Abby wasn’t sure exactly what Clara was doing, but stood back, studying her every move. The Medium had told her she wanted to get a “feel for things”, whatever that meant, and for the past ten minutes had been walking around the second floor of the pub, eyes closed, and walking around, almost as if in a daze. Her movements were slow and measured, almost as though she were waiting for something to step out of a wall in front of her.
Clara stopped suddenly, hands out in front of her, then a soft gasp escaped her lips.
Clara could feel a presence close to her as she wandered through the mirror image of the pub in the after shadow. She scanned her surroundings, seeing the inanimate shapes and shadows of the pool tables and scattered chairs. She could make out the juke box, now silent and dark. Abby’s shape loomed large and black, unwelcome in this strange, spirit world.
She turned towards the feel of the presence, only to stop suddenly, hands out in front of her in a natural instinct of defense. Standing not a foot away was a figure, it’s dark eyes focused on her. She gasped in her surprise, heart pounding out of her chest. She could feel a negative energy flowing from the figure, even though she couldn’t clearly see his face. All she knew was it was a he, and he didn’t want her there. She took a slight step back, stopping when in the blink of an eye the figure was gone, yet again startling her.
From what seemed like a far distance, she heard her name.
Abby started as Clara jumped, whirling around when the pub owner placed a tentative hand on her arm. They both cried out in surprised, Abby’s heart racing.
“Whoa,” Clara said, shaking her head and rubbing her eyes. She looked around, almost as though seeing her surroundings for the first time. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Are you okay? You looked like you… well,” Abby grinned sheepishly. “Like you saw a ghost.”
Clara chuckled. “I did.” She looked around, now seeing the room as Abby saw it: Stoney Brook Pub. “I saw someone.”
“In the after shield?” Abby asked, trying to remember what Clara had called that other world.
“After shadow,” Clara corrected. “Yeah. He was quick, too.” She was trying to feel his energy, but couldn’t. It was almost as though he had just transported himself to another planet or something. “He was quick. Very quick. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before. I can’t even feel him now, which is unusual. Typically even once a spirit has left the room I can still feel their lingering energy.” She shook her head as she studied one of the pool tables. “Not with this guy.”
“Who is it, do you think?”
Clara shook her head. “No idea yet.”
No sooner were the words out of her mouth when they heard something fall in the office. With a quick glance at each other, both women hurried towards the small room, led by Clara.
The room lit up with the flick of a switch, everything seemingly in perfect order to Clara’s eyes. Abby squeezed past her into the office, headed straight to one of the filing cabinets.
“How the hell did this happen?” she asked, bending down to pick something up. When she stood and turned to Clara, she held the handle to one of the drawers in her hand. Clara took the metal object from her, studying it. It was almost as though one of the screws that had been holding the handle onto the drawer had been wrenched loose, the actual hole for the screw bent slightly out of shape. The second screw was nowhere to be found.
“That’s very strange, I must say,” Clara said, realizing the immense understatement of her comment. She looked at the drawer itself, then to Abby. “Someone’s trying to get our attention.”
“Or make us go away.”
“No,” Clara said. “Something wants our attention.”
“Is it a bad something?”
Clara set the handle on top of the filing cabinet and turned her attention to the rest of the room. She reached out energy feelers, trying to connect with anything that was near. Almost like the sonar that a bat sends out, Clara waited for her energy to bounce off that of another. It didn’t take long.
Abby watched, part fascinated, part frightened, as Clara made a beeline for the area behind the desk. The pub owner stood back, hugging herself as she watched, fighting against the intense need to leave.
Clara could feel the pull of the energy, leading her to the corner. She stopped at the side of the desk, gently pushing the chair aside. She felt almost as though a child were hunkered down in the corner, hiding. She had no idea where Abby was, but didn’t want to chance frightening the spirit, Clara held a hand up.
“Don’t move, Abby. Just stay back.”
Abby said nothing, but moved further away from the desk, careful in her movements.
Clara became only aware of what was before her. She reached out a hand, able to feel the energy shift, the corner cold. Letting out a soft breath, she closed her eyes and entered the after shadow. After a moment’s concentration, she saw what she was looking for.
Huddled in the corner was a small figure. His face was pale, and very difficult to discern his features. All she could tell was he had dark hair, and it was a bit shaggy, hanging in his eyes. His shoulders were narrow, and Clara guessed he was no older than six, seven at most.
“Hey,” Clara said, using the power of her thoughts to communicate with him. He looked up at her, blinking a few strands of hair out of deep-set eyes. “How can I help you?”
“Mamma?” he said, the word almost hopeful.
Clara shook her head. “No, sweetie. I’m sorry, I’m not your mom, but I can help you. Want my help? Are you the one who was trying to get my attention a few minutes ago?”
The boy nodded, then his head drooped again, face completely hidden by his arms, which were folded atop his bent knees.
“Do you want my help? Is that why you made the big noise?”
Again, the boy nodded, though didn’t look up at her again.
Clara got to her feet and walked over to Abby. “There’s a little boy over there. He’s the one who tried to get our attention.” She nodded towards the corner where the child still sat.
Abby swallowed a bit nervously, but nodded her understanding.
“I’m going to cross him. Do you want to help me?”
“Yeah. Whatever you need.”
“Okay. Come with me,” Clara said, holding out her hand for Abby to take, which she did. Still clutching her hand, Clara led Abby over towards the desk, close to the boy. She faced Abby and met her gaze. “Give me your other hand.” Both hands clasped, Clara gave her friend a gentle smile. “It’s okay. Don’t be afraid. What we’re about to do is beautiful, not scary. Okay?”
Abby nodded, though she didn’t feel near the confidence that was in the nod. “Okay. Just tell me what you need me to do.”
“Right now I just need you to concentrate. I want you to try and clear your head completely. No thoughts, no emotions. Just nothingness.”
Abby nodded. “Okay. I can do that.”
“Good.” Clara squeezed Abby’s hands in a quick show of understanding, then closed her eyes.
All color once again began to dissolve as Clara re-entered the after shadow. Immediately she saw the little boy, exactly where she’d left him, though now he was looking up at her, then at Abby’s shadowy form, then back to Clara.
“Did you find my mamma?” he asked, slowly rising to his feet.
“No, sweetie,” Clara said, holding out her hand to him. “But I’m going to help you now.”
Slowly, ever watchful, the little boy stood from his hiding place and walked over to Clara. It was only then that Clara saw – for a split second moment – a huge gash in the side of the boy’s head. Blood had spurted out, staining his ear, down the side of his neck, and had matted his hair.
Clara gasped, startled for a moment. She blinked, and the wound was gone, leaving only a sweet-faced boy looking expectantly at her.
Abby felt Clara jerk slightly. She opened her eyes to see if she was okay. Though Clara’s eyes remained closed, her face had screwed up into a look of shock and disgust then once again became expressionless.
“Are you okay?” she whispered. It was only after she received Clara’s nod that she once again closed her own eyes, returning to her concentration.
Clara took his hand in her own, relieved when she saw the hallway appear out of the darkness. At the other end of the hall a door opened, the silhouette of her grandmother breaking through the blinding light that gushed in from the other side.
“Clara,” Rebecca said, her voice soft. “Be careful this time. Be very careful.”
Clara nodded and led the little boy toward Rebecca. Another figure stepped into the hallway from the other side, a small figure, which looked female. The figure stepped around Rebecca, staring down the hall, her features blocked by the bright light behind her.
“Douglas!” the figure screamed, then began to run towards Clara and the little boy.
“Mamma!” he cried, puling free of Clara and running towards the woman who fell to her knees, collecting the child in her arms.
Clara stood back and watched the touching scene, Rebecca moved to stand next to her, both silent for a moment. The woman stood, picking the boy up and holding him close.
“Beautiful,” Clara said, a satisfied smile on her lips.
“Yes. Be careful though, Clara,” Rebecca warned. “There are more in this place.”
Abby felt a rush of cold air wash over and through her, almost to the point of causing her to release Clara’s hands. Clara seemed to sense that, as she tightened her grip, even as her eyes remained closed. Abby’s eyes had opened when she’d felt the cold, and studied Clara. The medium’s concentration was complete, her focus palpable as her brows drew. Abby followed the lines of Clara’s face with her gaze, taking in her features, the shape of her mouth and way her dark brows arched. She hadn’t really noticed before just what a beautiful woman Clara really was. She’d always found her attractive, maybe even cute, but hadn’t thought about it beyond that.
Abby was startled out of her observations when twilight eyes were suddenly looking into her own gaze. Abby cleared her throat, feeling somewhat stupid at being caught staring.
So involved in what was happening, Clara didn’t realize she’d been the center of such intense scrutiny. She was still half in and half out of the after shadow, her senses slowly coming back to her as she realized she was staring at Abby.
“Hey,” she said, voice low, serene.
“Hi. How did it go?”
“It went well. He crossed. Douglas was his name.” Without thinking, she gently rubbed her thumbs over Abby’s soft skin. “I think he’s been rejoined with his mother, which was amazing.” Her grin was contagious as Abby returned it.
“Clara, that’s wonderful!” Abby tugged on Clara’s hands, bringing them together in a tight hug.
Clara allowed herself to dissolve into the embrace, Abby’s warmth washing through her. She could sleep forever in that embrace. Deciding on propriety, she disengaged, giving Abby a quick smile. “We’re not done, yet. Come on. Let’s get this place cleaned out.”
Clara lay in bed, hands tucked behind her head as she stared up at the ceiling. She was on a high, completely satisfied and content. It had been a long night at the Stoney Brook, but so worth it.
She and Abby had worked to clear out the pub for more than four hours, and Clara was mentally and emotionally exhausted. But, oh she was happy! She had been able to clear the place, and had crossed three spirits. She hadn’t seen the strange, elusive spirit that she’d first seen, and figured he’d left when he saw that he would be next.
Her mind fast forwarded to the end of the night when Clara had crossed the final spirit in the Stoney Brook. Abby had joined her in her excitement of being done, and feeling as though they’d truly accomplished something. Abby was also excited at the prospect of having her pub back. They had hugged.
A small thrill spread throughout her body, leaving small goosebumps on her arms. There was something about a hug from Abby that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Something that felt so… right. Something about Abby had called to Clara since the day she’d met her as a young teenaged girl. The day she’d been hit in the head by the soccer ball; an even she wouldn’t forget about for a couple reasons.
Clara smiled, tracing her fingers over the spot where she’d been hit, and ultimately knocked out. She also thought back to when she’d first seen what had seemed at the time to be an indifferent Abigail Jensen. She’d been so beautiful. She still was. She damn near took Clara’s breath away every time she saw her. Not good. Not good at all. Dangerous, in fact. Clara knew this would result likely only in heartbreak for her, if she didn’t get her thoughts and feelings under control.
Clara turned onto her side, hoping sleep would soon come when she was startled by the sound of the doorbell. Sitting up in bed, she waited, seeing if it would ring again. It did. Grabbing her cell phone, Clara padded to the front room, pushing the curtains aside, relieved at first to see Abby’s car, then concerned.
She quickly unlocked the front door, Abby standing on the other side.
“Hey. Are you okay?” Clara asked, looking around to see if anyone else was around. She had a bad feeling.
“I’m so sorry to come here so late. I can leave. I’m sure I woke you up-“
“Get in here,” Clara interrupted, tugging on Abby’s wrist until the stepped inside the house. Clara closed and locked the door, turning to Abby for an explanation.
“When I was driving home from the Stoney Brook, I saw Jimmy’s car in my neighborhood. I felt uneasy, so I went to an all-night diner, hoping to kill some time so he’d leave. He was still there, so I came here. I mean, I can go to Kerri’s place, I’m so sorry I woke you up. It’s just that I know he doesn’t know you or where you live, so…”
“Hey, it’s okay.” Clara gave the flustered woman a quick hug, then led her further into the house to the kitchen. “What can I get you? Coffee? Water? Juice?”
Abby took a seat at the table. “Actually, do you have anything stronger?” Abby ran a hand through her hair, looking tired and somewhat haggard. “I’m usually not a drinker, but I need one now.”
“Sure. Let me see what I’ve got.”
Within ten minutes, both women were seated on the couch, a glass of vodka and orange juice in hand. Abby hadn’t said much as she stared straight ahead, sipping from her drink. Clara remained quiet, waiting for Abby to speak, as he sensed she needed to. She was obviously very bothered by the sudden appearance of her ex-husband in her life again.
“I’m really grateful for your kindness,” Abby said at length, setting her drink down on the coffee table and turning on the couch to face her new friend more.
“Absolutely. You’re welcome here any time, Abby. Day or night.”
“Thank you. I’m sure I’m overreacting, but I don’t know. When I saw his car, I just kind of freaked out a little. I don’t trust him.”
“And it sounds like you’ve got good reason not to. When I met him the other day, I didn’t like him immediately. I really felt a kind of sliminess to him.”
Abby nodded, picking up her drink again. She took a sip, wincing as the vodka burned on the way down. “You’re not the first person to say that. Hell, my own mother didn’t like him.” She smiled a bit at that, the alcohol beginning to loosen her emotions a bit. She thought for a moment. “Come to think of it, I don’t think anyone did.”
“Why did you marry him?” Clara asked, sipping her own drink. She knew the vodka would hit her hard, as she hadn’t had alcohol in many years.
“Because he was cute, to be honest. God, how bad is that?” Abby finished her drink and raised her glass, silently asking if she could have another.
Within a few moments she sat back down, her glass filled with a fresh drink. “He was cute, he was charming, and he won me over.” She giggled. “I was sostupid, Clara. I mean really stupid.”
“We all do stupid things, Abby. You’ve got to know that.” Clara was feeling her own senses beginning to numb, the vodka making steady progress through her system.
They sat in silence for a long moment, a clock down the hall ticking away the seconds. Finally Abby glanced over at her, a shy, somewhat mischievous look in her eyes.
“You know, I always wanted to know you better when we were younger. I wanted to talk to you. I was actually bummed when you went to another high school. I was a senior, and it was my only chance to really talk to you. To really get to know you.”
Clara was surprised to hear it, and leaned forward in her seat a bit. “Really? Are you serious?”
“Yes, ma’am. I am serious,” Abby said with somewhat buzzed conviction. “I always thought you were fascinating!”
Clara’s grin was wide, her eyes bright from both her drink, and the new information she’d just heard. “Why? What was so interesting about me?”
“I don’t know.” Abby studied Clara for a moment, her head tilted slightly to the side in contemplation. “I guess it was just the way you looked at life. And that day at Dairy Queen when you told me my grandma would be okay, somehow it changed me. I became intrigued by you.”
Clara burst into laughter. “Do you mean to tell me that you didn’t see me as the freak Karri did?”
Abby shook her head vigorously. “Never.”
“I thought you were gorgeous.” Clara regretted the words the moment they were out of her mouth. Her eyes got wide as she met Abby’s surprised gaze, then quickly turned to her drink, taking a healthy gulp, the punishing burn sliding down her throat.
“Really?” Abby asked after a moment, a slow grin spreading across her face.
Clara could only nod, setting her near-empty glass aside. She finally found the courage to meet Abby’s gaze. “Yep.”
“Thank you. That’s really cool to hear. But, I guess everyone is gorgeous at sixteen, huh? Young, in my prime.” She snorted bitterly. “Now…”
“You’re still gorgeous, Abby. Nothing’s changed there.”
Abby’s smile was so pure, so sweet, it melted Clara’s heart. “You are so sweet, Clara. I have to admit, after living with Jimmy for so long, I guess I just don’t see it anymore. It makes me so angry because before, when I used to look in the mirror, I saw a woman who was maybe not a super model – too short to be one of those – but was pretty enough. Now,” she sighed heavily. “Now I see a woman in her thirties who has seen better days.”
Clara could only stare, looking at the beautiful woman who sat just a few feet away, stunned to hear such defeat in her voice. “Oh, Abby. That is so not true. Don’t you ever look in the mirror?”
Abby chuckled, shaking her head. “No more than I have to, Clara. I’m afraid my self-confidence isn’t what it used to be.”
“That breaks my heart, Abby. It breaks my heart bad.” The alcohol dumbed her sensed enough to allow herself to reach over and place a hand on her friend’s leg. “You’re beautiful, hot as hell even, and shouldn’t hide away from that. Jimmy isn’t worth doing that to you. He’s an asshole of the lowest order, and never deserved you in the first place.”
Abby was surprised by Clara’s impassioned speech, able to feel the heat of Clara’s palm through the denim of her jeans. She looked into those twilight eyes and saw just how serious Clara really was.
“You are intelligent, kind, sweet, and a wonderful woman who owns her own business – a successful business, I might add – who should be proud of who she’s become. You’re loved and respected within your community. I mean, hell, your customers absolutely adore you!”
Abby listened, feeling emotions rise within her. It had been far too long since she’d heard anyone talk to her like Clara was at that moment. She was building her up, making Abby feel better than she had in a long time. Overwhelmed, she stood, pulling Clara to her feet as well.
Clara went into the hug, surprised by the move, but then quickly fell into it, wrapping her arms around Abby’s back as Abby’s wrapped around her neck, holding her close. They stood in silence for nearly ten minutes, each just absorbing the warmth of the other. Clara could feel her heart pounding in her chest, nervous energy speeding through her body. But, on the other side of that token, she felt more at ease and comforted than she ever had in her life. The feel of Abby’s arms, the feel of her body, the feel of her head resting on Clara’s shoulder, was more wonderful than anything Clara had ever experienced before.
Abby, for her part was lost in a sensation of absolute comfort. She could hear Clara’s heart beating, and it put her at ease, somehow. She felt like in that moment, with Clara near to her, she could do anything. How was it that Clara could make her feel like everything would be okay? Make her believe that she was beautiful. Was worth something to someone else. The feeling was intoxicating.
It had been three days since Abby had shown up on Clara’s doorstep in the middle of the night, and the two women had shared some truths. Abby had spent the night, sleeping in the guest room, and had been gone by the time Clara woke up the next morning. At first, she had been afraid that maybe she’d taken it too far, the things she’d admitted to Abby, and had been hesitant to contact her. Abby had contacted her, instead. They had dinner the following night, and nothing they’d spoken about at Clara’s house had come up. Other than some of Abby’s fears of Jimmy, that is.
Now, three days later, Clara walked into the Stoney Brook. Her plan was to surprise Abby and take her to lunch. She spotted the pub owner immediately, standing behind the bar. She was leaning on the polished mahogany, a smile on her face and laughter in the air. When Clara saw who she was talking to, a stab of jealousy shot through her.
Jordan Crossland, head investigator of the CPS, was sitting at the bar, doing his best to put the moves on Abby. Even from across the room Clara could see he was flirting with his former client.
Instant irritation spread like wildfire, and Clara decided it wasn’t wise for her to approach the two just yet. She didn’t want to cause any problems, or seem like she was overstepping bounds she had no right to even toe. Instead, she was grateful to see Shelby and the same two women sitting at a corner table. One of the women had noticed Clara, and had gotten Shelby’s attention. The blonde waved Clara over.
“Hey!” Shelby jumped out of her chair and gave Clara a tight hug, which Clara happily returned. “Come sit with us.”
Abby glanced past Jordan’s shoulder, following Clara’s progression across the bar to Shelby’s table. She remembered the two women had once been in a relationship, and felt a strange surge of discomfort as the two women embraced.
“What?” she said, her voice a bit more harsh than it should have been. She had missed what Jordan had said to her, and forced her attention back to him.
“I said, we need to get some dinner some night,” he said, flashing a charming smile her way.
Clara glanced over at the bar, watching as Jordan reached over and touched Abby’s hand. It was all she could do to not growl. She hadn’t cared much for Jordan Crossland the night of the investigation, and she was even less fond now.
“Clara? Are you okay?” Shelby asked, following her ex’s line of sight to the beautiful pub owner. Her bros raised in recognition of the longing on Clara’s face, as well as obvious jealousy. “Oh boy.”
“huh?” Clara asked, oblivious to Shelby’s realizations. “Sorry. Yeah, I’m fine.” She turned and faced the three woman at the table, deciding to forget about Abby, and be social.
Abby watched as Clara spoke to the three women, her movements animated and excited. She often turned to speak to Shelby, at one point the former lovers leaning in close, Shelby bursting into laughter at something Clara said.
“You okay, boss?” asked one of Abby’s employees who was tending bar with the pub owner.
Abby nodded, turning away from Clara’s side of the bar. “I’m fine.” She smiled at the girl, then went to help a customer who had just sat down. Jordan had left a few minutes before, and she was glad. She hadn’t been thrilled to sit and talk to him as it was, let alone when she was feeling less than friendly.
After helping a line of customers that had come in for after work drinks, she glanced over to where Clara had been sitting. All four women were standing, and Clara and Shelby were hugging, then Shelby placed a quick kiss to Clara’s lips. Abby looked away, her blood heating. Within moments, Clara was standing at the bar, Shelby and her friends had left the bar, Shelby raising a hand of greeting to Abby.
Clara took a deep breath, trying to get the vision of Jordan flirting with Abby out of her head. She rested her elbows on the bar, waiting for Abby to notice her.
“Hey,” Abby said, forcing a smile onto her face and in her voice. She was unsettled by the feelings that were stirred up when she saw Clara with Shelby.
“Hey, yourself. I had intended to come in to take you to lunch, but saw you were busy with Jordan, so,” Clara glanced at the clock on the wall, “guess we missed the lunch hour.”
Abby was surprised by the bit of, what sounded like bitterness, in her voice. She felt her own hackles raised at not only the tone, but the fact that maybe if Clara had said something to her, rather than spent her time laughing and talking with Shelby, they could have gone out.
She put a sweet smile on her lips. “Well, I guess losing yourself talking to friends didn’t help either, did it?”
Clara looked at her for a moment, surprised by both the words, as well as the fact that Abby seemed bothered that Clara had been sitting with the women. Or was that just the hope of her imagination? Either way, she didn’t want the day to turn bad. She’d come to be nice, not fight.
“Guess it was just a missed opportunity, huh?” She smiled, as genuine as she could, to try and take the sting out of the situation. “Not meant to be.”
Abby chuckled, shaking her head at her own silliness. “Yeah. Not meant to be. That’s too bad, because I would have loved to go with you.” She leaned on the bar. “How about dinner instead?”
Clara’s grin was blinding. “Yes! Absolutely.”
“Excellent! Okay. I’m actually glad you came because I have something I want to ask you, too.”
“Yep, but that’ll wait until dinner. I want to be able to talk to you about it.” Abby glanced over at a large group of patrons that had just entered the pub, laughing and talking and headed straight for the bar.
“Guess I should let you get to it. How about I pick you up at your place at around six-thirty?”
“Perfect,” Abby nodded her agreement, already making her way towards the new arrivals. “See you then!”
Clara glanced down once more at her list, making sure she’d gotten everything on it.
She crumbled the piece of notebook paper and shoved it into her pocket on her way to the bakery area of the grocery store. She pushed her half-filled grocery cart down the aisle, the florescent lights above shining on the highly-polished tile at her feet. She smiled at a young mom and her child as she passed them, then turned out of the aisle and into the main drag that ran along the dairy and meat counters.
She turned down the bread aisle when she stopped. Halfway down the aisle she saw an elderly woman deciding on a loaf of bread for herself. Standing not far from the woman’s near-empty cart was an elderly man dressed in golfing pants and shoes, his silver hair pushed back away from his heavily-lined face. He looked at Clara, smiled, then vanished before her eyes.
Clara stood rooted to the spot, gaze still frozen to where the man had stood not two seconds before. She wanted to turn and walk away, but knew she couldn’t.
“Bagels,” she muttered to herself. “I need bagels, then I can leave.”
Heading down the aisle, she saw the bagels, which were just beyond the woman’s cart. She hurried past the woman, turning to look at the array of differing brands and flavors. She was about to grab a package of cinnamon raisin bagels when she felt a presence behind her.
Raymond… Tell her I love her…
Clara could hear the voice in her head, whispery and kind. She ignored it, tossing the package of bagels into her cart and ready to hurry out of the aisle.
Please tell her… Raymond…
Clara stopped, eyes squeezing shut for a moment, as she wrestled with her indecision. She didn’t want to get involved, but yet her conscience wouldn’t allow her to walk away.
Turning back towards the older woman, she took a deep breath and backed her cart up until she was next to the woman. Clearing her throat, she spoke. “Hi, my name is Clara, and I have a really strange message for you.”
The woman looked up at Clara, her blue eyes watery and dull. “Excuse me?”
“I know it sounds strange, but I have a message for you.”
“From who? Do I know you, dear?”
“No, ma’am, you don’t. And it’s from Raymond.” Clara nearly took a step back as a look of shocked rage began to fill those pale blue eyes. “I mean no harm, ma’am, I swear. I’m a medium, and Raymond asked me to tell you he loves you.”
“Who are you?” the woman asked, her voice lowering in her anger. Her already watery eyes were beginning to fill even more.
“He looked like he was in the middle of a good golf game,” Clara said, hoping the bit of detail would mean something to the woman, and make her believe.
Almost as if beyond her control, the woman’s smile broke through the clouds. She brought a heavily-veined hand up, wiping at a tear with her fingers. “Only Ray would come back wearing golf attire.”
Clara smiled. “Cleats and everything.”
“Does that mean they have a course in Heaven?” the old woman asked, her voice serious, questioning eyes hopeful.
“I guess so,” Clara nodded. “He looked awful happy, and he was standing here next to you while you were selecting your bread.”
The woman seemed to take in what she’d been told, then looked up at Clara, a warm smile on her face. “Thank you for telling me, honey. My Ray always told me he’d come back and say hello. Guess he has.”
“Yes, ma’am, he has. You’re very welcome.” Clara squeezed the woman’s arm lightly, then turned and walked away, warmth spreading throughout her whole body, muttering to herself, “Okay, so that was nice, but I can’t get back into this. I can’t.”
Clara drove herself and Abby to a small cafe downtown that they both enjoyed. Typically the best places to eat were the locally-owned, hole-in-the-wall types. They found themselves a table near the front windows and waited for someone to take their orders.
“So, how did your day go?” Clara asked, glancing through the plain paper menu. She glanced over the top at her friend briefly before turning back to the sandwich listings.
“Pretty well. Busy.” A moment of heavy silence hung between them. Each woman had questions about what had happened that day. Abby had tried to put it out of her mind after Clara had left the Stoney Brook, but hadn’t been able to. She was deeply bothered by the hot jealousy that had grabbed her that day, and could not figure out where it had come from. But how could she bring it up? How could she ask Clara about it, when she didn’t understand it herself? It made no sense.
“Good. I assume busy is good anyway, right?” Clara asked, tossing her menu aside, having made her choice.
“Yes. It’s definitely good.”
Clara could feel the slight tension in the air, and wasn’t sure what to do about it. How could she possibly explain that her blood had ran hot when she’d seen Abby talking to Jordan? How could she ask Abby why she’d been so snippy about Clara talking to Shelby? What a mess.
They sat in silence for a moment, both grateful when the waitress came and took their orders. Left alone once more, Abby decided to tell Clara about her planned trip.
“So, what I wanted to ask you was if you could possibly get your schedule free this weekend. With all this stuff happening with Jimmy – he drove by again last night – I just really feel the need to get away. My grandma lives in a gorgeous farm house up in the mountains.”
Clara listened, wondering what this had to do with her. She had her hopes, but was afraid to really let herself think about what she wanted Abby to say.
“I’ve told her all about you, too. My grandma has always been fascinated by the spirit world, and wants to meet you.”
“Is this the one who had the surgery?”
“Yes!” Abby brightened, nodding. “So? Are you up for it? Want to head over the river and through the woods this weekend with me?”
“To grandmother’s house we go?” Clara said, finishing the Christmas song. Abby laughed, nodding. Clara’s heart was pounding. “Yes. Absolutely!”
After a moment, their food came and they ate in silence, both women yet again contemplating the same thing, yet neither willing to talk about it first, or ask the first question. Instead, Clara decided to tell Abby about the incident in the grocery store. Abby was completely drawn in by the story, her eyes wide, never making a sound as she ate and listened. Finally when Clara was done, she grabbed her napkin and wiped her mouth.
“Clara,” she said, tossing her napkin into her empty plate. “Why don’t you go into business again? Call me crazy, but somehow I don’t see your destiny working behind the scenes in a bakery.”
Clara shook her head, taking a bite of her own sandwich. “I can’t, Abby. After Mike died, I gave it up.”
“I know. But don’t you think you’re doing him an injustice by quitting? I mean, Clara, you’ve been given this unbelievable gift! How can you just walk away from that? You have the ability toe help so many people. I mean, jeez, look what you did for me. You’ve give me peace. Made my pub safe again for my employees.” She caught Clara’s gaze and wouldn’t let it go. “There’s nothing in the world like being able to do something for people that no one else can. Please don’t give that up on a principle.”
Clara sat back in her chair, chewing the last bit of her food. She stared out the window into the darkening evening beyond. A few people walked by the café, but overall the streets and sidewalks were fairly quiet.
“you know, today when I was walking up to the pub I passed an empty building close to the Stoney Brook. A ‘for rent’ sign on the window.” She sighed, sipping from her water. “For just a minute I had this fantasy of opening up a shop there. You know, doing readings for clients, plus maybe offering some products: candles, incense, books. That kind of thing.”
Abby could see the war that was going on inside her friend. She could hear the longing in her voice yet see the determination to stick by her guns in her eyes. “What made you think that?” she asked quietly, trying to play it nonchalant.
“I don’t know. Opening a store like that has never even crossed my mind before.” Clara grinned. “Maybe watching my mom slave at the bakery all these years has made me want to follow the same fate.”
“Or maybe you’re finally seeing what your destiny is,” Abby said, a challenge in her voice. She eyed Clara, daring her to say different.
“You think so, huh?”
“I do. I’ve always felt there was something special about you. Something that very few in this world have.”
Clara thought for a long moment, playing with the straw in her water. She sighed, finally able to say out loud what she’d barely dared say to herself. “You know, for about the past year I’ve felt lost. I basically got up, went to work, did what I was supposed to do, then went home. I rarely went out, rarely did anything. My family was even questioning why I didn’t have any friends, didn’t try and rekindle any old relationships.” She sighed.
“Well, I don’t know. Seems like you and Shelby have rekindled something.” Abby regretted the rods as soon as they were out of her mouth. She knew she couldn’t take them back, so she tried to cover it with a joking smile.
Clara saw right through the innocent, “just kidding” act. She studied Abby for a moment, a slow smirk spreading across her lips. “You think so?”
“Well, I mean, I think it’s great. You guys were together at one point, after all, and hey, why not, right? She’s a pretty girl. So…” Abby let her voice trail off, already feeling stupid.
Clara leaned forward in her seat, pinning her friend with her gaze. “Abby, were you jealous?” she asked quietly, amused and extremely pleased.
Abby began to fidget slightly in her seat, feeling every ounce of the weight behind Clara’s stare. She couldn’t meet those eyes, and instead focused on her napkin. “I think jealous is too strong of a word,” she back pedaled, but it was too late, and they both knew it.
Abby decided to try another angle. “Well, it sounds like she hurt you. I mean, she wasn’t exactly keen on your gift, and not real supportive, so.” She shrugged. “I guess I just worry about you. I know right now you’re pretty vulnerable with this stuff, just starting up with it again. I don’t want her to dissuade you.”
They both knew that Abby was only telling a half-truth, but Clara decided to let it go. For now. They’d return to that subject again, and she’d make Abby squirm. However, since the subject had been brought up, she wanted to know the details about Jordan Crossland. “What was up with Jordan today? Does he come to see you a lot?”
Abby grinned, a twinkle entering eyes. She definitely knew jealousy when she saw it, and she saw it in Clara’s eyes. “He’s come in a few times. He’s a friend. He asked me to go to dinner with him.”
Clara felt her blood begin to boil all over again. “Abby, he’s a jerk! He’s a player, and will only end up hurting you in the end. I hope you didn’t tell him yes.”
Abby’s grin grew. “And what if I did?”
Clara shrugged, trying to act indifferent. “Then it’s your broken heart. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Alright, I promise to not say you didn’t warn me, especially since I told him no.”
The relief that washed through Clara was palpable. She tried to hide it while taking a drink of her water. She heard Abby’s soft chuckle. “What?”
Abby shook her head, thoroughly amused. “Nothing.” She decided to change the subject. “So, will you have a hard time getting the time off this weekend?”
Clara shook her head. “Nah. Having your mother for your boss has its perks.”
Abby smiled. “Brown noser.”
As promised, Abby’s grandmother’s house was amazing. It was a two-story farmhouse, the type that would be seen in any Norman Rockwell painting. It had actually been built in New Hampshire in the late 1840s, but Abby’s great-grandparents had the ancestral home moved to the mountains of Colorado in the 1930s, where it had been ever since.
The house was white, all the windows framed in shutters painted a dark green, as was the trim on the house. It sat on three hundred and thirty-three acres of land, out-buildings scattered across the property.
“I spent a lot of my time as a kid in the Other House,” Abby said as she maneuvered her way along the winding drive that was more than two miles long.
“The Other House? What is that? How many houses does your grandma have up here?”
“One.” Abby smiled at Clara’s confusion. “My grandma calls it the Summer Kitchen, too.”
“Okay, but what the hell is it?”
Abby laughed. “Ye of no farmer knowledge. It’s a smaller, separate building from the main house, that basically looks like a mini version. Inside is two main rooms, one a complete kitchen – stove, sinks, cabinets and all. And, below it is a root cellar.”
“What is that?” Clara asked, no clue what Abby was talking about. She’d heard of a root cellar before, but had no idea what one actually was.
“You store canned goods there. My grandma used to can jams and syrups, tomatoes. All kinds of stuff. Back in the day before electricity – which they didn’t get up here until the 1960s, by the way – everything that needed to stay cool or be stored went below ground in the root cellar.”
“Aw. So, it’s cold down there?”
Abby pulled up in front of the beautiful old house, a stone chimney rising proudly above the roof-line. The car tires crunched their way to a stop on the gravel drive. Clara stepped out of the car, slinging her backpack over her shoulder and looked around. The house was beautiful, the scenery surrounding it even more so.
“Did you come up here often as a kid?”
“All the time,” Abby said, leading the way towards the house. “This,” she said, indicating a white building to their left, the main house to their right, “is the Other House. I’ll take you in there. In fact, you might actually be staying in there tonight.” They walked past it, Clara noting the small chimney that jutted up from the sloped roof. “A couple years before grandpa died they converted the kitchen area into a sort of living area for him. He couldn’t climb the stairs in the main house anymore, so slept out here, instead.”
They entered through a door, which was actually the back door of the house. The front of the house, with it’s wrap-around porch, faced the road, but to reach it, it required a trek across the beautifully manicured lawn, edged with a colorful rose garden.
The back door led to the kitchen, which was bursting with wonderful smells and the heat of a recently-used oven and stove. An older woman dressed in the typical clichéd housedress was placing a steaming pot of something on the round oak kitchen table. When she turned around to greet the two women, her fire engine-red lipstick threw Clara for a loop. Perhaps there was more to her than a typical housewife/grandma. Clara could immediately feel her energy, which was wonderful.
“Grandma!” Abby exclaimed, hurrying across the small distance to the woman, who immediately engulfed her in a tight hug.
“Hello, my love!”
Clara stood back and watched with a mixture of joy at the beautiful reunion, as well as a small bit of envy. She had never been terribly close to her living grandmother. Certainly not like Abby obviously was with hers.
Abby pulled away from her grandmother and turned towards Clara. “Grandma, I’d love for you to meet Clara. This is the friend I’ve told you about.”
“Ah, yes. I definitely remember hearing about you.” The much older version of Abby stepped over to Clara, extending a warm hug to her, as well. Clara accepted it, which surprised her, as it defied her usual touch-me-not attitude. “You’re abilities have intrigued my granddaughter for quite a long time.”
Abby looked away, suddenly very uncomfortable, which Clara found very interesting. “Well, things have just kind of slipped out from time to time when I’ve been around Abby.”
“Oh, I don’t think so. I think it’s far more than that, Clara.” Abby’s grandmother gave her a wide, brilliant smile. “Let’s you two sit down and eat.” She turned back to a somewhat-blushing Abby. “I made your favorite.”
“Potato soup?” Abby asked with child-like glee.
Her grandmother chuckled. “Just for you. Come on, sit and eat. If I know you, you’ve worked yourself to the bone and not taken proper care of yourself. Look at you! You’re all skin and bones!” She took one of Abby’s slim wrists in her hand and held her arm out so she could get a better look at her. “Honey, why don’t you eat?”
Abby looked embarrassed as she spared a glance to Clara before turning back to her grandmother. “I do! Grandma, I weigh more now than I have in four years.” She looked down at herself. “Where do you see I’m skin and bones?” She slapped the itty bitty tummy she’d gained. “Look at that! That is hardly skinny.”
Grandma clucked her disapproval and turned to Clara for an ally. “Don’t you think she’s too thin, Clara?”
Put on the spot, Clara put her hands up in supplication. “No, no. I don’t want to get pulled into a family dispute.”
“Smart girl, that one,” Grandma said, amused. She let the women sit down and began to fuss over them, making sure they had enough to eat, more bread, more milk or water. Clara wasn’t used to such treatment, but enjoyed it, she had to admit. It was also the best potato soup she’d ever had!
The Other House was a small space, almost like a studio cottage with two rooms and a basement, which as Abby had said, was basically a cold storage room. In the main room, which used to have a fridge and stove in it, and now only counters, cabinets and a sink remained. The back wall was lined with built-in shelving, which were filled with boxed games such as Checkers, Chess, Monopoly and Risk.
“I remember these games,” Clara said, pulling a game of Life from the shelf.
“I used to play Connect Four with my cousins all the time when I was a kid,” Abby said, tapping the box with a finger. “My grandma has had these games forever. A lot of them clear back from when my dad was a kid I think.”
Clara looked around the room she’d be staying in for the night. A nice, comfy couch folded out into a double bed, which Abby walked over to, tossing the cushions onto the floor.
“This bed is so comfortable. After grandpa died, grandma put this couch in here for guests.” She grinned at her friend. “I’ve slept on this couch many a night. Especially during the worst nights of my marriage.”
“I’m glad you broke it in for me.”
“Yes I did. Along with my Aunt Linda and her kids, that is.” She began to make up the bed with the pile of linens Grandma had given her, Clara moving to the other side of the bed to help.
“Where will you sleep tonight, and why aren’t you out here?”
“I’ll be in the second bedroom upstairs in the main house. Grandma snores like a freight train, and I don’t want you to have to deal with that. You’ll have plenty of privacy out here.”
There was a moment of silence and a growing tension that Clara could feel. They looked at each other, then found other things in the room to keep their attention.
“Oh!” Abby said, excited to have found something else to show Clara. She hurried over to the fireplace, grabbing a small white remote from the small mantle. “If you get cold – because it does get cold up here at night – feel free to start a fire.” She pushed one of the two buttons on the remote, a fire whooshing to life in it’s brick prison.
Clara immediately felt the warmth against her skin and stared down into the flames for a moment. “So beautiful. You know, I’ve always wanted to have a fireplace in my room.”
“Here’s your chance. Even if it is only for a night.”
Excitement of the fireplace fading, the tension returned. Clara held her hands down at her sides, her fingers wanting to reach out to Abby and touch something, anything.
“I suppose I should head to the house,” Abby said, her voice soft. She looked over at Clara, the flames dancing in her beautiful eyes. “Is there anything else you need?”
Clara shook her head, not sure what else to say, or even if her voice would work.
“Okay.” Abby reached for her, taking her in a tight hug, which Clara expected to pull away from within a few moments, but Abby stayed where she was, her head resting on Clara’s shoulder.
They stood in front of the fireplace for what must have been five minutes or more, neither woman willing to relinquish the comfort and warmth of the other.
“I’m really glad you came up with me, Clara,” Abby whispered, tightening the hug.
Clara’s eyes fell closed, lost in the sensation of Abby against her. She nodded, the fragrant blond hair tickling her nose. “Me, too. Thanks for inviting me.”
Abby smiled, looking down at the fire as she was held by Clara. “I thought you might think it odd that I invited you. I mean, here we’ve just barely become friends over the last few weeks, and then I go and ask you to come with me for a weekend at my grandma’s house.”
Unwittingly, Clara returned the smile. “I was happy. I like having you in my life.” There was silence for a long moment, and Clara’s heart clenched. She hoped she hadn’t said too much or given too much away.
Abby pulled back from the hug, but stayed within Clara’s personal space. She looked into Clara’s eyes, studying her for a moment before a soft smile touched her lips.
“I am, too. I’m not sure how, but somehow you bring something to it, add a bit of sparkle that wasn’t there before.”
“It’s all my wit,” Clara joked, a nervous smile on her face. The tension seemed to double within the span of five minutes. It now hung heavily in the air around them.
“Maybe so.” Abby squeezed Clara’s arm playfully. “Or maybe it’s all your scary ghost-spotting stories. It’s not everyday a girl gets to be regaled with such tails, you know.”
“Well, it’s not everyday a girl gets to regal someone who appreciates such stories as much as you do.”
“That I do.” Abby knew she needed to just step away and go to bed, but she couldn’t make her body obey. She didn’t want to leave. She didn’t want to head to the main house and go to bed. She wanted… She wasn’t sure, but it had nothing to do with leaving Clara.
“Are things pretty good at the pub?” Clara asked, trying desperately to think of a topic that would keep Abby there longer.
“Seems to be. I think you did the trick. I still wish you’d let me pay you something for that.”
Clara shook her head vehemently. “Not a chance. I was glad to do it. And,” she shrugged, “who knows. Maybe you’re helping me to get back to where I should be. Maybe,” she qualified with a raised brow at the growing grin on Abby’s face. “We’ll see.”
“I’m sure we will. You’ll be back to doing readings within a month.”
“You think so, huh?”
“Yes, I do.” Abby held out a hand. “Bet me you don’t.”
“What’s the bet?” Clara asked, knowing full well that this was a bet she was likely to lose, The crazy thing was, part of her was very okay with that.
“Okay, let’s see.” Abby thought for a moment. “I bet you dinner and a movie that you do. You pay.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then a movie, but I’ll make you dinner.”
“Deal.” To Clara it was pretty much a win-win, so she gladly took Abby’s hand to shake on it.
“excellent!” Abby held onto Clara’s hand as she grew serious. “I really do want to see you get back into it, Clara. Nothing makes you look more alive than when you’re helping someone with this stuff. It’s part of you. In your heart and soul.”
Clara looked away for a moment, looking into the flames which continued to pop and sizzle. “You know me far too well, Abby.” She met her friend’s smiling gaze.
“Of course I do. I look at you and it’s like looking into glass. I don’t know, somehow you’re just very easy for me to read. I can see what Mike’s death did to you, but I can also see what it’s doing to you to be so far off your path.” She reached a hand up, brushing some bangs out of Clara’s eyes. “Those beautiful eyes of yours. They should only be filled with life and sparkle. Not the drudgery of heading back and forth to a bakery all day.” She shook her head. “It’s not you.”
Clara sighed, trying to hold back the sudden emotion that had built in her chest. To have someone truly see her, truly look at her and inside her soul touched her far more than she could have imagined.
“Thank you,” she said softly, taking Abby’s hand in her own and bringing the knuckles to her mouth. She gently kissed them, then held the conjoined hands to her chest. “It’s nice for someone to see me. it hasn’t happened in a very long time.”
Abby stepped forward, intending to place a simple kiss on Clara’s lips, a kiss of understanding, a kiss of friendship. Somehow it became far more than that.
Clara was shocked when she felt the soft contact, which quickly became more bold. Within moments she had her arms around Abby, pulling her closer as Abby’s hands wound themselves into her hair. The kiss quickly deepened, both women breathing hard as the fire began to rage.
Far too soon for Clara’s liking, Abby pulled away, breathless and wide-eyed. She stared at Clara, her mouth opening and closing as she attempted to say something, but nothing came. Finally she cleared her throat, taking two steps back.
“I’m sorry, Clara. That was totally inappropriate of me.” She quickly turned away, hurrying towards the door, tossing a “good night” over her shoulder.Alone, Clara stood frozen in place, her skin still tingling from the feel of Abby’s hands and mouth. She didn’t know what to do or say, her heart still hammering in her chest.
The early morning air was crisp and cold. Clara hadn’t packed for it, so had herself wrapped up in a crocheted blanket she’d found in the Other House. Abby’s grandmother’s land was gorgeous in the pre-dawn hours; the wild life could be heard in the distant forest lands, the moon beginning to fall as a new day readied to dawn.
She’d had little sleep, the events of the evening playing and re-playing in her mind. She couldn’t help but wonder somehow if she’d been responsible, or could have maybe stopped it. She worried what Abby was thinking, and if their fragile new friendship was forever damaged or ruined. So many questions, and a long drive back home, too.
“You’re out here early,” came a soft voice from the darkness. Clara cried out in surprise as Abby’s grandma appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. The old woman chuckled, amused. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“No, it’s okay, Mrs-“
“Grandma. Everyone calls me that, and you will, too,” Grandma tsked, joining Clara as they began to make their away across the moon-swept yard.
“Grandma. It’s your house, so by all means.”
“Scare you all I want?” Grandma teased.
Clara chuckled with a nod. “I guess so.”
They walked on in silence before Grandma spoke. “Ever since my husband died I’ve had trouble sleeping. I come out here, usually around four-thirty in the morning or so, and walk. Sometimes I can get back to sleep after, sometimes not.”
“You miss him?”
“Very much. But, it’s not why you’d think, sadly. I mean, yes, I do miss him, but our marriage was rocky for so many years that in some ways it was a relief.” She glanced over at Clara. “That may sound pretty terrible to you.”
Clara shook her head. “Everyone has their reasons for everything they do, Grandma. No one can say any different. You have your reasons.”
“That I do. But, I won’t bore you with that.” She waved off the subject. “I can’t sleep because for so many years he’d wake me up either coming in, or because of his emphysema. He had a horrible cough that always kept me awake. I guess I got so used to it that I can’t stand the quiet now.”
“I can understand that.” Clara pulled the blanket a little tighter around her, the morning the chilliest right before the sun rose.
“So, why are you out here, young Clara? What kept you from sleep?”
Clara wanted to laugh out loud at that question, but decided against it. She didn’t want to have to explain things to Abby’s grandmother, especially since Abby may very well hate her come rise of the sun.
“Just can’t sleep. That happens sometimes.”
“Especially in your line of work, I imagine.”
Clara smiled. “Yes. Sometimes they like to keep me up. Spirits can be rude that way.”
“I’m very glad Abby brought you with her, Clara. I can see you have a good heart. Good soul, too.” She was quiet for a moment, leading them back towards the house. “My mother was a seer. It used to downright give me the heebie jeebies, what with some of the things she’d tell me. And dang it all if they didn’t come true.” She stopped them, smiling up at the taller woman. “You have that same sense of calm at your core that she did. It’s almost an awareness that the rest of us don’t have.”
Clara found it difficult to meet Grandma’s gaze, it was so piercing. It was almost as though she were looking into Clara’s very soul. There was a part of Clara that felt that was exactly what she was doing.
“Yes. I see it in your eyes. Very old eyes. Your gaze makes me feel as though I’m looking into the eyes of a two hundred year old woman, filled with all the knowledge and wisdom of living all those years. Heck, maybe even older than that.” She smiled, a roadmap of lines and crow’s feet erupting all over her features. “it’s reassuring, somehow.”
“Thank you. That’s very kind of you, Grandma.”
The old woman chuckled, beginning to walk again. “Not meant to be, young Clara. Just what I see.” They stopped at the walkway that connected the Other House to the main house. “You get some sleep, honey. Whatever it was that kept you up will be better tomorrow.” Grandma gave her a quick hug, then headed to the kitchen door, disappearing inside the dark house.
Clara let out a long, deep breath. “I sure hope so, Grandma. I sure hope so.”
“Oh my god, Grandma, you should have seen it! It was so funny. Don’t you remember her, Clara?” Abby asked, sandwich halfway to her mouth.
Clara had barely been able to keep up with Abby’s non-stop babbling all afternoon. From the moment she’d first laid eyes on her that morning, all through their tour of Grandma’ property by Grandma herself, and now during their picnic lunch.
“Uh, no. I don’t think I went to school with her.” She turned back to her macaroni salad as Abby continued with her story. Even her grandmother looked slightly confused. Clara was part relieved and part hurt. Abby hadn’t mentioned the night before, hadn’t been remotely personal at all. She had kept things on a cool surface level. Almost superficial. She told stories of her childhood at the house, told her grandmother stories about the Stoney Brook. Through it all, she hadn’t once looked Clara in the eye. She didn’t look forward to the ride home.
Clara tapped her fingers on her thigh in time with the beat of the song on the radio. The station had come in clear for ten whole minutes, as it had been going in and out as they drove the narrow mountain roads, the signal getting lost in the valleys they drove through. They’d been on the road for an hour, and not one word had been passed between them. Finally Abby broke the silence.
“What did you think of Grandma?”
Surprised to hear her voice, Clara glanced over at Abby, whose eyes were focused firmly on the winding road. “I thought she was great. I really enjoyed talking to her.”
“Yeah. I do, too.” Abby was quiet for a moment longer, her expression pensive, something obviously bothering her. “I’m sorry about last night, Clara.” She still would not look at her.
Clara waited, but there was no more coming. “Why are you sorry?”
“Because I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I don’t know why that happened, but I guess it did.”
“What wrong idea would that be?” Clara was trying to keep her rising anger in check. It wouldn’t do to end up in a fight while stuck in a car.
“The idea that I can do that. That we can do that.” She finally managed a small glance at Clara, but the moment she saw the look in Clara’s eyes she turned back to the road ahead.
“Though you were obviously able to do that last night.”
“That was a mistake. Like I said, I don’t know where it came from, or how it happened, but it did. That was wrong of me, Clara, and I hope you can forgive me.” She spared another glance, her eyes filled with pain and confusion.
Clara felt her anger totally deflate at that look, and simply nodded, looking out her window.
Stephanie watched her daughter dip the newly-iced doughnuts into the colorful sprinkles. Clara’s actions were slow, her mind seemingly somewhere else. She noticed it more and more in her, and was beginning to get concerned.
“Hmm?” Clara said absently, placing another doughnut on another tray for another day at the bakery. She peeled off her latex glove, as the last of the doughnuts had been finished and glanced over at her mother. Stephanie was watching her, brows drawn.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah. I’m good.” Clara tried to give her mother as genuine a smile as she could. Her thoughts were scattered, and she was having a hard time staying focused.
“I need to ask you a favor. Plus, it’ll give you extra money in your pocket.”
Clara sighed. “Mom, I can’t do a double again today.”
“No, it has nothing to do with the bakery.” Stephanie chuckled, finishing up the paperwork she’d been working on. She stacked the pages nicely, and set them aside, turning her full attention to her daughter. “Do you remember Linda Bethel?”
“The Girl Scout cookie lady?”
“Yes, Linda’s the one who always bought cookies from Kerri. Well, this weekend she’s having a birthday party, and she wants to hire you.”
Clara’s brows drew. “Hire me to do what?”
Stephanie hesitated a moment before answering. She wasn’t entirely sure what Clara’s reaction would be. “To do readings for her party guests.” She chewed on her bottom lip, waiting for the fallout. She was pleasantly surprised when there wasn’t any, just a curious glance from her youngest. “She wants psychic readings, medium readings, psychometry, all of it.”
“How does she know I do all that?” Clara asked, sitting back in her chair, curious.
“Because I told her you do. Despite what you might think, Clara, I’m proud of you and who you are.”
Clara smiled, touched. “Thank you. But you know I’ve gotten out of the voodoo biz.”
“Honey,” Stephanie began, taking hold of one of her daughter’s hands. “I’ve thought a lot about that over the past year, and I think your wrong to have stopped. You’ve been given a gift by God, or by my mom, or whoever is in charge of that kind of thing. I truly think you’re wasting it. And,” she added, holding up a hand to forestall whatever Clara was about to say. “I don’t feel you’re happy here. I’m telling you this as a mother, and as a boss. Your heart isn’t in icing doughnuts,” she indicated the trays Clara had filled. “This isn’t what you’re supposed to do with your life.”
Clara could only stare at her mother in disbelief. Had she and Abby been talking or something?
“See, the thing is this. All of us – me, your dad, even Kerri – are doing what we can to get by in this world. We don’t have any special gifts or talents. None of us can go write a novel. Can’t go record a song or paint a painting. You, however, have got a golden ticket. Why would you let that pass you by?” There was so much earnestness in Stephanie’s voice that Clara was touched all over again. “Don’t let your life pass you by, too. I don’t want someday for you to wake up and realize you’ve wasted your life, working in a bakery and icing doughnuts at the ass crack of day.”
All Clara could do was stare. She’d never heard her mother talk like this before, and had no idea she felt that way. “I have to admit, I’m stunned. I honestly didn’t think you supported me much in what I did.”
Stephanie sighed, stung by the words, but knew they were true. “I didn’t support you early on, that’s no secret. I really regret that, honey, and I hope you know that. I know I should have been there more for you during this, and I have to live with myself knowing that. To be perfectly honest, I think I was jealous.”
“Jealous?” Stephanie definitely had Clara’s attention at that.
“Yeah. Not so much at what you can do. Lord knows I have no desire to see dead people.” She smiled at that, as did Clara. “But you figure, my mother died when I was so young. You have no idea how much I would have done just to have her with me for one day during some hard times in my life. I’ve never really had a mom, Clara. Yet, I find out she was with you all along.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. I never thought of it that way.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for, sweetie. That’s just how it was laid out to be. What are you always saying: our lives were mapped out before we got here? I did this to myself, for whatever reason, and so now I just have to be happy and proud that my mom is helping to guide you.”
Clara’s eyes welled as she took her mother in a tight hug. “Thank you, Mom,” she whispered into the embrace. “You have no idea how much I’ve needed to hear this from you.”
“I’m sorry it took so long.” Stephanie squeezed her daughter tight, then let her go. “But I really do want you to think about what I said. If you need the bakery to help pay your mortgage, then work at the bakery to help pay your mortgage. Don’t stay here because you’ve given up, or are being stubborn, or don’t think there’s anything else out there for you.” She made sure she had Clara’s full attention. “Okay?”
Clara nodded. “Okay. And yes, I’ll be the Girl Scout cookie lady’s party favor.”
Stephanie grinned, pride shining in her eyes. “I’ll let her know.”
Clara parked down the street, locking the car as she stepped up onto the sidewalk. She tried not to focus any attention the few doors down from her destination, not wanting to think about it. About her. It had been nearly a week since she and Abby had arrived back into town from Grandma’s house. Clara had heard nothing from Abby, nor had she tried to contact her.
The storefront was still empty, the lease sign where she had seen it last, handing on the inside of glass and wood door. She cupped her hands around her face against the glass and looked inside. The space was narrow, but went back far into the building. Signs and stickers from the previous leasers were still visible. From the looks of it, the shop had been a skateboard store.
As she looked into the store’s depths, her mind began to show her images. She saw a big sign above the, and painted on the storefront glass: SOUL SEARCHER. Inside she could imagine anything that a searching soul would be looking for, whether it was spiritual needs, organic foods and teas, books on coming out, maybe.
She could see an archway leading into an adjacent room, which couldn’t be seen from the sidewalk. Depending on the size, she could imagine a curtained-off area where she could do readings. Bring in a few glass cases to showcase jewelry and healing stones. Candles, maybe display some incense burners, the smell of incense wafting through the store.
Clara’s daydream was interrupted when she saw the reflection of a familiar, but unwelcome face in the window next to her. She turned, doing her best to hide her annoyance.
“Hey, Jordan. How are you?”
“Hi. I thought that was you.” The big man glanced into the empty store then at Clara curiously. “Window shopping?”
“Sort of.” She gave him a sheepish smile. “What’s going on?”
“Eh, just waiting for Abby.” Clara’s blood began to boil at the statement, but she said nothing. Jordan continued on, not realizing he was one step away from being star of a homicide scene. “I’m glad I saw you, actually. We did this amazing investigation over the weekend that I want you to take a look at the footage.” He grinned charmingly. “I had asked Abby to come with us, you know, get some more experience with paranormal research since she seems so interested in it, but she said she was going out of town.”
Yeah, you prick. She was with me at her grandmother’s house. She even kissed me! Clara kept a smile on her face, not letting on what she was really thinking.
Jordan shrugged, yet again oblivious of the rage he was causing inside Clara. “Next time, huh?”
Both turned to see Abby walking towards them. The pub-owner eyed first Clara then Jordan, then her gaze turned back to the medium.
“Hey, Abby.” Clara shoved her hands into the pockets of her shorts, trying to stop herself from throttling the pair. “How are you?” She felt so fake. Where once she had seen such warmth in Abby’s green eyes, now she saw a stranger. Perhaps she’d never known Abby at all.
“I’m doing well. You?” Abby asked, her voice carefully controlled. She stepped up next to Jordan, who put a protective – or was that possessive? – hand on her back. Abby didn’t lean into the touch, but she didn’t pull away from it, either.
“Can’t complain.” Clara gave her a smile, but felt her heart turning to ice. She couldn’t take the pleasantries anymore, and the sight of Jordan’s hands on her was making Clara crazy. “Well, you two kids have fun.” She flashed them both one more smile, then turned and walked to her car, her pace picking up the closer she got, almost as though the confines of the vehicle would save her, somehow.
Once she slid inside behind the wheel, she let out a long, deep breath. The sting of tears to her eyes surprised her as she realized she felt like her heart was breaking. Seeing Abby standing there with Jordan, who obviously felt comfortable enough with Abby to be physical with her. What did that mean? Were they seeing each other? Why did she feel betrayed?
“Damn it, Abby,” she whispered, smacking the steering wheel with the palm of her hand. She started the car and drove away, determined to never see Abby again.
Thirteen pair s of eyes looked intently at Clara, who stood in the middle of the living room, the women seated on various pieces of furniture, waiting. Clara closed her eyes, listening to the energies that were swirling around her. Finally a bit of information stuck.
“Okay. Which one of you has something to do with a dog food making facility? Dog food, cat food…” She wrinkled her nose, able to smell the odors of the large plant, even as she saw a quick snapshot of it in her mind.
“Oh my god!” one of the ladies said, bringing her hands up to cover her mouth. “My father-in-law used to work at the Alpo plant in Tennessee for years.”
Clara looked at her. “Did he like fast cars, too? I’m seeing them going round and round and round the track.” She moved her finger in a quick circle to help emphasize her vision.
The woman squealed again. “Yes! He used to restore cars during his off time. Muscle cars.”
“Okay, ladies. I think we have a winner to start us off.” Clara grinned, proud that she’d managed to connect so quickly.
The readings, and the information, flowed quick and strong. Clara made her way around the room, giving a little to each person there. Two of the women had no one they wished to connect with from the other side, but Clara was able to work with them, too. One woman she dazzled by reading the memories from her wedding ring, while the second she worked on her health.
“Okay, Moira,” she said, looking at the woman, though what she was seeing had nothing to do with the petit red head sitting in front of her. In Clara’s mind she saw the black silhouette of a human form. She saw no clothing, no internal organs, just the solid black form. She felt the need to concentrate on the legs. The area of the right knee began to glow red, getting brighter by the second, until it was an almost blinding, pulsing light.
“What do you see?” Moira asked, transfixed by the medium.
“What’s going on with your right knee? You’ve got an injury there.” Clara focused in on the pulsing red and was able to see a thin black line cross the reddened area. “You’ve had surgery there, and it still bothers you.”
Moira and a couple of her close friends gasped quietly, murmurs spreading through the gathered group about the knee injury she’d received during a car accident ten years before, which had required surgery to correct.
“How did you know that?” Moira asked, a little disturbed.
“I see it.” She reached down to the woman’s skirt-clad knee. “It’s about right here, your scar.” She traced a curved line with her finger.
Moira pulled up the skirt just enough to reveal her bare knee, and a faded scar. Clara grinned, amazed herself at what she’d seen, and what had been able to be proven.
“Okay. Let me see what else.” Again she studied the figure – the knee still pulsing red – to see what, if anything she’d see. “Oh, Moira. You need to stop smoking.” Again a murmuring of words and gasps. One woman laughed, claiming she’d been telling her friend to stop smoking for years.
“Why?” Moira said, somewhat defensive.
“Well, your lungs are beginning to glow a faint red, but I promise it’ll get worse within the next – “ Clara waited until she saw a number in her mind. “ – five years.” She shook her head to shake the focus from the black figure and looked at the real woman. “You can still stop it, if you stop now. If not,” she shrugged. “It’s not pretty.”
The party ended at nearly eleven o’clock, and Clara was exhausted. She’d given out her phone number to eight of the women, all of which wanted to set up private readings with her. Clara was filled with mixed feelings at that. Did she want to go back into it? Yes, she’d heard what both Abby and her mother had said, and their words felt right. Even still, if she went back, she’d have to commit to it again, and possibly find more heartbreak, and possibly have to give bad news to the folks she read for. That didn’t happen often, but it did happen enough to where it could be hard on her.
She turned out the light in her bedroom, getting herself settled in bed. The night was calm and peaceful, but she felt a mixture of glee and apprehension, tough couldn’t quite name the source. As she lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling she decided to do something she hadn’t done in a very long time. She missed Rebecca, and decided she wanted to go see her.
Taking several deep breaths, Clara relaxed herself, allowing her mind to flow into the altered state that would launch her soul to the other side, where she felt her grandmother’s presence and anticipation of the visit. Closing her eyes, she allowed her thoughts to drift away, closing a gate behind them so her mind was clear and calm. It took a few tries, as it had been a long time since she’d meditated, and she’d had a lot of excitement that night at the party. Finally it began to take.
The house which Clara had come to know was her grandmother’s house on the other side, was quiet, as usual. The front room was small, arched bookshelves built into the walls lining two walls, an angled doorway connecting the two walls. A couch and two chairs were the furniture in the front room, while off to the right was a large archway that led to another room, which was like a kitchen with counters and cabinets, though no cooking surfaces, as eating wasn’t a necessity there. On the back wall of the room, the longest of the two with bookshelves, was another archway that led back to the bedroom.
Clara walked into that room, always loving the feel of the space. The room was very different than the other rooms of the house. The room was large, the outside wall reaching out in a semi-circle, the wall made almost entirely of windows. The room was always filled with golden light from the outside world with it’s golden skies. To the left, tucked back against the wall was a bed covered in white bedding, while a leather lounger was placed in front of the windowed wall. Clara knew this was where her grandmother did her own meditations, which was often how she communicated with Clara.
Rebecca was there now. She had been in deep meditation when Clara had entered, but opened her eyes and gave her granddaughter a warm smile.
“I’ve missed you, Clara.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
Rebecca patted the lounger beside her. Clara walked over to her, a bit hesitant, as she was mixed with a feeling of coming home, as well as not so sure this was her world anymore.
“Please sit,” Rebecca said, feeling Clara’s hesitation. She patted the lounger again.
The lounger almost looked like a deck lounger, except it was sturdy furniture made of wood and leather, and was nearly as wide as a double bed. Clara sat next to her grandmother, leaning back against the reclined rest.
“How have you been?” she asked, trying to find her stride again on the other side.
“Good, though very sad.” Rebecca glanced over at her granddaughter, her beautiful face filled with concern. “I was worried, Clara, I have to admit. I wasn’t sure if you would come back to me.”
Clara felt a pang of guilt. “I know. I’m sorry. I wasn’t really all that sure, either.” She met her grandmother’s gaze. “I feel so compelled to come back, though.”
Rebecca’s smile was brilliant. “I’m so happy to hear that. I know how you feel about all this, and I hear every single internal battle you have.” She turned to her side, facing Clara. “I know this isn’t easy for you, and I’m proud of you for coming. I love you so much, Clara, and I want you to be happy. I want you to follow your chosen path.”
Clara mirrored her position. “I do, too. I just don’t know if I have the strength to do it.”
“Oh, yes you do. You are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for. You can’t lose sight of that wonderful inner strength you possess. You’ve been through so much in your life to give you that strength, Clara.”
“But it got so hard!” Clara felt frustration building, feeling like she was being a spoiled brat.
Rebecca smiled. “You’re far too hard on yourself. Of course it’s hard. But you wouldn’t have this gift if you weren’t strong enough to handle it, and all the good and bad things that come with it. It’s all part of it, sweetie.”
Clara sighed. “I know.” She felt defeated, knowing that everything Rebecca told her was dead on, but she was struggling with her decision.
“Clara,” Rebecca said softly, reaching out and touching her granddaughter’s arm. “You’ll never find peace and happiness if you don’t find your way back to your path. Something will always niggle at you, something missing. Trust me on this.”
Clara looked into her grandmother’s gaze for a long moment, feeling the truth in those words. “Okay. You’re right.” She sighed again. “Now, what about this Abby business? What the hell?”
Rebecca grinned, shaking her head. “I can’t tell you that, but I promise everything will work out as it’s supposed to . You will find your happiness.”
Relieved to be with Rebecca again, and feeling hope for the first time in a long time, Clara hugged her tight, extremely grateful to have her in her life. “I love you, Grandma.”
“I love you, too, Clara.” Rebecca kissed the top of her head. “I promise. Everything will work out.”
“Okay. I’m gong to go. I’m tired.”
“You had a big night. I’m very proud of you. You did good.”
“Thanks.” Clara couldn’t keep the huge grin from her face, proud of herself, and happy to hear her grandmother say it, too. “I’ll come back soon.”
“Good. Next time I’ll show you what I’ve been working on in m gardens.”
“Can’t wait to see it.”
Clara felt herself beginning to pull out of the deep meditation, her surroundings coming back into focus. She was about to open her eyes when she felt the pull to return to her meditation, feeling almost as though someone had a message for her.
She calmed her breathing and began to return, only to realize she wasn’t heading back to her grandmother’s house. Instead, she was at an ocean, and it was dark, which was confusing, as the other side is never dark. Curious, and a bit wary, she continued on.
The ocean was a dark entity spreading out far from the rocky beach, which white-capped waves pounded on. Looking up into the dark sky, Clara saw the moon, which was full of shadows and omen. The rocky cliffs that surrounded the beach on three sides were steep and unforgiving. A fall would mean death.
“Where am I?” Clara felt uneasy, as though she were being watched. It felt as though she were in the after shadow, but didn’t now how she’d gotten there, nor where in the after shadow she was.
Turning in a full circle, she looked for a way away from the beach, feeling a strong need to leave, and leave quickly. She saw an opening from a crag in the rock face, and began to walk towards it, hoping that the other side would be just that – the other side.
She got to the crag and was about to pass under it when she felt compelled to turn back to the beach. A dark figure stood at the shoreline, wrapped in a dark cloak. The figure’s back was turned to Clara, so she couldn’t see who it was. Long, black hair blew in the nonexistent breeze.
Feeling that perhaps this person was why she’d been called to the after shadow, she decided to see what the deal was. As she got closer to the figure, she felt more and more nervous, as though something bad were about to happen, or as if she were entering incredibly negative energy. Her steps slowed until she stopped, about five feet from the figure. Part of her felt compelled to take another step, while another part of her wanted to flee.
The figure was thin, the cloak it wore outlining the shape of it’s body as the breeze that seemed to be for the figure and the figure alone, hugged the garment close. She saw no arms, and felt as though the figure were actually hugging itself, bringing the cloak even closer into it’s thin body.
Clara stared, wanting to speak, but not having the first clue what to say. She took a tentative step closer but stopped, the figure turning it’s head just enough to show she’d been detected. Clara waited, unsure and uneasy.
The figure turned a bit more, this time it’s whole body and not just the head. As it turned to fully face Clara, she gasped as a nightmare image greeted her. The long, stringy hair was lost in an extremely high hairline, the sloped forehead half gray, mottled skin, half bone. The face was a partially grinning skull, the other part covered with the same gray skin, though flaps hung freely, including an eyeball that hung from the optic nerve.
Clara screamed, though nothing escaped her lips. She quickly backed away, the creature beginning to move towards her. The menace in it’s eyes was plain to see, even as one eye was nothing more than an empty socket. She turned and began to run, not daring to look behind her to see if she was being pursued.
Clara shot up in the bed, Abby’s name on her lips. She was gasping for air, looking desperately around her bedroom for safety. Realizing she’d escaped, she placed a hand to her heart, which pounded painfully hard.
“Jesus Christ!” she gasped, still feeling on edge, and as though the figure had followed her from her worst nightmare to infiltrate the waking light of day. Or night, as it was nearly two in the morning. She cried out again as the doorbell rang out, piercing the quiet of night.
Clara pushed the covers off her and made her way to the living room and the front door. The doorbell rang again, then again. She felt a bit of panic seize her heart as she unlocked the door, worried there was bad news on the other side. Instead, a pale, frantic Abby stood on her doorstep.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry to be here so late. Oh my god, Clara.” Abby began to sob. “I need your help.”
“What’s wrong?” She guided Abby inside the house, closing the locking the door behind her. “Are you okay? Is it Jimmy?”
Abby shook her head, trying to get her emotions under control, but Clara could tell she was terrified. “It’s the pub. It’s not gone, Clara. It’s not gone!”
Clara stared at her in disbelief, truly worried as she’d never seen Abby so shaken before. “What do you mean, it’s not gone?” she asked, voice quiet as she was afraid to hear the answer.
“Whatever it is, it’s not gone! I just left. I don’t even know if I locked the door. I can’t go back there.” She shook her head violently. “I can’t.”
“Okay, okay. Hold on.” Clara took a shaky breath, still shaken from her own incident, which came back in all it’s scary-as-hell glory. Her eyes opened wide, mouth fell open as something occurred to her. “It was playing with me,” she said absently, once again seeing the horrible face.
Clara shook herself out of her thoughts. “Nothing. Come on.” She led Abby to the couch and got her seated. “Tell me what happened.”
Abby nodded, taking a very shaky breath. Her hands were shaking as she tried to take off the light jacket she was wearing. Clara stopped her with a hand to her arm and helped her. “Thank you,” Abby whispered, running a hand through her hair. “Okay. I got a call tonight around ten from my bartender. He told me there was a problem with the shelving behind the bar. Bottles kept falling off, most breaking when they hit the floor. Him and one of the waitresses had found some nails and a hammer, but it did no good. More bottles fell as the night went on. I went in around eleven-thirty to see what was going on. I mean, shit, I can’t afford to lose that much liquor.”
Clara nodded in understanding, her stomach beginning to turn as she saw where this was going. “Okay. Then what?”
“Everything seemed to calm down for awhile, so I decided to head up to my office and do some scheduling since I was already there. We were busy tonight, so I went down to help during the one o’clock rush. Suddenly the entire rack of bottles crashed to the floor. I got cut, my bartender got cut. Clara, it was awful.”
“Oh, Abby.” Clara could feel the fear in Abby.
‘oh, I’m not done yet. So, if we have no alcohol, we can’t very well operate a bar. It was getting close to closing time anyway, so my waitresses began to clear people out while me and my bartender began to clean up the mess. The bar is near empty when the glass rack hanging above the bar explodes, Clara. Wood pieces went flying everywhere! Glasses fell, shattering on the bar, on the floor.” Abby wiped at a tear with a trembling hand. “After that I told Tim and the girls to leave. I came straight over here. Whatever that thing is in there, it was asleep for a little while, but it’s awake now, and it’s pissed!”
All Clara could do was stare at the other woman, astonished. “I don’t know what to say,” she finally managed. “God, I’m so sorry, Abby. I’m really, really sorry. I thought it was gone.”
“it’s not your fault, Clara. You did everything you could that night.”
“Listen, I can see who I can get a hold of. Maybe I can bring in another medium for you-“
“No. I want you to do this. I only trust you, and I want you to get rid of this fucking thing. I’m not going to let it ruin my business. I’ve fought too goddamn hard for it!” Abby exclaimed, near hysterics.
“Hey, calm down.” Clara let out long breath, trying to think of what to do. “Listen, I’m going to head over there. I want you to stay here. Okay?” She held up a hand as Abby was about to protest. “Please, Abby. I need to know you’re safe. Please stay here.”
After a long moment, Abby nodded. “Okay. I’ll stay.”
Clara jingled Abby’s keys against her thigh nervously as she walked towards the Stoney Brook. The lights were still on, and she could hear music pounding from within. It looked almost as though the club were still open and rockin’ with business.
Walking up to the double front doors, Clara tried the handle, not entirely surprised to see that it opened. Now she had two jobs to do: go do a sweep of the entire building to make sure no one had decided to help themselves to the pub, and get rid of the dark entity that awaited within.
She carefully made her way inside, cell phone in hand so she could call 911 at the first sign of mortal trouble. Her gaze was immediately drawn to the bar, and the unbelievable mess that Abby had described. She could imagine how panicked and scared Abby and her co-workers must have been. The air inside the pub was heavy, the energy moving in waves, almost to the point of making Clara feel nauseous. The solar plexus is the chakra where energy is most felt, as it’s brought in through there, and released from there. The solar plexus is located at gut-level, so an abundance of energy was always difficult for Clara to be around.
She made a quick sweep of the building, her heart pounding in her chest, though she wasn’t sure what was scaring her most: a normal person who had let themselves in, or running into the nightmarish creature she’d seen in the after shadow. Satisfied that no one was in the building, Clara put her cell phone away and locked the front doors. No one could help her do this. Well, no one that she could call on the earth plane, that is.
Clara’s heart was pounding as she stood in the center of the main room and closed her eyes. She felt so vulnerable, as she knew she was being watched. What had tormented Abby and her employees that morning was still there, and it was angry that it had more company. Clara didn’t want to go into the after shadow quite yet, knowing that it would do no good. No, what she felt as she reached out with her senses was that this thing was hiding. It was jumping back and forth between dimensions that Clara didn’t fully understand. It was almost like it would peek it’s head around a corner, then it was gone, and by time Clara got to the room where it had been, it no longer existed.
“I’m going to need help,” she said, blowing out a loud breath and looking around the room. “Grandma and anyone else you can bring to help you, I need you now.”
Clara began to walk towards the stairs leading to the second floor, not a clue as to what she was going to do once she reached the second level, when she stopped. She felt a presence in the room she was about to leave, but knew that presence. A smile spread across her face as she turned back towards the bar. Standing next to three bar stools that had been gathered by the patrons who’d been sitting on them, was Rebecca. As when Clara always saw a spirit, she saw her guide with her third eye, not her two visual eyes. It was almost as though Rebecca’s form had been superimposed on the scene: she was there, but not there.
I’ve come to help you, Clara…
Clara heard the words so clearly in her mind.
“Thank you, Grandma. I don’t know what to do about this.”
I’ve brought help…
As Clara looked on, a bright light seemed to squeeze out of the air itself, nearly blinding. Stepping out of the light was a tall woman with blonde hair and a mischievous smile. After her came a man with dark hair, his dark eyes intense, yet he exuded a wonderful sense of calm. Though the man and blonde woman were dressed in normal clothing, Clara couldn’t help but feel that something was different about them. One more figure appeared then. This one was a blonde man, tall with broad shoulders and a kind face, though his blue eyes were piercing.
Clara felt a sense of awe as she looked at the three new-comers, speech leaving her at the beauty of them and their entrance. She looked to her grinning grandmother, hoping she’d give her some sort of clue as to who they were.
Clara, this is my help. Gabriel, Azrael and Michael…
Clara didn’t know what to say. She knew – though couldn’t quite believe it – that she was standing in the presence of angels. Archangels, for that matter.
“You don’t have wings,” Clara said stupidly, the first thing that came to mind.
The woman, Gabriel, smiled.
We come in the form you need us to. You would never have believed who we were had we come with wings and shining halos….
Clara shook her head, gaze riveted to the stunning woman. “No, I wouldn’t have.”
So, we’ve come like this… Azrael said, indicating his black clothing. Even street clothes, the Angel of the Dead kept his penchant for dark clothes.
Rebecca spoke next.
The dark entity in here is too much for you to handle by yourself, Clara. We need you to concentrate and fill this entire building with light of purity. We’ll do the rest…
Clara nodded, almost as though she understood what her grandmother had just told her to do. Somehow she knew it would come to her as she did it. After all, that’s how she’d figured out most of her abilities. The same graceful way they’d come, the angels disappeared, followed by Rebecca, who gave her granddaughter an encouraging smile.
Clara shook herself free of her lingering shock and made her way towards the second floor office, where she felt drawn. The upstairs area was calm, even peaceful as Clara walked through, running her fingertips along the felt of one of the pool tables. The office was dark, which surprised her, as she’d turned and left the light on when she’d done her walk-through. Wary, she reached into the dark room, flicking the light switch. She gasped in surprise as she saw a dark figure vanish before her eyes in the corner. Hand to her heart, she forced herself to step inside the room. It was cold, the air filled with energy, all of which made just about every hair on Clara’s body stand on end.
“I know you’re here, you son of a bitch,” she said, turning in a small circle in the room, trying to figure out where the presence had gone, and where the source of the energy was coming from. She knew she was being watched, and it took everything in her power to not run and get the hell out of the Stoney Brook, Abby or no Abby.
Clara whirled around to her right, feeling a quick chill ride along that side of her body. She saw nothing. The scrape of one of the filing cabinet drawers being tugged open startled her. She looked at it, staring in disbelief as the drawer moved again, metal scraping on metal until the entire drawer was yanked free, landing on the carpeted floor with a loud crash, accompanied by Clara’s cry of surprise.
Another crash rented the air as the handset of the telephone on the desk clattered to the desktop. Her heart was pounding, her breathing quick and labored as fear gripped her insides.
“Come out, you coward!” she yelled, voice echoing in the confines of the small office. She was tempted to go into the after shadow and find the presence, but something screamed inside her head not to do it. She realized it was the voice of her grandmother.
In the years since Clara had been dealing with the other side, and the spirits that inhabited it, she’d never seen anything as negative and downright dangerous as the entity that seemed to be in Abby’s pub. She’d never felt true terror in a haunted location before. Now, as she stood in the office, eyes darting around everywhere, trying to sense what would come next, she was nearly petrified with fear.
Clara gasped then cried out in pain as a searing hotness swept across her arm. She looked down, shocked to see two parallel angry welts across the side of her forearm. Taking a shaky breath, she closed her eyes, trying to focus, even as her heart raced and sweat broke out all over her body.
A sense of peace began to steal over her as she began to thrust energy out into the room, visualizing in her mind’s eye as the entire room began to fill with a white light, which spread out into the main room of the second floor, then down the stairs, then crept into every nook and cranny of the pub. She spread her arms wide, allowing the energy to push out of her, cleansing the space with the light of life. She could feel others beginning to gather nearby, and knew it was Rebecca and the angels, joining her light with their own. The light in Clara’s mind was beginning so blinding she could hardly stand to look at it anymore.
Clara felt the entity beginning to react, a dark push against the light. She could sense it nearby, almost as though it were trying to make its way back into the room after it had run from her, trying to combat the forces that were trying to dispel it.
In her mind she saw the small army of her grandmother and the three angels as well as the dark figure she’d seen in her meditation. The entity was waging a fierce war with it’s own dark energy, while the other four, and Clara, tried to bind it with white light and positive energy.
The figure stopped, standing in the wave of light it had been bathed in and looked at Clara. It’s dark, sunken eyes were filled with hatred that made Clara shiver. The creature grinned, it’s skeletal features twisting in malice as it opened it’s mouth wide, a ball of black heat flying out and hitting Clara right in the solar plexus. She nearly doubled over, almost losing concentration as nausea like nothing she’d ever felt hit her. It began in her gut then radiated throughout her entire body, making her shaky and unsteady.
She almost lost the vision in her head but it all came back into focus soon enough for her to realize the creature was running right at her. She didn’t know what to do, her body already trembling from the blast of energy he’d shot at her. She wasn’t sure what would happen if she was hit head-on by this thing. It got closer and closer when suddenly Michael stepped in front of Clara, swinging a sword of light and catching the figure right at the neck, destroying it in one fell swoop, which released a blast of energy and a nearly deafening scream that shook the spiritual plane.
Clara was knocked to her butt as the creature seemed to explode, her body on overload as energy seeped into every pore. She blinked rapidly as the vision disappeared, leaving her alone in the office, a quiet calm filling the space. She looked around, almost as though seeing it for the first time.
After a moment Clara got up off the floor, wiping off the seat of her running pants as she did. She ran a still-trembling hand through her hair and took an uneven breath.
“My god,” she muttered, unsure of what had just happened.
You did me proud, sweetie…
Clara smiled as Rebecca’s voice spoke softly in her head.
So proud. I love you…
“I love you, too, Grandma.”
Clara was exhausted as she let herself into her house. After everything had come to a crashing end she had saged the entire pub, which involves lighting a bundle of sage and washing the space with the smoke, especially in the corners, as sprits enter and exit via corners, which people often forget to cleanse. She had filled the entire building with light, freeing the air of negative energy. She was satisfied that the Stoney Brook was completely clear now, and it had been spiritually locked, which means spirit energy is not welcome, nor able to enter.
A lamp had been left on in the living room, but the sun was starting to come up, and Clara had no intention of staying up to need light. She flicked off the lamp and made her way towards her bedroom, ducking her head into every room along the way, yet to find Abby. She stopped in the doorway of her own bedroom, watching as Abby slept. She was curled up on the comforter, the paperback that had been on Clara’s bedside table curled up in her arms.
Clara leaned her shoulder against the doorframe, sighing from extreme exhaustion, and completely charmed by the sight of Abby sleeping. For a moment she was undecided: should she wake Abby to either go home or move to the guestroom bed? Should she go sleep in the guestroom herself? Climb into her own bed next to Abby?
Making up her mind, as she was entirely too exhausted to go anywhere else, she stepped out of her shoes and pants as she walked to the bed, shimmying out of her bra while keeping her t-shirt on. Only in a tee and undies, she climbed under the covers and promptly fell deeply asleep.
Abby started, realizing the sun was blazing in through a window and right into her closed eyes. She found that confusing, considering her bedroom window was on the same wall as the bed, and the morning sun never woke her up. Then she realized she was not only bed with someone, but was cuddled up behind them. She opened her eyes and saw brown hair, and a lot of it. The body she was pressed to was warm and soft, her arm around the person’s waist, and a hand resting on it.
It hit her. Oh shit. She lifted her head slightly to get a look at her surroundings and found that she was in fact in Clara’s bedroom, in her bed. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!
As slowly and quietly as she could, she extricated herself from the warmth of Clara’s body, immediately missing it’s softness and comfort. She climbed off the bed, realizing she had been sleeping on top of the covers, still in the clothes she’d been wearing all day the day before. She had to pee like mad, so hurried to the bathroom down the hall rather than using the one in Clara’s bedroom. She didn’t want to waken her.
Clara rolled over onto her back, her shoulder screaming at her for lying on it so long. That had been the position she’d fallen asleep in, and wondered if she’d ever moved. A glance out the window told her it was late morning, if not early afternoon. She felt groggy and sore, and quickly realized she was not alone.
Abby sat on the chair in the corner, reading the paperback she’d started reading the night before, when she’d fallen asleep. Seeing that Clara was awake, Abby slapped the book closed and set it aside.
“Hey,” she said, her voice soft.
“Hi.” Clara sat up, still trying to blink the sleepies out of her eyes, which felt heavy and riddled with bits of sand. “What time is it?”
“Almost noon. What time did you get in?”
Clara thought for a moment, trying to think past her exhaustion. “I think it was almost five.”
“Damn.” Clara scrubbed her face with her hands, trying to wake herself up.
Abby stood and walked over to the bed, standing beside Clara. “Can I get you anything? Coffee? Water?”
Clara shook her head. “No. I gotta pee, then I’ll fill you in on what happened.”
“Okay. I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”
As Abby left the room, closing the door behind her, Clara got out of bed, looking out on the bright and sunny day before disappearing into the bathroom. She felt like she’d been run over by a truck. After taking care of her business, she washed her face and brushed her teeth. Feeling almost alive and refreshed, she put clean clothes on and padded out to the kitchen where a pot of coffee was beginning to perk to life.
Abby waited patiently at the table, feeling somewhat nervous about being in Clara’s house again, even as she felt relief from the other woman’s comforting presence. She hoped Clara would be angry she’d started a pot of coffee, but Abby knew she’d need something to concentrate on as she listened to what Clara had to say.
“Smells good,” Clara said, padding into the kitchen and heading over to a cabinet to remove two coffee mugs.
“I hope you don’t mind. I figured you’d probably want some to help wake you up.” Abby smiled sheepishly. “Even if it is decaf.”
“Hey, decaf has it’s purposes, too.” Clara put the bottle of Irish Crème on creamer on the table, as well as a bowl of sugar and Equal. They were both quiet as coffee was poured and prepared. After a long, satisfying drink, Clara felt that much more human. “Your pub is completely clear now. I know I said that before, but I know it is this time.”
“What happened?” Abby noticed something on Clara’s arm. “Oh my god! What happened to you?”
Clara looked down at the double scratches she’d received, which were somewhat caked with dried blood. She’d been so tired when she’d gotten home that she’d forgotten to clean them out. “Battle scars,” she said absently, taking another sip from her cup.
Not fully understanding, Abby said nothing. She waited patiently for Clara to continue.
“What you had in that place was a dark entity. Basically what that is, is a mass of negative, dark energy. It’s not necessarily a ‘spirit’ in that it was once an alive person. Dark entities usually hang around the after shadow, trolling to find spirits and humans to torment. I truly think it was using the other spirits in the Stoney Brook to cause problems. When I crossed those, it pissed it off.”
“So, when it got angry, it reacted violently?”
Clara nodded. “Exactly.”
“So, how did you get rid of it?”
Clara chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, unsure if she should tell Abby the entire story. How much would she believe? She put her coffee cup down, wanting to give all her attention to Abby. “You might think I’m nuts when I tell you this, Abby, but I swear it’s the truth. I haven’t lied to you yet, and I’m not about to start now. Okay?”
Abby could only nod, intrigued by the serious tone of Clara’s voice .
“My grandmother brought a few friends to help me get rid of this thing.”
“A few friends,” Abby said, feeling there was much more to the story than just simply a few friends.
“Yes. A few angelic friends.” Clara studied Abby’s face, carefully studying her reactions. She saw curiosity and intrigue, but never disbelief or disapproval. “As in, Archangels. Gabriel, Michael and Azrael came to help her. Help me. Well, I guess help you to get this thing out of your pub. I wasn’t strong enough to do it myself.”
Abby sat back in her chair, not doubting Clara’s story for a minute, which she had a hard time understanding. Wasn’t that absolutely absurd? Angels? Come on. How was that possible? And yet, she believed every word, felt everything Clara was telling her was nothing but the absolute truth. Her heart opened to Clara, as she could see the worry in her eyes. Without thinking, Abby reached across the table and took one of her hands.
“I believe you, Clara. Thank you for doing what you did. You have no idea how grateful I am.”
Clara had to stop herself from blowing out a breath of relief. She was worried that Abby would only not believe her, but would once again walk out of her life because of it.
“You’re welcome. I’m glad I could help.”
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence as Abby gently released Clara’s hand and returned her attention back to her coffee. After a moment she asked, “Are me and my staff safe now?”
Clara nodded. “Yes.”
Abby nodded, pleased. “Again, thank you.” She felt her guilt beginning to gnaw at her, and she wasn’t comfortable with that. It was time for her to go. She pushed away from the table and walked over to the sink, dumping out the rest of her coffee and rinsing the cup. “I should go.”
Clara stood, feeling her heart sink. She had hoped that maybe they could reestablish some semblance of their friendship, but Abby obviously wasn’t interested. She also stood, ready to walk Abby out.
Abby gave her a shy smile, then turned and headed towards the door, Clara behind her. Suddenly she stopped, unaware of why. She turned and looked at Clara. “Come by the Brook tomorrow, Clara. I’ll buy you lunch.”
Surprised by the invite, Clara simply nodded. “Okay. I will.”
Abby smiled, then quickly hurried out of the house.
Clara pulled up in front of the Stoney Brook, not sure why she’d agreed to come at all. She felt somewhat apprehensive, and just hoped it went well. When Abby had tossed out the invite the previous day, the look on her face had said it all. She wasn’t even sure herself why she’d asked Clara to come for lunch. What did that mean? Did she not actually want Clara there?
“Shit,” Clara muttered, turning off her car and climbing out. Her cell phone chirped to life as she locked her door. The display screen showed her it was Kerri on the other end of the line. They had planned to get together later in the day. “Hey.”
“Hey, Clara. Are we still on? I really want your help in deciding which color to choose.”
Clara rolled her eyes. “Kerri, why don’t you just wait until your fifth month ultrasound?”
“Because I want you to tell me, that’s why. I want to know.”
“Fine. Yes, we’re still on. I’m at the Stoney Brook right now to have lunch with Abby, but I don’t think that’ll take all that long.”
“Okay. How about I come around three?”
“Sounds good. See you then.” The sisters said their goodbyes and Clara tucked her phone into her pants’ pocket as she pushed through the front doors of the pub. She was curious how it would feel after everything that had happened two mornings ago. She noticed an immediate difference in the atmosphere and air of the place. It was quiet and calm. Peaceful.
“Hey, you’re the ghost lady, aren’t you?” asked the bartender, whom Clara had seen there before. She walked over to him.
“Yep. Sure am.”
“Well then let me buy you a drink. Anything you want. We’re all so grateful for what you did. Scared the shit outta Abby and me the other night.”
“Ah, so you were there, huh?”
He shivered, nodding. “Never been so scared.” He rested his palms on the bar, leaning on her arms. “What can I get you?”
Clara studied the new shelving that had been installed, the bottle of various types of liquor placed in neat rows. “How about a chocolate martini?”
The bartender nodded. “Chocolate martini coming up.”
“Thanks.” She looked around the pub, looking for Abby as her drink was being made. Not seeing her, she decided to ask. “Hey, where can I find Abby?”
The barkeep paused in his task for a moment, thinking. “Upstairs in the office I think. Least that’s where she was off to about fifteen minutes ago.”
“Okay, thanks. I’m going to head up there. Be back for my drink in a few.”
“Sounds good.” He gave her a charming smile then returned to making her drink.
Clara made her way up the stairs, flattening herself against the wall as two girls came down, the three unable to pass at the same time. The second floor was quiet, a lone man playing pool at the far table. He glanced in her direction as she headed his way on her way to the office. After a quick nod of greeting, he turning back to his game, concentrating on sacking the four ball in the corner pocket.
As Clara neared the office she heard voices – one of them was Abby, the other was that of a male. She was just positive it was Jordan’s voice. She stopped short of the closed door to the office, trying to swallow her jealousy. She had no right or reason to feel it. Abby was a grown woman and could do what she wanted, with whomever she wanted. But then she decided she wanted to pull out his eyeteeth with pliers anyway.
Taking a deep breath, she tried to decide what she wanted to do. After a moment’s indecision, she raised her fist and knocked on the hard wood. She could hear Jordan’s voice rumbling low behind the door, but had no idea what he was saying. Abby’s voice followed, just as low, then, “Come in!”
Clara pushed the door open, and her stomach dropped as she saw Jordan grab Abby’s hand and tug her towards him, lowering his head to quickly catch her in a kiss. He pulled away grinning.
“I’ll see you later, then,” he said to her, winking at Clara as he left the office.
Clara stood there stunned, unsure of what to do or say. Abby stood by her desk, where Jordan had left her, shyly glancing at Clara. “Hey,” she finally said, plastering a smile on her lips. The lips that Jordan had just kissed. The kiss that Abby hadn’t fought.
Clara could feel her anger and jealousy beginning to rage within her, and she wasn’t entirely sure she was going to be able to contain it. Jaw muscles clenching and unclenching, she stayed by the open door. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” she finally managed, her voice low and strained.
“You weren’t interrupting anything, Clara. He just showed up.”
“I see. Should I leave? Maybe the two of you can finish what you started.”
Abby stared at her for a moment, shocked at Clara’s tone of voice. “Nothing was started, Clara,” she said, somewhat on the defensive. Why did she feel such a strong need to have Clara believe her? “He came by to ask me to lunch, I told him I had other plans, and then you came.”
“And he kissed you.” Clara felt sick at the accusatory tone, but she couldn’t help herself, or stop.
“I don’t think it’s any of your business what he does. Do you?” Abby placed a hand on her hip, feeling her anger beginning to bubble. In truth she had been shocked when Jordan had done that, but now that she was getting pissed, she wasn’t about to let Clara know that.
“Is that why you called me here? Right at that moment?” Clara moved her way into the office a bit further, all rational thought leaving, which she knew was dangerous. If she were smart she would have turned right around and leave the Stoney Brook, never to return. Too bad she wasn’t smart.
“Clara, that’s ridiculous.”
“Is it? Gotta prove to me that you’re that much more straight, huh?” Clara had no clue where the words were coming from. All she did know was that she couldn’t stop them.
“Please don’t do this,” Abby begged, her head beginning to pound. She had the distinct feeling that things were about to get completely out of hand.
“Don’t do what?” Clara took another step towards her.
“Don’t say something that we’re both going to regret.” Abby stood her ground, even as she wanted to take a step back with every step forward Clara took. Within moments they were nearly toe to toe.
“Oh, I don’t have anything left to say. Except this,” Clara grabbed Abby face and brought it to her own. The kiss was heated and deep instantly, demanding and harsh. Abby responded, about to grab Clara’s hips, pulling her closer. Before she could Clara pulled away, leaving them both breathless. “The next time he kisses you, you ask yourself if it affects you like this.”
With those words, she walked out of Abby’s office and out of her life.
Clara was having a hell of a time concentrating on what her sister was saying, which made her feel terrible, considering Kerri was droning on and on about what would eventually be Clara’s first niece. Her mind was a fog of thoughts and snippets of conversations and images. She could still see Jordan kissing Abby, and could still see the disapproving look in Abby’s eyes when Clara had begun to get angry. She could still feel and taste Abby’s mouth…
“Clara? Are you listening to anything I’m saying/” Kerri asked, obvious hurt in her voice.
“Huh?” Clara looked at her sister and was immediately washed over with guilt. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
Kerri studied her for a moment, head slightly cocked to the side as she pondered. “What’s gotten into you today? You’ve basically been on another planet since I got here. Do you want to talk about it?”
Clara immediately shook her head, a slightly panic seizing her. What would her sister say if she knew that Clara had fallen in love with one of her best friends? “No, I’m okay. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright. I was just going to ask you-“
Before Kerri could say another word there was a loud pounding at the door. The sisters looked at each other, Clara shrugging at Kerri’s questioning look. She pushed up off the couch and walked to the door, pulling it open, shocked to see a very angry Abby standing on the doorstep. Without a word or a greeting, or any kind of explanation, Abby pushed past Clara, grabbing her by the hand and tugging her off toward the hall that led to the bedrooms.
“I’m sorry, Kerri, but we need to talk,” Abby tossed over her shoulder as she marched them to her destination. Once inside Clara’s bedroom, she slammed the door closed, whirling on a stunned Clara. “Why the hell did you do that?” she demanded, hands balled into fists at her sides. Clara had never seen her so upset and was completely taken aback.
“Which thing?” Clara asked, her own emotions turning her cocky. She crossed her arms casually over her chest, trying to hide the fiery emotions that were raging through her.
“Why did you leave?”
Clara was surprised, as she figured her leaving was the last thing Abby would be upset about. “Because there was nothing left for me to say or do. You’ve made it very clear since we got back from your grandmother’s house that our friendship and anything else was officially over.”
“Which was wrong of me,” Abby admitted, her anger only dimming a smidge.
“You’re damn right it was! What the hell, Abby? You kiss me, then treat me as if I did something wrong. I can’t play your games. I won’t play your games.” She glared at her, glad to finally say what she’d been dying to say all week.
Abby was quiet for a long moment, staring off out the window, her jaw working as she thought of what to say to that. Finally she gave a heavy sigh, her shoulders slumping slightly. “Why can’t I stay away from you?” she asked, her voice quiet, resigned.
“I don’t know. I can’t answer that other than to tell you that I’ve been in love with you since I was fourteen years old.” Clara threw her hands up in resignation. “There, I said it.”
Abby studied her for a long moment. “Is that what this is?” Clara only stared back at her, unable to answer that question for her. Abby shook her head, running a hand through her hair. “Since the day I met you, I’ve felt drawn to you. I never fully understood why. I thought maybe it was because of what you do. The medium stuff always fascinated me.” She glanced over at Clara. “You fascinated me. Why?” She rushed over to Clara, taking her by the shoulders. “Why? Damn it, Clara! What the hell can’t I get you out of my head? Why do I dream about you? Why does my heart always feel like it’s about to pound out of my fucking chest when I see you?” She shook Clara with the passion of her words and confusion.
Clara remained calm, cupping Abby’s face, holding her still until Abby met her gaze unflinchingly. “Because you’re in love, Abby. Some things are meant to be.” Clara had never felt so much conviction in anything she’d ever said.
Abby had nothing to say to that, so she decided to stop using her head and start using her heart. The kiss happened so quickly that Clara actually took a partial step backward. Abby followed, holding Clara’s mouth to her own, their bodies finally meeting.
Clara bounced back quickly, sliding her hands to Abby’s hips, pulling her as close into her body as she could. The passion inside her was fierce, and she could feel it coming off Abby in waves.
Abby felt overwhelmed and broke the kiss, wrapping her arms around Clara and burrowing her face in her neck. Her breathing was heavy, her heart thudding painfully fast. She sighed in relief as she felt Clara hold her, their breathing the only sound.
“I can hear your heart pounding,” Abby whispered, listening to the fast, but steady cadence.
“It’s kind of pounding,” Clara chuckled.
“That it is.” Abby lifted her head, looking into Clara’s eyes. She raised her hand, brushing her fingertips down Clara’s cheek. “So beautiful,” she whispered. Suddenly she felt shy. “Clara?”
“Yeah?” Clara basked in the affection, feeling like her soul was whole for the first time in her life.
“I don’t know how, but I do love you. It makes no sense, but it’s almost like somehow my soul knows. I’m drawn to you.”
Clara smiled, Abby’s words a balm for every bad thing that had ever happened to her: every heartbreak, every disappointment. She was far too touched to speak, so she let her kiss speak for her. It didn’t take long before a fire had sparked into an explosion of pent up feelings and need.
Abby moaned into the kiss, her hands finding their way to Clara’s back, fingers clenching and unclenching as her want built, the fabric of Clara’s hands gathered into her fists.
Clara was surprised to feel her shirt being tugged upward, realization dawning on her as she allowed her t-shirt to be pulled off. She shook her hair free of the material, immediately returning back to Abby’s mouth, drawn like a drug.
Abby ran her hands over the softness of Clara’s bare back, amazed at just how soft her skin truly was. Her fingers felt the material of the clasp on Clara’s bra and suddenly panic set in. She broke the kiss, looking at Clara with sheepish eyes.
“I have no clue what I’m doing, Clara,” she said, wishing so badly she knew how to work Clara’s body.
Clara grinned then moved to suckle Abby’s neck. “All you gotta do is feel,” she said into the supple skin, her own hands working their way to the buttons on Abby’s shirt.
“I hope you like what you see,” Abby moaned, her eyes falling closed as the warmth of Clara’s mouth moved to the hollow of her throat. “God, I hope so.”
Clara was amused, and charmed by Abby’s self-consciousness. As far as she was concerned, she’d been waiting for this her entire life. She moved away from her as the shirt was completely opened, revealing Abby’s bra-clad torso. Personally, she thought Abby was the most beautiful, precious thing she’d ever seen.
A shiver passed through Abby as her shirt whispered down her arms and finally fell to the floor in a silent pile. Her bra quickly followed, leaving her topless from the waist up. She looked into Clara’s eyes.
“Remember, I’ve given birth,” she warned, hoping beyond hope that Clara would approve of her body. “It’s not the body of a sixteen year old soccer player anymore.”
Clara cupped her face, leaning in close. “Stop. You leave me breathless every time I see you, Abby. To me, you are absolute perfection. I love you.” She sealed her promise with a kiss.
Abby felt overwhelmed with emotion: love, lust. She grabbed Clara in a fierce hug and kiss, needing so badly to be touched and to touch.
Clara backed them up towards her bed, unbuttoning Abby’s jeans the entire time. The denim fell down Abby’s legs, pooling at her feet. Abby skillfully kicked her shoes off, then stepped out of her pants, reaching down to tug her socks off. Left in her underwear, she finished undressing Clara with trembling hands.
Clara pulled Abby down onto the bed with her, moving on top of her, their mouths immediately making contact. Abby groaned at the feel of their naked skin pressed together, her fingers stretching out over the expanse of Clara’s back, wanting to feel as much of that wonderful skin as she could.
“You feel so amazing,” Clara moaned, again finding Abby’s neck with her mouth, one of her hands moving up to capture one of her breasts. She could feel the turgid nipple against her palm.
Abby gasped, words leaving her as she arched her neck, trying to give Clara as much as she could. Sensations flew through her, far too many to decipher, so she just allowed herself to get lost in them.
Clara moved further down Abby’s body, leaving a wet trail as she went, until finally she found a small breast. She took the nipple into her mouth, sucking just hard enough to get a deep groan from Abby. Her body was pulsing with need. She needed to feel all of Abby against her again.
Abby welcomed Clara’s mouth again, gasping as Clara’s thigh made contact with her sex. She opening her legs, giving Clara more room until she was settled, Abby’s own thigh pressing up into an immensely hot wetness.
Clara moaned, pressing herself down onto Abby’s thigh as she pushed herself into Abby. They continued to kiss as Clara set a slow, lazy rhythm, just enough to ease some of the ache while creating a hunger for more.
“God, yes,” Abby sighed, the kiss breaking as both their breathing began to quicken. “That feels so good.”
Clara gave her a quick kiss, then began to make her way down again, needing to taste Abby. She settled herself between spreading legs, wanting so badly to give Abby pleasure.
Abby cried out as Clara began to love her, pleasure beginning to ripple through her with every pass and swipe of Clara’s tongue. She reached down, burying her hands in dark hair as she got lost in sensation once more. She felt the build begin, slowly burning its way throughout her entire body, exploding in a cry that echoed throughout the room.
Clara lovingly kissed her way back up Abby’s body, suckling a nipple on the return trip. She was surprised when she was pushed to her back, Abby climbing on top of her and kissing her with an almost animalistic intensity, which took Clara’s breath away.
Abby wanted to make Clara feel as good as she had, as well as wanted to know what it was like inside her. She explored Clara’s neck and face with kisses and small nips, her hands making their way down her body. The skin was smooth and warm. Heavenly.
Clara moaned as she was entered, her hand tugging on Abby’s shoulder until their mouths met again. Abby found the soft wetness tat enveloped her fingers intoxicating, and knew it was a place she would want to visit again very soon. She set what she felt was a steady stroking rhythm, not sure what she was doing, but trying her best to listen to Clara’s body.
It didn’t take long at all before Clara felt her body bursting with pleasure, her sex clenching down on Abby’s fingers as she gasped, her body trembling with the power of her climax. She could feel the tender, comforting caresses and kisses across her face and upper chest as she came back down to earth.
Abby smiled at Clara when those twilight eyes finally opened again. “Hey.”
Clara swallowed, her mouth dry and cold from breathing so hard during the intensity of her experience. “Hi,” she finally managed. “Wow.”
Abby grinned, pleased. “This was pretty amazing, wasn’t it?”
Clara nodded, her thoughts barely beginning to actually make sense. “What about Jordan?”
Abby shook her head, chuckling. “There was never anything going on between us, Clara. When he kissed me, I was just as surprised as you were.” She placed a kiss on her lips. “I promise.”
“Good.” Clara pulled Abby down on top of her, hugging her close, their bodies molding together. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
As they drifted off into a light sleep, neither had even noticed the sound of the front door closing.
Clara stood on the sidewalk, looking up to make sure the sign was straight. She smiled when arms slid around her waist from behind, Abby’s warmth against her back.
“It looks good, doesn’t it?” Abby said, resting her chin on Clara’s shoulder.
“Hmm. It does.” She rested her head against Abby’s. They both looked up at the brand new sign which read: SOUL SEARCHER. “I can’t believe this is our second store.”
“Eh, I always knew you’d be a success.”
Clara smiled, feeling content and completely loved.
Note from the author ( email@example.com ): This story is somewhat autobiographical of what I’ve been going through over the past year. I’ve developed abilities as a full-blown medium, psychic and past-life reader. I wrote this novel to help me understand more fully what I was capable of.
I’ve recently gone into business doing readings, and have been featured on Denver’s Alice 105.9 FM show with Slacker and Steve, investigating various haunted locations around Denver. You can check out the video, or listen to their live broadcast of the events at: www.alice1059.com.