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The sun had gone past the ocean and the sky was deep, dark red all around them. The other cars had cleared out of the parking lot and Dana's car stood alone under a streetlight. Gretchen had leaned across the console, one hand on Dana's back and the other tight around her hand. Dana had leaned forward to rest her head against the steering wheel. The only sign she was still awake was how fiercely she was squeezing Gretchen's hand.
When she finally sat up, she brushed her hair out of her face, kissed Gretchen's knuckles and released her. She looked out at the dark beach and the sea beyond. "He was always this big... presence," Dana said. Her voice was quiet, as if she was afraid of someone overhearing her. "My parents never spanked me, but he would swat my ass if I did the smallest thing wrong. Just once, but hard. He made sure it stung. He scared me. But... he was my Grandpa."
"Do you think he could've done it?" Gretchen asked quietly.
Dana thought for a long minute. She touched her thigh and brushed her thumb over the skin. She was still wet from the ocean, but she was starting to dry off in the warm air of the car. Her hair hung limp around her face, blocking her eyes from Gretchen. Finally, she said, "I never would have put it on him. But... with that letter, I have to face the possibility. And the truth is... I-I think he could've."
Gretchen shifted in her seat. "Is he still alive?"
Dana shook her head. "He died four years ago. I don't know how we'd be able to prove it if he did."
"We don't have to," Gretchen said. "We don't have to tell anyone what we found out."
"Yes, we do," Dana said. She looked at Gretchen in the dying light and said, "But thank you for offering." She wiped her cheeks, checked her eyes in the mirror and started the car. They drove back to town in a silence broken only by the occasional sniffle from Dana's side of the car.
She turned the corner to go to Gretchen's guest house and Gretchen put her hand on Dana's arm. "Can we sleep at your apartment tonight?"
"I think I really need to be someplace familiar," Dana said. She covered Gretchen's hand with her own. "Thank you."
They drove past the Schroeder house and continued on to the apartments. Dana parked and Gretchen reached into the backseat for the cooler. "No, leave it," Dana said. "Just... just leave it for now. Let's go inside."
They got out of the car and headed upstairs. The wings of the apartment building spread out on either side of the courtyard. Dana led the way up and unlocked the door, ushering Gretchen inside. "Home sweet home," she said. The apartment was basically three rooms; the front room was divided into a kitchen and living room. The couch provided the separation between the two. The back of the apartment seemed to be where the bathroom and bedroom were.
Dana gestured at the couch. "Make yourself comfortable... I'm going to shower the ocean out of my hair." She pecked Gretchen's lips and said, "I have some t-shirts you could change into. Bedroom, bottom drawer of the dresser."
"Okay," Gretchen said. Dana went into the bathroom, shedding her shorts as she did. Gretchen followed her, but went into the bedroom instead. Dana had a simple twin bed with a thick comforter knotted on top of it. The sheet was pulled out and three pillows were splayed against the headboard. Gretchen smiled, and decided she preferred the real-life look to the manufactured perfection most people showed off.
She slipped out of the bathing suit and knelt down to open the drawer. Most of the t-shirts were too small, but she found one that reached all the way to her knees. She pulled it over her head and considered going back to the living room. She looked at the bed and walked over to it, tugging the blanket out of the way and tucking the sheet in.
By the time the shower shut off, the bed had been made. Dana called her name from the bathroom door. "Bedroom," Gretchen said.
Dana walked in wearing a towel. "You didn't have to make my bed," she said.
Gretchen shrugged. "Want to lie down?"
Dana nodded. She walked to the bed and embraced Gretchen. Dana dropped the towel and got into bed, pulling Gretchen down into her arms. When they were settled, Dana brushed her cheek across Gretchen's and said, "Who should we tell?"
"The sheriff?" Gretchen said.
"It's a sixty-year old case. The prime suspect is dead. What could he do?"
"He could at least close the case. People would probably want to know the truth after all these years."
Gretchen threaded Dana's hair through her fingers. "But it would be your family's name being dragged through the mud."
"It wouldn't be *my* name," Dana said. "I use my mother's maiden name. Granddad Clark was on my father's side."
"Still, people would *know.*"
Dana touched Gretchen's stomach. "I know. But don't you think Maura should be at peace? If I keep quiet and she stays in limbo... or is it purgatory?"
"I don't know," Gretchen said. "I need to watch *Ghostbusters* again."
Dana snorted, covered her mouth and started to laugh. She lifted her head and kissed Gretchen's chin. "I needed that. Thank you." She touched Gretchen's cheek and looked into her eyes. "I love you."
Gretchen was caught off-guard and blurted, "You do?"
"Yeah," Dana laughed. She kissed Gretchen's lips and said, "I always thought love at first sight was impossible."
"Me, too," Gretchen said. "I-I mean... what I mean is, I love you, too."
Dana smiled and kissed her. "Let's get some rest. We should stop by the police station on the way to the theatre tomorrow."
"If you're sure."
"I'm sure," Dana said. "It's the right thing to do. We should hand the note over and tell the Sheriff what we know."
"No," Gretchen said. "I meant if you're sure you want to go to sleep."
Dana chuckled. "Oh. Yeah, I think so. If that's okay."
"It's okay." They kissed again and Gretchen said, "Good night."
Dana settled in and put her head on Gretchen's shoulder. After a long moment, she finally said, "Gretchen?"
"If someone had to solve this and put the blame on my Granddad, I'm glad it was you."
Gretchen smiled and kissed the top of Dana's head.
The next morning, Gretchen showered while Dana made breakfast. Gretchen planned to borrow an outfit of Dana's, but quickly changed her mind after trying on a pair of pants and a shirt. The jeans were tight around the thighs and upper arms, but it would have been all right. It was the tightness across the chest that was the deal breaker. They ate their breakfast at Dana's tiny kitchenette and then Dana drove her home. Gretchen dressed and realized they would've had to stop here anyway to pick up the note. She unfolded it carefully and, after a moment's consideration, found a Ziploc bag for it. They drove to the sheriff's office and waited at the front desk until they were noticed.
A woman came hurrying from the back room, a smudge of white frosting on the corner of her mouth. "Sorry, ladies. We're having a bit of a party back there. What can I do for you?"
"We'd like to talk to Sheriff Rucker about a cold case."
"Ooh, okay. Give me a second to pry him away from his cake." She hurried back into the room.
A few seconds later, the tall man who'd rescued them came striding out. He was licking his thumb and had just pulled a napkin from the collar of his shirt. "Oh," he said when he saw them. "Miss... Purcell, wasn't it?"
"Selma said you had a cold case you wanted to talk to me about. I'm all ears. Which case?"
Gretchen said, "The Maura Hunter case."
They both saw Rucker's eyes glaze slightly. "Uh-huh," he said.
Gretchen produced the Ziploc bag with the note. "We found this in the costume Maura Hunter was wearing the night she died."
Rucker took the note and read it through the plastic. As his eyes passed over the letters, they saw his interest beginning to grow again. "Well, that's a new one," he muttered. "Any idea of who Clark is?"
Gretchen squeezed Dana's hand to give her strength. "Clark Adams. He's... he was my grandfather, we think. He worked at the Rose in 1946 and he was a technician. He would've had access to the mechanics used to fake Bianca's suicide."
"Your grandfather," Rucker said. "I take it he's no longer with us?"
Dana shook her head. "Died four years ago."
He winced. "That'll make things difficult. Even if we can prove he did it, there won't be any prosecution. Maura Hunter had no family..."
"The case should be closed," Dana said. "There should be closure for... for anyone who might be involved."
Rucker chuckled. "You're talking about the ghost, aren't you?"
"Maybe," Dana said.
"All right," he said. "What was your grandfather's name again?"
Rucker wrote the name on a pad and said, "I'll have a look in the records and see if they interviewed him back in the forties. I'll keep this," he held up the note, "if you don't mind."
"No, go ahead," Gretchen said.
"Let me get your contact numbers in case I do happen to find anything." They wrote down their numbers, using Dana's cell first since that was where he would be the most likely to catch them both, and thanked him again.
When they left the police station, Dana took a deep breath. Gretchen leaned against her. "How do you feel?"
"Like a weight was lifted off my shoulders." She took Gretchen's hand and said, "Come on. Owen will have our hide if we're late."
A few days passed with the play taking their full attention. They ran through the entire play twice a day and, one week from opening night, switched to full-dress. They were into the red-zone of 'cannot-miss' days and the entire cast was on notice. Understudies had been lined up for each character and absences would not be tolerated.
Gretchen became an expert in getting her wig on and off by herself. She had her lines memorized without a hitch; they flowed from her lips as if they were her own words and not a written script.
When Owen, satisfied with the progress of the play, gave them an afternoon off, Gretchen asked Dana for the afternoon. Dana looked hurt, but agreed. Gretchen kissed her and said, "It's nothing bad. I just... there's something I have to do by myself. I wish you could be there, but..."
Dana held Gretchen's hand and said, "No problem. Do you want me to drop you off anywhere, or...?"
"No, I can walk from here. I'll see you around six. We can have dinner together."
"I'd like that."
They kissed good-bye and parted ways for the second time in as many weeks. Gretchen walked away from the theatre and had to force herself not to look back. Time away from Dana felt like a ticking clock in her head, like she was just biding time until she was with her again. Every second was like Dana was becoming less solid in her mind and she wanted to refresh her memory.
After the play, they'd need some serious time apart, she decided. Otherwise, they would end up joined at the hip.
She remembered the way to Barbara's house from a few weeks ago and rang the doorbell. She hoped Barbara was back from her vacation. Otherwise the entire trip had been wasted. She was about to ring again when the front door swung open.
"Oh, my God!" they said together. "Look at you!"
Gretchen laughed and covered her mouth. Barbara turned sideways and put one hand on her hip. She was still overweight, but she had to have dropped a good twenty pounds. Her hair was out of its usual bun and she was wearing a form-fitting blue blouse and jeans. Gretchen had never seen her look so relaxed. "You look phenomenal! What happened?"
"Good living, good food in moderation and re... lax... ation. How about you, darling, what have *you* done to yourself?"
"I... uh, nothing..." Gretchen said. She looked down at her clothes. She hadn't lost any weight that she could see. Maybe a pound or two here and there - she and Dana *had* worked out a very fun, pretty efficient calisthenics routine, after all - but it was nothing noticeable. She wasn't wearing her wig... maybe she was still tan from the day at the beach.
"Not talking about your clothes," Barbara said. She reached out and pinched Gretchen's smile. "This proves what I thought all along. I've *never* seen a real smile on you, girl. You are *happy* and it looks *great* on you."
Gretchen blushed. "Oh."
"Well, come on in. Tell me all about what I missed while I was gone."
Gretchen went into the house and walked to the dim living room. It had been tidied since her last visit and looked even cozier than before. One of the cuckoo clocks chimed the hour and Gretchen took the same seat she'd taken before. "Well?" Barbara said. "Don't leave me in suspense. I know you met *someone,* it's written all over your face. And don't tell me it's just being in the play. No silly play ever made someone smile like that."
"No, you're right," Gretchen said. "I met someone."
Barbara clapped her hands and rubbed her feet back and forth on the carpet. "I have been waiting to hear you say those words for years, Gretchen. Truly years. Who is he? Someone I know?"
Gretchen bowed her head. "Barbara, I don't... think you'll..." She scratched the back of her head. "I'm afraid of what you'll think."
"Never worry about that. If he makes you this happy, he's worth it. Don't worry what any one thinks." She paused and her face fell. She lowered her voice and said, "Oh, honey... Don't tell me he's married."
"No," Gretchen said. "Not married."
"Well, then, what's the problem?"
Gretchen sighed. "It's not... a he."
Barbara frowned. "Not a what?"
"A he. It's... th-the person I've fallen in love with is a woman, Barbara."
Barbara's mouth fell open and she sat back in her chair. Gretchen closed her eyes, only partially surprised to find tears there. She bit her thumbnail and looked away, waiting for the barrage of questions and the inevitable conversion speech. Barbara was a good, church-going woman. Just like the Schroeders, just like Gretchen's parents. She'd been in this boat before. She'd have given anything to avoid it, but she couldn't keep it from Barbara. Not something this big, not when she wore it so obviously all over her face.
Finally, she had to look at Barbara again. Moving her head caused tears to roll down her cheeks. Barbara was still staring at her, eyes and mouth open wide with shock. Gretchen sniffled. "I do love her, Barbara. And she loves me. We've spent most of the last couple of weeks together. This is... maybe the second time we've been apart for longer than a few minutes and it's killing me. I know you're a Christian and I know you probably look down on me for this, but I just... I couldn't not tell you."
Barbara took a deep breath and pushed her hands down her thighs. She held her knees and looked at the cuckoo clocks, looked at the curtains and then finally looked at Gretchen. She sighed and seemed to deflate. "Oh, hell, Gretchen Cole. Look at you." She got up and grabbed a couple of Kleenex from a box next to her chair. She sat on the couch next to Gretchen and dabbed at her cheeks. "Messing up all that fine theatre make-up..."
She held Gretchen's chin in her hand and looked into her eyes. "Everything I believe tells me homosexuality is a sin. That's the party line. But you won't get too far in religion believing everything blind. At some point, religious faith has to meet personal faith. You hear me?" Gretchen nodded. "And my *personal* faith at this moment tells me that you at the front door is better than you right here on my couch."
Gretchen sniffled and furrowed her brow. "What?"
"I mean the you I saw there," she pointed at the door, "is much better than how I'm seeing you here. So I guess, in this instance, my personal faith is that you happy is good no matter what the cause. I've been trying to get you in love for so long, I'd be a bit of a hypocrite if I got all bent out of shape because you fell in love with the 'wrong' person."
"I'm so glad," Gretchen said. She embraced Barbara and batted at her eyes with the Kleenex. She composed herself and sat back, shifting on the couch. "Okay. Now... tell me all about Alaska."
Barbara's eyes flashed and she said, "Well! Unlike you, I *did* meet a man."
Dana, alone for the first time in what felt like years, accepted Gabriel's invitation to join him and a couple others for lunch. They descended on Joe Lack's Pizza like a hurricane, taking up three booths and ordering four pizzas for the entire group. Jill joined them, but Owen remained at the theatre to make some phone calls. Sofia was invited, but said she had things to do at her condo.
As they waited for their pizza, the entire group seemed to have the same chorus: "Where's Gretchen?"
She deflected the question, assured everyone she and Gretchen were fine and ate her pizza at one of the tables. She was by herself, but she didn't feel lonely. It felt like Gretchen was there with her somehow. She was close enough to the others to hear their conversations and to share their jokes, but far enough away she could look out the window to the harbor.
She hadn't been lying or exaggerating when she'd told Gretchen it had never been like this for her. She'd never spent two solid weeks with someone without getting sick of them. It had seemed impossible. She always got tired of people after she slept with them. It was part of the reason it was so easy to bounce from bed to bed. But now... oh, boy, now she was in trouble.
It had been less than an hour since she'd held Gretchen's hand. And all she wanted to do was run from the restaurant, find her and kiss her.
Something impacted the side of her head and she jerked. She sat up straight in her chair, looked at the discarded breadstick and brushed the crumbs from her hair. "We said," Gabriel smirked, "do you want pepperoni on the next pie?"
"Um. Yeah. Sure."
Gabriel shook his head and motioned for Joe. "Man, oh man, you are in deep," he muttered.
Dana blushed and sagged down in her chair. *Tell me something I don't know.*
When her cell phone rang, she yanked it from her pocket and glanced at the readout. "Pay phone," she muttered. She answered and said, "Hello?" Her face brightened. She straightened in her seat and pressed the phone to her ear. "Hi. Where are you?"
"Is that Gretchen?" Gabriel asked. "Hey, Dana, is that Gretchen? Dana! Dana!"
Dana picked up her pizza slice and hurled it at him. He swatted it down before it hit him in the face, but his hand was covered with pizza sauce. "Ahh, great..."
"Sorry," Dana said into the phone. She stood up and headed for the door. "I'm eating lunch with a bunch of eight-year-olds. Where are you?"
"I'm at the pay phone by the Coffee Table Books. I wanted to call and tell you where I went. I was talking with my boss."
"What about?" Dana stood on the boardwalk, the wind whipping her hair around her head. In the harbor, all the little sailboats rocked lazily back and forth in the breeze. She wrapped her free arm around herself and squinted at the sky.
"You and me. I told her I was gay."
"How'd she take it?"
"Better than expected. I cried. But she was fantastic. She doesn't have a problem with it."
Dana smiled. "That's great, hon. Do you want me to come pick you up? I'm really missing you."
"Sweet," Gretchen said. "But you're eating."
"We're going out to dinner later. I'll eat then."
Gretchen laughed. "It's good to know you're having separation anxiety, too. But no, I want to walk for awhile. Clear my head. I've been afraid of that conversation for years and I need time to accept I've really had it."
"Okay. Well, give me a call in a while. I really miss you."
"I miss you, too. I love you."
Dana looked over her shoulder. She didn't mind saying it, but she didn't want Gabriel to use it to mock her. She had too much respect for the words to have them mocked. Fortunately, she was alone on the boardwalk. "I really love you, too, Gretchen. I'll see you later."
They hung up and Dana leaned forward against the railing. Her phone rang again almost immediately and she laughed. She answered without checking the Caller ID. "Change your mind already?"
"Sheriff Rucker. Um... sorry. I thought you were someone else. Hi..."
"Hi. I'm calling about the note."
She turned around and leaned against the railing. "Uh-huh," she said.
"I went back into the case file and read up on what the police did then. They questioned the director and all the crew, which includes your grandfather. They fingerprinted, but... you know. Everything they printed had *everybody's* prints all over it. The prime suspects all had reasons to be touching her bungee cord. It's why they were the main suspects."
"I understand." She realized what he'd just revealed and said, "Was Granddad a suspect?"
"A good one, from what I can get from these notes. They released him because there was no motive. A little bit of rumor and innuendo he'd had an affair with Miss Hunter, but lots of people supposedly did." She heard papers rustling on the other end of the phone. "Oh, and this was a heartbreaker. The pregnancy never made it into the public record because the coroner didn't note it."
Dana blinked. "He didn't notice it?"
"No, he saw. He just didn't note it because the baby had died long before Maura."
"Oh, no," Dana said. "So if she was murdered because she wouldn't have an abortion..."
"Then she was killed for no reason. Some cases, you know."
She shook her head. She really didn't know. "So there's nothing to connect Granddad to Maura's death?"
"Nothing we have here. But you changed all that. The police back then questioned him because he was on the catwalk and worked with the harness. He had means and opportunity and the note gives him motive. If we can prove this is his handwriting, I'd be tempted to call this case closed."
Dana closed her eyes. She had a couple samples of her Granddad's handwriting. The only problem was the issue of how moral it was. "Would a birthday card work?"
"Possibly," Rucker said.
"I could get you some samples to compare. Maybe by tonight, is that okay?"
"I'll make sure there's someone here to officially accept them."
"Thanks," Dana said. She hung up and sighed. Her grandfather had never exactly been her favorite person in the world. But he was her Grandpa. He'd introduced her to 'got your nose' and had been a steady supply of those sugary, orange circus peanuts that tasted more like packing peanuts than anything else. He'd been her Grandpa and she was going to use her birthday cards to confirm he had motive to kill a woman.
Being a grown-up sucked.
To be continued in Chapter Seventeen
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