Still staring at the door, Jael muttered, “I need my car.”
Closing her door after Jael got in, Kaven walked around to the driver’s side wondering why she seemed particularly upset at him. He turned the key. Of course, he headed towards Jael’s car back at his workplace. She got out as soon as Kaven pulled up close to her car. Kaven, waited to drive again until he heard her start her car. Jael was trying to recall where in her luggage she had put that note and card note that had been taped to her hotel room door from her trip as she drove back home. Jael hadn’t ever shown the note to Kaven, and was glad of that now. By the time Kaven was pulling into the garage, Jael was already on the phone with Jerry the TTU librarian that wore the ‘I believe’ t-shirt.
“Oh, I don’t live near Lubbock; I was visiting...Well, kind of a vacation…huh? NO! Wait, what city did you say you are in? In Texas, yeah? Hang on.” Jael noticed Kaven standing expectantly waiting to speak with her. Covering the receiver with the palm of her other hand she asked him, “What? I’m on the phone.”
Jael got back into her phone conversation as Kaven backed away. “Well, c’mon! Isn’t there one in Ireland or something? No, that’s not racist…okay maybe prejudiced. So, I thought I’d be sure we are talking the McAllen here! Rio? Yeah, I know there’s one nearby. In a wedding dress? OMG…uh-huh, a NUN? Oh, well, well, decided to get engaged to a human man instead of marrying God and the Church, huh? Oh. Yeah, what?! Why, why, why…Of course, men always think they’re invulnerable even to dying in battle…”
Shoulders straightening at the mention of McAllen, Kaven strode towards the kitchen. Jael was laughing and making plans with someone. Kaven opened the refrigerator to get a beer, but grabbed a bottle of water after a release of breath. He sipped the water, then holding the bottle to one side he walked back over to Jael. She was powdering her nose and had applied lip gloss. Kaven cleared his throat.
Jael looked up. “Oh, yeah, you wanted to say something?”
Nodding, he asked, “Going somewhere?”
Chastising herself for not being more considerate after Kaven had gone through the trouble of trying to comfort her, she considerately replied, “Maybe? I kinda got myself wrapped up in something happening in, uh, Rio, I think with—.”
“R-ri—” Now, that Kaven was not expecting. That was a town off of Highway 83, for heaven’s sake. Both of them turned toward the front door at the sound of the doorbell.
Jael unlocked the door, and Kaven grasped her shoulder. She looked up at him and finished, “Someone I met in Lubbock,”
The door opened revealing a smiling, well-dressed man which threw Jael off as she had last seen him in his ‘I believe’ t-shirt. “His name is Jerry. Jerry, this is Kaven my…”
Stepping forward grabbing the hand that began to be offered, Kaven said firmly, “her fiancé.”
Jerry, still smiling, opened his mouth to respond and looked at Jael then back to Kaven. It did not really matter; Kaven was walking away. Smiling, Jael ushered Jerry into the sitting room asking if he wanted anything to drink or eat. “Uh, no, I—well maybe some water.”
Using the opportunity to fetch some cold water for Jerry, Jael figured she could check in on Kaven who she figured would be in the office. Except he was not in the office. So, she headed to the kitchen so as not to keep Jerry waiting too long only to find Kaven already there filling a tall glass with water.
“Oh, uh, thank you, I—“Jael started.
“Your friend is waiting,” Kaven said handing her the glass. Jael nodded noticing how he had not wrapped a napkin around the cool glass as he would normally do. She reached over his shoulder for the napkin roll to do it herself. He got out of her way for her to wrap the paper around her cup, and when she glanced up to look at him, he was already striding away. She took a deep breath and walked back to the living room.
Jerry stood and accepted the water. “No drink for yourself?”
“Oh, I—“Jael began when Kaven placed a glass in her hand. He smiled at Jerry. “She prefers ice tea in the evening.”
The glass he had placed in her hand was wrapped in a napkin as he had poured her tea and set it aside to fill the glass with water, looking up to thank him, Kaven beat her to the punch, “You are welcome.”
Jerry was sipping his water as Jael sat down. “Well, I am thankful to be able to speak with you about my latest researched case, Jael.”
“Okay, Jerry, look, I can’t guarantee anything in any case,” Jael cautioned. She got the feeling that she was going to have to accept this perpetual state of confusion. It was not that she did not like being the go-to-person, she often was for random factual and scientific data, but for this?
Kaven cleared his throat, grabbing their attention, “Yeah, well, I’ll get off both your cases...”
Jael and Jerry watched Kaven leave the room briskly. Jerry picked up with Jael’s last comment, “No, yeah, Jael, I know you can’t give me a guaranteed ghost experience. It’s just this is a case closer to here then Lubbock and with you, I have a shot of a new angle. A unique angle like you gave me with the ghosts in Lubbock.”
“Yeah, well, I still don’t know if any of what you think happened really was what you say it was…” Jael said, almost desperately.
“Okay, tell me something then, Jael,” Jerry leaned in closer toward Jael who had sat on the same couch.
“What?” Jael said innocently struck by the sincerity in her own wonder.
“Why did you call me?” Jerry leaned back and crossed his arms.
Releasing a shaky sigh, Jael began to tell him what happened at Kaven’s church. Then she backtracked to her belief system, or, rather lack of belief system which had been unshakeable. Had been. It was like a glove, though, going through her usual spiel of there is nothing beyond what is.
“Wow, so the trip to Lubbock and Brian, kid wandering the stacks, the piano lady—” Jerry stopped when Jael hung her head and slumped her shoulders. He paused to consider how devastating it must be when one can no longer cling to the beliefs that had given them identity. Atheists cling to their disbelief religiously.
“Actually the presence I started feeling…! ME!” Jael started to sniff.
“Okay, don’t.,” Jerry had placed his empty glass down and continued with what he thought would give her some comfort. “Life is long. Beliefs are incomplete like facts are nothing makes sense on its own. Stuff will start to make sense and then go all crooked again. It is life.”
Jael smarted a bit at Jerry’s wisdom-sharing tone. After all, he was not that much older than she. “I notice you’re not wearing a believe T like some sort of teen.”
“When you experience sh—stuff that knocks you off of things printed in black and white as you man a desk renting out volume after volume to University students who think they know it all like a teenager thinks they do…it makes you feel younger, more vulnerable. Scratch that. It made me feel more vulnerable.” Jerry had straightened his posture and turned his gaze into the distance.
It actually did comfort Jael now. Jerry had just confessed to experiencing something that knocked him off his soap box of life. They had that in common. She thought their only connection was his crazy idea of writing chronicles of ghost stories and her apparent crazy connection to spirits. He began rubbing his eyes.
“So yeah the nun in training that fell in love with a man who felt confident he could answer the call to a battlefield and be right back to wed her...” Jael said to refocus both of them.
Jerry coughed. “Uh, yeah, he told her he’d be right back. She had no reason to doubt him since he had fought other battles quickly and victoriously. So reports that he had died in battle fell on her denying ears. She kept waiting and looking for him. Tragic really. She spent her life un-joined from God and man.”
“She probably thought God or whatever was punishing her for not becoming a full-fledged Nun.” Jael offered from the remnants of her resentment towards all things based on belief.
“I wonder if he felt guilty about telling her he’d be right back as he realized the battle he was so sure would be won quickly actually made a liar out of him; as he died, was it compounded with guilt?” Jerry posited.
Jael fell silent. She could not think of what a person may have felt other than maybe pain from a fatal blow. Guilt had not occurred to her.
“Anyway, sorry… I figure we’d drive out to Rio Grande City where she was last seen,” Jerry started, but the doorbell rang cutting Jerry off. They both turned toward the sound of Kaven opening the door and rose to meet him to see whoever was there. Kaven stood with the door open and no one there. “Hello?!” Kaven called.
Jael stepped beside Kaven to see and saw a man dressed in ancient fatigues looking desperately at Jael. The sound of her long inhale filled the space. Jael nodded, and opened her eyes to address the ancient soldier who was now breathing heavily. “Yes?”
“I have to tell her—sorry.” The soldier hung his head. “I didn’t think it would be my last time with her. I meant to come back and marry her. The battle was supposed to be quick. Then I come back and marry her. It was the plan. I never lost in battle before.. Never. The PLAN…”
“Was to come back to her. Okay. Where is she?” Jael completed a bit impatiently. She knew she had to do this. She did not know why except that this Plan guy was really hurting and few other things can place themselves upon Jael’s agenda. Clearing his throat, soldier Plan guy said, “Roma.”
“Roma?” Jerry and Jael said in unison. Jerry stepped forward toward the voice he had heard speaking. “Not Rio?”
“No, that was where her convent was. She lived in Roma when she left the church and I was courting her.”
Jerry pulled out a small notepad and took notes as the voice spoke. Now Kaven started clearing his throat as he walked over to Plan guy, stood next to him and placed a hand on the man’s uniformed shoulder. “You were talking to this zombie on the phone?!”
Jerry gasped as he suddenly saw the soldier materialize, and Plan guy coughed out, “Zombie?!”
“Yeah, man, your uniform is ancient. You look like your part of the marching dead or something.” Kaven responded moving his hand off the shoulder to pat Plan guy’s back then back to Plan guy’s shoulder.
“WHOA. Where did?!” Jerry spit out as he pulled his shoulder bag up front and dug inside for his EMF reader and phone. The EMF reader began beeping when Jerry held it towards Plan guy. The beeping ceased when pointed directly at Kaven or Jael. He started to feel a bit dizzy talking to a disembodied voice then to an ancient looking soldier that Kaven was so comfortable touching!
“Okay, what the crap is that thing?” Kaven was getting frustrated. Jerry did not respond as he was directing his phone to the camera setting and aiming the shot at Plan guy. Looking at the result, he walked over to show Jael the photo. She glanced at the photo of the entrance with the front door open and Kaven with his arm reached up to his side and his hand resting on…nothing.
She closed her eyes, nodded, opened her eyes, and then handed the phone back to Jerry. Jael ushered Plan guy inside, beckoned Kaven in with her hand, and shut the door. She walked over to the coat closet to get her shoes and purse. “So, caravan to Roma?”
But, the doorbell rang again. Kaven audibly sighed looking at Jael, “What—I mean WHO is this going to be?!”
He turned and opened the door, and had to look down to address the little boy who had rang the bell. “Well, hello there, what did you need?”
The boy’s eyebrows raised as he lifted his cap off his head extending it to one side as his other arm extended to the other side. “Um, this lady…”
“What lady?” Kaven asked, suspecting he spoke of Jael pointed at her. “This one?”
Kaven had moved aside so Jael was visible for the child. Jael stepped forward. “No, dear he’s talking about her.”
Confused Kaven looked from Jael to where her hand was now directed. There was a woman who bent over to rustle the little boy’s hair. She lengthened to standing, and was a stunning vision in white.
“WOW,” Jerry released with his breath.
“Where did you c—” Kaven’s question was cut off by Jerry’s clicking of a picture.
He handed it to Jael to look at. She shewed the camera away, and instead took Plan guy by the hand to escort him to the White dress lady. The two started to speak at the same time, he about how he did not mean to lie to her, and she about how she knew he was coming back to her. She twirled inside to the foyer showing him the dress. A tear slipped down Plan guy’s cheek as he watched her. “It is lovely, my darling. You made the perfect wedding dress!”
They embraced separating only their faces to reunite in a kiss. Jerry took another picture as their lips met. He tried to take another picture and moved to take it from another angle. Click. Suddenly, they were on his phone screen as they were in the foyer: gone.
Jerry looked at his phone to confirm. “This time, though, “ he scrolled to the previous shot. “I got fuzzes where their faces met…”
Kaven walked over to the now silent EMF reader that had been set aside accidentally aimed at the little boy and picked it up. “Where you from, kid? I’ll walk you home.”
Kaven tossed the EMF reader to Jerry as he left with the little boy in hand. Jerry caught it, placed it in his shoulder bag, zipped it up, and walked over to Jael. “So, that happened.”
“Yeah.” Jael collapsed in a shuddering heap, crying. Nervously, Jerry walked up and knelt down next to her. When her sobs got quieter, he reached over to pat her back. That made her laugh. Jerry pulled his hand back. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have, you know…”
Shaking her head and waving her hand, she spat out, “No, no, thank you, you didn’t do… anything wrong? Inappropriate?”
“Okay, stop laughing. Can I get a drink out of your fridge?”
Giggling now, she stretched, got up and walked into the kitchen. Jerry already made it the refrigerator and had grabbed a beer. “Light, huh?”
“Yeah.” She sat down and peered out the window. “It’s really dark. Glad Kaven walked that little kid home.”
“I’m still in…a BIT of shock.” Jerry took a swig of the Bud Light. He had not sat down, not just because Jael had not invited him to sit, but because he was chugging the rest of the beer tossing it in the trashcan and going for another one. He grabbed two cans, and made his way over to where Jael was seated.
“A bit?” she asked not hiding her bemusement. “I’m a bit shocked you are going to down three beers.”
“Just two.” He placed the 3rd in front of her. Shrugging, she opened the can up, and took a sip. They sat, sipping lite beer and talking ghosts, Jerry showing his amazement over the spirits’ willingness to travel to Jael.
“I mean I knew you were a magnet when after Brian the TTU Chemistry ghost showed up across campus at the library where the kid at the stacks I was studying was, then Mrs. Doak the TTU piano playing ghost showed up at that hotel you were at further into Lubbock…but this isn’t travelling across a campus or even a single city. These are far travelling ghost!”
“Or maybe they travelled with you, Jerry,” she said then drank some more of her beer. He chuckled,
“Nah, Mrs. Doak was already with you when I got there.” Jerry said matter-of-factly.
“Oh, yeah. Her…do you think the ghosts are trying to trick us?” Jael said with her voice breaking a bit.
“Trick us? The stories behind most of the ghosts check out. Pretty sad tales generally. What would they try to trick us about?” He asked honestly.
Jael didn’t answer, instead she read the side of the beer can before taking another drink. She exhaled after two more sips, rolled her head to pop her neck, and then answered.
“Demons. Someone at Kaven’s church said demons pretend to be people who died to trick us, and someone else agreed…I don’t know about what, though. I was done with ‘demons’ and left.” She finished off her beer, smashed the can, and got up to throw it away.
“Ahhhh, a Church’s take on ghosts. Hmmn. Demons…weird.” He stretched and took his empty can to throw away, too. ”What, are you a, uh, Catholic?”
“Why Catholic? I don’t even get all the differences…Catholic, Christian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran….uh, all the others whose names I don’t remember…” Jael rambled since it all reminded her of the confusion of trying to understand Hinduism since it’s the prominent religion of her birth land India.
“You are right; there are allot of denominations. It’s just Catholics used to, and many still do believe in an in-between place called Purgatory…”
“In between what?” Jael asked not meaning to sound like a religious talk-show.
“Heaven and Hell, of course.” Jerry plopped back down in his chair.
“I thought in between paradise and damnation was life.” Jael commented dismissively.
“Well, yeah because that is what paradise or damnation are based on…except ghosts are dead. But they are not blessed in paradise or damned in hell. Hence the idea of Purgatory makes sense to me…they are stuck in life for longer than their actual lifespan.” Jerry said using his best philosophical tone.
Jael nodded as he talked and was filing it away to think about later. The front door opened and Kaven was home. He walked up to Jael, glancing and giving a nod to Jerry.
“Hon, when your friend leaves, if I’m asleep, wake me up. We need to talk.”
Jerry took that as his cue to leave, so he walked up to Jael to thank her for her hospitality with what ended up being the use of her and Kaven’s home for this evening’s ghost hunt. She thanked him for being patient with her because she did not understand any of what was happening to her.
“Jerry, I don’t know that I or really anyone can make the call on whether the ghosts or spirits or whatever we helped or I attract? are, but I am freaked out by the idea that they might be demons. Maybe we should call off the ghost hunting.” Jael had a determined look on her face.
Figuring that Kaven’s we-need-to-talk comment was the real spur for Jael to want to give up, Jerry sighed, and took her offered hand in both of his. “I do not know what is happening, either. I want to find out more. In your case, I don’t think you can walk away since it seems you are being followed. But, I will back off until you call me. Good bye, and thank you, again.”
Followed? Yeah, it was true she did still feel a presence everywhere she was. Sighing heavily and laying her head on her arm that closed the door. Kaven mixed two cognac comforts—his latest specialty. Setting the cocktails on the coffee table, he made his way over to Jael. Sensing his approach, Jael straightened her shoulders and turned. He nodded at her and turned with his arms indicating she should move to the living-room couches.
“Take a generous sip, holding it in your mouth over your back molars. Close your eyes and swallow. Count to ten, then slowly open your eyes, and tell me how you feel,” Kaven explained as he raised one of the cocktails to his own lips and demonstrated.
She picked up the other glass, sat down, and sniffed the fizzy liquid. Waiting for him to open his eyes, she asked, “So, how do you feel?”
“How you’re about to,” he said breathing out with a satisfied grin.
That convinced her. She took a big gulp, held it in the back of her mouth, swallowed, and closed her eyes. After a mental count of ten, she slowly opened her eyes. “That’s so…I feel…Great…I mean…RELIEVED, and the taste wasn’t bad, either!”
“Relieved, huh? Okay. I call it the Cognac Comfort,” Kaven smiled. “It’s a slow-sipper or quick-chugger. Depending on if you’re capping off the night or trying to get a buzz going…”
“Oh…I guess I’d use it as a slow-sipper…you said? Kind of like the other drink of yours that I tried twice when I was away in Lubbock…uh, gin and tonic? Yeah, that was it.”
“Glad you liked it, but I didn’t invent that one…”
“Oh…,” Jael took another sip. “You invented this, Cognac--Relief?”
“Comfort. Cognac Comfort. And, yeah, but it’s just cold ginger-ale made with real ginger and mixed with a shot of cognac…” he trailed off cocking his head to the side gazing at her.
“That was the second time you mentioned relief…I take it tonight was harder on you than you made it seem…” Kaven leaned in toward her with a concerned look on his face.
Jael hesitated not wanting to admit her need to regain control of her evening after the trip to Kaven’s church. She leaned back, looked at the drink, and took a large gulp.
“Well, yeah, thanks for this…I was having a confusing day and evening, and then I called Jerry to…to…to…”
“Meet ghosts?” Kaven said in a monotone voice before taking a gulp of his drink. He had responded throughout most of the whole two-ghost encounter as though unaffected, although it had been quite the opposite for him. Never had he had the occasion until that encounter to face the issue of the existence of ghosts as more than a flippant philosophical conversation. His usual response was that he believed all things quoting I Corinthians 13.
“NO! I DON’T BELIEVE IN…I mean…I-I don’t KNOW what I-I b-believe…anymore,” Jael sniffed.
Sometimes it’s tough when one gets what they ask for. At least that’s how Kaven felt about Jael suddenly, not only accepting something supernatural, but actually being some sort of ghost savant. He had prayed for her to have a divine experience and be able to accept his faith. He didn’t think it would be ghosts. Nevertheless, Jael was his fiancé, the love of his life and her lack of belief had been his previous relationship problem. This marionette-ing of ghosts was…new.
Meanwhile, Jael felt happy to have reunited two people supposed to be dead for over a hundred years. Jael, the-hard-core-nothing-supernatural-extraterrestrial-heavenly-could-possibly-be-real-quasi-atheist woman had just orchestrated a romantic ghost reunion after running out of a church group talking about ghosts!
Placing his glass back down on the coffee table, Kaven pushed himself off his seat and walked over to Jael. He took her drink placing it on the coffee table and put a comforting arm around her. She leaned into his embrace letting herself cry.
Her tears while in his embrace reminded him of the first time he had held her while she wept telling him about her parents giving her up to an orphanage when they saw she was a girl. Kaven had often thought Jael’s inability to rely on parental figures and the arbitrary cultural dismissal of her because she was a her had fed Jael’s desire to crush everyone’s belief in, well, anything. Like it was a need to bring everyone on equal ground with her.
Despite any of that, he liked Jael’s adoptive parents who themselves were not atheist, and had found the orphanage during a tour of south India while on vacation. They were a compassionate interracial couple very moved by all the children they encountered begging for Indian money called rupees or coins called pice. The disparity between the rich and impoverished made a stronger impact on them then the sight of the gateway to India which was where the British had arrived with false claims of starting a trade company with India. It was the gateway the British also finally left through. The British could no longer claim India as part of the empire as a result of their tyranny being displayed internationally on the news and the resulting international outrage. None of that was not why they adopted the fragile, abandoned newborn they saw at an Indian orphanage.
They were told the baby’s name was Jaheel but they had difficulty understanding the pronunciation so just got out “Jael.” They saw it translated and printed in English later in the paperwork that the name was Jaheel, but stuck with Jael. The newborn was preciously tiny and desperate for an embrace. So tiny that they were very careful with fragile baby Jael. Kaven thought the story when he heard it from both Jael and her parents communicated her appeal: beautiful, small, fragile, desperate for connection, and a little survivor.
Except not being Atheist is not the same as entertaining ghosts, which Kaven was not so sure about; he had withstood the waves of shock over the two ghosts because he was a Christian, and with faith there was nothing a child of God had to fear. He was also comforted by the verses in the Bible that clarify part of love is the ability to believe all things.
Except, what if ghosts really are demons imitating the dead to deceive the living like Jael’s best friend had said earlier in the evening at church? Kaven’s train of thoughts circling had him confused. He could use another Cognac Comfort. Since Kaven had made one that Jael tried. After he caught sight of Jael leaning against the front door, head on her arm that made him mix the cocktail that he had wanted to self-soothe for her, too. As always, the sight of her grasping for solid footing inspired him to try and comfort her.