Human Interest

by Cephalgia

Author's note: This is something different for me, unlike anything I've written before. Feedback is always welcome at

Dedication: This is for Tony, Reagan and Kathy who pulled me off my own seawall and for M and K who never wanted me there in the first place.

Chapter One

The furious surf pounds against the seawall, venting its unrelenting rage against the sturdy barrier. It is the age-old case of the immovable object being confronted by the irresistible force. Again and again the waves smash and recede only to rise Phoenix-like again.

Not many venture this far out along the seawall; the part that extends beyond the small town's quiet port. Closer in the berthed ships act as guardian to the stone and concrete structure, but on the furthest edges the ocean is allowed to assault the seawall unabated.

At that far end of the edifice the seawall comes to an abrupt end, as if whoever had been brave enough to build it in the first place had suddenly become un-nerved. The seawall sputtered to a conclusion and now a gently curving tail extending into the ocean is the only evidence of man's attempt to exert himself into Neptune's domain.

I had been to this small community many times in the past, the lure of the rugged Pacific shore proving too potent to resist. I had found the town of Haven on an unplanned adventure, a bit of luck in a life devoid of much of it.

I was on my way home to the sprawl of Los Angeles from an assignment covering the National Organic Gardening Conference in Salem, Oregon. Three days of people telling each other why dung is preferable and pesticides are not. My job was to write two hundred words, five hundred words and one thousand words on the conference, encapsulating three days into several paragraphs. In turn, my words would be syndicated and used as filler in your local paper, the published content of my work less an argument about the merits of organic farming than a matter of the length needed to fill the page. I suppose my boss at Newsworthy Items Incorporated would be a tad disappointed to get a summary of the Organic Society's annual meeting about fertilizer and pest control as, “Shit! Don't bug me.” No, probably way too succinct.

I bet you never realized that those little items that closed the gap between the really important articles in your newspaper and the bottom of the page were actually researched and written by someone. Doesn't seem like much of a job I know, but when your first two attempts at being a novel writer are returned from publisher after publisher, you have to earn a living somehow. I pulled a tab with a phone number off a piece of paper at the Laundromat that screamed, “Be a Writer!” and ended up talking to Herschel Laub, a squat, balding man in his mid-fifties who had just lost his last ace reporter to a bout of good taste.

With my bank balance, I didn't have the luxury of good taste. I took the job as a writer of filler copy finally justifying the amount of student loan debt I'd incurred by getting my degree in English. Laub tries to make the job seem more important than it is, calling it “human interest stories”, but I know what we are. We're the little fish in the littlest pond of journalism.

I guess at this point I should introduce myself. I am the protagonist of this little epistle that I intend to leave as my legacy to the world. Novel writing is damn hard and this is my final attempt. Win, lose or draw I'm finished. My name is Cassandra Marie Kendall. Not a bad name, but I used to try to come up with every variation on the name I could to make it sound more like something a real writer would use. C. Marie Kendall, Cass M. Kendall. CM Kendall, Cassandra M. Kendall…you get the picture. I settled on Cass Kendall because that's what I've been called my whole life and why stop now?

For those of you into having a visual, I'm thirty-two years old. Not a spring chicken, but it took me a while to get my degree and fail at writing the Great American Novel twice. I'm five foot six, have shoulder length brown hair and standard issue blue eyes. That's all the description you get. For Pete's sake use your imagination on the rest, do I have to do all the work? Besides, if all goes according to plan there should be a very nice picture of me on the back jacket of the hardcover version of this book and a smaller, more tasteful one inside the paperback release.

What else do you need? Oh, my background. Middle child of three for those of you who think that means something. My parents are both living and I have one brother and one sister. I was born in Topeka, Kansas, but now I have a two bedroom apartment in Century City, just one in the millions of Los Angeles area residents. That's basically it except for what this book is going to be about. I'm not really sure my life would make an interesting enough story for a novel.

But maybe my death would.

Chapter Two

Now I know what you're saying to yourself. Thirty-two years old is so young to die. It's tragic. Maybe so, but don't worry. I don't have AIDS or cancer or any one of the thousands of blights on the health of the world. The simple truth is…I'm tired. I'm too tired to fight all of the garbage this world is capable of doling out. Like the French at Paris, I surrender. I didn't get a say at the start of my life, but I damn sure am going to have a say at the end.

Okay, let's call it what it is… it's my plan to commit suicide.

As a good reporter I just can't let that comment stand without exploring the five W's and one H for you.

Who: Well me, of course

What: Suicide

When: Now here is an interesting question. This actually requires some thought. First, I don't want to do it near a national holiday because every time it rolled around, my family and the few friends I have would be reminded of it. Picture this: It's the Fourth of July and the fireworks are going off in Topeka, Kansas. My mother stands there in tears while everyone else celebrates. No way. Ditto it can't be on someone's birthday; that would be too cruel. Okay then, holidays and birthdays are out. Let me grab the calendar a second. Geez, this is complicated. Alrighty, let's get this over with and do it the scientific way.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four. Five potato, six potato, seven potato, more! August 13th. Seems as good a day as any. August 13th, a day that will live in infamy. Oh wait, that phrase is taken. I'll think of something. I'm a writer after all.

Where: This kind of goes along with…

How: Now this brings me back to Haven, of course, and my friend the seawall. I used to be afraid of the ocean and the strong undertow, but not anymore. I used to be bothered by the thought of drowning, but it doesn't scare me now.

I had a few things on my list of ways I didn't want to die. Fire (still don't), drowning (reconsidered) and being staked out naked on an anthill with a slab of watermelon on my stomach. (just …ew!) Guns are too messy and I'm afraid drugs won't finish me off and I'll be left a vegetable in some nursing home where my family will have to wage a court battle to get my tube feeding discontinued. No, I think a leap into the mighty Pacific from the seawall would be best with maybe a bottle of Jack Daniels on board for good measure and Dutch courage.

Cass Kendall, with the Jack Daniel's bottle in the Pacific Ocean. It kind of sounds like a solution in the game of “Clue”. Oh, I forgot, on August 13th, a day of sadness and tragedy. Hmm, not taken, but too melodramatic. I'll keep trying.

Why: This is the crux of the matter, isn't it? Everybody always wonders about the why of a suicide. I happen to be a considerate person though and I won't leave you wondering about the why. It's so simple. Her name is Grace and she has made my life a living nightmare. It wasn't always this way, but it is now and I have reached the end of my rope. Not literally, I told you I picked drowning, not hanging.

It's a long story how I got to this point. Laub always advises me to keep it short and simple, but I'd like to explain. Have you got the time to hear it? Okay then, sit down and put your feet up. This tale has got to be better than the human interest stuff I write now so maybe you'll be entertained.

August 13th, the day Cass Kendall dies.

Chapter Three

Grace was behind the counter of the Drainpipe Diner as I passed through Haven for the first time. I'd like to say I noticed her right away and that it was a karma and kismet kind of thing from the first moment, but that would be a lie. I had just stopped with the intention of filling my thermos with coffee and escaping the driving rain that normally would have made me want to leave any area, but only enhanced Haven's natural charm

I stepped through the door, embarrassed when a bell suspended above the doorframe tinkled at my entrance. Several heads lifted and looked to where I stood. Most of the looks I received said, “It's nobody” and the wearers resumed whatever activity they were engaged in prior to my interruption. One look, however, said, ”Shut the door, stupid”, so I did. That look belonged to the dark haired woman standing behind the counter holding a glass coffeepot.

“How about a warm-up, Grace?” an elderly gentleman at the counter asked, holding up a white porcelain mug. The young woman moved in front of him and filled his cup.

“Okay, but no more, Ed. I'm cutting you off. It's decaff for you after this. Doc Mitchell was in here last weekend and said you'd been in every bed over at Haven General and we aren't supposed to help you with getting back in there for a repeat performance.

The man called Ed showed a toothless grin as he replied, “Yes, mother.”

Grace smiled back and said, “Damn straight.”

During the exchange I had moved to a tiny table near the window. The rain spattered drops in intricate patterns against the windowpanes that were partially concealed by lace curtains. I was fascinated with the monochromic kaleidoscope and never heard the dark haired woman come up behind me.

“What can I get you?” she asked. I turned and found the woman with the coffeepot at my table. She raised her eyebrows and nodded at the mug sitting upside down on the table in front of me. I smiled weakly at being caught daydreaming.

“Oh…sure,” I mumbled as I turned my mug over and let her fill it. I looked closer at her now, guessing her to be around thirty, and noticing the dark hair to be shot through with fine silver hairs. The silver did nothing to detract from the beauty of that long hair which was pulled back and held loosely with a leather thong. Her eyes were her drawing point though, a color of brown I'd only seen in a fondue pot of melted milk chocolate. Tiny flecks of gold twinkled in those brown eyes as she tolerated my staring.

“See anything you like?” she asked. I blushed and my brain furiously began a frantic attempt at stringing two words together. “On the menu?” she prompted, pointing out a plastic enclosed list of offerings sitting in front of me on the table.

“Oh, yeah.” Surely I was impressing everyone within earshot with my witty repartee. “Um, what's good?”

Grace appeared thoughtful as she adopted a casual stance. She was wearing faded blue jeans and an Oregon State University sweatshirt and appeared as comfortable in her skin as she was in the diner.

“Well, the special is good," she concluded.

“I'll have that,” I said agreeably, hoping the special wouldn't turn out to be Broccoli Surprise.

“We're out of the special,” she replied in a slightly louder voice than before.

“Next time get here sooner!” the group of about a dozen diners said in unison.

I smiled and Grace grinned as she shrugged her shoulders. “What can I tell you? We're all Cheers Bar wanna-bes.”

The customers laughed and returned to their own food and conversations.

“Seriously,” the waitress said, “You should try the Blue Burger. Quarter pound burger with Bleu cheese from a local dairy. It's good.”

“Done,” I replied. “I'll have that with fries, a Diet Coke and extra onions please.”

“Extra onions, right,” she said as she wrote. “But there'll be no date for you later.”

“That's okay, there never is,” I said, only half joking.

“Now that's a waste,” she murmured as she headed back behind the counter and put my order up on a stainless steel wheel that she spun into the kitchen in the back. The lunch crowd thinned, the Drainpipe quieted and I went back to watching the rain on the window and the few umbrella covered passers-by.

I felt rather than heard Grace come up by my side and deposit my order on the red-checkered tablecloth.

“But the rain is full of ghosts tonight that tap and sigh upon the glass and listen for reply,” I quoted. I looked at Grace, who was smiling.

“Emily Dickinson, my favorite,” she said. “I cannot say what loves have come and gone. I only know that summer sang in me, a little while, that in me sings no more.” Grace's voice was filled with emotion and I felt I had heard that familiar poem being read for the very first time. I suppressed the sigh welling up in me.

“Enjoy,” Grace said as she moved away. I watched her leave with a small pang of regret. Maybe another time or another place or, frankly, if I had the nerve, I would have spoken more to her. As it was I returned my attention to my food.

And that was it. A spectacular meeting, huh? My charms were obviously very resistible. It might have been just one of those “ships that pass in the night” scenarios except for two things.

Fate and forgetfulness.

Chapter Four

I was leaving the Haven Kwik Shop when I met Grace for the second time. I had purchased a bag of snack food and a local paper and was heading back to my car to see what I might find as an inspiration for a story. Human interest writing isn't like headline or feature writing. I never read the front page of a paper when hunting for stories; it is the local pages that give me the most inspiration. Laub assigns me stories that he finds out about, but my meat and potatoes pay comes from what I dig up.

Let me give you an example. Let's say I'm in Bumfuck, California. Now, the tiny town of Bumfuck isn't really all that interesting, but lets also say I buy a bag of nacho flavored Doritos and a copy of the Bumfuck Bugle and I've got leads! Okay, I don't need the Doritos, but tracking down leads is hungry work. I turn to the back pages where Bumfuck's social life is outlined. I might find a mention of Stanley Wingo's prize-winning produce in the Garden Club News. This becomes “Giant Vegetables in California” in the filler trade. Or let's say I attend Doris and Dick Olson's slide show on their trip to South America at the Bumfuck Senior Center. This becomes “Elderly Couple Survive Anaconda Attack”. It's always the truth though, unlike the crap the tabloids manufacture. You can't make this stuff up.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, second meeting with Grace. Actually this happened about 3 hours after the first meeting. Time flies when you're having fun. I had checked into my motel, caught the news and then watched an update on the Weather Channel. I'd been to the store and was engrossed in a copy of the Haven Herald when I could have sworn I heard my name called. I was right. I looked up and there was Grace, striding toward me.

“Hey, I found you. Matt over at the Sea Mist Motel said you might have headed this way. Thank God everybody stays at the Sea Mist, sure made tracking you down easier. I'm just glad you hadn't left town yet, Ms. Kendall.”

I was surprised and a little suspicious that she knew my name, but I had paid for my lunch with a credit card. Tax deduction for work expenses. I was also inordinately pleased that she'd taken the time to find me.

I decided to try for casually friendly. “Um…hi.” I tried and failed.

Grace put her hand on her hip, looking at me with amused eyes. I decided maybe to try for coolly suave. “So you tracked me down, huh? It wouldn't be the first time…” By the chuckle from Grace, I suspected I had failed with this one too. I was confused now until she held up a familiar looking small brown leather notebook. It was my day planner and held everything important to me regarding my professional life including my press card identification. It had never got me into a White House Press Briefing, but it was still a handy little item. Next to my wallet, it was my very existence.

I tried for mortified and this time, of course, I made it.

“You left this behind on the table at the diner. I didn't notice it until I bussed the table and by then you'd gone,” she said.

I took the day planner from her hand. “Oh god, thank you! You saved my life! If I had lost this I'd have been dead meat!” I looked through the day planner, surreptitiously checking that the one hundred dollars that I kept hidden for emergencies was still there. It was.

“Well, in my culture,” Grace explained, “if I save your life I'm responsible for it. So does that mean I should start watching you really closely now?”

I narrowed my eyes. “I thought that was a Chinese thing.”

Grace merely shrugged. “Where do you think they got it from?”

I admit it's been a while, but I was pretty sure the woman was flirting a little with me. She was leaning toward me with a look that said maybe she would be receptive to flirting at least.

“That might be interesting, but I'm not planning on being around long enough to need real watching. If you could just recommend a good place to eat dinner, I'd say you were relieved of your obligation.”

“Just passing through Haven, huh? Most people do. I can do better than recommend a place though. Strange as it seems, locals need to eat too. I know a place not far from the harbor and it's got a great view of the seawall,” she explained.

I was curious. “The seawall?”

Grace nodded. “It's about our only claim to fame. Late in the 1800's, just after the town was founded, James Hall, one of the early mayors, decided that Haven should become an important West Coast port. He raised money and set out to augment the natural harbor by building a seawall. He was obsessed with seeing it built, thinking his legacy would be a bustling, prosperous town. He paid attention to every detail of the project, but not to Eliza, his long-suffering wife, who by all accounts was given to 'ill humors'. One evening Eliza was seen walking out onto the seawall and when she reached the end she never hesitated and threw herself into the Pacific. Between the heavy clothes of the day and the strong undertow, she was swept out to sea. Her body was never recovered. The mayor never recovered either. He resigned his office and went into seclusion. After that there were a few half-hearted attempts at finishing the seawall, but nothing ever came of them. It's stayed pretty much unchanged from that day, curling out into the ocean and just stopping. There have been several other suicides from the seawall. The undertow and rip tides are lethal and now when someone is depressed or despondent, the locals call it 'wanting to swim with Eliza'.”

I shivered and it wasn't because of the gloomy day. The rain had given way to gray skies in the afternoon, but it hadn't been much of an improvement.

“Wow, great story. Is it true?” I asked, already composing my human interest piece.

“Who knows?” Grace said, smiling at my undisguised professional interest. “The bartender who told me the story drank more than he sold, but I suppose it could be true. You really are a reporter,” she remarked, nodding at my day planner.

“Reporter would be complimentary,” I said in a self-deprecating tone. “I do filler stuff for newspapers. You know, human-interest stuff. I'm not exactly Lois Lane.”

She laughed. “Good, because I'm no Superman.”

“Too bad,” I pouted. “I thought it might be nice to ask a super hero to join me for dinner.”

Chapter Five

Well it doesn't take someone from the Psychic Friends Network to know that Grace was talking about her place when she said she knew a good spot to eat. It was modest house located about half a block from the harbor on a small hill and was painted a bright blue. The color might have been beautiful on a sunny day, but on that cloudy one it just seemed forced. You know, like when you're in a bad mood and some well-meaning moron tells you to “smile”.

Anyway, I pulled into the driveway behind her and followed her inside. It was night and day different from the exterior. The house was cheerful and inviting with comfortable furniture and a welcoming atmosphere. It was much more in keeping with the way I pictured Grace living…easy and simple.

She directed me to hang my brown suede jacket on a freestanding coat tree and moved into the living room where she lit a fire in the pellet stove. Soon warmth began to seep into my clothing and I felt the best I had since leaving home days before.

Grace was a great conversationalist. She told me about the town and what it was like to be a local. We talked about politics (we both despise Bush), sports (she's a Mariner's fan and I like the Dodgers) and religion (we're both lapsed but from different things).

When we exhausted general topics the only thing left to talk about was us. We moved to the kitchen where Grace put me to work chopping vegetables as she browned stew meat, herbs and onions. I was the stranger in the situation so I gave her the synopsis of the life and reputed times of Cass Kendall. You've heard it; I'll spare you. Then I asked about her.

Grace shrugged and kept her gaze down into the stewpot. “Not a lot to tell. I've lived around Haven most of my life, well except for the first part with my grandparents on the Reservation.” She looked up at me anxiously, waiting for my reaction. I made none.

“My mom was a full-blooded Ollawon Indian married to a white guy. She moved to Portland to work when a drunk driver killed him and I stayed with my grandparents. I spent most weekends with her, but I learned the traditions of her people. When I was twelve, I got this.” She rolled up her right sleeve to reveal a blue tattoo on her shoulder. “It's my tribal name and acceptance into my mother's clan.”

I reached out reverentially and touched the intricate marking. “Wow, that's beautiful. I feel so…vanilla,” I said for lack of a better expression.

“Yeah, but when you're twelve and in gym class, all you want to be is vanilla, Cass.” She chuckled and added my vegetables to the meat and covered the mixture with water. She set the flame to start the meal simmering as we moved back to the living room.

She poured a glass of blackberry wine from a winery I'd seen advertised on Interstate 5. It was smooth and slightly sweet, but very mellow. It was a lot like the woman who poured it. “So, how did you come to work at the Drainpipe Diner?” I prompted, wanting to know more about her.

“Actually, I own the Pipe,” she said with a curious mixture of pride and resignation. “The one good thing the Ollawon nation did was jump on the Indian gaming bandwagon early. The casino has done a lot of good on the Res and each member down to one-eighth blood gets a yearly check. I saved mine as well as my salary from the jobs I'd held since high school and when I had enough, I bought the Haven Café. It had been up for sale for a long time and I got it pretty cheap.”

“So you changed the name to the Drainpipe. It's quirky and I couldn't figure out what it meant. Did you have plumbing problems with the place or something?

Grace laughed as she went back briefly into the kitchen. She lifted the lid of the bubbling mixture, stirred it and reduced the flame. She replaced the lid but not before the aroma made my mouth water.

“Actually, no, the plumbing was fine. I had just moved here and was setting up all the basics…everything I needed to run the place. I was in the middle of giving the cafe a good cleaning when Ed Fields ambled by. I don't know if you noticed him in the place earlier; he's quite the character.” I nodded, remembering the old guy at the counter.

“Well, he was blunt as always and asked if I was born stupid or did I study. He said, 'Cant you see this town is dying? It's just circling the drain.' That was it, the Drainpipe Diner was born. That was almost two years ago and it's been a decent living since then. Breakfast and lunch everyday except major holidays. I'll never get rich, but I'm okay.”

The story charmed me, but everything about this woman charmed me. I let myself enjoy the feeling of her company.

“By the time we make the biscuits, the stew will be done. Want to give me a hand?”

Now, the only thing Cass Kendall knows about making biscuits is how to bang the tube of pre-made ones on the kitchen counter to get them open. The phrase “making it from scratch” doesn't appear on my resume, but Grace made it fun. I was a flour-besmirched mess, but the biscuits were fluffy and light, not at all like the hockey pucks I'd figured they'd be. The stew was delicious and I found myself not wanting the evening to end as the grandmother clock on the wall struck eleven.

I stood, knowing Grace needed to be up early if the business hours posted in the window of the Drainpipe were any indication. I needed to head south in the morning too.

“Thanks for the meal and the very pleasant company, Grace,” I said as I moved to get my jacket. I slipped it on, relishing the heat it had absorbed from the toasty room. “Look,” I began as we reached the door. “California, Oregon and Washington are my 'beat' as it were and I'm up and down the coast a lot. I'd like to think more than just blind luck brought me here and I'd definitely like to see you again.” I blushed furiously I'm sure; being a smooth operator has never been my forte.

Grace gave me one of her smiles that made the pellet stove seem glacial in comparison. “I'm counting on it. In your day planner is a card with my telephone numbers for here and the Drainpipe. Call me.”

I felt my heart do that Grinch thing right then. You know, the part where it grows three sizes as big as it was? I leaned forward impulsively, kissed Grace on the lips and then moved back quickly, shocked at my action.

Grace only looked at me with undisguised interest in those liquid brown eyes. “Very nice. Maybe next time you come through we'll explore more types of cooking than what we did tonight.”

The rush of relief that passed through my system prompted me to reach out for Grace and pull her close to me as I deposited another sweet kiss on her mouth. I released her and stepped out into the night.

“Drive safely,” she called after me. I was so happy that I didn't feel the coastal drizzle as it fell lightly against my face. The first blush of love was upon me and I never even realized it.

Chapter Six

Over the next few months I used every opportunity to stop by Haven in my travels. Laub was worried I'd move to Oregon permanently and leave him without a West Coast reporter and I didn't feel like telling him that I'd been having a few thoughts like that myself.

My relationship with Grace progressed slowly in a romantic way without losing the friendship that we both found was sustenance to our souls. I would visit for a day or two every two to three weeks. I wanted more and Grace said she did too, but the circumstances of our lives didn't allow it.

In between times we e-mailed and phoned…a lot. At least one call a day and sometimes up to three e-mails. I'm not sure if the fact that we weren't close enough to see each other every day made this more impersonal contact so intense, but I poured my heart out into those electronic letters. I found myself telling Grace everything about me…stuff I thought about, fears I had. If something didn't work out between us, she was going to have a lot of things to blackmail me with.

I told her things I couldn't think about without trembling. For example, I told her about a time when I was eight years old. My grandmother lived with us and she had been diagnosed with what was at the time a relatively new disease…Alzheimer's. She was manageable and lucid most of the time, but she had moments of deterioration. As long as someone was around to re-direct her, she was fine.

One Friday my parents were gone. Dad was working out of town and my mom was helping out on a church collection of goods for the annual fund raising sale. My brother and sister were going to summer camp, but I had elected to do a whole lot of nothing for the entire three months of summer vacation. It was about ten in the morning and I was watching cartoons in the living room when Grandma walked in looking for something. There was nothing unusual in that so I just watched her for a minute before I asked, “Did you lose something, Grandma?”

My grandmother looked up at me. “The car keys, Cassie. I have to meet Sheila downtown.” Well, Sheila is my mother and I knew she told Grandma no such thing. By now I knew that Grandma needed “reminding” as my parents called it. I reminded grandma that Mom was working with the church and that she wouldn't be anywhere near downtown. Usually getting Grandma on track was easy, but not that day. She smiled at me, but instead of accepting my word for it or remembering what was real, Grandma only became more convinced she was right.

Not finding the keys, Grandma decided she would walk. I knew this was bad, very bad, and I started to panic. I knew Mom wouldn't be at the church until later in the afternoon, Dad was gone and Grandma staying home and safe was up to me. For three hours I desperately kept directing Grandma to anything I could. I asked her to clean and change the bandage on my knee where I had fallen off my bike the day before. I told her I didn't have my breakfast and got her to make me pancakes. After that I asked her to help me to rearrange the furniture in my room. She did everything I asked but when each task was done she always said she needed to get going because “Sheila is expecting me.” I was running out of ideas and I was scared to death. I thought I would have to call the police or go with Grandma when I heard my mother's car pull up in the driveway. I ran to her and hugged her hard. I could barely get out the story through my sobs of relief. Mom cried too though at the time I didn't know that it wasn't just for me.

Two years later Grandma fell and broke her hip. They nailed it to repair it and she went to a nursing home and never came out again. I never talked about that time afterward. Mom would cry when she talked about Grandma's problems and I kept in the terror of that day. Kept it in until Grace. Grace had my complete trust and a faith I had never given before.

It felt good to give that trust. I have to admit I never thought I was capable of it. I also never thought I was capable of love, but it soon hit me that I wasn't giving all this trust and communicating like I never had before without a reason. I was in love. It happened when I wasn't looking, just like everybody said it would. Usually I hate it when “everybody” is right, but this time it didn't bother me at all. Now all I had to do was find a way to tell her.

During my visits we had been more comfortable with each other and kissing had become routine with us. We had done some touching and more than one visit to Grace ended in me returning to my motel and touching myself. Maybe that was too much information, but my days of editing myself for others are long gone.

I can hear your next question and I'm not sure I have an answer. Why didn't we sleep together? That is the question, right? I thought so.

The answer isn't easy. First, okay we are both women and some days of the month just didn't interest either of us. In the beginning I was a little shy with Grace and though I think she would have been receptive to any moves I might have made, I was insecure. I looked at myself and couldn't find much reason for Grace to want somebody like me.

So for quite a while I said nothing about my love and did nothing to show it, physically at least. It was getting tougher to keep my feelings inside though and one day, a little shy of four months after I met her, I decided Grace needed to know. I was in danger of blurting it out every time I was with her anyway so I needed to plan it out and say it the right way before I just let it fly one day.

It was in early fall and yes, I remember the date. October first. I had just finished covering a convening of a new coven of witches in eastern Washington (“Walla Walla Wicken” was the title of that article, you might have seen it) and I raced for the southern Oregon coast. Haven was about fifteen minutes away when I pulled off the highway and into the Seaside Cabins. The cabins were closed for the season and it took some cajoling and an extra hundred bucks, but I persuaded the owner to open a cabin for us. The price would be worth it as this was a crucial part of my plan…neutral territory. Maybe I wouldn't be quite as nervous as I would be at Grace's place.

I checked in and dropped my things off in Cabin Number Four and then I headed into Haven. I had about four hours to make everything perfect.

This was how I saw it. We would be curled up on the braided rug in front of the fireplace. There would be candles, wine, soft music and I would look into those beautiful brown eyes reflecting the firelight and, in the sureness that I had found my soulmate, would confess my love which would lead to a to a grand night of passion. I played it out in my mind over and over on the way to Haven. Perfect planning leading to perfect execution.

I made my way to McGee's General store. I bought vanilla scented candles and one of those one-match-start-a fire logs. I'm no Davy Crockett; I need technology to set a mood. Then I went by Handley Liquors and bought a nice red wine, domestic but still good. I had my CD player and a CD of romantic ballads that I had burned on my computer before I left home.

Fire…wine…candles…check. I was ready. The butterflies in my stomach had the wingspan of a California condor and my palms were sweating when I met Grace at the Drainpipe as she was locking up.

“Busy day?” I asked as she got in the car and leaned over to give me a peck on the cheek.

“Not bad,” she replied as she fastened her seat belt. “Darren had a doctor's appointment this morning so I did the cooking and called my neighbor, Carmel, to do the table waiting. It went okay, I like to keep my hand in on the cooking part anyway.” I nodded, listening to Grace's day and thinking I could do that every day for the rest of my life and be happy.

I was heading north out of town before Grace realized we weren't going to her place. “Where are we going?” she asked.

I blushed, mumbled something about a surprise and told her not to ask any more questions. With my peripheral vision I saw her staring at me trying to figure out what I had planned. Fortunately the trip was short and I didn't crack. As we pulled up to Seaside Cabin Number Four, Grace smiled at me.

“What have you done?” she asked me. I shrugged, knowing I would have done so much more if it would have made her smile like that again.

We went inside the cabin and I directed her to the couch in the living room while I finished the preparations. I lit the candles first and a soft vanilla scent rose from the tapers. So far, so good. I had left the red wine open to breathe and I poured two glasses, setting them both on the coffee table near Grace as I moved to the fireplace. I had placed two larger logs on top of the Dura-flame log, figuring we would need the warmth far into the night. As the Dura-flame log ignited, I remembered something from my Girl Scout days. Wet wood smokes and wood is always wet in Haven in the fall. A woodsy white plume snaked into the room and started disseminating rapidly. Coughing, I saw that I had too little fire and way too much smoke.

I decided the flue must not be open so I reached in and moved the metal bar to the side. I heard the flue open and was satisfied with the drawing of the smoke for all of two seconds until the raccoon fell in. Yeah, I said raccoon. After the cabins were closed he apparently found a lovely home in the chimney and my intrusion in his life wasn't appreciated. He fell into the wood and escaped the fireplace unharmed due to my pitiful attempt at making fire. With a look at me that was a mixture of fear and indignation, the animal took off, bumping into the coffee table, knocking over and shattering the wine glasses. I stood there slack-jawed and coughing while Grace calmly walked over and opened the door. The smoke fled the room as well as the raccoon when Grace directed, “Leave, please.” I couldn't help but wonder if she meant me too.

I was near tears at the destruction of my plans, but Grace took it in stride. She picked up the two logs that were merely smoking and took them outside. Unencumbered, the Dura-flame log sparked to cheerful life. Forlornly I picked up the glass shards and wiped up the sticky wine. Soon the room was almost evenly split between vanilla scent and wood smoke. Grace cracked a few windows open and the fresh air helped a lot, but I was defeated. I sat down on the couch and pouted.

She made her way to me, sat down and took my hand. “Okay, you made an effort. I don't know why, but maybe you'll just tell me now.”

I couldn't look at her. I was a miserable failure at my first major love. “I just wanted it to be perfect. The only time in my life I wanted to say 'I'm in love with you' and it turns out to be a cluster fuck!”

I felt Grace freeze next to me and that caused me to do the same. No matter my wonderful plan, I had blurted it out anyway. Now I could barely breathe as I waited for her reaction. Cutting my eyes slowly in her direction, I found Grace sitting with a neutral expression. Neutral is a good word for it; when Grace doesn't want you to know anything, you won't.

I just watched her a few moments, seeing her digest the news. She finally took a deep breath and said, “I wasn't expecting that.” I didn't know what to say to that. Could it be this fabulous woman actually had no idea how terrific she was? Couldn't she see what I saw every time I looked at her? Apparently not.

I turned my body on the couch and reached gently to touch her face. Chocolate brown eyes looked at me as if any moment I would tell her I was joking. I wasn't of course.

“Grace, I'm in love with you. No plans, no disasters…nothing can change that. I've never said it before; I've never meant it before. I love you.”

Grace's eyes filled with tears, but she said nothing. I couldn't bear that I might be causing her anguish and I moved to take her in my arms. She let me hold her, but did not seem to take much comfort from it. I sat back and hesitatingly asked her, “Is this such a bad thing?” She gave a half smile at that.

“I suppose not. I suppose it's quite a good thing.” It seemed she was warming to the idea and that was all the encouragement I needed. I leaned closer again and kissed her with everything I was and hoped to be. I think she liked it.

I pulled her to me and set about to proving that she was the center of my universe. And then I did it again. And then my sun rewarded her satellite and I was lost in her completely. After a horrible start the night seemed to transition to the perfection I sought.

It never really hit me until later that Grace never said “I love you” back.

Chapter Seven

And there I was, winter fast approaching and deeply in love. Grace was affectionate and loving, but nowhere near as much as me. I put the differences in our love down to the differences in our culture. I was never really demonstrative but compared to Grace I was Romeo and Juliet all rolled into one.

I didn't mind being the one who said the words and showed the feelings externally even though it was contrary to my mid-western reserved stoicism. In a way it was good for me to say what I felt and in a way it was horrible. I was plagued with doubts about how Grace really felt about me because she didn't tell me. I was fast becoming a reassurance junkie. I could tell that as close as I wanted to be to her, the more she didn't want me that close.

I tried to back off to see what her reaction would be, but my absence or lack of communication didn't seem to bother her at all. She just accepted whatever attention came her way but didn't actively return it. I guess I knew all along that she didn't love me, but accepting it was another thing.

I know Martha Stewart would never say one-sided love was a “good thing”. I just didn't understand. How could it be that I was absolutely positive that she was my true love and soulmate and she felt only friendship? Well, friendship with sex. I thought this had to be God's cruel little joke on me. I finally love but my love didn't love me back.

Remember when I said Grace had made my life a living nightmare? That all started the moment I realized she liked, but did not love, me. Maybe I should correct something before you think you think I'm a witch with a capital “B”. Grace never made my life a living nightmare, she made it wonderful and filled with love. I felt like a complete human for the first time in my life. Barriers I had put up were removed and walls I built were taken down.

I am reminded now of the time when I was younger and I attended the church of a friend. The preacher there said he didn't believe that Hell was a specific place. He said that come judgment day there would be those who would live in eternal peace, perfect contentment and pure love with God and those who would not, but be allowed to know what they might have had. That knowing about the idyllic peace of being in God's presence and the reality of not being able to have it would be Hell.

That's how it felt with Grace. I knew what perfection my life could be when I was with her and the bleak nothing it would be without her.

Did I know she didn't love me? Yes, but I couldn't help loving her and hoping against hope that a miracle would occur to change her feelings toward me. I felt certain no one had ever loved as deeply and as truly as I did and surely that would be enough. I could love enough for the two of us for as long as I had to. I had nothing else to do and nobody else I wanted to do it with.

It was about that time that a few great truths hit me and if it will keep you from walking my path to the seawall, I'll share them with you.

First, there really is such a thing as love. That sounds simple, but I mean happily-ever-after, take-my-heart-it's-yours, romantic movie kind of love. I didn't believe it existed for a long a long time, but falling in love with Grace convinced me how possible it is. The only problem is that when you find it, it might not be returned.

Second, you don't have a choice who you will love. If you had told me I'd meet the love of my life running a diner in a tiny town on the Oregon Coast, I'd have said you were crazy. I had no choice though, it seemed like fate to me. The other side of not having a choice of who you will love is not having a choice of who you don't. Grace liked me and I know sometimes she wish she could love me, but she didn't. I just wasn't the one for her.

Third, if your love is really true, you're not going to be able to stop it. I tried to ignore Grace, forget Grace and even hate Grace after I realized she didn't love me. I ignored friends who told me to break it off for my own good and try to be the friend that she wanted me to be. I couldn't do it. Idiot me.

And last, here is something I didn't know until it happened. If you're completely in love and that love is not returned, sometimes you want to die.

By spring, the relationship with Grace was deteriorating. I tried to delude myself that we were only hitting a rough patch, but I knew in my heart Grace was moving on emotionally. The sex had stopped and as long as we kept my visits, calls and e-mails at a “friends only” level, things were fine, but if I talked about anything deeper than that, it always ended in tension and upset. There is nothing worse in the world than just wanting to love someone and yet feeling so desperate for that love that you unintentionally hurt that person. It was like I grabbed on emotionally so hard to Grace that it caused bruises and then I hated myself for that too.

I had to let go, but I couldn't let go. That was the limbo I found myself in until the day of The Talk.

I can only call it The Talk because it was my reality check with Grace and she gave it to me. I had stopped by on my way down from a meeting of the Mount St. Helens eruption survivors. I saw how much those people wanted to live and it contrasted with how little I did anymore.

I met Grace at closing time at the Drainpipe and she invited me in for a cup of her excellent coffee and a chat. I felt better just being in her presence, like I always did. Somehow the universe just ran better being close to her. I would close my eyes as we talked sometimes, just letting the wonderful sensations wash over me. It worked on the phone too and I would find myself creating excuses just to call and hear her voice.

I was prepared for my usual helping of Grace's wonderfulness when she told me to sit down, she needed to talk to me. My best advice is this: if someone ever says, “Sit down, we need to talk”, run like hell. It's nothing you want to hear. Grace brought two mugs of coffee and sat down opposite me at one of the tables.

“Cass,” she began, “I hope you know how much our friendship means to me.” I nodded, a feeling of doom starting to slide over me. “And I wouldn't trade our time together for anything.” I had to nod at that also because it was true for me too. But…”

I said the fastest prayer for intercession ever and closed my eyes waiting for her next words.

“But I don't love you and it's wrong for you to keep hoping I will. I care about you and I hate to see you hurt because of me. You need to let it go, Cass. It's nobody's fault, no one is to blame, but it just isn't going to work out how you want it to. I'm sorry I don't love you, but that's the way it is. I'll understand if you don't think we can be friends anymore. I'd like to, but that will be up to you.”

When I was a little kid I loved to climb trees with my brother. He said I must be part monkey to climb the way I did. I could climb higher than him anytime and always got the best crab apples. One afternoon my very sure bare feet and hands were not quite so sure and I fell out of the tree I was in. Nothing was broken mind you, but I was shocked, stunned and the wind was taken by force from my body. Ditto The Talk with Grace. Just like the tree episode, I was stunned.

And then I cried.

I cried for everything I wanted, but wasn't destined for, for a dream that was dying and for hopes never to be realized. I cried because I loved and I cried because she didn't. I cried because the only life I wanted to live was the one I couldn't have.

Through it all Grace held me and rocked me and soothed me until my sobs were reduced to the occasional hiccough and devastated sigh. I told you she was wonderful.

That's when I knew that life without her wasn't worth trying to live and, when every breath was more painful than the last, it was time to swim with Eliza.

Chapter Eight

The decision was made, I went through it all in my mind like I told you before. Once I decided I had to die everything sort of crystallized for me. The hurt receded almost as if it knew its days were numbered. A strange sense of peace descended on me.

I was freed in a way. I was freed from the battle it would be to pick up the pieces of my heart, glue them back together and get back into the game. I was fairly certain I would never be able to love again anyway so the prospect of not having to make the attempt appealed to me.

I know you're thinking what a lot of people think and you'd be right. Suicide is a stupid, senseless and selfish act. It is also an act I plan to perform. Look, if I could see any prospect beyond bleak nothingness, if I could accept this would hurt my family more than benefit me, if I believed I could ever love again…don't you think I would do something else? It's the pain, you know. The pain is like a big black curtain that drops down and doesn't let you see outside yourself. I admit it…not only can't I see out from behind the curtain, I don't want to.

Anyway, it's August 13th and I've taken care of all the details now. I traveled too much to have a pet so I have no worries there. I took a pad of yellow Post-it notes and put the names of who I want to have the few nice things in my apartment. My brother will guard my collection of vinyl albums and I know my sister wanted the oil painting I have in my living room. There are a few Post-it bequests to friends and co-workers and the rest can go to charity. It's amazing how impending death resolves that little materialistic streak in you.

I made out my will. I got it in a kit for $14.95 at the local stationery store. It's pretty nifty except it didn't start out with “I, _____, being of sound mind and body…” like every other will I heard of, so I wrote it in. I mean, can you imagine a will without that phrase? Like Mammy says in Gone With The Wind, “It ain't fittin'!”

I paid my bills and there's enough in my bank account to cover whatever comes in after I'm gone. I don't think I'll be anything but fish food, but in case I'm flotsam and not jetsam, (floater and not sinker) I left enough to cover a cremation too. If I'm cremated then I've left instructions that my ashes be strewn on Sandra Bullock. I figure that's the only way I'll ever get close to her body. No, not really. I don't care where they put my ashes; my heart will always be in Haven.

I purchased my bottle of Jack Daniels. Black label, the good stuff. It's on the passenger seat of my car right now, strapped in with the seat belt like any good friend. We're sitting in the parking lot at the harbor right now, waiting for dusk and the few hardy souls left to head indoors. Then I will head to the seawall. Should be any time now.

If you want to come with me, so to speak, I'll start heading out there now. I figure I'll go all the way out to the end, where it curls into the ocean a little bit. I'll finish my writing there and leave this manuscript in the plastic bag I brought and seal it. I've already written instructions for it to be delivered to Laub after the police are done with it.

And that's it I guess except for a note. I suppose you could say this whole thing has been a suicide note, but I have a few words to say in farewell to a few special people.

First, to Laub. You gave me a shot at writing when no one else would. I know my human interest stuff will never win a Pulitzer, but for the most part I've enjoyed it. Take the manuscript and do anything you want with it except use it as filler. I'd like to think my life rated a little better than the bottom of the page.

Second, to my parents and family. I'm sorry. Please just know this decision has nothing to do with how much I love you. I don't think I can explain it any better than to say death for me is a blessing.

I guess last, to Grace. It's important to me that you aren't seen here as a bad guy because you're not. I thank you for being the best thing that ever happened to me in this life and maybe, if I don't come back as a rock for this little episode, maybe we could try it again in the next life. Maybe the karma and kismet will be right then. I love you, Grace, and I wish you nothing but happiness for the rest of your life. The right person for you, the one who wasn't me, will be along any day now. Believe that. I do or I couldn't leave you.

I wrote that last bit while I was in my car. Now I'm sitting here on the seawall. I've been here a while. Nobody here but me and a stray seagull that's late heading into the harbor for the night. Over on the point the foghorn is sending its low plaintive tone out over the sea. It needn't bother, I haven't seen a ship out there in over an hour.

As I sit here, occasionally a wave will splash against the wall below. I can taste the salty spray a little on my tongue. It's not bad. The wind has picked up and heavy gray clouds are marching in from the west. It's blustery and that's good for me. The tourists have gone indoors and the local won't think anyone will be out here. The bottle of Jack Daniels is almost gone and my head is already swimming. This must be the time now. I'm drunk enough to do it, but not drunk enough to mess it up.

I appreciate you paying attention to my little tale of woe. I hope you weren't too bored or think I whined too much. You know, you're a good listener. I wish I'd have gotten to know you better, but I think I've been a little self-absorbed lately. Anyway, thanks for coming this far with me. It's time to put this notebook into the plastic bag and finish things.

Have a good life.



You still there?

Me too.

Yeah, it's really me and not a voice from the other side.

What happened? Well, I guess I can tell you. You're a friend of mine.

Grace, pulled by a sense of urgency, instinctively felt her soulmate was in trouble. In a moment of clarity she knew I was out on the seawall and what my intentions were. Racing out onto the seawall, she stopped as she saw me balanced precariously on the edge between life and death, ready to plunge into the churning gray Pacific. Sobbing, she confessed her love and pledged her life to making me happy if only I would reconsider and live.

I could tell you that if it was true, but it isn't. Grace never showed up and the only part of the fantasy scenario that really happened was me being perched on the edge of the seawall, ready to jump.

Why didn't I? It's hard to say but maybe two reasons. First, I still love Grace. As I stood there with the ocean beckoning mightily, I knew my death would hurt her. She wasn't in love with me, but she cared for me a lot and the guilt and unhappiness my death would cause her would be terrible.

Second, and maybe more importantly, I think in that final moment I learned to love myself a little. The hurt will be with me for a long time to come and a part of my heart will always be reserved for Grace, but I needed to survive for me. Drawing a hurting breath is still drawing breath and that's good.

Everybody says time is the great healer and I hope they're right. I decided to hope they're right. I reached way back and flung the remaining Jack Daniels into the ocean. The bottle landed with a soft splash and almost immediately it started drifting out to sea. I shivered as I watched it go. I gathered this manuscript and my slightly tattered dignity and shuffled slowly off the seawall.

There isn't much more to say. I wish I could tell you I had a fairy tale ending, that I met someone else and fell madly in love again. I wish I could tell you it doesn't hurt to think of Grace at all. I wish I could tell you I survived intact and built a life I can be proud of, knowing in the end that you have to care about yourself as much as you love another. The truth is, it's just a little early yet.

Time may bring me all those things in the end and maybe loving Grace was the step I had to take to open my heart and make it all possible. I don't know.

What I do know is that I will be there in the end. Sadder and wiser perhaps, but there. Beyond that, life has no guarantees and I ask for none.

So, good-bye again, my friend. I'm off to cover another story, because life goes on.

Be well, be happy…and live.

I intend to.

The End

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