I focus on the conversation at hand. Lyle is a laidback kind of man with a knack for putting people at ease. After talking with him for half an hour, I feel as if I’ve known him for years. I can tell by the look on Paris’s face that he’s feeling the same way. I’ve never seen Paris so relaxed with a partner before. Usually, he’s ‘on’, performing to a one-person audience. It feeds his ego to have someone adoring him, though it doesn’t always bode well for the relationship. I am pleased to not see stardust in Lyle’s eyes when he looks at Paris. I have a feeling that Lyle can more than hold his own with Paris, that he can give as good as he gets. I certainly hope so, for his sake. Paris is a difficult person to date, but I think Lyle is up to the task.
I learn that Lyle grew up in a single-mother household with two older sisters. They lived in the Tenderloin, but Lyle never knew he was poor until some bratty kids in his fifth grade class hassled him for wearing one of three shirts to school day after day. His teachers looked at him with pity, which wasn’t what he wanted, either. He just wanted to learn. The kids also teased him about being a bastard and would ask where his father was. He quickly learned to use his fists to silence his critics as he was bigger than most of the boys, even then. While he was beating them up, however, a strange thing began happening. He’d get a boner every time he fought a boy, but not a girl. He started fantasizing about Sheldon, a brainy boy in school. Lyle would dream of scenarios where Sheldon was being picked on by the bullies and Lyle would save him. Even as a young boy, Lyle was the prince on the white steed. His mother was now dead, and his sisters live in Washington and Houston, respectively.
I tell him about growing up as Taiwanese American in Oakland with two hippie parents and one conservative sister. How my parents taught me and my sister Taiwanese and Chinese, but preferred that we speak English. They wanted us to have the language of our ancestors, but thought it best if English was our primary language. We were only allowed to speak Taiwanese in the house and Chinese with our relatives in Chinatown and in Taiwan. I tell Lyle how it was difficult growing up in Oakland because there were more black kids than Asian kids, and the black kids didn’t like us. They thought we were taking their small piece of the pie and were bitter that we were flooding their neighborhoods. I used to get harassed on a regular basis by a group of black girls that had a chip on their collective shoulders and something to prove. I became adept at avoiding them.
By the time Lyle and I have finished swapping our life stories with Paris frequently chiming in, I am at ease with Lyle. Paris and I have always checked out each other’s potentials as we are best friends and that’s what best friends do for each other. When Paris glances at me, a questioning look on his face, I nod slightly, a smile spreading over my face. I normally do not warm up to people right away, but Lyle is different. There is something about him that invites friendship. I think my comfort level also has something to do with Paris’s comfort level. When he’s tense around a potential, he conveys that tenseness to me. When he’s at ease, I’m at ease. Plus, Lyle is certainly easy on the eyes. Briefly, I regret that he doesn’t play for my team, but then I scold myself for thinking that way. It’s infinitely better that he’s completely off-limits so I won’t even be tempted.
“Shall we get some dinner?” Lyle asks Paris as if they have been together for a long time. “I’m starved.”
“Sounds great.” Paris stands up and holds his hand to Lyle who accepts it.
“Wanna come?” Lyle asks me, a smile on his face.
“No, thanks,” I smile back. I know Paris doesn’t want me there, as much as he loves me, and I think Lyle asked me to be polite, anyway. Still, it was nice of him to ask—major bonus points. “I’ll catch you later.”
“Don’t wait up,” Paris says with a smirk. Lyle flashes me another killer smile as he and Paris exit the room. I can’t help but notice how well they go together. I sigh and shake my head. I think about calling Vashti, but I don’t want to have yet another discussion about my involvement in the case. I know there is something she’s not telling me, which makes me even more wary of talking to her. How can I relax and enjoy her company if I’m wondering what is it she’s keeping from me? I sigh and drum my fingers on the telephone. Last night was fantastic, and I would like a repeat performance. It’s one of life’s little jokes that going without sex for long periods of time can be gotten used to, but once a person has sex again, the need is more imminent. At least it works that way for me. The first month or two without sex is excruciating, but if the situation lingers longer than that, I adapt. Until the next time I have sex; then, I can’t get it off my mind. The phone rings, jarring me out of my reverie.
“Dude, what’s up?” It’s my mom, probably calling after her postprandial smoke.
“Uh, nothing,” I say cautiously. My mom doesn’t call for no reason, so I wait for her to drop the other shoe. I don’t have to wait long.
My mother is angry because my sister called her in tears over my ‘contrariness’ about her wedding. I gather that Libby has spilled the details about how I refuse to do every little thing she wants me to, though I’m certain she phrased it differently over the phone to my mother. Mom informs me that Libby thinks I’m trying to ruin her wedding out of spite. She then berates me for not being more sensitive to my sister in her time of need. Time of need! She’s getting married, not fighting cancer. Besides, this is the same mother who told me she didn’t want to take sides when I called to complain about Libby. Now, all of a sudden, she’s championing for my sister. My own temper is rising to meet hers.
“Is this the only reason you called me?” I ask, coldness creeping into my voice. “To get on my case about Libby?” My mom has always defended my younger sister. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now. For example, when we were little girls, Libby once stole a book of mine. I can’t even remember what it was, but Mom and Dad had given it to me for my birthday. Curious George. One of his books. I loved Curious George, and it was the last book I needed to finish my collection. I put it down after opening it before we went into the dining room to have cake. Libby was trailing behind the family. When I returned to the living room to gloat over my presents again, it was missing. She denied she had it, and my mother said maybe it fell somewhere. We searched the whole living room three times to no avail. Even then, my mother believed Libby. My parents bought me another copy, but it wasn’t the same.
“I’m just worried about you and Liberty, Rainbow,” Mom sighs. “I’m your mother. It’s normal.” There is a lull in the conversation until she breaks it again. “How’s Paris?” Mom asks in concern. She’s always had a soft spot in her heart for him, a feeling he returns. She knows what a tough time he must be having right now, and she’s glad that he’s found someone like Lyle, so promising. We chat about inconsequential subjects for a while because neither of us want to get off the phone mad. All the good feelings built up, however, are effectively destroyed when my mother brings up Libby again. She implores me to not be so stubborn and to concede more. What can it hurt, she says, to be more girly for the wedding? She can’t understand that it’s not just the girly stuff that bothers me, but Libby’s entire attitude. She counsels me to not be so rigid.
“I’m not the one being rigid!” I say angrily. “I’m not talking about this any longer. I’ve already told Libby what I’m willing to compromise on—it’s her turn. You can tell her she can kiss my ass before I agree to the other things she wants me to do.” We murmur stiff goodbyes and hang up the phone. A pang of conscience hits me. Am I being too uptight? Should I be gracious and accede to my sister’s requests? I push the thought to the back of my mind. Libby’s wedding is too far in the future for me to worry about it. I know I’ll have to deal with it sooner or later, but I’ll gladly make it later.
The rest of the week flies by. Paris is rarely at home because he’s spending every minute he can with Lyle. Paris is so smitten with Lyle, he brings him to dinner at my mother’s without asking first. I am peeved on my mother’s behalf, but she takes it in stride. It’s a good thing that she always cooks twice as much food as needed. Tonight, she has prepared a typical Taiwanese dinner. Dumplings, rice, sticky rice, turnip cakes, pickled alfalfa sprouts, fried bean curd, fried noodles, Chinese spinach. Lyle is adept with using chopsticks and keeps up with the rest of us. The conversation is light—none of us want to talk about the murders or anything else unseemly. For dessert, my mother has made a chocolate roll cake, Taiwanese style. After that, she slices some oranges and insist we eat those as well. No one leaves my mother’s table hungry.
I watch Paris and Lyle as they interact. They are sitting next to each other and can’t resist touching each other. Paris likes to place his hand on Lyle’s arm; sometimes, they grasp fingers. They are a couple in love—my mother and I can do nothing but beam benevolently at them from across the table. They aren’t even self-conscious when my mother or I catch them making eyes at each other. Paris doesn’t blush as he normally would. When Lyle touches him, Paris doesn’t pull away with a frown. Instead, he leans into the caress and practically purrs his contentment. It’s strange for me to observe this new Paris, but it’s something I’m willing to adjust to if it makes him happy. I glance at my mother who is smiling indulgently at Lyle and Paris. The evening is pleasant, and we all agree to do it again soon.
I see Vashti once during the week. We meet after work for drinks, but neither of us feel comfortable with the other. Vashti wants to know why I didn’t answer her email, and I want to know what she’s not telling me. It’s a stalemate with neither of us blinking. The whole time we’re arguing, I want to lean forward and kiss her passionately. I want to stop the words coming out of her mouth with a single kiss. I want to make her lose her breath and to fall in love with me. I want to find the magic way to part those thighs of her and devour her. I see the same desire in her eyes and wonder why we are talking when we could be having sex. The heat is palpable, but she insists on continuing her argument about why I shouldn’t involve myself in Moira’s and Max’s murders. Every word she utters dampens my arousal; every time she licks her lips, she incites my passion again. Halfway through our conversation, I realize that she’s well-aware of what she’s doing so I make the conscious attempt to break free from her spell by leaning away from her. It’s amazingly difficult to do, but I finally loosen the bonds that pull us together.
The whole time she’s talking, I’m debating whether to invite her back to my place or not. I know it’s not proper to think about seducing someone who’s trying to direct your life in ways you’re not comfortable with, but my hormones are surging out of control. I can feel the moisture between my thighs, and I cross my legs in the vain attempt to stop the liquid from trickling down my leg. My body is jangling, along with my nerves. I am confused as to how I can be so attracted to this woman and simultaneously irritated by her. I’m sure there’s some logical explanation, but I can’t find it. I may just have to chalk it up to chemistry and be done with it. I growl softly, but that doesn’t stop Vashti from droning on and on about me dropping the case. I need to do something drastic to turn the momentum before we both crash and burn. Without thinking, I pick up my water glass which is about a fourth filled, and I toss the contents in her face. For a tense moment, we are frozen. Her mouth is open, as if in the act of talking. Droplets are dripping from her nose, her cheek, her chin. She doesn’t even wipe the moisture from her eyes as she stares at me in disbelief. My hand is still extended, glass firmly grasped by fingers. I’m sure my expression mimics hers. After a long minute, she dissolves into helpless laughter which is sparked more by tension than mirth. I join in and soon, we are giggling away. I set the glass back on the table, then reach over with a napkin to blot her face. She grabs my hand and slowly wipes her face dry.
Without saying a word, we leave the bar and hop into her car. She races back to her place as fast as she can without breaking any major laws. I have my hand on her thigh, and my fingers are kneading her flesh. She moans and parts her legs. I am careful to restrict myself to her legs as I do not want to cause her to have an accident. I unzip her jeans and slip my hand underneath. Her skin is as soft as I remember—softer. The little hairs on her inner thigh stand up as I caress them. She slams on the brakes, causing me to poke her in the leg. She is so intent on making it to her place, she doesn’t even notice. We run up the sidewalk to her house. She fumbles with her keys but finally undoes the lock on her door. We don’t bother to turn on the lights as we stumble for her bedroom.
Clothes are dispatched with haste. Again, I marvel at the beauty that is her. Her dark skin tinged golden; the softness of her skin; the hills of her breasts; the valley of her groin. I am wet, ready for her to enter me. It is silent in her bedroom except for the gasps, the groans, the sighs. I whisper her name as I part her thighs. I whisper her name again as she parts mine as well. I whisper it for third time as I feel her tongue slip inside me. It is a prayer of supplication to continue what she is doing. She chuckles deep in her throat as she pleasures me with her mouth. I can feel the vibrations run through my lower body as I arch my hips, involuntarily, to meet her mouth. Neither of us have much to say for the rest of the night.
“Can I call you tomorrow?” Vashti says as she gathers her clothing. She is staring at me as she dresses. I blush under her scrutiny, but don’t move. Our roles are reverse as it’s her place, and I should be the one preparing myself to leave.
“Are you ready to talk about what you’re hiding from me?” I ask, stirring myself at last. I regret asking the question as her face falls. However, I need to know what it is she is keeping from me, and I figure I might catch her off-guard if I ask her now.
“I’m not hiding anything,” she says stiffly, slipping into her jeans. “You’re such a suspicious person.” She turns her back on me as she wriggles into her bra. I sigh as I dress. There’s no use fighting about it again, as we’re both stubborn and set in our ways.
“I should go.” I finish dressing and haul myself out of bed. I smell of sex and want nothing more than to take a shower.
“Don’t be mad.” Vashti grabs me by the arm to prevent me from leaving.
“I’m not mad,” I say reluctantly. “I just don’t feel comfortable with you holding out on me. I know you know something important about the case, but for some reason, you don’t feel like you can trust me.”
“It’s not that! It’s just, well, someone else could be hurt by what I tell you, and, well, I’m not even sure…” Her voice trails off, but her face pleads with me to understand. I don’t change expressions and wait her out. “I’ll tell you what. Give me two days, and I’ll tell you what I know.” I don’t like it. It stinks, but what can I do? I can’t browbeat her into telling me. I could call the cops on her, but I think that’s a bit extreme.
“Two days,” I say, cursing inwardly. I wish I weren’t such a patsy, but it’s not in my disposition to be overtly confrontational.
“Thanks, Rayne,” Vashti says, hugging me fiercely. Her full breasts press against my chest, stirring my desire again.
“I gotta go.” She drives me back to my apartment, dropping me off with a kiss and a promise. I have a bad feeling about not pressing Vashti, but I have to let it go for now.
It’s still fairly early, and I’m too jacked up to sleep. I go into the living room and turn on the television. There is a story about Harry Seavers doing a documentary on Guy Ritchie, but not having the money to do it. I frown. Why does the name sound familiar? I think about it a minute, then remember the guy at Max’s party talking about Guy Ritchie being so instrumental as a spokesman of our time, or something like that. And he was Max’s ex-husband. Excitement nudges me. What if Max had money, but hadn’t changed her will? What if Harry inherited after she died? That would give him motive for killing both Moira and Max, especially if Moira had a will designating Max as her heir. I frown. It makes no sense for one of them to have had a will while the other one didn’t. My bet would be that either they both had wills, or neither did. Damn. Another theory shot to hell.
Besides, I vaguely remember Emil telling me that Harry was the one with the money, and Paris had told me that Max was receiving alimony from her ex. Well, perhaps he was tired of paying alimony and used Moira’s death to his advantage. I can’t see a reason for him having killed Moira, but he might have murdered Max and figured that the cops would think the same person had killed both women. If he really needed the money, whatever alimony he’s paying Max would certainly come in handy. I frown and shake my head. While I like him for Max’s murder, I can’t make him fit for Moira’s. There is no indication that he wanted Max back other than in my overactive imagination. Well, Vashti did mention something about it, but that’s hearsay. As much as I would like to pin either or both murders on Harry, it’s just stretching it a bit thin. There are others with better motives.