Chapter Thirteen; Part One
I am in a pissy mood the rest of the day. All requests are unreasonable, and I am barely able to restrain myself from rolling my eyes. Nobody seems to notice my surliness because I’m adept at hiding my feelings, but I can tell that I’m nearing the end of my patience—not that I have much to begin with. All the little things that normally just irk me or make me laugh are angering me. Someone’s been using my stapler and used the last staple. I watch the director of the agency plunk his feet up on his desk and lean back in his swivel chair. My immediate supervisor is carefully outlining her lips with a delicate shade of pink while looking at herself in her compact. Quinn is mooning around giving me the puppy-dog eyes. Calgon, take me away, please! I want to be anywhere other than where I am.
I cut out fifteen minutes early. I know I’ll have to deal with the consequences on Monday, but I don’t care. It’s Friday, and I’m tired of playing by the rules. I am tempted to stop at the 500 for a drink or perhaps the Lex, but I hurry home instead. I am not in the mood to be in a crowd of drunk people or around people at all. I am in loner mode, which I learned at a young age to honor. There are times when I can be cajoled out of a mood like this, but this is not one of them. The best thing I can do for me and for the rest of humankind is to lock myself in the apartment and barricade the door. I do both accordingly and start cooking. It’s early to be thinking of dinner, but I feel like cooking for once. My feathers are ruffled, and I find cooking soothing. I start the rice cooker, then turn my attention to the chicken. For the next hour, I am absorbed in the land of kitchen utensils, creating a masterpiece. I don’t cook often. One reason is because I’m a perfectionist and hate to see anything done half-assed.
“Hi, honey, I’m home!” Paris slams the front door and tromps into the kitchen to buss me on the cheek. “Something smells good!” I am making Kung Pao Chicken which is one thing I make really well. It’s also one of Paris’s favorite Chinese dishes.
“It’ll be ready in ten minutes,” I say gaily, ignoring the fact that it’s not even five yet—much too early to eat.
“Sorry I can’t stay,” Paris says apologetically, snitching a piece of chicken from the skillet. I smack the back of his hand with the spatula—fortunately, not hot. “Lyle and I are going out to dinner tonight.” He smiles involuntarily, as he does whenever he mentions Lyle’s name.
“What does Inspector Robinson think about you dating someone?” I ask curiously. Most of the police’s theories are predicated on the hypothesis that Paris had a crush on Max.
“She thinks it’s a cover-up,” Paris says gloomily. Regrettable, but understandable. If I were the police and my number one suspect who had been having sex with one of the deceased suddenly found himself a boyfriend, it would make me suspicious, too. It’s too pat, and the police are trained to look for coincidences. In real life, however, coincidences do happen. “She thanked me politely for the information, then hung up.”
“Don’t get too worked up over it,” I say, patting his hand. “We both know you had nothing to do with the killings. That’s enough.” I am not naïve enough to think that the police never incarcerate an innocent person—I am a woman of color—but the thought of Paris being a suspect is so ludicrous, I have great difficulty taking it seriously.
“I gots to roll,” Paris says, kissing me on the cheek. It strikes me in the short time he’s been dating Lyle, Paris has toned down the histrionics. If this is a new personality trait, I heartily applaud it. I’m all about the drama, but Paris takes it over the top too many times for my comfort. “You be good, hear? No dancing with the devil.”
“I might give Vashti a call,” I say casually, stirring the chicken. “We had a fight this morning, and I feel bad about it.” I give him the details, watching his face close down.
“She’s the one who should feel bad for keeping you in the dark,” Paris retorts, folding his lips. “She’s the one who should be calling you.”
“She’s sure this person is not the killer. I guess I have to trust her.” I shrug, keeping my doubts to myself. Paris has no such compunctions.
He blasts me for my attitude. Can’t I see that I’m letting my lust blind me to the danger? What do I really know about Vashti, and am I really ready to trust her with my life? He yells at me for a good five minutes before I can get a word in edgewise. I know he’s just concerned about me so I don’t yell back, but I’m not going to let him bully me into giving up on Vashti. I know she’s a suspect in the murders, but so is Paris. So am I. I’m pretty sure none of us are involved in the murders, and I can’t understand why Paris is so dead-set against Vashti. He moves to leave, but I throw my arms around his neck and hold on tight. I hate when we fight, and I really hate it when he’s mad at me. He says he’s not mad, just concerned. He wants me to promise that I won’t see Vashti tonight. He has a bad feeling and wonders if he should cancel on Lyle. He fishes for his cell phone, but I stop him.
I don’t need to be cosseted, and I don’t want to be the cause of friction in Paris’s budding relationship with Lyle. I love Paris dearly, but sometimes he gets on my last nerve. We are the same age, but he treats me like a younger sister. I don’t need him getting all protective on me. I have him on speed-dial so I can contact him quickly if need be. He’s not happy with that, but he’s forced to back down. I don’t understand why he thinks I can’t take care of myself, but it’s getting old. I can tell by the look on his face that he’s going to argue with me about my lackadaisical attitude towards my safety, but I could counter that he’s no safer than I. If the killer thinks I know something and knows that Paris is my best friend and rumor has it, my lover, it only stands to reason that the same killer would assume I’ve told Paris everything I know. I’m about to point this out when Paris’s cell phone rings. He pulls it out, glances at the number and answers it reluctantly.
“Hello, Inspector Robinson.” His tone is resigned rather than civil. I turn to watch his face as he talks to the good inspector. It goes from taut to relieved in matter of minutes. “Well, can you tell me—” He subsides. Obviously, Inspector Robinson isn’t finished. By the time Paris is allowed to speak, his tone is subdued. “Thank you, Inspector. I appreciate it.”
“What is it?” I look at him anxiously, but still keeping an eye on my chicken.
“That was Inspector Robinson,” Paris says needlessly. “She just called to let me know that Max is not my mother. They did a little digging. Seems like Max was friends with my real biological mother which is how she knew the details of my birth. They must have kept in contact.” Paris looks sad and not more than a little betrayed. I know it hurts him that Max lied to him—lied specifically to hurt him. I curse her, even though she’s dead. I’m glad she’s not his mother, though, for more than one reason. “I asked the inspector if she could tell me who my real mother is, but she couldn’t. She did tell me, however, that I was born in Jersey. New Jersey! Me! Can you believe it?” We looked at each other before bursting into guffaws. The thought of Paris as a Jersey boy is too ludicrous.
“I’m sorry, Paris,” I say after our laughter subsides. “I’m sorry that Max lied to you.”
“I’m glad she’s not my mother,” Paris says softly, echoing my thoughts. “The worst part is she could have told me who my real mother was.” There’s nothing to say to that, so I remain silent. He heaves a sigh before straightening his shoulders. “Well, I’m off. You sure you don’t want me to stay?”
“Go.” I shoo him away and turn back to my cooking. Just in the nick of time. The chicken is charred, which adds to the flavor, but needs to be stopped before it burns.
Even though I’m by myself, I plate the food attractively. I place a scoop of rice in the middle of a black and red plate, then ladle the chicken over it. I inhale the scent of freshly-cooked jasmine rice—it reminds me of my childhood. I pop open a bottle of Molson Ice which goes great with chicken, then sit down to eat. Since I rarely eat alone without work in front of me, I take the opportunity to savor my food. The chicken is perfect, and the rice tantalizes my tongue. There is nothing like rice, in my opinion. White rice, not brown. Bread is but a pale substitution for the real thing. I enjoy my food so much, I go back for a second helping. And because my mother’s teaching holds, I finish the meal with a sweet, juicy pear whose juices run liberally down my chin.
Since life has been hectic lately, I decide to take a long shower. My morning shower is more for function than for pleasure, so it doesn’t count. I lug my CD player into the bathroom and pop in Enya. Not something I listen to on a regular basis, but it’s soothing. The water streams down my face as I steam up the bathroom. I like the water hot enough to turn my skin pink. I scrub my elbows and knees with my loofah, imaging the dead cells sloughing off and swirling down the drain. It’s been a while since I’ve pampered myself, and it feels good. As Paris is not home, I don’t worry about using up the hot water. I stay in the shower until the water turns tepid, then I quickly hop out. As much as I like showering, I can’t stand lukewarm water. I wrap a thick towel around my body and pad to my bedroom. I slip on a pair of sweats, a sweatshirt, and slipper socks. Definitely stay-at-home gear. It’s only seven o’clock, but it feels much later.
I stand in front of my bookcase and scan my books. I have long since given up on Armistead, deciding it’s not worth reading just so I can say I’ve read it. That would be four or five hours of my life I can’t get back, and I’m not willing to give them up. I’ve been put off literature lately as it seems like so much crap. Most novels are about quirky characters who go around being quirky as if that’s their only goal in life. Or else, the characters do shocking things just for the sake of being shocking. It’s hard to shock me, and I resent them trying. I’ve started a dozen books, only to fling them aside in disgust. I used to read every book all the way through, but I refuse to do so any more. If a book doesn’t keep my interest after a few chapters, I put it down. At least, I don’t have to buy books new. In San Francisco, there is no excuse to pay full price for a book when there are so many great used bookstores around. When I finish with my books, I turn around and sell them back to the stores for cash or a trade slip. It’s a nice little deal we have going.
I sigh and pad into the living room. Flipping on the television, I soon immerse myself in the Lifetime movie. I’m not sure what it’s called, but I can sum up the plot like this. Ordinary woman is going about her life. She is tragically wounded (physically, emotionally, spiritually) by a horrible man. He stalks her. He taunts her. He sets her house on fire. She trembles. She quakes. She lives in fear. Finally, with the help of a benevolent man, she faces her tormentor and justice prevails. The bad man ends up dead or in jail. It doesn’t matter I’ve only seen five minutes of the movie—I know it will follow the script because every Lifetime movie does. I find it insulting that this is what Lifetime thinks is empowering for women. Unfortunately, there must be many women who agree as Lifetime is the most-watched cable channel. I quickly flip it to the Discovery channel where they are dissecting crimes with the help of forensics. Infinitely more satisfying.
The time whizzes by. I get up only to make myself some tea, to grab a hunk of chocolate cake Paris made the day before, and to go to the bathroom. I allow my mind to vegetate, gloriously, for the first time in weeks. I watch bad television, though I steer clear of reality shows. I find myself becoming too attached to certain characters, the ones who inevitably get booted off, and I don’t want the emotional involvement. I watch the endless rounds of Law & Order on TNN. I even watch the Food Network, something I try to avoid doing as it makes me hungry. Before I know it, it’s after midnight. A huge yawn threatens to knock me out, so I retire to the bedroom. I am out before my head hits the pillow; I fall into a heavy sleep.