“The preliminary report came back the next day. The toxicology report will be about 3 months, maybe, longer because we don’t have a forensically accredited lab in the area. So it got sent to Boston to be put in the queue.” He waited until the server refilled their coffee cups. “It won’t be able to tell you if it was accident or suicide, though.”
“It wasn’t suicide.” There was no yield in Jacey’s tone.
Pete and Xavier exchanged glances. “With what you brought up last night about her never leaving Augie, it does seem to make more sense,” Pete said. “Are you heading home right after Sally’s Celebration of Life Ceremony?”
“Have I overstayed my welcome already?” Jacey asked and smirked.
“No, no. In fact, we talked it over last night and we wished you could stay longer,” Xavier said.
“Really? Because I was thinking that I might take a leave of absence and hang out a while.”
“God, that would be great! Will your work let you do that?” Xavier asked.
“I don’t see why not. I certainly have enough sick days built up.”
“Are you sure you’ll be okay staying in Sally’s apartment?” Pete asked.
“I’ll be fine. I decided last night that I’d like to know what kept Sally here, what caused her to fall so in love with Jotham Cove.”
“Won’t that be hard for you?” Pete wondered.
“Last night was the hardest so I think I’ll be fine.”
The server brought their orders, set the plates before the trio, asked them if they needed anything else at the moment. When they told her no, she left them to eat.
Jacey remarked how delicious her breakfast order was and then said, “I know this is kind of late notice but would it be possible to have a small get together after the ceremony?”
“No, we had planned on it. We’ve already arranged it at Van Dyke’s. Sally loved that place,” Xavier said.
“Oh. Actually, I was wondering if we could maybe have something a little more intimate at Sally’s apartment.”
Pete looked at her, puzzled. “Really? That’s a little…macabre, isn’t it?”
How could Jacey explain that if she brought the mourners back to Sally’s, maybe it would help trigger Sally’s memory if she was with one of them the night she died? “I guess you’re right. I just thought since it helped me to come to terms with the reality of it, it might help some of her other friends, too.”
“I don’t know. It’s kind of late to cancel on Van Dyke’s,” Xavier said.
“Yeah. Maybe we can put something together later when her death isn’t quite so fresh.” Pete smiled at Jacey. “Would that work?”
“Of course.” Jacey nodded and continued to eat. “What time is Sally’s ceremony tonight?”
“Five at the Community Chapel.” Pete took his last bite of food. “If you want to get up and speak, we can just put you on the program when we get there.”
“No, I don’t think I’m comfortable with that but thanks. I’m looking forward to see what everyone else thinks, though.”
“I suggested having everyone come back here after your ceremony but the boys said it was too late to cancel the get-together at Van Dyke’s,” Jacey told Sally, as she removed clothes from her suitcase and hung them up.
“That’s fine by me, I really don’t like strangers in my apartment.”
“If they’re attending your funeral, would they be strangers?”
Sally pursed her lips. “Good point. Still…”
“How many of your ex-lovers will be there?” Jacey asked, smiling slyly.
Sally faced her, hands on her hips. “Now why would you want to know that?”
“Just curious. How many are there, anyway? You were never very forthcoming about that.”
“There weren’t that many and I never said much because it felt weird telling you about them.”
“Well, how many is not many? More than one, less than 10?” When Sally just glared at her, Jacey asked, “More than ten? Why you little slut.” Jacey burst out laughing at Sally’s indignant expression.
“No! I’ve had four lovers in five years and none were serious.”
Suddenly the realization that other women had slept with Sally (and more than once) hit her hard. She knew there was at least one but Sally’s confirmation irrationally rattled her. Jacey’s demeanor flipped from playful to wounded.
“What?” Sally approached Jacey, concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. It’s just that…” Jacey sighed. “Sorry. It’s stupid.”
Sally studied her. “You didn’t expect me to save myself for you, did you?”
“Of course not. I mean, it was kind of too late for that, anyway. It’s just, I don’t know, I’m not sure I want to know.”
“Jacey -! That’s not fair and rather hypocritical. I knew all about your girlfriends. Don’t you think it broke my heart to constantly hear about you and Andrea? What about you and Suzanne?”
“Suzanne? She and I were fuck buddies! It meant nothing.”
“It meant something to her. Pammy would tell me how she wanted something more, how after each weekend with you that she’d pretend it was more. I felt sorry for her but, more than that, I wanted to be her because she got to hold you at night and wake up with you at least two mornings a week. And Andrea? I used to think I hated her but I envied her.”
Jacey ran a hand through her hair. “Funny…she envied you.”
“She said you had that piece of me that she never would. My heart.”
The two women looked at each other for a reflective moment before Sally spoke again. “And you always had mine.”
Suddenly there was a lump in Jacey’s throat that felt as though it just might strangle her. She took a couple deep breaths to stop herself from bursting into tears.
“Hey…no regrets, remember?” Sally said, gently.
“Your philosophy, not mine.” Jacey finished putting away her clothes. “Fine. Tell me about your girlfriends.”
“They weren’t girlfriends. Not really. Just women I clicked with, had fun with…worked off some tension with…” Sally sported a silly smile.
Cocking her head, Jacey picked up on Sally’s smirk. “What?”
“They were all so different from each other. All very different from you.”
“You fulfilled me, Jace. You were my first and set the standard. Nobody made me feel the way you did. But to be honest, I may have picked women who were purposely so unlike you as not to ever jeopardize that sexual pedestal I put you on.” Sally said. She sat in the computer chair as Jacey sat on the edge of the bed’s footboard. “There was Ellie. She was first, after you. I really didn’t want to be with anyone full-time and she was persistent. She was young, a senior at Smith, and she would drive down twice a month.”
“Is she the one you met on the pier during fireworks?”
“No, that was Shani. Ellie was the one who almost hit me in the crosswalk near the traffic circle. She was here for one of the festivals. That same night I ran into her in a mini-mart and then again at TGI-Humpday’s. We hit it off but when we said goodbye that night at the bar, I figured that was it. Then she was there the week after and the week after that. She was cute and smart and interested so I thought, ‘why not?’ Then there was –“
“Wait. What happened to Ellie?”
“She was ready for the U-Haul by the time she graduated. She took a job in Montana and wanted me to move there with her.”
“Really? Why didn’t you tell me you were in something that serious?”
“That’s just it. I wasn’t. She was. And it’s not like I led her on because I was very clear that I wanted us to stay casual. I wasn’t ready for a relationship of any kind but, as I said, she was persistent.”
“Do you think she’ll show up today?”
“No clue. It will depend on whether or not someone told her.”
“Any photos of your exes so that I can recognize them if they are there this afternoon?”
“Sure. On my computer in my iPhoto.” She got up so that Jacey could sit at her desk. “Are you sure you aren’t just being nosy?”
“Hell, yes, I’m being nosy.” Jacey said and grinned as she booted up the desktop. She sat in the comfortable seat and swiveled toward Sally. “Don’t – didn’t – you and Ellie keep in touch?”
“We didn’t at first. She was pretty upset that I wasn’t as invested in our situation as she was. But then she got another girlfriend and started emailing me again to catch me up with her life.” Sally shrugged. “I was glad. I never wanted to hurt her feelings I just didn’t want a live-in lover.”
Jacey hovered the cursor over the icon for Sally’s photographs. She clicked it and iPhoto opened. “Wow, 2,480 pictures? I hope you know where to find the specifics.”
“I do. Click on the album, E1. E2 is for Erin who was number 4. S1 is for Shani who was number 2 and C1 is for Cam, who was number 3.”
“Why is it I only knew about Shani?”
“Because she always seemed to be with me when you called.”
Jacey moved the mouse and clicked on the E1 folder. Nine photos displayed. Seven of a young woman alone and two of the woman and Sally. “You’re right, she’s a cutie. You look uncomfortable, though.”
“I guess I was. She was a little clingy.”
Jacey then clicked on the S1 folder. “Shani. Yes, you did send me a photo of her. She looks like a hellion,” Jacey said, clicking on individual shots to enlarge them. “You look like you’re having much more fun with her than you were the youngster.”
“The youngster?” Sally repeated with a laugh.
“Come on, you said she was a senior at Smith. Ten years younger than you?”
“Yeah. So?” Sally’s voice took on a defensive tone.
“Cradle robber,” Jacey teased.
Sally extended her middle finger toward Jacey. Then she turned finger sideways. “And for the horse you rode in on.”
Jacey noticed that Sally had many more photos taken with Shani than with Ellie. “And Shani was Eastern Indian, right?”
“Half Hindu Bengali, actually. But she was born and raised in Toronto.”
“She’s quite beautiful.” Jacey recalled photographs from a Labor Day festival Sally participated in two years ago. She had emailed Jacey a bunch of pictures and two included Sally with her arm around this incredibly lovely woman. When Sally confirmed that she and Shani were dating, Jacey went into a nosedive depression that lasted for over a week. She remembered that Suzanne had come over that following weekend and helped raise her low spirits. They only got out of bed for nourishment and nature calling. Every time she panted Suzanne’s name, she had to be extra careful not to say ‘Sally.’ “What happened with her?”
“She decided she was bisexual and I decided I didn’t want what she might be bringing to the party when she started doing guys again.”
“Did you part friends?”
“Oh, absolutely. She understood. With us it was more about a good time than anything serious. She should be there later.”
“Did you see her at all on Halloween?”
“Not that I remember. We spoke earlier in the day. She was going to go to the annual costume bash at Harvester’s. That’s a huge bar near the circle.”
Jacey then clicked on the C1 folder. She was surprised to see that Cam was an older woman. “This is Cam?”
“Yes,” Sally answered with a fondness in her voice.
There were several photographs of Cam and Sally together, mostly candid but some posed. They looked happy. “She looks older.”
“By fifteen years.”
Jacey responded with a raise of an eyebrow.
“What?” Sally was defensive again. “Look at her. She’s hot. Age didn’t matter.”
“Not even in bed?”
“Sex with Cam was always comfortable and pleasant. And usually fun.”
“Fun? Like how?”
“You sure you really want to know?”
“No. But tell me anyway.”
“Okay. I had stamina with Cam because it all went so smoothly. I mean, all acts were certainly done and completed with the right amount of passion but she paced us. We had fun in bed because we laughed a lot. Like…there were times she’d get tired but not want to stop so she’d say, ‘I can’t move anymore. Bring that breast over here,’ or she’d hold two fingers up and say, ‘Just get over here and impale yourself on them so I can still do my part’.” Sally smiled at the memory.
“How’d you meet her?”
“She was a sheriff for Powell County. I had borrowed Xavier’s car to run some errands up near Bialy Bay. On my way home, I wasn’t paying attention to my speed and I was making full use of his new Pioneer speakers, with the top down. She pulled me over. She walked up to the car and said, ‘Where’s the party?’ and I took one look at her and said, ‘That depends. What time does your shift end?’.”
“Wow. That was pretty bold for you,” Jacey said, impressed. “Did you get a ticket?”
“I got a warning. And her phone number. We met for coffee on her next day off.”
Jacey studied the wistful expression on Sally’s face. “You really liked her.” It wasn’t a question.
“I did. She was strong and independent and we fit together really well. She reminded me of you.”
“Why did you break up?”
“She got lung cancer and moved to Arizona. We stayed in touch. She’ll probably be joining me soon.”
“She smoked? I can’t see you with a smoker.”
“No, the best they can figure it was a combination of second hand smoke and asbestos in the old County offices before they condemned them and tore them down ten years ago. I guess both her parents were four-pack-a-day smokers.”
“So she grew up breathing in the equivalent of eight packs a day? Good Lord, I’m shocked she made it to adulthood.”
“True…but she deserves to live longer than fifty years.”
“And you deserved to live longer than thirty-five.” Jacey returned her focus to the computer screen. “You’ll be happy to see her again, I bet.”
“Yes, but certainly not under these circumstances.” Sally shrugged. “Besides, I’m not exactly sure how that works if I’m stuck here forever to wander this apartment.”
Jacey studied the face of the woman she suddenly felt would have been her major competition had Cam’s stayed healthy and Sally not died. She then clicked on the E2 folder.
“Aw, Erin, my kinky little leprechaun,” Sally said, in a perfect Irish brogue.
The pictures Jacey saw were of a woman who looked to be close to Sally’s age, with flaming red hair and big hazel eyes. Erin had an emerald nose stud and a pierced tongue, which was prominently displayed in a few photographs. “Interesting.”
“It was, indeed,” Sally said, her tone holding humor.
“Kinky, huh? Do I want to know?”
“Probably not and probably why we didn’t last long. She was a little too adventurous for me.”
“Is it true what they say about ball tongue rings?”
“Depends on what you’ve heard. If it’s all good, then it’s true.”
Damn, Jacey thought, Sally sure wasn’t idle in her short life in J-Cove. She swallowed her ambivalent reaction. She held onto Sally’s confession that no one else held her heart or touched her soul the way Jacey did. “How’d you two meet?”
“She installed my new tub and shower and fixed my broken sink.”
“I bet she attended to your other plumbing as well,” Jacey tossed off.
“For a while,” Sally said, ignoring Jacey’s snarky tone.
“Is she still around?”
“I think so. I haven’t seen her in a while but honestly, if I hadn’t dated her, I never would have seen her. She goes to work, goes home. She’s not very social.”
“So she could show up today, too?”
“Possibly. If she does, it will only be to the chapel. She doesn’t drink and hates the bar scene.”
Jacey nodded and clicked through the photos again. She committed all four faces to memory in case she ran into any of the former girlfriends later that day. Although she doubted she’d see Cam and Cam would have been the one she’d want to meet the most.
“Speaking of which, shouldn’t you be on your way to pick up my ashes?”
“It’s just so bizarre hearing you ask me that.” Jacey stood up and stretched. “Xavier and I decided to pick them up about a half-hour before we go to the chapel, so I still have about an hour. I’m going to take Augie for a walk –“ Upon hearing the word, walk, Augie ran downstairs from the turret, wiggling and barking. “Well I guess he knows that word.”
“He knows how to tell time, too. He knows when it’s six o’clock because that’s usually suppertime.”
Jacey retrieved Augie’s harness and placed it on his happily squirming body. “Any suggestions for where to walk him?”
“Down Lighthouse Avenue to the boardwalk. There’s a stretch of beach where pets are allowed. You’ll see a big sign. Take baggies to pick up his deposits.”
Making a face, Jacey went to the kitchen and plucked two bags out of the container and shoved them in her pocket. “Will there be places to deposit the deposits?”
“Yes. And dress warmer than that. It’s chilly down by the water.” Sally pointed to Jacey’s jacket, hung on the back of a chair.
Jacey put the jacket on and bent to clip Augie’s leash to his harness. When she looked up there was a melancholy expression on Sally’s face. “What?”
“I always loved you in that leather jacket. And I miss walking my dog.”
“And I miss being able to hug you,” Jacey whispered back at her. She pulled slightly on Augie’s leash. “C’mon, Kinoot, let’s hit the streets.”
Jacey couldn’t get over the feeling that she had been emotionally punched in the gut, feeling almost as though she had been cheated on. Had she really expected Sally to be celibate? She knew Sally had been with Shani and she never really got over that but when Pammy told her that they had broken up, she was irrationally relieved. She didn’t know there had been a romance after her and before Shani but to find out that there were two other pretty steady relationships just floored her.
Why did it affect her so? Sally was certainly allowed to have a sex life, as was Jacey, in fact, Sally not having sex (other than with her) was not realistic and an unfair expectation, regardless of how accommodating to Jacey.
No regrets, Sally had said. Easy for Sally to say. Now.
She tried to reconcile her inequitable expectation toward her deceased friend. She knew it was wrong and unreasonable for her to judge Sally for being human. It was her issue, not Sally’s, that she was jealous of Sally’s involvement with other women. She came to the conclusion that the real issue was that she couldn’t make up for lost time and that was nobody’s fault.
Jacey finished walking Augie, brought him back, changed into dressier clothes and met with Xavier downstairs. Before she left, she asked Sally if there was any message she wanted to give any of the mourners. Sally told her no but to please take plenty of notes.
“I’ll do better than that, I’ll record it for you,” Jacey told her, and displayed her Flip camcorder.
Xavier and Jacey met Pete at the chapel. Pete wore his dress police uniform and looked extremely handsome as he escorted them in and up to the front, where they handed Sally’s ashes over to the pastor. The pastor then placed the plain urn on a stand and Jacey and Xavier turned and sat in the first pew, while Pete stood off to the side, keeping an eye on everything going on in the nave.
It had hit Jacey hard when she received the urn at the crematorium. That seemed to make it real that Sally was really dead and that she was holding what once was Sally’s body in her hands. It made it easy to think that it had been a mistake and it wasn’t really Sally since she had been talking to Sally’s ghost since yesterday but holding the basic vase that contained the ashes of the once living, breathing woman she adored slammed the reality of the situation home.
She had burst into tears so unexpectedly that she surprised herself. Xavier was stunned and unsure of how to react at first. He started by patting Jacey on the shoulder, comfortingly, as though he was afraid to touch her. When that didn’t console her, he finally put an arm around her. When she turned to him, he enveloped her into a full hug and cried with her. By the time they reached the chapel, they had recovered from their moment of vulnerability but it was still difficult for Jacey to let go of the urn.
One thing Jacey knew for sure was that Sally’s ashes were definitely deserving of a more attractive home than the cream-colored ceramic, covered vase they were in.
Walking into the chapel, Jacey didn’t really see anybody but the female cleric who stood next to the small pulpit up front and the large, framed photograph of a smiling, relaxed, gorgeous Sally. In the six steps it took to reach the bench where they would sit, she quickly scanned the nave to see a scattered group of people, possibly adding up to twenty. After they were seated, awaiting the beginning of the ceremony, Jacey felt someone sit down next to her and put an arm around her. She looked over to see Pammy.
“Hey, sweetie, how’re you doing?” Pammy asked, gently. It was clear that Pammy had also been crying.
Jacey hugged Pammy back. “I’m okay, actually. How are you? Have you been able to get in touch with her family?”
Pammy shook her head, angry and frustrated. “Bunch of A-holes. I can’t believe I’m related to such ignorant, hateful stooges. They thanked me for calling and hung up.”
“So they still haven’t forgiven her for being a lesbian?”
“No. They would have rather she stayed in an abusive, loveless marriage than acknowledged her sexuality. They think it reflects on them as bad parents because she’s gay.”
“It reflects on them as bad parents because they disowned her because she was gay. What is wrong with people?”
Pammy shook her head and leaned over to give Xavier a kiss on the cheek. “How’s Augie?”
“He’s better now that Jacey’s here,” Xavier told her. “Which I find interesting since he’s never even met her before.”
“Maybe he sensed the connection,” Pammy said. “You and Pete doing okay?”
Xavier shrugged. “It’ll be really hard not having Sally around but Jacey has agreed to stay for a while and I think that’ll help.”
Pammy focused on Jacey. “Really? How long?”
“I hadn’t decided yet,” Jacey answered. “I just feel the need to be here right now.”
“What about work?”
“I talked that over with Barb this morning and she said it wouldn’t be great but it isn’t something they couldn’t temporarily adjust to.”
They all looked up at Pete when they heard him growl and then turned to the direction in which he was focused. Craig stood at the narthex, clearly surveying the inside for someone. When his eyes met Pammy’s, they stopped searching; when they fell to Jacey, they became slits.
“Great,” Jacey mumbled and sighed. Craig pointed to his eyes with his index and middle fingers, then pointed those same two fingers at Jacey, who almost burst out laughing. “Where does he think he is? A scene from Pulp Fiction?” Jacey smiled, sweetly, and showed him her middle finger. She could almost visualize the red steam pouring out of both his ears. She turned around, facing the pulpit again. “How he and Sally ever got together, I’ll never know.”
“Oh, I know how they got together, I just don’t know why she stayed with him as long as she did,” Pammy said. Sudden movement to their right prompted them to watch Pete as he crossed in front of them and made a beeline toward the back. He stopped Craig’s progress in the aisle halfway up and whatever he said quietly in Craig’s ear, provoked Craig to look at him, startled, and sit in the pew next to where he stood.
Jacey took that moment to look around at the other faces, hoping she would recognize someone, like any of Sally’s past lovers, but she recognized no one. She turned to Pammy. “How come you never told me about Ellie, Erin and Cam?”
“Who?” Pammy looked genuinely puzzled.
“Sally’s girlfriends. I knew about Shani but not the others.”
Pammy stared at her, incisively. “And what would have been the point? You were so in love with her. I remember how you were when you found out about Shani. No flippin’ way was I going to go through that again. I figured if Sally wanted you to know, she’d tell you.”
The pastor, Reverend Sparks, stepped up to the lectern and cleared her throat into the microphone. She asked that everyone please take their seats. When that was done and the doors to the chapel were closed, she began. Jacey set her small, handheld camera to record.
“We have come here today to celebrate the life of Sarah Eleanor ‘Sally’ Schaeffer-“
“Pelkey!” Craig called out. Everyone, of course, turned to look at him. “Her last name was Pelkey,” he said, defiantly.
“She changed it back,” Pammy said, loudly, without looking back at him.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please. The audience participation portion of this program comes later,” Reverend Sparks said, graciously. She continued, uninterrupted, talking about Sally’s life from birth to her graduation from high school. At that moment, a musician from Van Dyke’s walked up to the piano, sat down and began to play and sing one of Sally’s favorite songs, Angel by Sarah McLachlan.
When the song was finished, the pianist took her seat back among the mourners. The pastor started to speak of Sally’s years and accomplishments after high school but made no mention of Sally’s marriage or Craig.
“You’re forgetting something, aren’t you?” Craig interrupted again.
The pastor took a deep breath and looked at Craig. “Mr. Pelkey, is it?” She received a nod from Craig. “This ceremony is not for your benefit. I’m going to guess there is a valid reason why you are not mentioned anywhere in my narrative of your ex-wife’s life. If you disrupt these services again, I am going to ask Deputy Briant –“ she nodded toward Pete, “to remove you from the chapel.”
Craig looked at Pete who was glaring back at him. He nodded again and slumped back in his bench. He folded his arms across his chest like a petulant child.
Reverend Sparks then reintroduced the pianist and a second vocalist and they got up and performed the song One Sweet Day by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. At the completion of the song, the second vocalist sat down but the pianist stayed. The pastor spoke of Sally’s move to J-Cove and how she blossomed in the community and donated one weekend a month to the gay youth services at the chapel.
At that point, Reverend Sparks introduced a young lady of about seventeen and told the short story of how, three years ago, Sally had saved the teenager’s life by helping to remove her from an abusive home and placing her in a temporary safe foster environment until the girl could be legally emancipated from her parents. The girl stood next to the piano and sang a spot on version of Evanescence’s My Immortal. By the time she was finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including the pastor’s. Even Craig wiped at his eyes a few times.
Reverend Sparks concluded by saying that Sally didn’t attend worship every Sunday but that her heart and soul were faithful and her deeds showed her true character. She further told the mourners that Sally’s spirit was alive and well and would live on in them all.
If you only knew, Jacey thought.
The ceremony ended with Reverend Sparks reminding everyone of the get together at Van Dyke’s. She then introduced a local duo, who both played guitars and sang. They closed the program with singing Closer To Fine by The Indigo Girls.
Jacey turned off her Flip. She slid it in her blazer pocket. She couldn’t wait to show it to Sally. She approached Reverend Sparks, shook her hand and thanked her for a beautiful ceremony. Reverend Sparks handed Jacey the urn and thanked Jacey for coming. Jacey looked around for Craig and was surprised to find him gone.
“Where did the walking penis go?” Jacey asked Pammy as they followed Xavier and Pete out of the chapel.
“Probably waiting outside,” Pammy said.
“He better not be,” Pete tossed back at them. “He wasn’t supposed to be here today.”
“Sally still had a restraining order against him when she died. I wonder if that applies to her ashes, as well,” Xavier said.
“We both had restraining orders against him, too,” Pammy said, gesturing to Jacey and herself. “But we let them lapse because we never saw him again after that night she ran away from him.”
They exited the chapel and Craig was waiting for them, off to the side. “I want my wife’s ashes,” he snapped.
Jacey tightened her hold on the urn and smirked at him. “How does it feel to want?”
“Listen, you bitch, those ashes belong to me!” Craig spat. He didn’t move from his position by the railing and Jacey guessed that was because he was terrified of Pete.
“Craig, Sally’s ashes go to the person she designated to get them and that person was Jacey,” Pammy said, annoyed. “Don’t forget, you’re an EX husband and you have no rights to anything of Sally’s.”
“AND…” Pete began, “I have no problem throwing your ass back in jail if you show up where you don’t belong or are not wanted.”
Craig removed his hands from his pockets. “I want those ashes.” He turned, descended the chapel steps and walked away.
“Why would he want her ashes?” Jacey asked, truly puzzled.
“My guess is that he can’t have her in life anymore, maybe something in his warped mind believes if he has her ashes, he has her in death,” Pete said.
“I don’t trust him. I was going to take the ashes back to Sally’s but I think now I will hang on to them, keep them in my sight.”
“Probably a good idea,” Pammy agreed.
“Let’s get over to Van Dyke’s and get this party started,” Xavier said.
“I can’t go. I have to get back,” Pammy said. “I was lucky they gave me the afternoon off so that I could represent her family. But, as a cousin, my work doesn’t consider her family enough to give me bereavement leave.”
Jacey hugged Pammy. “Thanks for making that drive to be here. I know Sally would have appreciated it.”
“Call me in a few days, let me know your plans. Maybe I can get back down for a weekend,” Pammy said. She hugged both Pete and Xavier and walked to her car.
“Text me so that I know you got home okay,” Jacey shouted after her.
“Will do!” Pammy waved, got in her car and drove away.
Van Dyke’s was crowded but only a small portion of the occupants were there for Sally’s memorial gathering. Jacey stayed close to Pete and Xavier, never letting go of the urn that contained Sally’s ashes, except to use the restroom and then she handed the vase to Pete until she got back. She had been approached by a few of Sally’s friends who all seemed to know who she was. Everybody wanted to buy her a drink. She was going to have to ask Sally just exactly what she had told people about her. Clearly, it was nothing negative. Also, until Craig had spoken up at the service, a majority of them never knew Sally had been married.
The pianist who had performed at the chapel was now back singing in her usual venue. She dedicated a few songs to Sally and then went on with her normal repertoire. Jacey kept looking at the door for Craig to barge in at any moment but he never did, much to her momentary relief. She wasn’t so naïve to think that her interaction with Sally’s ex-husband was over. He was just too angry.
Out of the corner of her eye, Jacey saw Xavier get stopped and hugged on his way back from the men’s room. She focused on Xavier returning the embrace. He put his arm around the tiny-framed woman and escorted her back to the bar. “Jacey, I’d like you to meet –“
“Shani,” Jacey said, recognizing her instantly. She extended her hand. “Nice to meet you.” Jacey was surprised at how much more attractive Shani was in person; not that she wasn’t lovely in photographs but they did not do her proper justice. The other surprise was how petite Shani was. Jacey guessed she was, maybe, 5’2” and topped the scales at, perhaps, a hundred pounds.
Shani Dasgupta took Jacey’s hand in hers and smiled warmly. “Ah, the famous Jacey Louden. Very nice to finally meet you.”
“Famous? Hardly. Notorious, maybe…”
“No…definitely a legend in Sally’s mind.” It was said, sincerely, without any hint of unpleasantness. She made sure she addressed Jacey, Pete and Xavier. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the chapel. I got a flat tire right outside of J-Cove.”
“It was really nice,” Xavier said. “Sally would have loved it.”
“I have it recorded on my Flip,” Jacey said. “I can email it to you if you’d like.”
“Thank you, that would be great. Remind me before I leave to give you my email address.” Shani got the bartender’s attention while Pete and Xavier excused themselves to talk to other friends and mourners. Shani asked for a drink and then turned to Jacey. “How is my little buddy, Augie, doing?”
“He’s a little trooper. He’s mourning with the rest of us but I think he’ll be fine.”
“Are you going to take him? Because, if for some reason you can’t, I will,” Shani said. “I adore that little guy.”
“No, I’ve got him and he seems to respond well to me. It’s good to know, though, that if I couldn’t, you would.”
“Yeah because being around Xavier makes him neurotic as hell.” She looked relieved that Augie wouldn’t be moving in permanently with the Pete and Xavier. “So how are you holding up?”
Probably better than you, Jacey thought, because I get to go home and see her…sort of. “Okay. Could be better.” She indicated the urn in her hand. “How about you?”
“Sad. Puzzled.” She reached over and rubbed the urn, affectionately. “I spoke to her last week. She seemed fine. I don’t understand. Did…did she give you any forewarning that she might be ready to do something like that?” Shani’s eyes were glistening when she looked up at Jacey.
“If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think she committed suicide.”
Shani’s big brown eyes blinked at her, confused. “You think…what? It was accidental?”
Jacey decided to hold back Sally’s suspicion of being murdered just yet. “I think so, yeah. Does it make sense to you that she would kill herself while Pete and Xavier were out of town and leave Augie alone with no immediate rescue or no instruction with what she’d want done with him? There was no note at all; none of her affairs were in order. That just doesn’t sound like the Sally I know.”
The bartender brought Shani her glass of wine. She accepted it and thought about what Jacey just told her. “You’re right. But then an accidental overdose doesn’t sound like her, either. She was pretty fastidious about any medication, including over the counter cold or headache medicine.”
Jacey saw her opportunity to introduce Sally’s theory of intent. “I thought that, too. You don’t think that maybe…something else happened, do you?” She watched Shani’s reaction carefully, gauging Shani’s expression for any sign of complicity or guilt. To her relief, there was only flummoxed concentration. Then Shani’s eyes got wide.
“You mean, like maybe she was killed?” Shani set her wine glass back on the bar then focused on Jacey. “That’s absurd. Who would want to kill Sally?”
Jacey shrugged. “No clue. The only person I know who wished her harm was her ex-husband.”
“Oh, yeah, him. Huh. Have you talked to Pete about this?”
“Not really in any detail. Pete and Xavier found her and said there weren’t any signs that anyone had been in her apartment or that it looked like foul play. But it doesn’t sit right with me, you know?”
“That’s a horrible thought. And what’s worse is that if it’s true, we may never know.” Shani shook her head and shivered. “Not so sure I liked you putting that thought in my head.”
“I’m not crazy about it, either, but maybe it’s something that needs to be looked into. Before I bring it up to Pete, I’d like to have a little more to go on than just a hunch. I’ve already convinced them that it probably wasn’t suicide and I’ll be interested to see the results of the tox-screen.”
Shani smiled and picked up her wine glass. “Don’t you love it that, thanks to TV, we can say things like ‘tox-screen’ and know what it means? I almost feel like, after watching so many seasons of CSI and Law and Order that I could walk into a crime scene and solve it.”
“True.” Jacey studied the remarkably symmetric and flawless features of Shani’s face. She could see how Sally could have been so instantly attracted. Shani was also charming and the sensuality just seemed to exude from her.
“How long are you in town for?” Shani asked her, as she sipped her wine.
“Originally just the service and to pick up Sally’s ashes but I think I might stay a while. I’ve never been here before and now seems to be as good a time as any to get to know it.” Jacey ordered another beer from the bartender when she stopped to wipe the counter of bottle sweat. She looked back at Shani, who was staring at her, oddly.
“Now is as good a time as any?” Shani repeated, incredulously.
Jacey faltered, momentarily, forgetting that no one else knew of Sally’s ghost. “No, that’s not what I mean, I just figured…” She took a long swallow of her beer. “So…do you still live here?”
“Off and on. I divide my time between here and Northampton.”
“Isn’t that where Smith is?”
“Yes. I teach two courses at Smith: Smith and Folklore and Smith and Popular Culture.”
“Those sound fun, actually.” Jacey accepted a cold bottle of beer from the bartender.
“They are quite popular classes.”
“Wasn’t one of Sally’s other girlfriends a student at Smith?” Jacey asked, knowing the answer.
Shani tilted her head in thought. “Uh…yes, Edie? Evie?”
“Ellie. Right. If you already knew that, why did you ask?” There was a smile on Shani’s face and in her voice.
“I just wondered if you ever met her here or ran into her at Smith.”
“No. I believe she graduated before I started teaching there. My appointment at Smith was two years ago, after I got my Masters.”
“Have you ever met Erin or Cam?”
“Slept with Erin,” Shani said, casually, “and I met Cam twice.” Shani raised an eyebrow in recollection. “Cam was hot.”
“That’s what Sally said,” Jacey agreed. She stopped at the slip and then realized that Shani would have no way of knowing what she and Sally discussed when Sally was alive.
“No, she was. There was just something about her. Too bad she got sick.”
“Do you think if she hadn’t, she and Sally would have gotten involved in something more serious?” Jacey couldn’t stop the jealousy that seeped into her tone.
“No. Her heart was always with you. Nobody was ever going to get to that place with her except you.”
“Does that – did that bother you?” Jacey made sure she expressed herself as honestly curious as she felt. The last thing she wanted to do was to come off sounding smug or gloating.
“No. I knew what I was getting into. Sally and I were friends before we became intimate so I knew all about her feelings for you.”
“And you said you slept with Erin?”
“I think everybody slept with Erin. Erin is like the six degrees of separation of every lesbian in the country.”
“So who had Erin first? You or Sally?”
Shani studied Jacey momentarily before she spoke, as though she was at war with her thoughts. Finally, a sexy grin formed on Shani’s face. “At the same time,” she purred.
The bottle nearly slipped from Jacey’s grip. She was positive the look on her face was priceless. “A threesome?”
Shani shrugged. “What’s a little sex between friends?”
Jacey was stunned. It’s not that she found the thought offensive and even though she’d never had a desire to partake in such a group activity, she just couldn’t believe shy, reserved Sally would freely participate either.
“Guess you didn’t expect that,” Shani said, taking another sip of her wine and looking around the bar before returning her attention to Jacey.
“I just…I don’t know, never thought a ménage a trois was in Sally’s vocabulary, much less her experience.” Jacey took a long drink of beer. Boy, were they going to have a conversation when she got back to the apartment.
“So why is it you and Sal never got together, anyway?”
“Sally!” Jacey called out after she closed and locked the apartment door. Augie bounded in, all wiggles and wags and happy to see his new mistress. She set the urn on the table and stooped down to pet the dorkie and then rub his belly.
“It’s so hard to give really good belly rubs to a boy dog, isn’t it?”
Jacey looked up at her, relieved that she was still there and annoyed about that “little detail” she never mentioned.
“Is that my urn?” Sally asked before Jacey could question her. “That’s kind of boring. It’s so, I don’t know…what’s the word I’m looking for? Vanilla? I don’t think that fits my personality at all.”
“Speaking of that,” Jacey stood up and rested her hands on her hips, “I ran into Shani and –“
“Oh, good. I’m so glad you got to meet her. Isn’t she great?” Sally stopped speaking when she notice the annoyed look on Jacey’s face. “What?”
“You – Shani – Erin…?” Jacey folded her arms across her chest and her foot began to tap, impatiently.
Sally looked genuinely stumped. “Yes?”
“A threesome?” Jacey was surprised to learn that ghost could actually blush.
“Yeah. That.” Jacey spread her arms out and up in a ‘what-the-hell’ gesture.
“So what?” Sally said, almost defensively. “I was curious and they were willing.”
“And what’s a little sex between friends?” Jacey said.
Jacey dropped her head so that her chin touched her chest. She looked back up. “Really?”
“Are you jealous? Because that doesn’t seem fair.”
“I’m not jealous, I’m just –“
“No, of course not! It’s not my place to be judgmental and I certainly wouldn’t begrudge you sexual experimentation. That would be hypocritical and we never would have gotten together.”
“I’m just finding out so much about you I didn’t know. Why is that?” Jacey knew she sounded hurt and maybe that’s because she was.
“Whose fault is that?” Sally shot back. “Maybe if you had gotten your ass down here after you and Andrea broke up, you wouldn’t have to find out about me through others.”
“That’s not the point! I thought we were close and I seem to be finding out all kinds of new stuff about you. Why didn’t you ever tell me any of this?”
“Because you really didn’t want to know.”
There was a palpable silence between them as they both absorbed Sally’s words. Finally, Jacey blew out a breath in defeat. “You’re right. I really didn’t want to know.” She pulled the Flip out of her pocket and held it up. “It was a very nice ceremony and I’m going to load it to your computer so you can watch it and then send a copy to Shani.”
“Okay. But then can you feed and walk my dog?”
Jacey plugged the small camera into the proper computer port and navigated through all the program prompts. “Sure. But…isn’t he my dog now?”
Jacey walked over to her. “No, I’m sorry. I don’t want to be angry with you. I’m just frustrated because I can’t pull you into my arms and feel you against me. I shouldn’t take any of that out on you.” She checked Augie’s papers to see they were clean. She got out his leash, hooked it to his harness and left Sally to watch the computer as the video of her service was transferred.
When Jacey and Augie got back, Jacey fed him and then changed into comfortable sweat clothes. Sally was nowhere in sight but before she would conclude Sally had made herself invisible, she checked the turret. Sally was staring out the window and the dark water barely illuminated by a half-moon. “Hey.”
Sally turned toward her. “Hey. How can two people who’ve never even lived together end up bickering like an old married couple?”
“Maybe that’s what we were in another life,” Jacey said. She wanted to touch Sally so bad, it physically hurt.
“I guess something has to explain that connection, huh?”
“Why don’t you come back down to the computer and you can watch your ceremony.”
Jacey let out a big sigh. “I wanted to get a chance to talk to the people at Van Dyke’s tonight about your last night in there but it was just too busy.”
“There’ll be time. Doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere until we solve this.”
“What do you mean?”
“Everything I’ve ever read about why spirits hang around, the only one that seems to apply to me is the ‘unfinished business’ theory. I know and have accepted that I died, so that’s not it and I don’t think I’m still here because I’m afraid of accepting the next step or being judged for my earthly sins. That leaves me with either trying to pass on a final message or needing your assistance to help me complete something before I can cross over. I’m thinking that means finding who murdered me and why.”
“That means when we solve this little puzzle, I’ll never see you again?” Jacey lost her breath when the words left her mouth.
“Maybe not never…just not until you die.”
Jacey thought long and hard about what Sally had just said. Finally she said, quietly, “If I don’t want you to leave, can I keep your spirit here?”
Sally contemplated Jacey’s words. “Why would you want to do that?” Sally asked, gently. “You need to move on and, as much as it pains me, I do, too.”
“I don’t know if I can let you go again.” Jacey’s voice broke. She hugged herself and couldn’t stop the tears that began to flow freely. Sally rushed to her and attempted to comfort her by a simple caress except neither could feel it. “And that’s the other thing. I just want to hold you again and feel you again and that’s never going to happen, is it?”
“I don’t think I can physically manifest into a solid being, Jacey. If I could, I would.”
Jacey nodded, then looked at her watch. “It’s late. I should probably try and get some sleep tonight, if that’s at all possible. And I need to disconnect the Flip if it’s done.”
“Okay.” Sally followed Jacey down to the living room. Once Jacey disengaged the camera and powered down the desktop, Sally said, “Anybody heard anything from or about Craig?”
“Yes! He showed up. How could I forget that? He’s just as obnoxious and surly as ever. He was as hostile as he could be without crossing Pete’s threshold of tolerance. He wants your ashes.”
“Who knows? Just to be an asshole. He says your ashes belong to him.”
“Nothing of mine belongs to him!”
“Are you sure he wasn’t here in your apartment the night you died? That he has nothing to do with any of this?”
“I’m not sure of anything, Jace. But…why would he suddenly want me dead now? He’s been really quiet the past year so it doesn’t make sense that he’d do something now.”
“In your mind but Craig is a psychopath so, to me, it doesn’t have to make sense.” Jacey walked around the apartment and turned off all the lights. She stepped back into the bedroom and pulled back the sheets and bedspread. She climbed in and Augie jumped up and curled into a ball at her side. “Why don’t you lie down and watch some TV with me until I fall asleep. I know we can’t snuggle or anything but it will make me feel better if you do.”
“Sure.” Sally positioned herself on the bed next to Jacey so that she was lying on her back, her hands folded behind her head. Jacey aimed the remote at the television and started channel surfing. “Oooh, there!” Sally pointed at the screen. “Overboard. I love that movie.”
“I remember,” Jacey said and smiled. She dozed off to the sound of Sally giggling and snorting in response to Goldie Hawn’s antics.
Jacey woke up in a haze. She looked over at Sally who was propped up on her side, staring at Jacey with a sultry expression. She then noticed that Sally was naked. “Um…Sal?” Then she realized that she was also without a stitch of clothing. “What -?”
The covers were peeled back and Sally moved into Jacey’s startled, then welcome embrace. She could feel her! She could feel skin on skin. She could feel her wetness coat Sally’s thigh as it insinuated itself between her legs. She could feel Sally’s nipples harden against her own. She could smell arousal and it didn’t matter whose. “H-how -?”
Sally shook her head and pressed a finger to Jacey’s lips to ensure her silence. They stared at each other and Jacey felt her heart would burst with excitement. Sally lowered her head and claimed Jacey’s lips in a deep, long kiss that electrified her to her very core. Nobody kissed her like Sally did and the thrill was unmistakable. Suddenly her hands were everywhere on Sally’s body they could reach. Still kissing her, Sally slowly shook her head and batted Jacey’s hands away.
Jacey cupped Sally’s face with both hands and intensified the contact as their mouths melted into each other, tongues wrestling, lips moving together hungrily. Both women were breathing heavily.
Gasping as Sally broke the kiss, Jacey moaned as her neck, shoulders and chest were covered with small, wet pecks until those lips found a nipple aching for attention. Sally laved, suckled, gently bit, suckled some more and moved on to the other nipple. The sensations were driving Jacey to the edge and she couldn’t stop her lower body from rocking against Sally’s thigh.
Sally moved back up to kissing her lips again and then began her slow, infuriating journey south. She seemed to take an eternity to reach the area where Jacey’s need was pulsating through her entire body. When Sally was spending a little too much time near Jacey’s navel, Jacey whimpered, “Please…”
She could feel Sally smile against her skin as Sally positioned herself above that dark patch of hair between her legs that she could kick herself for not trimming lately. How odd, she thought, that it would be that to pull at her concentration. She was snapped back to reality at the parting of her folds and the first swipe of Sally’s tongue. All cognizant thought left her body when Sally went to work on making her explode.
Jacey had grabbed onto fistfuls of sheet and blanket and was nearly there from Sally’s gentle, then aggressive ministrations. But when Sally took her to the brink and then slid two fingers into her center and pumped with the same rhythm as her tongue, Jacey went over the edge.
The orgasm was most glorious and lasted as long as any Jacey had ever experienced. But her crying out in ecstasy also woke her up.
Jacey’s eyes flew open and she sat up, panting. It took her a second to regain any concentration. She looked over at Sally who was smiling at her with a smug, satisfied grin. The confusing thing was that Sally was still wearing the same clothes as when she went to bed last night and Jacey was still in her sweats.
“How did you do that?” Jacey asked, as her body was still calming down from the physicality of the lovemaking in her vivid ‘dream’.
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” Sally replied. “I’m just glad it worked.”
“Did you - could you feel it, too?” Jacey’s expression still registered shock.
“No, not really, unfortunately. I always enjoyed giving more than receiving. Except with you but, at this point, I’ll take what I can get.”
Jacey nodded and ran her hand through her hair. “I see you’ve learned a few things since our first time.”
“That’s a good thing, right?”
“Always. Not that I didn’t enjoy you before, it’s just…wow.” Jacey sat up, amazed that her lady bits felt as though she really had just had some energetic sex. “If you can do that, I really need to rethink letting you go.”
“I don’t know if I can do it again so don’t let that interfere, okay?” Sally sat cross-legged on the bed to Jacey’s side. “You need to find out what happened, Jace. For nothing else, if there is a killer out there somewhere, he or she needs to be stopped. Your desire to keep me here cannot overrule someone else’s safety.”
“Why did you do that, then? Why did you just make it so much harder?” Jacey’s tone was a mixture of annoyed and pleading.
“To see if I could. I’m sorry,” Sally said and bowed her head. “I was being selfish. I wanted you to be the first and the last for me. I thought you might want that, too.”
On instinct, Jacey reached over to try and gently lift Sally’s chin so that she could look into her eyes but her hand felt nothing but air. Sally saw Jacey’s fingers near her face and looked up. “I was hoping I could still feel you.”
“I hoped that, too, but…” Sally stared down at Augie, who stirred, woke up, stretched and then jumped down off the bed. She returned her attention to Jacey. “Please, Jacey, please help me remember what happened. It’s not that I don’t want to stay with you but I’m doomed to stay in this apartment if we don’t get this resolved. That may be great for you but it’s condemning me to an eternity I don’t want. I will outlast you and there’s no guarantee that when you die we will be together.”
“How about if I promise to always live here?”
“Again, how can you guarantee that?” Sally argued, mildly. “How positive are you that you can get work here? Will it be enough to cover rent? Living expenses? This is a resort town, Jacey; it’s not cheap. What if Pete and Xavier sell? Or something happens to one or both of them and the bank takes this place? What if, God forbid, something happens to you? I’ll be stuck here without you.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Jacey said, quietly. She had gone from blissful to troubled in a matter of minutes. “I’ve got to tell you, Sally, if it’s one thing I’ve learned from the last few days, it’s that I never should have taken for granted that you’d always be here.”
Sally smiled and arched an eyebrow. “You shouldn’t have taken that for granted anyway.”
Jacey dropped back to a recumbent position and focused on the ceiling. “I made a real mess of things, didn’t I?”
“I’ll take half the blame for that.”
“Do you think, maybe, we just weren’t meant to be together?” Jacey looked back at Sally.
“I feel like we were.”
“Then why did we keep sabotaging our chances?”
Sally shrugged. “Good question. I know it wasn’t intentional.” She tilted her head in thought. “Maybe you can consider this closure.”
“Do you know what you’re asking me?”
Jacey’s eyes stung with tears as she silently considered her limited options. Finally, she said, “I need to sleep, Sal.”
“No. Please. I can’t think right now.” Jacey turned away from her, almost curling up in a fetal position. She pulled the covers over her head.
Sally sighed and rolled her eyes skyward. She then looked at Augie, shook her head and disappeared.
Jacey couldn’t remember exactly when she had fallen asleep; she just knew when she awoke that she was in a terrible mood. It could have been exhaustion, it could have been sadness, it could have been anger at herself for being selfish at wanting to keep Sally closer in death than she did in life. There were many reasons why she could have been sulking and the difficult part was that she knew her acquisitive feelings for Sally were the key. She also knew the right thing to do wouldn’t make her feel any better.
She started the coffee and then took Augie for a walk. When she got back to the apartment, the aroma of freshly brewed java instantly made her feel somewhat better. She poured the dark liquid into a mug, added cream and headed for the turret. She was surprised that Sally wasn’t there. She went back downstairs and looked.
“Sally? Where are you?” She pursed her lips in thought. Could Sally decide not to show herself ever again? Would she punish Jacey like that? Why not? Aren’t you punishing her in your own way? Jacey headed back to the turret. Still no Sally. “I know you’re here because you can’t leave. You might as well show yourself,” Jacey said, calmly. By the time she finished her first cup of coffee, Sally still hadn’t showed.
She laid out her clothes for the day on the bed and then took a shower. When she came back to the bedroom from the bathroom, toweling herself dry, Sally was seated on the bed in the same position she had been in before Jacey turned her back on her the night before. Jacey smirked and didn’t bother to cover herself with the towel.
“I like it better when you don’t trim, by the way,” Sally said, an impish expression on her face.
“I aim to please,” Jacey tossed off, nonchalantly, as she began to get dressed.
“Don’t I?” Jacey challenged.
“In the way you’re thinking, definitely yes.” Sally stretched out on the bed, propping her head up with her left hand, watching Jacey. “So what’s on your agenda for today?”
Jacey retrieved another cup of coffee from the kitchen and set it on the dresser. “Oh, I don’t know…see a little more of J-Cove, find a nice café to call my own, search for your killer…”
“Really?” Sally scrambled off the bed, excited. Her enthusiasm waned a little when she saw the expression on Jacey’s face.
“I wish it wasn’t such a happy occasion for you,” Jacey said, sullenly, “but I know it’s the right thing to do.”
“I’m sorry, Jace, I wish there was another way,” Sally said, sincerely.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to talk to people and keep my Flip on so that I can look at and listen to what they say later.” She picked up the device from the computer desk and checked to see if it needed to be recharged and sent any remaining videos to the delete bin. “Something that may have no significance at the time may carry some weight later on.”
“Smart. Where will you start?”
“At that breakfast café that you frequented – mainly because I’m craving that egg dish you liked that the boys introduced me to. Then I will head over to your work and snoop around there, although, since you worked alone and haven’t mentioned anything about anyone being pissed off at you, I doubt that will give me any help.”
“No. Taking people’s orders for posters and signs doesn’t yield a lot of motive. And, before you ask, I cannot remember the last time someone’s order was screwed up, so I agree you won’t find your answer there. Then what?”
“I guess I’ll stop by the sheriff’s department and talk to Pete, tell him I think you might have been murdered, try to convince him that I’m not totally insane and see what his thoughts are. Then I’ll eventually head back over to Van Dyke’s and later, to TGIHumpday’s.” She put her jacket on and placed the Flip in the inside pocket. “If I somehow, miraculously, solve this thing before I get back, don’t you dare leave until I’ve had a chance to say goodbye.”
“I’m not sure how that works but I will do my best.”
“You better because I’m not ready to say goodbye just yet.”
Jacey heard the sound of the door closing downstairs to Pete and Xavier’s apartment and then footsteps walking up the stairs. There was a knock and she heard Xavier’s voice say her name. She opened the door.
“Hi. What’s up?”
“Nothing. I have to go grocery shopping and I wondered if you wanted to go with me,” Xavier said.
“Next time? I have a few things I need to get done first.”
“Okay. Just thought I’d ask. Anything I can pick up for you while I am at the store?”
“Nope. I’m good, thanks.”
“Okay. See you later, then. Have fun getting to know our little burg.”
“I will, thanks, Xavier.” Jacey shut the door and turned to Sally. She waited for the sound of Xavier reaching the bottom of the stairs. “He’s really a good guy.”
“They both are. I lucked out finding this place.”
Jacey took the Flip out of her pocket and activated it. She pushed the record button. “I should see if maybe you show up on this thing. I mean I know you probably won’t but that’s logical thought and if any of this was logical, I wouldn’t be able to see you.” She aimed the camera at Sally who waved, stuck her tongue out and then did a time step tap dance. Jacey was laughing at Sally’s antics when she heard Xavier’s footsteps on the stairs again. “Wonder what he forgot to tell me.”
She walked to the door, anticipating his knock. She neglected to switch her recorder to the pause or stop mode. She swung the door open to find Craig standing in front of it. She immediately started to slam the door shut but Craig violently pushed his entire body against it and the motion knocked Jacey almost halfway across the room.
“Jacey! Oh, God!” Sally cried, her words audible to only Jacey.
Jacey tried to get to her feet, as Craig closed and locked the door. He then hurled himself at her and tackled her, straddling her and slamming the back of her head against the floor several times. Sally screamed for him to stop and attempted to interfere, to no avail. Augie barked as menacingly as a Dorkie could but all that did was annoy Craig. He picked up a candle off the coffee table and chucked it at the dog. It missed Augie but broke over his head and was enough to cause the frightened little dog to retreat under the bed.
Jacey felt as though everything was swimming around her and she knew the back of her head was bleeding. “What do you want, Craig?” Her voice didn’t sound or feel like it even came from her.
“I told you, bitch. I want my wife’s ashes.”
“They’re over there,” she pointed toward the table by the door. “Just take them and leave.”
Craig looked in the direction Jacey’s finger was pointing. A sadistic smile curled his lips as he returned his attention to the woman he had trapped beneath him. “Too late. You should have given them to me when I asked.”
“She didn’t want you to have them,” Jacey told him, her strength coming back slowly.
“I don’t give a flying fuck what she wanted. She didn’t give a flying fuck about what I wanted. She was my wife and her ashes will be buried with me!”
In a surprise move, Jacey’s long legs flew up and around Craig’s neck, hooked together and pulled him backward, smashing his head against the floor, an act that dazed him long enough for Jacey to get to her feet. She was still dizzy, however, and she quickly fell to her hands and knees. If the circumstances had not been so grave, she might have been amused at Sally dancing around Craig, cursing and throwing kicks and punches that connected with nothing.
“You’re going to pay for that!” Craig spat out as he rolled over and got to his feet.
“You watch too many B-movies,” Jacey told him. “You’re a fucking cliché.”
“A cliché, huh?” He kicked out at Jacey’s ribcage but she grabbed his foot and halted its momentum. This put him off-balance and they both fell to the floor. She pivoted her body, swung her leg around and connected with his nose, which sent blood spurting everywhere. “Fuck!”
Jacey tried to scramble back out of his reach but he caught her and dragged her across the floor to the couch. He viciously kicked her in the stomach and ribs, incapacitating her just long enough to grab a sofa pillow. With his free hand, he took a small caliber handgun from a holster attached to his belt, put the pillow against Jacey’s stomach, pushed the pistol into the cushion and pulled the trigger. There was the sound of a muffled pop and nothing more.
When he removed the pillow, there was a hole with black burn marks around it on the other side. Blood began to accumulate quickly on the front of Jacey’s shirt in the middle of her stomach. Jacey slumped back, eyes wide in disbelief.
“Nooooo!” Sally screamed in horror as the scene unfolded in front of her. She went to Jacey and tried, in vain, to cradle her. “Jacey! Sweetheart, hang on! You’ve got to fight him!” But it seemed as though Jacey could no longer hear her.
Craig stood up, went to the bathroom, washed the blood off his face and returned to the living room with a towel held up to his nose. The flesh around his eyes was already swelling and starting to take on color.
Jacey’s stomach burned as though someone had run a branding iron through it. She was weak but still responsive. She could feel her heart thudding in her chest and breathing was becoming a chore. “Why?”
“Why what? Why do you need to die or why did I kill her?” He seemed calm now, smug.
“So you did kill her?” Jacey was troubled at how raspy her voice sounded. “How?”
“What difference does that make to you now?”
“None. I just thought you might want to brag about how you fooled Pete into thinking it was suicide.” She glanced down at the front of her shirt, which was now soaked in her blood.
“It was easy. I followed her to that dyke bar on the pier, waited until she went to the bathroom, then I rohypnoled her.”
“Nobody saw you?”
“It was Halloween, everyone was in costume, including me. The place was packed and when I saw her start to react to the roofie, I got her up on the dance floor and then escorted her out the back and into my car.”
“Then you brought her here and forced a full bottle of antidepressants down her throat?”
“Uh huh. It was easy.”
Jacey felt herself starting to fade. She kept blinking her eyes to focus, as though that would prevent her from slipping into unconsciousness. “Why?”
“She ruined me. She left me; that was bad enough. Then she got that restraining order against me, which I am sure I have you and that dyke cousin of hers to thank for. Then my job found out I had been arrested and they fired me. Because I couldn’t make the payments, my bike got repossessed. Because of my jail record, I couldn’t get another job for nearly two years. Since then, I’ve been struggling with payments to hold onto my house and my girlfriend. I thought I was just getting back on my feet when she left me and this job found out about my record and fired me. Last week I lost my house. Everything turned to shit because she left and I made her pay.” His tone was laced with vindictiveness.
“And…you don’t…think any of…it was your…fault?” Jacey was gasping for breath. The pain wasn’t so bad now as the area seemed to be numbing.
“She left me!” he yelled at her. “If she hadn’t done that, none of this would have happened. And if you hadn’t shown up in her life, she never would have left me. You’re the bitch who turned her!”
“You…really are…an…asshole, Craig.” Jacey panted.
The sound of footsteps thundering up the stairs made Craig turn toward the noise. Before he could react, the door was busted open and guns were pointed at him. “Put it down! Down, Craig!” Pete shouted. He was accompanied by two other deputies who had their service weapons aimed at Craig. They approached him slowly.
Craig didn’t initially drop his pistol. He looked undecided whether he wanted to turn it on himself or go suicide by cop. In the end, he chickened out by doing neither and obeyed the commands to drop his weapon and get on his belly on the floor. While the two other deputies tended to shackling Craig and searching him for other weapons, Pete ran to Jacey.
“No, no, no…” He keyed the mic clipped to his epaulet. “Briant to base - I need an ambulance at 361 N. Saltair, upstairs. GSW to the stomach, female in her early thirties, conscious, weak pulse, shallow breathing.” He assessed Jacey’s pallor and the amount of blood loss. “Stay with me, Jacey, we’ll get you fixed up and as good as new.” He ripped open Jacey’s shirt.
One of the other deputies walked up to Pete, handing him a kitchen towel. “Don’t know how much good it’s gonna do, buddy,” he said to Pete. “That blood is almost black, meaning it hit the liver –“
“Shut up, Jim! Jesus.” He looked at Jacey after applying the towel to her gunshot wound. “You’re going to be just fine. Hang on, okay? Just hang on.”
Pete’s eyes got moist. “Don’t worry about that now. Just think about getting to the hospital and getting better.”
“How…did you…know…to…come here?”
“Xavier recognized what he thought was Craig’s car, when he drove around the corner. It bugged him so he called me. I had a nasty feeling so I had my guys come with me.”
Jacey swallowed with great difficulty. “Augie. Under bed. Shani. Give…him…to…Shani…”
The sound of sirens approaching caught the attention of Pete who sighed, relieved. “Ambulance is almost here, kiddo. Hang in there, okay? We’ll get you to the hospital and –“
“No. Must stay here…” Jacey stated, adamantly with more strength in her voice. It was an effort that took her last ounce of energy and she slipped into unconsciousness.
Shani followed Xavier into the apartment. “Come here, Augie! Here, boy!” Shani sunk to her knees. “I have bacon…” She waved it around so that the Dorkie could get the scent. The little half Dachshund, half Yorkie whimpered then crawled on his belly out from under the bed to Shani. Unexpectedly, tears streamed down her face as she reached for the pup and hugged him close to her. She showered his head with noisy kisses. “What a good boy! Yes, sweetie, you’re going to come stay with me.”
Xavier kept his hand over his mouth in thought and dismay. “Thank you for taking him. I don’t think he would have been happy with Pete and me.”
Shani looked at the dried blood on the rug. “I’m still in shock.”
Jacey turned to Sally. “This is surreal.”
“I know. I feel for the trauma Augie has been through and Xavier, Pete, Shani and the rest but…Augie will have a good home and we did end up together.”
“Not exactly the way I wanted but I suppose it will be okay,” Jacey said.
“We get to spend eternity together, how can that not be okay?”
“Ummmm…’cause I’m agnostic and I’m expecting the other shoe to drop at any second.”
Sally moved into Jacey’s embrace. “Can you feel me?”
Jacey looked at her, amazed at the feeling of arousal she possessed. “Oh, yeah.”
“Then we’re good.”
“So why are we still here, in limbo? We both know the answers to who killed us and we both understand and acknowledge that we’re dead…”
Sally placed a finger against Jacey’s lips. “Shhh. Don’t question it. Let’s just roll with it.” Jacey shrugged, then nodded. “Where do you want to go first?”
“How about Greece? I’ve always wanted to make love to you in one of those white villas with an Aegean view.”
“Mmmm. That sounds romantic. Let’s see if we can make it happen.”
The two ghosts disappeared as Xavier and Shani left the apartment with Augie in tow.
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