Ed. Note: I wrote this nearly twenty years ago while I was getting my MA in Writing & Consciousness in San Francisco. It’s the first of a trilogy, and I had a lot of fun writing it. Let’s see how well it’s aged, shall we?
Chapter One; Part One
“Rayne, we have got to get up out of here!” Paris snaps his fingers in my face, something he only does when it’s just the two of us. We have been best friends for so long, he knows I won’t misinterpret the gesture as bitchy or overly queer. Same with his pattern of speech. When it’s just the two of us, he can be Miss Thing with major attitude. When we are out in the world, he tones down the camp. It’s not because he’s ashamed of being bisexual or anything stupid like that, but because he hates being labeled just about as much as I do. Besides, it amuses him to observe people trying to discern his sexual orientation then get flustered when they realize he knows what they’re doing.
“Stop that,” I say crossly, waving his hand away. I am in the middle of Armistead Maupin’s new book, which frankly, I am not enjoying very much. Why don’t I put it down, then? Because it’s the ‘in’ book of the moment for queers to have read, and I hate not being able to talk about the newest trends, even if only to bash them. It’s the same way I feel about voting—I do it so I have the right to bitch.
“Ooooh, it’s Armistead,” Paris simpers, peeking over my shoulder. “The King of the Castro. What does the big bad bore have to say?”
“I dunno,” I frown, turning the page. “I just started, and I’m not liking it already. Who would talk about sex with a child who had suffered horrible sexual abuse?” Wisely, Paris doesn’t comment on that as he knows there’s no suitable response. I try to read a bit more, but, frankly, I have never liked Armistead.
“Listen to me,” Paris pouts, his voice taking on that whiny note that I dislike so much. “I am going cuckoo being holed up in here! We need to get our groove on!”
“Uh, huh,” I say absentmindedly, my mind in the story. I already don’t like the little kid, which I feel guilty about as he’s dying of AIDS. I have the uncomfortable feeling that if I keep reading the book, I’ll end up hating him which would make me the biggest bitch on earth. I mean, what kind of person hates a kid who has endured sexual abuse from his parents and various other adults and after escaping them, discovers that he has AIDS? Only the meanest-hearted person on earth. Which is me, I guess, because I really can’t stand the little brat. “Paris? Do you think I’m mean?”
“Yes,” Paris retorts, folding his muscled arms over his nicely-sculpted chest which can be seen under his tight, black mesh shirt. “You’re being mean to me now.”
“Hm.” I turn back to my book, swinging my legs back and forth as they dangle in front of the rocker. I love reading in our living room after we—ok, after I—painted the walls bright yellow. Our landlord almost had a conniption when he saw them, but Paris convinced him that it was the lesser evil to me being depressed.
“You do not want to see her after a week of depression,” Paris cautioned
Dickie, our beleaguered landlord, a fat, laboring man with a receding hairline and a double chin. Dickie’s eyes had bugged out as Paris elaborated. “She doesn’t shower the entire time and subsists completely on Twinkies, delivery pizza, and triple shots of espresso. It is not a pretty sight.” He exaggerated slightly, but it seemed to mollify Dickie.
“You hafta paint over it before you’re outta here,” Dickie snapped, trying to sound tough. He’s from New York, but he acted more like a Midwesterner, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. Besides, how seriously can you take a grown man named Dickie? “What for I’m gonna sell dis room looking like dat?” His accent seemed to come and go depending on how agitated he was.
“Don’t worry about it,” Paris said soothingly as I melted into the background, yellow into yellow. Paris was the better ‘people person’ of the two of us, and I knew I’d upset Dickie even more if I joined in the conversation. Fortunately, Dickie was easily soothed by Paris’s charm, and I got to keep my yellow room.
“Rainbow Freedom Liang!” Paris shouts at me, his hands on his hips. Damn. I know he’s pissed if he uses my full name, especially since he knows how much I hate it. Why couldn’t I be like other Asian kids and have parents who were Type-A personalities who pressured their kids to do better than the white kids? Why did I have to have hippie parents who couldn’t get over the sixties? My mom still smokes weed and says things like, ‘peace and love, man.’ Yes, she calls people ‘man’. It tickles her to death that ‘dude’ is back in circulation.
“What, Paris?” I say in my best geisha-girl voice. It’s the most expedient way to deal with Paris when he’s upset. “What did I do?” I tilt my head and look at him from under my lashes. This look works on ninety percent of the people I date. Unfortunately for me, Paris only falls for it once in a while, and this is not one of those times.
“I been talking at you for the last ten minutes with you giving me the wall.” Paris rolls his eyes at me. “You better recognize, Rainbow!” Worse and worse. He becomes a caricature of himself when he gets mad. I set Armistead on the coffee table, jump up from the rocker and throw my arms around Paris’s neck. It’s a stretch as he’s six-feet two inches, and I’m a foot shorter, but I manage.
“Oh, please forgive me,” I coo, hugging him tightly. Paris’s mother is one of those women who smothered her son as her way of showing love when he was a boy then turned cold when he told her he was queer, so now, if he is ignored for any length of time, he is afraid he’s going to be abandoned. She messed him up but good, did that one. “You know you are my beautiful Paris without whom I would be completely, utterly, desolately lost.” I smack him on the lips with a big, fat kiss, giggling the whole time. I like playing with Paris, and he usually likes it, too.
“Stop it, Rayne,” Paris says crossly, but a smirk is tugging at his full lips. At least he is using the name I prefer rather than the dreaded one on my birth certificate. “Let go of me.” He tries to break free without hurting me, but I have my arms locked tightly behind his neck.
“Not until you forgive me,” I insist, holding on for dear life. I am barely on my tiptoes as he straightens to his full height.
“All right, already!” By this time, Paris is smiling widely, his features becoming almost heavenly as he does. I stare at his face, never quite able to reconcile his angelic looks with his devilish mind. With his wide-set green eyes, carefully-styled, baby-soft gold locks and a body that takes two hours of exercise a day to maintain, he is every person’s wet dream.
I don’t do so badly myself, if I may be immodest. At five-feet two-inches tall, I would like another three inches or so, but I make do with platform shoes. Contrary to most Asian women, I am voluptuous with curves in all the right places. I enjoy eating, but am blessed with a decent metabolism. My straight black hair is hacked off just below my ears which brings attention to my planed cheekbones. I have warm brown eyes that tilt like a cat’s and full lips which smile easily. I am somewhat of a clotheshorse, or rather, I would be if I could afford it. I would look fabulous in Wang and Versace, but don’t have the money to indulge such fantasies. Instead, I go to vintage clothing stores and consignment shops to stretch my meager budget. Once in a while, I find a treasure—such as my Versace dress—at a decent price, but mostly it’s just old clothes. Unfortunately, vintage has become trendy, and I find myself spending more than I would like to, anyway. Still, the clothes do make the woman, and when around a man like Paris, it’s imperative that I look my best so I don’t get lost in his shadow.
“Rayne, I’m tired of staying inside. The rain’s stopped. Let’s go out.” Paris gives me a brief hug before untwining my arms.
“Where do you want to go? I don’t have much money,” I caution him. Neither of us do. I’m an admin assistant at a nonprofit day treatment center for delinquents (called, of all things, A Brighter Day), making forty thou a year. In the Midwest, that would make me middle class. In San Francisco? It’s one catastrophe away from being on the streets. Paris is a part-time model, part-time trainer at his gym, but he’s not rolling in the money, either. We’re just barely able to pay the eight-hundred dollars apiece a month needed as rent for our tiny, two-bedroom apartment in the heart of the Mission District. We are lucky that our landlord liked us on sight or we wouldn’t have gotten the apartment as there were hundreds of people looking at it. We are also lucky because we snagged the apartment right before the Mission became the trendy place to be. Third floor, as I refuse to be on the ground floor. It’s one of the few neighborhoods in San Francisco that still has character, mostly of a Latin flavor, but that’s starting to disappear with the influx of gentrification. They’re putting up some kind of high-rise on Valencia Street, right next to the community thrift store. The irony of it just about kills me. Paris and I have talked about leaving, but where would we go?
“Spokane,” is Paris’s stock response. For some unfathomable reason, he has always wanted to live in Washington. It’s been a lifelong dream. Me, I’ll take the Riviera, if I had my druthers.
“Maxine is having a party tonight,” Paris says, sitting down on the futon. We have had this futon ever since we moved into this apartment, and its cover is stained with fluids best left unidentified. I know for a fact that Paris has consummated a few relationships on this very futon. It’s one reason I prefer the rocker. No matter how often we wash the cover of the futon—which isn’t that often—it still retains a slight odor to it. Paris insists it’s just my imagination, but I know better.
“Maxine?” I lift an eyebrow, a trick Paris madly envies. He’s convinced it will dramatically enhance his love life if he can lift an eyebrow at the opportune moment.
“One of my clients at the gym,” Paris sighs, impatient with my bad memory. He fervently believes that I must be actively discarding what he tells me because I forget information so quickly. My standard retort is that if he wouldn’t tell me so many useless things, perhaps I would remember the important stuff he imparts on me.
“Ms. Brittle?” I ask, searching my memory. I have vague recollections of an older woman, bitter divorce, trying to get back in shape so she can get back in the game. Fake redhead. Paris dubs each of his clients with a nickname based on their personalities.
“That’s her!” Paris beams as if I had done something remarkable. “She’s having a few friends over and invited me to drop by. Said I could bring a friend if I wanted to.”
“Where does she live?”
“Edge of Mission.”
“I thought she was rich!” More hazy recollections. Money. Monthly trips to Europe. Tummy tuck. Hitting on Paris. The last, of course, is no surprise. All of Paris’s clients hit on him. The lucky ones get to take him home, but he never stays the night.
“She was until her husband dumped her. Caught her in bed with another lover.” Paris pauses dramatically. “A woman!”
“So?” His drama is wasted on me, as he sometimes forgets. I am not surprised when it comes to the vagaries of the heart.
“You’re no fun,” Paris pouts. He is adorable when he pouts, and I resist the urge to ruffle his hair. He quickly drops the attitude as he’s dying to tell me the story. “She married this wealthy guy and was able to live the high-life for quite a while. Had the rich house in the hills, the whole ten yards. When he caught her in bed with a woman, however, he threw her out that very night with nothing but the clothes on her back. Had the locks changed by the time she appeared on his doorstep the next day. Because of the pre-nup she signed, she only gets ten thou a month alimony and no equity, poor woman. When I asked why she signed it, she said she had been in love when she married him. Personally, I think she thought he’d die before they ever divorced.” Paris finishes his story, beaming at me and waiting for his reward.
“Wow, that’s incredible,” I gush, plopping down next to him on the futon. I caress his arm, much like stroking a cat. “You are such a great storyteller, Paris.”
“Aw shucks. It’s nothing.” Paris dismisses my compliment, but flushes with pleasure, anyway. We sit and cuddle a bit before Paris adds, “She’s now living with the girlfriend in the girlfriend’s house in the Mission. The girlfriend is an artist—hence, the Mission, so Max has had to curb her extravagant taste.”
“There’s the ten thou a month,” I say dryly. It’s not crazy money for the Bay Area, but it’s more money than I’m likely to see in my lifetime.
“Max thought about contesting the pre-nup, but she knew she didn’t stand a chance. Her ex has a killer lawyer.” Sometimes, Paris amazes me with the useless information he gleans from his clients.
“How come you’re not taking Jenna?” I stretch out so my head is on Paris’s lap. I didn’t sleep well last night and am thinking about taking a nap. Jenna is Paris’s newest. She’s twenty-one to his twenty-eight, a junior at State, studying archaeology, and dull as dishwater in my opinion. However, she does have nice tits and a killer ass.
“She’s out of town,” Paris shrugs. “It’s almost over, anyway.” Paris runs through lovers faster than I do underwear—which I change daily, thank you very much. People like him, and he returns the favor. Unfortunately for those enamored of him, Paris loses interest as quickly as he shows it. There is a trail of broken hearts leading from Paris’s bed to the Golden Gate Bridge. He’s the best friend in the world, but hell on lovers. It’s not because he’s cold-hearted, however; it’s because he’s a romantic and cannot bear anything less than fairytale perfection in his relationships. He would deny that he has unattainable standards, but that’s why he never sticks to one person for long.
“What about Peter or David or Loretta?” I fire off the names in rapid succession. He has just finished with each of these people, and I feel like making a point.
“What are you, my mother?” A hint of anger in his voice. He does not get along with his mother who does not approve of his ‘lifestyle’. She sends him weekly letters heavily sprinkled with Bible verses. In between verses, she damns him to hell for what he’s doing, but says it’s not too late for him to repent. He hasn’t spoken to her in ten years except for the few times she’s called from Memphis—where she moved to be with her second husband the year Paris started college—and managed to actually get him on the phone. Paris hates the phone and usually lets the machine or me get it. He’s been to his mom’s place in Memphis exactly three times—once when his mom first moved there, once to see his half-sister being born, and once more after that event.
“Just asking,” I say in a conciliatory tone. Paris has a knee-jerk reaction to his mother, and he hasn’t gotten over it yet. I wonder if he ever will. He is twenty-eight which is a little old to be stuck in the past. Then again, I’m the same age and I still don’t talk to that bitch of a sister of mine, Liberty Moonbeam Liang, better known as Libby, unless I absolutely have to. She’s even better known as Big Pain in the Ass. Fortunately, she lives in New York and not California, or I’d have to kill her. She calls once in a while to gloat about making ten times the amount of money I do, on Wall Street, of course, and to ask how Mom is doing. I always tell her to call Mom herself if she’s so worried. Our conversations inevitably end up with one of us hanging up on the other. The last time, it was me right after Libby suggested I get a real life instead of whatever simulation I was experiencing. She’s three years younger, but thinks she’s older the way she talks down to me. To top it off, she is engaged to be married to a broker who is also rolling in the money.
“When are you going to give up your stupid ideals and become a real person?” She constantly lectures me on what she perceives as my fatal flaw—my desire to help people. The only thing she thinks is worthwhile is stockpiling money until you can live off the interest. Any time I try to extol the virtues of helping the downtrodden, she tunes me out.
“Rayne! What’s with you today? You are so not here.” Paris waves his hand in front of my face until I blink.
“Sorry, Paris,” I sigh. “I was just thinking of The Bitch.” No need to specify whom as there is only one woman in my life who merits the name.
“You got to let it go,” he counsels, pulling me to him. “She ain’t worth the mind space.”
“What time is this shindig of yours?” I ask, nestling against his chest.
“Eight.” Which means we’d leave at eight. I am glad that Paris has a car so we don’t have to worry about BART, which would not be an issue if it would only run all night.
I look up at Paris’s face, in some ways, more familiar to me than my own. After all, I only see myself when I am looking in a mirror which is two or three times a day and perhaps when I walk by a shop with glass windows. I see Paris’s face all the time, and what a dear face it is. One which comforts me with its familiarity. Looking at his face, being with him, is like coming home. We have been best friends since we attended high school together in Oakland, both of us just a little different than our classmates. We met when he saved me from getting beat up by a bunch of irate girls. They claimed that I stole one of their boyfriends, which was emphatically not true. Paris happened to be walking down the street when he saw me cowering with six or seven girls around me. Not my finest hour. He knew one of them and was able to charm the rest, and they left me alone from that day forward. Paris and I looked at each other and knew that we would be fast friends.