LM's tombstoneHit and Run

By L. M. Townsend-Crow

Disclaimers: PG-13 for mature subject matter.

Laurel sat up and opened her eyes. She took in her surroundings, then closed her eyes, rubbed them and looked again. The trash-littered gutter in which she lay had not changed in the interim.

"Aw, crap!" she said, slowly getting to her feet.

She patted her herself down to make sure her clothing and belongings were intact.

"Aw, crap!" she said again, dismayed to find her pockets empty and her fanny pack missing.

Laurel ran her fingers through her short hair, making it stand on end on top where she needed a trim, like a rooster's crown. She stepped up onto the curb, then turned to see if any of her missing things had fallen underneath where she had been laying or nearby. An icy chill pierced through her like an icicle through her heart. There lay Laurel still, trickles of blood dried on her ears and under her nose, congealing from the corner of her mouth. The outline of her keys bulged from the pocket of her jeans and her fanny pack was still securely latched around her waist and remained zipped. She looked like she was sleeping, except there was no rise and fall to her chest and no way could she have been sleeping so soundly in such an awkward position, her limbs all twisted and her head on the rough asphalt. Laurel even saw the sparkle of a tear still unshed in the corner of her eye.

Once again, Laurel felt her pockets and shook her head as the words, You can't take it with you, echoed in her mind.

"I'm actually dead," she said, shaking her head.

The last thing she remembered was leaving the bar just across the street from where she stood now. In the early morning light, Laurel noticed everything with a painful clarity but she just could not remember dying last night. Pretty soon, she figured, her body would
be found and taken to the coroner. Laurel did not want to hang around and watch her own autopsy, so she looked around for the light she was supposed see if she was dead. Instead, there was an alley she had never seen here before. Once again, Laurel rubbed her eyes.

"Is that new?" she asked herself.

She had never been here in the daylight before, so she could not be certain. She figured that since there was no Light, and since she was already dead, she had little to lose by checking out the alleyway which shimmered like it was behind heat waves on a summer day. After one last look back at her body, Laurel trudged toward to alley, still not certain that this was real. She should feel something, shouldn't she? Sad or scared or just something ... it wasn't right, this emptiness; or maybe empty was what one felt when dead. Laurel sure didn't know. She did have a sense of waiting for something to happen but just now, there was no emotion, no regret or longing or anticipation, just waiting.

"Hold it!" came a voice from behind her.

Laurel halted, unable to take another step. She turned toward the voice to see a shimmering figure that was vaguely human in shape.

"Oh, good," said Laurel. "Are you my guide or whatever? Angel of death? Who are you?"

"Guide will do," said the figure. "You can't leave yet."

"Oh, okay," said Laurel. "I've never been dead before so I don't know the protocol."

"Protocol? Oh, the light and all that," said the figure. "Yes, well, you are a special case. You are earthbound."

Suddenly all the emotions that Laurel had thought gone returned. She felt like she'd received a kick to the gut.

"Wh- what? Why?" she asked.

"Examine your life," said the figure, fading away. "Learn from this time you spent here. Otherwise, you cannot move on."

"Wait, that's not fair! Why am I being punished?" Laurel shouted.

The Guide was gone and she received no answer. Laurel sighed.

"Well, in the meantime, who am I going to haunt?" she mused.

She turned to see that the alley had not disappeared, so it was probably there all the time. She hoped earthbound did not mean she had to stay with her body.

"Only one way to find out," she said, walking away.

She wandered down the street and decided to go back to her apartment. It was at least a familiar place – until someone had to clean all of her stuff out of it, anyway.

"Damn, I hope Jax will be go to a good home," she said as she thought a little sadly of her cat. "What am I saying? Of course she will – Angie's been jonesing for that cat since we broke up. Almost went to court over her. Jax'll go to Angie and be fine."

Angie – there was a fine idea! Angelica was a police officer – detective, no less. Not homicide – yet, but Angie had been working for that transfer for a few years. They might just be able to help each other. If Angie solved the mystery of her death, then maybe Laurel could move on and Angie could be promoted. As soon as Laurel thought of Angie's face, she was there, standing by the bed of the sleeping woman.

"God, she's beautiful," Laurel whispered to herself. Angie stirred in her sleep and pulled the comforter more closely around her. "Angelica!"

Again Angelica stirred and turned to her other side, facing away from Laurel. Laurel reached down and shook her awake.

"What the f --? Damn it Laurel, what are you doing here? How did you even get in?" said Angelica, sitting up.

"You can see me?" asked Laurel.

"Yeah, why couldn't I? Jeez, what did you do, leave the door wide open? It's freezing in here," said Angelica, rising and wrapping her robe tightly around herself.

"Listen, Angie, this is going to sound crazy, but I'm dead," said Laurel.

"Yeah, don't I wish!" said Angelica.

"Really? You do?" said Laurel, a little sadly.

"No," said Angie with a sigh. "Hey you want some coffee before you leave?"

"Yeah, sure," said Laurel, sitting at the table.

"How's Jax?" asked Angie, handing Laurel a steaming mug.

"You'll see her later – in fact, would you go to my apartment and pick her up this morning?" asked Laurel, who was having some trouble with the handle of the mug; her fingers kept slipping through the handle whenever she tried to pick it up.

"Are you serious?" asked Angie. "You're finally giving her to me?"

"Call it an inheritance," said Laurel.

"What did you take last night?" asked Angie.

"Why? Who said I did any drugs?" asked Laurel.

"You're wearing your club clothes and I'm starting to think that you really believe that you're dead," said Angelica.

"You'll see," said Laurel, glumly giving up on the coffee.

Sure enough, the phone rang with the news of Laurel's death.

"There has to be some mistake," said Angelica. "She's sitting right here – "

Angelica turned to see that where the sun streaming in through the window hit her ex-lover's face, Laurel was invisible. With a piercing scream, Angelica dropped the phone and backed away from the apparition of Laurel.

Rolling her eyes, Laurel arose from the chair.

"I warned you," she said, dodging the cooking utensils flying in her direction.

"Stay away from me," Angelica screamed. "You damn ghost! Why pick on me to haunt?"

"Shut up a minute and listen and I'll tell you," said Laurel.

"Do not tell me to 'Shut up', you – you dead thing!" Angelica yelled, but the hysteria seemed to be ebbing.

"Look pick up the phone and just listen to what they have to say and then we'll talk, alright?"

Angelica picked up the phone and put it to her ear.

"Yeah, I'm here – sorry, it was a .... shock," she said, trembling hard.

As she listened to the person on the other end of the phone, Angelica kept glancing back at Laurel. Suddenly her eyes narrowed and she turned her back to the ghost.

"No! That is not fair – you promised me the next case was mine!" she said. "Conflict of interest – we were not together anymore."

There was silence and Angelica hung up the phone.

"Even dead you're still screwing me over," she said to Laurel.

"I don't understand," said Laurel.

"I was supposed to get the next possible homicide case in the precinct, but because of my 'personal relationship' with the vic, the captain has decided that I will be passed over for this one," said Angelica.

"No, you have to solve this," said Laurel.

"So that means you're going to be haunting me until I do?" said Angelica, her eyes widening.

"Yeah, I guess so," said Laurel.

"You are such a pain the ass!" said Angelica with an annoyed growl.

She left Laurel sitting in front of a cooling cup of coffee.

"Hey, you! Psst!"

Laurel turned, startled and saw a young woman with a platinum finger wave and very red lips. She looked like she had stepped out of a black and white gangster film only she was fully in colour.

"Uh, yeah?" said Laurel.

"Listen I know you're dyin' for a sip of that joe," said the Flapper Ghost. Then she giggled at Laurel's expression. "Sorry. Figure of speech. You gotta get her to invite you to stay. Then you can move stuff around."

"Who are you?" asked Laurel.

"Call me Christie," said the girl. "I've been here since the original owner invited me in. It still counts, by the way."

She proved this point by picking Laurel's coffee and taking a long drink.

"When was that, the silent era?" said Laurel, too abashed to be polite.

"Just after," said Christie.

"Were you murdered?" asked Laurel.

The question caused a chill to enter room and the eyes of the ghost called Christie darkened.

"Never ask any spirit that question," she said. "You don't know any better, so I'll let it go but the others may not be so charitable."

"The others?" asked Laurel. "What others?"

"More and more as the days shorten," said Christie. "This house is one of the between places, so we use it as a door to and from the other side. Especially this time of year."

"What, September?" asked Laurel.

"Samhain – end of summer," said Christie. "We called it Halloween when we were kids."

"We still do," said Laurel, frowning. "But that's not for another six weeks."

"The doors never really close all the way, but they are flung open on that date," said Christy, flinging her arms wide and dancing around the room.

"So in theory, I could just walk through them to the other side on that night?" said Laurel.

"You? Uh, no," said Christie. "Sorry, but you're branded earthbound."

"What is it written on my forehead?"

"Yeah, look," said Christie, leading Laurel to the mirror.

Sure enough, in the middle of her forehead, Lauren saw a complex labyrinthine symbol, glowing blue.

"Don't worry, she can't see it," said Christie. "Although, she can see you and that's rare. Sometimes, she sees me a little, so she's gifted, but she actually thought you were alive and you're not even out-putting a lot of ecto-energy."

"'Ecto—never mind," said Laurel. "I have no idea what you're saying."

"Well, don't worry about it," said Christie, kindly. "She's smart – she'll figure it out for you."

"Yeah, if it's the only way to get rid of me," said Laurel, a little sadly.

"You're kidding, right?" said Christie. "You're newly dead, so you're still trying to take everything in physically. You can actually feel what she does now, if you open up."

"Well, that'll be a new experience," said Laurel, grinning wryly.

"That's too bad," said Christie, fading.

Laurel shrugged and turned to see Angelica emerging from her bedroom, dressed for work.

"Where are you going?" asked Laurel.

"To work," said Angelica.

"Yeah, but where?" asked Laurel.

"I'm going to see my captain about assigning me to your case. If not, I will offer my off-time to assist in any way I can," said Angelica. "It's a hit and run, not major case material. I don't see why they would really keep me away. I suppose I'll have you for a tag along all day until you get solved."

"I don't have anywhere else to be," said Laurel, with a shrug.

"You can stay here while I work on your case," said Angelica, rolling her eyes.

That was easy, thought Laurel, reaching for her coffee and taking a sip of the now cold brew. Maybe that opening up thing Christie was talking about might be worth trying. What have I got to lose now?

As if summoned by Laurel's thought, Christie appeared.

"Come on, the others are coming!" she said, grabbing Laurel's hand and running through the walls into some sort of grey area.

"Okay, wait, what others? And what is this place?" asked Laurel.

"Sh, you'll see," said Christie, hugging herself in excitement.

Shadowy shaped began to swirl into sight and gradually take form. Many of them were garbed in costumes from long ago, some more recent.

"We're between right now," Christie whispered. "This is sort of a limbo, like a holding area."

"Like a train station?" said Laurel.

"Exactly," said Christie, here eyes shining as she watched the swirling spirits take human form.

"So you're waiting for someone to arrive?" said Laurel, watching Christie's face fall a bit as everyone milled about, greeting old friends.

"Yeah, it's great, we do this every year," said Christie, smiling and going to greet old friends. "Come on, I'll introduce you."

It was whirlwind of greetings and happy hellos and then all of the newly arrived ghosts disappeared to their own haunts for the time they were interacting in the plane of the living.

"We'll all get together for the big night," said Christie, leading Laurel back into Angie's apartment.

"You mean Halloween?" said Laurel.

"Yes," said Christie.

"A Halloween party with real ghosts? Sounds like a blast," said Laurel.

"It is," said Christie. "We all just laugh and dance and until the first wave starts to go back."

"How come you're still here?" asked Laurel. "Or is that one of those forbidden questions?"

"No, it's okay," said Christie. "I'm ... I mean, I was ... waiting for someone."

"Oh. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring up any painful memories," said Laurel.

"No memory is painful after time," said Christie. "The only ones that hurt are the ones we lose. Remembering Sylvie is all I have left of my life."

"Sylvie?" said Laurel.

"My love, my soul, my heart," said Christie, wistfully. "I miss her. I keep hoping that one of these days, she'll come through that station, or at least show up for the Halloween party, but she hasn't yet. I promised to wait for her so that we could move on through eternity together."

"How lucky you were," said Laurel, feeling a spear of grief piercing through the sense of disorientation she had had felt since first seeing her dead body that morning.

"I was killed by a hit and run driver at the height of my singing career – which was in an illegal speakeasy frequented by queers like myself," said Christie with a chuckle. "And you call me lucky. Whew, you must have had a hell of a hard life by comparison."

"You opened your heart," said Laurel. "I could never do that. I never even tried. I pretended to try once – with Angie – but in the end I lost her because I wasn't sincere. Now it's too late."

"No it isn't," said Christie. "Come with me."

She took Laurel by the hand and led her up to the roof of the building. Christie pointed down at the alley behind the apartment house.

"It was right down there," said Christie, her voice barely above a whisper. "See, I was singin' in the club that they had here in the basement. I was real good, too. 'Course all they had was needle beer and bathtub gin. Hadda go uptown to get the good stuff from Canada, but we had our own little group. Nobody ever made no trouble for us. We were real quiet like, you know?"

"Yeah, I do know," said Laurel.

"I stepped out the door after my set to have a cig and the next thing I knew, I was lookin' at my own self layin' there in the street. Sylvie was there, screamin' and I knew somethin' bad had happened," said Christie, her blue eyes staring far off into the past.

"I know exactly what you mean," said Laurel with a shudder.

"We had what Sylvie and I called our 'dolly boys' – you know, guys who went with other guys, but they would be our escorts so no one would bother us about bein' together," said Christie.

"Why 'dolly boys'?" asked Laurel. "I've heard gay men called other names, but never dolly."

"Oh, they were great," said Christie. "We loved our guys. Dolly wasn't a bad name, we were playing pretend with 'em like girls do with dolls, that's all. Except for each other, they were our best friends. Sylvie married one of them ... after. That way she could keep her job. I promised to wait for her, but I guess she moved on without me."

"I'm sorry," said Laurel.

"It's okay," said Christie. "I haven't lost my hope. Not yet, anyway. It's only been eighty years, after all. She may still come for me."

"Eighty years," said Laurel. "Sure seems like a long time."

"That's 'cause you're still measuring time by the living standard," said Christie, smiling. "Relative to eternity, eighty years is less than a minute."

"Yeah, I guess when you put it that way, it isn't all that long, is it?" said Laurel, thoughtfully.

"Hey, you wanna come with me at midnight for the next wave of arrivals? Maybe .... maybe she'll be in that group," asked Christie.

"Sure," said Laurel.

"Okay, I'm gonna go meet up with some friends. Why don't you go find Angelica and see how your case is going? You may be out of this plane by the big date," said Christie.

"With any luck," said Laurel, watching Christie fade.

She thought of Angelica and with something that felt like a whoosh, found herself standing before her former lover. Angelica startled at the sight of her, but since no one else in the squad room seemed aware of Laurel's presence, she ignored the ghost for the time being.

"Yeah, that sounds about like what I thought," Angie told the uniform in front of her. "Will you excuse me for a moment?"

She glared at Laurel as she walked past her to the women's restroom. Laurel followed.

"What are you doing here?" said Angelica, after checking under the stalls to make certain they were alone.

"Are you going to pick up Jax today?" asked Laurel.

"I already did," said Angelica, her tone softening. "She's in her carrier under my desk enjoying a can of tuna as we speak. Is that all you wanted?"

"Yeah—no, not really," said Laurel. "Hey did you know that the building where you live used to be a nightclub?"

"No, I didn't," said Angelica. "Laurel, can we do this later? I may have a lead on your ... uh, on what happened to you last night."

"Yeah? Oh, okay, but ... what happened to me? Was it ... did I trip and hit my head on the concrete?" asked Laurel, hopefully, "'Cause you know what a klutz I am ..., er, was."

"Like I told you this morning, it was a hit and run," said Angelica, trying to be gentle.

"Just like Christie," said Laurel.

"Christie?" said Angelica.

"Ah, just another ... um, never mind," said Laurel. "She was a singer in the nightclub that used be in the basement of your building."

Angelica chuckled and looked fondly at the ghost of the woman she used to love.

"Leave it to you to hook up even in the afterlife," she teased.

"No, it's not like that," Laurel protested. "Is that really what you think of me?"

"Well, you are – were -- a player," said Angelica with a shrug.

"I really hurt you, didn't I?" asked Laurel.

"Yeah, you did," said Angelica. "But I'm over it. I forgive you. You are who you are – or were. Whatever. It's really hard to think of you in the past tense when you are so solidly in front of me. If I hadn't witnessed your autopsy – uh, sorry."

Laurel looked pale, even for a ghost.

"Huh, better you than me," said Laurel with a shudder.

"Yeah, I liked the new tat of Jax on your thigh, by the way. We're waiting for the tox screen and then trace to come back with the automobile paint chips and plastic bits from the headlight," said Angie.

"Let me save you some trouble," said Laurel. "I was drinking last night. I had about three mixed drinks, then I switched to white wine spritzers. I guess I had hm, maybe four of those. I did not do any other kinds of drugs, legal or otherwise."

"So you were legally drunk," said Angelica.

"Yeah, I guess so," said Laurel. "I wasn't driving, so I figured what the hell."

"Who was driving?" asked Angelica.

"I had the bartender call a taxi right after she made last call," said Laurel. "I went outside to wait for it and that's the last thing I remember until I woke up dead this morning."

"That would put the TOD at about three am," said Angelica. "I already interviewed the bartender. She assumed you'd left in the taxi. Which means the driver didn't stop to ask about a missing fare inside the bar. I need to check with the cab company dispatcher and see if the taxi driver reported a missing fare."

"You think it was the cab that hit me?" asked Laurel.

"Any hack I've ever met would be royally pissed about being stood up by a fare," said Angelica. "At the very least he – or she – would have poked his head in the door and made some noise. No one at the bar remembers that happening."

"Which doesn't mean that it didn't," Laurel pointed out.

"Yeah, let me make a call and put a rush on that trace analysis," said Angelica.

She left and went to make some calls. Then she called over another detective, winking at Laurel.

"Hey Jones, take a look at this. I think I may have solved Laurel's hit and run," she said. "

"You're kidding! Already?" said Detective Jones.

"Yeah, listen, the paint chips found on the body are the same colour as the cabs used by the company the bartender called for her," said Angelica. "We're still waiting for the chemical analysis, but the dispatcher at the cab company said the driver never reported a missing fare, even though the mileage shows he drove out to the east side where the bar is. She's checking his fare envelope to see if he collected for the ride from the bar to Laurel's place."

"Put a rush on that chemical analysis and I'll get the captain to ask for a warrant to impound that taxi," said Jones. "I can't believe you solved it already."

"Well, it's just circumstantial without the chemical report," said Angelica.

"Don't be so modest," said Jones. "I know you want to move to homicide – why, I don't know, but this will probably get you there. They like fast resolutions. You also have a really high rate of closed cases."

"Thanks, Jones," said Angelica, blushing at the compliments.

"Hey, and by the way, I'm sorry about your ... friend," said Jones, patting Angelica's shoulder as she walked away.

"Thanks," said Angelica.

"Hit by the cab that supposed to get me safely home. I was so drunk, I probably stumbled out in front of him and he hit me and then took off," said Laurel.

"I just don't understand why you weren't found before you were," said Angelica. "You were right there in front of the door to the bar."

"I'm remembering what happened now," said Laurel. "I – flew and rolled into the alley. I didn't die right away. It took hours to crawl back to where I thought there might be people to help me."

"Oh, god, Laurel, I am so sorry!" said Angelica.

Tears sprang to her dark eyes and she tried to embrace Laurel, but stumbled upon finding that the figure before her had no substance.

"Oh!" she cried.

"I really am dead," said Laurel, soberly, as if truly just coming to the realization. "But I'm still here. I thought – I thought that solving my death would release me from being earthbound, but I'm still here. I don't understand."

"I wish I could help you," said Angelica.

Laurel was silent for a moment.

"Maybe I'm beyond help," she said at last. "But there is another you can help. There's another ghost in your apartment."

"Christie?" said Angelica.

"Yeah," said Laurel. "She died about eighty years ago – hit and run, just like me."

"That's one cold case," said Angelica, doubtfully.

"Hm, it's not her murder I want you solve," said Laurel. "More of a missing person thing – well, missing ghost. She had a lover named Sylvie. She's been waiting for her for the last eighty years, but Sylvie seems to have disappeared. Maybe you could find out what happened to her?"

"I could try," said Angelica. "Who knew you were such a romantic after all?"

"Too little too late and I am sorry for that, Angie," said Laurel. "I think I will regret that for all of eternity. I wish ... well, too late now."

"Maybe not for Christie and Sylvie," said Angelica. "I'll see what I can do. You say that this Christie was a singer?"

Laurel shared what information she knew about the couple, then Angie told her she had to go back to work. Laurel returned to Angelica's apartment. After Angelica's return with Jax – who hissed and spat at Laurel's apparition -- Laurel tried to keep a low profile around Angelica. Her presence seemed to fill the detective with a sadness that Laurel could not bear to see. She went twice a day with Christie to greet the arriving spirits. Each day that passed brought more tension and excitement as the spirits arrived for their yearly party. Each day brought a bit more disappointment to Christie. Laurel just didn't know how to help her new friend, but she hoped Angelica could.

The taxi driver was questioned and arrested. He made bail, but the evidence against him was mounting. Angie thought the lawyers would plea him out on a manslaughter charge and Laurel was okay with that; she had, after all, been too drunk to dodge the cab.

With Laurel's case almost closed, Angelica spent more time on her "secret" investigation. She was at the library for hours studying back copies of newspapers and microfiche. In the process she learned more about the history of prohibition, the Roaring Twenties, and the gay and lesbian community than she ever thought she would.

She investigated Christie's murder as best she could, given the lack of evidence and the amount of time which had passed. It seemed to be a simple hit and run on the surface, but the fact that she was singer in an illegal liquor club which catered to the homosexual community in an era of competing gangs added a host of possible motives and conspiracy theories. Was it a hate crime because Christie loved women? Was it a warning to the owner of the club about his clientele or his liquor supplier?

And what had happened to her lover Sylvie? Had she been a victim, too, forced to walk the earth in search of her beloved? Had she turned back on the love she had in order to survive in an increasingly oppressive time for homosexuals? What had happened to Sylvie?

Suddenly, one day, one article caught her eye and she smiled.

"Of course," she said, pressing the button to print a copy of the article.

For some reason, solving this mystery made Angelica happier than all of her other closed cases put together. It was not an official investigation and would never appear on her service record, but it brought a personal satisfaction that she would never be able to explain to anyone except maybe Laurel.

"Ah, Laurel, have I come to appreciate you only now that you're dead?" Angelica thought aloud, wondering if the ghost were nearby.

Laurel was busy, however, trying to distract Christie from her disappointment. It was Halloween night and Sylvie had not come through.

"Could she have been re-incarnated?" asked Laurel.

Christie shrugged.

"Maybe, but if that happens, it usually doesn't happen that fast," she said.

"Eighty years is fast?" said Laurel.

"Yeah, believe it or not," said Christie. "Remember, in relation to eternity. Oh, well. Maybe next year. At least we have a party to go to. You ready?"

"Yeah, let me just check in with Angie," said Laurel. "She asked me to stop by at around seven o'clock tonight."

The doorbell rang and the treble little calls of "Trick or Treat" made Angelica smile. She greeted the children with a bowl of king-sized chocolate bars, much to their delight. For some reason, she had felt like celebrating this Halloween. Laurel had never seen Angelica so into the holiday before.

"Well, you have a party to go to and I wanted to do something special, too," said Angelica. "By the way, tell Christie 'Happy Halloween' for me, too, will you?"

"Yeah, not to freak you out or anything, but you just told her yourself," said Laurel with a grin at the other ghost.

"Oh! She's here? Oh, good," said Christie. "I have something to show you."

She glanced up at the clock as the doorbell rang again.

"What?" asked Laurel.

"Not yet," said Angie, smiling and greeting a witch, a princess, and a superhero all under four feet tall.

"When?" asked Laurel. "We do have a party to attend tonight."

"You'll be there," said Angelica.

The clock hands seemed to move slowly, but at seven o'clock exactly, the doorbell rang.

"Now," said Angelica, handing the much-folded and unfolded article she had printed from the library to Laurel.

Laurel looked at the headline.

"Foster-mother of hundreds reaches another milestone ... " she read. "Huh? Angie what is this?"

Angelica answered the door and ushered in these guests. Christie gasped.

"Happy Halloween," said Angelica to the group of people who carefully and lovingly escorted an old woman to a chair.

"Sylvie," said Christie, tears forming in her ecto-eyes.

"What, she's still alive?" said Laurel.

"A hundred and four years old," said Angelica. "She was a school teacher and fostered over one hundred children. Mostly gay and lesbian teenagers who had been disowned by their parents."

"Just like my Christie," said Sylvie. "'Course it was hard at first. I had to marry for convenience and convention, but my dolly boy was great and we worked well together to raise and help these lost children. Every one of these kids with me tonight came to us the same way and every one of them is a success. I did not lose one child to drugs or drink or crime."

"That's an admirable record, especially given the fact that these children already had so much against them," said Angelica.

"Nothing that love and understanding couldn't overcome," said Sylvie.

"You never ... " Christie faltered. "You never loved again .. not like with me."

"I've seen and done a lot with my life," said Sylvie. "I have loved each of my children and they love and honour me, but my real reward will be to see my Christie again. I have missed her every day of this life I have had to spend without her. Coming back to this place – well, there's a lot of memories, including the worst one. The best one, though, that one is also here, the night my Christie sang the song she wrote for me. That night, that woman made love to me with her voice, her whole heart was in that song, her whole soul. It was like we were united as one person in those notes, high above the audience, 'cause there wasn't anyone else there for us except us. There was not one dry eye in the whole place when she finished. She never sang that song again."

"That is beautiful," said Laurel.

"Yes," said Sylvie and Laurel started.

"You heard me?" she asked.

"Sweetie, when you're as close to other side as I am, talking to spirits is natural," said Sylvie with a chuckle. "Especially on Halloween. But that one hiding behind you, she's a little less solid – oh!"

Christie, emerged from behind Laurel.

"Yes," she said.

"You ... you're still here?" said Sylvie, tears overflowing.

"I promised, didn't I?" said Christie. "I'm so sorry – I thought you had moved on without me – I didn't mean to doubt you. I should have known you were doing important things with your life. Not like me."

"You are my inspiration. Without you, all of these children might have been lost," said Sylvie. "Never doubt that your life was important, Christie."

"I never will again," said Christie. "And I will continue to wait for you."

"No need, Beloved," said Sylvie. "Wait for me in the bliss of the other side. I will be with you soon enough."

"No, I will wait and we will go together," said Christie, smiling.

"Hey didn't you tell me there was a party here tonight?" Angelica asked Laurel.

"Yeah," said Laurel, wiping away a tear.

"I'm not going anywhere," said Christie, her gaze never leaving Sylvie.

"Neither am I," said Laurel. "Angie, can I talk to you – privately?"

"Yeah, I guess so," said Angelica.

The two went to the bedroom.

"I'm sorry, Angie," said Laurel. "I .. have so many regrets. I guess I'll never move on, but I promise I won't haunt you. I know you only took on the investigation to get rid of me, so I'll leave you alo-"

Angelica placed her fingers over Laurel's lips. She was surprised to actually feel something like flesh beneath her fingertips.

"I did it because I loved you once and I guess I still do," said Angelica. "In fact, I guess maybe I always will, at least a little."

"That's the thing, Angie," said Laurel. "I love you, too. I was just so scared of it, of you. I messed up. I know that now, only it's too late to fix it now."

"No, no it isn't," said Angelica, tears coming in to her eyes. "It's enough to just know how you felt – how you feel."

Laurel blinked as the clock in the living room began to chime midnight.

"D-Do you see that?" she asked Angelica.


"I think it's that light everyone always talks about, only it's more like an inner light," said Laurel.

Christie came into the room.

"Laurel, they're asking for you. Your brand – it's gone!" she said.
"You aren't earthbound anymore!"

Laurel turned to Angelica.

"Shall I wait for you?" she asked.

"On the other side," said Angelica. "Save me a good place, okay?"

Laurel smiled and nodded and began to fade from sight. Angelica turned to see a translucent young woman with blonde hair waving good-bye to Laurel. She winked at Angelica before disappearing. Angelica was startled by Jax, the cat rubbing her ankles and crying. She bent and picked up the cat.

"It's okay," she said. "We'll see her again someday. Maybe even next year. Laurel does love a good party."

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