Plaster of Paris; chapter four, part one

I hurry home and take a quick nap before hopping in the shower.  Nothing feels as good as the water running down my body.  The steam soothes the prickliness I feel, but to my horror, I start to cry.  The tears I’ve been repressing all night long storm to the surface and spill over, mingling with the shower water on the way down.  I start to sob loudly, unable to control my response.  I can’t control my shivering, no matter how hot I make the water.  I place my hand on the wall to steady myself, but my knees are trembling and I feel as if I’m going to fall over.  I close my eyes and try not to lose my balance.  My legs aren’t listening to my commands, and down I go.  I land on my ass with a thud—it’s cold on the ground.  I wrap my arms around my knees and just let the water fall onto me.

“Rainbow!  Where are you?”  My mother’s voice shouting for me jolts me out of the trance I have put myself in.  I am still on the floor under the pouring water, but it’s turned cold in the time I’ve been zonked.  My mother bursts into the bathroom and shuts off the tap.  She hauls me to my feet, clucking the whole time.  She’s talking to herself in Taiwanese as she wraps a towel around me.  I catch a phrase here and there, but my mind can’t process what she’s saying.  I idly wonder how fast she had driven as she seems to have made it across the bridge in good time.  Then again, I did take a nap, albeit a short one.  My mother ushers me to my room and sits me on the bed.  She rummages through my closet, pulling out a blue sweatshirt I got from A Brighter Day, the agency where I work, and a pair of blue jeans.  She finds a bra and underwear before presenting the pile to me.  I pull on the clothes without saying a word.  She watches as I dress myself, waiting until I’m finished before speaking.

“Are you all right?”  She asks the question deliberately, peering anxiously into my eyes.  She speaks English to make sure I understand.  Taiwanese may be her first language, but English is mine.  I look at her dully, not comprehending what she wants from me.  Am I all right?  My best friend is in the hospital because someone tried to make road-kill out of him, and she wants to know if I’m all right?  I pick at my fingernails, losing interest in the conversation.  All the nervous energy I was feeling earlier is now spent, leaving me as limp as a dish rag.  She walks over to me and deliberately slaps me across the face.  I rear my head back in surprise.

“What the hell did you do that for?”  I snap, some color returning to my face.

“You needed it,” she says simply, pulling me up.  “What do you have in the fridge?”  We link arms and walk to the kitchen.  My mom has often felt more like a friend than a mother which has its benefits and its drawbacks.  She opens the fridge as I plop down into a chair.  I deserve to be pampered once in a while, damn it, and this is a great time for it.  She pulls out Tupperware that I didn’t even know we had.  It’s filled with lasagna that Paris made a few nights ago.  She puts it in the microwave to heat it up.  I remember watching Paris make the lasagna as Lyle playfully got in his way.  Tears sting my eyes as I recall the way they looked at each other as the lasagna bubbled away in the oven.

“You still with me, Rainbow?”  My mother waves a hand in front of my face and brings me back to the present.

“Yeah, I’m here.”  I smile weakly, but with no conviction.  I look at my mother’s kind face and spill the beans.  I tell her about Lyle and Paris’s fight, how Paris ran out into the street.  I tell her about the whisper of suspicion I have that Lyle had something to do with the hit-and-run.  I tell her how horrible I feel for harboring said suspicions.  When I am done pouring out my guts, I feel a hundred-percent better.  My mother looks thoughtful, but doesn’t say anything.  Suddenly, she speaks.

“You don’t have to feel guilty, Rainbow.  It’s perfectly reasonable for you to suspect Lyle.”  She sips her tea, waiting to see how I react to this.  When I nod my head, she adds, “Don’t you think he might have the same suspicions of you?”

“Probably,” I admit, not pleased with the thought.  After all, I’ve been Paris’s best friend for many years—which doesn’t exclude me, I know.

“Anyway, we should head over there as soon as possible.”  We fall silent as we shovel lasagna in as fast as we can.  I haven’t eaten for sixteen hours and am famished.  I help myself to seconds before my stomach turns on me.  Just four months ago, I could eat anything and not give it a second thought.  Now, I am constantly being surprised by what my stomach will and won’t accept.  I grudgingly put down my fork and start clearing the dishes.  My mother immediately pops up from the table to help.  After some discussion, we decide to take both Lyle’s truck and her car so we don’t have to burden Lyle any further.  I drive slowly enough so my mom can easily follow me.  When we reach Lyle, he looks to be in the same position in which I left him.

“Songbird!”  Lyle jumps up and hugs my mother.  She holds on to Lyle fiercely, being the protector, although she’s only five-feet six inches to his six-feet plus.  Lyle hangs on as if he is drowning and my mother is a preserver.  He also had a bumpy relationship with his mother before she died, though not as rocky as Paris’s with his.  My mother is considered the uber-mother for all my queer friends because she’s so understanding.  Yes, she belongs to P-Flag, though she doesn’t attend meetings very often.  My father wasn’t as vocal in his support, but he was no less accepting.  To him, it didn’t matter whom you loved as long as you did it sincerely.  I am blessed to have such parents, even if one is no longer with me.  My father was killed by a drunken driver nine years ago, and I still haven’t gotten over it.

“Where’s Mrs. Jenson?”  I ask curiously.  I have been gone from the hospital for over an hour and can’t imagine that Mrs. Jenson hasn’t made her way back yet.

“In with Paris,” Lyle sighs, hanging his head.  “They’re allowing family and limited visitors in for short visits.”

“How is he?”  I ask eagerly.  Lyle droops visibly as my mother puts her arm around his waist.

“She won’t let me see him,” Lyle says so softly, I have to strain to hear him.  I deduce that ‘she’ means Paris’s mother.  “She told me she’ll make sure I never get to see him.”  He is crying again, the tears running silently down his cheek.  My mother takes one look at him, her lips compressed.  “You’re allowed to see him, though, Rayne.”  Lyle can’t help but look a bit resentful as he imparts this information.  I don’t blame him, but I don’t want him to be mad at me, either.  Mrs. Jenson is walking towards us, her face ashen.  My mother hurries to catch up to her and speaks to her in a low tone.  I strain to overhear, but I can’t.

“It’s ok, Lyle,” I murmur soothingly.  “My mother will take care of it.”

“If your mother can turn around that battleaxe, she can do anything.”  Lyle doesn’t look hopeful, and I don’t blame him.  My mom is a miracle worker when it comes to changing people’s minds, but Mrs. Jenson is a tough nut to crack.  The two of them have stopped some feet from us, and they are both gesturing animatedly.  My mother places her hand on Mrs. Jenson’s arm and pats her.  Mrs. Jenson bursts into tears, dabs at them with her handkerchief, then nods her head.  The two of them walk towards us slowly, as if they are laboring under heavy weights.  Mrs. Jenson’s head snaps up when she’s a few feet in front of Lyle.

“Perhaps I spoke too hastily,” she says haltingly, as if the words are stiff on her tongue.  “Paris needs—”  She breaks down, unable to finish her sentence.  She presses her handkerchief to her mouth as loud, raspy sobs are forced from her.

“I just explained to Catherine that we need to do whatever it takes to pull Paris through this,” my mother says smoothly, her arm around Mrs. Jenson’s shoulders.  “It’s not the time to focus on our differences or how we personally feel.  We must do what’s good for Paris, and what he needs is to feel love.”  I look at my mother in admiration.  I don’t know how she pulled it off, but she’s done it again.

“So I can see him?”  Lyle asks with pathetic eagerness.  He is off and running before Mrs. Jenson can even nod her immaculately-coiffed head.

“Susannah, I don’t know what to do,” Mrs. Jenson whimpers as she removes the handkerchief from her mouth.  It takes me a minute to realize that she is talking to my mother who uses her real name when she wants someone straitlaced to feel more comfortable with her.  “My baby won’t open his eyes.  He just lies there, barely breathing, not knowing I’m in the room.  What am I going to do?”  She breaks into fresh sobs as my mother pulls her into her arms.

“What you’re going to do is sit down.”  My mother maneuvers Mrs. Jenson into a chair.  “Then Rainbow is going to fetch you a hot cup of tea to soothe your nerves.”  My mother shoots me a look which I hasten to obey.  I can still hear my mother talking nonsense as I scurry to find some tea.  By a miracle of fate, I stumble onto the cafeteria where I order four cups of tea.  I even manage to snag a cardboard tray so I can carry the beverages back to my mother.  She smiles in approval as I hand out the tea, leaving one for Lyle.  When he returns, he looks more haggard than when he left.

“He didn’t even open his eyes,” Lyle says brokenly, barely registering that I’ve handed him a cup of tea.  He holds it motionless as he stands rooted to the spot.

“Lyle, honey, when’s the last time you ate?”  Without waiting for a reply, my mother plows on.  “You need some hot food.  Rainbow will take you to the cafeteria.”  I telegraph a dirty look as I’ve just returned from the cafeteria, but I take him, anyway.  I know he has to eat, and he won’t do it if he’s left on his own.  When we reach the cafeteria, he stands in the doorway looking bewildered.  I steer him to a seat and plunk him down before slipping into line.  I don’t know what he’ll eat, so I pick up a few things such as a hot ham and cheese sandwich, a Caesar salad, some home-style fries, and two pieces of chocolate pie for dessert.  One of them is for me, but nobody needs to know that.  I also get him an orange juice and a Coke for myself.  I set the tray in front of him, and he stares at it as if it’s toxic.  I hand him the sandwich which he takes mechanically.  I stare hard at him.  It’s not as intimidating as my mother’s stare, but it does the trick.  He brings the sandwich to his mouth and takes a small bite out of it.  Satisfied that he’s going to eat, I take a piece of pie and begin eating.

As we eat, we talk about possible suspects.  The problem is, Paris is well-loved and doesn’t have many enemies.  He has plenty of ex-lovers, but most of them want him back, not to kill him.  His latest ex, Jenna went berserk when Paris broke up with her and started stalking him, but she’s backed off as of late.  I ask Lyle if anything untoward has happened at the gym, and Lyle automatically shakes his head.  He pauses a minute then stares at me.  I can see that there is something tickling his mind, but I don’t push him to find it.  Instead, I eat my pie which is surprisingly good for hospital fare.  My stomach coils, however, so I am forced to stop eating before I’ve finished the whole thing.  I sigh as I set down my fork before looking expectantly at Lyle.  He is still staring at me, a frown creasing his forehead.  Just as I’m about to question him, he remembers something.

Paris had told him that one of his clients was acting suspicious so Paris was going to talk to him about it.  I eagerly question Lyle about it, but that’s all he knows.  Paris didn’t want to say too much before talking to the client, so Lyle isn’t even sure if Paris talked to the client or not.  In fact, Lyle doesn’t know if the client is female or male, though he suspects male for some reason.  I’m hurt that Paris hadn’t confided in me, but I try not to let it show.  I remind myself that Lyle and I are not in competition for Paris’s love, but it doesn’t erase the sting.  There are more important things to worry about, however, and I push it firmly to the back of my mind.  I ask briskly if there’s anything else, hoping there isn’t.  There is.

Paris’s boss, Jimmy, was giving Paris a hard time because Paris wanted to use some of his vacation this week, and Jimmy had scheduled to take the latter half of the week off himself.  He had planned to visit his sister in ‘one of them Midwest states’.  Lyle makes a face as if to say, ‘Why on earth would anyone want to go there?’  He’s so absorbed in dispensing information that he is eating most of his food without being aware of it.  He tells me that Jimmy has been cracking down on Paris in general the last few weeks, but neither of them know why.  Maybe it’s because Jimmy’s talking about running for mayor next year and knows Paris hates politics.  Lyle toys with a fry before popping it into his mouth.  I think about Paris’s boss, a tall, still-muscular man in his mid to late-forties.  Jimmy Benedict has thick, dark hair that comes from a bottle these days and light brown eyes.  He has an easy-going demeanor that his clients, men and women, find attractive.

I am distracted by the thought of Jimmy running for mayor.  I can’t see the constituents of a major city, even one as progressive as San Francisco voting for the owner of a gym as a mayor.  Then again, this is San Francisco, home to downtown Willie Brown.  If any city would be willing to give a guy like Jimmy a chance, it’d be San Francisco.  Lyle says that Jimmy is thinking about it and is already on the school board as his first step to that end.  It’s interesting information, but I don’t think it holds as a reason for Jimmy to be upset with Paris.  Maybe Jimmy is against queers, but that would be an indefensible position in the city of brotherly love.  OK, I know that Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love, but it should be San Francisco.  While the whole topic of Jimmy running for mayor is fascinating, it really doesn’t offer much in regards to someone trying to kill Paris.

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