Several days later, after a breakfast of Belgium waffles and bacon, Madison and I drove to the park to hang out with “our” friends. I could tell Madison was worried about seeing Stan. I was too. I didn’t know how I was going to be around him. If Madison didn’t want me saying anything that was fine, but I didn’t want to be friends with the guy.
Madison ran down to greet Diana as she waved us over. Diana was already occupied watching an argument between Billy and Sara play out. Sara circled Billy, yelling out a string of profanities. When we got there we couldn’t take our eyes off the warring couple. “It’s free entertainment,” Diana said about her friends’ relationship. “Going to the movies costs money, but watching friends bicker is completely free,” she explained. She warned us not to get to close. It was still best to keep your distance in case they started to throw things.
Sara saw my sister and decided to end the conversation with Billy. “I don’t want to hear anything else about it.” She broke away from her boyfriend and embraced Madison. “I’m so sorry about the other day at the cemetery,” Sara sympathetically said. “Stan said you left and you just wanted to be alone. Billy made us leave. If I knew what happened I wouldn’t have left.”
Stan hadn’t told Sara what really happened at the cemetery, but I was guessing Billy already knew the truth. I tried my hardest not to make a big deal about it. Madison was my little sister and I wanted to protect her any way I could. I wasn’t always around to be there for her, but now I could do something about it. If she let me.
Sara finished apologizing to Madison and then went back to yelling at Billy. She hardly left any breathing room for anyone else.
“What you guys up, too?” I asked Diana, making sure I kept my voice down. I didn’t want to accidentally receive any of Sara’s wrath.
“Trying to figure out what to do tonight,” Diana whispered back, but wouldn’t pull her eyes away from her friends for an instant, in case she missed something. “We almost got to the topic of dinner before they started,” she explained, pointing towards the warring couple. “Stan just took off before you guys showed up. Seemed a bit skittish, but wouldn’t talk about it.”
“Any rational reason,” Madison whispered, “about their fight I mean?”
“Nothing unusual really. They fight on a daily basis. They’re both so over-dramatic. Usually, they fight about stupid stuff. Sometimes just simple miscommunications sends one or the other into a jealous rage. You get used to it after a while.”
“They’ve been at it for a while already. It’s better than Jerry Springer if you ask me. I’m waiting for a chair or something to go flying across a stage. Don’t worry though, you haven’t missed much.”
“You knew we left her there. Don’t try to hide it, Billy,” Sara snapped. “Get Stan under control or I’m going to find a boyfriend with nicer friends.” Billy almost laughed, but instead choose not to make her angrier than she already was. “Something funny?” She demanded to know.
“You are so hot when you’re angry,” Billy responded.
“You are such a pig!” she shouted. Sara was heated and her face was completely flushed with anger.
“I keep telling you I didn’t know what he did to her!” Billy insisted, even though Sara knew the truth. He was either completely stupid or more egotistical than I could have imagined. Was he telling the truth or was he a rather talented actor? I looked for a tell, that nervous tic everyone had, which told you they were lying. I watched Billy’s eyes while he spoke to Sara. He was calm and didn’t roll his eyes or look away. He kept his eyes on Sara’s, suggesting the truth, maybe.
When someone lied they would try to avoid eye contact, something Billy wasn’t doing. He didn’t look away from Sara, and seemed to blink at a normal speed. Billy didn’t fidget with his hands or play with something in his pockets. His feet were positioned firmly on the ground. He seemed quit sincere, in all honesty.
“Don’t you deny it,” she yelled. “Not this time. You will not make me into the crazy one.”
“You’re doing a good job being crazy all by yourself,” Billy interjected.
“Do you think we should ask Madison what Stan did?” Sara threatened.
Madison was contemplating what she should do. I could see in her eyes she was conflicted in telling the truth. She looked from Sara to Billy with hesitation. She definitely didn’t want to talk about it.
“I’m not sure I really remember what happened,” Madison lied, “I was really drunk. Don’t worry about it.” I could tell she was lying from her nervous hair twirling. Billy and Sara didn’t know her as well, but I did. They couldn’t tell she was holding something back.
“I’m going to get another pack of smokes,” Billy said as he zipped up a green camouflaged hoodie. He stormed away before he gave anyone the opportunity to go along with him.
A heavy cloud of uncertainty hung around us all. Diana stood up and defused any awkwardness that was lingering.
“Stan has the house to himself this weekend. His parents left this morning for a four day cruise,” she said with a giddy laugh. “He’s going to have a bunch of people over tonight to kick off the festivities. You and Madison should come. Billy’s getting beer from that sketchy deputy later today. It should be fun. We’ll sit around and have some drinks.” She finished and waited for a response.
I hated to drink and could not think of a worse way to spend my night. “Wouldn’t miss it,” I said as I traded my morals for friendship and a chance to be with Diana. I was okay with a little peer pressure every now and then. I figured it rarely happened so why not enjoy it once in a while.
Sara and Madison broke off and started their own conversation. I overheard something about the cemetery, and instantly stopped listening to what they were saying. My interest faded and I turned to Diana.
“You think Billy’s okay?” I asked. “He seemed really angry.”
Diana leaned back in her seat and spread her arms. She took a deep breath and then chose her words carefully. “Sometimes you just have to let Billy be,” she explained. “He needs time and space to calm down. You never want to push him when he’s already mad. He can get overly dramatic about everything. He knows Stan messed up, but he’s just protecting his friend. Don’t take it personal. It’s like he becomes a little possessive of us. A little stalker like, if you ask me, but to each their own. I remember when Billy would go off on Matt for no reason. It happened all the time.” Diana stopped talking and shook her head in disapproval. “Sorry, I didn’t mean too bring him up.”
She was embarrassed, but bringing up Matt didn’t bother me. It was her dead ex boyfriend after all. Could I even get jealous about that? Did I even have the right? There was no real threat there.
“It’s okay if you want to talk about him,” I said, “I know you were all very close. It’s not easy losing friends.”
She nodded. “It was real hard after Matt, you know? I didn’t think any of us would be the same. I still don’t know how we are getting though it. I think it helps that we have each other.” She gave me a kiss on my cheek, making me blush. “You make me happy, Charlie. I haven’t been like this in a long time. Not since Matt was around.”
“Did Billy and you ever date?” I asked lowering my voice so Sara wouldn’t hear me.
“He tried for a long time,” she laughed. “I was never interested in him like that. I had to let him down on a handful of occasions.”
I wondered how pissed off Billy could get. I wanted to ask Diana if Stan was scared of him, but I figured Billy was probably a bit of a bully to his friends. From what I understood he had quit a temper. Did he ever take his anger out on Sara?
Was Sara’s outwardly giddiness a gross misdirection so we didn’t suspect how hurt she really was? Did she have bruises from Billy under her clothes? Her face was unharmed, but if he was abusive it was probably rare for Billy to leave marks on her face. There was always the possibility that she was so used to the treatment that she didn’t know any difference.
Then again the opposite might be true. Was Sara actually a happy teenager? It was rare, but I do think it was known to happen occasionally. Some teens were naturally happy, but I think it might be the rarest thing in the world.
I looked back over at my sister talking to Sara. They were carrying on like best friends and Sara did seem especially sorry for Stan’s behavior. She must have really felt bad about leaving Madison alone in the cemetery. I could forgive Sara, but there was no way I would forgive Stan.
The sun was out and melting the rest of the snow. I dressed in layers, ready for a blizzard, but I over estimated how cold it would be. The cold front never appeared and I was already over heating.
I pulled off my wool coat and knit sweater, which left me wearing only a black solid tee. My arms were almost too bright to look at because they were so pale. I couldn’t remember the last time I was outside enjoying the sun like this.
I could smell the cigarette smoke before I saw Billy return. He took a seat next to Diana, ignoring the group of girls. He offered her a cigarette when he caught her looking at them. She took one and he lit it for her.
“No thanks,” I said when Billy offered me one as well. He shrugged and slipped the pack in a side pocket of his cargo pants.
Another set of foot steps came from behind. “What’s up, man?” Stan said to Billy as he sat down next to me. “What’s up, Charlie?”
Without another word Diana got up from where we were and walked over to the girls and took a seat next to Madison. I wasn’t sure if she was upset with Stan, but it seemed that way. It made me feel better that everyone else was just as upset at Stan for what he did to Madison.
“Did they tell you about the party?” Billy asked me. “It’s going to be pretty kick ass. We have a truck load of ladies coming in from Gateway. You’ll like these chicks Charlie. They’re all pretty easy,” Billy looked over at Stan putting his fist up to pound. “Right, Stan?” Billy asked for confirmation. Stan pounded back in agreement.
I wanted to punch Stan right in his smug face. I wanted to punish him for what he tried to do to Madison. Instead I said nothing. I didn’t even let him know that I knew. Let him wonder what I thought about him.
“I’m going to meet up with you all later,” I said without looking at Stan, but acknowledging everyone else. I didn’t feel like socializing with Billy and Stan at the moment.
I went back to the Sunnyledge, while Madison stayed with the girls. They were going to get ready together at Diana’s and I would pick them up on the way to Stan’s house.
When I was back at the Sunnyledge there was still something else bothering me. Something about Diana’s ex-boyfriend, Matt. So far no one had mentioned him being anything other than happy. No one thought he was sad when he took his own life.
Usually at least one person would have known he was depressed. He must have told someone. Posted something about it. It was rare that someone about to kill themselves didn’t reach out at least once to someone about their plan. I know it was possible to keep those feelings hidden in plain sight, but something about this felt wrong. He would have told a friend, or a complete stranger, but someone should have known.
I decided to dig a little further. I did a quick search online and came back with an article from the Morgantown Tribune about Matt’s suicide. Matt was found early morning with his neck broken. His body was found in the family’s barn, by his mother, on a cold November morning. A noose was around his neck, holding his lifeless body in the air. He had tied the rope to a lower rafter at the center of the barn. Matt’s father had to help the paramedics cut his son’s body down because they didn’t come prepared for anything quit like it.
There was a video attached to the story and I decided to watch it. Matt’s father was telling a reporter how his wife found their son. Then his mother started to yell for her little boy to come back to her. “No one knew he was upset,” she screamed. “He was such a pleasure to be around.” she wailed. “I’m going to miss his smile most of all.” The segment ended as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Thoughts of suicide occurred to me before, but I never acted on them. There were times I did more than think about it, though. Only once or twice did my thoughts turn to planning it out. I never did get past the planning phase. I was always able to keep myself from the edge before I went through with it. Sometimes I had help. Sometimes I didn’t. Maybe Matt wasn’t so lucky. Maybe he hadn’t told anyone about how sad he really was? It could happen if he was that hopeless about life.
Maybe Matt had no one to talk to about it. Maybe he felt he couldn’t talk to Diana. I could understand why someone would take their life, but I thought suicide was overall selfish. It slapped the family and friends who would miss you in the face. It didn’t take into account the past or the future, only the unbearable feeling of stopping the pain. Suicide never acknowledges the loved ones left behind. Sometimes it could seem like the only way out of a bad situation. I was able to find my way back without resorting to it. It seemed Matt wasn’t as lucky.
It was painful to keep moving through life without hope, but life becomes bearable with time. The loneliness didn’t have to last forever. As long as I was willing to let others into my world I wouldn’t be alone. Not anymore. That was something I figured out when I was in the hospital.
If Matt had been unhappy Diana would have seen something. She would have seen signs. She would have been able to tell something was wrong with him. His mother thought he was a well-adjusted kid, and never showed signs of a problem. Was she fooling herself or speak from reality? He didn’t even leave a note, nothing behind to explain why he did it. I had the feeling there should have been a note, but there wasn’t a message of any kind. Matt’s mother remembered a happy son, one that wouldn’t want his life to end. Could she have been right?
I checked the time and was amazed how late in the day it had become. I had been combing through news archives for hours and found myself behind schedule. I had to pick the girls up soon, but still needed to get ready. I hurried upstairs and jumped into the shower with the soap already lathering my body before the mirror fogged over.
After the shower I grabbed a pair of jeans from the hamper. They smelled fine, but I sprayed them with air freshener just to be safe. I checked my closet and was pleasantly surprised when I found a clean button down shirt.
I pulled up to Diana’s apartment building and while I waited I fiddled with the radio, scanning the air waves for something entertaining. I was still trying to locate actual music when the front door opened and Diana walked out. I couldn’t help but stare when she gracefully strolled down the stairs in a short wool coat that covered nothing from her thighs down. Her feet and calves were covered by a pair of black leather boots. Her legs were completely bare from her knees up to her thighs. I got a peek of an extremely short black leather skirt under the wool coat. I realized I hadn’t taken my eyes off her legs since she stepped out of her apartment building. Diana giggled as she noticed where my eyes were when she carefully slipped into the truck.
“You look fantastic,” I cooly said as she gently kissed me on the lips. Her hair flowed like a river down over her shoulders. A white blouse with several buttons missing from it’s top accented her small but firm breasts.
“You are so sweet,” Diana said as she caressed the side of my face. “Madison and Sara will be right out. I’m excited to let loose tonight. I feel like I haven’t gone out in forever. You’re in for a real treat, Charlie. Stan’s parties are always worth it. His parents barely care what he does when they are home. If you didn’t know, the Perry’s own ninety five percent of Dumont. They’re like royalty in this town.”
“Stan must think he can do whatever he wants,” I added.
“I’m sorry, Charlie. I didn’t mean...” She blushed. “Madison told us what he did. Believe me when I say that we’ve all told him off about it.”
“Does he have a lot of these parties?” I asked changing the subject.
“A couple every year. Sometimes the cops show up, but when they see Billy they usually leave us alone. It’s helpful to have the sheriff’s son around sometimes. Just wish he wasn’t such a mental case,” Diana paused and her expression changed to worry. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by mental case. I’m really putting my foot in my mouth tonight.”
I stopped Diana from talking by kissing her lips. I knew she wasn’t taking a jab a me about my time in the hospital. Sometimes words slipped out that you didn’t mean. “No problem. I get what you meant,” I sincerely replied. Even though I knew what she meant, a small part of me felt humiliated for her pointing it out.
I wanted to ask her a question, but I knew it might make her upset. If I asked it I needed to do it now before the others came out. If I didn’t ask her now I might not have a chance the rest of the night. I would have to take the consequences as they came. “Can I ask you something personal?”
“I really like you Charlie, you can ask me whatever you want,” she explained warmly.
“You were telling me that Matt never seemed sad when you two were together. Do you think Matt really killed himself?”
At first I thought Diana was going to get angry with me, but she remained composed. “What happened last year to Matt was tragic, but I have to move on with my life.” She wasn’t as warm as before. Matt had probably been the last thing on her mind. “Is there a reason you are asking me about him? I hope this isn’t some morbid fascination with death.”
“No, nothing like that... I just thought...” I didn’t know how to explain.
“I just wanted to know after everything you’ve learned about me, why you’d want to talk about my dead ex-boyfriend? You could have asked about so many other things.”
“You aren’t upset to talk about him? I would understand if you were.”
“Charlie,” Diana said my name as sweetly as possible, “I’ve been around dead people all my life. It’s sad that Matt is gone, but I’m not going to pretend I didn’t love him. He was a very good friend of mine before we went out.” She took my hand, “Now to answer your question. I used to think he must have been hiding some strange second life. I had to tell myself my Matt wouldn’t have done anything like that to himself. I thought if he had a dark secret I would have known about it, but it didn’t work like that. Yes, I think Matt killed himself, but I’m still not sure why.”
The door to the truck opened as Madison stepped up and into the back of the cab. Sara followed in right after and closed the door behind her.
“You promised you wouldn’t ask him,” my sister said from the back seat.
“I just want to know what it was like,” Sara responded.
“Ask me what?”
“Please, Sara, don’t ask him,” my sister pleaded.
“Charlie, what was it like living at the mental hospital?” Sara blurted out. My sister placed her hand over her eyes and sighed.
“Sara, I don’t think Charlie wants to talk about it,” Diana said in my defense. “You don’t have to answer her.”
“It’s okay,” I said to Diana. “I don’t mind talking about it.” I looked back at Sara, but my sister still covered her face in embarrassment. She was the one who told Sara about my time at Jefferson. I wasn’t angry at her, because I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret. The only reason I hadn’t talked about it was because it wasn’t something that came up in regular conversation.
“Really boring actually. I played cards a lot. Hung out with friends. Everyone was on some sort of tranquilizer so we were all pretty chill. If I wasn’t playing ping pong or watching TV I was in group therapy. Talked a lot about my feelings.”
“Sounds pretty lame,” Sara said. “Thought it would be more exciting.”
“I could make up a story,” I suggested.
“Was it really that boring,” Diana asked.
“It could get weird at times. People flipped out, but you kind of learned to ignore it.”
When we got to Stan’s house I put the car in park but kept the motor running after Sara and Madison got out.
“Sorry about Sara,” Diana said. “I told her not to bring it up, but sometimes she can be unpredictable. Don’t be mad at Madison for telling us. It kind of came out by accident in a causal conversation about living in New York.”
“Thank you for looking out for my sister,” I said to Diana. “It’s nice knowing she has people around her that care so much.”
Without warning Diana grabbed my neck and pulled me in for a kiss. Her mouth tasted sweet and her lips were softer than silk. I wanted to melt right into them. After a hot and heavy make out session I held her in my arms. I turned the truck off and we decided to go inside.
I decided to drop the rest of my questioning about Matt. All it would do now is make her upset. Diana was at peace with her past and it wouldn’t be right to dredge up doubts about Matt now. Unless I found proof to say otherwise I would never bring it up again. I had to focus on Laura anyway. She was the one being tortured.
I walked into Stan’s house, hand in hand with Diana, and immediately found the party. It looked like every teenager in the entire county was here. I tried to count how many people there were, but lost count around forty. I found Billy and Stan playing video games on a big screen television in the back of the house. An open bottle of beer was resting in Billy’s lap while he controlled the game’s avatar. Stan held the other controller, while he sipped on two plastic tubes that ran up to a beer helmet. Two opened cans were placed in holders as beer was funneled down through the tubes. Diana and I shouted out pleasantries, but neither one were living outside their game.
We found Madison in the kitchen with Sara and a bunch of people I had never seen before. Diana said hello to a couple of them, but no one she was good friends with. Sara wasn’t talking with anyone other than my sister and it occurred to me not even Stan or Billy would know most of them.
My sister and Sara held red plastic cups, filled with some alcoholic beverage. I was sure they were drinking beer, but I wasn’t going to give my sister a hard time about it in front of her friends.
“Grab a drink, Charlie,” Sara suggested, her cup returning to her lips repeatedly. “English dropped off a whole freaking keg,” she said in a slight drunken haze. “There’s enough beer for a whole army in here.” I was about to decline the offer and end it at that, but I decided it would be easier just to take the beer.
I grabbed two red cups and filled them with beer from the tap. I didn’t have a taste for most alcohol, and beer was not an exception to the rule. My plan was to just fit in and not draw any more attention than necessary. I’d take the occasional sip but would try my hardest not to consume any more than I needed too.
Diana had taken up a conversation with the girls so I decided to return to the room with the big screen tv after I dropped off her drink. When I found the room again Billy and Stan had already left. In their place were two other guys playing video games. “Hey, where did Billy and Stan go?” I asked.
“Who?,” the chubbier of the two asked.
“The kids that were playing before you sat down. You’re at Stan’s party.”
“Oh yeah,” the thinner of the chubby kids called out, “Those guys were going to go swimming or something.”
Stan didn’t have a swimming pool and the closest one would be at the high school. I highly doubted Stan would leave his own party to go night swimming with Billy. Maybe they had said pool as in billiards and nothing to do with water.
After a couple wrong turns and finding myself in the laundry room, I found the billiard room in the basement of the house. Billy and Stan were by themselves playing eight ball.
Billy was lining a shot up along the edge of the table. He pulled his arm back and let it loose with a snap. Billy hit his target, sinking a ball in the right corner pocket. It had been a clean bank off the adjoining side.
On the opposite side of the table waiting for his turn was Stan. He leaned on his stick while he watched Billy line the cue ball up once more. I took a seat in a chair lining the wall. It had a convenient cup holder on the side so I placed the beer down and planned on leaving it there.
The walls were lined with movie posters from old science fiction movies, most of which I hadn’t recognized. All of them had been made before I was born and some were even in black and white.
“Don’t worry,” Stan said, “I haven’t seen many of the movies either. My dad likes obscure sci-fi films that no one ever heard of.”
Billy took his next shot and before the cue ball made contact with its target Billy moved on further down the table trying to line up his next shot. He was sure he made it before it even went in. As Billy was about to move to the next ball he looked back and realized the ball missed and bounced off the rail. It hadn’t gone in like he thought.
“What the hell, I missed that shot because of you,” he yelled at Stan.
“Sorry, Billy,” Stan sincerely said. “I didn’t know.” I wasn’t sure what Stan had done, but it couldn’t have been much of anything. I was watching them the whole time and I didn’t see Stan do anything that would make Billy miss.
“He didn’t do anything,” I called out over the table. As much as I was angry with Stan I didn’t like bullies. Billy turned towards me so I could see the whites of his eyes. Was this the real Billy showing his true face?
“Billy, we cool?” Stan asked. Billy nodded his head, but a second later I watched as he launched the eight ball at my head.
Luckily, the ball missed its intended target, but I could feel it whooshing by my ear and hit the wall behind me. I turned towards where the ball was sticking halfway out of the drywall. An inch or two closer and it would have fractured my skull.
I spun back around to find Billy only a couple of feet away from me. He closed the gap and pushed me, sending me off balance. I tried grabbing the edge of the table, but missed by a foot. My head banged off the edge and I fell to the ground. There was a slight pain on the side of my head, and a flash of heat flowing from my forehead.
“Billy, what the hell man? You could have killed him,” Stan yelled as he came to help me up.
“Don’t tell me what to do,” he said snapping at Stan. “I can do whatever the hell I want. This is my town,” his voice cracked and instantly he grew more sinister. “Who they going to believe? Me or you?”
I checked the side of my head with a towel, and it came back bloody. I was bleeding from my scalp, but it didn’t seem that bad. Superficial head wounds usually bled much more and yet seemed worse than they really were.
I realized Billy was a mean drunk and he abused everyone around him. I could see the rage behind his eyes. An anger that was building up by the minute, ready to explode at any second.
Then instantly the rage, the self-loathing, and the anger on Billy’s face, just turned off. His face became smooth and the red faded from his checks. His anger was completely gone, replaced with what I thought to be empathy. Reason returned and Billy’s eyes filled with remorse at what he had done.
His moods were changing more rapidly than they should have. One second Billy was furious and in the next he was like a lamb. It was hard to stay mad at him when he resembled my friends from the hospital.
“I’m not sure why I did that,” Billy said as he helped me up. “I didn’t mean to...” He stopped talking but I could tell he felt conflicted. “I’m sorry, Charlie.” He backed away trying to leave, but Sara came into the room, stopping Billy in his tracks.
“What happened in here?” she asked with a gasp. A second later Diana followed behind her.
Diana came running when she saw the blood dripping down the side of my head.
Diana pulled me by the hand and I followed her into a bathroom close by. I stood in front of the mirror and my reflection was somewhat ghoulish. Blood slowly dripped down my ear making a trail to my chin. Another line of blood was smeared on my face and running from a wound on my forehead. I was too slow to catch the drop of blood when it fell from my face hitting the blue linen bathmat. Diana rummaged around under the sink and pulled out a small first aid kit.
“What happened out there?” Diana asked as she started to wipe the blood away. “I leave you alone for a mere two minutes and you get yourself into a fight.”
“I didn’t do anything,” I said defending myself. “Billy freaked out over a game he was playing with Stan.”
“We’re all a little off these days, Charlie,” Diana said while defending her friend. Billy lost a best friend last year and another only a month ago. He was a little off before any of this stuff happened, but I have to cut the guy some slack you know? He’s still one of my best friends.” She finished cleaning the cuts. “Only a couple of small cuts,” Diana explained. “Head wounds bleed a lot, but you would be surprised at what a human head can withstand.”
She was trying to defend her friend, even though she didn’t like his behavior. I couldn’t blame her. She was right. They were all traumatized by the deaths of their friends. If I lost those closest to me I would probably go a little crazy as well.
She pulled out packs of gauze and a bottle of rubbing alcohol. “Bleeding should stop soon, but just in case we have this.”
“When did you become an expert in head wounds?” I asked trying to change the subject. Diana turned around with the bottle of alcohol as she soaked a sterile pad. She set the bottle down and looked directly up into my eyes. I sat down on the tub wall and bent my head over giving her a better view.
“Working in a mortuary isn’t enough?”
“The dead don’t bleed,” I corrected her.
She laughed. “I also read a lot of mystery novels,” Diana added softly. “Someone always gets hit on the head. Lots of blood, but usually nothing more than a mere scratch.”
“You base this theory on a fondness for mystery novels? I think I want a second opinion,” I laughed. I felt the sting of alcohol with contact, but nothing I couldn’t handle with my history of migraines.
“My theory is based on well researched literature.” Diana soaked up more blood, “The cut here,” she said while she pointed to my forehead, “It is very tiny and it will be barely noticeable when it stops bleeding. And I already know you don’t have a concussion,” she added to impress me.
“And how would you know I donn’t have a concussion?”
“The lights didn’t bother your eyes, your pupils dilated at a normal speed, and no vomiting. By your expression I can tell you aren’t confused or forgetful. Lastly, you didn’t hit your head that hard.” She handed me a towel. “You can clean up I think,” she said and planted a kiss on my lips.
“I see dead people,” I blurted out as I held the towel up to my face. I wasn’t sure why I said it, but I couldn’t unsay it now. I wanted her to understand. If Madison could except it, I thought Diana was sure to as well.
“I loved the Sixth Sense,” Diana responded, not realizing I was actually telling her the truth. “I was scared out of my mind during the whole thing. Can you believe I shut my eyes for the majority of that movie?”
The miscommunication made me laugh, but Diana didn’t pick up on the joke. “Laura had to explain the ending for twenty minutes after we watched it at her house. I got so paranoid after watching that movie. It’s like my biggest fear. Seeing a ghost. Do you believe in ghosts, Charlie?”
I almost laughed. Did I believe in ghosts? It didn’t matter. ‘They believed in me,’ I wanted to say. Of course I believed in ghosts now. I even knew them personally, but I couldn’t tell Diana any of that. If her worst fear was seeing a ghost I wouldn’t terrorize her by telling her the truth.
Did I really want to fuel her nightmares? Before I could answer several tears ran down her cheek.
“I really need there to be something better after this life, you know what I mean, Charlie?” I nodded, thankful I didn’t have to lie to her. “What if heaven and hell are real? Where would we end up? Would you go straight to hell if you didn’t believe in god? Or would you go to heaven if you were a generous person?”
“I might have to give a little more to charity,” I said with a soft smile. I knew she was serious, but I wanted to lighten the mood a little. We were at a party after all and Diana was getting pretty deep.
“I don’t want to think about it, but it always comes back to his suicide. Matt committed an ultimate sin. That’s what they say in church. That people who take their own life go to hell. Take your life and god makes you suffer for all of eternity.”
“In Japan, during the time of the Samurais,” I explained, “taking your life was sometimes a way of keeping your honor. It was looked at as a noble act after one’s failed heroic attempt. I’m not saying I believe in that, but I just wanted to point out a different way of thinking.” She smiled at the absurdity, but listened intently anyway. “Every culture has its own rules,” I added. “Some religions don’t even believe in anything like hell. So many different viewpoints on what happens after you die and the only people that know are dead.”
“I still can’t help but feel guilty, Charlie. What if he killed himself because of something I did? Would you think I was a good person then? Would you want to be with me if you knew the truth?”
“I can’t imagine you meant to hurt him, no matter what you told him.” I knew Diana didn’t have a malicious bone in her body. Her eyes bore deeply into my soul. “Everyone had secrets, but they get easier to carry when you can share them.”
She hesitated, playing with a small package of antibiotic cream, turning the matchbook size tube over in her hands. “The last time I spoke to him we were fighting.”
“What were you fighting about?”
“Well, we kind of broke up,” she said sheepishly. “Matt was really upset at Billy for always flirting with me. He didn’t think I respected him enough to tell Billy to stop. I didn’t see a need to bring it up again. I could handle Billy. He flirted with everyone. Its true he asked me out a couple of times, but I always told him no. I told Matt he was worried about nothing, but he wouldn’t let it go. I told him Billy was harmless and it didn’t matter because I only had feelings for him. We got into a heated shouting match. We fought sometimes, but this time was much worse than usual. I finally told him after a long and drawn out argument that I wasn’t coming home for winter break. I broke up with him and told him that we were through.” She looked away and then back at me. “Charlie, I think Matt killed himself because I broke up with him.” Tears were fully running down her cheeks. “It’s been hurting me every day thinking about it.”
“You didn’t make him do it, Diana,” I replied. “This wasn’t your fault. It’s not fair to put this much blame on yourself.”
I thanked her for taking care of me and took a fresh towel to wipe her tears away.
“I want you to know that I really like you, Charlie,” she said. “Thank you for listening to me.”
“I really like you too,” I replied truthfully. “And you’re welcome.”
When we returned to the party we found Stan and Sara by themselves. Billy had run off again. Upset at his own actions. I would have to catch up with him later. I knew abnormal psychology when I saw it and Billy had it written all over his face. Anger and mood swings, and a temper that wouldn’t quit.
As a patient at a mental hospital myself, I learned not to judge a person solely based on their violent actions. One person’s psychosis was far from simple to understand. Sometimes not everyone can control their emotions. I wondered if Billy would be okay by himself. Or should someone go after him?
Because of the recent head injury Diana decided it would be better if I didn’t drive until I was sure there was no other damage from the knock on the head. Diana dropped Madison and I off at the Sunnyledge and would bring the truck back the next day.
Diana gave me a kiss goodnight before I got out of the truck. The cut on my head had stopped bleeding, but the slight throbbing of the wound remained consistent. I knew the next day I would be much more sore.
I was too wired to shut my eyes to go to sleep. I wanted to find Martin, but I didn’t want to go tramping around the inn looking for him. I would wake everyone up.
I decided to stay in my room and picked up the journal, hoping reading a bit would tire me out enough to go asleep. I traced the grim reaper on the cover with my index finger. So far, all I knew about the author was that he was a professor over a hundred years ago and had found my family’s home while he followed several ghost stories to Dumont. He somehow made contact with a ghost named Lilly and obtained the ability to read and write an ancient language, he called Necrovul.
I opened the book and continued reading the strange script. In the same instant I could see a fiery blue flame of mist turn into the English language, plain enough for me to read on top of the red ink behind it.
It appears luck has fallen upon me today. I was searching the library and discovered an incredible collection of books on the occult. They are mostly theory and other Wiccan nonsense, but one book in particular caught my eye.
I have discovered a way to prove to the board to finally reinstate my work’s funding. They will finally realize my brilliance when they see what I will accomplish. They will never call my theories insane again.
The ritual from the book seems easy enough. It is a blood sacrifice. Based on Lilly’s observations I only need a small sacrifice to make it work. This is a sacrifice I am gladly willing to make. I will gain the scientific proof I need to prove the existence of life after death.
I wondered what the ritual was that would save his academic career and give him the proof he needed. Whatever he found wasn’t anything that sounded good. What would a blood ritual have to do with proving the existence of spirits?
I rechecked the internet for more information I could find on Howell, but everything that referenced him outside of the university wasn’t digitally in the system yet. I checked the references in the abstract of an article on the anthropology department’s website. The conclusion referenced a newspaper article that I couldn’t access online. I cross referenced the article and wasn’t surprised to find that the hard copies were stored in the Dumont county library.
The library wouldn’t be open for another five hours so I thought it would be good to take a bit of a nap. I set the book and tablet on the night stand. I turned my reading light off and closed my eyes. As my subconscious took over, my thoughts drifted back to the journal.
I was having a hard time understanding why Lilly was helping the professor. Why would a ghost want to help prove the existence of the spirit world? What would be gained in doing that? What could Lilly have possibly wanted in return?