Numb with shock, Rayann backed out of the bedroom.
Look again. Maybe this is just a hallucination.
No. The soft noises, the moaning—too real to be anything but here and now.
She shut the front door with a faint click, then walked quickly down the stairs to the street. She didn’t look back, didn’t know if Michelle had seen her or heard her strangled gasp. She didn’t want to know if Michelle had stopped, if Michelle would follow her, if Michelle would try to explain.
Explain? No explanation, there could be no explanation.
She heard Michelle call her name, then scream at her to come back. So she heard me. I’m surprised, since she was so intent… She quickened her pace, and then she was running.
How long had this been going on? How many had there been? How many times has Michelle poised in just that way, with just that look, but not over me? She said I was the only one. Said she loved me—
Market Street, finally. Sides aching from the uphill run, Rayann stumbled out of the late-afternoon chill into the Muni station, fumbling in her backpack for three quarters and a dime. Damn, not enough change. In a panic, she fed a dollar bill into the change machine but the machine spit it back out. With shaking hands she smoothed the edges and unbent the corners. Why didn’t I buy a Fast Pass? Because she didn’t have enough cash and Michelle hadn’t been to the ATM recently. Finally, a bill went in and she scrabbled her change out of the dish, then ran to the turnstiles. She didn’t stop to wonder where instinct was taking her. She pushed the button for a transfer and kept running.
Blame? She blamed the penny pinchers at the old college. They declared it wasn’t sufficiently cold to waste energy on heating yet. The chill of the classroom had been too cold for extension students with only a marginal interest in wood sculpting. Too cold for the housewives who’d figured out they wouldn’t have enough time to make all the Christmas presents with which they’d intended to amaze and astonish their friends.
She’d hurried home through the cold, damp afternoon, reveling in the richness of the fall air, knowing Michelle was off-duty. She had wanted to sit for a while in front of a cozy fire. Wanted to surprise Michelle with extra hours together—lately there had been so few.
The bar looked the same. The women looked the same. Her reflection in the mirror behind Jilly looked the same—wide hazel eyes, indifferent brown hair curling and brushing at her shoulders, shoulders too wide for her size-twelve frame. Maybe she was paler than usual. Her nose was red but it was probably just the cold. She ordered a Tanqueray and tonic.
Jilly tossed a napkin onto the bar and set down the drink. “Y’look tired.”
Rayann shrugged. She couldn’t talk. She carried her glass over to the jukebox. Leaning on it, she thought of Bette Davis leaning on the piano in All About Eve.
Fasten your seat belt, Rayann, it’s going to be a bumpy night.
She took a healthy swallow of her drink and promptly choked on it. Some Bette Davis you are—do you think if she’d caught her lover like that she would have run?
Coughing, she managed another swallow, then drained the glass in three more. Gin wasn’t going to solve anything, but it might ease the pressure before she exploded.
So what are you going to do about it? Fight for her?
Rayann pictured herself as a female Gary Cooper, facing some nameless blonde interloper who stood framing her womanhood at the end of a long, dusty street. Rayann started to giggle, realized she wouldn’t stop once she started and went to the bar for another drink. She ignored the puzzled look Jilly gave her as she resumed leaning on the jukebox again.
A young couple came in, a blonde and a redhead, hugging each other, holding hands, making lovesick eyes—so young and in love it hurt Rayann to watch them. She doubted either of them had said goodbye to their teens, and noticed Jilly doubted it too, though she didn’t kick them out. Jilly gave them a stern look as she brought them club sodas, her eyes daring them to try to order anything else. Rayann remembered that look when it had been directed at her a long, long time ago.
The baby blonde danced by herself over to the jukebox. The redhead’s eyes never left her—the gaze was proud and indulgent and proprietary. The blonde looked Rayann over and Rayann wondered if she were assessing Rayann’s hands or her mouth, thinking maybe she wasn’t too bad for Pushing Thirty.
The blonde scanned the record list. “Wow, it’s got Melissa.” Her fashionably tousled curls looked as if she had just come from bed. The half-dozen earrings piercing her delicate lobe winked at Rayann. “Half these people I never heard of. Like what are Vandellas, anyway? But I love Melissa. She’s been there, you know.”
Been where? What do you know about anything but here and now? Just wait until three years of your life melt away in less than a heartbeat, she wanted to say. Rayann was at most only twelve years older, but she felt as if she had as much in common with this woman as she did with an infant.
The child-woman dropped in a quarter, pushed some buttons and danced back across the floor to her waiting partner. The redhead glanced briefly at Rayann, then away with a shrug of her leather-clad shoulder. She knew Rayann was no threat.
Three years with Michelle and Rayann had forgotten all about the games. For three years she had spent most of her time at a table-for-two in the tea room, not in the bar. For three years there had been only one woman.
The interminable, endlessly-only-you love song on the jukebox finally faded to a close. The records whirred, clicked, and the low beat of Melissa Etheridge pulsed against Rayann through the jukebox glass. She wondered how long it would be before Michelle looked for her here. That was assuming that Michelle cared enough to come looking. There was certainly no sign of her yet, and she had a car.
Her hands flat on the top of the jukebox, Rayann kept time with the bass, lightly slapping the beat. Melissa’s whisper surged into throaty, burning agony, and the jukebox throbbed the anguish of an unfaithful lover. She has been there, or she’s a real good faker. Rayann swallowed the last half of her drink as Melissa cried “Bring Me Some Water”—Rayann screamed with her in silence, beating the bass line on the jukebox with her palms, then with her fists.
Firm hands pulled her away from the jukebox. “Stop it, stop it! What’s wrong? Ray? Look at me!” Jilly’s fingers dug into Rayann’s shoulders.
Over Jilly’s shoulder she saw the baby blonde and the redhead on the dance floor, hip-to-hip, crotch-to-crotch, frozen with hands in each other’s back pockets as they stared at Rayann. Everyone was staring at Rayann.
“What’s wrong?” Jilly persisted.
“A lie.” She pointed at the young couple and their happy-ever-after eyes. “A goddamned lie.” Jilly looked at them, and Rayann slid away from her, around the jukebox, out the door.
There are no reviews yet.