“Dunno.” I shrug indifferently. I am concentrating on eating the popover as fast as I can so it won’t get away from me. “I don’t get the fuss of weddings, anyway. It’s just one day. Why spend so much time and effort on one day? From what I’ve heard, the bride and groom don’t remember anything about the day, anyway.”
“I am knowing someone who spent close to a hundred thousand on her wedding.” I almost drop my fork at this astounding information.
“How, what?” I am so amazed, I stutter. “What could you possibly buy that would add up to that much?”
“Ice sculptures in the punch, real flowers decorating every table, thousand dollar bridesmaid dresses. The bride’s dress was twenty thousand alone. Vera Wang, of course.” Vashti swirls her ice cream around, not eating any of it. “She is thinking to have the biggest event of the year. Two years later, she divorces the man because he is cheating on her. Her father is out a hundred grand, and she is out a husband.” She scoops up a bit of ice cream and licks it slowly.
“That’s insane.” I shovel in the rest of my dessert with deplorable haste. “Marriage is such a fallacy.”
“I know that Harry wanted Max back,” Vashti says calmly, as if she’s not importing big news. “He never wanted to separate from her in the first place, but felt he had to because his pride was hurting. He is not wanting to be the cuckolded husband.”
“How like a man,” I sigh in contentment. “It’s fine for him to mess around but not for her. The old double standard.” I make sure there are no remnants of the dessert on my plate before pushing it away.
“I have more,” Vashti offers, her eyes crinkling in amusement. “If you are still hungry.”
“I’m stuffed. It was just so good, I want more.” I pat my stomach and let loose with a small belch. It doesn’t faze Vashti. We retire to the living room with cups of fresh tea.
“Harry made a play for Max at the party.” Vashti continues our conversation as if we never stopped. “She laughed in his face.” I wince at the image of Max gloating over her hapless ex. If he were serious about wooing her back, he would be a prime candidate for Moira’s demise. Unfortunately, I don’t see how Max’s death fits in this particular scenario unless she threatened to go to the police with her knowledge, and Harry panicked. I frown. If I remember correctly, Max was going to confront a female. At least, I think that’s what Paris said. I decide to call him to make sure.
“Hello?” Paris snaps into his cell. He sounds even grumpier than the last time I talked to him.
“Paris? It’s me. Hey, I just wanted to confirm that Max was going to confront a female.”
“Sure. You call me when you need something. That’s just like you, Rayne.” He is definitely in a snit, but I don’t feel like coddling him out of it.
“Just tell me,” I snap back, my patience ebbing. Here I am with a beautiful woman, and I’m talking about murder.
“Yes!” Paris clicks off his phone as loudly as he can. I stuff my cell back into my pocket and turn back to Vashti.
“You two bicker like an old, married couple,” Vashti says lightly, but the longing is back in her eyes. “I am surprised you are not partners.”
“We wouldn’t make it as intimate partners,” I explain, parroting what Paris often says to me. “We make much better friends than lovers.”
A silence falls over us; it’s not unpleasant. I study the paintings on her walls. They are mostly impressionist paintings with a few surrealists thrown in the mix. Her walls are a warm peach color which glow under the dim lighting. We are sitting side by side on her couch, our legs barely touching. I think of all the things I’d love to do with this woman. I haven’t felt this attracted to someone in a long time—too bad she is a suspect of two murders. I don’t really think she did it, but neither am I entirely certain she didn’t. I idly start playing with the edge of her sari which drapes attractively at her waist. When I look at her face, she is flushing. It surprises me because she always comes across as a confident, bold woman who takes what she wants.
I lean forward imperceptibly, not wanting to ruin the moment with words. There are a million things we should be talking about starting with how devastated was she when Moira died, but the thoughts fly out of my head as her mouth moves towards mine. First kisses are usually awkward, and this one is no exception. We bump noses and part with a laugh. When we are ready to try again, things go more smoothly. I entwine my arm around the back of her neck and pull her closer. She caresses my face as our lips touch. When we break free from the kiss, we are both panting lightly. I want her. I want to take her to her bedroom and ravish her from head to toe. I want to pour heated massage oil on her back and work out every kink. I want to touch every inch of her body so I can learn her by heart. I want to taste her sweet flesh and make her cry out in pleasure. I want everything because I am greedy. Because of this, I move further away.
“I better be going,” I say softly, not wanting to break the mood. Stupid, really, because what would I do other than that by uttering those words?
“Going?” Vashti looks confused. “Why must you be going?” She straightens her sari with an air of one who doesn’t know what is going on. “I thought you’d like to spend the night.” The burning inside my gut flames throughout my body at the idea. With difficulty, I manage to control my desire.
“I’d love to spend the night, but I want to wait.” I read the look on her face and add, “Just think of it as building anticipation.” I stand up and hold my hand out to her. She reluctantly grasps it and allows me to pull her to her feet. I pull her to me and kiss her again. Deeply. I feel her pulse on the side of her throat as I kiss her. She is so warm and alive. I feel her hand slip up my shirt and make its way towards my breast. I gently disengage and hold her hand, pressing a kiss upon the palm.
“You are a tease, Rayne Liang,” she laughs raggedly. “I never thought you had it in you.” It’s clear that she’s used to being the one in charge, as she is a butch. Soft butch, but butch nonetheless. What she doesn’t know is that I don’t let anyone but me have control, butch or not.
“I will see you soon.” I press another kiss upon her palm before showing myself out. I am amazed at my self-control, but I want to savor every step with Vashti. Besides, I can’t get the murders out of my mind. It would be better to not become involved with her until the case is solved. Despite that decision, I feel my heart beat a bit faster at the idea of seeing her again. Feeling reckless, I hail a cab and go home.
“Well, it’s nice to see you’re still in one piece.” Paris is still in a lousy mood when I get home.
“Weren’t you supposed to see Jenna tonight?” I refuse to allow Paris to harsh on my mood. I am giddy, yes, giddy, and I want to remain that way for as long as I can.
“I pushed it back until tomorrow. I wasn’t up to it.” Paris is scowling as I make my way to the living room where he is. “You have the biggest shit-eating grin on your face. Did you get a piece?”
“No, but I could have. I wanted to prolong the ecstasy.” Sex is great, but it’s over before you know it. Drawing it out like this only adds to the pleasure. “You can’t avoid Jenna forever.”
“One day,” Paris protests. He is watching MAD TV, but he apparently isn’t finding it very funny. “Did you get anything out of Vashti besides a case of blue ovaries?”
“Hey, I’m the one who cooled it off, not her. She wanted me to spend the night.” I plop down on the couch next to him and spill the beans. Even though the story about Vashti’s affair with Moira was interesting, it doesn’t really add much to our knowledge. Paris disagrees. He says we now know that Moira is a liar who probably told more lies than the truth. He says the more we know about her character, the closer we’ll come to solving her murder. Once we do that, we’ll have solved Max’s murder as well. Of this, he is confident.
As we sit and watch television, I pull him to me so his back is facing me. For a moment he resists, but once my fingers start doing their magic, he is melting under my touch. I massage his back, hoping to put him in a better mood. We fight frequently, but I hate when he’s mad at me. This is one sure-fire way of mellowing him out. I press harder, eliciting moans of pain mingled with pleasure. I had an ex who loved when I massaged him even more than he loved sex. Paris begins to relax as it’s impossible to stay angry when you’re receiving a thorough massage. He picks up the remote and flicks idly through the channels. There is nothing on, of course. You’d think with sixty-some channels, there would be one thing worth watching, but it’s not to be. Paris clicks off the TV and just enjoys the massage. He’s making small purring noises that indicate his happiness. At moments like this, I feel as if we’re family rather than friends. He knows me better than I know myself. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to duplicate that with a partner. While I hope so, I heartily doubt it’ll ever happen. I am a pessimist by nature and find it difficult to believe that I would be lucky enough to have this kind of relationship twice in one lifetime. Like a true Asian, I believe that for every good you receive, an equal or bigger bad will be given to you. It must be in order to achieve balance.
I continue massaging him as I introspect. His breathing steadily increases until it appears that he’s falling asleep. I increase the pressure both to work the deeper tissues and to wake him up. He has more knots than he usually does, which I put down to stress. Also, when he works out, he doesn’t always properly stretch out if he feels pressed for time. He would rather squeeze in a few more reps than stretch his muscles. He usually pays for it one way or the other. I concentrate on smoothly rolling out the knots. It should cause pain, but not so intense that he passes out. I know that he will let me know if he can’t handle it any longer. I let my mind drift to the idea of us being a couple. In some ways, it would be ideal. We already know everything important about each other, and we can just be ourselves when we’re together.
I hate dating. I hate the whole ‘I don’t know you, you don’t know me, but we’re going to pretend like we do’ thing. I hate monitoring what I’m saying, wondering what kind of impression I’m making on the person. I hate the feeling of performing, of always being ‘on’. That’s probably a reason I date so infrequently and just have one-night stands instead. I’ve always been better at sex than at talking. If I could, I’d skip over the whole awkward getting to know you period and go straight for the ‘I can wear sweats around you’ stage. Being with a partner should be like being with yourself, but with benefits. I once dated a woman who had me looking over my shoulder at every turn, wondering constantly if I was saying the wrong thing. We lasted two months.
“What are you thinking about?” Paris asks sleepily, his eyes closed.
“Nothing important.” No reason to ruminate out loud about the possibility of us being a couple. We’ve trod that ground many times, and have inevitably come to the same conclusion: we make better friends than partners.
“Emil’s daughter,” Paris murmurs. I can’t tell if he’s more awake than asleep or vice-versa. “We need to know more about her.” He falls silent as I gently taper off the massage. There is a point when continuing is counterproductive, and I think I’ve reached his limit for the night.
“Come on, love.” I help Paris to his feet and escort him to his room.
“Tuck me in?” He smiles at me with a trace of his mischievous self. I swat him on the ass before helping him out of his shirt. That is as far as I will go, however.
“You’re on your own from here on out,” I inform him, turning to leave. To my surprise, he grabs me from behind and hugs me hard.
“Love you, Rayne,” he sighs before letting go. I leave and return to my room. I plan on thinking about the murders and sifting through the evidence, but I end up falling asleep and dreaming of Vashti instead. It’s a pleasant way to pass the night.
The next morning, I awake with anticipation. Not just because I’m thinking of the next time I see Vashti, but because I know that Paris will be cooking one of his monster Sunday breakfasts. It’s hard to believe it’s only been a little more than a week since Moira died. Funny how Max’s murder fades into the background. Even in death, Max takes a backseat to Moira. Moira was just so vibrant, everybody else pales in comparison. Max was nothing more than a hanger-on, a groupie if you will. I have no idea why Moira stayed with Max when it was obvious that Moira could have been with anyone she wanted. I don’t buy Vashti’s idea that Moira really loved Max—I don’t think Moira was capable of loving anybody. She’s like the flame that attracts the crazy moths, and someone finally snapped. I think about Billie and wonder if it’s time to pay another trip to the Wild West. She knows more than she told me, and I wonder where she was when Max died. I reluctantly get out of bed and head for the shower.
After my usual ablutions, I throw on jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt and make my way to the kitchen. Sinfully delicious aromas greet my nose as I push open the door. Whatever Paris is cooking—I can’t quite place it—smells fabulous. He looks so cute standing over the stove, his concentration completely absorbed by his creation in front of him. He stirs something on the stove, then rushes over to the toaster as it pops out toast. He is a man in motion, moving fluidly from one appliance to another. To me, the biggest difficulty with cooking is making sure that everything turns out right and at roughly the same time. It’s a mystery how some people are able to coordinate multiple dishes so they are finished at precisely the same minute. When I try that, I always burn the rice or overcook the vegetables or something like that. I can bake—that’s my one saving grace. Otherwise, I’d be a complete failure in the kitchen.
“Come kiss the cook,” Paris commands, offering me his cheek. I give him an obligatory peck before sitting at the table.
We talk idly of this and that. When he’s meeting Jenna, what he’s going to say. He makes a face as he talks about her because he does not enjoy breaking up with his partners. Inevitably, the scorned lover throws a fit and begs him to reconsider. Like me, Paris enjoys having the upper hand in a relationship—another reason we would kill each other if we partnered off. Jenna is taking Paris out to a late dinner—at eight—something that I find particularly repugnant. We have a slight tiff over the fact that he hadn’t warned her about their impending breakup, but he thinks it’d be rude to hint at it over the phone. I counter that it’s crueler to make her buy dinner for him before being dumped. I don’t care for the girl, but she deserves better than to be treated as a mere nuisance.
“You know I’m bad over the phone. I do so much better in person.” Paris slides an omelet onto a plate and places two pieces of unbuttered whole wheat toast on the plate as well. He hands it to me before plating food for himself. I pour us each a tall glass of orange juice and dig into my omelet. The eggs are light and fluffy, just the way I like it. He has added bleu cheese and sage, which makes for an interesting combination. There are also mushrooms, onions, and green peppers. Never let it be said that Paris doesn’t feed me well. I slather on some Vietnamese hot sauce before chowing down.
I ask Paris to promise that he won’t fuck Jenna one last time which causes him to sputter with indignation. I know my boy, however, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’d do it for whatever reason. I know it’ll be a big mistake if he has that goodbye fuck. Not only do I know from experience how devastating it can be to have sex with someone you know is leaving you; I also know how Paris’s mind works. He’s not one of those guys who thinks, ‘I’m going to get it while I can.’ Worse, he’s the kind of guy who thinks, ‘I feel bad for her. It’s the least I can do.’ The last thing Jenna needs is one last fuck to remember Paris by because that will mess with her mind more than if he just walks out the door and doesn’t look back.
“You must really have a low opinion of me,” Paris grumbles, shoveling in his omelet. No hot sauce, I might add. He has never acquired the taste for the spice of life. “You think I would really take advantage of her like that?” I sigh and explain my thinking to him. He doesn’t say anything, but I can tell that he has taken my point to heart. He refuses to promise me, but I’m satisfied that he’ll at least be aware of his motives if he does it. The landline phone rings.