Week 50

Week 50

Another two-fer, but doubly so. I realized, as I was editing that Chapter Six is comparably short, and, if I keep to the idea of ending this blog with Week 52, there is much to cover.

I must add I really wish I knew if this sharing has been worthwhile. Don’t seem to be getting much in the way of response at all, so one does wonder…

Anyway, more from Grace Farmer and The CPF.

Chapter Six

Party Preparations

Another five days passed without my noticing much of them. The news buddies returned to downtown shootings, tractor-trailer pile ups on 481 and more house fires. I burned every piece of meat I ate and contemplated going vegan.

One day, and I cannot even now remember which day it was, Charlie left a voice message. It wasn’t as irritating as Derek’s Post-it. However, if I were keeping such a score, Charlie lost romance points when he chose the middle of the night as well to avoid direct conversation. The message didn’t earn him any points to offset the loss, either:

“Yeah, well, I left the old stiff alone, but you probably know that. I have next Thursday night off, so I thought I’d come by again and see your ghosts and vampires and whatever else you got to show me. Nine-thirty’s good for me, so I’ll see you then.”

To be honest, I would have lost romance points, too. I had forgotten all about him since Helen and Nestor. I had forgotten a lot of things, now that I’d seen how fragile even the undead’s existence can be. I rose worked, ate and slept on automatic. It was the routine that saved me: office calls, bookkeeping, and not much more.

I still had regular visits from Missy and Mischa and the other ghosts who thought it now safe to come out and resume their haunting and whining. Missy started to say something about the ending of Helen and Nestor that I knew would be meant as comfort and therefore wholly inappropriate. I stopped her with a raised index finger and a sharp “Don’t!” I did not want them thinking about it anymore than I wanted to think about it.

Fortunately, their spectral minds were easy enough to re-direct. I had only to tell them that Charlie had called and that the party was on. I cannot recommend listening to a ghost squeal in delight, let alone two. It grays the hair. But it got them off the subject of the “ending.” Got me off the memory of it, too, for a while. Though when the memory came roaring back to me just before I fell asleep I supposed that I could pack my belongings, empty my bank account and see what Canada had to offer a bookkeeper/cemetery caretaker.

Two nights, four novels and little sleep later, I drank the musty bitter cup of reality in the form of a cup of tea, the bag for which was months past its expiration, and set to planning.

Not that I hadn’t considered the matter at all since inviting Charlie that night in Section B. In the blissful moments right before falling asleep that first-meeting night, I thought a lot about the little “party” being held on my porch. But I hadn’t thought, said or done anything more about it.

Well, all right, I had compiled a mental “guest list” from the residents. After Charlie RSVP’d to my invitation, I made decisions. The first was that I would not invite any more of the undead into my home. We would stay on the porch.

As for the specific invitees: Derek, no question and no choice. I’d let him pick one or two other vampires to bring along, provided they had all fed before they came into my yard. Missy and Mischa I could not keep out with a banishing spell (presuming I could learn and master one in that amount of time). That made four, six if you counted the living ones: Charlie and me. And I thought about a same-day invitation two younger ghosts, Lallie and Rin.

About two years ago, these two twenty somethings fell victim ago to a double dose of D and D. One dose was driving home at three a.m. from a late-night game of Dungeons and Dragons. The second dose was a drunk driver. The families made such a fuss as to how sweet a couple they had been in life that they insisted on burying them side by side, but with separate headstones for modesty’s sake. The plots they chose in Section H lay near trees (the last of Polehouse’s crab apple trees) and “running water” (the drainage ditch, which could be a third dose of D and D, if you think about it). I’ve often thought Rin would have moved on without a care, but Lallie in death as in life ruled the relationship and she wanted to stay a while longer.

As I said, it’s been about two years. She’s still sticking around and so is he. They would probably disturb Charlie less than an old horror like Benjamin Sharpe. And Rin and Lallie might balance Derek’s pomposity.

And you have another question: Yes, there are special considerations to this sort of affair. Ghosts have no real sense of days or time. They know daylight and nighttime, but couldn’t tell you what day of the week. Also, for them, every year is still the year in which their bodies died. Technological advances are tricks and deceptions. Mischa still thinks I have the poorest design in typewriters because I have to have a separate machine to print out my work. I would have to work out a signal for these four “guests.”

Vampires, on the other hand, are keenly aware of time. I suspect they secretly pride themselves on living so long off the blood of others. Kind of like career politicians in that respect.

And like all socials of a close knit family, there are those you invite and those you don’t invite because you invited the first ones and those two parties aren’t speaking. I asked Missy and Mischa to talk to the youngsters. They had other suggestions, but I had the answers ready.

“No, we can’t invite Emma Wascher or Susan Kegg because their headstones would loosen the dirt for the whole row and then we’d have to let Old Man Sharpe loose.”

“Don’t you remember, Missy that Fred Marsberg had a crush on Mischa and passed on to the Next Life because she wouldn’t look at him even after death?”

“It simply isn’t the caliber of event to expect a Plutarch to attend, even if he or she had the bad taste to linger here.”

“A small family gathering, then,” Missy sighed.

I looked at them and pictured the rest of my “family.” Then I reconsidered moving to Canada.

I had yet to see, let alone speak or invite Derek plus one.

However, my word had to be kept, if I was to get anywhere with Charlie. Which assumed I still wanted to get somewhere. I did. Let’s be honest: romance novels can only take you so far and pillows warm up only when you hold them for hours. They never “hold” back.

I waited for Derek beside the south arch the night before the “party”. He’d gone casual into a leather jacket and jeans that didn’t quite fit him there as well as Charlie’s, and the death’s head on the front of the T-shirt had to have looked more appropriate on the biker Derek had taken it off of than it did on him. The whole ensemble brought to mind the picture of a mama’s boy trying to look tough, but I could not laugh at him.

“Going a nighttime stroll?” he sneered. “I thought your grandfather had beaten that out of you when you were five.”

“My grandfather never laid a hand on me, thank you,” I said. “And you’re going for a new look. It doesn’t suit you.”

A good way to get a vampire’s full attention: first, make (excuse the expression) dead certain he has no intentions of feeding on you or allowing anyone else to feed on you. Then insult him, especially about his clothes.

“What do you want, Jewess?” Now he was snarling and showing his long, spiky canine teeth.

“I want you to bring one of your crew after feeding to my porch two nights from now. That’s Thursday night. Before you ask,” I interrupted a guttural laugh that Derek saved for occasions like this or a victim’s plea for mercy, “I have a new gravedigger who does not believe that you, your kind or the ghosts exist.”

“Most of your kind do not believe that we exist, either,” he countered. “And by ‘your kind,’ I mean humans, although I am stretching the point in your case.” Derek considered himself quite the charmer, but on this night, he wasn’t even trying.

I ignored the comment. “Look, a digger who doesn’t believe at best disrespects the cemetery and the graves; at worst, he becomes a grave robber.”

“I would kill him, if he tried.”

“I know you would. Trouble is, he’s union, and if you killed him, the union would want answers. They’d likely go to the news media. That would raise the Board’s hackles and get me fired. And who knows they could just as easily fire me and hire a religious nut that’d spend his days staking the lot of you in the ground and burning out the mausoleums.” He snorted. “You heard Treasurer Meecham last winter when the city wouldn’t plow up to our entrances and we had to postpone the Jarvis funeral. He said he has that Bible-thumper Frankfort waiting in the proverbial wings. Besides, you owe me.”

“I what?” The Dangerous Voice. He once scared a young artist with that voice; scared the teenager so badly, the kid peed all over the graffiti he’d spray-painted on Derek’s headstone. For myself, I’d heard that voice enough to hear a sort of blood-sucking version of, “As if!” I shrugged.

I took in a deep breath before I played what Grandpa Dov would call my trump card: “Helen and Nestor.” He took my meaning: word could not spread to other “families” that a human had witnessed one vampire destroy another. That leads to territorial disputes and a possible bloodsucking war. And I’d seen Derek behead two of his own. He understood me, but argued on in true lawyer fashion.

“You were not invited.”

“And yet you dragged me to watch it anyway.”

“You have heard the term ‘extortion’?” He grabbed one rod of the iron and yanked a bend into it. I had won. I folded my arms and waited. “I will have to bring Ian. With Helen and Nestor gone, he’s my responsibility.”

I thought for a moment of how many parents I’d heard say as much with as much regret when they came to bury their children. It’s heartbreaking to them and more than likely devastating to their children’s spirits. The CPF has very few cheerful child ghosts. Most wail through the night for their loving parents.

Not that all parents love their children. That’s a simple fact, of which I’ve had some experience. My mother left us before I was two months old. I’ve neither seen nor heard from her since.

“He’ll be a little hard to explain,” I agreed. “But I think I may have an idea for him.”

Derek looked at me hard. I am no expert on vampire brains, but I suspected from his darting eyes that he was desperate to find a way out of it. He found none. “Then we shall attend your porch soiree.” He started to leave.

“After you feed,” I said.

I won’t repeat what he said to that.

Two phone calls the next day to our garden center served two purposes: to replace the frosted rainbow gravel my Grandma Rose used in the flower beds and to signal the ghosts that it was Party Day.

Thursday morning, the red garden center truck dumped a mountain of colored stone on my front lawn. Missy and Mischa saw the signal. They roused the youngster ghosts in the early evening. Then the “ladies” floated through the house, making verbal lists of all the places I needed to clean. When they got to my bedroom, I cried foul.

“Do I go into your coffins and critique your housekeeping?” I said.

“We don’t hold parties in our coffins, dear,” Missy reminded me. She laid the shadow of her hand on my shoulder. I shivered from the cold.

“Nobody’s going into my bedroom tonight.”

Missy tutted. “That’s too bad, dear. You need somebody sometime, you know. Birds and the bees.”

“Well, if I do, there will not be dead things in my bedroom!”

They both sniffed and floated outside through the front windows with the Cat Move.

“Not much help are they?” Rin offered with an opaque shrug.

Rin must have been a sweet, if erratic young man when he was alive. It was a pity his family saw fit to send him through Eternity in a black suit, black shirt and tightly-tied black tie. His spirit looked about six foot-two inches and he wore his blonde, straight hair samurai-style: the front locks pulled back into a mini-ponytail that sat atop the shoulder-length hair on the sides and back. He had dark eyes, a sad smile, a soft voice, and a huge desire to help me.

He’d not been dead long enough to learn how to move physical objects with any accuracy, but still he tried. And failed. Six times he tried to move dishes to from the dining room sideboard to the kitchen. Six times, they rattled and refused to budge. In high frustration, he thrust energy at one of Grandma Rose’s china cups and sent it crashing to the floor.

I ceased cutting up celery and bell peppers when I heard it and came out of the kitchen to insist that he stop ‘helping’ and park his non-corporeal behind on one of the four three-legged stools I had around the kitchen island.

He obeyed, and sank down through the stool’s wooden seat up to his nose. I pretended not to notice and kept cutting celery ribs. It doesn’t do to mock a young ghost. It spoils any other interactions they might have with the living. And ghosts, for all their blissful ignorance of time, have a long memory. Rin withdrew from the stool, gauged it in distance and height, and in a moment was hovering in a seated position two inches above the seat.

This might have resulted in a reasonably tranquil scene. However, Lallie had discovered that she could pass through ceilings as well as walls. Even as a ghost, she was a sight: her family had dressed her in a red, drop-waist dress with a white silk rose the size of a soccer ball at her hip, and black-and-white striped stockings. She dangled from the rose down from the load-bearing beam in the kitchen ceiling and then used it as her own gymnastic bar to do forward and backward flips. She may have expected Rin to applaud her efforts, but her path swung her through his head over and over, despite his efforts to avoid her. Once she realized where they intersected, she started making kissy noises. Rin looked (excuse the expression) mortified. I cut more celery.

I probably cut too much celery. There would be two to feed that night, as long as Derek kept his word. He and Ian wouldn’t care for vegetables anyway. Still, I had the celery and peppers, some crackers and a dip my Grandma Rose swore would bring a husband into the house.

Well, what she had said was that it would bring marriage partner. She also told me she’d made it with crackers and celery the first time my father brought my mother to the house at the CPF. In hindsight, I may well have been (excuse the expression) dead wrong to make and serve it to Charlie Tischler.

Chapter Seven

An Evening with the Undead

Years ago, Grandma Rose had told me, “These geists, they are not your friends. You should have human friends, flesh and blood and tears friends.”

She may have been right. At the time, however, like any child, I had not wanted to hear such talk. I was four years old and had just lost what I thought was my best friend.

Greta Helgenmuth had the honor of being the first burial in the CPF in the fall of 1840. I have to infer from the records and newspaper articles that Greta was not well-loved by anybody, most particularly her four children. Her obituary listed her name, maiden name and family and the husband who “preceded her in death.” The mourning party consisted of my ancestor Jacob Baumann, caretaker, the Reverend Dieter Bruner, minister, and Jasper Lund, her attorney. No one knew where Greta had hidden or invested what the children believed to be a huge amount of money, so she was placed just on the edge of the Potter’s Field nearest the main cemetery.

Reverend Bruner read the Lutheran burial service. The attorney shook his head and, according to Jacob’s journal/burial record, confided Greta’s final words: “I will haunt this place until the last descendent of those ungrateful little bastards has died. See if I don’t!” Since her children believed the idea that ghosts had to have some physical remnant to “come home” to when they haunted, they burned down the family house and sold it for cow pasture. Greta had to stay in the CPF.

Jacob recorded conversing with “Die Hur” three times. His sons and grandsons wrote of her as well down the years. Grandpa Dov used the oral tradition to tell me of his conversations with the fading spirit and recorded her somewhat biased account of her illness and her ungrateful children. In particular, he told me of one night, he relieved Grandma Rose from walking the floor with their colicky granddaughter by taking me out into the CPF for some air.

“Your spawn, gravedigger?” he reported Greta saying.

Grandpa Dov told me Greta touched my tight little belly and I shivered, then slept. He thought she might have found a soul mate, whatever that meant. She found something in me because until my fifth summer, if my grandparents looked into my bedroom on a summer’s night and found me gone, they could always find me sleeping beside Greta’s grave, my hand clutching the sod over her.

Greta passed on before I turned five. Her last descendant, a timid librarian named Gabriel, died at his desk of heart failure that fall. He was a bachelor and “without issue.” And thus Greta said nothing, did nothing and left no sign: she simply left.

I did try to follow Grandma Rose’s advice when I’d stopped crying. I did try to find living friends. But the neighborhood children did not like inviting “the girl from the dead place” to play. One even told me I smelled like dead things. And so it went through my school years. Living in a cemetery might intrigue classmates at first. The ones who did not live along Mansfield Road in particular wanted stories, the gorier the better. But, with too much attention, comes the jealousy and the whole business of smelling like death and who did I have to bury to get that dress starts all over again. I thought my grandparents, my romance novels and our “residents” were family and friends enough for me.

Until I saw Charlie.

Once Lallie tired of her ceiling beam gymnastics and the food was prepared, I shooed them out to the front porch. Missy and Mischa still hovered there and the two youngsters could benefit from their ghostly experience. Unless, of course, the “ladies” chose that moment to “educate” the youngsters with their decades-old, and in Mischa’s case century-old, ideas on sex and relationships. If the ladies started that one, I’d be two “guests” shy of a party.

I showered for the second time that day. Then, in my “foundation garments” (Missy’s terminology that always tickled me), I caught myself reaching into my closet for a good dress. I almost laughed at myself: who was I kidding? Charlie would come to meet Derek and Ian and the ghosts. I was like the bread to his curiosity sandwich, a delivery system for the good stuff. I made myself comfortable in clean jeans and one of my light blue business blouses.

Nine-thirty came with a half-moon and starry sky. I had the driveway light on but turned towards the Potter’s Field away from the house and the porch lights dimmed. The aim was to appear inviting to the living and the dead, but to allow me to see them coming. I could do nothing about the city street lights, but they were that obnoxious orange that frightened nobody. Not even the criminals that Mrs. Schnosburg believed lurked in every shadow on every block throughout every night.

Missy and Mischa “sat” on the porch swing. I noted a tear in the cushion behind Missy, but said nothing or she’d tell me again how she was the best housekeeper a man could want, the best cook, the most understanding wife and so on. Any man coming up the front walk and hearing a see-through woman blathering on and on like that would probably turn around and run.

Lallie and Rin sat off to the side of the front steps, coming as close to holding hands as they could. I admit I envied their closeness, even if it could never again be physical. I watched Lallie put her hands in and through Rin’s, then pull them out and try again and again and again; and I thought I understood what held her here. She still wanted the touching and cuddling and physical pleasures of their relationship. With the determination of her young years following her in death, she had to believe she could have it again, if only they kept trying.

We heard Derek and Ian before we saw them. Ian was nervous and shouted his tics. Derek hissed at him to stop it, shut his mouth, and pull that tongue back in before he (Derek) bit it off. That brought them into the reflected light of the driveway where the piles of colored gravel waited.

OK, you have a question about the gravel. My reading told me, and my experience with some of Derek’s newbies is that, for reasons that supersede all understanding, new vampires cannot tolerate disorder. Those few who lived and were wiser in the old days left pots and pans, books and other items thrown around their houses by night. The messier, the better. If the vampire visited, s/he wasted the feeding time until daylight straightening out the mess and went to their coffins hungry.

Ian was spell-bound by the mountain that rose up an inch or two over his head. He let a little gasp, first of impatience at the disorder, then of longing to organize it. I came down from the porch. “I need your help, Ian. Those crazy men at the garden center just dumped it all in one place.”

“Fuckers,” he breathed. “Where do you want each color?”

I had that planned. “Well, I wanted to put the yellow in the north bed under the bushes, the green in the south, and the blue and the pink on opposite sides of the driveway. What do you think?” His answer was to give me a smile that was almost sweet, if you can call a smile full of teeth that have ripped out throats ‘sweet.’ I left him to it and wonder if there was a bracha of thanks for the man or men who invented those colored faux rocks with their white crystal “icing.”

Derek settled himself in my grandfather’s favorite wicker chair with dark blue velveteen cushions. He had resumed his tailored suit and open-necked white silk shirt with gold cufflinks sporting the monogram “V”. I considered asking him if he’d brought a tie or if he wanted one of my grandfather’s, but I did not. Charlie was already fifteen minutes late – more if you started at nine o’clock. If I gave him the slightest opportunity, as some mishuggener in my family somewhere in the past when s/he had invited Derek into our house, he’d jump right in on how ignorant and desperate I must be to invite a grave robber to my house.

As opposed to inviting vampires and ghosts. I’m only saying.

The guests on the porch sat. Just sat, without a sound. As for the question that arises, yes, it’s awkward having a gathering like this on one’s porch when there is no conversation. I couldn’t offer them food and Derek would have some snide comments about what he would have to drink if I offered that. I sank hard into Grandma Rose’s matching wicker chair with the white wicker table holding the food between us. We listened to Ian giggling and cursing as he scuttled back and forth from the gravel piles in the driveway to the beds.

Grandpa Dov’s clock began to twitter when a shadow came along Bayberry towards the house. He paused to watch Ian dashing back and forth, then let three cars pass by before Charlie dodged Ian to come up the front walk. I shot out of my chair to meet him at the top step and keep him from stepping into Rin and Lallie.

“No parking on Mansfield after six,” he said.

“That’s true.” It would not do to gush about how glad I was that he came. But, in the dim with the soft orange and deflected white lights, he out-handsomed Shackleford. “This is Rin and Lallie.” Charlie followed my open-hand gesture towards the young ghosts. He jumped back a step. “They’re pretty new to the CPF. No, they don’t shake hands. Come on up onto the porch.”

Missy and Mischa rose from the swing to meet him, which sent Charlie grabbing for one of the porch uprights. They circled him.

“Oh, Gracie, he’s a looker.”

“Good limbs. I imagine he’s a good worker, when he works.”

Charlie tried to watch them swirl around him, but he had the poked snapping turtle look on his face again. And I thought he would pass out altogether when Derek extended a cold, long-fingered hand.

“You have a taste for things that don’t belong to you,” Derek intoned. “I can respect that. Sit there.” He pointed to Grandma Rose’s chair. Charlie made a small, strangling sound and sat. “Grace Farmer, there is room for you with the ‘ladies.’”

Maintain the peace, I told myself before I snapped that this was my party and my porch. No family squabbles when a man comes courting, as my Grandma Rose would say. If he was courting. I sat between Mischa and Missy and wished for a sweater.

“There’s some veggies and crackers and dip,” I offered. “Right there on the table.”

“I-I-I’m fine,” he managed at last and shut his gaping mouth. “I had dinner.”

“As did I, so you may cease worrying that anyone here will ‘eat you up,’” Derek managed to sound bored. I saw his eyes flash with some interest. Perhaps he wasn’t quite sated, but he had promised not to feed on my company.

“Gracie tells us you’re a bookmaker,” Missy said. I envied her the ability to sink through a cushion.

Charlie blinked and looked at her. “Shipper. Well, packer. I take the order slips and pack the books for shipping.”

“How intellectually stimulating,” Derek said. Slapping an arrogant vampire goes against my contract and my experience, but the urge was strong.

“It isn’t,” Charlie agreed. “But it pays the bills. Or it did. I’m working for the Graveyard Workers full time now.”

“Bully for you. So we can expect to see you more often?”

Charlie looked at me, only at me. “That depends on Grace.”

Missy and Mischa tittered. If I hadn’t sat wedged between them, they would have executed the Solidarity or some other Girl Power move. I smiled as best I could and made took a visual measure of the distance between the swing and the porch steps.

“There are a lot of things that need fixing up around here,” I began, but the “ladies” went into full ghost-laughter mode. I felt sick.

Derek eyed me. He had shifted into full loco parentis gear. “Grace is not one of them.”

“That’s for me to say, Derek,” I said. “I’m over twenty-one.”

He frowned at me. “In my day, an unmarried woman’s age of consent was thirty-five.”

“In your day, women couldn’t vote.”

He grinned, full teeth and fangs. “And isn’t the world so much the better now they can?”

“It would be, if there were more women running things,” Charlie said. He looked at me again, with that smile that melted my innards. “Men don’t know everything.”

Missy and Mischa sighed with delighted smiles on their white faces. Me, I could have kissed him.

Derek looked ill.

The youngsters looked at this new human with something I would like to think was interest. But twenty-somethings’ interest is short these days. Video games and six-second scene changes and all. Lallie returned to the hand-holding (and missing) exercise. They made three or four more attempts, each time goring each other through the body or the thigh with their hands. She made a frustrated sound like an annoyed cat and lunged at Rin with her lips puckered. I don’t know which of them stopped the motion, but they became one in an exceedingly awkward way: Lallie’s face, complete closed eyes and with puckered lips, bulged from the back of Rin’s head. His samurai ponytail flopped over her short nose. Her bushy dark hair covered Rin’s face starting under his wire rim glasses. It occurred to me that the poked snapping turtle expression must be a male trait; Rin, too, had it mastered.

Missy and Mischa tsk’d and tutted.

Mischa: “Such behavior in public!”

Missy, without conviction and with a bit of envy: “Aren’t you ashamed?”

Mischa floated to an upright position. “I see we’ll have to have ‘that conversation’ and right now.”

Missy agreed and raised herself as well. “Come on, children, party’s over.”

Charlie and I watched them drift away past Ian, over the driveway and off into the darker corners of the cemetery. Then I noticed Derek’s close scrutiny of the new gravedigger. Charlie met his gaze only for a moment, then looked down towards his Nikes.

“Too bad,” he said. “I wanted to ask them what their unfinished business was.”

“Their what?” Derek demanded. He leaned forward towards Charlie. I pushed forward in the swing, but the vampire waved me off. He would keep his word. Charlie’s neck, and his blood, were safe.

“You know, they always say ghosts hang around the living because they have unfinished business.”

“And who is ‘they’?”

Charlie’s face darkened. “I don’t know who ‘they’ are! The people that study and write books about shit like that.”

“Oh, them.” Derek sat back, elbows on the chair’s arms and steepling his long fingers in front of his face. If he laughed, I knew I would have to slap him.

“It’s hard to say,” I jumped into the conversation. “Missy and Mischa are pretty scatter-brained, so I’m not sure they could tell you what their unfinished business is.” If they had any.

Some people write the silliest stuff!

“And what about you?” Charlie asked Derek.

“My business is ongoing and hardly a matter of choice.” The man could verbally snag silk.

“I see.”

Charlie looked at me for a long, and for me uncomfortable minute. “Well, I’d better be going, too.” He stood up, started to offer Derek his hand, then thought better of it. “Glad I could meet you, sir.”

If Derek did not appreciate Charlie’s manners, I did. I stood as well.

I walked with him down the steps and the front walk with my insides feeling like a plate of fruit gelatin that had just been knocked sideways. On the one hand, I wanted him to take my hand. On the other, I knew if he did, the gelatin would melt all over that sidewalk. He stopped where our front walk met the public sidewalk and turned towards me.

“Thanks, I, uh, it was a, that is, I learned a lot. Thanks.”

I lifted my face, hoping. He raised a hand and his fingers brushed my cheek. I waited, then closed my eyes. But he had gone, north, into the darkness.

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