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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Dark · #2230350
A series of ghost legends live out their story before the unbelieving Protagonist

Aura

Clenching the post-it note in her fist, Jael looked at her best friend 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 South Texas College (STC) campus. Mari had not pointed it out, though, as she was prone to let Jael take the lead while she just enjoyed their time together. Continuing their earlier conversation, Mari asked, "So what, you go in to find his office, and then?"


"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."


"My bad, okay HER office," Mari giggled out, "Such long School names don't text-talk-them-up, at all?"


Pulling one of the glass double doors by its door handle and holding it open for Mari to go inside, Jael followed but did not move to follow her until she placed a chair to block the door such that it could not close elsewise it would automatically lock. Now she could follow her Mari and they not be locked in the building. Jael tried to recapitulated, "Oh, yeah, Uh...STC, UTRGV, and TTU." Alertly navigating as she continued to walk, Jael muttering the initials had not thrown her off. But, then, a man dressed in official-looking Security Guard attire appeared in front of them.

At his sudden appearance, Mari drew back and exclaimed, "Oh!" Looking behind them, to both sides, and even above their heads Mari was dumbfounded as to how the guard had suddenly appeared. "Where did he come from?"


Jael didn't know as she had been keenly trying to find the suite to Dr. James' office, and hadn't even really noticed the guard. The guard lowered himself so he could look directly at each of the ladies in turn to admonish with a stern expression, "You shouldn't be here," the Guard looked past them, adding, "It's not safe!"

He began to leave them at a steady pace. 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, and drew her attention to the name tag reading 'James' on the professor's office door, "We're here."

Mari noticed how Jael's tone was content and determined. She figured the security guard's warning had not bothered Jael in the least. "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.

Mari was entertained by Jael's statement yet was still alarmed by the guard's warning. Still she answered, "Yeah, okay, and it seems he disappeared anyway...no chance of asking questions; seems rather unprofessional to me..."

Mari's answer trailed off as she looked at where the guard had been walking and was not to be seen anymore. She turned her incredulous look toward Jael who was pulling a set of bound papers from a hanging basket on a shut, closet door. Mari accepted that she was alone in her concern over the security guard's warning and subsequent disappearance. Noticing a bowl of candy on the unmanned receptionist desk, Mari grabbed a jolly rancher and an extra one, to give Jael later. Hmmn candy to the rescue. God, thank you for the candy distraction and please keep us safe


On the drive back, Mari drove as carefully as she usually did. Meanwhile, in the passenger seat, Jael excitedly thumbed through the papers they had retrieved from Dr. James office. Jael exclaimed, "Huh!" Jael muttered a bit to herself for a while, so Mari asked, "Got that?"

"Heh, no, I didn't know the plant of fox tail weeds' impression against dust can look like hand prints of small children! Also, that there are so called hills that actually go down instead of up! You see there's a supposed hill where a train crashed into a school bus of children, killing all of the poor things and driver. A lore developed around that area in front of the hill on the tracks. People, for entertainment, apparently, will not wash their cars so that it is good and dusty. Then they put their car in neutral and the car will move seemingly uphill through the unkempt weeds. The appearance is that the children's spirits from the accident are pushing the car uphill to get them off of the train tracks is complete. When looking at the card afterward it appears that the impression of fox tail grass looks like several varying children's hands are all over the car. Ha. Our imagination, huh?"

Satisfied she closed the portfolio 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. She did appreciate Jael was returning to her typical silly mood, though. Several children dying on train tracks was not the stuff of a good mood. Mari pulled out the Jolly Ranchers from her purse's front pocket with one hand while steering with the other.

"Candy?" Mari had offered while she tried to unwrap the other one-handed.


"Okay, let me get that for you and you do the not killing us on the road thing," Jael teased.

She unwrapped it and waiting for clearing in the cars ahead of them offered the candy back to Mari Jolly Rancher peeking through the peeled back plastic. "That one's for you, I unwrapped mine earlier," Mari explained.


"Oooh, the purple ones are my fave! I didn't know you had candy..."


"I didn't. I grabbed a couple from the bowl on the desk by Dr. James office," She slurped on her candy as she turned her signal on to turn right. "It's like this professor 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 a pretty old book. 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. So, Jael would just go get it herself.


"Let's go to moon the streams," Jael had offered confidently with no prefacing comments.


Except she meant Moon Beans Coffee shop on tenth street. She often mixed words not because she did not know what she spoke of, but because switching them up in order or changing them to something remotely similar actually helped her remember. Those who know her well accepted this idiosyncrasy 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 understand Jael's take on things: it is all a trance and we can wake up at any time. Mari responded easily and quickly since she had reasoned it out that Jael had to live in the moment as in a dream because it made her brave (often revealing her intellect spiked with a bit of humor)...

Mari laughed as she changed lanes to head for Moon Beans Coffee Shop. 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 a thin, tall guy with a flippant wave of her hand.


He guffawed and plopped down into his seat. Now smiling, Jael went to get the cinnamon shaker to add some to her coffee before returning to the table where Mari still stood.


"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 confidently.


"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. Seated next to the guy Jael had snapped at was a girl wearing a necklace with a cross pendant. She had begun twirling her necklace when the conversation turned into an argument.

Now she stopped twirling her necklace with the cross 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 around the world and the holy book it is associated with is fictional."


Swigging another large swallow of her coffee, Jael straightened her shoulders. Mari pulled up a chair and joined the table sitting next to 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 tell me 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?" The third person at the table now seated next to Mari offered.


Mari rolled her eyes and responded, "A Niche quote, really? 'God is dead' nice touch saying it in German, though."


"Lay off Niche, Mari," Jael winked at her. "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. Then, Skinny Tall guy offered to take orders and get more coffee,

"I'm gonna get me some of that lemon cake."


"Nah, nah, I got a plane to catch like early in the morning, but you enjoy especially that delish sounding cake," Jael said.


She stood and offered her hand to Mari who daintily accepted the help up from her chair.

______________________


The next morning, Jael arose bright and early and arrived at the airport with a backpack, shoulder bag, and a purse.

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 re-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 was wearing a cap that had a logo emblazed with LCU on it. He tipped his cap to her for the peanuts.


"LCU?"


"Hmmn?" He uttered mid-chew.

She repeated the initials on his cap, pointed, and smiled.


"Oh," He finished and swallowing before continuing, "Yeah, headed back up to school,"


He lifted his chin to look over Jael's shoulder out the window. LCU cap asked,


"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.


"Something is strange, but I-I don't..."


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?" Jael held the peanut bag out toward LCU cap.


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 warned, "Be careful out there. This region isn't too friendly to people with...um, naturally brown skin."


Jael couldn't respond as he was already striding away in the line. Naturally brown. What is that supposed to 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 had her in a daze. The tanning comments recollection popped in her mind first after LCU cap had brought up skin color. Weird. She 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?

Tanning was something Jael could never understand. Considering 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 had oft posited. People do a lot of things to make themselves more like "black" people, it seemed to her. Teenagers injuring themselves trying to puff their lips up on glass soda bottles for more full lips that those descendent of Africa have intrinsically, and women having 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 she had actually had a snarky response to tanning almost-as-dark-as-you comments that she immediately regretted though she was not sure why regret surfaced, and still didn't as it replayed 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 peeling skin.


"Check it out, Jael, I'm almost as dark as you!" Jill happily exclaimed.


"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 complacently replied.


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 like inborn criminals?


All these thoughts started to make her feel inconspicuous as she exited the plane. It also forced her to 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. No, that is another different group to discriminate against.

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 from the United States. Her adoptive father was Hispanic with family from central Mexico and her adoptive mother 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 father tanned to almost Jael's shade and her mom tanned a bit before turning lobster red. She was miserable, and when she started to peel was irritated at the mess her 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 heard comments shush to a whisper as they stared. Whatever was being said was not polite enough to say aloud.

Jael reached for her backpack in the seat beside her and grasped when her hand felt 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 hanging off her left leg and bumping up against 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 Texas Tech 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 in?"


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 had 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 green 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. Maybe 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 and paid 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 somewhere. 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?" she inquired with accented speech.


Jael heard the accent in the lady's speech, and maybe because they might have shared racial background, answered, "I do not really 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 head 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," the library aides began, "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 both awed and a bit scared. Jael grinned when she heard a sensible female student comment, "He just sits with his notebook studying his notes. 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 past them away.


"Has anyone called Ghost Hunters or anything? I heard they went to San Antonio..."


That comment got a hand slammed against the table directly 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 sigh. She was also excited someone else expressed anger over ghost talk.


She was relieved to have heard frustration from someone else about such drivel. But, down to business; she went to the copier beside them. She scanned the pages of the book to take 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 suddenly appeared, 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 the library aide who turned back her way at the sound of her voice. "This is a university. An institution of HIGHER learning and you make noise speaking about ghosts of all things?!"


The whispers hushed, but many glared at her. Oh, but she wasn't done, "If there was any such thing as ghosts and this Brian guy is haunting the library today instead of his usual jaunt, 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 back 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 a section of in backpack, 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 on a serious expression, 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.


Jael was snickering, "Right? Also, what, does the guy wear the same set of clothes forever like some cartoon?"


"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 had done that the way she would point out observations to support her nothing-spiritual-is-real-arguments. She didn't know why she cared so much what other people believe or don't. Jael just always kind of had since her orphan childhood 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.


Brian sounding despondent, as well as genuinely curious, asked, "Were Mohawks an 80's thing?"


"Uh...yeah, actually." Jael said, noticing his sad overtone.


"Um, 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 seemingly very aware of everyone around them passing by.


Jael stood, as well, since guy who's t-shirt believes was holding something that would occasionally start beeping and aiming it everywhere. He mostly looked towards where Brian sat and back at Jael. Brian sighed and began to lead her towards the elevators.


"Huh? No belief person..." 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."


She had paused, stood straighter, and then continued, "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. She also did not know how she didn't notice them when she passed by the first time as they were close to the elevators they had come to this floor by.


"So you don't believe in bacteria and viruses?" Brian asked snickering 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 sardonic 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 elevators. He spoke to Jael as he searched the yearbook, "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?" Brian was sniffing and looking through the pictures in the yearbook he had grabbed.


"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. This one guy said I was totally wrong. But, another girl said she could feel when someone is staring at her, heh." He looked up mirthfully. "That may have been because I stared at her a bit--she's real cute."


Jael giggled at his admission and quipped, "The second person may have been self-conscious, you know. She may have thought you were going to ask her out."


"Hmmn, maybe. Or maybe she just wanted me to back off. If I were to ask someone out, it would be someone like her. But none of that's happening until I finish this degree..." Brian got quiet and tightened his grip on his notebook.


"So, no dating until you finish this degree? Friends or family back home?"


Shaking his head then stating as though reciting from a script, "None of anything until this is finished. Then I can apply for jobs or grad school and make friends or date a lady. Not until then."


"Sounds like you're hanging everything on this degree. Sounds lonely to me." Jael said concerned.


He winked at Jael, "Well, in the meantime, I'll stare at a pretty girl that happens my way," then quickly added, "But, pretty sure being stared at is like having personal space invaded. Don't you have a problem with it when people stare at you?"


"Not a problem for me--ain't no one staring!" She laughed hollowly because she wondered what it would be like to be so pretty someone stared at her. Kaven kinda did at first. No need now as she was his.


"Wow. So you don't feel the stares? Those like 4 or 5 guys I've seen checking you out, made me self-conscious." Brian grinned at her.


She was kind of irked at him for inventing stuff, even if he thought it would be flattering to her, "Ha. Not falling for it. I would have noticed."


"Fine, I'll drop it," He found the page he was looking for. "Here, look, this is Brian from 1983."


Jael stepped closer trying to casually look around her as she did so to see if anyone was staring at her. No stares. She 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's Mechanist shop.


"Not funny." She whipped around and loudly stomped off. The nerve.


She wanted to find one of the librarians to report the guy calling himself "Brian" and dressing like the Brian guy everyone thinks is a ghost! She was so 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 then walked up to the welcome counter determined to report that jerk and get someone to take care of the lone child she saw. 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 Brian by the mechanist shop 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 sneered then answered, "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." Worried he might make some jibe about this being her vacation, she quickly added, "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 and pulled out a notebook to jot something down before he addressed Jael again, "Well, 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, 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, and he had his notebook at the ready.


Good question. She answered, "Um, I'm not sure, just a real small person in bright clothing with that bouncy little 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 Librarian that Believes that 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 especially of the trouble maker stirring up ridiculous ghost myth talk, before I left."


"Sure, sure. Again, sorry about that." He felt like saying thank you, too, but didn't which he was glad of because he figured it would have made it seem like he was flirting.


She was cute, but he was at work. And, besides, she looked a bit rushed. He double checked the antennae'd metal square he had. Jael was in a rush, otherwise she would have confronted him about the moronic t-shirt he was wearing, and 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 the 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. "Everything okay?"


"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 and 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 she sat 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 I've had been in town and judge it too be too long?


"Still?" She quipped.


"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 explain to 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 again 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 sighed 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. 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.

She sat at a table just cattycorner to the teens' table. The teenagers sat staring wide-eyed at Jael instead of at the piano's proficient player. What's more, they did not cheer this time at the performance's end. Jael, only, offered applause at the conclusion of the piano's playing. The bar tender, hotel receptionist, and some of the lobby assistants had filtered in with heads turned toward the instrument. They then looked around at the only people in the room and walked up to the teen table. They asked them who had been playing piano declaring, "It was so beautiful!"


The teens looked at Jael with one of them pointing, so the hotel 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've...powder room?" Jael looked pointedly at the bar tender. "Or maybe she went to get a drink..."


The bartender straightened her shoulders and headed back to tend the bar. One of the lobby group offered, "Well, tell her it was nice, so thanks from the hotel team." Jael smiled assuring them, "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 older man 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. She even commented, "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 would've taken these champs to stay at the Pioneer Hotel."


Jael would've questioned the accusation. But the man turned his back to Jael and directed 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: set your alarms and wear team shirts for the competition."


Distraught, Jael looked around the atrium to steady herself. She 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 to unfold 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, 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; I don't think you scare easy anyway even with a gin and tonic in you (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 journal it. I'm hoping to become a paranormal investigator, and a partner like you would be great. I'll provide the Electro Magnetic Feedback sensor!

She did not know how to react to the note. 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. Folding the menu back up, Jael decided to grab dinner at one of the sushi cafes that was in walking distance hoping they had dumplings also known as pot stickers.

_________________

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 dinner 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 main dish and 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?"


"Wait." He stepped back. "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, nodding with a sardonic smile, as he rambled on using Islamic terms. Clearing his throat, he concluded, "Words just a bunch of words. Speaking of, I can write in words on my notepad what main dish and two sides you would like to accompany your pork dumplings."


"Nope. Just the dumplings. If it'll make you feel better, you can bring me two orders of them."


She got her two orders of 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 womanly cycles were in sink, they coordinated not only their upset over it, but also their purchasing of needed products, and a customary chocolate gorge session. She smiled as her mouth watered recalling the chocolate cake with chocolate icing and dark chocolate shavings they got when Mari had the idea of ordering a cake for them during their last chocolate fest. They went straight to a bakery for it.

Jael was bouncing on her toes while Mari caught the attention of the baker, "Yes, please, 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 started before being cut off by a loud Jael.


"No-no, I saw this thing on Cake Boss where they put dark chocolate shavings on top, and that would be so nice..." Jael's mouth was watering.


Yeah, that was a great chocolate sesh! Kaven even weaseled a slice for himself.


Other than the dumpling confusion for being confused for a Muslim, 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 their backs were to her and they both had short, boy-like haircuts until she heard the female speak.


The short haired female commented, "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!" Short hair protested.


Short hair 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, Sniffles 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 shivering arms. His puff of breath produced visible steam, "Whew!"


"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" she sniffled. "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. She walked them over to the tear stained woman in the old-time-y outfit,

"Ma'am? 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 when 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?" Short Hair asked.


"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?!" Short Hair twirled a piece of her hair.


"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."

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 taken more than a couple of sips from it and hadn't finished it--Mrs. Doak's talent was enough of a cocktail for her last night. She and Kaven often had the same taste in stuff [Well, except Jael did not have a stomach for religious talk, and Kaven was Christian], 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.

He agreed to, instead of a church wedding, buying a house. Jael wondered if she was influencing Kaven 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 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 he 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.


"Basket?!" 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. As the feeling that someone else was there had not left her and Basket was not coming to her call and his puppy basket was empty, Jael got impatient.

"BASKET, STOP hiding from me!!" She turned toward a scurrying sound that came after she finished calling 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/cafwhose 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 not condescending voice, and Jael found it easy to personally acknowledge 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 with the back of her left hand. 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. Deciding to cheer herself up she teasingly asked, "Why always with the leg breaking?"


Thing was she had never asked him before. 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 'em there."


Wow, okay, that was strangely reassuring. 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. Of course, the feeling was still with her as she chose a small table and sat with her seat facing the counter were her boyfriend worked. It was nice not to be alone with...the presence she had been feeling. She was in a crowded place to while away the afternoon surrounded by the smell of coffee. 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 she had sweetened with some cinnamon powder.

Several people Jael knew from the University were stopping in to study and chug coffee. Jael noted as she often did that many of the orders were for cold coffee. That was a contradiction as far as she was concerned. Coffee should be hot. As should tea. However she found an ice tea she liked, so okay. But, cold coffee?!

Many of her classmates had enrolled in summer courses. Jael hadn't taken any to get a break in after she and Kaven closed on their house. She looked around. All she saw were the stressed, tired students. As she finished her quick visual assessment, she knew she had made the right choice to take some time off. Mari, Jael's best friend, walked in with her roommate Martha and went straight to the counter to order a mocha. Martha sat in the seat across from Jael. Noting one of Jael's hands held a coffee and the other was free, she reached over to hold Jael's free hand and explained how Kaven had texted Mari.


"What did he tell you?" Jael responded, and even let Martha take her hand.


Jael was suddenly very embarrassed but relieved to have Mari, and, yes, Martha there. After ordering her mocha, Mari stopped by the area with napkins and cups to pour a glass of cucumber-lemon water for Martha. She then looked around to scout out where Jael and Martha were. Upon reaching Jael, Mari placed the water in front of Martha who smiled sweetly and nodded. Mari walked off then to locate an empty table to grab one of its chairs which she brought round to sit by Jael.


"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 in her seat next to Jael peered into Martha's cup of water to check if it needed to be topped off. Seeing the cup still relatively full, she turned her attention to Jael. She then asked with an expression of loving concern, "Someone broke into your house?! In that peaceful, little neighborhood?"


Jael shook her head.


"No?" Martha questioned as she had nearly walked back to them.

"I-I don't know." Jael looked down.


Martha handed Mari her coffee, and 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 is 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! Just 2 bucks for my church's feed the hungry charity."


"I can Hail Mary in color, you say?" Taking two dollars out of her wallet, Martha smiled at Mari.


Mari rolled her eyes knowing Martha was teasing her since allot of people mistakenly call her "Mary," and then switched gears to thank the guy for the rosary. Mari 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. She turned her solemn face toward Mari. Lifting her hand off of Jael's arm, Mari smiled reassuringly.


"We're best friends, yeah?" Jael looked Mari directly in the eyes and received a nod in response.


"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 with such curiosity."


Jael was definitely confused. She was wondering why the feeling she wasn't alone had not left her so she guessed that is what Mari meant by curiosity. 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. Whether at home or here nothing looked strange. 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 moving her chair along the carpeted floor 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. That was when Mari felt a strong static electric shock. Jael was too preoccupied to register the electric shock. But, 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. It was almost as if she were showing off for Jael's sake.

_____________


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 and began to tear up and sniffle anew. "Kaven,"


"Yeah?" Kaven encouraged.


Jael continued after wiping her nose on a tissue she'd fished out of her bag, "I don't know how to explain, but the...intruder... at the house?"


"Mmmhmm," came Kaven's encouraging sound of I'm listening.


"Still here." The words had almost caught in Jael's throat. So she began to clear her throat and cough. Then she rubbed the inner corners of her eyes to ensure there were no tears trying to slip out.


"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 just then she saw Martha bounding outside with the plastic rosary. She was reminded of Martha's reaction when still inside the coffee house about Jael being evidence-based in her reasoning. That 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 the current moment of being in the car while Kaven talked to the cops. Then Kaven's voice turned suddenly stern to whomever he spoke with on his phone, "Well, she says somebody was in the house,"


Kaven shifted car gears as he talked having had dialed the cops while carefully navigating. He stomped on the brakes at the stoplight. Kaven took a turn with just his right hand. "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, as a feeling 'isn't proof' 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 of Kaven's car but did not go in the house. She exited the garage and circled around to the fence toward the howling puppy who jumped in her open arms as soon as she opened the fenced gate. "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. She walked toward the car. Kaven lowered the garage door and got out with his keys at the ready. He opened the door to the house entering in, instead of holding the door for Jael and Basket-pup like he normally would have. He looked all around and nodded to Jael to come in. She followed placing the puppy down as Kaven went room by room. Basket puppy was free to follow them if he cared to. Of course, he followed all excited his people were home. Nothing was disturbed and no one else appeared to be there. Kaven was smiling as he embraced her and released a relieved sigh, "WHEW, right?"


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."


Bending down to pet Basket-pup gently before even attempting to answer, Jael moved to the dining table, and sat down. "Kaven."


"Hmmn?" He was now in the adjoining kitchen to where Jael sat.


He was at the refrigerator grabbing condiments, and sandwich meat. Since she didn't answer he assumed she hadn't heard his response. He called out to her as he sliced a tomato. She still didn't respond. Kaven applied mayo to the bread with a butter knife he'd taken from a drawer as he looked up to see what Jael was doing. He put turkey slices on the mayonnaise slathered white-wheat bread. Kaven walked toward the kitchen table area leaving the two plates of sandwiches. He saw she sat, her head down, and he frowned concerned. He went back to the kitchen to add lettuce to the sandwiches before placing the plates on the table. He left again to grab a couple of bottles of spring-water. She didn't stir. He took a bite of his sandwich deliberately at angle where he would end up crunching a piece of lettuce.

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 eagerly, 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 though he was still befuddled because she was laughing so hard. She coughed out the words between guffaws, "The feeling...someone is...is here...f-f-follow--oh--oh-ddd--FOLLOWED ME!"


Jael doubled over in laughter until she noticed she was on the floor and remained there now quiet except for her heavy breathing. Kaven was silent. It was almost five thirty and six-o-clock is when the Wednesday night service was held at his church. He always went, ever inviting Jael whom he could never get to go.


"Get up, babe, put your shoes back on--they slipped off," Kaven said.


He had walked up to a crumpled Jael on the floor offering his hand. Taking his hand, she let him help her up, and then bent back down to put her shoes on. She had no idea what was going on, but followed Kaven to where he tucked Basket-pup into his little basket. The pup settled in happily, for it was what Basket had claimed for his bed when they were trying to crate train him, earning the dog his name.

Kaven escorted Jael to the car letting her in. She, 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 really answer her or request any further information; he just listened. When he was parking the car, she opened her eyes to see the church he had driven them to. She did not object as she normally would be inclined to. She was disappointed that Kaven would think that because she senses some whatever-it-is that she was ready for a gospel revival or something. Even through her disappointment, she was happy Kaven had not left her alone as he usually would have when he attended church as she would have refused his invitation. She was glad he had omitted the invitation so not forcing her to think about it, and just brought her so that she was not alone.

Jael looked around the church property on their way in. It was a nice building that had a neat lawn peppered with pretty flower bushes. The inside was nicely furnished, too, and the people seemed friendly as they were all smiling. She took a deep breath; the feeling hadn't gone away. But seeing people with their presences fully encased in corporal, visible bodies, really helped. Kaven was, meanwhile, greeting everyone by name with a hug and introducing Jael as his fianc Jael couldn't help but smirk thinking how quickly their smiles would fade if he added how they had shacked up.


"Hey, stranger!" 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. She thought this since they were often together and Martha often stared affectionately at Mari. Although, 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 post shoulder poke. But Jael hugged Mari and whispered in her ear, "Restroom."

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...and, by the way, are you and Martha a dating couple?!

Mari entered with her characteristic smile that portrayed nice and...something Jael just couldn't name. "What's up?" Mari had offered sounding casual as though it was normal to see Jael in a church!


"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 cafwas a static electric shock. She walked over to a rug that laid in front of the mirrored sink area, and started shuffling her shoes against it. Then when Jael approached her to ask why she was ignoring the question, Mari touched her with one finger on Jael's shoulder. That touch transmitted a shock causing Jael to pull back. "That is what I felt when you asked me at the cafe, 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 already in a church," Mari grabbed Jael's arm gently to deter her from leaving as she wanted to ask a question. "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."


Moving her hand from Jael's arm to her 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."


Wow. Mari knew that this situation which would be difficult for anyone had to be particularly difficult for Jael. Mari had stood by Jael's side for years as she would argue against all topics religious, supernatural, paranormal, or extraterrestrial. Mari had been careful to never bring up any of these topics herself to Jael. Mari thought if she had talked of any of those matters, it would have compromised their friendship.

After all, 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 so flattered when Jael told her that she considered Mari her best friend. Though it actually made Mari more reticent to speak to Jael on such matters. It did not matter that the topic of God was personally important to Mari relative to protecting her friendship with Jael. She did not want to lose her bestie to some explosive debate that would never have convinced Mari to denounce God.

Still, Mari lived as she believed she ought and was an undeniably good friend to Jael. Spotting Jael at her church, Mari hoped that she would still be enough for Jael to keep as a friend even if not her best friend after today...Jael was about to find out that Mari not only believed in the main entity of Jael's rejection, but also followed God.

Mari flashed back to one of those times she had been by Jael's side while she mocked faith when someone was wearing a Christian themed t-shirt with writing reading something like I love the Lord, God and Jael felt compelled to ask "why don't you just use her name?" T-shirt person said, "huh" and Jael answered, "God. What is her name?"

Mari chimed in with something corny like lyrics to an old song she knew entertained Jael like Dishwalla's 'Counting Blue cars' and allow Jael to feel confirmed but also to distract her from a debate. Chuckling and bobbing her head Mari smiled at t-shirt person singing, "'Cause I'm on my way to see her..."


Picking up with the tune Jael skipped over a crack in the pavement so she was closer to t-shirt person and continued with an awfully relevant part of the song, "Skip the cracks in the street, and..."


Jael then followed Mari who was walking away laughing, and Jael would join the laughter though hers was derisive. If not distracted by Mari, Jael would have gone on and on asking what race, how old, whether God's hair is 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. Mari was there as a sort of rock for Jael so no one would harass or provoke her as she clearly had back up.

Now, she walked into Mari's church. It would have been a dream come true as prayer was ever offered for Jael's salvation, yet, it was not happening for the reason Mari had prayed for. The simple and short of it was that Jael was scared of this presence she was sensing. Jael, feeling like she was some charity case needing her boyfriend to rally people together for her was further embarrassed that he had asked Mari to come to a church! Poor thing how is she going to respond to all this God stuff? But, wow, it SO nice that she would come here for me! This is why she is my best friend!


"So, what, then, Kaven told you to come here?" Jael began intending to apologize for the inconvenience.


Slipping her arm through one of Jael's, Mari walked with her toward the door to the church lobby. Accepting she could not avoid this confession any longer, answered, "Nope. Kaven did not ask me to come. I attend church here every Sunday and Wednesday. I'm a believer."


Jael began to slow down her pace breaking her resolute step to the sanctuary. Mari's confession had Jael feel the irony of her own determined pacing to a place she mocked others for going. "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. In Jael's head, Mari's words now echoed, "I'm a believer."


She quickened her pace now like she had to get to the sanctuary hastily, not missing the irony of her rush to a church meeting but had a strong desire not to think about it. Jael began to wonder 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 Mari by deliberately pointing out to her, "Wow, so you've been going to the same church as my Kaven for a while, huh?"


Mari grinned as she was thrilled that Jael was processing this as something Jael may have messed up about and not processing it as a reason to dump her as her bestie, "You don't need to feel guilty."


Jael didn't respond. Of course she knew. Mari always knows...

They had entered the area where the Wednesday service was being held. It was a series of rectangular tables encircled, so to speak, forming a larger rectangle. The chairs were mostly all filled with congregates of both genders and differing age groups such that nearly forty people were gathered.

Martha was waiting there when they walked through the doors front and center, so to speak. In other words, she was already seated at one of the tables closest to the entrance of the meeting hall with plates of salad and pizza set in front of four chairs. Late coming people continued trickling in, grabbing food, and taking seats. Dutifully, Jael followed Mari's lead who had taken her seat next to Martha, and there were two seats still next to Mari on the other side of her. Jael looked around to see if Kaven had seated someplace else. He was in conversation standing amongst the group who were discussing the week's topic. Jael wanted to get up and tell him there was pizza and a chair by her except he looked like he was in his element. Since she hadn't ever come to his church before today, this was all out of anyone's ordinary, but Jael felt like only she was getting the brunt of it.

Jael began looking around, again. 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 her. She was not named Jael then. She was named Jaheel by her birth mother -Jaheel was wrapped in a portion of the sari her mother wore (a traditional female clothing of East India). She had run 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 could take her. As he raged, the mother grabbed at a piece of concrete flooring that had come loose and used the jagged end to cut the umbilical cord. She wrapped the baby in the least bloody portion of the end of the sari she wore, lifted the child up to her chest, and ran barefoot to the orphanage that Jael was adopted from. Her birth mother had scoped the residential home out in the weeks prior in case she didn't give birth to a boy. Her husband had harped on about it every day like his insistence would guarantee a male or change the body in her belly into a boy. Near as her adoptive parents could figure, Jaheel's birth father wanted a son so that would he could be used to eventually demand a dowry from a potential bride to gain some money.

When she arrived at the orphanage she sat in the nearest corner so she could nurse the baby. Jael's future caregivers were already there and witnessed the whole thing: her desperate entrance, she ripping her sari so that the portion with the baby was free without having to unfold her sari, and she could hold baby near to feed her. They waited for baby to have fed. Then they took the time to speak to the mother with the orphanage worker that had been helping them when they came in for their appointment to begin the adoption process.

The baby at Kaven's church looked back at her now, and she held the gaze until she heard a tall, athletically thin man speak. He was a new shock for the already overwhelmed Jael. He had tattoos starting from his neck and all down his arms visible because of his short sleeved Needtobreathe t-shirt that he wore over ripped jeans. He was eyeing Jael sitting next to Kaven, the latest of the late comers.


He spoke audibly to everyone, "Seems we have some newcomers..."


That prompted a chuckle from Jael, hinting she was probably the only one.


"Hey, you and Larry the baby are new here today. I'm Pastor Jacob. I go by Jake. What's your name?"


Kaven cleared his throat drawing Pastor's attention his way, "This is my fiancJael I told you about."


Jael smiled and waved her hand. Pastor returned her smile. Kaven, satisfied with their introductory interaction, then asked Jael, Mari, and Martha, "Anyone want some bottled spring water?"


He passed out the 3 cold, spring water bottles he had retrieved from a cooler under the table that held the pizza and salad on top of it. Kaven ended handing the bottles out with a relieved Jael. She was too thirsty to want to share one bottle with Kaven. He smiled as she chugged most of the water right away and went to retrieve another water bottle for himself.


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 ghost lady 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. She had learned through personal research that the word "holy" meant having to do with God. The notion of a ghost having to do with God was new. 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 more audibly, "Well, I love these meetings because they are uncensored and honest. It is still a church service, though, so 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! It was not that she ever went through another woman's purse that was a personal store of immediately needed things (like mints, tissue, or feminine things). However, 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. She thought the familiarity shown indicated a comradery similar to the one she shared with Mari. Pastor Jake said a passage and Kaven read the scripture repeating the book, chapter, and verse for those who may have missed it:


"Isaiah 55:8 through 9 starting with verse 8, 'for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways--'"


Mari continued from memory before Kaven could finish reading,


"'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 English 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. They began looking at Pastor and at each other. 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 near given up. Pastor Jake seemed to sense that. He looked right at her, "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 she did not, and whom apparently had an acquaintanceship she had not been aware of.


Mari looked at Kaven who apparently prompted by that look, turned to Jael, "Do you love me, sweetie?"


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, 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, a bit intrigued, "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 smoothly 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 the requested scripture, "I John chapter 4 verse 7: 'Beloved, let us love one another for love is of God and anyone who loves is born of God and knoweth God,' verse 8, 'he that loveth not 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 middle aged, 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 of I Corinthians 13." Pastor wrote on a napkin while adding, "Jael, please note the King James Version often says he but is referring to humanity. 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.


A bunch of agreeing nodding heads leaned forward toward Pastor Jake. Unshaken Pastor Jake answered, "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 believed in--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, except 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. 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. Meanwhile, 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, Jake got the idea for tattoos from a movie called Memento where a man only kept track of his personal history by getting tattoos to remind him of parts of his life best not forgotten. Pastor 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 all 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 instead 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 now, like, 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 also 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 a rip in his 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 made 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.


Back to the present he separated himself from his memory. 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 the 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, uh, 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, you're right; besides it's kinda sad," Mari agreed with a frown.


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, of all things, a security guard. Jael looked at Mari who had been with her at STC when they encountered that 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 nor yet to cry, 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 that we bumped into, you know, messing around."


Huckster, that was the word Jael tended to use when people would claim to have seen a ghost, alien, 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 dead. 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 who was passing through turning lights out and removing trash bags said,


"Bingo."


Pastor Jake himself just shrugged and waved to the person who rushed off with the trash sheepish at having the eavesdropping made so evident. 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 mumbled, "I need my car."


Closing the car-door for her after Jael got in, Kaven only then walked around to the driver's side. But, as he walked over to drive, he found himself wondering why she seemed particularly upset at him. He was still relieved she had come without argument despite how it turned out.

Nature added another problem for them: the car was hot from sitting out in the hot evening sun through service. Burning hot, so Jael was turning the a/c vent more toward her anticipating the car being turned on. Kaven rolled his and her window down and counted to ten giving the hot air an opportunity to flow out. Deep breath. He knew it would cool down more quickly now, so he turned the key. Of course, he headed towards Jael's car back at his workplace as she had not so subtly implied she wanted. Okay, she blatantly stated it. Jael got out as soon as Kaven pulled up near enough to her car.

Kaven, waited to drive his vehicle again until he heard Jael start her car. That was a habit he had picked up when once he gave a friend a ride to their vehicle and satisfied with his good deed, Kaven drove off. Only he found out later that the car hadn't started up and needed to be towed away. Meanwhile, as she drove back home, Jael was trying to recall where in her luggage she had put that note with card attached to it that had been taped to her hotel room door during her Lubbock trip. Jael hadn't yet shown the note to Kaven, and was glad of that now. Jael did not want to explain how she wanted to communicate with some guy that had taped a note to her hotel room door, because she intended to call the I-believe guy now. After all, to whom could she speak with now? Certainly not her out-of-the-country adoptive parents, so what then: Kaven? Mari? Her usual support was well, not the same right now.

By the time Kaven was pulling into the house's garage, Jael was already in bed with the bed comforter pulled over her head. He nodded at the sight of her lump beneath the covers, sighed, and decided to wind down himself. Kaven changed into a t-shirt and shorts, washed his face and ran a toothbrush over his teeth. He quietly said his prayers before he climbed in bed. He set the alarm to vibrate because he intended to leave for work early the next morning and did not want to awake Jael with a loud alarm-clock rhythm.

Jael spent the day thinking about how she needed to keep herself busy, but ended up lazing the day away watching television while eating from a bowl of butter pecan ice cream, and paused only to nap or pace. She was willing to do anything but face her thoughts or the persistent AURA all around her, and though she dare not even think it: within her, too.

She could have edited her thesis as she, to get the resources to complete it had gone out of her way (to Lubbock, TX anyway). Part of trying to busy herself involved finally unpacking her bag from that Lubbock trip. She found Jerry's business card. She reminded herself that she had decided to call him when she came across it. Jerry the TTU librarian that wore the 'I believe' t-shirt surprised her when he both answered her call and revealed 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 after he said he would meet with her later that day. When she had called him, she expected that he would not so readily remember her, more or less find out that he was about to be in town! She was glad she had found out so she wouldn't have been surprised by a sudden visit or something. Lately surprises seemed to be all she was getting.

Besides she honestly had NO interest in ghost hunting--that part of herself was still intact. She really just wanted someone to vent to. Boy, did she have some stuff to get off her chest. Jael even raised her right hand to her upper left torso as though she were about to say the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag as they used to do in grade school. This way she could feel her own heart beating. In her mind she aligned her thoughts to the beats: I have- to call- Jerry- to help- me figure- out if- I am- cra-zy. She allowed herself to be entertained how she thought the word "figure" as one syllable but "crazy" as two.

Jael relayed the entirety of her first church experience so desperate for someone to understand and accept her the way Kaven always had with everything but her lack of faith. Jerry told her he was nearly in town nearby her. Despite her surprise, Jael teased him like they were old friends, "So, you traveled here just to see little ole me?"


Jerry had actually planned the trip beforehand to travel the state from the bottom up to visit ghost legend areas, but Jael living there in a city at the bottom of Texas with her ghost magnetism did not hurt. So, he honestly responded, "If you want to believe that, I am okay with that."


The thing was, Jael kind of believed her teasing question to Jerry to be true. He had been so enthusiastic about ghosts and using his beep-y square thing...anyway. Jael didn't let herself think much about the fact that Jerry had gone from an irritating eccentric to a journeying confidant oasis. He was, after all, so gung-ho about what he thought were ghosts around her! She had not anticipated reaching out to him at any point while in Lubbock. Funny how life has shook me up into someone so...different. Confused.


Meanwhile, 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 on the way to the house--white lilies. When he got home, she was on the phone, though, Basket puppy in her lap.

So, Kaven went to put the lilies in some water, and tried not to be real obvious about listening in on her phone conversation. He heard Jael being all familiar with someone. Kaven gently rubbed the petals of the smallest lily in the bunch he had placed in a tall glass. Clearly, Jael was currently very tangled up in something. He tried to pay attention to her conversation without being creepy. Who is this guy she is all joking around with? I thought I knew all the people she knows.



"Oh, I don't even live near Lubbock; I was just visiting...Well, kind of a vacation...huh? NO! Yeah, well kind of like your vacay to HERE, hypocrite! Wait, what city did you say you are in? In Texas, yeah? Hang on."


Jael noticed Kaven standing expectantly waiting to speak with her. She pulled the receiver from her right ear. Then she covered the receiver with the palm of her left hand and smiled at Kaven, "What? I'm on the phone."


Jael got back into her phone conversation without waiting for a response. Kaven backed away. He practically chugged the Gatorade.


"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? OMGoodness...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 and from what he could hear of the voice the person she spoke to sounded male. Kaven opened the refrigerator to get a beer, but after a release of breath, grabbed a bottle of Gatorade, instead. Besides, there were only three beers left and Jael may want one even though she rarely drank. Still, he did not think it was a good idea for him to introduce alcohol in any amount into his system until he had dealt with whatever was happening with Jael and whoever the guy she was talking to. Anyway, one of our friends might drop by and want a can...see? Multiple reasons not to drink.

He was not prone to take the last of anything, but instead of one of the beers he had grabbed the last of the Gatorade. He sipped the sports 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 didn't say any of what he had wanted to talk to her about. But instead 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 Rio, I think with--"


"Rio--" Now, that Kaven was not expecting.


That was a town off of Highway 83! At the sound of the doorbell, both of them turned toward the front door. Jael placed Basket down, rushed to unlock the door, and Kaven grasped her shoulder. She looked up at him and finished her earlier statement, "Someone I met in Lubbock,"


She opened the door revealing a smiling, well-dressed man. That threw Jael off as she had last seen this guy 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 fianc"


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 whom she figured would be in the office room. Except when she got to the office, he was not there. Flustered, 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 from their water purifier machine.


"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 toward the napkin roll to do it herself. He got out of her way for her to reach the hanging napkin roll, 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 answered and started to gesture lifting her other hand that was empty.


Kaven placed a glass in that empty 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, Jael had barely opened her mouth, when 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," Jerry began.


Jael cautioned, "Okay, Jerry, look, I can't guarantee anything in any case."


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? She did not even know what this was. What was it? Who was she anymore? 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 figured Kaven was not too enthused with their ghost exploits. He couldn't honestly expect Kaven to have reacted otherwise. A man from another city shows up to visit with another man's fianc Also they are visiting about ghosts--a topic that can freak anyone out. 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 than Lubbock, and with you, I have a shot at a new angle. A unique angle like you gave me with the ghosts in back there 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 frantically.


She started to regret calling Jerry. She had only intended to talk to him on the phone, not this--whatever this was. Who takes a vacation to tour ghost haunts? She immediately realized the hypocrisy of that thought given her mini weekend vacay was to make copies from a library book!


Jerry leaned in closer toward Jael who had sat on the far end of the same couch she had escorted him to.


"Okay, tell me something, then, Jael,"


"What?" Jael asked innocently. She was struck by the sincerity in her own wonder.


Jerry leaned back and crossed his arms. "Why did you call me?"


Releasing a shaky sigh, Jael decided to tell him about this unexplainable current situation. She told him about how relieved she felt coming home after all the supposed ghost drama from Lubbock. Only to awake the next morning with an unseen presence. That, of course, caught Jerry's attention. Noticing his unspoken excitement she found herself wanting to dismiss him anew like her old self would have. After all, he 'believes'...


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 trip to Lubbock with Brian, the kid wandering the stacks, the piano lady--" Jerry stopped as Jael had hung her head and slumped her shoulders. He paused to consider how devastating it must be for her--she can no longer cling to the beliefs that had given her identity. Atheists cling to their disbelief religiously, he sardonically reminded himself.

"Actually the presence I started feeling! ME!" Jael started to sniff. I can't deny this.


"Okay, don't," Jerry had placed his empty glass down to continue 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. They may even be the same age. So she pointedly commented, "I notice you're not wearing an I-believe "t" like some sort of adolescent..."


"Judge all you want. You'd be declaring messages on t-shirts, too, if you'd have experienced sh--uh, stuff that knocks you off of things printed in black and white. All the while staffing a desk loaning out volume after volume of books published to advance so-called facts to University students who think they know it all just like teenagers think they do...It would make you feel younger, more vulnerable. Scratch that."


Jerry had lost his formal posture, and he turned his gaze off into the distance, "It made me feel more vulnerable."


Jerry actually did manage to comfort Jael now. He 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. "May I ask, what it was you experienced that was so phenomenal?"


Jerry smiled. It was so much a part of his identity now but not something he could usually talk about. Now he was so easily speaking of it with someone who knew what this felt like. "You experienced it, too. The kid in the library stacks. Except the child spoke to me."


"He talked to me, too, Jerry! He had followed me to the area outside the library where I was waiting for a cab."



"He? You know it was a boy? Also, that makes sense why you saw the kid that day at a time he only very rarely shows up,"


"Really? Not usually there at that time? And, no, I do not know for sure that it was a boy. Actually, all children sound the same to me to me until they become teenagers. So, no, I do not know if he was a boy, just thought it was how we default gender to the male when we do not know, you know?"


Jerry must have been keen to hear her answer as he had dug out his little notebook. He turned to a page he showed her that looked like a chart of the times the library was open that had some hours with check marks next to them. He jotted down notes with this conversation with Jael that started with a question mark and ended with one, too.

Jerry inquired, "What did the child say to you?"


"He said he loved having books read to him. Also, that he got sick and he recalled how his parents once took him to the library, and how he thought those books would have been interesting to listen to as so many were borrowing them and stuff..." Jael noticed how intently Jerry was listening.


She asked, "What did he say to you?"


Jerry teared up and nodded. "He wanted me to read him one of the books, and to read it while sitting in my lap, the child said..."


He left off and did not appear like he was going to finish his story. Jael had thought their only link was Jerry's crazy idea of writing chronicles of ghost stories and her apparent crazy connection to spirits. Apparently not. She wanted to know what happened after the child made this request, but figured it was too heavy of a memory.

He had begun rubbing his eyes, then drew his hands in front of him staring at the fingers that had touched his eyelids. Except, very aware of his own behavior and Jael's desire to know more, he commented, "I rubbed my eyes then, too, because the child just appeared acting like he already knew me...then he disappeared and reappeared after I had gone to one of the chairs and sat. He then went to the stacks which were nearby and tried to bring one of the bound books. While he struggled with the weight of it, I-I..."

Jerry took a deep breath before continuing, "I called out to the room if this child belonged to anyone, if there was a mommy or daddy around missing a kid...then the child disappeared and the book fell to the ground. The book's binding was a red; I don't think I'll ever forget the red-bound book."


Jerry faux coughed, then. "So, yeah, the child is the reason I got my EMF--electromagnetic field reader. I read everything I could find on supernatural abilities in case the kid was like, I don't know, magical or something. Then as people began reporting seeing a child always in the stacks, I realized I needed to expand my research. It led me to ghosts and how you can tell one is around even if you can't see or hear "it" uh, the specter. It also said stuff could be moved. The thick, red manual he had left on the floor is an example of that. The EMF reader is how I know the kid is still around sometimes but not always. I showed you my chart, right?"

Jael nodded. She felt compelled to enquire, "Did you try talking to the child when your reader thingy beeped?"


Jerry didn't answer. Jael thought he must feel guilty about not reading to the kid. Jael wanted to refocus them both so offered, "So, yeah, the NUN in training who fell in love with a man who felt confident he could answer the call to a battlefield and be right back to wed her, right?"


Jerry cleared his throat, "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."


Jerry frowned in wonder. "Huh, maybe. I wonder if he felt guilty about telling her he'd be right back when he realized the battle he was so sure would be won quickly actually made a liar out of him. As he died, was it combined with, I mean, did he feel guilty?"


Jael fell silent. She could not think of what a person may have felt while dying other than maybe pain from a fatal blow. Guilt while dying had not occurred to her. Honestly, Jael rarely thought of other people dealing with emotions that were not positive. She figured only she dealt with things like guilt, sorrow, anger, and all else negative feeling.


"Anyway, sorry... I figure we'd drive out to Rio Grande City where she was last seen--," Jerry continued.


The doorbell rang, cutting him off. They both turned toward the sound of the doorbell compounded with the sound of Kaven opening the door shortly after the bell dinged. Jael began to go see whoever had come and to join Kaven. He stood with the door open, and no one there. Kaven looked to both sides. Then he called out with hands cupping his mouth, "Hello?!"


Jael stepped beside Kaven at that point and saw a man dressed in ancient fatigues looking urgently and directly at Jael. The sound of her long intake of breath filled the space. She opened her then blinking eyes slowly before addressing the ancient soldier who was now breathing heavily, "Yes?"


"I have to tell her--sorry, but I was trying." 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, you know, and marry her. It was the plan. I never lost in battle before. Never. The PLAN..."


"Was to come back to her," Jael completed his statement a bit irascibly. "Okay. Where is she?"


Jael 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 except, well, a spiritual argument. Usually, though, if it involved things she could never before accept, she would dismiss them. Not now, though. I can't now, because Here he is.


Clearing his throat, soldier Plan guy answered her question, "Roma."


"Roma?!" Jerry and Jael said in unison.


Jerry who had quietly followed Jael toward the open front door, had now stepped forward. He was moving toward the voice he had heard speaking through the open door. He had passed Kaven without saying a word to him. Instead, Jerry addressed the voice that came seemingly out of nowhere, "Not Rio?"


"Rio? No, well, Rio was where her convent was, though. She lived in Roma when she left the church, and I was courting her there where she lived. In Roma."


Jerry pulled out his 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 his hand reached the man with touch. Seeing the ancient looking soldier now, Kaven stood next to him and placed a hand on the man's uniformed shoulder. Jerry had gasped as he could see the soldier once Kaven had his arm upon Plan guy's shoulder. Jerry spit out, "WHOA. How did?!"


But, Kaven now looking at Jael, queried, "You brought this zombie to our porch?!"


Plan guy responded physically like he was shocked. Looking from Kaven to the rest of the people present, Plan Guy coughed out, "Zombie?!"


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."


Jerry, still taken aback and finding keeping mentally calm difficult, demanded, "How did that guy appear?!"


Kaven moved his arm off the shoulder to pat Plan guy's back while responding,

"Ask Jael-the-ghost-summoner."


Then Kaven moved his arm back to Plan guy's shoulder. Jerry pulled his shoulder bag up front and dug inside for his EMF reader, notebook, and phone. The EMF reader began beeping when Jerry held it towards Plan guy. The beeping ceased when pointed directly at Kaven or Jael. Jerry started to feel a bit woozy about having just talked to a disembodied voice turned ancient looking soldier. That Kaven seemed so comfortable touching the soldier did not alleviate the dizziness!


Kaven tilting his head toward the beeping of the EMF box, frustrated at the noise, let out, "Okay, what in the world is that beeping thing?"


Jerry did not respond as he was busy with his cell phone. 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 portrait of the entrance: the front door wide open and Kaven standing 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 other hand, and shut the door. She walked over to the coat closet to get her shoes and purse. All set, she asked, "So, caravan to Roma?"


Just then, the doorbell rang again. Kaven audibly sighed. He looked at Jael,

"What--I mean WHO is this going to be?!"


Then Kaven turned, opened the door, but then had to look down to address the young boy who stood there just having rang the bell, "Well, hello there, little dude, what did you need?"


The little boy's eyebrows raised as he extended one arm to one side and lifted his baseball cap off his head and extending it to the other side, "Um, this lady..."


"What lady?" Kaven asked but then moved 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 boy's hair was a woman bending down over him. Then she lengthened to standing, and was a stunning vision in white. The skirt of her dress that flowed from her hips to her ankles was lightly swaying to the movement of the light breeze outside.


"WOW," Jerry exhaled. He had stepped forward to see, just as the Lady in White stood up having finished affectionately tousling the hair of the child who had rang the doorbell.


"Where did you c--" Kaven's question was cut off by a bright flash of light.


Kaven now stood with a hand shielding his eyes. The flash had come from Jerry's camera-phone as he clicked a photo of the Lady in White while apparently it was dark enough outside for the camera to automatically engage the flash. Jerry's phone still set on its camera function clicked again, this time though he clicked the flash setting off. He then handed his phone to Jael to look at.

Jael shewed the camera phone away, and instead took Plan guy by the hand to escort him to the Lady in White. The two separated by time lovers started to speak simultaneously. He desperately assuring her, "I did not mean to leave you alone for so long, my love. These battles are usually easily won. I did NOT think, I mean I couldn't lose. I did not think I would..."


Lady in White lifted the tip of one end of her dress to her face almost nuzzling it, assured him, "I knew no matter what that when you said you would be right back that you were coming back to me, and I waited, oh, how I've waited!"


Lady-in-White twirled inside the foyer showing him the dress. A tear slipped down Plan guy's cheek as he watched her, enthralled, "It is lovely, my darling! You made the perfect wedding dress."


They embraced separating only their faces to reunite in a kiss. Jerry took the opportunity to take 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 had looked at his phone to confirm; then he showed Jael the photos.


"This one, though," he scrolled to the previous shot, "I got fuzziness where their faces, you know, met..."


Kaven walked over to the now silent EMF reader that had been set aside laying silent on its side accidentally aimed at the little boy, and picked it up. Looking at the child now Kaven asked, "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 with a relieved look, placed it in his messenger bag, and then zipped it up. He placed the bag strap on his shoulder, and walked over to Jael, "So, that happened."


"Yeah." Jael collapsed in a shuddering heap, weeping.


Hesitantly, 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 which fully made Jael aware she still had a guest to attend to.


Jerry, feeling like he had committed a faux pau, said, "Sorry, I shouldn't have, you know..."


Shaking her head and waving her hand, Jael spat out while nervously giggling, "No, no, thank you, you didn't do anything wrong? Inappropriate?"


"Okay, stop laughing." Jerry felt comfortable again.


Even though he was relaxed he tried to be polite and asked, "Can I get a drink out of your fridge?"


Jerry had already made it the refrigerator before he asked his question. Now he grabbed a beer and examined it. "Lite, huh?"


"Yeah," Giggling eased now, Jael stretched.


She got up, walked into the kitchen, and sat down on the wide ledge of the window sill. Jael peered out the window seeming to examine the front lawn. She got up and moved to the kitchen dining table and remarked, "It's really dark out now. Glad Kaven walked that little guy home."


"I'm still in...a BIT of shock." Jerry still standing in the kitchen by the refrigerator took a swig of his beer.


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. Then he tossed it in the trashcan, and went 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 ghost magnet after Brian the TTU Chemistry ghost showed up across campus at the library where the kid at the stacks I was studying was. Then Mrs. Doak the TTU piano-playing ghost of Doak Hall showed up at that hotel you were at further into Lubbock...but this isn't roaming 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 beer's contents in it, placed the can in the recycling trashbin, and got a napkin to place the glass-of-beer on, and left it on the counter for Kaven. Before rejoining the table, Jael went to the fridge and took the three remaining beers she had placed on the refrigerator door onto the center refrigerator shelf. She tended to put up beer that way as it often embarrassed her to have a whole six pack just sitting there. Then she came back to sit at the table with Jerry.


"Nah, not me," said Jerry matter-of-factly after watching her careful preparation of the beer.


Then continued, "Mrs. Doak was already with you when I came to the hotel to meet with my buddies."


Jael's voice kind of breaking up now replied, "Oh, yeah, her."


Jael let herself briefly reflect on that encounter before asking what was simmering in her mind since her experience at Kaven's church, "Do you think the ghosts are 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 stretch her neck, and then answered. Jael even smiled when she said, "Well, beyond the obvious."


"The obvious?" Jerry asked feeling obligated to.


"Pretending not to know they are dead," Jael finished the joke. But, feeling the lack of humor in the circumstances, did not laugh.


"Oh," Jerry said. A joke? Really?


He felt disappointed guessing the meeting was over. His upset was because he thought she was ending the visit on a not-so-funny jibe. But Jael wasn't finished, "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, like, what they are tricking us about, though. I was done with the mention of demons and left."


"Ahhhh, a Church's take on ghosts. Hmmn. Demons...weird." He finished his beer, then asked, "What, was the church you visited, a Catholic one?"


She grabbed Jerry's can to throw it in the recycling bin so he wouldn't try to throw this one in the regular trashcan as he had his first beer can. "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 while 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 whose name she wasn't sure of, like how Christianity/Catholicism has 3 parts of 1 God. That she did not truly understand, either. It was less than the other religion, but still more than one claiming one. She did not understand when one isn't one.

Truth was she couldn't get a straight answer from the Hindus she had asked what their main god's name was as each Hindu followed a different incarnation of the main god and didn't really need to know about any other part. Or maybe they just didn't have time for Jael's cynical curiosity. She looked it up at a library, though, for the purposes of her thesis that was on debunking all things spiritual, and she did get to narrow it down to either Brahma or Vishnu as the possible name. She found that Vishnu ongingly preserves the creation that Brahma created. Sounded like two gods to her. Honestly, she did not care. She also did not care if there were three or four baskets of Buddhism, either, but added it in her thesis when she found out that there are two groups of Buddhists which was why the number of their baskets of "wisdom" differed. Of course there are Eastern and Western world interpretations of each of these Buddhist philosophies.

The Western based original religions in general was too much for her, too. Jael had Mormons give her tracts of quick information and phone numbers of churches to call, and had heard of illuminati but was having to footnote her thesis on the limited and legally protected information on illuminati theology that so many famous people ascribed to (like actresses and politicians). Her thesis topic choice sounded like a good idea to her at the time allowing her to think she could solidify with education her determination to ruin all remnants of faith, but it ended up forcing her to find out allot about so many different religions. While she was lost in her thoughts, her houseguest was still on track. Jerry concurred,

"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?" 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 derisively, as she crossed then re-crossed her legs.


"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 and 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 God judge or gods or angels..."


The front door opened leaving Jael hoarsely trailing off, and Kaven was back home. He walked up to her. "Hon, when your friend leaves," he gave Jerry a nod, and finished, "if I'm asleep, wake me up, we need to talk."


Taking that as 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. Jael wanted to say something relevant. She thought thanking him for being patient might be sufficient so that was her response to his thanks. Heh, thanks to a thanks. She did not understand any of what was happening to her, and Jerry seemed to, so she continued, "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 that I attract? I don't even have the word for whatever any of this is or was."


Jael realizing her tone voice of voice was pleading, finished with, "I think maybe we should call off the ghost hunting."


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 tell me otherwise. Good bye, and thank you, again," he released her hand.


Exiting through the front door, 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? Okay, yeah, it was true she did still feel a presence or that aura as Pastor Jake called it, everywhere she was. All the time. Closing the door, she sighed heavily as she laid her head on her arm that was now resting on the closed door.

Kaven having heard the door shut from the bedroom where he had just changed clothes into something more comfy, made his way toward her. Noticing her slumped posture at the door, he went to get two drinks for them. When he got to the kitchen he noticed the drink on a napkin the way Jael tended to 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 and clean in the dish strainer by the sink. Smiling and shaking her head a bit, she returned to the den. She was greeted by a smiling Kaven. He had a knowing look on his face as he had watched her go to where the beer she had left for him was. He didn't bother to iterate the point that he had finished the beer, and cleaned the glass. He just patted the seat next to himself and lifted one of the cocktails to hand to her. Jael tentatively took it from him.


"I call this the Cognac Comfort. Take a generous sip, holding it in your mouth over your back molars, swallow, count to ten, then slowly open your eyes, and tell me how you feel," Kaven said.


He raised the other cocktail that had sat upon the coffee table to his own lips and demonstrated. She looked at the other cocktail she still held in her hand, sat down, and sniffed the fizzy liquid. Waiting for him to open his eyes, Jael asked, "So, how do you feel?"


"How you're about to," Kaven 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--nice. She took a small sip, held it over her back teeth, and closed her eyes for a mental count of ten. Except as she did not get past the first three numbers of her count after she swallowed and her eyes popped open. After she experienced her quicker-than-it-was-supposed-to-be-experience she exclaimed,


"That's so nice...I feel...GREAT...I mean...RELIEVED, and the taste wasn't bad, either!" Jael was earnest about her enjoyment of the beverage, but really just wanted them to talk about anything so she didn't have to think.



"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 glass of beer."

"Oh...I guess, and you're welcome. But what's the, uh, type of booze you used?" She asked.


She was 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. Instead he just grinned,

"Cognac. Like I said, I call it the 'Cognac Comfort.' Why?"


"Oh, 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 another 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, Kaven asked, "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.


Jael then looked 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, thought about chugging it all down, but only continued to stare at the bubbles dancing 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. But, 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 in accordance with 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," against her will, tears filled her eyes.


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 savant, for, well, ghosts was not what he expected as an answer to his prayers.

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 fianc and reflecting between sips, about the engagement ring in his dresser drawer. He just didn't think the answer to his prayer would be of all things...ghosts.

Nevertheless, Jael was his fianc his love and her lack of belief in anything 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, to say the least of. 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, like Jael's best friend Mari had said earlier in the evening at church about ghosts imitating the dead to deceive the living...Kaven's train of thoughts circling had him a bit troubled. What if ghosts really are demons? He could use another drink. He really wanted 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. And, as always, the sight of her grasping for solid footing inspired him to try and comfort her. Kaven pushed himself straight in his seat, and placing both empty drinks on the coffee table, he went to put a comforting arm around her. Jael leaned into his embrace letting the tears slip from her eyes, letting herself just be. She actually felt dizzy. She thought 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 said.

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. The aura that was still here. Still with her...

Her weeping while in his embrace reminded Kaven of the first time he held her while she cried. That time, she 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 was even remotely transcendent to the here and now. The contrast of what she started off with and who she was--smart, funny, devoted, compassionate, argumentative, beautiful, Jael.

In addition to any of what made her what she was that Kaven had fallen in love with, it helped that Jael's adoptive parents, whom Kaven absolutely adored, were not atheist. They were both Christian, one Catholic and the other Methodist. People are always a package: of other people, experiences, decisions, possessions, plans, and hopes. So it helped that the parents she came with were people Kaven could appreciate.

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 had 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. Ciara was accepted right away there and they spoke to Carlos while looking at her,

"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, they soon left without a child. This had insulted Carlos as he was very clear that what they were saying was they only gave children to others of Irish descent meant he was the one being rejected.

Feeling less optimistic, they tentatively planned a trip to India where neither Carlos nor Ciara had racial ties. When they travelled there and experienced the country, the many children they encountered begging for Indian money in bills called rupees or coins called pice cemented their decision that this high need place was the right place to adopt from. This time they were going to fight to make it so. There would be no accepting dismissive rejections here.

The disparity between the rich and impoverished in India made a stronger impact on Carlos and Ciara then common tourist attraction sites like the one they entered through the Gateway to India which was a wonderful experience. It 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, 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 her original name printed in English later in the paperwork, and found 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 communicated Jael's appeal: beautiful, small, fragile, desperate for connection, and a little survivor.

Kaven and Jael fell asleep embracing on the sofa. They awoke in the morning to the sound of the doorbell. Mari had shown up with assorted sizes of KitKat bars for Jael, Kaven, 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 went to check. She looked up at herself in the mirror and sighed. Then she just used the toilet and moved to the sink to wash her face and brush her teeth. Thinking she should double check, she began to turn around instead of exiting, but she did leave. Moving then 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. He offered, "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 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?"


Picking the Golden type of wine cooler from his outstretched hands, Mari nodded.


"Exactly," she held up the bronze colored cooler. "Is it okay that I took this one?"


Kaven gave his characteristic slanted smirk of a smile and repeated her answer, "Exactly?"


He then downed the remaining portion of his wine cooler completely. He examined his empty bottle: I guess I am fonder of the margarita flavored cooler than I had realized.

"Yeah because you had said 'what' when I started to ask what you thought of this whole...aura mess? Circumstance? What?! And it is very like I have no clue, but I gotta be here for Jael. And you, too. I need you both," now Mari examined her wine cooler bottle after taking a generous sip.


"And I know you and even Jael sometimes 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..." Kaven rambled 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. That wine cooler was the only type of alcoholic beverage she enjoyed enough to drink all of. But she waved it away when Mari tried to give her the bottle. Mari grinned then her eyebrows furrowed, "Jael?"


"Yo!" Jael responded.


"Why are you...confused?" This time Mari's accurate read of Jael had Mari nervous.


Kaven walked over to Mari and tapped the bottle she had raised again as though for a drink but not taken even another sip from. Mari looked from Kaven to her cooler and took another huge gulp. Waiting for Mari to finish her swallow, Jael looked at Kaven then went to sit on a 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 as well as her statement of thanks, answered, "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...what exactly are we talking about?" Mari placed her drink down.


"My time of the month and how we are synced up, you know, hormonally. So I know to check me if you are sharing or are on the hunt for chocolate...and that's why I 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, you know, start, so thanks," Jael just didn't get it.


They synced up so identically it matched calendar-wise to the day. So, if Mari started, why haven't I? Mari looked at Kaven who was looking back at her with a confused expression on his face that mirrored hers. Expecting Mari to remind Jael of her being out of town when they were supposed to... Kaven was more than a bit surprised when nothing was said. Mari stood up, and smiled at Kaven, She then commented to the air in front of her avoiding Jael's eyes, "Pardon me. I gotta make a call. Be right back."


She then, mobile-cell phone in hand, exited the house. 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? 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 had to leave my home, if so?!

The sound of one of the KitKat wrappers being torn open ripped her from her thoughts. 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 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 whole pack. Seriously, do you want one of these?" Kaven's face was unsmiling. His eyes were dead serious. She knew his demeanor should concern her, but she refused.


"No-no, believe me, 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 another whole bar in his own mouth as he had finished off the first with a series of quick bites.


"Jael," he began, pronouncing it "jail" like he used to when they first met.


Thing was many English language speakers often pronounce it as "jail." Well, when they see her name written, anyway. 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 would 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.


"Yeah, babe?" She had answered serious, making sure to add the 'babe' pet-name to remind him he had no right to treat her as a child, but rather as his equal in love--his, for all intents and purposes, wife.

Kaven didn't drop the tone, "Earlier you mentioned to Mari how she had at least once before admonished you to keep track of your cycle on your own calendar," he looked at her with a "well-now" expression on his face.

"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 were watery. Jael almost gasped. Kaven took that split second to rev-up enough courage to tell her what he needed to, "Mari did not bring you KitKat for your mutual monthly chocolate eating ritual."


"How would you kno--" Jael began, but Kaven was not done.


"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 did not mean to be antagonistic with Jael. A tear made its escape from his eyes, shocking him. I'm...am I? Crying?!


Kaven did not know if the wet, saltiness streaming down his cheek 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 wasn't, but could it be...?


The doorbell sounded, and Jael jumped up to go answer it. Kaven was glad he did not go for the front door, as now he had 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. All white surrounding his green irises.

Jael found it was Martha at the door holding a small, bag. "Is Mari, here? I got what she asked for."


"Yes, well, she was here. We were talking and she got up all of a sudden with her cell saying she had to make a call, I am guessing now, to you, Martha?" Assuming Martha had brought something for her, Jael reached for the bag Martha held.

As she reached for the bag, she saw behind Martha that Mari's car was pulling in to the driveway. Martha had dodged Jael's reach for the little bag. Giving Jael a tight lip smile with a slight shake of her head, Martha now gripped the bag with both hands. Relinquishing her effort to take what was apparently only for Martha's hands, Jael moved aside from the door and held it open. Martha dutifully entered. Kaven popped up beside her and led her to a seat offering her a cold bottle of spring water which she earnestly took. The cold water was welcome as it was, as usual for the Rio Grande Valley, HOT outside.

Meanwhile, Jael remained holding the door open as Mari parked her car, locked it up, and made her way toward the entrance. She did not enter, though but reached her right hand out as though for an introductory handshake. Jael still shocked Mari had left could not truly be more surprised so offered her hand in return which Mari then grabbed to pull Jael in for a hug. Explaining as she held Jael, that Mari had asked Martha to bring something for Jael.


"Something?" Jael repeated.


"Something you need. I dropped by the HEB over there on the corner to pick up some...other stuff," She patted her purse, "while Martha looked for that other one. I see now that she just went inside, so she must have found it and brought it over."


Of course, Jael understood her purse was where the other stuff was. She also understood the secret thing the "stuff" was for. She was at least mentally allowing herself to acknowledge what all the fuss was about. Then Mari opened her enclosed arms, though Jael did not let go of the embrace right away. Taking a deep breath, Jael pulled away, and looked earnestly at Mari, "I should have kept a calendar for myself. I'm sor--"


Mari took a step back. "Last time I checked, regret spiked apologies will not turn back time. I am here for you now, no matter what."


Kaven 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 yet it just so happened to coincide. He now entered with a tray laden with glasses of tea. Releasing Jael entirely from their embrace, Mari darted over to greet Kaven, acknowledge Martha, and get a glass of tea for herself and add a squeeze from one of the lemon wedges that was on the tray into her tea.


"Drink up, darling.' Lots of liquids from now until morning then test first thing when you awake," Mari admonished.


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. Thanks, Kaven, for the tea, by the way. Regardless, the most accurate results come in the morning in the first of the day's urine."


"Oh. Okay," Jael had started to pace while responding. "I just all but chugged this tea, so I should be able to, uh, yeah in a bit."


Martha faux coughed, and held 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 then commented apologetically, "I didn't know for whom I was bringing this earlier which is why I didn't let you take it from me. Sorry!"


Kaven placed a hand comfortingly on Jael's head, "When you're ready, dear."


She slurped up the little bit left 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 and ushered Jael to the restroom and even opened the door for her. Inside with her now, she pointed out the vanity counter, "This can be the 'flat surface',"


"What?! The flat what for what?" Jael was so frustrated it was quickly confusing her.

"The counter could be where you can lay the test flat for the minutes you have to wait while the results imprint." She then quietly left and sat outside the door on the floor to wait for Jael to finish the test. Jael did her business, and opened the door having checked her watch knowing three of the five needed minutes had passed. She jumped a bit when she saw Martha on the ground 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 the palm of one hand raised toward her parted lips. Chuckling, Martha was starting to really 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 romantically 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, though, 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," Martha declared.


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. She had entertained the notion, and noted when she found other women attractive, but as of now she had not asked any gal out or been asked out by any female. She was not even sure if that was how it was supposed to go with homosexual interactions. How else could it go?

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. The two seemed to always be together. She was always there with Mari! Nevertheless, 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 a deliberate effort to be kind to Jael during her recent troubled time. The timer went off.

Martha pressed stop on her phone to cease 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? Since only one of the lines is dark and I don't even know if this counts as another line, I can't tell. I use a different pregnancy test." Martha felt desperate to clarify right after she said that, "So, 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...OH, I'm so sorry!"


Martha's voice followed Jael who had left the bathroom, passed through 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 lite beer sitting on a shelf of the refrigerator door where condiments usually are, 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 lite 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, if that. Mari was not worried about Jael pouring herself a glass of wine either having already moved the step stool Jael would need 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). Heh, Jael did not even really like wine so moving the stepstool was overkill.

Jael wasn't really much of a drinker in general, and as she almost had two cocktails (well, a few sips of each) 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 burped a release of a light, but audible sound, upon finishing the beer. Martha chuckled behind the hand that now shielded her sheepishly smiling mouth, and offered, "Excuse me!"

Meanwhile Kaven had pulled into the garage back 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, he found a way to make himself busy.

Mari was at the garage door entrance 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. 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 from him. Kaven was watching Mari carry 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...?


He calmly awaited her return. "You know I would've offered you a can. But taking all 6? I'm thinking you owe us a whole 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 all the beer. 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 beverage from Martha who was now only staring at the 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?"


"Yo," She answered trying to act normal.


Mari chuckled a bit as she was prone to when Jael tried to adapt her speech patterns to lingo she'd heard on TV. Then Mari explained, "Heh, yeah, I got you something for tomorrow morning."


"Yeah, oh, I do 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! Maybe we should go to the store together like right now and read all the directions on each of them so I can pick one--"


"Won't have a problem with this one--the results will be clear. The results read in words either pregnant or not pregnant."


Jael inhaled wondering 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." Mari lowered her voice. "Hey, can we talk?"

She took Jael toward the other room. Once they were alone, Jael said, "Yes, I do."


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!" Mari's warm smile turned serious now, "I want to check if the feeling someone that you cannot see is nearby left you at any time since it started?"

Jael didn't rage or weep or anything, she just answered point blank, "No."

"I see. Want me to stay the night, you know so you don't have to be alone?"


Simultaneously relieved and a bit eager, Jael nodded her head slowly with all the energy of repeated head nods. Meanwhile, Martha felt she should point out the obvious, "Uh, she's not alone. She lives with Kaven..."


"I don't count. I'm a boy." Kaven said, then smoothly transitioning subjects by focusing eye contact on just Martha, "Hey, need a ride home?"


Soon, Kaven had driven Martha home, and was back again. He noted how Martha had left without even a goodbye from Jael or Mari. That seemed strange to him as he had thought women talked through and about everything with each other. He observed the two remaining females in his kitchen. Mari got up seemingly oblivious to all other concerns at the moment, and put some water to boil in a measuring cup in the microwave. She turned from the microwave and asked, "Tea?"


Then Mari shuffled through the tea boxes from one of the cabinets. Soon the microwave dinged. Jael went to fetch the honey and some tea cups. Mari had not steeped any tea bags in the water, though.


"Uh, so, just hot water, then?" Jael had queried teasingly.


"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 the 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 as Mari couldn't imagine anyone not liking that type of tea.


Jael's response was matter of fact, "Kaven."

Of course because of him, always him--he was her fall back reason for living. He liked Earl Grey tea so she made sure they always had some.


"Yeah?!" his response came quick. Kaven speed walked over to them. "What's up? Need me to do something? Get anything?"


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 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 and lifted her tea cup taking a sip in unison with Kaven. Jael just shook her head feeling as she had when she discovered Kaven and Mari shared a church, before as quickly as she could sipping her own hot tea. The tea's warmth and soft flavor with honey sweetness brought her some measure of comfort. She then remembered Martha, and looked around for Mari's friend.


"Martha? What kind of tea, do you...?" Jael called out.


"Oh, no, yeah, honey, sorry, you must not have caught it, but Kaven already drove Martha home." Mari explained.


"You hadn't seemed to 'catch it', either, Mari. You didn't even say bye to your roomie," Kaven commented.


"I did notice she was leaving, and trusted you would get her home safely; the only person concerning me then and right now is Jael," Mari said pointedly.


They passed the evening away sharing oft told funny stories, drinking tea, and watching a couple of comedy sitcom episodes 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 naturally unfamiliar with as she didn't know any classic hymnals,


"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. Jael truly enjoyed it despite some of the lyrics inspiring a curiosity she generally would have raged against. The part that hit her the closest were the words "a foretaste of glory divine."


The word foretaste. The song was lyrically claiming that people could here and now get a prevue of something wonderful that would someday be forever. 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. Kaven had them turn to Psalms 91 and both he and Mari took turns reading. 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. "I love you," Kaven said almost harshly despite the sweet words used.


Then he rolled his shoulders back, turned on his heels, and went to the bedroom. 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 and understanding her confusion, 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. She was. Hiding under the table was how she shielded herself from negativity when she felt it falling down mercilessly on her. 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. As the whole circumstance was awkward, she tried to lighten the scenario up by dusting invisible ash from Mari's shoulders.

Then she went to apologize to Kaven. Well, sort of. Honestly she didn't really feel like she needed to be sorry to Kaven for how she dealt with pain or confusion or anything really. I handle stuff how I handle stuff. Maybe it's not how you would do it, but it works for ME.

Jael went in the room where Kaven lay on the bed with 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 at 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 were 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 had been nodding and now 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 unbidden 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. Kaven started all-out laughing. Mari couldn't help but laugh, as well. Still, she was the first to spate from the reverie. Jael stood up, when Mari declared her intention to sleep on the sofa,


"So, I'll just go clean up in one of the restrooms and change for beddy-bye sleepy-time on one of the sofas."


Jael pulled the other two in for a group hug and quickly proposed, "Oh, we can sleep in one of the extra bedrooms all together, though, if that's okay with everyone..."


Kaven moved outward from their embrace so that he stood with one arm around Jael and faced Mari. "I think that's a great idea, myself. Is that cool with you, Mari? Or would that be weird?"


"Uh..." Mari was looking back and forth between Jael and Kaven. "Um,"

Jael giggled. "My man found a way to go to bed with two girls..."


"Yeah, well, maybe," Mari began. "But ain't nothing gonna happen for him to brag to anyone about."


Kaven wasn't even moderately amused. "Hon, you really think I'm like that?"


Removing his arm from Jael, he practically stomped 3 feet away from both of them, but faced Mari, "I will stay on Jael's side so you don't have to feel, I don't know, weird that was the word you used, right, weird?"


"HA. Okay, let me go clean up, change, and then join you two!"


Mari used the nearest restroom to brush her teeth with the toothbrush she always had in her purse as she actually did brush after each meal and changed her clothes to just her long t-shirt folding her pants and putting it aside. Jael made her way to the master bathroom to do the same except slipped on a nightgown. They then met in the den. They moved to the extra bedroom, and settled in. Sleep came quick for the trio, and the two ladies awoke first the next morning. Kaven was awake, but kept his eyes shut and his breathing even, so they could take the lead.

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 ready for the day and 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 at the stick.


"A cup?" Jael nervously asked.


Mari explained the cup's purpose as she was still holding it out--to gather her sample and then dip the test stick in.


"Oh, so then the results will be immediate and we--I won't have to lay it down flat for forever?" Jael asked.


Mari shook her head. "Still gotta lay it flat for 2 minutes I believe that's this test required time 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, but still..." She turned toward the bathroom. "Okay, here I go,"


She didn't move. 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 watched as Jael laid it flat, reached over it to the sink to rinse her hands, and then stepped to the side toward the hanging hand towel to dry her hands from the rinsing. Kaven had went over to Jael and held her as Mari did all the technical stuff which was really just emptying the remainder of the cup in the toilet and flushing, then throwing the cup away. Kaven 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 he started laugh-crying. He pushed away from the counter and dropped to his knees to silently thank the Lord God.

Mari could not tell from Kaven's response what the test stick read. Was he happy or disappointed? Noticing that Jael had not tried to look at the result, Mari looked at her with a pleading expression. Jael nodded. Mari barely paused to go view the printed result--she read aloud the tiny letters on the stick, "Pregnant."


Jael's hands went to her abdomen to gently caress. She was relieved. This meant the presence she had been feeling... Never was it a ghost or anything else scary!


Inside of her was she and Kaven in a teeny tiny body! Kaven arose, walked over to Jael, kissed her lips, and said, "You are going to be a mommy."


Mari was smiling big as she said, "And I am going to be the ever present aunt-like person!"


Jael sniffed, looked over Mari to meet Kaven's eyes, "You are going to be a da-daddy, except, I still don't get the mess with ghosts--"


Shaking his head, Kaven said, "Except nothing."


Desperate to point out the ghost stuff and demand an explanation, Jael began, "Except, this whole time--"

"No, forget all of that, anything but this." Kaven's voice was strong not harsh. It was oddly reassuring.


Mari understood both of them. Jael wanted closure about all the ghost stuff and Kaven wanted to rejoice in his fatherhood. Mari wasn't sure if she should excuse herself and let them both deal with this in whatever way they were going to. That would be the decent thing to do; she should leave. She didn't. It was as though she were glued to her seat. Unbidden, though, she began clearing her throat. The other two looked at her expectantly.


"I don't know. Apparently getting up to respectfully let your little family deal with your family, is out of my reach."


In unison Kaven and Jael said, "You are family."


Now Mari was wiping the suddenly appearing tears away. Jael rushed to hold her and Kaven to find some tissue. Kaven froze after he handed Jael some of the tissue paper. Mari picking up on his sudden stunned quality, hurried over to him, "Hey! What is wrong, Ka--"


Mari stopped her inquiry as now as all three of them were in shock. They could all hear voices. The VOICES were coming from outside the room they were all in. As they all turned their heads towards the sounds they realized from where it came: the foyer area around the front door.


"Nah, this is the place, dude; trust me."


"This looks like a family's house and I thought you said it was where that cute Jael girl lived... She's young."


"She could have a family and like maybe this is her parents' house...I don't know!"


Mari, Jael, and Kaven walked cautiously out of the room. They came up to where one young man was standing talking. He was speaking to another young guy's head protruding into the foyer from outdoors.


The head noticed them first. "Dude, look behind you; we've been made."


With that, the head withdrew from the front door back outdoors. Then the full body walked through the door and stood in the foyer close by the other guy that was already inside.


That first guy in the entrance way turned and saw the trio of friends. "Oh, hey! Jael!"


Jael was about to respond to her name, but Kaven stepped in front of her. Jael was now more shocked by Kaven. He felt like...something was on him or coming from him or something. It was not Kaven's usual feel, Jael noted.


Mari who was standing almost 3 feet away from Kaven, felt it, too. She knew what it was, though, and commented, "Oh-oh. There's gonna be a showdown now."


Confused, Jael backed up. A showdown?


"Hey, no, Jael, don't leave! My friend and I were just talking about how you haven't come by the Walgreens on Dove in a while. You know to get those Arizona ice teas you like so much."


Jael nodded. It was true, that was her favorite kind of tea and they always had it in cans that she could put in the fridge and open right up for a nice drink of ice tea. But, right now she was freaked out that the young man who had just appeared in her house with another one that had been partially in and outside simultaneously that then walked THROUGH the front door. Except, despite how freaky these two men were, she was more fascinated by the power emanating from her fianc

It was something she kinda thought she had felt on him before but not like this. Now it was so strong. Mari felt like she should tell Jael what was happening with Kaven, but realized there was no time now to explain the Holy Ghost. She did grab a post-it from by the landline phone to jot down Acts chapter 2 to give Jael later. Of course, she anticipated the confused look and likely questions that she would have to field thereafter. But, right now, Mari grabbed Jael by the hand to ensure she could offer comfort, because Kaven stood very straight and declared loudly, "Get out."


The two young men both wearing Walgreens vests, both now fully inside the foyer standing adjacent to each other heard Kaven and looked at each other smirking. Then seemingly in response to Kaven, got bigger and drew closer in vicinity to him. Voice unchanging in tone or volume sounded Kaven's response to their growth and movement, "I rebuke you in the name of Jesus."


Now the two young men's faces twisted from their previous jovial faces to different less, amicable ones. The expression on the one nearest Kaven became bright-eyed with a sidewise wicked smile. It was like he was challenging Kaven. Not phased, Kaven looked in their direction and repeated, "I rebuke you in the name of Jesus."

Next to Jael, Mari filled with the Holy Ghost herself began muttering in tongues. Jael could feel the same spirit she had felt around Kaven on Mari now. She did not drop Mari's hand as the feeling was not threatening, rather it was comforting. She clung to Mari's hand only briefly making a mental note to ask Mari later what language she was muttering. Otherwise, she watched Kaven repeat the same sentence of rebuke to the young man-looking thing that kept coming closer to him as its smile became more twisted, if that were possible.

As if Mari knew what were about to happen, she drew Jael by the hand she held into her arms and brought them both further away from what was apparently a battle. Almost immediately thereafter the young man that was looking like a clerk Jael had dealt with at Walgreens a few times in the recent past burst apart. Like, EXPLODED!

Visually exploded in front of them. Jael nor Mari had ever seen an actual explosion in real life; they had only heard of them described on the news, or portrayed in a television/movie scene. There was no smell of explosives, sight of fire, or burned flesh, though. There was no other word for it--it seemed like the young man exploded; he popped apart and then he was just gone. No sign of him anywhere in the entrance.


"That dude never could take confrontational customers. He died after a customer told him off this one time, and then overly-sensitive clerk guy tried to drive home all kinds of distracted," the remaining clerk looking man said as he grew larger like he got more muscle while he uttered those few words.


Walgreen's clerk drew closer to them and grew even bigger. This time the size increase was in the face with the confident smile still in place. Still without any sign of panic or least bit of fear, Kaven stood his ground and turned his face toward the new enemy just as it finished speaking and growing in girth. Kaven glanced the way of Jael and Mari before taking a deep breath and answering the man who'd just-grown larger, "That's great. I know how you are gonna die: I rebuke you in the name of Jesus."


Making even Kaven take a step back, the creature man grew bigger at the mention of the name of the Christ. Moving his face in a half head shake, Kaven moved forward and repeated no louder than before but at a slightly quicker rate, "I-rebuke-you in the name of Jesus."


The creature-man grew bigger, as did its disturbing smile. Mari joined in with Kaven when he rebuked again. The man thing grew no bigger in body, but its cheeks got larger making its smile look diabolically large. He looked directly at Jael, "You are supposed to make ghost tragedies happy, right? That didn't work out so much for my buddy."


Jael nodded and joined in with her fiancand bestie, "I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!"

Jael had spoken louder than the other two. This time the clerk thing looked scared. Again, the three friends almost chanted, "I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!"


Creature-man turned and ran through the door out of the house his body jerking through the wood of the door. The windows by the front door showed no man running away from the entrance of the house. He or it was just gone. Nevertheless, Kaven walked up to the door and said aloud, "I sanctify this house from this door to the back door," Kaven had his hand upon it.

Mari was smiling. Jael knew she must personally look confused. The two men did look familiar and in their Walgreens vests prompted vague memories of cashing out with each of them at different times at the store she frequented. That must have been where she had met them or where she'd seen who the creatures looked like. Still Jael could not believe she had joined in on this spiritual battle against what must have been...demons--the idea mortified her even as she reveled in the victory of seeing a monster flee in fear of the repeated mention of God.

Mari's expression had gone peaceful, and Kaven's face still looked determined. He escorted both ladies to the den. Sitting down he reached over and pulled the coffee table to him. Kaven slapped the table with both hands. "So, anyone else have the epiphany I did?"

Both of the ladies nodded, but Jael said, "Uh-uh," and Mari outright said, "No."


"The first guy was just there- we none of us saw him enter and the other one, he, he zoomed through the door!" Jael lamented.


"That first guy came in regular sized and left a body builder!" Mari declared.


"Well, came in THROUGH the door...but yeah. They kinda looked like one or two of the Walgreen's check-out persons I met maybe a few times, but ended up being...unrecognizable."


Kaven was nodding and shaking his head, one after another like nonverbally saying "yes" and "no." He was bringing to mind what Jael had told him of the other ghosts she had seen and "helped."


"Changing shape." Kaven said simply looking earnestly at Jael.


Mari gasped and suddenly, Jael got it. Oh, how she got it! Jael looked at Mari, eyes desperate. Mari, fully up to speed, shook her head with the most sympathetic look on her face. Jael began to pant and her arms flailed.


"Breathe, honey, slowly. Just breathe," Mari tried.


"Can they shape SHIFT?!" Jael began. She began shaking her head quick. It was like she was trying to fling the memories of so-called ghosts from her head.


"Mrs. D-d-doak...b-b-oy libr--ary...B-Brian..." Jael stuttering became the rhythm to her jittery process of sitting down.

She had one hand holding her throat and the other hand was flailing. Jael kept stuttering the descriptions out. Kaven walked up to her and placed his arm around her. Jael collapsed hyperventilating into his arms before pulling away to pace. Mari walked over to Kaven and their eyes met. Understanding, Kaven spoke, "It is hard not to believe our own eyes and ears."


Mari picked up with that, "Yeah, honey, what you experienced was very convincing. The parts I saw fooled me, too!"


Jael's head was still shaking, but more slow now. Kaven walked up and took Jael's hand in his own, and started pacing with her. Jael was visibly relieved and laughed in a way that was really audible weeping. "I held little children's hands when I reintroduced them to who I thought was..."

Mari took a deep breath then she took Jael's other hand and began to pray, "Father God, come to be with us now. We repent of being tricked by demons deceiving us by taking the form of innocents. Grant us discernment and the wisdom to overcome. Thank you, Jehovah for granting this discernment to Kaven tonight and the ability to destroy those 2 demons tonight. In Jesus glorious name, amen--"

Nodding, Kaven continued, "My sisters in Christ and I approach you for your continued guidance. I thank you for revealing in my spirit and heart how the two men were not what they presented themselves to be. Soon I will discuss with my life partner the importance of salvation and baptism. Give me the strength to overcome my own plans so that thy will be done, Lord God."


In unison, then, Mari and Kaven recited the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever,"


Surprising Kaven and Mari, Jael then pitched in with, "In Jesus name, Amen."


Her addition to the Lord's Prayer fit nicely capping off all the time with fake ghosts messing with their world. Kaven, cell phone in hand was searching his phone's contacts for Pastor Jake. Turned out the Pastor was at a nearby lake, fishing. When he had been told of their horrid experience combined with Jael's blessed participation in the exorcism, Pastor Jake assured Kaven that he would bring lake water for Jael to be baptized in at their home when he got back into town. Pastor Jake instructed, "Lead Jael to the Lord with the sinner's prayer, Kaven, and she will be ready for baptism."

Pastor Jake assured them his fishing trip was done. Indeed it was as he had caught no fish worth bringing home, he had thrown all his disappointing catches back. So, he could use the coolers to gather lake water for the baptism. He had optimistically brought two large coolers to place his fish in, but not a one fish graced their interiors.

Mari and Kaven sat with Jael to explain Biblical history and how it is indeed human history with an initial focus on the Hebrew Israeli people of God. Kaven explained how the savior of all humankind came from and as God from the human woman Mary. How the baby grew to become a fine, Jewish man meant to be a fisherman like his earthly father Joseph and husband of Mary his mother. Except Jesus knew scripture as well as the older scribes.


"Scripture?" Jael asked.


They explained that scripture meant Bible chapters which at the time was mostly the first five books of what is now called the Old Testament. The meanings and implications of this scripture Jesus knew from a young age like a scholar stunning all those around him from everyday Hebrew people to officials of the religion alike. They further explained how he performed divine miracles of healing and, yes, casting out of demons.

The most divine miracle came when after the envious people had manipulated Roman law to sentence Jesus to death on the cross, how he was raised back to life come the third full day later whilst his body lay in a burial cave. Thereafter he had appeared in public, the scars on his hands from the nails that had joined him to the wooden cross still evident. Kaven summarized that Jesus was the final sacrifice for sin.


Jael had to ask, "Final?"


Kaven explained how all sin is death. "The Jews repented which means showed they were sorry for their sins by offering sacrifices of fruits and animals -the death of those to replace them having to die. So, like the animals were killed to atone for the sins committed by the people."


"How is all sin death? Is sin, then, like deathly diseases?" Jael inquired.


"Sin is the stuff we shouldn't do and, so is death. Coincidently, if we do too much of a sin it ultimately leads to our physical death. Deathly diseases as you asked, for instance, can come from sin in the form of sexually transmitted infections. Gluttony is the sin of overeating that often leads to obesity and diabetes which often leads to death. Understanding it as sin means knowing we had a choice to do what was right but chose to do what was wrong. So, like we shouldn't lie, we shouldn't kill, we oughtn't to steal, et cetra." Kaven had paused.


Jael shared her epiphany, "So like guilt? Is that the death we experience for our sin?"


"Yeah, that's exactly right," Mari encouraged.


Kaven continued, "So the people knowing their own sins would come and offer sacrifices (which is to offer the death of other living beings before the guiding Rabbis who were like the pastors or priests but really scriptural teachers of the time for the people. Once Jesus raised from the dead he gave a final commandment to preach the good news that no more sacrifice is needed and more than just the Jewish people can be redeemed of their sins before God. Not that non Hebrew persons called Gentiles in Scripture have to sacrifice animals or offer plants with prayer like the Jewish people once did. We simply claim the sacrifice for all sin by everyone in Jesus as we repent mentally and verbally to God in prayer. We are to preach this and baptize in the name of God in all three parts."


"God has three parts? I thought, I mean in my thesis, Christianity is labeled as a monotheistic religion--one God."

"You are one person, yeah?" Kaven asked.


"Are you expecting me to say no?" Jael said, eyes bright.


"No, you are a central nervous system, respiratory system, and digestive system. Still one person but all those parts have to be functional. God is the Father, the sin-less son, and the Holy Spirit also known as the Holy Ghost."


"Doesn't ghost mean dead and haunting?" Jael queried as she had smarted at the use of the word ghost both now and when she had heard it at Kaven's church.


"Ghost is another word for spirit. We, as in who we are is represented by our spirits. That's why they say when someone dies, that he or she gave up the ghost."


"OH, okay. Um...if Jesus didn't sin, why is he the payment for our sin?"


"The animals sacrificed for sin didn't themselves commit the sins they were used for the repentance of or really do anything wrong to be offered for sin payment, either. They died to pay for the death sins they had nothing to do with."


Mari wanting to explain baptism, pitched in using a voice clear yet full of emotion, "By baptism we participate in Christ's death as we are lowered into water, and as we raise from the water, we share in his resurrection."

Her timing was perfect. Pastor Jake had arrived bearing the lake water for baptism.

Jael was weeping. She had to ask Mari while Kaven was out greeting the Pastor, "What exactly is prayer?"


"A conversation with God. We pray to each other all the time. We give updates, ask questions, and entreat each other for favors and to just hang out...Prayer is doing that with God."


"I thought God knew everything, why would He need to be updated?"

"Touch Except I know you love me, and it still helps to hear it once in a while. God knows all we do and think, but letting Him know about it shares our feelings with Him. If you're sorry for something an explanation of why you did it helps, too. Probably helps the sinner more to remember why they did what they shouldn't have," Mari explained.


She continued with a kind expression on her face, "Repentance is regret that leads to apology and determination not to repeat the sin again, but if it is done again, repentance can be done again, too."


"So, I just get baptized and I'm a Christian?" Jael was eager now to have that done.


Mari smiled, "After salvation is baptism."


"What is salvation?" Jael asked then turned to notice Kaven and Pastor Jake listening in.


They had come into the room, after pouring the lake water in the bathtub and Pastor praying over it. Pastor Jake personally reflected on his earlier disappointment at having caught no fish. He had expectantly brought two large coolers with him to place the fish he had expected to catch within. He smiled and silently shook with internal laughter as he recalled Jesus telling a few disciples who were fishing, "follow me and I will make you fishers of men in Matthew 4:19."


It was fitting that instead of fish he was bringing back water to baptize a new believer in. Pastor Jake was so happy about this new believer as a Christian should be about any new believer. Yet this was the notorious atheist he had previously worried about Kaven getting involved with. He recalled chastising himself for having doubted Kaven's resilience and dedication to the faith. Kaven's church attendance never wavered and worship was always devout. So, he had filled both coolers with the lake water, and headed back to McAllen. Kaven took him to the bathroom that had a tub to pour the water in, and Pastor prayed with hands stretched out over the water for receiving a new believer acting in obedience to baptism.


Pastor now in the den with Kaven smiled his hello to the ladies and listened as Kaven answered Jael's question, "Salvation is being saved from the life of unrepentant sin we've gotten ourselves embroiled in."


Pastor Jake continued what Kaven began, "It is claimed either publically or privately and declared before others that we now affiliate ourselves with Jesus the Savior. Jesus is the Christ which is why His followers are called Christians which basically means little Christs or Christ followers."


Jael nodded kind of getting it, and interest peeked, looked at Mari, "And Christ means?"


Mari looked at Kaven who looked at Pastor Jake who answered, "Anointed one."


"Anointed?" Jael asked earnestly. That word resonated with Jael as something she thought she had felt on both Kaven and Mari earlier.


"Covered in," Pastor Jake replied.


"COVERED IN," Jael repeated. Fully understanding now, Jael declared, "Kaven and Mari, you probably already know this, but you both were anointed earlier. I could FEEL it on you."


Mari, understanding clarified, "You felt the Holy Ghost on us."


"So, God on you?" Jael asked.

Both Kaven and Mari nodded. Jael began to think nodding was her favorite nonverbal form of communication. She began nodding, too, "I repent! I am so sorry I questioned, no denied God's existence or right to any part of my life and made fun of anyone who claimed Him or any religion. I didn't just hate you God, I hated the idea of you! I am so sorry. It was not you who rejected me. I am sorry I tried to reject you. I am sorry I did reject you! I am so sorry..." Jael was on her knees, head bowed such that the top of her head was touching the floor.


Pastor Jake walked over placing a hand on Jael's back. She looked up at him. Smiling Pastor asked Jael, "Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord of your life?"


"Yes!" Jael responded enthusiastically.


"Surrender to him, Jael. Accept him into your heart such that you all of you becomes his new home."

Instinctively, Jael lifted both arms palms facing forward like a criminal would surrender to the authorities. Her eyes closed and she said, "I accept you, Jesus Christ as the Savior of my life. Please save me from all my mistakes that could have ended up killing me. Live in my heart, God, make it your home and fill this house we live in with your anointing in Jesus name I pray, amen."


Pastor Jake looked at Mari. Understanding, Mari took Jael aside and led her to the Master bedroom where she directed Jael to pick out a change of clothes and a towel. Then she escorted her to the guest bathroom with the bathtub filled with lake water. Jael looked at the water and felt like she should be in a bathing suit, and began to try and leave to change as she was in a t-shirt and jean shorts with her hair in a ponytail.

Mari looked at her, shook her head, and then held her own nose in a way that indicated that Jael should do the same. So, Jael got in, kneeling in the lake water, held her nose as Mari had, and Pastor Jake laid his hand upon her hand that held her nose with one hand and his other upon the top of her head saying, "Jael, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost," and with that statement gently laid Jael fully into the water such that she was completely immersed.

As she arose from the water, something happened. It was a feeling like no other she had felt before not even the feeling of relief she had earlier as she said the sinner's prayer and invited Christ into her heart. This was a cleansing feeling. Like how it feels when dirty hands are washed clean -NO, more than that. Except it was so MUCH more than that; she did not just feel relieved from the prayer and clean from the baptism...she felt transformed.

It was akin to how dating other people was nothing in comparison to dating Kaven. Liking the other guys was nice, but liking Kaven became love. Love she felt she could not live without. This cleansing was like that. She had obviously cleansed before, but this was so much more powerful. That was it. It was a POWERFUL clean.

Jael could feel internally like she had been cleansed snow-white on the inside. She felt the pure, bright white feeling so strong she could actually SEE it like she was peering within herself to a vision of resplendent white. It was so dazzling she felt like dancing. Well, really just jumping up and down in excitement would have worked. She looked at Pastor, then at Kaven and Mari. They were all her family, a different sort of family. Even Pastor Jake whom she barely knew but had escorted her into this baptized, altered state. Yeah, Pastor was family. They all helped her out of the tub, and Kaven wrapped the towel around her. Mari escorted everyone out so Jael could change into clothes Mari had brought in. Jael looked at Mari expecting that she would intuitively know what had happened. Mari, of course realized Jael's need to hear her say, "I know, doll, I know. Everyone's experience is different. From the expression on your face, I'm guessing that was one great happening."


Usually, Mari knowing would be its usual oddly accurate read. Except, this time, Jael couldn't imagine anyone really, and truly knowing THIS feeling of being made so clean she felt gleaming white inside. She was in love with this feeling. She was in love with God!


Jael's cell phone rang in the pocket of her slacks. Placing it to her ear, she answered, "Yes?"


Jerry was calling, he was excited about another ghost legend he heard about that was local. She didn't answer really about this new ghost tale he was sharing. She just made listening noises and responses (like, "hmmn." "huh?" "really?" "oh!").

"You sound different, Jael, what's up?" Jerry asked.


She did sound different. Happy different. Jerry was beside himself with curiosity. Jael didn't leave him hanging, "I found out what the aura presence is I've been feeling and cannot escape is."


Jerry was excited, "Oh, yeah?! Which ghost is it?"


"Nope," Jael said simply.

"Okay, huh?" Jerry was genuinely in awe now.


"It is no ghost. Jerry. This presence is alive. New and very much alive."


"How could a ghost be alive...wait. Did you say new? OMG! Are you pregnant?!"


Wow. Jerry is quick. "Yes, Jerry. I am. Please release me from your state-wide ghost hunt."


"Of course! This, I mean your pregnancy is so much more important for you and Kaven. Relay what I am about to tell you to him, as well: CONGRATULATIONS!"


Jael resolved to invite Jerry over and have a discussion about Christ and demon trickery taking advantage of human sentiment over deceased persons to puff up emotional responses and inspire fear. She wanted to share with Jerry the hope she gained from her new found faith that cast light upon all shadows of ghostly intrigue. The Holy Ghost was the only ghost she was in the least bit interested in now. She wanted that for Jerry, too. Jael wanted that for everyone.

Instinctively her right hand went to her belly. She looked up expecting to make eye contact with baby's Daddy, but he was gone. Well, not in the bathroom anymore. She turned at the sound of glub-glub. Pastor had uncorked the tub and the lake water was draining out. She wanted to thank him for attending to that, but found she didn't say anything.

Hearing Kaven's work voice speaking to someone, Jael turned and exited toward the sound of Kaven's speech. He was in the office room, entering something on the open calendar program on his computer. When he turned and saw Jael, his face softened, and he continued to whomever he was on the phone with, "Yes, well I'm sure she could make an 8 a.m. appointment, but can you give her a little extra snooze time?"


"All right, that works I think, but let me double check with her--Jael! I am setting an appointment with an OBGYN (pregnancy doctor), can you make an appointment tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.?"


"That's when your shift starts tomorrow, doesn't it?" She responded while shaking her head.


"I'll be late." He said with his and-that's-final tone of voice.


"I'll go, if you call your employers and get permission to be late or get someone to cover for you." Jael matched his stare down.


"You are pregnant. You have to go." Kaven pointed out.


"I'm pretty sure the baby will keep growing and will come out without doctor consultation," she pointed out remembering what her adoptive mom had told her about Jael's own birth.


Near breathless now, Kaven asked, "Please?"


Jael chuckled, "Okay, fine. I'll even go get prenatal vitamins to take. How's that for a responsible mom?"


Kaven grinned and nodded. He then started texting someone on his cell phone. A few texts later, he returned his attention to Jael, "I got someone to open the store for me and cover 'til I get there. Satisfied?"


"Yes," She chuckled, "Although my belly feels a bit aslope."


Kaven nodded not out of understanding but a desire to, "From what I hear, that'll get worse. I am so sorry."


They both then escorted Pastor out, thanking him for his role in the Salvation and Baptism. Pastor Jake couldn't be happier taking his empty again coolers into his car and driving off.


Jael's pregnancy was soon in full swing. Her cravings soon became evident. She wanted Long John Silver's fish and shrimp often. Well, that and ice cream cones fully loaded on top --like chocolate icing and nuts. She also had a weird desire for steamed broccoli with real butter, salt, and black pepper atop.

Daily, when Jael took her prenatal, Kaven insisted she swallow it with a glass of whole milk to ensure she got calcium --one of two vitamins he noted was not included in the prenatal multivitamin. She pointed out to him that broccoli had more calcium than cow milk, but drank it anyway. He did yoga like stretches with her early morning in the light of the breaking dawn sunlight such that the sun would give her the vitamin D the prenatal was also missing.

Kaven was not nearby when Jael felt the first kicks of tiny baby feet. Neither was Mari, but Martha was there and happily placed her hand atop Jael's abdomen to feel and made a delighted squeal-like noise when she felt it.

"Thought about names, Jael? You might wanna consider Mia like the soccer player with a kick like that," Martha teased.

"If it is a girl, I suppose, maybe" Though Jael already knew if it were a girl what name she would insist be given.


She wanted to give the name that had been originally given her in honor of her birth mother: Jaheel. Kaven had agreed and had only one addition to that name--literally addition: a middle name of Ciara after his own mother. Jael thought that name was pretty, so had no objection. If it were to be a little son, Jael proposed they have a Kaven, Jr.

Kaven "senior" only smiled. They would be finding out the baby's sex soon like in a month. He had no preference either way. The only thing that would have worried him and did worry him in the not so distant past was whether they were going to raise the child as a Christian. This was not a concern anymore--of course they would.

"There is one matter, I believe we should resolve now rather than later." He offered his hand to Jael.


She took his hand and he fell to one knee. Jael gasped. Kaven reached in his pocket and brought out a jewelry box that he opened using his thumb. He was pretty proud of that as he had practiced opening with only one digit of his hand for a while now. He kind-of thought he had the box itself trained to open up. The half-carat diamond glistened against the 18 carat gold band. Kaven, still kneeling lifted the boxed ring even with his face toward Jael and asked, "Jael, my love, will you be my wife?"


She had pictured this moment many a time, ignoring it as a possibility when they had at length discussed buying a house over getting engaged and planning a wedding. She did not know he had even thought of it beyond those talks, more or less that he had a ring! Moreover, she did not know what her response should be.


Marriage had never been a desire of hers which was why it was so easy to forego in favor of buying a house. Although, God never had been part of her identity before, either. She took a deep breath. As she inhaled she saw Kaven as he had been when they first began to flirt, then when they dated, then when they bought the house, and, NOW she looked down at him, "Yes, I thi--YES, I will be your wife, Kaven."


Well, crud. Now I have to plan a wedding, get a dress, bridesmaids, ask Pastor to officiate, and...well, I don't even know what else.


Jael would soon not be alone in the wedding planning, though. She needn't have worried even for a second. Kaven reminded her that her adoptive parents would want to attend and were soon due back in the States. His parents would, of course, help. Then there was her best friend Mari. All of that was comforting. They reading Bible daily also assured her that nothing on this planet really mattered aside from God whom she now followed. She, Kaven, and baby were going to be just fine.

108


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