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Chapter 14 – Aftermath

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After a long, sleepless night, I went back to the house to have a quick shower. It was my first day of work since my accident and Eli had used his only moments of coherency since the accident to tell me to go to work. Once Cynthia noticed he was awake, she gave him a potion that put him back to sleep.

Main Street was the busiest I’d ever seen it on a Thursday morning as I pulled into my spot behind the town hall. I walked down the street around the barricade that surrounded Centre Park and part of Main Street. People milled about pretending not to gawk at the spectacle. I heard whispers about the whole town centre being blocked off until six as I walked towards Short Street. The ghostly girl’s place on the curb was un-naturally cold and empty as I passed on the opposite side of the street. I froze, and half turned to look at the place where she would typically be. I stepped backwards and straight into the man walking behind me. I heard glass break after I felt him crash into me, the air knocked from his lungs.

I spun around to face him. “I’m so sorry.”

He had bent down to pick up his phone. A bag that had clearly been on his shoulder was on the ground, beside him. Had something in there broke? He was a tall, dark-haired man, just on the older side of thirty. His dark brown, wavy hair was cut into careful layers that ended just above his shoulders, his moss-green eyes framed by a pair of large dark brown tortoiseshell glasses. His dark lashes were so long and thick; it almost looked like he was wearing eyeliner. He wore an unbuttoned knee-length lab coat over his emerald green three-piece suit. Unlike most of the Agency workers, his suit wasn’t plain but was covered in a shimmery black pattern. It reminded me of Victorian-era wallpaper or drapery. While the suit brought out his eyes, the design clashed horribly with his glasses.

He waved a hand towards me, a panicked look forming on his delicate facial features. The angles of his face striking a perfect balance between sharp and soft. Checking out a guy I’d accidentally assaulted was nearly as bad as checking out my brother’s girlfriend. I’d done both.

“It’s okay. I was reading while walking. Mum told me it was a bad habit, and eBooks on my phone haven’t helped.” He smiled.

I noticed a crack in his phone screen when I looked down at his brown leather gloved hands. He was clearly an agency forensic worker, and what I was about to do was stupid given my connection to the crime. He could probably fix his phone, but I felt sick to the stomach every time my eyes landed on the crack. “I could buy breakfast to make it up to you. I was just heading there.” I pointed to the Diner just up the street. “I shouldn’t have been walking backwards.”

“A shared moment of stupidity. Mr?”

“Dexter. Don’t even think about Mistering me, I don’t know how things work in America, but here people tend to use each other's first names.”

“I’m from Canada.” He gave me a warm smile. “I’m Cory.”

“Well, Cory from Canada. How about I show you the fine food of Dunn.”

“Lead the way.” He picked up his bag and followed me.

 

***

We sat across from each other in a booth eating our first plates filled with food, the coffee freshly placed on the table. Mine a flat white and his an iced coffee with whipped cream and ice cream.

“Were you reading anything interesting when you crashed into me?” I stirred some sugar into my coffee.

“Just re-reading Frankenstein.” He poured maple syrup onto his small stack of pancakes, pile of bacon and scrambled eggs. A literal sea of it filled the empty space on his plate. In an almost artistic movement, he stopped as it reached the edge of his plate.

I noticed a flush on his pale cheeks… guilty pleasure reading then. I’d done it before, lied about what I was reading when someone who clearly wouldn’t get it asked. Even when I was reading average books, it was awkward when someone who hadn’t read a book since high school asked what I was reading. Finding someone in real life who got odd indie books was akin to discovering that unicorns were real. I didn’t say anything about his blatant lie; for all I knew, he could have been reading the most mainstream smut book I could name. I’d already made things awkward by breaking his phone and forensics kit.

“Frankenstein wasn’t as good as I thought it’d be,” I said after I swallowed a mouth full of coffee.

He raised an eyebrow as though that wasn’t what he expected. It almost felt like a genuinely unguarded moment. Then his features relaxed as he focused on carefully cutting his mushy pancakes. “I liked it.”

“You’re allowed to.”

“Tell me what you didn’t like about it.” He nodded at the name tag on my shirt. “From your professional perspective.”

I smiled. If he wanted me to talk about books, I would do as he asked.

***

Had the Exorcist, exorcised her without a second thought as to why she might have been there? Was I the only person who cared about the origin of the ghost? A girl who would have had people who loved her just like Tara. Tara who was Jonah’s sister… what could I have said if she’d come up? Sorry, I let your sister die? I’d tried not thinking about the last time I saw him when we met for tea. The Jonah in my head stood in the middle of the church function hall, zoned out, biscuits slowly sliding off his paper plate. An island in a crowd of people, a look of shock on his face as though the full reality of Tara’s death had hit him. A Jonah who followed me to the toilet and pushed me against the wall with his hands around my throat. Careful to tell me how easy it would be for him to kill the fat boy. I was barely fifteen, and he was eighteen, the size of a grown man.

I hadn’t made any progress on his request. I should have considered that more critical, but I found myself grabbing the key to the town archives and started with the shelf for 1920. I had no business wanting to solve a possible cold case because the victim reminded me of Tara. It was a silly folly… even if I identified her, what then? How would I find a killer who could be dead themselves? I wasn’t really doing justice to anything other then my own curiosity, the creature in the street wasn’t really that girl’s soul. Ghosts were an impression… a fracture of the person left in reality when someone died a violent death. A created creature made of pure magic. I’d used the last remnants of her existence on earth for selfish reasons, and I felt guilty.

No one, not even Julie, who had enjoyed a day goofing off on her phone, had noticed that I’d missed a day of work. All-day sitting in the archives had left me no closer to the identity of the Shadowy Girl. She was probably just hit by a car or something, and I was wasting my time chasing a phantom murderer. She reminded me so much of Tara, I needed to know for my own peace of mind. With Eli still in the hospital, I spent the night in my empty bed flipping through amateur crime-solving forums.

***

I took the next day off for an impromptu flight to Sydney, to get the necessary items to gain access to Pop’s Bunker. It was easy to get a ticket on the next plane from Tallow to Sydney, and no one was going to miss me for a few hours. The drive to Tallow was longer than the flight to Sydney. The credit union where the key was kept was in a small inland suburb no one in Dunn would have heard of. By the time I took the train out to the bank, it was after two. When I went to the bunker, I could say I was bushwalking if anyone saw me turning off or onto the main road. It was close to the national park, and I could use the nearest official car park and walk a kilometre or so back to the property. I wouldn’t be seen driving onto the property.

When I retrieved the key and code, I found a second-hand book store and bought a vintage hardcover collectors edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, while I waited for the second set of keys to be cut. With my own set of keys and my cover story intact, I took the train back to the airport and took the next flight back to Tallow. If there were no delays, I’d have half an hour to get ready for dinner. Eli was due home from the hospital in the afternoon, and Cynthia had organised a formal dinner of all his favourite foods.

***

Eli was sitting in my car when I walked into the airport parking lot. I almost dropped my keys when I opened the door and saw him lying on the back seat.

“What are you doing here?” I threw my bag on the passenger seat as soon as he stood up.

“I could say the same thing about you. What’s in Sydney?”

“Are you having me followed?”

“Is there something I should know?” He put a hand on my upper back and gently rubbed it and made eye contact with me in the mirror. “You can tell me anything. Is everything okay?” This was about that email I’d read after my accident. Was this Eli my husband, the Agency worker, or secret rebel asking?

I wanted to tell him, and the words were in my mouth, but then I thought of Gran, she’d never forgive me. She promised. I looked down at his hand. “I just went to get a rare copy of a book, from a shop in Sydney. I wanted to see it in person before I bought it.” I didn’t want to fight, not while he was still recovering.

 “I honestly didn’t want to bother you.”

“The last thing I want is for you to keep your distance and blame yourself.” He let his head fall onto my shoulder. “It was my fault… all of this. Part of me hoped they weren’t actually brazen enough to drag you into their bullshit.”

Your bullshit. I wanted to say it but took a long sip from my water bottle instead. Eli wasn’t innocent. I had no idea what he was really hiding, but I knew his secret was worse than mine. I turned and ran a hand through Eli’s hair and gave him a small smile. If he needed comfort, I’d give it to him. I wasn’t going to act cold towards him and let my disappointment and hurt fester into something worse.


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