The Other Bowling Girl
“Not a good day for a bonfire,” Lindsay Boxer said, with a glance out the window.
Rain stippled the attic window. The drops, violently dragged, quivered across the window’s transparent canvas in the fierce embrace of a windy, summer storm. God was clearly in Jackson Pollock mode today. Nearly three months after the demise of the Kiss Me Not Killer, the time had apparently come for Lindsay to dismantle her secret room—the sanctum sanctorum wallpapered in obsession and blood, the most painfully literal representation of something that came so perilously close to destroying her career, her sanity, and her life.
Not to mention the lives already ruined, already gone, Jill Bernhardt thought. On this rainy day Jill was in the role of reluctant archivist, packing away—with the gentlest of care—yellowed newspaper clippings, autopsy photos curling translucent at their Polaroid edges, hand-scrawled notes, shiny old Xeroxes bleeding black ink onto her fingertips, as if she were a criminal to be processed, an unknowing accessory to Lindsay’s obsessions. “So,” Jill began, wincing as she slid a particularly gruesome autopsy photo into an acid-free binder, “if it had been a sunny day, were you really going to burn everything?”
Absently, Lindsay wiped dust from her hands onto her cargo shorts, scowled at the piles of atrocity that remained to be boxed. “Didn’t I say that over the phone?”
“I believe your exact words on the phone were, ‘Get your ass over here, I need help.’” Jill tried to keep the vexation out of her voice. Imagining the worst, she had literally dropped everything—not that she was ever good at folding fitted bed sheets anyway, but then, who was?—jumped into a cab, and had arrived at Lindsay’s door to a greeting from a tail-wagging Martha and her slightly sheepish mistress. Even in the dissolution of relief and anger—the major love, the not-so-minor lust—Jill could not help but wonder if Lindsay had a tail, would it too be wagging? Or was that all wishful conjecture?
“Yeah” The contrite, sighed monosyllable was about as close to an apology on that score as Jill would get. (Well, Martha had vigorously licked her kneecap earlier—that was something, she supposed.) Lindsay remained staring at the swarm of documentation on the attic floor. “Well, I didn’t—I mean, I just wanted to get it done, you know? And I didn’t want to do it alone.” She gave Jill a meltingly sympathetic brown-eyed glance.
And that is precisely what Jill’s cynical little lawyerly heart—Jill Burnedheart, Esquire—did: It melted a little, even as the rest of her resented the tightening of the collar, the tug of the leash. Did Martha look oddly sympathetic? Silently Jill chastised herself for that resentment: Your own damn fault. You wanted her. You waited too long.
“I mean,” Lindsay pinched her brow, “Cindy would have asked questions about everything, and every two seconds at that, and Claire already has enough on her plate as it is, so…”
“Linds,” Jill interrupted gently. “It’s okay.” The act of filing away the past required someone willing to look it in the eye before mercilessly consigning it to perpetual darkness, or the oblivion of flames. Who better suited? Not to mention, Pete was still in Cambodia, and Marty—
Lindsay didn’t talk much about Marty. Or even Pete, for that matter. She had, apparently, already archived away these feelings, these men, without any help from anyone whatsoever. They had all tried, timidly, to get her to talk about her feelings—the very word usually provoked in Lindsay a sneer worthy of Billy Idol. The mere mention of Marty incurred the risk of stepping on a landmine of guilt and recrimination. As for Pete—well, the ruggedly handsome builder of deluxe hotels for neurasthenic, frightened white people in third world countries (Are they green? Claire always asked. Is he building responsibly?) was a topic best left to discussion after a pitcher of margaritas, because Cindy, with inevitable enthusiasm, would usually bring up the possibility of “Skype sex” as an antidote for Lindsay’s love woes:
“I mean, it’s no substitute for the real thing,” Cindy would blather, tipping daintily over the Formica tabletop, breasts brushing dangerously close to a flared, frosted glass, her voice—finally—dropping into a quieter register. “But it can be really, really intense.”
They would all stare at her. Well, the pleasantly surprised Jill stared, the crankily celibate Lindsay glared, and the always practical Claire moaned, “Oh, Jesus” as she was wont to do when, like cattle wandering into an ill-tempered neighbor’s property, conversations strayed inappropriately into Cindy’s private garden of Too Much Information.
Jill was about to ask if Lindsay had heard from Cindy lately; the swaddling silence of the past hour or so—punctured only by few words, distant thunder, and the hissing, spitting wind—sorely required a little levity.
Then Lindsay herself broke the reverential quiet. “Do you mind, then?”
“That I asked you.”
“No. Of course not.”
“If Pete were here—“
“I know. You would’ve asked him. But seriously, would you want to spend any free time you get with him doing something like this?”
“Yeah.” Lindsay smiled, but it was hard to gauge what emotion tinged her expression. Simple sadness? Relief that he wasn’t actually here, and then remorse at feeling that? “Guess you’re right.”
The sky released a whipcrack of thunder so sudden and intense that, even as Jill jumped nearly a foot into the air, she stared with pure apprehension at the distant sky and fully expected the jagged beauty of a lightning bolt to crack the windowpane and pierce her heart. She wasn’t even aware that she held Lindsay’s arm in a death grip. “Goddamn!”
Lindsay laughed. “You all right?”
“Yeah.” She did not release Lindsay’s arm.
“I forgot.” Lindsay’s tone was contrite. “You get spooked by thunderstorms.”
“Sometimes,” Jill squeaked. When she was about ten, Jill had seen a girl get struck by lightning. It was one of those blink-and-you-miss-it phenomena, even more precarious when accurate recall of the event is attempted. Even now, so many years later, she would try: usually in bed at night, after her pupils had welcomed the great expanse of darkness. Perhaps, she theorized, her mind would similarly acknowledge hidden thoughts, forgotten images. But all she truly remembered was the bright fissure in the sky, and the girl—a sliver of smoke winding above a blackened hole on her torso—on the ground.
“Hey.” Now Lindsay looked serious. “Are you okay?” Her fingers were on Jill’s jaw, first tenderly, then slowly sliding into an intimacy both easy and impossible, second nature and tacitly forbidden, until her long hand cradled Jill’s face. In response, Jill gave in: She pulled Lindsay closer and the inevitable kiss followed: Warm and sweet and slowly gathering in intensity, as if every motion of their mouths built upon the promise of something always there. Or so Jill hoped. Was it misplaced desire for a man thousands of miles away? An electrical charge lingering in the air and acting as conduit between her panic and Lindsay’s loneliness? It could be all of it, it could be everything, as sweetly complicated—and as meaningless and easily unraveled—as a folding star. Whatever it was, she didn’t want it to end, or at least not to end the way it did: With Lindsay pulling back abruptly, that oh-shit-not-again look on her face, and admirably resisting the urge—you have to love her for it, Jill thought, even if it wasn’t so much to avoid hurt feelings as that ridiculously ingrained police training—not to tamper with the glistening evidence on her lips.
Jill thought it best to start the round of pointless apologies; perhaps if they got that out of the way quickly enough, the packing of autopsy photos could proceed on its merry little way. Stop it, stop thinking that, it can’t be. “I’m sorry.”
“No, no.” Lindsay held up an authoritative finger. “It’s okay. My fault.”
Jill always hated to hear passion—particularly this one—ascribed to as mere fault. “How so?”
Lindsay blinked. “Pizza,” she blurted.
Lost her again. “I beg your pardon?”
“I think we need to order some pizza.” Lindsay was already halfway down the attic’s ladder when she called up, “Pepperoni okay?”
“Sure,” Jill drawled. She looked out the window again, dared the sky to do its worst; as a force of nature, was a thunderstorm—its blackened skies, its earthshaking booms, its potentially fatal bolts—really any worse than Lindsay Boxer?
Even the Janitor’s Wife Has a Perfectly Good Love Life
Had she not resembled the Barefoot Contessa, it would have been perfect.
Jill had come to this conclusion regarding her real estate agent. Inez was indeed perfect in every way: intelligent, cultivated, sensitive, an arbiter of taste who knew exactly what Jill liked from apartments to wine to footwear, and capable of communicating with Jill in the fewest words possible. So when Jill had left a message on the agent’s voice mail, begging Inez to find her the perfect living space, she was confident it would only be a matter of time, and so it was: Inez had found her a condo, in Bernal Heights no less, perfectly priced (too low a price would trigger liberal guilt, too high would cause renewed agitation about the salary of a public defender) and with a skylight (this emphasized with ecstatic terseness in Inez’s brief voice mail message, in such a manner that indicated she had come upon some sort of real estate holy grail).
She met Inez at the building, and as they rode up together in the elevator, the plump real estate agent efficiently disposed of the messy reason Jill was looking for a new place: “So…Luke?” Inez made a face composed of one part sympathy, another part what a mess, thank God that’s done with—the entire symphony of this one facial expression, with the exception of a guilt-filled coda, a perfect summation of everything Jill felt about him. That guilt-filled coda (she imagined something Phillip Glass-like, droning string quartets) was composed mostly of masochistic wishing: She had wanted him to do something drastic—well, something drastic for him. Throw things. Grow a bad beard. Humiliate her in public. Humiliate her on the internet. Eat an omelet made with egg yolks. Have an affair with a man. Something, anything other than exist separately from her, floating far above the deadening details of a now-defunct relationship on a completely judgmental plane, a cloud fueled by self-righteousness.
Rather than subject Inez to these rants, Jill instead gave a stoic, single nod. She had seen Lindsay do it numerous times, and she only hoped she looked as nobly suffering as her best friend and favorite occasional, intermittent lover did. (Did you just think of her as your lover? Oh, Jesus.) Of course, she lacked Lindsay’s handsome jaw and Kirk Douglas cleft, but in these instances one had no recourse but to work with one’s own quivering, pale flesh.
Inez nodded back and silently pondered how best to wrap up the Luke discussion. “Well. He was cute.”
Prevaricating, Jill hummed.
“His ass was nice,” Inez clarified.
Jill affirmed this with a more definitive hum.
“Que sera, sera.” Inez punctuated this with a perfect, world-weary shrug just as the elevator dinged and the door opened. She tilted her head. “Shall we?”
Jill followed meekly, as an acidic brew of excitement over the condo and fretting—not over Luke, but Lindsay—made her stomach roil viciously. Stalking through the apartment, she paid little attention to the granite countertops in the kitchen or the new tile in the bathroom. Did you just think of her as your lover? He was your lover, not her. You screwed up his life, not hers. Well, you haven’t screwed up her life just yet. Probably a good thing she hasn’t called since you kissed her. Or she kissed you. Oh fuck, I’ve got to stop this—
She stopped. And looked up. In its perfect rectangular shape, the loft’s skylight imposed symmetry and order upon the limitless, overcast sky, even as its edges were beautifully blurred with reflected light. Jill had never considered herself a terribly religious or even spiritual person, but this abundance of light from above seemed a sign from a higher power, a compelling epiphany, a call to get it together, bitch (for Jill’s personal Jesus was nothing if not blunt and sounding reminiscent of Pam Grier).
Inez’s heels clicked slowly across the newly varnished wood floors. “Like?”
Jill grinned into the light. “Love.”
She was still blinking into the skylight as Inez said those magical, munificent words that would surely guarantee her eternal happiness: “I have the paperwork with me.”
The Last Days of Chez
Several days later, Jill attended her last supper as a temporary resident of the Washburn household. After the meal Ed skillfully herded the kids out of the dining room, providing an opportunity for the two friends to have a private conversation or, at the very least, for Claire to ask Jill how one skinny adult woman could go through so many towels during the course of a week.
Claire chose to eschew the towels as a topic of discussion, and instead focused on the positive: Jill was getting the hell out of her house. As fond as she was of her friend, she believed she was getting far too old and tired to deal with roommates or, in this instance, indefinite houseguests; a husband and children were quite enough. “So.” She beamed and raised a smudged, nearly empty wineglass. “Here’s to your new place.” Their glasses chimed together in a toast. “You know we’ll miss you. And the boys—well, the boys will definitely miss you.”
Jill groaned. “Oh, God, I’m so sorry about that.”
Claire waved a dismissive hand. “Forget it. We needed to have that ‘birds and the bees and the naked white lady’ talk.”
“I mean, I had no idea the school had some kind of spring break holiday...and I shouldn't have left the bathroom door open....”
“Stop worrying. You have other things to think about right now. Like getting settled into your place, moving on with your life.”
“Yeah.” No sooner had she finished off her wine than Claire was pouring the last of the bottle into her glass. “Well, I think I’m really ready to move on from Luke. More than ready, actually.”
“I’m not talking about Luke.” Claire shot her that serious look, not unlike the warning glance usually fired from across a dissected corpse, indicating that a major organ was about to be displayed with unnerving casualness and that vomiting into or anywhere near the cadaver would not be tolerated. “You need to settle this thing with Lindsay,” Claire murmured in a discrete undertone.
Deny, deny, deny. “What are you talking about?” Jill always thought politics was a viable career. I did not sleep with that woman!
Claire gave her another bristling, indignant look. “Come on. I know, Jill.”
“How? How do you know?”
Jill now expected fantastic details of Claire’s acute, near-bionic powers of perception to be revealed—how she noticed longing looks, lipstick on the collar, too much time spent together in public restrooms, a lingering touch, a unexplained blush—instead, Claire shrugged almost apologetically. “Lindsay told me,” she admitted. “Don't look so mad—well, it does put some color in your cheeks. She needed a neutral third party to talk to.”
“Are you a neutral third party, Claire?” When it came to Lindsay, Claire’s maternal instincts always kicked into overdrive.
“Honey, you know I love you both. And it’s really none of my business. But.”
Jill cloaked her eyes with a hand, and repeated aloud a mantra that she had been chanting silently for days, despite its relative uselessness in tempering or diminishing her feelings. “She’s with Pete. She loves Pete.”
“But you love her,” Claire observed quietly.
“Yeah. I love her.” It was the first time she had admitted it to anyone.
These days, it seemed that Claire did not smile much. Now, to Jill’s amazement, she grinned broadly. “It’s great,” she said softly.
“Claire, you are either a closet optimist or that wine is really, really potent.” Am I slurring?
“Ed will tell you that I’m as pessimistic as ever. And this wine?” Claire pointed at her glass. “It came from a box.”
In horror, Jill recoiled from the table. “Oh my God. Have you been serving me wine in a box all these months?”
“Just kidding. Well, there was that one time, the chardonnay we had with tuna casserole...anyway...I never thought—“ In an attempt for tactfulness, Claire stopped short. “I never thought you would really fall for someone. Like hard, really hard. But I think you have. I’ve seen you infatuated, I’ve seen you in lust, but this is different, isn’t it?” When no denial was forthcoming, Claire pressed on. “You need to make a decision. You’re putting her in a lousy position—she’s had this thing with you on the side, these unresolved feelings. She feels guilty. She feels unworthy of him. Hell, at this rate she’ll probably break it off with him. Which is maybe what you want—“
“No,” Jill interrupted forcefully. “That’s not what I want.”
“The lawyer doth protest too much.”
“We always protest too much. That’s what we do.” She sighed. “I want her to be happy.”
“Then let her go. Or tell her.”
The only problem with letting her go is she always comes back. Jill hesitated in telling Claire this; however true or untrue this perception was, she always expected Claire to take Lindsay's side, to not believe that Lindsay was—despite several years of marriage to Tom, not to mention the resultant pining and sulking she did over him—that masochistic. Instead she stared at the light sailing around the rim of the wineglass, wavering to and fro as she tilted it.
But then Claire said it again, and in doing so made a multitude of possibilities, all of them worthy of risk and pain, frighteningly real: “Tell her that you love her.”
“God.” The stress and the seriousness of the conversation finally bubbled over into nervous laughter. “I still can’t believe you know. I mean, who else knows?”
“Um...” Ed began from the dining room entrance.
“Damn it, Ed!” Claire glared at her husband.
“Sorry,” he replied. “I thought you guys were done.”
“What did I tell you about the stealth wheeling?”
“What you want me to do? Put bells on the chair?” Ed growled.
“That would look so cute,” Jill inserted, in a seriously lame attempt to diffuse what in all likelihood would explode into another argument.
Huffily, Claire disappeared into the kitchen.
There was no doubt in her mind that Claire and Ed loved one another, but Ed’s accident had created a uniquely fragile stage of their marriage—where everything was constantly at risk of implosion. Cindy—whose youthful exuberance sometimes made Jill forget that keen sense of observation she possessed—had memorably described Claire’s current marital state as dynamite in a chrysalis. Or could have Cindy meant it, indirectly, as a commentary on her and Lindsay as well? Does she know too? Is Lindsay going to rent out a damn billboard? Briefly she envisioned it: Lindsay with her suffering-madonna face, under a blaring caption: WE CHEATED ON HER BOYFRIEND, THEN WE CHEATED ON MINE! Or would she opt for a spot on daytime TV instead? No. Like any good cop, Lindsay hated being on the other side of the interrogation table.
In atonement for his unintentional eavesdropping, Ed began clearing the table, shoveling food rubble into an empty serving dish and stacking plates. Jill got up to assist. “I don’t understand what the big deal is,” he muttered.
Jill picked up the plates. “What do you mean?”
“I mean—“ Ed lowered his tone, shrugged his shoulders. “I always thought you guys were kinda—you know, doing it anyway.”
“You think EVERY woman in San Francisco is doing it with another woman!” Claire bellowed from the kitchen.
“Okay, so who’s eavesdropping now?” Ed yelled back.
Jill took a final, generous swig of wine; whether from box or bottle, she needed it. Perhaps, she thought—as Ed wheeled angrily into the kitchen for round two—there was something to be said for the state of unattachment.
An Abbreviated History of
Passive-Aggressiveness and Missed Opportunities, or, The First Five Times
On Lindsay’s couch. Moping transmuted into groping: A pat on the leg turned into a hug, which became cuddling, which in turn became nuzzling, which led to kissing—the rough, demanding, waste-no-time kind of kissing that Jill usually liked but nonetheless did not expect from Lindsay, who had always kissed her husband as if she were a frigid cheerleader wary of smearing her lipstick. And yet this same woman was now underneath her, divinely sprawled over the length of the sofa.
Tom. She took a moment from writhing on top of Lindsay to panic. It had reached the point where they never thought it would happen, a never-ending dance of the seven veiled flirtations. The dance had stopped, the line was about to be crossed. “You did sign the divorce papers, right?”
“Yeah.” Thankfully Lindsay did not sound mopey anymore, but breathless, aroused. Her hands squeezed Jill’s thighs.
“Yeah. It is.” Lindsay smiled up at her, almost shyly. “Do you know—I’ve wanted this for a long time?”
Jill dipped down to kiss her again.
Lindsay complaining to the bartender at Zeitgeist—a burly guy with crewcut gray hair, Southern, too many tattoos—about how hipsters call Pabst Blue Ribbon “PBR”: “Do they think using an acronym makes it suck less?”
He nodded at Jill. “What does your girl here drink?”
Panic lent Lindsay that classic closet-case-in-the-headlights look. “My—what?”
“Your girl. Your special ladyfriend. Your Platinum Blonde Love Muffin, Hell, I can’t keep up with what y’all call each other these days.”
Jill needed no encouragement to hijack all assumptions; her sense of mischief and motor mouth drove them away faster than a souped-up El Camino. “Yeah, yeah.” She tugged the sleeve of Lindsay’s leather jacket. “What do I drink, honey?” No response. “Sugar Puff, I’m so hurt. You don’t know what I drink? After all this time? And we’re ENGAGED?”
“Damn, I knew y’all were together a long time.” the bartender said. “I tell you what: Next round’s on the house. And you, big hoss”—he nodded at Lindsay—“better get on the ball or you’ll be sleepin’ on the couch tonight, I bet.”
While the couch did figure prominently into activities later that night, Lindsay’s sweet retribution began with Jill pinned against the door of the apartment. In the disembodied dark, Lindsay’s hands and mouth were everywhere on her body, and as Lindsay entered her every sense became heightened. Above the rough hitches in her breathing, the sterile hum of the refrigerator, and the audible aching of the floorboards beneath them, the entire city roared with silence.
Looking at the cell phone: Three messages from Luke. Good thing we don’t live together. Looking at the bed: Lindsay, half-awake, fully naked. Jill’s throat tightened with guilt. “I have to go,” she said tersely.
“Yeah.” Lindsay ran a hand through her wild hair. It always worked for her: The more disheveled she appeared, the more beautiful she was to Jill. Look—I’m sorry.”
“Don’t. It’s as much my fault as yours. But—” Jill clasped her watch, made a show of searching for her briefcase, anything to avoid looking at Lindsay. “—it can’t happen again. We have to stop doing this.”
”We’ll talk about it later. Okay?”
Lindsay smiled. “Okay.”
A hotel room in Sacramento. Stupid conference. Even with the air conditioning making the room inhabitable for polar bears, they were still sweating. Jill wondered how she ended up hanging halfway off the bed. “Didn’t I say we had to stop doing this?” she gasped.
“Yeah.” Lindsay’s voice fluttered from under a tide of blankets.
“Then why did you come here?”
“You called me,” Lindsay mumbled defensively.
“I didn’t think—“
“You shouldn’t have said—”
“Shit,” Jill hissed.
“Look, don’t get all pissy with me. It’s all your fault.”
“Oh, what the hell, Lindsay!” The undertow of the sheet seized her right ankle as she thrashed inelegantly out of bed. If they were going to fight about it yet again, clothing would provide a distinct advantage. “It’s my fault. It’s always my fault. I let the genie out of the frigging bottle.”
“You did.” Lindsay wriggled around in the cocoon of sheets and cheap blankets.
Jill threw on a robe, and whirled around for more combat. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Lindsay was still not visible, but the long, blanket-covered lump squirmed with exasperation. “I’m not multiorgasmic with anyone else, you idiot.”
Why was it that this time, the afterglow seemed so perfect? Content, loose-limbed, daylight tickling at her eyelids, Jill stretched, moaned, turned and flung her arm across a warm, welcoming body. A rather hairy body at that, which initially brought to Jill’s drowsy brain a Lithuanian tennis player she had bedded many years ago.
She opened her eyes. Martha, furry head on her mistress’s pillow, dolefully stared back at her.
“I’ve really got to stop drinking gin martinis,” she whispered.
No kidding, Martha said.
“Please tell me you did not chew my shoes again.”
You know my weakness for Italian leather, Martha replied. Oh, by the way, she’s seriously PMSing this morning, and there’s no coffee left. Skip the shower and get out while you can.
“You’re too good to me, Martha.”
If you were willing to take this thing one step further, Jill, we could be on Oprah together.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Unpacking
The skylight, so enchantingly compelling on Jill’s first visit, had its drawbacks. For one thing, the light made it nearly impossible to sleep in. Particularly on a sunny Saturday morning, the day after she had moved in and was, quite frankly, exhausted—at least emotionally exhausted. But merciless light coruscated every inch of the bedroom. She yawned, got up, shuffled into the immaculate bathroom, realized she did not have to use it, wandered into the kitchen, realized that it would require too much effort to set up the coffee maker. She waltzed around unpacked boxes, stopping only to gaze up at the skylight again. You win, she told the skylight.
That’s right, baby! the Pam Grier-voiced universe cheered. You call that skinny bitch!
And so she did. Not caring if she was interrupting a jog in the park with Martha, or Skype sex with Pete.
The phone came alive with Lindsay’s voice. “Boxer.”
Jill decided to ease into the serious stuff. “I’m calling to inform you that I’m in love with Inez and we’re running away together. We’re buying an island in the Pacific. We’re going to call it Oingo-Boingo after our favorite 80s group because ‘Bernhardt Sands’ sounds like a lame singles resort, and we don’t want to attract the wrong element.”
Lindsay chuckled. Then there was a pause. “Am I the wrong element?”
Stop being charming. Jill cleared her throat. “I’m all moved in.”
“You forget my minimalist approach to life. That homeless guy on O’Farrell with all the shopping carts has more stuff than I do. And besides, it’s amazing what one’s male coworkers will do for free beer and pizza. I think even Denise was tempted.”
“That’s great.” A crackling pause; whether it was emotion or cell phone causing the noise could not be discerned. “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner.”
“It’s okay. Like I said, I had plenty of help.”
“It’s not—I’m not sorry about that. Well, I am sorry about that, but it’s—the other thing.”
“Oh. You mean the kissing thing?”
Lindsay’s growling reply was similar to the tone she normally reserved for smug, smart-ass suspects. “That would be the thing, yes.”
She did not expect to go off—she never did, really; it was one of the bonuses of impulsive behavior and selective memory—but it happened. “What do you want me to say? I’m sorry?” Like a matador torn between cowardice and a death wish, she paced and whirled as she spoke, and was ever so grateful not to be tripped up by a phone cord. “I already said that. And you know what? I’m not sorry anymore. I did it, or you did it, we did it, and it felt good, and maybe I’m sorry if it makes things complicated for you, but I’m not sorry it happened. So—you know, do what you have to do. Tell him, make amends, maybe next time he’s in town he’ll kill me and bury my body in the foundation of his next hotel or—okay, just forget that, I’m getting too gruesome—but whatever you do, don’t expect me to feel sorry about this anymore.”
The silence that prevailed was excruciating.
“Yeah,” Lindsay finally said. “It was good, wasn’t it?”
Not the response Jill expected. “Do you—want to come over?”
“Are you even unpacked?”
“Does it really matter?”
“You could—help me unpack. Help me find the—the thingymabob.” I found the strap for the strap-on, though.
“The—thingymabob?” Lindsay croaked. Man, I’ve missed that.
“I mean I got the doohickey....” Me too. Remember last time?
“Uh. The doohickey can be tricky.” I rode you like the wind. Like a pornstar.
“Yeah. Although I think I know where the flibberdegibit is….” But the vibrator is no fun without you!
Lindsay made an alarming succession of throat-clearing noises. “Um. Okay.”
Abruptly, the call ended. Good or bad? Jill couldn’t decide. An agonizing twenty minutes rolled by wherein she tried to unpack random boxes. Then the new doorbell—a shrill buzzer—made her jump. She opened the door. Lindsay stood there, holding a cactus plant.
Jill stared at the plant.
“It’s a housewarming gift.”
Dismayed at this reaction, Lindsay sat the plant down on an unpacked box. “It was the nicest plant at the flower shop. Don’t read anything into it.”
“Like what? I’m prickly? I’m a prick? I need a prick?”
Lindsay closed the small gap between them. She cradled Jill’s face in her hands. “Just shut up,” she growled, and enforced this command with a kiss.
You guys really need to talk. That had been Claire’s final commonsense pronouncement on the matter. And Jill meant to continue the talking thing, she really did—speak the dreaded truth, spill the big love, and face up to the aftermath, whether it be the thrill of victory or the agony of Skype sex—but her body clearly possessed a different agenda. It always did. She jumped into Lindsay’s arms, wrapped her legs around Lindsay’s waist, and continued that long, hard, breathless, sense-stealing kiss while holding on for dear life as Lindsay rhumba’ed them around boxes and across the living room in search of the bedroom, finally discovered it, and steered them toward the bed where, not unlike a bad hedge fund, they collapsed with both surprising force and a thrilling disregard for consequences.
With frantic dimness Jill tried to remember which magic box contained all those various sundry toys—while silently wondering how the hell the strap for the strap-on ended up packed with the kitchen utensils—but this frantic concern fell away with a fistful of pliant leather in her grasp, as buttery soft and meltingly smooth as the kisses that Lindsay tracked down her body with gentle, deliberate care, like sensory markers or breadcrumbs laying a path to and from utopia. This time, the scenario would be slightly different. But the outcome, as always—she arched into Lindsay’s mouth—would be perfect. To her eternal consternation, it usually was.
Blink and You Miss It
The cell phone woke her up—well, someone’s cell phone did. Even as she answered it she wondered if it was Lindsay’s phone, yet in her current state of sleepy euphoria decided she didn’t care. And yet had she known that a certain cub reporter from a certain newspaper was calling on a day when a certain nationwide coffee chain was giving out free shots of espresso to its customers, she might have let the damn thing go to voice mail, because the moment she said “hello” she unleashed the caffeinated floodgates of Cindy Thomas’s mind:
“Hey Jill it’s me how’d the move go you settled in that’s so cool I can’t wait to see the place. when I first came to the city I so wanted to move into that neighborhood it’s so cool—oh damn I think I’m double-parked and coffee I had a lot of coffee today technically espresso hey are you ever tempted to say ‘expresso’ or am I just such a hick that I can barely resist it but anyway the downside is boy do I gotta pee yeah don’t even ask how much I’ve had so like I was saying oh hey this is great but you know I was up last night writing up the story about the Wilkins case that Lindsay and Jacobi are working on and I was doing some fact checking on the guy you know the guy who was their first suspect the one they kept calling the Muppet Man ‘cause his name is Grover and you know what, you fucking know what?”
Jill didn’t fucking know what.
“Yeah he owns real estate in Oakland in fact he owned the building where Wilkins lived from 1998 to fall 2002 so I’m thinking blackmail I’m thinking he’s a viable suspect again ‘cause that connection has to mean something right I mean it can’t just be coincidence okay so look I have to go if you want to meet me for lunch I’m going to be at 49 Geary this afternoon because I’m subbing for the arts reporter this week there’s this exhibit by this woman who uses bubble gum to uh sculpt ladyparts yeah seriously vaginas and clitorises and I can just imagine the interview with her like ‘do you work in Bubblelicious or sugarfree or what?’ oh God Craig Derek Dirk is looking at me I think the mere mention of the female anatomy makes him gayer if that’s at all possible and hey I’ve been trying to call Lindsay all morning to tell her all this but she’s probably off brooding somewhere she’s like Heathcliff with a latte and a gun but if you talk to her tell her not to forget we’re seeing the other bowling girl tomorrow night okay see ya bye.”
Well, that was the easiest phone conversation ever, she thought. Before she could even say it aloud, however, Lindsay’s left hand enveloped her mouth; sex-scented fingers dragged persuasively over her lips, and Jill closed her eyes, momentarily awash in fresh memory, in compulsion. The tip of her tongue met the tip of a finger before the hand fell away.
Daylight shed minutes while Jill formulated a question. “Are you going bowling with Cindy?”
Lindsay squinted sleepily. “Huh?”
“Bowling. With Cindy. And some other girl.” Was Cindy trying to set Lindsay up on a frigging date? From Skype sex to bowling with dykes? On the face of it, and based on admittedly circumstantial and shoddy evidence, it appeared as if Cindy were undertaking an aggressive campaign to get Lindsay laid. “It’s okay,” Jill chirped sarcastically. “Go ahead and double date with her. I don’t mind.” Sex, jealousy, past errors mercilessly recurrent: The day was complete, and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet.
“I’m not double dating with anyone.” Lindsay’s tone slipped from groggy to defensive. “And you know how I feel about bowling.”
While athletically gifted in any number of sports, Lindsay had been drummed off the squad’s bowling team for accidentally flinging a ball backwards into the stomach of a teammate.
The instincts and persistence of a true lawyer ranked with that of a hound dog; once the scent of deception was caught, it was impossible to let go. “All I know is that Cindy said something about a bowling girl—you were seeing a bowling girl tomorrow night.”
For several long seconds Lindsay blinked in confusion. Then, to Jill’s considerable irritation, laughed. “She means The Other Boleyn Girl.” Lindsay carefully enunciated the proper name—or at least as carefully as her accent would permit, and chuckled again at Jill’s continuing look of helplessness. “It’s a movie. Costume drama, lots of cleavage. Henry VIII bed-hopping between Anne Boleyn and her sister. Remember your history?”
“Didn’t know Anne Boleyn had a sister.”
“Yep. Cindy likes those period pieces. I think the next film on her Netflix queue is The Other Hitler Boy.”
“Sure it’s not a date?”
“With Cindy? Are you kidding me? She’s just trying to do the whole—” Lindsay gestured with limp vagueness, an action that did disservice to her elegant, strong hand, the very same hand that had brought Jill to orgasm two times that morning. “—supportive friend thing. It’s kind of cute.”
“Cute, like-a-puppy cute.”
“Just as long as she’s humping Martha’s leg and not yours.”
Lindsay actually raised her head off the pillow. “You’re jealous.” Her voice rang with revelation.
Here it was again, that blink-and-you-miss-it moment. Like the lightning bolt, like the first time they flirted—the tipsy breathlessness in between what they said revealing more than coy cliché ever could—so much possibility bound up in mere seconds. Jill didn’t know exactly why or how this was the moment; maybe it was the new apartment, the breakup with Luke, the talk with Claire, or all of it finally conspiring against the inertia of the situation, against her fears (she mentally ticked off the big ones: monogamy, rejection) and Lindsay’s (doing likewise: vulnerability, loss of control).
So she leapt into the breach—rather, tiptoed into it because, after all, it was so close and at the moment so monumentally wide there was no need for ballet-like maneuvers—propped herself up on an elbow, and asked with careful softness: “Do you wonder why I’m jealous?”
Lindsay blinked. Something softened the angles of her face. Then she sighed. “I have to go.” And it was gone. She sat up and began a frantic inventory of the clothes scattered around the bed—jeans, panties, bra, boots, everything within her desperate grasp clutched tightly to her bare chest as she stood up. “I can’t—I can’t do this right now.”
“Do you mean the talking about us part or just—us altogether?”
“I don’t know.” The bathroom door slammed shut behind her.
Jill fell back into bed. She stared up into the skylight and thought it looked like rain. And then she wondered if Inez really was single; she realized she had never really bothered to ask.
The Mistress and the Margarita
Across the street from 49 Geary, Jill sat on a rickety bench waiting for Cindy while stealing compulsive, furtive glances at her cell. Despite agreeing to meet Cindy for lunch, she had no appetite for food, but rather good company and light-hearted distraction—anything to keep her away from whetting the knifepoint of obsession, awaiting a call that surely wouldn’t come, and resisting the urge to send angry text messages to Lindsay. In the end the only thing that had stopped her from that was envisioning the magnitude and depth of her feelings reduced to textspeak: omfg i h8 u! She glanced up and saw Cindy, shoulders slumped, crossing the street; as she plopped down on the bench next to Jill, she moaned, “Oh, God.”
“What’s wrong?” Jill hastily banished the phone to a pocket.
Cindy sighed melodramatically. “I just bought a Bubblelicious vulva.” Any hope of sympathy to her plight vanished when Jill burst into manic laughter. Dismayed, Cindy waited several long-suffering minutes—actually, no more than two—waiting for the giggling to subside. “Are you done?”
“Not yet.” Jill wheezed, her entire body still bent over in convulsions.
“I couldn’t help it! I did the interview and then there was this cute guy with a British accent who started talking to me about how ‘the piece functioned as a modern, consumerist lens through which to view the essentials of female sexuality….’”
“You do know he was trying to pick you up, right?”
“Yes, genius, I figured that out, but he just went on about how he was an artist too and when he wasn’t teaching his art was the only thing that sustained him financially and that art counted on the support of the public and patrons—total guilt trip, I totally fell for it and the next thing I knew I was buying this thing.”
“I bet he’s sleeping with the Bubblelicious Artist.”
“No, I’m pretty sure Bubblelicious Artist was gay. I mean, I’m basing this on the fact that she asked me out to dinner. Plus there was a lingering touch on the forearm….”
“Wow, busy day for you—getting hit on by men and women.”
“It makes up for the other 364 days of the year when both sexes completely ignore me.”
“Well, thank you for the laugh. I really needed that.”
“I could tell, when I called back.” Not long after Lindsay had left, Cindy—on a comedown from her Starbucks high—called to apologize for her caffeinated monologue. As far as Jill was concerned, however, no apology was necessary. She considered Cindy’s inspired ramblings as a kind of performance art that she was privileged enough to witness: the writer, unbound by page and good editorial sense. Now the young reporter narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “So—what’s up with you? What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Jill said, too quickly.
“For a lawyer, you sure are a lousy liar.” Eagerly, Cindy leaned forward. “Come on, tell me. I want to help. Besides, it’s bad enough having Lindsay running around sulking all the time, I don’t need you doing it too.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Am I sure that Lindsay is sulking? Do fish swim? Is California sinking into the ocean?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Oh. Well yeah, of course I want to know. Hell yeah! Lay it on me, sister!” Cindy’s evangelical fervor—whether focused on truth and justice, or coffee, or about Godfather II being the best movie ever made— was always contagious.
“Okay. Just remember you asked for it.”
“Sure, blame the victim. Just kidding. Go ahead.”
Jill took a deep breath. “This morning I woke up in bed with Lindsay, decided I wanted to tell her that I kinda sorta love her—at least I think I do, because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her or, actually, stop sleeping with her either—but I didn’t have the guts to do it, if only in part because she ran out before I could and I realized that she’s just as big a tool as any guy I’ve ever dated…okay, how’s that for a start?”
Cindy had a marvelously hypnotic way of blinking slowly, as if her eyelids were apertures of an old 35mm camera, recording information in a way that, while it seemed plodding, was nonetheless as thorough and precise as anything a thousand times faster. Jill waited patiently as the intrepid reporter’s mouth finally caught up to the litany of questions her frantic mind had stockpiled.
“Yes.” Jill felt strangely calm. It was a marvelous relief to tell someone; she automatically absolved Lindsay of any perceived wrongdoing in confiding to Claire.
“The ink was barely dry on her divorce papers when it began.”
“Yes.” Jill winced guiltily.
“I know. It happened this morning. I didn’t mean for it to happen.” But our bodies always have always communicated better than our minds.
“Yes, Claire knows. Sorry.”
Cindy grumbled “damn it” under her breath.
“God, this is better than ‘talking’ with Inez!” Jill exhaled dramatically. Her shoulders already felt lighter. .
“Don’t get used to it. I’ll be editorializing my ass off once I’m done with the questions.” Cindy smiled dazedly. “Is it—“
“No, it’s not good.” She paused teasingly. “It’s great.”
Cindy remained silent for a long moment, formulating the one question that Jill—even though she was quite aware of the intrepid reporter’s worshipful crush on the inscrutable inspector—did not expect: “Can we clone her?”
“I think those lousy communication skills come with the whole stunning package, Cindy Lou. No getting around it.”
Cindy exhaled. “Wow, this is all just the tip of the iceberg, isn’t it?”
“If you’re comparing this whole mess to the Titanic, well, that’s a bit of hyperbole.”
“How about the Edmund Fitzgerald?”
“So I think—I’m going to need a little more background information here. And I think—that will require—”
“Margaritas with lunch?”
And thus the official debriefing regarding L’Affair Boxer commenced: The initial broad, frantic, and greedily bold strokes gave way to minor details that plumped out and enriched the story: Indeed it took all of lunch and several margaritas at Cindy’s favorite divey bar joint, and pretty much reached its exhausting nadir with Jill resting her head in despair upon a dirty, semi-warped plywood tabletop and declaring, “Jesus Christ, Cindy, I am the other bowling girl”—for she had even confessed the morning’s episode of futile jealousy, mired in malapropism—“the mistress, the dish on the side, it’s my fucking role in life.”
She might have continued on this, the path that inevitably led toward blubbering tears, had Cindy not laid a comforting hand on her wrist, and squeezed gently. “Hey,” Cindy began gently. “You know something? If you look at the history, at what actually happened to the Boleyn sisters—being the other bowling girl wasn’t so bad. Because the other other bowling girl?”
Jill looked up.
With a rictus grin, Cindy drew an imaginary line across her neck and made a startlingly gruesome noise.
It was a strangely comforting, oddly hopeful gesture.
Two Years and Eight Months Later
Cindy called him Craig Derek Dirk, which put Lindsay at a distinct disadvantage as she talked with him during the party because she could not summon his real name to mind. The cop in her was distraught at this development of faulty memory, but she tried to put aside those concerns as Craig Derek Dirk talked about next year’s fashions; he seemed particularly obsessed with getting Lindsay in a skirt. Lindsay assured him that, as had legions of heterosexual males and eager sapphically inclined women before him, he would most certainly fail in this endeavor. The only thing that stopped his blather was the beeline approach of Claire, who cut through the crowd with the same smooth, confident precision she employed in autopsies. “Uh-oh, here comes Mommy,” he whispered. “You’re so in trouble!”
Claire pointedly ignored him and Lindsay mumbled an apology as the former gently seized the latter by the elbow; together, they glided away to a more secluded area of the apartment, far from the not-terribly-madding crowd, waiting with collective listlessness for the guest of honor to arrive. “It’s your turn,” she declared mysteriously.
Lindsay blinked. “For what?”
Claire shot her an exasperated look. “She’s doing a freakout.”
“A freakout? Why? Just because he’s late?”
“That, and you had to open your fool mouth about marriage.”
“But I didn’t say they should get married, or that even that marriage is necessarily a good thing—oh.” Dolt, Lindsay berated herself. “What, do you think—she’s going to propose to him tonight or something?”
“I have no idea. But ever since the astrology lady at the street fair told her about a ‘significant change’ in her life, I think it’s been on her mind,” Claire said.
“That same astrology lady told me I was a descendent of gypsy knife-throwers,” Lindsay dourly debunked.
Claire gave her that weary you’re-missing-the-point sigh. “At least I got her to unlock the bedroom door, so you don’t have to break it down.”
Lindsay’s left shoulder still throbbed from the last incident with a door: nearly two weeks ago, during pick-up of a most reluctant suspect. I leave all that macho bullshit for you, baby! Jacobi had said. “All right,” she grunted. “In the meantime, why don’t you go talk to Craig Derek Dirk about next season’s hemlines?”
“Sure. And why don’t you go fu—“
“Temper, temper, Dr. Washburn.”
Claire glowered, shook her head. “Fine. I won’t say that. But you know what I will say?”
“Yeah, go ahead. No one’s said it to me yet today.” Lindsay waited for the refrain that, to her perpetual irritation, she knew was coming, for it had become more commonplace in her life than coffee in the morning, or the gun at her side whenever she was on duty, or tackling perps, or that Marvin Gaye cassette lodged in the tape deck of the sedan, the one that Jacobi played over and over again: The refrain had not altered over the course of two years and eight months—ever since the fateful day that Cindy met this man for whom she was hosting a birthday party (and, apparently, contemplating marriage to as well), the very same day that Jill had left a breathtakingly furious, margarita-fueled message on her voice mail where, couched among much verbal abuse—Lindsay had never before been called a tool, a douchebag, and a gutless, heartless bitch all in one glorious run-on sentence—Jill Bernhardt had declared her love.
And thus Claire sang, in the key of minor annoyance, the refrain: “I don’t know how the hell Jill puts up with you.”
Half the Imperfect World Begins
Despite pleas from all interested parties, they had studiously, carefully avoided one another for days. Until Lindsay could take no more self-laceration and called her. Jill had suggested meeting in Golden Gate Park; that way, she said, they could at least ignore each other in person.
“Thought you said you wanted to talk.” Lindsay could not feign lightness, or politeness.
They sat on a park bench. The setting sun sliced across the horizon and the toppled shadows lengthened in a second life along the sidewalks and the grass. For about fifteen minutes Jill, sans sunglasses, had been squinting into the golden light, not saying a word. When she finally spoke, it was to ask a question that Lindsay—girded into stupor by her own ceaseless internal interrogations—hardly could have anticipated: “How many people do you think have passed by us since we’ve been sitting here?”
“Half the city, it seems.” Dog walkers, bicyclists, skaters, joggers, fast walkers, slow walkers. A long-haired man in a wheelchair, a cockatoo hitching a ride on his shoulder. Cops. Businessmen. Geeks. Beautiful women, chatting on cell phones. Beautiful men, wrapped up in the interior worlds of their iPods. The old, the young, and everyone else in between.
And then Jill smiled; it was probably the most relaxed and spontaneous expression that Lindsay had ever seen on her face, and it was better than a sunset, a sunrise, or anything else she could think of at the moment, and she hoped she would remember that expression until the day she died, and that thought alone should have told her something. “Do you know,” Jill began softly, “the entire time we’ve been sitting here, with the world walking and running and skating by us, you’ve been holding my hand?”
Alarmed, Lindsay verified this claim with a quick downward glance. Indeed, her right hand was—with the complicated, natural ease of a well-rooted tree—effortlessly entwined with Jill’s left one. That explained why her hand had felt so hot and sweaty for the past fifteen minutes. “God,” she muttered aloud, with a nervous laugh. “I thought I was having a stroke.”
Jill raised an eyebrow. “Maybe you are.”
Of course, she would never soft-soap anything for Lindsay. No mindless placations. And maybe that’s why—
“It’s a good start. Actions speak louder than words. I’ve always—loved that about you.” Jill turned to look at her directly. The sun was still hitting her eyes, bringing new warmth and a surfeit of gold to immaculate blue. “But is it what you want?”
The answer caught in Lindsay’s throat, if only because she could not believe, nor completely trust, the instinct of rightness that suddenly asserted itself. It was something she experienced in her work, but nowhere else. Did the fact that she had never quite experienced this surety before render her entire history false? Did it matter? The moment had arrived. “Yeah,” she finally said. “This is what I want.”
Pandora’s Can of Worms
Jaw set with grim determination, Lindsay seized the first open bottle of wine she saw: a nearly empty bottle of cabernet on the dining room table that served as the party’s impromptu bar. She took a generous swig while glaring defiantly at a gray-haired matron, who stared at her with ill-concealed outrage at such poor manners.
“What the hell are you lookin’ at?” Lindsay growled. She then realized it was Cindy’s Aunt Mona. And attempted something approaching an apologetic smile. “Hey, aren’t you glad she’s not dating me?” No response. “I mean, not that it ever got that far—it was just this huge crush she had, you know, hero worship—you’d be surprised how often it happens—some mild flirtation, I think she wrote a poem about me. Like, um, about my hair….” Lindsay gestured feebly at her head, and then realized that while it was San Francisco, even here every day was not always National Coming Out Day. “Okay. I’m just gonna…” She waved in the general direction of the hallway and stalked toward the bedroom, armed with only the bottle and her own inimitable crankiness. Yeah, I’m so awful. Well, who has to do the dirty work here? Me. Never mind the fact that had Jill been present, she would be doing “the dirty work” of assuaging Cindy. Unfortunately, the D.A.’s office was mired in a scandal that involved the missing Denise Kwon, embezzlement, and a tranny prostitute ring working out of Bangkok. If Jill was stingy with the details, it was not mere legal precaution, but also because she was utterly exhausted most evenings from the stultifying amount of work she’d inherited in Denise’s stead.
The cabernet only carried her so far. Yoked to reluctance, she halted in front of the bedroom room. WWJD: What Would Jill Do? Plead, cajole, threaten, bribe, charm, outmaneuver—all those instruments readily available in her lawyerly arsenal. Lindsay frowned: All she had, or so she believed, was stubbornness, tactlessness, a good memory (although she was calling even that into question this evening), a belief in the irrefutable truth of evidence, and a cop’s instinct. It worked well for her career, but for personal relationships? She took a deep breath and opened the door.
Inside, Cindy was doing a rather artful impression of a db: She hung off the bed, red hair trailing beguilingly onto the wood floor, limbs sprawled lifelessly, eyes closed. Aiming for the reporter’s slightly open mouth, Lindsay held the bottle above far above the exquisite corpse, and tilted it just enough—
“If you pour that on me I will scream,” Cindy threatened without a single twitch of the eyelid.
Damn, she’s good. “Go ahead. It would liven things up around here, that’s for sure.” Lindsay flopped down on the bed and leaned against the headboard. While thoughtfully regarding the suspect at the other end of the bed, she took another pull from the bottle. Confession was a delicate art; there were certain types, however, who responded well to the seductive offer of identification with one’s interrogator. “Remember when Jill first gave me the keys to her place?”
Cindy, a pillow now balanced on her face, made a muffled noise of accord.
“Remember how much it freaked me out, so much so I thought about breaking up with her? And I told you about it. And you told me to shut it, suck it up, and take it to next level already because I was damn lucky I had found someone who would put up with all my whiny crybaby bullshit?”
Cindy moved the pillow off her face and hugged it against her chest. “Wow. I still can’t believe I said all that to you and you didn’t kick my ass.”
“I didn’t kick your ass because it was true,” Lindsay replied gently, “and I knew it.”
She finished off the wine and relished how the genteel din from the other room dusted over the silence.
Finally Cindy sighed, flung off the pillow, and sat up. “I was thinking about my future. With him.”
His name was Graham. He was an artist and a professor, he was British, he drove a Vespa, he wore too much orange (Jill’s only criticism of him). Thanks to a commission from a glamorously evil corporation, he was doing well financially. But like so many other mere mortals, he could not easily escape L.A. in a motor vehicle. Why he had insisted on driving there and back for a conference—instead of flying—was anyone’s guess, but he possessed a bounty of that delirious, indefatigable optimism so completely characteristic of an Englishman let loose in California.
Cindy now hesitated, testing the waters: How much girl talk could Lindsay withstand? “I want to—I want it go deeper, but I worry about becoming one of those couples. ”
“‘One of those couples?’ Enlighten me, young Thomas: What would ‘one of those couples’ be like?”
Realizing that she was opening Pandora’s Can of Worms—a phrase they all used, thanks to Claire’s oldest, who had a gift for mixing metaphors and allegories—Cindy attempted caution. “I don’t want us to denigrate into one of those couples that fight or argue all the time.”
“But you guys never fight. It’s pretty damn annoying, actually.” Just this morning, Lindsay and Jill had an argument over an impending hair conditioner crisis. Sometimes the same-sex thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, particularly when grooming products were concerned. Gee, your hair smells like my $75 salon conditioner! “Look, you two are going to fight—eventually. That’s just the way it is. You’re going to have disagreements. Just pick a damn fighting style and stick to it. That’s all. As you once said to me: Suck it up.”
“You don’t get it. I’m a Libra. I hate conflict! I hate arguing!”
“Bullshit,” Lindsay shot back. “Remember that argument we had about The Godfather and Godfather II? ”
Cindy threw up her hands. “Pacino’s performance, the cinematography, the sophisticated use of flashback, the expansion of the orange metaphor—WHEN are you going to admit that Godfather II was the better film?”
“I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one.” For the first time in several months, she took the opportunity to seriously regard Cindy—and no longer saw the overeager, idealistic kid she had met nearly three years ago, the one who blushed and stammered in her wake, but an attractive, intelligent woman. If not for the events of that day over two and a half years ago, would things be different between us now? Would you be thinking about marrying me? Would it have even gotten that far? Would you have made me as happy as I am now? Was it that Cindy had really changed, or merely her perception of Cindy had altered somehow? And it could it be that Jill had been essential in these gradual yet ultimately significant shifts of perspective—about Cindy, about everything—and if not for their relationship she would be lodged, still, in a self-destructive, criminally focused, endlessly looping mindset?
Cindy was looking at her with a concerned frown. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Lindsay smiled. “You good to go now?”
Cindy exhaled. “Yeah. I think so. Thanks.”
“I didn’t do too badly?” Guiltily, she realized that she was more concerned about disappointing Jill than failing Cindy.
“Nope. You know, sometimes your approach works. Like when you had to out yourself to everyone.”
“A series of wonderful encounters I hope to never repeat again. I should have just taken out a billboard.”
The Y Files
“See, I’m not surprised,” Jacobi began. “For a long time now, I’ve had—I won’t call it a fantasy, because that’s not quite right—but a vision.” His hand waved through the air, like David Copperfield circa 1987, bringing magic to the masses. “A vision of love, like Mariah sings about. I always thought you two would be good for each other, really balance each other out, ‘cause Jill is obviously very cool and a lot of fun and you—well you, my dear, are a giant pill. So it works, you know? It’s good, and you both look good together on top of it, you know what I’m saying? But I also think you would look pretty good with that robot lady from Battlestar Galactica.”
The bartender was poised for refills; the lip of the Bushmill’s bottle hovered nearly parallel to the bar. “Ready for another?”
Lindsay’s hand smothered Jacobi’s shot glass. “No!”
“—I just wanted you to hear about it from me first, that’s all.” Lindsay took a deep breath. “Okay?”
Over the course of the brief yet excruciating conversation the furrow in Tom’s brow had deepened considerably, to the extent that one could possibly consider burrowing through it to China. He tried, with his usual stoic stodginess, to interpret this latest development in his ex-wife’s romantic life—not a complete surprise, since long ago she had told him about that incident with the girl rugby player in college, but still a bit of a shock—before finally giving up and nodding with great vigorous approval. “Yeah, sure. I mean, it’s great. You know—awesome.”
Lindsay’s mouth twitched skeptically. “Awesome?” Was Tom watching MTV or Gossip Girl or something on a regular basis?
“Yeah. Awesome.” He paused. “Is it okay if I tell Heather?”
“Sure. Go ahead and put it on your Twitter feed too.”
He was doing the Sad Face. Sometimes Martha did the Sad Face too—and here Lindsay winced, thinking that while it was not good to compare her pretty-much-ex-boyfriend to a dog, it would nonetheless reveal to even the dimmest passerby the essential wrongness of their relationship. Martha’s unhappiness was usually easy to ameliorate; the Sad Face now facing her, however, could not be assuaged by kibble in a bowl. Despite all that, and to her considerable annoyance, he looked at handsome as ever; a deep tan enhanced the bright blue of his eyes—which once again brought her around to the Sad Face. But traveling abroad had done wonders for him and he had seemed imbued with fresh energy, at least for the first five minutes at the airport until she had said—just after gently redirecting his kiss from mouth to cheek—we really need to talk.
And now she was having tea with a beautiful martyr. They were in a tea shop in Chinatown, one that she didn’t particularly like, and chosen for that reason alone: She didn’t want any of her regular joints haunted with the ghosts of breakups past. “I’m sorry,” she said. Perhaps for the fortieth time in as many minutes.
Pete played with a sugar packet and stared into a tepid cup of jasmine tea. “Yeah. Me too.”
“I thought—in person—I would be able to explain it better somehow. That I would be eloquent.” She laughed hollowly. “I don’t know why. I’m never eloquent.” The words had all come out haltingly at first, then in a jumbled rush; passionately, then coolly. Still, she held back the essence of it from him, in order to spare him deeper pain, in order to protect the relationship in its nascent stage, this dynamite in a chrysalis (damn Cindy and her poetics, she thought): She touches me and I am awakened into something else, into knowing who I am.
He laughed ruefully.
It startled her. “What?”
“Lindsay.” Pete no longer looked pitiful but pitying as he zeroed in, with the tender mercilessness of the gently rejected, on what she had been hiding. “You’ve spent nearly an hour talking around the fact that you’re in love. With someone else.”
The New Police Commissioner
During the reception, a classical music quartet played in the courtyard. As Mozart filled the chilly dusk, the police commissioner, the brand spanking new police commissioner who earlier that day had witnessed Inspector Boxer snarling, “Shut up, you fucking asshole” at a suspect, was now kissing Jill on the cheek and murmuring, “It’s been a long time, but you look wonderful” in suave, Dean Martin tones that made Lindsay twitch. As he hugged Jill, Lindsay engaged in the frighteningly telepathic connection they shared by shooting Jill an irate look: Don’t tell me you slept with him!
From over his shoulder, Jill aimed an equally annoyed look right back at her: He’s old enough to be my father, you douchebag.
The commissioner pulled back and gazed at Jill affectionately. “Tell me, have you seen Inez lately?”
“Not since she sold me my condo. You know how she is—always so busy.”
“Oh, I remember all too well,” he chuckled. “But sometimes it came in handy being married to the best realtor in the Bay Area.”
Inez’s ex-husband. Of course.
The commissioner glanced politely at Lindsay. “So you two know each other?”
“We’re friends,” Lindsay replied quickly, too quickly for Jill’s liking. The somber, noncommittal mask Jill used to camouflage this love, desire, affection, draped over her features; Lindsay hated seeing that, hated feeling responsible for it, and thus went into furious overcompensation mode, which, as usual, resulted in appalling tactlessness. “Actually, we’re sleeping together too.”
“Ah,” the commissioner said, not unlike a parent striving to put a positive spin on a child’s disruptive behavior, casting spastic clumsiness as a graceful interpretive dance, or envisioning bedwetting as just another water sport.
Jill pinched the bridge of her nose. “I believe the correct, culturally acceptable term is dating.”
“Oh. Yeah.” That’s the word! Lindsay lunged for a canapé.
The commissioner smiled sympathetically at Jill. “Have your hands full, don’t you?”
A Very Long Engagement
Martha waited impatiently as her mistress fumbled with a set of keys and gnawed on a croissant jammed into her lovely mouth while juggling a cardboard tray of coffee, a paper bag, and a newspaper. Why must humans insist on multitasking? she wondered. Finally, the door opened and she darted in before Lindsay. She had been eagerly waiting all morning to for this, the return to the Land of Shoes! Pumps, loafers, sneakers, sandals! So much to chew, so little time! The keys clinked against the granite kitchen tabletop and she took this as her cue to casually slink toward the bedroom. Hopefully the closet door would be ajar as usual—
But the dark, commanding tone of Lindsay’s voice stopped her dead. “Hey.”
Martha feigned a casual glance. Who? Me?
Lindsay pulled a big rawhide bone from her jacket.
Oh, a bribe. Well played, Inspector Boxer, well played.
“I want you to pretend this is one half of a 300-dollar pair of pumps. Okay?” Lindsay threatened. “’Cause if you don’t cool it, we’ll both be sleeping on the couch tonight.”
The things I do for your sex life! I feel so degraded. Give me the damn bone already.
Lindsay flipped the bone in the air. Martha gracefully intercepted it and, placated with the rawhide-methadone that would hopefully curb her addiction, settled in for a chew. Before long, however, she was following Lindsay through the loft, and together they passed the scene of the crime at the desk: A powered-down laptop adrift in a sea of papers, binders, and folders, an open briefcase, a Thai phrasebook, a cell phone, an empty yogurt container, a lonely spoon.
In the bedroom Jill had so completely succumbed to sleep that she had not even bothered to climb under the covers. Clad in pajama pants and a tank top, she laid belly down, face buried in a pillow. Lindsay quietly slipped off her sneakers. As Cortes the conquistador may have once contemplated the great, unfulfilled promise of the New World as sweet, limitless plunder, so now Lindsay Boxer similarly regarded the bounty of Jill’s ass. With the utmost gentleness she lay carefully balanced over Jill, lightly pressing into her while inhaling the nape of her neck, wanting to say I use your conditioner because I want to smell you all day yet not saying it—maybe later, maybe afterward when they were tired and entangled with one another’s sweat and scents—instead tasting the whorls of her delicate ear, which stirred Jill into waking and prompted an automatic grinding into Lindsay, before finally whispering the most important question facing any human being within the complex setting of modern civilization into her lover’s damp ear: “Sex or coffee?”
Jill’s moan was a perfect mix of exhaustion, frustration, and pleasure. “Mmm.” Her voice was deeper, rougher with sleep. “How about, running away together from our fucking jobs?”
This momentarily tempered Lindsay’s lust. She slid off Jill, but kept a proprietary leg draped over that glorious butt.
“Hey,” Jill protested with sleepy petulance, “I didn’t say stop.”
Lindsay ignored this. “It’s gotten that bad, huh?”
“Oh, God. It’s never-ending. The constant back-and-forth.” Jill rolled onto her back, stretched languidly, and curled a hand over Lindsay’s leg.
“What time did you go to sleep?”
“Must have been close to three—stupid Bangkok conference call. At least they didn’t expect me to speak Thai this time.” Jill shook her head. “I’ll tell you more later. So how was the party?”
“Great.” Lindsay was perfunctory. Better to let Cindy entertain her with the real story.
Jill giggled huskily. “Liar.”
“She called you already?”
“Left a message earlier. I listened to it when I went to the bathroom.”
“About four minutes. Not quite close to her record.” Which was actually seven minutes and forty seconds, on the day when Graham was up for tenure and she had run her car into a stop sign. “Sorry I missed all that, but you win big points for talking her down and staying until the bitter end.” Jill paused. “Although you did out her to her aunt and then there was the PBR-and-bad burrito incident.”
Graham had finally arrived last night at nearly 11 p.m. to find a party of two: Lindsay, and his very drunk girlfriend. They all ate cake. Cindy fell asleep on the couch. Lindsay and Graham decided to go out for some beers. At Zeitgeist he downed several bottles of Pabst’s—in Lindsay’s eyes this, rather than wearing orange, was his only great flaw. Afterward they found a late-night tacqueria, where he ate a burrito. Lindsay thought the grill in the food truck looked (and smelled) like it hadn’t been cleaned since 1930, but who was she to deny a man a burrito on his birthday? Nonetheless, she winced guiltily. “So he got sick?”
“He spent half the night barfing.” Jill looked accusatory.
“Great, so I’m responsible for homophobia and food poisoning now? I’m a homicide cop, not the world frigging police. And I think under the circumstances I did pretty damn—”
Jill had an annoying, arousing habit of kissing her to shut her up, ruthlessly pulling her into a state of limpid arousal by expertly drawing Lindsay’s tongue into her mouth and doing things to said organ that reminded Lindsay—with a delicate, growing throb between the legs—of what other things that mouth was capable of. As a preemptive strike, it had unparalleled success, to the extent that Lindsay fervently believed that if Jill had been elected president in 2000, there would be world peace and everyone in the country would own a house and a litter of puppies. But then, with cruel confidence, Jill would break off the kiss. As she did now.
“Someday,” Lindsay managed to gasp, “that’s going to stop working.” She paused breathlessly. “Like in about thirty years.”
“That sounds very long-term,” Jill observed, while sliding her hand under Lindsay’s shirt.
“Yeah, but who knows? Maybe I’ll end up marrying you.”
An implosion of emotions—ranging from shock, pleasure, confusion, panic, fear, and anticipation—sent Jill’s body into flail mode as she attempted to simultaneously sit up and scoot back. Predictably, she fell off the bed, thudding softly onto the floor.
“Uh—“ Lindsay tried to lean over the bed.
“I’m okay,” came the disembodied voice.
From her corner of the bedroom Martha looked intrigued; no one had fallen out of the bed ever since The Night of Half a Dozen Sex Toys, or Sechsgeschlechtsspielzeugnacht as the Germans might have termed it.
Slowly, Jill rose to her knees, and jabbed an angry finger at Lindsay. “You’re messing with me.”
Am I? Lindsay wondered. How easily the joke, the offhand comment, quickly slipped the intangible bonds of hyperbole and imagination to become truth. It’s not that she really needed that piece or paper, or a ceremony, or even a mad rush down to City Hall. But the idea—of going deeper, as Cindy had called it last night—was one that she was finally willing to embrace.
When she started paying attention again, Jill was in the middle of a rant. “—is that it? I mean, things are crazy right now and I don’t need this. It’s too early in the morning and I’ve had no coffee and I just know that damn dog of yours is waiting for the first opportunity to eat my new loafers.”
“Maybe I’m not messing with you,” Lindsay retorted defiantly. “Maybe I will marry you. Maybe I’ll start reading Martha Stewart Living every month for tips on our wedding. We’ll invite Cindy’s damn aunt and we’ll force her to be in the wedding and wear peach taffeta and she’ll love it and then we’ll adopt a bunch of Chinese babies and you’ll be stuck with me forever, because if you divorce me I will so sue your ass for alimony and child support and even dog support if I have to.”
Jill scampered to her feet and, despite saggy pajama pants and hair jutting out at various punkish angles, managed to project a lawyerly polish. “I’m going to the bathroom to pee and freak out,” she announced in her best professional tones. “And then I’m going to have coffee, and then maybe if you’re lucky I’ll have sex with you.” She stalked toward the bathroom.
“Can we have Thai food for dinner?” Lindsay shouted after her.
“Fuck off!” The bathroom door slammed. Graham had done wonders for expanding their use of obscenity; now every insult was British-tinted—admittedly, they all sounded like idiots when calling one another wanker, but for the most part it worked.
“Wow,” Lindsay said to Martha. “That was worth it for the shock value alone.” An intoxicating sense of complete calm settled over her. She stretched out, tucked her hands behind her head, and crossed her ankles. It was nice to be on the other end of the freak-out for a change. It would happen, she believed, and she would make it happen. They would make it happen. It would indeed be a very long engagement, but they would not have it any other way.