I wander around the gym, engaging random people in conversation. No one working out, of course, because that would be in violation of club rules. Besides, I know how I’d feel if someone was pestering me as I was trying to do my reps. However, there are quite a few people just milling around, looking as if they’re either resting or done or about to start. Those are the ones I target. Understandably, most of them are reluctant to divulge anything to a total stranger, but the fact that I’m a petite woman who is not a potential threat disarms the women. The fact that I’m a good-looking petite Asian woman disarms most of the men—and more than a few women. Unfortunately, even when I’m able to pry information out of people, there is precious little to be had. Gym rats are creatures of habit, and most of this crowd never step foot in the gym until late afternoon. After an hour, I’m more than a little dispirited. I decide to try one more person before giving up. My quarry is a burly he-man hulk with bulging muscles and a tiny waist. I don’t understand why guys go for that look, but I’m sure many guys don’t understand why some women slather makeup on their faces with a trowel. The guy has bought some kind of wheat-germ drink from the juice bar and is chugging it down methodically. I wait for him to swallow before I speak.
“Hi,” I say brightly, beaming at him. “My name is Rayne. Mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“Not at all, doll,” the guy smiles back as his eyes leisurely travel up and down my body. “Trace. Short for Tracy, but nobody calls me that. Not if they want to live, that is.” He throws back his head and makes a braying sound like a donkey that I soon realize is his way of laughing. I restrain a sigh at facing yet another stereotype, this time in person. “Ask away.” He grins at me as he continues choking down his drink.
“Do you know a guy named Billy? Short, blond, muscular? Heart tattoo on his bicep?” I say the information by rote, which is what it is by now.
“Billy Matthews? Hell, yeah, I know him! Thinks he’s going to win Mr. fucking Muscles of San Francisco! Not if Trace can help it, he sure isn’t. Too fucking short, for one thing.” Great. A guy who talks about himself in the third person. However, he does know Billy, so I cut him some slack. “What does a nice gal like you want with an asshole like that?” Trace looks at me curiously. “You ain’t his type, anyway.”
“I just want to talk to him,” I say stiffly. With the other people I’ve talked to thus far, I’ve been able to make small talk, put them at ease. With Trace, I have lost that ability. Good ol’ boys tend to do that to me. “Know where I can find him?”
“Well, here, most every morning. At night, he likes to frequent the El Rio or the Elbo Room depending on his mood.” Trace hasn’t stopped looking at me, and it’s beginning to get on my nerves. “I’m telling ya, he doesn’t like Asian girls,” Trace says earnestly, finishing up his drink. “He’s partial to Puerto Rican pus—gals.” I know what he was about to say, and I shoot him a dirty look for it.
“Thanks for the information,” I say briskly. “I must be going now.” I turn and leave, not giving him a chance to say anything. “Prick,” I say under my breath. It looks as if I’ll have to put my quest for Billy on hold. At least I have a name and a general description; it’s a start. I wave to Jimmy on my way out, but he’s staring resolutely at anything but me. I rush home to shower and change—jeans and a red, long-sleeved shirt—before hurrying back to the hospital.
“How’s our boy?” I ask my mother and Mrs. Jenson. Lyle isn’t there, so I assume he’s in the room with Paris.
“He grabbed my hand,” Mrs. Jenson says wonderingly. “That has to mean something.”
“That’s great!” I say enthusiastically. “What do the doctors say about it?” Mrs. Jenson deflates at the mention of doctors.
“Well, they say it’s involuntary. I had my hand in his,” she explains. “But he squeezed—I know he did.”
“I’m sure he did, Catherine,” my mom says comfortingly, patting Catherine’s hand. I know that a person in a coma can make involuntary movements, so I don’t respond. I sit next to my mother, prepared to wait. I have forgotten a book again and curse myself for the oversight. I pick up a different People magazine and leaf through it. It’s hard to care about Brad and Jennifer’s divorce, or J-Lo and Mark Anthony’s marriage. I don’t care who’s hot and who’s not. I throw the magazine back on the table in disgust and slump in my chair. Besides the People magazines, there are old issues of Newsweek and Time, neither of which interest me in the least.
“I’ll be right back,” I blurt out, jumping up from my chair. I hurry to the gift shop where there are some mainstream paperbacks for sale. Normally, I wouldn’t bother with them, but I need something to read. I scan the shelves and settle on a John Grisham book—something I won’t have to concentrate on too hard to understand. I run back upstairs, book in hand, then sit back down to read.
“Lyle, what’s wrong?” My mother stands up, concerned at the look on Lyle’s face. “Did something happen?” Lyle is walking towards us, his shoulders hunched forward, his face ashen. He doesn’t answer my mother but keeps walking. My mother shoots me a look that sends me scurrying after Lyle.
“Hey, wait up,” I call to him, earning a few dirty looks. He keeps going until he’s outside the hospital and even then, he doesn’t slow down. I speed up to catch him, which is quite a feat as I’m nearly a foot shorter than he. “Lyle, talk to me.” I’m panting slightly, further proof that I need to get back to the gym.
“I can’t, that’s not, it’s just,” Lyle says, still walking towards the parking lot. I grab him by the arm and pull with all my might, forcing him to stop in his tracks. I let go when it’s apparent he’s not going anywhere. “I can’t do it, Rayne. I can’t watch him die.” I slap him across the face without thinking—it shocks the hell out of both of us.
“Don’t you give up, Lyle Kingston. Paris is not going to die.” I stand there, my hands balled loosely in fists. “I won’t allow it, and you won’t allow it.”
“I watched a lover die once,” Lyle whispers, not looking me in the eyes. “I can’t do it again.”
“Stop saying that!” I shout, suddenly enraged. “How can you give up like that? Paris is going to recover, he is!” When Lyle doesn’t respond, I flare up even further. “You think he’s going to die? Then you should leave. Paris doesn’t need doubt right now—he needs faith. So be a goddamn coward and run away. He’s better off without you!” I am tearing up, but manage not to burst into tears as I turn around and march away from Lyle. I am so mad, I know it’s better for me to get away from him before I hit him for real.
“Where’s Lyle?” My mother asks me as I return empty-handed. She has a reproachful look in her eyes as if I’ve failed her because I didn’t bring Lyle back. Mrs. Jenson isn’t in sight.
“Gone,” I say briefly, not wanting to talk about it. She continues looking at me, though, so I reluctantly expand on my answer. “He doesn’t want to watch Paris die, so I told him to leave.” I avoid looking at my mother because I’m sure that I won’t like what I see in her eyes now.
“You did what?” Her voice rises incredulously. “You sent him away? What are you, crazy?” She switches to Taiwanese. “That boy is hurting. He needs love and support, not hostility. I cannot believe that you sent him away.”
“He thinks Paris is going to die,” I say, also speaking in Taiwanese. It is one thing my parents drummed into me as a child—never air your dirty laundry in public. Or at least, not in a language that most people would understand. “Paris needs love and support right now—not doubt. I think it’s better this way.”
“You don’t know anything,” my mother exclaims, standing up abruptly. “You think it’s that easy? That black and white? Do you think Paris would approve of you chasing Lyle away?”
“We can’t know what Paris would or wouldn’t approve of because he’s in a coma,” I snarl back. “Besides, my first concern is Paris. Everyone else can go to hell.”
“You’re really impossible,” my mother mutters as she goes to find Lyle. I watch her go, hurt that she’s taken Lyle’s side. I need support, too, and she’s my mother.
“Where did everyone go?” Mrs. Jenson asks as she returns—not from the direction of Paris’s room, so she must have stopped at the rest room.
“Outside for some air,” I say with a tight smile. I don’t want to discuss Lyle with her, so I hope she won’t continue the line of questioning. Fortunately, she doesn’t. “When is Mr. Jenson coming,” I ask, trying to make it seem like a casual question.
“He should be here in an hour or two,” Mrs. Jenson replies. “The conference ended last night, but he decided to fly out today.” She doesn’t say it, but I sense her displeasure with his decision. I also suspect that it’s Mr. Jenson’s disapproval of Paris that allows him to be rather cavalier of being in San Francisco for Mrs. Jenson in her time of need. “He’s very worried about Paris, of course,” she adds hastily as if aware of my assessment of her husband.
“Of course,” I echo. I’m not about to start a tiff with this woman about her husband. We sit in silence for approximately ten minutes before my mother returns with Lyle. I feel a flash of resentment that my mother was able to talk Lyle into returning when I wasn’t, but it quickly dissipates at the suffering in Lyle’s face. My mother’s right—he does need support. As he sits next to me, I silently squeeze his hand. After a brief moment of hesitation, he squeezes in return.
Time is a funny thing. When you’re not looking, it sneaks up on you and passes you by. If you’re watching it carefully, it hardly seems to move at all. Then, sometimes, it simultaneously whizzes by and slows to a crawl. This is the middle kind—where I check the clock so often, I swear it’s broken. I think about my list of things to do. Swing by the gym and find out the identity of the client Paris was going to confront—check. Talk to Jimmy—check. It didn’t shed any light on the situation, but at least I was able to see firsthand the coldness of Jimmy towards Paris when in the past, Jimmy had favored Paris so much, some of the other trainers had resented it. Talk to Mr. Jenson—will soon be a check, though I don’t think there’s going to be much there. I also think I should talk to Ursula again. I frown. Something about our conversation is nagging at me, but I can’t think of what it is. I stow it in the back of my mind, rationalizing that it’ll come to me if I don’t push it.
“I’m going to the cafeteria,” I announce. I am going crazy. I have to get out of there, and I have to eat. “Anyone want to come with me?” Everyone shakes their heads, so I go by myself. It’s seven-thirty, and I ate lunch around eleven, so I’m starved. I decide on macaroni and cheese again, the ultimate comfort food. I sit down and eat methodically, not really tasting the food. I suddenly sit upright in my chair. I forgot to ask about the blond woman at the gym—I’ll have to go back tomorrow and see if I can find out anything about her. That means another run-in with Jimmy and another workout session with Roger. The things I will do for a friend! I finish my food without much thought. My brain is on low, and I’m in danger of blowing my fuse completely.
I switch to thinking about my job. I have been there for only a year and a few months, but I’m getting stale. Worse, I’m becoming jaded. I don’t mind being cynical—in fact, I think there’s something wrong with a person who isn’t a little cynical—but I’m bypassing cynical and heading straight for bitter. It’s not that I’m almost thirty and still in a dead-end job, it’s that there’s nothing else in my life that gives it meaning. I don’t mean friends or family or even romance because I have plenty of that, but there’s something missing inside of me. I have felt it strongly over the past couple months while being embroiled in murder cases, but it hasn’t been so crystal clear until now. I’m marking time at the job, and I hate every minute—especially now that I’m public enemy number one. I decide that I need to start circulating my resume. I also need to go home for a few hours, but don’t know how I can do so gracefully after making such a big fuss about Lyle leaving.