He's longed for this reunion as much as she.
Less than five minutes later, they're at his house, having sped the entire way. Jennifer can feel the anticipation morphing into arousal, the simple thought of having him touch her again bringing forth her more primal needs. Ken seems to be even more impatient, having taken his suit jacket off and undone the top few buttons of his shirt while driving. Out of the car, he grabs her wrist and drags her up the steps to his home and bungling the keys, cursing when he drops them.
Inside, he kicks his shoes off and steps onto the carpet floor. Turning to face her, he's shimming off her cardigan and fumbling with the buttons of her blouse while she takes her flats off and closes the door. He's in a hurry. Not a hurry to finish, just to see her again. How many times has he fantasized about her when alone, how many times did he close his eyes with Anna and imagine Jennifer was there instead?
Lips attack his. His hands stop their task so they can just hold her. Wrapping her into his embrace, he revels in the sensation of her breasts pressed against his chest, the way her thighs are threatening to straddle to him. One hand travels lower; he grabs her ass and pushes her to him, grinding against her hopelessly. He's painfully hard already. Any relief is welcomed. The other hand latches onto her breast and squeezes, kneads it roughly through the fabric of her bra.
Tired of standing in the hallway, he pulls her toward his bedroom. Piece by piece, articles of clothing are shed. First the two rip the remaining buttons on his shirt and fling it somewhere across the living room. As he fiddles with his belt and steps out of his slacks, she rushes out of her blouse and drops it without care. By the time they reach his bed, both are nude.
Ken breaks away to reach for the condoms he keeps in his nightstand. The moment Jennifer sees the box she stops him. His heart is beating so fast it's ringing in his ears and he can barely hear her say, "I want you to cum inside me."
"That's what got us into this mess," he says plainly. But he honors her request.
He knows all the places to touch her, all the pressure points of pleasure on her body – because he's the one who helped her discover them. Whenever he speaks, it's the things he knows she wants to hear, the things that elevate her experience. Praises, always praises. Little lines like, "you're such a good girl," "you feel so good," and "you're beautiful." Never does he curse. Dirty talk and filthy names never leave his lips. In response, she speaks his name with reverence, like a prayer, like a hymn that cleanses his soul of every ill it has ever suffered.
Time is irrelevant. For them, this is the only moment that has ever existed, the beginning and end of it all. Both are romantics at heart, convinced there is a distinct difference between sex and lovemaking. Every time they've held each other in this embrace, they've felt this connection, this powerful surge of emotion. All he wants to do is protect her, to care for her, to shield her from every evil thing in the universe. And if she could, she would never let him go, never turn him away; she would hold him until the end of the time, when the vast existence of it all collapses into darkness.
Hundreds of men have had her, but only Ken has held her. Each client hurried along, desperate to get everything they could out of their short time with her. Even repeat customers all felt the same. Vacant, cold. Never has Ken rushed. The moment she is bare to him, his pace slows. He has nowhere else to go, nothing else to see. She is, and always will be, the most beautiful sight to ever be, more gorgeous than shimmering snowcapped mountains and more awe-inspiring than the most colorful galaxies.
Scarred hands, ruined from over a decade of violence, are soft, tender, warm. Exploring every ounce of her skin, from the smoothness of her cheek, the sharpness of her collarbone, and the plushness of her breasts, the wandering hands stop to spend extra time tracing the stretch marks on her belly, the man memorized by what others had always ignored. In his mind, these imperfections are far more lovely than any other part of the woman beneath him.
"My baby girl," he breaths to himself, marveling at the damage their baby had caused Jennifer's young body. But, it really isn't damage. No, to him, it's akin to rings of a tree trunk, proof of lived experiences this wonderful woman has endured. It's art. Living, human art. Amazing. He created this. They created this, in their youthful love that seemed impossible to lose.
Tears well in his eyes and drop onto her skin. Alarmed at first, Jennifer soon understands the wordless anguish Ken has suffered. Pulling him close, she clears the tears from his eyes and dries his cheeks gently, as though he may break if she goes too fast, too hard. Just the same, his movements inside her are slow, deliberate, powerful in a sense only she could understand.
It takes every mental mind game he knows to stop himself from finishing before her. When he feels her walls clenching on his cock, he knows he can let go, lose himself completely to her. The sensation is better than any time before, and he thinks it will be better than any after. Hasn't he thought that every time they fucked? Yes, he has. Each time is like the first, a moment that cannot be repeated.
Together they clean up, tear off the soiled sheets, and replace them with clean, crisp, cool ones. Everything about it feels domestic. Ken wishes this was his routine; make love to this phenomenal woman and then rebuild their messy lives together. But that will never be. It can't. It doesn't matter how bad they want it. Love, they learned, is not the most powerful force in the universe.
As he sits on the end of the bed in clean briefs and watches her walk by in her panties – there's no way those are comfortable, she was soaking when he peeled them off – he asks, "Why don't you stay awhile? It doesn't have to be all night, just… just a little bit?"
A thin-lipped smile spreads across her flushed face. That's the look she gives when she's going to say no. He knows. But that's okay. He just has to look alright with it. Like his heart isn't physically aching at the idea of never seeing her again.
She comes to him. Grabbing his ears, she shakes his head back and forth, they way she used to when they were teen lovers, carefree and liberated. The familiar sensation makes him laugh, and her angelic voice joins in.
To his surprise, she stays. Sitting next to him on the edge of the bed, she lays her head on his shoulder and embraces him. Feeling her nipples pressed against his skin has him getting excited again already, and he wonders if he could ever tire of her.
Right now, though, he doesn't want to worry about that. He wants to hold her, quietly; to simply exist with her, like the outside world doesn't exist, like this shitty city is of no consequence, like everything is going to be okay.
"Before you leave, I need to show you something. There's a box I have hidden here with cash in it. I've been saving for Cora, so she can go to college, anywhere in the world. Wherever she wants to go, whatever she wants to study. I'll give you a key, in case something happens to me, you can come get it," he tells her.
It isn't surprising that Ken has been saving for their daughter. She knows he wants to be there in other ways, but for the sake of Cora, that isn't possible. Keeping her away from danger means keeping her away from the lifestyle her father lives. It's unfortunate, but it's all they can do.
"Nothing's going to happen to you," she tells him. It sounds confident, although she isn't. In his line of work, things can change in an instant. With the escalating violence between Brickstone Beach and Flea Market Hill, who knows what could happen? What if he bursts into a room to protect a whore, and is met with a knife or gun?
Even as she says this, her hand is rubbing the scar tissue where once there was a nipple. How many scars mar him now? Countless, it seems. His own people can kill him if he isn't careful. She's heard about Anna; she knows what can happen to him.
"Maybe not," he whispers reassuringly. Then, a heavy swallow. "Cora needs a dad, you know. She needs a man in her life that will show her how men should treat women. Jian… Jian's a good man. He loves you. He adores our daughter. He'd do anything for you and her, Jenny. Maybe you don't love him just yet, but you can learn to love him, can't you? For our daughter?"
Hearing these words from him make it final. Her and Ken cannot be together. There is just no escape from Brickstone Beach for him. He dreams of breaking free. Despite everything, he managed to go back and finish his GED. He's even taken a few classes at the community college. One day, he'd like to get a degree, open his own business, be a legitimate earner, a real member of society. He wants to be someone his daughter can be proud of. But he gave up on that a longtime ago.
When she begins to cry, he says nothing and holds her close. The tears are from the finality of it all, yes, but also because she is deeply touched by this man who has sacrificed so much. Perhaps he could have done it differently. Both could have, there are always many options. Yet once the road was paved, he walked it without complaint, forging ahead regardless of the pain, to ensure that their daughter had a future – something neither were able to realize for themselves. From the moment they knew Jennifer was expecting, he has given everything to their child. And now, with nothing left to offer, his love for them pushes to another sacrifice. He must give her up, and he wants to ensure she's with a man that will do the things he never could.
"I love you, Ken," she says between sobs.
"I love you, too, Jenny. Always."
Skating in the rain is one of Soái ca's joys. Even better is nighttime, when the glow of the neon lights reflects off the slick pools of water, giving the borough a special ambiance that makes him giddy. On his way to see Trinity to pick up her payment, he's pleased that the weather is pelting him with droplets as he skates leisurely down the crocked sidewalks, expertly navigating past pedestrians with their fancy umbrellas. His only protection from the rain is his hoody and jeans, which are getting wetter by the minute.
Arriving at the motel, he rides his skateboard up until the threshold of the lobby, when he has no choice but to hop off and kick the board up. Strolling in, he expects to see Ken behind the desk and is disappointed when the less friendly Tai is manning the ship. Flipping his hood, he splatters rain droplets all over the floor.
Soái ca doesn't get a chance to say a single word. Tai spots him and motions to the business office. Word was to send Soái ca straight to Anna, and Tai knows better than to defy an order. Besides, he never really liked the arrogant Korean boy.
Peering into the office, he sees Anna tending to Trinity and some teenager that he's never met is watching. Fresh blood, he assumes when he sees the boy trying to look hardened and chill at the same time. No matter, Soái ca enters the office without knocking, a habit he developed from working there for so long.
Upon hearing the door open, Anna turns to see who the intruder might be. Her expression betrays her feelings. Soái ca is the last person she wanted to see right then. Why couldn't he have come earlier?
Although he can feel Anna's animosity, he understands it, and he tries to ignore it. Dwelling on the things he's done and just come to realize won't make them go away. Instead, his eyes go to Trinity. A nasty shiner, seemingly fresh, mars her face. The swelling so bad, it's shut her eye. The bone might be broken. Cuts are bleeding on her brow, her nose, her lip… her neck has distinct bruises forming, where someone's hands tried to crush the life out of her.
"What the fuck happened?" he asks. In the past, he had been cold and callous toward Trinity. His voice hints at anger, and maybe he is. Maybe he doesn't like it when other men act violently to women. Maybe he feels a bit of guilt when he's faced with a battered woman. He doesn't know.
Anna is nursing the poor girl's wounds. It's the boy who answers. "Some fucker beat the shit outta her, obviously. Who the fuck are you?"
"I'm Joshua Choi. Soái ca," he says. Clearly, his name still holds weight. The boy sinks into his chair and avoids eye contact. Turning his attention back to Trinity, Soái ca sets his skateboard down and approaches the girls. He knows how to be delicate when necessary, and this is certainly one of those times. A hand reaches out and pets Trinity's hair softly, so as not to startle her or harm her. "Where's the guy who did this to you?" he asks, his voice comforting.
Anna hates when Soái ca shows this side of himself. It's this kind of nice guy act that makes women vulnerable to him, and they don't realize their mistake until it's too late. Trinity, however, has already decided she hates him, so she won't answer.
"He was taken care of," Anna says. "This shit wouldn't have happened if Ken was here. Where the fuck is he?"
"He left with a woman, some Korean lady with nice tits," the teen says.
Soái ca, for whatever reason, has a feeling he knows who he's referring to. Ken is a simple man, with simple dreams and simple desires. His eyes have only ever been set on one woman, and Soái ca had told that woman to call on him the other day, although he did so half-jokingly. Jennifer had left work early today, saying she had some place to be, but could it have been to meet with Ken?
He asks, "What did she look like?"
The teen shrugs, "Only remember her tits. Oh, she had on uh, like a red or dark orange sweater. Brown hair, like shoulder length. Way too sexy for a guy like Ken."
"Jenny," Anna and Soái ca say simultaneously.
Anna is on her feet, a finger pointed accusingly at Soái ca. "If your slut of a sister is keeping Ken from his job, I will personally slit her throat!"
"What did you just call her?"
Soái ca reels back to punch her but doesn't. Somehow his brain misfires and he catches himself. But he can't completely control the fury that's taking hold. He nabs Anna by the front of her shirt and shoves her against the wall. Leaning against her with his clenched fists, he can feel his hands digging into her, bruising her, pinching her small body against the wall.
The teen tries to come to her rescue. Putting Soái ca in a weak full nelson, the teen manages to at least get Soái ca off of Anna before he can do any real damage. His power over Soái ca last less than ten seconds, however, before Soái ca breaks free and smashes his elbow into the teen's face.
Soái ca has crippled the teen, who is on the ground unconscious, the hit hard enough to knock him out. Aware the danger of the brat is gone, he spins back to Anna. "Maybe if you weren't a psychopath Ken would stick around! My sister is a million times better a woman that you'll ever be! You stupid whore!"
"Then go fuck her, Joshua! She's all you care about!" Anna shouts. It's so rare to hear her truly raise her voice that he's stunned. "And you know who made me this way? You did! Every girl you've ever touched is ruined by you! I'm sure you're real excited to fuck up Mei next!"
Heat flushes his neck. Red blankets his vision. That's a line that shouldn't be crossed. "Don't bring her into this!"
"The fuck is going on in here?" Tai interrupts, entering the office.
"Get him out of here," Anna orders.
Tai doesn't heed the command right away. Soái ca's chest is heaving; he's biting his lower lip. Everyone knows that's "the sign." Any minute now, the Korean is going to explode, lose control, and demolish anyone in his path. No one – absolutely no one – has survived when that wrath is unleashed.
Trinity, barely able to see or hear due to the trauma she endured less than an hour before, is aware that someone is going to have to leave here in an ambulance. Will it be Anna, Tai, or someone else? She doesn't want it to be Anna; the woman is so sweet to her, so understanding, so nurturing. Tai, she really likes him, he's so respectful, courteous, protective. She doesn't want anything to happen to them.
But Soái ca? It's okay if he leaves in an ambulance. He seems pretty sturdy and tough, however. After all, he did brag about raping a whore while a large butcher knife protruded from his body. Pain seems to be nothing to him, almost like he yearns for it. No, he'll have to be shot. But she doesn't have a gun, and something tells her Tai doesn't ever use his.
A head injury, then. That would do it. It wouldn't be hard. Even she could do it. All she needs to do is find something – like, for example, that skateboard Soái ca brought. That's perfect. Even a girl like her could render him unconscious with a good hit. And even if the first one failed, a few more would do the trick.
"Joshua, look out!"
Anna's freaked out, sudden, instinctual warning causes Soái ca to turn around. He registers an incoming hit for his head and throws his arm up to deflect it. He's too late. The wheel of his skateboard hits him in the forehead, just above his right eye, and cracks his skull open. Sharp, blinding pain erupts from the point of impact. He's already blacking out by the time his head collides with the corner of a chair. Darkness engulfs him.