Kites III


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Scene Title Kites III
Synopsis Yi-Min and Nicole have a conversation years in coming.
Date March 4, 2021

In the early hours of a morning which promises the serenity of a calm, cloudy March day, Nicole finds herself on the receiving end of a short text message— one whose sender is revealed from the preview on her phone to be Yi-Min. That isn't terribly unusual.

we need to talk.

That, though, is quite an anomaly. Not once in the recent years of their relationship has Yi-Min ever we need to talk'd Nicole. In point of fact, in terms of every single one of their physical encounters over the past several months straight, Yi-Min has been rather clear in her preference for less talk while they attend to their business together.

But there it is.

And soon after, riding right on the tail of the first message:

your place after work tonight?

This is the… worst timing, isn’t it? Although no timing right now was going to be right. Still, Nicole pauses in getting ready for work, holding her phone in her hand like she’s afraid it’s a viper about to bite her, but she’s too frightened of the consequences of the motion to throw it across the room.

Zachery’s side of the bed is still unslept in. Nicole sighs quietly.

Tonight’s fine, but I’m working late. 7pm?

As ever, she types in full, complete sentences with punctuation. It doesn’t matter if it’s her best friend or a wealthy donor. If the habit is established, she’s less likely to break into a ‘lol k’ with the exact wrong person.


The woman’s head lifts to the sound of a young voice in the hallway.

My place is no good. Vanguard? Yours? Or I can rent somewhere.

The reply from Yi-Min takes far longer to arrive than the ones previous. Either she had busied herself with something else in the meantime, or this is actually a difficult question for her to come up with an answer to.

no. not my place. let us go out somewhere to meet, then. but… someplace quiet.

There's no further elaboration on why Yi-Min would want somewhere quiet, but at least there is no shortage of places to choose from in New York— places that are fondly familiar for the both of them, in their deeply intertwined past.

Nicole’s hip deep in work by the time Yi-Min’s message hits her phone. She has to quell the urge to respond to it immediately, regardless of the fact that she’s in the middle of a meeting. She evicts her heart from the residence it’s tried to take up in her throat, relegating it back to her chest where it belongs.

The message keeps, her reply coming in nearly three-quarters of an hour later.

I’ve made reservations at the Orchid Lounge. I’ll see you tonight.

She had to erase the xo three separate times before she hit send.

you have already made…..?

Those words linger on the lower half of Yi-Min's screen for several long minutes without her pressing enter on them.

The timed backlight on her phone goes out due to just how long she stays motionless, leaving her staring in deadened disapproval at her darkened screen before moving a single fingertip to reawaken her phone.

Nicole had already made reservations? It figures.

Well, then it was neither Yi-Min's wallet nor her emotions on the line here, after all.

She deletes all of her previous input before actually sending out:

very well. see you tonight, then.

Very well the reply said. Normally, Nicole would be elated, filled with excitement to know she’ll be seeing Yi-Min later. Even just to spend time chatting over a couple glasses of wine. This time, however, she finds herself wanting time to move slower, while also faster. She fears what the content of tonight’s conversation will be, but also wants to rip off the bandaid.

Orchid Lounge
6:48 PM

As she sits in her booth at the Orchid, none of this trepidation plays out on her face. It’s that unbothered calculative countenance she’s come to be known for. Only for those more intimately familiar, like the woman she’s meant to see, does it show in the tightness around the corners of her mouth. At her eyes.

Nicole holds a stemless wine glass in her palm, letting it rest against her collarbone. Her gaze unfocuses, her mind wanders.

Yi-Min gives the woman who had first greeted her an easier and more knowing smile. "I am Dr. Yeh, but you can call me Yi-Min. I am Kara's partner. And you are Zachery's." None of this is a question. "Welcome to the neighborhood, such as it is. I brought a housewarming gift, if you would like it."

Nicole can't read the characters on the label of the dark bottle Yi-Min holds, but its contents are patently some type of alcohol. She tips it up so it catches a flash of sunlight, somewhat suggestively.

“I’m Nicole.” There’s a flash of uncertainty in her expression when her connection to Zachery is mentioned, but it’s gone in an instant, replaced by something more welcoming. “It’s wonderful to meet you. I would love a housewarming gift.” There’s a little smile shared between them. It’s like they have an understanding already.

If Yi-Min notices Nicole's passing cloud of uncertainty at the mention of Zachery's name, and not to worry she most certainly does, she makes no mention of it. Yet.

"Sinkiang Black Beer." The plane of the bottle is inclined so that the letters become more easily visible. "A little hard to get around these parts, though that describes far too many things." That’s something that Nicole will likely already be in a position to appreciate, her limited time here notwithstanding.

Yi-Min meets Nicole's eye again, just a touch of conspiratorial discernment inside the sharing of their smile. “But yes. It is good to meet you.”

“Would you like to come in?” Nicole offers. “I haven’t finished getting it cleaned up just yet, but I won’t make a fuss if you don’t.”

The different narratives of her life spent and not with Yi-Min Yeh are at war in her mind. A tear runs warm down Nicole’s face and she only realizes it when she feels it attempting to drip from the point of her chin. One hand comes up to carefully pat at the moisture, rather than wipe it away and smudge her make-up.

How in the hell is she meant to reconcile this? Her lover, her friend…

God. Will she be either after whatever transpires here tonight?

When the last of these images dissipates from the eye of Nicole's mind, Yi-Min is standing right there.

The real Yi-Min. The one that Nicole knows personally, that is, looking equally serene in her baby-blue felt coat and jauntily-perched cloche hat. Unlike Nicole, her mood doesn't feel too much like a purposeful front, even if there still is— a strangely bland heaviness that seems to hang at the heart of her tranquility, a peculiarity apparent to the one who knows her best.

Better, perhaps, than even the one who is to marry her.

"You have something on your face," Yi-Min points out about the remnants of that tear as she seats herself across the booth from Nicole without asking, though not unkindly— it's in the style of a jibe that is really meant to communicate some concern.

For that moment, it's just like old times. As though she really had only come here to share their usual intimate gossip over a few glasses of wine.

Every time Nicole sees Yi-Min, it feels like the first time in some way. The sight of her, her radiant beauty, takes Nicole’s breath away. She glances away self-consciousness, setting her drink aside so she can pat at her face again. “Thank you,” she murmurs. Once she’s sure she has it, she looks across the booth again with a genuine smile, bitter and sweet. “You look lovely.

Yi-Min purposely does not respond to that, even though her gaze pauses motionless on Nicole's face as it's being said to her. She is aware she looks lovely— after all, she always takes careful pains to make it so.

She is also aware of how she intends this conversation to go.

"I would have told you not to make a reservation," Yi-Min observes instead with a small, disapproving shake of her head, doffing her cloche hat and resting it atop her lap. In turn, she lets her lightly curling hands come to rest just on top of that.

But of course, Nicole had forged ahead without first thinking to confirm. "…If only you always took such initiative." The bitterness creeps out of her unbidden, wrapped up into the folds of what is otherwise a simple rebuke.

“You could have told me to cancel it,” Nicole counters, feeling her stomach twist. Her shoulders sag under the weight of Yi-Min’s disappointment. A deep breath is drawn in to steady her nerves. “I guess I figured this place is going to be ruined for me after tonight anyway.” Now there’s only sadness when she smiles.

Dark brows knit, blue eyes are stormy. “We can handle this like you aren’t the only one of us who has poise and composure in this situation, can’t we?” There’s no accusation, no implication that Yi-Min doesn’t feel emotion the way Nicole does. Expressing it differently, choosing different times to express it, does not make them different breeds.

Nicole’s smile gets tight around the edges, she gestures toward her partner for the evening. “The first volley is yours, my heart.”

It takes a second longer for Yi-Min to soberly draw her own gaze away, and this is so she can lift it up towards their waiter as he approaches their booth to take her order for drinks.

On her part, that comes swiftly in the form of one of her oldest favorites from here: a glass of Argentinian Tempranillo. The Orchid Lounge has always carried the red, earthy wine in superb quality.

Yi-Min was determined not to let tonight sully this place for her, come what may.

Only once the waiter departs again does Yi-Min return her brooding stare to the other woman, revealing little of what she is thinking— save for a certain trace of continued pique. "'Volley?' Darling. Please. Let us not be melodramatic. I am not here to attack you, nor to 'ruin' anything for you. However, I do think it is high time we talk about us."

As always, Yi-Min’s taste is impeccable. Nicole smiles politely, pretending for all the world that she isn’t about to unravel. When they’re left just the two of them again, she takes a sip of the merlot she’s had waiting. “Yes. I rather suspected it might be.”

There’s no ice in her expression, but it certainly is lacking in any warmth now. Nicole’s intent had been to allow Yi-Min to speak first. To sit there and take it while she was rightfully cut down. But something — maybe a cousin to decency? — compels her to speak first. “I've been a terrible partner to you. I know we had bright spots over the years, and I hope I expressed my love well enough in other ways… But I fell short in the way that mattered most.”

Nicole takes a breath to steady herself and continues. “I've never once been ashamed to be with you. I was never once ashamed of us. I was only ever ashamed of myself, and I let that rule me with fear, rather than…” Giving her head a shake, she sighs with her resignation. “I let my ambition ruin me. I was too afraid for my career and my reputation. Too concerned about what old white men could think, and how it might shut even more doors to me.”

Glassy eyes give way to the sighting of another tear. “I wanted to shout from the rooftops that I loved you. I should have. And after the att— the accident, I know that I ruined it all. I'm a coward, and I let that pervert my priorities and convince me to change my desires, to ignore and distort what was important to me. And I know nothing can change that.”

She hadn't prepared a word of that, but if there's anything Yi-Min Yeh has always inspired Nicole to do, it's speak from her heart.

"You certainly did fall short in the single, most important way possible, and I am glad you know this." Equally unbidden, that castigation drips from Yi-Min's tongue with all the gentleness of acid. Additionally, there is a tension to the way the florist strokes the hat in her lap with a slow, solitary fingertip that might well have evoked soft sorrow if the look in her eyes weren't so clearly one of contempt.

Still, she listens impassively to everything Nicole has to offer before choosing any single aspect of it to dissect further.

At long last, Yi-Min eases her narrow shoulders just a bit further into the back of her seat, appearing to be in little hurry to collect her contemplations.

"Then… given all of this, you also likely already know the exact words that I have come here to say. We are done, Nicole. All of the self-reflections in the world mean nothing, nothing, if you do not act upon them. And, I have found myself hidden away in your weak-hearted shadow for far too long."

In her heart, Nicole knew that laying out her understanding of the situation, of her mistakes, would do nothing to ease the pain due to her. It means when that knife slips between her ribs and twists, it’s nothing short of agony. It’s one she can’t keep a poker face for, not from Yi-Min. The twitch of her brow is a flinch for the parting of flesh and the first warm spill of blood. The closed eyes and the hard swallow keep the scream from escaping her throat when her soft tissue is mangled.

“I know, Yi-Min. I… I know. If I thought you wanted me to beg you for another chance, I would, because you’re worth that. But I used up all my chances with you. I know this.” There’s another quick brushing away of tears from her face. “I could promise to divorce him and marry you as soon as the time for scandal passed, but I know that I’m far too late for that…”

And yet, she’d probably still try all of those things if Yi-Min told her it would win her back. Nicole lets out a ragged sigh and pushes her fingers through her hair. “I still think there’s a couple of your things at mine. I’ll drop them off for you at the shop.”

God, is that all she has to say for herself? Looking down into the depths of her merlot as though she may be a seer who really does find in vino veritas, she discovers that it is.

At one point in time, that is exactly what Yi-Min would have wanted. For Nicole to toss away her milksop of a trophy husband, any scandals notwithstanding, and take up her rightful place.

At Yi-Min's side.

But, times have also changed in the sixteen years that the two women have known each other. "I would once have considered it," Yi-Min grants truthfully, if airily. "I have always deeply admired you for your ambition, you know. Your— political intrigue. You have always been one of the cleverest, most driven women I have known, and for the longest time, this made you the only one I ever could have wanted."

All this Yi-Min imparts in a stale past tense, because of course it is too late, and categorically has been for years. There are several reasons for that, but the strongest of them is quite simple:

"Anyhow, I am glad we could come so… quickly to an agreement. If you could, drop my things off at my place, please: Kara should be there if I am not."

Nicole’s bottom lip rolls under slightly, just enough to be caught by her teeth and held onto gently while Yi-Min sings her praises in a voice that sounds like shards of once-beautiful stained glass cutting through Nicole’s skin. Of course she was all those things Yi-Min admired. She would never in her life consider suffering a fool.

The lip finds itself released and makes to run, dragging the corner upward, only to find it only wants to go so far. Ruefulness holds the half-grin still.

Slowly, Nicole lifts her attention up from the glass in front of her, a veritable storm of electric light dancing in the dark blue sky of her eyes. “You really want me to bring your things to your home? The one you share with that better heart than mine?”

There’s a genuine curiosity to the narrowing of her gaze. “Either she already knows,” and Nicole firmly believes there’s no way that Kara has any idea of the extent of the affair the two women at this table carried on, “or you truly trust my integrity not to tell her in a fit of jealousy.” Lifting her glass for a drink, the taste of the wine seems to be mulled over just as much as the question laid out on the table.

Swallowing and tipping her head to one side in tandem with a short lift of that shoulder, she decides what the answer has to be. “I’ve decided to take it as one of your most gracious compliments. Thank you.” In the end, neither of them is going home to someone who’ll understand what this parting truly means, or how to console them through it as they each pretend it never happened.

The way Nicole has carried on for years pretending it was never happening.

"Yes," Yi-Min answers promptly, the immediacy paired with her lack of concern implying that she had given the matter thought, but discovered nothing there to worry about.

"I have known you for years, my darling, so I know this well about you. As much of a coward as you are, you would never hurt me directly. And even if you subvert my expectations, and tattle on me to Kara in some perverse fit of pique, would she really believe you over me?" Yi-Min shrugs one thin, imperious shoulder just as the waiter returns with her single glass of wine.

As if right on cue, Yi-Min plucks the glass out of the waiter's extended hand and takes a self-satisfied sip, her amusement registering sharp and cool as diamond shards.

"So, take my words for whatever you will. Certainly, thank me for the truth, if this is what pleases you.” Either way, the matter is now completely beneath her.

Nicole’s expression stays passive, but a fire burns in the pit of her chest, her failures used as fuel for the growing pyre of her rage. Her fingers curl tighter around her glass imperceptibly. She has tried to be nice, hasn’t she? Except for the barb regarding Kara — one which cut both ways — has she not given every concession to Yi-Min?

There’s carelessness and disregard, and then there’s this poison and malice.

Nicole’s wrist begins to turn when Yi-Min’s own glass is brought over and so deftly received. In any other moment, she’d be impressed — delighted, even — by the demonstration of just how smooth Ms Yeh is. Tonight, it’s utterly infuriating. How dare she look so composed while Nicole crumbles?

Nearly two decades of tears, laughter, disagreements, amity, injury, and healing. Almost twenty years of love, and this is all that remains. Well, what else can one expect in the end from something that burns so bright but a pile of ashes?

The jilted lover reaches into her purse and pulls out a red envelope, laying it down in front of Yi-Min. In the end, more anger, more sniping won’t create any kind of positive outcome. And there’s another Nicole who knows this is how it needs to be. That Yi-Min Yeh and Kara Prince belong together. “I’m given to understand that it’s rude not to accept hóngbāo, so please accept this one.” $8,888 in crisp bills. She read eights are meant to bring luck, along with the newness of the paper.

Taking a breath, she continues. “I’m not expecting to buy your forgiveness. What I’m trying to do” Nicole stops herself, frowns faintly, and starts again. “What I mean” Another false start sees her scowling into her drink a few seconds before she’s placid again, lifting her head and taking a final run at it. “What I liked most when we were together was seeing you happy. You smiled at me, and it was all over for me then. I knew I would love you and want to keep seeing that smile.” Before she can be corrected or rebuked, she does that on her own. “But, ah… We both know I was better at killing that smile than inspiring it. And that’s not what this is about either. I’m not expecting it to make you smile. That’s not who you are.”

Surprisingly, Nicole finds it hurts less when she says her next piece: “Kara makes you smile. And more than I want you to be with me, I want you to smile. I want you to be happy. You’re happy with Kara.” Her own smile is a bittersweet, pained thing. “So, take the money. It’s for the two of you. When you’re finally ready for that wedding. Spend it on that. Spend it all on her. Whatever you do, don’t give it back to me. Do something good with it.”

The new head of the Linderman Group peels off another pair of bills and leaves them to rest near the edge of the table. “Have dinner, drinks, whatever you like. I won’t take up any more of your time.” It still takes a moment before she starts to move from her seat.

Yi-Min has been intimate with Nicole long enough to read her mannerisms like the pages of a book— as well as most of the emotions and secret words contained therein.

She lingers on another sip of Tempranillo, her enjoyment of her drink unperturbed, if kept carefully pointed into her glass.

Whatever Nicole is feeling now as a sudden jolt for the very first time, Yi-Min had lived with like a sour-tasting undercurrent for years. As such, there is absolutely no pity to be wrung out of her now. There is only a certain grim satisfaction, as she appears to scrutinize an invisible spot under her fingernail from on high.

"No. I do not want your money, Nicole: I will not leave myself in your debt. There has only been one thing I have ever wanted from you, one single thing I asked for over the years, and you were not capable of giving it. Return now to the one who makes you smile. It does not behoove you to play the part of a self-righteous, wounded dog.”

“There’s no debt, Yi-Min,” Nicole says quietly, her voice thin. “And I know I can’t settle my own, because you’re right, you only wanted one thing, and I didn’t give you what you deserve. I can’t do that now, but I can… I can—” The breath leaves her lungs like wind falling from the sails of a ship. “I’m hurting, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t self-inflicted. You owe me nothing. You’ve never owed me anything. I just…”

There’s no point prolonging this. Nicole will play a willing target to Yi-Min’s sniping until the bar closes if she stays. She comes to her feet. “Donate the money to charity if you really don’t want it. It’s yours now.” It will never be enough. Closing her eyes briefly, she doesn’t bother to hide the tears. “I’m sorry for everything. For neglecting you. For not standing on a mountaintop and telling everyone how much I love you. For marrying a man, when I wanted you.”

Those are all unfair things to say. Nothing Yi-Min wants to hear, but they tumble from Nicole’s mouth anyway. And she doesn’t want to wait for the rebuttal. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Good luck, Yi-Min.” Nicole can barely see the woman she loves through the tears that make her eyes almost burn and have turned the tip of her nose pink. Then she turned and walked away at a brisk pace, just one farewell on her lips.

“I wish you only good things.”

A pushpin through my sternum
I spent a long year under glass
Watching your reflection in the cases as you passed
And cupid limps in two years too late
With a love letter for the ugly sister
I’m sorry, but you missed her
Mr. Mystery to me
How lost you seem to be

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