Murder and Magic by Moonlight
I stood in front of the open garage door with my hands on my hips surveying the massive piles of stuff leftover from a love story gone wrong. Some women got happily ever after, I got the castoffs from the life of a man who once existed, who once loved me and I loved him, but now? The answer my friend was dust blowing in the wind.
His parents didn’t want it, the stuff, and I understood. No parent should outlive their child. His did. I didn’t want the boxes either but when his mother gave me those sad eyes and began to cry, how could I say no? I was the loving, grieving fiancé after all. One hundred percent true. I ate (when I eventually got my appetite back), slept (when the insomnia finally left me), and drank (alcohol didn’t help one bit) my grief, day in and day out, over his loss.
That happened two years ago.
Jeffery had that effect on people. To say his death came unexpectedly would be akin to saying the sky was blue or trees had leaves. A big ol’ steaming pile of duh. What the police were never able to tell us? Why did it happen? Jeffery was a healthy, devastatingly handsome twenty-six-year-old financial whiz who made a ton of money for his clients.
He made them tons of money. This meant when the police came to talk with me, to ask if he had any enemies, the answer was a resounding no. Who wouldn’t like a man who made them rich beyond belief? Then why was he gunned down when he ran into the convenience store to buy me a pint of Chunky Monkey because I was having a migraine and wanted to let Ben & Jerry chase my blues away? It wasn’t a robbery gone bad. The police were sure of that point. Only one person got the big pow-pow and that was Jeffery. He drove a fancy car, had a fat wallet and a Rolex on his wrist when the shooter brought him down. The only thing the shooter took was my fiancé’s life.
So here we were. I wiped the tears from my face with the back of my hand. Thinking about the brutal way he left us always choked me up. No one deserved to die that way.
Standing outside the garage staring at those boxes wasn’t going to get them sorted any faster. Sighing, I pushed up my metaphoric sleeves ready to wade into the mire of memories. The first box contained his clothing—suits, jeans, and button-down shirts for both business and casual wear. Those stayed in the box that I planned to donate. There had to be someone out in the big, wide world who could use a good suit when heading into a job interview. His clothing might change a person’s life for the better. So why did it feel like deciding to donate his organs instead of his Armani?
I lost myself in the chore, saving the few mementos special to me and putting a box together of items making up the sum of Jeffery’s early life. Report cards, school pictures, yearbooks, and the like. Things that hurt too much for them to look at now but his family would be happy to have down the road.
Despite working in the shade of the garage, sweat dripped from my brow, and highly attractive pit stains drenched my T-shirt. Of course, being a medium dusty blue, the stains showed contrastingly darker. August in Michigan played out more like a rainforest than most people imagined. No matter, the job needed to get done. I’d grown tired of scraping ice off my windows two winters ago, but being heavily laden with grief, I didn’t have it in me to do anything about it. Fast forward to today, I felt ready to tackle the emotionally daunting task.
“Hello Simone,” Mrs. Hildebrandt called from her spot on the sidewalk in front of my lawn where she watched me sorting out boxes. “Finally getting rid of that stuff?”
“Yes, Mrs. Hildebrandt.” Clearly.
“Why don’t you get your sweet fella to help you clean? A gentleman should always help his sweetheart.”
Mrs. Hildebrandt currently suffered from early-stage dementia. It wasn’t her fault, yet it still hurt to be hit with that same Jeffery reminder every time she saw me. The neighborhood loved Jeffery and he would’ve been out here helping without me ever having to ask. Because of that everyone in the neighborhood knew of Jeffery’s passing. They even enacted an emergency phone tree. Those first weeks I had neighbors helping with everything from cleaning, laundry, mowing the yard, to helping with the grocery shopping. Not that I needed to shop. The rest of my kind neighbors had filled my fridge and freezer to capacity with any form of noodle dish one could imagine, and even a few that shocked me they had. Like Mrs. Danbury’s Chicken-Pineapple-Surprise. The surprise being whatever that mystery meat started life as, it sure wasn’t chicken, and secondly, that the woman actually thought those flavors worked together.
Picture a dish where ambrosia met chicken alfredo and you’d be just about there. Though she’d thrown in a couple of undetermined spices for good measure which burned my tongue.
I gave some to Pooches, my kitty, and he got sick—like take him to the vet, sick. Let’s just say that particular gift left me with enough bloating and nightmares to last me a lifetime, and call it good.
I shuddered at the memory. Then I called out to Mrs. Hildebrandt, “He can’t do it” and I turned back to tackle the task at hand.
Nothing prepared a person for that news. We weren’t married and we didn’t live together yet. The police had no idea to contact me. I called his cell and when someone answered, that someone wasn’t my Jeffery. He identified himself as Officer Monroe. Asked who I was. Why was I calling? The love of my life had been murdered and did I have his parents’ address.
I’d dropped to my knees and wailed. The rest always ended up fuzzy. I had no recollection of when I stopped crying or who found me, if anyone, or how I got up off the floor. None.
Moving on, I stood, wiped my hands down the front of my dusty jeans, and surveyed the scene. At the end of an arduously emotional and somewhat physical day, I’d ended up with four boxes to donate.
“Right,” I muttered to myself, bending to pick up the first box to load into the back of my Jeep. I had it painted bright lilac. Purple was my jam. It was hard to be sad surrounded by purple so I made it my mission to do so as much as humanly possible. Three more trips and I finally had a space to park in the winter. Once I sorted the ‘keep’ boxes down to two, I hauled the rest out to the front to be picked up in the morning by waste disposal. Mrs. Hildebrandt remained standing on the sidewalk in front of my lawn watching me work until I got scared she’d end up with heat exhaustion or something.
“It’s hot out here, Mrs. Hildebrandt. You should go home and get a drink,” I said which caused her to startle. She blinked several times murmuring something illegible then walked home. I waited to withdraw completely from my driveway until I saw her enter her house, then I shifted into reverse pulling out.
Sitting at the second stoplight on my way to the big chain secondhand store, that was when this niggling feeling hit my left ear out of nowhere. It felt like a tickle that I couldn’t get rid of, not with wiping at my ear with my shoulder or even scratching at it with my nails. It just kept on, and since it happened to be my left ear, I turned my head to the left when I went at my ear with my shoulder again. It didn’t work—again—but I spotted a small secondhand store I must’ve passed by a million times and never realized it was there.
As the light turned green, I clicked on my blinker, merging into the middle turn lane. A small store sat between a vacant storefront and a sub shop. After a couple of tries, I backed into a spot in front of the store, stopping to grab the first box before heading inside. The problem being, that I had a hard time getting the door open while carrying the large box. Three failed attempts later I sat the box down to open the door and wedged my body between the door and frame to hold the heavy glass open until I was able to pick up the box again.
“We’re not cooling off the outside—shut the door,” This, shouted at me from the area around the checkout.
I looked up, still hefting the box up with my knee and shifting it to my hip. “Excuse me?” I asked.
“The door,” the voice came from an irate man. When I looked up—bam! This unbelievable sense of Déjà vu hit from out of the blue. “You’re standing in it, neither inside nor outside. I don’t care which you choose, but make your choice and close it already.”
Nineteen-seventies porn music played in my head as I watched his mouth move, a mouth putting me under a hypnotic spell until I realized the words coming from that hypnotic moving mouth weren’t very flattering. “…are you sick or just dumb?”
I blinked the brain fog away.
My ears felt filled with fluid. I shook my head until the muffled sound cleared and I blinked several times again.
“I asked if you’re sick or are you just dumb,” he said curtly. “Come in or get out. I don’t care which, just stinking do it.” Uh, was that a tone? Did I detect a tone?
That hardly seemed necessary. I stepped in letting the glass door slowly ease shut. “Well, you could’ve helped me and that would’ve gotten the job done faster.” And oh yeah, did he ever get my mean eyes. The ‘if looks could kill’ eyes that I saved for the worst offenders.
“I could’ve,” he answered. “But it’s not in my job description.” The jerk, I mean okay, he happened to have been a handsome jerk, but a jerk nonetheless. And he had the audacity to smirk. As if.
Why was it that the best-looking people were always the biggest jerks?
This guy had to be one of the worst because he seriously caused a big-time tingle in my parts. All the parts, not just my girl parts. I was talking rapid heartbeat, hard to catch a breath, face flushing with embarrassment from being a lowly peon in his presence kind of sexy. His hair appeared so brown that some might’ve mistaken it for black, and he wore it short but artfully shaggy in that ‘I know I’m hot’ way that ridiculously hot people lived by. And if that weren’t enough, he had the audacity to have these black eyes that shimmered and reflected the light in the store like pieces of shiny coal.
Don’t get me started on those shoulders—I mean, who gave him the right to have shoulders that broad and muscled while working behind the cash register? Those shoulders belonged on romance book covers. Or now that I was on a roll, how about being that tall? Jeffery was six feet. This guy looked at least a head taller. Who gave him the right to look like that while working in a store where anyone—me, I was anyone—could see him? Everything about him ticked me off on principle.
If that was the way he wanted to play this, fine. He didn’t know who he was dealing with. I walked that box over to the checkout dropping it on the floor. “Well,” I started in, hand to my hip, leaning into his space with my eyebrow raised—better believe I broke out the eyebrow raise for this one—and cocked my head, giving it to him straight. “If it’s not in your job description to help a girl out when you see her struggling with the door then you’re just going to have to deal with escaping air.”
He opened his mouth to spew something highly entertaining, I was sure, but I cut him right off.
“Oh no… you had your say. It’s my turn now.” His mouth snapped shut while he bared his teeth at me like a dog. “Bad puppy,” I admonished him. “Heel.” Ever heard that saying ‘he had murder in his eyes?’ Whoever made that saying up had clearly been talking about this guy, but I couldn’t have given two cares. And for my parting words, I looked him right in the eye and said, “And I have three more boxes in my truck just like this one.”
Then in the grandest exit I could muster, I spun around on my heels and walked out. If I was being honest, I didn’t expect it to work, but he followed me outside. Because he followed me to my Jeep pushing in front of me to heft up one of the boxes, I magnanimously ignored his grumbling.
We each carried a box and when we reached the door, he shifted his box into one arm as if holding a tissue box and opened it, holding it for me to pass through first. The last box he fetched on his own.
As he bent his knees to set it down, I pet his head, stroking his hair, contemplating whether or not I had enough time to scratch behind his ear before getting the heck out of there. “Good boy,” I said and then ran for my life while laughing my fool head off.
I distinctly heard the sound of a thump against the glass making me pretty sure he threw something against the door. Before hopping back in my Jeep, I popped inside the sub shop next door for a veggie sub on parmesan bread, a giant chocolate and raspberry chip cookie, and a diet ice tea to go. Smile still planted firmly on my face.
On the way home my phone rang. Typically, not a big deal, but today the screen said: Janet. Janet? No. I wasn’t in the headspace to deal with Janet. It’d been months since I last heard from her. Being Jeffery’s mom, and with Jeffery being gone, she’d found it hard to be around me. I must admit, I’d dropped the ball on keeping in touch with my almost-mother-in-law as well.
In my contemplation of what she could possibly have to call me about, I almost missed answering the call. And wouldn’t that have been a shame? Yes—sigh—it would’ve. I was being mean. “Hello?” I answered.
“Simone, dear… how are you?” She’d sounded sad since Jeffrey’s passing, but today she’d emitted it through the line, filling my car up with her sorrow.
“What’s wrong? Is it Charles? Daphne?” Charles, her husband, and Daphne, her daughter—Jeffery’s father and sister—were the only other reasons I could think of to cause her this level of misery.
“No…” she whispered. “They’re fine. It’s… Simone dear, the police phoned. They’re finally releasing Jeffery’s personal effects.” She sniffled loudly. “They told us to collect it by this afternoon.” This she followed by a second, even louder sniffle. “I can’t do it, Simone. I can’t. Please…”
Of all days to ask me to pick up his personal effects, but how did I tell her no? She was almost my mother-in-law and this was Jeffery we were talking about. I owed him this much, to see to his parents now that he couldn’t.
And just like that, I merged over three lanes of traffic, horns honking as I cut a few people off in my attempt to make it to the righthand turn lane, taking a hard right at the next light, then flipping around to turn back onto the street I just came from only heading the opposite direction I’d been traveling.
Seven stoplights and two more turns later I pulled into a metered spot in front of the police station. Right before I opened my door, I remembered I’d been cleaning in a garage all day and sighed. I must’ve looked ridiculous walking into that secondhand shop, one big hot mess.
My eyes shot to my jeans. Dirty. Hurriedly I flipped down the visor mirror, holding back a scream given the horror of my appearance. The soft lavender I’d dyed my hair two months ago to help me move forward now held a sheen of silver from all the dust.
The lavender was part of the ‘new me’ project. The things to do for myself to help me out of the funk I’d been living under since Jeffery’s passing.
What normally fell soft and full of body now hung limp and stringy around my shoulders. The best I could do was finger comb it, which brought back a little life. Well, it’d just have to do. Cobweb chic might not have been my best look, but who did I need to impress?
I really despised this particular favor. My stomach pitched as I grasped the handle and I swallowed back the fear as I opened the door. On a large breath, I climbed out.
Lord help me.