Chapter Five; Part One
“Do not do that!” I push Onyx’s face away from mine, wincing as her breath hits my face. It stinks of salmon and kibbles, and I push it further to the side. She eludes my hand and bonks her head against my face. Jet is standing to the side of me, watching his sister with something akin to amusement on his face. I glance at the clock and note that it’s four-fifteen in the morning. I sigh and snuggle down into my pillow, but I’m wide awake. I check the comments on my latest post, and I’m warmed by how enthusiastic people are in response to the post. Several say that they’d love to meet my best friend, with one or two saying more cheekily that they’d like to date her. It’s funny as I don’t mention describe what she looks like or post her picture, but her personality shines through, even on paper. I frown at QueenBee’s comment as she acerbically writes, “All bark and no bite. You can tell she’s got no substance, and her voice is ugly, too. I don’t know what you see in her. She was a waste of space.” I frown as this is the second time she’s said something negative about Julianna. I dismiss it from my mind, then promptly fall back asleep for another hour. I’m not feeling refreshed when I wake up, but it’ll have to do.
“How are my little boops?” I ask, rubbing first Onyx’s nose and then Jet’s. They both nuzzle against me before nudging at my shoulders. It’s clear that they want me to get up and feed them, so I begrudgingly comply. Getting out of bed is my least-favorite activity, and it happens with depressing frequency. I drag myself over to my closet and quickly pick out an outfit. After I feed the cats and eat a bagel with peanut butter, I’m out the door. I arrive early to work, so I allow myself a minute to hop online (on my phone) and check the news. When I open the Strib website, I get the shock of my life. There’s Julianna’s face staring back at mine, on her bed, with her throat slashed. I gag and cry out, quickly stifling it. The next thing I see is that her tongue is cut out, and there’s copious amounts of blood surrounding her. That’s when I lose it—stumbling away from my desk. I make it to the bathroom just in time to puke out the contents of my stomach into the toilet. I keep gagging long after I’ve thrown everything up. I sag onto the floor and begin weeping uncontrollably. How could this be happening to me? How could Julianna be dead? Also, who could have done that to her tongue? Who hated her that much?
I fumble with my purse, pulling out my phone. There’s the Star Tribune website and Julianna’s destroyed face is looking back at me. I quickly close out the tab before plugging Julianna Araki into Google. The first five hits are about the murder, and I cautiously open them in new windows. None of them have pictures, for which I’m grateful. I learn that Julianna was killed at about four in the morning, the same time Onyx had awoken me from my sleep. Remorse overcomes me. If only I had called her, texted her, or something. Maybe I could have saved her. I check my phone to see if I have any messages. I do—a text from her at around 3:45 a.m. I stare at the phone, not believing my eyes. This is a text from Julianna, and it might be the last thing she said before she was—I finally check the text, my heart in my mouth. I don’t want to read it, but I know I must.
“Hey, Liang. I just got the fucking of a lifetime. You should try it! It’s good for what ails you. I’m ready for another round, but Ramona had to go home, damn it. Wanna come over and lend me a hand? Just kidding. Love you, girl. Thank you for the Dong Yuan. Talk to you soon.”
“Oh, Araki. How could you do this to me?” I cradle my phone to my chest, rocking back and forth as I weep. What am I going to do without my best friend, and who could have done this to her? Ramona? Simon? A disgruntled ex? I don’t know, and all I can do is weep.
“Megan? Are you OK?” Tania Smith, one of my coworkers, stares at me, her mouth agape and her hazel eyes wide. She pushes a hank of greasy brown hair from her brow, but it falls back in place.
“I’m fine.” I choke back my sobs and gather my things. I pull myself up off the floor and brush by her to wash my face. I rinse my mouth before turning off the faucet. “I think I might have a stomach bug. I’m going home. Tell Cara I’m taking the rest of the day off.” I sweep out of the bathroom, keeping my head held high. I don’t crumble until I reach my car, and then I burst into sobs again. Somehow, I manage to make it home in one piece before collapsing on the couch. I start weeping as if I’ll never stop. Onyx and Jet hop onto the couch, Onyx on my stomach and Jet on the cushion squished next to my thigh, and they’re both staring at me in consternation. I try to placate them with a smile, but all I can do is howl. I can’t live without my Julianna; I just can’t bear it.
I remember the first time I met her. It was at an Amy Tan reading. I had gone because I was curious to see the most famous Asian American female writer at that time. She was the one who had started the whole ‘three generations of woe for women’ trend, and I wanted to hear her in person. I didn’t care for Joy Luck Club, but I couldn’t deny that it was a sensational success. Then, Juliana walked in, a breath of energy that filled the whole room. Dressed in a red jumpsuit that clung to every curve, her eyes bore straight into mine. She strode my way, extended her hand, and pulled me into a hug. She didn’t let go after the acceptable amount of time, and I knew it was going to be a long and wild night.
“Let’s get out of here,” she whispered in my ear, her voice thick with lust. “I didn’t want to hear that old hag in the first place.”
We went back to her place, a cramped apartment in Stevens, and barely shut the door before our clothes were off, and we were glued to each other. She was my first Asian American lover, and it was intoxicating to entangle with someone who superficially resembled me physically, but was so different in every other way. She had a closetful of toys, most of which we put to good use that night, including her harness that we affixed to her chandelier. We were going at it with her double-headed dildo in the harness when the straps on the harness broke, and we went tumbling to the floor, laughing our heads off as we fell. Fortunately, we suffered nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises, and we were able to fuck the rest of the night with little problem. In a way, Julianna has spoiled me for sex with others; I still have never had a lover as innovative and generous as Julianna, and I doubt I ever will.
My phone chirps, interrupting my reminiscing, and it’s a call from my work. I let it go to VM because I can’t bear to talk to anyone right now. I know I’ll lose it, and it’s not something I want someone else to witness. My phone chirps again, and it’s Liz’s ring this time. She’s texted me, and I read it quickly. “Megan, what’s going on? I saw the news. Your poor Julianna!” How like Liz to be supportive even if she and Julianna didn’t always see eye to eye. “How are you? Do you need me to fly home?” With that, I burst into tears again. I am lucky to have a friend like her, but oh god, I miss Julianna already. I send Liz a typo-ridden text thanking her and telling her to hold tight. Then, I cry for the next few hours. My tears would subside before I’d remember Julianna was still dead, and I’d start up again. Liz continues to text me, and I text her back when I feel up to it. After three hours, I manage to pull myself together enough to check the news. The police are tight-lipped, but they allow that the door wasn’t forced and that there were bruises and welts all over Julianna’s body. There was also a sizable lump on the back of her head, which made me believe that she was knocked out before everything else occurred. At least, I hope that’s what happened. I can’t bear to think she was conscious when she—I start gagging, but I have nothing to throw up. I should eat something, I guess, but I can’t find the heart—or stomach—to do so.
“Meow?” Onyx asks softly, her eyes wide. She hops up on my chest and rubs her face against mine. She and Jet are being unusually gentle with me, and I think it’s because they can sense how distraught I am. I force myself off the couch and into the kitchen so I can feed them some treats. Instead of gobbling them down as they normally do, Onyx and Jet stare at me in unison, and I swear I see concern in their eyes.
“I’ll be OK, guys. Really.” I try to smile, but it’s too much effort. They’re not convinced, and I open the fridge to pull out a Diet Coke. I pop it open and begin drinking from it, nearly gagging as I do. After a few healthy swallows, I say, “See?” Onyx and Jet don’t look convinced, but they dutifully eat their Temptations without appearing as if they’re enjoying it. It grieves me to cause my babies pain, but I can’t hide my own sadness, no matter how much I try. “She’s gone. My Julianna is gone.” With that, I’m a sobbing heap again, leaning against the counter for support. Onyx and Jet weave around my legs, periodically butting against my shins. I reach down to pet them, tears dripping down my cheeks. I grab them close and kiss their furry faces. For once, they don’t protest, though they usually squirm out of my grip when I do this.
I give up and go back to the couch. I flop down, my nose a snotty mess. I wipe it with the back of my hand, which I immediately regret. I look around for a napkin, and I spot a paper towel on the coffee table. I inch my way over to grab it, nearly falling off the couch in the meantime. I blow my nose several times before mopping my face with another part of the towel. I throw the crumpled towel onto the table and reposition myself on the couch. Heat courses through me, followed by ice. I pull a blanket over my head and close my eyes. I want to forget even for a minute that Julianna is dead, but I can’t. I’ve been with Julianna for longer than anyone else in my life, save family, and I don’t know what I’m going to do without her. We may not be lovers and haven’t been for over two decades, but we were something deeper, though there is no name for it. I would have done anything for her—anything. And I know she felt the same for me. I’ve given up more than one partner for her, and she’s done the same for me. We had vowed to be best friends for life, and now, I swear I will find out who killed her and mete out some justice.
“Megan, where are you?” The front door slams, and the melodious tones of my sister, Jasmine, fills the air. I don’t answer because the last thing I want is to talk to her right now. Maybe if I pretend not to be here, she’ll get the hint and go away. Two minutes later, she marches into the living room, her black curls waving behind her. They’re natural, and one thing I’ve always envied about her when we were kids. She’s an imposing woman, and she has no qualms about using her large frame to her advantage. “Megan! I heard about Julianna. You poor thing!” She grabs me into her arms and holds me tightly.
“Let go, Jasmine.” I push against her, but to no avail. My sister has a one-track mind, and if she’s going to hug me, she’s going to hug me. She’s also eight years older than I am and was my second mother when we were younger when my mom was too drunk to take care of me. For that reason, I allow her more liberties than I would anyone else.
“I knew you’d brood over this. Who wouldn’t? That’s why I decided to come over.” Jasmine finally lets me go and stands up straight. “I’ll be back in a minute.” She grabs her oversized bag and walks out of the room. Five minutes later, she comes back with a tray laden with tea, scones, and muffins. She’s a BBC junkie, so there’s a carafe of cream on the tray as well. I would bet ten dollars the tea is Earl Grey and that the scones are dry and crumbly. I watch as Jasmine doctors two cups of tea with cream and sugar before handing one to me. It’s English Breakfast, which I consider close enough. I sip cautiously, and the tea settles nicely in my stomach. “Oh, take this.” Jasmine hands over a dairy tablet, and I wash it down with my tea. “Eat this.” She presses a blueberry scone into my hand, and I nibble at it without enthusiasm. It’s flaky and moist, but it tastes of ashes in my mouth. I manage to put away half of it without choking before giving up. I finish my cup of tea, however, and don’t protest when Jasmine pours me another cup. I add creamer and sugar before raising the cup to my lips again. I set it down without taking a sip before bursting into tears again.
“What am I going to do, Jasmine?” I croak, my throat filled with unshed tears. “What am I going to do without Julianna?”
“You’re going to live, Megan. That’s what you’re going to do.” Jasmine plumps up a cushion and pushes me back on it. “It’s going to hurt like hell, and some days, you’re going to want to die, but don’t you dare pull that shit on me.” Jasmine stares at me, her eyes flashing with anger.
“I won’t, Jasmine. You know better than that.” I shift my eyes away from hers as I’m unable to bear the intensity of her gaze. Our mother ultimately died from alcohol poisoning, but she tried to kill herself more than once when we were kids. I’ve always believed that she was relieved when her liver finally gave out.
“You better not. I couldn’t bear it, not after what happened to Ma.”
Jasmine stays with me for the rest of the day, refusing to leave even though I entreat her to do so on several occasions. Under her commanding glare, I call into work to explain what happened. They’re properly horrified and tell me to take as long as I need. I feel better after calling them, which is Jasmine’s intention, I’m sure. She makes me chicken soup for dinner, then finally leaves after she does the dishes. I’m thankful to her for coming to help me, but I need some alone time. Within five minutes of her departure, Onyx and Jet appear out of nowhere. They are wary of Jasmine because of her intense energy, which, strangely enough, they don’t feel the same way about Julianna—didn’t. They were drawn to her, as are, were, most creatures of any species. They love Liz with her mellow demeanor, and she adores them in return.
“Mrrrrreow!” Onyx greets me, her eyes fastened firmly on the treats cabinet. Jet is behind her, looking as mournful as a twenty-pound cat can.
“Yes, Onyx. You are so neglected, aren’t you?” I pull out the bag of Temptations and give them each several. After they finish them, I give them each two more. Then, taking a deep breath, I go back to the living room and wake up my sleeping laptop. I Google Julianna Araki and murder, and I read all the information available on her death. There isn’t much more except she’d been getting threatening texts in the days leading up to her murder. They were of the variety, “You deserve to die” and others of the same ilk. The police aren’t commenting on who might have sent her the texts, but I have a hunch it’s Simon, her dastardly ex.
There’s no mention of Julianna’s assignation with Ramona, but I have no doubt it’ll come in time. Julianna wasn’t particularly discreet about her lovers, so I’m sure somebody must have noticed that she was seeing Ramona. On impulse, I find the purse I’d taken to the club the weekend before and fish out the piece of paper with Ramona’s full name on it. I Google Ramona Thomas, and I receive an overwhelming amount of hits in return. I add Ramona’s cell phone in order to narrow down the possibilities. To my surprise, the first four hits gave me information about a Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. Ramona and her husband, Ricardo. Her husband. A very fit, very muscular Latino with sleeves of tats and a slightly menacing smile. In all the pictures, he has his arm around her waist and is holding her close. Her smile is forced, and is that a bruise I see on her cheek in one of the pictures? It’s hard to tell because she has oversized shades on, but I’m sure I can see a bruise under the frames. They own a small bakery together in St. Paul, and I wonder if Ricardo knows that his wife has been letting others sample her cream puff. He does not look like the type of guy who would be amenable to sharing his possessions, and he definitely looks like the kind of guy who would consider his wife a possession.
Then again, maybe they have an open marriage. It’s becoming more mainstream, though it’s not often talk about. It’s something important to think about, and I make a note of it in a pulled up Word document. I need to talk to Ramona, but I don’t want to get her in trouble with her husband, more than she already is. I stop. Why am I thinking about talking to Ramona? This isn’t a mystery novel, and I am no detective. Then again, Julianna is a Jap dyke bitch who is, was, mouthy and opinionated. I’m not sure the police will care too much about her murder. Speaking of the police, why haven’t they talked to me yet? It’s no secret that we’re best friends. They should have contacted me by now. I’m in a quandary. Do I call them? Theoretically, I should because they’re in charge of finding her murderer. Anything I can do to help them would be ideal. However, I’m also a Chink dyke bitch in the eyes of many people, which means I’m not too fond of the boys and girls in blue. I don’t have as much to fear from them as do black and brown folks, but I’ve had my share of negative run-ins with them so I’m not their biggest fans, either.
“I’m exhausted.” I close my eyes, but I can’t sleep. Images of an tongueless, beat up Julianna dance behind my closed eyelids, and my own eyes fly open. I’m panting lightly, my heart racing twice as fast as normal. Tears slither down my cheeks, falling onto Onyx’s fur as she winds herself around my neck. She meeps in protest, but she doesn’t move. This is one of her favorite positions, and I’ve gotten used to it over time. Jet hops onto my left thigh and snuggles down. For whatever reason, he refuses to lie on both my legs at the same time. It’s cute, but also uncomfortable to have twenty pounds of pure cat on one thigh. I push him to the middle of my legs, and he simply moves to the other leg. When I place him back in the middle, he flops over to the other leg. I give up and let him do as he pleases. I close my eyes again, but to no avail. I grab my phone and Google Simon Blankenfield. Google returns to me a shit-ton of arrests and convictions. He’s been in and out of jail since he was eighteen, and on and off of coke from roughly around the same time. He’s also an amazing singer who fronted a semi-famous punk ska band, Fist to the Face, during the same timeframe. He’s ten years younger than Julianna’s forty-seven, and he’s been the bane of her existence ever since they first met. That’s been fifteen years now, and she’s regretted it ever since.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Simon is the one who killed Julianna. She made a will naming him as her heir when they were married, and he might think she hasn’t changed it. She has, leaving half of everything to her brother and half to me, but desperation can cause a man to do crazy things. Julianna has nearly half a million dollars in stocks, and that’s a lifetime of money for a man like Simon. I Google him some more, trying to find a current address for him. I can’t find anything, which is frustrating, but I do glean that he’s dating Pinky X, the lead singer of a feminist aggro punk band. She lives in Plymouth, which is about as far from angry punk as you can get. She’s twenty-two and still living with her parents. I refrain from rolling my eyes because of course she is. Simon would never date anyone who didn’t have family money because he’s certainly not going to lower himself to do honest work. He wasn’t able to fool Julianna for very long, so it makes sense he’d go for someone much younger. I wonder what Mr. and Mrs. X (Johannson) think about Simon. I have a hunch that they think less of him than even I do.
I scan the results, noting that Simon was originally from Florida. He came up here to stay with an aunt when he was fifteen, ostensibly because his parents were going through a rough time. Reading between the lines, I gather that it had more to do with young Simon’s habit of assaulting anyone who maddened him, truancy, and snorting coke. Some things never change. The longest he’s been out of prison since he started his career of crime is a year, roughly six years ago. During that year, he was engaged to one of the Daytons, but she dumped him when she caught him with her best friend. In their bed. After she trashed everything in the room, she beat the living daylights out of them with her handbag. I don’t believe in violence except as a last resort, but I can understand the impulse. When I caught Tessa in bed with Patricia, it took everything I had not to bash both of their brains in. As it was, I slapped Tessa across the face. Hard. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not overcome with shame, either. I’m just thankful that I stopped myself before doing any real damage. I’m also viciously happy that I scared the shit out of Tessa as well. I screamed at them at the top of my lungs for a good five minutes before I stormed out.