I compliment her before making an all-points attack on the food. The way I inhale the food makes me realize that I’ve been neglecting my general health since Paris got hurt. Well, since before that as well, but especially after. I gobble down enchiladas smothered with cheese, sour cream and home-made salsa, tortilla chips, and other delights, happy to have real food for once. It sits nicely in my stomach, causing me to breathe a sigh of relief. As I eat, Vashti asks if I’ve found out anything about Paris. She is focusing on her plate and misses the expression on my face. I quickly assemble my face into a bland visage by the time she looks up at me. I am evasive, not sure that I want to talk about the case with her. I flashback to the first case and how she completely misled me, and I never knew she was doing it. She’s a good liar or evader of truth when she needs to be. Regretfully, I decide to be cautious and tell her that I’ve eliminated a suspect or two and that I think the accident has something to do with Paris’s birthmother. That’s all I’m willing to divulge.
Vashti looks as if she wants to say something. She even goes so far as to open her mouth, but stops. For a minute, we look at each other with the knowledge that this is one of those awkward moments. Vashti still blames herself for not telling me about her friend who Vashti was sure had nothing to do with a murder; the friend actually turned out to be the murderer, and what’s worse, found me through Vashti. I still can’t get over how easily Vashti lied to me and how good she was at it. I drop my eyes to my food because I don’t want to reopen painful wounds or to remember the aftermath. I wish I could forget, though I’ve already forgiven. I don’t want to get caught in that kind of situation again, and I’m not confident that I won’t if I continue to date Vashti. The thought rises to my mind unbidden that Inspector Robinson would never lie to me like that. I chase that thought from my mind for two reasons. One, I have no business thinking of the good inspector in that way, and two, I don’t know if it’s true.
Vashti sets down her fork carefully before turning to me. She asks if she needs to apologize again, then reminds me that she’s said she’s sorry so many times. I reassure her that I’m just thinking about something, but I don’t elaborate. The smile on my face is patently false, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I would love to be able to unwind with her, spilling my guts about the case. I am frustrated with the lack of progress and could use an outside perspective. Unfortunately, I’m just not ready to open up to her, not after what happened last time. I know that it’s partly my fault for dangling her on the line, but I have no way of knowing when I’ll soften up enough to let her know what’s on my mind. We finish our meal in silence, then take our tea into the living room. We sit on her couch, not saying anything.
Vashti clears her throat, turning to face me. By the look in her eyes, we’re about to have ‘a talk’—something I detest and have tried valiantly to avoid. She sets her cup on the coffee table, fussing to make sure it’s placed exactly right. When she finally is able to speak, she tells me that I have to decide. If I want to be in a relationship with her, I either have to let go of my mistrust or we have to talk about it. My mother would say the same thing, but I’m from the school of thought that it isn’t always better to talk things out because you can get in a rut that way. Besides, what can we say that we haven’t said before? As for letting go, I’m trying, but it’s not something I can just will myself to do. I find myself watching her, gauging her every word for sincerity without realizing it. Vashti knows that I’m trying, but she can’t keep tiptoeing around me, either. Understandably, it’s nerve-wracking for her to have to constantly be on her best behavior. She doesn’t like being in a supplicant role, which is where she’s been thrust. Granted, it’s by her own mistake, but it’s awfully difficult to remain in purgatory for whatever reason and not begin to resent it.
What it boils down to is I have to let go of my lingering doubts and decide to trust Vashti in order for us to have a relationship, and I’m not willing to do that just yet. I feel as if I’m on the moral high-ground because she’s the one who lied to me, and this is not the best dynamic for a relationship. It seems we have circled yet again, and I’m not up to another round. I rub my forehead, feeling a creeping sadness enter my heart. I really care about this woman, so why can’t I get past this issue? I heave a sigh, not wanting to do anything drastic, but also not able to give Vashti what she needs. I stand up, avoiding Vashti’s eyes. I try to smile, but it’s too hard. It’s best if I just leave, though my heart is hurting. Vashti doesn’t protest as I peck her on the cheek and stumble out the door. She also doesn’t offer to take me home, so I hail a cab.
“Nice night,” the cabbie says cheerfully. She is one of the few female cab drivers I’ve had, and she’s young. Early twenties with her hair pushed into a cap. We chat about her unique choice of careers. It’s what she does to supplement her student aid. She’s a student at SFSU, poly sci. By the time she drops me off at my apartment, I am feeling marginally better. For that, I give her a generous tip.
“You’re home early.” My mom says. “I figured you’d be gone for at least another couple hours.” She’s curled up on the couch reading a book. By the lurid cover, I can tell it’s a romance. She likes them as a way to unwind her mind. I can smell the marijuana permeating the air. “Lyle’s showering.”
“Vashti and I broke up,” I say bluntly, sitting next to my mother on the couch.
“Oh, hon,” my mom says, her eyes sympathetic. “Want to talk about it?” She immediately closes her book without even marking her page.
“Not much to talk about,” I say, trying to smile. I close my eyes and attempt to keep my voice steady. “She wants me to trust her, and I can’t quite do that.”
“Of course you can’t!” My mother’s eyes flash; she is loyal to a fault. “The girl almost got you killed.”
“I made sure to point that out to her.” Neither of us talk for several minutes. As soon as I pop my eyes open, my mom holds out the pipe to me, but I decline. A few minutes later, Lyle strolls out into the living room.
“What’s up, ladies?” His hair is wet and freshly combed. He looks better than he has in days.
“I broke up with Vashti,” I say brusquely.
“Oh, girlfriend,” Lyle sighs, placing a hand on my shoulder. Fortunately, that’s all he says. If I receive much more sympathy, I’m going to start bawling. “I know you’re going to hate me for saying this, but I think it’s for the best right now. You need some distance before you can even be friends, let alone lovers.” My cell phone rings, shattering the silence.
“Hello?” I say gruffly, clearing my throat.
“Rayne?” A tinny voice greets my ears. “It’s Mrs. Jenson, dear.” A pause before she exclaims, “He’s breathing on his own! He’s off the ventilator.”
“What?” I shriek, sitting straight up. “That’s wonderful! Has he talked some more?” My mom and Lyle are making noises at me, wondering what’s up, but I shush them.
“A few words, but nothing much. The doctors say the important thing is that he’s breathing on his own.” She bursts into tears, and I’m on the edge of joining her.
“It’s a miracle,” I say gratefully. “We should be back soon.”
“What is it?” Lyle pounces on me the second I click off my phone.
“Paris can breathe on his own,” I say, beaming. “No more ventilator for our boy!” The three of us hug and squeal as we pile on the couch. It’s the best news we’ve had in ages.
“Let’s go back!” Lyle says after we untangle ourselves. “I want to see it for myself.” The three of us are a flutter of activity. I delicately sniff the air around my mother and determine that she’s not reeking of pot.
“I only had a few puffs,” my mother says indignantly, catching me checking her out.
“Ok, ok,” I say, making placating motions with my hand. We take both vehicles again so we are more flexible in our mobility, and I ride with my mother. I am sitting with my head against the window. I should be thinking about Paris, being grateful that he’s all right. Instead, I’m thinking about Vashti. Breaking up is never easy, even if we weren’t really together. She’s the first person I’ve liked this much in a long time. I wonder if I’ll ever find someone to be in a relationship with.
“She wasn’t any good for you,” my mother offers, proving yet again that she can read my mind.
“Mom, that’s not true,” I protest. “She did what she thought was best.”
“Hon, that kind of misjudgment says there’s something wrong with that girl.” My mother shakes her head, but focuses on the road. “Not necessarily that she had a friend who was a murderer, but that she gave out your address. Vashti could have arranged it so you met in public, on neutral turf if her friend truly was innocent.” I can’t argue with my mom because she’s not saying anything I haven’t thought of myself. I sigh deeply, closing my eyes. “Don’t worry, hon,” my mom says, pressing her foot to the pedal. “You’ll find that special person. Who knows? She might already be in your life, and you’re just too stubborn to do anything about it.” I know to whom she’s alluding, but I do not want to have that discussion, so I remain silent. That doesn’t deter my mother, however. “I don’t know why you don’t ask the inspector out. I’m pretty sure she’s interested in you.” I try to stay out of that conversation, I really do. However, I just can’t.
“First of all, the only time we run into each other is during a murder or attempted murder case. Not exactly the time for romance. Second, she thinks I’m a slut. Third, I don’t even know if she’s queer. Four, well, there is no four.”
“I notice you don’t try to pretend you’re not attracted to her,” my mother says impishly.
“So what if I am?” I ask defensively. I don’t know why the mere mention of Inspector Robinson as a potential love interest rises my dander so much. “I don’t even know her first name.” My mother has the good sense to drop the subject as we near the hospital. We have made it in record time, partly in thanks to my mother’s lead foot.
“How is he?” We demand as we enter the waiting room.
“He said, ‘Mom’,” Mrs. Jenson says joyfully, her eyes and hands raised. “Praise the good Lord! The doctors say there’s no evidence of brain damage.” A minute later, Lyle comes running up to us, so Mrs. Jenson repeats what she told us. Lyle rushes to the room before I can say dibs, so I settle down to wait. I have a book with me as well as a change of clothes. I crack open the book, but I can’t keep my mind on it. It’s one of those post-Bridget Jones’s diary rip-offs with a thirty-something, uber-hip, painfully self-conscious woman who is stuck in a right-for-now relationship and is not fulfilling her potential. I’ve read fifty pages, and it’s akin to a couple dozen other books on the market. I sigh, close the book and return it to my backpack. I pick up a People instead and leaf through it. After thirty minutes, Lyle returns, and it’s my turn.
“Hey there, Paris,” I say, seating myself in my usual spot. I reach for his hand and hold it lightly. “It’s Rayne, you’re best friend.” It’s gratifying to see the rise and fall of his chest without the aid of a ventilator. His color is better than it was a few hours ago, and his hand grasps mine tightly. “I’m so glad you’re breathing on your own.” Suddenly, my breakup with Vashti seems irrelevant; I am getting my best friend back. I decide to tell him about it. “I broke up with Vashti tonight,” I confide. “I bet that makes you happy.” To my surprise, Paris’s eyelids flutter open, and he stares directly at me.
“No, want happy.” He goes silent.
“I know, you just want me to be happy.” I pause, wiping a tear from my eye. I can’t believe how happy it makes me to hear his voice, even if it’s weak and small. “I don’t think I can be happy with Vashti right now.”
“Robinson?” Paris asks, his eyes still closed.
“You want to talk to the inspector?” I ask curiously. A tiny shake of his head. “Um, where have you gone Mrs. Robinson?” Another small shake. “Happy? You think the inspector would make me happy?” A nod and a sigh. “Not you, too,” I say lightly. “Everyone is ganging up on me.” Time to change the subject, but I don’t want to upset Paris so I move carefully. “Paris, do you know where you are?” Shake of the head. “Do you remember Lyle just visited you?” Nod and a small smile.
“Love Lyle,” Paris says in that faraway voice. He pauses, then, “Love Rayne.” I have tears in my eyes. “Love Mom.” A little laugh. “Love Rayne’s mom.” I laugh, too, excited that he’s coherent.
“Welcome back, baby.” I pat Paris’s hand and just sit with him. I am not going to question him while he’s in this state. Since I don’t want to tire him out, I give him a peck on the cheek, promise I’ll be back soon, then leave.