Love and Death

Sorry for not writing a post of gratitude and love yesterday on our national day of thanks, but as I mentioned a few weeks ago, all my writing attention is being pulled along by this fabulous crew in my fictional world, temporarily titled, Mrs. Hendricks & Company. Yes, there has been a whole swirl of twists and turns and even a death. I mean, isn’t there always? Love out to all my Nine Cent Girl readers, you all really buoy me on the day to day, and I am so grateful for that. Wish me luck as I reach my goal before December 1st!

I will leave you with another peek at the fun– about mid-novel–but remember this is a very rough draft!!

As I came down the main stairs the phone was ringing again. The police tape was still there, where the body had been until an hour or so ago when forensics had given the approval to bring it to the morgue. The police would call her parents. The lawyers would handle the rest. Murder was off the table since Valerie had witnessed her jump. But the sexual assault was another matter. All this flooded my exhausted mind when I descended until the phone ringing jarred me again. Beth and I stood face to face over the phone by the fourth ring. Neither of us were up for answering it but finally she did. 

Again it was a series of noncommittal affirmatives, “um, yes, um yeah, yes of course, for sure, we were, thank you, see you shortly…” I stood by her like somehow my support would make the conversation easier. She offered, “It was the lawyer, again, he wants to come over to speak to Valerie, after he finishes with my brothers bail. He thinks it will be sometime late morning.” She hadn’t backed up or said anything derogatory to me, instead, she continued with a sense of alliance. “I will go tell her. You brought her tray up already, so is she up?” 

I touched her arm as she turned, “Wait,” I held her still for a moment. “Peter is with her, I think he could prove useful in keeping her calm if we delay him here a bit this morning.” She was taking it all in, processing this new role of mine. Again there was the issue of trust. Could she? her eyes asked. I continued, “Beth, we need to get this right. For your mother’s sake. Trust that is my only concern too.” I released my grip on her arm and motioned to the phone, “One of us should call Mrs. Sherman. She should be here sooner than later, we need her guidance.” Beth looked up the stairs as we both heard Valerie’s door open and close. 

She nodded a quick yes to me, “You call her, I’ll speak to Peter.” He was coming down the stairs, coffee cup in one hand, half-eaten biscuit in the other and trying to speak quickly to Beth as she approached.

I turned to dial Mrs. Sherman’s number. She answered with a quick but subdued hello. “It’s Sylvia. The lawyer will be here before noon. Valerie is still in bed, and so is her mother. The police cleared out around 6:30 but the tape stays for another day or so they told me. When will you be here?” I asked straight out. There was no question we needed her to steer out of this mess. She had cleared her schedule, she assured me, and after a few more details she said she’d be there shortly. 

Beth had brought Peter into the dinning room and from her tone I could tell she was interrogating him as to what he was still doing here when it was clear that everyone was asked to leave last night. 

“Valerie was out of her mind, you saw that. I may be scum to you, but I do care about her. She just needed someone to hold her so I did. I was there too, you know,” he was almost panting now, like the adrenaline of the night still pulsed in his veins. “I was there. Right in the den when I heard her scream, and hit the floor. Valerie was closer, but I was there too… I never heard bones break like that, like all at once, it was worse than…” he lost the ability to continue for a few minutes. 

I filled his coffee cup and put a hand on his shoulder. “We know Peter. We know. We were both here too.”  I looked over at Beth who clearly did not have the reserve to do any of this. “Peter, take your coffee and go back upstairs. Do your best to get her up and showered. The lawyers will be here in a few hours. We need you to pull yourself together and help Valerie.” Beth was nodding some sort of an agreement. “We all need you this morning Peter.”  He was slow to stand, perhaps he had never been needed before, and the notion was foreign, so I thought to repeat it. “Peter, the Hendricks family needs you. All of them, Chuck and Michael, their mother and father, Beth standing right here, and Valerie most of all. She has terror to face this morning, and she’s not as strong as you are… be there for her Peter. You can do this,” I was saying words that I didn’t believe in the slightest like someone had handed me a script for an audition I was not qualified to attend. 

As I looked at his tear-stained face and Beth’s panic building on the other side of the table, I pictured myself before I had come here four months ago. That girl seemed long gone. This was a new me, perhaps feeling a bit like an imposter still, but stronger than I might have imagined possible. “Get up Peter. We have work to do, you too. And no time to waste either,” as if on cue we all three heard Valerie’s door opening, with her barely awake voice wondering where he was, calling for him. There was no more need for me to cajole him, he sprang into action and stood up immediately. 

Beth looked ready to collapse, but I knew she would rise on her own so I left her for a moment of quiet and went into the kitchen. There was a knock on the kitchen door. Delivery day I wondered? Then I remembered the butcher was delivering a large roast and all sorts of meats for the Christmas spread I was supposed to be preparing this week. I wasn’t sure if I could decline the order or not but opened the door ready to start that conversation when I stared right into Johnny face, looking like he hadn’t slept in ages. I started to slam the door instantaneously when he inserted his foot into the opening. I straight away started to kick it out but he held the door firmly open.

With that deep voice he began, “Listen, Helen or Sylvia or whatever you call yourself now, fuck, babe, I am not here to start any trouble. It’s just that everyone was talking about the murder or accident or whatever the fuck happened here last night. I just wanted to make sure those creeps didn’t hurt you…” I knew this tack all too well. The caring Johnny wasn’t to be trusted if you were within arms length, but I couldn’t get him out without talking to him, that was certain. 

“Back up, to the start of the courtyard and I’ll talk to you, but you’re sure as hell not stepping foot into this house,” I held my chin up and shot him my most determined gaze. It had been a while, and perhaps he was even afraid of me now that I was living up on the hill with the Hendricks. Whatever it was, he pulled his foot out and started backwards to the high fence. “Keep going,” I said as I stepped outside and pulled the door closed behind me. “What do you want, Johnny? If it’s money you can fuck off, I don’t owe you anything,” I kept one hand on the knob in case I needed a quick retreat.

He looked surprisingly sober, clean shaven, and possibly in new jeans, but as exhausted as everyone inside. “I tried to see the body when they brought it out, I…”

I interrupted him at once, “What the hell do you mean? Have you been spying on me?” I wanted to belt him one, but didn’t want to let go of the doorknob. “How did you even find me?”

He took one step forward and I raised one hand, “No, I’m not spying…” he said, “I mean, yeah, I was pretty freaked out when you first disappeared, I was frantic, no one knew where you went. But then James started snooping around, and well, he’s no pro. I got more from him than I gave, but ever since I knew you were living here, I’ve walked up the hill every night and checked that your apartment light was on, and waited until you turned it off.” He was looking at his feet and moving the gravel around with his boot. “I know the drinking, the anger, all of it was shit, but my old man hit…”

“Do I look like I care about your old man and that he was a bastard to you? Yeah, I’m alive. Now back yourself out of my life. I’ve got a lot to deal with today, and you’re not a part of anything,” I started to turn my back and head inside when he took two fast steps toward me.

“Look, be careful. I knew Chuck and Michael back when they were in high school, home for vacations, hitting on the local girls. Not a one of them wasn’t left in trouble after they finished. They are bad news Helen. Watch your back. I can be here in a minute if you need anything,” the sincerity was as off putting as his fist. 

“Go to hell Johnny. And don’t come back. You’re the last person I would ever call,” I closed the kitchen door beyond me quickly and turned to find Beth standing in earshot. 

“Trouble?” she asked.

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