The sudden silence inside the car was a bit discomforting. I felt the need to break the ice; "What was that all about? At the hotel?" I asked my drop-dead hot "learning partner".
He chuckled and I thought it made him look so charmingly boyish. I prodded; "I was told you stayed there for 3 months? So I guess you must know everyone, oh, and Maidon said that you're a flirt!".
Attila laughed. And he went on to say that the staff, not just ladies, in the hotel have become his friends; he swore by the outstanding customer service the hotel provided had it not been for the unreasonable cost of hotel living for a year, he would have stayed. He added that Maidon, being the nosy old man that he is, likes to flatter himself talking about other people. I raised a quizzical eyebrow; he ignored it. He continued telling me about his experience in Kuala Lumpur, how much he had to adjust; the nuances of the culture; he spoke about his new place, nestled in the middle of K.L.'s millionaire's row, with a pool; then he started talking about the Company, the new I.T. infrastructure, the Plant production issues, the product we needed to work on. I sat quietly, nodding. I found him fascinating, I was actually quite impressed. It was refreshing to watch a very good looking "dude" talk business smartly. He glanced at me and said; "Sofia, you don't really want to talk shop tonight. I know I don't want to. I just get carried away sometimes. I really want to know more about this captivating and beautiful lady who is having dinner with me tonight." I flashed him my killer smile.
My head was telling me he was just putting on his charm skills on maximum. My stomach and my heart was telling me to fall for it.
The restaurant was a cozy and very private fine-dining establishment that served international cuisine. The maitre'd called him by his first name. (Hmmm, I may not be the first girl he has tried to impress with this place, I thought). He was doting on me and served me each course; this was despite two waiters hovering around us all the time; even tossed my salad. He made it a point to ask me first how I liked the soup, the salad, before he ate anything. When he sliced a bite size portion of his steak, he offered it to me, "Try this Sofia. It melts in your mouth" I tried to get the fork from him but he held onto it, awkwardly I took the bite from his fork. I returned the favor, I took a bite size from my sea bass and offered this to him with my fork. However, the minute he took the bite, I left the fork on his mouth. We both laughed again and loudly.
Our conversation went on animatedly, we love to laugh and tell stories. I found out he is Turkish by descent, but was bred and educated in London. He practically knew more about me (I did not pry how he knew, but my guess is someone may have given him advance information). We talked politics, economics, religion; we swapped colored jokes and shared our family's quirks; we shared turn-ons and offs and pet peeves; our travels and countries we've seen. I had no concept of time at all. He teased me that I was a misbehaving, naughty, non-practicing Catholic and I ribbed him about being a smoking, drinking and cheating on Ramadan Muslim. I never had such a good time with a man, I hardly know, just met actually, he made me feel so comfortable, so relaxed; so much like home.
It was almost two in the morning when I got back to the hotel. Attila walked me to the lift, and we kissed on both cheeks, as customary. He paused for just a wee bit then landed a peck on my lips. I just smiled. When the elevator's door opened, he said, "7:30, I will join you for breakfast." I said, "thank you for the lovely evening uhmm, morning", then the elevators door shut.
I reached my room feeling heady. I lied to myself saying it's jet lag. For the first time in many lunar cycles that have passed, I slept with a smile.
I was up before 5:00A.M. My biological clock was going haywire. I couldn't believe I barely had enough sleep but I was already awake. It was good to get an early head start. I lingered choosing what to wear. I cursed that I had brought mainly comfortable clothes. I caught myself with this thought, this is a business trip, what the hell am I thinking ... and suited up my usual corporate look.
By 7:15 AM, I was at the Hotel's Coffee Shop. I got some coffee and read the newspaper. By 7:45A.M., No Attila. I stood up to get some fruits, cereals and milk and ate. It was almost 8AM when I saw Fatima walking towards me.
"Miss Sofia, your car is waiting." I stood up. I wanted to ask her if she had seen Attila, but I shoved the idea aside and went to the car. It was the Company Service car. The driver introduced himself as working for Maidon. (Where is he?)
As soon as I arrived in the Office, the series of meetings begun. Maidon briefly mentioned that Attila was caught up in another meeting so he had decided to have the Company Driver pick me up from the Hotel. I casually said "thank you."
It was 4:30 in the afternoon when I managed to settle in my "new cubby work station". I opened the PC to check my In-box when from behind me, I heard voices of people talking, approaching my work area. (Is that him?)
Then Maidon's head pops into view, "There you are. Princess Sofia!", I smirked, then smiled. "It is my pleasure to introduce to you finally, your learning partner, Mr. Attila Kaplan. Attila's family is our JV (as in joint venture) partner and they own 51% of our Company in Turkey. He was sent here for a year to observe and learn the ropes, so to speak, as pretty soon, he will run the business, right, my boy?" He tapped Attila's shoulder.
Attila was looking at me like it's the first time we met. "It's a pleasure to meet you Miss Delgado. Maidon and Doug speaks very highly of you."
My brain was going on overdrive and my heart was racing, but I did manage to shake his hand and smile. I muttered, "Pleasure to meet you." (part-owner? Doug? He knows Doug? Why isn't this computing? What the fuck is going on?)
I was getting a bit woozy, then I could hear Maidon saying "... call it an early day ... have dinner ..." I vaguely heard what else was being said. I wanted to stand from my seat and all I managed was swivel it to face them.
Just as abruptly, I heard; "So we're settled. Sofia, please join me, Attila and the rest of the marketing team for dinner tonight, if you're not too tired. We will be knocking off early as we know you are probably still jet-lagged."
I looked at him, then Attila. I couldn't read the bastard at all. I just nodded weakly and said; "Let me just check my mails, I can't go anywhere, anyway. I won't pull a 'French' escape." My lame attempt at wit.
I could hear sirens in my head. I concluded. This guy's a fucking player. Hell, if he can ever put one over me again. (Okay then, let's play.) I decided to look at Attila straight in the eye and said, "Are you joining us for dinner Mr. Kaplan, I don't want my presence here to be an imposition on anyone. Particularly if they have already made earlier plans."
He looked back at me with those steady hazel eyes, but I couldn't read through it; "I wouldn't miss the chance Miss Delgado."
Then I curtly replied, "Hush, call me Sofia. Just Sofia", I turned to face my PC, and said, "I will see you in a few minutes gentlemen".
The dinner was painful. And boring. I sat between the Managing Director, Graeme, and Maidon. I learned there were certain exotic dishes that even my adventurous self couldn't handle.
The days went by. Work took precedence. Attila and I spoke mainly during meetings. He never called me. Not that I was expecting him to. Actually, yes I was. We never talked one-on-one. Maidon, my other doting host, offered to bring me around for some ocular visits of flats for rent and on my 3rd day, we managed to squeeze this agenda.
I was flying back to New York on Sunday. I spoke to Doug and learned that my development program has been pushed back a bit as the Annual Budget Review schedules has been finalized. I need to be in HQ. I overheard Attila was flying to London and Turkey and would probably be gone for 10 days. I did not want to care, but I really wanted to talk to him and ask when. I was proud of myself I could play his game as best as he did. Maybe even better. I met a few more new friends. Sometimes I can see him watch me when I am exchanging banters with the guys in Marketing and Sales. But he kept distant. I was very close to hating him. I don't really understand why, but I did.
When Friday came, the guys set up a small drinking party for me. I kept telling them I will be back anyway so I don't need a send-off, but they insisted it was a welcome party. We went to several night spots in KL, we bar-hopped, then finally decided on one of the newer bars in town. Attila wasn't with us for dinner, but a little after 11:00 P.M., I saw him in the bar. Maidon and a couple of the other executives have gone home after dinner, leaving the soldiers out to get wild. I was already a bit giddy. But so was everybody else in the party. The Chinese Malay ladies can be as wild as the New Yorkers and I was pleasantly surprised. I noticed he wasn't drinking but I chose to enjoy this night with or without him. I went to the powder room to freshen up, when I came out, Attila was waiting near the door. I was going to walk straight past him when he touched my arm. I stopped. I looked at him, then his hand. He dropped his hand and said, "Sofia, can I talk to you please?" I cackled sarcastically, "Oh we can talk over there." I pointed to our private area in the bar where the rest of the guys were.
Then he said, "I am really sorry Sofia, but please let me talk to you."
I looked at him sharply and said, "Shop talk? Mr. Kaplan, email me. Trust that I will reply." Then I walked away. I heard him say something like, ..."take you to your hotel?" But I didn't look back.
Somehow, he must have manipulated it. When the car pooling was set, I ended up with him. On his car. Alone. I wanted to take a cab but this would insult everyone in the party and I did not want to make a scene. After all, he is my designated guardian. So I had to ride with him.
We were not saying anything. I was looking outside. Then I heard the sirens again in my head. "Hey, wait a minute. I think we just passed the street that goes to Petaling Jaya. Just where do you think you're taking me?"
His eyes looked so dark it scared me. But when he spoke, his voice was even, calm. "We are going to my place. I have to get something in the house. Don't worry, this won't take long."
I pushed my luck, "Your place? Did you tell your girlfriend you have a woman with you that you need to chauffeur for?"
He answered calmly again, I was getting very pissed off. "I live alone Sofia. You will not find any girlfriend or woman in my place. I do not have a girlfriend."
I was unstoppable. "I wasn't asking if you had one. I just don't want to burden people because I happen to be unfamiliar moving around this country. I really should have just hailed a cab, that was way easier for everyone."
"Stop it Sofia, please." His voice wavered. I had to look at his face, it was almost like he was in pain.
It was beautiful. He had a balcony overlooking the pool and the trees were lighted with halogen pin lights that hung like little fireflies. He definitely has a housekeeper for his flat was squeaky clean and spotless. Minimal furnishings but well chosen. Earth colors. beige, browns, sienna and black. Very nice. He noticed I was scanning the environment, he asked if I wanted to anything to drink. I told him water will be fine. He moved fast, he walked to the kitchen which was at the right wing partially hidden by a marble divider, got a glass and walked to the ref. He looked back and asked, "ice?" No ice. I found it weird he had to serve me, I don't like this anymore than he did; so I walked up to him and said, "Come on, why don't you just get what you need, I'll get my own water so we can get moving". I took the glass from his hand but he pulled me closer to him with his arm we were standing too close our bodies were practically touching. He was looking at me and I looked away, took his arm off from my waist; and opened the ref.
I almost dropped the glass when I saw what was inside.
There was a huge pack of pistachio nuts; fresh strawberries with whipped cream topping on a bowl; an unopened bottle of Bailey's Cream Liqueur; different kinds of nutty chocolates, and boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts; an unopened carton of Kent Light cigarettes; different types of cheese; a whole Strawberry Short Cake; 2 huge bags of sea salt baked potato chips; several packs of Irish Cream Ground Coffee; a French vintage Cabernet Sauvignon ... my mouth dropped open and I realized he was staring at me and standing right beside me.
"Is this some kind of a joke?" I asked.
He was smiling but his eyes looked sad; then he said, "Do you find it impossible to believe that someone will remember all your favorite comfort things?"
I couldn't say anything. My mind went on fast rewind. I mentioned these things during the dinner we had as part of our animated exchange but I don't remember having mentioned this in sequence. But he remembered them all. I was too shocked to move or say anything.
He took the glass from my hand, filled it with water and gave it to me. I gulped the water down. I still couldn't move. He took the glass off my hands and cupped both my hands with his.
I looked at him finally. I wanted to say something that will sound smart or will hurt him. Then he said, "I am so sorry Sofia for missing the breakfast and having to pretend with Maidon that we have not met."
I was tearing up and vaguely audible, "I don't understand your games."
He continued. "Please don't cry. You are making this more painful than it already is. I didn't tell you about the business ownership because it is not important. Not to me. It is more a source of pressure and stress. I will be 30 this year and I have to look after so many things when I really prefer to have a life. I was too excited to be with you that night. I wanted to know more of you. The people here, they know I am a bachelor. They have paired me up with so many women they believe I should go out with, even marry. It's a nightmare for anyone I actually really like. People love to talk about other people's lives. I came here not to draw so much attention to myself. I do not like it when I am referred to as a flirt. I am friendly. Maybe too friendly for local standards. However, I am quite choosy and some snootiness has rubbed on to me. I chose this place both for security and privacy. No one has seen this and no one besides my family will be invited either. I have never allowed anyone to know where I live outside of Graeme and Maidon. They have never even been here. There are things I like to keep to myself. I am very selfish. And private."
I think it was clear but my thoughts were too clouded. I rasped; "Why are you telling me this? What do you mean?"
"I want you to forgive me Sofia. (gosh why does he make me weak when he says my name?) Forgive my stupidity. Forgive me for being a bastard, an asshole, whatever name you want to call me now. I really should have called you. I wanted to. But there were problems in the Plant, so much was going on, I was on overseas calls since 5:00 A.M. that day. I knew you would be disappointed to say the least; but I am a very proud and stubborn man. I did not want you to have to take that against me. I thought you must understand and I did not want to be bothered by thoughts about you. So I tried to tell myself I don't care if you got disappointed. But I can't. Strange as it seems, but I care a lot about how you feel. When I saw you that afternoon, I knew I already hurt you and its been eating me up since. I thought if I brought you here and showed you those things in the ref, it would make you smile and learn to forgive me." He stopped.
He moved his right had to my chin, his left hand still held both of mine, and lifted my head to look at him.
He gently flicked the tears from my face and kissed my forehead. "I am so sorry for your tears Sofia. I don't deserve them. I am not supposed to feel this way about you. But I do. I have tried my best to keep distant. Do you understand how complicated this will be? Do you see why I would rather protect you, even from Maidon's intrusion? I don't want people to talk about you. I don't want them to say things they don't know. I would not know how to handle it. Do you think I did not ask myself to stop being foolish just so I can keep you from those prying eyes and the possible nasty gossip? Do you have any idea how this would hurt me? Do you have any idea at all that it pains me more to see you angry and hurt, than all of these things?"
I freed both my hands from his clasp and touched both sides of his face. Then I run my fingers through his lips and said. "For a Turk, you talk too much." I tiptoed and kissed him.
(TO BE CONCLUDED)