I am incredulous with his reaction and demand to know why it doesn’t bother him. He thinks it’s funny, and he thinks she’s jealous of anyone I’m sleeping with. He’s still chuckling as he reveals that he thinks the good inspector has the hots for me. That causes me to sputter indignantly for a few minutes while Lyle looks on in amusement. The prim and proper inspector having a crush on me? The thought of that is so bizarre, I can’t take it seriously. I’m nothing more than an irritant to her, forced upon her because of unusual circumstances. I’m a suspect in an attempted murder case and have been in two past cases. I don’t even know she’s gay, for god’s sake. The idea is ludicrous, I inform Lyle. He brushes aside my objections, firm in his belief that Inspector Robinson wants to get into my pants.
While I’m musing over this hypothesis, he also drops that he’s slept with women before. After imparting that startling information, he returns to my room, leaving me stunned, but not for long. I hurry after him, pushing open my door. I’m not ready to end the conversation quite yet. I demand to know what he’s talking about as he seems the original poster boy for gay since birth. I’m also having difficulty accepting that he’s a switch-hitter, too. Isn’t anybody just gay any more? Yes, I’m aware of the irony, but I can’t help feeling that way. Lyle shrugs, his attention on the computer. He offhandedly mentions that he was a late bloomer, that he and Paris had a good laugh over the idea of Lyle with a woman, then assumes the conversation is over. It’s not to me, and I’m hurt that this is yet another thing Paris didn’t tell me. It seems like there are a few things he’s kept from me. Sure, I’ve been out of it the last few months, but still. The last thing I want is Paris to cut me out of his life.
Lyle sees that I’m not going to let it drop, so he tells me his coming-out story. He grew up very sheltered and couldn’t fathom being with a man. Even after he knew the truth, he tried to convince himself that it was just a phase. It took many attempts at a relationship with a woman before he finally acknowledged to himself what he should have known all along—he was gay. He liked women as friends, but he couldn’t love them romantically and he certainly wasn’t sexually-attracted to them. I ask when he last slept with a woman. He gives me a dirty look, but answers. Ten years ago when he was twenty-five. That’s pretty late for discovering one’s gayness, especially for a man. He assures me with a mischievous smile that he’s not attracted to me, and for a minute, I’m hurt. Even though I know he’s not into women, I’m insulted that he could so freely admit that he’s not attracted to me.
Correctly interpreting the look on my face, Lyle adds that he would be if he weren’t gay. Suddenly, the absurdity of our conversation hits me, and I burst into peals of laughter. My best friend is in the hospital, and I’m pouting because his gay lover doesn’t find me attractive! I shake my head in amusement, relieved that I’m over my little hissy fit. I apologize to Lyle for being an idiot. I’m sleep-deprived, cranky, and stressed-out; I definitely need some sleep. Lyle graciously says he’ll forget the conversation ever happened, then we map out a plan for the rest of the night. We’ll get some sleep then go back to the hospital. There really is no way I can skip work tomorrow, but if I sleep a bit, I should be able to go from the hospital to work. I relay my plan to Lyle, urging him to sleep for at least six hours. It’s nine, which means getting up at three in the morning. I have to be at work at eight. He reluctantly agrees, then leaves the room. I drop off to sleep immediately, but am subsumed in dreams.
Paris is covered in blood and reaching out for me. His lips are sewn shut, but there is no pain in his eyes. In fact, he is bathed in a light that glows from within. His eyes watch me as I frantically try to break through the barriers that keep him from me. A car careens crazily before plowing straight into me. I feel little pain as my legs snap off my body. I am a doll with removable limbs. The driver of the car—I can’t tell if it’s male or female—laughs manically and drives away. I crawl after the car, but it’s a hopeless situation. I am not bleeding and I am feeling no pain, even though I have no legs. A blond woman darts in and out of the shadows, her hair whipping behind her. She gives me the finger when I try to discover who she is, taking off one hat and putting on another. She lifts a crossbow and aims it at Paris. My lips part in a silent scream as I try to warn him, but suddenly it’s my lips that are sewn together.
“Rayne! Wake up!” I am being shaken. It’s a familiar sensation, and I have to say I’m getting sick of it. “Wake up now!” I open one eye to Lyle’s face staring down at me.
“You were having a nightmare,” he says with no preamble.
“What time?” My tongue is thick in my mouth, and I feel stupid for asking.
“Night? Day?” I’m getting frustrated, but it’s not his fault he doesn’t know the ritual.
“Which night?” I am slowly awakening, but still distorted.
“Sunday night/Monday morning,” Lyle replies, giving me an odd look. He’s seen this a few times, but it’s the first time he’s had to participate in the ritual.
“Month?” I am embarrassed, but I have to finish the ritual.
“March.” Now, Lyle is looking at me as if I’m crazy. I pull the covers over my head to regain my composure, but he immediately whisks them away. He stares at me as I try to clear the cobwebs from my brain. “Want to talk about it?” Lyle asks casually. I shake my head.
“You could hear me in Paris’s room, huh?” I ask, stifling a sigh. This was Paris and my daily routine for a month—I had thought I was getting over it.
“Yeah. You were pretty loud.” Lyle’s voice is matter-of-fact, which is the best thing it could be at this moment.
“Might as well get up,” I sigh, though it feels as if I just fell asleep.
“Sometimes it’s good to let things out,” Lyle persists, folding his arms across his chest.
“Mind leaving? I’m getting dressed.” I can’t help but notice that Lyle is wearing a pair of Paris’s sweats and no shirt. I avert my eyes.
“You ain’t got nothing I haven’t seen before,” Lyle jokes. “Besides, I’m gay, remember?”
“You’ve also slept with women,” I retort, folding my arms across my chest. I’m thankful I’m wearing my sweats and not nude as I prefer to be. Lyle laughs and leaves. I grab some clothes and go to the bathroom to shower. I let the water run over me until the chills subside. I quickly dress in black jeans and a red blouse, then brush my teeth. I wander to the kitchen where Lyle is cooking sausage and biscuits from a box.
“How do you like your eggs?” Lyle asks, turning around. He’s put on a sweat shirt, which is a good thing.
“I can’t eat all that,” I say, my stomach turning over. Not only is it in the middle of the night, but I can never eat much after one of my nightmares. “Just some toast, please.” Lyle ignores me and scrambles some eggs. When he’s through, he slides them onto my plate along with two sausage links and a biscuit.
“Eat.” He does his eggs over easy, then plates some food for himself. We sit across from each other and neither of us eat much. I shoo Lyle away as I do the dishes. By the time I’m done, Lyle is out of the shower, his hair slicked back. He is wearing a pair of Paris’s jeans as well as a flannel shirt I never knew Paris had.
“Let’s get out of here,” I say, making sure I have everything for work.
It’s strange to be traveling in the city this time of night. We don’t talk as Lyle drives us to the hospital. I stare out the window at the desultory action happening outside. There are a few hookers littering the sidewalks, plying their wares. They’re not too obvious about it, but I can tell what they are. I strain my eyes to see if I can spot their pimps, but they must be hidden in the shadows. I always thought if I were going to sell my body, I would at least make damn sure that the money went to me. I shake my head at the folly of these working girls who turned over a hefty portion—if not all—of their money to some man who sits on his ass all day collecting the money from his hoes. I know it’s a protection racket for most of the girls, but it still burns me that they do all the work while their pimps rake in the dough.
My mother perks up at the sight of me and Lyle; Mrs. Jenson is nowhere in sight. Paris is the same; Mrs. Jenson is in his room. My mother comments on how refreshed I look, and I decide not to tell her about the threatening phone call or the nightmare. I sit in the chair next to her and let her know that I’m good to go for the next seventy-two hours. Lyle says nothing as he slumps into the chair on the other side of my mother. Despite getting some solid sleep, he looks haggard. I know that until Paris opens his eyes, Lyle won’t be able to rest properly. My mother senses it, too, and pats Lyle’s knee. Time drags on as none of us are in a talkative mood. I forgot to bring a book with me, so I pick up a People magazine that is only three months old.
My mother is drooping, despite her best efforts. I ask if she wants me to drive her to my apartment so she can take a nap, though I’m not keen on driving back and forth. It’s the least I can do after she dropped everything to be with me. She only has one class to teach this term and has found someone to cover it, but she’s going to miss many committee meetings spending time at the hospital. My mother smiles fondly at me, but declines my offer. She’s slept in far worse places than the hospital and doesn’t want to put me to any trouble. I know from experience that it will do no good to argue with her, so I drop the subject. The conversation such as it is peters out after that. We are all exhausted as much by the stress and waiting as by the lack of sleep. My mother falls asleep, snoring lightly while I continue to flip through the People and Lyle stares at the ground. It seems like hours until Mrs. Jenson returns, but it’s probably not more than fifteen minutes.
“How is he?” Lyle asks, springing to his feet as he espies Mrs. Jenson. For a minute, I think she’s not going to answer but she finally deigns to respond.
“The same,” she says briefly, looking at my mother, at me, anywhere but at Lyle. “The doctor says the next twenty-four hours are critical.”
“They always say that,” Lyle says with a frown. “Doesn’t mean a thing.”
“Are you a doctor?” Mrs. Jenson flares, nettled beyond her iron-clad control. “I didn’t think so. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll listen to the doctor, thank you.” She and Lyle glare at each other, neither willing to back down. In a flash, I insinuate myself between the two of them.
“Knock it off,” I say in a low, but firm voice. “I know the two of you have things to work out, but this is not the place or time to do it. Paris needs our love and attention, not dissention. You’re acting like children.” I hold each of them in a stare, daring them to argue.
“I haven’t done anything to her,” Lyle says mutinously, his brows drawing together. “She’s the one being all judgmental and harsh.”
“You’re the one who’s corrupting my son!” Mrs. Jenson exclaims, peering around me. “If it weren’t for you, perhaps he would find a nice girl and settle down.”
“Newsflash, Mrs. Jenson—your son likes fucking men,” Lyle says before I can stop him. “I’m not the first, and I might not be the last.” He flips out his hand and waggles his neck. I have never seen him go camp, and it’s not a pretty sight. I’m disappointed in him for stooping so low.
“Ok, that’s enough!” The voice comes from the side, and it’s my mother. Their bickering has woken her up, and she’s cranky. “There’s no reason to be graphic, Lyle. As for you, Catherine, can you try to put aside your prejudices for the time being and concentrate on helping your son recover?” She glares at each of them in turn much like I did, except she’s a mom: her glare means something.
“I’m going outside,” Lyle mutters, striding away.
“I better see to him,” I sigh, sending my mother a signal with my eyes. She nods slightly and draws Mrs. Jenson to a chair. I rush after Lyle, afraid of what he might do. By the time I catch up with him outside, he’s already puffing away. I watch him silently for a minute before addressing him. “Got a cigarette for me?” He holds out the pack, but doesn’t say anything. “You’re being an ass, you know.” Still no response. “Look, I know she’s uptight, judgmental, and in general a pain, but she’s Paris’s mother and that has to mean something.”
“I can’t believe that prissy bitch raised Paris,” Lyle splutters, too angry to modulate his voice. I wince at the harshness of his tone, thankful he can’t see me in the blanket of the night. “How he became the warm, generous person he is, I can’t imagine!” He’s flicking his lighter on and off as he smokes. It’s irritating me so I pluck the lighter from his fingers. Besides, I need to light my cigarette.