“Nice costume,” she said admiringly, looking me up and down. “Where’s Rafe?”
“He’s coming,” I said, grinning to myself. If she liked my getup, wait until she saw Rafe. I yanked off my wig and fluffed out my hair. I tossed the wig onto a coffee table, knowing my mother would pick it up later. I slipped out of my shoes as well as was the custom in an Asian household. I never understood the reason for wearing shoes in a house, but I did it when I visited an American friend’s place if she or he insisted. In my home, however, they were asked to remove their shoes. My house, my rules.
“Your father is worried sick about you,” my mother scolded, leading me into the living room. Of course, the television was on, and she was looking for more news on Lydia’s murder. “Bob, say hello to your daughter.” Dad looked up from the television and silently gave me the once-over.
“You all right?” He asked, not commenting on my costume. When I nodded, he returned to the television. He wasn’t much of a talker unless you got him drunk and talking about the Vietnam war, but he always managed to convey that he cared without saying it in actual words.
“Ramona, Howie, and Henry called,” my mother reported, sinking into the couch next to dad. “They wanted to know that you were ok. I told them to call later so they could talk to you themselves.”
I sighed, trying not to feel put upon. I loved my siblings, but I always felt more like their mother than their sister. My mom is great, but she’s short on practicality. I was the one who made sure my siblings were clothed and fed on a daily basis. They were probably rattled about this murder thing which meant that I would have to spend a great deal of time placating them—the last thing I wanted to do. I was tempted to tell my mother that she could talk to them, damn it, but I knew that that wouldn’t go over well with her. Family was family. Just as Beezus always had to take care of Ramona, I was responsible for my younger siblings. I usually didn’t resent it, but I did tonight. I excused myself for a minute and went to the bathroom so I could unbind my breasts. I heaved a relieved sigh before returning to the living room.
“Are you hungry?” Mom asked, tearing her eyes off the television. I realized with a start that I couldn’t remember if I had eaten before I came or when, if ever, was the last time I ate in general. I had the vague feeling that Rafe had cooked something earlier, but maybe I was confusing today with another day.
“Um, I think so?” I made it a question because I wasn’t actually sure how I felt. My stomach was clenching spasmodically, then releasing at its own pace. I couldn’t tell if it was hunger, stress, impatience, or a combination of all three.
“I’ll be right back.” Mom bustled from the room, leaving my father and me by ourselves.
“What actually happened?” My father asked, his eyes still on the television.
“What do you mean?” I countered.
“Trish, I know you,” my father said, turning to me. I loved that he called me by my preferred name. He and I had a special bond that my brothers and sister envied. “You know you were always my favorite. I can read you like a book, and there’s something you’re not telling your mother.”
“It’s nothing, Dad,” I said, smiling reassuringly. “Honest.” He looked at me for a minute longer, but let it go. He knew that I clammed up when pushed. “Well, just know I’m here for you.” I knew, and I was grateful that I always felt I could approach my father if I needed advice or support.
“Here we go,” Mom said as she entered the room, bearing a tray groaning from the weight of food on it. “I wonder where Raphael is?” She was the only one allowed to call him that, and he was the only one allowed to call her Van rather than Evangelina her given name, or Dorothy, her legal name. I often teased Rafe that he was with me for my mother to which he would merely smile. Just as my mother voiced her question, there was a rap on the window. It was Rafe, and my mother let him in the back door.
“Raphael!” My mother said, her eyes wide. She was shocked by what she saw, but also admiring. “That dress looks great on you.” Rafe had taken off the wig, but was still wearing the outfit. My mother gave him a big hug before letting him go.
“Don’t get too used to it,” Rafe said, groaning as he tugged at the neckline. “I don’t know how you wear stuff like this,” he said to me as I lagged behind my mom. “And my feet are killing me!” My father came out to see what the fuss was about and nearly had a coronary at the sight of Rafe in my dress. “Hello, sir,” Rafe said, holding out his hand. My dad had tried to get Rafe to call him Bob, but Rafe couldn’t do it. While he felt completely at ease with my mother, he was less comfortable with my father who was more self-contained.
“What, you, this…” My father shook Rafe’s hand, but couldn’t stop staring at him in amazement.
“Excuse me for a minute while I go change,” Rafe said, grinning to beat the band. “Then I’ll tell you all about my misadventures with the press.” He sailed up the stairs, his exit slightly marred by the fact that he was limping because of the shoes.
“What, why is that boy wearing your dress?” My father asked when he regained the power of speech.
“Seems pretty obvious, dear,” my mother replied. “He was pretending to be Beezus to fool the press.”
“Yup, and it worked like a charm,” I said, chortling at the memory. “They didn’t even glance at the blond-haired man next to ‘me’ when we left the apartment. It was Rafe’s idea.”
“Smart as well as cute,” my mother giggled. “You better hold on to that one, dear,” she said to me. “Boys like that don’t just grow on trees, and you’re not getting any younger, you know. I do want to be a grandmother sometime before I die.” The last was said without rancor, but with a tinge of urgency. I ignored it as I always did and switched subjects.
“So, how about that food? I’m famished.” We went back into the living room. I plopped down on the couch and pulled the coffee table closer to me so I wouldn’t have to reach as far for the food. My mother had made—or more likely, bought—many of my favorite Taiwanese tidbits, and I dove in with gusto.
I crammed half a barbecued pork bun into my mouth, savoring the tangy taste. I knew by the bright red color of the sauce that it had to be bad for me, but I didn’t care. I only ate stuff like that when I was with my family which wasn’t very often. I gobbled up some dui kaos—dumplings, which I was sure my mom had made. She made the best dui kaos this side of the Pacific, and she would say so herself if she were the type to brag. I ate shui mai, moo goo gai pan and other stuff. I hadn’t realized how ravenous I was until I started eating. I had another bun, this time with a boiled egg, slices of Chinese sausage, and a meatball in the middle of it. It was one of my favorite foods as a kid, and I still loved it. Rafe came back down looking like his normal self while I was gorging and joined in the feast at my mom’s insistence.
She and my father had already eaten, so they just watched television as Rafe and I ate in silence. Rafe didn’t eat much because we had eaten before coming over, but I continued to stuff myself. I didn’t care that I was full or that my stomach was protesting. These were all my favorites given to me by my mother, and they made me feel loved. My mom had even bought custard buns which I always begged her to buy me when I was a kid, although I was the only one in the family who enjoyed them. The other kids preferred chocolate rolls, the stupid fools. I slowly devoured a bun, savoring every bite. When I was done, I looked mournfully at the others. I wished I could have another, but it was physically impossible for me to eat one more bite.
“So talk,” I said to Rafe when I could finally breathe again. I was eager to hear how he thwarted the reporters.
“It was fantastic,” he said, his eyes lighting up in glee. He sipped at his black tea before telling his saga.
While I was sprinting to his car, he languidly took his time, flirting with the male reporters by wiggling his ass and swishing his hips. As they shouted questions at him, he’d murmur back in a hushed tone so they’d have to strain to hear him. They were mighty ticked to realize that all he was saying was, ‘At this time, I have no comment to give the press’ and variations of said theme. He spoke to them in complete sentences so they wouldn’t realize at first that all he was saying was ‘fuck off’. Since no one knew exactly what I looked like, and he didn’t bother to contradict them, they assumed he was me as he slid into his car and drove off.
They followed him here where they joined the other throng of reporters in pestering Rafe as he got out of his car. He did a bit more of the wiggle and tease routine until he got bored. Then he pulled off his wig and said in his normal voice, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is just a test. Had I been the real Ms. Chen, instructions would have followed soon after.’ I dissolved in laughter when Rafe proudly recounted this part of the story. He said some of the male reporters were so outraged, they made as if they were going to hit him. When he flexed his biceps, however, they quickly changed their minds. As an added bonus, most of them decided that I was long gone and left the scene. There were only two or three reporters left outside.
“Great plan, kids,” my mother said, beaming at us. “Wasn’t that smart thinking, Bob?”
“Sure was,” my father said, nodding his head. “Way to use your head, Trish.”
“Actually, it was Rafe’s idea,” I said hastily, wanting to give him his due. “If it had been up to me, I would have just run out there, trying to flee the howling mob.” The phone rang before I could say anything. My mom answered before holding the phone out to me. It was Mona.
“What’s up, sis?” I asked, crossing my fingers. My wish went unanswered as she immediately went into hysterics.
“What’s this about you being shot? Why aren’t you in the hospital if you were almost killed?” She was in tears, and I heard a murmur in the background. I assumed it was Michele, her girlfriend, trying to calm her down.
“Mona, who told you I was shot?” I said sharply, hoping to cut through her histrionics. Mona enjoyed her drama, and the only way to circumvent a scene was to cut to the facts and quick. “Didn’t you see the news?”
“Well, nobody, really, but, but, but, there was this story about Maisie Mouse, then I didn’t hear anything else, and I couldn’t really understand Mom, and she said to call back later, and well, I thought…” Mona trailed off, her tears subsiding.
“That’s the trouble with you, Mona,” I said, refraining from biting her head off. “You fly off the handle without thinking about it first.” I softened my tone. “I wasn’t shot—I wasn’t even around when it happened.”
“But it was your costume!” Mona wailed, going into full-scale panic. “They-they-they said it was the mouse that got it!” I sighed and slouched on the couch. It would be funny if it weren’t so pitiable.
“Mona, I’m fine. It was someone else. Have Michele give you a nice backrub, drink some hot milk and go to sleep, ok?” I wasn’t in the mood to coddle Mona, which was the only thing that would jolt her out of her funk. Besides, that’s Michele’s job as Mona’s girlfriend.
“Promise me you’ll call me if you find out anything,” Mona sniffled before hanging up. The second I click off the phone, it rang again. It was my brother, Hank.
“What’s up, Hank?” I asked, hoping that he wouldn’t make a scene, either. While it was Mona’s wont to weep and wail, Hank got mad. Tonight was no exception.
“What the fuck, Dodo? What kind of shit are you getting into?” Hank shouted, nearly blasting my eardrums in the process. He was a running back in college and liked to bowl his way through the opposition. “I will be seriously pissed if you get fucking killed, do you hear me? I’ll dig up your body just so I could fucking wipe you out myself.”
“Henry,” I started, but he interrupted me.
“Hank, Dodo! Please!” Oh sure, he insisted I called him Hank, but he still called me Dodo. Where was the justice in that?
“I have to go, Hank. I’m fine. I will do my damnedest not to get killed. Ok?” Without waiting for an answer, I clicked off the phone. I decided I might as well bite the bullet and call Owen as well so I could get it over with. Fortunately, he wasn’t there so I just left a message. Probably still at work, or, hopefully, out on a date. Leaving the living room, I called Liza.
“Trish, what the hell is going on?” Liza hissed, sounding pissed. “Do you know that I have reporters crawling up my ass? It’s not a pleasant sensation. I’ve been trying to call you all night! Why the hell haven’t you been answering your cell?”
“Liza, listen to me. Do you remember Shannon?” I asked, keeping my voice low.
“Shannon Drake? Of course I do. Why?” She paused, her voice changing from accusatory to speculative. “Oh shit, you don’t think she has anything to do with this, do you?”
“I don’t know what to think,” I admitted, clutching the phone close to my ear. “You remembered what she said the time we ran into her at the mall.”
“Yeah, but, that was after it just happened,” Liza reminded me. As if I needed reminding. “You don’t think she’d still be mad, do you? I heard she’s dating someone else now.” I chewed on a nail while pondering whether to tell her or not. I had to tell someone, and she’s my best friend. I decided to risk it.
“I got an email from her last week,” I said, lowering my voice even further. I ignored her gasp and hurry on. “It said that she hadn’t forgiven me for what I’d done and that she would get even with me. Think it means anything?”
“I don’t know, Trish,” Liza replied, her tone worried. “You’d better check it out. Maybe you should talk to Aaron, too.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” I sighed. Promising to keep her updated on the situation, I hung up the phone.