Per agreement, they didn’t try to find the teenager or even speculate about whom she might be. Mrs. Frantz was too tense to relax, but Mr. Frantz managed to enjoy much of the local flavor, especially the spirits of the land. He was fond of rum, which was plentiful in supply. Mrs. Frantz sat in their hotel room and waited, dreaming of her baby boy. By then, she knew she was getting a son, but she was cautious about investing too much emotion in him until she actually held him in her arms. She just sat with the lights out, gazing outside her window, not really seeing anything. Her husband would try to coax her to join him in his revelry, but she rebuffed him firmly. When the first day melted into the second day, she began to get jittery. Their lawyer had said the baby was born already, so she didn’t see the problem. She was afraid to voice the fear niggling the back of her mind—the birthmother had changed her mind. The second fear—the birthmother wanted more money. There was none to be had. The Frantzes had to borrow heavily to come up with the ten thousand, not to mention the trip to Tijuana.
Mrs. Frantz thought she would lose her mind as she waited for something that might never happen. She rocked slightly back and forth to keep her mind off the tedium. She watched as kids romped outside her window, happily oblivious to the woman gaping at them from inside her hotel room. The maid knocked on the door for maid service, but Mrs. Frantz impatiently shouted at her to go away. Mrs. Frantz didn’t want to be interrupted while she was obsessively worrying about acquiring her baby boy. What would he look like? Would he be a total stranger, or would she know him when she saw him? Would they instantly connect, or would they have to work towards something? She was afraid that she would look at her son and not feel anything other than panic and remorse. What if she thought he was ugly? What if he cried when she held him? So many questions buzzed through her mind, she was unhappy that her husband wasn’t there to share her angst.
The knock on her door startled her. She asked who it was and was relieved to hear her lawyer’s voice in reply. She hurried to open the door, not remembering that she was wearing only a tank top and a pair of shorts. Her lawyer didn’t seem to care, even though he himself was wearing a lightweight suit in charcoal gray. He looked professional, but cool at the same time. In his arms was an infant, cooing and batting his eyelashes as if he had something in his eyes. Her lawyer was talking, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. Her mind blocked out everything but the sight of her son smiling at her. Her week-old son who turned up the wattage when he sensed her eyes on him. She didn’t touch him, but simply stared—memorizing every feature. His large green eyes. The few soft blond curls decorating his head. The way his chubby fist waved in the air. The little dimple poking into his right cheek. He was her son, no doubt about it.
Mrs. Frantz gathered him to her chest, cradling him as if her life depended on it. Everything else in the world ceased to exist—the lawyer, the bed, the television, the tacky wallpaper, even her husband who had straggled back to the room at some point. She could only focus on the tiny bundle squirming in her arms, beaming up at her. She felt a benevolent force smiling down at her as if to say, ‘This is your due; this is why you’ve struggled so hard. Now, you are rewarded.’ She knew God’s voice when she heard it and renewed her lagging vows to the church. From now on, she would tithe religiously. From now on, she would attend every Sunday. From now on, she would try to bring God into every portion of her life. She felt it only fair in return for the miracle that was her son. Her son. It didn’t matter that she didn’t carry him or give birth to him because he was hers as surely as if he had been taken from her gut. He even resembled her in coloring, though not in temperament.
“Paris,” she murmured, once. She wanted to name him after the most beautiful city in the world, the one place she wanted to see before she died. It wasn’t until she returned to the States that she realized what she had done, but by then it was too late. She had fallen in love with Paris, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Once she had her baby, little else mattered. Her husband wanted to stay the five days they had planned, but Mrs. Frantz was eager to return to her friends and family, to show off Paris. She overrode his protest, practically ripping the Mai Tai from his hand on the way to the airport. The whole flight back, she held Paris in her arms, crooning lullabies in his tiny ear. She loathed to part with him, even to the capable hands of her husband. Paris was hers, and she was fiercely protective of him. One stewardess had her hat handed to her when she tried to stroke Paris’s head. Another burst into tears after a dressing down by Mrs. Frantz for jostling the poor mite. The crew learned quickly not to interfere with the crazy lady in the back of the airplane with the baby who had a face like a Botticelli angel. Fortunately, the baby wasn’t any trouble, but just sat there smiling at everyone, which was highly unusual for an infant his age.
Back in Oakland, Mrs. Frantz couldn’t wait to squire her son around to all her family and friends. Those close to her were informed of a carefully-selective truth. Mere acquaintances were told a pre-fabricated story of a trip to the hospital and a fairly easy birth. It was easy, Mrs. Frantz rationalized in her mind—if you didn’t count the agony of waiting for the results. Over the years, she elaborated and polished her story so many times, she began to believe the truth of it. Her husband protested when they first got Paris, but subsided over time. He turned to alcohol as his wife became more absorbed in Paris. He took out his resentment with his fists, careful not to do any permanent damage and to never strike his child. Husband and wife fought on a daily basis over little things that suddenly seemed huge. By the time I met Paris, his parents had been divorced for three years.
“His father was jealous of my love for Paris,” Mrs. Jenson confides as I try to find a place to park. Union Square is a nightmare to find a parking spot, and I have horrible parking karma as it is. “Freddie was like a child and couldn’t handle the fact that Paris came first with me.”
“How sad,” I comment neutrally. My take is that Mrs. Jenson started smothering Paris the minute she got him and never had time for her husband. Understandably, he resented this, but probably didn’t know how to express his distress except through drinking and punching. I’m not excusing him, but I do understand the rationale that drove him to do what he did. I doubt Paris ever knew why his father was the way he was, but Paris had major issues with his father before Mr. Frantz mercifully drank himself to death four or five years ago. I debate telling him this information if—when—he wakes up. I don’t want him to feel guilty about his difficulties with Mr. Frantz, but I also think it would help Paris let go of some of his resentment if he knew that his mother hadn’t allowed her husband to bond with Paris.
“Don’t live with your regrets, my dear,” Mrs. Jenson says tearfully. “When it’s time to meet your maker, you want a clear conscience and a pure heart.” She fishes through her purse for a minute before pulling out a handkerchief. She dabs the corner of her eyes, but the tears continue leaking.
“We all do things we regret,” I say soothingly. “The trick is to make things better once you realize that you’ve done something wrong.” A cliché if I’ve ever heard one, but it seems to cheer her up. She pats my hand and even manages a wobbling smile. I finally find a spot three blocks away and park. “We’ll have to walk, Mrs. Jenson,” I say apologetically. “You know how parking is.”
“Don’t worry about it, Rayne,” Mrs. Jenson smiles a real smile this time. I grab her suitcases over her protests. “Why don’t you call me Catherine?”
“Ok, Mrs. J—I mean, Catherine.” It is not easy to call her by her first name, but for Paris’s sake, I try. She sets a brisk pace to the Sir Francis where we are ushered in by a cheerful valet in a ridiculous ruff. I manage to keep a straight face, but just barely.
“I can take it from here, Rayne,” Mrs. Jenson smiles at me as we approach the desk.
“Do you want me to wait? Or you could call me. I’ll give you my cell phone number.” I open my purse, ready to rummage for a pen.
“I’m fine, dear. You gave me your number, remember?” Mrs. Jenson stays my hand with her own. “Thank you for driving me.” I give her my cell phone number again anyway, urging her to call if she needs anything. To my surprise, she hugs me briefly before shooing me away. My cell rings just as I’m stepping outside.
“Hello?” I mumble into the phone, embarrassed at the pretension. I hate cell phones and prefer to reserve mine for an emergency.
“Rainbow, it’s your mother. You’re still bringing the boys by aren’t you? I tried calling you last night on your landline, but there wasn’t any answer.” My mother is great in that she doesn’t dog me on my cell. If I could just get her to call me Rayne instead of Rainbow, everything would be perfect between us. I stop walking as I recall that I’m supposed to bring Lyle and Paris over for dinner. I mentally curse myself as I then remember that I haven’t told my mother about Paris yet.
“Mom? Are you sitting down? There’s something I have to tell you.” I start walking again, trying to keep warm. I am still wearing the dressy pants and blouse from last night’s date with Vashti, neither of which are very warm. Not to mention the kicky shoes that match the outfit. Black platform heels that look great but that are not very protective against the cold. They also hurt the hell out of my feet, but there’s little I can do about that. I shove my free hand in the pocket of my coat as I clutch my cell with the other.
“What is it, Rainbow? Are you ok?” Panic laces her words. I berate myself again for needlessly worrying her. After the harrowing past few months, I’m sure she’s expecting me to be hurt.
“I’m fine, Mom, it’s not me.” I hasten to reassure her, and I hear her sigh in relief. There is no other way to say it, so I tell her bluntly. “It’s Paris. Someone tried to kill him last night, and he’s in St. Luke’s Hospital.” I hear her gasp audibly, then nothing. “Mom, you still there?”
“I’m here,” she says, her voice trembling. “How is he? He’s going to be ok, isn’t he?”
“It’s pretty serious,” I say cautiously. I know I have just shocked her, and I don’t want to put her over the edge. “He was in surgery all night, and he’s in ICU recovering. He’s still in a coma, though, but they expect him to wake up.”
“Why didn’t you call me when it happened?” My mother is yelling at me, which is not the reaction I expected. “That boy is like a son to me! You should have let me know right away.”
“I’m sorry, Mom,” I say, at a loss for words. “I—what can I say? Lyle called me last night, and we spent the night in the hospital. I picked up Paris’s mother from the airport at six this morning and have been running on fumes ever since. I’m not exactly thinking straight.”
“I’m sorry, Rainbow,” Mom sighs. I hear a hissing that indicates the lighting of a lighter, which means she’s smoking some dope. I don’t have a problem with her nightly habit—Libby does, but then again, Libby has problems with every aspect of our hippie mother’s life—but I’m discomfited with the idea of her taking a hit so early in the day. It’s only—I check my watch—noon, and she’s smoking away.
“Uh, Mom? Don’t you think it’s a little early to be hitting the bong?” I ask cautiously. My mom is sensitive about her weed use because she’s been getting shit for it almost all her life, especially after becoming a mother.
“It’s a serious occasion,” she says testily, inhaling deeply. I drop the subject, not wanting to get into it. I can hardly bear to think about Paris being in the hospital without fighting with my mother on top of it. “I want to see him.”
“Well, put down your bong and drive over to my place,” I say, breaking my vow to let it go. “I need to shower and eat, anyway, before running back to the hospital.” There is dead silence that stretches long enough for me to wonder if I’ve offended her seriously.
“I’m on my way,” she says at last. I heave a sigh of relief as I reach the truck. Hopping in, I call Lyle as I start the truck.
“He’s still in a coma, and they still won’t let me see him,” Lyle says, sounding as if he’s about to drop from a lack of sleep. “Where you at?”
“Heading home. I’m going to eat, change, and wait for my mom before heading back to the hospital. When I get there, I’m running you home so you can rest up.” My tone is firm, and I will have no argument.
“Ok,” Lyle says before clicking off his phone. He must be in worse shape than I suspected if he’s not arguing with me.