“All right, that’s enough!” My mother says loudly. Everyone but me is so shocked, they immediately stop what they are doing and practically snap to attention. “You are all acting like children. Is this the image you want to present to Paris?” The nurses continue on their way; the cop sits back down; Lyle slowly deflates; Mrs. Jenson’s shoulders sag; Mr. Jenson continues posturing. “I have tried to be diplomatic, but I have failed. Catherine, Douglas, you have the right to do what you want, of course, but I think it’s a crying shame that you want to banish one of the few people who loves Paris for who he is. Why don’t you ask Paris what he wants or don’t you care?” From within the room, we all hear a distinct if faint, “Want Lyle.” Mrs. Jenson has the grace to blush while Mr. Jenson continues to scowl.
“May I go in now?” Lyle asks, his head held high. Mrs. Jenson nods her head slightly. Lyle disappears into Paris’s room as my mother shepherds the rest of us back to our seats. I wait for my mother to soothe things over, but she says nothing. Her silence jolts me into understanding that this vigilance has taken a toll on her as well. It’s unsettling news as I count on my mother to be my bedrock when all else fails.
“I think we all need some real sleep,” my mother finally says, the indignation stripped from her voice. “We should be celebrating instead of fighting. Paris is going to be fine.” She isn’t her usual charismatic self, and I have a feeling I’m not the only one disappointed.
“Susannah, don’t think we’re not appreciative of your efforts,” Mrs. Jenson says stiffly, each word wrenched from her tightly-pursed lips. “You, too, Rayne. But this phase of Paris’s, it has to end. See where it’s gotten him!” Mr. Jenson is nodding his head like an ugly Greek chorus in the background.
“What happened to Paris has nothing to do with him being queer,” I say hotly, ignoring my mother’s warning looks. I also ignore the throbbing of my jaw as I’m pissed off. “Don’t turn this into a platform for your agenda.”
“If Paris hadn’t taken up with that Lyle, he wouldn’t have been hit,” Mrs. Jenson continues, pursuing her own line of reason.
“Lyle has nothing to do with this! Paris being queer has nothing to do with this!” My voice is rising despite my attempt to keep cool.
“Rainbow, take a walk,” my mother says sharply. “Now.” She is using the tone that tells me I better not argue, so I walk. I truly don’t want to make things worse for Lyle, and I would have if I stayed one minute longer. I don’t understand people like the Jensons which is probably a personal failing of mine—just as their unwillingness to even tolerate alternative lifestyles is a failing of theirs. The difference is that I’m aware of my intolerance while they seem oblivious to their own hubris. I walk outside to cool down. I see a familiar form in the distance striding nearer towards me. It’s the good inspector who I saw a scant hour or two ago. Or perhaps three—I can no longer tell time.
“Inspector Robinson,” I say warmly. After tangling with the Jensons, I’m happy to see a friendly face—even if it does belong to a police officer.
“Ms. Liang,” Inspector Robinson replies, smiling in return. Her smile turns to a frown when she sees my face. “What happened to your jaw?”
“Mr. Jenson happened to it,” I say grimly. The inspector looks puzzled, so I elaborate. “I made the mistake of stepping between him and Lyle. My jaw didn’t stand a chance.” My tone is light, but I can’t hide the anger.
“Would you like to press charges?” Inspector Robinson asks. I can’t tell if she’s joking or not, so I shake my head. “I hear Mr. Frantz is awake now.”
“Yes, he is,” I beam at her, unable to hide my delight. “Isn’t that great?”
“Is he talking?” Inspector Robinson doesn’t seem to be in any hurry, strolling with me around the perimeter of the hospital. Maybe she wants to prep herself before talking to Paris, or perhaps she’s gauging if this is a good time to talk to him.
“If you call two-word sentences talking,” I laugh. “I can understand him pretty well, though.” I allow a modicum of pride to creep into my words. “I don’t think he knows who hit him, though,” I add regretfully. “I didn’t want to push him too hard, not just yet.” I’m trying to warn her without actually saying it that he’s fragile right now, not to put him through the paces.
“I understand, Ms. Liang,” Inspector Robinson says gently. “I’ll leave the rubber hoses in my pocket for now.” We smile at each other as if we’re friends. “How’s Mr. Kingston holding up?” Inspector Robinson asks casually.
“Not well,” I admit. “In fact, that’s what the argument was about. The Jensons are making noises about keeping Lyle away from Paris.” Inspector Robinson looks at me quizzically as we continue walking. “They don’t approve of his lifestyle, you see,” I say dryly, forcing myself to sound calm. It never fails to amaze me how virulent some people become about two people loving each other.
“Ah, yes, Mr. Kingston is the epitome of the nasty old pervert corrupting their pure son, right?” Inspector Robinson’s eyes twinkle at me before she catches herself and puts on a more professional face. “I shouldn’t have said that,” she says formally. “I better go in now.”
“Inspector, would you like to have dinner after this case clears up?” I ask impulsively.
“I think I would,” the inspector says, looking as surprised as I felt. “Let’s talk about it later, Ms. Liang.” Smiling at me again, she hurries into the hospital. I decide to walk a little more to clear my head.
“Shit,” I mutter as I remember that I wanted to call Ursula. Checking my watch, I see it’s eight o’clock. Not too late to call. I dial her cell phone, as I walk.
When she answers, her voice is taut, unlike the sensual tones she usually adopts. I realize with a start that she hasn’t pestered me for more updates, and I briefly wonder why not. I identify myself, then say there are a few things I’d like to discuss with her. Ideally, I’d like to see her in person so I can watch her face as I question her. Unfortunately, she’s meeting someone in half an hour and wants to know if it can wait. No trace of welcome, no warmth. Only tension and a hint of something I can’t quite place. I want to get it over with, so I persuade her to answer my questions over the phone after promising it won’t take more than fifteen minutes. She reluctantly agrees, though it’s clear that she’d rather be talking to anyone but me.
Without preamble, I tell her that I opened the packet she sent to Paris; I want to know why she didn’t tell Lyle and me that Paris has a twin. Ursula is furious that I opened the packet, which catches me by surprise. Deep down, I had thought that she had intended for me to open the packet, otherwise why not wait until he recovered? But no, here she is cussing me out for opening something meant for Paris. I sharply remind her that Paris is in the hospital, which she knows. Why would she send it now if she didn’t want me to open it? Why not wait until Paris was home again? I wonder if I should tell her that Paris has awakened, but my gut tells me not to just quite yet. I frown. If she is acting this way, that means Inspector Robinson hasn’t talked to her yet. Or else, she’s faking it. I can’t tell with her, and that bothers me.
Ursula is still acting offended, claiming that it was meant to be there when Paris returned from the hospital. That is such screwy reasoning, I don’t bother answering. This is a murder case, for god’s sake. Nothing is sacred. As she rants, I note that something about her indignation is not quite right. She sounds as if she’s playing a part and isn’t exactly certain how she should interpret the role. Perhaps the good inspector has talked to her already. I cut into her monologue to ask where is his twin. I’m tired of listening to her, and besides, I don’t buy that she didn’t mean for me to open it, so I bypass her theatrics. I’m guessing the twin is in the Midwest somewhere and that Ursula met him while she was there for her book tour. I ask if she told him about Paris, too. Ursula is silent for so long, I think she’s not going to answer. When she does, it’s just to reminisce about holding the twins in her arms at the same time. They were like matching bookends, she said. The only way she could tell them apart was that Benny—Paris—had green eyes and Robbie had blue ones. Otherwise, they were identical. Funny, since they are fraternal twins.
I am frustrated with her trip down memory lane and ask impatiently if she told Robbie about Paris or their father. Also, just what did she hope to gain by meeting Robbie? I am gritting my teeth so I won’t say anything hasty. This woman who had so charmed me the first time we met is fast becoming a pain in the ass. As usual, Ursula obfuscates. She says she wanted to meet Robbie first because she just did. Now she’s looking forward to meeting Paris, and she does hope he recovers soon. She sounds like he’s had a touch of the flu or something, and it makes me want to punch her in the nose. I can understand why Lois feels the need to hassle this woman because I’m on the verge of doing the same.
I go to my next question. I want to know if she told Robbie about the will. If she did, I’d have to add him to the suspect list. In fact, maybe he’s called Bob these days, and he could be the infamous ‘B’. I ignore the fact that he’s in the Midwest because that would put a kibosh to that hypothesis, and it’s the only one I have. Besides, there’s always airplanes for easy travel these days. I stow that for further consideration and ask Ursula if she has Robbie’s number or how I contact him. She becomes a fierce mother bear, saying she will not allow me to bother Robbie. She is happy to have found the twins after such a long time, and she will not let me ruin it.
“Don’t you realize that your children might be in danger?” I say abruptly. I want to shock her out of her self-absorbed bubble. “Because they all know the terms of your will—except for Paris—any one of them might be trying to eliminate the competition. Did you tell your children about Robbie as well?” Her silence tells me she had. “I have to tell you, your daughter Lois is looking good for this.”
“You leave Lois alone, you hear me?” More anger pours out of Ursula—but something else as well. What is it—fear? “She has nothing to do with Paris. She doesn’t even know him.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Ursula. She became friendly with him a few weeks ago with the purpose of seducing him.” I hear a faint intake of breath, but by the time Ursula speaks again, she’s fairly calm.
“Well, Lois always has had problems, but she’s not a murderer, Rayne. If that’s all, I really must go.” The tension is back in her voice. The something else? Definitely fear.
“Are you all right, Ursula?” I ask, pacing in front of the hospital entrance.
“Fine, fine,” she says impatiently. “I’m just a bit worried about meeting B—well, my friend. But I shouldn’t be, should I?” She is talking to herself more than to me, and I try not to interrupt her flow. “After all, he’s an old, dear friend. There must be an explanation.” She clears her throat before speaking again. “I must go, Rayne. Let me know when Paris wakes up again.”
“Whom are you meeting, Ursula,” I ask quickly, hoping to catch her off-guard.
“Someone who thinks he can betray me,” she hisses before hanging up the phone. I frown before clicking off. Betray her? What is going on? I stifle the impulse to drive out to her house demanding to see her and walk back inside. I stride towards the waiting room where a tense tableau greets my eyes. No one is saying a word, but Mr. Jenson and Lyle and standing face to face, neither backing down. Inspector Robinson is restraining Lyle who is resisting, of course. Mrs. Jenson is wringing her hands and trying to soothe her husband who is turning red. My mother is standing there with her hands on her hips, rolling her eyes.
“What the hell is going on?” I ask, raising my voice so I can be heard.
“He just won’t quit,” Lyle says, his handsome face darkening. “The asshole thinks he can order me around.” He has his hands clenched in fists.
“Oh, knock it off, both of you,” I say wearily. My conversation with Ursula has made me grumpy, and I want no part of another round of testosterone; I don’t think my jaw could handle it. To my amazement, Mr. Jenson and Lyle both step away, but not without heavily glowering on both sides. Inspector Robinson relaxes her hold on Lyle as well, and my mother sends me an approving glance.
“We’re going to the hotel,” Mr. Jenson says in a tone that brooks no argument. He and Mrs. Jenson scurry away while the rest of us watch them leave.
“Well, I should be going, too,” Inspector Robinson says, yawning.
“Wait.” I divulge my conversation with Ursula such as it is to the inspector. “I’m worried about her,” I conclude, fastening my eyes on the Inspector’s face. She has such soft lips—I wonder what it’d be like to kiss them. I shake myself impatiently. Now is not the time, and it’s definitely not the place with Lyle and my mother watching avidly.
“I’ll send a patrol car by,” Inspector Robinson promises. “Hell, I may drive by there myself. She wasn’t exactly forthcoming when I talked to her earlier.” She sighs heavily, then leaves. I wish I could say something to cheer her up, but there’s nothing to say. The three of us remaining sink into our seats. I’m busy thinking that Ursula had, indeed, known about me opening the envelope which means that’s she’s an even better actor than I had originally thought.