Watching Mrs. Jenson, I feel another surge of anger. Not at the would-be murderer this time, but at her. She loves Paris, I have no doubt, but she can’t see past her narrow vision to embrace the beautiful, complicated man that he is. The whole time Paris and I’ve been friends, I’ve never heard Mrs. Jenson say anything positive about or to Paris. Instead, she stands to the side with her mouth pursed, looking at him with disapproval. Paris feels her disappointment keenly, but hasn’t gotten bitter over it as many would have. However, he does have issues with his dead father, which reminds me that I have to tell him the story his mother told me about shutting out Mr. Frantz after adopting Paris. It might help explain why Mr. Frantz was the way he was.
Thinking about Mr. Frantz and Mrs. Jenson leads me to think about relationship in general. How we as humans pretty much fuck them up on a regular basis. I know more bad relationship than good ones, and even strong ones such as my parents’ marriage are marred by details best left unknown—such as each of their affairs. My strongest adult relationship ended badly when she walked out on me because she ‘couldn’t stand one more day’ of being around me. She said she’d scream if she had to listen to my idiotic ramblings any longer. That’s how she phrased it. I was still in love with her, and needless to say, I was crushed. Paris, for as good as he is about making people fall in love with him, isn’t so great with relationships himself. He gets bored easily and dumps with impunity. He’s had more than one stalker in his time. Brett, the love of his life who died from AIDS, is the exception, and now Lyle. Except they had a huge fight which led to Paris running into the street and being hit. Again, I can’t stop the thought that Lyle might have had something to do with the hit-and-run from creeping into my mind.
I sit up straight as something which had previously slipped my mind comes rushing back. The blond that Lyle’s friend, Marisol, Melody, or whatever her name is, saw smooching Paris at Muddy Waters. Tall, good body, pretty. I don’t remember if Lyle said the last, but I’m sure she’s pretty. Paris doesn’t hang out with anyone not attractive, even as a friend. It’s one of his weaknesses; he has an eye for the aesthetics. He’s had one or two anomalies in his past, but for the most part, he likes attractive people. I’m not sure the blond means anything, but it’s an oddity in Paris’s life. From the way Lyle described her, she’s not someone I recognize. Like a great many big men, Paris prefers small women. I wonder if there’s any way I can find out who the mystery girl is. The other reason I doubt she’s a lover of his is because of her age. Paris won’t date anyone under twenty-one, even though he likes them young—Lyle notwithstanding. He says if he can’t drink with them, he won’t sleep with them.
There is nothing to do but wait. I would give anything to trade places with Paris, but that’s simply not an option. I close my eyes, intending to rest for a minute. I used to be able to pull all-nighters when I was in college, but not any more. The effects of the past sixteen hours or so have caught up to me. I fall into a deep sleep. I dream of Paris screaming my name from deep beneath the ocean. I am on the surface, desperately trying to decipher what he’s saying. I can barely make out his form, and there’s an amorphous blond figure next to him whose hair is twined around Paris’s neck. His face is slowly turning blue as she chokes off his airway. Ursula suddenly appears, wresting Paris away from the apparition. She pulls him up—and away from me. I call out his name, but he slips further away.
“Don’t you fucking leave me,” I cry, tears running down my face. Paris is unconscious and tucked beneath Ursula’s arm.
“Wake up, Rainbow,” a voice calls to me, as someone shakes me by the shoulders.
“Paris!” I scream, as he disappears from view.
“Wake up, now, Rainbow!” I am being shaken hard until I come out of my haze. Opening my eyes, three faces slowly come into focus—Lyle, my mother, and Mrs. Jenson.
“Sunday, March, late afternoon,” my mother says immediately, supplying me with the information I need.
“I’m ok,” I say sharply, embarrassed at having caused a scene. Mrs. Jenson looks as if she wants to ask a question, but holds herself in check. I’m grateful as I don’t think I’m up to answering questions. The three of them back away to give me my space. I breathe deeply as I wait for my heartbeat to slow down. When it returns to normal, I sit up and rub my eyes with my fists. I’m used to my nightmares, though I haven’t had one that bad in a while; I’m just embarrassed that I had one in the hospital. “Paris?” I ask, trying to change the subject.
“No change. Your turn to sit with him, if you want.” Mrs. Jenson says quietly, eyeing me with caution.
“You explain to her, Mom,” I say wearily as I trudge to Paris’s room. I have been sleeping for a half hour, and I feel worse than before I fell asleep. I’m also tired of explaining why I have nightmares and why I jump at the slightest provocation. I reach Paris’s room, but hesitate before going in. The cop looks at me expressionlessly. He watches as I walk in, and he doesn’t take his eyes off me as I sit next to Paris’s bed. It’s too soon for any change, of course, but I can’t stop hoping. He is still and gray, his face erased of any expression. I touch his hand carefully so as to not jostle the stuff attached to him; I want him to know I’m there.
“You gotta wake up, you hear?” I whisper, not wanting the police officer to overhear me. “What the hell am I going to do without you? Who’s going to cook for me? Who’s going to wake me up when I oversleep? Who’s going to tempt me with his glorious body to sleep with him for old times’ sake?”
I pause, as if he’s actually going to respond. I can feel the depression tugging at me as I stare at my motionless best friend. If it weren’t for the slight rise and fall of the sheet, I wouldn’t even be able to tell he was breathing. I mentally chastise myself for being gloomy. The last thing Paris needs is me in the doldrums, especially as I’m sure his mother and Lyle have acted the same way toward him. I would guess my mother doesn’t treat him that way, but she’s an exceptional woman. Taking a deep breath, I start talking about all the good times we’ve had together. Our junior prom which we attended together. He brought me the most beautiful orchid corsage and later that night, he bestowed upon me my first kiss from a guy. Graduation night when we walked in Tilden Park holding hands, reminiscing about our lives thus far. Psych 101 at Berkeley where we used to psych out the prof by psychoanalyzing every sentence he made.
I settle in and talk about the bars we’ve frequented, the lovers we’ve had. I marvel over the fact that our most consistent relationship has been with each other. Almost fifteen years, which is more than half our lives. The times we’ve forsaken others for each other. I know Lyle is threatened by our closeness, but we are not suited to be life partners. However, we will never not be best friends—of this I’m sure. I realize that I took my friendship with Paris for granted before this horrible event. It’s not easy finding someone you click with on so many different levels, whom you can accept despite his flaws, and with whom you feel completely at ease. I get frustrated when people try to turn it into a sexual thing because that’s not it at all. I’m not going to deny that there is a physical attraction between us because there is, but it’s not something that is necessary to keep us interested in each other. The few times we’ve slept together has not impacted our relationship in any way other than to give us both a nice memory. Yes, he is cherished as my first male lover, but I would care about him just as much if we’d never had sex.
I can envision us at eighty, side-by-side in a nursing home, heckling our fellow inmates. Lyle will be there, too, of course. He will be shaking his head and pretending that he doesn’t know us. He and Paris will know each other so well, they won’t even have to speak to communicate. Lyle will pat Paris on the knee and look at him questioningly. Paris will nod his head slightly before squeezing Lyle’s hand. Lyle will get up and wander away while Paris watches him fondly through his bifocals. As for me, I don’t see a long-term companion. I like Vashti a lot, but it seems as if we are interrupted any time we try to attempt a relationship. Maybe it’s the gods’ way of hinting that we’re not meant to be. It’s becoming frustrating, but I’m not sure what to do about it. I don’t have the energy to fix it even if I did know what to do; all my strength is saved for watching over Paris.
I come back to the present with a start. I feel guilty for pouring all this out to Paris, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He’s a great listener, and he enjoys helping others. It’s one reason people like him so much—he listens. Of course, this time he has no choice, but I imagine he’s smiling somewhere inside there as I meander from subject to subject. It drove my ex crazy when I went off on tangents, but Paris takes it in stride even though he’s not the most patient of guys. I stare at Paris safely ensconced from any potential threat to his well-being. I long to grab his hand and squeeze, but I know it will call unwanted attention to me and possibly cause me to be thrown out. I want to stay as long as possible, though I don’t feel as if I’m doing any good. I need to be by Paris’s side right now. I can’t stop the tears from gathering in my eyes, but I try to hold them back. The last thing Paris needs is for me to give in to my self-pity. I’m not crying for Paris at the moment, but for me. He is my dearest friend; I cannot live without him.
“Ms. Liang? It’s time to go,” the officer says softly, placing his hand on my shoulder. He’s given me twenty minutes this time.
“Thank you so much,” I say impulsively, wanting to hug him, but knowing better. I caress Paris’s hand instead. “This means a lot to me.” The policeman doesn’t answer, but slightly nods his head. He escorts me out of the room and watches as I return to Paris’s support group.
“Let’s get some dinner,” my mom says briskly, looking at her watch. “It’s seven o’clock.” I am amazed at how time simultaneously crawls and flies by.
“You go ahead,” Mrs. Jenson replies. “I’m not leaving.” She pulls out a Bible from her bag and starts reading. My mother looks as if she’s about to argue before closing her mouth. She nods at Lyle and me and ushers us to the cafeteria.
“I can’t stand that woman!” Lyle exclaims after we’ve all loaded up on carbohydrates and starchy comfort food. I have a plate heaped with macaroni which is exactly what I’m craving. Lyle has fried chicken, mashed potatoes and biscuits. My mother has tuna casserole. It’s all hot, which is the best thing you can say about the food.
“Catherine?” Mom says, taking a bite out of her casserole. “I feel sorry for her. She lost her daughter and is estranged from her son. To top it off, her son’s birthmother is entering the picture. That’s a tough hand.”
“She doesn’t have to be estranged from Paris,” Lyle reminds my mother. “She just can’t deal with him being queer.” Lyle’s mouth is twisted bitterly as if he’s bitten into a lemon.
I don’t want to get bogged down talking about Mrs. Jenson—not to mention, I feel slightly guilty for gossiping about her while she’s in such pain—so I change the subject. I ask him to tell me exactly what his friend, Myrtle, said about the woman she saw with Paris. Lyle corrects me on his friend’s name, sullen because I’ve deprived him of his rant. Mirabelle said the woman was truly stunning, though she was more a girl than a woman. Almost as tall as Paris, slim, highlighted blond hair down to her ass. Mirabelle couldn’t hear much of the conversation. She had the impression it was the first time Paris met the blond. She thought they were talking about money matters because Paris kept saying ‘low as’, though in what context, she couldn’t say.
That’s all Lyle could get from Mirabelle about the blond besides that the girl kissed Paris on the lips, but Lyle remembers something else about Jenna. She called just a day or two before the accident and ordered Paris to meet her. Said she had big news for him and threatened to make him sorry he dumped her. I am hurt that there is yet another tidbit of information I don’t know about Paris. He used to tell me everything—why would he hide this from me? Correction, Paris used to tell me everything prior to the last few months. He hid a few major facts from me during the first murder investigation because he was afraid of losing my respect. This is different, however, as it has nothing to do with him and everything to do with Jenna. Why wouldn’t he tell me? It’s not time to be petty, however, so I try to push back the hurt feelings.
Paris just laughed and emailed Jenna turning her down. While I don’t like the news, it gives me something solid to work on. I can contact Jenna and ask her what her big news was, and how exactly she had intended on making Paris sorry. I write it on my mental checklist and hope I don’t forget. I change my mind and pull a scrap of paper—a Safeway receipt—and a pen from my purse. I jot a few notes as I’m thinking about it. Talk to Jenna. Try to discover who the blond is. Talk to Paris’s coworkers. Talk to Ursula again. Idly, I wonder how Ursula knew Max, one of Paris’s ex-clients who tried to pretend she was Paris’s birthmother. It was another item on the agenda. I mutter out loud that I better put Lyle’s ex on the list as well, and Lyle takes umbrage at the addition.
He has stopped eating, much to my mother’s dismay. She anxiously scolds him, pointing out that he’s not going to help Paris by fainting from hunger. Lyle looks exhausted as he drops his fork on his tray. He can’t eat anything because he’s so worried about Paris. Lyle’s mind can’t process Paris being in a coma and yet, he can’t think of anything else. He is in tears again. This time, I can’t comfort him or brace him as I am near tears myself. It’s one reason I’ve been focusing on finding Paris’s murderer—I don’t want to let down my defenses. It won’t help anything to become emotional, but I can’t stop myself. Before too long, Lyle and I are weeping over our trays. No one even gives us a second look—this is a hospital, after all.