Chapter Six; Part One
I pound on the door with my fist, demanding that Paris open the door. Seven-thirty is never a happy time for me, especially when I hadn’t fallen asleep until one the night before. I’m supposed to be there by eight-thirty which I’ll just make if Paris lets me in this minute. Paris grumbles, the toilet flushes, then the door opens. He bows with a flourish as he exits, allowing me full reign of the bathroom. I sweep in and start the shower. I brush my teeth and pee before hoping into the steaming water. I like it as hot as possible without actually scalding my skin. Paris, who prefers tepid water, shudders every time he sees the steam pouring out of the bathroom. It’s one reason I like to shower with the door open—so I don’t seriously fog up the mirror.
After I finish my ablutions, I go to the kitchen to see what I can rustle up. Paris is nowhere to be found or I’d coerce him into scrambling me some eggs. I love scrambled eggs, but I’m horrible at making them. They always turn out either overdone and rubbery or underdone and runny. I don’t understand how I can systematically screw them up no matter how much attention I pay to them, because theoretically, scrambled eggs are a snap to make. Not for me. I even made them for Paris once for a special occasion. I had to toss them into the trash and cook something completely different. French toast, I think it was, which Paris had to tell me how to make. Some present that was. I open the fridge and frown. I don’t feel like having cold cereal, damn it, I want eggs. I can only hard-boil them with any semblance of success and that’s not what I have in mind, anyway. I grab the carton of orange juice and pour myself a glass. I pull out a whole-wheat bagel from the cupboard and toast it. After it’s done, I spread some lite cream cheese on it. This is my breakfast more often than I like to admit. I am out the door by a quarter after eight and walk briskly to work.
“Hey, Rayne.” Quinn greets me before I can even sip from the cup of coffee I have just poured.
“What’s up?” I give her a perfunctory smile. I am not wasting any charm on her until I’m sure that she’s interested. I sit down at my desk and turn on my computer. While I’m waiting, I keep my eyes firmly on the monitor so I don’t have to check out the perfectly luscious mini-skirt Quinn is wearing which falls to just above her knees. It’s a deep purple, and her button-down shirt is white. She looks good.
“Why so cold, girlfriend?” Quinn places a hand on her hip, giving me major attitude. Funny she needs to ask after her reaction to seeing Paris for the first time. I practically had to hose her down, she was so hot to trot. “I got dressed up especially for our date today.” I say nothing, not wanting to admit that I put extra-care into what I am wearing as well. Instead of jeans and a boring shirt, I am wearing black stretch pants with gently-flared hems and a emerald green blouse that can button up to the chin or show a little cleavage. I plan on unbuttoning the top two buttons when we go have our drinks.
“I have a lot on my mind,” I manage to say as she stands there staring at me. “I don’t mean to give you the brush-off.” My computer has finally turned on, and I see that I have emails. Several of them. “I’m looking forward to having drinks with you after work.” My tone is brusque, and it’s clear that I’m ending the conversation.
“Look, I know I made a fool of myself over your friend, but you have to admit he’s stunning-looking. Don’t worry—I’m over it.” She flashes a brilliant smile my way that does a great deal to melt my latent irritation.
“I guess it’s not your fault,” I say grudgingly. “He is quite the looker. I can’t take him anywhere.” With that settled, Quinn flashes me a smile before bouncing upstairs. I stare at her until she disappears before turning back to my computer. I click on my inbox to see who’s giving me a shout-out. Half of the emails are from Alicia, wanting one dumb-ass thing or the other. I file them in my ‘to-do-much-later’ folder, then move on. There’s an email from my mother informing me that my sister is getting married in six months and expects me to be there.
“Rainbow, don’t make this into an issue, ok? I don’t understand why you and Liberty can’t get along. Your father and I raised you better than that. Peace.” I click it over to my ‘moms’ files and have to laugh. That’s my mother through and through. However, I don’t know if I will be able to refrain from making my sister’s wedding an issue. Case in point, her email to me.
“Rayne, I am sure Mom has emailed you by now about my upcoming nuptials with Wallace. Mother has guilt-tripped me into having you as one of my bridesmaids, so I expect you to act decently. That means shaving your armpits and legs, wearing makeup and having your hair done, wearing hose, of course, and not getting into any political conversations with Wallace’s friends. This is my day, and I don’t want you to make waves. Oh, by the way, please lose ten pounds by the wedding. It’s six months away, so it’s completely reasonable.” I flush as I read her email. There is so much wrong with it, I can’t begin to articulate what pisses me off the most. The next email is from her as well, and I hesitate to open it. However, I am a masochist at heart. I click it open.
“Rayne. Here is a link for the bridesmaid’s dress I want you to wear. It’s the little mauve tiered chiffon number. Our wedding colors will be mauve and ivory. You can get the dress online. Here’s a link for the shoes. Bruno Magli’s ‘Thala’ pumps, which will need to be dyed to match the dress. These are all from Nordy’s, by the way. The Lois Hill necklace, and the pearl and crystal earrings. Please let me know ASAP when you have purchased them. I expect you to do it within the next two weeks. Ideally, you will order a size six for the dress, but a size eight is acceptable as well. It is really fitted, and you don’t want your stomach to be poking out. Oh, and keep the navel ring out for the wedding. One more thing. It would be ideal if you bought some Vera Wang Parfum for the occasion, but it is optional. Libby.”
I narrow my eyes as I read the email; they all but disappear by the time I finish. I can tell that my sister the pain-in-the-ass will be even more of a bitch about this wedding thing. Lose ten pounds? A size six? Mauve tiered chiffon? I click on the link reluctantly, and the most hideous dress greets my eyes. Tiers and tiers of fluff, a body-hugging waist, then more tiers. Thin spaghetti straps that bare much of the upper body. I catch a glimpse of the price and almost choke on my coffee. I click and click and click, adding the prices in my head. When it’s all said and done, the total is over a thousand dollars, and that’s not including airfare or makeup or hair. Or even stockings, for god’s sake. Throwing in a half ounce of Vera Wang’s ‘Parfum’ would add $150 to the total. My sister must be smoking crack if she thinks I could afford all this, not to mention if she thinks I would willingly put on something mauve. I wear bright, intense colors, not pastels, and I work in a goddamn nonprofit agency. I try to calm myself by clicking on the next email, which is from Vashti.”
“Rayne, it was good to be spending time with you last night. I am hoping that we can do it again. Something interesting I am hearing at work today. Max’s ex-husband was at the party when Moira was killed. I just thought you’d like to know.” I sit back in my seat, Libby’s bitchy emails blown clear out of my mind. Max’s ex was at the party? That shakes things up quite a bit. I fire an email back to Vashti thanking her for the information. After I get that out of the way, I plunge into my work. I am so busy, that I eat my lunch at the front desk. I am allowed to use the ‘cafeteria’ downstairs, but I don’t have time for that today so I grab a tuna melt and fries from down there and go back up to my desk to eat. Just as I pop a fry into my mouth, the phone rings.
“A Brighter Day,” I chirp, using my professional voice. “How may I direct your call?”
“Rainbow? Is that you?” It’s my mother. She rarely calls me at work, but I have a sinking feeling I know why she’s calling me this time.
I’m right. I don’t want to get into it with her, but there’s no way I’m participating in the wedding from hell. I take a bite of the sandwich and grunt in appreciation. There is something comforting about tuna melts. It’s not a childhood thing as my mother never made them, but I like them, nonetheless. My mother, talking in Taiwanese, questions me about the emails. Since I’m at work, I answer in English. I gobble a fry, then another. Rich, the cook, is an ex-navy man and a juggler to boot. He can also cook a mean tuna melt. I turn my attention to my mother who is still babbling on about family—the importance of it. She wants to make sure that I’m going and even offers to pay for my ticket. She’s an adjunct professor at Berkeley, surprise, surprise, and paints in her spare time. She’s semi-famous around the Bay Area, and has quite the stock portfolio. Plus, there’s the money Dad left to her when he died. He gave Libby and me each twenty-five thousand dollars plus stocks and bonds. I had no idea what to do with the stocks and bonds, so I let Mom take care of that. As for the twenty-five thousand dollars, well, that doesn’t go very far in San Francisco.
I take a deep breath as I finish masticating. I have a hard time putting my foot down with my mother, but I am not giving in this time. Libby is asking the impossible from me, and I don’t feel comfortable going given the restrictions. When I tell my mother I’m not going, however, she refuses to accept my answer. Instead, she gives me a lecture about the fine art of compromise and asks why I find it so difficult to employ? She sounds exasperated as she often does when we’re talking about my relationship with my sister. The word compromise makes me want to laugh. Libby has never been one for compromise, and she’s not likely to start now. I inform my mother that I’m not shelling out over a thousand dollars for a shindig when I’m not even allowed to be myself. I can’t afford dropping that kind of money. I modulate my voice as I do not want any of my colleagues to overhear me.
My mother offers to help me out monetarily, if that’s truly the issue. The problem with my mother is that she’s too perceptive for her own good. I should have known she would try to knock down the obstacles as quickly as I set them up. I am forced to admit that money is not the main point. I sigh in frustration and run my hand through my hair. I am messing it up, but I’m too upset to care. I think for a moment, then ask my mother to flip the situation in reverse. One of her strongest assets is her ability to imagine scenarios and play ‘what if’ games. After she finishes laughing at the thought of me marrying, she acquiesces.
“Let’s say I get married and ask her to wear a brilliant blue dress that is cut down to here and slit up to there with her hair flowing down to her ass and oh yeah, get a tattoo in the meantime. What if I didn’t get married in a church and we had the Indigo Girls playing at the wedding while people of the same gender held hands and smoked weed? What do you think she’d have to say to that?” I blow out my cheeks, trying to keep my temper under check. A coworker passing by throws me a strange look, so I smile winsomely in return.
“Rainbow, you have to make allowances for her. You are the older sister, so it’s up to you to be the mature one.” It irritates me that my mother expects me to look out for Libby’s feelings when she pays such scant attention to mine. Even when we were very young, I’d been the one being admonished for not thinking about Libby and not the other way around. She’s twenty-five years old now; that’s old enough to have grown out of being a self-centered bitch. To my surprise, my mother explains that she doesn’t expect as much from Libby. When I protest—after all, my younger sister makes a shit-load of money—she explains that Libby has always been materialistic, even when she was a little girl. She reminds me of the story how Libby and I used to play organic, whole food store, and Libby would always be the cashier. While I continued marching with my parents well into my teens, Libby refused once she realized that we were marching against corporations and big businesses; she was five years old.
]It was a shock to my parents that a child of theirs could be so cold-bloodedly Republican, but to their credit, they accepted Libby and tolerated her money-grubbing ways. However, my mother explains, that’s why she doesn’t expect as much from Libby because of what my mother sees as Libby’s greediness. I understand what she’s trying to say, but I still wish she hadn’t pressured Libby into having me in the wedding. I would be more than happy to blend in as a guest rather than take part in this rigmarole. After a half dozen cocktails, I would be feeling no pain. My mother admits in English that perhaps she didn’t handle the situation in the best way possible and that perhaps she was just trying to duplicate her relationship with her sister.
It saddens my mother that Libby and I are so far apart, and I don’t mean just geographically. I counter that Auntie JoJo is cool, unlike my stuck-up sister. Auntie JoJo is older than my mom by eight years which makes her fifty-eight, but she still wears mini-skirts and has the legs to carry it off. She travels around the world as a photographer, and always returns bearing fabulous gifts. She has a live-in who is twenty years younger than she, and he can barely keep up with her. Currently, Auntie JoJo is in Greenland doing a photo shoot for National Geographic magazine while her live-in holds down the fort in Vegas. Auntie JoJo sends postcards of majestic scenery, the back filled with her scrawl. ‘Having a fantabulous time! Too bad you’re not here, but good thing Oscar is at home! He’d only slow me down!’ Of course, Libby is embarrassed to death by Auntie JoJo and refuses to talk about her or to her. Libby’s loss, in my opinion.
My mother switches back to Taiwanese as she continues to lecture me about blood being thicker than water. I can tell she’s really upset by the way she’s spouting clichés. I switch to Taiwanese as well because I don’t need my coworkers to know my business. I inform my mother that Libby doesn’t really want me in the wedding, that she never would have asked me if my mother hadn’t pushed the issue, and that Libby would most likely be relieved if I backed out. My mother contradicts me. She seems to think Libby will be hurt if I back out, that she needs her family during this time. I highly doubt that as Libby doesn’t need anybody other than herself. She wouldn’t let Mom take her to school once she reached the first grade. Libby has been back to California maybe four times since she left to attend NYU in New York. She emails twice a month and calls even less than that. It’s my personal opinion that she has a life she created in New York, and she doesn’t think my mom nor I will fit in it. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why she invited us to the wedding in the first place.
“I have to think about it, Mom.” We make a date for early next week, then hang up with her urging me to bring Paris with me when I stop by. She adores that boy and considers him a son. I return to my tuna melt which has grown cold. It still tastes great, and I finish it along with the fries. Lose ten pounds, my ass. Even if I do, I will never be the slender, languid beauty that is my sister. She is three inches taller than me and the same weight. She has no breasts to speak of, and smooth, boyish hips. She would have been a perfect model if she were a few inches taller. As it is, she does some petite modeling in her spare time. She’s been the family beauty since she hit puberty and now has the money to be even more beautiful. I sigh, unhappily aware of my deficiencies. Though I am usually satisfied with my looks, I come up short when comparing myself to my sister.
I shake off the mood, determined to finish the work piling up on my desk. Even though I throw myself into my tasks with gusto, I can’t keep my mind from wandering back to the conversation I had with my mother. I have been jealous of my sister from the time she was born, the day after my birthday, to boot. Life was so perfect with my parents and me, I would wonder out loud why we needed an interloper who couldn’t possibly make things better. My parents thought it was cute the way I would make faces at Libby while standing over her as she lay in her crib. They thought I was showing my affection when it was just the opposite. I couldn’t understand why this little monster had to come into my life, and I was trying to make her cry. What horrible deed had I committed to deserve having her foisted upon me? At age three, I couldn’t understand why I should be happy about having to share my parents with this alien creature.
My feelings didn’t improve over time. Libby was always cuter, more precious, more darling, more adorable than I. No matter what I did, it just couldn’t compare with her talents. She was the star while I was her backup singer. She was Gladys Knight while I was a Pip. I’m not being fair to my parents because they did their best to make sure they treated us equally. With their political leanings, they couldn’t have done otherwise. However, when we were out on the streets, people would stop and make cooing noises over her while paying no attention to me standing beside her. I was an ugly, gawky child until I hit my late teens. A proverbial late-bloomer, my self-esteem wasn’t helped by the fact that complete strangers would tell my parents they should enter my sister in beauty pageants for kids. “She’d win for sure,” they’d gush, unable to tear their eyes off my precocious little sister who’d smile at them, showing her dimples. As early as four, she learned that she could charm anything out of anybody, something she would use to her advantage.