I bring up Paris’s birthmother, something both of us have let slide. She did call Paris the afternoon he was hit. Is it merely a coincidence that on the day she calls, Paris is hit? That’s too much to swallow, although coincidences do occur. Lyle and I look at each other, thinking the same thing. Where is Paris’s cell phone? Lyle had assumed the doctors had it, but he isn’t sure. We have to get the cell phone to find out if there is a record of Paris’s birthmother’s phone call. I curse Paris silently for his love of drama. If he had just told one of us who she was before he was hit, we wouldn’t have to waste time tracking her down. Lyle and I both start shoveling in the our food as fast as possible, gabbing the whole time.
We are short in the way of suspects, and we start tossing things out into the air. Lyle mentions that Jenna has been calling Paris on his cell lately, begging Paris to come back to her. I am disconcerted as I thought she had finally gotten over Paris. He hadn’t mentioned a thing to me about Jenna calling him, but it’s probably because he knew I’d give him hell for getting involved with her in the first place. I can’t believe she’s calling him again. They only dated for a month, and she’s acting as if they’re Romeo and Juliet. Lyle is more sympathetic than I, however, remembering some of his own pathetic behavior at her age. My face flushes as I recall a few of my own escapades.
Of course, Lyle can’t let it slide and wants to know why I’m reacting so dramatically. I try to deflect him by returning to the suspect list, but he’s not having any of that. With a flare of intuition, he guesses the story has something to do with Paris and crows in delight when I am not quick enough to come up with a plausible lie. When I realize that he isn’t going to let it drop, I order him to finish his sandwich to give myself time to think. I don’t like thinking about the incident, and I certainly don’t want to tell Lyle as it involves me, stupid behavior, and Paris. I have a hunch Lyle won’t be happy to hear it once I’m through, but there’s nothing I can do about that since he insists. Besides, maybe it’ll take his mind of Paris for a minute or two.
The tale isn’t pretty, nor is it particularly interesting. When Paris and I were sophomores in college, I was desperately unhappy for many reasons and watching Paris date bimbos of both genders did nothing to cheer me up. I decided I was in love with him and tried to seduce him. It didn’t work, and I fled from the apartment, humiliated. I slipped into a bar and proceeded to drink myself into a coma. Some snake approached me and persuaded me to go home with him. We were just about to leave when Paris showed up and prevented the snake from whisking me off. Oh, I protested, but Paris simply slung me over his shoulder and brought me home. When we got there, I promptly fell apart—as well as threw up—and Paris held me until I regained my sanity. After reaffirming his love for me and the fact that we make better friends than lovers, he carried me off to my bed.
“Did he undress you?” Lyle asks snidely, finishing his sandwich.
“No, you pervert,” I shoot back, a smile on my face. The episode had been highly embarrassing at the time, but I could laugh at it now. “He took off my shoes and my hose and let me sleep off my drunk. It was the best thing he could have done.” Lyle looks as if he doesn’t believe me, but he lets it go before changing the subject.
“Jenna wants to meet him,” Lyle informs me. “She just wants to talk.”
“Uh huh.” I am not convince that Miss Jenna is so pure of motive; Lyle doesn’t look as if he quite believes it, either. “Did he go?” It galls me to have to ask, but I can’t afford to get caught up in my ego right now.
“She left a message on his cell while we were at the gym. He didn’t have time to meet her.” Lyle finishes the last of his fries and wipes his mouth. We are both done, so we toss our trash and head back for the ICU. When we get there, my mother is alone.
“Catherine is in with Paris,” she informs us before we can even ask. “When she gets back, Rainbow, you can see him.” A lump develops in my throat. I’ve been going nonstop since early this morning, managing to be too busy to do too much thinking. I’m not sure I can handle seeing Paris in a coma—that’s not how I want to picture him. “Here.” My mother holds something out to me—it’s Paris’s cell phone. “The doctors gave it to Catherine who thought it might be helpful figuring out who tried to ki—hit Paris.” I check to see who last called Paris, and it’s an unfamiliar number. He didn’t enter it into his speed dial or anything, so I don’t know who it is. I slip it into my purse. I want to call, but I want to see Paris first. I wait for what seems like an interminable amount of time for Mrs. Jenson to return. When she does, she is holding a sodden handkerchief to her face. My mother hurries over to her, holding out her own handkerchief. I stare—my mother is not known for possessing such delicate items.
“You can go in,” Mrs. Jenson informs me, now clutching two handkerchiefs. I stand up with alacrity, ready as I’ll ever be to see my best friend. Mrs. Jenson catches me by the arm to delay me. “Don’t expect too much, dear.” She chokes up and is unable to say anything else. A harried-looking nurse rapidly explains what I can and can’t do, what I should and shouldn’t expect. It pretty much goes in one ear and right out the other.
“No entry,” the cop says, his voice gruff. He looks bored, as if he’d rather be anywhere but here. I can tell by looking at him that he’d rather be on the street taking out bad guys. I give him my name, and he checks for it on his list. He nods for me to go in, but I can’t. Suddenly, I’m afraid to see Paris. He is such a vibrant person, I don’t want to see him in this shape. I mentally shake myself. He has suffered with me through the last few months when I wasn’t at my best—the least I can do is offer him comfort during his time of need. I take a deep breath and enter the room, the cop right behind me. Paris is hooked up to various machines and what not; he’s on a ventilator because he can’t even breathe on his own. His face is a mass of bruises and scars, and he looks so frail. It makes me want to cover my eyes and run screaming from the room, but I pull myself together. Dimly, I recall reading that people in comas can hear what’s being said to them, so I pull up a chair outside the plastic and start talking.
I don’t talk about anything particular—just whatever comes to mind. I reminisce about him saving me from a major ass-whupping, one of my favorite memories about the first time we met. I force a laugh as I recount the story of the slutty girl who hit on Paris for a week straight before giving up and turning to me. She thought she would hurt Paris by making a play for me when in reality, he was relieved at no longer being the focus of her attention. To make matters doubly worse for her, I shined her on as well. Paris and I have rejected our fair share of people in our time, though he has more than I. I tend to be the dumpee not the dumper. Paris was the one who held my hand the many nights I cried over this guy or that girl who didn’t know what a treasure s/he had in me. On the flip side, I was the one who commiserated with Paris when he fumed about how some people just didn’t know when to let go. In an odd way, we were privileged to see how our actions affected someone on the other side of the situation by observing each other.
I am settling in for a long, cozy chat. Recalling our history makes me smile, even though the happiness is laced with pain. I feel as if I’m on the verge of delivering an eulogy, which is the last thing I want to do. Paris isn’t dead, and a higher being wouldn’t be so cruel as to take him away from me. I watch as his chest moves rhythmically, barely disturbing the sheet neatly pulled up to his chin. The policeman is just inside the door, listening and watching me carefully. At first, it is disconcerting, but I gradually block him out until he no longer exists in my world. It is me and Paris—the way it should be. I remind him of a wedding we attended—a college classmate who had been secretly in love with Paris and would moan to me about it—where we pretended to be long-lost siblings to anyone who would listen. I talk about our college days where everyone thought we were a couple because we spent so much time together. Some women would even try to make me jealous by flirting with Paris and would be crushed when I laughed.
Some of the people he dated couldn’t handle our friendship and demanded that he make a choice: me or them. Stupid, really, because for Paris, there was only one choice—me. I felt the same way about him, and the few times I was faced with the same ultimatum, I chose him. We had our fun, too. We’d stage mock fights in highly public venues, enjoying the scenes we created for the unsuspecting bystanders. When they started wading into the melee, we’d throw our arms around each other and make up. We also enjoyed messing with people’s minds about our sexuality. Not that bisexuality was all that uncommon in Berkeley, but we liked to switch our allegiances just to twit people. Sometimes, we’d act like a straight couple. Sometimes, I was his fag hag. More rarely, but equally fun was him pretending to be straight and me being a lesbian. Then, just to utterly confuse people, he’d act stereotypically-macho while I did the geisha girl thing. We had a marvelous time playing pranks on unwary dupes.
“Time’s up, Ms. Liang.” The cop at the door isn’t exactly fondling his gun, but he’s touching it more intimately than I care to witness. I glance at the clock and realize that he’s been very generous in allotting me fifteen minutes with Paris. I gingerly touch Paris’s hand, flash a smile at the officer, and scurry from the room. It must be a shitty job to watch over someone in the hospital, like a babysitter with little hope of excitement to break the monotony.
“How did he seem to you, dear?” Mrs. Jenson asks in a wobbly voice. My mother pats Mrs. Jenson’s hand soothingly which the other woman seems to appreciate.
“Still,” I say hesitantly, not wanting to make her feel worse than she already does. “I didn’t expect him to be so still.” It’s a stupid thing to say, but it’s all I can think about. Paris is a man constantly in motion so it’s jarring to view him as an inert lump. I don’t know where he gets the abundance of energy, but it’s distressing to see him imitate a wax dummy.
“I keep expecting him to open his eyes and laugh at me for being so sad,” Lyle adds softly, not looking at anyone in particular. “To smile that gorgeous smile of his and, oh—” Down goes his head, buried in his hands. His shoulders start to heave. My mom, who is sitting between Mrs. Jenson and Lyle, leans over and hugs Lyle tightly. He sinks into her, sobbing helplessly. A flicker of disgust and something else that looks suspiciously like compassion crosses Mrs. Jenson’s face before she can chase it away.
“The phone!” I exclaim before I can stop myself. Three faces swing towards mine, and I feel compelled to explain. “Paris’s birthmother called, and I’m hoping—” I stop as Mrs. Jenson’s face undergoes an astonishing transformation. She goes from grieving mother to angry woman in one second flat.
“What? She had the audacity to call Paris?” Mrs. Jenson leaps to her feet, her hands on her hips. “If I had known, I’d never—Give it to me. Now!” She holds out her hand imperiously, all traces of angst gone. She is Medea, ready to tear me apart.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Jenson,” I say, unable to use her first name when she’s glowering at me like that. “I don’t want to hurt you, but this could be important.” I quail under her look, but I know I’m not giving up the phone. Any lead to Paris’s purported murderer is valuable, and I can’t afford to give in.
“You dare say no to me?” She seethes, stepping towards me. “I’m the one who gave it to your mother in the first place! I could tell the police that you stole it from me.” Her hands are outstretched and for one terrible moment, I am afraid she’s physically going to wrest the phone away from me. Fortunately, it’s nestled in the bottom of my purse, but I wouldn’t put it past her to search my belongings to find the phone. Her face crumples as her step falters. Her hands fall to her side as she sinks into a chair. “What else? What else am I supposed to endure, Lord?” She is weeping, which upsets me more than her harridan act.
“Catherine, it’s ok,” my mother says, moving swiftly to the seat next to Mrs. Jenson. “Paris is your son—nothing can change that.” She gives me a look that says, ‘Get the hell out of here.’ I quirk an eyebrow at Lyle who nods slightly. We slip away to let my mother work her magic on Mrs. Jenson.