“Hello, Ms. Liang. Sorry to bother you on a Sunday, but I have a few more questions I’d like to ask Mr. Frantz. Please put him on the line.” Her tone is cool to the point of frosty.
“Paris, it’s the inspector,” I mouth as I hand over the phone. Paris’s countenance tightens up as he wipes his lips. He takes the phone and walks out of the room. I am tempted to follow him, but decide to give him privacy. I hear his voice rising in the living room, but I don’t dare go comfort him. Instead, I sit down to finish my omelet. By the time I’m done, Paris still hasn’t returned. I start in on the dishes, wondering what Inspector Robinson has to say that is upsetting Paris so much. As I am placing my cup in the dishwasher, Paris bursts back into the kitchen. He is so irate, his face is red. He cannot speak as he gesticulates wildly. It takes him several minutes to get himself under control.
“That bitch!” He yells when he finally can speak again. “I cannot fucking believe her.”
“What’s up?” I eye him cautiously, hoping he’ll calm down. When Paris loses his temper, everyone is made to feel his pain. “What did the good inspector have to say for herself?”
“Let’s see.” Paris pauses to rearrange his thoughts. When he’s ready, he unloads. It seems the inspector found out that Max had given up a child nearly thirty years ago; Inspector Robinson wondered if perhaps Paris was that child. When Paris retorted that he could get his birth certificate from his mother if need be, she switched tracks. He was asked if Max ever confided to him about Moira’s affairs. When he said no, the inspector switched subjects again. Apparently her M.O. was to keep throwing accusations out there and seeing what stuck. She asked again about the last time Paris saw Max, what they did, can you please repeat that in excruciating detail? The coup de grace, however, was her parting shot. It turned out that Max was two months pregnant. Apparently, she had skipped a day or two of her pill. What would Paris happen to know about that? Perhaps he was the father? By the time Paris hung up the phone, he felt as if he’d had three shots of tequila with no lime and salt to ease the transition.
“She was pregnant?” My mouth drops open. I thought that was a literary convention, but it actually happens. “She’s older than God!”
“She’s only forty-three. She’s not that old.” Paris is still defending that woman, damn him. “Max told me she was on the pill.”
Max was fifteen when she had her illegitimate child. My mind is boggling with this new information. Not so much that she gave up a child for adoption, but that she was two months pregnant when she died. That means that Moira wasn’t the only one fooling around at the time of her death. I can tell by the look on Paris’s face that he appreciates the situation as well. I cautiously ask if he knew about either, and it saddens me to have to ask. Just last night I was marveling at how well we knew each other, how we had no major secrets. Now, I’m not so sure. He says he didn’t, and the weariness of his tone convinces me more than anything. If he had known, he would have sounded defensive or guileless. His eyes fill with tears as he confides that he wishes he had known because perhaps she’d still be alive. To my consternation, he won’t accept my comfort. He is beyond placation as he anguishes over why Max had been killed. He hugs himself, a forlorn look on his face as he keeps repeating, “Why would someone kill her? Why?” His pain is palpable, and I can’t stand it any longer. I need to get to the truth about his relationship with Max.
“Paris, sit.” I guide him to the table and push him into a chair. I sit across from him so I can stare at him. “Your reaction goes beyond losing a good friend. What gives?” The minute the words leave my mouth, I wish I had been more diplomatic.
“I can’t tell you, Rayne.” Paris is openly crying as he fastens his eyes to the table. Something approaching dread clenches at my stomach.
“Paris, you have to tell me what you know,” I say, grabbing his chin and forcing him to look at me. “No matter how horrible it is, I have to know. You know I’ll love you no matter what.”
Paris gazes at me steadily until he makes up his mind. Taking a deep breath, he spills out the story. The last day he saw her, Max was edgy the entire time. She alternated between loving and irate. Paris didn’t know what had set her off, but he had had enough. After snagging Emil’s number, Paris was going to leave when Max threw herself at him. He tried to dissuade her, but she was persistent. Despite his resolve, he felt himself giving in. He didn’t understand his attraction to her, but it seemed easier to give in than to keep fighting it. So they had sex. When he was going to leave, she did indeed threaten him if he left, but not with saying he raped her or assaulted her or anything like that. She threatened to tell the cops that he was her child and that he had killed Moira because he couldn’t stand to see his birthmother treated in such a fashion.
Paris didn’t know what the hell she was talking about? Birthmother? Adoption? What? As far as he knew, he wasn’t adopted. His mother was Catherine Frantz Jenson, married to his father, Freddie Frantz. Divorced years later. He’d seen his birth certificate before. When he related this information to Max, she laughed and told him to ask his mother about it. Ask her about Tijuana, Max continued, sitting up in bed so her chest was bared to him. Even though Paris didn’t believe what she was saying, he was sickened by the thought and ran out of the room with Max saying something about secrets within secrets, that he’ll never know the truth about his birth as he left. He had driven around San Francisco in a daze, not knowing what to do. His first impulse was to call his mother and have it out with her, but he chickened out. In the end, he did nothing because he didn’t want to think about it. Everything he knew about himself would be invalidated if what Max said was true. Also, if it were true, then what the hell was she doing having sex with him? Paris put the whole conversation out of his mind so he wouldn’t have to think about it. When he finishes his tale, Paris slumps in his chair, exhausted from the telling.
“You never called your mother?” I ask. I can’t help it. The question just slips out of me. I know that Paris would never call her about something like this. I mean, what can he say? ‘Hey, Mom, is it true you’ve been lying to me all my fucking life?’ “Sorry,” I mumble. Paris raises his head to look at me. There are no words. I can’t even find it in my heart to scold him for keeping this from me. Paris looks so miserable, I want to say something, anything to alleviate his pain. “Want me to call her for you?” Paris looks at me as if I’m the next coming of Christ.
“You’d do that for me?” Paris reaches over and grabs me into a fierce bear hug. “You are truly my best friend.” He clicks his cell on and dials a number. After he makes sure it’s ringing, he thrusts it into my hand. I grab it, my heart pounding. I’ve only talked to Mrs. Jenson a few times, and while she seemed to like me, I’m sure she won’t like this conversation.
“Hello?” A thin, reedy voice answers the phone. It’s her.
“Mrs. Jenson? This is Rayne Liang. Paris’s friend?” I proceed gingerly, knowing that I will have to reestablish rapport before moving in for the kill. At least I remember to call her Mrs. Jenson and not Mrs. Frantz.
“Paris? Is he ok?” There is alarm in her voice, and I curse myself for frightening her. Of course she would assume that something bad happened to him receiving a call about him out of the blue.
“He’s fine, Mrs. Jenson,” I hasten to assure her. “How are you doing?”
“I can’t complain.” She is curt, not given to talking to people she doesn’t really know. “What is this call about?”
“Um, I have a question that might sound odd, and please, I mean no disrespect or offense.” I put on my best ‘talking to parents’ voice, and it seems to have soften her up.
“You go right ahead and ask your question. I’ll answer it if I can.” Her tone is marginally warmer than when we first starting conversing.
“Mrs. Jenson, is Paris adopted?” I ask bluntly, figuring that I might as well lay it on the table. Either she’ll answer me or she won’t. If she does, then great. We have an answer. If she doesn’t, then it’ll be a bit more difficult, but perhaps it’ll be an answer in and of itself.
“What? What did you just say to me? Oh, Lord, did you just ask me what I think you did?” There is definite fear in her voice, which does not bode well for the rest of the conversation. I hasten to put her at her ease.
“Please, Mrs. Jenson. Don’t be alarmed. It’s important that I know, or I would never be asking you this question.”
“You should be ashamed of yourself, young lady! Scaring an old woman like that. Do you know what the Lord Jesus would say to that?” Her tone is now querulous. Great, Rayne. Way to get her on your side.
“Uh, ma’am. I’m truly sorry. I sincerely mean no disrespect. But if you could just answer the question.”
“Did Paris put you up to this? I can’t believe he would play such a cruel trick on me. What did I ever do to deserve such an ungrateful son? Well, the Lord works in mysterious ways, but I can’t understand why I have to be given a son like him.” She sniffs into the phone. I am rapidly losing control of this conversation.
“Mrs. Jenson! Please, Paris could be in trouble. I really don’t want to upset you, but I need to know. It’s imperative that I find out this information. I can look for it other ways, but it’d be so much easier if you just told me.” The fact that she’s making such a big deal out of it leads me to believe that it is true. “Don’t you think your God would want you to tell the truth?” It’s a calculated risk, one that could easily backfire. People have a strange way of believing that their God wants them to do whatever they want to do. I hold my breath as I wait. By the heavy breathing on the other end of the phone, she appears to be thinking it over. After several minutes of silence, she speaks.
It’s a sad story, but a common one. When she and Mr. Frantz first married, they were eager to have a dozen children. The more the merrier was how they both felt about it. When she couldn’t conceive, they went to the doctor to see what was wrong. He said that it was because of her tipped uterus and her endometriosis that she couldn’t conceive. She was devastated. After moping around the house for months, she finally decided she wanted to adopt if she couldn’t have a baby. Her husband, happy that she wasn’t depressed any more, eagerly agreed. They got Paris. All they knew about his mother was that she was a teenager who had made a terrible mistake and got pregnant. They named him Paris because that was the city they both wanted to see more than any place in the world. They planned to go one day, but never made it. They never thought how Paris would fit with Frantz, that was true, but the honeymoon part of the story was strictly a lie.
They both agreed that they would never tell Paris he was adopted. It was a closed adoption, and the woman had no desire to have any contact with her child. As Paris’s coloring favored his adoptive mother’s, it was easy to convince everyone that Mrs. Frantz was the mother. She stayed in the house for most of the ‘pregnancy’, and they went to Tijuana to make the hand-off. The teenage mother would get a month in the sun, all expenses paid, and the Frantzs would get Paris. Tijuana was the most exotic locale the teen mother could think of. The Frantzs wouldn’t have to see her, talk to her, or have anything to do with her. They just needed to bring the money and make sure they were ready to receive their child. Of course, their lawyer would go along to broker the deal. They had to borrow money from various family members to pay for the trip, but they managed to scrape enough together to pull it off.
When they first laid eyes on Paris, they knew that he was theirs. In fact, it was the acquisition of him that turned Mrs. Frantz into the devout woman she was. When she saw that little boy so perfect, she knew that he was part of God’s plan for her life. She couldn’t have children because she had to be the mother of Paris that God had chosen her to be. That night, she made a vow to be the best mother she knew how. She was so filled with love for her new son, she thought it would be the easiest promise she’d ever have to keep. She and her husband rushed the baby home without staying the planned five days in Tijuana. What did she need with beaches when she had her son? The birth certificate Paris had seen was an amended one.
By the time she is through relating her story to me, she is weeping. Even though this woman has caused Paris so much pain, I can’t help feeling sorry for her. It’s obvious that she thought she was doing the right thing, the loving thing by preaching hell-fire and damnation to save Paris’s soul. It’s equally obvious that she will never accept who he is or his ‘lifestyle’. She is babbling out some more words, but I can’t understand what she’s saying. I thank her for her time, but now it’s she who can’t let me go. She begins spitting out how she’s afraid for her son, that her daughter is her only hope left. The compassion I feel for her starts to dissipate when it becomes clear that she is about to write off Paris as a lost cause.
“Maybe it’s bad blood,” she says tearfully. “I mean, who knows what that girl was really like?”
“I have to go, Mrs. Jenson.” I keep my voice cordial with difficulty. “Thank you so much for trusting me with this information. It will really help.” I don’t specify how, but simply hang up the phone. I feel slimy after talking to her, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Anything I say to her would just go in one ear and out the other. I glance over at Paris who is still slumped over his plate. His face is ashen; he has heard my side of the conversation and has pieced together the puzzle. “Paris.” I put my arms around him and try to hug him, but he won’t let me. He stiffens in my arms and pulls away.
“Sorry, Rayne,” he chokes out my name as he stands up, his plate crashing to the floor—I had left it for him in case he wanted to finish. The remnants of his omelet goes flying across the room. Neither of us move. “I have to be alone.” He runs from the room. I contemplate following him, but don’t. I know if I had received the same information, I’d want time to think things through. On the other hand, I don’t want him doing something stupid so I rush after him. He is heading out the door.
“Where are you going?” I don’t think he should be driving in his condition. “Paris, don’t leave like this!” I push my feet into my flip-flops which are right by the door and hurry after him. It’s cold out, but I barely have time to think about that. Paris is trying to get his car door open, but he seems to be having trouble getting his key into the lock. “Paris, give me.” I take the keys from his hand. “If you want to go somewhere, I’ll drive you.”
“I need to drive,” Paris says, his eyes closed in anguish. He is trying to hold back the tears, but one leaks down his face. “I need to get out of here. I need to—” He stops, not able to finish his sentence. A horrible thought enters my head. I try not to think about it, but it won’t go away.
“Paris, how much of your conversation with Max have you told the inspector?” More questions enter my mind. Such as, why didn’t he talk to me about this right after he found out about it? Why didn’t he act more upset? How could he keep this from me for so long? These are petty questions, however, and able to wait. I place them on the back-burner for now.
“Um,” Paris says, a guilty look on his face. I surmise that he hasn’t told Inspector Robinson anything about the possibility that Max is his biological mother. The inspector knows, however, that Max had given birth to a baby twenty-eight years ago. If she wants to, the inspector could easily find out about Paris being adopted. It is in his best interest to be forthright with the information. She already thinks he’s lying.
“Paris, listen to me.” I grab him by the arms and turn him so he’s facing me. “You have to tell her. You’re in enough trouble as it is. Do you want her to be even more suspicious of you than before?”
“What am I supposed to say, Rayne? I just fucked my own birthmother, then she tells me I’m her son? Yeah, why don’t I confess to the murder while I’m at it!” Paris looks younger and more vulnerable as he lets his fear show. It’s a sunny day in the Mission, but I feel a chill as the wind suddenly kicks up.
“Paris, come back inside.” He doesn’t resist as I guide him back into the apartment, but neither does he give in with enthusiasm. I lead him to the living room and push him onto the couch before sitting next to him. “Listen to me, Paris. You being adopted does not change who you are. Whether Max is your biological mother or not, you are still the same Paris Frantz you always were. Do you hear me?”
“I fucked my own mother,” Paris says hollowly, his mind still in a daze. He is staring at his hands as if they can give him an answer. “I fucked her. Twice. What kind of person am I?”
“You don’t even know she is your mother!” I raise my voice to get his attention. “Even if she is, you didn’t know that!”
“That doesn’t matter.” Paris is still staring at his hands, this time in revulsion. “I fucked my own mother!” He doesn’t seem able to progress beyond this point. I don’t know what to say to snap him out of it. I don’t know if there is something I can say about something like this. “And my adopted mother, she’s so fucking pious and yet, she’s been lying to me this whole time! That’s the part I can’t believe. She never fucking told me I was adopted. How does she justify that?”
“I think in her mind, you were her child. Once she saw you, you became hers. I think she’s still ashamed after all these years that she couldn’t conceive and to tell you that you’re adopted would only reinforce that shame.”
“But it’s obvious that it was my father’s fault,” Paris jumps in. “I do have a half-sister, in case you’d forgotten.”
“She didn’t know that at the time. The wife was usually blamed for those kind of problems.”
“Why are you defending her?” Paris twists in his seat to glare at me full force. I stare back at him, not allowing him to intimidate me. I know that he is upset and hurting, but it will do neither of us any good if I knuckle under.
“I’m not defending her; I’m trying to find an explanation.” I’m trying to calm you down, I think, but I won’t say that out loud.
“Explanation—she’s a fucking hypocrite. End of story.” Paris gets up and storms to his room. This time, I don’t follow him. If he doesn’t emerge in an hour, I’ll venture to see what he’s up to. Otherwise, he does need time alone.