“That was incredible,” I sigh after we have thoroughly explored each other’s bodies. She is by far the best lover I’ve had in a long time. We are lying on my bed, both satiated, our sweaty bodies pressing lightly against each other. She has her arm casually draped under my neck, and it feels right to be lying by her side. We lie in compatible silence for a few minutes until Vashti reluctantly sits up.
“I should be going. Work and all.” She quickly dresses.
I am secretly relieved that she is leaving. I have difficulty sleeping next to someone I don’t know well, and despite the activities we just engaged in, I definitely don’t know her well enough yet. Vashti pecks me on the lips and pushes me back into bed when I make a move to get up. I elude her hands, grab my robe and get up. I note that Paris hasn’t come home yet, which means he most likely slept with Jenna. I walk to Vashti to the front door where we kiss deeply before she leaves. There is a smile on my face as I lean on the door. To my surprise, the door starts rattling.
“Rayne? It’s me.” Paris’s voice is muffled, but recognizable. I let him in.
“How was your date?” I smile at him knowingly, hoping to get a rise out of him.
“It wasn’t a date,” Paris sighs, staggering into the living room. I follow, eager for the details. He plops down onto the couch, exhaling loudly as he does.
“Well?” I have a feeling this is going to be juicier than a soap opera.
It started nicely with dinner, though Paris was wary because Jenna had gotten all dolled up which is unlike her. She even curled her hair which was definitely a first. They ate at a Middle Eastern restaurant on Valencia, but things started to unravel after they returned to Jenna’s apartment. She put on an Ella Fitzgerald CD and started swaying to the music. Before Paris could react, she reached up and unzipped her dress. That’s when Paris knew he couldn’t put it off any longer and gently told her that he didn’t want to see her any more. Instantly, she flipped. Started bawling and begging him not to leave her. When that had no impression on him, she started throwing things at him and ended up threatening to throw herself out the window.
“It would have been more impressive if she didn’t live on the ground floor.” Paris says with a straight face. We look at each other then simultaneously burst into laughter.
“So what did you do tonight?” Paris asks once he can talk again, his eyelids fluttering.
“Vashti,” I say casually, watching his face closely for his response. I don’t have long to wait.
“What?” His eyes fly open, and he pops up from the couch. His whole body screams disbelief. “You didn’t!”
“I did!” I shoot out my hand, and he high-fives me.
Paris tells me it’s about damn time and wants to know how it was. He settles back into the couch, eager to dish the dirt. I say primly that I don’t kiss and tell before letting him know that she was great. We high-five again like athletes. I give him the salient details before a huge yawn escapes me. I tell him I need to sleep because some of us have a J-O-B and actually have to get up in the morning. He then retorts that he does have a job and that he has to get up at nine in the morning, thank you very much. It’s a running joke between us that his schedule is so flexible whereas mine is written in granite. I wish him good night and sleep like a baby for once in my life. I’m even in a chipper mood as I go to work, which doesn’t last very long.
“Rayne, do you think I’m fat?” Quinn perches on the edge of my desk, leaning forward earnestly.
“No,” I say automatically, not looking at her. It’s too early in the morning for that shit. I turn on my computer and wait for it to warm up.
I don’t want to play her game, but she will not let it go. I am not the most sympathetic person when it comes to eating disorders; I have no patience for them. It’s ridiculous that women waste so much energy on something so meaningless. She should be rejoicing that her body allows her to do so many things, but instead, she’s worried about a miniscule amount of fat and cellulite. I check my emails—there’s one from Libby. There’s also one from Vashti. I decide to read the one from Libby first and save the Vashti one—like an after dinner mint. Quinn continues to blather about her weight, expecting me to be as horrified by her imagined gain as she is. She prattles about trying the Atkins diet which is when I tune out. I have talked myself blue in the face as to the perils of that damn diet to more than one person—I’m not doing it again. I open the email from Libby, resolving not to respond to Quinn’s inane conversation. Clearly, nothing I say will make a dent in Quinn’s self-delusion.
Rayne. Have you changed your mind? Are you willing to be reasonable? Libby.
She must not have gotten my last email, or she’s choosing to ignore it. I grit my teeth and delete the email; I know what she means by being reasonable. Giving in to her. I am tired of coddling my younger sister and ceding to her wishes because it’s easier than dealing with her black moods. This time, I’m standing firm. She doesn’t want me in her wedding party, anyway, so I am staying out of it. I try to convince myself that I have nothing to feel guilty about, but I keep picturing my mother’s face when she finds out that I’m not going to be in the wedding or attending the wedding at all. I know it will hurt her, and I hate the idea of hurting my mother. Still, it’s not enough to make me give in. If I don’t stand up to Libby this time, she’ll continue to steamroll over me. She’s been like this since she was a little girl, and it’s time for her to learn she can’t always get her own way.
“…seven pounds a week! It’s guaranteed!” I look at Quinn blankly as she goes on about yet another nutball diet.
I don’t even bother to answer. It’s my goal to stop this diet nonsense from spreading any further than it already has. I am tired of women hating themselves for something that is so damn capricious. Quinn pouts as she stands up because I’m not agreeing with her. Grabbing my hand, she places it on her midriff to make me feel her ‘fat’. I calmly reclaim my hand, though I want to use it to smack her, and replace it on my keyboard. I request that she goes away if she has nothing better to talk about than her weight. She is like a child—forcing me to constantly set limits on what she can and can’t talk about. I know it’s harsh, but I made a vow after Claudette died, that I wouldn’t contribute an iota to the craziness in our society surrounding eating/dieting/body issues.
She glares at me for being ‘so mean’. She wants to know why I can’t be nicer, and I reply that I don’t truck with coddling delusions about weight. I think I’ve made my feelings abundantly clear, but apparently she needs a little more explanation. She can’t believe how unsympathetic I’m being given that I had a ‘close friend’ die as a result of her obsession with an ED. How can I tell Quinn that it’s because of Claudette that I’m not willing to play the dieting bullshit game? The part of the story I didn’t tell Quinn is that while Claudette was struggling with her issues, I was on a diet of my own. I have always been heavier than most Asian women including my sister, and I was self-conscious about the fact that in my eyes, I was stocky. While I was supporting Claudette to beat her eating disorder, I was trying to whittle away my own frame. At the time, I failed to notice the paradox, but it came back to haunt me after I heard about Claudette’s death. I quit my diet and vowed never to go on another one again. I have kept my promise to this day while expanding my vow never ever to get caught up in the weight craze that entraps so many people—especially women. When Quinn finally grasps that I am not going to be her personal diet cheerleader, she storms off in a huff.
I click on the email from Vashti and skim it, dismissing Quinn from my mind. The email is filled with bills and coos for our night together. It’s sappy, but it makes me smile. I can still taste the tang of her tongue on my own. I can feel her face between my thighs as she made me gasp in surprise at the intensity of my desire. She writes a paean to my body that makes me blush even as it causes my nipples to tingle. If she sends me emails like this daily, I won’t be able to concentrate on my work at all. I am all set to respond when I realize that I haven’t finished reading the whole email. I scroll down. A scowl crosses my face as I read the last paragraph. She’s pleading with me again not to investigate any further; that she’s worried about me getting hurt, etc. It’s a rehash of the things she said to me last night, but it’s not any easier to swallow. Just as I’m about to explode and fire back an email I know I’ll regret later, I read the last line.
Rayne, there are things you are not knowing about that can hurt people. Please, do not be thinking there is an easy answer. I am hoping to see you soon, Vashti.
What the hell is she talking about? When I asked her last night if there was anything she wasn’t telling me, she most emphatically said no. I lean back in my chair and click my fingernails impatiently against my keyboard. I don’t know what she’s trying to say, but I know she’s hiding something which hurts me. After what we’ve shared, I would hope she trusts me enough to divulge her secrets. I hit reply, ready to answer her email, but I hesitate. I’m not sure what to say. I could write a flowery email in response, gushing about how great last night was. I could rave about her generous hips and her luscious thighs. I could tell her how I can smell her on my skin because I didn’t take a shower this morning. All of this would be true, but somewhat besides the point. I am not going to stop trying to discover who murdered Moira and Max, nor do I think it’s her place to tell me what to do. I wouldn’t think it were her place even if we were girlfriends, and I certainly think she’s being presumptuous. In the end, I dump her email into her file and resolve to think about it later. I return to my work.
I am wiped out by the end of the day. Too many requests—urgent, of course—and not enough time in which to complete them. At four o’clock exactly, I am out the door. I am in no mood to linger, and I want to escape before someone can hand me one more task that has to be done by yesterday. I walk briskly home, pulling my coat around me to block out the wind. There is usually sun in the Mission, but today is a gray day, matching my mood. People hurry by, their faces creased in frowns. One woman accidentally knocks into me and doesn’t even apologize. Instead, she glares at me as if it’s my fault. I glare back, not giving an inch. After we do a bit of ridiculous posturing, we go our separate ways. I shiver as I continue home. I see movement in the corner of my eye and whip my head around to get a better look. Nothing. I can’t shake the feeling that someone is following me but every time I stop to look, I only see emptiness. I make it home in one piece. Paris is waiting for me when I get there.
“Rayne! It’s about time.” To my surprise, he grabs me in a fierce hug and whirls me around the living room.
“Paris! What’s up?” I ask as soon as I regain my breath. I take off my coat and toss it on the couch before sitting beside it. Paris is too keyed up to sit, so he just towers over me and beams.
“I met someone, Rayne! At the gym. He’s amazing.” Paris is radiant as he bounces on the soles of his feet.
“That’s great, Paris,” I say, mustering up a smile. He frowns at my lack of enthusiasm, but pardon me if I don’t get too excited. I’ve had a horrible day, and besides, he’s falling in love every other week. It’s hard to take his crushes seriously.
“I’m for real, Rayne!” Paris insists, sitting next to me. A minute later, he’s jumping up again. He starts pacing as he continues to talk. “His name is Lyle. Lyle Kingston. He’s a musclehead like me! He loves Chinese food and foreign movies. His favorite color is cerulean, and he was the starting quarterback on his high school football team!” Paris rattles out the information machine-gun style. He pauses to take a breath before continuing. “He likes to cook as well, but he’s more into baking. Jacques Torres is his favorite pastry chef. He likes Radiohead and Carlos Santana. He wants to have children some day. Three, I think.” Paris plops down again, but can’t keep from smiling.
I smile at him, finally catching his enthusiasm. It’s hard not to get caught up in his crushes because he feels them so deeply. I ask innocently about Jenna whom Paris just waves away. I have a flash of déjà vu, but reverse. I wonder how long it’s going to be before I hear the immortal words, ‘Lyle who?’ I keep that dubious thought to myself because I don’t want to rain on Paris’s parade, especially after the last few days which have been horrible. While I may doubt his staying power in the game of love, I am his best friend. That means I support his enthusiasms, no matter how short-lived. Paris tells me how Lyle just switched from a big impersonal gym to Paris’s and signed up for a training session. They only had to look at each other, however, before deciding to ditch the session and talk over a drink from the juice bar instead.
Paris gushes over Lyle’s delicious black curls and yummy blue eyes which immediately alerts me that this is different than one of his ordinary crushes. Normally, Paris categorizes, not gushes. When Paris informs me that he and Lyle are going on a date before sealing the deal, I know that this is monumental. Paris never dates someone before having sex with the person. I want to meet the man who can put Paris in such a state, and it looks as if it’s going to be my lucky night. Lyle is picking Paris up which is yet another change. Paris likes being in charge which means driving. To relinquish that power is, to say the least, unusual for him. I can’t wait to meet the man who has wrought such compliance from my boy.
“I talked so much about you, he wants to meet you,” Paris explains cheerfully. “I made the mistake of telling him I’m AC/DC, and he’s curious.” Paris had no difficulties using all the derisive names bisexuals are called; he thinks they’re funny as hell. I’m not as crazy about them, but it doesn’t bother me when he uses them, for obvious reasons.
“Should I dress up or down?” This is a game we play when I meet his dates. Depending on what impression he wants to make on them, I either dress up or down. If he wants them intimidated, I dress up. If he wants them to get an ego boost, I dress down. If he wants them to feel welcomed but secure, I wear jeans with a nice blouse. If he doesn’t want them ogling me, I have to wear my baggiest jeans and largest shirt.
“Doesn’t matter,” Paris shrugs. “Just be yourself.”
I look at him strangely, but he doesn’t notice. I’ve never seen him act like this about a prospective. If I didn’t know him better, I’d say this is serious. I harrumph and go to my room. When I emerge fifteen minutes before seven, I am wearing tight black jeans and a tight red top, but when I return to the living room, Paris doesn’t even give me a second glance. He is wearing blue jeans and a nice black shirt. It’s the first time I’ve seen him not go glitzy for a date. He looks almost preppy which is a good look on him, but it’s not him. I hope Lyle doesn’t completely change my boy. Paris is flipping through the television channels, but not really watching anything. It’s easy to see that his mind is elsewhere, but he at least looks up when I cross the room. As I sit next to him, I notice that my jacket is nowhere to be seen. Paris has tidied up a bit. At exactly seven, the buzzer rings.
“That’s him!” Paris says, jumping up from the couch before sitting back down. “I don’t want to seem too eager. You get it!” I sigh and flounce over to the intercom. I can’t stand it when he plays Ms. Scarlett.
“Yes?” I say in my most cordial voice.
“This is Lyle. I’m here for Paris.” His voice is low, but firm. No hesitation or stutter.
“Come on up.” I buzz him in and soon, he’s knocking on the door. “Come on in.” I say after opening the door. I check him out as he walks in the door, finding him just as Paris said. Over six feet, buffed, dark, curly hair—though not quite black—sapphire eyes. He breaks into a smile, nearly blinding me with his teeth. He is wearing jeans and an Oxford shirt which accounts for Paris’s preppy look.
“Lyle Kingston,” he says, extending his hand. “You must be Rayne. Paris has told me a lot about you.” I refrain from pointing out that they’ve only known each other ten hours or so and invite him in. “These are for you.” He thrusts a bunch of gladioli at me.
“Thanks!” I beam at him even though I’m sure Paris told him that gladioli are my favorite flowers. It is a thoughtful gesture, and they are much nicer than the traditional roses. “Follow me.” I lead him to the living room before detouring to the kitchen to find a vase. By the time I return to the living room, flowers arranged and in hand, Lyle has seated himself on the couch next to Paris. There is an enormous box of chocolates on the table, which Lyle has brought for Paris. Looking at them, I have to admit they make a nice pair. I sit on the chair opposite them, not feeling intrusive at all as I usually do with couples. I have to admit, though, that a pang of longing nudges at me. I wish I had someone I felt that immediately comfortable with. As much as I like Vashti, I am still very aware of her as someone I’m not quite sure of.
Lyle is polite and asks questions about me. There isn’t much for me to talk about as my job doesn’t define me, and I don’t particularly feel like talking about the murders. I could mention the girls or my budding love interest, but I don’t know him well enough for that. I ask him about himself. He owns a novelty shop on the Mission, but his heart and soul are in lifting, art flicks, and good food. He shares a smile with Paris who, coincidentally, enjoys the same things. He’s a born-and-bred San Franciscan, which raises his stock in my eyes. The three of us burst into laughter at our unanimous hubris in thinking we’re a cut above the rest simply because we were born in the Bay Area. It’s a common conceit among Bay Area residents, but ridiculous, nonetheless.