Closer to the edge
Jo wiped down the bar counter with a damp rag as several patrons had entered the bar at that moment. It was about 11 pm now and most of the customers were older men, lonely men no doubt wanting to drown their sorrows in scotch or vodka. It was sad. She sympathized with them to some point but she wasn’t about to get boxed like that either and blow her hard earned money on booze. She knew what it was like to be alone. That foreboding sensation in your soul that nips you saying you’re alone, no one wanted you…you’re worthless. Jo had learned to ignore that sensation but it wasn’t easy at first. Working at a local bar in Santa Barbara wasn’t the most glamorous job, but it paid the bills, plus she did have one friend. Her fellow barmaid Ida who was off tonight. Plus, most of the men that had come in here were police officers and the occasional detectives. The bar rarely saw any imminent trouble, but she had a bat behind the bar anyway in case for protection.
Jo looked up as a tall, lanky detective (she could pretty much tell the officers from the detectives. She had grown up around police all her life) entered and flopped down at the counter. He had these intense blue eyes, salt and pepper hair and was dressed in a silver suit and matching striped tie which he had loosened at the base of his throat.
“What’ll it be?” she asked grabbing a clear glass tumbler and setting it down in front of him.
“Something strong,” he grunted. “Whiskey.”
Jo nodded and grabbed the bottle and poured him a glass. She noted his strained expression on his face.
“Hard day at work huh?” she said to him.
“You have no idea,” he grunted grabbing the tumbler and downing it in one gulp. He motioned for her to refill it which she did.
“Wanna tell me about it?”
“I have this annoying psychic that works with us on the occasional case. He enjoys humiliating me every chance he gets, though I won’t admit to him that he has helped us.” He groused. “What’s more, I think I’ve hit a dead end with this recent case.”
Jo’s expression softened.
“Wow,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll think of something and figure it out.”
The detective grunted but was watching her intently. Jo managed a smile before she turned her attention to a new customer that had slinked into her bar. He looked nervous for some reason and her guard went up. Something about him seemed off. He sidled up to the bar and sat down a few seats away from the detective.
“Hey,” he whispered leaning forward. “Stella. What are you doing here?”
Jo looked at him confused.
“Excuse me? My names not Stella. It’s Jo. Jo Reyes.” Jo said frowning.
“No,” the young man said fervently shaking his head. “Your names Stella. Stella Gates.”
“Dude, I seriously don’t know what you’re smoking, but that is not my name,” Jo said as she grabbed three tumblers and began filling them with whiskey for the customers on the other side of the young man. She could feel the tall lanky detective’s eyes following the entire situation.
“Here,” he whispered as he reached into his pocket. At this motion Jo could see out of the corner of her eye that the detective was stiff and poised, as though ready to pull out his gun. But the young man only pulled out a picture. She took it and raised a hand to her mouth.
The woman in the photo could be her twin. Jo caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror behind the shelves of liquor bottles. Her dark brown hair was streaked with blond, and a few baby blue colored strands. She was wearing low rider black jeans and a cropped printed shirt with a gold chain belt around the waist band of the jeans. Her ears were pierced and so was her nose. A small diamond stud glinted softly on her right nostril. She had dark blue eyeliner above her eyes. Her features were soft and round. High cheekbones made her eyes seem to pop and sizzle. Her lips were soft and pink. She was of average height, but was on the plus side in the weight department.
The woman in the photo was model thin, long flowing cherry red tresses, full ruby red lips, very voluptuous in the bust area and flawless skin that was almost porcelain. She was dressed in a red Audrey Hepburn style dress and matching red Mary Jane strap shoes. She was absolutely gorgeous.
“You think this is me?” Jo asked incredulously. “While she might look like me, that is not me. This photo looks like it was taken in 1955.” She shook her head and pushed the photo back to the young man. “Dude I’m sorry but you’re mistaking.”
Jo came back over to the detective.
“How are ya doing?” she asked him.
“Is that degenerate bothering you?” he asked.
Jo exhaled and shook her head.
“Nah, I just think he’s sadly mistaking. He thinks I’m someone named Stella Something,” Jo said. “Perhaps I look like her and she’s his great grandmother.” Jo shrugged nonchalantly but something in the guys expression sneaked under her skin a little causing gooseflesh to rise on her arms and the back of her neck. He looked as though he knew her. He didn’t look confused. That was the unsettling part of the whole situation. The detective pulled out his ID and showed it to Jo.
“I’m Head Detective Carlton Lassiter, with the SBPD,” he said to her in a business like tone. “If he bothers you again, you let me know.”
Jo nodded smiling gratefully at Detective Lassiter. The young man was getting desperate now and he shuffled over to where Detective Lassiter was now as he was looking at her urgently and pleadingly.
“Stella you have to remember,” he whispered glancing around anxiously as though he was afraid of someone coming up behind him and assaulting him. “You aren’t Jo Reyes, a bartender. You’re Stella Gates.” He insisted.
“Hey,” Detective Lassiter barked now causing the young man to flinch. “She told you she isn’t this person. You’re mistaking so I’d advise you to leave at once.”
“But she is!” the man insisted. “This whole thing isn’t real Stella! This whole reality here isn’t real! You’re stuck”
“Leave,” Detective Lassiter growled now, pulling aside the side of his suit jacket, exposing his shoulder holster which rested against his hip under his arm. The young man threw a withering look at Jo before scampering out of the bar.
“Wow,” Jo said shaking her head in amazement and aw. “He really believed in what he was saying.”
She watched Detective Lassiter shake his head and he ordered a beer next. Jo began wondering on the slim possibility that the guy was somewhat right. After all, she did believe in reincarnation anyway. Who knows what happens after you pass away? But it was crazy…right?
As Jo leaned back a little, taking in the entire bar, something in the corner of her line of vision flickered. She tilted her head to the side and watched as the top corner near the ceiling of the bar flickered. A thin bright light spread across the wall, illuminating what appeared to be octagon panels. She watched as it spread around the entire bar. The patrons laughed and drank as though nothing out of the ordinary was going on. The phenomenon continued to the floor and spread through the customers who suddenly faded and blinked out like holograms. Jo’s heart began racing as she turned to Detective Lassiter.
“D-Detective do you see whats going on?” she asked in a terrified voice pointing to the corner.
The detective turned around and frowned.
“Nothing,” he said. “Theres nothing going on.”
But the mysterious panels continued to appear and the patrons blinked out one by one until the entire bar behind the detective was gone. Jo watched the detective, who was studying her intently before he too, soon flickered out and vanished.
She stood terrified and frozen as the light got brighter and brighter until it engulfed her and she was forced to close her eyes.
“Miss?” a voice said. “Miss are you alright?”
When she opened her eyes, she had her cheek pressed against the steering wheel of a car and was slumped forward. A horn was blaring. Her head felt like someone had taken a mallet to her skull. She winced and slowly raised a hand to her temple. She felt something warm and wet and when she lowered it, blood was covering her index and middle finger. Her whole body ached and she slowly sat back against the car seat.
She raised a hand to her forehead.
“What on earth happened?” she asked hissing as a sharp pain shot through her leg and up her entire left side. When she glanced down, she saw a large piece of metal embedded in her thigh. Blood had caked her jeans and it appeared that her leg was pinned against the door.
“You were in an accident,” it was a young woman in her 30’s or so. She had short brown hair and brown eyes. “Some idiot T-Boned you and pushed you up against a medium.” She said. “The police and ambulance are on their way.”
Jo leaned back against the seat panting. She had no idea what had just happened. The last thing she remembered was the bar and the detective…what was his name? She frowned trying to remember but she couldn’t. Perhaps it was all just a dream. Yeah that was it. She had been knocked out from the accident and dreamt that whole thing.
When her eye caught the rearview mirror however, that dream theory just went up in smoke. She was still her usual plus size, but now, she had shoulder length straight hair that was dark brown, with white highlights in it. Her eyes were an amber color with a bit of hazel mixed in. Her complexion was creamy now, but there was a small beauty mark on her neck. Her lips were a soft pink color and her cheeks were naturally rosy. Panic settled in as she grabbed the visor and flipped it down, opening the installed mirror. Yep. This wasn’t a dream…it was a nightmare.
Panic began filling her chest now as this whole situation was really starting to freak her out. When she looked past the woman, she spied the young man that she had seen in the bar. He saw her and lowered his head before turning around and leaving.
“Hey,” she shouted frantically. “Stop that guy!”
The woman who was helping her turned around.
“What guy sweetie? There is no one there,” she said frowning.
In the distance, Jo could hear the wailing of an ambulance siren and the police. She sat, breathing heavily as the fire department arrived on scene next and began helping her out of the car. There was steam rising up from the engine and as she looked around, there was a large SUV with the grille pushed in. The driver was hanging out the opened window. Blood streaked down the door. She tore her eyes off of the scene and shut them hoping she would wake up from this nightmare.
“Miss Williams?” a voice said from somewhere above her.
Jo blinked and opened her eyes. Her vision was fuzzy and after a few rapid blinks, her vision cleared. She was lying in a hospital bed. She was hooked up to an IV and was in a room. Next to her was another woman who was sound asleep. For a moment Jo’s memory was a bit blank but then she remembered the car accident. Alarmed she turned to the right and spied a blond haired young woman with blue eyes and wearing a tan women’s pants suit. But standing next to her was a familiar tall, blue eyed lanky man dressed in a navy striped suit and matching tie.
Jo’s heart flipped.
“Detective Lassiter?” Jo asked frowning. “What’s going on?”
Lassiter and the blond haired woman looked at each other. She cleared her throat and smiled at Jo in a friendly manner.
“Ingrid?” she said. “How do you know Detective Lassiter? We just arrived here today.”
“We met in a bar,” Jo answered bluntly. “My names Jo.”
The two cast one another glances again as the woman sat down in the chair and handed Jo a pair of bloody clothes and a wallet in an evidence bag. She gently opened the bag and reached in for the wallet. She opened it and handed it to Jo. Jo took it. Her name was Ingrid Williams. She was 27 (which was the right age) and lived in Santa Barbara. Deciding to play along, Jo grinned and shook her head. She didn’t want these two thinking she was nuts (which frankly she was starting to wonder that herself)
“Right. Jo’s a nickname,” she said quickly as she closed the wallet.
“We’ve never met, Miss Williams,” Lassiter said clearing his throat. “Anyway, we’re here to question you on the accident. This is my partner, Juliet O’Hara.”
The blond haired woman smiled and waved at Jo.
“Do you remember anything from the crash?” O’Hara asked her softly.
Jo shook her head slowly and raised a hand to her forehead. There was a gauze on her temple.
“N-No,” she said shaking her head. “I just woke up. Some good Samaritan told me someone t-boned me.”
Detective Lassiter nodded but then his expression shifted and darkened, with what Jo could only tell was sympathy and something else that she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
“Right,” He grunted. “Well according to the blood tests, your blood alcohol level was a .05. And according to witnesses, you deliberately drove through the intersection.”
Jo stared at him in disbelief.
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” she asked slowly.
“Yes sweetie,” O’Hara said placing a hand on Jo’s arm. “Witnesses say you deliberately drove through the intersection. The SUV tried to stop but he ended up T-boning you. You had a piece of metal stuck in your thigh. Doctors say that the metal missed your femoral artery. You were lucky.” She had a look of pain and sympathy on her face.
She looked upset at the fact that Jo had tried to ‘off’ herself but the problem was Jo couldn’t remember getting drunk and getting into her car. The last thing she remembered was…wait…that memory now had faded, like a dream she’d had the night before. It was gone. Jo had no idea who she was now and that was starting to scare her.
“I-I honestly don’t know what’s going on with me,” she admitted shutting her eyes and feeling tears threatening to spill. “I have no idea who I am or where I live…who my family is or even if I have any.”
She felt O’Hara gently squeeze her hand affectionately.
“We’ll check into your family,” O’Hara said softly as she smiled at me and then turned to leave the room. Only Lassiter hesitated for a moment but then, a man dressed in a pair of jeans and a button up shirt stumbled in. He had a cute unkempt, kempt look about him. He had the early stages of a bear. Then, an African American man stepped in behind him dressed impeccably in a pair of dark slacks and a burgundy shirt. He was bald but still attractive. Both of them were.
“Lassie! I’m sensing this young woman needs our help. The spirits are communing with me,” the scruffy looking guy said. Jo watched with a touch of amusement at the look on Lassiter’s face as he turned around to address them both.
“Spencer, this young woman was in a terrible accident,” he said in a calm, patronizing tone. “I suggest you get out before you end up the same way.”
“Way to make light of the situation, Lassie,” the young man said frowning. “Miss Ingrid? I am Shawn Spencer, Head psychic for the SBPD and this is my partner, Leslie Lickabottom.” He motioned to the African American man standing next to him. He scowled and shook his head.
“I’m Gus,” he said in a warm tone shaking his head disdainfully at Shawn.
“Psychic?” Jo asked perking up a bit as she regarded them steadily.
“Yeah they sometimes assist on cases,” Lassiter chimed in folding his arms across his chest and gave Shawn and Gus a repugnant look but Jo saw something else beneath that look that she wasn’t certain of…was it along the lines of caring and respect? The look was gone within a blink of an eye. “Although some of us aren’t exactly certain he is psychic.”
Jo winced in pain as she hoisted herself up a bit. Lassiter turned to gently grab her arm to steady her for support. She threw him a grateful look and turned back to Shawn and Gus.
“Perhaps you guys can help,” She said leaning forward a bit. “Let me tell you whats been happening to me.”
With that, Jo launched into the entire thing starting from the bar, and finishing here at the hospital. When she was done, Lassiter looked disbelieving which oddly didn’t shock her. Shawn and Gus looked thoughtful.
“Well, it could be the stress of the accident,” Shawn offered slowly. “Perhaps you had some stress in your life or you’re hallucinating?”
“Or it’s drugs,” Lassiter grunted.
Jo turned to him.
“Detective I don’t do drugs,” She insisted firmly. “Never did. If you’d like get a copy of my blood test. No, I never hallucinated in my life. There’s something else going on I know it.”
Gus tilted his head.
“It seems like you’ve been dealing with someone that you’ve never been before…or at least from what you were telling us, it seems like you have different personalities.”
Jo froze at that. Great she really was going crazy now. It was all in her head. That was a scenario she was really hoping that it didn’t come down to that but it seemed inevitable at this point. It was the only logical explanation. Jo sighed and rubbed a hand over her face.
“Great. I am cracking up,” she muttered miserably.
“No,” Gus insisted shaking his head. “I mean that you might be experiencing past lives.”
Jo looked at him with an expression of confusion and doubt.
“Past lives?” she said slowly mulling over his words. “You mean like a ghost thing?”
Gus shook his head.
“No, not exactly.” He said. “It’s basically people that you were years ago, sometimes decades ago that lived before you were in this body.” He explained. “Like you’d have their memories , thoughts or maybe recognize places that you’ve been before but never visited. Like that feeling of déjà vu.”
Jo thought this sounded wacked out being she didn’t believe in ghosts or anything like that. But that would explain some things about why these people thought she was someone completely different. Something was nagging at her subconscious but she stayed silent. She chewed on her inner cheek.
“That would explain things,” She mused quietly as she caught them watching her curiously but she shook her head and forced a grin on her face “Never mind. I’m mumbling.”
The others nodded and she thought she caught Lassiter’s gaze linger on her for a bit longer than necessary before she shook that off as being paranoid. She definitely didn’t want to harbor on paranoia now. They’ll really think she’s crazy for sure.
About a week later, she was released from the hospital. Shawn and Gus had volunteered to pick her up. The problem was she had no place to stay right now. Shawn turned to Jo and smiled.
“You can stay with my father,” he said waving a hand dismissively. “It’ll be good for him.”
Jo was a little uncertain about barging in on Shawn’s father’s home but Shawn was so convincing that she felt herself relax a little. When they pulled up to a burgundy and tawny colored house which sat just a few feet from the beach, Jo was actually feeling a bit at ease at this point. Shawn knocked on the door and an older man with a weathered face from being outdoors answered. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a Hawaiian print shirt. He was slightly balding but his blue eyes swept over them.
“Shawn? What are you doing here?” he demanded in a soft but gravely voice.
“Dad, meet Ingrid,” Shawn said stepping aside so Jo was visible. “She needs a place to stay for a bit until Lassie and Jules can track down her family.”
The man’s expression softened and he exhaled.
“Fine,” he said as he stepped aside and held the door open for them to enter. Jo stepped into the house and felt a sense of warmth and safety she hadn’t felt in a long time.
Apparently, Shawn’s father loved fishing. There were a lot of fishing memorabilia all over. A smile crept onto Jo’s face as she turned to face the older man.
“Mr. Spencer, if it’s a problem, I can most certainly find a hotel or something to stay in,” Jo volunteered softly. “It’s just that I have no idea where I live or anything. It’s been a rather crazy day really.”
Something registered in Mr. Spencer’s face because his expression softened immensely.
“Call me Henry, Ingrid,” he said warmly. “And it’s perfectly fine if you stay here. You can stay in Shawn’s old room. It’s just that my son tends to have brain lapses and decides to spring these things on me at the last moment. But you’re welcomed to stay.”
He gently took Jo’s hands between his and patted them. Jo smiled and nodded.
“Cool! Me and Gus have to check something out so we’ll be back later,” Shawn called over his shoulder as Gus threw Jo a understanding look before following Shawn out.
“Ingrid if you’d like to get freshened up, the bathrooms upstairs, second door on your right,” Henry said to her softly. “I think I have some of my ex wife’s clothes that should fit you so you can be more comfortable.”
Jo thanked him and sat down on the couch. She grabbed one of the pillows and hugged it to her chest as her mind played over the days events. It was certainly crazy. When she woke up this morning she was Jo…then she was this girl Ingrid….and someone says her names Stella. What on earth was going on? Could Gus be right? Could she be reliving past lives? Or were those people she was , their personalities coming through? She shut her eyes and pressed her face into the pillow.
That night, lying in Shawn’s old bed, Jo tossed and turned. Pictures of superheroes and action figures lined the room. Not to mention the sheets. He-Man. That didn’t bother her though. At least she felt safe in Henry’s home. Finally, unable to sleep, she gently tossed the covers off and got to her feet. Henry had found one of his old shirts for her to use for the time being because he couldn’t find the box with his ex wife’s clothes in it in the attic. But he made a promise to search in the morning. Thankfully, the shirt came down past her knees. She padded into the hallway and down the stairs.
The house was silent but as she reached the bottom step, she heard the TV static. Henry had fallen asleep in his chair with the TV going. The blue light cast an eerie glow over the living room. She slipped out of the house and stood on the porch. Sometimes the night air let her sleep. It cleared her mind and she was able to think more clearly on things. So she stood on the porch and leaned against the railing.
She inhaled deeply and a gentle breeze that came off the ocean whisked her hair back over her shoulders. Everything was still right now. Nothing moved. Except the noise of the ocean only a few feet away.
“You look so much like her,” A voice said from the side of her.
Jo cried out and jumped as the man she’d seen earlier slinked into view from behind the bushes.
“Who are you? Stay away from me,” she said in fear gripping the railing and slinking back toward the front door not taking her eyes off of him.
“You’re in danger,” The man whispered his eyes wild and frantic. “They’ll find you and try and get you to go back!”
“Wh-What are you talking about? Whose ‘they’?” Jo persisted as her back suddenly bumped against something solid. She whirled around and came face to face with Henry. He placed his hands on her shoulders and gave them a fatherly squeeze that reeked of assurance.
“Get off my property,” Henry said angrily. “I’m calling Lassiter.”
Jo heard the beeps of cell phone buttons being pressed as he dialed the detective. The man looked around frantically again as though he was afraid of someone finding him before he pulled out a knife and lunged for Jo. Jo screamed and stumbled back. Henry threw his arm out against the man’s chest but not before the man got a slice in across the top of Henry’s arm. The man bolted off the porch and took off into the night.
“So you say you’ve seen this person before, but you have no idea who he is,” Lassiter mused slowly as he stood on the porch with one hand on his hip which pulled back the hem of his suit jacket. The other hand was propped up on the railing as he looked at Jo steadily. “He says that you’re in danger, but then tries to stab you with a knife.”
His tone held doubt which Jo felt insulting as she sat on the chair and hugged a pillow against her chest. O’Hara was sitting next to her and Henry had gone inside to grab her a bottle of water. The EMT’s had arrived and taken care of Henry’s arm. Thankfully it was just a superficial cut. There was no nerve damage.
“Yeah,” Jo said exasperatedly. “Why is that so hard to believe? I’m not lying.”
Lassiter shook his head.
“No I don’t think you are, Miss Williams. I’m just trying to understand this guys MO,” he said. “But we did find the knife. So we sent it off to be tested and we’ll get the prints off it.”
Jo felt better as Henry came out with the water. She gratefully took a sip of it and hugged the pillow. Lassiter came over and crouched down in front of her.
“Don’t worry,” he said with conviction. “We’ll find him and get the truth behind what’s going on. I’ll make him talk.”
Jo offered him a weak smile as Lassiter patted her on the knee. Something passed between them. It was like a pulse of electricity which she hadn’t felt before. Clearly Lassiter had felt it because he frowned but then shook it off and rose to his feet again. Somehow, Jo knew that Lassiter was good on his word. She only hoped the truth would be learned sooner than later otherwise this guy could try and hurt her again.