Lyle went to see Ursula this morning, and she was gracious enough to receive him into her house. He promises he’ll tell us about the interaction, but he has something else to relate first. After his meeting with Ursula, he’s about to get into his truck to leave when this tall, leggy blond clamors out of a red BMW and slithers over to Lyle. She looks Lyle over lazily, wondering if he’s Mom’s latest. Because if he is, she tells him, he’s a definite improvement over hubby number three. The blond laughed throatily, leaning forward so he could look down her low-cut sweater. Despite the chilly temperatures, she wasn’t wearing a jacket. Her cranberry-colored sweater clung to every generous curves, while her white jeans left little to the imagination. Her blond hair draped seductively down her back as she batted her lashes at him. Apparently, she thought of herself as a modern-day vamp. Owing to her young age—late teens—and Lyle’s proclivities, she came off as more pathetic than sexy.
He simply said he’s not Ursula’s lover, and there’s a flicker of disappointment in the blond woman’s eyes. She didn’t back down, however, as she introduced herself. She’s Lois, the prodigal daughter, the one who gave her mother so much grief. As Lois talked, she laughed deeply, thrusting out her hip at the same time. Lyle stared at her for a long minute without saying a word. Mistaking his stare for interest, Lois winked, moving closer to Lyle. He felt her fake breasts pressing against his chest, but didn’t move away. She rubbed against him for a few minutes, a patented lascivious look on her face. Lyle continued to stare at her without smiling. Unnerved, she backed off.
When Lyle was sure that he had her attention, he told her that he was Paris’s lover, adding that he was sure she knew who Paris was. Lyle watched Lois carefully as he pronounced Paris’s name. She started, unable to cover a flicker of surprise which crossed her face, then tried to cover by saying it was a city in France. Lyle continued his silent stare. Either she was the kind of girl used to men talking to hear their own voices, or she’s merely uncomfortable with silence because she babbled about ‘the Greek god who stole Helen of Troy. Or was he Roman? I always get them mixed up.’ She smiled again, but there’s a tinge of nervousness this time. Lyle and Lois locked eyes. For a minute, it looked as if Lois would just leave, but she caved.
She admitted she knew Paris, but wanted to know what the crime was in that. It wasn’t like they were fucking or anything like that. Lyle asked if her mother knew, ignoring the last tidbit. Lois was emphatic in her denial that her mother knew Lois had met Paris. Ursula would have had a fit if she knew the prodigal daughter had met Paris before Ursula had a chance to suss out her son. By this time, it’s clear that Lois has a monster chip on her shoulder, which suited Lyle perfectly. She was more than happy to spill the beans about everything, ranging from when Ursula had told her children about Paris—a few weeks ago; upon being told, Lois knew she had to meet Paris first—to why Ursula had waited so long to contact Paris—because of her book tour. There was something important she had to do on it.
When Lyle pressed Lois for what it was that was so important on the book tour, Lois clammed up. She insisted that Lyle pay her for the information, making it all to clear by the way she ran her tongue over her lips what the ‘payment’ would be. Her eyes were harder than they should be at her age, and Lyle couldn’t help wondering what had happened to Lois to make her such an unmitigated bitch. He turned her down with alacrity, opening the door to his truck. He refused to beg, to plead or to cajole this spoiled girl for her information. Indeed, it turned his stomach to even think about having sex with her, and it wasn’t because he was gay. She taunted him, saying he’d be sorry. Paris had begged her to tell him, too, but he wouldn’t pay either.
Lyle, angered at the mention of Paris, barked that Paris was in the hospital, did she know that? She knew, and she thought Lyle should ask her sainted mother what she knew about it. Her tone was sneering as she continued to denigrate her mother. Even Lyle, who wasn’t Ursula’s biggest fan, couldn’t help but feel sorry for the writer having to tolerate such an unpleasant daughter. He put one leg into his truck, not wanting to waste any more time with Lois. She let him know that her mother was having an affair and that Lyle should ask Ursula how long she’s been fucking her boyfriend. Lois’s tone was openly ugly, but there was also an undercurrent of hurt. Lyle willed himself to leave, but there were a few more things he had to ask Lois, so he forced himself to calm down. Lois watched him with a patented sneer, as if aware of his inner turmoil.
Lyle had abandoned any pretense of delicacy in questioning Lois, sensing that it was better to goad her than to coddle her. He asked why she wanted to find Paris before Ursula did, but wasn’t prepared for her candid answer. She wanted to seduce him, plain and simple. She figured that would get her mother’s attention if nothing else did. Appalled, Lyle couldn’t help grimacing. She was willing to have sex with her brother just to get back at her mother. Suddenly, he’d had enough of the conversation. He slid his body into his truck, wanting to get away. Lois’s face contorted in anger as she yelled that it wasn’t like she grew up with Paris. There was nothing remotely attractive about her as she ranted about her bitch of a mother who would fuck anyone in pants. She told Lyle it was his fault that Paris wouldn’t sleep with her, but then dropped another bomb just as Lyle was about to leave: Paris wasn’t the only bastard in the family. That was enough for Lyle. He zoomed out of the driveway as fast as he could, leaving Lois in the driveway, still screaming.
I am puzzled by the hints and innuendoes that Lois sprinkled throughout her conversation with Lyle. What I really want to know is what Ursula had to do during her book tour in the Midwest that was so important, and what relation, if any, did it have to Paris? It’s a question that neither my mother nor Lyle can answer. My mother, on the other hand, is quietly commiserating with Lois for going to such lengths in order to get her mother’s attention. Lyle warns my mother not to let her heart bleed too heavily for Lois because she’s pure poison. This comment angers my mother who sharply reminds Lyle that Lois is nineteen. Lyle retorts that some people are just intractable, and it looks as if there’s going to be an argument. I prepare myself to step into the fray, but both of them back down. I note to myself that Lois is older than Ursula was when she had Paris, but it doesn’t seem relevant so I don’t mention it.
My mother switches to the tantalizing remark of Lois about Paris not being the only illegitimate child in the family. I thought she had meant that her mother was a bastard, too, but my mother thinks Lois meant it literally—that Ursula had other children out of wedlock. She asks if Ursula ever mentioned anything about this. Lyle and I shake our heads no. It’s something else to look into. I make a mental note of it, but am not very enthusiastic to do so. It seems that just as I’m able to cross an item off my list, another appears in its place. I hate adding items as much as I enjoy crossing them off. I stand up and stretch, pacing back and forth. Mrs. Jenson is slowly walking towards us, her head down. My heart jumps at the sight of her, but I force myself to ask how Paris is.
Mrs. Jenson smiles a tremulous smile as she says that he opened his eyes for almost a minute. I’m so stoked by the news, I impulsively hug her, then release her as she stiffens. I try not to take offense as I know she’s not big on personal contact. I ask if I can see him, and she consents after warning me to introduce myself when I go in. She adds that he’s not up to talking yet, so I’m not supposed to push him. Her meaning could not be any clearer—I am not to interrogate Paris about who tried to kill him. I stifle the impulse to say that I’m going to shine a bright light into his eyes until he cracks; she’s just concerned about his health as we all are. I race to the room where the cop doesn’t give me more than a cursory glance. The police must be fairly itching to talk to him at this point, but even they must bow to the edicts of the doctors.
“Hi, Paris, it’s me, Rayne.” I sit in my accustomed seat, carefully patting Paris’s hand. He makes a move to latch on to my hand with his, so I leave my hand in his. “You scared us all, Paris. You always have to be the drama queen, don’t you?” A flicker of a smile crosses his face, followed by a grimace. “Now, don’t you worry about a thing besides getting better, you hear? I’m lonely in the apartment without you.” A gentle pressure on my hand.
“Why?” Paris croaks out, his eyes flying open. “Why? Why? Why?” His voice is rising with each repetition.
“Shhhh, Paris, honey, it’s ok.” I try to soothe his agitation while stroking his hand. “I’m going to find out why. You’re safe, baby.” Paris closes his eyes while emitting a small sigh. The pressure loosens on my hand, then his hand flops back to the bed. I remain by his side for fifteen more minutes, but he doesn’t move any more. When my time is up, I return to the waiting room to share the experience. By this time, Mr. Jenson has joined our little family.
“I need to take a break,” my mother announces. “Rayne? Lyle? Catherine? Douglas?”
“I’m famished,” I say. Lyle nods and stands as well.
“We’ll stay,” Mr. Jenson says grimly. Lyle, my mother and I take our leave of them and hurry towards the parking lot.
“Let’s just go back to my apartment,” I suggest. Somehow, I’m not in the mood to go out tonight. We decide to take both vehicles in case we want to do different things after dinner. I ride with my mother. Just as we reach the apartment, I remember that I’m supposed to go over to Vashti’s at seven. It is six-thirty, and I barely have time to change into a deep purple dress, dash on a bit of makeup, and run. I am ten minutes late. Of course, my mother and Lyle have to give me a hard time as I leave the apartment.
“I was thinking you’d forgotten me,” Vashti says, opening the door with a welcoming smile. She is wearing nice black slacks and a blue blouse. Our friendly hug threatens to turn into something more but we break apart.
“You look great,” we say simultaneously, breaking into smiles.
“I’m sorry I’m late. I was at the hospital.” I share the good news that Paris has brief moments of conscious as well as my optimism that he will make a full recovery. Vashti is genuinely pleased for me. She orders me into the living room with a smile because she has a few things to finish. I go into her living room which is filled with different Indian and Korean knick-knacks befitting of her dual heritage. The paintings on her peach walls are mostly impressionist with a few surrealists scattered in the mix. The television is on, and it’s playing the national news.
“A woman is in the hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in serious condition after being strangled. Her assailant was apparently interrupted by something or somebody, which is the only reason the woman is still alive. If anybody knows more about this case, please notify the Minneapolis Police Department. This may be one of a series of strangulation cases in Minnesota, but the police aren’t saying anything. She’s in a coma, and there’s no word if she’s expected to live. There is no apparent motive,” the news anchor reports, looking serious. “Tonight, we investigate whether random attacks by strangers are on the rise.”
“Robin Richards, the adopted daughter of Bethany Richards, is twenty eight years old,” the voice-over says ominously. “What set this day apart from any other day? What, if anything, portended this attack?”
“God, I am so sick and tired of violence and overdramatic reports,” I sigh, rolling my eyes. I flick the television off and try to relax. I really like Vashti, but I’m having a hard time forgetting that her misplaced trust in someone nearly got me killed. Even when I enjoy being with her, there’s always a tiny voice in my head warning me to be careful. Just as I’m about to fall asleep, Vashti pops her head into the living room to announce that dinner is served. I follow her to the dining room where she has prepared a Mexican feast. Empanadas, chile rellenos, and an array of other enticing foods. My mouth watering, I tuck into it with abandon.