Tiger Lily

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Exhibition
Theryn Fleming


“Beautiful, Kai. One more roll and we’re done here.” Ricardo gestures at his assistant. The girl exchanges cameras with him. They speak briefly.

“Can I get you anything?” she asks, looking at Kai.

“Thanks. I’m good, Tess.” She stifles a yawn. Late afternoon sunlight shafts through the loft’s high windows. Just want to get this done and get out of here.

Ethan and Claire, the prop kids, swoop in and shift a few things around. Swap an umbrella with a beach chair. Tess adjusts the direction the light’s being reflected.

“This round without the top, okay?”

Kai hands the bikini top to Claire. Tess steps up and spritzes her with a mixture of water and oil, then slides the sarong lower on her hips.

“Let’s start with you arms crossed over your chest—yes—just so. Turn little to the left—.” Ricardo never stops moving. Reminds her of a hummingbird.

Ethan moves the fan, directing it toward her.

“Good, good.” Ricardo starts snapping. “Tilt your head back. Just so, yes. Hold it. Good. Now turn—with your back toward me—look over your shoulder—and yes…”

*

“Great shoot,” Tess says as Kai dresses.

“Thanks.” Automatic. Tess is obviously leading up to something.

Tess fiddles with a lens. “Thought any more about the Playboy spread?”

“Mmm.” Kai shrugs into her jacket, the buttery-soft leather one she loves, and pulls her cell phone out of her bag.

Tess laughs. “Still no, huh? Well, I won’t tell Ricardo yet. He’ll be crushed. Let him think there’s hope.”

Kai fast-forwards through her voice mail. Her agency, with more bookings; her realtor, asking how the apartment is working out; her dad, just saying hi; JD, the hockey player she went out with last week, wondering if she’s free tonight. Then: “Kai, this is Dr. Ashley Barrett. Please call me at your convenience.”

She leans a hand on the stool beside her. This is it. Dr. Barrett had promised to call as soon as the test results were in.

“Going to the Ralph Lauren party tonight?” Tess asks.

“I’ve been invited,” Kai says as she punches in Dr. Barrett’s number. She calls it so often that she knows it better than her own number and yet she hasn’t been able to put it on her speed dial. Somehow this keeps the reality of her situation at a manageable distance.

She walks away from Tess as Ashley Barrett’s receptionist answers: “Dr. Barrett’s office.”

She unglues her tongue from the roof of her mouth. “May I speak to the doctor, please? This is Kai Simon.”

“One moment, Ms. Simon. She’s expecting your call.”

A click and music. Enya. Probably supposed to be soothing. Hard to believe she’s putting her future in the hands of an ‘Ashley’. But Dr. Barrett had been Maya’s doctor and took care of her mom at the end too. She trusts her, though going strictly on results that doesn’t make much sense.

“Hello Kai.” The perfect doctor’s voice: serene and confident.

“Hi.” She’s at the far end of Ricardo’s loft now, away from Tess and any other curious ears.

“You know I prefer to do this at the office, but— well, I’m not going to keep you in suspense. You tested positive for the gene.”

She shivers. Stupid lofts, impossible to heat. And this jacket is useless. No insulating value at all.

“Kai?”

Say something. “I’m here.”

“Kai, remember this is just a gene. Just because you have it, doesn’t mean that you’ll get cancer. It only…”

“…increases the probability. I know. But they’re all dead, Dr. Barrett. All of them. My sister, my mother, my aunt, my grandmother, my cousin. All the women in my family are dead.”

“I know, Kai. I know. You can come in right now, if you like, and we’ll talk about your options.”

“Again? No. I know my options. And you know what I decided to do if the test were positive.”

“You want me to schedule the surgery?”

“Want? No. But, yes, schedule it. Only… give me a month or so, okay? I have something I want to do before—”

“Whenever you’re ready, Kai. It’s going to take some time to get used to the idea. Look, I know right now this seems like an empty platitude, but after the reconstruction, the difference won’t be noticeable to most people.”

Who’s she think she’s kidding? “No. Just the ones I work with. My career will be over as soon as I have this surgery and you know it. Ashley.” Okay, that was snide. But fuck it all anyhow. I’ve lost nearly everyone I love and now this. I think I’m entitled to a snarky remark or two.

A pause. Then in the same patient voice: “If it’s any comfort, I do think you’re doing the right thing. With your family history—.”

“Right.” Brusque now. “So you’ll get back to me with the date?”

“I will. And call me if you need anything—or if you just want to talk.”

*

“Tess? Is Ricardo still here?”

“He’s in the office.”

Kai strides across the loft, knocks on the open door. “Ricardo.”

He’s scribbling something in his daytimer. He looks up, tapping his pen on the book.

“About the Playboy shoot—.”

“Yes?” The tapping stops.

“I’ll do it.”

“Kai, darling! That’s wonderful.”

“Go ahead and set it up. Only one thing—make it sometime in the next three weeks, okay?”

“I understand. Busy girl! Bet you’re booked through the summer. Everyone wants a piece of you, don’t they, Kai?”

*

The mom-and-pop store at the corner has fresh flowers out front. Her mom always bought herself flowers when she was feeling down. She selects a bunch and steps inside to pay. On the rack of tabloids next to the counter, The Globe’s headline screams: “Model Kai Simon’s Tragic Story”. She throws a ten on the counter and backs out of the store. The clerk calls after her: “Hey! Aren’t you?”

She waves at a passing cab. He stops. They always do for someone who looks the way she does. She wonders if that will change. Then wonders how she can be so vain. She gives him her address.

She sniffs the flowers. Tiger lilies. Her mom’s favorite. Three years in June since she died. Enough time for the pain to dull, to be able to enjoy the things Mom loved as happy memories rather than sad reminders. Now her sharp pain centers on Maya. Thirty-six days. How long will it be before she stops counting?

A traffic snarl halts the cab. Kai stares out the window. A billboard: a mother with a baby held to her breast. “Breastmilk is Best” the tagline reads.

I’ll never be able to breastfeed a child. For the first time, tears nip at her eyes. Stupid, really. She doesn’t even know if she wants kids.

Her phone rings. “Kai Simon.”

“Kai, it’s Dave.”

“Oh, hi.” Oh, Dave. Poor Dave. She tries to inject sunshine into her voice.

“Busy tonight?”

“I, uh—.” Supposed to go to the Ralph Lauren party. And JD would be the perfect date. But she didn’t feel much like going and even less like pretending nothing were wrong to a guy who was sure to dump her when he found out about her upcoming surgery.

“I understand if you are, but the kids are really missing their mom. If you could come over, I think it would really help…”

“I’m not busy.”

“Great. Want to have dinner with us?”

“Love to.”

She watches the billboard recede as the cab starts moving again. No, she will never breastfeed a child. But if she ever has one, she won’t leave it motherless at five or seven either. She wipes away her tears and gives the cabbie her brother-in-law’s address.

pencil

Theryn (a.k.a. Luci), Toasted Cheese’s resident gen-X poster child and keeper of sarcastic repartee can be reached at beaver[at]toasted-cheese.com.

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