As the credits roll, I look over at Szófia, who is practically in tears. “Spoiler alert,” I whisper, “There’s a part two… Well, like a ton of parts, the guy who created the series is nuts.”
“What about that person at the end? Are they dead?” Szófia asks, wiping her eyes and blowing her nose. She rubs the mascara from her cheek. I nod. “Dead dead?” Szófia asks again, horrified and concerned.
“Like dead, dead. Ain’t coming back, Szófia,” Wayne inserts, comforting her. “Man, Petra, does your cousin always cry this much?” he asks, laughing and enamored by Szófia’s emotional freedom. Szófia looks at him and rubs his forearm. “Not that that there’s anything wrong with it, Szófia, just curious,” he admits, clearing his throat. Szófia smiles at Wayne and caresses his hand. Thank god.
“She’s just herself, Wayne,” I say, grinning. “Anyway, Sofi, like Wayne said. Dead.”
“How tragic,” she says, leaning back in the plush, red chair, sipping her giant Icee. We wait for the theater to clear up, then gather our trash and leave. “Creepy forest time?” Szófia asks, hopping into the car. She smiles at Wayne who closes her door. At first it surprises me, but all things considered, is for the best. I don’t want her to live longer than she wants to, but I’m also not in a rush to see her throw her life away when she hasn’t actually even lived yet.
“That’s the plan,” Brad says, buckling up. He adjusts his mirror. I check my phone and lean against the window. I text Cassandra about the movie. My legs get a little weak when I inhale Brad’s cologne and fresh fragrance. Oh my god, I gotta tell her how good this man smells. “So, how are you?” Brad asks, putting his hand on my thigh. We stop at a red light. After a barrage of compliments about Brad, Cassie send me a meme of a woman inhaling a man’s t-shirt.
“I’m okay. I guess. I really liked the movie. I didn’t expect it to be so good, but then again, you can’t really mess up pure genius, especially if Disney’s directing it,” I say, looking at Brad so he doesn’t think I’m an asshole who can’t hold a conversation. He traces his fingernails over my thigh.
“True,” Brad responds, replacing his hand on the steering wheel. He turns the radio up a little louder. “Is this okay?” he asks. I nod. “Szófia, is this music okay?” he asks. I continue texting Cassie and telling her about the night.
“It’s beautiful,” Szófia responds, also looking at her phone. “This is the vape water, right?” she asks, like an old person trying to blend it. “I like vape water. Petra showed this to me when I came to life – I mean visit.” Szófia giggles, but it’s not convincing. At least, not to me. Wayne and Brad don’t seem to notice though. I ramble on in the thread about how great the night’s been and how Szófia has a chance with Wayne if she stops being so focused on Őfelsége.
“Vaporwave is my favorite genre of music,” Wayne inserts. “I could show you some of my favorite songs, if you want.” Szófia rubs his hand and smirks. She nods, unable to control her precious ear-to-ear grin. “Hey, Brad, Haircuts for men!” Wayne shouts, impressing me as well as Szófia.
‘Another point in the Wayne bucket,’ I text to Cassandra. ‘Wish you could see Sof’s face rn. Totally 100% <3<3<3! OMG! So cute!’ I send with a picture from Lady and the Tramp. ‘Send pics! OMG! I wanna see!’ Cassandra responds. ‘So crazy to think about you two living together for a while now. She’s def one of us tho. I ❤ her! Don’t let her kill herself,’ she texts within a second of her previous text.
“Pretty obscure stuff,” I remark to Wayne, half-absorbed in my text thread. “I love that guy’s work, but hands down Cosmic Cycler is my top vaporwave artist… But, then again, the first rule of vaporwave is that if you must make it, it must be chill–“
Wayne’s eyes light up. He snaps his fingers and points at me. “–Because, chill is cool! Ay!” Wayne exclaims. We all laugh and continue on our way to the murder scene. “Hold on a sec,” he says, interrupting the moment. He fumbles for his buzzing phone and unlocks it as it flashes in his palm. “The chief is calling. Pause, please,” he says, answering his phone. For some reason, we all panic. Brad parks the car in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot overlooking the highway ramp. “Chief?” he inquires, then pauses. “That’s correct. We — No, I… — Officer Gunn? — Well, yes, but I don’t— Yes, sir. Officer Gunn he… Yes, Chief. Yes. Absolutely. Yep. Will do. We’ll see you shortly.” Wayne hangs up his phone. “Brad, we gotta go in,” he says, sighing heavily. “They found another body in the same woods outside of town.”
Brad groans. “Are you serious?”
I keep my reaction to myself and pretend to be nonchalant, but text Cassie several rages faces. I tell her what’s going and immediately feel a burst of relief when she texts back, ‘Boohoo, bitch. I got good news though. Found a Hungarian shaman through my mom’s dream-walking friend in New York that I told you about. Elek Domonkos in Nizoola Montana (Not sure of the name – she said it over the phone). She couldn’t talk long. Family stuff going on, so it’s all I got.‘ I respond with thumbs up and smooches, then toss my phone into my purse.
“Unfortunately, yeah, bro,” Wayne responds, resting his hand over Szófia’s. She holds her phone up, stares at the screen and smiles, then and puts it away. “And, you’re in for in, by the way. The chief said he put us ‘on call’ and went into his spiel about it not being a day off. He has some choice words for you, and apparently me as well, being that I am the senior partner responsible for us.”
Brad, swallows hard and scratches his head. “Hey, look, man, I’m sorry. I knew that we might get called in, but I put my phone on ‘Do not disturb’ mode during the movie and forgot to take it off,” he says, apologetic and ashamed.
“It’s fine. I’ll just say it was a misunderstanding since you’re still kind of transitioning from the way things were done in Baltimore. The chief is a hard-ass, but he’s very reasonable. He’s just just gonna say his piece. We still picked up and are still going in. It’s more about you being unavailable than anything else. Don’t worry too much about it,” Wayne says, reassuring Brad. He pats Brad’s shoulder from the backseat. “Now, ladies, I know you wanted to see the scene and do whatever with your Awful Mage ghost person, but we gotta get you home and get back to business.” The mood in the car changes. “Petra, you work in a hospital, right?” Wayne asks as Brad backs out of the parking lot.
I nod from the front seat. “Yeah. I’m an RN for the SJMHS,” I respond, confident and proud of my work and employer.
“Nice. That’s the St. Joe, right?” he asks, casually. I nod and he turns to Szófia. “Are you in the same line of work?”
Szófia makes a strange face. She looks like a deer caught in headlights. “Well… I…”
“My cousin just got out of a long, not so good, relationship. She lives with me now and I’m helping her get back on her feet. She’s volunteering at the hospital for the time being until she can manage the additional stress of working fulltime,” I say, looking up Nizoola, Montana on my phone.
“I understand. Say no more,” Wayne replies, pursing his lips and nodding, looking concerned. “Well, if you ever need help, we know a lot of small business owners who could use an extra hand.”
“The county sheriff also has tons of openings for admin roles and support staff. The work is somewhat stressful, but the benefits are good and you get access to great therapists. If you’re open to that,” Brad inserts. He smiles and I feel warm inside. I smile too and reach for his large, strong hand. After several searches, I conclude that Cassie’s contact must have said Missoula, Montana.
“It’s honestly fine. I am okay for now. I appreciate it though,” Szófia responds, blushing. She looks at me. Her eyes are watery, but she looks happy. “I just have things I need to reflect on and deal with. Sorry for being so melancholy on a first date.”
Brad laughs. “You’re fine, Szófia.”
“I’ll say,” Wayne announces, grinning. “Life happens. Mistakes happen. We bounce back. It’s not like you have a suicide date planned. At least you’re aware there was, or is, a problem and you’re trying to fix it. Volunteer and take as much time as you need, if it keeps you here in Clarkston longer.”
Szófia’s eyes dart around. She sighs and looks down, comforting herself by rubbing her thumb and index finger. An awkward silence suffocates us. Szófia, unaware of how loudly she’s breathing, stares out the window.
We finally pull up to my driveway. Brad and Wayne open our doors. “Should we arrange another date while we’re here face-to-face and talking in person?” Brad asks me, while Wayne and Szófia walk to the front door. “Wayne and I are partners so our days off are the same. We can coordinate a double date, if you want,” he says, glancing over at Wayne and Szófia. They both have their phones out. Szófia giggles and brushes her hair behind her right ear. She nods. “Never mind. It’s looks like they might have a date of their own planned,” Brad says, chuckling. “So, how about it, Petra?”
“Next Saturday is good for me,” I respond. Leaves glide past us on the breeze.
“It’s a date then,” Brad says, leaning in. He exhales and slides his arms around my waist. His warm breath makes me tingle, peeling back whatever small apprehension I held about us dating. He pulls me close. My knees buckle. My heart pounds. We gaze into each other’s eyes and lean in. I close my eyes and press my lips together, wrapping my slender arms around his neck. Our tongues embrace and dance with our slow, sensual, sultry kisses that devolve into a primal, passionate expression of our electrifying attraction. My left leg stands along with my goosebumps. We lose ourselves in each other’s arms for a small eternity encapsulated by balmy breaths and ardent affectionate gestures. Something inside me blossoms and I open my eyes to a brighter world, despite the sun setting over the horizon.
Brad’s eyes open in a lazy daze. He smiles, blushing at me with a self-conscious confidence that makes me melt. I groan and hug him until he has to go. We part from each other like Velcro being ripped in two, losing half of ourselves until the next time we meet.
Talking among themselves, Brad and Wayne pull out of the driveway. I enter the house when they’re out of sight. “That’s different,” I remark, seeing Szófia in sweats with rolled up pant legs, hair tied back tight into a high ponytail and rubber gloves that are a little to big for her hands. Her wild hair, beauty mark and smooth skin make her look like the Amy Winehouse version of Audrey Hepburn. “You won’t need to volunteer or work anywhere if you’re willing to take care of this side of things,” I say, hoping I don’t come across as rude.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil,” she says, scrubbing the counter in the kitchen.
“You’ve been spending too much on Instagram. Those fat girl quotes are gonna rot your brain,” I say, scoffing and giggling.
“It’s Ecclesiastes 4:9,” Szófia says without interrupting her rhythm. “I took note of how unkempt the house was when I walked in. I looked around and thought that I prefer not to have Wayne’s impression of me be ruined by our home.” She scrubs a little harder and smiles at me. “Also, now that we know another body turned up in the same place, we have confirmation that it has to be Őfelsége. We can focus on finding a way to kill her and end my life once and for all.”
“I agree,” I respond, reluctant and a little upset. I guess one day isn’t enough to get her off the ledge. In my case, I’ve liked Brad for a while despite the gaps between our dates. “We’re in luck. I’ve been texting with Cassandra. Her contact found a–”
“–Táltos,” Szófia remarks, running a sponge under steaming water. She squeezes soapy water from its porous material.
“Huh? Tall toast?” I say, confused as all hell. I cross my arms and lean against the wall, just observing Szófia clean.
“It’s the word for shaman or priestess,” Szófia states. “In our tongue, I mean.” She removes the gloves and grabs the broom. Szófia sweeps at the far end of the kitchen and works her way toward me. “She sent that to the text thread that we’re all in.”
“Gotcha. I forgot,” I declare. “Elek Domonkos in Missoula Montana. I gotta find him. He’s probably on Facebook or LinkedIn. I’ll check later,” I say.
Szófia stops cleaning and smiles. “I already did it. He’s in assisted living. A place called “La Ville”. I messaged him from your fake Facebook and he said we need to bring him wood from the forest Őfelsége is in. He will do the rest,” she reveals. I grin and giggle. “When should we go?”
I sigh. “I don’t know, but sooner is probably better. I have to take off work and plan the logistics around it. Plane tickets. Lodging,” I respond, wiggling my toes and picking at my painted fingernails.
“To get the wood, Petra,” Szófia clarifies. She puts her hands on her hips and stares at me.
“Oh. Right. Uh. Tonight, I guess,” I reply.
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