Chapter 3: the chapter in which poor Hero becomes an orphan, and once again meets the distractingly handsome Detective Kyle.
I woke curled up on my couch. I had vague memories of the night before. Jenny leaving me at the apartment and coming back with a lot of vodka, and then a lot of shots and a lot of tears and a lot of shared memories. I lay still a moment before it all came rushing back.
Aunt Dee was…
I managed to rush from the couch and make it to the bathroom to throw up. I knelt in front of the toilet, afraid to move for a moment. I finally half-crawled, half-staggered to the sink and rinsed my mouth out, before drinking a few handfuls of water. I let my head rest on the cool tile of the sink. Getting drunk had not helped at all. I wondered if anything would help. I wondered if anything would ever be ok again.
Dee was… she was…
I finally staggered back to the couch. There was no sign of Jenny, so she’d probably taken off, planning to come back before I woke up. I squinted out the window, but like yesterday it was overcast, and I wasn’t sure if it was early morning or late afternoon.
I fumbled through my purse for my cell phone to check the time; it was late afternoon. I groaned and lay back on the couch. I glanced at the flashing light on my phone, messages. I couldn’t think about messages right now, I couldn’t think about life right now. I curled up on the couch again and closed my eyes. Maybe I could just sleep and it would all be a dream.
But, I couldn’t sleep. My thoughts just kept repeating themselves. I pushed myself up from the couch and shuffled to the kitchen and started the coffee out of habit. I dug around in the cupboard considering what I should eat and if I could eat. I found some bread but noticed it was already turning green. I tossed it into the garbage and found an unopened box of crackers. I munched on a few, my stomach less revolted by their staleness than my taste buds were. I drank a couple of glasses of water before the coffee was done.
Dee was… she was… she was gone.
By the time I returned to the couch, coffee in hand, I wasn’t better but I felt less awful. Dee was still… really gone.
I’d never see her again. My eyes burned and my vision blurred with tears. I blinked and swallowed, not wanting to cry again. I sipped at my coffee, staring aimlessly around the room. I jumped when my phone chirped at me. I glanced at the display, a text from Jenny. She’d had to meet a client but was going to come soon. I felt my stomach lurch. Clients. I’d had an appointment with the Joneses today. I considered calling them, but couldn’t stand the thought of talking to anyone.
Jenny’s next message mentioned that the Joneses loved the photos and totally understood the situation. And she was bringing back food. My stomach roiled at the thought of real food. I really didn’t care what the Joneses thought about “the situation” right now, and I considered texting her back, telling her to forget the food, but it seemed like too much effort to work my phone.
Dee was gone. She was gone, and I was alone.
I laid my head in my hands and cried. I just wanted everything to stop, the chipper chirping of my phone, the crows making a racket outside, the hum of the refrigerator. I didn’t know what to do or how to get my emotions under control to figure out what I should do. It made it worse to realize that in any other case I’d call Dee and ask her what to do. But of course, I knew what she’d say. She’d say, “Hero stop moping on the couch. Get up and do something. Staying busy is the best cure for being maudlin.” She always said that keeping busy was important. I could still hear her saying that after I’d complained about a million bad days throughout the years. But wasn’t this well beyond maudlin?
But nevertheless, I forced myself to get off the couch and take a shower. I turned on the water and was shocked to find it already steaming. I made quick work of the actual showering but stayed under the spray of water until it started to turn cold. Getting stuff done. Dee wouldn’t want anything to slide, so I wasn’t going to let it.
I toweled off and got dressed. I was still numb. I was still lost. And Dee was still gone. I swallowed back another wave of tears and picked up my phone. At least I could try to keep busy. It’s what Dee would have told me to do.
I listened to the few voice messages I had.
Two were related to wedding photos. I fumbled trying to remember the right buttons to save the messages but didn’t really care. The next message was from Detective Kyle Smyth. He was calling to offer his condolences and again offer to stop by with the paperwork that I needed to sign. He sounded genuinely concerned about me. I wondered if it was just a cop thing. If so I decided, Fullerton had the nicest cops ever.
The last message was a burst of static and what may have been a voice cutting in and out. I fumbled with the save button again. It was probably a bad connection, but I could hear a voice in the static. Maybe when I could think again, I could decipher the message.
I pressed the “end” button and stopped listening to the messages. I had little interest in calling anyone back, not even the very nice detective. Thinking about him reminded me of his and Jenny’s weird reactions to each other. And thinking about that was easier than thinking about Dee. Jenny had either slept with him and dumped him, or had slept with his best friend, his girlfriend, his brother, his sister, his cousin and dumped them. She had a habit of breaking hearts. But a small part of me hoped that she hadn’t slept with him.
And then I felt terrible for thinking about a hot cop. After all, I’d only met him because of Dee. I chastised myself for sitting there and thinking about some guy when Dee as gone. What was wrong with me? With Dee gone, nothing else should matter. Life should stop without her. But I could hear her reaction to that idea. She’d make us tea, and we’d sit across the kitchen table. She’d tell me one of her amazing stories. Maybe the one when she and my grandmother had met the poet Anne Sexton, or the time they had gotten drunk with Heddy Lamar. She’d remind me that adventures like that happened because they never stopped living. I could see her face grow distant when her thoughts went to my grandmother. “I never stopped living even after I lost Eleonore,” she’d take my hand. “And you never stopped living after your mother.” She rarely brought up my mother; I guess she and I shared that trait, not talking about those we’d lost.
My mother, never mom, had died when I was twelve, but it wasn’t like she’d been around much anyway. She was, how should I put this, flighty, quirky, eccentric. Or to be honest she was just crazy, like the institutional kind of crazy. Growing up, it had mostly just been me and Aunt Dee and Jenny.
I shook off the memories when someone knocked on the door. I opened it, expecting to find Jenny laden with bags of food but instead found Detective Kyle Smyth. The sun chose that moment to break from the clouds, and I cringed at the brightness.
“Sorry to bother you, Hero.” He said.
I realized that I’d just scowled at him, well not at him exactly, but in his direction. “No, sorry. It’s not you.” I realized I was stumbling over my words. “Come in, please. Detective Smyth,” I opened the door wider.
“Really, call me Kyle,” he said as he stepped inside, his eyes flickering over my apartment. And I’d bet he didn’t miss anything about the place. He stopped at one of the framed photos on the wall near the door. It was from a study in perspective distortion I’d been obsessed with a year ago. Basically, it was a close-up shot of a cinder block full of cobwebs, taken from a weird angle that captured the sun glinting on the webs.
“Did you take this?” He asked.
I nodded. I was never sure it hanging my own photos was cool or just ego. But, well I took them because I liked them. “Yeah, it’s an old picture.”
He looked at it longer, “I’m not an expert or anything, but I like it.”
I managed a weak, “Thanks.”
He continued looking at some of the other photos, and I noticed looking around the apartment.
A cop thing or a guy thing? I wondered. I offered him some coffee, trying to surreptitiously glance around the apartment, hoping that it was passably clean. Other than the blanket tangled on the couch, it wasn’t too bad. I bet he didn’t miss the two empty vodka bottles though. I wondered if Jenny and I had really drunk all of it. I felt terrible, but I didn’t feel hungover. But then again, I couldn’t be sure of what I felt.
“If it’s no trouble.” He answered. “I called earlier. I uh, I didn’t want to intrude, but you didn’t call back.” He blushed. He actually blushed.
I found a clean mug and wondered if I had milk or even sugar. I started to glance around at the empty counter, looking for sugar or something. He must have noticed that I looked a little lost.
“Black is fine,” he said taking the cup from me. “Thank you.”
Having him in my apartment was weird. Seeing him again reminded me just how attractive he was and how wrong it felt to be thinking about that right now. I didn’t normally go for the guy in uniform type, but he was hot and didn’t actually wear a uniform. I mentally chastised myself, again. I shouldn’t be thinking about him right now. I should be doing something. I could hear Dee telling me, “Hero, you need direction, a plan. Make list. You can’t go wrong if you have a list.” Yup, I needed a list of what I needed to do. But I had no idea what you were supposed to do when someone…was gone. Dee had handled everything when my mother died.
I headed toward the table and pulled out a chair for him. “So, you came to check up on me?”
I would swear he blushed again. “Guilty. You were so upset yesterday, and I know your…friend took you home, but I was concerned. Mrs. Finch told me Ms. Adams was your only living family.”
I would swear that he hesitated on the word friend. Maybe I was still a little drunk, but he clearly had some issue with Jenny. “No, I have Jenny, but Dee was the only parent had left.” I swallowed the lump rising in my throat. I rested my head in my hands a moment. “So, I’m not sure what I do next. You mentioned paperwork?” I looked up to find him staring at me.
He nodded. “I have the forms here.” He opened the folio that I hadn’t even noticed him carrying and pulled out a few typed forms. “This can wait if you want,” he said.
I shrugged, “I don’t know if it will get any better with time. And Dee would have wanted me to get this done. She hates,” I paused, “hated procrastination.” I glanced at the first page. It was a release for her body. I froze, staring at the page. Somehow that made it all the more real, and I suddenly wished that Jenny would come back. It was all becoming too much again.
Detective Smyth, no Kyle, laid his hand on mine and took the form away. “Why don’t we start with an easier one?” His voice was soft and calming.
There was something about his touch. His hand was cool and hard, almost like glass. I jumped a little and glanced at his hand, but it was just a hand. I shook off the feeling. It was probably just nerves on my part. Because as he took his hand away, it felt well like a hand should.
But I began to feel better. I took a few deep breathes and began signing and dating the forms he handed me. It seemed like he kept finding a reason to touch my hand or my arm. I’m not a touchy-feely person, but something about his touch was ok, calming. Even if I would swear that his hands sometimes had that crazy made of glass feeling. I mentally shrugged it off to my hangover. We worked our way back to the form about the body.
“You don’t have to fill this out now,” He said. “You’ve got a couple of days.” He paused, “And I can probably get you a few more if you need them.”
I smiled at him, “Thanks, but I can do this.” I glanced over the form. It required the name and address of a mortuary. I paused a moment and realized that I only knew of one anyway. I scrawled in the name Markson and Son. “Let me get the address,” I mumbled to him. I dug through my purse for my phone.
I noticed the blinking light and saw another text from Jenny. She’d been delayed but would be back soon. I deleted the text and found the address and finished filling in the form. “Is that all?”
He glanced over the forms. “It all seems in order.” We sat in awkward silence a moment. “I should probably let you get back to,” he paused, his eyes resting on the empty bottles a moment, “get back to things. Unless you need anything?”
I felt myself blush. Mentally, I yelled at myself. I was an adult, and if I wanted to get falling down drunk because my aunt died, who was he to judge me? But I still felt foolish, like a teenager caught with beer. “No, but thanks.” I wondered what he meant by needing anything, like a shoulder to cry on or someone to go grocery shopping? I shook off the thought and answered, “I guess I’ll have to start making some phone calls.”
He frowned a moment, “I thought you didn’t have any family.”
I blinked at the abrupt question. “I don’t. But my aunt still worked, so I should call her boss. And she had friends.”
He looked chagrined. “Sorry, that came out wrong. Cop thing with questions.” He stood up, “I should probably go and let you get back to things.”
I stood up and followed him the twenty steps to the door. “Thanks for bringing the paperwork by. It was really…nice of you.”
He offered a crooked smile. “I don’t want this to come across as weird or inappropriate, but if you need anything feel free to call me. I’ve lost family too, and it can be rough.”
I could see the concern in his eyes, and the crooked smile only made him look more genuine. “Thanks,” I said and really meant it. “I’ve got your card somewhere.”
He pulled out another one and handed it to me. “Just in case you lost it.”
I took the card and noticed that as his fingers brushed mine, I felt the glass sensation again. I slipped the card into my pocket. “Thanks again, Kyle.”
He smiled when I used his name, and it was a great smile. One that made me feel warm and I hated to admit it, safe. “I’ll see you, Hero,” He said and left.
I watched him walk down the stairs before I closed the door. I leaned my forehead against the closed door, confused. I still felt guilty for the warm, fluttery feeling he left me with because I shouldn’t feel anything but sad. No, not sad, I reminded myself. Dee wouldn’t want me to be sad. “She’d want me to be productive,” I said aloud.
I decided that I’d call Markson’s Mortuary. That seemed productive. I dialed the number and got an answer on the second ring.
“Markson’s Mortuary, this is Travis. How may I help you?”
He sounded young, college-age I’d guess. Maybe he’s the “son,” in and son. It must be awful to grow up as the kid whose family owns the mortuary. “Hi, I’m Travis, my dad works in death,” didn’t seem like the easiest way to make friends. “Um hi, I need to plan a funeral.”
A pause followed. “Ok, may I have the name of the deceased, please?”
Another pause. “Adams, with one D?”
“Yes, one D.”
I heard another pause, and someone else in the background. “I’m sorry, could you hold on a moment please?”
I noticed he didn’t wait for a response, and I heard the phone set down.
Another voice came on the line. “Hello this is Adian Markson, did you say Dorothea Adams was deceased?”
This guy was older, probably the dad in the business. “Yes, I’m her niece and I’ve already filled out the form to have,” I paused, I couldn’t say body. “To have her sent to you.” I finished, my voice breaking up again.
“I’m so sorry, Hero.”
I blinked. I don’t think I knew an Aidan Markson, or any Markson for that matter. I’m pretty sure that I would remember knowing a mortician.
“I knew your aunt. Dorothea and I were friends a long time ago.” He paused as if remembering, “I’m terribly sorry to hear of her passing.”
“Thanks,” I managed to mutter as I tried to stay focused. I don’t recall Dee ever mentioning an undertaker, but then she had a motley assortment of friends and acquaintances.
“I’m sure you don’t remember me, I haven’t seen you since you were a child.” I could hear him shuffling some papers, “I don’t know if Dorothea told you, but she purchased a funeral package here years ago. So, you don’t have to worry about the details.”
You could pre-pay for a funeral? That was news to me. I wondered how long ago she started planning her own funeral, and I shivered with a sudden chill. “Um, so do I need to come down and sign something?”
“Yes, we will need to go over her plans, so you can approve them.” He said and I heard his voice catch. “Did you want to come by this week?” I’d swear that I heard him sniffle.
“Sure. Um, how about tomorrow, or is that too soon?”
I heard him shuffle some papers again, “No tomorrow anytime is fine.”
“Thanks. I guess I’ll come by in the afternoon then.”
“Of course, and Hero I really am sorry to hear about Dorothea. She was an amazing woman.”
I’m pretty sure he sniffled again. I thought maybe I’d made the mortician cry. “Um, so I’ll see you tomorrow. Thanks again.” I waited to hear his mumbled response before I hung up. I stared at the phone. How on earth did she know him? I searched my memories, but I couldn’t remember an Aidan at all. When I was a kid, Dee had a never-ending stream of friends coming through the house. I remembered a lot of odd folks, academics I think. As I got older, they stopped coming by at least so openly. I remember a few times as a teenager, coming home and Dee sneaking her friends out to the backyard and then pretty quickly getting rid of them.
I wonder why she stopped having them around? I remembered being elementary school age, and Dee having a lot of summer outdoor dinner parties. I couldn’t say they were barbeques that was far too plebeian for Dee. It may have been dinner outside, but it was gourmet everything on china plates. The last one of those dinners I could remember must have been around my tenth or eleventh birthday. Had she kept in touch with all of those people?
I’d sat down with a scrap of paper and a pen and was starting my list when Jenny finally came stomping in. I could tell something had pissed her off. She glanced at me and worked to wipe the anger off her face. “Sorry, it took so long. I got pulled over.” She said holding up the bags. “But I got food.”
“Wait, you got pulled over?” I asked, “Why?”
She started setting out take out on plates. “I don’t know. I didn’t get a ticket or anything. He said I was ‘going a little fast.’” I could hear the quotations she put around the cop’s words and the anger that started to creep back into her voice. She took a deep breath, “So, how’re you feeling?” She asked.
I shrugged in place of an answer. I was unsure how my stomach was reacting to the sweet and spicy scents of Thai food and the idea of food was still revolting.
Her eyes fell on Kyle’s forgotten coffee cup, “Who was here?”
“That cop from yesterday, he came by with paperwork.” I pretended to be busy looking through the cartons of food. “He said it was routine and the papers needed to get signed.”
She looked angry again for a second, and then it turned into a small smile. “Huh, that was nice of him.” She said heading over to the kitchen cupboard for plates.
I watched her try to not slam the cupboard door. “Jenny, what’s your deal with him anyway?” I asked. I heard a plate set on the counter, hard. I cringed, hoping my plates would survive this conversation.
“I don’t know him.” She said and I heard her rummaging through the silverware. “But I know his family. He’s trouble.”
“What family is that?”
Jenny sighed, “Can you trust me on this?” She turned around looking chagrined. She carried plates and forks over to the table.
I shrugged, “He seems like a nice guy to me.” I took the plates from her and set them on the table.
She scowled, “He’s not.” She sat across from at the table. “Hero, I don’t wanna fight about some stupid guy?” She sighed.
It didn’t really matter, did it? Jenny was my best friend, and she wouldn’t purposefully try and hurt me. Maybe she did know something about his family, but given her own family history, I was surprised that she’d judge him over family connections. “Ok” I agreed and started putting food on my plate.
We ate in awkward silence. After I forced a few forkfuls of noodles into my mouth, I decided that I could eat. I finished my plate and was picking at the leftover Pad Thai when I realized I was physically feeling better. “Thanks,” I said gesturing at the food.
Jenny smiled, “I knew you’d need to eat, and that you wouldn’t want to.” She started stacking the empty cartons.
“Jen, what am I going to do without her?” I said and my voice broke. I felt the tears burning in my eyes again.
She set the cartons back on the table. “I don’t know, Hero. I don’t know what either of us will do without her.” She hugged me and I sniffled back my tears.
“Dee is…” I paused, “Dee was like a mother to me.” I whispered.
Jenny took my hand, “Hero, she was your mom.” Her own voice cracked.
“I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do.” I looked at her helplessly. “How can I survive if she’s gone?” I couldn’t figure out the right words. I couldn’t possibly explain the huge hole that filled me, not even to Jenny. How could I explain that without Dee, what was I? Without her, how could I continue my life? What if I finally found a career that would make her proud? She’d never even know. What if I got married, or had kids? She’d never get to be a part of that.
Jenny tightened her grip on my hand. I looked up at her and saw that she was silently crying with me. “I understand,” Jenny whispered. “I know you can’t explain it, but I understand everything you’re feeling.” Her voice grew a little stronger as she spoke.
I stared into her blue eyes a moment and saw that she did understand. The hole inside me seemed a little smaller.
I took a deep breath, “I called the mortuary this afternoon. You know Markson’s over on Chapman?”
“The owner knew Dee. Weird, right?”
Jenny smiled, “Dee always knew everyone. Remember that time when we were like fifteen, and we snuck out?”
I found myself smiling at the memories. “Which time?”
Jenny shared my grin, “The time we went to that big old cemetery.”
“To meet those goth guys from school?” I’d had such a crush on the high school goth guy. I couldn’t even remember his name now. “What was his name, the one I was so in love with?”
“Dave? Dan? Derek? Something like that,” Jenny laughed. “But remember Dee knew the groundskeeper by name.”
I laughed, “And she didn’t even yell at us. She just waited for the groundskeeper to leave, and then she laughed at us for getting caught.” Our laughter faded as we both remembered a million moments with Aunt Dee. “What am I going to do without her?” I asked weakly.
Jenny shook her head, “I don’t know.”
Before the silence became too uncomfortable, Jenny started collecting the empty takeout cartons. I finally tried to help her clean up, but she waved me away.
“I need to go to the house. I should call people. And go through her papers or something.” I heard Jenny stuffing the cartons in the trash. “I need to be doing something,” I explained. “I can’t just sit here and cry.”
Jenny turn and shot me a look, “Dee’s famous, ‘The best cure for being maudlin is being productive?’” She asked.
I shrugged and nodded.
Her expression turned serious, “But I think going to the house can wait, don’t you?”
I sighed, “I don’t know. I know she’d want me to at least contact her boss. You know she still edits books for that publisher.”
“Really?” Jenny called over the running water. “I thought she retired years ago.”
I waited until she turned the water off. “She did, but she went back after a year. It was only specialty stuff, but I know she still gets manuscripts from them.”
Jenny came back to the table wiping her hands on a towel. “I can’t imagine waiting a day or two would really matter. I don’t know if going back to the house right now is a good idea. For either of us.”
It hit me that Jenny was holding it together for me, but Dee had been important to her too. And the thought of going back to the house tied my stomach in knots. The idea of her things being there and her being gone was too much. “Maybe you’re right. I doubt some major book emergency will come up anyway.” Even if I wanted to be productive, to take care of things, I admitted to myself that I didn’t want to go to Dee’s empty house. “You want to go with me tomorrow?” I asked.
Jenny smiled, “Sure.” She finished up in the kitchen, “You want to watch a movie or something? It might take our minds off of everything.”
I shook my head. “I think I want to be alone for a little while if that’s ok.”
Jenny paused, and for a minute I thought she was going to argue, but she nodded. “Ok. Oh, you already know that I met with the Joneses, and I called the rest of our clients and told them that the pictures will be delayed. So don’t worry about work.”
“But the L’Ete job,” I protested, “And work might be good for me. Dee always says that you can’t mope. And I want to try and stay on top of this.” I tried to force resolve into my voice. Based on Jenny’s expression, I didn’t pull it off. But thinking about work reminded me of something. Something about the photos from Saturday’s wedding nagged at me, but I couldn’t remember.
“If working will make you feel better, go ahead. But don’t you dare worry about it, if you don’t feel up to it.”
I smiled at her and held up my hands in a gesture of surrender, “I promise. If it’s too much, I’ll stop working.”
She finished cleaning up, “Are you sure you’ll be ok alone?”
I tried to reassure her, but it took another hour before Jenny left. It was only after she had gone that I remembered the crazy orbs in the photos. I dug through my purse for the printouts but couldn’t find them. I finally up-ended my bag, and the normal purse clutter spilled on the couch. No pictures. Maybe they fell out in Jenny’s car? I guess it didn’t really matter, I could always print more. But without Dee to laugh over them with me, it didn’t seem worth it to bother. And, I reminded myself again, Dee would have wanted me to be useful. No matter how amusing she found stuff like Kirlian aura photography and pictures of ghosts or UFOs, playing with broken pictures wasn’t productive. I racked my brain for something useful to do.
I aimlessly wandered around my apartment and started and stopped a hundred different chores. I spent twenty minutes sorting my laundry but stopped when I got to a pair of slacks that Dee had bought for me. I moved on to dishes, but Jenny had washed everything except for Kyle’s mug. I forced myself to sit down to work on Saturday’s pictures. I gave up in under an hour. I just couldn’t stay focused. I glanced at the clock and was surprised to find it was just after seven.
I finally realized that I wanted to go to Dee’s. I wanted to be doing something more important than washing dishes and sorting my laundry or working on someone else’s wedding pictures. Maybe I just wanted to be around her stuff. I started to call Jenny but changed my mind. This was something I needed to do alone.