When I do return to the living room, Lyle is ready to take me to the mat. I can tell by looking at him that he’s itching for a fight. It saddens me because I like him very much, and I don’t want to ruin our budding friendship. He demands to know why he has to hear from the inspector that I’ve fucked his boyfriend, and while I understand his pain, I’m not about to roll over and play dead. If he has a beef, it’s with Paris for not telling him as I haven’t slept with Paris in years. I hope that Lyle will let it go, but he won’t. It’s not enough to know that Paris and I haven’t slept together in a long time; he has to know exactly when was the last time I had sex with Paris. He also insists on knowing how many times Paris and I have slept together, which is even more of an asinine request—order. I press my lips together; I’ll be damned if I let Lyle browbeat me into ‘confessing’ my sins.
Lyle throws a fit when I refuse to answer his questions. I suggest that he get over himself because whatever happened between Paris and me is in the past. Furthermore, perhaps Paris was right not to tell Lyle seeing how he’s reacted to the information. I dress him down completely, the tension of the past few days suddenly releasing. I know I’m not saying the right things nor am I being tactful, but I’m tired beyond belief and cannot control what I’m saying. Lyle starts ranting that the inspector is right about me fucking anybody if I’ll fuck my own best friend. That does it! Any vestige of guilt or pity I have for him because he hadn’t known about Paris and me has vanished. He’s acting like a prima donna over something that happened a lifetime ago, and it’s beginning to piss me off. I bound across the room and slap him soundly across his face.
“You listen to me, Lyle Kingston, and you listen good,” I hiss at him. I’m fed up with his pettiness. My best friend is in the hospital, and I don’t need to dig up ancient history. “Paris and I have slept together, yes. It’s not something I’m ashamed of, but it’s not something that I flaunt, either. We know we are not good partners; we know we are infinitely better as friends. You want to know the last time I had sex with Paris? The night he watched Brett die, that’s when!” Lyle’s face changes, and he tries to speak, but I won’t let him. He wants to hear the gory details, then he’s going to hear them. “The last year was total agony, but I expect you know that. Paris had to do everything for Brett and didn’t dare leave him for more than an hour at a time. You remember that, don’t you, Lyle? How absolutely draining it is to watch a lover die from AIDS? Little things like changing the catheter? Big things like waking up in the middle of the night afraid your lover is dead? First the body goes, then the mind goes until he’s nothing more than a walking corpse. He should have died six months before he did, but his body just wouldn’t give up. Paris was there every step of the way. I helped out as much as I could, but it wasn’t enough.” By now, there are tears running down Lyle’s cheeks as well as my own. It had been so hard to stand helplessly by and watch my best friend go through such excruciating pain. I see that same pain on Lyle’s face and wish I hadn’t reminded him. However, I knew he wouldn’t be able to understand about Paris and me if I hadn’t put it in the proper context.
“That night, the night in question,” my voice falters. This is something I don’t talk about—ever. Even with Paris. What we shared was so private, it seems almost sacrilegious to tell someone else. I strengthen my resolve—and my spine. This is the man Paris loves—I have to make him understand. “Paris had been awake for seventy-two hours straight. We both knew it was nearing the end. There was no way Brett could survive much longer. We didn’t take him to the hospital because there was no insurance. I offered to give Paris some money I had stashed away, but he said it would be better not to waste it.” I feel the familiar flash of pain that I hadn’t been able to assuage his agony, even monetarily. “That night, I was in my room. I had just fallen asleep. Paris came in at about four in the morning, looking worse than I’ve ever seen him.”
“You, them, your apartment?” Lyle croaks out, unable to form a coherent sentence. I mutely nod. It had been easier on everyone.
“He’d done so much for me,” I say simply, looking Lyle in the eyes. “He needed me that night.” I pause, rearranging my thoughts. “As for the other times—”
“Wait,” Lyle held up a hand. “There’s no need. I—”
“Listen!” I hiss, interrupting him. “You wanted to know! He was my first male lover at a time when I thought boys only wanted long-legged blonds with big boobs. That’s one. After my father died, Paris made love to me to stave off the demons. That’s two. The last time, I told you about, and there was one other time.” The corner of my mouth lifts. “We were drunk. It was an aberration. That’s it, Lyle. Four times over fourteen years. Hardly worth getting upset about, don’t you think?” By this time, we’ve both let go of the anger; we look at each other as weary warriors after a battle.
“I’m sorry,” Lyle says simply. “I’m an ass.” He opens his arms, and I step into them.
“That’s ok,” I quip. “It makes up for yesterday when I was mad at you for sleeping with women, then for not being attracted to me when you’re gay.” We both crack up as we step away from each other.
“Hey, Lyle? Could you go to the gym in the morning and see if Billy Bob is there?” I ask. He nods. “I think I’m going to bed,” I say. Before I do, however, I fire off an email to Vashti apologizing for not calling. I’m sure she understands, but I feel better after emailing her.
My sleep is not easy. The dreams that have plagued me over the last few days return. Paris in various stages of death. Paris smiling at me—Paris scowling at me. Paris pleading for me to help him. Paris reaching out to me as he’s dripping with blood. In every dream, I am stripped naked and rooted to the spot. No matter what I witness, I am helpless to prevent it. Only when each incident concludes am I able to move and by then, it’s too late. The damage is done, and I am left to deal with the ramifications. My mouth opens wordlessly as I stand over Paris’s broken body. In one dream, he is literally ripped apart limb by limb as I am chained to a tree, forced to watch his dismemberment. ‘No!’ I cry out, but only a strange, squawking sound emanates from me. The tears pour from my eyes until I am drowning in them. Just as I think the end has come, a mermaid reaches out and wraps me in a cold embrace. She laughs and unsheathes her claws before sticking them into my shoulders.
“Goddamn it, Rayne! Wake up!” There it is again, that shaking thing. I must say, though, it’s a nice alternative to being skewered.
“Paris?” My heart leaps as I open my eyes. My hopes crash as I see Lyle’s concerned face peering down at me. “We have to stop meeting this way,” I mumble, closing my eyes again. I don’t even have the strength to ask.
“March, Monday night, or Tuesday morning if you prefer, 4:30.” He mixes up the order, but it’s close enough. “I made you some tea.” He holds out a cup which makes me burst into tears. He sets the tea on my desk, then hugs the hell out of me. I don’t say anything, but just sob. I have been so busy the last few days running around trying to figure out who might have, who could have, what about? to feel anything, but it’s hit me in spades.
“He can’t, Lyle, he just can’t,” I whimper, not able to hold it in. I disgust myself, but I can’t help it. “What am I going to do?”
“You’re going to take a hot shower and see if that helps relax you,” Lyle says firmly, peeling the blankets from me. “You’re going to think positive thoughts because it’s what Paris would do if the situation was reversed.” He scoops me up and brings me to the bathroom, setting me down gently on the floor. “Shower.”
“Yes, Daddy,” I grumble, but obey without too much protest. It’s the best thing I could have done. The water cascades down my face, mingling with the stray tears. When I finish, I feel better than I have in days. After thanking Lyle, I return to bed and sleep. No more dreams disturb me for the rest of the night.