“Wow, you dated Elanor in high school?”
“Yeah, she’s how I met my wife, believe it or not.”
“Oh. Married huh?”
“I was. She…she passed on.”
“I’m so sorry. Was it an illness?”
“No. It was a noose. She committed suicide.”
Veronica and I had been sitting at this little pub called Rory’s Tin Cup for over two hours, drinking and talking without a care in the world. It was amazing how much I had to say to her when I had so little in my life to really talk about. I wasn’t sure if it was the Killian’s Red she was downing like a champ or that she was honestly curious about my pathetic little life, but it all came gushing out of my mouth and she drank it just as easily as she drank her brew.
I realized that in those two hours, I hadn’t thought about Mara at all. I didn’t cringe when I looked into Veronica’s dark, soulful eyes and I didn’t pull away from the more than occasional flirtatious touches we were sharing. When I complimented Veronica on her pretty, chocolate brown hair, I didn’t have any flashbacks to when I’d say similar things to Mara. Like the albatross lifted, I felt free for the first time in five years.
The subject of Elanor was also not taboo as it was with everybody else. Since we both despised the woman that my best friend loved and everybody else seemed to adore. People don’t know the blond-haired witch like we do. She poisoned Sam against Veronica at every turn, like she had poisoned Mara against me. While that doesn’t excuse my indiscretion, it did blow my unfaithfulness out of proportion. My one time fling turned into ‘He’s been cheating on you since before you were married!’
“That must have been terrible.”
“You have no idea. You the first woman I’ve let myself be alone with in five years.”
“Really? I’m flattered! That’s a shame though, you seem very nice.”
“Thanks. I…you know, it’s hard to explain. I’ve never let myself escape my guilt. My sorrow.”
“It probably doesn’t help that your best friend’s wife won’t let you.”
“No, it really doesn’t. She ride you too?”
“She’s jealous. Thinks Sam and I are sleeping together. No way! Can’t stand his caveman act.”
“I just pictured Sam dragging her around by her hair like a sack of potatoes.”
She and I laughed riotously at the image of it. Elanor needed somebody like Sam to keep her venom in check. Not only was he immune to it thanks to his room-crushing ego, he also never hesitated to tell her when she was being a bitch. For all his machismo, he was a stand up guy. He was the reason Veronica and I were here drinking, talking and making me wish this night would never end. It was growing late however and I had about reached my five beer limit. Anymore and driving would be too risky to manage. She and I exchanged phone numbers, but as I was writing mine on a cocktail napkin, she paused my hand.
“I don’t want to go home yet. Mind if I follow you back to your place?”
“If you’re uncomfortable…”
“No! I just…well, I’d love you to. I was trying to be smooth about it. And you know, failing.”
“I like your not-smooth. It’s cute! Let’s go before you chicken out on me!”
Letting Veronica into my house was like letting a new cat in. She was quietly studying everything and asking questions about everything from my old solid state stereo with the record player and 8-track to the pictures I had hanging up on the wall. She seemed genuinely curious about who I was and what I stood for. It was either that or she was casing the joint to rob it after I passed out in a drunken stupor. Somehow that didn’t bother me, for the peace from Mara’s memory her presence brought me. I was all ready convinced she stole my heart, why not the rest of my things?
We sat on the couch, drank wine and talked into the wee hours of the morning. Somehow through the course of the evening, she had ended up cuddled into the well of my arm and I quietly toyed with her hair while we talked. I craved her in more primal ways too, but this seemed like such a good thing, I didn’t want to spoil it with my sex drive coming out of a five year hibernation. Besides I was content just like this and she was too evidently; we fell asleep like that just as the first rays of dawn were peeking out from the clouds.
* * *
I woke up with a start to a pounding at the door. I couldn’t quite make out what was being shouted because I was so incoherent and hung over, but what I did notice was Veronica wasn’t there. She had left me a little note with hearts drawn on it and was folded once. I didn’t read it yet though, because of the insistent banging on my door. A brief look at the clock made me cringe as I fumble to the door. It was 2pm, so expected it was going to be Sam demanding to know why I left his BBQ so early. I couldn’t wait to tell him the good news.
When I opened the door I was greeted with an all together unexpected sight. The first thing I saw was a gleaming gold badge, attached to a stern-looking, broad-shouldered police officer. This was not your average doughnut-eating cop. With his buzzed hair and his no-nonsense expression, I’d guess he had done a few tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“You Patrick Donahee?”
“I’m investigating the murder of Veronica Stiles. May I come in?”
The baffled look I gave the officer must have spoke volumes. I silently step aside to indicate my unvoiced invitation to enter. The furrow of his brow told me that my reaction was equally unexpected to him as his news was to me. This was not going to be a good conversation.