He wasn’t able to find Billy Matthews, either, as the latter wasn’t at the gym today. Lyle tried to get an address or a number, but couldn’t charm it out of anyone. It’s a good thing, really, as it’s for the client’s protection; it just makes our task of hunting down Matthews a bit more difficult. I think about how I’m going to find him, but I can’t come up with a better plan than to go to the gym again in the morning—or have Lyle do it—and repeat until we get our man. Too bad I’m not V.I. Warshawski with her plethora of cunning ideas. I put it firmly out of my mind because it’s just giving me a headache to think about the case. I deserve a break after all the hard work I’ve been doing. I reach for my sandwich again, suddenly famished. We all gobble sandwiches as fast as we can.
After polishing off two sandwiches, I finally ask how Paris is. I thought they would have brought it up by now, but they haven’t. To be fair, they’ve been eating just as heartily as I have. My mother tells me he’s great, that he actually spoke in sentences today. Short ones, to be sure, but sentences, nonetheless. I ask if he remembers anything, my pulse racing. This could be the break we’re looking for. Please, let him have seen who hit him. To my disappointment, he didn’t. He doesn’t remember anything about his accident and has to be told repeatedly that he’s in a hospital. The cops haven’t been able to question him, either, which I’m sure is driving them crazy. I don’t care, however, as nothing is as important as Paris’s recovery.
I’m eager to see Paris, so I stand up and stretch. It seems like my life has been work, detecting, and the hospital. My mother and Lyle want to go, too, of course, so we clean up and leave. I ride with my mom to the hospital. Neither of us speaks until we are halfway there, then my mother warns me that the Jensons are seriously considering bringing Paris back to Memphis, at least until he recovers. I didn’t know they could do that without his consent. My mother says they’ve been working on him. She keeps reassuring the Jensons that Paris will be better off here with his friends, but they refuse to listen. They’ve gotten it into their heads that this would never have happened if only Paris didn’t live in Sin City, which is ludicrous. Even if they don’t know the background of the case, it’s silly to think that crime doesn’t happen outside the Bay Area. They’ll take him over my dead body—there is no way I’m letting Paris go without a fight.
We are silent for a minute as I watch the scenery whiz by. I remember the email Libby sent me and relay it to my mother. My mother is pleased, but surprised that Libby emailed me about something so serious. I tell her it surprised the hell out of me, too, that Little Miss Perfect is having second thoughts about being a trophy wife. My mother sends me a withering look which immediately makes me contrite for my flippant statement. I quickly amend my statement, saying I’m impressed that Libby has the guts to think about stopping the wedding, let alone write about it to me. It must be killing her to admit she has doubts, especially at this late date.
By this time, we have reached the hospital, and my mother turns into the parking lot. She mutters about how she knew something was wrong because Libby was so upset the last few times she talked to my mother. My mother subsides before asking me to call Libby soon. I waver. One email does not a relationship make. However, there is no dodging my mother when she gets an idea in her head, and I reluctantly agree to call my sister when I have a spare minute. As every second of my day for the last week or so has been crammed to the fullest, I’m pretty confident that that spare minute will not come any time soon. My mother reminds me that family is the most important thing in the world and like it or not, Libby is family. I should have known that she’d try to guilt me into immediate contact.
I say laughingly that she sounds like Paris’s boss in his advertisement about running for mayor. Family values, morals, etc. Next thing I know, she’ll be shilling for the church. To my surprise, my mother agrees with what he said, though not with how he put it. Friends come and go. Lovers come and go. Family doesn’t. We’ve lost sight of that in our isolated society. We all rush from here to there, trying to get ahead or hold on or not fall behind. We make deals, sleep with whomever we like since the sexual revolution, and yet, there’s an emptiness that no consumer goods can fill. A hole
that used to be occupied by family. I look at my mother in surprise as she finishes up her speech—I didn’t know she felt so strongly about it. I promise that I’ll call Libby, which makes my mother happy. Which was probably the point of her little speech.
Now that we’ve settled that issue, she parks the car. She had been circling the lot while giving her impassioned speech because she didn’t want to break her flow. We link arms as we stroll into the hospital, more relaxed than when we last left it. The Jensons are in the waiting room, and for once, we beat Lyle. I wave at the Jensons, but don’t break my stride as I detach from my mother. The determination on my face deters the Jensons from stopping me, and I make it to Paris’s room in record time. I feel since I’m at work all day, I deserve dibs on Paris when I first arrive at the hospital. The cop smiles at me then returns to his book. I wonder how much longer there will be a guard for Paris—the city certainly can’t afford it.
“Paris, it’s Rayne, your best friend,” I announce in moderate tones. Paris has his eyes closed, but they fly open when I enter. He tries to smile, but it’s too much of an effort. I sit down and hold out my hand. Slowly his hand creeps across the bed a scant inch until it’s resting in mine.
“Pretty Rayne,” he says softly. “So good to me.”
“You’re the one who’s good to me,” I correct him, tears in my eyes. I hold on to his hand as if it can prevent me from drowning. “Who’s been there every step of the way while I’ve been regaining my humanity? Who’s held my hand as I threw up for months straight? Who’s helped me out of more nightmares than I can count? That would be you, Paris Frantz. This is the least I can do.”
“Who?” Paris asks, his eyes focused on mine. “Why?” Exhausted by even that much effort, he closes his eyes and sinks back into his pillow.
“I don’t know yet,” I say, watching my best friend carefully to make sure he doesn’t overdo it. “But I will find out—I promise you.”
“Ursula Meadows,” Paris says clearly, opening his eyes again. “Surprised?”
“I know,” I say with a slight smile. “Your cell phone. Unrecognizable number. I’ve met her.” I pause, wondering if I should tell him about his twin or his newfound wealth. I decide to wait.
“Lyle?” Paris’s eyes are liquid with hope.
“He’s right outside,” I say faintly. I force myself to add, “Shall I go get him?” Paris shakes head slightly.
“Not cheating. Just friend.” He squeezes my hand, though it’s barely enough pressure for me to notice. It hurts to see Paris in such a devastated state; he’s so proud of his body and his strength. “Love Lyle.”
“I know you do. I told him he was a crazy fool for being suspicious of you.” I find it comforting that I know what Paris’s saying even when he can only speak a word or two at a time. Foolishly, it makes me feel as if our bond is something deeper than the one most people experience. I feel a rush of gratitude that Paris is alive and talking to me. I have taken him too much for granted during my dark days, and his brush with death has helped me realize just how lucky I am to have someone as special as Paris in my life.
“Tired, Rayne.” Paris’s voice is growing weaker. “Lyle?”
“I’ll send him in, honey,” I say, brushing my lips against his cheek. I go back to the waiting room where the other four are all in their own little worlds. Mrs. Jenson is flushed and happy, her lips moving in what is probably a prayer of thanks. Mr. Jenson, who is sitting next to his wife, is frowning and staring at something across the room. I can’t tell if he’s actually looking at something or just thinking. My mom, who is sitting across from the Jensons, has her eyes closed. Lyle, who is sitting next to Mom, is examining his hands as if he’s never seen them before.
“You’re up,” I announce to Lyle, exchanging places with him. “Our boy is asking for you.” Before he can go, however, Mrs. Jenson’s voice whips through the air.
“No!” Her tone is just short of acerbic.
“Excuse me?” I ask, bewildered. Is she upset because she wants to see Paris next?
“He is no longer allowed to see Paris,” Mrs. Jenson says firmly, directing her words to me. Lyle stares down at her as if she’s a bug he’s about to squash. “Now that Paris is awake, there is no need for him to even be here any more.”
“Lyle means the world to Paris,” I say softly, gritting my teeth so I don’t say something harsh. “Don’t do this now.”
“The missus and I agree,” Mr. Jenson says coldly, his eyes focusing on me. “We don’t want that filth around our son. Now, my wife put up with it while Paris was in danger of dying, but now that he’s better, we will not tolerate it any longer.”
“You can’t mean that,” Lyle growls, his hands clenched in fists. I step adroitly between him and the Jensons, not wanting a blood bath on our hands. Why isn’t my mom stepping in and working her magic as she usually does? Could she really be asleep? “You can’t stop me from seeing him.”
“Oh, I can, and I will,” Mrs. Jenson says, her voice sliding up an octave. “Now that Paris is breathing on his own, I will not tolerate your presence any longer. If you try to see him, I will have you thrown out of this hospital.”
“Try it, you old bitch,” Lyle says, turning his back on them and striding towards Paris’s room.
“How dare you?” Mr. Jenson roars, jumping to his feet.
“Let’s calm down,” I say, unwisely placing a hand on Mr. Jenson’s arm.
“Get your hand off me, you whore!” Mr. Jenson pushes me hard. For such a little man, he’s strong. I stumble, stagger, then fall on my ass. Mr. Jenson scurries after Lyle while I pick myself up.
“Rayne, I’m sorry,” Mrs. Jenson says, her voice like icicles. “I’m sure Douglas did not—” I don’t hear the rest of what she’s saying because I’m up and after Mr. Jenson. If I don’t reach them in time, Lyle will make mincemeat out of Mr. Jenson. As much as I loathe the man, I can’t allow that to happen.
“You’re a pathetic old man who needs to order everyone around in order to feel like a man!” Lyle is screaming at Mr. Jenson just outside of Paris’s room.
“You’re a faggot who is going to hell!” Mr. Jenson yells back, his finger right in Lyle’s face. I wince at the inadvisability of doing such a move. I hurry towards them as fast as I can, cursing the cop who is conspicuously absent. Lyle appears to be holding his temper, just barely.
“I love Paris, which is more than you can say,” Lyle counters, swatting away Mr. Jenson’s finger as if it’s a pesky fly. That’s all it takes. Mr. Jenson takes a swing at Lyle who ducks it with ease, then counterpunches. His fist lands in Mr. Jenson’s gut just as I reach them.
“Come on, guys,” I say, sliding between them. Stupid move number two. Mr. Jenson, who is smarting from being made a fool of, swings as I wedge myself between the two guys. He’s aiming for Lyle’s chest but since I’m nearly a foot shorter than Lyle, Mr. Jenson’s fist glances off my jaw. Pain explodes in my head, causing me to drop to the floor where I writhe in agony. I’m lucky he didn’t make direct contact, or he would have broken it.
“What have you done to my daughter?” My mom screams, appearing out of nowhere. Mrs. Jenson is fluttering around as well, and the cop reappears, too, but I pay little attention to any of them as the throbbing in my jaw is demanding most of my concentration. I only hope Mr. Jenson hurt his fist as much as he hurt my chin, but I doubt it. I hear steady cursing above me, but I can’t tell who is uttering the expletives, nor do I particularly care.
“Damn bitch! If she hadn’t gotten in my way…” Mr. Jenson sounds more aggrieved than apologetic.
“Rainbow! Speak to me,” my mother says, kneeling to gather me in her arms.
“Hurts,” I moan, clutching my jaw. I wait for the pain to subside before attempting to stand. I glare at Mr. Jenson who glares right back at me. “Nasty old man,” I say clearly, though my jaw hurts like hell. He’s just lucky he didn’t break my jawbone, or I would have kicked his scrawny ass back to Memphis.
“Douglas,” Mrs. Jenson hisses, mortified. “Stop this behavior right now. People are watching.” And they are. A few nurses have stop their hurrying around to watch in fascination. The cop is puffing out his chest, just daring Lyle to take him on; I pray he won’t.