“Let’s go through it one more time,” Detective Bradley said, sounding bored. We were running through what had happened when I went out to the car and almost got shot, and this was the fourth time I had told the tale. I didn’t know what else he wanted me to say because it wasn’t that dramatic. At least Detective Sands hadn’t come, which made me happy.
“I opened the door and stepped outside,” I said snidely, not bothering to check my tone. I was tired and achy and hungry as Detective Bradley had interrupted my breakfast which did not endear him to me. “Just as I was closing the door, I heard something whiz by my head. When I realized it was a bullet, I hurried back inside, but not before a second shot was fired.”
“Why were you going outside?” Detective Bradley asked, as if he hadn’t already asked a hundred times before.
“I had bought my boyfriend some birthday presents, but left them in the car. I went to go get them so I could wrap them.”
“Where is your boyfriend?” Detective Bradley asked, taking a new tack. He caught me off-guard with the question so it took me a minute to respond.
“We don’t live together, Detective. He was, is, at his apartment.” I hope, I added in my mind.
“Where was he last night?” Detective Bradley continue, ignoring my tone.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged, careful not to dislodge my arm from the sling. “Not here.”
“Any problems between the two of you?”
“Nope,” I said. “Except that he doesn’t think I should be traipsing off on my own.”
“I would agree with that, Ms. Chen,” Detective Bradley said, scratching his jowl. “So, you had words?”
“We argued, but it’s ok now.” It took me a second to understand what Detective Bradley was getting at, but once I did, I was pissed.
“You can’t think that Rafe had anything to do with this?” I asked, my tone hot. “Rafe would never shoot at me.”
“I didn’t say he would,” Detective Bradley replied, yawning. He looked as if he’d been up for twenty-four hours straight, which was possible. “I’m just covering all the bases.”
“Well, you can uncover that one,” I snapped, aware of how stupid I sounded. I mean, I knew that seventy-plus percent of homicides were done by a spouse/lover, usually male. I wasn’t the first person to claim that her boyfriend couldn’t have done such a heinous thing, but damn it, Rafe couldn’t have. I knew that in my bones.
“Ms. Chen, I have to ask,” Detective Bradley said impatiently. “What kind of cop would I be if I didn’t think of every angle?”
“What do you have on the park murders?” I asked abruptly, hoping to catch him off-guard. I didn’t touch his question because I knew he was right and didn’t want to admit it. He was too shrewd to get caught however, and just looked at me askance for daring to ask. I shrugged. It was worth a shot.
Detective Bradley ran me through the paces one more time, but his heart wasn’t in it. I could tell that he was flagging and was tempted to suggest that he go to bed. It couldn’t be good for his health not to mention his mental capacities to run on so little sleep. Somehow, I didn’t think he would appreciate the advice coming from me, however, so I managed to keep my big mouth shut. He warned me to watch myself when I went out of the house, to vary my routine, to always let someone know where I was going to be. Sound advice, but it made me chafe. I hated being tethered, and that’s what it sounded like he was suggesting. Finally, the detective wound down and asked if I had anything else to add. I was about to shake my head when I suddenly remembered the female stalker.
“There is one more thing,” I said cautiously. After how negatively he and Detective Sands reacted last night, I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell him. I knew I had to, however, so I did. He listened to the story without commenting then asked me for her name. “I don’t know,” I said hesitantly. “It was awhile ago. She had a singer’s name. Not a recent one, but someone from a while back.” I frowned as I tried to bring the name to the forefront of my brain. “Damn. She was in Moulin Rouge….Kylie! That’s it. Kylie, uh, Swenson? Evanson? No, like the golfer. Sorenson! That’s it! Kylie Sorenson.” I smiled in relief as I pulled that nugget out of the vault.
“I’ll look into it,” Detective Bradley said, standing up and shutting his notebook. “I’ll let you know what I find though I have to tell you, this doesn’t sound like her style.” I had to agree with him, but I felt better for telling him.
“Is he gone?” My mother asked, coming into the living room. “I don’t like those cops, but they seem to know what they’re doing. Is Raphael coming?”
“Shouldn’t you be writing?” I asked tersely, not wanting to talk about the police or my love life.
“I got in solid two hours this morning,” my mother reproved me, looking as hurt as only a mother could. “I’ll work more after I’m done with Raphael’s cake. He is coming, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is,” I sighed. The last thing I wanted to do was celebrate Rafe’s birthday with my family, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
“All your siblings are coming,” Mom said briskly, wiping her hands on her jeans. By the looks of her and by the smells wafting from the kitchen, she’d been baking. Probably the birthday cake for Rafe. “So is Michele. I invited Henry’s girl as well, but she can’t make it.”
“What about Sidney?” I asked.
“I didn’t invite her,” my mother said, her mouth pursed. “I am not having that no-good tramp spoil Raphael’s birthday celebration.” I glared at her because I didn’t think it was right of her not to be invited. I could tell by the look on my mother’s face, however, that it would do no good to argue, so I let it go.
“I have to get Rafe’s gifts,” I sighed. I went outside, cautiously poking my head out before exiting. There was nobody in sight so I went to the car and retrieved my purchases. Going back into the house, I hurried to get them wrapped before Rafe came over. It was slow going with one functional hand, but I managed—though not with my usual panache. I also scarfed down some toast and eggs to tide me over until lunch. Or dinner. Or whatever. Just as I was finishing my makeshift breakfast, the doorbell rang. It was Rafe.
“Hi, querida,” he said, kissing me on the cheek. He had a small bag slung over his shoulder in case he was going to spend the night. He couldn’t quite look me in the eyes which made me wonder just exactly what he had done the night before.
“Raphael, good to see you,” my mother beamed at Rafe as we went into the dining room. “Wait until you see the cake I’m making you, but no peeking until after dinner.”
“I’m sure I’ll love anything you make, Van,” Rafe said, gallantly kissing my mother’s hand. I rolled my eyes, but fortunately, neither saw me. “Let’s go to your room.” He grabbed my hand and practically dragged me upstairs. As soon as we got to my room, he shut the door and turned to face me, throwing his bag in the corner.
“Ok, Rafe, what is going on. You’re not acting like yourself.” I stared at Rafe, willing him to talk. For once, the ready grin wasn’t present on his face, and he was examining his feet. “Talk to me, Rafe.” I didn’t want to get into it on his birthday, but I also didn’t want to spend the entire night pretending nothing was wrong.
“I slept with a girl last night,” Rafe mumbled, still looking down. Even though that was what I was expecting to hear, it still hit me in the solar plexus like an iron fist. I sat on my bed and stared at the wall opposite. I couldn’t even feel anything because I was numb. “Bet, I have no excuse for what I did, but damn it, you haven’t been easy lately.”
“You’re blaming it on me?” I asked, my voice trembling. “It’s my fault that you went out and fucked another woman?”
“No, I, no. But with you almost getting killed and telling me about Aaron and not telling me when you’re in danger, I just got all mixed up. I wanted to forget about it for awhile, so I went to a bar last night. Got good and drunk. She approached me. I, well, I went with her.”
“Were you with her when I called you?” I asked, my heart constricting. I cared a great deal about Rafe—I think I loved him—and it was killing me to hear about his infidelity. It made me appreciate how difficult it was for him when I was sleeping with Aaron, and Rafe had dealt with it much better then than I was now.
“Yes,” Rafe confessed, looking miserable. “Bet, I’m so sorry,” he said in a rush, finally meeting my eyes. “It was a stupid, horrible thing to do, and I wish I hadn’t done it.”
“I did say you were owed one, didn’t I? I thought it, even if I didn’t say it. I bet you know I was thinking that because you always know what I’m thinking sometimes even before I know I’m thinking it.” I was talking gibberish as my mind refused to dwell on what Rafe had told me. Even though I knew it was my just desserts, it hurt like hell. I didn’t want him sleeping with other women. I didn’t want his body to be caressed and appreciated by someone else. He was mine, damn it, and nobody else’s. “What was she like?” I looked at Rafe, tears in my eyes. I dashed them away because I hated crying in front of others.
“Bet, don’t do this to yourself,” Rafe said helplessly. “It isn’t important.”
“It is to me,” I whispered. I couldn’t take this, not in the middle of an already stressful time. “Was she a Latina?” That was one of my secret fears—that he would go back to his homegirls, though he’s dated women from every ethnic group before, showing no particular preference.
“No, she wasn’t,” Rafe said, sitting gingerly next to me on the bed.
“Was she white?” I asked, my smile brittle. “We know what hos those white girls can be.”
“Yes, she was white,” Rafe admitted slowly.
“What did she look like, Rafe?” I asked, compelled to discover more about this woman I wanted to maim. “Was she blond? Blue eyes? Big tits? Bigger than mine?” I was generously endowed for an Asian woman, but not overly so.
“She was brunette,” Rafe said, fidgeting with the covers of my bed. “Green eyes. Slim.”
“How many times did you fuck her?” I demanded, clenching my hands into fists; I wanted to pound on Rafe until he cracked. “Did you take her home with you, or did you go to her place?”
“Do you really want to know the details?” Rafe asked. “I don’t think that’s what important here.”
“Don’t you fucking tell me what’s important,” I seethed, my temper riled. “How dare you come here like, like, like nothing’s wrong? I’m in the middle of a crisis, and you’re out fucking other women?” I jumped up from my bed and stormed out the door. I was halfway down the stairs before he caught up with me.
“Bet, let’s talk about this.” Rafe caught me by the arm and tried to slow me down. Fortunately, he grabbed my good arm, or I’d be even more pissed at him. I yanked away and kept on walking.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” I tossed over my shoulder as I hurried down the stairs. I didn’t know why I was reacting so strongly, but it suddenly seemed important to get away from him. I couldn’t bear it that while I was being shot at, he was fucking someone else.
“Querida, come on,” Rafe said, nipping at my heels. “Let’s talk about this. Please.” That stopped me. I had never heard Rafe say please in this context before. I turned to face him, waiting to see what he would say. “Can we go back up to your room?” I grudgingly followed him, not wanting to have it out in the middle of my parent’s house. I shut the door behind me so nobody—read, my mother—could overhear.
“What else is there to say?” I asked, swallowing harsher words. I sat down on my bed, ready if not willing to listen. I knew it was partly my own damn fault, which made me crosser. I didn’t like being in the wrong, and I liked even less admitting it.
“Look, Bet.” Rafe stopped. He pulled out the chair that went with my desk and brought it over to the bed so he could sit facing me. “What I did was wrong, no doubt about it. It was stupid and pigheaded, not to mention hurtful. Do you think you could ever forgive me or should I get up and walk out that door?” Something inside of me wrenched when he asked the question. The last thing I wanted was for him to leave me, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to say so. “I love you, Bet. I want to be with you. You have to decide if that’s what you want.”
“I don’t know what I want,” I said slowly. Now that my initial outrage over his infidelity had faded, I realized that in itself, it wasn’t that damning. I had cheated on him, and I had been shutting him out of my life. What guy, no, never mind that, what person wouldn’t want to do something in revenge—even if it was subconscious? The heart of the question was whether I wanted to be in a committed relationship or not, and that was a question I couldn’t answer. “I like what we have, Rafe. Is that enough for now?”
“For now,” he said, leaning forward to kiss me on the cheek. Sitting back in his chair, he added, “I have to warn you, I don’t know how long it will satisfy me. I want to live with you. I know it’s too soon to talk about marriage, but what about moving in together? We work so well together.”
My heart did another funny leap, but I wasn’t as sure why this time. Part of me wanted to run screaming from the room at the idea of cohabitating with someone. I hated giving up bathroom space, and I hated finding stray hairs in the sink. I liked having the whole bed to myself, and I especially liked doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I wasn’t big on compromise, and I knew that part of living together was compromising. The other part of me, however, was actually glad that he had brought up the prospect. I wasn’t sure if it was because I just wanted to be wanted or because I was actually considering living with him. Either way, it disturbed me. I hated being divided about something and wished I could either give him a firm yes or no. He must have read my expression accurately because he added, “You don’t have to tell me right away.” He was being such a sweetheart about it; I felt awful for equivocating. “I am sorry about last night, Bet. It won’t happen again.”
“You’re forgiven,” I said, kissing him on the mouth. Forgiven, but not forgotten. It would be quite some time before I would get over the jolt.