Over the roar of the motorcycle engine, she heard him shout, “Stop. Get off. Get off right now.”
Her heart jumped into her throat, and her mouth went cotton dry. Was it the police? What kind of trouble could she be in? She slowed down and pulled over next to the center divide like he’d done.
He sprinted toward her. “Get off the bike. Hurry.”
As soon as he came close enough for her to register the terror on his usually calm face, she started shaking. There had to be something wrong with the motorcycle. Was it going to explode?
She worked at the kickstand with a trembling foot, but before she’d managed to prop the bike up, Khải grabbed her by her upper arms and manually lifted her off the seat. The motorcycle crashed to its side, sending her things all over the rocks and scraggly grass.
His hair stood up in wild patches, and his face was a mask of fury. She’d never imagined he could be this angry. Without pausing to take breaths, he said, “Why did you take the bike why did you ride it I never said you could ride it.”
Her shaking worsened to the point where she couldn’t move. “S-sorry. I just went—”
He steered her across the grass toward his car. “Let’s go.”
“But I bought food. It fell all over. And the motorcycle. Someone will take it. I’ll bring it back—”
“Stay. Away. From. It,” he bit out.
Once she got into the car, he yanked the seat belt over her and buckled it, giving it a hard tug to make sure it was tight.
.
.
.
She threw her hands up in the air and followed him. “Why are you doing this? I’m not done.” She still had a lot of gutter left to clean, and she hated leaving a job unfinished. Without thinking, she grabbed his shoulder and said, “Anh Khải, put it back—”
He whipped around instantly and wrapped an arm across his chest so he could rub at the shoulder she’d touched. “You have to stop all of this.”
“I’ll finish later, then, but—”
“No, there won’t be any finishing. You. Have. To. Stop. Do you understand? You. Have. To. Stop.”
Her bottom lip trembled at his slow, exaggerated pronunciation. “You don’t need to speak like that. I understand you.”
He made a frustrated sound. “You don’t. You’ve been reorganizing my stuff in ridiculous ways, cutting down trees with a meat cleaver, touching that motorcycle, touching me. It all has to stop. I can’t live this way.”
When his meaning sank in, Esme’s shoulders drooped. “Ridiculous?” she repeated in English. That didn’t sound good.
He clawed both hands through his hair. “Yes.”
She looked at the half-cleared lawn and wiped her dirty hands on her pants as her heart shrank and her face flamed. Ridiculous. If she were classier, she’d know what that meant. Now that she thought about it, it probably wasn’t very classy for her to do yard work or clean his house or any of this stuff. Esme in Accounting probably hired people to do this work. But the real Esme, the country girl Mỹ who always smelled like fish sauce, just wanted to be useful. She hadn’t thought about how it looked.
Had she been embarrassing him and herself all this time?
“I’ll stop,” she made herself say.
“Really?” he asked, sounding so hopeful it made her pride smart even more.
She nodded. “I promise I’ll stop now.” She would have shaken hands on it, but he’d included touching him in the list of things that had to stop. She wiped her palms on her pants again, but something told her the thing that disgusted him wasn’t something she could wash away.