Plaster of Paris; chapter one, part one

“Wake up, Rayne.”  I am being shaken, and it’s not a pleasant sensation.

“Go ‘way,” I croak, vainly attempting to elude the hands that are shaking me.

“It’s almost noon,” the voice persists.  “Get up!”  I open one eye to a concerned Paris.  “Saturday.  March,” he adds.  This has been our ritual for the past few months, ever since I’ve been attacked by two murderers in two separate cases.  Every time I awake, I need to be told the time, the day, and the month.  After the first case, Paris would have to awake me from nightmares as I was screaming and thrashing.  Following the second case, I merely oversleep—no dreams.  I’m lethargic, however, no matter how much sleep I get.  Frankly, I prefer the nightmares to this sluggish state.

“I have to go to the gym in half an hour.”  Paris is a personal trainer as well as a part-time model.  He doesn’t do much of the latter as he’s more focused on taking care of me, his time at the gym, and his relationship with Lyle, his boyfriend.  “You should come work out.”  I used to work out daily before the first attack.  Ever since, I haven’t worked out hardly at all.  Paris is trying to ease me back into it, claiming it’ll help my soul as well as my body.  Even the name, ‘N Sound Shape on Valencia is meant to be soothing, though I find it more irritating than anything else.

“I’ll try,” I say lamely.  We both know I won’t go, but we keep up the pretense.

I look at Paris with real fondness.  He has been my best friend since our sophomore year in high school in Oakland when he chanced upon me cowering away from a group of black girls who were intent on beating me up.  One of them claimed I stole her man, which was a laugh.  I was virgin with men until college when Paris helped rid me of that burden.  We’ve slept together a few times since then, but we’ve both realized that we make much better friends than lovers.  He’s seen me through hard times such as my father dying in a horrible car crash our sophomore year in college as well as the recent spate of murders.  In turn, I’ve helped him deal with his mother who is highly religious and disapproves of his ‘lifestyle’ as she phrases it, the death of his lover from AIDS, his recent discovery that he was adopted, and the more recent death of his baby sister.

“I’ll have brunch made by the time you get up.”  Paris gives me a look, then disappears, not quite closing the door behind him.  I sigh and sit up—no use trying to go back to sleep.  My stuffed pig, Wilfred, whom I’ve had since I was ten—a birthday present from my parents—who has the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen is lying next to me.  I use him in times of distress, though he usually sits on my bookshelf.  I kiss him on his snout and set him back on the bookshelf.  I get out of bed and stretch.  I am wearing sweats, though I prefer to sleep in the nude.  Ever since I’ve been embroiled in two murder cases, I’ve slept in sweats.  I’m hoping to go back to nude one day.

After my daily ablutions, I stare hard in the mirror.  For some reason, the aftermath of the second murder case hasn’t been as traumatic as the first, but I still don’t look as good as I normally do.  My ear-length black hair has regained its luster, but my eyes are guarded.  My lips rarely curve into a smile these days, not without extreme provocation.  I have kept the twenty pounds off that I lost during the trauma of dealing with the first murder case, and lost five more after the latest one.  The first ten pounds were fine to lose—the last fifteen make me look anorexic.  I still am having trouble eating, as most of what I ingest seems to want to go out the same way it goes in.  I was making headway before the climax of the last murder case, but I’m back to square one.  I have various scars on my body as reminders that it’s not a good idea to get involved with killers.  Only my tattoos—a yin-yang on my right breast and an ankh on my ass—as well as my navel piercing make me happy.  They have remained intact.  I idly consider adding another tattoo—perhaps a phoenix rising from the ashes.

After I solved the first case—mainly by the killer trying to kill me—I became somewhat of a local celebrity.  During the investigation, I had dreamt of seeing my face on television, of seeing my name in the papers.  The publicity I garnered after the first case made me rethink my priorities in a hurry.  After the second one, I began to positively loathe the media.  They hounded me at home, at my job, when I went to the store, and any other time they could find me.  Half the stories were speculations about my possible involvement in the killings with the police covering up my role.  For what purpose, I don’t know, but the media doesn’t always make sense.  The other half of the stories hailed me as the ‘Charlie Chan for the new millennium’, gushing about my talent for detection.  Puff pieces.

I take umbrage to that for many reasons.  One, they could have picked numerous female detectives to compare me to—Sharon McCone; Leigh Ann Warren, Amelia Peabody, to name a few.  But no, they took the lazy way out and went for the racial slant.  At least they could have compared me to Allan Choice, a Korean American inspector of sorts from Leonard Chang’s great mystery novels—set in San Francisco!  He’s contemporary, but no one’s heard of him.  Two, I haven’t solved anything.  In both cases, the murderer tumbled onto me, not the other way around.  In both cases, I almost died because of my stupidity.  Not a glowing endorsement for my detecting prowess.  Three, I don’t want any more publicity concerning those cases.  I’m trying to get on with my life, which means putting that in my past.  I am faring much better now than after the first case, but my progress is being impeded by the media’s insistence on not letting the publicity fade.

I valiantly try to push my thoughts away.  It seems that I am doing too much introspection lately.  I am not one to navel gaze on a regular basis, but there’s nothing like facing your own mortality to turn your thoughts inward.  I find it difficult to engage in small talk any longer as it seems pointless.  Who gives a fuck about the weather when I almost died?  I am unhappily aware that I’m starting to develop a real attitude about my brushes with death that does not become me.  There is an arrogance in my demeanor that wasn’t there previously.  I look at other people and think, ‘You don’t know anything’ and dismiss what they are saying without giving it a second thought.  Not the most social person to begin with, I find myself pulling away even more.  Only Paris, my mother, ‘the girls’—a group of Asian women I hang with, and Vashti hold my interest.

Vashti.  Just saying her name makes me smile, albeit cautiously.  Vashti Dal, to be more precise.  She’s one of the girls—a group I gathered from placing an ad on Craigslist looking for like-minded Asian women who wanted more out of life than to protest, potluck, and process.  In other words—Asian women who were down for some fun.  She is half-Indian and half-Korean, and all luscious with her generous curves, her jet-black hair, and her endearing way of speaking.  She’s thirty-three to my twenty-eight, but I feel older at times.  Vashti and I hit it off right away and dated a bit during the first murder case.  Read, we slept together.  Unfortunately, she was holding something back that almost cost me my life.  I had a hard time trusting her, and mostly stayed clear of her during the second murder case.  It was only when the second killer had a gun trained on me—intent to kill—my life flashing before my eyes, that I realized I regretted not trying to make up with Vashti.  When I made it through the ordeal, I knew that I had to give Vashti a second chance.  We’re officially dating, though not sleeping together.  I’m not ready for that intimacy, though we’ve done it before.

“You daydreaming again?”  Paris asks as I stumble into the kitchen, almost running into the table in the process.  He looks adorable with an apron tied around his slender waist.  I watch him in admiration—I never tire of looking at him.  He is six-feet tall to my five-two, has golden hair currently cut in a buzz cut, and wide-set green eyes.  He is a gym queen which means his muscles are to die for.  He has a predilection for tight tank tops that show off said muscles.  He preens under my gaze as he flips the omelet he is cooking.  Paris is a great cook—I just wish I had the appetite to do his cooking justice.  “Here.”  He hands me a glass of milk—two percent as I need the fat, but can’t stand whole—and a chocolate croissant.  Paris knows the way to this woman’s stomach is through chocolate, and he makes marvelous croissants.

“You’re the best,” I say gratefully, carefully cutting the tip off the croissant.  I have grown more finicky the last couple months, and each bite must be precise.  I place the corner in my mouth, slowly chewing.  There’s no chocolate, so I add a bit.  I swallow a small sip of milk and wait anxiously.  It stays down.  I am relieved, and I cut an equally tiny piece.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say I was anorexic.  Fortunately, I do know better and have to just trust that I will regain my appetite some day.

“Spinach, cheddar cheese, ham omelet,” Paris announces, sliding the plate in front of me.  A minute later, he adds unbuttered whole wheat toast.  He is constantly trying to tempt me to eat more.  He knows it’s not under my control, but he can’t help hoping.  I’m not choosing not to eat—I just can’t keep much down.  Paris quickly makes an omelet for himself, too, and sits down across from me.

“S’good,” I say, my mouth working on the omelet.  There is a uneasy moment when the cheese rises in my throat, but it goes down again.  We eat in companionable silence, Paris taking five bites to my every one.

“Shit, I got to go,” Paris says, glancing at his watch.  “Swing by later?”  I shrug, concentrating on my food.  I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep, but I also don’t want Paris on my back.  “I have some errands to run, then I’m going over to Lyle’s.”  He’s taken to informing me of his itinerary, a habit I find amusing.

“Yes, Mom,” I say, rolling my eyes.  I’m glad that I haven’t lost my edge completely this time around—I’m still recognizable as me.  “I have your cell number in case I need anything.  Don’t you worry about me.”  I wait until he’s almost out the door before adding, “I’m going over to Vashti’s tonight.”  I’m not, really, but I want to see his reaction.  He flips me the bird, then he’s out the door.  I smile slightly, glad to see that I can still get a rise out of him.  Even though he’s over his intense dislike of Vashti, he’s having a hard time forgiving her for almost getting me killed.  She, in turn, thinks he’s one of the most arrogant males she’s ever met.  Needless to say, I try not to have the two of them in the same room at the same time.  The phone rings, causing me to jump.  It’s my real mom.

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