The CPF, cont'd
The Other Shoe
I showered and considered what, if anything, to do. A demonstration somewhere locally, probably downtown Syracuse would garner attention as had Naomi at the town hall and the Kluzky parade. It would have to be at night. I tried to think of upcoming events that would gather a large and possible receptive crowd. Sayresville sank what little money the town had into the Fourth of July parade each year after the Carrier people moved offshore.
The other towns that ringed Syracuse hadn’t much more to offer, so Ambr’ had to be planning something in or immediately around Syracuse itself. I confess, I had to open my Internet browser to check dates (work with me; I still don’t go out much). The Arts Festival would start in days, and I didn’t think Bible verses painted on whitewashed plywood would be accepted even as a late entry for a vendor’s booth. The Celtic Festival had an appropriate time and draw, but I’ve always suspected that a gathering with men in kilts and throwing cabers was the quite wrong audience for an anti-feminist rally. I could be wrong.
The State Fair start was more than three weeks away. I think the airborne grease of fried food and chance of fresh animal dung alone would send the church ladies scuttling off in horror for their white pumps. Not to mention the rainbow of lights, the loud-screaming rides and louder screaming riders and loudest-wailing children who couldn’t whine their way into one more deep-fried Twinkie.
I wrote a quick note on an index card reading “Three Weeks, Derek!” and duct-taped it to Derek’s headstone. Fair is fair, after all.
He kept me waiting, as I expected he would. Three days he kept me waiting. I waited each night, still dressed (I did not need to have that argument a third time with a vampire), on my bed. Two nights, I lay back to ease my neck and back and fell asleep. On the third night, a Friday, I determined to stay awake until sunrise if need be.
My bedside clock read eleven p.m. when the room chilled and Derek appeared in the soft glow of the lamp next to the clock. He still had a smudge from his feed that night on either side of his thin lips, but this is not something to comment upon. Even with the safety of my tainted blood, Derek could not bear rudeness and would leave as effortlessly as he came. Think shadows on the wall.
“What?” he demanded.
“Good evening to you, too,” I said.
“We are not obliging neighbors, Grace Farmer. The pleasantries waste your time. What is so urgent you had to summon me with a taped-up card of generic milling? Your penmanship is abominable, by the way.”
“Didn’t have time to type it.”
He made quite the show of sweeping towards one of my chairs and sitting down into it. If he’d worn a split tail coat, I have no doubt he’d have drawn the tails forward before he planted his tukhas on the chair. I was glad he wore only a dark, double-breasted suit. He did flick the buttons out of their holes to show me his watered silk tie and freshly-laundered shirt.
“If you wish to apologize for that uproar in the Potter’s Field and the invasion of that insufferable Meecham’s home, pray do so. I will listen.” He crossed his legs, then folded his arms across his belly.
“Not my doing,” I said. Slapping a vampire for his or her arrogance is not a good idea, but the temptation does arise. “It was a little war between the City and the Board. I prefer to stay out of the middle.”
“Fine job you did of it, too.”
“I’d say, ‘Live my life and then judge,’ Derek, but you’re already dead, so it’s a moot point. Anyway, the police have Varney locked up in the psych ward until the trial and nobody knows about Meecham except the main players. Besides, the Board authorized the expansion, so the war is over for the moment. Until the number of graves required out-sizes the land again.”
Derek shook his head. “You brain-dead fools cram more and more into less and less space and you still complain you don’t have enough room to live. Does it surprise you that it might take some space to die?”
“I think there’s a little more to the global overcrowding problem than that, but I take your point. My note is about Ambr’.”
Derek uncrossed and crossed his legs the opposite way. “What about her? She and I do not exactly chat over the back fence, as you well know.” “How would you know – oh, wait, one of your little spies told you about that night on the front walk.” I reminded myself to give Missy and Mischa a truly rude verbal jab, Cat Move or not. “And yet you’re closer to being neighbors than she and I are. Closer than some of her new fan club, too.”
Derek frowned. “If some of the youngsters, the ‘newbies’ I think you call them, wish to follow her into her misogynistic delusions, I do not see why that concerns me.”
I hate to say it, but I laughed. “You mean you don’t know? She’s got at least three young bloodsuckers from other cemeteries, Derek! Ambr’s is outsourcing her little revolution!”
He blinked, a good sign. “I’d hardly call this delusion of hers a revolution.”
“Keep thinking that way. We’ll see what happens in three weeks.”
Derek unfolded his arms, uncrossed his legs. “Three weeks is a long time,” he said, running his fingers through his hair. “For you.” I had him really thinking. “We move faster than that, Grace. She must have something else planned. Something more immediate.”
“And you can’t think what it might be?”
“Not a clue. But I have been accused of keeping my preternatural head in the past.”
Among other locations, I thought. “No tech savvy transferring from your nightly meals?”
He was not amused. “I should think one with your obsolete dietary restrictions should not comment on another’s eating habits.”
“What I meant was, you haven’t picked up much knowledge about – oh, forget it! Ambr’ knows enough. Too much, maybe. She knew enough to hypnotize or whatever you call it a few church ladies and have them speak in public or parade themselves at a rally. Both, I might add, in full view of television cameras, phone cameras and newspaper people.”
He shrugged. “Having the living do work for us is not unknown in our world. She stayed out of it, of course.”
“Uh, no, the cameras got a good shot of her at the rally.”
Derek frowned. “That we do not do. It is dangerous. In this day and age, having one’s face out there can lead to all sorts of abuses. And religions. If they trace her back here…” He stood. “I may have to remind her of her sworn obligations to us here,” he said. And he was gone.
“Nice chat,” I said to the cold bedroom air. “We’ll have to do it again sometime.”
As it turned out, I wish I could have taken back those last words. I was getting too good at predicting future events, without intending to do it.
Missy and Mischa noticed Charlie’s absence about a week after he’d left tire-spin ruts in the gravel of the driveway. They meant to comfort me without words, but having two ghosts lay spectral hands on you has much in common with sitting directly under a vent with the A/C on full blast. I shivered and told them I was fine. I returned to my night and morning routines. I arranged four funerals. I bought groceries, including a lot of flavored yogurt and microwavable waffles without bacon. I reread my oldest romance novels. I assured myself that I was fine.
And then he called.
“Charlie. How are you?”
“Tired. The mattress on the floor in the back of the warehouse isn’t as comfortable as your bed.”
I forbade my lips to curl into a smile. “I imagine not.”
“I want to see you, Grace. Can I come over after work tomorrow morning? I’ll bet you haven’t had a decent breakfast since, since the other morning.”
How does a candle maintain its shape when the center is melting? “Questions first, Charlie. There are things I need to know.”
He sighed. “Go ahead.”
“You’ve been married?”
The pause punched at my ribcage. “Yes.”
“But you’re not anymore?”
“No.” We both waited. “Anything else?”
“Do you love me, Charlie?”
He made pancakes. No bacon. And he kissed me.
Missy and Mischa demanded invitations to the wedding. “There’s a gorgeous spot in Section H for the ceremony,” Missy said.
“If he proposes,” Mischa reminded us both.
I let them twitter on and on. We were still “spooning” (to use one of Grandma Rose’s favorite expressions) with blanket and bedspread between us. But I had his lips on mine with light brushes between our tongues two or three times a day and that was enough.
You can stop laughing now. As I wanted to tell Derek: Live my life and then judge!
We had four days of the bliss and decent, home-cooked food. And Charlie did not leave on the fourth night.
“Can you find something better than mattress in a storeroom?” I asked the following day. I was curious, but not stupid.
He drew a square of butter across his toast with the flat side of a knife. “Don’t worry about it.”
“How are Maribel and the others you work with?” I asked the second day.
“As well as I am.” He stabbed at a soft egg yolk.
“Charlie, are you on vacation?” I finally asked on the third morning.
“Yes. Sort of permanently.”
I put down the syrup and pancake-flecked knife and fork. “I think you’d better tell me about that.”
He told me. The warehouse had bought a new plant in a right-to-work state and laid off their New York employees. The employees were given two weeks’ severance, four if they had worked more than fifteen years – most hadn’t – and a job offer at the new plant if they acknowledged that they could not continue their union memberships. “I may have to start hanging out at the union office to get more work.”
“I could ask them to make you the mower here. I haven’t had one come back since that business with Varney and Trumbull.”
He half-smiled. “That’s a nice thought, Grace, but don’t you suppose some eyes would raise if they realized I’m living here with you?” He looked at me hard. “I am living here with you, aren’t I?”
I supposed my grandparents would click their tongues and worry about the neighbors, but I did not hesitate. “As long as you want to.”
He made a contented, humphing sound and ate a little. “And no more wandering out into the cemetery at night.”
“I can’t promise that.”
His fork hit the plate with a ring. “Then not without me.”
“I can’t promise that either.”
He glared at me for a time, but I sat up straight. He sighed. “But you’ll tell me everything that’s going on. I don’t like surprises.”
“Both ways?” I reached out for his knife hand.
I felt his arm tense. He closed his eyes. “Both ways. If one of us asks, the other has to answer.”
Giddy as I was, I did not abuse that agreement with the ten thousand questions I had about his life, his family, his ex-wife and did he ever wish to have sex with me. Kissing was progress and new enough that I was willing to suck the newness right out of it. Slow and steady, I told myself, even if this tortoise was horny to the point of aching for him.
So we fell back into our rhythms, including the damned bundling bed arrangement. “Sex never solved anything,” he told me. “God knows my ex and I tried to make it solve every problem we had. I need a break.”
I needed a break, too, I told him, but of a different sort. I did not use the word “hymen,” but he understood. He laughed a little and held me close, but that nightly arrangement was not going to change anytime soon.
All right, I admit it: I went into the full disclosure agreement with secrets I had no plans to reveal. I saw no reason to tell him about my “mission” to the Faithful Servants church and the meeting with Derek in my bedroom. There simply were some things that Charlie did not need to know. And besides, he did not ask, thank God.
And he had secrets of his own.