The bakery was busy, everyone coming in to grab bag and boxfuls of goodies for the upcoming weekend. Typically Clara was out of there by eleven, or noon at the latest, but they had a call-off, and her mother had begged her to say and help out. It was nearly five o’clock, and she was about to fall over dead from a fourteen hour shift, a two-hour lunch to take a power nap.
She had just boxed up a birthday cake, ordered a week ago, and was ringing up the sale when the bells above the door jingled the entrance of yet another customer. Internally she sighed. People! Go home and bake for yourself! She glanced up, a forced smile of welcome in place, becoming frozen in place when she saw Abby Jensen step up to the counter.
“Thanks, Clara,” Michelle Mason said, gathering the birthday cake and her purse and moving out of Abby’s way.
“Welcome,” Clara said, trying not to stare. She hadn’t seen Abby since her parents’ wedding years before, and certainly hadn’t seen her close up since Abby and Kerri were still in high school.
“Hi, Clara. How are you? I heard you were back in town.” Abby asked, her voice filled with the friendly smile that was on her face. It was a genuine smile that reached her bright green eyes.
“I’m doing well. You heard that, huh?” Clara smiled, feeling like she could float off the ground.
“Yep. Kerri filled me in over the years on where you’d run off to, or what you were doing.”
“I see,” Clara said, trying best to not break her face by the sizeable grin that threatened to split her face. “What can I help you with?”
“Well, actually I was hoping to be able to talk to you for a few minutes.”
“Oh. Um,” Clara glanced behind her to see who was available to take over at the register. Luckily the place was beginning to clear, the Friday afternoon rush slowing. “Jill, can you take over for a few?” she called to the teenager who was helping Stephanie load doughnuts into the Day Old rack that would be rolled into the main lobby of the bakery.
“Sure.” The perky teen took over, allowing Clara to slip away.
“Want to step outside?” Clara asked, looking at the small space available in the store, as a few customers still waited for assistance.
The air outside smelled fresh and clean, the trees swaying in the slight breeze. Clara led them to the corner where a bench was placed in front of the jewelry store there. They sat down, Clara nervous, though trying her best not to show it. She got a good look at Abby as the blonde got herself settled. Abby had cut her hair, now in a cute, somewhat sporty style. She was wearing jeans and a cap-sleeved tee that showed off toned arms and a very cute figure.
“Well, first of all, welcome back,” Abby began, placing her sunglasses over her eyes to block out the late afternoon sun.
“Thank you. I guess it’s nice to be back, though it was nice to be away, too.”
“Yes, it is. My ex-husband and I moved to Ohio for a few years to be closer to his family, which was nice. But I have to say, it was nice to get back, too.”
Clara’s mind raced back to the wedding and the man with dark hair who had been with Abby. She wondered if that was her ex.
“The second reason I came to day is I want to talk to you. I need your help, Clara, and I hear Kerri wasn’t very successful in talking to you about it.”
Clara stared at her, stunned. Had Kerri been asking on Abby’s behalf that day two weeks ago in her kitchen? “That was about you?” she blurted.
Abby nodded. “I don’t know what happened to you – Kerri never told me – but I do understand that you no longer dabble in the supernatural stuff anymore. If you won’t help me, then is there maybe someone you know of who can? Or can I plead my case with you myself, directly?”
Clara could almost hear her grandmother laughing at the position she’d been put in. Here before her sat the woman she’d been obsessed with since she was 14 years old, who was asking for her help. She was asking her to reclaim a life that she no longer wanted, a gift that had been wasted on the wrong person. Clara felt she was no good for anyone.
“Let me think about it, okay?” she asked, truly unsure of what to do.
“Okay. I can take that. But,” Abby said, pleading in her voice. “whether you decide to help me or refer someone to me, I need help pretty soon. Here,” she reached into her purse and brought out a ready-printed pieced of paper, an address and phone number on it. “I own this place, and this is where the trouble is.”
Clara looked at the address, unsure of exactly where it was. “Okay.” She tucked the paper away and stood up. “I need to get back. I’ll contact you within a couple days, okay?”
“Fair enough,” Abby said, also standing, a bright smile on her face. “Thank you so much, Clara. I never forgot that day you told me my grandmother would be okay after her surgery. That meant the world to me.” With that, she turned and walked down the street to a bright blue SUV. She climbed in and drove away.
Clara walked back to the bakery, feeling a new kind of fatigue wash over her. Indecision weighed heavily on her shoulders.
Clara found herself standing on the banks of a river she’d seen before. Across the lake was a beautiful, snow-capped mountain range, the reflection rippling in the gentle waves in the water. The golden sky above calm and peaceful. The pebbled beach spanned out to the right, curving around to fold the lake in a small pocket. To the left the beach disappeared into a thick wood that also lined the back side of the beach, opposite the water.
Looking down into the sand, Clara saw obvious footprints, which led towards the wooded area to her left. She followed, unsure of where she was going. She hadn’t been to the Other Side for well over a year, and felt a curious mixture of joy and anger. The trees were thick and beautiful, their full branches reaching towards the sky in graceful arcs.
Up ahead and to the left she saw what appeared to be glass, light glinting off it’s smooth surface. She brushed a few low branches out of her way and was started to find herself standing directly in front of a cabin. The structure was so well-hidden that she almost missed it. The glass she’d seen were actually the front windows of the two-story cabin. A large front porch stretched out to the full-length of the building, two rocking chair straddling the front door.
Clara felt a pull to the cabin, as she climbed the three stairs to the porch, running her hand along the smooth log rail. At the front door, she wasn’t sure whether to knock, just help herself inside, or… It didn’t matter as the door slowly swung open, it’s beveled glass panes reflecting Clara’s face for a brief moment.
Directly inside was a small sitting area, a ruggedly-built couch and chair inviting someone to sit and relax. The couch was along the wall to the right, the chair against a small portion of the staircase that ran behind it and up to a small landing before heading up the other direction to finally reach the second floor. To the left was the rest of the front, and what looked to be main, room. The wall was made up entirely of stone, a massive fireplace burning brightly at the center of the wall.
The room was empty, so Clara turned her attention to the stairs. She slowly made her way up, heart pounding. Why was she so nervous? She knew who would be waiting for her, but somehow she felt anxious. Was it anger? Was it guilt?
The upstairs was one large space, windows lining the walls, almost giving the appearance of a glass room. Light streamed in, bathing everything in the golden hue of the outside world of the Other Side. A bed was tucked into one corner, dwarfed by the shear size of the room. To the far right was a small nook where Rebecca sat in a chair, waiting.
“Welcome home, Clara,” she said softly, studying her granddaughter.
Clara said nothing, instead sitting next to the other woman. She could still feel her heart pounding in her chest. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Rebecca.
“You don’t need to be afraid or nervous. You know I won’t hurt you.”
“I know,” Clara said, sparing a glance at the beautiful brunette. She blew out a breath, finally meeting the dark, penetrating, yet understanding eyes. “Why am I here?”
“Because we need to talk. I’ve sent you messages for the past year, all of which you’ve ignored, and that’s fine. I understand what you’ve gone through. I’ve listened to you curse me and the gifts you have. Now it’s time I get to tell my side of the story, and you will sit and listen.”
Clara felt almost as though she were paralyzed to do anything else. She nodded, feeling the stern strength coming from her Spirit Guide.
Clara took a deep breath at the mention of his name, trying to keep the images that haunted her still, out of her head.
“You had no control over that. You could have never left your apartment that day, and it likely still would have happened. Mike was set on his own path, Clara. That is a path you were never meant to intervene with. He set his own obstacles for himself long before you knew him. He couldn’t handle those, and chose to exit early. That is his fate to deal with, not yours, and don’t take upon yourself.
“I know,” Rebecca continued, “that you’re anger at me was actually anger for yourself that you didn’t know how to direct properly. You allowed your anger and grief to cloud your judgment. You made the right choice by going home, as that is where the rest of your path leads, Clara. But,” she held up one finger to emphasize her point, “you have made the wrong choice in turning your back on who and what you are. You feel that loss, don’t you?”
Clara didn’t answer, instead, sitting quietly, hands tucked in her lap.
“Your restlessness. Going back to the diet I asked you to follow. Your soul is crying out for you to be true to your path, Clara. You have the perfect opportunity now.”
Clara truly looked at her for the first time. “Abby?”
Rebecca nodded, a knowing smile on her lips. “Abby.”
Clara glanced down at the paper in her hand, making sure the address did in fact match that of the Stoney Brook, which she stood in front of. The pub was in one of the beautiful historical buildings in downtown. Brick and masonry gave the old building character.
She pushed through the glass and brass front door, which led into a small area where coats could be hung to allow the patrons free movement while they socialized inside. The bar, itself was a dimly lit room, old Tiffany lamps hung over the booths that lined the wall, the bulbs within a low wattage to keep the atmosphere intimate and low-key. The bar, which took up much of the center of the room with it’s horseshoe shape, had a highly-polished mahogany finish with brass fittings and padded stools.
At the center of the horseshoe was a mirrored divider wall where row after row of bottled alcohol were kept on wooden racks. Low music was piped through the room. At the back of the long room was a staircase, leading freely to whatever was on the second level. From the distant sounds of clanking balls, Clara guess there were pool tables up there.
A few patrons meandered around the classy place, some talking in booths, others sitting at the bar chatting with Abby, who’s easy laughter could be easily heard. It made Clara smile. She walked over to the bar, taking a seat at the rounded hoop of the horseshoe. A red-headed man of maybe twenty-two walked over to her, a white towel flipped over his shoulder.
“How can I help you?” he asked, both hands pressed onto the bar top as he waited for her order.
“A water, please. I’m actually here to talk to Abby.”
“Water it is.” He quickly had her drink in front of her, then sauntered over to his boss, tapping her on the shoulder to get her attention. He spoke quietly to her, pointing over in Clara’s direction. Abby immediately excused herself from the couple she’d been talking to and walked over to where Clara sat.
“Hey there!” she said, leaning against the bar.
“HI. Okay, so I lied and it took me three days to contact you.”
Abby smiled, waving off her words. “It’s okay. I was beginning to wonder, though.”
“Yeah, sorry. So, you own this place?”
“I do,” Abby said, obvious pride in her voice. She looked around, seeing it through someone seeing it for the first time, as she guessed Clara was. “My husband had the harebrained idea of buying this place two years ago, then got bored with it, while I fell in love with it. It’s all I wanted out of the divorce decree.”
“Good for you. It’s really a nice place.”
“Thanks. Want the tour?”
Clara slid off the stool, leaving her water on the bar as she followed Abby around, trying to pay attention to the history of the building that was being told to her, and not to Abby’s very shapely behind.
“This,” Abby said, indicating the small office she’d led her to on the second floor, “is where the majority of things happen.”
“What happens in here?” Clara asked, walking in and looking around. She noted the old wood desk, a new Dell on top of the scarred surface. The roof sloped down slightly, so Clara ducked as she made her way towards the solitary window. Looking out she found herself looking down into an alley. She ran her fingers across the faces of the metal filing cabinets that lined the wall opposite the desk.
“Lots of sounds. I’ll be closing up at night and will hear something thud in here. Maybe voices, like actual conversation between two people. I come in – after I unlock the door, might I add – and find nothing. I’ve come in here in the morning or afternoon when I come to do inventory, and the chair will be on the other side of the room, over by the window or file cabinets. Sometimes the computer will have magically turned itself on.”
“Okay,” Clara said, keeping any thoughts or impressions to herself. She still wasn’t positive that she was going to help. She still could defer Abby to someone else. Maybe Cassandra knew of someone local. “What else?”
Abby leaned against the wall, her hands pinned between her body and the wall. “I didn’t talk about this downstairs because I didn’t want to scare anyone – customers, Ryan, anything. A lot happens down there, too, Clara. Glasses will fall and break. I smell cigar smoke a lot, which seems strange to me as I’ve never seen anyone smoke them here, but it’s always possible that a customer has. Um,” she glanced off towards the window as she thought of other things that had happened. “Oh! The juke box upstairs will start up on its own sometimes. Scares the hell out of pool players,” she grinned.
“I bet.” Clara shoved her hands in the pockets of her jeans, looking everywhere but at Abby. The blonde still made her as nervous as she had twelve years ago. “What exactly are you wanting to happen here, Abby?” she asked quietly.
“I want it to stop. It’s gotten worse in the past year or so, ever since we moved in a couple of the pool tables. I don’t know why, and I’m not sure that I care. It’s scaring my patrons. It’s scaring my employees, and honestly, it’s scaring the hell out of me.” Pleading green eyes looked into Clara’s. “Will you help me, Clara? Please? I don’t know where else to go.”
Clara looked into her eyes for a long moment, knowing full well that she had to help her. She nodded, letting out a long breath. “Okay. I’ll help you. I’m a little rusty, so no guarantees, but I’ll help you.”
“Thank you so much, Clara. You have no idea how much I appreciate it. I’ll pay you, of course. How much?” Abby walked over to the desk and pulled out a drawer, plucking a checkbook out and tossing it to the top of the desk.
“No. I don’t want you to pay me,” Clara said, waving the idea away. “No money.”
“Why?” Blonde brows drew. “Isn’t this what you do for a living?”
“Not anymore. I’m just doing it to help you. Put that away.”
Abby shut the drawer but did not put the checkbook away. “Alright. For now. So, how do we start?”
Clara sat in a mess that had been taken out of two boxes that she’d dug out from her crawl space. She dug through the debris, looking for something she hadn’t seen or touched since she’d left California. She rooted through papers, books and random odds and ends. Finally she spotted what she’d been looking for.
“Ha!” she exclaimed in victory, snatching the tiny velvet ring box, setting it next to the tiny leather bag she’d already found.
After cleaning up her mess and stacking to two re-packed boxes in the all to put back into the crawl space later, Clara returned to her office, picking up the bag and box, setting them on the computer desk. She sat in the leather desk chair and stared at the two items for a moment, as though she could see the contents inside.
Letting out a long breath, she grabbed the bag first. Inside was a small yellowish colored stone. She held it between her fingers, feeling the cold smoothness against her skin. Holding the calcite up to the light, she could see all the imperfections inside the stone, as well as the flecks of mineral imbedded in the fragile sheets.
“Long time since I’ve seen you,” she said softly, rubbing the marble-sized stone between her palms. “Let’s hope you still work, hmm?”
Setting the stone aside, she grabbed the ring box, opening the creaking lid. Inside was the silver ring she once wore on her middle finger, the small amethyst stone gleaming up at her. She plucked the ring from it’s satin prison, sliding the cool silver onto her right middle finger. She gasped slightly, feeling the familiar energy of the stone pulse weakly through her finger.
It was said that Archangel Azrael oversaw all Mediums, as he was known as Angel of the Dead. Azrael was responsible for crossing the dead, as well as for helping those grieve after losing someone to death. The amethyst and calcite were his stones, encapsulating his energy and power. The energy between the stones helped to regulate the energy within Clara’s own body, making it flow easier, and with more clarity.
She swore she’d never use them again. As she stared down at her finger, then took the calcite in her hand, she knew that vow was broken.
Stoney Brook was truly a creepy place at night when it was closed and most of the lights were off. Abby had given her the keys and let her roam as she pleased. The pub owner had asked to join her, but Clara declined. She felt it best if she could just walk around the place and get a vibe for it, let her mind reach out and see what it could find. What would reveal itself.
She walked through the main room of the pub, only the lights in the bar illuminated the large area. She didn’t want lighting to interfere with her impressions. She could feel the calcite in her pocket and the silver and amethyst ring on her finger. Her own energy was strong as it surged throughout her body, reaching out into the room to see what she would find.
One thing Abby had asked for was some sort of proof of what was in her building. Clara knew she wouldn’t be able to do that with her gifts alone, so she had arranged for the CPS – Colorado Paranormal Society – to come do an investigation the following night.
In the meantime, she was on her own. She made her way towards the stairs at the back of the room when she heard something behind her. Stopping, Clara held her breath, listening, able to hear the blood pounding through her ears. The sound of glass hitting glass caught her ear.
Turning slowly, Clara peered through the dimness, trying to spot the source. She saw nothing at the bar, the only places where any glasses were. Walking towards the bar, she was startled when one of the stools – stacked pad-down on the bar top – fell to the floor. Hand to her heart, Clara took a deep breath and blew it out.
“Are you letting me know you’re here?” she asked, something inside her beginning to feel nervous. She felt as though there was something in the pub with her, watching her. No matter how much she tried to reach out with her senses, she couldn’t quite grasp what it was. It almost felt as though whatever it was, was hiding from her.
Clara decided to head upstairs, see what else she could find there, as well as do some comparison with what she’d been told by Abby. The stairs creaked with every step, the stairway dark. She could feel the darkness all around her, weighing in on her. She could feel a presence with her, watching her, almost as though it were stalking her.
Clara had barely reached the top of the stairs when she heard a loud thud, as though something had been thrown or dropped. She flicked on the first of the three light switches, which only lit two of the six hanging lights above the pool tables. The two lights sent a bright patch of light on the green felt of the tables, but left the rest of the room in relative darkness.
She made her way carefully through the room, not familiar-enough with the layout to not whack a leg on something. The last thing she wanted to do was break something in the pub, or something on herself. Just up ahead she could see the pitch blackness that was the office doorway, left open for her convenience. Abby had said that a good deal of the activity happened in that office, so Clara knew she had to give it a lot of attention.
She stopped at the opened door, looking inside the inky blackness. A chill traveled first up, then back down her spine as she felt the air within the room. She had noticed on her tour with Abby that the room was heavy, and made her feel slightly uncomfortable, but now, in the dark, in the territory of whatever lurked there, she felt downright afraid.
About to turn and head out for the night, basically seeing and feeling what she needed to feel, she heard the same bang within the office that she’d heard when over by the pool tables. She reached a hand inside the room, gasping as a wisp of very cold air washed over her hand. She drew her hand back, holding it within her other hand. She had been touched by a spirit, and never liked the feeling. Within her life, and certainly within her spiritual life, she’d felt a spirit’s energy many, many times. It was never easy to get used to, especially when it was unexpected and uninvited. It was a coldness unlike any other kind. Rather than starting from the outside and working it’s way in, as a cold breeze would, the chill from a spirit started from the inside and worked it’s way out. The feeling lingered for many minutes.
She reached into the room again, this time finding the light switch and flicking it on. She looked around the room, seeing nothing out of the ordinary: computer desk replete with computer, filing cabinets, open window-
Clara’s attention was drawn back to the open window. As she watched, the window slammed down to the sill below, making Clara jump in surprise. She studied the window, curious to see if it would move again. It was possible Abby had opened the window earlier in the day, as it was a warm day, and had forgotten to close it. After all, it was second-story window, so maybe she hadn’t worried about it.
Stepping further into the room, Clara walked over to the desk, looking to see if anything looked out of place. Everything had been put away, the desk clear and clean. About to turn, something caught the corner of her eye. Turning back to the desk, Clara leaned over it, surprised to see the contents of one of the drawers dumped on the floor, the drawer itself lying on its side next to the rolling feet of the desk chair.
Bending down, Clara gathers the items and puts them back into the drawer, about to slide the drawer back into its slot when the office door moved. Her head whipped up at the sound – a low creak. She thought for a moment that she’d imagined it, and turned back to her task. The drawer had just slid into place when she heard the creaking again.
Getting out from behind the desk, she watched for a moment, waiting for movement. Her heart was pounding, the room growing even more heavy than before, a cold chill washing through her. Whatever was there did not want her there.
“I’m leaving,” she said quietly, “but I will be back.”
The journey back downstairs was fairly uneventful, though Clara swore she heard voices from time to time. If she didn’t know better, she’d almost think someone had broken into the place and was hiding, watching her, talking to someone.
As she walked past the bar, she gasped softly, seeing the glittering pieces of glass on the bar top and floor. Looking up to the glass rack above, she saw that three beer steins had either fallen, or been pushed, only to shatter upon contact. Looking further over the floor, she saw little shards glittering like diamonds.
“This has happened before.”
Clara yelled out, her heart jumping to her throat when she whirled to see Abby standing behind her. The blonde gave her own little yelp and jumped back at Clara’s violent reaction. Once their hearts began to beat again, they both burst into nervous, relieved laughter.
“You scared the hell out of me!” Clara said, hand still clutching her chest.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t think.” Abby grabbed a napkin from a nearby dispenser to wipe at the tears from the laughter. “That was classic, though. Truly classic.”
“Glad you thought so! I’m still waiting for my heart to slow.”
Abby sobered, looking over the mess of broken glass. “This does happen a lot, though. I come in probably one to three times a week and find this,” she indicated the glass shards scattered across the bar.
In response, Clara took one of the stools – which hadn’t been bothered at all – down from the bar and climbed up onto the bar in its place.
“Be careful of the glass, Clara,” Abby said, watching carefully to make sure Clara didn’t stick her knee right onto a dagger-like piece.
Clara examined the glass rack, checking for any loose screws either in the racks themselves, or within the hanging mechanism. Nothing. The rack was completely solid, as were the glasses being held within.
She jumped down, her shoes crunching broken glass upon landing back onto the floor. “That thing is solid.”
Abby nodded, grabbing a broom and dustpan from behind the bar. “I know. I make sure all the time. The last thing I need is a lawsuit because this happens on some poor patron’s head.”
Clara helped by picking up the larger pieces, throwing them in the plastic trash can Abby provided. “The crazy thing is, I was just upstairs and never heard a thing down here. I’m sure that had to of sounded like a bomb going off when those fell. Look at the way they shattered,” she held up a sliver of glass. “Those are some heavy-duty steins. Those things would have to of been literally thrown at the bar to shatter like that.”
“I know. I don’t understand this.”
“We need to talk about some things, but I don’t think this is the place to do it.” Clara glanced at her watch. “It’s almost midnight-thirty, and I’m beat. I appreciate you closing the place down early so I could do this, Abby.”
“No,” Abby said, shaking her head as she finished the last of the cleanup. “I appreciate you doing this. I still want to pay you.”
Clara smiled. “Buy me a beer sometime.”
“You got it. Okay, so when do you want to talk?”
“Are you available in the morning? I’ve got the next couple days off from the bakery to do this, so...” They cleaned up their mess, turned off the bar lights and walked to the door together. “We have the team coming in tomorrow night, and you won’t be here for that-“
“Why won’t I be?” Abby asked, stopping Clara with a hand to her arm just shy of the front door.
Clara looked at Abby, her features lit only by the moonlight outside. She could see the fear in her eyes, yet the determination on her face. She was amazed at just how much of the beautiful teenage girl she still saw there in the thirty year old woman before her. “Abby,” she began, her voice soft and filled with understanding. “This is a really scary situation. I don’t want you to have to be exposed to that anymore than you already are.”
“And I do appreciate that, but Clara, this,” she indicated the room they stood in, “is my livelihood. I’ve put my heart and soul into this business, not to mention a lot of money, and I’m not about to let some ghost destroy that.”
Clara studied her for a long moment, gauging her earnestness. She could see the fire in those green eyes, and literally feel the energy coming off Abby in waves. Finally she nodded. “Okay. Come to my house in the morning and we’ll talk. Okay?”
Abby nodded vigorously. Absolutely! Where do you live?”
Clara glanced at the clock above the stove as she brushed her hair back from her face, careful to pick out the few tangles from her recent shower. Abby was due at her house within five minutes. She had woken late, causing her to run around like a chicken with it’s head cut off, trying to get the house ready for Abby’s arrival.
She had just poured herself a glass of orange juice when the doorbell rang.
“Good morning!” Abby chirped, after being let inside. She walked into the living room, taking a look around at the small, yet beautifully decorated, very comfortable room. “I like your house.”
“Thank you. Can I offer you coffee or juice?” Clara asked, leading the way towards the kitchen.
Abby followed. “Coffee, if you have it.”
“I do. Leaded or unleaded?” she asked, opening the fridge door to show she had a canister of both.
“Mmm, better go with decaf.”
“Decaf it is.” Clara began to make the coffee, offering Abby a seat at the table. “Did you sleep?”
Abby sighed, sitting back in the chair and glancing out the window. A bird flew by, nearly hitting the window with it’s beating wings. “Not really. My mind is spinning right now, trying to figure out what I’m going to do about this problem at the Stoney Brook.” She sighed, heavy and tired. “I’m just not sure.”
“Well, then I guess it’s a good thing you’re not the one who has to worry about. Right?” Clara said, sitting across from her sister’s friend, who she still couldn’t believe was in her house.
Abby’s smile was a bit sheepish, which Clara thought was adorable. “I guess not. I’m not a fan of asking for help, Clara. If I can’t do it myself, it doesn’t need to be done.” She smiled ruefully. “My ex-husband hated that trait in me.”
“Why? It’s an admirable trait.” Clara pushed back from the table and grabbed a mug for Abby, pouring her a cup. She delivered the coffee with the requested creamer and sugar. “Did your ex not like strong women?”
Abby shrugged, preparing her coffee. “He thought he did.” Her grin was mischievous. “But, once we were actually married and he saw that it wasn’t something that could simply be turned off, he wasn’t such a fan.”
“I see.” Clara sat down again, sipping her orange juice. “Weak men usually don’t like strong women.” She thought for a moment. “Come to think of it, I don’t think any man likes a strong woman.”
“Amen to that.” They were quiet for a moment before Abby broke the silence. “Can I ask you something, Clara?”
“Why did you stop using your gift?”
The question was asked with such genuine curiosity, and not with an ounce of judgment, Clara felt she had no choice but to answer honestly. “When I was in Los Angeles, my best friend’s name was Michael James. I met him virtually the first day I arrived there, and we got close quick.” She took a sip of her juice, stalling for a few moments reprieve of what was to come. “Mike had some issues with depression, and finding love. Lethal combination. He hoped he’d finally maybe found someone, but Jeff was an asshole, like all the others. Wanted Mike’s money, not his heart. I broke the door down in my apartment to find that Mike had slit his wrists in my bathtub.”
Abby stared at her. She could tell Clara was trying to put on a brave face, her tone steady and void of emotion, but behind her twilight eyes, Abby could see the real story. “That absolutely devastated you, didn’t it?” she asked quietly, wrapping her hands around her coffee mug to keep from squeezing one of Clara’s hands. She wasn’t sure how the younger woman would react to that kind of physical contact; Clara seemed a bit of a touch-me-not.
Clara nodded, blowing out a quiet breath. “It was rough.”
“Why did that, as horrible as it was, make you give up your life’s work?”
“What’s the good of having this so-called gift if I can’t even save those I love most? You were at Jason’s funeral, Abby. You remember what happened to him. I couldn’t save him, either.”
“Maybe it was just Jason’s time to go, Clara,” Abby reasoned. “It may sound like a clichéd blanket statement, but I believe everything happens for a reason. There are no accidents or coincidences.”
“But, I was shown both deaths in advance. Why? Why when I couldn’t get there in time to stop it?”
“Because maybe you were never meant to stop it. Did you think of that?” Abby asked with a raised brow in challenge. “Maybe your grandmother was kind enough to show you those things so you’d be prepared when they happened. You were close to both of those guys, and likely she knew it. You think?”
Clara was quiet for a long moment, trying to wrap a stubborn mind around what she’d just been told. It made sense, she had to admit, even if she didn’t want to. She sipped her juice in lieu of saying anything.
“Don’t walk away from your gift.” This time Abby did reach out and lightly touch one of Clara’s hands, wanting to convey the seriousness of her plea. “There are so many that you’ve touched and helped. You must know that.”
Taking a deep breath, Clara nodded. “I suppose.”
Abby smiled, amused by the stubborn set of Clara’s words and jaw. “Something tells me that’s the best I’m going to get out of you, but I’ll take it. For now.” She put on a bright smile to show change of subject. “So, what are you going to do at my pub tonight?”
For the second night in a row, Abby closed the pub an hour early so the CPS could get in and set up. The Stoney Brook owner watched in amazement as four men and a woman walked in, each carrying sophisticated camera equipment and other technical devices that she had no clue what they were used for.
“Abby, this is Jordan Crossland. He’s head of the CPS,” Clara introduced.
“Hi, Jordan. Welcome to the Stoney Brook.” Abby shook the African American man’s hand, giving him a friendly smile.
“Thanks. Great place,” he said, looking around the main bar room. “We’ll get everything set up then I’ll explain to you what we’re doing, okay?”
“Sounds great. Anything I can do to help?”
“Nope. For now just sit tight.” He flashed her a brilliant smile then hurried off to help his team, glancing once over his shoulder to get a second look at the beautiful blonde pub owner. He whistled quietly between his teeth in approval.
“This is quite the set up they’ve got here,” Abby commented, not even noticing Jordan’s obvious attraction to her.
“it is,” Clara admitted, her gaze roaming to Jordan, who kept sneaking glances over at Abby. “From everything I’ve seen and heard, these guys are good. They know what they’re doing.”
“Good.” Abby blew out a nervous breath, feeling her heart begin to pound at the prospect of actually seeing something on tape.
Clara studied her for a moment, Abby so caught up in her own nerves, she didn’t even notice the scrutiny. “Abby?” Clara said softly, lightly touching the blonde’s arm. “Are you okay to be here?” she asked once she had Abby’s attention. “You can go, you know. I’ll make sure these guys stay professional and nothing goes wrong.”
“Oh, no. No, that’s not why I’m here. I need to be here, Clara. Like I told you last night: I’ve put everything into this place, into making it a success. I mean, hell, I even survived an awful divorce to win it. I’m not letting something scare me out of here. Okay?”
Clara nodded, respecting Abby’s gumption. “Okay.”
“However,” Abby added, a sheepish smile in place. “Can I stick with you tonight? I am a little creeped out.”
Clara chuckled with a nod. “Sure.”
By 1 a.m. the equipment had been placed and lights were out. Jordan and his second-in-command, Abraham Schwartz decided to hit the pub with the thermal camera. It was a camera that detected it’s surroundings via heat source, showing up on the screen in colored degrees of heat and cold. Jordan held the camera as Abe held the accompanying clamshell screen.
Tammy Boyd stayed at central command, set up in the CPS’s van outside. The last two members of the team, Jerome Kyle and Juan Armijo headed downstairs to do an EMF sweep. Clara and Abby were left on the main floor to do some EVP work.
Abby held her small flashlight tight in her hand. Though she’d been in the pub millions of times in all types of lighting – or lack thereof – yet had never felt quite as uncomfortable as she did walking around during the CPS investigation.
“What is an EMF sweep?” she asked, referring to the two guys in the basement.
“It stands for Electro Magnetic Field. You’ve talked about a lot of your employees feeling like they’re being watched or really uncomfortable up here, so they’re making sure you don’t have a fear cage in the building,” Clara explained.
“Um, can I have that in non-Ghostbuster lingo, please?”
Chuckling, Clara explained. “High EMF’s can cause those symptoms, plus nausea and some other nasties. Basically, wires that are old, copper or leak can cause high EMF readings, and can cause what’s referred to a fear cage. It can effect the surrounding area, or if it’s bad enough, sometimes the floor directly above.”
Abby stared at her for a moment, a perplexed look on her face. “How the hell do you know this stuff?”
Clara grinned. “I’ve done a few of these. I used to work with a paranormal group from time to time in California.”
“Ah. Gotcha.” They headed to a small room off the main bar where tables were set up. During the day the Stoney Brook served lunch, and many of the diners chose to eat in there. “So, what are we doing, then?”
“EVP.” Clara held up the small tape recorder she held, the silver body glinting briefly in the beam of her flashlight. “Electronic Voice Phenomena. It’s where you catch a voice on tape that you didn’t hear with your own ears. Pretty soon we’ll find a place to settle in and try some.” She glanced at her companion. “You game?”
“My head is spinning, but yes. I’m game.”
Amused, Clara led on.
Upstairs Jordan and Abe made their way into the pool table room. Abraham studied the clamshell screen of the thermal. The pool tables appeared blue and green, no living heat radiating from them. Jordan swung the camera around, and Abraham nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Whoa! Wait, dude. What was that?”
Jordan walked over to him, Abe rewinding the tape to find the spot that had got his attention. As Jordan had swung the camera, a quick flash of a red and yellow object jumped in front of the lens before it was gone.
“What is that?” Abe asked, pausing on the object.
Jordan studied it for a moment, running a hand over his short-cropped hair then goatee. “Oh!” he chuckled, using his finger to point. “I caught your reflection in that mirror,” he shined his flashlight up to catch the shiny surface in it’s beam. A long mirror ran along the length of the back of the room, STONEY BROOK etched into the glass.
Abe laughed. “Okay. Let’s keep going.”
They continued through the second floor at a slow pace, wanting to make sure Jordan was able to scan everything, as well as they didn’t want to run into anything. Jordan had been in the pub a couple times before, but hadn’t been upstairs. He did, however wonder how he’d missed seeing Abby. He’d have to come in a little more often and talk with the pretty pub owner.
“Jordan,” Abe hissed, stopping the larger man with a hand to his arm. “Did you hear that?”
Jordan instantly stopped, pulling his mind out of the gutter to listen. He could hear the blood pounding through his body, then breathing. He glanced over at his friend, noting that Abe was standing to his right and slightly behind him. He listened harder, trying to figure out where the breathing was coming from.
“It’s over there,” he whispered, pointing off to their left. Abe nodded, though Jordan couldn’t see it in the darkness. Jordan turned the camera, pointing it in the direction, which was back towards the two first pool tables. On top of one of the tables were a red and yellow smudge, almost as though something had just been sitting there and had gotten up.
“A heat signature,” Abe commented, showing Jordan the screen.
“That is bizarre,” Jordan murmured, studying the area around the heat signature, then comparing it to what his flashlight was showing him, which was nothing. No one there. “Why don’t you get a roll call real quick.”
Abe unclipped the radio from his belt and did a check to see where everyone else was in the building. He shook his head. “Nope. Everyone else is downstairs. No one has come up here at all.”
“Okay. Let’s go check it out.” They walked to the pool table, the heat signature beginning to fade slightly. Jordan handed the camera to his friend.
Abe watched as Jordan stepped into view, his body a mass of red hot heat with yellow signatures throughout. He could discern the big man’s shape easily. He laid a hand on the green felt top, quickly removing it. Left behind was a signature mark in the perfect shape of a red and yellow handprint.
“It wasn’t a hand,” Abe said. “it’s smaller than your hand.”
“Smaller, huh? Hmm.” Jordan stroked his goatee. “Okay. Well, we’ll look at it later during analysis. Let’s keep going.”
Jerome held a flashlight in his right hand, the EMF detector in his left. The EMF was a simple black device with a gray readout screen. He swept it up towards the ceiling where he saw a lot of bundled wires clamped.
“Getting a base EMF of about 0.2,” he said.
Juan stood nearby, though was only half-listening to his friend. He was beginning to get the heebie jeebies as he shone the beam of his flashlight out across the basement. The large room wasn’t finished, but was instead used for storage. The walls were brick, just like the rest of the place, the floor cement. Blacked-out windows lined one wall. At the end of the room were stacked crates filled with product for the pub upstairs. In the back corner was an old, burnt-out furnace, obviously not what kept the place warm. It looked like it hadn’t been run in ore than a hundred years.
“Man, this place is freaky,” he muttered, turning back to his friend.
“Nah,” Jerome said, aiming his EMF in a different direction. “Nuthin’ here to be worried about, Johnny.” He climbed down from the step-ladder he’d been standing on to get a better reading near the wires. Putting the ladder back where he’d found it, he turned to face the rest of the basement. “Well, their EMF’s are good, here. Nothing from that.”
“Yeah, because there is something here, Jerry,” Juan insisted. “Don’t you feel it? Man, it’s just like, negative here.”
“Pussy,” Jerome chided, leading the way back towards the stairs. “Come on. Nothing down here but booze and cobwebs. Let’s trade places with another team.” He was turning to head towards the stairs when he jumped and whirled around to face empty space.
Juan nearly jumped out of his skin, his defenses already on high alert. “What?”
Jerome reached a hand up, touching the back of his neck and head, then shone his flashlight to the spot where he’d felt the touch. He looked for the tell-tale glitter of a spider web. He saw nothing.
“What happened?” Juan asked, shining his flashlight nervously around their immediate surroundings. He’d gone on more than twenty investigations with CPS, but had yet to feel as uncomfortable as he did at the Stoney Brook.
“I don’t know,” Jerome said, once again running a hand over his hair. “I felt something.” He jerked again, this time his flashlight nearly tumbling from his hand. “What the fuck!” He grabbed at his hair again, turning his back towards his fellow investigator. “Man, do I gotta bug or spider or something on me?”
Juan raised the flashlight to look, pushing Jerome’s shaggy brown hair aside, but seeing nothing. He pulled the neckline of his t-shirt down, eyes widening in surprise. “Dude,” he exhaled, shocked to see two parallel red lines running down the back right side of Jerome’s neck. “Who scratched you?”
“What are you talking about?” Jerome moved away from Juan’s prying eyes, feeling for himself. He wined at the sting. “I don’t know. I didn’t know I was scratched back there.”
Juan turned his friend around once more to get a second look. “They’re fresh, Jerry. I don’t think the skin is broken, but them weren’t there a few minutes ago, dude. Them are new.”
Clara was impressed with how Abby had handled things over the investigation. They’d been sitting in the perfect darkness in the dining area for more than an hour. The flashlights had been turned off, Clara wanting to get a true reading of the room. Psychically she could feel at least two presences near them. They’d heard a couple bumps, and a bump overhead, which they attributed to Jordan and Abe upstairs. Twenty minutes ago they’d started their EVP session. Abby had been a trooper the whole way.
“Why are you here?” the pub owner asked in the darkness, sitting no ore than two feet away from Clara. She felt comfort in Clara’s presence. Somehow there was a peace and a calm to the Medium that helped immensely. When it was all said and done, and her pub was cleared of it’s uninvited guests, she hoped that Clara would want to stay in contact. Since the first time she’d met the younger woman, way back when Clara couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen, she’d been intrigued by her. She had never liked it when Kerri had referred to Clara as a freak, as she’d always thought what Clara could do was wonderful, not freakish.
Clara waited a few moments then added her own question. “What is your name?” She waited a beat. “What do you want from Abby?”
“Do you ever get a response?” Abby asked, wrapping her arms around herself, feeling a chill in the air.
“What does an EVP sound like? Is it as clear as you and me?”
Clara shrugged. “Not always. It really depends. It depends on how close the spirit was when they spoke, how far into the after shadow they are. There’s a lot of considerations.”
They sat in silence for a long moment, Abby glancing over at her companion for a moment. She was curious about the Medium. “Are you glad you moved back home?”
Clara was quiet for a moment, surprised at the change in topic. She looked in the blonde’s direction, unable to see her in the dark. She thought about the question for a long moment, wanting to answer honestly. “In some ways, yes. In most ways, I guess.”
“But?” Abby asked, sensing the hesitation in her voice.
“But, I hope I did it the right way. I hope I didn’t do something rash when I left L.A. the way I did. You know, like I acted on emotion rather than logic. Or even practicality.”
“Did you have a lot of friends there? A lot going for you?”
Clara shrugged. “Yes and no. Mike was my one real friend. I had acquaintances, people I’d read for. But nobody special.”
“No girlfriends?” Abby asked, letting Clara know she knew she was gay.
Clara chuckled. “Guess Kerri filled you in pretty good, huh?”
Abby smiled, though it went unseen. “Yes. She told me a lot about you over the past ten years.”
Before Abby was able to answer, they heard footfalls on the stairs in the main pub, followed by the voices of Jordan and Abraham.
“Come on,” Clara said, rising to her feet from her chair. “Let’s go meet the guys.”
Clara woke up, disoriented, but well-rested. The room was dim, and she realized why when she saw that the blinds had been drawn. Who did that? She knew she hadn’t. Rolling over, she saw the bedside clock, and was surprised to see that it read 10:17.
“I haven’t slept this late since college,” she muttered, rubbing her eyes with the heels of her hands. Blinking several times, she took in her surroundings again. The bed was far too comfortable to be her own. It took a moment to remember that she was sleeping in Abby’s guest room. Why? It had been a long night, and she had to think back over the events at the Stoney Brook.
They’d wrapped up the investigation at nearly four in the morning. Clara had been dragging, to say the least, considering she was used to going to bed at eight or nine at night and waking up at three in the morning. She’d been so tired, she’d forgotten to grab her house and car keys from inside the pub. Rather than having to go and unlock the place, Abby had invited her to stay in her guest room.
“Oh,” Clara muttered, sitting up. “That’s why.”
She pushed the sheet and light blanket off her and swung her legs over the side of the bed, feet hitting the soft carpet. Beyond the door she could hear soft music, muffled from distance. Figuring Abby was awake, she decided it was time for her to get her things together and get home.
Clara walked over to a hope chest that rested under the window, surprised to see her clothing folded in a neat pile, her keys on top of the clothing. Shaking her head in amusement and gratitude, she quickly pulled her jeans on, removing the s-shirt she’d slept in to put her bra on, then putting the shirt back in place. Keys in her pocket, she made up the bed and headed out of the room.
Following the sounds of Billie Holiday and the sell of bacon, Clara found Abby in the kitchen, softly humming to the sultry tones of I’ll Be Seeing You.
“Good morning!” Abby chirped, in a wonderful mood as she prepared breakfast for her and her guest.
“’Morning.” Clara looked around the large, open space, she saw dishes filled with fragrant foods, covered to keep them warm until served. Abby was pouring herself a cup of coffee. “I’ll get out of your way so you can eat your breakfast,” she said, wincing at the very audible sound of her stomach growling in response to the most wonderful aromas.
Abby chuckled, pouring a second cup of the decaf brew. “Not if your stomach has anything to do with it. Sit down, Clara. You’re not going anywhere.”
With a sheepish smile, Clara did as she was told. “Can I help you?”
“Nope.” Abby brought the two mugs to the table, setting one in front of the Medium, as well as a small container of skim milk and Splenda. “I remembered you can’t have sugar,” she explained.
Clara was stunned. “Did you get this stuff special?”
Abby shrugged, her own sheepish grin in place. “I woke up early. Did you find your keys?”
“I did, thank you.”
“Sure. I figured I can drop you off at the pub later so you can get your car. Unless, that is you have somewhere you need to be?”
Clara shook her head. “No. You’ve got me for however long you want me.” “Excellent! Then I’d like to talk with you today. Feel like spending some time with me? I’ve never really gotten to just talk to you, pick your brain. Your gift fascinates me. Besides,” Abby added, beginning to carry dishes to the table. “I want to hear all about your time in Los Angeles.”
Clara nodded, thrilled at the prospect. “You got it. I’d like you to catch me up on what you’ve been up to for the past fifteen years, too.”
“Well, then we’ve got something in common. But, for now, eat! I made a feast.”
Clara was in absolute bliss as she ate her breakfast. The food was amazing, and the wonderful, calm feel of Abby’s two-story Victorian was a comfort to her. She was more curious than ever about the woman who sat across the table from her. The longest amount they’d ever really spent talking was that night when Clara had run out of her father’s house when she was 15. Abby had taken the time to talk to her and try and help her through her teenage issues.
As though reading Clara’s mind, Abby said, “So, did you ever find a way to deal with what happened between your parents when you were a kid? The beak up? I mean, I know they obviously worked things out eventually, but… “
Clara nodded, pushing her plate away, full. She wiped her mouth before answering. “Yes. My dad and I have had some tough times, though. The problem is, we’re too much alike. Stubborn.” Abby smiled at that. “We fought over my going to college, which I did for a whole whoppin’ year. We fought about my being gay. We fought about my heading to California.” She rolled her eyes as she sipped her coffee. “Finally, when I came back for their wedding we had a good heart to heart. I think he had to realize that I’m an adult, and are going to do what I’m going to do. His blessings or no.”
“I was at the wedding. I was surprised to see you. You’d kind of disappeared for awhile, then poof! There you were.”
“Yes, replete in dress in everything,” Clara said ruefully.
“Hey, I thought you looked beautiful! You’re too hard on yourself.”
Clara took her time setting her mug on the table, a slight flush coloring her cheeks. “Thank you,” she said quietly. “I saw you, and who I assume was your ex, sitting in the third row back. I was pretty surprised to see you there.”
Clara shrugged. “I guess I didn’t realize you and Kerri had stayed friends after school. I wasn’t sure what you had done: gone off to school. Moved away, whatever.”
“I see.” Abby leaned back in her chair, running a hand through short, blonde hair. “Nope. I met my ex a year after I graduated high school, and we got serious fairly quickly. I married him, against my better judgment, and even more against my better judgment, I moved to Ohio with him to be close to his family. That’s when things really started to fall apart. I wasn’t happy there, wasn’t happy with him, so to try and save the marriage, he agreed to move back here. We did and bought the Stoney Brook. It was too late. I wanted out, and here I am.”
“Is your ex still here? In town?”
Abby nodded. “I see him from time to time. For some reason he likes to parade his newest girlfriend in front of me and have a drink at the pub.” She chuckled, shaking her head. “It’s pretty stupid. I could honestly care less.”
Clara was amused. “Sounds like something my first girlfriend would have done. Oh man, Erica. She wouldn’t leave me alone. You know, even once I moved to California, and we’d been broken up for like five years, she still tried to get hold of me. It was crazy.” She drained her coffee, pushing the cup aside.
“Have you seen or spoken to her since you’ve come back?”
“Nope. No desire to, either. Her mom was a really cool lady, though. She owns The Pagan down on Prairie. At least she did. Not sure if it’s still there or not.”
“I’ve driven past it, never been inside.” Abby pushed away from the table, clearing their dishes and setting them in the sink. She retuned with the coffee carafe, refilling both their mugs. “So tell me about some of the people you read for while in California. Anyone famous?” she asked, sitting back down and fixing her coffee.
Clara put her hand to her chest in mock astonishment. “Are you asking me to divulge secrets of my business?”
Abby nodded. “Pretty much.”
“Well, in that case. Yes. I did read for some famous people.”
Abby was so intrigued by all the stories Clara told her about her adventures in L.A. that she totally forgot about her coffee. Before she knew it, it had grown cold, and was pushed away.
“You’re serious? He wanted a reading?!” she asked, astonished at the story of the famous rocker from the 1970s who had sat on Clara’s couch.
“I’m very serious. Nice guy, too.” Clara sat back in her chair, satisfied to know that Abby had listened to every word she’d said, only interrupting to ask questions or to clarify something.
“Do you miss it? All the glitz and glam?” Abby asked, a conspiratorial gin on her face.
Clara shook her head. “No, to be honest. It’s not a real world out there, Abby. It’s fake. Yeah, people are nice, they’re polite. But at the end of the day, it’s all about business. It’s all about connections. I had a hard time with that. I got mixed up in the party life for awhile, because that’s all I found. What really made me see what I had become was this woman I was seeing, Leah. She was a model. Well, in name only. Truth be told, she was so stoned or drunk all the time, she couldn’t get or keep jobs. Pretty pathetic.” She shook her head at the memory of the beautiful, yet hopelessly lost woman. “That wasn’t long before Michael killed himself.”
“Wow,” Abby said, shaking her head sadly. “You hear about stories like that on TV. You know, the Entertainment Tonight kind of shows. So it’s all true, huh? The young people ruining themselves with too much partying.”
“Young people, old people, you name it. Not my cup of tea.”
“And this is?” she asked, indicating the kitchen around them, and the town beyond.
Clara thought for a moment, then nodded. “For now. I can’t tell you this is where I want to retire, but for right now it works.” She studied Abby for a moment, noting the blonde’s features had taken on the look of someone very disturbed by something. “What’s up? What’s on your mind?”
Abby sat back in her chair, a heavy sigh escaping her lips. “Give me your expert opinion, Clara. What’s going on in my pub?”
Clara rested her elbows on the table, chin on her folded hands. “Truthfully, I feel you’ve got several entities in your place. I want to do some research on the building, find out what purposes it’s served since it was built, as well as the land around it. Get an idea for what’s going on, maybe. Do you know much of the history?”
Abby shook her head. Where can we go to find that out? I want to help you with this, so whatever we need to do, just say the word.”
Clara nodded. “Excellent. We’ll need to start at the library and Hall of Records.”
“Let me clean this up and we’ll go today.”
Four hours later, they sat across from each other at the very coffee shop Abby used to work at in high school, each had a stack of printed pages in front of them.
“Okay,” Abby said, sipping from her latte before setting it aside. “What I got from the Hall of Records is that the building was built in 1853 by Meyer Spence. It was originally used as a canning factory for his fruit preserves business. Later, it was taken over as a girl’s boarding school, and finally in 1931 as the headquarters for a local Elk’s Club Chapter. It sat vacant for about twelve years before it was bought in 1955 by Reginald Beeman and turned into apartments. That lasted for almost thirty-seven years before it was turned into the Turnkey, which are the owners that my ex and I bought the place from.”
“Okay. Good work, detective,” Clara complemented, grabbing her own stack of research and preparing to present it. “What I found out at the library is as follows.” She shuffled through the papers, looking for the juicier tidbits she’d found while Abby had been at the Hall of Records, which was across the street.
“Like you, I found the Spence record, except one thing I did find there was a woman by the name of Ruth Macon was killed there when the hem of her dress got caught in one of the machines.”
Abby wrinkled her nose. “Ouch. That had to be messy.”
“Undoubtedly. So, things were fairly quiet for about a hundred years or so, until 1971. Back then they were the Beeman apartments. A woman and her boyfriend - Scarlet Fisher, but I couldn’t find his name – moved in that spring. There had been problems with them as tenants from the very beginning, according to the newspaper article. Scarlet’s nephew Frederick moved in with them that summer when he was just seven years old.
“Well, I guess the boyfriend had a heroin habit, and liked to beat on his girlfriend and the kid whenever he couldn’t find the money to get his fix.” She tugged a sheet of paper out of the stack and slid it across the table for Abby to see.
“Oh wow,” she blew out, taking the page between her fingers. The grainy black and white image showed a man with long, stringy hair being led away in handcuffs in the foreground. In the background a gurney was being rolled towards an awaiting ambulance, a blood-soaked body on top. Behind the gurney, a small bundle zipped in a body bag was being carried out by two uniformed officers. “How terrible.”
“Scarlet died on the way to Park Meadow Hospital. Both she and her nephew had been bludgeoned. Frederick was dead when authorities arrived, thanks to a call from the neighbor across the hall. A Mrs.,” she glanced down at another sheet, “Gertrude Whippley.”
“That’s so tragic,” Abby said absently, looking at the assortment of pictures Clara handed her. They were snapshots of the inside of the building at the time, when the apartments had originally been walled off. The walls were long gone, leaving only the open space of the second and third floors. She looked at a picture that taken in the building hallway, outside of Scarlet’s apartment. The door was open, police officers seen inside gathering evidence. From the far right corner of the picture she could barely make out a bit of light shining in, and knew it was from the window at the end of the hall.
Clara watched her carefully, curious to see if anything would ring with her in some way. It appeared something had. “What is it?” she asked, slowly peeling the muffin pan paper from the bottom of her banana nut muffin.
“This apartment,” Abby said, turning the page so Clara could see where her finger tapped. “I bet you money where their apartment was is right where the office is upstairs. See? This is the window at the end of the hall, I think.”
“Oh, wow.” Clara took the page and sat back in her chair, examining it. Though Abby knew that building better than anyone, it didn’t take a resident to see what she meant. “I think you’re right.” They exchanged a knowing look. Tossing the page to the table, Clara blew out a breath. “Jordan is supposed to get with me today about what was found last night. Once I go over that with him, I’ll bring it over your house and we can go from there. Okay?”
Abby nodded, hugging herself as she felt slightly uneasy. “Okay.”
“There’s nothing to worry about, Abby. All a spirit is is a person without a body. They’re just energy. They can’t hurt you. When they do what they do, it’s simply to get your attention. It wants help, or simply wants to interact with you. Unfortunately, making noise and breaking glasses is part of what it’s limited to do.”
“But, why does it feel so negative?” Abby asked, brow creased in concern.
Clara thought about that for a moment, trying to think of what to say. She’d felt the same negative energy there, especially in the second floor office. She wanted to be careful, as scaring Abby, or making her even more uneasy wasn’t an option. She wanted to be honest with her, but, there was a fine line.
“Well, I think the best way to think of it is in terms of people. As I said, spirits are essentially just that. There are negative people out there, or people who you just don’t like or feel comfortable around. Usually because they’ve got a, ‘bad vibe’,” she explained, using her fingers as quote marks. “Spirits are the same thing, except even more potent. All they are is energy, is vibe, so you’re going to feel that amplified.”
“Okay, I get that,” Abby nodded, sipping from her latte. She stared into it’s creamy depths for a moment. “Have you managed to make contact with anything, yet? Know who’s there? You said you think there are more than one. Any ideas of who?”
“If you’re asking if anything has come right out and introduced itself to me, the answer is no,” Clara said, grinning.
“Cute.” Abby threw the crinkled up wrapped from her sugar packet at the Medium. “I don’t know how all this stuff works – what you see, what you don’t.”
“I have no idea who they are. I’ll have to go to the after shadow to do that.”
“The land of the dead.”
Abby blinked at her several times, not sure what to say. “Okay,” she drawled, shaking her head. “How exactly does one get to the after shadow?”
Clara smiled, amused by Abby’s reaction. “A lot of concentration. And,” she added, “a little help from my grandmother.”
Clara sat on Jordan’s couch, watching as he forwarded through footage, finally stopping it on the spot he was looking for.
“This,” he explained, pausing the image on the screen so he could explain what Clara was about to see. “was when me and Abe were up in the small attic area. She has mostly dust up there, a few mouse droppings. And this-“ he pushed play.
Clara studied the image. The room was basically bare, save for a few old boxes that were tucked towards the back. The rafters could be seen above on the slanted roof. At the very end of the long attic was a window, the night obviously visible beyond.
“Now,” he continued, “as you know, the cameras we use can see in total darkness. I had just climbed up there, Abe right behind me. He raised the FLIR just in time to catch this.”
Clara’s eyes were drawn to the window, then in a split second, something moved in front of it, completely blocking out the incoming moonlight, before it was gone again. “Whoa!” she exclaimed, sitting forward in her seat. “Can I see that again?”
“You got it.” Jordan rewound the tape. This time when he played it, he played it in slow motion. “Watch this, Clara. You can actually see what looks to be an arm when you slow it down.”
Attention fully caught, Clara watched as the what appeared to be a full-bodied shadow ducked in front of the window, then was gone as soon as it appeared. And, she also noted what Jordan saw. It was almost as though an arm had been swung out, like a person quickly moving out of the way of prying eyes.
Stunned, she sat back in her chair, staring at the paused image, frozen on the screen. “That is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen,” she said at length, still staring at the figure. As she looked at where the head would be, she felt almost as if the shadow were looking directly back at her. A shiver passed through her spine. It was almost as if through the frozen image on the screen she could feel rage coming through.
“What do you think?” Jordan asked quietly.
Clara sighed heavily. “I think this is going to freak Abby out,” she said, glancing at him. “Badly.”
“I thought I’d go over there with you to share this with her.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Clara snapped, immediately regretting the sharp tone in her voice. She smiled, trying to lighten the sudden tension. “I think she’ll take it better from me, Jordan.” Not from some guy who wants to drool all over her.
He stared at her for a moment then finally nodded, reluctantly agreeing. “I’ve got more to show you.”
Abby was nervous to see what had been caught in her pub, but knew she had to. She had asked for it, so now had to face it. She and Clara sat in Clara’s living room, an array of electronic equipment spread out over Clara’s coffee table.
“We can start with video, pictures or EVPs. What’s your poison?” As she looked at Abby, waiting for her answer, she could actually feel the waves of nervousness coming from the older woman. She wanted so badly to find a way to comfort her, but didn’t know how. She knew she had to keep her distance, as she didn’t want to get too attached. She had the sense that were she to spend any great deal of time with Abby, that’s exactly what would happen.
“Let’s start out small. Show me the pictures,” Abby finally managed, rubbing her sweating palms on the thighs of her jeans.
“Alright. Pictures it is.”
Abby took the handful of printed images into her hands, slowly looking through them, sometimes unsure of what exactly she was looking at.
“”Okay, these,” Clara explained, pointing at the white, seemingly glowing balls that were frozen in the image forever, “are orbs. There are varying theories on those. Personally, I’m not impressed by them. Some say they’re buts, some say they’re dust, others say they’re actually balls of energy caught floating around, while others still insist that they’re spirits.”
“What do you think?” Abby asked, glancing over at Clara.
“I think they’re either dust, bugs or simply balls of energy. I have yet to experience a spirit showing itself to me in this form. But,” she shrugged, “I could be wrong.”
“I trust you, Clara. What you say goes.”
“No, let your own mind make your decisions, Abby. I can try and help guide you, but ultimately, you have to feel comfortable with what you see, learn and experience.”
Abby looked at Clara for a long moment, a slow smile spreading across her face. She handed her the pictures back, all of which were filled with orbs. “What’s next, Yoda?”
Clara chuckled. “Well, what gives you the heebie jeebies more: to hear something and not see it, or to see it and not hear it?”
“Oh. Boy.” Again, she ran sweaty palms on her thighs. “I guess to hear it would be a little less creepy for me.”
“Okay.” She opened the laptop Jordan had let her borrow. The program on the laptop had been able to take the EVPs from the small recorders used and digitally clean them up. “Here’s the first one, which was caught between Juan and Jerome on the first floor. At first you’ll hear them talking. It’s right after Jerome says, ‘Nice glasses’.”
The laptop screen showed sound patterns, spiking higher at higher levels of sound. Clara tapped the touchpad to start the program. At first all they heard was mild static, picked up from air currents around them, as well as various miscellaneous noises. Juan and Jerome began to talk.
“Hey, Juan, let’s go over by the bar,” Jerome said, the sound of a chair being moved out of his way making the sound spike jump.
“Cool,” Juan said in answer.
There was a pause for a moment as the men got settled in at the bar, where they’d pulled down stools and had sat down. “Nice glasses,” Jerome commented.
Mine. Not yours…
Abby nearly jumped in surprise, her hands flying to cover her mouth. She looked at Clara wide-eyed. “Oh my god,” she breathed.
Clara could only nod in understanding, knowing there was far more in their evidence that would upset the pub owner.
The two men continued to talk, oblivious to their gravelly-voiced companion.
“I wonder how much a stein like that costs,” Juan asked.
“Dunno. More than you got.” Both men chuckled. “Okay, let’s get to work.”
“Can you tell us your name?” Juan said, beginning the EVP session unaware that it had already begun.
Leave me alone…
“Are you a man or a woman?” Jerome asked. There was no verbal response, only a chilling bit of laughter.
“I have got the chills,” Abby said, hugging herself.
“Are you okay?” Clara asked, stopping the program. She waited for a long moment, still getting no answer from the woman sitting beside her, who was obviously shaken up. “Abby?”
Abby looked at her, trying to keep the tears in her eyes from spilling onto her cheeks. She felt frightened, intrigued and angry, all at the same time. “I’m sorry. I just really don’t know what to think. What to say.”
“You don’t have to say or think anything. I know this isn’t easy, Abby. I’m here for you.”
“I know. Thank you so much for that.” Abby reached over and took Clara’s hand, squeezing it tightly before letting it go. She took several deep breaths, determined to be strong. “Let’s continue. What else?”
Clara studied her for a moment, literally able to see the steely determination enter Abby’s eyes. With a short nod, she turned back to the laptop. Loading up the next EVP found. She wasn’t looking forward to Abby’s reaction to this one, but it had to be done.
“This next one was when we were sitting in the dining area talking. We hadn’t started an ‘official’ EVP session yet, but I was recording.” She glanced over at Abby. “Are you okay to hear this?”
Abby nodded. “So, did we hear this when we were actually there?”
Clara shook her head. “No. It only appeared on the recording.”
Abby blew out a loud breath. “Okay. Let’s hear it.”
Clara hit play on the program again, and they both sat back to listen.
The sound of someone re-settling themselves on a chair was the first thing heard, then the light tap, tap, tapping of Abby’s flashlight against her leg.
“So, what do you think of my pub?” Abby asked.
“I think it’s great. Beautiful place,” Clara responded, a slight squeak of the chair as she adjusted her body in the seat. “What did this used to be It’s a neat building.”
“You know, I’m not sure-“
Mommy? Do they like us? …
“- probably a bordello.” Both Clara and Abby laughed, completely unaware of the child’s voice that had interrupted them.
“Wait,” Abby said, putting a hand on Clara’s wrist. “Play that again.”
Clara directed the cursor over the STOP button, then rewound a few seconds.
“… it’s a neat building.”
“You know, I’m not sure-“
Mommy? Do they like us?...
Clara hit PAUSE, waiting for Abby’s reaction. She studied the bar owner’s profile, looking for any sign of how she was feeling.
Abby chewed on the inside of her bottom lip for a moment, trying to decide just exactly what she felt and thought. The child’s voice was so clear in the EVP, almost as though he or she – though it sounded like a little boy – had been standing right next to the recorder, which she realized had been sitting on the table, right next to where her hand had been resting. She shivered.
“Is there more?”
Clara nodded, clicking the PLAY button.
“Is there anyone here with us tonight?” Clara asked, finally getting around to actually asking questions.
“If there is,” Abby added, “can you tell us your name?”
Abby looked at Clara, brow creased in thought. “Who’s Alfred? Did you get an Alfred in your research?”
Clara shook her head. “I wondered the same thing.” She glanced over at Abby. “Want to continue?”
“Yes. Let’s keep going.”
“Okay. We’re almost done with the EVP’s. I think there’s one or two more to go.”
Abby clasped her hands in her lap as they continued.
“My name is Clara, and I’m sitting here with my friend, Abby. She owns this place, so I’m sure you’ve seen her around a lot before. She isn’t here to hurt you, and we aren’t, either. We just want to better understand why you’re still here, and how I may be able to help you.” There was a short pause. “Are you okay with that?”
Abby sat back, goosebumps erupting over her arms. She wasn’t even sure what it was, but something was making her blood chill.
Clara said nothing, simply stopped the program, as that was the last of the EVPs, and waited for Abby to speak.
Abby was silent for a long moment, then took a deep breath. “I’m okay, but I am somewhat disturbed.” She looked at Clara. “There is definitely something there, isn’t there?”
Clara nodded. “Appears to be, yes. I mean, I have felt things there personally, but I’m never comfortable with saying that in someone’s home or business or whatever, until I have the scientific proof to back me up.” She indicated the laptop with a wave of her hand. “The EVP’s are good, yes, but are they totally solid?” she shrugged. “Depends on who you are, and your definition of a haunting.”
“But, do you feel it’s haunted? I trust you, Clara, and I trust you’ll tell me the truth and won’t try and bullshit me either way.”
“Yeah, I do. I feel there is some definite energy in that pub, and it’s not all residual. You’ve got something there, and I strongly feel it doesn’t want you there, or anyone else.”
Abby nodded, chewing on her lower lip. “I agree. That’s the vibe I get, too.” She blew out a breath. “Okay, what else you got?”
Clara X’d out of the audio program and brought up the video. She pulled up the first of the two visual pieces of evidence, starting with the first Jordan had shown her of the full-bodied apparition in the attic.
Abby watched saucer-eyed, sitting forward in her chair. Her mouth was still open a bit after the scene played out. Clara watched her again for reactions.
“Holy shit,” Abby finally said, unable to take her eyes off the paused frame. She looked over at Clara. “Was that what I think it was?” At Clara’s nod, she turned her attention back to the screen.
“Do you want to see it again?” Clara asked, fingers ready to deliver.
Abby shook her head. “No. Once was enough to give me nightmares.”
“There’s one more. Do you want to see it, or have you had enough? I mean, with what I’ve shown you, you have more than enough proof-“
“Show me,” Abby insisted.
A new-found respect for the pub owner filled Clara as she switched the player to the second video Jordan had put on the computer for her. “This is in the main pub area downstairs. You can’t see it with the angle of this camera, but the bar is off to the right, out of frame.”
“Okay,” Abby nodded, orienting herself with the area of the room she was looking at.
There were two tables, their chairs slid neatly underneath. It was quiet, no one seen in the room. She gasped and jumped, startled as one of the chairs rocked slightly, almost as though it were being wedged out from underneath the table, then flew backwards, only stopping when it ran into another chair.
Clara’s living room was silent as the footage came to an end, and the screen went dark. The Medium studied her client for a moment, waiting, not daring to speak. After what seemed like an hour, but in actuality was only a few seconds, Abby glanced over at her.
“That was interesting.”
Clara nodded. “It was.”
“Where do we go from here?”
Clara could hear the steely determination in Abby’s voice, so decided to go with it, and follow her lead. “Well, I need to get-“
“We,” Abby interrupted. “I want to be there, too. I want to be involved and see what needs to be done.”
Clara smiled, her gut telling her not to argue. “Alright. We need to get in there, and I’ll check out the situation from the after shadow. From there I’ll either cross the spirits, or I’ll make them leave. Either way, they’ll be gone.”
Abby’s smiled was bright and filled with bravery. “Let’s do it.”
Clara rolled the dough on the kitchen table, adding a bit more flour when needed. She’d been helping her mother all day, as Stephanie was doing a private order for a woman who needed three-dozen specially decorated cookies for her daughter’s birthday. Though Stephanie put in tons of hours at the bakery, she’d never lost her love of baking, and had continued to do projects on the side for a number of clients who’d come back time and again for her wonderful creations.
Stephanie was on the phone with Kerri as she held the phone between cheek and shoulder, mixing a bowl of frosting.
“Yeah, from what I hear it’s going well.” Stephanie added a bit more almond extract as she listened to her older daughter. “Really? Her ex-husband has come back into the picture, huh?”
Clara’s interest was piqued, as she knew they were talking about Abby. She didn’t want to full out eavesdrop, but wanted to hear more. She hadn’t seen Abby in three days, not since the night they’d looked at the investigative footage at Clara’s house. The plan was for Clara and Abby to go into the pub after closing in two nights. Abby couldn’t afford to close early again. In the three days, they’d spoken briefly on the phone, but it had been all business. She couldn’t explain it, but somehow she missed Abby’s presence. It was a strange feeling.
“Wasn’t he a real ass, or something?” Stephanie asked, oblivious to her younger daughter’s interest in the one-sided conversation. “I thought so. Well, Abby better be careful not to let that guy back into her life. Sounds like trouble, to me.’
Clara stopped rolling, using the excuse of stretching her back as she listened.
“Whatever happened with that restraining order she got last year?” Pause. “Yeah, I thought he’d broken it. Didn’t he move away?” To Clara’s frustration, Stephanie left her mixing bowl and headed down the basement stairs, hot on the trail of a missing ingredient that would likely be in the pantry Max had built for her down there two years ago.
Clara turned back to her task, probably using a bit more vigor than was necessary. She wanted to know the story, but didn’t feel she knew Abby well enough to ask, and didn’t want Stephanie or Kerri wondering why she wanted to know, and why she was listening in on other people’s conversations by asking.
Stephanie’s steps clanked on the wooden stairs as she hurried back up to the kitchen, a small glass bottle of some secret spice in one hand, the phone in the other. She had finished her talk with Kerri, and set the phone on the counter as she headed back to the mixing bowl.
“Did you ever meet James, Clara?” she asked, tapping in a bit of the sweet-smelling powder.
Clara did a mental happy dance. She could now ask to her heart’s content now that her mother had brought it up. “No. She’s mentioned him a few times, though I never even knew what his name was.” She set the rolling pen aside and began to cut the dough into their cookie cutter shapes. “Was that him at your wedding?”
Stephanie paused in her mixing as she thought for a moment, then nodded, continuing her labor. “That was him. A real prick, according to Kerri.”
“What happened? All Abby has told me was they moved to Ohio to be closer to his family, then moved back here and bought the Stoney Brook. End of story.”
“Well, from what Kerri told me over the years, he was a controlling ass. He tried to use that pub to keep tabs on her. When they bought the place, she took to bartending and being a business owner like a duck to water.” She scraped the frosting into separate bowls, which would become the different colors used to decorate the cookies. “He, of course, didn’t like that. Things began to fall apart. Hell, he even tried to get her to sell the place because she was doing so well there.”
“She said it was the only thing she got out of the divorce,” Clara said, placing her newly-cut dough on a cookie sheet.
Stephanie nodded. “That’s true. Even that was a fight.” Stephanie sucked on the tip of her thumb as some frosting colored the skin white. “Mm, that’s good. Anyway, James fought her tooth and nail for that, but eventually a judge awarded it to Abby since he already had a job. The pub was her job.”
Clara nodded her understanding, taking the cookie sheet and sliding it into the pre-heated oven. “So, what’s going on now?”
“Guess he’s been coming back around town. Asking about her.”
“Does Abby know that?”
Stephanie shrugged. “I don’t know. Your sister heard it from an old high school friend they all knew, Anthony somebody.”
“Yeah! That’s him.” Stephanie carried the bowls of frosting to the kitchen table, as well as the tiny bottle of food coloring. Clara brought the pan of cookies that had been cooling to the table, and together they began to mix colored frosting, and Stephanie created her masterpieces.
“I remember him. Didn’t he date Abby for awhile?”
Stephanie shrugged. “Hell if I know. It was hard enough to keep up with the Days of Our Lives that was you girls’ lives back then, let alone to remember it all now.”
Clara chuckled, tasting the frosting, eyes closing in pleasure.
“Good?” Stephanie asked expectantly.
“Oh, yeah! Very. However,” Clara said, holding up a finger for emphasis, “I’ve had my sugar intake for the week.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes, unable to understand her daughter’s eating habits. Though she respected Clara’s reasons, she felt life was too short to live off rabbit food alone.”
Clara was amused as she watched her mother work her artistic culinary magic. “So, James. What does he want with her?”
“No idea, though Kerri’s worried. She helped Abby through a lot of that stuff back then.”
“You know, I had no idea they were such good friends.”
“Oh, yeah. Ever since tenth grade.”
“Has it gone pretty well? I mean, especially since I know you never wanted to do the ghost stuff again,” Stephanie asked, studying her daughter for a moment before turning her attention back to the tube of black frosting she was filling.
“Yeah. It’s gone great. I think she’s pretty disturbed by what the guys of CPS found.”
“Who wouldn’t be? Honestly, I think even I would be disturbed, and you’re my daughter!” Stephanie turned her focus to the tiny designs she was making on the cookie.
“She’s been wonderful. I admit, I wasn’t looking forward to doing this, but I don’t know,” Clara shrugged, stealing a another quick swipe of icing with her finger. “I’ve enjoyed my time with her. She’s very curious about what I do, and wants to be there when I clear her pub.”
Stephanie stopped her art, smiling at her daughter. “Really? Oh, honey, that’s great! It’s about time someone truly respected what you do.” She turned back to her design.
Clara watched, but her mind swam back to Abby. They seemed to get along great, that was true. She remembered the many conversations they’d had about the supernatural world, and what Clara did, and what it involved. She couldn’t stop the smile from spreading across her lips as she thought back to the day they’d done research on Abby’s building. How wonderful it had been, sitting in that coffee shop exchanging notes and bits of information. She was so lost in thought, she didn’t notice her mother watching her, a knowing smile on her face.
The Stoney Brook was busy when Clara walked in. The sound of animated conversation filled the space, as well as glasses clinking and drinks being poured. Low music hung in the background, distant pool balls knocking into each other.
Clara looked around, trying to spot Abby, but didn’t see her behind the bar. Deciding to get a water, she found an empty stool at the bar and waited until the girl who was tending noticed her.
Clara turned to see a completely unexpected face. “Shelby!’
Her ex smiled and the exchanged a tight, but brief hug. Shelby looked her over, noting the Clara’s hair, which was longer than she’d ever seen it, as well as a much more trim, womanly figure. “My god, you look great,” she beamed, sitting on the stool next to Clara’s. “When did you get back into town? Are you visiting?”
Clara felt like an ass as she tried to think of how best to answer Shelby’s questions. She’d been back home for such a long time, yet had never once called Shelby, or tried to see if she was still even in town. She was saved a moment to think when the girl behind the bar showed up, asking for her order and placing a beer in front of Shelby.
“Water?” Shelby asked, brows drawn. “I’ve never known you to drink a shot glass-full, let alone to actually order one on purpose.”
Clara chuckled, nervously tucking her hair behind her ear. “Yeah well, some things change.” She looked her ex over, noting that Shelby was still a beautiful woman, and amused – and a bit disturbed - to realize just how much she reminded her of Abby. “You look great, Shelby.” Her water arrived, and Clara took a long swig.
“Thanks! Want to join us?” Shelby pointed to a table near the back of the pub, two women seeming to be engaged in a deep conversation sitting there.
Clara glanced around the pub, looking one last time for Abby. She saw her coming out of the staircase leading from upstairs, and walking towards the bar. “Actually, I’d love to catch up with you, but the person I came here to talk to just got here.”
Shelby glanced over her shoulder and saw Abby. She smiled and raised her hand in greeting. “Hey, Abby. Didn’t know you were here.”
Abby walked into the horseshoe that was the bar, and over to the two women. “Hey, Shelby.” She turned, surprised to see Clara sitting next to the long-time patron. “Clara!”
Shelby watched the interaction between the two women, curious.
“Hey,” Clara grinned, glad to see the pub owner. “Just dropped by to talk about tomorrow night.”
Shelby’s brows and interest shot up, but she said nothing. When Clara turned to her, she decided it was time to take her leave. “Clara, it was great to see you again.” She stood, giving her ex another tight hug, then holding her by the shoulders. “I really do want to catch up, okay?”
Clara felt a little awkward, knowing Abby was watching her and Shelby’s every interaction. She nodded. “Yeah. I would, too.”
“See you, Abby,” Shelby said before grabbing her beer and weaving her way through the tables and patrons to her own party, Abby watching her go before turning back to Clara.
“You know her?”
Clara nodded. “She was my girlfriend in college.”
“Really?” Abby was surprised, resting her folded arms on the polished bar. “Shelby’s been coming here for a long time, now. I never even knew she was gay.”
Clara chuckled. “Can’t attest for now, but she sure was then.”
For some reason that made Abby uncomfortable, and she couldn’t help but glance over at the table Shelby sat at with two friends. One of the women she had seen with her before many times. So, is that a girlfriend, maybe? Abby cleared her thoughts and returned her attention back to her friend, glad to see her.
“So, this is a nice surprise. What can I get ya?”
“Got my water,” Clara said, raising her bottle.
Abby was amused. “Don’t you ever drink anything with a little more kick to it then that?”
“Orange juice. Even grape juice from time to time,” Clara said, twilight eyes twinkling.
Abby played along. “Oh my! Can your poor body handle so much acid?” she asked, hand to her heart.
“It does. Amazing, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes. Definitely!” They broke into laughter. “It’s good to see you.” She reached out and squeezed Clara’s arm enthusiastically. “What brings you out?”
“Well, just wanted to say howdy, and I wanted to make sure everything was still a go for tomorrow night.” And I really missed you.
“Howdy right back at’cha, and yes. We are very much still a go for tomorrow night. You said you can be here at two, right?”
“Yes, ma’am. Two a.m. it is.”
“Wonderful.” Abby said her goodbyes to a few patrons that were leaving, then turned her attention back to Clara. “Can I ask you something?”
“Do you do psychic stuff, too?”
“As in, your future is… “
“As in, your ex-husband wants… “
Clara nodded in slow understanding. “I see. I can probably help you with that.”
“Come upstairs with me.”
The walk to the second floor was a quiet one, other than Abby’s greetings to her pool-playing patrons, making sure everyone was comfortable and had everything they needed. Eventually they made it to Abby’s office, the pub owner closing the door behind them.
“Have a seat,” she offered, taking one behind the large desk.
Clara sat on the old, rickety chair, waiting for whatever Abby had to say. She studied her new friend, and could feel Abby’s energy, which was coming off her in waves of heat. Something was very wrong. As the silence continued, Clara got more concerned. Reaching across the desk, she took one of Abby’s hands lightly in hers, offering friendly comfort.
Abby took a deep breath, then began to speak. “Jimmy is back in town,” she began, her thumb absently running along the smooth skin of Clara’s hand. The touch sent a slight shiver through the Medium. “I haven’t seen him yet, and he hasn’t tried to contact me, but I know it’s a matter of time.”
When there was nothing more forthcoming, Clara urged her on with questions. “And this is a bad thing? That he’s back in town?”
Abby nodded. “Potentially. If I know him as well as I think I do, yes. After we split, he moved back to Ohio. I haven’t seen him since.”
The fear in Abby’s green eyes disturbed Clara greatly. “Can you tell me more?”
“Like what?” Abby released Clara’s hand with a gentle squeeze, then hugged herself as she sat back in her chair.
Clara felt the loss immediately, but ignored it. “What happened in your marriage, Abby? What really happened?’ She didn’t want to tell her about the conversation she’d had with Stephanie just the day before, as she didn’t want to break Kerri’s confidences, or cause problems between the two friends. She decided playing dumb was the best route.
Abby blew out a breath, which disturbed her bangs. “What didn’t happen, is the question.” She laughed, a bit self-conscious. “I hate talking about this, and really haven’t told anyone the full truth.” She looked into Clara’s eyes, letting her know she meant to reveal her secrets to her. “This is hard.”
“If you’re not comfortable with this, Abby, I can just try and connect and see what I come up with. It may mean nothing to me, but may mean the world to you.”
Abby smiled, genuine and beautiful. “I really appreciate the offer, Clara, but I want to talk. I feel I can trust you, and it’s probably best for me to finally just talk it out, anyway.”
“Okay.” Clara settled in, waiting to hear the worst.
“Okay, here we go. I met Jimmy when I was pretty young, and we got married far too young. The problem was, I knew when we were dating things weren’t cool.”
Clara listened – trying to keep her expression clear – to a story of mental and verbal abuse, and even a time or two where the physical realm was breeched. She heard tales of Jimmy calling Abby names, and bringing her self-esteem down to the point of non-existence. A brutal time in Abby’s life, and one that she was still very damaged from.
“You know,” Abby said softly, near tears, “the day your parents got married I saw you, and really wanted to talk to you. I had planned to at the reception, but he insisted we don’t go. Hell,” she laughed ruefully, “getting him to even go to the wedding was a job.”
“Oh, Abby.” It took everything in her power to stay seated and not hurry around the desk and take Abby into her arms. She could feel that lost, very lonely young bride in the friend sitting across from her. “I’m so sorry.”
Abby glanced at Clara, seeing the genuine caring in her face, and it finally did her in. She felt the first of many tears flow out of her eyes. She’d kept the tears locked away for such a long time, she felt ashamed to let them out now. “It was my cross to bear, I guess.”
Clara gave into her need and did just that: she hurried around the desk and knelt in front of her friend, Abby immediately falling into the hug. They stayed that way for a long time, neither moving to break the embrace. Abby rested her head on Clara’s shoulder, feeling so safe and warm.
“I was very stupid,” she said softly. “I stayed for far too long.”
“You know,” Clara said, rubbing small circles over Abby’s upper back. “My grandmother tells me that everything in this life is planned for a purpose. One things leads into the next.”
Abby pulled away just enough to be able to look into Clara’s face. Her eyes were a vibrant green from her upset. “What do you mean?” she sniffled.
“Well,” Clara said, reaching over to the desk and grabbing two tissues from the box there. She handed one to Abby, and used the other to gently wipe away the tear streaks. “You’ve given him enough of these,” she whispered, watching as Abby closed her eyes so Clara could wipe them dry.
Abby smiled with a small nod. “I have.” She quickly blew her nose then looked back to Clara for answers.
“First of all,” Clara said, feeling an intense need to kiss away any remaining tears that slipped out. She banished the thought as quickly as it had entered her mind. “what can you tell me about you now? How are you different than from when you were with Jimmy?”
Abby blew out a watery laugh. “I don’t take any shit from anyone anymore.”
Clara smiled with a nod. “Okay. What else?”
“I’m a lot stronger than I was before. I’m not afraid to do it on my own.”
“Is that something you could have ever done with him? Or, if you hadn’t married Jimmy, would you have grown into such a strong woman?”
Abby thought for a long minute, then finally shook her head. “No.”
“There you go, see?” She rested her hands on Abby’s knees, squeezing slightly. “It was all for a reason. Don’t regret the bad in life, because ultimately it leads to the good.”
Abby looked at Clara for a long moment, a soft smile on her lips. She shook her head in wonder. “You sure did get wise, Clara.”
Clara felt warmth spread through her at the compliment, and also the way Abby was looking at her. It was as though she felt nothing but respect and admiration for her, and it felt damn good. “Thank you.” She smiled, feeling the air around them becoming heavy. Feeling uncomfortable with what she was feeling, Clara got to her feet and made her way back around the desk to her chair.
Abby took that moment to get herself together, trying to swallow down her emotions. The caring in Clara’s touch and warmth in her eyes had made Abby want to just flat out breakdown, as long as Clara held onto her. That wasn’t an option, so she got herself together, blowing her nose one last time and then faced her friend.
“Okay,” she blew out. “What do you see in your crystal ball, oh psychic one?”
“Let me see.” Clara closed her eyes for a moment, opening her mind and reaching out mentally, trying to taste the energy around her and get an image from it. A picture began to form inside her head. “I’m getting something, hold on…”
When Clara used the psychic side of her talents, as opposed to the Mediumship, It was always a strange feeling when something was coming. It felt like a strange pressure was building in her head, almost as though something were trying to push the information in front of her mind’s eye. It was a literal pressure that eased into either an image, word, or feeling.
Slowly an image began to bleed in, the feel of a stuffy, dark space all around her. “Abby, do you have a basement in your house?”
“What’s in the box with the Barbie doll on it?”
Abby stared at her, stunned. “How did you know about that?”
“I’m seeing it. It’s near…” Clara concentrated a bit, trying to see further into the vision of Abby’s basement. “… it’s near the table. It’s a dark table, can’t tell if it’s cherry or painted, but it’s dark.”
“It’s mahogany. My grandmother gave me that table.”
“Okay. It’s by that. A big,” Clara held her hands up to the size of the box she was seeing, her gaze locked onto the picture in her mind. “box is next to it.”
“Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. The Barbie box, it’s pink and yellow?” At Clara’s nod she continued. “It’s next to the box my microwave came in. I had to buy a new one last year.”
“Why do I keep seeing this Barbie box? What’s in it, Abby? Why do I feel so drawn to this box?” Clara opened her eyes and looked at Abby, waiting.
Abby was looking down at her desk, fingers playing with a pencil, trying to keep her emotions under control.
“Abby?” Clara said softly. “Why does he want this box?” She felt in her gut that was exactly why James had come back into town, for whatever was in it.
A single tear slipped from Abby’s closed eyes and rolled gracefully down her cheek. She wiped it away, but it was replaced by another one. “Our daughter’s pictures and some of her clothing is in that box,” she finally said, looking up at Clara with very sad eyes.
Clara was stunned. “I didn’t know you had a daughter.”
“She died when we were in Ohio. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to come back. I needed to be close to my family after that.”
“Oh, jeez.” Clara felt her shoulders slump as the news hit her between the eyes. Once again she found herself kneeling in front of her friend.
“God, I’m sorry,” Abby laughed nervously, trying to clear up her tears. “I’m sorry to unload on this on you, Clara. You didn’t ask for this.”
“Hey, no. Don’t worry. I’m here, and I don’t mind. Okay?” She waited until Abby met her gaze. “Let’s get this figure out.”
Abby nodded, once again taking the tissue offered her, and wiping her face and eyes. “Okay.”
“Is there a reason why he would want that stuff? I mean, other than the fact that she was his daughter, that is. But, enough of a reason to bring him back into town?”
Abby nodded. “If anything, he’ll do it to hurt me. By taking the last bit of Alison from me, it would destroy me and he knows it.”
Clara sat back on her haunches. “Would he be that vindictive? After all this time?”
“Yeah. That’s how he is. He fought the divorce tooth and nail.” Abby blew out a loud, cleansing breath. “For whatever reason, I guess something crawled up into a deep, dark place and so he’s back.”
“Well, before I get you upset, here – though I think it’s too late for that – let’s reason this out. You know him better than I do. Do you think Jimmy will even contact you? Maybe he’s here to see a friend or some other reason.”
Abby shook her head. “No. The minute you mentioned Alison’s box, I knew you had hit the nail on the head.”
Clara was about to respond when there was a soft knocking on the door.
“Come in,” Abby called out. The door opened and one of her employees peeked her head inside.
“Abby, you have a visitor.”
From the all-too serious look on the girl’s face, Abby’s stomach fell. She turned and looked at Clara. “He’s here.”
The three walked down to the first floor in silence, Clara bringing up the rear after Abby. She was keeping her focus on her friend, ready to be there for her in a heartbeat.
The noise level in the pub had risen as the lunch hour approached, and workers from local businesses poured in for business meetings, or simply to enjoy the pub’s famous cheeseburgers during their lunch break.
Clara scanned the place, looking for the man she’d seen at the wedding with Abby so many years back. He wasn’t hard to miss as he sat on one of the few empty stools at the bar, his voice loud as he chatted with one of the pub’s workers.
Abby steeled her resolve and walked up to her ex-husband. “Hi, Jimmy,” she said, her voice strong.
The man sitting at the bar, dark hair slicked back from his face, turned to look at her. Clara recognized him as the man she’d seen sitting next to Abby in the pew of the church.
“Well, hello,” he said, a charming smile on his handsome face. Clara thought he looked like a snake sizing up his prey, dark eyes trailing over Abby’s body and face.
“What can I do for you, Jimmy?” Abby asked, crossing her arms over her chest, no nonsense, even though Clara could sense she was very afraid of the man.
“Not much, except have dinner with me. I want to talk to you about something.”
Abby shook her head. “No. I’m not comfortable with that and you know it.”
Clara stood back watching, able to feel the level of tension rising with every tick of the clock. She looked to Jimmy, curious as to what his response would be.
He stood from his stool, looking around to see who was paying attention to their conversation, not even giving Clara a second glance. “Abby, don’t be dramatic. What do you think I’m going to do?” he said, voice lowered.
Abby took a small step back, inadvertently showing her fear of him as he advanced. “It doesn’t matter. We have nothing to talk about anymore. Please leave.”
Jimmy stared her down for a moment, making it clear he was trying to show his dominance. To Abby’s credit, she didn’t finch or cower, but did begin to tremble slightly.
“We need to talk,” he said, voice still quiet, almost calm. “I’ll come by your place later.”
“Please don’t, Jimmy. We have nothing to talk about,” Abby said again, her fear beginning to seep into her voice somewhat.
After a tense moment, Jimmy finished the drink that had been placed on the bar before him and left, not another word or glance spared at Abby. The pub-owner waited until he’d left the establishment, then breathed out a sigh of relief.
Clara looked at her. “Are you okay?”
Abby nodded, rubbing her hands over her arms. “I’m fine. Glad he’s gone.” She looked at Clara. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”
Clara shook her head. “No need to apologize, Abby. You didn’t invite him in here. I thought you handled it well.”
Abby laughed ruefully. “I felt like a coward. God,” she blew out a breath, running her hand through her hair. “Why does he make me so crazy?”
“Because you have a lot of history with him, and from the sounds of it, a lot of it unpleasant and very negative. That doesn’t just go away because a judge signs a paper and calls you divorced.” She studied her friend for a moment, squeezing a shoulder. “Do you need anything? A drink? A valium?”
Abby broke into relieved laughter and shook her head. “No. No valium, and no drink. What I need is for him to forget where I live and work.”
“Well, good luck with that one, but if you find a way and need help, let me know and I’ll be here.”
Abby smiled, grateful to have Clara there. “Well, I better get back to things, I guess.” She uncrossed her arms and took a step towards Clara. “Thank you so much for everything, Clara. Truly, it means the world to me.”
Clara accepted the hug she was offered, and nearly melted into it. As she felt Abby’s arms tighten around her, their bodies coming into contact, she realized she finally knew what heaven felt like. She closed her eyes and inhaled all that was Abby, knowing the blonde’s wonderful floral scent would be on her clothes all day.
After a moment Abby stepped back and gave her a quick, but genuine smile, then headed back towards the stairs that lead up to the second floor.