Desconocido Pt. 03byCatalingus2005©
Mike Simpson was a good husband.
Kazuo was becoming more and more forced to accept that. It wasn't easy.
Simpson didn't cheat on his wife, or ignore her, or leave her to raise the children alone. He could be romantic, passionate, devoted. He truly seemed to love her, and she truly seemed to love him.
It would have been easier for Kazuo to accept if Mike Simpson wasn't guilty of attempting to murder him, if Mariko hadn't been his wife first and the love of his life.
He had watched the family from afar, as the months grew long. He had no heart for food, or for pleasantries. His hair grew long, a patchy beard covered his jaw. He was less and less in danger of being recognized, and so it was that he followed them to movies, to grocery stores, to restaurants. He watched their happiness from afar, guts twisting, freshly stung by every instance where his daughter called this other man "Dad."
He could see more changes in Mariko, now, than he had at first. Her body worked well to hide them, but the strain of four pregnancies revealed itself in the way she stood after a meal, in the way her hips sat, in the lines that lit her face when she smiled. She cared less for clothing and fashion, and no longer talked of a career of any kind. Instead, this once-independent woman seemed content to be a stay-at-home mom. She was less determined to fight battles on her own, more willing to be taken care of.
And she was taken care of.
Mark had finally cut him out of the hunt for evidence. "You're not handling it well," he'd explained, promising to let Kazuo know "as soon as we have anything."
But Kazuo didn't think it probably mattered. What would they do with such evidence? Destroy a family? Break Mariko's heart all over again? Tear this happiness she had away from her, destroying her chance to grow old surrounded by this peacefulness and this family? Kazuo almost thought he'd be better off dying and letting them walk away without ever knowing he'd been here, seen them. Or, possibly, watching from the sidelines, a guardian angel, as his Mariko grew old in ignorant contentedness.
When the time came for deciding, however, he simply wasn't consulted.
He still left the TV on, watching Mike during endless boring days of office work, but he rarely watched it closely. Instead, he would leave it on as he read a book or wrote letters to Mariko and threw them away. So he was shocked, head snapping up, on December 11th when the doors to Simpson's office burst open and police rushed in. Kazuo felt his jaw work silently as a shouting Simpson was cuffed and read his rights. The phone rang, and Kazuo answered wordlessly.
"Are you watching this?" Mark sounded breathless, excited.
"It's a long story, not right for a phone conversation. But we've got him, we've got enough." A pause. "With your testimony, it should be enough."
"Of course, friend. But that's for later. Don't you see? You can come out of hiding, now! It's over!"
"Mariko." Her name was a dryness in his mouth.
A pause. "This is up to you, but...but I would counsel you to be slow about it. She's going to be having a lot of feelings about all of this."
Be slow. As though he hadn't already waited months.
"Does she know yet?" He asked.
"Can..." he swallowed, "can you tell her?"
Another pause. "If that's what you want."
"Yes." No more waiting.
Mariko Abe looked down her body at her husband. Sweat shone on her pert breasts and stomach as her hips moved seductively atop his own. He could feel her cling to him, where they met and became one. Her lips were parted, one long dark hair clinging to her cheek, as she came down off her orgasm. Her eyes were hungry.
Kazuo looked back up at her, breathing heavy, yearning for her even as he took her. He reached up, gripping her wrist and pulling her down. They kissed passionately, before his lips sought her earlobe and he rolled them both over. Lying on the carpet, legs spread around him, she smiled.
"Are you enjoying this, my beautiful man?" she asked, stroking his cheek. In response, his thrusting became more pronounced, less artful and more urgent. She cried out as they came together, hands clinging to his back.
Afterwards, as they struggled up on shaky legs and recovered their clothes, she asked him, "What should we name the baby?"
He froze, staring at her, and she ran to him, laughing.
Nearly thirteen years later, Mariko Simpson looked across the room with tear-stained eyes. A mixture of fear and uncertainty tightened her face like a fist. No soft look of love shone in her eyes, no hunger.
Kazuo wasn't sure what he'd expected. It wasn't this.
Shaven and groomed, he sat in Mark's living room looking back at her, unable to mask the joy at finally being near her. Mark sat beside him, uncomfortable and showing it. He was painfully aware of how far he was from being the man she had lost, so long ago, but he was more achingly aware of how familiar she felt. His love for her was as strong as it ever had been.
Mark had been the one who proposed bringing her here. A full month had passed since the phone call...since Mariko learned the truth of her old husband's fate, and the depth of her new husband's deception. Far from running to see her old love, she had recoiled from it all like an abused child from a drunken father. Mark tried to tell him that it was all too much shock, too much of a reordering of her world, but Kazuo had churned with fear as weeks passed with no word from her. At last, she had asked to see him.
"Hello," he said. It was meant to convey a million words worth of love and affection. It was meant to begin any one of a million speeches he had practiced and imagined delivering. It came out a hoarse whispered grunt. He cleared his throat and repeated it.
She sat for a moment, hands shaking in her lap. He wondered what she was thinking, to look so scared. Then, she blurted out, "I didn't know what he did to you."
He blinked. Did she think he blamed her? "I know," he said. Then, hopeful, "But you do, now. You know what he did to us both."
She didn't respond. Instead, she looked at her hands. "I...I can't believe he..." she looked back up suddenly, defiant, "He is a good father." Kazuo could see the turmoil in her. She loves him, he thought with sagging guilt. Even now, she loves him.
"I believe you," he closed his eyes, not mentioning that he had seen it for himself. "That doesn't change what he did, how he...how he tricked you. What he took away from us." His mind jumped topics suddenly. "Does my daughter know about me?"
For one agonizing moment Mariko looked uncomfortably off into the distance, as though evaluating how to deliver bad news she'd hoped she'd never have to share. "Yes," she said at last. "Kali knows about you. But not as well as you might wish. And...I haven't told her that you're alive."
"Why not?" She flinched from the words, and he regretted immediately the harshness of his voice.
"Mike was there for her birth," she said quietly, eyes meeting his. "He changed her diapers and read her stories and bandaged her scraped knees. He took her on vacation and helped her with her homework and kissed her mother. Telling her that you are alive will mean telling her what...what he did. Telling her what he's capable of." She sighed. "I don't know how to do that."
Kazuo felt rage in his stomach...she was protecting his murderer's good name. Keeping him from his daughter. He felt thick betrayal. "You can't hide her from me forever," he said.
Mariko's eyes widened. She waved her hands in front of her. "Oh, no, of course not. No. I would never..." she put her hand to her face, and suddenly, without warning, she erupted into a powerful sobbing. Kazuo instinctively reached out to her, and was stung as she pulled back in equally-instinctive horror. "Please," she said, nearly leaping up, "Please. I should go." The words came out as a whine, he face still in her hands.
Kazuo stood just as swiftly. This wasn't going how he'd hoped, at all. "No, don't. I..." he followed her as she rushed to the door. "Mariko, I love you," he blurted out, awkwardly, knowing it was foolish and poorly timed.
She stopped, her hand on the doorknob. "Oh, god," was all she said, and then she was gone.
Kazuo felt Mark's hand on his shoulder. "I'd better take her home," he sounded apologetic, embarrassed for them both.
Kazuo sat down, and didn't move for a very long time.
Mariko sat on Mike Simpson's side during the trial, dressed in black and stone-faced. She did not hug him when given the chance, although she did talk to him often. She never looked over at Kazuo. He hated that.
He had thought about pushing for his rights to meet his daughter, to get to know her, but decided that hurrying Mariko in this would ruin his chance to have anything more. He could not do that. And, he had to admit, rushing things with his daughter might ruin that potential, as well.
When he took the stand, Kazuo spoke plainly about what happened, his story matching with the men who were crew on the ship, that night, and spoke of what he had lost as a result of the attempted murder. He was also asked to give a summation of his years since, and found that a short summation was all it took to sum up his life during that time. Empty, nothing, meaningless. Lonely.
Several months after Mariko came to see Kazuo in person, Mike Simpson was found guilty by a jury of his peers and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Kazuo couldn't believe it. With good behavior, the man who had tried to kill him could be free in fifteen years.
Mariko went to Mike when the verdict was read, and Kazuo's misery was completed when she embraced and kissed him on the lips. Even as chaste a kiss as it was, it felt to him like final proof that she had decided to stick with her new man...whatever his past. She did finally look at him, as she hurried out of the court room that day. Standing there, slump-shouldered and self-pitying, he almost wished she hadn't. Better to not see him at all than like that.
He went back to his apartment that night, got drunk, and considered moving back to Mexico. He thought about that cat, the one everybody cared for and nobody loved.
Two days later, the phone rang.
"I have a family, now." She said it without responding to his 'hello,' and it sounded like a challenge.
"I know," he said, confused, too weary to think. "I don't want to cause any more harm."
There was a pause, long enough that he almost thought the signal was broken, and then she said, "Is it true that you never...that you waited for me?"
"Even without remembering me?" She sounded small, and he realized how upsetting it was for her to know that he had done that, while she had not. Still, he was too drained to be anything but honest.
"Mariko," he said, "nothing could ever make me forget you. You were always there, at the back of my mind, denying me the ability to truly start over. I just didn't know the way back."
Another long pause, and a quiet sob. "Oh, God, I am so sorry Kaz. I am so sorry for what I've done." Kaz. He smiled to hear her call him that again.
"It doesn't have to be the end of it," he said stubbornly.
She laughed nervously. "What could there be? What, now, after all this time? I'm not the girl I was before. I'm a mother of four kids whom I love, three of whom I don't think you could ever truly come to accept. Four kids who see Mike Simpson as their father, who love him even now knowing what he once did. Who will want him in their lives when...when he is free once again."
"And what about you?" he asked. "Will you want him in your life?"
Her breath rattled ragged in the phone. "Yes." Kazuo suppressed a sob of his own. "I'm sorry," she continued, "and I know it must feel like I am betraying you, but I have had thirteen years to fall in love with that man. In thirteen years, he never made me feel like I wasn't safe. He never raised his voice to me, and he has spoiled me with his love. I want to hate him so badly. I do. But I know that I will never not love him."
"And this is why you called me? To tell me this?!" He was bitter and hurt now, no longer numbed by weariness. "Thanks. Thanks a lot."
"Wait!" she cried. "That's not why I called."
"I want to meet you. For lunch. I want to get to know you again. As a friend, if you'll have me."
He was quiet for a while. "I am not sure I can be your friend, Mariko, because somebody your friend would have to watch you take your husband back. I am not sure I can ever not want your love, more than anything in this world, and that is too much for me to bear any longer."
"Goddamn it, Kaz," she sounded frustrated, like she wasn't telling him the whole story and didn't want to. "Just meet me, just...let me see you again."
He sighed. "Okay."
Friendship with an ex is a dangerous thing. It has a way of reminding us what it was that first drew us to the person, what made them exciting to begin with. Even with the great passage of time between them, Mariko and Kazuo found a great comfort in each other's attention. Tentative friendship became a closer bond, still chaste, yet hidden from Mariko's husband and children. And, one night more than a year later, Kazuo was able to consummate his feelings for his ex-wife once more. She felt, and moved different. Her body accepted him differently, and it made him aware that she had devoted that body to nurturing another man's genes. It had been a long time for him, though, and he didn't last for very long. He lay there, pretending not to notice Mariko's disappointment, and drifted off to sleep.
The two of them returned to awkward, distant friendship, then to close companionship again. The memory of that awkward sexual encounter (Mariko's 'affair,' Kazuo realized) faded and became less of a barrier between them. And as Mariko's relationship with her husband grew strained by distance and when, five years after the sentencing, they divorced, it gave Kazuo new hope.
In the end, the new old couple decided to keep their relationship a separate entity from Mariko's family. Kazuo's daughter still chose to see only Mike Simpson as her father, refusing any attempts at a relationship, but she had many years left yet to change her mind. The other children, of course, were truly Mike's. There was no place for Kazuo when they were home. Instead, as years passed and the kids grew, he and Mariko shared more and more tender moments where they could steal them. It was no fairy tale ending...it had never held that potential. He was aware that he had lost forever his hope of a family of his own. He was aware that he never quite rebounded as a lover, never matched Mariko's new expectations. In later years, he was aware of the quiet longing she displayed around Mike. At times, he was made painfully nervous by how long she was gone when she brought the kids to Mike's new apartment, or how she would take one or two week-long shopping trips a year and never buy anything...the only expense on her credit card being the room. But even this was not enough to dismay him, for his connection with Mariko was intense and eternal. And indeed, when the final child moved out he moved in, marrying her and reclaiming what was his at the age of 60. There were no more shopping trips, then, and no more days or nights alone. Just thirty long years of peace and happiness.