I drive home slowly, mulling over the things Eduardo told me. In the haze of my adolescent addiction to Lisette, I believed that I was special. I thought that there was something about me that could drive a grown woman to seduce a young boy the way she did me. But after hearing Eduardo's story it is hard to see her that way anymore. She is a predator. A sick and depraved woman who takes pleasure in ruining young boys. I begin to wonder how productive it will be for me to see her. What if that dark side of me rears up and does something permanent to her?
I round the block to my mother's house and as I pull up, I notice a shiny Mercedes sitting in the driveway. I park along side of it, observing that it has Florida tags and deducing that my mother must have a visitor.
Inside, I am greeted by a cool blast of air that chills the sweat on my skin. My mother and her guest are not in the house, but I can hear laughter coming from the back porch. I decide to go ahead and introduce myself to avoid being rude.
As I walk move through the kitchen toward the back door, I catch a heady floral scent that reminds me of something or someone. I am trying to figure out what or who when I open the door to find Noor sitting on the old porch swing next to my mother.
Will I ever get used to how beautiful she is? She isn't wearing her traditional Indian dress today, just jeans and a white tank top. A delicate gold and chiffon embroidered sari covers her neck and hair. Her tiny feet sheathed in delicate, strappy sandals.
"What are you doing here?" I ask in breathless amazement.
She smiles and I notice that she seems nervous. Her hand trembles as she places it over my mother's.
"This is a traditional greeting between Joaquin and I," she explains as she stands up in that fluid, graceful way that she has. As she draws closer I can see that she is visibly trembling. Did I do that to her? Is she afraid or happy? When I look in her eyes it is hard to tell.
"Don't you have something more to say to me? I've just flown four hours and driven in circles for two more to find you."
I soften and slip my hand around her waist. She practically falls into my arms. I kiss that place on her neck that is quickly becoming my favorite. She sighs and snakes her arms up and around my neck.
"What are you doing here?" I ask again. I don't remember telling her where I was going or that I was even leaving.
"You left. I was worried. I didn't know where you were. We'd had that fight. I thought that..."
My mother rises to her feet quietly and goes inside to give us some privacy. I guide Noor back over to the porch swing and we sit together.
"How did you find me?"
She shrugs her pretty shoulders. "I went to your apartment. You weren't there but there was mail in your box—so much mail that the mailman couldn't close it all the way. I took it and picked through it until I found this address. I did a Google search and found out that it was your mother's house—“
"Then you got on a plane and came here?"
"I had to see you! I knew that if I called you wouldn't talk to me so I thought this was the only way." She seems distraught. Her bottom lip trembles, her eyes are wet with tears that she seems determined not to let fall. "Are you angry?"
I shake my head. "No, I'm not angry."
She smiles a little and tries to relax. "You don't look happy to see me though."
"It's not that. It's just...strange, is all." My past and present are colliding and the space in between them feels uncomfortable.
She looks into my eyes for a long moment then looks at her hands. "Don't ask me to leave because I don't think I can" she says softly.
It’s as if she is reading my mind.
"Joaquin, why do you always act as if you need to protect me?"
"Because I do."
"Are you talking about protecting me against the other Joaquin?"
"What else would I be talking about?"
"He would never hurt me—”
"How would you know that?"
"Because he has had plenty of opportunity to do so and hasn't."
She sighs heavily and turns toward me. "Remember when I told you I loved you...?"
"Of course." I still felt guilty about that day and how I brushed off her confession.
"Remember you said to me that I'd only seen you a handful of times?”
I nod, feeling a curious apprehension growing in my belly.
"I didn't want to bring it up then...but I've been with you more times than you remember."
"What do you mean you've 'been with me'?"
"It's not like you think. The other Joaquin is just as affectionate with me as you are."
I frown recoiling from her. She reaches for me, but a sudden anger and revulsion sweeps over me when her hand touches my skin.
"Don't do that. I knew you would react this way."
It’s strange. Even though I know it is me she speaks of, it still feels as if she’s betrayed me somehow. "Did we...?"
"No...That’s my point." She bit her bottom lip. She was holding something back.
"What?" I ask impatiently.
"I'm reluctant to say this because I know you'll overreact."
"Just tell me, Noor."
"I know the difference. I know when you are yourself and when you are the Other. I know that when pushed...I can get more out of you when you are not yourself."
I clench my teeth, biting back the bitter taste of anger and mistrust. There is only one question that I want the answer to. "Did we or did we not make love?"
"I told you that we didn't."
I stand and begin to pace. Somehow I don't believe her. If it was nothing, she would have told me before. What other reason would she have for keeping it a secret?
"But we have gotten a lot closer than you realize," she mumbles finally.
I laugh mirthlessly. "You too, huh? You want to take advantage of me, too?"
"It's not like that...Joaquin." She reaches for me hesitantly. "I love you both, I love both sides."
The thought of that disgusts me. Until this moment I have considered Noor perfect, but how can she be if she can love someone who had done those things she read in my journals? It can only mean that something is wrong with her, too.
I push her away. "I don't want to see you."
"For once would you just listen to me, Noor? Go home."
She dissolves into tears, shaking her head no.
"I mean it. I don't want you here." But I don't mean it. I want her to stay. I want to hold her. I want her to hold me. I want the completion that my body cries out for every time I am near her. Instead, I go inside and barricade myself in my room. She has to leave. It’s for her own good. My sickness is ruining her somehow.
: : : :
I creep quietly into the living room where Noor is sleeping. Joaquin is being foolish and scared as usual. And as usual I have to save him from himself. His heart tells him that it is Noor he should be with, but he lets his fear of me taint all of that. I have to find a way to make things right. I’m tired. He’s tired. It’s time for one of us to concede.
"Noor," I whisper to wake her. She opens her eyes as if she hasn't been sleeping at all, as if she were only lying there with her eyes closed. Waiting. Waiting for one of us to come and make things right.
I offer her my hand. "Don't leave."
"I didn't intend to," is her response, as she takes the hand I offer her and follows me to the bedroom.
She understands me. She understands him. She is where we meet. With Noor we can be one. I know it, even if he doesn't. I don't need to protect him anymore. I hold her because I know he wants to. I hold her because I want to. She is strong enough to be our shield against the ghosts of our past.