“Lib, it’s me.” I pause as I feel the freeze emanating from the phone. “Look, you didn’t give me a chance to respond. You know I’m three hours behind you and I don’t get into work until eight-thirty or so. I’m sorry that I haven’t gotten back to you, but you did say I had two weeks.”
“To put the order in!” Libby snaps. “Not to respond.” That isn’t how I remember it, but I let it slide. “What do you want?”
“I wanted to let you know that I’d be happy to be your bridesmaid if you still want me, but that I have some issues with some of your requests.” That’s as diplomatic as I get, so I wait to see if she’ll accept it or not.
“Fine,” she says shortly. “Tell me about it.” Taking a deep breath, I read my list to her. I am met with glacial silence. “Out of the question,” she snaps.
“What is?” I ask, a bit impatiently.
“All of it.” Apparently, my sister has yet to learn the fine art of compromise. “Rayne, this is my wedding. I will not have you ruining it.”
“Let me ask you a question, Libby. If I got married and you were my bridesmaid, would you do whatever I told you to do?” I know the answer to that one before she says a word.
“We can cross that bridge if we ever get to it,” Libby says snidely. “I don’t see that happening to you any time soon. What’s the longest you’ve been with a guy? Five months? You seem to have a tiny problem with commitment that precludes getting married.” She has neatly sidestepped the question by going on the offensive. She doesn’t know that I’m bisexual and that my longest relationship of a year has been with a woman. Somehow, I don’t think telling her that will help the situation.
“You’re being unreasonable,” I say softly. “I’m willing to give in on most of your points, but you’re not willing to budge at all.”
“It’s my wedding!” She’s beginning to sound like a broken record. I can see how this is going to be her mantra for making people do outrageous things. “You have to do as I say.”
“That’s not how it works, Libby.” I am beginning to get angry myself. “You can’t just order everybody around like they’re your minions.”
Once she hears that, she really goes into a snit. I don’t know what her colleagues are thinking of her, but I’m glad there’s nobody around to hear my side of the conversation. She accuses me of trying to sabotage her wedding, of being jealous because she has herself a man, of wanting to steal the limelight from her as usual. I mention that perhaps I shouldn’t be a bridesmaid. I notice the director of the agency poking his head out of his office and staring at me. I wave at him which causes him to disappear quickly back into his office. He doesn’t have time for peons such as me. I feel a headache coming on. Libby storms that if I can’t do this for her, she doesn’t want me at the wedding at all. Then she has the gall to tell me that she has a meeting in ten and can’t talk about this now. She wants an email by Monday morning whether I’ll do things her way or not at all. If not, then I’m banned from the wedding.
She slams the phone down, hurting my ears. I immediately call my mother again. I feel like I’m in the middle of a fucking soap opera, and I’ve lost the script. I rub my temples as I wait for my mother to answer. I pour out my grievances, but my mother is unsympathetic. She says it’s between Libby and me, and she doesn’t want Libby to think she’s taking my side. When I say Libby is being unreasonable and won’t compromise, my mother counsels me not to take it personally. She answers like some sage Buddha-figure or something, and it’s pissing me off. I suddenly realize that I need to get off the phone before I say something I’ll regret. Besides, I’m tired of her calling me ‘dude’ and ‘man’. I’m her daughter for Christ’s sake, not one of her long-haired hippie friends.
I push the whole ordeal to the back of my mind and start working. There is a mound of work in my in-basket that hadn’t been there ten minutes before. While I was involved with my family drama, someone had sneaked a shitload of work in my basket, which I do not appreciate. When I have time, I call Emil to set up a time to meet him after work. He agrees with alacrity to meet me at the Elbo Room which is a neighborhood dive on Valencia. In fact, he agrees so quickly, I have a hunch that he’s a lonely man. I also call Paris, but only get the machine. I leave a message, then call Vashti at her work. I get her machine as well, apologizing for not getting back to her sooner before leaving a message. After I am done with my personal calls, I focus on work. I hate having work in my in-basket at the end of the day; I take it as a personal affront. I don’t notice Quinn standing in front of me until she clears her throat. I look up to see her smiling down at me.
“Hey, Rayne. How’s it going?” She asks in a way that tells me she’s just making conversation. I nod cautiously before parroting the question back to her. “Hope things are ok with your roommate. What happened?” I don’t want to get into Paris’s business with her, so I mumble something about nothing and hope she’ll let it slide. “I had fun last night. We should go out again.” I look at her sharply, questioning her intentions. Is she asking because she is still trying to date me or because I’m the perfect foil to help her get dates? I’m ashamed of my thoughts. Perhaps she means exactly what she said. “Sunday brunch? We could chat about my date!” It strikes me how egocentric she is. Every time we talk, it’s about her and her drama. I don’t need that in a friend.
“No thanks, Quinn,” I say with a smile. I turn back to my computer.
“Oh, ok.” It’s clear from her tone of voice that she’s hurt, but it can’t be helped. She’s a mess, and I’ve fixed up enough of those to last me a lifetime. The phone rings. It’s Paris.
“Don’t forget we have to go to the precinct,” he whispers.
“Did you just get up?” I check my clock. It’s two in the afternoon.
“No, but my head hurts.” His voice is weak; I’m worried. “The inspector called to remind me.”
“Did she advise you to bring a lawyer?” I joke. I can tell from the silence that he doesn’t find it funny.
“I’ll pick you up after work.” Before I can reply, he hangs up the phone. I remember that I had made an appointment with Emil at five. I call him and have it switched to eight at his place instead of the bar. That should be plenty of time. He lives on Valencia; I can walk there from my apartment. The rest of the afternoon whizzes by.
“Rayne, why can’t we be friends?” It’s Quinn again, and she has her hands on her hips. “I know you don’t want to go out with me, but we can hang out, can’t we?”
“We could,” I say carefully. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea right now.” She’s about to say something else, but Paris walks in the door. Immediately, her body changes so she is posing for him. I don’t think she’s even aware that she’s doing it.
“Hi, Paris,” she chirps, smiling brightly at him. She is wearing a tailored white blouse that flatters her figure nicely without being overtly provocative. Her legs look shapely under her knee-length black skirt as well.
“Hey, Quinn.” Paris gives her a perfunctory smile. I could have told her she’s wasting her time on him as he won’t touch her after what I’ve told him about her. “Ready to go, Rayne?” I nod and shut down my computer.
“See you next week, Quinn.” I say to Quinn, grabbing my jacket and purse. For a minute, her eyes flash angrily, but she manages to rein it in.
“Have a good weekend,” she says coolly. I exit with Paris arm in arm.
“What’s wrong with her?” Paris asks once we hit the streets.
“Don’t know, don’t care.” I shrug as we reach his car. I amend my statement as I slide into the passenger seat. “I told her I didn’t want to go out with her the day after her date with that woman from the bar. She’s beginning to bore me.”
“That quickly?” Paris asks. “That must be a new record.”
“She gave a great first impression, but couldn’t follow through.” I shake my head. “It’s too bad.” We are silent as he navigates the streets. I am lost in my thoughts, and I’m sure he is lost in his own, too.
“I’m sorry,” Paris says finally. “Again.” I don’t ask what he’s apologizing for, but simply nod.
“We’re cool, Paris, but it can’t happen again. If you bring it a third time, you’d better be ready to deal with the consequences. I’m not sure I’d be able to turn you down again.” I’m not a saint, and I’ve used up my self-restraint. I don’t mind resisting temptation, but I have to have help from Paris.
“Don’t worry,” Paris says solemnly. “I’ll do my best to resist your womanly charms.”
“What’s happening with Jenna?” I haven’t heard him mention her since the night of the fateful party. “You break up with her or what?”
“She’s coming back soon,” Paris says, heaving a huge sigh. “I’m hoping to avoid a scene.”
“What makes you think there’s going to be one?”
“Trust me, there will be.” I trust him. Even though he’s honest with his lovers, spelling out the situation letter by letter, most refuse to believe that he means what he says. Each thinks s/he’ll be the one to turn him, to make him true to his/her love. I can’t count how many lovers have been burned because they think they can change him. One even cried on my shoulder for an hour after Paris dumped her. I ended up taking her to bed in an effort to comfort her. At least she wasn’t crying when she left the apartment.
I wonder if Paris really wants a meaningful relationship. It’s hard to take him seriously when he moans about his love life since he’s always the dumper and never the dumpee. I don’t think he’s ever been dumped, and he’s dated somewhere between forty and fifty people. That’s quite an amazing record. I, on the other hand, am more apt to be dumped than to be the dumper. In fact, my last five relationships have ended with me crying into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s finest. I am owed the privilege of dumping my next five lovers to even things up. The problem with me is that I’m a loyal dog. Once I am bonded to someone, I refuse to give up beyond the point where it’s healthy. I have some sort of flaw that doesn’t allow me to walk away while there’s a chance of escaping somewhat intact. My last girlfriend said it was the thing she hated most about me—knowing that no matter what she did, I wouldn’t dump her. Funny. I thought loyalty was an asset, not a deficit.
“Jenna emailed me from out of town. Said she really missed me and wanted to take our relationship to the next level when she got back. What is it with girls and the next level?” Paris is not asking a rhetorical question; he really doesn’t understand why women are always talking about the next level.
“Things can’t stay the same way forever.”
“We’ve only been dating a month! Then she was gone for a week. Isn’t that a little early to be talking about the next level?” It is, but I don’t want to tell him that. He has too many intimacy issues to begin with. If I allow that Jenna has jumped the gun, he’ll use it as an excuse never to commit to anyone. After Brett died, Paris retreated into his shell more than ever. He was a party man before dating Brett, monogamous for the three years he was with Brett, then he reverted to his earlier nature for the last three years. I am hoping he’ll mature enough to settle down one of these days, but I don’t hold my breath. Brett’s death really shattered Paris, and he vowed never to hurt like that again. He had to watch his lover die by bits and pieces until there was nothing left but a raving lunatic. Neither Brett nor Paris had insurance at the time, so no protease cocktails for Brett. Part of Paris’s loose behavior after Brett’s death was out of guilt that he couldn’t save Brett. By the time Brett died, he had shriveled down from a 6’2” guy weighing two hundred pounds to 5’8” and I don’t know how many pounds because he stopped weighing himself around one-twenty-five. The last month of his life, Brett no longer recognized Paris. I have never seen Paris cry as much as he did during the long decline.
“Here we are.” Paris parks the car in front of the cop shop, and we slowly debark. I stand by the car, not wanting to go in. I don’t understand how it is I’ve been forced to go to the police station so many times during the last week. I mean, I understand why, but I can’t digest that this is happening. I keep wanting to look around for cameras and a guy jumping out of the bushes yelling, “Surprise! You’re on Candid Camera.”
“I guess we should go in,” I say with a sigh. Paris and I link arms and march into the station. We are directed to Inspector Robinson, but this time, she wants to talk to Paris first so I follow the officer who will be taking my statement. By now, I am becoming an old pro at this statement-giving process and handle it smoothly. I am led back to the lobby where I wait for Inspector Robinson and Paris. And wait. And wait. It is a full hour and a half before the receptionist sends me back to Inspector Robinson. Paris is nowhere in sight.
“Sit, Ms. Liang,” Inspector Robinson nods at the empty chair next to her desk.
“What have you done to Paris?” I ask in panic, looking around me. What if they already booked him and threw him in the slammer? How was I going to post bail? Where could I find a lawyer? I could ask Lisa, I guess. She’s not a criminal lawyer, but she’s bound to know someone who is. I must have looked appropriately frightened, because the inspector hastens to reassure me. Sort of.
“He’s giving his statement, Ms. Liang. He’s not under arrest.” Yet hovers in the air, but neither of us give voice to it. “I want to take you back to the day before yesterday. Give me your movements again. As much detail as you can remember.” By now, the inspector must be used to me because she doesn’t even groan when I stutter and stumble, backtrack, and contradict myself. She waits patiently for me to figure out if I ate the cereal before I drank my juice or vice-versa. I always do them separately, but not always in the same order. I finish up by saying I went on a date after work.
“That’s all I remember, Inspector.” I stifle the impulse to add, ‘honest’, because I know how phony that sounds.
She settles back to get into the meat of the matter. She wants to know when I talked to Paris, if we talked in the morning or afternoon. I’m not sure other than we might have shared the bathroom in the morning as we sometimes do. I am sitting ramrod in my chair, uncomfortable, but unwilling to slouch. She wants to know why Paris went over to Max’s house that afternoon, asking the question quickly in order to catch me off guard. I hesitate before answering. I’m not sure what Paris told her, but I know that I can’t tell her anything less than the truth. I tell her I wanted Emil’s number so I could talk to him about Moira. Of course, she wants to know why I would do that. It’s clear by the way she’s looking at me that she knows exactly why I want to talk to Emil about Moira, and the intensity of her gaze makes me squirm. I mutter something about having to know, not willing to admit my fantasies about solving the case and becoming famous. Inspector Robinson warns me that she would strongly advise against me messing with an ongoing investigation, and I duly note her warning. Notice that I do not say I’ll heed the warning because I don’t want to be caught lying to the police.
Just as I’m relaxing a fraction, the inspector ask me if I knew Paris and Max had slept together the day Max was murdered. She’s watching my face carefully, not convinced that Paris and I are just friends. I am happy that she doesn’t know what almost happened between Paris and me last night. I allow that I know about the incident because Paris told me about it. I keep my face blank, noticing a flicker of disappointment cross the inspector’s face. I am congratulating myself for not rising to her bait when she says the interaction was allegedly consensual. That raises my hackle, and I defend Paris fiercely even though I know I’m falling into her trap. The idea of Paris forcing someone to have sex with him is an anathema. With his looks, he’s the one turning down offers, not the other way around. The harder I defend Paris, the more skeptical the inspector looks. I finally shut my mouth when I see that I’m negatively affecting her with my defense.
She says we’ll never know for sure if it was consensual as Max is dead. I counter by asking about signs of trauma or contusions or anything like that. I know from reading mysteries that there are ways of knowing if sex is consensual or not. Inspector Robinson is just trying to rattle me. She is doing a good job of it. The inspector glosses over my comment to continue with her questioning, asking how Paris seemed when I saw him later in the evening. I say he seemed normal because he had. He wasn’t shaky or upset or rattled. I cheer up a bit because he really hadn’t acted out of the norm.
“Ms. Liang. Your loyalty to Mr. Frantz is admirable. However, it doesn’t help us apprehend the killer. The best way you can help your friend is by telling the truth.” It’s a pompous speech, but I make allowance for the amount of time she’s probably put into this case. It’s enough to make anyone cranky. After putting me through the paces, she lets me go. Before I can leave, however, she has this to say. “Ms. Liang, I don’t think you’re being completely honest with me. If I find out you’re holding out on me, I will see to it that you are charged as an accessory after the fact. Is that clear?” She holds my eyes until I nod, then dismisses me with a quick jerk of her head. I scuttle out of there before she changes her mind. I go back to the lobby to wait for Paris.