Human or inhuman presence
|Clenching the post-it note in her fist, Jael looked at Mari while pointing to a building with a clock on it. “I think that’s the Administration building….”
Mari nodded, having noticed as they drew closer that the word “Administration” was imprinted on the side of the building up ahead of them as they walked through the mall-area of the STC campus. “So what, you go in to find his office, and then?”
Opening one of the glass double doors, Jael tried to explain,
“Dr. James actually has her office here at South Texas College but she also teaches at both the University of Texas of the Rio Grande Valley and in the summers at Texas Tech University.”
As she walked alongside her friend through the hallways, Mari giggled out,
“Such long School names don’t text-talk-them-up, at all?”
“Oh, yeah,” Alertly navigating, Jael muttered initials, “Uh... STC, UTRGV, and TTU.”
A man dressed in official-looking Security Guard attire was approaching them with a quick pace. Noticing his steady approach, Mari exclaimed, “Oh!”
Looking behind them, to both sides, and even above their heads Mari was dumbfounded at his appearance apparently out of nowhere. She had to ask, “Where did he come from?”
Jael didn’t know. She had been attentively trying to find the suite to Dr. James’ office, and hadn’t seen the guard until now. The guard slowed his pace, looked at each of the ladies to admonish with a stern expression,
“You shouldn’t be here,” The Guard looked past them. “It’s not safe!”
Releasing her breath while holding a hand to her chest just under her throat, Mari started to walk after the guard to ask what the danger was. Jael, though, grabbed Mari’s forearm.
“Let’s go in and grab the stuff before whatever the ‘not safe’ stuff happens,” Jael continued imitating the guard’s dead-pan, yet urgent voice.
“Yeah, okay, well it seems he disappeared anyway…no chance of asking questions…seems rather unprofessional to me…” Mari answered looking at where the guard had been walking and was not to be seen anymore. She turned her incredulous look at Jael who was pulling a set of bound papers from a hanging basket on a shut door.
On the drive back, Mari drove carefully while, in the passenger seat, Jael excitedly thumbed through the papers they had retrieved from Dr. James office. Jael exclaimed and closed the pamphlet up,
Well, off to find that book at the university’s library of Texas Tech—uh, TTU—tomorrow. Heh—TTU tomorrow.”
Mari shook her head, refusing to acknowledge the alliteration.
“It’s like this prof has you on a scavenger hunt.”
Jael smiled because she privately agreed. She just wanted to find the main resources for her thesis to get ahead since she was about to take the summer off of school. She could have ‘interlibrary loaned’ the book then wait for it to come from another university, but it’s pretty old. So, even if a library has it they may not have it on record...Dr. James had used the exact book from the TTU library letting Jael know it was there and would just go get it herself.
“Let’s grab a mocha at Moon Streams,” Jael demanded not even noticing she got the Moon Beans Coffee shop’s name wrong.
Mari responded easily and quickly, laughing as she changed lanes to head for Moon Beans Coffee Shop. On the drive over, Mari reflected as she often did on her friend Jael. She often mixed up words or replaced them with a rhyming one, not because she did not know of what she spoke, but because switching them up in order or replacing words with a rhyme actually helped Jael feel in control of her circumstance. Those who know her well accepted this in her, and the more astute ones like Mari realized it was another element of how Jael dealt with reality—edges and all. Mari had learned to work with Jael’s little quirks, and understood something about Jael’s take on things that even Jael had not: Jael had to live in the moment as if in a dream because it made her brave (often revealing her intellect spiked with a bit of humor)… It had become sort of Jael’s personal YOLO—You Only Live Once. Mari ended up laughing genuinely at Jael’s response.
Jael lived her life as though she were in a trance and can wake up at any time. Mari recognized that this culminated in Jael’s greatest fear: waking up. Once Mari brought up the idea of YOLO to Jael. Responding to Jael’s melancholy and unwillingness to leave her bed, once Mari commented to her about a concept that was trending at the time.
“You know, honey, people are taking and pointing out a subtle reality as motivation to continue with whatever about life has to be done to perpetuate their lives. They remind each other especially at the precipice of a new activity that we are given but one life. You only live once; YOLO. It is called the YOLO movement but really it the motivation.”
“I’m really glad people find living according to the color yellow being in existence and recognized; but it does nothing motivational for me.”
Mari had laughed so hard the tail end of her laughter sounded like wheezing. But, anyway. They parked and headed in with Jael picking out a place for them to sit knowing Mari was going straight over to order a mocha. Jael picked out a table for two and was sitting for ten minutes before she realized Mari was standing at a different table in a lively-looking conversation. Shaking her head, Jael marched over and relieved her regular black coffee from Mari’s grip.
“Oh, sorry, Jael…I meant to put cinnamon in it and bring it to you, except this punk here…”
Mari indicated with a flippant wave of her hand at a thin, tall guy who guffawed and plopped down into his seat. Recognizing the energy of an ongoing debate, Jael, now smiling, went to get the cinnamon shaker for her coffee before returning. As she reached the group table, Mari, was of course, still there. That Jael could rely on Mari’s presence, was one of the main reasons they were best friends.
“So we are all star dust he says, and okay ’cause doesn’t the Word say ’from dust you were risen’?” The tall, skinny now-seated-guy asked cockily.
“That does not mean Neil de Grasse Tyson is a Christian. That is a connection you made from one of his comments to the Bible,” Mari replied, equally confident.
Jael almost spit out her coffee. “WHAT?! You really think that an upstanding scientist would sully his reasoning with a fictional book of religion?!”
Jael had got right up close to his face not even caring that she had coffee-breath. She appeared to be seething at the notion of juxtaposing religion and science. Seated next to the guy Jael had snapped at was a girl who stopped twirling her necklace with a cross pendant on it long enough to join in, “I doubt, if de Grasse Tyson is, as you say, upstanding, that he would at all be sullied nor would he be obtuse enough to assume the religion most ascribed to and the holy book it is associated with is fictional.”
Swigging another large swallow of her coffee, Jael straightened her shoulders. Mari pulled her chair up closer and to the side to join the third person at the table and quietly sipped her mocha. Jael dragged a chair near the seated four and straddled it so that the back of the chair faced the girl wearing the cross.
“Tell me, if you think it is obtuse to think the Bible, right, that’s the title, is fictional, then who wrote it?”
Like a conversational tag team, the skinny tall one spoke up,
“All scripture within the Bible is God inspired.”
“OH!! God,” Jael with a can-you-believe-this face to Mari before continuing with a smirk,
“Okay. So then why didn’t God just write the whole book?”
“Haven’t you heard, Gott ist tot?” A third guy seated next to Mari offered. Mari rolled her eyes.
“A Niche quote, really? ‘God is dead’ nice touch saying it in the actual German.” she said in a confident yet deadpan voice, before continuing bilingually herself,
“I wonder though, do you actually sie Deutsch?”
“What? Now we are changing the subject? I said Gott ist tot which is German and you wanna speak to me in Dutch?!”
Mari chuckled while responding, so that she gurgled over a sip of her coffee the first part of her victorious retort,
“Huh-ha, guess not. That was German, ace.”
Jael winked at her, a bit proud her friend knew any German to use, but still admonishing,
“Lay off Niche, Mari, he at least he knew that God shouldn’t be in any rational conversation,”
After a half hour of Jael lecturing the Christians and encouraging the atheist at the table, Mari slurped the last of her mocha and looked sadly at Jael.
“My cup is wrong…”
Jael turned her smirk toward Mari.
“Everything’s wrong at this part of the coffee shop, Mari, what specifically is the problem with your cup?”
Slanting the cup displaying the lack of liquid content, Mari answered, “It’s empty.”
Jael tipped the last of her coffee into her mouth then showed its empty interior to Mari.
“Look at that. It’s contagious.”
The table chuckled at their little display. Skinny Tall guy offered to take orders for more coffee. “My treat.”
“Nah, nah, I got a plane to catch early in the morning, but you enjoy,” Jael said standing and offering her hand to Mari who daintily accepted the help up from her chair.
Napping through much of the flight, Jael perked up when she heard “Lubbock, TX” on the loud speaker. She opened her eyes and began to rub them while she crossed her legs, when the pack of nuts that was sitting on her lap fell.
“Oh! I dropped something…”
The guy in the seat next to her reached past her with a long arm and picked up the nuts.
“Here you go, Sleeping Beauty,” He dropped the packet back onto Jael’s lap.
“Heh, thanks…” She picked it up and ripped past the printed airline logo. “Want one?”
He nodded smiling hungrily. She dropped a couple of peanuts into his waiting palm. He tipped his cap to her for the nuts. The cap he was wearing had a logo emblazed with LCU on it.
“Hmmn?” He uttered mid-chew. “Oh, yeah, headed back up to school,”
He lifted his chin toward the window over Jael’s shoulder. “Notice anything missing?”
She peered out the window. It was a mostly standard scene of a city from on high, but, yeah, something was not right and increasingly odd the closer they came to Lubbock.
Announcements about bringing the seats upright and tray tables back up in preparation for landing, interrupted. A flight attendant holding a trash bag was walking around for empty cups and peanut bags.
Jael looked at LCU cap guy. “Want the rest?”
He grabbed up the peanut bag from her hand like any starving college student would. Jael unbuckled and re-buckled her seatbelt as the flight attendant came by holding a trash bag. He smiled and looked from the dude gobbling peanuts to glance at the empty seat past him and nodded at Jael before moving on. Everyone was getting up and getting luggage out of the overhead storage.
LCU cap said, “Be careful out there. This region isn’t too friendly to people with well, you know…naturally, uh, brown skin.”
Jael couldn’t respond as he was already striding away in the line. Naturally brown. What does that mean?
But she knew. Of course she knew. Memories of white girls and older white women came to mind all bragging about how they had tanned so dark they were almost “your color!”
Then they’d giggle. The rush of thoughts surrounding her skin color and cultural confusion put her in a daze. The tanning comments recollection popped in her mind first after LCU cap had brought up skin color. Weird. Jael hadn’t realized how offended she had been by such comments, and she didn’t even know why it offended her; they were tanning to get darker how could it be insulting? Regardless, what was more confusing to her was why that was the first alienating type of experiencing to pop into her head. Those comments were not the only thing that had made her feel unaccepted or straight up rejected.
Tanning was something Jael could never understand. Considering dark people especially of African origin, or as they are called “black people” are typically vilified in the U.S. for it seems no other reason than their skin tone, why then do the ruling “white” class lay on cancer causing tanning beds?
Perhaps racism toward the dark is really an extreme expression of jealousy, Jael mentally posited as it had always been her theory. She had spoken of it with her adoptive light skinned parents.
People do a lot of things to make themselves more like “black” people, it seemed to her and she would cite examples, “Teenagers injuring themselves trying to puff their lips up on glass bottles for more full lips that those descendent of Africa have intrinsically,” or the time she pointed out, “women have fat moved from their stomachs and inserted in their butts to make those bigger like “black” women have innately.”
Tanning, of course, as a way to make one’s skin darker as those of African descent have naturally. Once, apart from discussions with her ever affirming adoptive mom, she had actually had a snarky response to one of those tanning almost-as-dark-as-you comments. She immediately regretted using it though she was not sure why regret surfaced, and still didn’t as the scene replayed with her two peers in her head:
“Oh my, I am so sorry you got all burned, Tisha, next time I’ll l lend you my sun screen, I am loving my tan so much!” Jill exclaimed as Tisha applied a lotion to her own peeling skin.
Turning her attention to Jael, Jill exclaimed,
“Check it out, Jael, I’m almost as dark as you!”
“Really, as dark as me? I am so sorry! Just try to hide out until it wears off, so you won’t get discriminated against,” Jael had almost smugly replied.
Yeah that lost her both of those girls as friends. Jill smiled or waved to Jael a couple of times after that encounter, but they never hung out again. It is like it never occurred to a white person: if they got all they were envious of, would they not also be treated as inborn criminals?
All these thoughts started to make her feel inconspicuous as she exited the plane. It also made her notice all the people were Anglo-Saxon or Gaelic White or whatever the label is for the light skinned.
They’re peach-ish colored, anyway, not actually white, Jael reflected. Only Albino people approximate white as a skin color, she further mulled, but are hardly glorified for it. If white is so great, then why don’t albinos rule the world? Well, now Jael had just dizzied herself by trying to reason out racism based on skin color. If Mari were there, Jael would bet Mari would have cracked a wry comment about how racism does not use reason.
She perked up when she saw a family from …India? Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? Jael didn’t know. She knew she looked like all of them since people who saw her often guessed out loud that she was from one of those regions. She was.
As a baby, Jael was adopted by a mixed race couple in the United States. Her adoptive mother was Hispanic with family from central Mexico and her adoptive father was Irish. They both were light skinned with dark hair. Neither of them frequented tanning beds.
When they went to the beach those two times Jael was with them, she got to see how her mother tanned to almost Jael’s shade and her dad tanned a bit before turning lobster red. He was miserable, and when he started to peel, was irritated at the mess his skin would make all over. Twice and never again. Jael was fine with that. People stared at them. Mostly at little Jael whose tiny hands her parents held. She had heard how they all whispered. It occurs to her now that it was a blessing she had not heard what they whispered.
Jael reached for her backpack in the seat beside her and grasped at only air. She looked at the seat she thought she had rested it on, and saw it was gone. Now a little worried, she looked around. Many people had their suitcases in hand with a backpack on their shoulders or carry-on strap on a shoulder. Standing up, Jael noticed the backpack in the seat she had been sitting on!
“Whew,” It took that gaffe to snap her out from thoughts of skin-color.
The relief that she had her bag helped her focus on the now. She allowed herself a long yawn and stretch, before searching for a phone. Body nice and loose, she spotted a phone carrel almost right away. Jael then poked fun of herself to herself reflecting on how she didn’t have to be undistracted or physically relaxed to have spotted the phone since it was emblazoned with the double T’s of Texas Tech. Smirk still affixed on her face, she flipped in the phone book to find a taxi service. The taxi she ordered even had the double black T’s against a red backdrop on it! Smiling at the driver whose arm held open the logo emblazoned door she commented,
“This place is super proud of its university, huh?”
“Oh, Tech? Yeah, they spring to put their logo on stuff, but there are other schools-er universities; anyway, all settled?”
Jael nodded at him, and he then asked, “Where to?”
Jael requested the TTU library. The campus was beautiful which was, quite frankly, surprising. Even from the window of her airplane seat, Jael, prompted by LCU cap student seated near her saw the oddity of Lubbock from on high.
She was clear now about what was weird that the LCU cap passenger asked her if she noticed. It was the distinct lack of trees the closer the plane got to Lubbock. Indeed there were next to no trees except in front of homes and here on campus.
Interesting how one doesn’t know to appreciate what one has until comparison presents itself. Jael reflected on how she should be grateful for all the trees in the Rio Grande Valley where she lived. Smirking, she thought how do these people breathe as greenery is where we get oxygen from? The humorous thought trail did not cease there, of course. It started with the chlorophyll filled leaves lacing trees releasing most of the oxygen people breathe, and ended with the cultural tid-bit that Lubbock was in the midst of, if not THE belt buckle of the southern United States’ Bible belt. May be the trees don’t grow in protest of all the trees killed to print all those Bibles. That last thought almost had her laugh aloud.
Jael thanked the cab driver, who looked down at her skirt then up at her with a big smile. She thought that was a creepy thing for him to have done until she turned around and saw the library. It looked like the building had pleats with its tall columns of white cement that domed over and back down separated by a foot where the next one was. Inside the ‘pleats’ were cage-like copper colored wire. Jael may have actually liked the building design, except that it matched her pleated beige skirt and copper-colored blouse. She did feel better about the cab driver’s goofy smile after eyeing her skirt, though.
She walked into the pleated library building and up to the front desk. Jael asked if there was a standard card catalog or if she could search a library site on a computer. The kind lady with brown skin like Jael’s own skin, escorted her to a table with a computer and handed her a fat bookmark with instructions on how to search the library content.
“What part of India are you from?”
Jael heard the accent in the lady’s speech.
“I do not know. I think I was born in Kerala, India.”
The lady waggled her head which Jael has come to understand means ‘yes’ or ‘sure’ since allot of people who are Indian or Pakistani assume Jael is, too, and approach her. It got her used to that head movement that was not quite a head shake or nod.
Jael was glad when someone asked this lady a question because she did not want to try and pronounce the part of Kerala she was born in and then explain she was left at an orphanage there. She typed in the book she needed, jotted down the ISBN, and went to retrieve the book on a higher floor. Jael, happy to have found the book, spotted a table with only one person close to a copy machine, and took her book over there.
The young guy clad in a t-shirt and denim jeans, looked up from his book when Jael placed her book on the table. She smiled and moved her eyes to indicate the other tables nearby were full. He offered a thin lipped smile before returning to his notes. Jael buried herself in the book she had found on scientific explanations of the supernatural. Suddenly, book guy and Jael were yanked out of their study reverie by the sound of librarian aides marching like troops to the battlefield.
Curt declarations, seemingly coming from all over were,
“This is a library not the student union, KEEP YOUR VOICES down,”
It was only then that Jael noticed the buzz of whispered conversations about Brian the graduate student who haunted the chemistry building. Although Jael was prone to argue against belief in such nonsense, her ears perked up to hear the conversations since the students sounded awed and a bit scared. Jael grinned when she heard a sensible female student comment,
“He just sits with his books or notes studying. That doesn’t mean he’s a ghost; he may be just some guy studying for a big test. The wandering around that building I can’t explain, but maybe he’s just pacing…”
“I hear he’ll talk to you with no clue he’s dead,”
A guy said in a low voice instead of whisper.
“Does he age ever? Or is he like ever the young dude hoping to get his next degree?”
The table these questions originated from got immediately silent when a library aide walked toward them, then erupted in hushed giggles when the aide walked away.
“Has anyone called Ghost Hunters or anything? I heard they went to San Antonio recently…”
That comment got a hand slammed against the table across from Jael. He looked up at her.
“Sorry, sorry. It’s just this ghost crap is so…”
“I know. Believe me, I know.” Jael let out a relieved sigh.
She was relieved to have heard frustration from someone else about such drivel.
She went to the copier beside them to make copies of the pages she would use in her thesis, then pulled out the stapled copies the machine had even collated then stapled for her. She gently placed the book atop a flat portion of the copier. An aide picked up the book, smiled at Jael, and left to put it up.
“Actually,” Jael said aloud very audibly as she turned around, copies in hand. Jael paused only to nod at a library aide who turned back her way.
“This is a university. An institution of HIGHER learning and you make noise speaking about ghosts?!”
The whispers hushed, but many glared at her.
“If there was any such thing as ghosts and this Brian guy is haunting the library instead today, he’d be as ticked off as I am that you’re chatting is disturbing his study.”
Jael sat back down with a derisive chuckle. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a small child wandering about between the book stacks. Blinking she looked to see if the kid was with a parent. The child was quick, though, leaving the stacks bare of all people. She looked now at the guy who had inspired her to speak. He stood and motioned her to follow. She gathered the copies she’d made, tucked them in her bag, and followed. He had gone to a lounge area that was past the aisles of books.
“Thanks. This ghost stuff really upsets me, well this specific ghost…because he—he has the same name as me,” Brian guffawed as he plopped down in a seat.
“Oh! Oh, no, sorry, Brian? My name is Jael.” She sat in the seat across from him.
His finger pointed to her notebook that had her name in large letters on it as he spelled out her name.
“So that’s how you pronounce it, okay J-a-e-l, Jael.”
“Heh, yeah. It’s Hebrew, I think; or Sanskrit or Tamil or some language that isn’t English,” She stretched. “I thought you were upset because—”
“The noise? Yeah, well, a little.” Brian yawned.
Oddly, Jael didn’t feel the urge to yawn, too, since mystical matters really got her riled up. Jael had a serious expression on instead.
“I just think all of that is crap. Ghosts, spirits, anything extraterrestrial. I think educated people are above such superstitious fiction.”
“Yeah, I heard you. I guess. It is just kind of sad that a guy ended his life and is still stuck doing the same old studying for an out-of-reach degree. It makes me feel like this will never end for me,” he lifted his notes and plopped them back onto his lap.
“Right? Also, what, does the guy wear the same set of clothes forever like some cartoon?” Jael was snickering.
“That would be a dead give-away since I think style has changed since 1983.”
“Huh? Nah, style rotates, so not so much of a, heh, dead giveaway—I caught the pun...um,
1983. That date seems awfully specific,” Jael meant the last part as a question since the targeted year threw her off.
“Style rotates.” Brian repeated skimming his papers with his left fingers nervously.
“Everything comes back in style like the mohawk hair that has reappeared lately…”
Jael had offered supporting her point.
She didn’t know why she cared so much what other people believe or know or don’t. Jael just always kind of had since her orphan infant years, reached out to anybody to form a connection even if that connection was destroying their faith.
Brian seemed like he could be a new connection for her since he was clearly on board with the need for education.
“Were mohawks an 8o’s thing?” Brian sounded despondent, as well as genuinely curious.
“Uh…yeah, actually.” Jael said, noticing his sad overtone.
“Um, oh yeah, 1983 is when Brian killed himself in the campus mechanist shop, or didn’t you hear all the incredibly detailed not-so-quiet whispers?” This time Brian sounded exasperated.
Nodding, Jael tried not to act surprised, but she had to ask,
“He didn’t die IN the library? So, why were they all hyped up about him here…I mean, isn’t that how this ghost stuff works? Like they haunt the place where they died?”
Brian scoffed. “I’m still dealing with ghosts wearing the same clothes they died in!”
Jael smiled, amused at herself having a semi-serious conversation about a bunch of ghost fiction. She began relaying to Brian her views on all things spiritual, extraterrestrial, or supernatural. Jael didn’t bother lowering her voice as some other guy had entered the room wearing a t-shirt with the words “I believe” on it. He seemed to listen to her comments and occasionally glance towards where Brian was sitting.
“So you’re a no belief person?” Brian asked as he stood.
Jael stood, as well, since guy who’s t-shirt believes was holding something that was beeping and aiming it everywhere looking towards where Brian sat and back at Jael. Brian sighed and began to lead her towards the elevators.
“Huh?” She felt compelled to follow him as she responded, “Yeah, I think it’s called atheist though that is just really a word about the nonexistent gods other people believe in. So, yeah. Okay, I’m a nonbelief person. I am a here-and-now logical and scientific person. If you can’t see it, it is not real.”
Brian had led her to a wall between elevators that was lined with yearbooks. Jael was struck by the yearbooks being there, wondering how people didn’t just whisk them away, and how she didn’t notice them when she passed by the first time.
“So you don’t believe in bacteria and viruses?” Brian offered smirking over one of the yearbooks he had grabbed.
“I can see both of those with a microscope, but point taken, Smart Ass,” Jael looked right back at him with a mordant smile. “So, still, at least with modern technology, if it can be seen, then only is it real.”
“To you.” Brian said simply
He continued turning in the book he had grabbed off the shelves near the elevator. He found the page he was looking for. “I once had an argument with someone about sensing when someone is staring at you and feeling when someone has come in to the place you
are—even if they haven’t spoken or made noises. Do you believe that?”
“Well…,” Jael became thoughtful. “Yeah. I guess. We are energy filled beings and can feel energy. Like when a conversation gets awkward, you can feel it, and I feel when my boyfriend comes into a room even though he doesn’t have loud footsteps. So, uh, hmmn, I guess I’m a believer of a couple of things I can’t see, but in those cases, can feel.”
“Then you would’ve been on my side in that argument. Here, look, this is Brian from 1983.”
Jael stepped closer and bent over the open book to see what Brian was pointing at. It was a picture of himself in the same clothes he had on, standing outside the Chemistry building.
“Not funny.” She whipped around and stomped off.
She wanted to find one of the librarians to report the guy calling himself Brian and dressing like the guy everyone thinks is a ghost. She was embarrassed she had been sitting at the table with him while everyone was talking about that very ghost myth.
They must have thought she was in on his hoax. She was so ashamed she had stood up and made that comment joking about the ghost not being able to study with all the noise while sitting at a table with the perpetrator of such baloney.
She took the elevator down to the first floor and walked up to the welcome counter. Jael reported to the awfully-familiar-looking librarian that someone was dressing up as a ghost and how she left him on the second floor lounge with the yearbooks.
The librarian’s eyebrows knitted. “Yearbooks?”
“Yeah, he is all dressed up exactly like that poor Brian guy everyone says is a ghost. Everyone started whispering all loud about the ghost junk probably because of him. I’m not actually a student here so I didn’t realize I was talking to the instigator until he showed me the yearbook picture of the Brian ghost that looked just like himself.”
The librarian listened, and pulled a cell phone size metal square with an antenna out.
“Are you thinking of coming to Texas Tech?”
The guy with that beeping and the I-believe t-shirt! Backing up a few steps and peering at his shirt to confirm, Jael grinned.
“No, I am a student but at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. One of my
Professors Dr. James teaches here, also. She told me about a book TTU has, and I came for it while on vacation. Oh, and there is some little kid wandering around the stacks up there, too,
I didn’t see an accompanying parent.”
“You saw the little child?” He sounded keenly excited.
“I am sorry you went through all that with that guy, and all the ghost whispering. Little children are rarely in the library without a guardian, but I’ll let Security know so if anyone else reports a child wandering, so we can launch a full-out search.” He leaned forward. “Tell me: was it a little boy or girl?”
His expression was one of intent interest.
“Um, I’m not sure, just a real small person in bright clothing with that bouncy child walk.”
Jael honestly did not know if it was a boy or girl. She couldn’t remember exactly what specific clothes the child wore, either. She turned her attention back to the I-believe librarian who then asked,
“Did you at least find the book you were looking for?”
“Yes, I made copies of the pages that will help my thesis. I just wanted to make someone aware of a possibly lost child and of the trouble maker stirring up ridiculous ghost myth talk, before I left.”
“Sure, sure. Again, sorry about that.” The librarian felt like saying thank you for the concern.
But, she looked a bit rushed. He double checked the antennae’d metal square. Jael was in a rush, otherwise she would have confronted him about the moronic t-shirt he was wearing, all the ridiculous beeping while around her and Brian earlier. She had to leave, and quickly, too—she noticed the library aide that Jael had nodded at earlier before loudly chastising the whispering students walking towards the librarian-whose-t-shirt believes.
Jael swiftly walked toward an exit as she called for a cab on her cell phone. The library aide was getting closer. Sheepishly, her pace quickened, and then Jael waited outside, in the clear of the glass doors so the aide wouldn’t see her loitering outside. Meanwhile, the aide had reached librarian-whose-t-shirt believes. Layla the library aide was eying the metal box the librarian was checking.
“Hey, Jerry,” Layla addressed him, noting his less than sanguine mood.
“Hi, Layla. Uh, yeah. Just had a weird encounter with a visitor. She reported that a student was dressing up like Brian-the-chemistry-student-ghost that got everyone whispering about, well, ghostly stuff.” Jerry slipped the metal box into his shoulder bag, turning his full attention to the computer in front of him, started typing.
“I don’t know about any student dressing up or whatever, but there was allot of ghost talk. So, I was one of the aides sent to shush people. That lady that I just saw talking to you actually stood up, to tell everyone that ‘ghost chatter was uneducated or whatevs, and it got the noise to quiet down.”
“So there wasn’t a student walking around like Brian the ghost of the Chemistry building?”
“Not that I saw. What are you looking up on the computer with such an intense look on your face? ” Layla leaned forward to peek as though he wouldn’t answer her quick enough.
Noticing he was searching yearbooks in the library, she looked up at Jerry.
“You know where the yearbooks are.”
“Yeah. I thought I did. But that lady said the dressed up student that caused the ghost chatter had taken her to the yearbooks on the wall of the lounge on the second floor and showed her a picture of the Brian ghost before he died in one of the yearbooks. She said that was when she realized he had pulled one over on her, and made her want to report the matter.”
Layla, dumbfounded, answered, “But, there aren’t any yearbooks on any wall of anywhere.”
“I know. Also, that Brian-guy never graduated. He committed suicide before he could have finished. There is no way he is in a yearbook unless he was like in a club or sport, but don’t think he was. I thought his ghost haunts the Chemistry building where that old mechanist shop had been not the library.” He exited the page he was on with the computer.
“Oh, and did you see a small child wandering around up there, specifically around the stacks?”
“The kid, again? The one you use that ghost-box-tracker thing to find? No. Why?”
“She also reported seeing a small child without a mom. This other ghost stuff could’ve been an elaborate hoax by the guy she was sitting next to at a table by the copier, did you see him? Because if you can remember how he was dressed…”
Layla backed up a step, wide-eyed,
“Sitting next to? She was at a table on the second floor by the copy machine, yes, but alone.”
Having avoided eye-contact with that library aide, Jael was more calm than angry at that guy perpetuating a ghost myth, as she sat in the taxicab waiting to arrive at the Four Point Sheraton. Jael had booked a room there after reading about the atrium lounge it had. As a general nature lover, the idea of an atrium was such a nice highlight for her as she had never been to Lubbock before. Now that she knew trees were a rare thing in this city, she figured the atrium was about to be another rare oasis of trees like the Texas Tech campus.
After checking in at the lobby, dropping her bag off in her hotel room, Jael returned to the lobby to check out the atrium. Jael had not realized there would be a piano there, too! Not that she could play the piano, but she had always wanted to learn. She chose a seat close to the piano which was not difficult, as no one else was around, well, except a few snickering teens who had just ordered Shirley temples and sodas at the bar. Jael got up and ordered herself the drink she had often heard her boyfriend Kaven order: a gin and tonic.
The lady who presented Jael her drink when the bar tender finished stirring asked why she was still in town.
Jael was suspicious—how could the bartender possibly know how long she had been in town and judge it too be too long? “Still?”
“Well, it’s about to be summer break. Most students take off unless they have events planned or summer school.”
“Oh! I am here as a visitor. I came to get a book from the Texas Tech library and stay one night as a mini-vacay of sorts. This place had an atrium, so I thought it would be a treat.”
“Nice. Coming to Lubbock, TX as a vacay is not something I woulda expected.”
Jael shrugged and tipped a dollar, as the bar server behind the bartender giggled. The drink was cool to the touch though it had no ice, which was a pleasant surprise. She walked towards the table that was now occupied by the teens. The table behind them had a group of college aged students. Jael smiled at them, and then made her way up to the stage to get a broader look and choose a new table. At the piano, a lady sat popping her knuckles.
“I don’t take requests, sorry. One has to keep tabs on the latest hits for that. I am going to play Fuer Elise by Beethoven, though, hope you enjoy it.” She began to play.
Jael thought it was lovely and stayed standing there by the piano desperate to tell the piano lady she was not going to make a request just scout a table to sit at. Almost like piano lady read her mind, the playing stopped.
“I’m Mrs. Doak. Here sit down by me, and maybe I can show you how to tickle out a tune.”
Jael didn’t try to explain, but sat down carefully whispering the quietest introduction ever,
“My name is Jael.”
Mrs. Doak smiled. “Pianos make me feel like I have to whisper, too.”
The teenagers that were near the table Jael had originally sat at called out,
“Is it an automatic playing piano?”
“No—” Jael began with eyebrows furled, but Mrs. Doak started to tell her that she was going to show her how to play the melody part of Ode to Joy by Beethoven, then tickled out the notes ‘e-e-f-g-g-f-e-d-c-c.’
Jael imitated the keys pushed as best she could, but stumbled after the second g. Mrs. Doak played the tune one key at a time indicating with gestures that Jael should copy each note an octave down on the keyboard. After a few practices like that, the two played the melody in unison to the applause of the small audience that had grown by a few more people in the interim. Mrs. Doak had stood up with Jael at the applause.
Reaching for her gin and tonic that she had set on the ground by the piano bench, Jael took a sip after sighing out,
“Whew, wow, thanks!”
Mrs. Doak smiled, and sat back down at the bench and using the foot pedals with her right foot, chords with her left hand, and keys with the right, played all of Fuer Elise. Jael stood doe-eyed watching and listening while still on the piano stage. She paused only to sip her drink which she actually found to be quite the pleasant cocktail except that she could taste the liquor’s distinct flavor which she was not so fond of. Only when the song finished which coincidentally coincided with her deciding she had enough of her drink and a series of beeping from somewhere in the audience, did Jael take a seat at a table just cattycorner to the teens’ table.
They sat staring wide-eyed at Jael instead of at the piano and player, not cheering this time though the performance ended. The bar tender, hotel receptionist, and some of the lobby assistants had filtered in with heads turned toward the piano. They then looked around at the only people in the room and walked up to the teen table to ask them who had been playing.
“It was so beautiful!”
The teens looked at Jael with one of them pointing, so the group moved to her. Giving the teen table a shocked expression, Jael raised both hands just in front of her in a mini-surrender pose.
“Whoa, no, I only played the little ditty she taught me…Mrs. Doak played the rest,” Jael turned her eyes toward the piano, but Mrs. Doak was no longer there.
“Oh! She must have…powder room?” Jael then looked pointedly at the bar tender. “Or maybe she went to get a drink…”
He straightened his shoulders. “Didn’t like that drink, huh?”
Jael shrugged with a slight frown. He mirrored that expression, grabbed her still full glass, and headed back to the bar.
“Well, tell her it was nice, so thanks from the hotel team,” One of the lobby group offered.
“Oh, you can tell her…she’ll probably be right back. I’m gonna wait here in case she’s willing to teach me some more.”
They didn’t stay, but Jael did. She was earnestly hoping to see Mrs. Doak again. She wanted at the very least to stare down the teens and the slightly older guy sitting with them that they were whispering to while peering at her. Soon the rest of the crowd left the atrium.
Finally, Jael realized Mrs. Doak was not returning. So, Jael got up and stomped right up to the teens assuming all the while that Mrs. Doak had not returned because of the lack of applause to her flawless performance.
“That was rude, you could have at least applauded when the Beethoven piece concluded.”
The older guy, who had joined the table in the middle of the Fuer Elise performance, was the only one to answer, but only as he stood up.
“The keys and peddles were being pressed with no one there actually pressing them, but
the music was playing. You just stood there with your drink gawking. I don’t know what you’re playing at, but if I was looking for a ghost show, I woulda taken these champs to stay somewhere that advertised weird activity.”
“Wh—?” Jael began to question the outlandish accusation.
But the man turned his back to Jael and started directing the teenagers to gather their things and return to their rooms. As he escorted them out of the atrium and toward the elevators, he reminded,
“Don’t forget to set your alarms and wear the team shirt for the competition.”
Distraught and indignant, Jael looked around the atrium and steadied herself. As she didn’t finish her drink, she picked up the menu and lit up when she saw quesadillas. Summoning the server, she ordered that and very much enjoyed that it came with guacamole. The dish summoned a memory to her mind that put and kept a grin on her face:
Never having had sushi, before, Jael was excited. Mari, ever the best friend, introduced Jael to new kinds of food, this time sushi. Jael trusted her and was a good sport about trying unfamiliar cuisine; like the time Mari had introduced her to Mexican food. Jael fell in love with it, especially the guacamole. Okay, well, not at first. Cocking her head to the side, Jael relived the whole scene in her head:
“You are gonna love this food, sweetie…Um or maybe that’s racist, I don’t know… if so, sorry?”
“I’m not Mexican, and, if I were and never eaten of the cuisine of my heritage, how would introducing me to it be racist?” Jael fervently wanted to know.
She often knew right away if there was something to be offended at and was quick at the draw to declare it.
“Good point. I’ll tell you more about it after you try the quesadilla appetizers or at least dip the chips into some salsa or guac.”
Almost to emphasize her point, Mari scooped up a nice chunk of the green glob in front of them with a triangular shaped quesadilla and finished off with dipping a seasoned tortilla chip into some tomato stuff and munched away.
“Gwakkk?” Jael tried to say the word. The food did smell good.
Jael was highly entertained by how much fun Mari was having over the Latin food, but her eyebrows furrowed as she watched Mari enjoying the quesadillas with such relish.
Mari nodded, eyes bright. So, okay, Jael picked up a chip and nibbled at the pointy end. The seasoning made it very good. She ate the whole chip and went for another when Mari pushed a bowl of what looked like a cold, chunky tomato soup at her. Mari moved her eyes from the chip in Jael’s hand to the tomato stuff. All right, then. She dipped the chip into a bit of the tomato stuff. YUM.
“Ooohhh, what is that? So good!”
Knowing look plastered on her face, Mari said, “That was what is called salsa, SALSA!”
Jael chuckled and looked around to see if anyone heard her friend practically shout the word salsa. Then turned back to find another chip being waved at her face.
“Now try the guacamole!” Mari pushed a bowl with a mushy pile of green stuff at her.
“Don’t you mean gwack?” Jael was hesitant to dip anything in the huge green lump.
She knew she would have to satisfy Mari as she was not going to let this go.
“Okay, okay, but first tell me how its racist then I’ll try the green glob.”
Mari chuckled. “Mmm, yeah it’s just that you are from India and the cooking spices used there are very similar to those used in Latin America countries. So the assumption that you would enjoy the food sounded like it might be prejudiced…in my head.”
Getting a faux look of shock, Jael placed a hand over her parted lips. “You mean my nation of origin and others use more spices than salt and black pepper?”
“Yeah, like turmeric, chili pepper which is I guess different from red pepper somehow, cumin, coriander, dill weed, bay leaves, paprika, et cetra!”
“Wow, Chef Mari!” Jael was truly impressed.
She didn’t think she could name that many spices herself. “So which are the spices that are common to Latin and…?”
“Cumin, chili pepper, paprika, and turmeric which is kinda more Indian than Latin, oh, and coriander. Although, like, you know, also cooking with lemon or lime juice, too.”
“Huh, wow. Had no clue. I can make mac and cheese and heat up a can of soup like a mad cook ’cause like I’d add tobacco sauce to spice it up.” Jael was grinning kinda proud that Mari knew so much about spice.
It almost made her forget the salsa and the green pile. She had promised she’d try the green stuff. So, onward. It was SO tasty! She had much more, and, as Mari recommended, she had it with the quesadilla slices.
Now, every time Jael can she tries a different Latin based restaurant just to try their guac. She found that not all restaurants carry it or place plates of it with free chips on the table. Tough luck, that. Often though she could order some on the side.
Now Sushi. It had rice so that was nice and familiar—for when she wanted to eat hundreds of something Unbidden a smile formed at that thought.
“Oh, good you look excited about trying this. The California Roll is my fave—has allot of sticky rice.”
Jael paused before poking at the green glob anticipating it was a small bit of guacamole—befuddled why so little would be served. What makes the rice sticky? As the server, was still at the table she didn’t want to be too obvious about all of her newness to sushi, so, instead just repeated,
The server responded with a bit of condescension, “Helps the rice STICK to the seaweed.”
Ohhh now I WANT it to be known I’m a sushi virgin. Little twerp.
“Oh, as I have NOT had sushi before, I wasn’t aware the rice had a protocol to fulfill…”
Mari snickered. “Protocol…”
As Jael and renewed her effort to poke the wasabi on her platter with one of the chop sticks and lick it, Mari ceased her light laughter to use her chop sticks to block Jael’s. “Hey! I love guac—your fault, anyway.”
“Not guacamole, hon; this is very, very, VERY different.”
“Oh, but it’s green like guac, so I thought the tiny quantity was a tease. I mean its itsy bitsy.”
“Yeah, itty but it packs a HUGE punch! It’s called wasabi. It is known for its spicy hot quality,” Mari said.
That only made Jael more brave as people were often impressed with her ability to handle spice. The heat did shock her a bit, but she continued to enjoy that and the accompanying ginger that often accompanies a sushi platter.
Jael ended up, of course, loving sushi.
After finishing her quesadillas and every bit of the guac, Jael took the stairs to her room planning to plop down on the bed right away, but there was a note taped to her door. Jael ripped it off to take inside with her. She sat on the edge of the bed and unfolded the piece of paper that had a business card taped to the inside under a hand-written note:
Hi, again. I think you were playing piano with a ghost. It is strange, even for me, this case of yours. I think the ghost was from Texas Tech’s Doak hall. The piano there is randomly played, it is rumored, by Mrs. Doak whom the building was named after. Anyway if I’m right, you may be a ghost magnet or something, since this hotel is not at ALL even on TTU campus. My EMF reader went off like crazy on the second floor when I went on my 5 minute break as I usually do to try to get readings from the child ghost. I did not want to tell you when you reported a different ghost, not generally seen in the library, but it did help to know you saw the child ghost, too. I got more readings in YOUR direction while you were talking about being a logical, scientific person out loud to yourself for some reason.
If you haven’t figured it out, by now, I’m the lobby librarian you reported to. Name’s Jerry. I am not stalking you, it was a happy coincidence that you were at this hotel where I hang out with friends on the staff, so found your room by looking at your key card on the table. This is not me trying to scare you, either; I don’t think you scare easy anyway even with a gin and tonic in you. Yeah, the bar tender is my friend. The card has my number. Give me a call, if you want to find out just how many ghosts you can wrangle. I’ll record and diary it. I am hoping to become a paranormal investigator, and a partner like you would be awesome. I’ll provide the EMF sensor!
Jael did not know how to react. Mrs. Doak of DOAK Hall at TTU?! Jael began to critically wonder if Lubbock was full of pranksters desperate for fiction. God or ghosts, either way, she was happy she was leaving in the morning!
She folded the paper and card noting the name on the card was Jerry Sterling, and placed it in her purse for a conversation piece with Kaven later. It was all so weird. Funny weird. Jael chuckled a bit as she browsed the hotel menu for food. She also spotted some brochures of tourist attractions and restaurants. The restaurants didn’t hold as much appeal as she was still full from the quesadillas, though. Folding the brochure she had grabbed, Jael decided not to go sight-seeing someplace that was in walking distance.
Standing in the boarding area for the plane, Jael sat down, hopeful no one would sit next to her. The last thing she wanted was some jerk pointing out her skin color. The only time her looks became an issue in Lubbock was when she wore clothes that matched the library’s building design. Oh, and when she asked if the dumplings she ordered for lunch at a cafe had pork or another filling inside (she preferred pork). The server asked if that was an Islam-diet-thing to which she responded,
“I don’t know, is it?”
“Well, because you can’t eat pork, right? I can ask the chef to make it with vegetables, no, wait Muslims aren’t vegetarians, chicken! I’ll have them make it with chicken so you can have the dumplings.”
He began writing chicken down on his notepad. She cleared her throat. He waved his hand as he wrote. “Oh, I haven’t forgotten, what sides would you like?”
Jael waited to answer until his gaze held hers.
“What happens to me if I eat pork?”
“I don’t know really, Jahannam? Is that how you say it? That’s like hell, I guess…I mean I can tell them to cook it with chicken, it’s no problem.”
Jael leaned forward furtively to whisper loudly,
“If I save you and the chicken a seat in this Islamic-hell, can I have my dumplings filled with pork?”
He stepped back. “Wait. Are you…not Muslim?”
Jael gave him a wry smile.
“Does my religion matter? I like pork dumplings. They are sweet and savory, if
Muslims don’t get to have it, I don’t think I will convert or whatever to that religion.”
Stepping forward, he wrote so she could see her pork dumpling preference being written and him crossing out his earlier chicken note. Jael smiled.
“What made you think I was Muslim? I mean it’s not like I’m wearing a veil thingy or whatever they’re called.”
“Oh. I figured you were like one of those women on the news objecting to having to wear the hijab so as not to be a temptation to men...or whatever. They pointed out that book of theirs Quaran does not say women have to wear those things all the time, and only appears once mentioned as a response to something that had happened at a specific time in their history…”
The server trailed off when he caught that Jael had perked up with a sardonic smile as he rambled on using Islamic terms. He concluded,
“Words just a bunch of words. Speaking of, I can write in words on my notepad what sides you would like to accompany your dumplings.”
She got her dumplings. They were delicious. The restaurant had had a dessert display with allot of very appealing chocolate laden options that she did not order, but fantasized and reminisced about a standing date of chocolate consuming she had with Mari every month. Once they had realized their cycles were in sink, they coordinated not only their upset over it, but also their purchasing of needed products, and a chocolate gorge session.
Jael smiled as her mouth watered recalling the chocolate cake with chocolate icing and dark chocolate shavings Mari had ordered them during their last chocolate fest. They went straight to a bakery for it, Jael bouncing on her toes while Mari caught the attention of the baker.
“Yes, we want a chocolate cake.”
Jael on an up-toe bounce pitched in, “With chocolate icing!”
“Yeah, ooh, and can you put like chocolate candy or—”
Mari was cut off by Jael loudly giving her idea. “No-no, I saw this thing on that Cake Boss show where they put dark chocolate shavings on top, and that would be so nice…”
Other than the dumpling confusion, Jael did get allot of stares, but she did not want to assume that was because of her skin color. She did reflect on all the unabashed gazing at her. Just then, she felt the vibrations of the engines of an approaching jet rumbling on the runway. Jael slumped more into her chair. She hadn’t realized she was tired until that moment, and would have liked to nod off. The engine vibrations and very audible sniffling coming from a traveler waiting in the trio of seats in front of her, kept sleep at bay.
Sniffles had her head buried in her hands and her shoulders heaved like she was weeping. Jael wanted to check on her, and so did two children that were desperately waiting for her to look up. They had the same shade of hair as she. Must be her children. Jael smiled kindly at them, and they both smiled back. The little girl who seemed older than the smaller boy she held with one arm like she was keeping him from running off. Two adults came by looking as though they wanted to sit next to sniffles lady, but Jael was sure the other two seats were for her children. Jael stood to stop them, but was halted by their conversation.
It took Jael a moment to realize they weren’t both guys since they both had short, boy-like haircuts until she heard the female speak.
“I just can’t believe it.”
“Believe it, not all moms are as concerned with watching the little ones when they see their spouse ride off in their carriage with another woman,” the man said stoically.
He shoved his hands in his pockets.
“But she loved them that is why she is Lallorana -the weeping woman- mourning her children. I can’t believe she would have killed her own children!”
The lady was in clear distress. Pulling his hands out of his pockets to bring them up on either side in a shrug-like questioning manner he iterated his point,
“There are many versions of Lallorana. She may be weeping losing her spouse to another. She may be crying in anger. That is why some of the tales say she killed her children to spite their father.”
Jael tried not to pay attention to them as she was still concerned about the children and Sniffles. The seated crying lady suddenly lifted her head up from her hands.
“Who said I—I killed MY babies?!” Standing, she rushed to stand in front of the man.
His eyes went wide, and his arms dropped to his side then immediately crossed with his hands rubbing his arms.
“Whew!” his puff of breath produced visible steam.
“It got sooo cold!” His lady was buttoning up her top.
Short haired lady continued while looking at him, “That sad voice…”
The man moved toward his companion and away from the woman with the tear-stained face that had confronted him.
“Yes, and don’t you see her? Tears still wet down her cheeks?” He asked.
“SEE? NO. No, j-just her voice,” his lady said moving closer inside his hug.
“Did she come here because we spoke of her? Is she making it cold to get back at us?”
Jael wasn’t cold, but she was heating up at the nerve of those two speaking like that in front of the two young children. She wanted to scold them, but Sniffles was not done with her rant to the man and his lady.
“I wouldn’t mourn that man! He didn’t even notice his children trying to impress him with jumping in the lake to swim. Only our daughter knew how, but our tiny son wanted to impress his father, too, and jumped i-in…” She choked on her words.
“I didn’t chase after his horse led carriage and mistress! The water carried my babies off, and I [sniffle, sniff] was trying to meet them on the side they were swirling in the water toward, but I went all around the lake and never found them. So I stayed lakeside until now crying for them to return…”
Jael did not understand exactly what was happening; she assumed it was some sort of costumed reenactment (cos-play) of some lore. She had never participated in cos-plays of history or fictional comic book stories, but knowing it was a common past time for some, it was the only way she could figure out this whole dramatic scene.
The couple’s conversation was why Sniffles got out of her seat and was upright giving Jael a look at Sniffles and her ancient looking frock.
Regardless, Jael went to the two children who were now the ones weeping, and took one in hand with her right and the other with her left to walk them over to the tear stained woman in the old-timey outfit.
“Ma’am? Excuse me, these children seem to be wanting your attention.”
Sniffling, she pulled up the long skirt she wore to turn and face Jael. Noticing the children whose hands Jael held, Sniffles fell to her knees and reached out for the children who rushed into her embrace.
The loud speaker announced Jael’s flight number, so she ripped her attention away from the reenactment or whatever it was, to get in line to board. The couple was still hugging as they watched Jael walk up to Lallorana with two children that they had not noticed before on either side of her.
“Where did Lallorana and those children go?”
“Dunno, babe, but it warmed up, so I’m guessing they are wherever ghosts go…That foreign looking lady was probably one of those ghost finder peeps.”
“Oh, Was she, like, a person that stops ghosts from replays of horrible events?!”
“Maybe. I don’t think this horror will be relived. I mean, Lallorana came here and so did her children. So, she has no reason to cry for them at the lake side anymore. They can go do…uh, ghost things.”
“Yeah…I hope so.”
Walking in the line to board her plane, Jael found herself unsure of whether to be entertained by the performance she had just seen and ended up participating in. The apparent actors were very good at crying on cue. Glad I didn’t go into theatre.
Jael boarded the plane and took her seat. The attendant came by to see if she wanted a drink. She asked if she could order a gin-and-tonic, pulling out her ID. She was glad she had tried Kaven’s drink at that bar earlier even though she hadn’t finished it—Mrs. Doak’s talent was enough of a cocktail for her that night. She and Kaven often had the same taste in stuff, though, so she intended to tell him how much she liked the gin and tonic drink provided she finishes it this time and nothing distracts her from doing so.
They truly did have allot in common from the moment they met. Well, except Jael did not have a stomach for religious talk, and Kaven was Christian. He agreed to, instead of a church wedding, buying a house.
Jael wondered if she was influencing him more than he was influencing her, but she was drinking his preferred drink lately (or almost once).
Kaven hadn’t managed to convince her to come to church even once. Although she wanted to be happy about that, like she was saving him from relying on forces outside of reality, it was not like she didn’t want a wedding. Jael did hate to admit, even to herself, that she wanted the dream of being the center of everyone’s attention watching the dreamed union happen. Jael took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and shook her head. She lowered her tray table anticipating her cocktail’s arrival. She sipped at her drink when it came, got tired, and let the airline steward take the hardly drank drink away with no complaint. Jael napped until she arrived home where the trees are plentiful.
Comfortably nestled in bed enjoying another late morning since her return from the Lubbock jaunt, Jael stirred in her sleep at the sound of the jingle of Kaven’s car keys. Kaven noticed the sound, too, and looked up to see Jael rolling over.
“Babe,” he whispered apologetically whilst glaring at his keys.
He glanced up from the keys, to the beagle puppy they’d named Basket near the bedroom door. Before he slipped out of the house for work, Kaven decided he’d let the puppy play outside so Jael’s sleep wouldn’t be bothered when the puppy wanted to be let out. He picked Basket-beagle-pup up, and quietly left the bedroom.
Two hours later, the alarm sounded. Jael reached her arm out to thump the snooze button, but as the sound had woken her up so fully, she sat up to stare at the numbers on the clock while the snooze time elapsed before turning it off. Her summer vacation was in full swing, so she was allowing herself to sleep-in until ten in the morning. She stretched her arms and yawned loudly as she stood to move to the bathroom. As the bathroom vanity area was connected to the master bedroom, she only had to take a few strides to reach the sink and mirror.
Jael smiled, because this feature was one of the deciding factors that got her and Kaven to close on the house two months ago. She rolled the toothpaste tube up to smooth the paste out onto her toothbrush as she reflected on how she had persuaded Kaven so easily to forego the expense of a wedding ceremony in favor of buying a house. She chuckled about how they both so succinctly agreed it was a good financial move as she finished brushing her teeth and doing a once over on her tongue and inside of each cheek. As she rinsed and spit, her sentimental thoughts caught on a remaining fact.
“We’re still engaged,” she uttered aloud with her newly freshened breath.
Jael’s words echoed in the room in competition with her thoughts, when she moved toward the closet to pick out clothes. As she placed her hand on the closet door knob, she felt someone’s presence. Quickly, she ducked into the closet. A bit embarrassed she had slept late, she quickly grabbed a blouse and skirt. Figuring who she felt come in was Kaven returning home to get something forgot, Jael called his name confidently, as she emerged from the closet.
But, no answer came.
Jael figured he wasn’t answering because he was embarrassed he had forgotten something he had to come home for...again. Jael decided to glance around the bedroom as she made the bed to check if he had left something in here he may need. Nothing around that Kaven may have needed that she could see. Shrugging, Jael left the room. The feeling that someone was nearby remained with her.
“Kaven, you can just tell me what you forgot, and I can help you look for it…”
Silence answered her. Getting nervous, Jael started looking around each corner of the den before cautiously entering the dining room to reach for the phone to call Kaven’s mobile. Expecting to hear his phone ring from wherever he was in the house, Jael couldn’t hide the surprise in her voice as she nervously left a message on his voice mail.
“Hey, thought you had come home ’cause I think…someone’s here…”
She trailed off because she suddenly felt stupid realizing the “somebody” could have been the little puppy she and Kaven got. They had named the pup Basket because the little floppy eared guy would crawl into the gift basket Kaven put him in to give to Jael when they first got the house. It was the puppy’s favorite place to sleep.
Jael suddenly decided that not just people can give other people the feeling like they are around, animals can give people that feeling, too. Well, her thoughts reasoned, maybe after they became attached to the animal maybe then they can sense the pet.
She had called out for the pup while still leaving a message so Kaven wouldn’t think she was an idiot, too. She chuckled as she hung up and started looking under stuff for a tiny white-tipped tail or floppy brown ears. With the same confidence that the presence she felt was Kaven, she now checked for Basket in the office, extra bedroom, dining room, and extra bathroom before returning to the den.
0As the feeling that someone else was there had not left her and Basket was not coming to her call and his basket empty, Jael got impatient.
“BASKET, STOP hiding from me!!”
She turned toward a scurrying sound that came after she finished yelling out. She saw a tiny floppy-eared puppy face peering into the house from the backyard through the window of the den. This…it’s not Basket?! Jael gasped.
Her hand flew to her chest just under her throat feeling her heart thud from fear, and she stumbled to grab her shoes. Jael couldn’t stay in her home, and her mind quickly directed her to go to where Kaven was. She tried not to hyperventilate as she drove to the coffee / bakery/cafe where Kaven worked as manager. When she wanted coffee or tea she did not often go to where he worked—rather she would go to Moon Beans where she had grown used to their brew but always slipped up when saying its name. She took a few deep breaths and checked the vanity mirror to apply some lip gloss before going into the coffee house/café whose name she, of course, could not recall. Kaven met her at the door.
“I got your message. I put Basket puppy outside so he wouldn’t wake you up...”
Jael nodded. “That was very th-thoughtful of…” her voice broke as tears filled her eyes.
She threw herself at him so he could hold her. Kaven’s arms encircled her as he smiled at the barista and some customers who were staring. He gently escorted Jael towards his office. Realizing that she had made a scene, Jael began to stammer out an apology. Kaven kissed her lips mid-apology.
“No. You don’t need to be sorry. If someone’s in the house, you did the right thing.”
Kaven then asked if Basket was in the car, looking over her head in the direction of the entrance in front of the parking lot.
“No! I left him outside when I realized it wasn’t him that I felt or sensed or heard or-
or whatever. I wouldn’t leave a dog in a car.”
She was a bit indignant about such a suggestion, as her mind continued the reel of thoughts that was ongoing during the ride over to him. She believed the crime statistics they had checked about the neighborhood assuring them of its safety. So, provided Kaven had locked the backdoor and front door and garage door…and made sure all windows were closed before he left the house this intruder business would not be possible. Jael began questioning Kaven to double check. He answered her questions, but began feeling indignant himself.
“Babe, you know me. I’m obsessive about that stuff. Of course everything was locked up.”
He looked her in the eye. “Criminals might be smart enough to get past a lock, though.”
Kaven had spoken in a calm voice, and Jael knew he was right, but her mind kept repeating the statistics on the neighborhood and the assurances of the real estate agent that it was a safe, quiet place. Jael forced a smile and wiped her tears.
Kaven was texting on his phone as he opened the door to go back to managing the shop.
“Look, stay here and grab some coffee and a pastry. When we get home, if someone is there,
I’ll break legs.”
Kaven always said he would break someone’s legs when he thought they were doing something wrong.
“Why always with the leg breaking?” She had asked teasingly to cheer herself up.
Kaven paused his texting on his mobile phone, and turned with a serious look at her.
“Because if a person had done wrong and isn’t on their knees apologizing, I’ll put them there.”
Kaven held the door for her. Jael straightened her shoulders and walked out the door wondering how to tell him that the intruder-feeling was still with her: in the car and now in his office.
It was nice not to be alone with…the presence she had been feeling. She was in a crowded place to while away the day surrounded by the smell of coffee, and maybe the smell and taste of java gave her hope that the feeling that whomever had entered the bedroom that morning and followed her would fade away. She took a gulp of the brewed, filtered coffee.
Several people Jael knew from the University were stopping in to study and chug coffee. Many of her classmates had enrolled in summer courses. Jael hadn’t taken any to get a break after she and Kaven closed on their house. As she looked around at the stressed, tired students, she knew she had made the right choice.
Mari, Jael’s best friend, walked in with her roommate Martha and went straight to the counter to order a mocha. Mari stopped by the area with napkins and cups to pour a glass of cucumber-lemon water for Martha before reaching Jael. Martha was already seated next to Jael holding her hand and explaining how Kaven had texted Mari.
“MARI. MOCHA NO WHIP!” The beverage was placed on the counter.
Martha gently squeezed Jael’s hand and got up to get Mari’s coffee. Mari took her seat next to Jael placing the cup of water in the place on the other side of her to await Martha.
“Someone broke into your house?! In that peaceful, little neighborhood?” Mari’s expression was one of loving concern.
Jael shook her head.
“No?” Martha questioned as she walked back to them and handed Mari her coffee.
“I-I don’t know.” Jael looked down.
Martha chuckled. Mari’s head shot up. “It’s not funny, Martha.”
Defiantly, Martha’s started all-out laughing. “Uh, yeah it is. Little miss I-gotta-see-it-to- believe-it raced down here because she thought someone was in her house, and now she says she doesn’t know?! That’s hilarious.”
Mari shook her head with a tight lipped smile and stern eyes. Before she was chastised again, Martha called out to a person behind Mari.
“Yo! Let me buy one of those…thingy’s what is it? A necklace?”
“Well, kind of—these are plastic rosaries with different colored beads. So you can Hail Mary in color!”
Taking two dollars out of her wallet, Martha smiled at Mari. “I can Hail Mary in color, you say?”
Mari rolled her eyes knowing Martha was teasing her since allot of people mistakenly call her “Mary,” and thanked the young man for the rosary. She turned her attention back to Jael whose eyes were darting around the room rapidly as she sat rigidly at the edge of her chair like she was ready to jump up and run.
“What are you looking for, dear?” Mari placed a hand on Jael’s arm.
Jael slumped back in her seat and turned her solemn face toward Mari. Lifting her hand off of Jael’s arm, Mari smiled reassuringly.
“We’re best friends, yeah? Because you know I don’t buy into all this,” Jael paused to pick up the rosary and drop it back on the table allowing the hollow sound of plastic beads hitting the wood table to complete her point.
Mari nodded with eyes on Martha who had feigned offence as she picked up the rosary and began twirling the necklace on her finger. Mari, with a steady voice, offered,
“I’m sorry the rosary offended you…”
Jael forced a smile and lightly shook her head. Mari cocked her head to the side.
“Such confusion, and such curiosity.”
Jael was definitely confused. She was wondering why the feeling she wasn’t alone had not left her. The feeling had been one of fear…at first.
Now she was curious to know WHY that feeling had followed her here where nothing looked out of the ordinary. Mari’s uncanny ability to read Jael’s hidden emotions/thoughts never ceased to amaze Jael.
Thinking how she had something that would amaze Mari this time, Jael leaned forward and whispered, “Can you feel IT?”
Mari intended to smile politely while shaking her head, so she first placed her hand again on Jael’s arm for reassurance, when she felt a strong static electric shock. Mari’s abrupt hand withdrawal and gasp was not very surprising to Jael who assumed that Mari felt “it.”
Now nodding her head vigorously, Jael said,
“Now you know, I’ll let you fill in,” Jael directed her eyes toward Martha.
“Kaven’s morning shift is ending so we’re gonna take off.”
Martha disliked when Mari became involved in private conversations with her friends. She always suspected that Mari had romantic interests in them and was trying to enchant them. It had worked on Martha who now lived with Mari technically as her roommate. The two had managed to form an ersatz romantic relationship that Martha not-so-secretively wanted to become real. When Jael left with Kaven after he clocked out, Martha got up and went straight to the car with the plastic, colorful rosary hanging from her neck.
Jael got in the passenger’s seat and buckled up. Kaven got in on the driver’s side, but paused before turning the key.
“We gonna leave your car here?”
Jael looked down she began to tear up and sniffle. “Kaven,”
“Yeah?” Kaven encouraged.
Jael continued, “I don’t know how to explain, but the …intruder… at the house?”
“Mmmhmm,” came Kaven’s encouraging sounds of I’m listening.
“Still here.” The words had almost caught in Jael’s throat.
So she began to clear her throat and cough.
“Well, we are gonna find out if they are. Are you saying you want me to call the police to meet us there?”
No, not still there. HERE. Jael just nodded because Martha’s reaction at the coffee house about Jael being evidence-based in her reasoning was true. She wouldn’t believe herself, and would have thought of herself a nut job. Her self-deprecating thoughts ceased and Jael tuned back into Kaven’s voice when it had suddenly turned stern to whom he spoke with on his phone.
“Well, she says somebody was in the house,” Kaven shifted gears as he talked having dialed he cops while at a stop light.
“No, she didn’t see anybody. But she felt like—” He stomped on the brakes at the stoplight.
“Fine. I said fine.” Kaven drove now with both hands.
He was gripping the wheel so tight his tanned knuckles got white. He sighed to gather himself, as his inability to get someone to meet them at the house had made him rather irate.
“They aren’t going to send anyone, but said to call if the house is messed up or anything.”
“Makes sense.” Jael managed to feel better since she wasn’t in her car by herself.
She was even more relieved that she wasn’t returning home alone. They pulled into the garage as Kaven was dialing work to ask them not to tow Jael’s car.
Jael got out but did not go in the house. She circled around to the fence toward the howling puppy who jumped in her open arms.
“Oh, Basket puppy-puppy, I am so sorry I left you alone.” She nuzzled the little beagle’s floppy ear as she carried him through the open garage.
Kaven lowered the garage door and opened the door to the house entering in, instead of holding the door for Jael and Basket-pup. He looked all around and nodded to Jael to come in.
She followed as he went room by room placing the puppy down to follow if he cared to. Nothing was disturbed and no one else appeared to be there. Kaven was smiling as he embraced her and released a relieved sigh.
Jael didn’t answer, but she hugged him back and didn’t let go. He held her and stroked her hair. After a bit, Jael straightened her shoulders and Kaven let go. He backed up and looked at her, head cocked to the side.
“I believe you, babe. Someone was here, but you must have scared them off which is good because they didn’t stick around to steal stuff.”
Walking over to pet Basket-pup gently before even attempting to answer, Jael moved to the dining table, and sat down.
“Hmmn?” He was now in the adjoining kitchen to where Jael sat.
He put turkey slices on mayonnaise slathered white-wheat bread. Since she didn’t answer he assumed she hadn’t heard his response. He called out to her as he sliced a tomato. She didn’t respond. Kaven walked toward the kitchen table area where she sat, her head down. He went back to the kitchen to add lettuce to the sandwiches and grab a couple of spring water bottles.
He placed the sandwiches and water on the table where Jael sat. She didn’t stir. He took a bite of his sandwich.
Jael looked up. She opened the water near her and drank all of it. Kaven finished his sandwich, took a sip of his water and held the remainder out to her. Taking the bottle, she smiled. He loved her smile.
“The uh, intruder?” She began.
He nodded. She breathed, “I think maybe I should…hmmn...use a different word now.”
“Okay. Like what? Trespasser?” Kaven asked.
He was genuinely interested, but confused as to why another word for intruder was an issue. She laughed now.
“No, no, I mean,” Jael was gasping for breath, as she kept laughing.
Kaven chuckled along a bit because she was laughing so hard; he was still befuddled. She coughed out the words between guffaws before doubling over and sitting on the floor.
“The feeling…someone is…is here…f-f-follow—oh—oh-ddd—FOLLOWED ME!”
Jael remained on the floor now silent, breathing heavily. Kaven was silent. It was almost seven o’clock when the Wednesday night service was held at his church that he could never get Jael to come to.
“Get up, babe, put your shoes back on, they slipped off,” he said offering his hand to her.
Taking his hand, she put her shoes on and followed Kaven to where he tucked Basket-pup into the little basket the pup was presented to Jael in and the pup had claimed for his bed when they were trying to crate train him, earning him his name.
Jael, with eyes closed, quietly spoke of how the presence she felt was everywhere she went. The presence was, of course, still with her.
He didn’t answer her or request any further information. When he was parking the car, she opened her eyes to see a church. She did not object as she normally would have. Disappointed that Kaven would think that because she senses some whatever-it-is that she was ready for a gospel revival or something, she was happy Kaven had not left her alone as he usually would have when he attended church.
She looked around on their way in. It was a nice building. The inside was nicely furnished, too, and the people seemed friendly as they were all smiling at her. She took a deep breath. The feeling hadn’t gone away, and seeing people with their presences fully encased in corporal, visible bodies, helped.
Kaven was greeting everyone by name with a hug and introducing Jael as his fiancé. Jael couldn’t help but smirk thinking how quickly their smiles would fade if he added how they had shacked up.
Martha had reached out to tap Jael on the shoulder. Mari was by her side, of course. Jael smiled while she contemplated whether seeing them in church was ironic as she believed they were a lesbian couple even though she never saw them kiss or refer to each other with pet names like people do when they date.
Jael decided she should ask Mari about it later. Jael smiled at Martha, but hugged Mari and whispered in her ear, “Bathroom.”
Jael paced as she waited in the restroom, her mind flooded with thoughts on what to say to Mari: I’ve got an unexplained…trespasser? No. Intruder? No. It isn’t unpleasant like those…well at first it was scary which was not nice. I’ve gotta find a word for this feeling…
Mari entered with her characteristic smile that portrayed nice and…something Jael couldn’t name.
“What’s up?” Mari had offered casually as though it was normal to see Jael in a church of all places.
“I wanted to ask if you could still…like at the cafe house when you…felt or sensed this…I don’t have a word for it…but, do you still?”
Mari frowned. She was debating if she should tell Jael that what she had “felt” at the café was a static electric shock. She walked over to a rug that laid in front of the sinks and mirror, and started shuffling her shoes against it. Then when Jael approached her, Mari touched her friend transmitting a shock causing Jael to pull back.
“That is what I felt when you asked me, dear, I was going to answer no, I didn’t feel anything, but got a shock when I touched your arm.”
Jael looked surprised, and…hurt. “Oh, I’m sorry I thought you jumped like that because…Well, doesn’t matter. Let’s go to church.”
“You are in a church,” Mari grabbed Jael’s arm to stop her from leaving.
“Well a church restroom, but you know what I mean. Are you okay?”
“No,” Jael’s answer was quiet. “Not really, I just want to be surrounded by people I can actually see… Kaven brought me.”
Placing her hand on Jael’s shoulder, Mari asked, “So you felt something, then?”
Jael sighed. “At the house and …everywhere. The presence I felt there…is everywhere I am now.”
Mari knew that this situation had to be hard for Jael. Mari stood by Jael’s side for years as she argued against all topics religious, supernatural, paranormal, or extraterrestrial, and Mari had never brought up any of these topics herself to Jael.
It was clear that Jael did not think anyone worth their salt could believe in any of what she declared was nonsense. Mari had been flattered when Jael told her that she considered Mari her best friend. It actually made Mari more reticent to speak to Jael on matters that were personally important in case it would cost her Jael’s friendship to some explosive debate. It did not matter. She lived as she believed she ought and was an undeniable good friend to Jael. Spotting Jael at her church, Mari hoped that she would still be enough for Jael even if not the best after today…She flashed back to those times when someone was wearing a Christian themed t-shirt with writing reading something like I love the Lord, God and Jael would always ask “why don’t you just use her name” and t-shirt person would say “huh” and Jael answer “God. What is her name?”
Mari would chime in with something corny like lyrics to an old song she knew entertained Jael like Dishwalla ‘Counting Blue cars’ but also to distract and allow Jael to feel confirmed:
Chuckling and bobbing her head Mari would smile at t-shirt person singing,
“’Cause I’m on my way to see her…”
Picking up with the tune Jael would skip over a crack in the pavement so she was closer to the t-shirt person and continue with a part of the song, “Skip the cracks in the street, and…”
She’d follow Mari who was walking away laughing derisively. If not distracted by Mari, Jael would go on and on asking what race, how old, is God’s hair straight or curly or is God bald… Jael generally avoided Hindu or Islamic religiously themed attire or jewelry since people with one look at her would assume that is what she was as they often did anyway.
Feeling like she was some sort of charity case needing her boyfriend to rally people together for her Jael asked,
“So, what, then, Kaven told you to come here?”
Slipping her arm through one of Jael’s, Mari walked with her through the door, through the church lobby, and accepting she could not avoid this confession any longer, answered,
“Nope. I attend church here every Sunday and Wednesday. I’m a believer.”
Jael began to slow down her pace. “Oh. I-I didn’t know.”
Jael thought they believed the same about such stuff. Except she had always assumed, and never point blank asked Mari. Now Jael quickened her speed now with her thoughts featuring Mari’s words I’m a believer echoing.
Jael’s pace made it seem as though she wanted to get to the church service hastily (not missing the irony of her rush but had a strong desire not to think about it). Unbidden Jael’s thoughts began to wonder, reflect really, if all the times she had insulted or debated someone about religion with Mari by her side if…had I insulted Mari?
Instead, Jael comforted herself about possibly offending her best friend by deliberately mentioning to her,
“Wow, so you’ve been going to the same church as my Kaven for a while, huh?”
Mari grinned. They had entered the area where the Wednesday service was being held. It was a series of tables with chairs forming a large, weird circle-square.
“You don’t need to feel guilty.”
Jael didn’t respond. Of course she knew. Mari always somehow knows…
Martha was staring at them when they entered as she was already seated at one of the tables with plates of salad and pizza in front of four chairs. People continued trickling in, grabbing food, and taking seats.
One lady was seated with a tiny baby whose poufy cheeks held Jael’s attention. Whenever she saw a mother holding a baby, she felt the sadness of never having really known her birth mother. Her adoptive caregivers told her about the day they met both Jaheel and her mother –Jaheel was wrapped in a portion of the Sari mom wore as she ran from her husband who yelled at her for birthing a girl. He demanded that the baby be given to him so he could throw her up as far as he could and if the gods wanted to they would take her. Meanwhile, the mother grabbed at a piece of concrete flooring that had come loose and used the jagged end to cut the cord. She wrapped the baby in the least bloody portion of the end of her Sari, lifted the child up to her chest, and ran barefoot to the orphanage she had scoped out in the weeks prior in case she didn’t give birth to a boy that would be used to eventually demand a dowry to gain some money. When she arrived at the orphanage she sat in the nearest corner and offered her breast to the baby. Jael’s future caregivers witnessed the whole thing, and took the time to speak to the mother and the worker that had been helping them when they came in asking to adopt.
The baby at Kaven’s church looked back at her now, and she held the gaze until she heard a tall, thin man with tattoos from his neck and down his arms in ripped jeans and a Needtobreathe t-shirt speak. He was eyeing Jael sitting next to Kaven, the latest of the late comers.
“Seems we have some newcomers…,”
That prompted a chuckle from Jael hinting she was the only one.
“Hey, you and Larry the baby are new…I’m Pastor Jacob. I go by Jake. What’s your name?”
Kaven cleared his throat.
“This is my fiancé Jael,”
Then turned to Jael, Mari, and Martha,
“Anyone want some bottled spring water?”
Returning with 4 cold bottles from a cooler under the table that held the pizza and salad, Kaven handed out the bottles ending with a relieved Jael who was too thirsty to want to share one bottle with Kaven.
Pastor Jake was speaking quietly with a few others. One of the men spoke more audibly,
“It’s not Christian to believe in ghosts, right?”
A lady shushed that man indicating Jael with a head tilt and whispering not-so-quietly,
“Not in front of the atheist.”
Everyone started speaking at once. Amongst the cacophony of statements was:
“I’m telling you I saw the college security guard ghost!”
“Demonic. Pray it away.”
“I went to that haunted house with the lady in white and randomly moving statues…”
“This may be the Catholic that I was raised as talking, but I think Holy water needs to be thrown in the faces of so-called ghosts!”
Mari spoke up at that with a sly smile,
“What, would you throw holy water at the Holy Ghost?”
Jael internally reacted to the notion of a holy GHOST. What fresh hell have I entered?
Noticing Jael’s puzzled expression and that Kaven was too busy laughing to clarify for her, Pastor Jake spoke up.
“Well, I love these meetings because they are uncensored and honest. It is still a church service, though, did anyone bring their Bible?”
Surprising Jael, Mari pulled a small one out of her purse. “Where am I turning?”
Jael didn’t know Mari carried a Bible in her purse. She did know Mari had a small copy of the U.S. constitution in it. That was one of the reasons she felt Mari was a kindred spirit—Mari pulled it out during a debate about the second amendment once.
Kaven pulled the Bible from Mari’s hands further flabbergasting Jael who thought the familiarity shown indicated a comradery similar to the one she had with Mari. Kaven read the scripture Pastor Jake had listed,
“Isaiah 55:8 ‘for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’”
Mari continued from memory before Kaven could finish, “‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts,’ verse 9 of Isaiah.’ Uh, the King James Version.”
Kaven was making a mental note to explain to Jael later that translations of the Bible into English have adjusted as the language has to clarify that the King James Version was more Shakespearean sounding. But, back at the Wednesday night meeting, it was former Catholic guy who spoke up next.
“So, what are you saying here, Pastor, that like we ought to believe in ghosts?”
Several people in the room gasped. Pastor Jake smiled. “Did I say that? I just thought reading the Word may remind us all of our faith that though we do not have all the answers, we pray to the One who does.”
At this point, Jael was so exasperated that she had given up. Pastor Jake seemed to sense that. “Jael, these meetings are to discuss the things that may not come up in Sunday morning sermons but concern the members. Ghosts are not a primary issue of our faith doctrine.”
Nodding without understanding, Jael asked a question she hadn’t asked Kaven though she often wanted to,
“How can you believe in a god by a collection of writings written by people?”
Mirroring her nodding, Pastor announced a challenge to the believers in the room,
“Please, fellow saints, can you tell Jael how it is we believe?”
Jael looked at Kaven and then at Mari—the two people whom she loved that held a belief Jael did not, and whom apparently had an acquaintanceship she had not been aware of.
Mari looked at Kaven who then turned to Jael. “Do you love me, Jael?”
She responded with the pupils of her eyes dilated. “Of course I do, Kaven, you know that.”
Mari piped up. “How would he know that?”
Jael looked at her, truly offended. “Because I’ve told him so, and, I—“
Lowering her voice, she continued, “I would think my actions toward him prove as much.”
Mari smiled, “That’s how I know I am loved by God, and why I love God.”
Another church member added, “The Bible has verses of how it is we are loved.”
Jael tilted her head to the side. “Does the Bible define love?”
Pastor Jake spoke up again. “Yes, actually the Bible defines God as love. Kaven, since you still have Mari’s Bible, can you turn to I John chapter 4 and read verses 7 and 8?”
“Hey, Jael! My name is Pedro. Sorry to interrupt your discovery of who and what God is and changing the subject again, but allot of us were talking ghosts, and I really need Pastor’s
Input on that. What do we believe because I didn’t think we should give credence to anything but God?”
Pastor Jake answered,
“Pedro, okay, except that we hadn’t really changed the subject. Let Kaven read and while he does, flip to I Corinthians chapter 13,”
Kaven grinned and read, “Beloved, let us love one another for love is of God and anyone who loves is born of God and knows God,’ verse 8, ‘one that doesn’t love does not know God,’”
The book lowered, and Kaven looked at Jael as he continued, “For God is Love.”
A manicured hand slammed the table. ““AhAhAhAhhhh!” Yeah, God is love, and now Jael knows. Pastor, I gotta go so, just tell me, do YOU believe in ghosts?”
The sudden demand came from a young, blonde lady named Sylvia who apparently needed someone to tell her she was still a Christian now that she believed she had seen a ghost.
“I’ll write my answer down while Pedro reads verse 7.” Pastor wrote on a napkin while adding,
“Jael, 1 Corinthians 13 describes what love does using the word charity as an all-encompassing descriptive term.”
Sylvia took Pastor Jake’s napkin and dashed out. Pedro cleared his throat and read loudly,
“BELIEVETH ALL THINGS.”
Pastor Jake stretched out his tattooed arms and popped his neck. “Yeppers. Part of love is believing. So there is nothing wrong with believing in phantoms/ghosts/spirits. What you put your faith in is what you have to be pickier about.”
“What’s the difference between belief and faith?” Pedro asked with a bunch of agreeing nodding heads leaning forward toward Pastor Jake.
“You believe in chairs, yeah?”
“I am sitting in one, Pastor,” Pedro said with a chuckle and hands spread out.
“So you took your belief to the faith level and settled into what you believe—the chair meant to support a seated body and sat,” Standing up and smiling, the Pastor patted the top of the chair he had just arisen from. Then he began gathering his plastic cup, napkin, and paper plate.
“Trashcans are towards the double doors. And the difference between belief and faith is a great topic. Believing in something is only the beginning of having faith. Faith without works is dead…God-willing that can be the topic for next week?”
Everyone seemed roughly satisfied with that chair answer, and maybe a little confused, too. Nevertheless, everyone dutifully gathered their trash together picking up their napkins and plates to throw away before gathering their things to leave. Some hesitantly approached Jael to shake her hand and introduce themselves before leaving.
Kaven spoke privately with Pastor Jake as he helped him move the tables. Jael, Mari, and Martha still sat in their seats. Martha and Mari were smiling, but Jael looked shell-shocked.
Pastor Jake took one of the chairs he and Kaven were stacking and brought it to the other side of the table across from Jael and sat facing her. Kaven sat in a chair that he placed next to Pastor and across from Mari.
“You gonna remember all those names, Jael?” Pastor Jake asked then smiled understandingly as Jael shook her head.
Mari leaned forward. “Kaven, why are—?”
“I asked Pastor Jake to talk to Jael about the stuff that’s happening with her. Thank you for not leaving her sitting alone while I was talking to Pastor Jake. You and Martha can go, if you want.”
Martha was shaking her head, “I want to know what’s going on with Jael, and, you know, help if I can.”
This of course meant Mari would stay, too, which was a relief for Jael who needed her best friend, and she appreciated Martha being so nice to her. Pastor Jake was flipping through his Bible nonchalantly. He noticed that Jael was looking at his tattoos which was common since he had so many and had a profession of speaking in front of an audience at a church.
A Multiple Sclerosis (MS) survivor, he got the idea for tattoos from a movie called Memento where a man only kept track of his personal history by getting tattoos to remember parts of his life best not forgotten.
–Jake saw the flick when the MS started affecting his memory, making him feel like at a young age he was getting Alzheimer’s. He could not even remember what Memento was about when the tattoo artist asked why he was requesting so many tattoos. Pastor had tried to explain as he glanced over the pictures and words he wanted inked on himself when he realized he could not remember allot about the film itself, but before he would have had to explain that he couldn’t recall—
“OH! Like that show Blind Spot with the lady that’s all tatted up and the government guy finds her in a duffle bag and his investigation group tries to solve what each tattoo on her means! So is this like a movie version, but they made it about a guy?”
Pastor Jake wondered why a blind person was tattooed and placed in a duffle bag, but showed the tattoo artist his rough sketch of a Crucifix in response asking if she could use her tattoo artistry to add a dove. It refocused her to her daunting task and Pastor never had to explain why he wanted all of the tattooed words and pictures. Never did he regret a single piece of his body ink, because despite the physical, emotional, and mental distress his MS had caused him and that his tattoos documented, it often gave him the opportunity to share his testimony.
His genuine grief over relating what the tattoos were for, often had the person ask the follow up question, “You went through all that: having to be in a wheelchair, walk with a cane, go blind in one eye, partially deaf for a while, and still believe in God?”
For then could he respond, “When family and friends abandoned me and strangers didn’t believe I was severely disabled by a randomly attacking condition and instead thought I was just a faker wanting disability parking or shamelessly mocking the ‘real’ disabled people, it was often only God I had to talk to, but, yes, I often questioned why especially when the pain got real bad…but after my last tattoo, I never had another MS relapse. Want to see my cane or wheelchair? Spider webs sometimes grow on them because I do not have to use them ever. That is the power of my God.”
Pastor Jake often reminisced about how powerful a testimony tool his tattoos had become when he felt someone staring at his ink as Jael was now. Actually, though, it was the conclusion of his testimony that gave Pastor Jake his serene attitude: the day after his last tattoo when he read the Word at Song of Solomon Chapter 8 verse 7 that defines God as love. This had made him remember every time he had read that passage in the midst of his physical suffering and had him mentally question God. This particular time though he was staring at his latest tattoo on his knee peeking out through his ripped jeans, as he had fallen to his knees and choked out to in prayer,
“Am I really your beloved? Because is all of this that you have let me go through
how you love me? I am losing my memory now and got every memory I may need
needled with ink onto me! Or is that your love—that at least I won’t remember?”
Then he had sobbed out, “Okay, no, sorry you have always been the only one…,”
He paused feeling the weight of his repentance and resolve. “So, not my will, but thine be done. Please, Abba Father in the name of your son, Jesus, give me the strength to bear this. Amen.”
He had risen up off his knees to standing with tears still streaming down his face, when he felt a powerful, yet gentle, force all around him that sort-of making him faint-like-fall down to the ground then surround him with the physical sensation of a warm, tingly and comforting embrace running inside and out of his body. He distinctly felt every line of each and every tattoo tingle, and then Jake knew: he had been healed.
That was the day he decided to become a Pastor.Looking up from the Bible, he smiled, looked at Jael, and broke the silence,
“Apparently, today’s discussion topic was a relevant one for you, Jael…”
Martha leaned back with an enlightened expression. “Wait—it was a GHOST that broke into her house?!”
Kaven jumped in, “No one said that.”
Pastor Jake watched Kaven and Martha with his characteristic serene expression. Then he continued to speak to Jael only after Kaven seemed like he had nothing else to add.
“I hope whatever this aura you’ve been sensing is, Jael…you come out the better for it.”
Aura? Jael’s face softened thinking aura was a better word than trespasser or intruder. It had not even occurred to her that Pastor Jake may have only thought of the word aura since she was Indian and Buddhist and Hindu religions often tout that term. Mari noticed that her friend’s shoulders relaxed. She spoke up looking straight at Jael but addressing everyone, “Sylvia—the blonde lady? Really believed she saw the…security guard ghost of South Texas College.”
Martha’s eyebrows furrowed as it troubled her why Mari gave that specific detail to Jael. So, Martha pitched in to the conversation thinking she would save Jael unnecessary confusion, “Yeah, yeah, but probs don’t need to worry about that STC ghost, huh? How about we focus on Jael?”
“Yeah, Martha, besides it’s kinda sad,” Mari agreed and frowned.
The thing was, Jael had perked up at the mention of STC recalling how she had gathered a collection of papers for a study there recently, and had a confusing experience with a security guard. Jael looked at Mari who had been with her at STC when they encountered that security guard when Pastor Jake interjected with, “Aw, I didn’t know STC had a ghost legend.”
Mari had tilted her head slightly to the side, meeting Jael’s wide-eyed gaze, and nodded. Not meaning to sound choked up, Jael’s eyes filled with tears. “You said sad…”
“I asked around, Jael, and found out about the …well, ghost of a security guard in STC’s
Administration building—but, that may have just been some huckster messing around that we bumped into.”
Huckster, that was the word Jael tended to use when people would claim to have seen a ghost or angel or whatever…holding firm that it just cannot be so instead it must be some ‘huckster’ yanking everyone’s chain. One tear slipped from Jael’s left eye and streamed down her cheek before her hand could wipe it away. Mari quickly threw an arm around her, and Jael didn’t try to shoo her away, but did repeat, “You said SAD, Mari.”
“Uh, yeah, students used to pay their tuition in that building in the evenings before a semester would start, and someone came in gun blazing and shooting at everyone one day. A security guard on duty leapt into action steering people away from the shooter and out of the building. I guess that angered the shooter who started to follow after the people, and the security guard physically blocked the door with his body which got himself shot. That’s all I was told…well, but, uh, also that he ‘visits’ that building in the evenings supposedly to tell anyone he sees…”
“You shouldn’t be here it’s not safe?” Jael said in futile mimicry of the guard they had encountered.
“Yes, but I don’t think we saw that ghost, and, if we did, Jael, thank you for rushing me away from talking to him. We should not entertain demons pretending to be deceased persons.”
At that, one of Pastor Jake’s congregates passing through turning lights out and removing trash bags said, “Bingo.”
Pastor Jake himself just shrugged and waved to the person who sheepishly rushed off with the trash at having the eavesdropping exposed. Jael let out an exasperated sigh, and stood up. Demons? Of course.
Kaven followed her lead recognizing the look of frustration on her face. He turned and thanked the Pastor before rushing off to catch up with Jael’s swift walk toward the exit. She was through the door and heading toward the car, so Kaven loped past her while clicking his key to electronically unlock the doors. Jael reached the passenger door and just looked at it until Kaven reached over toward the handle to open it up for her.
Still staring at the door while moving to accommodate its opening, 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 Lubbock trip as she drove back home. Jael hadn’t yet shown the note to Kaven, and was glad of that now. By the time Kaven was pulling into the garage, Jael was already in bed with the comforter pulled over her head. He nodded at the sight of her lump beneath the covers, sighed and wound down himself; he quietly said his prayers before he climbed in bed himself. He left for work early morning. Jael spent the day watching TV eating butter pecan ice cream, and paused only to nap or pace—anything but face her thoughts or the persistent aura all around, and though she dare not even think it: within her, too.
Part of trying to busy herself involved finally unpacking her bag from her Lubbock trip. She found Jerry’s card. She decided to call him. Jerry the TTU librarian that wore the ‘I believe’ t-shirt surprised her when he answered her call, revealing he was in flight towards the RGV. It was part of his vacation and determination to explore spirits elsewhere. He did take a bit of delight in her long pause when he said he would meet with her later that day. She had called him expecting that he would not so readily remember her more or less that he would be headed her way. Jael relayed the entirety of her first church experience so desperate for someone to understand and accept her the way Kaven always had. Then, Jael teased. “So, you traveled here just to see me?”
She kind of believed it to be true. He was, after all, so gung-ho about who he thought were ghosts around her. Jerry had actually planned the trip beforehand to travel the state from the bottom up, but Jael living there with her ghost magnetism did not hurt. “If you want to believe that, I am okay with that.”
Kaven was in no rush to come home as he anticipated a huge religious debate with Jael brewing. Still, he worried about her feeling a presence challenging her lack of belief system and all. He got her some flowers—white lilies. When he got home, she was on the phone Basket puppy in lap, though, so he went to put the lilies in water.
“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 smiled at him, “What? I’m on the phone.”
Jael got back into her phone conversation as Kaven backed away. “Okay, I’m back…Well, c’mon! Isn’t there one in Ireland or something? No, that’s not racist…okay maybe prejudiced. So, I just thought I’d make 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 Gatorade instead after a release of breath. He sipped the drink, 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 replied gently, “Maybe? I kinda got myself wrapped up in something happening in, uh, Rio, I think with—.”
“R-rio—” 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 placed Basket down, rushed to unlock the door, and Kaven grasped her shoulder. She looked up at him and finished, “Someone I met in Lubbock,”
She opened the door revealing a smiling, well-dressed man which threw Jael off as she had first seen him in a library smock over 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 politely, 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 room. Except he was not in the office when she got there. So, she headed to the kitchen so as not to keep Jerry waiting too long to satiate his thirst 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 water 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 the cold, glass, 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 accepting the water. “No drink for yourself?”
“Oh, I—” Jael started to gesture lifting her hand, when Kaven placed a glass in that 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 before filling the glass of water for Jerry. Looking up to thank him, Jerry opened his mouth, and Kaven said, “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 had 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 at 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.
Jerry leaned in closer toward Jael who had sat on the same couch she had escorted him to. “Okay, tell me something then, Jael,”
“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 about how she had experienced coming home only to awake the next morning with a presence. That caught his attention. She then shared what happened at Kaven’s church. That led her to backtrack 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, the kid wandering the stacks, the piano lady—”
Jerry stopped as 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, he sardonically reminded himself.
“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 and 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 an I-believe T like some sort of teenager...”
“When you experience sh—uh, stuff that knocks you off of things printed in black and white while manning a desk renting out volume after volume to University students who think they know it all like teenagers think they do…it makes you feel younger, more vulnerable. Scratch that. It made me feel more vulnerable.”
Jerry had lost his formal 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 though she had no details on his experience. She thought their only link 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.”
The remnants of her resentment towards all things based on belief rising up again, Jael offered, “She probably thought God or whatever was punishing her for not becoming a full-fledged Nun.”
“Huh, maybe. I wonder if he felt guilty about telling her he’d be right back as he realized the battle he was sure would be won quickly actually made a liar out of him; as he died, was it compounded with guilt?” Jerry frowned in wonder.
Jael fell silent. She could not think of what a person may have felt while deceasing other than maybe pain from a fatal blow. Guilt while dying 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 him off.
They both turned toward the sound of Kaven opening the door and went to meet him to see whoever was there. Kaven stood with the door open, no one there. Kaven called out,
Jael stepped beside Kaven and saw a man dressed in ancient fatigues who now looked desperately at Jael. The sound of her long inhale filled the space. Jael nodded, and opened then blinked her eyes slowly before addressing the ancient soldier who was now breathing heavily, “Yes?”
“I have to tell her—sorry but I was trying to get to her.” 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 though usually if it involved things she could never before except she would dismiss them. Not now, though. Here he was.
Clearing his throat, soldier Plan guy said, “Roma.”
“Roma?” Jerry and Jael said in unison.
Jerry had stepped forward toward the voice he had heard speaking. “Not Rio?”
“No, well, that was where her convent was, though. 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’s voice, and reached an arm out until he felt the man. Seeing the ancient looking soldier, Kaven stood next to him and placed a hand on the man’s uniformed shoulder. Then looking at Jael, he demanded, “You brought this zombie to our porch?!”
Jerry gasped as he now saw the soldier, and Plan guy coughed out, “Zombie?!”
“WHOA. Where did?!” Jerry spit out. Kaven felt the need to answer Plan guy’s incredulous reaction. “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 moved his arm back to Plan guy’s shoulder.
Jerry 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!
Kaven tilting his head toward the EMF box, getting frustrated at its beeping let out, “Okay, what the crap is that thing?”
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 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?”
Just then, the doorbell rang again. Kaven audibly sighed, and looked at Jael. “What—I mean WHO is this going to be?!”
He turned, opened the door, but had to look down to address the young boy who had rang the bell. “Well, hello there, what did you need?”
A little boy’s eyebrows raised as he lifted his baseball 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 moving aside revealing Jael. “This one?”
Jael stepped forward. “No, dear, he’s talking about her.”
Confused, Kaven looked from Jael to where her hand was directed. Tussling the little boy’s hair was a woman bending down. She lengthened to standing, and was a stunning vision in white.
“WOW,” Jerry exhaled; he had stepped forward to see, just as the lady in white stood.
“Where did you c—” Kaven’s question was cut off by a flash of light.
Jerry’s phone that used its camera function clicked and was handed 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 leave her, and she about how she knew he was coming back to her. She twirled inside 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 wanted to take another picture, moving 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 one, though,” he scrolled to the previous shot, “I got fuzziness where their faces met…”
Kaven walked over to the now silent EMF reader that had been set aside and accidentally aimed at the little boy, and picked it up. Looking at the child now,
“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?”
Jerry had already made it the refrigerator and had grabbed a beer. “Light, huh?”
Giggling now, Jael stretched, got up and walked into the kitchen.
“Yeah.” She sat down peering out the window. “It’s really dark out now. Glad Kaven walked that little guy 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?” Jael asked not hiding her bemusement.
“I’m a bit shocked you are going to down three beers. I mean, by all means, but ‘a bit’?”
“Just two.” Jerry placed the 3rd in front of her.
Shrugging, she picked the can up, and even contemplated opening it. They sat, Jerry sipping lite beer and talking ghosts to Jael who only toyed with her can.
Jerry shared his amazement over the spirits’ willingness to travel to Jael. “I mean I knew you were a magnet after Brian the TTU Chemistry ghost showed up across campus at the library where the kid at the stacks I was studying was, and 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. This is so much further… travelling ghosts!”
“Or maybe they travelled with you, Jerry,” Jael said taking her unopened beer to the kitchen.
She placed the brew on the counter where she reached up to get a tall glass from the cabinet. She poured the cold beer in it, placed the can in the recycling trashcan, and got a napkin to place the glass-of-beer on, leaving it on the counter for Kaven. Then she came back to sit by Jerry.
“Nah, not me. Mrs. Doak was already with you when I came,” Jerry said matter-of-factly.
Her voice breaking a bit now, “Oh, yeah. her…Do you think the ghosts are t-tricking us?”
“Tricking us? The stories behind most of the ghosts check out. Pretty sad tales generally. What would they try to trick us about?”
Jael didn’t answer at first, instead she stared at the side of his beer can. She exhaled, 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.”
“Ahhhh, a Church’s take on ghosts. Hmmn. Demons…weird.” He stretched and finished his beer. “What, was the church you visited, Catholic?”
She grabbed Jerry’s can to throw it in the recycling bin. “Why Catholic? I don’t even get all the differences…Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran….uh, all the others whose names I don’t remember…”
Jael had rambled since it all reminded her of the confusion of trying to understand Hinduism with all its versions of God, since it’s the prominent religion of India, her birth land. And living on this side of the world everyone thinks it’s a multi-theistic religion, like many gods. Jael learned later through study that it is actually monotheistic except with many incarnations of their one god, like how Christianity/Catholicism has 3 parts of 1 God.
“You are right; there are allot of denominations. It’s just Catholics used to believe in
Purgatory, and many still do believe in an in-between place…”
“In between what exactly?” Jael asked, not meaning to sound like a religious talk-show host.
“Heaven and Hell, of course.” Jerry answered.
“I thought in between paradise and damnation was life,” Jael noted dismissively, as she sat.
“Well, yeah 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. Well, for longer than their actual, you know, lifespan,” Jerry said using his best philosophical voice.
That comment awakened something visceral in Jael whose eyes dilated as she hoarsely spat out, “So, like, little children who die? Or babies who are aborted? Their lives may not be over? They didn’t have to, I don’t know what they call it, be judged or go to that judgement-day thing to face the judge of God or gods or angels…”
The front door opened leaving Jael hoarsely trailing off, and Kaven was home. He walked up to her. “Hon, when your friend leaves,” with a nod to Jerry, finished, “if I’m asleep, wake me up, we need to talk.”
Taking his cue to leave, Jerry thanked Jael for her hospitality with what ended up being the use of her and Kaven’s home for this evening’s ghost hunt. She wanted to thank him for being patient 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? I don’t even have the word for whatever is, was…Maybe we should call off the ghost hunting,” Jael said in a pleading tone of voice.
Her tone contrasted with the 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, Jael. I want to find out more. But, I will back off
until you call me. Good bye, and thank you, again,” Releasing her hand and exiting he rolled
his shoulders back and turned around.
“In your case, I don’t think you can walk away since it seems you are being followed by that feeling you started having.”
Jael watched him walk to his rental car trepidatious he would turn around again or that he wouldn’t. He didn’t.
Followed? Yeah, it was true she did still feel a presence, that aura as Pastor Jake called it, everywhere she was. Closing the door, she sighed heavily as she laid her head on her arm.
Kaven having heard the door shut from the bedroom where he had just got ready for bed, made his way toward her. Noticing her slumped posture, he went to get two drinks for them. When he got to the kitchen he noticed the drink on a napkin the way Jael would always leave a cold beer for him after a long day. He downed it, and then mixed two cognac comforts—his original specialty.
Setting the cocktails on the coffee table in the den, 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.
Arriving in the den, Jael noticed the cocktails. This reminded her of the beer she had left for him in the kitchen, and she began to go grab it for him as she was not one to waste. But when she arrived, the beer glass was empty in the sink. Smiling and shaking her head a bit, she returned to the den. She was greeted by a smiling Kaven who had that knowing look on his face. He didn’t bother to iterate the point that he had finished the beer, and cleaned up. He just patted the seat next to himself and lifted one of the cocktails to hand to her.
Jael tentatively took it from him. “Take a generous sip, holding it in your mouth over your back molars before swallowing, close your eyes, count to ten, then slowly open your eyes, and tell me how you feel,” Kaven raised one of the cocktails to his own lips and demonstrated.
She looked at the other glass in her hand, 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.
His almost pointed placing of his glass down, not looking like he had any intention of picking it back up anytime soon convinced her—a cocktail that didn’t require allot of consumption nor yet chugging. She took a small sip, held it in the back of her mouth, swallowed, and closed her eyes for a mental count of ten, but did not get passed the first three numbers before her eyes popped open. She enjoyed the cold, bubbly taste. After she explained her quicker-than-it-was-supposed-to-be-experience she explained,
“That’s so…I feel…Great…I mean…RELIEVED, and the taste wasn’t bad, either!”
“Relieved, huh? Okay. I get a feeling of comfort,” Kaven smiled.
“It’s a slow-sipper designed to cap off a hard or long day. Oh, and thanks for the beer, too.”
“Oh…I guess. But what’s the, uh, booze type you used?”
She asked Kaven desperate to keep him talking about anything else other than the ghost stuff. Kaven would have smiled and put his arm around her when she searched for a word of something she was unfamiliar with and quickly replaces it with an astute synonym like the use of booze for liquor. He only smiled.
“Cognac. Like I said, I call it the ‘Cognac Comfort.’ Why?”
“You had said? I’d use it as a slow-sipper… Kind of like the other drink of yours that I tried 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 lifted the glass intending to take a sip. “You invented this, Cognac--Relief?”
“Comfort. Cognac Comfort. And, yeah, but it’s just a can of cold ginger-ale soda the kind made with real ginger and mixed with a shot of cognac…” he trailed off cocking his head.
“That was the second time you mentioned relief…I take it tonight was harder on you than I thought…”
“Did I make it seem otherwise?” She replied in an insincere voice of innocence, then stared at her glass that she still had not taken another sip from.
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 thought about chugging it all down, but only continued to stare at the bubbles before commenting. “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 happenstance as though he was as unaffected as Jael, although it had been quite the opposite for him. Never had he had the occasion until tonight’s encounter to face the issue of the existence of ghosts as more than a flippant philosophical conversation. His usual response to such topics was that he believed all things quoting I Corinthians 13 like a good, Christian that was modernly open-minded.
“NO! NO! NO! I DON’T BElieve in…I mean…I-I don’t—” Jael sniffed. “I don’t know w-.what I-I b-believe…anymore,” tears filled her eyes, against her will.
Kaven couldn’t help but admit to himself that it was actually tough getting what he wanted. He had prayed for Jael to be more open to the spiritual. Jael suddenly, not only accepting something supernatural, but actually turned out to be some sort of ghost savant.
He had prayed almost daily for the love of his life to have a divine experience, and so be able to accept and join his faith. The motivation for his earnest, ongoing prayer was to cement the last piece of his romantic bond with Jael before proposing. He sat slowly sipping his drink by his nearly crying fiancé, and reflecting between sips, about the engagement ring in his dresser drawer. He just didn’t think the answer to his prayer would be…ghosts.
Nevertheless, Jael was his fiancé, the love of his life and her lack of belief had been his previous relationship problem; he should be happy. Should be. If he were talking this over with Jael about some other people she would pick up on the should by quipping about Psychoanalyst K. Horney’s tyranny of ‘the should.’ He had learned that fact from her during one of their numerous philosophical talks that she generally led.
This marionette-ing of ghosts was…new. 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 a bit troubled. He could use another Cognac Comfort. Since Kaven had made one that Jael tried, but barely, and didn’t pick up again, he grabbed it up and finished it. As always, the sight of her grasping for solid footing inspired him to try and comfort her. Kaven pushed himself straight in his seat, placing both empty drinks on the dining area coffee table, and he went to put a comforting arm around her. She leaned into his embrace letting the tears slip from her eyes, finally letting herself cry.
Jael, herself, felt dizzy. She was happy to have reunited two people, but perplexed that they were supposed to be dead for what? Over a hundred years Jerry had reported. 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. Forget the church topic. It was a church. She did not go to church or temple or synagogue. No matter what. Not even when Kaven had asked, at least not until...she felt the presence that was still here. Still with her…
Her weeping while in his embrace reminded Kaven of the first time he held her while she wept. She had shared with him about her parents giving her up to an orphanage when they saw she was a girl. Kaven had often thought but never expressed that 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 almost a need to bring everyone on equal ground with her by attacking anything even remotely spiritual.
Despite any of that, it helped that Jael’s adoptive parents, whom Kaven adored almost as much as their adopted daughter, were not atheist. Kaven had been told by Jael that they found her in an orphanage during a tour of south India while on vacation.
When Kaven met Jael’s parents, though, they clarified that the adoption was not an incidental diversion from a vacation to India. They were a compassionate, interracial couple (she Irish and he Colombian). Jael’s adoptive mother had a name Kaven loved Ciara pronounced Key-are-uh. She had a beautiful Irish accent, too. Carlos, Jael’s adoptive dad kept up with the news and had learned that there were allot of Irish boys in orphanages and likewise allot of Indian girls in similar institutions. Upon discovering that they were unable to conceive and produce their own genetic heir, the couple turned their attention to adoption. Carlos steered them to look first in Ireland, figuring his Irish wife would make the process go smoother, also it was closer to the U.S. The adoption restrictions on non-citizens adopting Irish children, created a barrier for bringing home with them an adopted Irish son. Feeling less optimistic, they tentatively planned a trip to India. When they travelled there and experienced the country, all the children they encountered begging for Indian money in bills called rupees or coins called pice cemented their decision that this was the right place to adopt from, and this time they were going to fight to make it so. There would be no accepting dismissive rejections like they had in Ireland, “I’m a sure you’d make a fine home for one of these here tots, But you’re having to understand, he leaned forward towards Ciara—‘we like to keep the Irish in Ireland’” —nodding, as though not fighting meant they knew what they were doing.
The disparity between the rich and impoverished in India made a stronger impact on Carlos and Ciara 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 through that same gateway the British finally left. 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 intercontinental outrage. None of that was why they adopted the fragile, abandoned newborn they saw at an Indian orphanage. They had gone there to adopt.
They were told the baby’s name was Jaheel but they had difficulty with the pronunciation so just got out “Jaw-ell” and found that the name Jael was readily found in the Bible, so went with it. They saw it printed in English later in the paperwork that the name spelled Jaheel meant upon translation to English ‘hope in God,’ 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 her parents and Jael communicated her appeal: beautiful, small, fragile, desperate for connection, and a little survivor.
Kaven and Jael fell asleep embracing on the sofa awaking in the morning to the sound of the doorbell. Mari had shown up with assorted sizes of KitKat bars for Jael and herself.
Grinning at Mari, Jael excused herself to the restroom to check if what she suspected brought her bestie bearing chocolates must mean. She had no signs that her menses was about to start like cramps or anything, but Mari had always been the friend whose time synced up with her own. Jael found nothing when she was alone to check. She looked up. She sighed. Then just used the toilet and moved to the sink to wash her face and brush her teeth.
Turning to go back to the toilet area and double check, she hesitated. Moving instead to the closet Jael picked out a pair of slacks and a blouse.
Meanwhile, Kaven was chatting with Mari as one would a close friend insomuch as every contact feels as though the last contact was merely the day before. “Wanna drink?”
“Nah, I’m good.” Mari looked over Kaven’s shoulder for Jael.
“I take it the chocolates are because you and Jael are about to have your monthly ritual chocolate gorge sesh?”
Mari smiled. “No…We missed that particular chocolate ritual when she went out of town. I bear chocolate as a consolation for whatever is happening with the whole church storm-out thing.”
“Oh, yeah, that. The talk of demons freaked her way out.”
“Do you think,” Mari began as Kaven moved to the kitchen.
Pulling out a couple of wine coolers, Kaven tried to encourage Mari to complete her question. “Do I think what?”
Mari nodded firmly. “Exactly!”
Kaven caught Mari’s tone of you-get-me and did not want to disappoint her, so he went with the flow of the moment contemplating the brief verbal exchange. Mari had assumed Kaven was referring to the inherent confusion about life topics especially religious topics for all people and especially Jael. Funny thing was Kaven often understood what Mari meant the way Mari often understood what Jael meant (she knew Jael so well, she could often connect the dots between what was said/done and what was meant. He reflected on the matter as he held the cold beverages and did get it—Mari’s was affirming how Jael must be confused about all spiritual matters as Jael had always been and how could going to a church meeting once possibly change that!
Noticing he had more than one drink in hand, Mari picked the Golden type of wine cooler from his outstretched hands, “Is it okay,” lifting the bottle she now held. “That I took this one—it’s my favorite kind?”
Kaven gave his characteristic slanted smirk of a smile and repeated her answer from earlier, “’Exactly’?”
He then downed the remaining wine cooler completely. Kaven examined his empty bottle.
I guess I am fonder of the margarita flavored cooler than I had realized.
Now Mari examined her wine cooler bottle and took a generous sip. “Yeah because you had said ‘what’ when I started to ask what you thought of this whole…mess? Circumstance? What?!” She paused to chuckle.
“And it is very like I have no clue, but I gotta be here for Jael. And you, too. I need you both.”
Kaven continued after Mari completed her last word almost in the same breath as she, “And I know you and Jael like that kind of wine cooler...So I wanted to offer it to you since I think they discontinued that flavor or just carry less or something…”
Kaven was rambling since he had nothing to really add. What was taking Jael so long?
“So took the last Golden, I see,” Jael announced as she entered the room.
Mari of course offered Jael the bottle but she waved it away. Mari nodded then her eyebrows furrowed. “Jael?”
“Why are you so…confused?” This time Mari’s accurate read of Jael had Mari a bit nervous.
Kaven walked over to Mari and tapped the bottle she had raised but not taken another sip from. Figuring Kaven must feel conspicuous having finished his own drink, Mari looked at her cooler and took another huge gulp. Waiting for Mari to finish her swallow, Jael looked at Kaven then went to sit on the sofa in the den. Once the other two had joined her, Jael took a deep breath and addressed Mari,
“Thanks for bringing KitKats.”
Mari registering Jael’s energy of both confusion and impatience, responded to Jael’s gratitude with,
“Such confusion and pique. Problem?”
“Um, I think I’ve told you, but if memory does indeed serve, when I did tell you, you lectured me about keeping a calendar for myself…”
“Okay, problem.” Seemingly for the first time ever, Mari did not know what Jael was talking about. “What exactly are we talking about?”
“My time of the month and how we are synced up hormonally. So I know to check me if you are on the hunt for chocolate…and that’s why I practically ran to the bathroom. But no, I haven’t started. I mean I’ll eat the KitKats anyway and just be on my guard for when I do start, so thanks.” Jael just didn’t get it; they synced up so identically it matched calendar-wise. So, if Mari started why haven’t I?
Mari looked at Kaven who was looking back at her with the same confused expression on his face. Expecting Mari to remind Jael of her being out of town when they… Kaven was more than a bit surprised when nothing was said.
Mari stood up and before darting out of the house, smiled at Kaven, avoided Jael’s eyes, and commented to the air in front of her,
“Pardon me. I gotta make a call. Be right back,”
Jael cocked her head to the side as she watched Mari’s swift exit out the front door. A call? Who you calling, honey? Was it that Mari was shocked, nay, horrified that her bestie Jael hadn’t started her menses on cue with her own? Jael’s mind spun with thoughts. Does she think my body doesn’t register as biologically that close to her anymore? OMGoodness is she under the impression I found a different bestie and, if so, had to leave my home out of town what-to-visit-a-new-bestie?! The sound of one of the KitKat wrappers being torn open ripped her from her reverie. She turned her full attention to Kaven who broke off one of the four bars, and crunched off his first bite. Realizing Jael was watching him with her signature bemused smile, he broke a second KitKat bar off and held it out to her.
Shaking her head while looking at the chocolate piece extended in her direction, then switching her gaze from Kaven’s outstretched hand to his eyes, commented with an amused tone outstretching both her arms with the palms of her hands facing him,
“Oh, I see. You started.”
“I’ll buy you another one. Seriously, do you want one?” Kaven said, his face unsmiling.
His eyes were dead serious. She knew his demeanor should worry her, but she refused.
“No-no, eat it—you need as much of the sweet brown you can get during this time…”
Her little joke about chocolate being the ‘sweet brown’ was playfully double edged as she meant for him to cheer-the-flip-up for his other sweet brown –herself. Her teasing got not even a smile from Kaven, rather he popped the whole bar in his own mouth with a series of quick bites.
“Jael,” he began, pronouncing it as “jail” like he used to when they first met.
Many English language speakers often do the same, well, when they see Jael’s name written. Even if they met her and learned her name from her own introduction of it as she pronounced it, “Yah-el,” they immediately changed their pronunciation once they see it written.
“Hey, I told you, I made bail,” She faux protested with a full-on grin.
“YahEl,” Kaven self-corrected. The tone!
When he got that tone in the past, Jael had tried to pull him out of it by teasingly saying ‘yes, daddy?’ She knew better than to try that right now.
She had answered, serious now, making sure to add the ‘babe’ pet-name to remind him he had no right to treat her as a child, but rather to treat her as his equal in love—his, for all intents and purposes, wife.
Kaven didn’t drop the tone.
“Earlier you told Mari how she had at least once before admonished you to keep track of your cycle on your own calendar,” he prompted with a well-now expression.
“Yeah, what of it?”
The curtness of her tone was one she was prone to get with men when they get all cocky (pun intended) about their know-how on how to be a woman. Kaven cleared his throat, looked down, and when he lifted his head back up to face her, his eyes watery, Jael almost gasped.
Kaven had revved up the courage to say what he needed to.
“Mari did not bring you KitKat for your mutual monthly chocolate eating ritual.”
“What else could it be for? And how would you kno—“
“Had you kept track of you on your own, you woulda known you and likely Mari were due during the time you left to Lubbock.”
Kaven’s tears made their escape from his eyes, shocking him. Am I crying?! He did not know if the wet, saltiness streaming down his cheeks were of fear, hope, dread, or straight up joy. Am I going to be a…he couldn’t even let himself complete the thought because what if it isn’t, but, could it be I’m a DAD…?
The doorbell sounded, and Jael jumped up to go answer it. Kaven did not try to answer the front door, so he would have a bit of time to collect himself before speaking to whomever had arrived. Finding himself in the restroom, he splashed water on his face. Patting his face dry with the bathroom towel’s soft side, he looked in the mirror. The sclera of his eyes were a bit red. He blinked 7 times, then looked again –ta-da! All white surrounded his green irises. It was Martha at the door with a small, plastic bag. “Is Mari, here? I got what she asked for.”
“She’s here, but stepped outside with her cell phone to make a call, I guess, to you?!” Jael answered.
Jael reached for the bag, and as she did, looked behind Martha for Mari’s grey parked car. Spotting the grey automobile, Jael noted it was not parked. Oddly, the car was pulling in to park! Mari left? She must have.
Martha dodged Jael’s reach for the little bag: giving Jael a slight headshake with a tight lipped smile. Martha now gripped the bag with both hands. Jael moved aside from the door and held it open relinquishing her effort to take what was apparently only for Mari’s hands.
Martha dutifully entered. Kaven popped up beside her and led her to a seat. He then left to the kitchen to retrieve a cold bottle of spring water from the fridge to bring back to Martha. Meanwhile, Jael remained holding the door open as Mari parked her car, locked it up, and made her way toward the entrance.
Mari did not enter, though, but reached her right hand out as though for a handshake. Jael offered her hand in return and would have teasingly quipped nice-to-meet-you, but Mari then grabbed the hand expecting to be shook to pull Jael in for a hug. Mari, as she held Jael told, how Martha had something that Jael was going to need so had called Martha to bring it. She pulled Jael into a tighter embrace then explained how Mari herself had driven to the nearby the HEB grocery store to pick up the same stuff of a different brand that was in her purse now. It was then Mari opened her enclosed arms, though Jael did not let go of the hug right away.
Taking a deep breath and enjoying the soon to be gone embrace, Jael pulled away looking earnestly at Mari. “I should have kept a calendar for myself. I’m sor—”
Mari gently took a step back from her friend.
“Last time I checked, regret-spiked-apologies will not turn back time. I am here for you, no matter what.”
Kaden had been in the kitchen pouring tall glasses of iced tea not meaning to time it to when Martha would be finished with her water but it just so happened to coincide. He now entered with a tray laden with glasses of tea. Releasing Jael entirely from their interaction, Mari darted over to get a glass of tea for Jael. She getting a glass for herself and add a squeeze of one of the lemon wedges that was on the tray into her tea.
“Drink up, darlin’! Lots of liquids from now until morning. Then test first thing when you awake.”
Confused Jael asked, “Oh, I don’t test now?”
Her confusion bled through into her question though she was actually kind of relieved since she didn’t think she needed to tinkle. Tapping a long, manicured nail against Jael’s tea glass, Mari hinted that her friend drink up before answering,
“Sure, you can test now if you gotta go, ya’ know…If not, that’s what the tea’s for. Regardless, the most accurate results come in the morning in the first of the day’s urine.”
“Oh. Okay,” Jael had paced while responding. “I just all but chugged this tea, so I should be able to, uh, yeah in a bit.”
Martha faux coughed. Holding up the brown paper bag she had lugged over.
Mari smiled as she thanked Martha for bringing the pregnancy test and moved her eyes from the bag to Jael. Martha nodded while handing it to Jael and commented,
“I didn’t know for whom I was bringing this earlier which is why I didn’t let you take it from me.”
Kaven placed a hand comfortingly on Jael. “When you’re ready, dear.”
She slurped up the rest of her tea which she noted was tasty because, without her asking, Kaven had already added some lemon. Taking her glass to the sink, she washed it, dried her hands and walked to the bathroom, reading the instructions as she walked. Sighing, she stopped her pace and began to read aloud how she needed to,
“…take lid off of the narrow end…see picture….”
Martha opened the door, and ushered Jael to the restroom, where she pointed out the vanity counter the flat surface,
“…could be where you can lay the test flat for the minutes while the results imprint.”
She then quietly left and sat outside the door to wait for Jael. Jael opened the door having checked her watch knowing three of the five needed minutes had passed.
She jumped a bit when she saw Martha waiting there, but commented, “Okay, I did the thing and laid it flat for a while, but I do not want to wait alone anymore.”
Martha figuring it had been two of the five minutes assured Jael, “My phone is at the ready to time out three minutes.”
Jael cocked her head to one side, and held up a peace sign which Martha understood and adjusted the timer to two minutes. The timer silently ticked off the seconds as the two ladies stood outside the restroom smiling politely but awkwardly at each other.
Jael broke the silence mostly because she absolutely detested quiet, “So you seemed to know exactly how to do this whole testing for a baby thing…”
“Yeah, well, I’m a single, fertile young woman and not looking for a baby yet. So, yeah, I test periodically when I’m, uh, active with some male of the species.”
“Oh. I just see you with Mari like allot. She’s not a male of the species that I know of,” Jael paused to plaster a suspicious look on her face. “Hey! What don’t I know about my bff?!”
Jael had declared that with a faux concerned/surprised expression on her face, the palm of one hand raised toward her parted lips.
Chuckling, Martha was starting to get it—what Mari saw in Jael. Martha had assumed when she first developed her crush on Mari only to constantly see her with this Indian gal, that their connection was …well, romantic. It was how she felt for Mari, how could Jael not feel the same?
Mari was beautiful, compassionate, smart, and sincere. Like when Mari did the whole hi-how-are-you spiel, she was genuinely greeting and inquiring. She was real. That’s why Martha went to the church Mari had invited her to. After she had begun going to church, Martha got to be Mari’s other half instead of Jael. Except not romantic the way Martha wanted. She figured she had to be patient, and hope Jael didn’t take Mari back.
It never occurred to Martha that Mari and Jael weren’t romantically affiliated. The thing was, Jael never seemed jealous of Martha hanging out with Mari. Maybe it was that quality of confidence that had appealed to Mari? I wish I were that confident.
“Yeah, well, I haven’t been out on a real date in a while. Hmmn maybe it’s because I am always with Mari.”
Yeah, not at all that confident. Martha just had to take the opportunity to point out how she had replaced Jael as Mari’s other half. Well, kind of, she had not gotten Mari to commit to anything romantic or even broached the topic with her. They had not even kissed; not that Mari had ever seen Jael kiss Mari, either! Martha assumed Mari was the dominating partner and was awaiting to be kissed by her. And waiting and waiting…
Truth be told, Martha had never kissed a girl before. Her attraction to women was relatively new, as well. She had entertained the notion, and noted when she found other women attractive, but to date had not asked anyone out or been asked out by one. She was not even sure if that was how it was supposed to go with homosexual interactions. Then she saw Mari. She became determined to explore these temptations at the sight of her. Of course, that’s how she became aware of Jael who was always there with Mari!
She cared for Jael because Mari did. Martha was finding that Jael was kind, funny, and dedicated to those she cared about. She was easy to get along with, and Martha had as of late made deliberate effort to be kind to Jael in her recent troubled time. The timer went off. Martha pressed stop on her phone to stop the dinging and looked at Jael. Jael was looking at her feet. Martha went into the bathroom to look at the test.
“Is that positive or negative?” A barely audible voice asked from behind Martha.
“Uh, well, I think it is …the lines aren’t as solid as I would’ve hoped for, so I think it is trying to relay negative or maybe positive since only one of the lines is dark and I don’t even know if this counts as another line?” Martha felt desperate to clarify right after she said that. “But, seriously, don’t take my word for it. This is why testing with the morning’s first pee is better—results tend to be more clear to get a good read…I’m so sorry!”
Martha’s voice followed Jael who had left the bathroom, passed the hallway, and landed in the living room where Mari was. Jael was inexplicably irritated, and Mari was about to hear about it.
“So, apparently because that wasn’t my FIRST pee of the day, I don’t GET to know!”
Jael had thrown both arms in the air then slammed them down onto her thighs before storming off toward the kitchen where she grabbed a light beer out of the fridge declaring aloud while staring at the can, “Because, why not?”
Mari moved stealthily to her side and grabbed the can from Jael’s hand, “This is why not.”
Mari wasn’t fond of beer light or otherwise. When she got back to the living room sofas, she handed the can to Martha whom Mari knew liked beer so long as it’s lite. Martha opened the can and chugged it down wondering the whole time what it would even matter Can’t Jael just grab another can…
That was the point—Mari pulled her characteristic referencing what those around her were pondering,
“Actually that is most definitely why-not as it was the last beer.”
Mari knew full well that Jael would not board her car to go to the store to buy more beer as she really didn’t like beer; she was more of a wine person. Mari was not worried about Jael pouring herself wine either having already hid the step stools Jael would have to use to reach where the sole wine bottle was (laying on its side in the top shelf of the most distant cabinet in the kitchen).
Jael wasn’t really much of a drinker in general, and as she almost had two cocktails so far this year on her recent trip, she was kinda set. Hence she didn’t even do a cursory search for step stools to grab the bottle of wine she wouldn’t drink much of once poured, anyway. Actually, she was bothered that she had tried to get a beer. What is going on with me?
Needing to distract herself, she belligerently commented to Mari,
“So, no more beer to finish getting your girlfriend tipsy?”
Mari shook her head but then winked at Martha who had just released a light, but audible burp upon finishing the beer. Martha chuckled a bit behind the hand that now shielded her sheepishly smiling mouth, and offered,
Meanwhile Kaven had pulled into the garage from his quick jaunt to the corner store to replenish the toilet paper and Bud light he had made note they were almost out of. He had felt useless amongst three ladies testing for pregnancy so found a way to make himself busy.
Mari was at the door when he tried to enter the house from the garage taking the six pack from his left hand while entering the garage in such a way that Kaven was nearly pushed into the house with only the toilet paper. He shrugged trusting Mari had her reasons and went into the Master bedroom with the paper to store for when it was needed. Then he came out to look for Jael to ask how the test went and try to shield his hope concerning the results.
Kaven furrowed his eyebrows when he heard the garage door open once he was inside the house. He turned and caught sight of Mari rushing off to her car with the six pack of beer he had just purchased and she had just grabbed out of his hand. Kaven was watching Mari carrying the six-pack to her car, opening the driver’s side door, and, well, now was walking back aiming her key fob over her shoulder behind her to lock the vehicle. Why would…?
“You know I would’ve offered you a can. But taking all 6? I’m thinking you owe us a six pack, ’cause we only got one left in the fridge.”
“Uh, no you don’t,” Martha said lifting up the can she’d finished off to show him.
Kaven tried to grin and acknowledge Martha’s comment but was still shocked that Mari had taken the six pack. Mari had no grin on her lips or in her eyes when she looked back at him. He knew better than to question her motivations; now was clearly not the time.
Mari stealthily took the empty can from Martha who was now only staring at the empty can. Placing the can in the recycling bin, Mari turned to check up on Jael.
Upon reaching her and placing a hand upon her shoulder, Mari said gently, “Jael?”
Mari chuckled a bit as she was prone to when Jael tried to adapt her speech patterns to lingo she’d heard on TV. “Heh, yeah, I got you something for tomorrow morning.”
“Yeah, oh, I hope it’s another confusing to interpret test. Wait no, really, I need another one for morning but one that won’t be so confusing to INTERPRET!”
“Won’t have a problem with this one—it’ll be clear blue. The results read in words either pregnant or not pregnant.”
Jael gasped. She wondered why they weren’t all that straight forward,
“There’s a test that reads in words pregnant or not?!”
“Yup. It is literally called Clear Blue. Hey can we talk?” Mari lowered her voice taking Jael toward the other room.
“Yes, I do.” Jael said once they were alone.
Understanding, as Mari tends to, she followed up, “Nice work sensing my question of whether you still feel a presence before I even asked it; now, I want to check if the feeling someone that you cannot see is nearby left at any time since it started?”
“I see. Want me to stay the night, so you don’t have to be alone?”
Simultaneously relieved and a bit excited, Jael nodded her head slowly with all the energy of repeated head nods. Mari got up and put some water to boil in a measuring cup in the microwave, then shuffled through the tea boxes from one of the cabinets. The microwave dinged. Jael went to fetch the honey and some tea cups. Mari had not steeped any tea bags in the water, though.
Confused, Jael queried, “Uh, so, just hot water, then?”
“Heh, if you want, or you could tell me what kind you want and I’ll place the bag in whichever of those teacups you claim. Chamomile? Lemon zinger? Earl Grey?”
“Whichever, except that last one—I don’t want to drink a person, not even an Earl.”
Though that was the kind of Jael joke that usually had Mari giggling, the only response was a non-mirthful question,
“Why do you have Earl Grey if you don’t like it?”
Mari had asked genuinely. She then chose a chamomile tea bag, for herself and handed Jael the same.
“Kaven.” Of course him, always him—he was her fall back reason for living.
“Yeah?!” his response came quick. Kaven speed walked over to them.
Though impressed with his hustle, Mari worried now if she had boiled enough water to make three cups of tea. She pulled the bag of chamomile in her own cup up and back down by its stringed tag to help the steeping process.
Then, in a Mari level of anticipation over the needs of others, Kaven went to the fridge and pulled out a single serve bottle of cold iced tea. He twisted the top off, walked over to the grave-faced ladies, held the bottle up and toward them as if in a toast-level cheers, and only then took a swig of his tea.
Mari, of course had responded as though following the same script had lifted her tea cup taking a sip in unison. Jael just shook her head feeling as she had when she discovered Kaven and Mari shared a church, before as quickly as she could slurping up her own hot tea. The tea’s warmth and soft flavor with honey sweetness brought her some measure of comfort.
They passed the evening away sharing oft told funny stories, drinking tea, and watching comedy sitcoms on television. Before bed, Kaven had went to get his Bible and returned holding it up and looking at each of the ladies earnestly.
Mari went to her purse to retrieve her own Bible. Jael sat on the sofa, and where she was on the couch was aimed directly at the television. The remote control was right next to her on the corner table. Jael had no desire to watch television, however, she did use the remote to turn the television off. The resulting silence was filled with Mari singing a hymn that Jael was unfamiliar with.
“Blessed assurance Jesus is mine…”
Kaven, joined in, “Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine…Heir of salvation…”
Mari’s voice went to a higher pitch, “purchase divine!”
The duet was lovely, and Jael truly enjoyed it despite some of the lyrics inspiring curiosity she would generally would have raged against. The part that hit her the closest was the line “oh, what a foretaste of glory divine.”
She realized that was how she viewed Kaven’s love for her—proof that this life was worth living. Tangible, visible, audible evidence of goodness that had chosen to love her back. If anything that was her foretaste of love from anyone: possible and worthwhile.
Mari, of course, looked at Jael watching the duet, with a knowing, understanding smile even as she had sung. Later in the night, as the two best friends held each other in comforting embrace, and Mari said,
“Human affection is nothing compared to God’s love for us, sweetie.”
“Really? Because I still want to know what it woulda been like to know my birth mother and father’s affection, I would like my adoptive parents to be close by. I want ANYTHING that is NOT NATURAL to-to-TO MAKE SENSE!” Jael collapsed in tears.
Mari’s left hand covered her mouth. Kaven walked around her to Jael, and held out his arms. She shook her head and lowered herself to the ground, then climbed under the dining room table.
Kaven said to a retreating Jael and was teary eyed when he turned on his heels saying as he left,
“I love you.”
He actually slammed the door shut behind him! Mari was shocked. She had never seen Kaven respond angrily about anything. Ever. Feeling Mari’s surprise, Jael called out from beneath the table,
“It’s okay. He does that when I do this.”
Mari shook her head, frowning, “You hide under the table often?”
“No. When I’m frustrated, I do. But, this is the first time I’ve done it in our new home.”
Jael had sounded disappointed in herself. Mari made her way under the table to sit facing Jael. Neither said a word about anything, they just looked at each other. Soon, they were both giggling. Eventually, they both rolled their way back from under the table, and Jael was the first to stand up. She handed Mari her hand to help her up to standing, as well. Then she went to apologize to Kaven. Well, sort of.
Jael went in the room where he lay upon the bed his right arm covering his eyes such that his elbow pointed at the ceiling. Jael placed her right cheek upon his chest. It took everything in him to fight the urge to place a loving hand on her other cheek that was not resting on him. Getting that he had a point, Jael lifted her head off of him, and sat beside him looking down upon him. Kaven slowly removed his arm from off his still moist eyes. He cleared his throat. Jael got up off the bed. He sat up. Turning his eyes to gaze into hers, he found himself nodding as she was. But, confused, he had to ask,
“Why are we nodding?”
“Because I agree,” Jael said with a serious expression. “You going to legitimately chastise me.”
She sighed before continuing,
“For dwelling on the past…and this is not a time nor our home a place for self-pity. This is our home. It is a place of security…”
Kaven chuckled. “Wow, that is exactly the spiel I was about to admonish you with.”
“Admonish. Great word. It sounds like it means chastising, but it means more of encouraging toward the right path.”
Making Jael laugh, Kaven started nodding again. Mari came in because she heard laughter. Anticipating being amused, she started to chuckle as she asked what was going on. Kaven started to respond, then he looked at the still giggling Jael, and Kaven started all-out laughing. Mari couldn’t help but laugh, as well. Still, she was the first to spate from the reverie. She stood up, and declared her intention to sleep on the sofa.
“So, I’ll just go clean up in one of the restrooms and change for sleepy-time.”
“Oh, we can sleep in one of the extra bedrooms all together, though, if that’s okay with everyone…” Jael quickly proposed.
“I think that’s a great idea, myself. Mari, is that cool with you? I will stay on Jael’s side so you don’t have to feel, I don’t know, weird?” Kaven added smoothly.
“HA. Okay, let me go clean up, change, and then join you two!”
Sleep came quick, and the two ladies awoke first. Kaven was awake, but kept his eyes shut and breathing even, so they could take the lead. Mari used the nearest restroom to brush her teeth and change her clothes and Jael made her way to the master bathroom to do the same. They then met in the den. Mari brought the pregnancy test with her and with her eyes looked toward the restroom she had just used then her eyes darted toward where Jael had just came from. Jael turned around and headed back to the master bath with Mari close behind. Neither of them smarted when they saw Kaven sitting on the bed holding a book (he was only pretending to read). Mari opened the test box up and set everything up for Jael’s use even pulling out a plastic cup for Jael to put her sample in so as not to fumble trying to aim explaining the cup’s purpose as she held it out.
“Oh, so then the results will be immediate and we—I won’t have to lay it down flat for forever?”
Mari shook her head. “Still gotta lay it flat for 2 minutes before reading the results, just you don’t have to try to aim. This way you dip it for a good 5-10 count, then lay it flat.”
“That’s nicer, still. Okay, here I go.”
Kaven’s attention was perked to the point that he didn’t even bother hiding it. He had put the book down and was standing with the girls (just not right next to them). He opened the door to the toilet containing portion of the restroom for Jael. She smiled, said nothing as she went in holding the cup, and did her business once Kaven softly shut the door behind her. Mari was nervously swaying until Jael came back out with the sample containing cup. She took the stick and dipped it into the liquid long enough to ensure it could issue a result upon being laid flat for the requisite time. Mari laid it flat, reached over it to the sink to rinse her hands, then stepped to the side toward the hanging hand towel to rinse her hands. Kaven had went over to Jael and held her as Mari did all the technical stuff. He prayed aloud for blessings, and thanked God for His will, and protection.
“And presence or aura—eh, WHOEVER you are, be nice. If you are a baby sorry for raising my voice.”
The last part of her statement got a giggle from Mari. The timer sounded, and Kaven separated away from Jael to peer at the stick and started laugh-crying. He pushed away from the counter and dropped to his knees to silently thank the Lord God. Noticing that Jael had not tried to look at the result, Mari looked at her with a pleading expression. She nodded at Mari who barely paused to view and read aloud the result printed in tiny letters on the stick,
Jael’s hands went to her abdomen to gently caress. She was relieved. This means it wasn’t a ghost or anything else scary it was her and Kaven in a teeny tiny body inside her body! Kaven arose, walked over to Jael, kissed her lips, and said,
“You are going to be a mommy.”
“You are going to be a da-daddy.”
Mari was smiling so big as she said, “And I am going to be the ever present aunt-like person!”