I awoke the next day at noon. I hadn’t gone to bed until the wee hours of the morning as I was too hyped from the two naps. I went into the kitchen to see what I could dig up. As I was about to pull some bread out of the freezer, I remembered that I had to be at Julia’s at one. I raced to the bathroom and jumped into the shower. The good thing about having an odd schedule was that Matt and I didn’t fight over the bathroom. He used it around eight in the morning while I rarely needed it before noon. I washed myself hastily before hopping out of the shower. Running to my room, I thought about what clean clothes I had. I pulled on a black cotton skirt and a red tank top before flying out of the house. It was twelve-thirty, and I was going to have to forgo food until I got to Julia’s. I just hoped she had something she could feed me. I also hoped the gang wouldn’t be too pissed that I hadn’t finished my work.
“You’re early,” Julia said in surprise, reaching over to hug me. She was subdued, and Banana was clinging to her legs again. “A whole ten minutes. You’re usually busting in here half an hour late.”
“I didn’t want to be late because I didn’t do my homework,” I said, ruffling Banana’s hair. “Got any food?” Julia sighed, but didn’t say anything as she was used to feeding me. She walked into the kitchen, dragging Banana behind her. I followed, eager to wrap my teeth around something delectable.
“Hon, I need you to let go of my legs,” Julia said gently, reaching down to unwrap her daughter. Banana let go, but she immediately transferred her grip to my legs.
“Hey, what’s up, Banana?” I asked, my voice quiet as well. It was unlike Banana to be so clingy and not to say anything. I wondered if she was still worried about her father.
“Nothing,” Banana said, her grip tightening. She didn’t seem to want to talk about it, so I let it go.
I watched as Julia pulled out the fixings for a hoagie with a homemade sub. This was much better than Subway, and my mouth was watering already. She sliced open the whole wheat sub, slathered it with mustard—she didn’t believe in mayonnaise—and started layering lettuce, green peppers, tomatoes, roasted turkey and Swiss cheese. She threw on a secret sauce she had concocted as well as some vinegar. She added olives on top of the monstrosity before closing it up. Dagwood Bumstead would be proud. She sliced it in half and plated it, adding potato chips to the side. After handing me the plate, she pulled a Diet Pepsi out of the fridge and handed me that as well. I took my booty with much gratitude and carried it to the dining room. Banana had transferred herself back to her mother which made it easier for me to walk.
“Well, look who’s here!” Jet said archly, cocking an eyebrow. He made an elaborate show of looking at his watch while the others looked on in amusement. “Why, she’s even early. Be still my beating heart!” He patted himself on the chest, making the others laugh.
“Can it, Jet,” I said, sitting down with a thump. I was in no mood to jest, even with the Fabulous Five. “I’m having a very bad week, and I bite.”
“Yuck! Girl germs!” Jet contorted his face in mock horror, eliciting another laugh from the crowd. Even Banana giggled, which was a boon.
“Before this conversation denigrates any further, I have to tell you that I didn’t get my tasks finished for today.” I threw it out there before sinking my teeth into the sandwich. I barely refrained from moaning at how good the damn thing tasted.
“What? You were supposed to come up with the details for Tea by today. You knew you had to have it down. What the hell happened?” Jet scolded me, his hand on his hips. He was our taskmaster, and while I was usually grateful for his diligence, I didn’t like being on the end of his sharp tongue. “Scar, it’s imperative that we set up the auditions, come up with the sets, etc. I know that I’m helping you with some of the stuff, but it’s on you. You can’t flake out on us now!”
“Um, there’s something I have to tell you guys, too,” Julia said slowly, her fingers gripping the edge of the table. Three heads swung expectantly here way while I quietly fumed. It’s true that I was a bit scatterbrained, but I always met a deadline. This was the first time I hadn’t finished a project on time, and I was nearly done. It’s just with the happenings of the last week, I’d fallen behind. I knew, however, that Jet was right in that we didn’t have much time to pull things together. I still hadn’t secured our regular stage manager for the job, and I better get cracking on that. Yee Vang was one of the best, and he was always in demand. He tried to make room for us because he believed in what we were doing, but it wasn’t always possible.
“Not you, too, Julia,” Jet said in exasperation. “You’re our reliable one. What now?”
“I have to go to New York for an emergency,” Julia said evenly. She looked into the eyes of each of us before continuing. She looked down at Banana who wasn’t doing anything other than listening while sitting at the feet of her mother. “Banana, baby, go watch a DVD, please.”
“No,” Banana said, pushing out her lower lip. “You’re going to talk about my daddy. I want to hear.”
“Please, Banana,” Julia said, sounding as if she were going to cry. “I’ll let you stay up an extra half-hour tonight if you go.” It was good to know that even the best of parents resorted to bribery once in a while. We all looked at Banana to see what she’d do.
“Ok, Mommy,” Banana said, heaving a sigh. She slowly got up and trudged to the living room, her head down. I wanted to cry myself at the sight of that poor little girl carrying such a heavy load. We all waited until we heard the video playing before picking up the conversation.
“What’s up, Julia?” Anu asked, her eyes concerned. “This sounds serious.”
“It is.” Julia took a minute to compose herself before continuing. She also kept her voice low so Banana couldn’t overhear. “Banana’s father has AIDS. He just had his first lesion, and he has pneumonia. He doesn’t know how long he has, and he may not make it through the month.” Julia’s eyes filled with tears, but she plowed on. “I’m going to see him this weekend and if necessary, I’m staying out there until…well, until I’m no longer needed.” There was a stunned silence as the others digested what she’d said.
“Oh, honey,” Jet breathed, patting Julia’s hand. “That is too, too terrible. Of course, you must be there.” Jet looked as if he’d aged ten years in five minutes. As a gay man, he’d seen too many of his dearest friends die of AIDS. He hated hearing of another number added to the list, even if he didn’t know the person.
“Wait a minute,” Bobby said, raising his voice in objection. I knew he would, but I had been hoping he’d keep his fat mouth shut for once. It was too much to fucking ask, I supposed. “It’s terrible about Banana’s father, but we can’t afford to not have Julia for a month let alone longer. It’s just not doable.”
“Bobby!” Anu said, her voice shocked. I didn’t know why she sounded so surprised as Bobby was about the bottom line first and foremost. “Julia needs to do what she needs to do. The rest of us will make it happen.”
“I’ll forgo my salary, of course,” Julia said with a wan smile. She refused to take any money because she had a nice nest egg from her parents, which the rest of us highly appreciated.
“I still say we can’t do it,” Bobby said stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest. Yet another reason he and I never made it as a couple—his inability to give in. “She’s the one doing the auditions, and you know nobody has as good an eye for the talent as she does.” Nobody said anything because we knew he was right about that. Julia didn’t need to hear more than a minute of monologue from someone auditioning to know if she was right for the part or not.
“Bobby, you listen to me,” Jet said, his voice firm. I knew he was serious because he wasn’t camping it up or flaming or any of the other flamboyant things he usually did to enliven his speeches. “Having someone close to you die is the most devastating feeling in the world. Not being able to see that person before he dies, well, that’s even worse. Nothing is more important than Julia being there for her friend—nothing! Understand?” When Jet spoke in that voice, not even Bobby argued with him.
“Thanks, guys,” Julia said, her voice trembling. “I’m leaving Friday night. I had been planning on coming back Monday, but now I’m not sure. Banana will be staying with Scar for the weekend.”
“Mommy, I’m hungry,” Banana whined, showing up out of nowhere. “Are you done talking about my daddy now?” There was a hunger in her voice when she pronounced the words, ‘my daddy’ that none of us could miss. Julia looked pained at the realization that Banana missed Peter more than she’d let on.
“Ok, baby. I’ll make you a peanut butter and banana sandwich. How does that sound?”
“With chocolate syrup?” Banana asked, her eyes lighting up. She knew how to work her mother, that’s for sure. Then again, I couldn’t blame her for pushing when everything was so uncertain.
“You let that child eat sh—stuff like that?” Jet asked, wrinkling his nose. Ever since starting martial arts, Jet was loath to put too much junk food in his body. His fine body. Not for the first time did I wish he was straight or at least bi so I could get a piece of him.
“Not every day,” Julia shot back, her voice peeved. “Once in a while isn’t going to kill her.” Julia got up and went to the kitchen, Banana hot on her heels. The rest of us didn’t say much as we waited for Julia to return. My cell phone rang, and I got up to take it in the living room where Banana’s DVD was still playing full blast. It was Monsters, Inc., and it was getting on my nerves. I fumbled with the remote to turn down the volume on the DVD player while trying to turn on my cell phone at the same time.
“Hello?” I mumbled into the phone, managing to mute the movie.
“She’s gone!” Matt said, his voice frantic. “I asked the cops to put a guard at her door, but they said it wasn’t necessary. Fucking pricks said she provoked the attack. Isn’t that like blaming a rape victim for being raped? Goddamn it! How did they take her out of the hospital?”
“Are you talking about Kayla?” I asked cautiously. He wasn’t making much sense, and I wanted to make sure I understood.
“Of course I am!” Matt yelled at the top of his lungs. He immediately lowered his voice again, adding, “I called the hospital to see how she’s doing, and it turns out that she’s gone. The nurse went to check on her at six in the morning, and she was sleeping. When the nurse returned to the room at eight, Kayla was gone. What the fuck is going on?”
“Matt, take a deep breath,” I counseled, following my own advice. I knew if I told him to calm down, that would only get him more panicky so I didn’t say it. “How do you know she was taken? What if she simply left?”
“Her purse is still there,” Matt explained, his words running together. “Her own clothes are there. She didn’t take anything with her.” I had to admit it was highly unlikely that Kayla would leave the hospital in her hospital gown. She was a proud woman who stripped for a living. There was no way in hell she’d look anything less than her best once she departed the hospital. On the other hand, I couldn’t see how someone could just take her without anyone seeing anything. It’s not like she was snatched from the wayside of a deserted road late at night. She was taken from her hospital room, a busy hospital, in the early morning. Something stunk about the situation, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
“I have to go. I have my next parolee in ten. I’ll call you when I have a minute free.” He hung up without saying good-bye, and I just sat there numbly looking at my cell phone. Kayla had been kidnapped, too? What the hell was going on? I clicked off my phone without really thinking about it, knowing I should go back to the group. Suddenly, it was the last thing I wanted to do, and I closed my eyes to block out the day.
I was aware of a humming sound, though it wasn’t coming from outside of me. I didn’t know how that could be, however, as I wasn’t humming. Nevertheless, it was there—driving me bonkers. It was a tuneless hum that droned on and on. I couldn’t tell if the hummer was female or male, but it didn’t matter. I just wanted the person to stop, regardless of gender. To my surprise, Kayla showed up in my mind. She looked like hell, but she didn’t seemed to be restrained in any way. She was slumping in a couch, her eyes focused on the coffee table in front of me. A man paced back and forth in front of her, but I couldn’t glimpse his face. I wondered if it was Danny’s kidnapper, and if so, how did he get hold of Kayla?
“Auntie, wake up!” Something tugged at my knee, making me swat irritably at it. My hand connected with soft flesh, so I reluctantly opened my eyes. Banana stood in front of me, her eyes reproachful. She held her cheek with one hand, and I could see the faint redness on said cheek.
“Oh, god, Banana,” I said, gathering her in my arms. “Did I do that to you? I’m so sorry.”
“It’s ok, Auntie,” Banana said magnanimously. She could afford to be charitable now that I was absolutely mortified. “I know you didn’t mean it. You were sleeping.” I almost told her I hadn’t been sleeping, then I stopped. How could I explain to her what I’d been doing when I didn’t even understand it myself? No, better to let her think I had been sleeping. “Mommy wants you in the dining room.”
“Can you tell your Mommy that I’ll be there in a sec? I have to call Matt first.”
“Say hi for me!” Banana yelled before racing from the room, her cheek forgotten. I hoped she wouldn’t mention it to Julia, but I couldn’t do anything about it now. I dialed Matt’s number and waited impatiently for him to answer.
“What?” He sounded frantic, which I knew he’d be. Without preamble, I told him what I’d seen. He thanked me for calling him before hanging up. I realized that my information didn’t mean anything, and I felt worse than before.
“Mommy says can you come now?” Banana said, showing up again. I simply nodded, got up and followed her into the dining room where the gang was in the middle of a lively discussion. Rather, Bobby was remunerating why he didn’t want Julia to go to New York for an extended amount of time while the others tried to shut him up. At least he didn’t mention anything about Peter’s sickness in front of Banana who was listening with all her might.
“Enough,” I said, raising my voice. “Bobby, get over it. It’s three against one so just accept you’re outflanked. Can we please get on with it?” I sat in my place, feeling exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was listen to Bobby go on and on. Even he must have understood I was at the end of my rope because he zipped it. “Banana, go watch your movie.” I softened my voice for Banana, and it gratified me that she obeyed without murmur. “Bobby, it’s not the best time for Julia to go, but it never would be. Let’s hammer out a contingency plan in case she needs to stay in New York for awhile.” Bobby didn’t look happy, but he went along with the program. I breathed a sigh of relief that I had gotten him to chill out. The rest of the afternoon went smoothly.