Excerpt from Refuge

Later, in the evening, I lay on my bed in the stuffy barracks, staring at the ceiling, thinking about her. Kai and his fellows had invited me to play dice. The rest of the division were in the mess hall, drinking beer and probably telling dirty jokes. I didn't feel like company, or at least, not theirs.

I heard a low whistle outside the door. It wasnÂ’t any bird that I recognized. I sighed and closed my eyes. It came again.

I opened the door to find Prean at the foot of the stairs, smiling up at me. My heart flopped in my chest like a hooked fish. She was wearing a sarong and a fringed, multi-colored tunic of woven cotton. Festival clothes. She gave me a wai, a deep bow that caused her glistening hair to fall across her breasts.

"Khun Nu. I have come to thank you." It was dark -- aside from the commanderÂ’s office, the camp had no electricity -- but a full moon showed me me every detail of her beautiful face. My cheeks felt hot. I had stripped to my undershirt, but my uniform pants grew tighter and more uncomfortable than ever. "Without your help, Su would have died."

"Never mind, it's nothing. I'm glad I could help. Anyone would have done the same." Shame washed over me. I remembered my temptation to abandon her, and was suddenly very glad that I had resisted. Helping you is the least I could do, I thought, when I'm part of the machine holding you prisoner here.

"No, that's not true at all. Believe me. I've been here a lot longer than you. Most of the soldiers here have no heart at all. They think we're sub-human. You risked your own position and safety for us." She reached out to me. "Come. Let me show you how grateful I am."

I froze, suddenly understanding what she had in mind. "What? No, really, that's not necessary..."

She arched one delicate eyebrow. "Don't you want to? Don't you like me? I had some notion that you found me pretty."

"I -- no, it's not that, you're lovely, it's just -- well, I don't want to take advantage... You're so young, so sweet..."

A bitter laugh. "Take advantage? You think you'd be the first soldier here that I've fucked?" Her crudeness made me cringe, but then her voice grew softer. "Please, Nu. I want to be with you. I want to be close to you. You're the only man in Thailand who has ever treated me like a human being."

I knew it wasn't right. I wanted to resist. But I let her take my hand, let her lead me along narrow, overgrown paths where the moonlight could hardly penetrate the overhanging vegetation. My conscience cried out No. My mind echoed the warning. I ignored them, choosing instead to listen to my body and my heart.

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