Phil had left Tess a message that he had more “stories” to tell her. He asked her to meet him at Selland’s Kitchen in El Dorado Hills for an early dinner. He said his trip paid off. Tess had also mentioned that she had something to tell him, too. She got ready that morning in her basement apartment in the back of the Victorian that had its own door to the street so Grandma Murphy didn’t always know when she came or went. But Grandma would ever keep tabs except for bigger trips. She cared about her granddaughter’s safety not her daily activities. Today though just as Tess was slipping on a pair of pink suede flats with a black bow on the toes, Grandma appeared in the doorway.
“Hey Murph,” she greeted the older lady.
Grandma walked over and inspected her granddaughter’s attire: an oversized purple sweater, pink leggings and the matching flats.
“You look so retro dear,” she said. “What’s the occasion? An ’80’s table dance?”
“You know I only dance on bars.”
“You seeing the groundhog again?”
The “groundhog” was Phil’s nickname between the two of them.
Tess turned, fluffed her hair, and nodded, “Do I look fashionable enough?”
Murphy reached inside her long, white sweater pocket, pulled a flask, took a swig, and nodded. “Well, I personally think some thigh-highs and lingerie might achieve your goal sooner, but yes.”
“She came to me,” said Tess.
“Who dear? Your boyfriend’s lover? Shame on him for cheating on you,” said Grandma with a chuckle.
“No, Mia! She came to me in a dream.”
Grandma’s eyes grew large and round. “Oh now that’s very interesting. Do tell your Murphy what she said.”
“I don’t know what it means. Something about an option. Maybe Mr. Groundhog will understand.”
“I used to have visions, too, girl. Did I ever tell you that?”
Tess wasn’t really surprised, but she had never heard such an admission and replied, “No, and why not?”
Grandma shrugged, “Some say ‘the gift’ runs in families. I suppose maybe it’s in the DNA. When your mom died she visited me. Told me to take good care of you. It was funny you know. Always on a diet in real life, but in the ‘between-world’ as she called it she was in a café with green gingham drapes like the one she loved as a kid. She was eating a huge plate of pasta and hamburgers,” she said. “I guess your spirit can’t gain weight.”
Tess’ eyes watered a bit. Then she shook her head to pass off her sense of grief. “She still visits me every so often but less and less as the years go by.”
Later on, Tess glided into Selland’s Kitchen. It was decorated in a kind of eclectic kitchen chic with maple tables and white chairs dispersed around the room. In the center a long deli counter that contained hot main dishes on the end, salads, and tempting cookies, cupcakes, pies and candies on the other end. Tess looked around the room until her eyes came to rest on Phil, who sat quietly at a table for two on the far end of the room. His table was near the floor-to-ceiling window that faced an elegant pond and fountain. In front of him sat an opened wine bottle and two glasses; his glassed filled with a golden-colored chardonnay. As she approached she saw the word “Kenwood” on the bottle label. She couldn’t help but smile.
She slid into the chair in front of him and rested her chin on the top of her hand as she placed her elbow on the table. Phil glanced up at her and couldn’t resist a smile. She looked simply cute. He liked her more and more with each meeting. Tess thought he looked handsome as he wore a light nylon black Addidas jacket over the top of a khaki- green “Bad Ass Coffee” T-shirt; she recognized Bad Ass from Hawaii, which prompted her next question.
“Which island?” she asked and nodded toward his shirt.
Phil looked down at the logo, which consisted of a donkey stamped on his chest wearing sunglasses and swinging in a hammock, “Oh my ex-girlfriend, Diana. She sent it to me from Maui to thank me for watching her stupid cat, Ben. Hate that fucking cat.”
“Your ex-girlfriend went to Hawaii without you?”
Phil sighed and replied, “Yes, clue number one your relationship is screwed.”
Tess chuckled, “My last boyfriend fucked the 18-year-old neighbor girl and got her pregnant.”
Phil frowned, “No very thoughtful of him.”
“Um no, and I had to live next to them for a whole year till she gave birth to this super cute bald-headed baby that looked just like him.”
“Wow! Your sob story trumps mine,” he laughed.
“So you see we’re both lame,” she smiled and decided to change the subject. “So Droopy, what you got?”
“Are you serious? You remember Droopy the dog detective?” he burst out laughing. “That was from the ’50’s. You secretly old?”
“No my grandmother is.”
Phil took this as a cue and poured her a glass of wine.
“Thank you. Now you were saying …”
“Well, I have another story, and it goes like this…”
Evan came home later after his latest trip to California to find Fern waiting for him on the brown micro-fiber sectional sofa. Her dark eyes looked angrily at him as she held a pillow protectively in her lap. Evan knew he was in for an earful whenever she looked this way.
“Why can’t you just get her to sign it over and be done with it?” demanded Fern.
Evan set down his keys on the cherry-wood end table next to the sofa. He stared at her for the longest time, sizing up how he was going to avoid another fight. He also noticed that on the coffee table in front of her was a half-full glass of beer. She had been drinking. He knew he was in for a rash of shit whenever she drank too much, which she did more and more often these days. He wondered if that was her first or fifth glass. If it was her first the conversation would be civil. If it were her last, it would get nasty, bitter, and possibly end with her throwing whatever was at her disposal around the room. Evan had known Fern for years so he knew the game.
“It doesn’t work that way,” he said and sat down on the edge of the blue recliner on the other side of the sofa. “How many beers is that?” he asked.
Fern glanced at the glass, grabbed it, took another swig, and defiantly replied, “Who fucking cares! You fucking her now? Is that how you’re going to get the options. You going to fuck this bitch?”
She then pulled open the end-table drawer, took out a pack of cigarettes, an ashtray, and lighter. She pulled out a cigarette, flicked the lighter, lit up, inhaled, and exhaled smoke. She sat with the cigarette between her fingers and blinked at Evan. Evan could see it was likely her fourth or fifth glass. She was drunk and belligerent. They say that alcohol accentuates whatever is your most repressed emotion. Some people laugh a lot when they drink; others get angry and yell and scream. Fern yelled and screamed.
“I’m not fucking her all right,” he replied, and it wasn’t a lie … yet.
“But you’re going to fuck her?” asked Fern as she put the cigarette back to her mouth, sucked in smoke, and exhaled again. “Don’t fucking lie to me. Tell me the damn truth. I saw you goddamn kiss her stupid fucking hand. I saw how you looked at her. I saw her get all goo-goo eyed over you. She’s fucking all over your shit. I saw it, so don’t lie.”
“She’s married Fern. She doesn’t cheat. It’s not happening. So calm the fuck down.”
Fern jumped to her feet and moved closer to Evan. Even knew the drill. She was going to lose it. Another night of yelling and screaming, and sometimes even slapping and pushing. Evan never responded back. He knew she was just drunk, hurt and stupid. He got to his feet and grabbed her by both shoulders so she would have to look at him.
“It’s not her I love, it’s you. You have nothing to worry about, right. So, cool it okay. You’ve been drinking too much, and this is going to be another one of those nights.”
Fern broke down crying. Evan sighed and knew that tonight wouldn’t be violent but rather another crying sob-fest where she would beg and plead with him to love her, fuck only her, marry her. Evan had consoled her so many times over the years, reassuring her he did love her and someday would marry her. It was terrible to watch Fern cry and sob, but also she would grow angry at some point too – and the yelling and cursing would eclipse the tears.
Evan thought briefly of Mia who didn’t drink often and didn’t smoke. Mia who he had to admit he was growing to love more and more. He didn’t want to begin to wrestle the guilt of swindling her for stock options they so desperately needed to get the company back from Joanne. Stock options that were to a brand new start-up venture that Joanne had given Mia long before his parents’ divorce as payment for her services. Stock options that once the subsidiary opened for public trading would be worth a fortune and could be used to combine with already-procured shares. With the combination of stock shares, he and his brothers would take over controlling interest, and Joanne could never do a thing about it.
“So what happened?” asked Tess.
“The mother, who is also a horrible drunk, said Fern took a round-the-world cruise a few months back. Said Evan paid for it. She hasn’t been heard from since she left, but the mother also said that Fern said she and Evan were going to get married and honeymoon in Greece.”
“Can you find out what cruise she took?” asked Tess.
“We’re looking into that right now. The mother also said they planned to marry in Greece, too. We just have to research any Americans who could have gotten married in Greece in the last few months; but with all the political turmoil it might be a little difficult.”
Tess momentarily thought how romantic it would be to get married in Greece. And then she remembered the “options” and spoke up, “Yes! That’s it. Mia came to me in a dream and told me to find the options.”
“Whoa! Wait. A dream? Now you dream evidence?”
“Evidence … no, clues. And I seriously doubt Evan married Fern in Greece. He loved Mia.”
“Sounds like a con game to me,” replied Phil.
Tess shook her head, “No, I think he fell for her during the con. And I imagine that caused all sorts of shit.”
“And hence, the body in the trunk,” replied Phil.
“Hence …” winked Tess. “I like the word ‘hence’. I like words,” she said and her eyes drifted toward Phil’s gaze. She lost herself for a moment and got caught up in his two-colored eyes. She had forgotten her mad crush on the detective while she listened to the story. Now the wine was starting to take over her senses, and she felt aroused. She felt embarrassed all of a sudden and didn’t know why.
“Maybe I should get you drunk,” said Phil in an unguarded moment.
“Huh, why?” asked Tess.
“You know why.”
She leaned forward, smiled, and left it open for him to kiss her. Phil stared at her for a while and considered the forbidden kiss. She wanted to kiss him for sure, but still he wasn’t quite ready to give into pleasure. He just looked at her, and that stare versus a responsive kiss made Tess pull back and sulk for a moment. She sighed, took another swig of wine, and got up.
“I’m going to get a chocolate. You want one?”
Phil smiled and understood she was now on the hook of emotions. He pleasantly replied, “No thank you. Maybe another time.”