Break of dawn, I am up again. At least I don’t have to be shaken awake because I’m screaming, so I am thankful for small favors. I lie in bed, wondering if I should try to sleep more or if this is one of those days where nothing can entice me back into unconsciousness. I can usually tell if I can coax an hour or two more out of my body, but today is neutral. There are none of the obvious signs either way, so I decide to give it a go. I obligingly close my eyes and start breathing deeply. I know from experience that if I do not fall asleep within twenty minutes, I will not fall asleep at all. I feel the minutes ticking away as I lie there. I squeeze my eyes shut, but it’s no use. Not more than ten minutes have passed before I know it’s going to be one of those days. I sigh and get up, shoving my feet in my slippers. I pull my robe around me and make my way to the bathroom. One of the perks about waking up at this time is I can take as long a shower as I like because no one is waiting in line.
After the shower, I go to see what I can scrounge up in the kitchen. Paris’s fabulous brunch won’t be for at least four more hours, so I will have to make do with what I find. I am one of those people who needs to fuel up the first thing in the morning or I’m dragging for the rest of the day. Not coffee, but food. Some herbal tea would be nice as well. I put the kettle on the stove, hoping I won’t forget about it. I have burned three kettles in the last month because of absentmindedness. I pop a couple slices of bread in the toaster and wait for them to toast. I rummage in the cupboards for something to put on the toast. It’s been so long since I’ve made something for myself, I don’t know what we have and what we don’t. I find some peanut butter and to my surprise, some mini-marshmallows. That reminds me of the sandwiches I made as a kid, and I do the same now. One piping hot piece of toast slathered with peanut butter; marshmallows firmly pressed into the peanut butter; I have the last-minute inspiration of adding chocolate and find an unopened bag of semi-sweet morsels, melt them and drizzle the concoction over my sandwich. Just as the chocolate is running down the sides of the sandwich, I mash the other piece of toast on top of it all. I pour myself a glass of milk and sit down to enjoy. After the first bite, however, my stomach growls in protest. It doesn’t want this combination, as tasty as it is, lodged inside it.
“Shit!” I throw the sandwich across the room, dissolving into tears. “Fuck!” The glass of milk soon follows. A stream of obscenities escape my lips, gathering a life of their own. By the time I hit full stride, I am screaming at the top of my lungs. I sit down and thump the table with my fists. I am not meant to live this way—I cannot tolerate it for much longer. I am weeping so hard, I don’t hear Paris enter the room until he is right behind me. “Careful,” I sigh wearily. “There’s glass.” I’ve broken things before so Paris isn’t too fazed by that, although Lyle looks wary. Paris silently grabs the mop and hands it to Lyle who begins cleaning up the milk. Paris grabs the sandwich, the plate (which, miraculously, hasn’t broken) and shards of glass. I watch them dispassionately, feeling a slight twinge of guilt that I am not helping. I am acutely aware that I have not been carrying my own weight for quite some time. Paris has been a saint, but it has to be grating on his nerves. He wasn’t unaffected by what happened, and yet, he has had to be the strong one. Lyle finishes mopping and places the mop back in the corner.
“Why don’t I cook something for you?” Lyle offers, turning to the stove.
“Oh, no,” I protest automatically. “It’s too much trouble.”
“No trouble at all.” Nothing I say will dissuade him, so I allow him free reign of the kitchen. I am curious to see what he’ll make and if it’ll live up to Paris’s cooking—a hard act to follow. Lyle grabs some eggs out of the fridge and gets to work. In the meantime, the kettle has boiled away to almost nothing, but there is enough left for one cup of tea. Paris throws some green tea leaves into a mug and pours the boiling water over the leaves. He knows I like loose tea leaves better than tea in a bag, especially that dreadful Lipton—which seems to be the only tea most restaurants serve.
“When does that group you’re trying out meet?” Paris asks the question casually as he sets the mug in front of me, but I can see the anxiety in his eyes.
“Tuesday,” I say softly, sipping the tea. “Tuesday night.” Paris nods, but doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to; I know what he’s thinking.
He’s thinking it’s none-too-soon, that I am losing my mind. Even though he would never admit it, I see it in his eyes. I see it in the way he looks at Lyle who is studiously avoiding Paris’s gaze. They’ve probably discussed my problems more times than either of them would want to. Lord knows I’ve thought about them ad nauseam. Lyle has cracked open several eggs and appears to be making an omelet. My mouth is watering even as my stomach protests. I know I need to eat, but I’m not sure my stomach can handle it. I sit docilely, not bothering to make conversation. Paris is looking at me worriedly, an expression that has become exceedingly common. It saddens me that he’s become a mother hen over me—more than before, I mean, but there’s nothing I can do about it. He doesn’t say anything, either, as we wait for Lyle to finish cooking.
“Time to eat,” Lyle says cheerfully before dishing out the food. He is an even better cook than Paris, but I’d never hurt my best friend’s feelings by saying so. I am actually able to keep down five bites; I’ll have to be satisfied with that for now.
“We’re going to the gym,” Paris says as soon as the feeding frenzy is over. He begins stacking plates in the sink, but I shoo him away. When he begins to protest, I shush him up.
“After all you’ve done for me, the least I can do is wash a couple of dishes.” I tie the apron behind my back and attack the mound. Lyle and Paris shoot looks at each other before leaving the room. I plunge my hands into the soapy water, relaxing as the hot water does its job. There is something soothing about repetitious, mindless works as long as it’s not something one is forced to do. After I’m done with the dishes, I spend the rest of the afternoon trying to calm down.
“I can do this,” I mutter to myself as I look in the mirror. I am wearing a snug, low-cut red sweater and a black mini-skirt. Well, the sweater used to be snug. It hangs loosely now, but it still looks ok. I have a few clips in my hair, and I even add a dash of lipstick. It bothers me that I’m getting so dressed up for the girls, but I know it’s because I’m going to see Vashti for the first time in over a month. Despite everything that’s happened between us, I want to see her. I grab the cookies on my way out and hitch a cab to Lisa’s place which is in Noe Valley.
“Rayne, it is so damn good to see you.” Lisa’s face lights up with pleasure when she sees me in the doorway. “You look great!” She looks good herself in black, flowing pants and a white velour t-shirt. She hugs me tightly, and I hope she never lets go.
“Brought something,” I say with a smile. I hold out the plate to her. She accepts it with a beautiful grin. I take off my shoes and line them up neatly by the other shoes.
“You’re detrimental to my waist.” Lisa grabs a cookie and gobbles it down. She eats two more in quick succession before replacing the plastic wrap. “Come on in and say hey to the girls. You’re the last one as usual.” She smiles to show she’s joking and leads me into her apartment. We detour into the kitchen so she can pour me a drink—screwdriver, easy on the orange juice. She turns to go into the living room, but notices that I’m not behind her. “Something wrong?” She looks at me as I stand rooted to the spot. Her face softens as she backtracks to where I am and puts her arm around me. “It’ll be ok.” She squeezes me tightly before letting go. “Ready?” I nod, even though I’m not sure I am. Taking several deep breaths, I follow her into the living room.
“Rayne!” Three voices greet me, two with unabashed delight, one more hesitant. I look at the women who have been my closest friends outside of Paris. Dylan, a round dumpling of a woman—Chinese American with an engaging smile and a ready joke but when she loses her temper, everyone better get out of the way. A dyke who is slightly deaf in her left ear, she usually has her head cocked to one side so she can hear better. She’s the baby of the group at age twenty-two, but tries to act older.
Cassandra is the sophisticated one. She likes to wear her long hair on top of her hair but with a few wisps elegantly curling around her face. Her features are Anglo because her father is British; she likes to affect a British accent when she’s feeling frisky. Her mother is Nisei, but considers herself white. I don’t know how Cassandra came to identify with her Asian side as she is a private person. She is ‘nearly thirty’, but looks simultaneously older and younger. I know she comes from a wealthy family, but I’m not quite sure how wealthy. As I said, Cassandra is reticent; she only reveals as much as is absolutely necessary. Tonight, she is wearing a black knit dress with long sleeves.
Lastly, there is Vashti. My beautiful Vashti who has meant so much to me, and yet, whom I cannot trust. She is also multiracial—her father is Indian while her mother is Korean. Her skin is the most gorgeous shade of caramel which is only a shade or two lighter than her eyes. She likes to wear saris on occasion and has a pierced nose. She is the oldest in the group at thirty-three years old and sometimes acts motherly on us. Fortunately, those fits fade rather quickly as she prefers to bed women than to mother them. She is a caseworker for juvenile delinquents—she is good at her job. She is also warm, vibrant and beautiful. Her thick hair used to reach her waist, but is now ear-length. She has generous curves that never fail to arouse me.
“It is so good to see you,” Dylan says, bouncing up from her seat to envelope me in a giant hug. Cassandra follows suit, although a bit more regally. Vashti is frozen in place, half in her seat and half out. She has a look on her face like a deer caught in the headlights. I look at her, unable to move as well. I want to hug her, but I can’t.
“Cookies?” Lisa hands the plate around and everyone accepts two or three cookies except Cassandra whom I’ve never seen eat anything other than rice or lettuce. Once, I saw her eat half a banana, but that’s it. Sometimes I worry that she’s anorexic, but I don’t know what to do about it as we’re not that close.
The talk is unrelentingly chipper as we all try to avoid talk about me and Vashti, or the last murder case. Normally, we can gab a mile a minute on every subject from the state of the world to our preference in partners—Dylan and Vashti are dykes; Cassandra and Lisa are straight; I am bi—to who is going to win the World Series. Tonight, we are floundering to find a safe topic to talk about. The conversation is limping along, and we are all trying to pretend that we’re having a good time. The clock says eight-thirty, only an hour and a half after we started. I search my mind for something else to talk about. How about dating situations? That ought to be safe enough. I wonder who to ask first, though? Maybe I’ll just throw the question out to the entire room and see what happens.
“Um, so is anyone dating anyone?” Lame, I know, but serviceable.
“I have a date next weekend,” Dylan offers eagerly. “A girl I met at the Lex. Cute little femme.” Dylan doesn’t have the easiest time getting a date because she’s not great with words, but she deserves someone good in her life.
“You’ll have to let us know how it goes,” I tease her. “When you have your strength again.”
“I’m seeing someone, too,” Cassandra chimes in diffidently. “Someone I met on the BART, of all places. He’s a lawyer, like Lisa. He’s very good to me.” There is a smile hovering on her lips and a blush to her cheeks that has never been there before. It makes her softer, more vulnerable.
“Hell, how you guys hooking it up? I haven’t had a date in forever.” Lisa looks at us indignantly.
“Lisa, in order to get a date, you have to stop working,” Dylan retorts. “Unless you want another lawyer as a boyfriend.”
“Hell no!” Lisa rolls her eyes. “I’m bad enough; no way I want to date another uptight pain in the ass.”
“What about you, Vashti?” Dylan asks Vashti, then immediately flushes.
“I am not seeing anybody right now,” Vashti says softly, looking at her hands. “I am taking a break from dating.” There is an embarrassed silence as we all try to think of something else to say. “Rayne, can I talk to you a second?” Vashti stands up and heads for the kitchen. I have no choice but to follow her, even though I am apprehensive. She’s standing at the sink, hiding her face from me. I can hear the others begin to talk in low tones as Vashti and I leave the room.
“What’s up, Vashti?” I ask casually. I don’t want her to see how she’s hurt me; I can’t afford to be vulnerable with her.
“You know what’s up,” Vashti says angrily, looking at me with tears in her eyes. “I hate that you won’t talk to me. I hate that we’re not together. Can’t you see why I did what I thought I had to do?”
“I know why you lied to me,” I say coolly. “You thought you were protecting someone who was young and vulnerable. In the process, you almost got me killed.” This is not how I planned our first encounter to go, but I am miffed that she is attacking me when she’s the one who fucked up.
“Oh, I am not saying this right at all,” Vashti sighs, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “I am not saying you are wrong not to talk to me. I know you don’t trust me any more, and I understand that. I just hate that we can’t even be friends.” She looks at me beseechingly, her eyes large.
I sigh, not knowing what to say. I have forgiven her already, but I can’t forget that she looked me in the eyes and lied to me. She said she didn’t know where the killer was when she, in fact, did know. Not only did she know, she warned the killer that I was focusing on this person because Vashti thought this person was innocent. I know all this, and yet, I can’t get past the fact that Vashti didn’t trust me enough to tell me what she knew and allow me to figure out what to do with the knowledge. It is also because of Vashti that the killer knew where I lived after wangling the address out of her, making her believe that all the killer wanted to do was talk to me. Paris and I aren’t listed in the phone book, so it would have been hard for the killer to find me if Vashti hadn’t spilled the beans. To top it off, she let the killer stay in her house one night. The killer ended up taking a dive out my bedroom window with me unable to do a damn thing. That’s part of what gives me nightmares when I sleep.
“I want to be friends, Vashti, I really do. I just can’t yet.” I look at her with real regret. We had been on the verge of something meaningful when the rift happened. I don’t know what it would take to mend the chasm, but I don’t have the strength to try right now. It is hard enough to heal from my psychological injuries without extending the olive branch as well.
“I understand,” she says sadly. “I’ll be waiting for you.” She holds out her hand and after a moment’s hesitation, I take it. In a flash, differing emotions take hold of me. Lust is a primary one, but so is anger. The betrayal I feel at her for being the indirect cause of so much pain is more than I can bear. I rip my hand away from hers and run from the room.
“I have to go,” I say to the others, tears streaming down my face. Vashti is hot on my heels, but stops as I turn to face her. “Please, don’t,” I choke out. I open my mouth to say more, but I can’t. I turn and flee, hoping she respects me enough to listen. I run until I can’t run any more, then I catch a cab for the rest of the ride home. The driver is kind enough to pretend not to see me crying.