Jim Burriss couldn’t think of an excuse so he had said yes to Leilin this afternoon. Damn, he needed a separate Rolodex of reasons why he couldn’t, and maybe he ought to revoke her access to his calendar. He had better ways to spend his Thursday evenings than wandering aisle to aisle in Homes R Us, as Leilin picked out curtains, floor mats, toilet seat covers and God knows what else for her parents’ newly purchased home.
Newly purchased as in seven months old, and he only had himself to blame for this. He had doubled up as the seller’s and buyer’s agent when her parents bought their single family home in College Park. Every time he took her parents out for a viewing, she had come along, being the only one of the family of three who spoke English.
She was only 24 (to his 48), a chemistry graduate from University of Maryland, and a fine poster child for Genghis Khan’s genes. Her parents had moved to the US when she signed up for her bachelors. Her father handed him a business card written in Cantonese. Used car business, mostly selling to other Chinese, Leilin had said.
She had a pretty heart-shaped face and waist length hair. Her body had none of the girly subtlety of some of the other Chinese girls he had seen. She was big in all the right places, and favored clothes that you had to peel off her. There was no room in her attire for even a finger to sneak in – they were that tight.
He had felt somewhat guilty double dipping on the commission. It was a very skinny – by his standards – 6% on a $325,000 sale. Her parents paid in cash. He used part of the money to buy her parents an 8 x 10 carpet for their study as a Congratulations new Homeowner! gift, and a friendship ring for Leilin, whose pants he was very eager to get into. Diamond, despite its reputation for hardness, has a way of greasing relationships. He had realized this years ago, and used the fact several times to his advantage.
“It stands for friendship,” he emphasized when he handed her the ring.
It was enough of a gift, barely two months into knowing her, that it swept Leilin off her feet and dreaming of a life with Jim. But she had pointed back to the ring on his finger.
“Is this a friendship ring too?”
“Wedding band,” he told her, with shame faced reluctance. “Long story. We haven’t been sleeping in the same bedroom for years. When the kid leaves for college..” he had let his voice trail off suggestively.
“Honey!” Leilin’s voice pierced through the store.
She was holding up some towels for him to inspect. In her short candy stripe skirt, tight white T, and teddy bear satchel, she had the slutty schoolgirl look nailed today. His wife would definitely not approve of Leilin’s taste in clothing. She would not approve of their clandestine relationship either, but Jim brushed aside that thought.
“You like this, honey?” Leilin showed him a towel with polka dots and a panda pattern.
Honey. He wished she would stop this domestic routine. “Better suited for a kid’s bathroom, don’t you think?”
“Exactly,” said Leilin, flushing. She held his gaze, a half smile dancing on her face.
“What do you mean?”
“Exactly what you think.”
No! This can’t be. She’d said she was on the fucking pill, and he’d made sure to rubber up. Every. Single. Time.
Leilin dropped the towels back on the shelf. She walked around the cart, sidled up to him and linked her hand through his. “You’re happy, right? Maybe it’s time to tell your wife about us.”
Are you out of your fucking mind?
He didn’t say anything, just stared straight ahead, and pushed forward. One foot before the other. Left. Right. Maybe he’d heard her wrong. Keep walking. Don’t stop. Maybe if he refused eye contact and said nothing, this little leech clinging to his side will slough off and dissolve into a puddle on the Homes R Us floor.
No such luck. She was keeping up a patter, hadn’t even realized that he was saying nothing.
He stopped the cart in the middle of the aisle. He handed her the keys to his car. “Drive home when you’re done. I’ll take a cab.”
“Jim! Wait!” He heard her calling after him. Other shoppers in the store stopped to look. There were waiting cabs outside Homes R Us always. If not, he’d just walk a few minutes till he got away from this place. He needed the air, to think.
She started calling his office direct line the next morning. He didn’t pick the first or the fifth. He let it all go to voicemail and then listened to the messages one by one.
Did you get home ok? I still have the car keys. Do you want me to drop them off at the office? No, idiot. That’s what spare keys are for, he thought.
At 11, he put his sport coat back on, and headed off to Green Turtle. Told Sylvia, his office assistant, that his head was hurting and to let calls go to voicemail. When he checked at 1, his office mailbox was already full and refusing to take additional messages.
Thirty messages? Leilin was beginning to sound certifiable. Breezy, cajoling, even loving in the beginning. Then progressing to threats. Ugly.
Have you told your wife?
You think if you play dead, the world will leave you alone. You think wrong.
What’s your fax number? I’ll fax you a copy of the sonogram.
Great, now Sylvia would receive it. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out why a woman would fax an unrelated man a copy of her sonogram. Sylvia was all hook nose and beady eyes now, but in her 30s and 40s, she had been some kind of stunning. One of his earliest conquests, and a pretty loyal one. Over the years, they’d settled into an uneasy Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell truce. Hell, things had been so quiet lately, he’d almost erased all the bad blood between him and Sylvia. He respected her stern efficiency, the drum major like precision with which she set up his listings, screened his calls, and arranged his calendar. He didn’t want Sylvia to not like him any more.
And then there was his wife. Maybe, over the years, she’d guessed about his philandering ways – she was a smart woman, he gave her that – but she’d never asked. She was happy soccer momming their son, volunteering at church bazaars, and throwing twice a year parties for his realtor business associates.
Now they were both approaching 50, and she had never worked outside their home in her entire adult life. He couldn’t just up and leave her. There had been initial kvetching, but they had built something peaceable over the years. In a few years, he’d planned to hand over the business to his son, or sell it to a willing buyer for a tidy sum, and move to Florida. Maybe his wife would fight Leilin, fangs out. He had no idea how a Leilin would affect their marriage.
Marc. His son. They’d never been very close, but they weren’t adversarial like some father-son duos he had seen. He could fall in anyone’s eyes, even his wife’s, but the thought of a fall from Marc’s brought him to a near state of panic.
Leilin, the pregnancy, all this mess – so very inconvenient.
He called Leilin from a payphone.
“Sorry babe, I was out showing a rural property to a client. Patchy network,” he lied. “Meet at National Harbor tomorrow? Great place to shop, eat.”
They drove separately to National Harbor. He made sure of that. He chose a sports bar in one of the charming alleys. There was a big group of women, about ten strong, dressed in identical t-shirts and daisy dukes. One of them – big teeth, big hair, horse like – had a tiara and veil and fuck me pumps. Bachelorette party. If Leilin created a scene here, it wouldn’t register.
The waitress came along for their order. Leilin chatted her up while Jim looked over the menu. The waitress prattled on. He only half listened. Something about boyfriend and waitressing while writing film scripts.
Move to LA, he wanted to tell her. DC only has political hacks and government bloat. No one gets rich making films in DC or you’d hear about it. But he let the two women talk. He really wasn’t feeling it this evening.
He ordered steak for the both of them, champagne for himself and a green tea for her.
“Do I show?” Leilin asked when the waitress cleared their plates. At four weeks along, it was still too early, she reasoned. If she watched her weight and figure like a hawk, maybe she could ward off questions for a few weeks. She really was worried about her parents. They wouldn’t be pleased, this sort of thing was a strict no-no in Chinese culture, did he understand?
He gave a quick glance around. The bachelorette gang was doing shots. It was loud but not too busy. The other waiters were hanging about the periphery of the room. Their waitress was probably in the back.
He took out the envelope and placed it in front of Leilin.
“You need to take care of this..” he began. He looked towards her belly and back up at her.
“Don’t worry, honey. I’m eating well. I’m not starving myself.”
Of all the people to have this unpleasant conversation with, he had to do it with an immigrant with zero understanding of American idiom? Great. He chose his next words carefully. Use lots of I statements, he reminded himself.
“Look, it’s my fault. I haven’t been very clear. I.. uh.. don’t want the baby.”
Leilin blinked at him. “You want me to raise the baby alone? You’re not going to be there as a father? What am I supposed to tell my parents?”
He shrugged and pushed an envelope towards her.
She stopped for a moment, pulled the cash out of the envelope, waved it in his face.
“How much is this? Five thousand? Ten?”
“Three,” he said sheepishly.
“Three thousand to raise a child? Three thousand doesn’t buy you a decent second hand car. Ask my father.”
She looked down at the cash, as if ascertaining they were twenties. “I don’t get it. Is this the first installment?”
He didn’t say anything. He glanced around the sports bar. The bride and her party were laughing over something on one of their phones. The waiters stood at the periphery of the room watching the game.
“This is it? Cheapie. I can’t believe you’re trying to give me this much to have your child.”
“Leilin, calm down.” He held out his hand to her. “I don’t want you to have it.”
He waited for the words to register.
“I don’t want the baby. I don’t want you to have the baby. If you have the bay you’re going to have to do it on your own.”
Leilin’s eyes hardened into comprehension.
“I have a doctor friend who can handle this stuff. Very discreet.”
Leilin reached over and slapped him across the face.
Their waitress walked over to their table. “Is everything ok?”
The change in Leilin’s face was swift. She beamed at the waitress. “Everything is perfect.”
“I just wanted to tell you, sir, they’re still processing your payment. I’ll bring your card back in a minute.”
”Take your time!” Leilin said, with a little wave to the waitress, who had suddenly noticed the wad of bills in the table.
“Take this! Tip!” Leilin pushed the wad of bills to the stunned waitress. “My boyfriend is in a generous mood today.”
She thrust her arm out across the table. “We just got engaged. You like the ring?”
The girl looked from one to the other. “Congratulations!” She ventured.
Jim gave her a half smile and opened up his palms upwards, as if to say it wasn’t his idea.
Leilin kissed his cheek once more and turned to the waitress. “Take the tip, miss. All yours.”
“Are you sure? This looks like a lot. I can’t.”
“Of course, you can. Sign up for that acting class you were telling us about. Take your boyfriend on the Corsica vacation. You have the dream. Now you have the money. Like my favorite US president always says, yes you can. Repeat after me. Yes, I can.”
The waitress giggled. “Yes, I can.”
“One more time. ”
“Yes, I can!”
The waitress hurriedly gathered up the notes, as if she was worried that Leilin would change her mind. “Congratulations once again. You guys are extremely generous! Thank you! Thank you so much! At least let me bring you some dessert on the house.”
“Send it over to those girls there. Compliments of Jim!”
The waitress all but skipped to the back. Jim heard the cries from the kitchen. His generosity was now common knowledge.
“You. Come with me.” Leilin looked stern, but really got to him was the uncomfortable poke he felt around his groin area under the table.
He called his wife from the parking lot. Turns out a pistol to your head wins over vows, principles, and plain old wanting to maintain the status quo every single time. They went through a quickie divorce at his behest.
Leilin’s parents paid for the dress, the rehearsal, the flowers, everything really. In cash. As the parents of an only child, it was their duty to take care of her needs. The wedding photographer was careful to take pictures of Leilin only from the waist up. Marc was invited to the wedding but refused to show up. His ex-wife and Sylvia were not, but their gifts were shipped to him and Leilin’s new home.
Jacob was born, barely six months after the wedding, with a head full of light brown hair, almond eyes, and a loud, piercing cry. Fine Genghis Khan Genes, thought Jim. His new inlaws gifted the baby a garland made of dollars. Chinese custom, giggled Leilin.
Really, who makes so much money selling used cars? Jim wanted to ask but didn’t. He was too scared he’d unwittingly married into the local chapter of the Yamaguchi.