I slid into my mother’s Honda, determined to drive it. I slowly backed out of the garage and started down the street. I decided to go to Grand Street in St. Paul to shop because they had many eclectic shops on that street. I hated malls with a passion, and I never went to the Megamall unless someone came to visit from out of town. Without exception, visitors always wanted to be taken to the Mall. I had the radio on MPR—the only station I could stomach. They were interviewing Jonny Lang and playing his newest release. I hummed along to it as it was undeniably catchy. Hard to believe he was only twenty-two with a full-throated growl like that. He was cute, too, but apparently married. I shook my head to rid myself of these random thoughts and concentrated on the road. It wasn’t easy to do as my arm was screaming at me to stop moving, but I managed to make it in one piece.
I parked in what used to be The Ruminator’s, nee, Hungry Mind’s parking lot, missing Hungry Mind fiercely. I put my sling on before I forgot it, then got out of the car. I walked into Avalon, studiously avoiding looking at the space where Hungry Mind used to be. In Avalon, I wrinkled my nose at the scent of jasmine incense lingering in the air. I liked incense as much as the next person, but it was a bit too heavy in Avalon to be comfortable for me. I held my nose as I looked through the cards. I hated ninety-five percent of the tripe that was being marketed, but Avalon usually had a good selection. This time was no exception. After I chose a card, I headed for the magnet section. I knew that I wanted to get him the ‘erotic’ kit, but I also had to find something that he could open in front of the family.
I walked through the whole store, looking at postcard packets, candles, little books, body lotions. Nothing that spoke to me of Rafe. I knew that I could go to Victoria’s Secret and buy a teddy, wear it for him, and he’d be perfectly happy. That wasn’t what I wanted to do, however, especially not with my arm bandaged as it was. I went over to the journal section and took a look. Not that Rafe had ever expressed an interest in writing, but I thought he had a bit of the poet in him. Avalon had a nice collection, but they seemed mostly geared towards women. I highly doubted that Rafe would feel comfortable with an ‘Emily’ journal or one with a quote about women on the front. Not that he would be embarrassed, exactly, but his vague sense of machismo would be slightly offended. Then he would feel guilty since he believed himself a feminist and would tote the damn thing around everywhere to prove a point. No birthday gift should inspire that kind of guilt, so I circled the store one more time.
I was just about to give up when the massage oils and various bathing products caught my eye. Rafe was one of those rare guys who liked to take soothing baths, though he didn’t advertise it—understandable in his line of work. I picked out some massage oil and bath oils and scented candles—serenity. He would need it if he continued to hang with me. I also picked up a stone with a carving of a raven on it. Rafe liked ravens for whatever reason and considered them his familiar. I found a leather pouch that he could wear around his neck and snapped that up, too. I could give him the talisman in front of the family and leave the rest of the stuff for unwrapping when we had some alone time. I had a red satin teddy that he hadn’t seen yet—but it was at my apartment, damn it. Oh well. It would just have to wait for another time.
I took my booty up to the front counter where the nice girl with the pierced lip and tattooed forearm rang me up. The collection of chocolates they keep by the register caught my eye, and I snagged a few for Rafe who had a sweet tooth and for me who thought chocolate was better than sex, sometimes. The girl behind the counter was stunning at six-feet tall with a halo of red curls and full, pouting lips. Her emerald green eyes sparkled as she rang up my purchases. She was wearing a snug-fitting green cardigan that emphasized her breasts nicely, and she gave me a smile that let me know she wouldn’t mind getting to know me better. She didn’t even ask about the sling, which was a bonus. I smiled back in that ‘you’re hot, but I’m taken’ sort of way, then stopped myself from flirting any further. I grabbed my bag and hustled from the store.
Driving aimlessly, I considered my relationship with Rafe. I liked him better than anyone I’d ever dated, but I was starting to feel a bit restless. I knew I should have told him about my brainstorm concerning Brian’s painting, but I hadn’t for more than one reason. First of all, I was feeling the tiniest bit smothered by his constant presence. Though I saw him three to four times a week on average, this stretch of unrelenting Rafe was starting to wear on my nerves. I wasn’t a domesticated animal, and the idea of living in cohabitated bliss gave me the willies. The one and only time I tried to live with a partner, I nearly killed him the fiftieth time he left his stubble in the bathroom sink after shaving. That was three months into our cohabitation, and I kicked him out that very same day.
The other reason I hadn’t told Rafe about my discovery was because I wanted to solve this on my own. While Rafe thought of us as equals, I knew that he also felt the need to protect me. That rankled because stabbed arm notwithstanding, I didn’t need anybody to look over me. I wasn’t the little woman to be coddled and cosseted gently while I sat in a corner mending my knitting or something equally inane; I was an adult who was more than capable of looking out for herself. I resented Rafe’s solicitousness, which in turn made me feel guilty. I mean, what woman didn’t want her partner to pay attention to her, to take care of her, to attend to her every need? He cooked for me, for god’s sake. Most females I knew would kill for a guy who cooked for them, not to mention someone who remembered birthdays and anniversaries. He remembered them better than did I, in fact. He even put the toilet seat down.
Why was I feeling stifled, then? Just because we had reached the six-month mark, which was the second longest I’d been with one person. Normally, I used them, abused them, then ditched them by the three-month mark. The guy I lived with was the exception. We dated for six months before moving in together, then I booted him three months later. Perhaps that was another reason I was freaking out about Rafe—this was the time in the prior relationship when I had allowed Miguel—yes, I liked Latinos, so sue me—to move in, and that had turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Rafe was starting to make noises about moving in together, and I wasn’t sure I was ready. Let’s face it, I wasn’t sure I would ever be ready. I simply wasn’t the cohabitating kind of gal. There was no shame in my game.
My cell phone rang interrupting my musings, but I had to ignore it as I couldn’t talk and drive with only one arm. I was hungry, so I decided to stop at McDonald’s. While I tried to eat healthily on a regular basis, sometimes I had a Big Mac craving that just had to be filled. My mouth watered at the thought of the fries I’d get on the side. Hell, I might as well go whole-hog and have the pop, too, and call it a meal. Maybe I’d even find room for a hot-fudge sundae. I was fortunate to have a good metabolism or I’d be twice my size the way I loved food.
After enjoying my supersized meal and convincing myself that I wouldn’t eat for the rest of the day in order to make up for my indulgence, I noted that I had an hour before I was supposed to be at Brian’s. My arm was throbbing, but I was afraid to take medication while I was on the road. They were pretty powerful, and I didn’t trust myself to drive while under the influence. I popped a couple Advil, but that didn’t even take the edge off the pain. I promised myself that as soon as I was done with Brian, I’d go home and crash. I didn’t want to do anything to impede the healing of my shoulder, even if it meant being out of commission for awhile. I glanced at the directions to Brian’s, deciding to head over there now. He lived in the Uptown area, and if I was early, I could shop at Calhoun Square or at one of the other stores. Uptown used to be the artsy area before the suburbanites noticed how cool the area was and took it over. Now, there was even a fucking McDonald’s in the midst of it. I supposed it was hypocritical of me to diss McDonald’s after eating there, but I was nothing if not inconsistent.
I reached Lagoon and Hennepin, the heart of Uptown, and found a parking space within minutes, which was highly unusual for me. I still had forty minutes before I had to meet Brian, so I walked the streets, enjoying the sights. Even though the area was rapidly becoming yuppified, there were still interesting people to be seen. Want to see tattoos and multi-colored hair, not to mention piercings? This was the area for you. Except for downtown, it was also the area where the most people of color could be seen, and I was increasing that number by one. I inhaled, enjoying the heat. Minnesotans endured the bitter winters for days like this—nineties, sunshine, clean air. Granted, we have exactly one week of it, but that very brevity made it even more precious.
I walked around a bit more before making my way towards Brian’s apartment. I was early, but I rather be early than be late. A tribute to my upbringing. True to their Taiwanese roots, my parents were twenty minutes late for everything, and it drove me nuts when I was a kid. Even though they improved as I got older, I vowed that I would be on time when I grew up, and it’s one pledge that I stuck to. In fact, I overcompensate which meant I was usually early for events. Even though my Asian friends looked at me funny when I arrived on time, I no longer cared. I found Brian’s apartment with little difficulty and rang the buzzer. A minute later, a tinny voice irritably asked me what I wanted.
“Brian, it’s Trish—Bea,” I corrected myself. It was difficult to remember who called me what with all the nicknames I had. Why couldn’t everyone call me Trish as I wished? It was something I’d have to think about some other time.
“You’re early,” he grumped, his voice hoarse. “I was taking a nap.”
“Come on, Brian,” I said impatiently when it appeared as if he wasn’t going to let me in. I glanced at my watch and saw that I was a whopping ten minutes early. That was late by my standards, and no reason to get in a damn snit. “Let me in already.” It seemed as if he rang me in with reluctance, but ring me in he did.
“I’m a mess,” he said, meeting me at his door in shorts and a t-shirt. His hair had that spiky-clumpy look that signified that he, indeed, had been sleeping.
“Do you work the nightshift?” I asked politely. I couldn’t think of another reason a guy his age and in good health should be sleeping at five in the afternoon.
` “No,” he said briefly, not elaborating on the answer. When I lifted an eyebrow at him quizzically, he added tersely, “I was up late last night.” He left it at that and ushered me in. “What happened to your shoulder?” He asked, not sounding as if he really cared about the answer. I was wearing a tank top because I couldn’t bear the thought of clothing over my bandage
“I was stabbed,” I said briefly, watching his face. Nothing but a look of surprise. I didn’t feel like elaborating, so I shrugged and said nothing. He didn’t push it as he steered me to the living room which was about as opposite as Lydia’s as humanly possible. The walls were in bold red with slashes of black woven through. The couch was black leather, and the big-screen television dominated the room. There wasn’t a trace of femininity in this room, and I briefly wondered what Lydia thought of it. The painting on the wall caught my eye, however, and I could tell by the dark shapes and the brooding lines of the figures that it was a Lydia painting. One glance at the signature told me that I was right. I felt the blood rush through my veins just a bit faster at the sight of her scrawl.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Brian asked begrudgingly when it became apparent to him that I wasn’t going to disappear. I shook my head and continued to stare at the painting.
It was not as large as the one in her living room—approximately two feet by two feet. There were two figures in it—one male and one female walking in a forest of trees. The background was done in browns and grays while the figures were drawn in deep purples and blues. They were holding hands, but straining away from each other. They had a surrealistic feel to them as they seemed to be pulling apart. The sky was overcast with pregnant clouds looming above the figures. The female figure was crying while the male figure had an angry look on his face. At least, I thought that’s what I saw. It was difficult to tell as the features were blurred on both faces. Each had a slash of red where the heart would be, making it appear as if they were both bleeding from the chest. If she was making a statement about her relationship with Brian, it wasn’t a happy one.
Squinting at the picture, I could barely discern a third figure peeking out from behind the trees. It looked feminine, but it was hard to tell. This figure was painted in greens that almost blended in with the trees, and it had a rapacious look on her face. The features were smeared as well, but not enough to totally disfigure the face. There was something vaguely familiar about the third figure, but I couldn’t quite place it. The way Lydia had drawn her—and I use the word ‘her’ lightly—one couldn’t tell if she was looking at the female or the male of the couple. This figure, too, had red dripping down her chest, but her blood wasn’t as red. The whole painting gave me the chills, though it was beautifully done.