AUTHOR'S NOTE: The main players may slightly resemble two people we are all familiar with but the similarities end there. That being said, the story is mine, the characters are mine, the fantasy is mine.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: For Bad Tyler. Thank you for inspiring me from beyond the grave.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To Whenpiggsfly55[at]aol.com
Ghost of a Chance
"So have you decided what you're wearing to the Halloween party on Friday?" Barb Charon asked her co-worker.
"I still don't know if I'm going. I'm not big on getting dressed up lately. It's hard enough being me, much less pretending to be someone else." Jacey Louden continued to divide the paperwork, placing the data in the proper locations. "God, it's the 21st Century, when is this place ever going to get all this crap computerized?"
"I would think it would be easier role-playing in a costume," Barb continued, ignoring Jacey's daily rant about the antiquated office procedure. The phone at Barb's desk rang. "Section seven, this is Barb speaking. Yeah, Pammy, what's up?" Barb's demeanor changed from her usual goofy self to deadly serious. "What? Oh, no. Oh, Jesus. Yeah. Yes, she is. Yeah, I will. Okay, thanks." She slowly, quietly, placed the receiver back in its cradle and turned to Jacey.
Jacey, already curious about the subject of the phone call, watched Barb turn to face her. Her co-worker stepped toward her, apprehensively, wearing an expression of sadness and shock.
"What's wrong? Is it your Mom?" Jacey asked. Barb's mom had suffered a minor stroke a month earlier and was under a doctor's care in hopes of preventing something bigger.
Barb visibly swallowed hard and sat in her desk chair. She rolled it forward and gently but firmly took Jacey's hands in her own.
The look on Barb's face suddenly registered with Jacey that whatever horrible news Barb had to share had more to do with her than Barb. "What? What is it? Barb?"
Then the tears came. Jacey attempted to pull her hands away but Barb held tight. "Sweetie, um something's happened."
"No shit, Barb, I don't have to be Nostradamus to predict that. You're scaring me."
Barb bowed her head, took a deep breath, looked up and said, "Jacey, it's Sally. She was found dead this morning " Again, Jacey tried to yank her hands away but Barb didn't want to let go. Finally one of Jacey's hands pulled free.
Jacey lost her breath and began to hyperventilate. She pinched one nostril closed and inhaled and exhaled in measured breaths. When her voice worked again, and she began to breathe normally, she said, "No. No, Sally? What? I just talked to her on the phone a couple nights ago. No what happened?"
"They think it was suicide."
"No. Sally wouldn't. No. Was there a note?"
"Pammy didn't tell me that. She wants you to call her as soon as possible."
Jacey drove her car around the short block and found a row of vacant parking spots behind the building. She selected a space closest to the rear entrance and shut the car off. When she got out, she stretched the kinks out of her body from the long ride. She drew in a deep breath of the misting sea air and could actually taste the salt from the ocean on the back of her tongue. She zipped up her black flight jacket as a primary barrier against the chilly weather, shouldered her computer bag and locked her Chevy Tahoe. The sun would be down in another hour and she wanted to be settled in at wherever she was going to end up staying.
She knocked on the door of the building manager's condominium. There were four units in the huge, Cape Cod-style building; two of the condos were seasonal rentals and currently unoccupied. The wooden shingled sides were white and the trim was blue and it looked quaintly proper, exactly what one would expect to find in a New England coastal town. One of the apartments that faced the ocean had a turret and a bay window. Jacey hoped that was Sally's and then she wondered why; it wasn't like Sally could enjoy it anymore. That thought hit her like a physical punch in the gut. She was able to keep her composure as the door swung open.
"Hi, can I help you?"
Jacey wondered if the young man was as gay as his stereotypical mannerisms. She didn't like to typecast people as she'd been mistaken before. "Hi, I'm Jacey Louden and I'm "
"Sally's friend," he finished for her and immediately burst into tears. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her inside, closing the door behind them. He grabbed a tissue, dabbed at his eyes then blew his nose. "Sorry. I still can't believe it." He blew his nose again. "I'm Xavier. You spoke to my husband, Pete, on the phone."
Well, that settled that inner question. "Hi Xavier. I, uh, don't know where to begin. What happened? Was she depressed? Was there a note?" As Xavier began to weep again, she was surprised that, of the two of them, she was the one keeping it together.
"No note that anybody found but there was an open, empty bottle of pills on the floor, so Um, she did seem a little depressed but not out of the ordinary. She always got depressed around Halloween. Honest, if I'd known she was planning this, I would have never let her out of my sight."
"Who found her?"
"Pete did. We had been away for a couple days. When we got back yesterday morning, Augie was going crazy, barking and howling and, well " He wiped at his eyes. "The poor little guy knew something was going on and he was trying his best to tell someone."
"Who has Augie now?"
"No one. We can't get him out of the apartment. Pete goes up and leaves food and set down papers for him. He's pretty traumatized."
"Was she was it really bad when Pete found her?"
"He said it was like she was asleep. No horror scene, no mess, just her in that old velvet recliner, with her feet up. Antidepressant bottle on the floor. God, it's just so tragic. We just loved her so much. Why didn't she turn to us? Why couldn't she turn to you?"
Why, indeed, Jacey thought.
She always got depressed around Halloween. Jacey thought about when she and Sally met. It was two days before Halloween five years earlier. Sally had come to town to visit her cousin, Pammy, and perhaps scout the area for employment. Pammy brought Sally by the office to introduce her to everyone. There was something electrifying in her handshake and Jacey felt the magnetic pull to Sally immediately. They not only clicked personally, there was an instant, undeniable attraction.
Sally had not been the type of woman Jacey normally sought out for companionship. Sally was a good six inches shorter than Jacey and had long blonde hair and was quite the little femme. Jacey's attraction usually ran toward taller, darker-haired women, not unlike herself. Jacey also liked either androgyny or a soft-butch quality to her girlfriends. Sally was nothing like that so the immediate allure shocked her. Still, it was not enough of a surprise to deter her interest. Pammy must have felt it, too, because from that point on, she did her best to keep Jacey and Sally apart without trying to be obvious. Jacey was curious as to Pammy's motivation and, unfortunately for Jacey, found out why the hard way.
On the evening of Halloween, as Jacey drove home from work, she saw Sally walking on the sidewalk. It couldn't have been more of a cloudburst and Sally was drenched. Comparing her to a drowned rat would have been much too kind. Jacey had originally passed her, feeling sorry for whoever that person was out in the elements and then recognized the jacket as the one Pammy's gorgeous cousin had been wearing a couple days earlier. Jacey pulled her vehicle over, put the gear into reverse and edged the car backward. In her rearview mirror, she saw Sally regard the vehicle cautiously and look as though she might cross the busy street in avoidance. Jacey got out of the car, pulled up the sweatshirt hood to shield her head from the torrential downpour and approached Sally, stopping in front of her. "Hey you need a ride?"
Startled, Sally looked directly into Jacey's eyes then smiled in recognition. "Oh, hey. Jacey, right?"
"Sure, thanks." Sally followed Jacey back to the SUV and got in the passenger side. Once safely seatbelted into the warm, dry interior, Sally accepted a towel from Jacey. "Interesting do you always keep a towel in your car?" She began to wipe the water from her face, then her hair.
Jacey smiled. "I like to be prepared. I also keep a first aid kit, bottled water and an empty coffee can, tea candles, a blanket and a butane grill lighter in the car. Just in case."
"Candles and a blanket, huh? Just in case of what? Getting lucky?" Sally laughed.
It was a sight and a sound that took Jacey's breath away and, clearly, Sally did not miss Jacey's reaction. Sally looked down at her lap and blushed while she finished scrunching the excess water out of her hair. She handed the towel back to Jacey who tossed it into the back of the car. Jacey pulled back into traffic and kept her eyes on the road.
"What a storm, huh?" Sally asked.
"It could be worse," Jacey said. "It could be snowing. I've spent some Halloweens where it's been a blizzard outside."
"Speaking of Halloween, why aren't you at the big party my cousin's been talking about?" Sally asked.
"Not in the Halloween mood, I guess," Jacey said and shrugged. "What about you? I thought Pammy said you would be there."
"Pam's there. We had a huge fight and I guess I lost the mood, too."
"Really? A fight? Wow. You two seem to get along so well."
"Usually we do but " Sally jumped when a flash of lightening appeared to strike close to her side of the car. "Shit." Rain began to pour down harder. "Can you even see?" The thunder followed with a huge cracking noise.
Jacey pressed a switch that put her windshield wiper blades at full speed. The precipitation collected as fast as it wiped off. "Not so much anymore. I think I'm going to pull over when I find a safe spot and we'll wait it out. There's no use trying to drive in this."
"I agree." Sally stared out the passenger side window. "Over there," she said and pointed in the direction of a light. "That looks like it would be out of the way of any traffic that would be crazy enough to keep driving in this stuff." Jacey chuckled and Sally looked at her. "What?"
"That's the entrance to Evergreen Cemetery. Sure, it's out of the way but do you really want to wait out a storm in a cemetery on Halloween night?"
"Why not? They're all dead, right?"
"Well, let's hope."
"You don't believe in ghosts, do you?"
"I don't think about 'em one way or the other."
"No self-respecting ghost would be out in weather like this."
"How would you know? I'm going to call Pammy just to make sure you aren't really with her."
"Ah! So you do believe in ghosts!" Sally accused playfully.
Jacey slowed down and drove through the arched gates of Evergreen. "I've heard too many renditions of the Hattie The Hitchhiker story not to make sure that you're not an apparition." She finally stopped and put the car in park when she was parallel to the sales and grounds keeper offices. She activated her cell phone.
"Oh my God, you really are going to call her." Sally watched Jacey's activity and giggled. "My name isn't Hattie and I wasn't hitchhiking."
"Like that matters hey, Pam, it's Jacey. Is your cousin with you? Uh huh. Right. No, no, I'm not feeling well so I changed my mind. Ha ha, very funny. Okay, have fun. I'll talk to you tomorrow." Jacey ended the call.
"Oh, um, she said I must not be feeling well if I wasn't at a party that had an open bar."
"Do you drink a lot?"
"Only when it's free." Jacey put her phone in its holder on the console between the seats. "You aren't with her so I guess you're real."
"All you had to do was touch me and you would have known that! If I'd been a ghost, your hand would have gone right through me. Maybe you're the ghost."
Jacey poked Sally on the upper arm. "If I was a ghost, you wouldn't have felt that."
"Didn't she ask why you wanted to know why I wasn't with her?"
"No. I think she's bobbed into too much hard apple cider already." The ceiling light went off which left Jacey and Sally mostly in the dark. "Oh, sorry, do you need me to keep that on?"
"No, no, it's fine. The entrance light is still on over there. Besides, we don't want any ghost, goblins, zombies or whatever to be able to see us so easily, do we?" Sally joked.
Jacey wagged her finger at Sally, "Sure, you make fun now but if we're here a while, you'll be thinking about all those urban legends, like The Claw "
Sally laughed and grabbed Jacey's finger. "I'm not the one spooked, you are!" She held onto Jacey's hand when Jacey stopped moving it. "I guess I'm just going to have to distract you from your own thoughts."
"And how are you going to do that?" The playful mood changed suddenly when lightening lit up the sky. Ten seconds later, the thunder followed.
Sally looked at their entwined fingers and slowly let go. It was quiet for a moment when she remarked, "Sounds like the storm might be moving away." As she finished her sentence, the rain seemed to increase to a monsoon.
"Jinx," Jacey said. She retrieved her phone again and then searched it for a weather application, pressing the icon when she found it. The small screen opened to cheery colors but not-so-cheery news. "Looks like this is going to last a couple hours at least." She held the phone to Sally so she could see the display.
"Should you risk driving us to your place or Pammy's place?"
"Let's wait until it slows down a bit because the visibility really sucks."
"Okay. That sounds for the best."
"Why were you out walking in this crap, anyway?" Jacey asked. She turned the car off to save the quarter of a tank she had left in gas.
"I needed to walk off my temper and when I left, it was barely sprinkling."
"What did you and Pammy fight about?" Jacey asked, curiously.
Sally hesitated, looking as though she wanted to tell Jacey and then shook her head. "Just stuff. I'm sure it will all be forgotten about by tomorrow morning."
"When you help Pammy through her pounding hangover, you mean."
There was an awkward silence while both women tried to think of a topic to discuss with each other without broaching the obvious, sizzling chemistry between them. Both women watched the rain until Jacey finally said, "So when are you heading back to where is it that you live?"
"Sunday. And it's Bialy Bay. It's a small coastal town not to far from Jotham Cove."
"J Cove? How cool. I wish I lived that close. I've yet to get there for one of their lesbian festivals."
"I haven't been to one yet," Sally said, her tone reflecting embarrassment.
"Why not? I mean, if you're that close ?"
"I don't know. Work, health something always seems to take priority."
The conversation trailed off into an uncomfortable silence again. The heavy rain and the sound of thunder entertained them for many minutes until Jacey spoke. "Sally," Jacey said, as quietly as she could muster and still be heard over the outside noise, "are you feeling this, too?" She looked straight ahead, through the front windshield. When she didn't hear an answer, she turned to see what Sally was doing and found Sally looking down at her folded hands in her lap.
Sally closed her eyes then looked up and locked eyes with Jacey. "Yes."
Jacey nodded. "Are we going to do anything about it?" She asked, gently.
"So you do have those candles and blanket in here for romance," Sally said, smiling.
Jacey shook her head, "No, I have them for warmth, in case I ever got stranded in a snowstorm and I didn't want to waste the gas on heat and -"
Sally reached over and took Jacey's hand. "Would you um kiss me?"
"I would love to."
They moved toward each other and their lips met timidly. The kiss evolved past introductory territory into comfortable and then into full arousal. The front bucket seats created an obstacle neither woman wanted to deal with. Jacey maneuvered her way over the middle console to the passenger side and did her best to straddle Sally. They continued their initial exploration of kissing all exposed skin and touching each other through their encumbering clothing. Jacey thought her heart would beat out of her chest at the way Sally looked at her when they broke to catch their breath.
"I think I have an idea what we can do to pass the time," Sally whispered as she caressed Jacey's face.
Jacey nodded and looked at the fogged-up windows. She then looked back at Sally, into her eyes. "Are you sure?"
"Oh, yes," Sally breathed.
"Let's move to the back," Jacey suggested. She reached down to the side of Sally's seat and pulled on a lever that laid the seat almost flat. Jacey moved her back as close to the glove compartment as she could. "Just slide yourself back and then I'll join you."
Sally obeyed and eased herself into the back of the SUV where Jacey joined her, moments later. The back seat had already been removed, which gave them a lot of room to stretch out in. "You always keep the back empty?"
"No. I had been hauling some stuff from the supply store to work and I just hadn't put the seats back in after I unloaded."
"Convenient," Sally said and grinned.
"Very," Jacey agreed. She leaned on her side and propped herself up on her elbow, looking down at Sally.
Sally lay on her back and returned a sultry, yet vulnerable expression to Jacey. "Come here," Sally said and reached up to pull Jacey on top of her.
They began to kiss again, picking up where they left off from the front seat. The thunder and lightening crashed and flashed around them as the desire built between them. Every movement that followed felt like a well-choreographed sensual dance, as though they had known what steps worked and what didn't long before they ever touched each other. Their pace was frenzied then quiet, passionate then calmly concentrated; strokes were intimate and carnal then almost chaste. It was the most amazing sex Jacey had ever had with the most beautiful woman Jacey had ever met.
The tempestuous storm continued most of the night as the two women snuggled naked under the blanket, then heated the interior of the car up over and over by stoking that hedonistic fire that raged inside both of them.
It was almost too good to be true.
Jacey inserted the key into the lock, turned it, heard the bolt slide back and opened the door. She entered the condo cautiously. She suddenly felt odd being inside, especially after she closed the door. She slipped the keys into her jacket pocket and called for the dog. "Augie? Here, Augie! Here, boy!" She thought she heard some faint whimpering and walked toward the noise, turning on lights along the way. "Augie? Kinoot Augoostus! Get your little dorkie butt out here!"
She recalled when Sally had phoned her to tell her she got a dog; a mixture of a Dachshund and a Yorkshire Terrier she had rescued from a shelter.
"What does he look like?"
"Oh, God, he's so cute! He's got the face and longer fur of a Yorkie but the short legs and long body of a wiener dog. He's neutered and weighs about ten pounds. I already adore him." Sally was gushing.
"Have you decided on a name for him yet?"
"I was torn because you know how much I doted on Knut the polar bear before he died and my favorite cartoon collectibles are Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy which now that I'm older, sounds like something from a porno rap video but, anyway, I've decided to name him Knut Augustus."
"You realize he'll get beat up in doggie daycare with a name like that, right?"
"I'm calling him Augie."
Jacey smiled fondly at the recollection. She couldn't remember the last time she'd heard Sally so happy. The new pet had done wonders for her loneliness and she had become attached to the little guy quickly. It was when Jacey thought about just exactly how much the dog meant to Sally that she stopped in her tracks. She walked back to the front door and opened it.
"Xavier?" she hollered downstairs.
She heard the sound of footsteps and the hallway door opened. "Yes?"
"Can you come up here a minute?"
"Sure." He closed the interior entrance door to his condo and walked upstairs. "Is Augie okay?"
Jacey gestured him inside and closed the door behind him. His attention instantly drew to the forest green velour recliner Sally had been found in and his eyes misted over. "I haven't seen Augie yet but I have a question."
Xavier folded his arms across his chest and turned his back to the chair. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. "I can still smell her perfume."
Jacey stopped and drew a breath. She smiled, fondly. "Pink Gardenia." When tears started to stream down Xavier's face again, Jacey said, "Something isn't right."
"I know," Xavier said, in a near sob. "None of this is right."
"I agree but what I meant was she wouldn't just leave Augie."
Xavier wiped his eyes dry with the sleeve of his flannel shirt. "What? I don't understand."
"Her not leaving a note. That doesn't make sense. She cherished Augie. She refused to evacuate for that horrible hurricane that one time because she couldn't find a shelter for him. Why would she not leave some direction as to what she wanted done with the dog? She wouldn't just leave him behind."
His eyebrows hiked up to his hairline. "What are you saying?"
"I think that maybe this was accidental. I don't think she intentionally killed herself."
Xavier gasped and put one hand on his hip and one over his mouth. His hands then fell to his sides. "No, don't say that. That would make it so much more horrible."
Jacey silently agreed. "What time does Pete get home?"
Xavier took out his cell phone and looked at the display. "He should be here in maybe 45 minutes. Do you want me to call him?"
"No, we can talk when he gets here. I mean, doesn't that make more sense to you? Unless she was a lot more depressed than she let on to me or her cousin."
"I never thought she was that deeply depressed," Xavier said. "She never gave me the impression that she wanted to die. And you're right, she wouldn't have left Augie, not without leaving explicit instructions about what she wanted done with him." Xavier covered his face with his hands. "God, I just can't think about that. If we'd been home, we might have been able to save her."
Jacey put a comforting hand on Xavier's shoulder. "You can't do that to yourself. If it was meant to be it would have happened whether you were here or not." Jacey called to the dog again then looked at Xavier. "Are the police going to investigate this at all?"
"Let me call Pete. He's the town deputy."
Jacey parked outside Pammy's apartment waiting for Sally. She had done this for the past three days, ever since Halloween and their eye-opening encounter. Jacey felt like a stalker but Sally said she preferred Pammy didn't find out about their coupling and Jacey desperately wanted to see her again. Since Halloween, Sally hadn't taken her calls and if she left Pammy's apartment at all, it had to have been during Jacey's work hours.
Finally Pammy came outside and walked directly to Jacey's parked SUV. "Hey, Jace."
"Pammy Um where's Sally?" At that point, Jacey willingly broke her promise to Sally because she was frantic to find out what was happening. "I need to see her, to talk. Why won't she see me? Talk to me? I just want to talk."
"Jacey," Pammy said, hesitating. It was clear she did not know how to continue. "Jace Sally's gone. She left for home a couple hours ago."
"What? Wait home?" Jacey slammed her hand on her steering wheel. "Pammy, what's going on?"
"Sally is well, she's married, Jace."
Jacey suddenly felt like she couldn't breathe. Finally, she said, "Married. To another woman?" When Pammy shook her head, Jacey was stunned. "To a guy?"
Pammy nodded. "Yeah. To a guy."
"But no. I don't understand. Wait, we, um " Jacey took a deep breath and tried to concentrate. "Why didn't she tell me? Why didn't you tell me?"
"Me? If I'd known you were going to fuck her senseless, I would have." Pammy said.
"She told you? About Halloween?"
"She didn't have to. I could smell it on her when she came in the next morning," Pammy said and smirked. "It didn't take much to put two and two together when you immediately started calling and parking outside from the moment you got off work. I could feel something between the two of you when I introduced you. I never thought she'd actually act on that attraction."
"So she used me?" Tears stung the corners of Jacey's eyes. She had actually believed something special had connected between them that night.
"In Sally's defense, I don't think it was intentional."
"She could have stopped us. If she had said she was married, I would have stopped."
"Sorry, Jacey. Had I known she even thought about cheating on her husband, especially with any of my friends, I would have warned you all."
"Am I the only woman she's ever been with?"
Pammy shrugged. "To my knowledge. But, clearly, I don't know her innermost secrets, if what happened between you two is any indication."
Jacey rested her head against her steering wheel and closed her eyes. "I thought she was family. My gaydar was never that off. How could I have been so stupid?"
"Listen, sweetie, if it helps, her husband is an idiot. They dated all through high school and got married after they both graduated. I don't think she ever really loved him, I think she married him because she thought that's what was expected of her. My guess is she came here to see what was available here for housing, work and " Pammy looked directly at Jacey. "Other things."
Jacey looked back up at Pammy. "How long have they been married?"
"Twelve miserable years. I never liked the fucker, to tell you the truth, but she's not only my cousin, she's one of my best friends and I wanted her to be happy. Craig, her husband, never made her happy, even though I'd hoped for the best for her."
"Do you think she's just experimenting or -?"
"Hard to say, Jace. She has not confided this side of herself to me. I don't think she set out to hurt you. She's never been that kind of person. I honestly don't know what's going on with her."
"God, Pam. Wow. I thought she was it. I thought she might be THE one. It was that strong."
"You know, I think, regardless of whether the feelings were reciprocated, she'd be too afraid to leave her husband. He has an abusive streak."
"Does he hit her?" The anger in Jacey's question was palpable.
"She's never admitted to it but my guess is yes."
"How can she stay with him? Let me tell you, the unadulterated passion she showed me the other night is not something someone can just conjure up, you know? She was needy, Pam. I've known women who were just out to have a good time, just to see what being with another woman is like and I did not get that feeling from her."
"I don't know what to tell you, Jacey. She was very withdrawn this visit: especially after Halloween night. I think she came here, initially, with the intention of, maybe, leaving him and looking over her other opportunities. It was a scouting mission. I'm thinking you scared the shit out of her."
"Me? I don't scare the shit out of anybody."
"Maybe you showed her what life could be like without her nimrod husband."
Jacey looked around the condo once more. She called Augie's name again and the dorkie whimpered and came out from under the bed. Jacey advanced slowly as Xavier talked on the phone to Pete. Augie let her approach and crawled on his belly the rest of the way to her. She petted him and scratched behind his ears. "Hi baby boy. Yes, poor little guy. I bet you have a story to tell, don't you? I wish you could talk."
"Oh, there he is!" Xavier exclaimed. He choked up again when he saw how Augie behaved with Jacey.
"What did Pete say?"
"Pete said that the county coroner believes it was suicide but Pete's going to ask if it could have been accidental. He also said that Sally's ex-husband was at the office today throwing a hissy because he wasn't notified and had to find out by reading it in the obituaries." Xavier knelt on the floor by Jacey and began to gently pet Augie.
"Craig's an asshole," Jacey said.
"Her insurance papers said that Pammy was her next of kin and that you were the second person she wanted notified should something ever happen to her. She never mentioned Craig."
"Because Craig's an asshole. I'm sure the only reason he was here this morning was because he thinks there might be money in it for him."
"You know him well."
"I only met him once. Once was all it took for him to hate my guts and turn me into his number one enemy. At least that time."
"He's a homophobic piece of rhino dung!" Xavier said, upset. "He'd show up here drunk and always angry. One time he busted her door down and started beating the ever-lovin' crap out of her. Thank God Pete was home. He came up here and mopped the ground with him. And then hooked him up for assault and battery. Did I mention that Pete is a fourth degree black belt?"
"No but thank heavens he is." Jacey was looking forward to meeting with Pete. "I just don't understand people who don't listen and don't learn. Craig should have one hell of a rap sheet by now."
"Jacey? It's Sally."
Jacey thought her heart had stopped beating. She sat down before she fell down.
"Please don't hang up," Sally said, when Jacey remained silent. "Please."
"Why the hell shouldn't I?" Jacey asked, finally.
"Because I want to explain things."
"You don't think it's a little late for that?" Jacey was disturbed by just how happy she really was to hear Sally's voice. She tried not to let it show in her tone.
"Yes, I'm sure it is but I still owe you an explanation."
"I'm I'm so sorry, Jacey. I didn't mean to "
"Didn't mean to what? Have sex with me or pretend I didn't exist for three months? Which part?" Jacey's voice had a sharp edge to it.
"I didn't mean to hurt you." Sally choked up. "I didn't mean to screw everything up like I did."
Jacey took a deep breath. Her heart hurt for many reasons because of this woman, one of them now was hearing Sally cry. "What happened? Why - ? I mean, you're married to a guy! Why did you let it go as far as it did?"
"I'm so sorry, Jacey. I should have stopped you, I I should have never got in the car with you. There are so many things I should never have done."
"Then why did you? Because I have to tell you, Sally, it felt like you meant it. Every touch, every kiss, every well, everything. None of it felt like a mistake at the time."
"I never said it was a mistake," Sally said, quietly.
"Then what was it?"
"And that's when you two became friends?" Pete asked. Jacey, Xavier and Pete were sharing an extra large pizza and a pitcher of beer at the corner Italian deli.
"Believe it or not, yes." She liked Pete immediately. He was quite down-to-earth for someone who resembled a human "Ken" doll. She thought he and Xavier were an odd couple but Pete seemed to adore his partner of eight years. It wasn't that Jacey disliked Xavier, he just didn't seem to fit with Pete. Thankfully for them, Jacey wasn't a matchmaker.
"She talked about you a lot," Xavier said, as he wiped a dab of tomato sauce off the corner of Pete's mouth. "How come you two never got together after that?" When he saw Jacey push her paper plate forward, indicating she was done, he pointed to the two crusts she had left uneaten. "Don't throw those away. Take them home to Augie, he loves pizza bones."
Jacey took the crusts and wrapped them in her napkin. "I don't know. Timing ? I would have loved us to become something much more but I think it was an underlying trust issue with me. And, for Sally, I think it was fear of getting involved again. Craig really messed her up regarding commitment."
"Don't get me started on Craig," Pete said. He poured the last remnants of the pitcher into Jacey's glass. "Another pitcher?"
Jacey was enjoying herself, despite the circumstances she was there. "Do you think we should?"
"Sure. It's not like we're driving," Pete said. "Besides there's only five cops in this town and I'm one of them so it's not like you'll be arrested for drunk walking."
"Okay. One more pitcher. Five cops? Really?"
"Yes," Xavier said and looked at Pete, admirably. "That's only when they aren't any festivals here. Then they hire off-duty police from Bialy Bay to help out."
Jacey took a deep breath and looked around. "So this is the infamous J-Cove, huh?"
"I can't believe you've never been here. What kind of self-respecting lesbian are you?" Pete asked and smiled.
"I know, I'm slacking. Sally was always after me to get my ass down here but, I don't know, I was always working."
"Maybe you were both afraid," Xavier said.
The statement seemed to take all three of them by surprise. The server delivered another full pitcher and Pete poured out everyone's share as Jacey considered Xaviers words. She took a sip of beer. "So, Pete, what was going on with Sally the last few weeks? Anything much?"
Pete mulled over Jacey's question. "Nothing much. She worked, stopped by the bar for a glass of wine, came home, watched TV or listened to music and went to bed. That was her routine."
"She really didn't date? I mean she told me she didn't but I thought she just didn't want to talk about it."
"She dated, just nothing serious. I think the most she ever went out with the same girl was three times. I think she was looking for you," Pete said.
"Why would you think that? Because they all looked somewhat like me?" Jacey asked.
"So you noticed?" Xavier asked.
"I just assumed that was her type." The implication of what Pete and Xavier seemed trying to tell her was now starting to wash over her like a shower of idiotic, stubborn denial.
"I've decided to leave him, Jace. I'm really going to do it this time," Sally told her over the phone.
"Jesus, I hope so, Sal. You deserve so much better."
"I just can't take it anymore. I called Pammy and she's going to come and get me after Craig goes to work tomorrow."
Jacey's breath caught at the idea of Sally being so close, possibly for good. How would she handle that with her current girlfriend? She and Andrea had just reached a nice, comfortable point after two months of growing pains. "And then what? You know he'll just come after you again."
"Not this time. Pammy is going to help me file a temporary restraining order against him and then I'm seeing a lawyer."
"There's no guarantee that he'll obey the restraining order, though. You're running the risk of making him angrier."
"Hey, you're supposed to be backing me up here " Sally's tone was a cross between surprised and miffed.
"Sorry, Sal. It's just that he's such a dick. He scares me. He scares all of us because he is so unpredictably nuts."
"What do you suggest, then?"
Jacey couldn't tell if Sally was asking a sincere question or a sarcastic one. She decided to opt for the former. "I'm suggesting you stick with your plan, just be really careful. I don't want you thinking just because the law is on your side that he will still not be a threat. He sees you as his property and he's not going to let you go so easily."
"But he doesn't love me."
"This isn't about loving you, this is about his ego. If you leave him, he thinks that will make him look weak to his friends and his family. If there is one thing you have made clear to me about Craig, it is his inflated vision of self-importance. I promise you, Sally, regardless of how right you are in leaving him, mark my words, he will not give you up without a fight."
The next afternoon, Jacey was waiting in Pammy's driveway when Pammy and Sally pulled in. Sally rushed out of the car and flew into Jacey's waiting embrace. She hugged Jacey tightly. Just seeing Sally again and the feel of her robbed Jacey of her resolve to see things through with Andrea.
"I did it!" Sally was beaming. She looked deeply into Jacey's pastel blue eyes and conveyed a definite sense of triumph. In the year since they had met, Sally spoke often of leaving Craig and never followed through, which was one reason Jacey finally gave up and started dating again.
"If we weren't standing out here in public, I'd kiss you silly right now," Jacey told her, feeling arousal and guilt at the same time.
There was a sparkle in Sally's eyes. "Well maybe later." Her tone held a promise of what might have followed.
"Okay, you two," Pammy interrupted. "Let's get Sally settled and then maybe we can go out to dinner. Whatever you two want to do after that is none of my business." There was a warning look on Pammy's face that appeared to be reminding Jacey that she was not available.
Sally moved into Pammy's office, a room with a couch futon, as a makeshift refuge until she could decide exactly what she wanted to do. She talked about picking up temporary employment while waiting for the fallout to settle from the restraining order and preparation of the divorce petition.
As Jacey, Pammy and Sally strolled down the driveway, the sound of a loud exhaust from motorcycle pipes broke the serene evening setting. Sally's face went pale as the biker raced his Harley into the driveway, spinning to a stop. The action kicked soil and gravel in the direction of the three women.
"It's Craig," Sally choked out as the rider booted the stand down and wrenched himself angrily from the motorcycle seat.
"Pam, call the police," Jacey said, urgently, coughing the dirt out.
Pam pulled out her cellphone as Jacey pushed Sally behind her. Jacey watched Craig menacingly approach them and caught her first real glimpse of Sally's husband. He was not much taller than she but he was muscular and solid and when he removed his helmet, she saw that he was incredibly good-looking.
"Get away from my wife!" he yelled at Jacey, looking beyond her to Sally. "You're going to get on that bike and come home with me! Now!"
Jacey felt Sally jump at the snapping of Craig's voice. Jacey shielded Sally by staying in front of her. She was focused on Craig but she could hear Pammy on the phone in the background. "She's not going anywhere with you." Jacey's voice sounded calm but her heart was racing as though it perceived serious trouble.
"I told you to get away from her!" Craig yelled. Every time he tried to reach out for her, he barely missed grabbing Jacey, who moved Sally further out of his way. "Sally, get away from her and get your sorry ass on that bike!"
"No!" Sally screamed at him. "Not anymore! Never again!"
"Goddamn it, woman!" He lunged for her again and Jacey stuck her arm up to deflect his grasp. Craig latched onto Jacey's forearm and yanked her out of the way.
Before he could get to Sally, Jacey turned around and kicked the back of his knee so that he crumbled unexpectedly to the ground.
"You're going to pay for that," he said and jumped to his feet.
"Sally, go lock yourself in Pammy's car. Right now!" Jacey commanded. Since Craig was now between them and the entrance to Pammy's apartment, the confines of Pammy's car was the only safety Jacey could think of directing her to. As Sally ran to the passenger side door, she pulled on the handle to find it locked. Craig started to race after her but Jacey dove and knocked his legs out from under him. That gave Sally time to run around the to the driver's side of the car.
"Pam, unlock the door! Unlock the door!" Sally screamed.
Pammy, still talking to the 911 operator, held out her key fob and the car horn beeped twice, signaling it was unlocked.
Craig kicked back with his leg to break Jacey's hold on him. He slammed the heel of his boot into Jacey's ribs, knocking the wind out of her. He got to his feet but by the time he got to Sally, she was locked inside the car.
"Get out of there! Get the fuck out of there, Sally, or I swear to God, I'll bust the windows in!" He began to pound on the windshield with his fists.
Jacey got to her feet, her hand on her upper stomach. By now, neighbors had begun to gather and a few were also talking on their cellphones to the police.
"Hey! Get away from my car, Craig!" Pammy walked toward her vehicle. She pointed to her phone. "The police are on their way!"
"So what? She's my wife and she's coming home with me!"
The sounds of sirens in the distance stopped Craig in his tracks. He slammed his fists against the windows one final time. "Don't think this is over, Sally!" he yelled as he headed toward his motorcycle.
Seeing that Craig was going to make his escape, knowing if he did that he would be back again with more of a vengeance, Jacey took the leatherman tool she had through work from its holder on her belt. Biting back the ache in her ribcage she hurtled herself toward Craig's bike, she pulled the knife accessory out and locked it in place. Just before Craig reached the Harley, Jacey thrust her arm forward with all her strength and buried the blade into the front tire, then removed it. She rolled out of the way as Craig hopped on the bike. The Harley roared to life and Craig wasted no time driving onto the main road and away from the approaching police cars.
One patrol vehicle pulled into the driveway and the other followed the direction of the gestures of the neighbors who were standing in the street pointing at the retreating motorcycle. By the next block, the front tire had gone completely flat, causing Craig to miscalculate his speed so that when he went into the slight turn, the bike laid down, sending him flying and giving him a nasty road rash. The police car stopped, two officers got out and ran to Craig. When they determined he wasn't really injured, they handcuffed him and escorted him to the back of their patrol vehicle.
After the police got everyone's statement, Pammy, Jacey and Sally went back inside Pammy's apartment. Jacey was bruised, scratched and cut in a few areas. She had taken the brunt of Craig's contact. She told the police that yes, she did want to press charges for assault and that, along with him violating the restraining order, would definitely keep him in jail overnight, until he could be arraigned and arrange for bail.
"You should go to the hospital and have those ribs checked out," Pammy told Jacey as they sat at the kitchen table.
"I can't afford to. You know they cut our health insurance and you know I can't afford it on my own. Besides, the cops took enough photographs, I'm not worried." She turned to a still shell-shocked, silent Sally. "You know you can't stay here now."
"I don't have anywhere else to go." She looked at Jacey, then at her cousin.
"Jacey's right, sweetie. He'll be back if he knows where to find you and now he'll be really pissed."
"But won't he be arrested again?"
"Craig's pigheaded but he's not stupid. He'll lay low until the air clears and then when you're least expecting it, he'll come back. And if he gets you, there may be no escape next time," Pammy told her.
Sally looked at Jacey who nodded her agreement and then gently took Sally's hands in her own. "As much as I would love you to stay here, I think you would be signing your own death warrant."
"And maybe ours, too," Pammy added.
Sally closed her eyes and bowed her head. She squeezed her folded hands together with Jacey's. "Where can I go?" She looked back up at Pammy and Jacey.
"Where is some place where he would never think to look for you?" Jacey asked. "The last place he'd ever expect you to go?"
Pammy snapped her fingers. "I've got it. J-Cove."
"Jotham Cove? But that's only twenty-five miles away from Bialy Bay," Sally protested.
"Yes but it is a gay resort town. It might as well be a thousand miles away as far as Craig is concerned. He is such a homophobe, he would never set foot there and his ego would never let him think that you would live there."
"She's got a point, Sal. Sometimes hiding in plain sight is safer than trying to keep your whereabouts a constant secret."
"But I wanted to move here to be near you," Sally finished in a whisper.
Jacey leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on Sally's forehead. "And I wanted you here. But I also want you alive and well. J-Cove is only four hours away."
"I'll bring you there tonight and take tomorrow off to help you look for a place. Jacey can come, too," Pammy said.
"Actually, I can't. I have a big shipment due in tomorrow that has to be inventoried and then delivered before the end of the day. I can't screw this up; it's a big client. But Barb has tomorrow off and I know she'll go. In fact, I suggest using Barb's car and leaving Pam's here. That way, when Craig gets out of jail in the morning and drives back by here, he'll see Pammy's car still here and hopefully think you're still here, too. That will buy you a lot more time while he goes home to lick his wounds and plot."
"But what about you two when he does come back?"
"We'll also get restraining orders," Jacey said. "Not that they will do much good but we might as well play by the rules, even if he isn't going to. Besides, you can hear that Hog of his a mile away. I'm not worried about me, at least not just yet. I know he's pissed off at me because I helped keep you away from him but you are his focus and right now that focus is tunnel vision." Jacey stood up and pulled Sally into a hug. "Go pack. I'll call Barb and explain."
Sally nodded against Jacey's chest. She looked up into Jacey's eyes and they locked stares while Jacey smoothed Sally's hair.
Seeing the expression that passed between them, Pammy cleared her throat. "I'll be in the office, getting your stuff ready, Sal"
When Pammy left the room, Jacey took Sally's face in her hands and brought their lips together in a long, tender kiss. "That's all I've been thinking about since Pammy told me you were coming here," Jacey said.
"Me, too. Well maybe not all I've thought about," Sally admitted with an embarrassed smirk. "But you have a girlfriend."
"Let's not worry about that right now." She took Sally's hand and led her down the hallway toward the office. "Let's worry about getting you out of here."
Xavier and Pete had talked her into staying in Sally's apartment. Pete said to try it and if she became uncomfortable, they would recommend a reasonable hotel for her. Uncomfortable? Spend the night in the place where the unspoken love of her life was found dead? Painful was more like it but the essence of Sally was everywhere and instead of feeling creepy about it, Jacey felt warmth and welcome. It was almost as though she had always belonged there.
She moved her Tahoe into the carport space that was designated for Sally's condo. She had always thought it odd that Sally didn't own a car but now that she was able to see a little bit of the cove, it was clear that Sally didn't need a car. Everything was within walking distance and there was a cute little old-fashioned trolley system that transported passengers to the outskirts.
Jacey hauled her luggage upstairs to the condo and locked herself in for the night. She called out to Augie and when he came to her, she fed him the pizza crusts from her supper. She sat on the floor, lavishing him with as much attention as she could.
After she changed into a pair of light sweats, which doubled for pajamas, Jacey roamed through the condo, looking over Sally's pictures, photos, knickknacks and home décor. Jacey marveled at Sally's ability to have kept her style so simple; only the items that were necessary were in specific rooms, only photos were displayed that were important, only pictures and knickknacks that had personal and sentimental value.
She climbed the steps into the turret and her breath caught at the night view. The bright lights of the harbor and the colorful luster of the town made it look so hospitable. She could understand why Sally liked it here. She took one last look before she went back down to the living room. She couldn't wait to see the view in the daytime.
Augie followed her to the kitchen as she began looking through the cupboards. She was curious to see what Sally had stocked up on and, possibly, what groceries she needed to get for herself during her stay. Most urgently, she was looking for a box of teabags. She knew Sally loved tea so there had to be some in the kitchen somewhere. She finally found a box, grabbed one containing peach-flavored tea and set the kettle to boil.
Jacey started up Sally's computer and retrieved her mug of hot tea from the kitchen while the hard drive booted up. She sat at the desk and sipped her tea, staring at the password protected screen that displayed before her.
"Sally, Sally, Sally what would your password be?" Jacey mumbled out loud. She looked down at the dog curled up at her feet. "How about ?" She typed in Augie. Her access was denied. She typed in Knutagustus. Access denied. She concentrated on what else was important to Sally. She knew if she didn't get the password correct this time, she would be locked out. "What would you use? If it's Augie's birthday, I'm out of luck because I don't know that. I wonder if the guys know?" Jacey looked at her watch. It was midnight and Pete had an early shift. She didn't want to wake him up for something she could ask tomorrow. She picked up her mug of tea, took a sip, sat it back down. "Hmmm "
She stared at the screen a little longer. "Come on, Sally, speak to me. What's your password?" She rested her elbows on the desk and steepled her fingers together. "What about -?"
Jacey began to type J-A-C-E and stopped cold when it registered that she had heard a voice tell her the password. More precisely, she had heard Sally's voice tell her the password. She shivered and her fingers suddenly felt like ice.
"Why did you stop? That's the password."
Jacey turned quickly and what she saw caused her to stand up quickly, pushing the chair backwards in a panic. Her back was against the wall. She tried to speak but no words came out.
"What's wrong? You asked me to speak to you."
Jacey blinked several times, then closed her eyes and scrubbed her face with her hands. Standing by the desk was Sally. If she was an apparition, she certainly was a very real, three-dimensional one. "W-what ?"
"Jacey? Talk to me, hon."
Jacey shut her eyes tight again, shook her head vigorously and then opened her eyes to see that the apparition was still there. Then she did something she never did before she fainted.
Jacey swam back into consciousness slowly. She was disoriented and her head hurt. She recognized Xavier who was holding her hand.
"Pete, she's awake," Xavier said.
Jacey was lying on the bed. Augie was curled up beside her. "What happened?"
"We were hoping you could tell us." Pete stood behind Xavier. "We were almost asleep and we heard this thud above us. When we got up here, you were in a heap on the floor."
"And white as a sheet," Xavier added. "Did you see a ghost? It is Halloween, after all." He smiled at her as he patted her hand.
Then she remembered. She had indeed seen a ghost. She wondered if she should say anything. She decided against it. "I don't know, I think that, maybe, the stress and emotion of Sally's death finally got to me."
Pete nodded. "Yeah, that's kind of what we thought. Maybe it was too much that we asked you to stay here. There are reminders of her everywhere. We were selfish in wanting someone who meant so much to her to stay here. How about you spend the rest of the night in our guest room and tomorrow, we'll find you a motel."
Jacey was about to agree when something off to her side caught her eye. She focused and saw Sally sitting in the chair that had been moved back in front of the computer. Sally was smiling at her and then wiggled her fingers in a small wave. Jacey's eyes got wide and both men turned to look in the direction she was staring. They then both looked back at her.
"What's wrong?" Pete asked.
Clearly, neither Pete nor Xavier saw what she did. She pulled her eyes away from Sally's ghost and forced herself not to look back. "Nothing. I, um, am just feeling an energy I guess. Do either of you feel it?"
Both men shook their heads. "Not sure what you mean," Xavier said.
Jacey was torn. She was scared witless but curious as hell about what was going on. She could not only see Sally but she could hear her, too. She had never taken any hallucinogenic drugs so it couldn't be that coming back to bite her. So what was going on? There was only one way to find out.
"Are you feeling well enough to get up? We'll take you and Augie downstairs." Pete went to pick up the dog but Jacey stopped him.
"No, I'm I'm fine. Like I said, I think I was just overwhelmed. I'll be fine here. I feel closer to Sally here so I'll stay."
"Okay," Pete said. "If you're sure. We don't want you to be uncomfortable."
"No, I'm good. It's all good," Jacey assured them.
Both men bid her goodnight and left the condo. When they were gone, Jacey looked at Sally. "What's going on, Sal?"
"Not much. Just hanging around. Feeling a little, you know dead."
"Okay, so you know you're not alive "
"How could I not? It's not like anyone has tiptoed around the issue."
"How come Augie doesn't sense your presence? I thought animals were extra sensitive to spirits."
"Don't ask me. I'm new to this."
Jacey wasn't able to relax. It was still too surreal to be having such a light conversation with a person she was deeply mourning only a moment before. She still wasn't sure that she wasn't experiencing a very realistic dream. "You look so real. How come Pete and Xavier can't see or hear you?"
Sally shrugged. "I have no idea."
"I'm supposed to pick up your ashes tomorrow."
"Oooh, where are you going to spread them?" Sally adjusted her position and sat cross-legged in the chair.
"I hadn't decided. I was actually going to keep them. At least for a while."
"Well, that's kind of morbid. Why would you want to do that?"
"Because because it would be all I have left of you, Sal."
Sally's smile faded as though she suddenly realized that her predicament was irreversible. "Sorry, Jace."
Jacey wasn't sure she could trust her legs from buckling underneath her if she stood but she needed something to drink, something to calm the jittery knowledge that she was, indeed, talking to the love of her life's ghost. She swung her legs off the bed and stood up, shakily. She held onto the headboard to get her bearings.
"Are you okay?" Sally asked, concerned.
"Okay? Of course I'm not okay! You're dead and I'm standing here talking to your ghost. I'm not sure if I should be grateful or committed." She took a couple steps, decided she wasn't going to fall and made her way into the kitchen. She opened the freezer door.
"What are you looking for?" Sally was right next to the fridge.
"It's in the door."
Jacey found the bottle right where Sally said it would be. She removed it, closed the door and set it on the shelf. "Olive flavored vodka. Kind of takes all the fun out of making your own martini." She searched the cupboard and plucked out a jar of green olives.
"You had a lot of beer tonight, are you sure you want to mix your alcohol?"
"How do you know that? Were you at the bar? Why didn't I see you there?"
"No, I wasn't at the bar. I can't seem to leave my apartment. I heard Pete tell Xavier that maybe you passed out from two pitchers of beer."
Jacey set to making herself a drink with the ingredients she had on the counter. "I didn't drink them all by myself and yes, trust me, I need a drink."
Sally watched Jacey complete her concoction, then taste it. As Jacey poured more olive juice into her glass, Sally said, "Why was I worried? If I hadn't known any better, I'd say you put the vodka in with an eye dropper."
"You know you're in a pretty chipper mood for a dead person," Jacey commented. Sally followed her back to the bedroom. Jacey sat back down on the bed where Augie was sound asleep and Sally returned to the computer chair. "What happened, Sally? What went on here the other night? Was it suicide?"
"No! I would never kill myself," she replied, sounding offended at the suggestion.
"I think I was murdered."
Jacey stared at Sally, speechless, and almost dropped her glass. She studied Sally's expression and understood that she was serious. "Who -? How? There wasn't any mess, any blood, anything that made Pete, the cop, suspicious."
"I don't know how or why or who. I'm a little fuzzy on those parts."
"How can you be fuzzy? You can't have amnesia, you're a ghost."
"How do you know what a ghost can or cannot have?" There was an edge to Sally's tone. "When you become a ghost, we'll talk."
Jacey took a swallow of her drink. "Hey, don't get pissed at me. I'm the one having hallucinations, not you."
"I'm not a hallucination."
"Well you're not real!" Jacey protested.
"Keep your voice down. I don't want Pete and Xavier to think you talk to yourself. Not after the way I built you up."
Jacey studied Sally. She exaggeratedly closed and opened her eyes several times but the apparition was still present.
"What are you doing?" Sally asked. "Stop it, whatever it is. You look like 'I Dream of Jeannie' trying to blink me away."
Jacey approached Sally slowly. When she was within close proximity, she reached her hand out. "Touch my hand."
"So that I know you're really dead and not playing some horrible Halloween trick on me."
"I would never do that to you!" Sally said, indignantly.
"Then touch my hand," Jacey demanded, her voice a low growl.
Sally reached out and when her hand should have taken hold of Jacey's, it went right through it instead. Jacey stared at where they should have been joined. Her eyes went wide and she jumped backward, a visible shiver vibrating her entire body.
"Jesus, you really are a ghost," Jacey stated and hugged her arms to herself. She looked up at Sally.
"Happy?" Sally asked.
"No," Jacey answered in barely a whisper. She sat on the floor, in front of Sally who slightly swiveled in the computer chair. "And I'm not so sure I wouldn't have been happier if you had stayed invisible."
"That can be arranged," Sally said, sounding slightly hurt. "I thought if I could show myself to anyone, if I could trust anyone, it's be you."
Jacey took another long swallow, draining her martini. She then picked out an olive and popped it into her mouth, chewing. "It's not that, Sal, it's just what am I supposed to do with you? No one can see you or hear you but me, not even your faithful dog. And you can't even tell me why you're here."
"Clearly I've come to haunt you."
Jacey smirked. "Clearly you're doing an awful job of that. And, in case you don't remember, you were the one who didn't believe in ghosts."
"In case, I don't remember? I remember everything about that night in vivid detail." There was a hint of sadness in Sally's voice.
"How do you know which night I'm referring to?"
"There was only one night we talked about ghosts, Jacey. That night we made passionate love in your car," Sally said, quietly. "I still can't believe we had sex in a car," she added in a mumble.
"I never did until you," Jacey confessed.
"Oh, come on you had all the tools, remember? Candles blanket "
"Still. Besides, can't you do a spiritual thing where you can look into my past and see that I'm telling the truth?"
"Maybe I can. Give me a break, will you? I've only been a ghost a few days. You sure seemed as though you'd done it before in that car."
Jacey stuck her right hand up in a 'scout's honor' pose. "I swear, not until you."
Sally seemed to study her. "That night was so magical for me. Made me see who I really was."
"Then why have we never talked about it before? Except for that phone call where you begged me to forgive you, and when you actually left Craig, you've never wanted us to discuss that night."
"I don't know, I guess it was just too sacred and I didn't want to overanalyze it."
"You cried in my arms that night," Jacey reminded her, gently.
"I'd never felt anything like it. You took me to a place I'd never been before. Or since."
"Then why didn't we ever get together again? You knew how much I wanted to be with you."
"It was too intense. Too raw. It was too much; it was not enough. And I never thought I would have it again," Sally said, despondently. "And I was married and I thought he'd kill me and you if he ever found out."
"And then you finally left him. I would have come to you here, you know. All you had to do was ask."
"All you had to do was tell me that. When I left Craig, you were seeing someone else, remember? I was too afraid to ask, too afraid you'd say no. I know you kissed me again but I thought you were just being supportive in response to how terrible I felt. Pammy talked as though you had successfully moved on."
"Oh my God. Are you telling me I missed my chance because we couldn't read each other's signals correctly?" Jacey's mouth went dry at the thought. They stared at each other in realization.
"Well look at the bright side. We're together now," Sally said and flashed a grin.
Jacey faced Andrea after she hung up from a phone call with Sally. The look on Andrea's face told her that another argument was coming. "What?" Jacey then said, defensively.
But Andrea's voice was surprisingly calm. "Oh, come off it, Jacey. I'm not blind and I'm not deaf. I see the look in your eyes and hear the love in your voice when you talk to her. Your expressions and your tones never come close to that when you talk to me."
"Andrea, Sally is a friend. That's all." Jacey felt the pangs of conscience. Although it was a true statement, Jacey knew all it would take to change it would be an invitation from Sally. But Sally still seemed so emotionally chafed from the divorce and uncertain about the direction she wanted her life to take, Jacey thought that keeping her distance was currently wiser than jumping into an unstable situation with both feet.
"No. We're friends, Jacey. Friends with benefits. What you have with Sally is much deeper. What you and I have is a comfort level of pretty amazing sex. But a relationship? No. We really haven't had a relationship since Sally left her husband.
Jacey hung her head in response to the truth of Andrea's words. "I haven't cheated on you, Andrea."
"In your heart, you have," Andrea told her, clearly trying to hang on to the last vestiges of her composure. "And, honestly, Jacey, I can't stand seeing that look in your eyes anymore whenever Sally's name is mentioned or she's on the phone. I can't take knowing those intense feelings are reserved for her and not for me. You may not have physically cheated but I can't help believing that when we make love, it's her face you see in your mind."
Andrea's words struck Jacey like a slap in the face, not because they were erroneous but because they were true. "Andrea "
"No, please let me finish. I always felt something was missing when we got together but I loved you so much I was willing to work on it. For a while, it seemed as though we had gotten through it. Then Sally showed up that one night and it's never been the same between us." Jacey's heart broke for Andrea as her voice broke on the next sentences. "I'm a good person, Jacey. I deserve better. I deserve all of you, not just the part Sally isn't ready to have yet."
Jacey reached for Andrea, who flinched away from her. Andrea was openly crying now and Jacey hated that she was the cause of Andrea's pain. She caught Andrea's wrist and pulled Andrea against her. Andrea remained rigid until Jacey enfolded her in a full embrace and then she molded her form to Jacey's. "I'm so sorry. You do deserve better. It's not that I don't love you because I do."
"You just aren't in love with me," Andrea said and attempted to stifle her tears. "I don't feel I can invest any more time in us, Jace, if I'm going to be the only one trying to make it work and constantly wondering when Sally is going to snap her fingers and cause the end of our relationship. We've been seeing each other for seven months and we're no closer to taking it a step further than when we first got together. It's as though you are afraid to take that next step in case something better comes along and that something better is always blatantly waiting in the wings, silently taunting me. I can't do this anymore. I thought I could just ignore her because, after all, I have you and she doesn't, right? I'm just kidding myself, though, aren't I?"
"I'm so sorry," Jacey whispered again as she held Andrea tightly and let Andrea weep in her arms. She never felt more like a sleazeball than she did at that moment. Goddamn it, Sally, Jacey thought, not only am I allowing you to mess up my life, I'm letting you mess up other's too.
"But we're not together now." Jacey repeated in protest. "I can't be with you, Sal. Not in the way I've always wanted to be. I can never be with you now. Your telling me how you feel certainly validates my pining for years but, Jesus, what good does it do me other than making me kick myself for not leaving with you that night you escaped to here?"
"Well, duh! I wasted four years of my life and hurt other people, really good people because I wanted to be with you and I didn't think you were ready to commit and yet, I didn't want to be alone. I couldn't have done casual with you, Sally, and that's all you indicated I could have. And now you're telling me that the issue was our incapability of communicating properly?"
"I'm sorry, Jace. I thought there'd be time." Sally's expression was contrite, then she cocked her head and pursed her lips. "And I'm not entirely to blame here. I kept inviting you down here to visit but you were always busy at work or involved with someone. I believed that if you really wanted to be with me then you'd be with me. I'm not a mind reader."
They both stared at each other, absorbing the reality of the circumstances they were in. "I want to take you in my arms so much right now. I can't believe I'll never feel your arms around me ever again. That all we had was that one night together." Jacey felt the tears unexpectedly roll down her face. She wiped them away with the back of her hand.
"I wish it were different, too. But this is where we are and this is what we have."
Jacey stood up, walked to the dresser, removed a tissue from the decorative container and blew her nose. She walked to the kitchen with her empty martini glass and placed it on the sink. "So why do you think you were murdered?" she asked after she filled a glass with ice water and returned to the bedroom. "Do you think it was Craig?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know why you think you were murdered or you don't know if it was Craig?"
"What's the last thing you remember?"
"Well let's see. I stopped by the bar to have a glass of wine-"
"Van Dyke's. I've told you about it. It's a little piano bar and one of my favorite places to spend an hour or two to wind down and it's not one of the more, well known J-Cove hangouts. You kind of have to know about it or you don't seek it out. It's where we J-Covies go if we want to escape the festival crowds."
"Anything significant or unusual happen while you were there?"
Sally looked skyward while trying to remember. "Nothing I can immediately recall." She looked back at Jacey. "Why is that important?"
"If I'm going to retrace your steps, I need to know exactly what you did."
"You're going to retrace my steps? Why?"
"So if you were murdered, and it wasn't Craig, maybe I can find out who did it and why. Are you sure it wasn't an accidental overdose?"
"I'm completely sure. That bottle of meds Pete said they found on the floor? I stopped taking those over six weeks ago." Her focus was pulled to the bed where Augie stretched, yawned and changed positions. He went right back to sleep. "Isn't he just the cutest boy ever?"
Jacey looked back at the Dorkie and smiled. "He's adorable." She returned her attention to Sally. "I still don't understand why he isn't reacting to you."
"Listen, he's sleeping peacefully for the first time since whatever happened so maybe he senses I'm here. You will take him, won't you? He seems content with you."
"Yeah, sure, of course, I'll take him. You don't think he'd be more comfortable with Pete and Xavier?"
"With Pete maybe but Xavier makes him a nervous wreck. Xavier is too high strung and Augie instantly feels Xavier's anxiety the second he's around him."
"So about your Halloween evening. You stopped by Van Dyke's, had a glass of wine. Did you talk to anybody? Run into anyone you know? Meet anyone you didn't know?"
Sally contemplated the question then shook her head. "Not that I remember. I think yeah, it was the same bartender who is there every Wednesday night and the same faces that are usually there at six o'clock."
"How long did you stay there?"
"About an hour, I think."
"Did you come home or go somewhere else?"
"I hmm I stopped by TGI-Humpday's and and, damn, I don't remember much after that "
"And TGI-Humpday's is?"
"A little bar on the pier. I didn't realize they were having a Halloween party and, I think, there were people who were in costumes."
"Did you have a drink there?"
Sally closed her eyes, trying to concentrate. "Possibly. But I really don't remember. In fact, up until right now, I didn't remember going there."
"So you barely remember going there and not leaving or coming home and taking those pills "
"No. It's really a loss after that. But maybe if I keep talking about it, it will start coming back to me." She looked at Jacey. "What are you going to do?"
"I think, starting tomorrow, I will go over to those two bars and see what I can find out."
Jacey did not sleep well. When she finally dozed off, it was in the middle of a conversation with Sally's ghost. She pushed herself to stay awake as long as possible because she was afraid that falling asleep might mean the last time she saw her beloved friend.
When she rose to consciousness, the recollection of the night before slammed into her and she sat up, looking around frantically. Sally was nowhere in sight. She scrubbed her face with her hands and her eyes swept the room slowly. Still no Sally.
Augie, however, alert that Jacey was now up, began to whine and wiggle. She looked over at him and rubbed his head and ears. "I bet you're hungry." She threw the covers back and the fullness of her bladder forced her into the bathroom. "I bet you need to go out, too."
Jacey finished in the bathroom and walked out to the kitchen to search for food for the Dorkie. She wrinkled her nose as a not-so-fresh odor assaulted her nostrils. Augie had made use of the papers on the floor Pete and Xavier had left for him to do his business.
"Well, I guess that takes care of that," she said as she picked up the papers and placed them in the trash. She found his hard food container and filled the small scoop, then emptied the contents into his bowl. Augie's tail wagged the entire time he greedily ate.
She found a bag of coffee beans in the freezer, filled the hand wound grinder, then scooped the results into the filtered cup, added water and the coffee maker began to brew.
Jacey went to the bathroom, stripped off her clothes and stepped into a hot shower. Had last night been just a dream? It had seemed so authentic. Of course, as devastated as she was about Sally's death, she shouldn't have been surprised at the vividness of her slumbering nocturnal visions. She had read that spirits sometimes visit in dreams to reassure that they were fine. She had been visited by past, loved pets during sleep so why not Sally?
But it felt so real.
Why would she have a conversation in a dream, though, regarding Sally's last actions while alive? Why would Sally insist she did not commit suicide or even die accidentally? Maybe she needed to check out some of the information the dream had provided, just in case.
She rinsed the conditioner out of her hair, shut the shower off and squeezed the excess water out of her long, dark locks. She opened the shower door, scrunched more water out of her hair and then wrapped herself in a bath towel.
She removed underclothes, jeans and a sweatshirt from her suitcase, dressed and went to the kitchen to pour her coffee. She found a bottle of pumpkin spice creamer in the fridge and checked the expiration date before adding some to her coffee. She cooed at Augie a little more and then headed to the turret to take a look at the view of the cove in the daytime.
Jacey sat at the little table and looked out into the morning sky. It was a crisp November 4th day and the panorama was spectacular. It was a few hours after sunrise and the ocean sparkled like diamonds in the sun's reflection. The waves that lapped the shore had small whitecaps as the water appeared to be calm. Jacey took a sip of her coffee and sighed. Such a sense of tranquility seemed to saturate the scene. It was evident why Sally loved it here.
"I always loved spending my mornings like this. Isn't it just soul-calming?"
Jacey responded to Sally's voice by closing her eyes and smiling, relieved. It hadn't been a dream. She turned to look at Sally, who sat in a chair, opposite her, watching the tide.
"I thought I had dreamed you," Jacey said. When Sally looked at her and grinned, Jacey felt simultaneously assuaged and crestfallen. Sally was there but she wasn't. As a logical person, Jacey was not sure how to balance the opposing emotions or the reality.
"How come you weren't here when I woke up?"
"I thought you might want some time to yourself to think through our conversation last night. But the smell of coffee really brought me in. I can never get enough of the aroma of freshly ground and freshly brewed coffee."
"I'd offer to get you a cup but "
"Nice, rub it in, why don't you?" Sally said, giving Jacey a mock frustrated look.
"I wasted so much of my time by not moving down here to be with you," Jacey said, the tone of regret unmistakable.
"Did you? Are you really going to spend the rest of your life looking at it that way? What will you gain by that?"
Jacey was surprised by Sally's question, instead thinking she would be flattered by Jacey's words. "Don't you wish I had moved with you? We could have had four years together. And maybe you wouldn't be dead now."
"Jace there are reasons we make the choices we do and that is so we can learn from the rewards or the consequences of those choices. Life doesn't just happen. We choose paths to follow that lead us to our destinations. We happened exactly the way we were meant to. Am I happy about it? No but I do accept that the outcome is what I consciously or subconsciously orchestrated. It's the same with you. You cannot go through the rest of your life saying, 'what if'. I mean, you can, but you'll waste an incredible amount of time and energy."
"I guess I just don't have the insight you have now. You know I've always been a 'learn the hard way' kind of girl." She drank more of her coffee and looked out at the vista. "So you have no regrets?"
"No, I have a ton of regrets but what good does it do me to dwell on them? Especially now. Don't waste any more time brooding over what might have been. All that will do is make you bitter and resentful."
"So what are you going to tell me next? The only person I hurt by carrying a grudge is me? That I will only feel better when I forgive my enemies? Because you know how I feel about that."
"Yes, that you can only forgive someone if you believe they are truly sorry for the things they have done."
"It's true, Sal. Otherwise, what's the point? Besides, isn't it up to God to forgive them?"
"I thought you didn't believe in God."
"I don't know what I believe but it certainly isn't in that mythical being in the sky that all the religions pray to or whose name they invoke."
"Then how do you explain my being here right now?"
"I can't. How do you explain it? Have you seen the Big Guy yet? The so-called gates of Heaven yet?"
"Well no but I'm obviously in limbo and probably won't rise to a higher plane until I resolve how I got to be on this level."
"So what have you seen since you know "
"Just this apartment. Like I said, I haven't been able to leave. I tried to show myself to Xavier and Pete but it didn't work. Augie can't sense me or, if he can, he's not reacting like he can. You're the only one who's been able to see and hear me."
Jacey stared into Sally's eyes. "If only I could feel you."
"Yes, well, I haven't discovered how to do that yet. I don't even know if it's possible."
Checking her watch, Jacey finished her coffee. "Let me know if you figure that out."
"Oh, trust me, you'll be the first."
Jacey stood up. "I promised the boys, I'd go have breakfast with them."
"Are you going to tell them about me?"
"Uh, no. They do not know me well enough to believe me." She walked to the stairs and looked back at Sally. "Are you going to be here when I get back?"
"I don't have anywhere else to go," Sally tossed out, nonchalantly.
"We're glad you're feeling better," Xavier said, as they sat in the diner booth.
"Thanks," Jacey said as she picked up the menu and began to look over her options. "Augie seemed to put in a good night after I settled down and you guys left. I am going to have to get him used to be walked again, though."
"You still look pretty exhausted," Pete commented.
"I'm not surprised. I didn't realize how much this affected me until I was actually here. So," she began, wanting to change the subject, "what's good here?"
"They have a stuffed French Toast to die for," Xavier gushed. "They also have a blackberry Belgian waffle which is excellent."
"Or if you don't like your breakfasts sweet, they have a great omelet selection. Sally used to love their Eggs Benedict Arnold." Pete pointed to the selection on the menu.
Jacey looked over the description. It was two poached eggs over an English muffin, topped with sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and hollandaise sauce. "That's what I'll have." She placed the menu back on the table.
The server approached the table, took their orders and left. "I have to go in at noon and finish up some paperwork before my shift but Xavier will take you over to pick up Sally's ashes." Pete said. He looked at Jacey and then Xavier. "Are you both up for that?"
"It'll be fine," Jacey said, as Xavier looked away, tearing up. She reached over and placed her hand over Xavier's, which caused him to turn back to her. "We'll be fine," she said, squeezing Xavier's hand.
"Have you decided what you're going to do with her ashes?" Pete asked.
"No, not yet. I will promise it will be something special and befitting of Sally," Jacey answered, letting go of Xavier's hand. "When will Sally's autopsy report be back?"
"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 Flip in my pocket recorded every thing."
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.
Return to Xena and Gabrielle Fiction
Return to Main Page