“Beezus, you have got to listen to me.” My mother was on me the minute I walked in the door. She was on her second martini which meant it was a rough day for her. “Frieda told Zelda that that boy you got fired, what was his name? Your boss’s nephew—he’s pretty angry at you. When they talked to him about it, he couldn’t stop cussing you out. Called you the ‘b’ word and the ‘c’ word.” It took me a minute to translate. I knew what the ‘b’ word was—what woman didn’t?—but the ‘c’ word? When I figured it out, I cringed. That was one of my least favorite words.
“He wouldn’t be so openly hostile if he tried to kill me,” I said hopefully, slipping out of my shoes. My mother ushered me into the kitchen so she can stuff me with tea and goodies. If I stayed at my parents’ house for much longer, I was going to gain ten pounds. I picked up the conversation where it’d left off. “Carlos was probably just trying to scare me.”
“Frieda said he admitted to going to the park sometimes just to keep track of you. That doesn’t sound like just venting to me.” I went cold at the thought of Carlos watching me. My mother must have read something in my face because she added, “Don’t worry. Frieda read him the riot act and threatened to throw his ass—her words, not mine—in jail if he ever went near you again. He seemed to take her warning to heart.” I had to smile. Cousin Frieda was over six feet tall and built like a linebacker. When we were kids, I used to tease her that she must surely have Caucasian genes because no purebred Taiwanese girl could be that big. It always made her cry.
“Maybe we should have this discussion after Rafe gets here,” I said, heaving a sigh. I didn’t want to talk about it twice, and I knew that Rafe would want to hear all the details.
“Have you ever thought about moving in with him?” My mother asked, her smile impish. “You guys get along so well. It’s as if you were made for each other.”
Move in together? I stopped chewing on a blueberry muffin and shuddered. The mere suggestion made me hyperventilate. Not that I didn’t care deeply for Rafe—I did. Not that I didn’t cherish the time we spent together—I did. Not that we didn’t get together at least four times a week—we did. We were very compatible. I haven’t been this happy with a partner before, so what was stopping me from moving in with him? I had a hunch that he was just waiting for me to be okay with it, that he was ready, but there was something holding me back. For starters, the fact that I’d never met his family or really heard much about them. Also, his refusal to discuss his background struck me as fishy. I didn’t care what he was, but I’d like to know where he came from. Then there was the sleeping together thing. I still couldn’t do it comfortably. Speak of the devil. The doorbell rang, and it was Rafe. I let him in and led him into the kitchen.
“Hi, querida,” he said, pecking me on the cheek. “Van.” He embraced my mother who looked delighted to see him. I swear, if she was ten years younger and not happily married to my father, I’d worry about her snatching Rafe away from me.
“Raphael,” my mother said, beaming up at Rafe. “Sit, sit. Eat, eat.” She hurried to make another cup of tea and placed it in front of him. He sipped it cautiously as he’s more a coffee man, then relaxed as it met his approval. Oolong will do that to you every time.
By common agreement, we didn’t talk about the murder or anything related while we snacked. I didn’t know if we were waiting for my father to come home or if we were just sick of thinking about it, but it was nice not to have to think about it for an hour or two. We talked about Rafe’s job, instead, and of my mother’s. She’s a freelance writer who writes articles for magazines such as Vogue. She’s not proud of it, but it helped pay the bills. In her free time, she wrote moderately successful fantasy novels. Three stand-alones and four in a series about alternate universes and dragons. I’ve read them because she’s my mother, but I have to admit that it was tough for me to finish them because as I said, I didn’t read genre.
By the time my father came home, we were ready to talk about the murder again. My poor father probably wasn’t ready as he hadn’t had time to decompress from his job—he’s in middle management for a medium-size corporation—but he was game. My mother finished preparing dinner while I set the table with Rafe helping me out. Even though we’d had a snack earlier, we were still hungry, which was good because my mother went all out with the food. She had bought sushi from Byerly’s as well as different entrees. Meatloaf, Chicken Dijon, stuffed peppers, to name a few. I was in heaven. When I was at home and Rafe wasn’t cooking for me, I heated up frozen dinners and ordered out for the most part. It was nice to have some real food for a change, even if it wasn’t my mother who had cooked it.
As soon as we sat down to eat, I was off and running. I told them Tommy’s story, and they were split about whether I should tell Eddie or not. My mother and Rafe thought I should tell him whereas my father sided with me that it wasn’t something he should be fired for. Everyone agreed that the cops needed to know, though. My mother related what Frieda had told Aunt Zelda, and again, opinion was divided over whether Carlos remained a viable suspect or not. In fact, we were so contentious about everything, I began to wonder if this discussion was more harmful than helpful. In desperation, I tossed out the part about Eddie sweating me and the snippet of conversation I had overheard in Eddie’s office the day before. Not to mention what Antoinette had said about Eddie firing Lydia and Stephen. That started a storm of discussion which proved to be mostly fruitless.
Later on that night, Rafe and I were lying in bed after a rousing round of sex. Rafe found it hard to believe that my parents didn’t mind us copulating, but he was happy to take advantage of it. Something about being that close to death had whetted my appetite for sex, and Rafe was more than happy to oblige. He had a higher sex drive than I did, so he was loath to turn down sex as he was never sure when he’d get it next. Not that he could really complain as we had it on the average of three times a week—it’s just that if he had his way, we’d have sex every day. Since I couldn’t keep up with him, I tried to satisfy him in other ways. Sweetie that he was, he never made me feel bad because I wasn’t as highly sexed as he was.
“I want you to take some time off, querida,” Rafe said, stroking my breast. I pushed his hand away as I did not like to have my breasts caressed if it weren’t a part of sex play.
“Rafe, how many times do I have to tell you,” I began in my put-upon voice. Rafe interrupted me, which was not like him.
“I can’t lose you,” Rafe said, staring into my eyes until I began to squirm. Though he told me often that he loved me, he was not the type to emote all over the place—for which I was deeply thankful. I couldn’t stand SNAGs (Sensitive New Age Guys) as they just seemed unbearably wimpy to me. I didn’t mind a guy crying or expressing his feelings, but I did like a dash of machismo in my guy. In other words, he had to be able to beat me in arm-wrestling.
“Rafe, I’m not going to do anything stupid. Please believe me that I have no wish to die.” I reached out to stroke Rafe’s hair in an attempt to comfort him. By the look on his face, I’d say I failed.
“You’re not as tough as you think,” Rafe muttered, pulling away. “All those people after you. You can’t watch your back all the time.” When he saw that I wasn’t going to budge, he heaved a sigh and added, “At least promise me that you won’t be alone with any of the suspects.”
“That’s impossible” I protested. “All the park workers are suspects, including me. No way I can escape myself.” My attempt at levity fell flat as Rafe continued to stare solemnly at me. “Rafe, you’re just going to have to trust me on this,” I said finally, planting a kiss on his cheek. “I’m a big girl, and I can watch out for myself.”
“That’s what my sister thought,” Rafe muttered, looking mutinous.
“What?” I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly; I’d certainly never heard him talk about a sister before. “You have a sister? What does she have to do with anything?”
“Nothing, querida,” Rafe said stiffly. “I’m going to bed.” He got out of my bed, dressed and walked out the door. Though he had given me plenty of grief last night about me kicking him out, he apparently had gotten used to it. I didn’t know what to think about that.
I thought about what Tommy had told me about Lydia instead. I didn’t want to believe that she could be so callous or so cruel. I also couldn’t believe that she hadn’t told me about Tommy and the customer. Not that I would have done anything about it, but it made me wonder what else she hadn’t told me. Such as what she saw that she wasn’t supposed to see the day before she was killed. I began to wonder if I had really known Lydia at all. I mean, a couple of laughs and beers after work didn’t a relationship make. I also wondered if she really had a boyfriend named Brian MacDougal since she was so adept at lying. If she did have such a boyfriend, I wondered if I could track him down. I sighed because it was becoming so damn complicated.
I turned onto my left side as I pondered the situation. How much did I want to involve myself in Lydia’s murder? Truthfully, if I discovered that it had nothing to do with me, I would be more than willing to leave it to the police. I was ashamed for thinking that way, but it was how I felt. Sure, I wanted justice for Lydia if she was the intended victim, but I figured it wasn’t up to me. I’d done what I could by talking to most of my coworkers and to her mother. Once I talked to Eddie on Monday, that would be that. Maybe I’d talk to Antoinette and Tommy again because I thought they were hiding things from me, but no more. I was ninety-nine percent certain that Lydia had been the target and not me, but there was still a lingering doubt.
I sighed loudly, my thoughts drifting to the man who had been lying beside me. I cared deeply about him, no doubt, but I wasn’t sure how much I actually trusted him. Oh, I knew he loved me and he was good to me, but there was so much about his life that remained a secret. I hadn’t even known that he had a sister who’d been in a similar situation. Was she the only one? Were there more? I knew he had a mother because I’d heard him talking to her on the phone. He’d never mentioned a father or where he grew up, though I’d guess East Coast by the faint accent under his quasi-Spanish accent. I knew that he had gone to college at the University of Florida, but he had dropped out his second year, though he refused to tell me why. Everything else I knew about him was from what he told me in drips and drabs.
In some ways, he was openhearted and generous. He would give you his last dollar and be concerned because he couldn’t give you more. He was an easy mark for panhandlers and for kids selling anything. He cooked for me; he cleaned for me; he always made sure I had my orgasm before he had his. My mother obviously adored him, and my father didn’t object. My sister loved him, and my brothers thought he was cool. Even Liza, who was notoriously picky about the people I dated, gave him the thumbs up after spending just a half hour with him. He was kind to animals and to elderly people, and he held the door open for strangers. If it weren’t for his habit of not telling me a damn thing about his past, I would say he was near perfect for me. Except that he didn’t like football, but you can’t win them all.
Why the big deal about his past? Why wouldn’t he tell me where he grew up, or even if his father was still alive? What was this about his sister? I didn’t even know his favorite color, for god’s sake. How could I consider moving in with someone when I didn’t know if he preferred red to black, green to blue? I got up, wrapped my robe around me and marched into the guest room. Rafe was lying motionless, but I knew he wasn’t sleeping. I hopped into bed and poked him in the back. There was no response, but I knew that he was just ignoring me, hoping I’d leave him alone. No way. I had a bee in my bonnet, and I had to satisfy my curiosity, or I’d never get to sleep. I poked him again.
“Rafe, I know you’re awake,” I hissed, reaching for his ribs. “I’m going to tickle you if you don’t answer.”
“Ok, ok,” Rafe hissed back, turning to face me. “What?” His voice was impatient, just this side of harsh.
“What’s your favorite color?” I asked, feeling a bit foolish. The feeling only increased when he switched on the lamp besides the bed so he could stare at me.
“You woke me up to ask me that? What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Just answer the question!” My discomfort made me snippy, and I wanted him to feel the same way.
“Gray,” Rafe said, sighing as he replied. “What’s yours?”
“Yellow,” I snapped. This wasn’t tit for tat—he was the one being interrogated. “Is your father still alive?”
“As far as I know,” Rafe said, his face expressionless. Something in it warned me not to go further, but I couldn’t stop myself. I had to know his secrets, even if it meant the end of our relationship.
“How many siblings do you have?” I demanded, my tone strident. Even I cringed as I heard myself talk. I didn’t apologize, however, as I really wanted to know.
“Time to sleep,” Rafe said abruptly, flopping on his back. To emphasize his point, he closed his eyes.
“Rafe!” I whapped him with my pillow, causing his eyes to pop open. “You want me to trust you, to listen to you, and yet, you won’t tell me the simplest things about you. I hardly think that’s fair.”
“You know me, Bet, none of that stuff matters.” Rafe closed his eyes again, indicating the discussion was over. I was far from satisfied, but I didn’t want to push it. Besides, I was getting tired, so I retreated back to my room. It didn’t take long for me to drift into dreamland.