Kathy Wu paused at the top of the stairs as she reached the sixth floor of the seven-story apartment house. The old tenement building had been built without the convenience of an elevator and if she had been visiting anyone other than her friend Jiang Li, she would’ve insisted that they meet her in the lobby.

Stepping up to apartment 6B, the twenty-three year old ran one hand through her shoulder length black hair as she rang the small doorbell with the other. A long minute passed before the door opened and a much older Chinese woman greeted Kathy.

“Good evening, Madame Jiang,” Kathy smiled and said in the Cantonese her grandmother had insisted she learn as a child. “I understand that you’ve been feeling a little under the weather. I hope you’re feeling better now.”

The shorter woman with the lightly grayed hair looked at the woman at her door, taking in the clothing that she wore. The red open back top Kathy wore seemed to be held in place only by a set of small straps that were tied behind her neck and across her back. The large breasts beneath it lifted the almost blouse so that her midriff was quite visible. The only other thing that could be said about it was that it had more material than the matching wrap around skirt that went with it.

With a forced politeness, Madame Jiang thanked Kathy for her concern and then wordlessly guided her into the living room. Hospitality required the traditionally garbed woman to ask if her guest would like some refreshments. That done, she excused herself and disappeared into one of the other rooms.

As she vanished, Kathy was looking at a collection of pictures spread out on top an old stereo cabinet. Some of the photographs were recent, while others had to have been at least half a century old. One of those was a black and white wedding photo in which the teenage girl in it bore an unmistakable resemblance to the woman who had just greeted her.

“Whatever else I say about her,” Kathy said to herself, “I have to admit, she was a knockout.”

A second photograph drew Kathy’s attention, once that had been taken years later. The couple was the same as in the wedding photo, although a few decades older. This time, they were surrounded by six children, four boys and two girls. The ages of which ranged from the oldest boy who was twenty-two at the time of the photograph to the littlest girl who had been only six.

“Hi Kathy,” a new voice said in English from behind the girl in red.

Kathy turned from the little photo gallery to face the new arrival. The brightest of smiles filled Kathy’s face, a condition reflected on the younger girl as well. An inch shorter than Kathy’s five six, Jiang Li had a much slimmer build and short, almost boyish hair. Her face was a mixture of both the younger Madame Jiang and the little girl in the family photo.

“Hi Li,” Kathy beamed as she quickly crossed the room and kissed her friend on the cheek.

“I hope Mother wasn’t too hard on you again,” the twenty-one year old said.

“Actually, she was the epitome of hospitality,” Kathy said in a conspiratorial whisper. “I was almost shocked.”

“Well, it’s not that she doesn’t like you …” Li started to say.

“… it’s just that she doesn’t approve of me,” Kathy finished for her.

A flushed Li didn’t know what to say. The last thing she wanted to do was insult her friend.

“It’s okay,” Kathy said, seeing the concern on Li’s face. “My mother doesn’t approve of me either.” she laughed.

Relieved that Kathy hadn’t been insulted, Li laughed as well.

It would be hard to imagine two young women more different than Kathy Wu and Jiang Li. Aside from the closeness in their ages and the fact that both could trace their heritages back to China, they seemed to be total opposites.

Jiang Li had been born in T’ai-tung in the Republic of China on Taiwan. She had come to the United States with her family when she was seven. Since then, her parents, or more specifically her mother since the death of Mr. Jiang, had controlled most every aspect of her life. Making sure that she was brought up to respect and honor her heritage as if they were still in China.

Kathy Wu, on the other hand, was the second generation of her family born in America and barely gave lip service to the culture that her grandparents brought from the land of their birth. As far as she was concerned, this was America and she wasn’t a hyphenated anything. She would live how she wanted and anyone who didn’t like it could go to hell.

The two women had met in a social sciences class during their senior year of college. Despite the differences in their lives, they had become fast friends. Something that had irritated Madame Jiang from the day she had first met Kathy.

“Nice outfit,” Kathy said as she changed the subject.

The ensemble Li wore was far less provocative than Kathy’s, but to her mother the twenty-one year old might as well have been walking around stark naked. A short-sleeved sky blue blouse covered her small breasts, the cleavage of which was barely visible. Additionally, her skirt had enough material to make almost three of the older girl’s.

“Thanks,” aydın escort Li replied.

“So where did you tell your mother we were going tonight?” Kathy asked.

Knowing her mother would never approve of the dance clubs that Kathy had introduced her to, Li had made a habit of saying they were going to the movies or some other innocuous place.

“Actually she didn’t even ask,” Li replied.

“Are you sure she’s still not sick?” Kathy asked, thinking that Madame Jiang’s behavior from the moment she’d arrived was very atypical.

It seemed to Kathy that Li was about to offer an explanation for her mother’s behavior, then changed her mind. Instead she looked at her watch and said that she thought they should get going.

Saying their good-byes to Madame Jiang, the two girls quickly headed down the six flights of stairs. It wasn’t until they reached the third floor that it occurred to Kathy that Li’s mother hadn’t even admonished her daughter to make sure she was home early. Something that she had done every other time Kathy could remember. The omission made the older girl even more curious.

Kathy had brought her car to pick Li up and it was a quick twenty-minute drive to the club they had planned to go to. It actually was almost within walking distance of Kathy’s apartment but she knew that if she didn’t actually go and pick up the younger girl, Li would find some excuse to cancel their night out. That had been the case the last two weekends.

“So how’s the new job working out?” Kathy asked as she headed down Fourth Ave to Park Ridge.

“It’s okay,” Li said in a quiet tone.

“Any really cute guys? Kathy inquired.

“I hadn’t noticed,” she replied in the same low voice.

“This,” Kathy said to herself, “was definitely a girl with something on her mind.”

Kathy had to park the car four blocks from the club and they walked the rest of the way. Thankfully it was a warm, comfortable night. As they rounded the last corner, they were greeted with a half-block long line of people waiting to get in.

“Oh no,” Li said in disappointment, “we’re never going to get in.”

“Yes we will,” Kathy said with one of her patented trust me smiles.

With that, she took Li’s hand and led her past the long line of hopefuls, some of whom had been waiting for more than an hour. An action that brought forth some comments about moving to the back of the line, complete with some pretty descriptive adjectives thrown in for emphasis.

Kathy ignored then all and stepped up to the tall, good looking and muscular man standing behind the gold rope barrier. It took a moment for her to catch his attention, but when she did, he greeted her with a broad smile.

“Kitty, baby,” he said as his eyes moved up and down her outfit, or what there was of it. “What’s going down?”

“Hi, Chris,” Kathy smiled back, tilting her body as to give him the best look possible. “How’s it hanging?”

“I’d love to show you,” he laughed.

“I bet you would,” Kathy laughed back. “But right now I’d settle for me and my friend getting in for a few dances.”

“Consider it done,” Chris said as he quickly removed the rope. “I’ll have to get someone to cover me so I can watch. I do love watching you dance.”

Again Kathy ignored a few loud complaints from the crowd on the line as she and Li walked into the club. As soon as they stepped pass the small entrance, a kaleidoscope of sight and sound assaulted them. The dance floor was totally packed and the music level was such that you could feel it more than just hear it.

“What’s this Kitty business?” Li tried to ask over the noise.

“What?” Kathy said as they moved through the crowd.

“Who’s Kitty?” Li repeated.

“Just a nickname.” Kathy replied as they found an open spot on the floor away from the loudest of the speakers.

“How come I never heard it before,” Li asked.

“I guess it never came up, that’s all.” Kathy said, dismissing the subject. “But never mind that, let’s dance. After all, that’s what we came here for.”

“Okay,” Li quickly agreed.

In no time at all, the two girls were swaying to the music. As was the norm when they two of them went to a club, they usually ignored everyone else and danced only with each other.

There were at least two dozen other girls sharing floor space with their girlfriends so no one ever found it unusual. If you were just there to dance, it was a lot easier to do it with a friend than have to put up with all the guys hitting on you.

It was soon apparent to any onlooker, that aside from Kathy, Li was the best dancer in the club. Couples around them began to actually stop and watch the two of them dance. Back and forth they moved, engaged in a sensuous rhythm that was raising the temperatures of both male and female spectators alike.

“Oh that was really great!” Li said as they finished their last dance and stepped off the dance floor.

“Yes it was,” Kathy agreed as she squeezed Li’s hand tightly. “It really was.”

“You were outrageous, Kitty,” Chris, who had come in from the door to watch, said as he cleared aydın escort bayan the way for the two girls. “You’re even hotter with your clothes on.”

Kathy suddenly shot him a angry look and pulled Li off to the side. The fleeting high she had gotten from the dance floor seemed to abruptly fade. The older girl didn’t stop pulling her friend until they were out on the club’s sparsely populated veranda.

“What was that man talking about?” Li said as she caught her breath. “What did he mean this time with your clothes on?”

Kathy stopped cold in her tracks, reluctantly releasing her friend’s hand. A look of concentration filled her face for a long time. She turned away and looked off into the darkness. Finally, she turned back around and faced Li.

“I hope after I tell you this that you still want to be my friend,” Kathy said.

“Why would I stop being your friend?” Li asked.

“Because I used to dance in a midtown club to pay my college tuition,” Kathy said. “I went under the name Kitty Wu.”

“You were a stripper?” Li asked.

“Well I liked to use the term exotic dancer,” Kathy said. “And I want to say right off was that dancing was all I did. I didn’t turn tricks like some of the others.

“I believe you,” Li said.

“I’m glad,” Kathy smiled, “You can’t know how much you mean to me. I don’t want you to ever think badly of me.”

“How did you wind up with a job like that?” Li asked.

“Simple economics,” Kathy answered. “It paid a whole lot more than waiting tables at the local diner.”

“I guess so,” Li admitted.

“I’m not ashamed of it, Li,” Kathy said as she stepped closer, “I don’t have a problem with nudity and it was a means to an end. I just didn’t think that you’d understand.”

“Why not?” Li asked curiously.

“Well it’s not exactly the kind of thing that I could ever imagine you doing.” Kathy replied.

“I don’t think anyone would pay to see me dance in the buff,” Li laughed, a sound that brought a smile back to Kathy as well.

“I wouldn’t bet on that,” Kathy offered.

“I don’t exactly have the right assets for the job,” the younger girl admitted as she glanced down at her small breasts.

“You mean these?” Kathy grinned as she cupped her rounded mounds through her top. “They just about cost everything I made working my last two summers in high school, but they were the best investment I ever made.”

“They’re not real?” Li said in surprise.

“Of course they’re real,” Kathy said, “just improved.”

Li looked again at the large rounded globes pressing out from under Kathy’s shirt, then compared them with the smaller versions under her own shirt. The older girl would’ve given a week’s salary to know what she was thinking at the moment.

“I guess we’d better get going if we’re going to get you home before your curfew,” Kathy said when she realized that Li wasn’t going to share her thoughts.

“She didn’t set a curfew tonight, remember?” Li answered.

“Why tempt fate?” Kathy said as she started to head for the side exit that would get them out of the club without going through the large crowd.

Kathy got a half dozen steps away when Li said something that caused her to stop in her tracks for a second time that night.

“I’m getting married,” Li abruptly blurted out.

“What?” Kathy said as she spun around, sure she hadn’t heard it right.

“I said I’m getting married,” Li repeated.

“To who?” Kathy asked.

“Larry Chung,” Li replied.

“Larry Chung?” Kathy now repeated as well, sure of what she heard this time but unable to believe it.

Larry Chung was a man Li had been dating over the last six months at the insistence of her mother. Nine years older than Li with a successful business, he was Madame Jiang’s idea of the type of the proper company her daughter should be keeping.

“What in the world for?” Kathy asked, still in shock at what she’d heard. “Li, are you pregnant?” she asked as she moved closer, knowing her friend had slept with the older man.

“No, I’m not pregnant,” Li replied.

“Then why?” Kathy asked again. “From what you’ve told me, you don’t love him. Has that changed?”

“No,” Li said meekly.

“Again then, why?” Kathy asked a final time.

“Because mother wants me to,” she finally admitted.

Kathy was totally speechless. Li’s answer was beyond belief, at least to her. How could anyone in this day and age get married simply because their mother wanted them to.

“Tell me this is a joke,” Kathy said as her voice finally returned.

“This isn’t a joke,” Li said. “I’m serious.”

“So am I,” Kathy shot back. “You can’t do this. Not for a reason like that.”

“You don’t understand, Kathy,” Li explained. “I’m not like you. My mother has done so much for me. I can’t go against my family’s wishes.

Kathy was totally taken back by the younger girl’s admission. Next to that, her own confession seemed like small potatoes indeed. It was hard for Kathy to understand Li’s reasoning. The concept of living your life by someone else’s rules was totally alien to her.

“Is escort aydın he at least a good fuck?” Kathy said, thinking that perhaps humor would help the situation.

“Kathy!!” Li exclaimed, shocked that she would even ask such a question. “There are other people here.”

“And I’m sure more than a few of them have been laid before,” Kathy replied, getting exactly the reaction she was hoping for. Even though she would never admit it, Li loved her friend’s outrageous behavior more times than not. “So is he?” “I’m really not sure,” Li admitted.

“What do you mean not sure?”

“Well it’s not like I have anything to compare it to,” Li said, pointing out that her would be fiancee had been her first. “It feels okay, I guess, but from what I’ve heard other girls say I sort of thought there would be something more.”

“And you don’t love him, right?” Kathy asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Then don’t do it,” Kathy said. “Please don’t do it.”

“I don’t think I have the strength not to do it,” Li admitted. “Mother wants us to announce the engagement next weekend.”

“Then lean on me and I’ll give you the strength,” Kathy said as all the pieces suddenly came together for her. She now understood the change in Madame Jiang’s behavior.

“Kathy, that is the nicest thing anyone has ever offered to do for me,” Li said, small droplets of moisture forming in the corners of her eyes. “I can’t say how much it means to me but I just can’t …”

“I love you,” Kathy said.

“I love you too,” Li replied, “but I still…”

“No, you don’t understand,” Kathy said as she took another step forward until she was only inches from Li. “I … love … you. I love you in the way someone does when they want to wake up every morning for the rest of their life with that person next to them. I love you so much that if you were a man I’d want to have your babies, or if I were one I’d want you to have mine. Li, I couldn’t bear to lose you, especially not to someone you don’t even love.”

“Oh my God,” was all that Li could say.

Li didn’t say another word as they left the club and moved their conversation a few blocks to Kathy’s apartment. It was the longest walk of either of their lives.

“Do you want a drink?” Kathy asked as Li followed her into the apartment.

“A double of whatever it is that you’re going to have,” Li replied, surprising Kathy since normally, even when they went out, Li ordered soft drinks.

Li took a large gulp of the amber liquid that Kathy handed her. Kathy in turn did the same.

“Have you ever been with a girl before?.” Li asked, after taking a second smaller drink.

“Physically, yes,” Kathy said, “but I’ve never been in love with one before.”

“I have to confess, I’ve never really considered the idea before,” Li said. “The whole concept always seemed to be … I’m not sure really how to say it. People have always said it was … “

“Gross?” Kathy offered. “Sick, immoral?”

“I don’t know,” Li went on, unable to associate any of those descriptions with her dear friend.

“Well tell me this,” Kathy said as she considered an idea in her mind. “Have you ever given Larry a blow job?”

This time, Li didn’t hesitate as she answered the question in the affirmative.

“And did you enjoy it?” Kathy added.

“Yes,” Li replied, wondering what that had to do with what they were talking about.

“Okay, but the first time he asked you to put his cock in your mouth, hadn’t those same people told you something like that was all those things I mentioned.” Kathy concluded.

“I guess they did,” Li admitted.

“Then why did you do it?”

“I guess because I wanted to make up my own mind.” Li said, remembering the thoughts that had gone back and forth in her own mind back then.

“Then that’s all I’m asking, Li,” Kathy said with all of the passion she felt inside of her. “Make up your own mind about what you want in your life. Don’t let anyone do it for you. Not your mother, not Larry, not even me.”

“I guess I have to think about that,” Li said after a few moments hesitation.

“That’s all I ask.” Kathy said.

“Okay, I will.” Li promised.

Li then declined Kathy’s offer to drive her home, saying she would rather take the bus. Kathy watched from her second story window as the woman she now admitted she loved got on the bus and pulled away.

Tonight certainly hadn’t turned out to be anything like she had expected it to be when she’d rang the doorbell to Li’s apartment only a few hours before. A time that now seemed so long ago as she stared out onto the now empty street.

After a quick trip to the bathroom to take care of nature’s call and to clean herself up, the long-haired woman picked up the two glasses from the table. Pouring the small remainder of Li’s drink into her own glass, Kathy sat down with it in the deep plush chair by her window. Getting drunk seemed to be as good an option as any right now.

Staring into the empty apartment that for the first time since she moved in seemed much too large, Kathy thought again about what had occurred earlier in the evening. Her greatest fear was that she had gone too far in opening up to Li. Although she had said that she wasn’t bothered by her former occupation, Kathy was still worried that opinion might change after some reflection. Especially if her mother, who controlled so much of what she thought and did were ever to find out.

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