“Girl, you know you don’t gotta worry about that with me,” Paris says with spirit. He is the poster boy for safer sex; I wish all queer men would follow his lead. I’m tired of losing so many of them to AIDS. “Guess who emailed me last week? Jenna.”
“No way! I thought she gave up.” Jenna was Paris’s last girlfriend—the one he broke up with just before meeting Lyle. Paris had been dating her a month when she wanted to take it to the next level. Problem is, the shine had already come off the relationship for him. She did not take it well when he broke up with her. His ex-lovers rarely did, but hers was the worst reaction in a long time. He considered having her served with a restraining order, but she backed off just enough to make it a non-issue.
“I thought so, too. Apparently she heard about the break-in and was concerned that I might be hurt. She won’t be satisfied until she sees me with her own eyes that I’m ok.” Paris’s lip twitched as he relays the information. I struggle to keep my face solemn as well, but can’t. We both know it’s just an excuse to see him again. Paris has the misfortune of being utterly captivating to the people he dates, making it difficult for them to let go when he dumps them. Make no mistake about it, he’s always the dumper not the dumpee. The only time he didn’t dump his lover was when Brett died of AIDs. Other than that, he’s batting a thousand. I, on the other hand, am much more likely to be the dumped than the dumper. By the gods of karma, it’s my right to dump the next five people I date.
“You going to see her?” I know the answer before Paris even opens his mouth. Any attention would only encourage her. In some ways, I’m surprised. She was such a drab mouse when he dated her. He tends to be attracted to people who don’t shine as brightly as he does because he likes to be the one in the limelight. Not physically, necessarily, as he likes beautiful people, but personality-wise. Unfortunately for him—and for his lovers—then he gets bored because the other person can’t keep up. This has been his pattern since I’ve known him. Only Brett and now Lyle have been anomalies which is one reason I have high hopes for Lyle. Another is that he’s just as good-looking as Paris is with his thick, dark curls and intense blue eyes. He lifts weights religiously as does Paris; in fact, that’s how they met. At Paris’s gym. One look and it was instant lust.
“Hell, no!” Paris says emphatically. “I haven’t even answered the email, and I don’t intend to.” He knows it’s better to be firm than to waffle. “I’m hoping she’ll go away peacefully this time.” I have my doubts, but I keep them to myself. I don’t want to harsh on his high over Lyle. “Hey, you said you were going over to Lisa’s tomorrow?” He watches as I mix the batter and start shaping the cookies into little balls. “Is Vashti going to be there?” He doesn’t offer to help for the same reason I never offer to help him—each of us is fiercely territorial when cooking. It’s hands-off for the other person.
“Yes.” I nod my head, my eyes dimming. I’m not sure I can face her. I unconsciously finger the bridge of my nose where there is a bump from being pistol-whipped and broken. Of course, I get dough on my nose and Paris wipes it off for me. My right knee twinges as if it senses my thoughts. That’s where I got sapped with the same gun that night. My injuries are mostly healed, but they like to remind me now and then of what happened.
“You ready for that?” Paris rubs my back sympathetically as I continue dropping cookie dough balls onto the cookie sheet.
“No,” I say honestly. “But I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready.” My heart thumps as I think of Vashti, as it always does. She is the first person in a long time that I’ve felt a strong attraction for. My last girlfriend left me to ‘find’ herself—with another woman—leaving me wary of trusting anybody new. After Vashti lied to my face about a friend of hers to disastrous results, I don’t know if I can ever trust her again. Oh, she had good reasons not to tell me, but they pale in comparison to the fact that her withheld knowledge almost got me killed. My mind cannot let go of this little nugget of information, no matter how many times she tries to apologize. It will be the first time I see her in person, and I don’t know how I’ll react. Will I burst into tears at the sight of her? Will I slap her in the face? Chances are, it won’t be nearly as dramatic as all that, and I’ll end up staring at her and not knowing what to say. If she talks to me, I’ll either give her the cold shoulder or stutter because I can’t say what I want to say. I’m not looking forward to it in the least.
“You’re ready,” Paris nods. “You’re stronger than you think.” I am about to protest, but he forestalls me. “You think because you have nightmares and haven’t been able to leave the apartment much that you’re weak. The fact that you’re still alive says how strong you are. I don’t care what anyone—including you—says. You’re a warrior woman in my book.” He stares at me defiantly, daring me to contradict him. Instead, I pop the first tray of cookies in the oven before grabbing him in a fierce hug. When you’re down, it’s great to know your friends have your back. He looks at his watch. “I think I’m going to take a nice long shower in preparation for my date tonight. Get me if you need anything.”
“Go!” I make shooing motions. As soon as he leaves, I start dropping the next batch of cookies. Once that is done, I browse through the Chron. Since I am actively avoiding any mention of ‘Iraq’, ‘war’, or that idiot, Dubya, I turn to the comic section. Unfortunately, they don’t carry my favorite comic, ‘Boondocks’ which I have to read online. Since I don’t find many other comic strips funny, there isn’t much in the way of laughs. I see one of Paris’s print ads, this one for Aquafina. He’s a part-time model in addition to being a personal trainer and this particular ad makes me laugh. Not because of the ad itself, but because I know Paris’s opinion of Aquafina. Even though he’s a work-out buff, he’s not hep to the bottled water craze. If it’s not for the purpose of drinking on the run, it’s a waste of good money in his mind. That doesn’t stop him from showing his teeth to hawk the stuff, however. I have to admit that he looks good holding the bottle in front of his shirtless bicep. I’d buy Aquafina from this man.
I start as I realize that I’m drooling over my roommate and best friend. It’s not queasy-making, but it does make me a bit uncomfortable. There was an intense period during the murders when Paris and I almost slept together for the fifth time in our fourteen-year friendship, even though we both know that we make much better friends than lovers. At the last minute, only Paris having to go to his room to get a condom stopped us from completing the deed. Since then, I’ve been trying to rein in my on-again, off-again lust for Paris since I would infinitely rather be friends than lovers. I also feel somewhat unsettled since this is the first time in the past month that I’ve even thought about having sex. A psychologist would probably think it a sign that I am progressing through my emotions and ready to move on with my life. I, however, know it just means that I’m premenstrual. I always become hornier the week preceding my period.
The timer dings, meaning the first batch is done. I pull it out, letting the second batch continue to bake, and set the sheet on the racks on the counter. I slide the spatula under a cookie and gently work it off the sheet. Without waiting for it to cool, I begin nibbling on the edges. There are few things more comforting than a warm, chocolate chip cookie just out of the oven. I pour myself a glass of milk and sit down to enjoy the treat. As I bite into the cookie, I close my eyes and just savor the rich taste. I had forgotten how much I like to bake—how satisfying it is. You take a lump of mixed ingredients, pop it into the over, and it comes out this fragrant, satisfying finished product. You have something concrete at the end of the process—something you can see, smell, touch and taste. Few things in life are that simple. I finish off the cookie and start in on the next one. I have made a double batch so I’ll be able to bring some to the girls and save the rest for Paris. One of the reasons he’s such a gym rat is because of his love of sweets. He always says the sweets are worth the hours in the gym. I suspect the hunky owner, Jimmy Benedict, is another reason Paris loves his job so much, though Jimmy is straight.
I flip through the Chronicle, not really concentrating on anything. There is a sidebar article concerning the aftermath of the murders I was involved in, but I skip over it. I used to have a taste for true-crime reports. After being involved in one, I never wanted to read about another one again. There is something voyeuristic about it—like a vulture. Besides, what I went through is enough to last me a lifetime. I used to long for more excitement in your life. Who was it that said, ‘Be careful what you wish for; you just may get it’? Whoever it was is so right. Everything I thought I wanted to make my life complete—I got. The intrigue, the drama, the fame. Now, I would give anything never to have gone through it. Ah, hindsight is, indeed, twenty-twenty—it’s also a bitch. I start dropping the third batch of cookies to steer myself clear of more dreadful clichés and melancholy thoughts. I like that word—melancholy. Much better and more descriptive than depression.
I spend the next hour putting my brain on hold and making cookies, which is another reason I like baking. Once all the measuring and rolling out, etc., is through, if the recipe is basic, I can put my brain on neutral and just do. Batch after batch of chocolate chip cookies, different shapes and sizes. I know some bakers aspire to have perfect cookies that look exactly alike without the aid of cookie-cutters, but I’m not like that. I prefer for my cookies to be individuals, like me. Unique, if you will. At some point, Paris wanders into the kitchen wearing tight black leather pants and a tight black t-shirt. His short blond hair flops endearingly in his eyes, but the rest is carefully spiked. A thin gold hoop glistens in each ear. He is wearing a whiff of a cologne I cannot quite identify, but would guess is Drakkar Noir. Either that or Ralph Loren. Only the best for my boy. I hope Lyle appreciates what he has, but more to the point, I hope Paris appreciates Lyle.
“Well?” He puts out his arms and invites me to give him the once over. He looks hot, and I tell him so. He’s pleased as he grabs two cookies off the cooling racks. He makes cooing noises as he eats, another reason he’s my best friend. I like people who show when they’re enjoying something—it’s gratifying. He pops the last bite into his mouth with a rapturous sigh. I silently hand him another one which he accepts without complaint.
“Have a good time tonight,” I say, nodding at him. My eyes fill with tears as I look at him. Seems like it was just yesterday I was going to the junior prom with him after which he kissed me—my first kiss from a boy. Now, we were both growing up and moving on to other things. Yup. Definitely melancholy.
“You will call me on my cell if you need anything.” He says it as an order, not a question. I nod my head, not trusting myself to speak. “You ok?” He looks at me closely, knowing me too well. I nod again, still not having my vocal facilities under my control. “No, you’re not.” He pulls me to the table and sits me down. “Look, I’ll call off the date if you want.”
“No!” It comes out stronger than I anticipated. “You have to go, Paris. Not just for your sake, but for mine.” I can’t say anything else, but he is able to fill in the blanks. He knows that I will never know if I can pick myself up if he’s always there to cradle me from the fall. He knows that I will lean on him too much if he doesn’t allow me to stand on my own. So, while he worries about me and is hesitant to leave me on my own, he knows it’s the best thing he can do for me.
“I gotta roll.” He checks his watch discreetly. “We’re catching dinner before the show. There’s meatloaf in the fridge if you want it.” I love Paris’s meatloaf, and my mouth is watering already.
“Wait.” I wrap up a plate of cookies. “Give these to Lyle with my love, please. He’s a good man.” Paris hugs me briefly before accepting the plate.
“Call me!” He looks at me sternly before dashing off. I sigh and turn back to the cookies. Before I can sink into a full-scale brood, the phone rings. It’s my mother. I pick it up as she’s talking to the machine.
“Hi, Mom,” I say warily. As much as I love my mother, it can be tiring talking to her sometimes, what with her unrelenting optimism and her feet firmly stuck in the sixties.
“Rainbow! What a pleasant surprise.” She greets me warmly, using my dreaded full name. I can hear her inhale deeply and assume that she’s firing up the bong. It’s her favorite way to spend a Saturday night. I’ve long since given up trying to convince her that smoking so much weed is damaging her brain cells. My sister refuses to address it at all, preferring to pretend that my mother’s little habit doesn’t exist. My mom is speaking English, which is how we usually communicate with Taiwanese phrases liberally sprinkled into the mix. We switch to Taiwanese when we have delicate matters to discuss and/or if others are present.
“What’s up?” I start pacing back and forth. My mother rarely calls just to pass the time, but she’s been doing that more so in the last month.
“Not much. Just seeing what you’re up to.” My mother’s voice is mellow, the way it always is. She’s not a Buddhist per se though she was raised in the religion, but she embodies many of the beliefs such as living in the presence and embracing impermanence. When my father died, my mother was the paragon of strength—so much so that people began to whisper that perhaps she hadn’t loved my father after all. I would hotly debate anybody unwise enough to bring up the matter in my presence. My mother loved my father deeply—she just accepts more gracefully than most that life truly is a gift we should be thankful for and relinquish when it’s time. No, she didn’t run around spouting fortune-cookie wisdom such as ‘life goes on’ or ‘god works in mysterious ways’, but her center was so still and serene, it became my beacon through the dark. That and lots of drinking under the watchful eye of Paris.
“Baking cookies. I’m going to meet up with the girls tomorrow night.” I hesitate before adding, “Vashti will be there.” I wait for her to tell me it’s about time or that I need to face my demons in order to move on.
“You sure that’s wise?” is what she says instead, surprising the hell out of me. As I said, my mother is all for letting go and moving on, facing the issues and conquering them. “What she did to you, that doesn’t fade easily. I wouldn’t want you to face her before you’re ready to deal with the consequences.”
“I’m ready,” I say with more confidence than I feel. Honesty compels me to add, “As ready as I can be for a situation like this.”
“You tell her I’ll kick her ass if she hurts you again.” I begin laughing, thinking she’s kidding. She a pacifist who would turn the proverbial cheek if she were ever attacked. “I’m serious,” she insists. “She shouldn’t have messed with you like that.” I am touched that her motherly instincts have been roused. It seems as if even an ex-Buddhist has buttons that can be pushed. If that’s true, then me and my sister are definitely my mother’s.
“I’ll be fine, Mom,” I say softly, pulling out another batch of cookies. I tell my mother what I’m doing, knowing she’ll be pleased that I’m doing something other than sulking, sleeping or crying. She is. She’s the one who passed along her love of baking to me—her chocolate chip macadamia-nut fudge brownies are outstanding—and knows how therapeutic it can be.
“I still wish you’d get help, hon.” My mother has a hippie’s faith in working through your negative emotions and has none of a traditional Taiwanese person’s shame for entering therapy. She’s given me a few names of alternative therapists she thinks would be perfect for me. She’s also given me the name of a body worker and a tarot-card reader. I have yet to utilize any of them.
“I’m checking out a trauma group Tuesday night,” I tell her. She is happy that I’m finally facing the darkness rather than trying to run from it. We chat for a bit more before hanging up. She extracts a promise from me to come to dinner Wednesday night and to bring Paris, whom she adores. She wants me to invite Lyle because she likes him as well. My mom has adopted Paris as an honorary son, and the emotion is reciprocated. All the warmth Paris hasn’t received from his mother, he gets from mine instead. If I weren’t secure in my mother’s love and in the knowledge that she has a gigantic heart, I would be jealous of her affection for Paris. Until I think about his fundamentally-religious adoptive mother who tells him weekly that he’s going to hell because of his lifestyle; then I wish Paris all the love he can find. The phone rings again; I let the machine get it this time as I don’t feel like talking to anyone else.