“Gary, we are here with Carol Sayers, the facilitator of the therapy group that Ashley was mandated to attend before her death. Ms. Sayers, what can you tell us about Ashley? Was she mentally disturbed? Do the police think the group had anything to do with her death?” The anorexic blond anchorwoman with her forced smile and wide-eyed stare stacks her questions in true journalistic style. She may think it sounds assertive or exciting, but it’s merely sloppy and confusing.
“The police have not informed me of any connection,” Carol says calmly. She is wearing a nice black skirt which reaches her knees and a snug-but-not-tight white sweater. She has even applied makeup for the occasion. “I firmly believe that Ashley’s demise has to do with her personal life and not the therapy group at A Ray Of Hope of which I am the facilitator. I don’t think you realize the good work this group does for the women involved. It’s a healing from trauma group, and many of these women have no other resources. We are nonjudgmental, supportive and nurturing. I believe this group makes a real difference in the lives of these women.”
I sit up in shock. How can she talk about the group like that on television? Granted, she doesn’t reveal any names or divulge any pertinent details, but I’m uncomfortable with her talking about it at all. The women who attend the group do so under the assumption that it’s anonymous and private. I don’t think prospective members would feel comfortable joining a group that is supposed to be confidential, but is high-profile. It also strikes me as odd that she is talking about Ashley’s death if she truly believes her support group has nothing to do it. It makes me wonder what her agenda is. It seems almost predatory of her to seize the unfortunate occasion to promote herself. I don’t want to hear the rest of the interview, but I can’t make myself turn it off.
“Take the night of Ashley’s murder. I was at home researching on the internet certain points for my upcoming book on the dynamics of group therapy as I do most nights. If it weren’t for the disrupting event of her death, would I have even remembered what I was doing? Most likely not.” Carol turns, stares right into the camera and smiles.
“I certainly don’t!” The anchor laughs artificially, careful to keep her face slightly turned towards the right to show off her best side.
“My point is, everything takes on more significance when a tragedy such as this occurs.” Carol nods her head wisely. “It’s natural to think that because Ashley was in a therapy group when she was killed that the two are related. As I learned in Psych 101, however, correlation does not mean causation.” The anchor quickly wraps up the interview, thanking Carol insincerely for being there.
I watch the whole fifteen-minute feature without learning much more than I already know. The few new facts I glean are: Ashley didn’t have a girlfriend or boyfriend at time of death; her father is seeing someone, but no one knows whom; despite all her troublemaking, Ashley was a creative girl who got high grades when she bothered to attend classes. Her father was not interviewed, most likely because he refuses to talk about the situation. I gulp the rest of my beer, my mind still on Carol’s interview. Why didn’t she mention it at group tonight? I think it’s unprofessional of her to not at least drop a hint casually that she would be on television talking about the group. I wouldn’t have pegged her for an avoider which makes her reticence even more intriguing. I shrug. It could be nothing more than opportunistic posturing by her. I noticed that she managed to get a plug in for the book she’s working on. I don’t like it, but I can understand. She even mentioned the name of the clinic, so perhaps she was trying to drum up support for A Ray of Hope.
“Rayne!” Paris bursts through the door, out of breath. “Sorry I’m late!” He shucks off his coat and tosses it in the corner of the living room.
“Did we have an appointment?” I ask, confused. I don’t remember setting up a date with Paris, but my mind isn’t what it used to be.
“No, silly!” Paris plops on the couch next to me and hugs me quickly. “I just wanted to be here when you came home so you could tell me everything about your second meeting.” I’m pleased that he’s showing such interest, but I am also beginning to feel suffocated. I want my old Paris back—the one who loves me dearly, but is slightly self-absorbed. This conscientious, overly concerned Paris is hard to get used to.
“The meeting itself was no big deal,” I shrug. “I got a potential date out of it, though,” I add, smiling at Paris.
“Ooh, do tell,” Paris says eagerly, leaning towards me. He loves nothing more than to dish the dirt. This is the Paris I love, and I’m glad he’s coming back to me.
“Not much to say, yet. Her name’s Maria. She’s Latina. That’s all I know.”
“Girl, don’t do your clam act now. Why is she in the group?” Paris looks so indignant, I relent. I give him the little information I have and wait for his verdict. Knowing how romantic Paris is, I expect him to trot out some cliché about getting back on the horse. Instead, he surprises me by saying thoughtfully, “I think you did the right thing. You don’t need more romantic complications right now.” The fact that he agrees with me is an indication of how bad the situation with Vashti turned out. Or it could just be an indication of how much Paris does not like Vashti.
I put the murder out of my mind as the week whizzes by. At work, I am still trying to get things back in order from my extended leave. The temp seems to have done the minimum while I was gone, forgoing anything that she couldn’t understand—including invoices. As a result, I have to do some tap-dancing to placate ruffled feathers. By the time Friday rolls around, I am more than ready for a stiff drink and some quality time with my mother who will be cooking a feast for me, Paris and Lyle Saturday night. I watch the clock starting at noon. I know watching it isn’t going to make it go faster, but I can’t help it. I would type for ten minutes, then look at the clock on my computer. Whoever decided it was a good thing to put clocks on computers ought to be shot. By a quarter to four, I am ready to call it quits.
“Rayne, we need to talk.” Like an apparition, Quinn appears out of nowhere and plants herself in front of my desk. When I don’t answer her and refuse to look at her, she raps on my monitor. Just as I’m about to look up, there is a ding! An email from my sister. I wave a hand at Quinn and open the email.
Rayne, I have tried to be patient with you because of what you’ve been through, but I need to know where you’re at in your process for getting ready for the wedding which is only four months away. Have you lost the weight? Have you gotten the dress yet? Who are you bringing to the wedding? Have you bought the accessories? Please let me know ASAP! Libby. P.S. ASAP! P.P.S. Remember, no more piercings or tattoos!
I grimace. I have forgotten about the wedding, and I haven’t done anything to prepare for it except for losing the weight which hadn’t even been voluntary. I have a yin-yang tattoo on my right breast as well as an ankh on my ass and a pierced navel. I have no desire to get another hole or tattoo, but am tempted to do so just to piss her off. I stifle my childish urges and move the email to the ‘Libby’ folder. No reason to respond when I have nothing to say. I keep clicking my mouse, however, hoping that Quinn will take the hint and go away. I don’t mind talking to her, but not when I’m getting ready to leave. I know that anything she has to say at this point will be something I don’t want to hear. I squint and frown at the monitor of my computer; I start typing furiously at the keyboard on an empty document; I click my mouse for all I’m worth. To no avail. Quinn stands in front of me, one hip jutted to the side, her foot tapping impatiently. After deciding that I won’t be able to fidget my way out of this, I reluctantly lift my eyes.
“It’s about time!” Quinn says snappishly before quickly smoothing out her tone. “Why are you avoiding me?” No small talk, no prelude—she just jumps right in.
“I’m not avoiding you.” I barely restrain the sigh that threatens to burst from my lips. “What’s up?” I lean back in my chair, looking at Quinn inquisitively.
“Don’t act all chummy with me. This from the girl who won’t give me the time of day. I thought we were friends.” Quinn is working herself up into a fine temper, which is getting on my nerves. I don’t have the time for this drama, and besides, it’s four o’clock. Closing time. I shut down my computer and throw on my jacket.
“I’m out of here, Quinn. Have a nice weekend.” I leave quickly, trying not to notice the look of dismay on Quinn’s face as I go. I don’t know what her game is, but I’m not interested in playing. When I reach home, I sigh and kick off my shoes. Paris is nowhere to be seen, so I get the whole place to myself. I fix myself a stiff whiskey sour before migrating to the living room. I flop down onto the couch, but don’t bother turning on the television. After a day filled with noise, the silence is welcomed. I close my eyes and despite my intentions, fall asleep. I do not awaken until my roommate bangs the front door shut; I sit up with a start.
“Girl, turn on the TV.” Paris orders me, pushing me over so he can sit besides me. “Why don’t you ever answer your cell phone?” He isn’t really looking for a reply, so I don’t give him one. He settles on a news channel and turns up the volume.
“It’s a shock, Greg.” A somber, thin Latina with a serious look on her white face reports back to the studio. “Rosalita Chavez was found dead in a dumpster behind this tacqueria her on Valencia Street. She was stabbed to death.” The Latina stands to the side and waves behind her. “You might ask why is an apparently random death is our top story? Because we have learned that Ms. Chavez was a member in the same therapy group as Ashley Stevenson who was murdered over a week ago in Marin County.”
“Rosie?” I blurt out, turning to Paris in horror. “Is she talking about Rosie?” I cannot believe it’s happening again. “No way. This isn’t happening!” Paris motions for me to pipe down as the Latina is interviewing a tearful woman in her forties.
“We are speaking with Leticia Torres, Ms. Chavez’s sister. Ms. Torres, when did you see your sister last?”
“Yesterday before she went to work. She stopped by for a cup of coffee and a chat.” The sister’s eyes are puffy and not focused. I want to yell at the Latina to get the microphone out of the poor woman’s face and let her grieve in peace.
“What do you think happened to her? Do you think her death is connected with that group?” The Latina’s tone is just a shade salacious, but otherwise professional.
“I don’t know what to think,” Ms. Torres says simply. “My sister was a good woman. Trying to get on with her life. Whoever killed her didn’t care about that. The person is an animal.” She mumbles a few things in Spanish before lapsing into silence. The Latina reporter turns away.
“Oh, god,” I moan, rocking back and forth. “Oh my god.” Scenes from my nightmares flash through my mind. I feel myself transported back to when I almost died. I let out a moan as the terror wells up inside me.
“Rayne! Come back.” Paris grabs me by the shoulders and shakes hard. Once. He has learned that this is the most effective way of interrupting a flashback. I snap out of my trance and gradually focus on his concerned face.
“At this time, we are treating this as a separate case.” The voice on the television is familiar. It’s the detective from the last case I encountered, Inspector Robinson. If she weren’t a cop and I hadn’t been a suspect, I would have asked her out on a date. I look at her with a critical eye. She’s lost a bit of weight since I saw her last, but she’s still as beautiful as ever with straight blond hair that falls just below her shoulders, light gray eyes and full lips. Tall and slim. No matter what she does to appear more professional and less womanly, she is still stunning. She blames herself for me almost dying, but I harbor no ill-will. No one had any idea the murderer would be so cunning. “We are confident that we will be able to wrap up this murder in a timely manner.” Ah, cops. They know how to say something that means utterly nothing and yet make it seem of great importance.
“Greg, there is nothing linking this murder to that of Ashley Stevenson as of yet. I will keep you posted if any new developments occur. Back to you, Greg.”
“It’s happening again,” I moan to Paris, the adrenaline surging through my body. My hands begin to tremble, and my left eye starts twitching. Paris sweeps me into his arms and hugs me until my tremors subsides. Just when I think I am on my way to healing, this happens.
“Listen to me, Rayne,” Paris says, looking me in the eyes. “This doesn’t have anything to do with you. There is no reason for you to become involved. All you have to do is drop out of the group and you’re out of it.”
“You think so?” I brighten, thinking about what he just said. We sit and say nothing while watching the rest of the news. Twenty minutes later, our buzzer goes off. Paris moves to the front hall to see who it is. I hear him buzz someone in, then he returns to the living room.
“It’s Inspector Robinson,” he hisses. I jump up from the couch and race to the bathroom. I am not going to let her see me like this. I splash some water on my face, brush my teeth, then relieve myself. After I am done fixing my face, I go back to the living room where Inspector Robinson is waiting for me. Paris is not in the room.
“Ms. Liang.” She smiles as she holds out her hand. I shake it, letting my grasp lingering. “You’re looking better than the last time I saw you.” Considering that I was unconscious and beaten up at the time, that’s not a surprise.
“Inspector Robinson. Would you like something to drink?” After we go through the formalities, she sits in the hardback chair across from the couch while I perch myself on the edge of the couch. I am too tense to even pretend to relax.
Inspector Robinson wastes no time with niceties. She wants to know about Rosie, of course, or as she puts it, ‘Ms. Rosalita Chavez.’ She dismisses my protests that I’ve only attended two meetings and that Rosie hadn’t said more than five sentences total in the two meetings. This is a familiar pattern with the two of us—her waiting for me to talk and me protesting—and I begin to relax. It is infinitely easier to talk to her than to that dreadful sergeant who came the last time. Inspector Robinson wants to know what Rosie did talk about when she happened to talk. I explain how everyone has to say why she’s there any time there’s a newcomer, so that was Rosie’s allotment of words the first time I went to a meeting. I frown as I remember the way Rosie rambled at the last meeting. There was something strange about her behavior, as if she were talking to someone in particular.
“She said something weird at the second meeting.” I say slowly. “Something about working in Marin. Seeing something, but she wasn’t sure she saw it.” I think some more, but nothing else is coming to my brain. “I’m sorry, Inspector. That’s all I remember.” She doesn’t press, having learned from previous experience that I have a horrible memory. She knows if I remember something later on, I’ll let her know.
“Tell me more about the group,” she say instead. I frown. I don’t want to talk about the group; it feels like betrayal. She reads my look correctly because she adds, “Look, Ms. Liang. What you tell me will be confidential if it has no relevance to the case. I know it’s a support group of some kind, but I need more specifics than that.” I heave a sigh loud enough to wake the dead, but I comply with her request. I trust her to do her best to keep what I’m telling her confidential, and besides, I really have no choice.
“It’s a group for women to recover from trauma,” I begin cautiously. That seems safe enough to divulge. “As you can probably guess, I’ve been suffering from nightmares, anxiety, and mild depression in the past month. I thought going to a group might help.”
“Did it?” I can’t tell if the inspector is asking for professional reasons or out of personal concern.
I explain that I’ve only been to two session, but am not impressed. She wants to know about the other women, but there isn’t much I can tell her. It’s not my place to tell her why they joined the group, and I haven’t been there long enough to know much else about the women. In the manner I remember well, Inspector Robinson switches topics and asks me about Carol. I give my impression: she’s a laid-back type of person, willing to let the members of the group set the tempo. She’s reasonably good at what she does except sometimes she’s too soft. She hasn’t quite learned where that fine line is between allowing the women to feel in control and being a responsible facilitator. Also, some of her theories are suspect. I tell the inspector about seeing Carol being interviewed, then I stop, not sure what the inspector wants from me. She scribbles something in her notebook before looking up. She warns me about getting involved in a murder inquiry again, and I reassure her that I have no inclination of involving myself in this one. I cannot repress a shudder as memories flash through my mind. There is a fleeting look of sympathy on the inspector’s face mingled with something else.
“Ms. Liang,” Inspector Robinson says softly. “I never got the chance to apologize for not preventing what happened. I will always regret—”
“Please, Inspector Robinson,” I stop her. “It’s not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault.” The inspector smiles briefly before leaving. Paris pounces on me the minute she’s gone. After dishing the dirt, I tell him about my therapist appearing on the news. He agrees that it’s bordering on unethical that she was hawking the group and her book on television. He is having second thoughts about me going back, but reluctantly agrees that if the murderer isn’t in the group, there might be something worthwhile in the group. Whatever it takes for me to get through this, I have to do it. Not just for my own sake, but for my loved ones around me. They have catered to me for long enough; it’s time to put an end to that. I could try something else, but I don’t have the energy to research again, and I didn’t save the results of my last Yahoo search. I decide to give the group one more try.