I dress with extra care the next morning and even apply a little makeup since my face looks wan from lack of sleep. I don’t wear any of the five outfits I had in mind last night. Instead, I pull on a silvery-gray skirt, black tights, a black blouse and whatever accoutrements I think will match. I brush my hair until it shines, then peer at myself anxiously in the mirror. I’m not usually self-conscious about my looks, knowing that I’m put together in a way that is pleasing to most eyes. Short—five-two—curvy, with glossy black hair, dark brown eyes and full lips. I turn heads when I walk down the street, unless I’m with Paris, of course, who is truly stunning. Thinking about him brings me down to earth and away from my romantic aspirations. My mother nods approvingly at my outfit as I gobble down my breakfast. I am late for work, my sleep pattern being so erratic as of late. I arrive just in time to be pointedly ignored by my colleagues. I plunge into my work in order to not feel the shunning so deeply. I have an email from Libby that is so unlike her normal self, I read it twice.
I don’t know why I’m writing this to you except that I have no one else to talk to about this. If any of my friends knew, they would say I’m crazy. Any girl would be lucky to have a fiancé as wonderful as Wallace. He is gainfully-employed, remembers important dates, treats me as an equal, and has the same ambitions as do I. He is also sinfully handsome. In other words, everything I’ve ever dreamed of in a man. I know, I can hear you saying, so what’s your problem, Lib, in that snotty tone of yours you use when you think you’re so superior.
The problem is, I’m not sure I want to get married. Certainly not now, and maybe not ever. I look at Wallace and think, is this it? I mean, I’m very happy with him—don’t get me wrong. I just wonder if I’m too young. He’s only my first serious boyfriend. Rayne, I don’t know what to do. The wedding is in three months. The reason I’m e-mailing you is because you’ve always been so damn nontraditional—like Mom and Dad. Everyone will hate me if I stop the wedding. Help me. Libby.
I stop reading and look around me. The world is still spinning on its axis. I am still persona non grata at work making shitty money for a shitty job. Nothing has changed except my sister is asking for my help. I think back, trying to remember the last time she asked me for anything. I can’t recall it ever happening, though it must have at some time. I tap my keyboard idly, thinking of what to say to her. Wouldn’t she be surprised if she knew that my immediate reaction was, ‘Hold on to him and never let go.’ I want to tell her that when love comes, you have to make the most of it because you don’t know when it will come your way again. I realize, however, that the rate at which I’ve lost people from my life in the last few months has skewed my perspective, and I don’t write any of what I’m thinking. I think more carefully before coming up with a response.
Thank you for trusting me enough to divulge your concerns—it means a lot to me. Sounds like you’re getting cold feet! It’s tempting to say either dump him and run far away or suck it up and think about how much you love him. I want desperately to give you a simple answer to a complex problem, but it wouldn’t be fair to you. The thing is, I can’t tell you what to do because I’m not in your situation, nor, most likely, will ever be. I think what you have to focus on is what marriage means to you, what you want from your life right now, and are the two mutually exclusive. What is it you fear with this marriage? That you can’t do things you’d do otherwise? That you’ll be tied down? That you won’t get to date other men? Kiss another man? Have sex with someone else?
I’m not going to give you the usual tripe of love conquers all, love lifts us up and all that because as we both know, sometimes love just ain’t enough. Marriage is a big step, and it’s all about compromises. Any relationship is, but marriage even more so. What are you willing to compromise and what aren’t you? Most importantly, talk to Wallace about this! If you can’t talk to him about your doubts, then what kind of marriage are you going to have?
Finally, don’t let anyone make you feel horrible about whatever decision you make. If you decide not to go through with the wedding, just remember it’s better to call it off now than to walk out five years, ten years, fifteen years from now when there might be children as well. I’m proud of you for asking yourself the hard questions and for not just going with the status quo. Whatever you decide, I got your back. Love, Rayne.
The rest of the day crawls by. Jamal stops by my desk to chat, making me feel better about my work situation. This is the first time since I quit that he’s talked to me voluntarily, and it’s a positive step, even if it’s only to say hi, how are you doing, got any candy, gotta go. I am able to tolerate the silent treatment from my coworkers because I don’t care about them, anyway. When I’m not busy with work, I am surfing the net for job openings, becoming more discouraged as I progress. Between the dot bomb and the depressed economy, there are many more people seeking employment than positions available. Not for the first time do I wonder why I am living in one of the most expensive cities in the country when I could be living in—what’s Paris’s dream city?—Spokane, Washington. I know it’s a pipe dream, however, because I’m a big-city girl whether I like to admit it or not. I get a quick email from Libby thanking me for my advice, which nearly gives me a heart attack. Maybe my mother is right that there is more to Libby than I thought; I certainly hope so.
After work, I hail a cab to the precinct to make my statement. It’s a decent day out, but I don’t feel like showing up hot and sweaty, not when I took such pains to look my very best. Just before I get there, I remember that Lyle and I were going to coordinate our visits, but it had slipped my mind. His, too, it seems. The taxi disgorges me in record time, and I traipse up the very familiar stairs. Inside, the place is jumping as usual. There aren’t many hookers being arrested this time of day, but there are the drug dealers and the migrant workers who are unfortunate enough to be acting drunk and disorderly in public. I don’t speak a lick of Spanish so I don’t know what is being said, but I can guess. The smiling woman at the information counter indicates for me to have a seat, that Inspector Robinson will be with me in a minute. I know better, so I pull out the latest Marcia Muller from my purse and start reading. I’m glad I can read mysteries again as I couldn’t after my first encounter with a murderer. Within minutes, I am engrossed in the world of Sharon McCone, thus missing the inspector until she’s practically on top of me.
“Ms. Liang.” Inspector Robinson smiles at me, and I note that she’s looking particularly fetching today in a pale green pantsuit. Her cheeks are flushed—extra-rouge or the sight of me? I follow her back to her desk where she takes my statement quickly. “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” She asks, looking at me searchingly. I hesitate, thinking about the package that Ursula sent to me.
“Paris’s birthmother sent him some stuff,” I blurt out.
“Oh?” Inspector Robinson raises an eyebrow and waits. I want to tell her that trick doesn’t work on me because I employ it as well, but I hold my tongue. She holds hers longer.
“His birth certificate, a letter, a photo, and a copy of her will,” I say, unable to stay silent any longer. “It was addressed to him, and I probably shouldn’t have opened it, but with all the weird things that have been happening….” I allow the words to trail off, feeling only slightly sillier than I must have sounded.
“Did you bring the things with you?” Inspector Robinson asks reasonably.
“Uh, no.” Now I feel totally stupid, as if I’ve invented a reason to see the inspector, though I had to come to the station anyway to give my statement.
“Let’s go.” The inspector stands up. Flustered, I follow her lead. “We’re going to your apartment so I can look at the things that Ms. Meadows sent to you.” I don’t bother giving her my address as she has been to my place more times than I can remember in the short time I’ve known her.
“Inspector Robinson!” My mother warmly greets the inspector. Lyle is hovering in the background, a smirk lurking on his face. Both of them are looking expectantly at Inspector Robinson.
“She’s here to look at the things Ursula sent Paris,” I explain. My mother bustles into the kitchen while Lyle makes himself scarce. The envelope is still on the coffee table. I hand it over to the inspector who shuffles through the documents without comment. I glance over her shoulder, but can glean nothing new from the papers.
“Mr. Frantz is a twin?” Inspector Robinson says, lifting an eyebrow. “Ms. Meadows is surprise after surprise, isn’t she?” My mother hurries out with a tray laden with tea, sandwiches, and cookies.
“Inspector, you must eat,” my mother says firmly. “You’re probably a single woman with no one to cook for you.” She fixes her eyes on the inspector’s face which turns slightly red. “I made tuna fish sandwiches. Hope you’re not vegetarian.”
“Mrs. Liang, I really must be going,” Inspector Robinson says, but caves at the look on my mother’s face. The inspector will learn that nobody can refuse my mother’s requests, which are actually orders in disguise. In fact, if the inspector could incorporate the technique, she would have a hundred percent confession rate from her felons. The inspector takes a sandwich and munches as she flips through the will. “Five kids. Ten million dollars or so. That’s not a bad haul.”
“No one’s tried to kill Ursula,” I point out. I pick up a sandwich and nibble at it as I’m not that hungry. I need something to do, however, other than stare at the good inspector.
“Here’s an interesting thing,” Inspector Robinson says, still reading the will. “If Ms. Meadows dies, each of her remaining children inherits a fifth of her estate.”
“We already know that,” Lyle says impatiently.
“If one of her children dies before she does, that child’s inheritance reverts back to the estate,” the inspector continues, ignoring the interruption. “But, if a child dies after Ms. Meadows dies and has a will, that child’s inheritance goes to his or her heir.”
“So it’s to each inheritor’s benefit if the other benefactors dies before Ms. Meadows does,” my mother says slowly. She shivers, and not because she’s cold. “That’s disturbing.”
“Murder is, Mrs. Liang,” Inspector Robinson says softly. “Or at least it should be.” She finishes her sandwich and tea. “Well, I better be going. I’d like to take this with me.” She holds up the envelope, and it’s not a request.
“Of course, Inspector Robinson,” my mother says sweetly, nudging me as I’m about to protest. “Anything to help solve this case.”
“If you remember anything.” The inspector is speaking to all three of us, but she is looking at me. I nod my head vigorously to show my cooperativeness. “Thanks for the sandwiches and tea, Mrs. Liang.” Inspector Robinson flashes a smile before leaving; she looks better than she has in days.
“Girl, you have to ask her out,” Lyle says the minute the inspector is out of the apartment. “Major sparks flying everywhere!”
“Why did you tell her she could take the stuff Ursula sent?” I ask my mother, ignoring Lyle’s heavy-handed statement. “I wanted to look it over some more before I talk to Ursula. Damn. I bet that’s where Inspector Robinson is going right now.” Now I’ll have to wait to talk to Ursula. I decide to put it off until tomorrow as I’m not really looking forward to listening to any more of her lies.
“Because Lyle and I copied everything before you got here,” my mother beams, pulling out another envelope from under a pile of mail on the coffee table. “We figured the inspector would want the originals. As well as you.” She giggles as she looks at Lyle. The two of them burst into laughter.
“You guys are incorrigible,” I grumble, but smile at their exuberance. I have to admit a small part of me is excited at a new romantic possibility. It doesn’t hurt my ego any, either, especially after breaking up with Vashti in such an ignominious fashion.
Lyle informs me that he talked to Basil, his ex. Basil moved back to San Francisco to be with the new love of his life, and they were at Fisherman’s Wharf on Saturday at the time of Paris’s accident. The three of us make faces because the Wharf is the biggest tourist trap and has exorbitant prices. Basil’s new beau is from Iowa or Wisconsin—one of those corn states. We all chuckle at the expense of the hapless Midwest. I’ve never been there, but I don’t let that stop me from making prejudicial assumptions about it. I want to know why Basil called Lyle, though more out of desperation than for any good reason. I don’t truly believe that Lyle’s ex returned to the Bay Area for the sole purpose of killing Paris so he can have Lyle to himself. For one thing, I would assume that Basil didn’t know about Paris until he called Lyle. For another, it’s a stretch to believe that Basil waited patiently for years to win back Lyle. Lyle confirms that it was just to have lunch, and that’s the end of that. Lyle also gave his statement this morning which is why I didn’t see him at the station.