Ashley was agitated about her father, calling him a shithead in sheep’s clothing. When Melissa pointed out that her father was well-known for his contributions to the community, Ashley openly sneered. She told them they were idiots if they believed everything they saw or heard. Her father was a first-class prick who had a mistress while her mother was dying of cancer. This mistress wasn’t the first one, neither, but that’s only to be expected from a bigwig executive like him. Her father was careful not to expose his wife to his peccadilloes, but she knew. Everyone in town knew, and her so-called ‘friends’ were always the first ones to tell Janice something, ‘for her own good.’ Ashley vacillated between thinking her mother was a saint for putting up with her father’s behavior and thinking she was an idiot.
That wasn’t the worst part, however. Ashley was in her father’s den one day, snooping for evidence of his infidelities. Even though her mother was dead, Ashley still felt the need to protect her. Ashley found a letter from a lover to her father asking for money because she was pregnant. She was asking for fifty-thousand dollars for the abortion and for ‘emotional damages’, threatening to go to the media if he didn’t pay. This was his last warning, the letter read, to do the right thing by her. Ashley didn’t know who the woman because her father walked in before she could read the whole letter. Her father freaked, ripping the letter out of her hands and screaming at her for spying on him. Of course, she gave it right back to him for being a hypocrite before storming off to group. Her father had caught her by surprise, coming home early like that. Ashley had thought she was safe because her father normally didn’t come home before nine at night.
Ashley’s agitation that day is starting to make sense. According to Maria, Ashley already suspected that her father was having an affair before then, but that piece of hard evidence would be impossible to ignore. I wonder if she had started searching in hopes that she wouldn’t find anything to verify her vague suspicions. When she first saw the letter, what was running through her mind? Was she planning on confronting her father? Or would she have kept it to herself, letting it simmer? Knowing her even as little as I had, I knew there was no way she would have kept that information to herself. Most likely, she would have tried to find the letter again to read the whole thing. I would be surprised if Mr. Stevenson kept it after Ashley found it, however. In fact, I’m surprised he kept it at all. I also wonder what the mystery woman would have done if Mr. Stevenson hadn’t paid. Would she have taken him to court? Tried him in the media? Infidelity is not a crime, but it could prove awfully embarrassing for him to be caught up in a nasty situation like that. Then there’s the question of, is the mystery woman the same person as the one Ashley said she was becoming suspicious of? If so, someone in group? I shake my head. This speculation is getting me nowhere.
The women are still talking about Ashley. She felt betrayed by her father who was always her idol. What if Mr. Stevenson killed his daughter to keep her from telling anyone about the letter? I dismiss the possibility because he would have done it immediately after she read the letter if he did at all for that reason. It makes no sense that he would have waited a day and a half before killing her. I miss part of the conversation, but the women are only rehashing what they’ve already said. My mind is drifting, so I almost miss it when Melissa comments that Ashley said she was going to make her father tell her everything. When I pressed Melissa what Ashley meant by that, she shook her head regretfully. She and Jean hadn’t wanted to push Ashley too hard because she seemed so distraught; now, Melissa wishes they had. It’s mean of me, but I can’t help thinking that the only reason they wanted to know more was so they could have the inside scoop. Many people crave fame and attention, and these women are no exception.
I digest what they’ve told me which, stripped of the speculation and drama, isn’t much. I have the feeling there is something they’re holding back from me, but I can’t think of what else to ask. Melissa is giving me a speculative eye whenever Jean is busy flirting with the bartenders. No matter what they said earlier about being a monogamous couple, they are on the make. Since I don’t find either of them remotely attractive, I decide to wrap up the conversation and head on out. I buy them another round, then gracefully extricate myself from the situation. I don’t even look for the Latina I was dancing with earlier because now, I want to be alone.
I start walking home. By now, it’s almost midnight. The moon is a mere sliver, but I don’t know if it’s waxing or waning. The drinks I’ve ingested are wearing off, and I can walk without any great concentration. I have my mind on the information received that night at the Lex and am not watching where I’m going. My feet are on autopilot, and I trust them to get me home. The street is quiet for a weekend night. I see a lone person here and there, but no groups. Then again, the Mission District is not a popular destination for tourists especially since 9/11. Certainly not like North Beach and all its chichi getaways. Oh sure, some people will go to the Mission just so they can goggle at the freaks, much like a visit to the Castro, but they aren’t out in force tonight.
Just as I’m lulled into a meditative mood, the sound of an accelerating car intrudes on my peace, but I ignore it. It’s only as it nears me that I turn my head. This time, there is no mistaking the intentions of the car. It means to hit me, and it means to kill me. The headlights blind me as it bears down. I am frozen. I cannot move. It will hit me if I don’t do something. I scream at my feet to move, but they won’t listen. Time simultaneously stops and speeds up. It is incredible to me that this is happening again; my mind cannot process that I’m about to be hit by a car. Just as the car is about to run me over, I am able to jolt myself out of my lethargy and jump out of the way. I’m fast, but not quite fast enough. The fender nicks my hip as I dive for the pavement. It hurts like hell, especially as my legs are bare. The car whizzes away before I can even glance at the license plate. It’s big, boxy and dark-colored. That’s the extent of what I have seen. I lay on the pavement for a minute, catching my breath. When I am ready, I carefully get to my feet, only to find myself wincing. My legs are cut up and bleeding, while my hip is throbbing. I am grateful, however, that the car doesn’t return and that I’m in one piece. I suppose I should call the cops, but there isn’t anything they can do. I want to get home as soon as possible, so I forgo calling in the ‘accident’.
I limp my way home and crawl into the shower, avoiding the mirror as best I can. My body is a cornucopia of bruises, and I don’t need to see them to know they hurt like hell. As the water pours down my face, I start shaking. My teeth chatter, and I can’t get warm enough. I turn the water hotter and hotter until I think I’m going to scream, and still, my teeth are gritted in fear. I am rooted to the spot, just as I was when the car hit me. I have the soap clutched in my hand, and it takes every ounce of strength I possess to put it back down. Tears run down my face against my will. I hate crying and try not to do it if at all possible. Now, I have lost all the defense mechanisms I once had and am reacting as I was immediately following the last murder attempt. The more I try to get myself under control, the more I lose it.
I stay in the shower until all the hot water runs out. I wrap a towel around me as I walk to my bedroom, picking out my thickest flannel night gown. I need the warmth. The cuts on my legs are not deep as I am more bruised than bleeding. I dress my wounds as best as I can before making my way to the kitchen so I can boil water for a cup of tea. I am still spooked by the incident and wish that Paris were in town. I need him, desperately. Barring that, I need a stiff drink. As I wait for the kettle to whistle, I pour myself a shot of whiskey for a bracer. It’s smooth going down, and I feel better. The water is now boiling, so I make a cup of peppermint tea. I pick it up and go to the living room where I sit on the couch, numb except for the screaming pain of my hip. I can’t even turn on the television as that would take too much effort. I used all the energy I had making it home, showering, changing, and making the tea. The only other thing I can do is pick up the phone and call my mother, so I do.
“Hello?” My mom answers on the tenth ring, swallowing a yawn. She is the only person I know who doesn’t have an answering machine or voicemail.
“Did I wake you?” I ask, trying to keep my voice steady. I don’t want to alarm her, which is bullshit considering that I am calling her past midnight. There is no good news at this time of night.
“Rainbow? What is it?” In the time-honored tradition of mothers everywhere, she immediately awakens at the sound of my voice. “What’s wrong?” I can picture her clutching her phone, her face worried. As laidback as she normally is, she is all mother when it comes to her children.
“Um, I had an accident tonight.” My voice is small and scared, so unlike my normal voice.
“An accident? Are you ok? Are you hurt? Talk to me, Rainbow!” Her voice is rising, so I get right to it.
“Someone tried to run me over as I was walking home from the Lex,” I blurt it out, feeling ridiculous, not to mention a sense of déjà vu.
“Oh my god! Are you all right?” My mother shrieks, forgoing her inner calm. “What happened?”
“I’m ok, Mom. Just banged up and sore.” I try to ignore the throbbing pain of my right hip where the car hit me and of my left hip where I landed on the pavement, not to mention the rest of my body which just aches.
“I’m coming right over,” my mom says in a tone that brooks no argument. I sit on the couch and wait for my mother to arrive. By now, my tea has cooled, and it no longer appeals to me. I will myself to get up and go to the kitchen to heat the tea, but I can’t force myself off the couch. I flick on the television, but there is nothing of interest. I flick it off. I page through the Newsweek sitting on the coffee table, not reading any of the articles. I must have dozed off because the next thing I see is my mother’s face hovering over me. I’m glad she has a key so I didn’t have to move to let her in.
“Hi, Mom,” I say blearily, struggling to sit up.
“Lie still.” My mother probes each of my hips in turn, trying to discern if I’ve broken anything. When she determines that I’m intact, she whisks my cup of tea away and goes to pour me a fresh cup. She returns with a steaming cup of chamomile tea and a plate of chocolate chip cookies. She must have brought them with her because I would have remembered having them in the house. Then again, they wouldn’t be in the house because they would be gone by now. I shake my head to rid it of the random thoughts. Mom helps me sit up and hands me the tea and a cookie. We munch away in compatible silence.
“Thanks,” I say, brushing crumbs from my lap. “I feel a hundred percent better.”
“Tell me about it,” my mom orders, sitting next to me on the couch. I tell her what little I know, haltingly, as it’s still fresh in my mind. She listens without commenting. When I am through, she is still silent.
“Well?” I say impatiently when it seems as if she’s not going to talk.
“You’re getting involved again,” she says at last, her forehead creasing. “I don’t like it.”
“I have no choice this time,” I exclaim, bolting up in indignation. Pain sears through my hips and I fall back on the arm of the couch. My mom grabs her purse and starts rustling through it. “What are you doing?” I mumble, not really caring. All I can think about is the pain shooting through my body.
“Here.” My mom fixes a pipe of marijuana and hands it to me. I accept it without protest, lighting the weed and inhaling. After three puffs, I hand it back to my mother. The pain isn’t quite as bad as it was mere minutes ago. I close my eyes and sigh as the marijuana does its job. My mom takes a puff herself before emptying out the pipe onto her plate and popping it back into her purse. “I want you to quit the group.”
“What?” My eyes open out of their own volition, and I stare at her as best I can. “I can’t do that. Inspector Robinson is counting on me.”
“Well, she can count you out.” My mother’s voice is tight—it gets that way when she’s upset.
“Mom! I can’t turn the cops down. They might get suspicious.” I close my eyes again. I’m tiring quickly and want nothing more than to go to bed. There is a long silence—so long, I open my eyes again. To my amazement, my mother is crying. My mom! The unflappable one! Family lore has it that she gave birth to my sister without any drugs and without a whimper. “Mom! What’s wrong?” Concerned, I sit up and place an arm around my mother’s shoulder. She is a thin woman with fragile bones—something I always forget until I hug her. I wince as the pain sears through me, but I manage to grit my teeth and shake it off.
“I cannot go through it again,” she whispers, her face ashen. “You don’t know what it was like, Rainbow, sitting by your bed in the hospital while you were sleeping, wondering if you were going to make it. Praying to a god I don’t even believe in that I would do anything if he would just spare you.” My mother grabs me by the arms and stares into my eyes. “You cannot do that to me again. Promise me!”
“Mom, I’ll be fine,” I say weakly, avoiding her eyes. Guilt surges through me at the thought of what she must have experienced. She isn’t reassured by my words, nor should she be given what happened to me tonight. “I’ll be more careful; I promise.”
“I wish Paris were here,” my mom sighs. “I’d feel so much better.” I forebear from pointing out that what happened last month occurred while Paris was in town.
“I need to sleep,” I say apologetically. My mom gives me a look telling me she knows I didn’t promise her to stay out of trouble, but she lets it slide. She guides me to my bedroom and tucks me into bed. She tells me she’s sleeping on the couch so she’ll see me in the morning. I’m too exhausted to argue, and besides, French toast in bed sounds awfully good to me.