“Martinez,” he said wearily.
“Hi, Carlos, it’s me.” I figured if I kept repeating his name, I would get used to saying it.
“HI, Scarlett. What’s up?” His voice perked up, and I felt guilty for bagging on him, but it was an emergency. “I’m looking forward to tonight. We’re on for eight, right?”
“Actually, that’s why I called.” I hurriedly explained the situation with Julia, Peter and Banana, then asked if I could take a rain check. I held my breath because I didn’t know how he would react—especially to the part about Peter being gay.
“That’s terrible,” Martinez said softly. “Of course you can take a rain check. Your poor friend. And that poor little girl!” I had forgotten that Martinez had met Banana, and it warmed me to him even more that he’d remembered. I could hear him riffling through some papers. “Um, I can probably switch with someone. Go in tonight and take tomorrow night off. How about that?”
“That would be perfect,” I said, thankful all over again that I didn’t have a nine-to-five, Monday through Friday job. The flexibility was one thing I loved best about this theater gig I had going. Sure, it was tough and we barely had our heads above water, but it was utterly worth it. Martinez and I made small talk before hanging up. He didn’t even mention my withholding evidence from him, which demonstrated that he was a man of his word. He’d forgiven me, so he saw no reason to rehash the point.
“Ok, gang. Let’s go!” I clapped my hand as I went back to the living room. Matt and Banana had resumed watching their DVD, and Matt put up five fingers. I assumed there was five more minutes in the episode and went to grab a pop from the fridge. I normally didn’t drink pop, but I felt I deserved one. It was diet, anyway, so I didn’t have to worry about the sugar or the calories.
“We’re done,” Matt said, holding onto Banana’s hand.
We hopped in my car and zoomed off. I turned to make faces at Banana while Matt drove. Banana giggled at every crazy face I made, which bolstered my spirits. She didn’t like peek-a-boo, but she sure loved silly faces. Every time I’d stop, she’d demand more. I did I the entire ride, only too glad to be able to cheer her up—even if it was only momentary. Matt sighed and muttered under his breath, but he didn’t say anything to spoil our fun. He wasn’t big into repetition, and I knew I was getting on his nerves. I didn’t care, however, as Banana needed my attention more than Matt needed silence.
At Banana’s house, she wanted to take the most bizarre combination of outfits. Long-sleeved shirts with shorts. Tank tops and snow pants. I had to remind her that it was springtime which meant that she didn’t need many heavy clothes. She might want to take a sweater or two in case of a chill—plus a jacket, of course—but shorts and t-shirts should be fine, otherwise. Oh, maybe one pair of jeans. I was the world’s most thorough packer, preparing myself for any emergency. It meant that I carried twice as much luggage as normal people when I traveled, but it was worth it to be able to pull out an umbrella if it started to rain.
Banana insisted on taking her favorite stuffed animal which was, not coincidentally, a stuffed banana. Ok, it’s not exactly an animal, but it’s very plush. Julia had it custom-made for Banana, and Banana slept with it from time to time. She had a yen for anything with bananas for obvious reasons, and she couldn’t wait until she was old enough to read Banana Yoshimoto’s books. She once told me in great seriousness that she thought she’d be ready at age five to read the books. I wouldn’t put it past her, she’s that brilliant. I wasn’t just saying that because she’s the kid of my best friend—I really believed it.
It took Banana a full hour to decide what she wanted to take with her because she kept changing her mind. In addition, she would stop to speculate what her father would be like and if he would like her. I tried to reassure her that of course he would like her—she was wonderful—but I could tell she had her doubts. She rarely talked about her father which had led me to believe that she didn’t think about him. Clearly, I was mistaken as she nattered on and on about Peter and what she thought he’d be like. Suddenly, I wondered if Julia had done the right thing by moving back to Minnesota after her relationship with Peter dissolved. Sure, she had needed to lick her wounds and build her own life, but she had deprived her daughter of Peter’s company in the meantime. Watching Banana, I thought she got the short end of the deal. It wasn’t something I needed to bring up with Julia, though. She was probably feeling guilty enough.
“You ready, sport?” Matt finally asked Banana when it looked as if she was going to unpack and re-pack her suitcase for the fifth time.
“Yes, I think so.” Banana pursed her lips as she look around her room. There was a wistful expression, as if she was saying goodbye. “I wish you were coming with me.” Banana slipped her right hand in Matt’s left hand and her left hand in my right one. She squeezed both of our hands tightly before letting go. “I’m ready.” Banana grabbed her suitcase and tried to pull it, but it was too heavy for her.
“Let me get that for you, Madame,” Matt said gallantly, scooping up the suitcase with ease. Banana grabbed her Raggedy Ann backpack, and we were off. We decided it would be easier to go over to my parents’ house for the day, and it would give Banana more people with whom to play. Banana was quiet on the way over, and I worried that this whole ordeal was permanently scarring her. She was a resilient little girl, but she’d been through a lot lately.
“You ok back there, baby?” I called over my shoulder, twisting as best I could to see her.
“Yes, Auntie,” Banana said in a small voice. After a lengthy pause, she added, “Does it hurt to fly? I don’t remember doing it.”
“No, it doesn’t hurt at all,” I said cheerfully. I loathed flying because I got motion sickness, but I wasn’t about to tell her that.
“I love flying,” Matt said enthusiastically. “It’s so cool to be way up in the air and looking down on the earth. I feel like I’m the king of the world when I’m flying.”
“I’m scared there might be bad guys on the plane. Like 9/11.” It bothered me that a girl her age had such thoughts, but it’s the world we lived in. I was sure some parents shielded their children from horrors like 9/11, but Julia had never been one of those parents. She believed knowledge was power and that it was better for Banana to hear things from her than from any other source. I agreed, but sometimes I wondered if Julia didn’t tell Banana too much.
“Hon, the airports have better security now,” I said in a gentle tone. “There won’t be any bad guys on your flight. Except for maybe that guy who snores loudly the whole time.” A small giggle from the backseat told me I’d achieved my goal. “Besides, my mom can take care of any bad guy around. She’s like Wonder Woman.” I honestly believed that when I was a kid, and I still half-believed it now.
“They give you food on the plane and maybe a movie. You’ll be in New York before you know it.” Matt threw in his two cents’ worth, and I was grateful that I had such a sensitive friend, even if Northwest no longer had those kind of perks. I knew my mother would pack food, so it all came out in the wash.
“Then I’ll be with my daddy.” Banana said the words with great longing, and my heart hurt that she would get to have such little time with Peter. I glanced at Matt who was frowning as well. He met my eyes and nodded slightly, making me feel better. I knew he was saying that he would be there for Banana, be one positive male figure in her life. Banana began humming a tune that I didn’t recognize, probably because she made it up. She was good at that, even though she was a bit out of tune. Several seconds later I recognized that she was humming Leaving on a Jet Plane, which was one of Julia’s favorite Golden Oldies.
“Do you know the words to that, Banana?” I called over my shoulder, having turned to face front again. In a few seconds, Banana’ voice came warbling out from the backseat.
“I’m a leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again, oh babe, I hate to go,” she sang before subsiding into humming again. It hit me that I didn’t know when she or Julia would be coming back, and my heart hurt again. Matt reached over and squeezed my hand, caressing my thumb as he did. It comforted me, but it also turned me on. I pulled my hand away and tucked it into my lap, not looking at Matt as I did.
I wondered if we would be able to live together much longer the way the sexual tension was running between us. We were used to having an on-again/off-again sexual relationship, but it was infinitely stickier this time. I didn’t know if it was because Matt was loath to share me with a serious boyfriend or if our fucking around had finally come back to haunt us. I knew I felt something more than strictly friendship kind of love for him, but not quite romantic love. I didn’t know what the difference was, exactly, but I knew it was there. I also knew that we were playing a dangerous game, and I didn’t want either of us to get hurt. It made me sad, but perhaps it was time to find separate abodes. I bent my head forward so my hair shielded my face. I didn’t want Matt to see the tears in my eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Matt asked softly, trying to keep his voice from reaching the backseat.
“Nothing,” I said stiffly, silently damning him for knowing me so well. I couldn’t even sulk without him knowing it. “I just have something in my eye.” Ok, it was the world’s lamest lie, but I wasn’t any good at lying on the fly—at least not with him.
“Right,” Matt said, but he let it go. We reached my parents’ home without anybody saying anything else. Banana was half-asleep in her car seat.
“Come on, love,” I said, gently shaking her. I had no idea how to get her out of the seat without her help, otherwise I’d just let her sleep.
“Are we there yet?” Banana said sleepily, rubbing her eyes with her fist. “Hi, Auntie. I forgot I was with you.” She smiled at me, still struggling to wake up. I touched her cheek briefly before withdrawing my hand.
“We’re at my parents’ place, Banana. Time to get up.”
“Goodie!” Banana woke up with alarming quickness. “I’m hungry!” She undid her seatbelt so fast, she almost tumbled out of her seat.
“Steady there, sport,” Matt said, watching the two of us. There was a trace of pain in his eyes, and I knew he was thinking of Danny. I vowed to redouble my efforts to find him, though I wasn’t as enthusiastic about looking for Kayla. She could stay wherever she was as far as I was concerned, which made me feel guilty as hell.
“Auntie, up!” Banana held her arms up so I could extract her from her seat. Though I knew I was supposed to encourage her to walk by herself, I held her tightly to my chest and walked to the front door. It opened before I could even step up to the door.
“Banana! It’s nice to see you again, dear.” My mom swooped Banana from my arms and whisked her into the house. Matt and I followed at a slower pace.