Ghost Of A Chance
Author: Cheyne Curry
Summary: One of Jacey Louden’s best memories is of a special Halloween night that was a trick and a treat. Five years later, she has the chance to make everything right. There’s just one little problem…
Disclaimer - The main players may slightly resemble two people we are all familiar with but the similarities end there. That being said, the story is mine, the characters are mine, the fantasy is mine.
Warnings: The lead characters are of the LGBT persuasion. If you find that offensive, say Buh-bye now. There is some violence.
Archive: Only with permission from the author
For Bad Tyler. Thank you for inspiring me from beyond the grave.
Ghost Of A Chance
“So have you decided what you’re wearing to the Halloween party on Friday?” Barb Charon asked her co-worker.
“I still don’t know if I’m going. I’m not big on getting dressed up lately. It’s hard enough being me, much less pretending to be someone else.” Jacey Louden continued to divide the paperwork, placing the data in the proper locations. “God, it’s the 21st Century, when is this place ever going to get all this crap computerized?”
“I would think it would be easier role-playing in a costume,” Barb continued, ignoring Jacey’s daily rant about the antiquated office procedure. The phone at Barb’s desk rang. “Section seven, this is Barb speaking. Yeah, Pammy, what’s up?” Barb’s demeanor changed from her usual goofy self to deadly serious. “What? Oh, no. Oh, Jesus. Yeah. Yes, she is. Yeah, I will. Okay, thanks.” She slowly, quietly, placed the receiver back in its cradle and turned to Jacey.
Jacey, already curious about the subject of the phone call, watched Barb turn to face her. Her co-worker stepped toward her, apprehensively, wearing an expression of sadness and shock.
“What’s wrong? Is it your Mom?” Jacey asked. Barb’s mom had suffered a minor stroke a month earlier and was under a doctor’s care in hopes of preventing something bigger.
Barb visibly swallowed hard and sat in her desk chair. She rolled it forward and gently but firmly took Jacey’s hands in her own.
The look on Barb’s face suddenly registered with Jacey that whatever horrible news Barb had to share had more to do with her than Barb. “What? What is it? Barb?”
Then the tears came. Jacey attempted to pull her hands away but Barb held tight. “Sweetie, um… something’s happened.”
“No shit, Barb, I don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that. You’re scaring me.”
Barb bowed her head, took a deep breath, looked up and said, “Jacey, it’s Sally. She was found dead this morning –“ Again, Jacey tried to yank her hands away but Barb didn’t want to let go. Finally one of Jacey’s hands pulled free.
Jacey lost her breath and began to hyperventilate. She pinched one nostril closed and inhaled and exhaled in measured breaths. When her voice worked again, and she began to breathe normally, she said, “No. No, Sally? What? I just talked to her on the phone a couple nights ago. No… what happened?”
“They think it was suicide.”
“No. Sally wouldn’t. No. Was there a note?”
“Pammy didn’t tell me that. She wants you to call her as soon as possible.”
Jacey drove her car around the short block and found a row of vacant parking spots behind the building. She selected a space closest to the rear entrance and shut the car off. When she got out, she stretched the kinks out of her body from the long ride. She drew in a deep breath of the misting sea air and could actually taste the salt from the ocean on the back of her tongue. She zipped up her black flight jacket as a primary barrier against the chilly weather, shouldered her computer bag and locked her Chevy Tahoe. The sun would be down in another hour and she wanted to be settled in at wherever she was going to end up staying.
She knocked on the door of the building manager’s condominium. There were four units in the huge, Cape Cod-style building; two of the condos were seasonal rentals and currently unoccupied. The wooden shingled sides were white and the trim was blue and it looked quaintly proper, exactly what one would expect to find in a New England coastal town. One of the apartments that faced the ocean had a turret and a bay window. Jacey hoped that was Sally’s and then she wondered why; it wasn’t like Sally could enjoy it anymore. That thought hit her like a physical punch in the gut. She was able to keep her composure as the door swung open.
“Hi, can I help you?”
Jacey wondered if the young man was as gay as his stereotypical mannerisms. She didn’t like to typecast people as she’d been mistaken before. “Hi, I’m Jacey Louden and I’m –“
“Sally’s friend,” he finished for her and immediately burst into tears. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her inside, closing the door behind them. He grabbed a tissue, dabbed at his eyes then blew his nose. “Sorry. I still can’t believe it.” He blew his nose again. “I’m Xavier. You spoke to my husband, Pete, on the phone.”
Well, that settled that inner question. “Hi Xavier. I, uh, don’t know where to begin. What happened? Was she depressed? Was there a note?” As Xavier began to weep again, she was surprised that, of the two of them, she was the one keeping it together.
“No note that anybody found but there was an open, empty bottle of pills on the floor, so… Um, she did seem a little depressed but not out of the ordinary. She always got depressed around Halloween. Honest, if I’d known she was planning this, I would have never let her out of my sight.”
“Who found her?”
“Pete did. We had been away for a couple days. When we got back yesterday morning, Augie was going crazy, barking and howling and, well…” He wiped at his eyes. “The poor little guy knew something was going on and he was trying his best to tell someone.”
“Who has Augie now?”
“No one. We can’t get him out of the apartment. Pete goes up and leaves food and set down papers for him. He’s pretty traumatized.”
“Was she…was it really bad when Pete found her?”
“He said it was like she was asleep. No horror scene, no mess, just her in that old velvet recliner, with her feet up. Antidepressant bottle on the floor. God, it’s just so tragic. We just loved her so much. Why didn’t she turn to us? Why couldn’t she turn to you?”
Why, indeed, Jacey thought.
She always got depressed around Halloween. Jacey thought about when she and Sally met. It was two days before Halloween five years earlier. Sally had come to town to visit her cousin, Pammy, and perhaps scout the area for employment. Pammy brought Sally by the office to introduce her to everyone. There was something electrifying in her handshake and Jacey felt the magnetic pull to Sally immediately. They not only clicked personally, there was an instant, undeniable attraction.
Sally had not been the type of woman Jacey normally sought out for companionship. Sally was a good six inches shorter than Jacey and had long blonde hair and was quite the little femme. Jacey’s attraction usually ran toward taller, darker-haired women, not unlike herself. Jacey also liked either androgyny or a soft-butch quality to her girlfriends. Sally was nothing like that so the immediate allure shocked her. Still, it was not enough of a surprise to deter her interest. Pammy must have felt it, too, because from that point on, she did her best to keep Jacey and Sally apart without trying to be obvious. Jacey was curious as to Pammy’s motivation and, unfortunately for Jacey, found out why the hard way.
On the evening of Halloween, as Jacey drove home from work, she saw Sally walking on the sidewalk. It couldn’t have been more of a cloudburst and Sally was drenched. Comparing her to a drowned rat would have been much too kind. Jacey had originally passed her, feeling sorry for whoever that person was out in the elements and then recognized the jacket as the one Pammy’s gorgeous cousin had been wearing a couple days earlier. Jacey pulled her vehicle over, put the gear into reverse and edged the car backward. In her rearview mirror, she saw Sally regard the vehicle cautiously and look as though she might cross the busy street in avoidance. Jacey got out of the car, pulled up the sweatshirt hood to shield her head from the torrential downpour and approached Sally, stopping in front of her. “Hey – you need a ride?”
Startled, Sally looked directly into Jacey’s eyes then smiled in recognition. “Oh, hey. Jacey, right?”
“Sure, thanks.” Sally followed Jacey back to the SUV and got in the passenger side. Once safely seatbelted into the warm, dry interior, Sally accepted a towel from Jacey. “Interesting…do you always keep a towel in your car?” She began to wipe the water from her face, then her hair.
Jacey smiled. “I like to be prepared. I also keep a first aid kit, bottled water and an empty coffee can, tea candles, a blanket and a butane grill lighter in the car. Just in case.”
“Candles and a blanket, huh? Just in case of what? Getting lucky?” Sally laughed.
It was a sight and a sound that took Jacey’s breath away and, clearly, Sally did not miss Jacey’s reaction. Sally looked down at her lap and blushed while she finished scrunching the excess water out of her hair. She handed the towel back to Jacey who tossed it into the back of the car. Jacey pulled back into traffic and kept her eyes on the road.
“What a storm, huh?” Sally asked.
“It could be worse,” Jacey said. “It could be snowing. I’ve spent some Halloweens where it’s been a blizzard outside.”
“Speaking of Halloween, why aren’t you at the big party my cousin’s been talking about?” Sally asked.
“Not in the Halloween mood, I guess,” Jacey said and shrugged. “What about you? I thought Pammy said you would be there.”
“Pam’s there. We had a huge fight and I guess I lost the mood, too.”
“Really? A fight? Wow. You two seem to get along so well.”
“Usually we do but –“ Sally jumped when a flash of lightening appeared to strike close to her side of the car. “Shit.” Rain began to pour down harder. “Can you even see?” The thunder followed with a huge cracking noise.
Jacey pressed a switch that put her windshield wiper blades at full speed. The precipitation collected as fast as it wiped off. “Not so much anymore. I think I’m going to pull over when I find a safe spot and we’ll wait it out. There’s no use trying to drive in this.”
“I agree.” Sally stared out the passenger side window. “Over there,” she said and pointed in the direction of a light. “That looks like it would be out of the way of any traffic that would be crazy enough to keep driving in this stuff.” Jacey chuckled and Sally looked at her. “What?”
“That’s the entrance to Evergreen Cemetery. Sure, it’s out of the way but…do you really want to wait out a storm in a cemetery on Halloween night?”
“Why not? They’re all dead, right?”
“Well, let’s hope.
“You don’t believe in ghosts, do you?”
“I don’t think about ‘em one way or the other.”
“No self-respecting ghost would be out in weather like this.”
“How would you know? I’m going to call Pammy just to make sure you aren’t really with her.”
“Ah! So you do believe in ghosts!” Sally accused playfully.
Jacey slowed down and drove through the arched gates of Evergreen. “I’ve heard too many renditions of the Hattie The Hitchhiker story not to make sure that you’re not an apparition.” She finally stopped and put the car in park when she was parallel to the sales and grounds keeper offices. She activated her cell phone.
“Oh my God, you really are going to call her.” Sally watched Jacey’s activity and giggled. “My name isn’t Hattie and I wasn’t hitchhiking.”
“Like that matters – hey, Pam, it’s Jacey. Is your cousin with you? Uh huh. Right. No, no, I’m not feeling well so I changed my mind. Ha ha, very funny. Okay, have fun. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Jacey ended the call.
“Oh, um, she said I must not be feeling well if I wasn’t at a party that had an open bar.”
“Do you drink a lot?”
“Only when it’s free.” Jacey put her phone in its holder on the console between the seats. “You aren’t with her so I guess you’re real.”
“All you had to do was touch me and you would have known that! If I’d been a ghost, your hand would have gone right through me. Maybe you’re the ghost.”
Jacey poked Sally on the upper arm. “If I was a ghost, you wouldn’t have felt that.”
“Didn’t she ask why you wanted to know why I wasn’t with her?”
“No. I think she’s bobbed into too much hard apple cider already.” The ceiling light went off which left Jacey and Sally mostly in the dark. “Oh, sorry, do you need me to keep that on?”
“No, no, it’s fine. The entrance light is still on over there. Besides, we don’t want any ghost, goblins, zombies or whatever to be able to see us so easily, do we?” Sally joked.
Jacey wagged her finger at Sally, “Sure, you make fun now but if we’re here a while, you’ll be thinking about all those urban legends, like The Claw…”
Sally laughed and grabbed Jacey’s finger. “I’m not the one spooked, you are!” She held onto Jacey’s hand when Jacey stopped moving it. “I guess I’m just going to have to distract you from your own thoughts.”
“And how are you going to do that?” The playful mood changed suddenly when lightening lit up the sky. Ten seconds later, the thunder followed.
Sally looked at their entwined fingers and slowly let go. It was quiet for a moment when she remarked, “Sounds like the storm might be moving away.” As she finished her sentence, the rain seemed to increase to a monsoon.
“Jinx,” Jacey said. She retrieved her phone again and then searched it for a weather application, pressing the icon when she found it. The small screen opened to cheery colors but not-so-cheery news. “Looks like this is going to last a couple hours at least.” She held the phone to Sally so she could see the display.
“Should you risk driving us to your place or Pammy’s place?”
“Let’s wait until it slows down a bit because the visibility really sucks.”
“Okay. That sounds for the best.”
“Why were you out walking in this crap, anyway?” Jacey asked. She turned the car off to save the quarter of a tank she had left in gas.
“I needed to walk off my temper and when I left, it was barely sprinkling.”
“What did you and Pammy fight about?” Jacey asked, curiously.
Sally hesitated, looking as though she wanted to tell Jacey and then shook her head. “Just…stuff. I’m sure it will all be forgotten about by tomorrow morning.”
“When you help Pammy through her pounding hangover, you mean.”
There was an awkward silence while both women tried to think of a topic to discuss with each other without broaching the obvious, sizzling chemistry between them. Both women watched the rain until Jacey finally said, “So when are you heading back to – where is it that you live?”
“Sunday. And it’s Bialy Bay. It’s a small coastal town not to far from Jotham Cove.”
“J – Cove? How cool. I wish I lived that close. I’ve yet to get there for one of their lesbian festivals.”
“I haven’t been to one yet,” Sally said, her tone reflecting embarrassment.
“Why not? I mean, if you’re that close…?”
“I don’t know. Work, health – something always seems to take priority.”
The conversation trailed off into an uncomfortable silence again. The heavy rain and the sound of thunder entertained them for many minutes until Jacey spoke. “Sally,” Jacey said, as quietly as she could muster and still be heard over the outside noise, “are you feeling this, too?” She looked straight ahead, through the front windshield. When she didn’t hear an answer, she turned to see what Sally was doing and found Sally looking down at her folded hands in her lap.
Sally closed her eyes then looked up and locked eyes with Jacey. “Yes.”
Jacey nodded. “Are we going to do anything about it?” She asked, gently.
“So you do have those candles and blanket in here for romance,” Sally said, smiling.
Jacey shook her head, “No, I have them for warmth, in case I ever got stranded in a snowstorm and I didn’t want to waste the gas on heat and -”
Sally reached over and took Jacey’s hand. “Would you…um…kiss me?”
“I would love to.”
They moved toward each other and their lips met timidly. The kiss evolved past introductory territory into comfortable and then into full arousal. The front bucket seats created an obstacle neither woman wanted to deal with. Jacey maneuvered her way over the middle console to the passenger side and did her best to straddle Sally. They continued their initial exploration of kissing all exposed skin and touching each other through their encumbering clothing. Jacey thought her heart would beat out of her chest at the way Sally looked at her when they broke to catch their breath.
“I think I have an idea what we can do to pass the time,” Sally whispered as she caressed Jacey’s face.
Jacey nodded and looked at the fogged-up windows. She then looked back at Sally, into her eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Oh, yes,” Sally breathed.
“Let’s move to the back,” Jacey suggested. She reached down to the side of Sally’s seat and pulled on a lever that laid the seat almost flat. Jacey moved her back as close to the glove compartment as she could. “Just slide yourself back and then I’ll join you.”
Sally obeyed and eased herself into the back of the SUV where Jacey joined her, moments later. The back seat had already been removed, which gave them a lot of room to stretch out in. “You always keep the back empty?”
“No. I had been hauling some stuff from the supply store to work and I just hadn’t put the seats back in after I unloaded.”
“Convenient,” Sally said and grinned.
“Very,” Jacey agreed. She leaned on her side and propped herself up on her elbow, looking down at Sally.
Sally lay on her back and returned a sultry, yet vulnerable expression to Jacey. “Come here,” Sally said and reached up to pull Jacey on top of her.
They began to kiss again, picking up where they left off from the front seat. The thunder and lightening crashed and flashed around them as the desire built between them. Every movement that followed felt like a well-choreographed sensual dance, as though they had known what steps worked and what didn’t long before they ever touched each other. Their pace was frenzied then quiet, passionate then calmly concentrated; strokes were intimate and carnal then almost chaste. It was the most amazing sex Jacey had ever had with the most beautiful woman Jacey had ever met.
The tempestuous storm continued most of the night as the two women snuggled naked under the blanket, then heated the interior of the car up over and over by stoking that hedonistic fire that raged inside both of them.
It was almost too good to be true.
Jacey inserted the key into the lock, turned it, heard the bolt slide back and opened the door. She entered the condo cautiously. She suddenly felt odd being inside, especially after she closed the door. She slipped the keys into her jacket pocket and called for the dog. “Augie? Here, Augie! Here, boy!” She thought she heard some faint whimpering and walked toward the noise, turning on lights along the way. “Augie? Kinoot Augoostus! Get your little dorkie butt out here!”
She recalled when Sally had phoned her to tell her she got a dog; a mixture of a Dachshund and a Yorkshire Terrier she had rescued from a shelter.
“What does he look like?”
“Oh, God, he’s so cute! He’s got the face and longer fur of a Yorkie but the short legs and long body of a wiener dog. He’s neutered and weighs about ten pounds. I already adore him.” Sally was gushing.
“Have you decided on a name for him yet?”
“I was torn because you know how much I doted on Knut the polar bear before he died and my favorite cartoon collectibles are Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy…which now that I’m older, sounds like something from a porno rap video…but, anyway, I’ve decided to name him Knut Augustus.”
“You realize he’ll get beat up in doggie daycare with a name like that, right?”
“I’m calling him Augie.”
Jacey smiled fondly at the recollection. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard Sally so happy. The new pet had done wonders for her loneliness and she had become attached to the little guy quickly. It was when Jacey thought about just exactly how much the dog meant to Sally that she stopped in her tracks. She walked back to the front door and opened it.
“Xavier?” she hollered downstairs.
She heard the sound of footsteps and the hallway door opened. “Yes?”
“Can you come up here a minute?”
“Sure.” He closed the interior entrance door to his condo and walked upstairs. “Is Augie okay?”
Jacey gestured him inside and closed the door behind him. His attention instantly drew to the forest green velour recliner Sally had been found in and his eyes misted over. “I haven’t seen Augie yet but I have a question.”
Xavier folded his arms across his chest and turned his back to the chair. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. “I can still smell her perfume.”
Jacey stopped and drew a breath. She smiled, fondly. “Pink Gardenia.” When tears started to stream down Xavier’s face again, Jacey said, “Something isn’t right.”
“I know,” Xavier said, in a near sob. “None of this is right.”
“I agree but what I meant was she wouldn’t just leave Augie.”
Xavier wiped his eyes dry with the sleeve of his flannel shirt. “What? I don’t understand.”
“Her not leaving a note. That doesn’t make sense. She cherished Augie. She refused to evacuate for that horrible hurricane that one time because she couldn’t find a shelter for him. Why would she not leave some direction as to what she wanted done with the dog? She wouldn’t just leave him behind.”
His eyebrows hiked up to his hairline. “What are you saying?”
“I think that maybe this was accidental. I don’t think she intentionally killed herself.”
Xavier gasped and put one hand on his hip and one over his mouth. His hands then fell to his sides. “No, don’t say that. That would make it so much more horrible.”
Jacey silently agreed. “What time does Pete get home?”
Xavier took out his cell phone and looked at the display. “He should be here in maybe 45 minutes. Do you want me to call him?”
“No, we can talk when he gets here. I mean, doesn’t that make more sense to you? Unless she was a lot more depressed than she let on to me or her cousin.”
“I never thought she was that deeply depressed,” Xavier said. “She never gave me the impression that she wanted to die. And you’re right, she wouldn’t have left Augie, not without leaving explicit instructions about what she wanted done with him.” Xavier covered his face with his hands. “God, I…just can’t think about that. If we’d been home, we might have been able to save her.”
Jacey put a comforting hand on Xavier’s shoulder. “You can’t do that to yourself. If it was meant to be it would have happened whether you were here or not.” Jacey called to the dog again then looked at Xavier. “Are the police going to investigate this at all?”
“Let me call Pete. He’s the town deputy.”
Jacey parked outside Pammy’s apartment waiting for Sally. She had done this for the past three days, ever since Halloween and their eye-opening encounter. Jacey felt like a stalker but Sally said she preferred Pammy didn’t find out about their coupling and Jacey desperately wanted to see her again. Since Halloween, Sally hadn’t taken her calls and if she left Pammy’s apartment at all, it had to have been during Jacey’s work hours.
Finally Pammy came outside and walked directly to Jacey’s parked SUV. “Hey, Jace.”
“Pammy…Um…where’s Sally?” At that point, Jacey willingly broke her promise to Sally because she was frantic to find out what was happening. “I need to see her, to talk. Why won’t she see me? Talk to me? I just want to talk.”
“Jacey,” Pammy said, hesitating. It was clear she did not know how to continue. “Jace… Sally’s gone. She left for home a couple hours ago.”
“What? Wait – home?” Jacey slammed her hand on her steering wheel. “Pammy, what’s going on?”
“Sally is… well, she’s married, Jace.”
Jacey suddenly felt like she couldn’t breathe. Finally, she said, “Married. To another woman?” When Pammy shook her head, Jacey was stunned. “To a guy?”
Pammy nodded. “Yeah. To a guy.”
“But – no. I don’t understand. Wait, we, um…” Jacey took a deep breath and tried to concentrate. “Why didn’t she tell me? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Me? If I’d known you were going to fuck her senseless, I would have.” Pammy said.
“She told you? About Halloween?”
“She didn’t have to. I could smell it on her when she came in the next morning,” Pammy said and smirked. “It didn’t take much to put two and two together when you immediately started calling and parking outside from the moment you got off work. I could feel something between the two of you when I introduced you. I never thought she’d actually act on that attraction.”
“So she used me?” Tears stung the corners of Jacey’s eyes. She had actually believed something special had connected between them that night.
“In Sally’s defense, I don’t think it was intentional.”
“She could have stopped us. If she had said she was married, I would have stopped.”
“Sorry, Jacey. Had I known she even thought about cheating on her husband, especially with any of my friends, I would have warned you all.”
“Am I the only woman she’s ever been with?”
Pammy shrugged. “To my knowledge. But, clearly, I don’t know her innermost secrets, if what happened between you two is any indication.”
Jacey rested her head against her steering wheel and closed her eyes. “I thought she was family. My gaydar was never that off. How could I have been so stupid?”
“Listen, sweetie, if it helps, her husband is an idiot. They dated all through high school and got married after they both graduated. I don’t think she ever really loved him, I think she married him because she thought that’s what was expected of her. My guess is she came here to see what was available here for housing, work and –“ Pammy looked directly at Jacey. “Other things.”
Jacey looked back up at Pammy. “How long have they been married?”
“Twelve miserable years. I never liked the fucker, to tell you the truth, but she’s not only my cousin, she’s one of my best friends and I wanted her to be happy. Craig, her husband, never made her happy, even though I’d hoped for the best for her.”
“Do you think she’s just experimenting or -?”
“Hard to say, Jace. She has not confided this side of herself to me. I don’t think she set out to hurt you. She’s never been that kind of person. I honestly don’t know what’s going on with her.”
“God, Pam. Wow. I thought she was it. I thought she might be THE one. It was that strong.”
“You know, I think, regardless of whether the feelings were reciprocated, she’d be too afraid to leave her husband. He has an abusive streak.”
“Does he hit her?” The anger in Jacey’s question was palpable.
“She’s never admitted to it but my guess is yes.”
“How can she stay with him? Let me tell you, the unadulterated passion she showed me the other night is not something someone can just conjure up, you know? She was…needy, Pam. I’ve known women who were just out to have a good time, just to see what being with another woman is like and I did not get that feeling from her.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Jacey. She was very withdrawn this visit: especially after Halloween night. I think she came here, initially, with the intention of, maybe, leaving him and looking over her other opportunities. It was a scouting mission. I’m thinking you scared the shit out of her.”
“Me? I don’t scare the shit out of anybody.”
“Maybe you showed her what life could be like without her nimrod husband.”
Jacey looked around the condo once more. She called Augie’s name again and the dorkie whimpered and came out from under the bed. Jacey advanced slowly as Xavier talked on the phone to Pete. Augie let her approach and crawled on his belly the rest of the way to her. She petted him and scratched behind his ears. “Hi baby boy. Yes, poor little guy. I bet you have a story to tell, don’t you? I wish you could talk.”
“Oh, there he is!” Xavier exclaimed. He choked up again when he saw how Augie behaved with Jacey.
“What did Pete say?”
“Pete said that the county coroner believes it was suicide but Pete’s going to ask if it could have been accidental. He also said that Sally’s ex-husband was at the office today throwing a hissy because he wasn’t notified and had to find out by reading it in the obituaries.” Xavier knelt on the floor by Jacey and began to gently pet Augie.
“Craig’s an asshole,” Jacey said.
“Her insurance papers said that Pammy was her next of kin and that you were the second person she wanted notified should something ever happen to her. She never mentioned Craig.”
“Because Craig’s an asshole. I’m sure the only reason he was here this morning was because he thinks there might be money in it for him.”
“You know him well.”
“I only met him once. Once was all it took for him to hate my guts and turn me into his number one enemy. At least that time.”
“He’s a homophobic piece of rhino dung!” Xavier said, upset. “He’d show up here drunk and always angry. One time he busted her door down and started beating the ever-lovin’ crap out of her. Thank God Pete was home. He came up here and mopped the ground with him. And then hooked him up for assault and battery. Did I mention that Pete is a fourth degree black belt?”
“No but thank heavens he is.” Jacey was looking forward to meeting with Pete. “I just don’t understand people who don’t listen and don’t learn. Craig should have one hell of a rap sheet by now.”
“Jacey? It’s Sally.”
Jacey thought her heart had stopped beating. She sat down before she fell down.
“Please don’t hang up,” Sally said, when Jacey remained silent. “Please.”
“Why the hell shouldn’t I?” Jacey asked, finally.
“Because I want to explain…things.”
“You don’t think it’s a little late for that?” Jacey was disturbed by just how happy she really was to hear Sally’s voice. She tried not to let it show in her tone.
“Yes, I’m sure it is but I still owe you an explanation.”
“I’m…I’m so sorry, Jacey. I didn’t mean to –“
“Didn’t mean to what? Have sex with me or pretend I didn’t exist for three months? Which part?” Jacey’s voice had a sharp edge to it.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Sally choked up. “I didn’t mean to screw everything up like I did.”
Jacey took a deep breath. Her heart hurt for many reasons because of this woman, one of them now was hearing Sally cry. “What happened? Why - ? I mean, you’re married…to a guy! Why did you let it go as far as it did?”
“I’m so sorry, Jacey. I should have stopped you, I… I should have never got in the car with you. There are so many things I should never have done.”
“Then why did you? Because I have to tell you, Sally, it felt like you meant it. Every touch, every kiss, every – well, everything. None of it felt like a mistake at the time.”
“I never said it was a mistake,” Sally said, quietly.
“Then what was it?”
“And that’s when you two became friends?” Pete asked. Jacey, Xavier and Pete were sharing an extra large pizza and a pitcher of beer at the corner Italian deli.
“Believe it or not, yes.” She liked Pete immediately. He was quite down-to-earth for someone who resembled a human “Ken” doll. She thought he and Xavier were an odd couple but Pete seemed to adore his partner of eight years. It wasn’t that Jacey disliked Xavier, he just didn’t seem to fit with Pete. Thankfully for them, Jacey wasn’t a matchmaker.
“She talked about you a lot,” Xavier said, as he wiped a dab of tomato sauce off the corner of Pete’s mouth. “How come you two never got together after that?” When he saw Jacey push her paper plate forward, indicating she was done, he pointed to the two crusts she had left uneaten. “Don’t throw those away. Take them home to Augie, he loves pizza bones.”
Jacey took the crusts and wrapped them in her napkin. “I don’t know. Timing…? I would have loved us to become something much more but I think it was an underlying trust issue with me. And, for Sally, I think it was fear of getting involved again. Craig really messed her up regarding commitment.”
“Don’t get me started on Craig,” Pete said. He poured the last remnants of the pitcher into Jacey’s glass. “Another pitcher?”
Jacey was enjoying herself, despite the circumstances she was there. “Do you think we should?”
“Sure. It’s not like we’re driving,” Pete said. “Besides there’s only five cops in this town and I’m one of them so it’s not like you’ll be arrested for drunk walking.”
“Okay. One more pitcher. Five cops? Really?”
“Yes,” Xavier said and looked at Pete, admirably. “That’s only when they aren’t any festivals here. Then they hire off-duty police from Bialy Bay to help out.”
Jacey took a deep breath and looked around. “So this is the infamous J-Cove, huh?”
“I can’t believe you’ve never been here. What kind of self-respecting lesbian are you?” Pete asked and smiled.
“I know, I’m slacking. Sally was always after me to get my ass down here but, I don’t know, I was always working.”
“Maybe you were both afraid,” Xavier said.
The statement seemed to take all three of them by surprise. The server delivered another full pitcher and Pete poured out everyone’s share as Jacey considered Xaviers words. She took a sip of beer. “So, Pete, what was going on with Sally the last few weeks? Anything much?”
Pete mulled over Jacey’s question. “Nothing much. She worked, stopped by the bar for a glass of wine, came home, watched TV or listened to music and went to bed. That was her routine.”
“She really didn’t date? I mean she told me she didn’t but I thought she just didn’t want to talk about it.”
“She dated, just nothing serious. I think the most she ever went out with the same girl was three times. I think she was looking for you,” Pete said.
“Why would you think that? Because they all looked somewhat like me?” Jacey asked.
“So you noticed?” Xavier asked.
“I just assumed that was her type.” The implication of what Pete and Xavier seemed trying to tell her was now starting to wash over her like a shower of idiotic, stubborn denial.
“I’ve decided to leave him, Jace. I’m really going to do it this time,” Sally told her over the phone.
“Jesus, I hope so, Sal. You deserve so much better.”
“I just can’t take it anymore. I called Pammy and she’s going to come and get me after Craig goes to work tomorrow.”
Jacey’s breath caught at the idea of Sally being so close, possibly for good. How would she handle that with her current girlfriend? She and Andrea had just reached a nice, comfortable point after two months of growing pains. “And then what? You know he’ll just come after you again.”
“Not this time. Pammy is going to help me file a temporary restraining order against him and then I’m seeing a lawyer.”
“There’s no guarantee that he’ll obey the restraining order, though. You’re running the risk of making him angrier.”
“Hey, you’re supposed to be backing me up here…” Sally’s tone was a cross between surprised and miffed.
“Sorry, Sal. It’s just that he’s such a dick. He scares me. He scares all of us because he is so unpredictably nuts.”
“What do you suggest, then?”
Jacey couldn’t tell if Sally was asking a sincere question or a sarcastic one. She decided to opt for the former. “I’m suggesting you stick with your plan, just be really careful. I don’t want you thinking just because the law is on your side that he will still not be a threat. He sees you as his property and he’s not going to let you go so easily.”
“But he doesn’t love me.”
“This isn’t about loving you, this is about his ego. If you leave him, he thinks that will make him look weak to his friends and his family. If there is one thing you have made clear to me about Craig, it is his inflated vision of self-importance. I promise you, Sally, regardless of how right you are in leaving him, mark my words, he will not give you up without a fight.”
The next afternoon, Jacey was waiting in Pammy’s driveway when Pammy and Sally pulled in. Sally rushed out of the car and flew into Jacey’s waiting embrace. She hugged Jacey tightly. Just seeing Sally again and the feel of her robbed Jacey of her resolve to see things through with Andrea.
“I did it!” Sally was beaming. She looked deeply into Jacey’s pastel blue eyes and conveyed a definite sense of triumph. In the year since they had met, Sally spoke often of leaving Craig and never followed through, which was one reason Jacey finally gave up and started dating again.
“If we weren’t standing out here in public, I’d kiss you silly right now,” Jacey told her, feeling arousal and guilt at the same time.
There was a sparkle in Sally’s eyes. “Well…maybe later.” Her tone held a promise of what might have followed.
“Okay, you two,” Pammy interrupted. “Let’s get Sally settled and then maybe we can go out to dinner. Whatever you two want to do after that is none of my business.” There was a warning look on Pammy’s face that appeared to be reminding Jacey that she was not available.
Sally moved into Pammy’s office, a room with a couch futon, as a makeshift refuge until she could decide exactly what she wanted to do. She talked about picking up temporary employment while waiting for the fallout to settle from the restraining order and preparation of the divorce petition.
As Jacey, Pammy and Sally strolled down the driveway, the sound of a loud exhaust from motorcycle pipes broke the serene evening setting. Sally’s face went pale as the biker raced his Harley into the driveway, spinning to a stop. The action kicked soil and gravel in the direction of the three women.
“It’s Craig,” Sally choked out as the rider booted the stand down and wrenched himself angrily from the motorcycle seat.
“Pam, call the police,” Jacey said, urgently, coughing the dirt out.
Pam pulled out her cellphone as Jacey pushed Sally behind her. Jacey watched Craig menacingly approach them and caught her first real glimpse of Sally’s husband. He was not much taller than she but he was muscular and solid and when he removed his helmet, she saw that he was incredibly good-looking.
“Get away from my wife!” he yelled at Jacey, looking beyond her to Sally. “You’re going to get on that bike and come home with me! Now!”
Jacey felt Sally jump at the snapping of Craig’s voice. Jacey shielded Sally by staying in front of her. She was focused on Craig but she could hear Pammy on the phone in the background. “She’s not going anywhere with you.” Jacey’s voice sounded calm but her heart was racing as though it perceived serious trouble.
“I told you to get away from her!” Craig yelled. Every time he tried to reach out for her, he barely missed grabbing Jacey, who moved Sally further out of his way. “Sally, get away from her and get your sorry ass on that bike!”
“No!” Sally screamed at him. “Not anymore! Never again!”
“Goddamn it, woman!” He lunged for her again and Jacey stuck her arm up to deflect his grasp. Craig latched onto Jacey’s forearm and yanked her out of the way.
Before he could get to Sally, Jacey turned around and kicked the back of his knee so that he crumbled unexpectedly to the ground.
“You’re going to pay for that,” he said and jumped to his feet.
“Sally, go lock yourself in Pammy’s car. Right now!” Jacey commanded. Since Craig was now between them and the entrance to Pammy’s apartment, the confines of Pammy’s car was the only safety Jacey could think of directing her to. As Sally ran to the passenger side door, she pulled on the handle to find it locked. Craig started to race after her but Jacey dove and knocked his legs out from under him. That gave Sally time to run around the to the driver’s side of the car.
“Pam, unlock the door! Unlock the door!” Sally screamed.
Pammy, still talking to the 911 operator, held out her key fob and the car horn beeped twice, signaling it was unlocked.
Craig kicked back with his leg to break Jacey’s hold on him. He slammed the heel of his boot into Jacey’s ribs, knocking the wind out of her. He got to his feet but by the time he got to Sally, she was locked inside the car.
“Get out of there! Get the fuck out of there, Sally, or I swear to God, I’ll bust the windows in!” He began to pound on the windshield with his fists.
Jacey got to her feet, her hand on her upper stomach. By now, neighbors had begun to gather and a few were also talking on their cellphones to the police.
“Hey! Get away from my car, Craig!” Pammy walked toward her vehicle. She pointed to her phone. “The police are on their way!”
“So what? She’s my wife and she’s coming home with me!”
The sounds of sirens in the distance stopped Craig in his tracks. He slammed his fists against the windows one final time. “Don’t think this is over, Sally!” he yelled as he headed toward his motorcycle.
Seeing that Craig was going to make his escape, knowing if he did that he would be back again with more of a vengeance, Jacey took the leatherman tool she had through work from its holder on her belt. Biting back the ache in her ribcage she hurtled herself toward Craig’s bike, she pulled the knife accessory out and locked it in place. Just before Craig reached the Harley, Jacey thrust her arm forward with all her strength and buried the blade into the front tire, then removed it. She rolled out of the way as Craig hopped on the bike. The Harley roared to life and Craig wasted no time driving onto the main road and away from the approaching police cars.
One patrol vehicle pulled into the driveway and the other followed the direction of the gestures of the neighbors who were standing in the street pointing at the retreating motorcycle. By the next block, the front tire had gone completely flat, causing Craig to miscalculate his speed so that when he went into the slight turn, the bike laid down, sending him flying and giving him a nasty road rash. The police car stopped, two officers got out and ran to Craig. When they determined he wasn’t really injured, they handcuffed him and escorted him to the back of their patrol vehicle.
After the police got everyone’s statement, Pammy, Jacey and Sally went back inside Pammy’s apartment. Jacey was bruised, scratched and cut in a few areas. She had taken the brunt of Craig’s contact. She told the police that yes, she did want to press charges for assault and that, along with him violating the restraining order, would definitely keep him in jail overnight, until he could be arraigned and arrange for bail.
“You should go to the hospital and have those ribs checked out,” Pammy told Jacey as they sat at the kitchen table.
“I can’t afford to. You know they cut our health insurance and you know I can’t afford it on my own. Besides, the cops took enough photographs, I’m not worried.” She turned to a still shell-shocked, silent Sally. “You know you can’t stay here now.”
“I don’t have anywhere else to go.” She looked at Jacey, then at her cousin.
“Jacey’s right, sweetie. He’ll be back if he knows where to find you and now he’ll be really pissed.”
“But…won’t he be arrested again?”
“Craig’s pigheaded but he’s not stupid. He’ll lay low until the air clears and then when you’re least expecting it, he’ll come back. And if he gets you, there may be no escape next time,” Pammy told her.
Sally looked at Jacey who nodded her agreement and then gently took Sally’s hands in her own. “As much as I would love you to stay here, I think you would be signing your own death warrant.“
“And maybe ours, too,” Pammy added.
Sally closed her eyes and bowed her head. She squeezed her folded hands together with Jacey’s. “Where can I go?” She looked back up at Pammy and Jacey.
“Where is some place where he would never think to look for you?” Jacey asked. “The last place he’d ever expect you to go?”
Pammy snapped her fingers. “I’ve got it. J-Cove.”
“Jotham Cove? But that’s only twenty-five miles away from Bialy Bay,” Sally protested.
“Yes but it is a gay resort town. It might as well be a thousand miles away as far as Craig is concerned. He is such a homophobe, he would never set foot there and his ego would never let him think that you would live there.”
“She’s got a point, Sal. Sometimes hiding in plain sight is safer than trying to keep your whereabouts a constant secret.”
“But I wanted to move here…to be near you,” Sally finished in a whisper.
Jacey leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on Sally’s forehead. “And I wanted you here. But I also want you alive and well. J-Cove is only four hours away.”
“I’ll bring you there tonight and take tomorrow off to help you look for a place. Jacey can come, too,” Pammy said.
“Actually, I can’t. I have a big shipment due in tomorrow that has to be inventoried and then delivered before the end of the day. I can’t screw this up; it’s a big client. But Barb has tomorrow off and I know she’ll go. In fact, I suggest using Barb’s car and leaving Pam’s here. That way, when Craig gets out of jail in the morning and drives back by here, he’ll see Pammy’s car still here and hopefully think you’re still here, too. That will buy you a lot more time while he goes home to lick his wounds and plot.”
“But what about you two when he does come back?”
“We’ll also get restraining orders,” Jacey said. “Not that they will do much good but we might as well play by the rules, even if he isn’t going to. Besides, you can hear that Hog of his a mile away. I’m not worried about me, at least not just yet. I know he’s pissed off at me because I helped keep you away from him but you are his focus and right now that focus is tunnel vision.” Jacey stood up and pulled Sally into a hug. “Go pack. I’ll call Barb and explain.”
Sally nodded against Jacey’s chest. She looked up into Jacey’s eyes and they locked stares while Jacey smoothed Sally’s hair.
Seeing the expression that passed between them, Pammy cleared her throat. “I’ll be in the office, getting your stuff ready, Sal”
When Pammy left the room, Jacey took Sally’s face in her hands and brought their lips together in a long, tender kiss. “That’s all I’ve been thinking about since Pammy told me you were coming here,” Jacey said.
“Me, too. Well…maybe not all I’ve thought about,” Sally admitted with an embarrassed smirk. “But…you have a girlfriend.”
“Let’s not worry about that right now.” She took Sally’s hand and led her down the hallway toward the office. “Let’s worry about getting you out of here.”
Xavier and Pete had talked her into staying in Sally’s apartment. Pete said to try it and if she became uncomfortable, they would recommend a reasonable hotel for her. Uncomfortable? Spend the night in the place where the unspoken love of her life was found dead? Painful was more like it but the essence of Sally was everywhere and instead of feeling creepy about it, Jacey felt warmth and welcome. It was almost as though she had always belonged there.
She moved her Tahoe into the carport space that was designated for Sally’s condo. She had always thought it odd that Sally didn’t own a car but now that she was able to see a little bit of the cove, it was clear that Sally didn’t need a car. Everything was within walking distance and there was a cute little old-fashioned trolley system that transported passengers to the outskirts.
Jacey hauled her luggage upstairs to the condo and locked herself in for the night. She called out to Augie and when he came to her, she fed him the pizza crusts from her supper. She sat on the floor, lavishing him with as much attention as she could.
After she changed into a pair of light sweats, which doubled for pajamas, Jacey roamed through the condo, looking over Sally’s pictures, photos, knickknacks and home décor. Jacey marveled at Sally’s ability to have kept her style so simple; only the items that were necessary were in specific rooms, only photos were displayed that were important, only pictures and knickknacks that had personal and sentimental value.
She climbed the steps into the turret and her breath caught at the night view. The bright lights of the harbor and the colorful luster of the town made it look so hospitable. She could understand why Sally liked it here. She took one last look before she went back down to the living room. She couldn’t wait to see the view in the daytime.
Augie followed her to the kitchen as she began looking through the cupboards. She was curious to see what Sally had stocked up on and, possibly, what groceries she needed to get for herself during her stay. Most urgently, she was looking for a box of teabags. She knew Sally loved tea so there had to be some in the kitchen somewhere. She finally found a box, grabbed one containing peach-flavored tea and set the kettle to boil.
Jacey started up Sally’s computer and retrieved her mug of hot tea from the kitchen while the hard drive booted up. She sat at the desk and sipped her tea, staring at the password protected screen that displayed before her.
“Sally, Sally, Sally…what would your password be?” Jacey mumbled out loud. She looked down at the dog curled up at her feet. “How about…?” She typed in Augie. Her access was denied. She typed in Knutagustus. Access denied. She concentrated on what else was important to Sally. She knew if she didn’t get the password correct this time, she would be locked out. “What would you use? If it’s Augie’s birthday, I’m out of luck because I don’t know that. I wonder if the guys know?” Jacey looked at her watch. It was midnight and Pete had an early shift. She didn’t want to wake him up for something she could ask tomorrow. She picked up her mug of tea, took a sip, sat it back down. “Hmmm…”
She stared at the screen a little longer. “Come on, Sally, speak to me. What’s your password?” She rested her elbows on the desk and steepled her fingers together. “What about -?”
Jacey began to type J-A-C-E and stopped cold when it registered that she had heard a voice tell her the password. More precisely, she had heard Sally’s voice tell her the password. She shivered and her fingers suddenly felt like ice.
“Why did you stop? That’s the password.”
Jacey turned quickly and what she saw caused her to stand up quickly, pushing the chair backwards in a panic. Her back was against the wall. She tried to speak but no words came out.
“What’s wrong? You asked me to speak to you.”
Jacey blinked several times, then closed her eyes and scrubbed her face with her hands. Standing by the desk was Sally. If she was an apparition, she certainly was a very real, three-dimensional one. “W-what…?”
“Jacey? Talk to me, hon.”
Jacey shut her eyes tight again, shook her head vigorously and then opened her eyes to see that the apparition was still there. Then she did something she never did before – she fainted.
Jacey swam back into consciousness slowly. She was disoriented and her head hurt. She recognized Xavier who was holding her hand.
“Pete, she’s awake,” Xavier said.
Jacey was lying on the bed. Augie was curled up beside her. “What happened?”
“We were hoping you could tell us.” Pete stood behind Xavier. “We were almost asleep and we heard this thud above us. When we got up here, you were in a heap on the floor.”
“And white as a sheet,” Xavier added. “Did you see a ghost? It is Halloween, after all.” He smiled at her as he patted her hand.
Then she remembered. She had indeed seen a ghost. She wondered if she should say anything. She decided against it. “I don’t know, I think that, maybe, the stress and emotion of Sally’s death finally got to me.”
Pete nodded. “Yeah, that’s kind of what we thought. Maybe it was too much that we asked you to stay here. There are reminders of her everywhere. We were selfish in wanting someone who meant so much to her to stay here. How about you spend the rest of the night in our guest room and tomorrow, we’ll find you a motel.”
Jacey was about to agree when something off to her side caught her eye. She focused and saw Sally sitting in the chair that had been moved back in front of the computer. Sally was smiling at her and then wiggled her fingers in a small wave. Jacey’s eyes got wide and both men turned to look in the direction she was staring. They then both looked back at her.
“What’s wrong?” Pete asked.
Clearly, neither Pete nor Xavier saw what she did. She pulled her eyes away from Sally’s ghost and forced herself not to look back. “Nothing. I, um, am just feeling an…energy…I guess. Do either of you feel it?”
Both men shook their heads. “Not sure what you mean,” Xavier said.
Jacey was torn. She was scared witless but curious as hell about what was going on. She could not only see Sally but she could hear her, too. She had never taken any hallucinogenic drugs so it couldn’t be that coming back to bite her. So what was going on? There was only one way to find out.
“Are you feeling well enough to get up? We’ll take you and Augie downstairs.” Pete went to pick up the dog but Jacey stopped him.
“No, I’m…I’m fine. Like I said, I think I was just overwhelmed. I’ll be fine here. I feel closer to Sally here so I’ll stay.”
“Okay,” Pete said. “If you’re sure. We don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”
“No, I’m good. It’s all good,” Jacey assured them.
Both men bid her goodnight and left the condo. When they were gone, Jacey looked at Sally. “What’s going on, Sal?”
“Not much. Just hanging around. Feeling a little, you know…dead.”
“Okay, so you know you’re…not alive…”
“How could I not? It’s not like anyone has tiptoed around the issue.”
“How come Augie doesn’t sense your presence? I thought animals were extra sensitive to spirits.”
“Don’t ask me. I’m new to this.”
Jacey wasn’t able to relax. It was still too surreal to be having such a light conversation with a person she was deeply mourning only a moment before. She still wasn’t sure that she wasn’t experiencing a very realistic dream. “You look so…real. How come Pete and Xavier can’t see or hear you?”
Sally shrugged. “I have no idea.”
“I’m supposed to pick up your ashes tomorrow.”
“Oooh, where are you going to spread them?” Sally adjusted her position and sat cross-legged in the chair.
“I hadn’t decided. I was actually going to keep them. At least for a while.”
“Well, that’s kind of morbid. Why would you want to do that?”
“Because…because it would be all I have left of you, Sal.”
Sally’s smile faded as though she suddenly realized that her predicament was irreversible. “Sorry, Jace.”
Jacey wasn’t sure she could trust her legs from buckling underneath her if she stood but she needed something to drink, something to calm the jittery knowledge that she was, indeed, talking to the love of her life’s ghost. She swung her legs off the bed and stood up, shakily. She held onto the headboard to get her bearings.
“Are you okay?” Sally asked, concerned.
“Okay? Of course I’m not okay! You’re dead and I’m standing here talking to your ghost. I’m not sure if I should be grateful or committed.” She took a couple steps, decided she wasn’t going to fall and made her way into the kitchen. She opened the freezer door.
“What are you looking for?” Sally was right next to the fridge.
“It’s in the door.”
Jacey found the bottle right where Sally said it would be. She removed it, closed the door and set it on the shelf. “Olive flavored vodka. Kind of takes all the fun out of making your own martini.” She searched the cupboard and plucked out a jar of green olives.
“You had a lot of beer tonight, are you sure you want to mix your alcohol?”
“How do you know that? Were you at the bar? Why didn’t I see you there?”
“No, I wasn’t at the bar. I can’t seem to leave my apartment. I heard Pete tell Xavier that maybe you passed out from two pitchers of beer.”
Jacey set to making herself a drink with the ingredients she had on the counter. “I didn’t drink them all by myself and yes, trust me, I need a drink.”
Sally watched Jacey complete her concoction, then taste it. As Jacey poured more olive juice into her glass, Sally said, “Why was I worried? If I hadn’t known any better, I’d say you put the vodka in with an eye dropper.”
“You know…you’re in a pretty chipper mood for a dead person,” Jacey commented. Sally followed her back to the bedroom. Jacey sat back down on the bed where Augie was sound asleep and Sally returned to the computer chair. “What happened, Sally? What went on here the other night? Was it suicide?”
“No! I would never kill myself,” she replied, sounding offended at the suggestion.
“I think I was murdered.”
Jacey stared at Sally, speechless, and almost dropped her glass. She studied Sally’s expression and understood that she was serious. “Who -? How? There wasn’t any mess, any blood, anything that made Pete, the cop, suspicious.”
“I don’t know how or why or who. I’m a little fuzzy on those parts.”
“How can you be fuzzy? You can’t have amnesia, you’re a ghost.”
“How do you know what a ghost can or cannot have?” There was an edge to Sally’s tone. “When you become a ghost, we’ll talk.”
Jacey took a swallow of her drink. “Hey, don’t get pissed at me. I’m the one having hallucinations, not you.”
“I’m not a hallucination.”
“Well you’re not real!” Jacey protested.
“Keep your voice down. I don’t want Pete and Xavier to think you talk to yourself. Not after the way I built you up.”
Jacey studied Sally. She exaggeratedly closed and opened her eyes several times but the apparition was still present.
“What are you doing?” Sally asked. “Stop it, whatever it is. You look like ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ trying to blink me away.”
Jacey approached Sally slowly. When she was within close proximity, she reached her hand out. “Touch my hand.”
“So that I know you’re really dead and not playing some horrible Halloween trick on me.”
“I would never do that to you!” Sally said, indignantly.
“Then touch my hand,” Jacey demanded, her voice a low growl.
Sally reached out and when her hand should have taken hold of Jacey’s, it went right through it instead. Jacey stared at where they should have been joined. Her eyes went wide and she jumped backward, a visible shiver vibrating her entire body.
“Jesus, you really are a ghost,” Jacey stated and hugged her arms to herself. She looked up at Sally.
“Happy?” Sally asked.
“No,” Jacey answered in barely a whisper. She sat on the floor, in front of Sally who slightly swiveled in the computer chair. “And I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have been happier if you had stayed invisible.”
“That can be arranged,” Sally said, sounding slightly hurt. “I thought if I could show myself to anyone, if I could trust anyone, it’s be you.”
Jacey took another long swallow, draining her martini. She then picked out an olive and popped it into her mouth, chewing. “It’s not that, Sal, it’s just…what am I supposed to do with you? No one can see you or hear you but me, not even your faithful dog. And you can’t even tell me why you’re here.”
“Clearly I’ve come to haunt you.”
Jacey smirked. “Clearly you’re doing an awful job of that. And, in case you don’t remember, you were the one who didn’t believe in ghosts.”
“In case, I don’t remember? I remember everything about that night in vivid detail.” There was a hint of sadness in Sally’s voice.
“How do you know which night I’m referring to?”
“There was only one night we talked about ghosts, Jacey. That night we made passionate love in your car,” Sally said, quietly. “I still can’t believe we had sex in a car,” she added in a mumble.
“I never did until you,” Jacey confessed.
“Oh, come on… you had all the tools, remember? Candles…blanket…”
“Still. Besides, can’t you do a spiritual thing where you can look into my past and see that I’m telling the truth?”
“Maybe I can. Give me a break, will you? I’ve only been a ghost a few days. You sure seemed as though you’d done it before in that car.”
Jacey stuck her right hand up in a ‘scout’s honor’ pose. “I swear, not until you.”
Sally seemed to study her. “That night was so magical for me. Made me see who I really was.”
“Then why have we never talked about it before? Except for that phone call where you begged me to forgive you, and when you actually left Craig, you’ve never wanted us to discuss that night.”
“I don’t know, I guess it was just too sacred and I didn’t want to overanalyze it.”
“You cried in my arms that night,” Jacey reminded her, gently.
“I’d never felt anything like it. You took me to a place I’d never been before. Or since.”
“Then why didn’t we ever get together again? You knew how much I wanted to be with you.”
“It was too…intense. Too raw. It was too much; it was not enough. And I never thought I would have it again,” Sally said, despondently. “And I was married and I thought he’d kill me – and you – if he ever found out.”
“And then you finally left him. I would have come to you here, you know. All you had to do was ask.”
“All you had to do was tell me that. When I left Craig, you were seeing someone else, remember? I was too afraid to ask, too afraid you’d say no. I know you kissed me again but I thought you were just being supportive in response to how terrible I felt. Pammy talked as though you had successfully moved on.”
“Oh my God. Are you telling me I missed my chance because we couldn’t read each other’s signals correctly?” Jacey’s mouth went dry at the thought. They stared at each other in realization.
“Well…look at the bright side. We’re together now,” Sally said and flashed a grin.
Jacey faced Andrea after she hung up from a phone call with Sally. The look on Andrea’s face told her that another argument was coming. “What?” Jacey then said, defensively.
But Andrea’s voice was surprisingly calm. “Oh, come off it, Jacey. I’m not blind and I’m not deaf. I see the look in your eyes and hear the love in your voice when you talk to her. Your expressions and your tones never come close to that when you talk to me.”
“Andrea, Sally is a friend. That’s all.” Jacey felt the pangs of conscience. Although it was a true statement, Jacey knew all it would take to change it would be an invitation from Sally. But Sally still seemed so emotionally chafed from the divorce and uncertain about the direction she wanted her life to take, Jacey thought that keeping her distance was currently wiser than jumping into an unstable situation with both feet.
“No. We’re friends, Jacey. Friends with benefits. What you have with Sally is much deeper. What you and I have is a comfort level of pretty amazing sex. But a relationship? No. We really haven’t had a relationship since Sally left her husband.
Jacey hung her head in response to the truth of Andrea’s words. “I haven’t cheated on you, Andrea.”
“In your heart, you have,” Andrea told her, clearly trying to hang on to the last vestiges of her composure. “And, honestly, Jacey, I can’t stand seeing that look in your eyes anymore whenever Sally’s name is mentioned or she’s on the phone. I can’t take knowing those intense feelings are reserved for her and not for me. You may not have physically cheated but I can’t help believing that when we make love, it’s her face you see in your mind.”
Andrea’s words struck Jacey like a slap in the face, not because they were erroneous but because they were true. “Andrea…”
“No, please let me finish. I always felt something was missing when we got together but I loved you so much I was willing to work on it. For a while, it seemed as though we had gotten through it. Then Sally showed up that one night and it’s never been the same between us.” Jacey’s heart broke for Andrea as her voice broke on the next sentences. “I’m a good person, Jacey. I deserve better. I deserve all of you, not just the part Sally isn’t ready to have yet.”
Jacey reached for Andrea, who flinched away from her. Andrea was openly crying now and Jacey hated that she was the cause of Andrea’s pain. She caught Andrea’s wrist and pulled Andrea against her. Andrea remained rigid until Jacey enfolded her in a full embrace and then she molded her form to Jacey’s. “I’m so sorry. You do deserve better. It’s not that I don’t love you because I do.”
“You just aren’t in love with me,” Andrea said and attempted to stifle her tears. “I don’t feel I can invest any more time in us, Jace, if I’m going to be the only one trying to make it work and constantly wondering when Sally is going to snap her fingers and cause the end of our relationship. We’ve been seeing each other for seven months and we’re no closer to taking it a step further than when we first got together. It’s as though you are afraid to take that next step in case something better comes along and that something better is always blatantly waiting in the wings, silently taunting me. I can’t do this anymore. I thought I could just ignore her because, after all, I have you and she doesn’t, right? I’m just kidding myself, though, aren’t I?”
“I’m so sorry,” Jacey whispered again as she held Andrea tightly and let Andrea weep in her arms. She never felt more like a sleazeball than she did at that moment. Goddamn it, Sally, Jacey thought, not only am I allowing you to mess up my life, I’m letting you mess up other’s too.
“But we’re not together now.” Jacey repeated in protest. “I can’t be with you, Sal. Not in the way I’ve always wanted to be. I can never be with you now. Your telling me how you feel certainly validates my pining for years but, Jesus, what good does it do me other than making me kick myself for not leaving with you that night you escaped to here?”
“Well, duh! I wasted four years of my life and hurt other people, really good people because I wanted to be with you and I didn’t think you were ready to commit and yet, I didn’t want to be alone. I couldn’t have done casual with you, Sally, and that’s all you indicated I could have. And now you’re telling me that the issue was our incapability of communicating properly?”
“I’m sorry, Jace. I thought there’d be time.” Sally’s expression was contrite, then she cocked her head and pursed her lips. “And I’m not entirely to blame here. I kept inviting you down here to visit but you were always busy at work or involved with someone. I believed that if you really wanted to be with me then you’d be with me. I’m not a mind reader.”
They both stared at each other, absorbing the reality of the circumstances they were in. “I want to take you in my arms so much right now. I can’t believe I’ll never feel your arms around me ever again. That all we had was that one night together.” Jacey felt the tears unexpectedly roll down her face. She wiped them away with the back of her hand.
“I wish it were different, too. But…this is where we are and this is what we have.”
Jacey stood up, walked to the dresser, removed a tissue from the decorative container and blew her nose. She walked to the kitchen with her empty martini glass and placed it on the sink. “So why do you think you were murdered?” she asked after she filled a glass with ice water and returned to the bedroom. “Do you think it was Craig?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know why you think you were murdered or you don’t know if it was Craig?”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Well…let’s see. I stopped by the bar to have a glass of wine-“
“Van Dyke’s. I’ve told you about it. It’s a little piano bar and one of my favorite places to spend an hour or two to wind down and it’s not one of the more, well known J-Cove hangouts. You kind of have to know about it or you don’t seek it out. It’s where we J-Covies go if we want to escape the festival crowds.”
“Anything significant or unusual happen while you were there?”
Sally looked skyward while trying to remember. “Nothing I can immediately recall.” She looked back at Jacey. “Why is that important?”
“If I’m going to retrace your steps, I need to know exactly what you did.”
“You’re going to retrace my steps? Why?”
“So if you were murdered, and it wasn’t Craig, maybe I can find out who did it and why. Are you sure it wasn’t an accidental overdose?”
“I’m completely sure. That bottle of meds Pete said they found on the floor? I stopped taking those over six weeks ago.” Her focus was pulled to the bed where Augie stretched, yawned and changed positions. He went right back to sleep. “Isn’t he just the cutest boy ever?”
Jacey looked back at the Dorkie and smiled. “He’s adorable.” She returned her attention to Sally. “I still don’t understand why he isn’t reacting to you.”
“Listen, he’s sleeping peacefully for the first time since…whatever happened…so maybe he senses I’m here. You will take him, won’t you? He seems content with you.”
“Yeah, sure, of course, I’ll take him. You don’t think he’d be more comfortable with Pete and Xavier?”
“With Pete maybe but Xavier makes him a nervous wreck. Xavier is too high strung and Augie instantly feels Xavier’s anxiety the second he’s around him.”
“So…about your Halloween evening. You stopped by Van Dyke’s, had a glass of wine. Did you talk to anybody? Run into anyone you know? Meet anyone you didn’t know?”
Sally contemplated the question then shook her head. “Not that I remember. I think…yeah, it was the same bartender who is there every Wednesday night and the same faces that are usually there at six o’clock.”
“How long did you stay there?”
“About an hour, I think.”
“Did you come home or go somewhere else?”
“I…hmm…I stopped by TGI-Humpday’s and…and, damn, I don’t remember much after that…”
“And TGI-Humpday’s is?”
“A little bar on the pier. I didn’t realize they were having a Halloween party and, I think, there were people who were in costumes.”
“Did you have a drink there?”
Sally closed her eyes, trying to concentrate. “Possibly. But I really don’t remember. In fact, up until right now, I didn’t remember going there.”
“So you barely remember going there and not leaving or coming home and taking those pills…”
“No. It’s really a loss after that. But maybe if I keep talking about it, it will start coming back to me.” She looked at Jacey. “What are you going to do?”
“I think, starting tomorrow, I will go over to those two bars and see what I can find out.”
Jacey did not sleep well. When she finally dozed off, it was in the middle of a conversation with Sally’s ghost. She pushed herself to stay awake as long as possible because she was afraid that falling asleep might mean the last time she saw her beloved friend.
When she rose to consciousness, the recollection of the night before slammed into her and she sat up, looking around frantically. Sally was nowhere in sight. She scrubbed her face with her hands and her eyes swept the room slowly. Still no Sally.
Augie, however, alert that Jacey was now up, began to whine and wiggle. She looked over at him and rubbed his head and ears. “I bet you’re hungry.” She threw the covers back and the fullness of her bladder forced her into the bathroom. “I bet you need to go out, too.”
Jacey finished in the bathroom and walked out to the kitchen to search for food for the Dorkie. She wrinkled her nose as a not-so-fresh odor assaulted her nostrils. Augie had made use of the papers on the floor Pete and Xavier had left for him to do his business.
“Well, I guess that takes care of that,” she said as she picked up the papers and placed them in the trash. She found his hard food container and filled the small scoop, then emptied the contents into his bowl. Augie’s tail wagged the entire time he greedily ate.
She found a bag of coffee beans in the freezer, filled the hand wound grinder, then scooped the results into the filtered cup, added water and the coffee maker began to brew.
Jacey went to the bathroom, stripped off her clothes and stepped into a hot shower. Had last night been just a dream? It had seemed so authentic. Of course, as devastated as she was about Sally’s death, she shouldn’t have been surprised at the vividness of her slumbering nocturnal visions. She had read that spirits sometimes visit in dreams to reassure that they were fine. She had been visited by past, loved pets during sleep so why not Sally?
But it felt so real.
Why would she have a conversation in a dream, though, regarding Sally’s last actions while alive? Why would Sally insist she did not commit suicide or even die accidentally? Maybe she needed to check out some of the information the dream had provided, just in case.
She rinsed the conditioner out of her hair, shut the shower off and squeezed the excess water out of her long, dark locks. She opened the shower door, scrunched more water out of her hair and then wrapped herself in a bath towel.
She removed underclothes, jeans and a sweatshirt from her suitcase, dressed and went to the kitchen to pour her coffee. She found a bottle of pumpkin spice creamer in the fridge and checked the expiration date before adding some to her coffee. She cooed at Augie a little more and then headed to the turret to take a look at the view of the cove in the daytime.
Jacey sat at the little table and looked out into the morning sky. It was a crisp November 4th day and the panorama was spectacular. It was a few hours after sunrise and the ocean sparkled like diamonds in the sun’s reflection. The waves that lapped the shore had small whitecaps as the water appeared to be calm. Jacey took a sip of her coffee and sighed. Such a sense of tranquility seemed to saturate the scene. It was evident why Sally loved it here.
“I always loved spending my mornings like this. Isn’t it just soul-calming?”
Jacey responded to Sally’s voice by closing her eyes and smiling, relieved. It hadn’t been a dream. She turned to look at Sally, who sat in a chair, opposite her, watching the tide.
“I thought I had dreamed you,” Jacey said. When Sally looked at her and grinned, Jacey felt simultaneously assuaged and crestfallen. Sally was there but she wasn’t. As a logical person, Jacey was not sure how to balance the opposing emotions or the reality.
“How come you weren’t here when I woke up?”
“I thought you might want some time to yourself to think through our conversation last night. But the smell of coffee really brought me in. I can never get enough of the aroma of freshly ground and freshly brewed coffee.”
“I’d offer to get you a cup but…”
“Nice, rub it in, why don’t you?” Sally said, giving Jacey a mock frustrated look.
“I wasted so much of my time by not moving down here to be with you,” Jacey said, the tone of regret unmistakable.
“Did you? Are you really going to spend the rest of your life looking at it that way? What will you gain by that?”
Jacey was surprised by Sally’s question, instead thinking she would be flattered by Jacey’s words. “Don’t you wish I had moved with you? We could have had four years together. And maybe you wouldn’t be dead now.”
“Jace…there are reasons we make the choices we do and that is so we can learn from the rewards or the consequences of those choices. Life doesn’t just happen. We choose paths to follow that lead us to our destinations. We happened exactly the way we were meant to. Am I happy about it? No but I do accept that the outcome is what I consciously or subconsciously orchestrated. It’s the same with you. You cannot go through the rest of your life saying, ‘what if’. I mean, you can, but you’ll waste an incredible amount of time and energy.”
“I guess I just don’t have the insight you have now. You know I’ve always been a ‘learn the hard way’ kind of girl.” She drank more of her coffee and looked out at the vista. “So you have no regrets?”
“No, I have a ton of regrets but what good does it do me to dwell on them? Especially now. Don’t waste any more time brooding over what might have been. All that will do is make you bitter and resentful.”
“So what are you going to tell me next? The only person I hurt by carrying a grudge is me? That I will only feel better when I forgive my enemies? Because you know how I feel about that.”
“Yes, that you can only forgive someone if you believe they are truly sorry for the things they have done.”
“It’s true, Sal. Otherwise, what’s the point? Besides, isn’t it up to God to forgive them?”
“I thought you didn’t believe in God.”
“I don’t know what I believe but it certainly isn’t in that mythical being in the sky that all the religions pray to or whose name they invoke.”
“Then how do you explain my being here right now?”
“I can’t. How do you explain it? Have you seen the Big Guy yet? The so-called gates of Heaven yet?”
“Well…no but I’m obviously in limbo and probably won’t rise to a higher plane until I resolve how I got to be on this level.”
“So what have you seen since…you know…”
“Just this apartment. Like I said, I haven’t been able to leave. I tried to show myself to Xavier and Pete but it didn’t work. Augie can’t sense me or, if he can, he’s not reacting like he can. You’re the only one who’s been able to see and hear me.”
Jacey stared into Sally’s eyes. “If only I could feel you.”
“Yes, well, I haven’t discovered how to do that yet. I don’t even know if it’s possible.”
Checking her watch, Jacey finished her coffee. “Let me know if you figure that out.”
“Oh, trust me, you’ll be the first.”
Jacey stood up. “I promised the boys, I’d go have breakfast with them.”
“Are you going to tell them…about me?”
“Uh, no. They do not know me well enough to believe me.” She walked to the stairs and looked back at Sally. “Are you going to be here when I get back?”
“I don’t have anywhere else to go,” Sally tossed out, nonchalantly.
“We’re glad you’re feeling better,” Xavier said, as they sat in the diner booth.
“Thanks,” Jacey said as she picked up the menu and began to look over her options. “Augie seemed to put in a good night after I settled down and you guys left. I am going to have to get him used to be walked again, though.”
“You still look pretty exhausted,” Pete commented.
“I’m not surprised. I didn’t realize how much this affected me until I was actually here. So,” she began, wanting to change the subject, “what’s good here?”
“They have a stuffed French Toast to die for,” Xavier gushed. “They also have a blackberry Belgian waffle which is excellent.”
“Or if you don’t like your breakfasts sweet, they have a great omelet selection. Sally used to love their Eggs Benedict Arnold.” Pete pointed to the selection on the menu.
Jacey looked over the description. It was two poached eggs over an English muffin, topped with sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and hollandaise sauce. “That’s what I’ll have.” She placed the menu back on the table.
The server approached the table, took their orders and left. “I have to go in at noon and finish up some paperwork before my shift but Xavier will take you over to pick up Sally’s ashes.” Pete said. He looked at Jacey and then Xavier. “Are you both up for that?”
“It’ll be fine,” Jacey said, as Xavier looked away, tearing up. She reached over and placed her hand over Xavier’s, which caused him to turn back to her. “We’ll be fine,” she said, squeezing Xavier’s hand.
“Have you decided what you’re going to do with her ashes?” Pete asked.
“No, not yet. I will promise it will be something special and befitting of Sally,” Jacey answered, letting go of Xavier’s hand. “When will Sally’s autopsy report be back?”
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