“Tell us everything,” Lyle says eagerly as he leans forward to catch every detail. It is three days after my ordeal, and Jimmy is in jail pending his bail hearing. My mother, Lyle, and I are perched in Paris’s new hospital room as he’s been moved from the ICU to a regular room. He is making tremendous progress, and can now speak in complete, full sentences. This is the first opportunity we’ve all had to be together. The Jensons have thoughtfully allowed us time alone and are in the cafeteria presumably converting some poor heathen soul. I am elated that I have only the rope burns on my wrists to contend with, a few stitches in my forehead and a bruise from when Jimmy backhanded me—no hospital stay for me this time. My back didn’t even bruise from all his prodding, so I consider myself in tip-top shape.
“What do you want to know?” I ask coyly, laughing at the identical looks of dismay on their faces.
“Start with why,” Paris suggests, looking a hundred percent better already. He can sit up for short periods of time and even eats solid food—if you call applesauce, mashed potatoes, Jell-O, and pudding solid food.
“Why is easiest,” I say. “As you know, Jimmy wanted to run for mayor, and his platform was family values. Good-old fashioned moral man, that’s our Jimmy. Unfortunately for him, he had a harder time practicing than preaching. He has been carrying on an affair with Ursula, on and off for over twenty years.” I pause to drag out the tension. The three of them have their eyes fixed on me, raptly following every word. “That wasn’t a problem in and of itself since she would never divulge the affair for reasons of her own.”
“She liked being married,” Lyle breaks in, putting in his two-cents’ worth. “And she liked that clandestine nature of their relationship.” I resume the tale.
“So everything was going fine as long as they both knew where the affair stood. The trouble started when Ursula dropped the bomb on Jimmy—whom she called Benny, by the way—that he was the father of illegitimate twins—Paris and Robin.”
“My twin,” Paris says softly, looking distressed. We have already given him the whole story about his family and what happened to Ursula and Robin, but he’s understandably having a hard time digesting everything. It’s been a shock, to put it extremely mildly. He wants to visit Robin the minute he gets out of the hospital, but the doctors are making discouraging noises about him traveling so soon. “How is she?”
“The last I heard, she’s still in a coma.” I wish I had better news for Paris, but his twin hasn’t been so lucky.
“How come Jimmy didn’t know?” My mother asks curiously, returning to the storyline.
“He’s a few years older than Ursula,” I explain. “They had no further contact as teenagers than that first night of passion. His sister didn’t run in the same circles as Ursula, didn’t realize that her brother was the father of Ursula’s babies, and didn’t bother to tell him.”
“If he really was,” my mother interjected. “Who knows what was true and what wasn’t? That woman.” She shakes her head, but tactfully refrains from saying more.
The four of us sit in silence for a few minutes. I think about Ursula, a woman who seemed to have everything, but who played a dangerous game for reasons only known to her, if even that. I’m sure a psychiatrist would say something about the deprivation of her childhood, her isolation as a teen in defense of her overweening vanity and need for approval. In these days of psychobabble, almost anything can be excused and rationalized away. A woman lies to everyone in her life? She must be looking for approval. A man kills people who he thinks might affect his life aversely? He must have been raised by exacting parents who expect nothing less than perfection from him. It’s not that I don’t think there are reasons for what we do. I believe that our childhoods shape us, that our parents have a large impact on our thoughts, ideas, mores and behaviors. At some point, however, a person has to take some responsibility for his or her own behavior. Otherwise, you could reasonably argue that Hitler wasn’t responsible for his actions, either. He only had one testicle, you know. His mother was overbearing. Look at any person and there are plenty of reasons for her or him to become a monster, but there usually is at least one good reason for that person to become a loving, productive human being as well. It’s up to the person to make that hard choice.
“Rayne, how did he happen to find me?” Paris asks, shaking me out of my reverie.
“The last few weeks, he trailed you whenever he wasn’t working,” I explain, looking Paris in the eyes. “He had a pretty good idea of your schedule. All he had to do was wait.”
“Why did he try to steal our mail?” Paris continues, determined to hear everything.
“Ursula has been taunting him since he decided to run for mayor,” I say with a sigh. “Who knows why? She was afraid it would end their relationship; she’s sickened by his hypocrisy; she enjoyed making him squirm. Pick a reason, any reason. Anyway, she told him she sent you a copy of your birth certificate, which she did. He leapt to the conclusion that his name was on it and decided to steal it. What she didn’t tell him was that she only used his nickname.” So many lies and half-truths. I shake my head before continuing. “Serena—Inspector Robinson believes that Ursula’s desire to be in touch with Paris and Robin did indeed stem from her brush with cancer. Why it took so long, she hasn’t been able to figure out.”
“Serena, huh?” Lyle smirks, putting into words what I’m sure my mother and Paris are also thinking as they are also grinning. “My how you’ve gotten so chummy with the good inspector.”
“Anyway,” I say, glaring at him. I can feel myself blushing, however, which causes them all to chuckle. “The differing set of parents didn’t know about each other. Neither did the lawyers. Only Ursula and the nurses knew.
“I can’t believe how devious she was,” my mother says thoughtfully. “At such a young age, too.”
“Probably why she was such a good novelist,” Lyle says sourly. He can’t quite reconcile himself to the fact that Ursula’s murder has caused her books to sell like hotcakes. Every bookstore I’ve visited has been sold out and has a waiting list three pages deep. Rumor has it her publisher is trying to cobble together the book Ursula was working on when she died in order to release it this month.
“One question,” Paris interjects, his voice not quite as strong. “Did Jimmy plan on killing Ursula from the beginning?” I hesitate, not knowing if I should tell him the truth. I look into his eyes which are staring steadily at me, and I know that I cannot lie, no matter how painful the truth is.
“He thought he could control her,” I say quietly. “After all, he has for twenty years. The real reason she kept the relationship a secret? Because he wanted it that way.” I stand up and look out the window so I can avoid Paris’s eyes. I know what he’s going to ask me next, and I can’t bear it.
“What about me,” Paris asks, his voice breaking. “What about Robin? My twin?” He says it that way every time. ‘Robin. My twin.’ “I mean, this is San Francisco, the new millennium and all that. Did he really think anybody would give a damn about his follies as a teenager?”
“He wasn’t thinking straight,” I say hesitantly, turning to face him. I will not tell him that Jimmy had called him and Robin ‘expendable’ to Serena. “All he could think about was his reputation and what it would do to him and his stupid platform if it came out that he had fathered twins out of wedlock. Plus,” I pause again, unsure if I should tell him everything.
“Spill it, Rayne,” Paris says, his lips white. Paris and I don’t lie to each other—not ever. I won’t start now.
“He thought if he killed you and Robin, it would make Ursula back down—that she would be in such shock, she’d retreat.”
“We were just another tool of control to him?” Paris asks incredulously, sinking back into his pillows. “We meant that little to him?” There are tears in his eyes. My mother, Lyle and I rush to console him as we all pet him.
“His fucking loss,” is Lyle’s contribution as he squeezes Paris’s hand.
“A very mixed-up man,” my mother adds, stroking his hair.
“He doesn’t deserve to be your father,” I say softly, clutching his other hand. I can tell by the look on his face that our words aren’t helping much. The poor boy has had three fathers of whom none have been exactly sterling characters. His adopted father beat Mrs. Jenson and died an alcoholic. Mr. Jenson is a humorless, irascible, almost-psychotic asshole, and Jimmy tries to kill him. Throw in a manipulative, lying birthmother and a rigid, overly-religious mother, and no wonder poor Paris is feeling bereft in the familial department.
“He must have really hated me,” Paris says softly. “I mean, to deliberately try to kill me after knowing me….” Paris can’t finish his thought because he’s too choked up.
“He’s a self-centered asshole who didn’t think about his actions,” Lyle exclaims. “It has nothing to do with you.”
“Is there anything else?” Paris asks dully. I can tell he’s tiring, but I want to make sure to tell him everything.
“Ursula figured out that it was Jimmy who tried to kill you after she heard about Robin being attacked as well. She confronted him. He tried to reason with her, then he tried to bribe her, then he tried to blackmail her, then he killed her.” I remember my distaste when Serena told me that Jimmy finally broke down when admitting to killing Ursula, but it’s something else I won’t tell Paris.
“So he was already pretty jittery when you showed up,” Lyle interjects, a smile on his face.
“Yeah. What I didn’t know is that the cops were already on his tail because they knew he was your father,” I say, still slightly irked that Serena hadn’t told me.
“So how come they allowed him to drag you out into the middle of nowhere?” Mom asks indignantly. She’s still upset that she almost lost me for the third time.
“Remember the officer who made a crack about me being Serena’s girlfriend when they checked out our mailbox?” I ask; Mom nods slightly. “The same officer was supposed to be looking out for Jimmy as the other cops planned their strategy, but he was smoking a cigarette.” Pissed because he had been reduced to lookout, Serena confided to me. “He didn’t see us.” Or so he said. Either way, he is in the official doghouse and probably handing out parking tickets as we speak.
“How’s Jimmy’s family taking the news?” Mom asks anxiously. Even though she’s mad as hell at Jimmy, her maternal feelings can’t help but kick into action at the thought of his two kids and his hapless wife.
“Serena told me his wife went into hysterics and tried to scratch Serena’s eyes out. Mrs. Jimmy still can’t believe that her husband could do such a thing, nor that he has been having an affair. Serena thinks she was more upset about the latter than the former.”
“What else does Serena say?” Lyle asks in amusement.
“Nothing,” I snap, blushing again. Not exactly true, but I don’t have to tell them everything. Paris is staring moodily at his arms which are still attached to IVs and such things. I want to cheer him up, so I say, “Paris, you gave us a few good clues, you know. Too bad we couldn’t figure them out!”
“I did?” Paris looks at me without much interest. “What did I say?”
“Your first word waking up was ‘trader’. Then when I was telling you about Serena having dinner with me, you said ‘eggs’,” I say proudly.
“And this helped you how?” Paris looks skeptical, as if he knows I’m trying to bolster his spirits.
“Trader equals traitor as in Benedict Arnold or that Jimmy betrayed you, and eggs as in eggs Benedict.” I beam at him. “So even half-unconscious, you’re smarter than the average bear.”
“I’m glad I’m good for something,” Paris sighs faintly.
“You’re good for a lot,” I say fiercely, sensing a shift in our roles. For the past two months, it’s been Paris’s job to be my personal cheerleader—unswerving in his support as I battled my demons. Now, it’s my turn to step up to the plate and do the same for him. “Don’t you dare get down on yourself, Paris Frantz. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t in my life!”
“Me, neither,” Lyle agrees softly.
“Nor I,” my mother makes it unanimous. Still, he looks discouraged. My mother takes a deep breath, then plunges in. “Listen, Paris. It’s horrible what your birthfather did, and I can’t blame you for feeling low. So cry if you have to—hell, you’ve earned the right. But when it passes, and it will pass, you remember that you have friends and family who love you dearly and who will stand with you until the end of time. We’ll support you when you need it; we’ll carry you if we have to. You also have a twin sister who needs you to live for her right now. You even have three half-siblings, one of whom you already know. You have every right to be disillusioned with the world, not to mention hurt and betrayed. Just don’t let it make you bitter, or they’ll have won.” She squeezes his hand hard to emphasize her point. Paris doesn’t say anything, but he lifts his chin resolutely and nods once. Lyle and I move closer as if to shut out the outside world The four of us sit on Paris’s bed, not saying anything. For a moment, I, too, believe that we’re going to be just fine.