“Where is he? I want to talk to him myself!”
“He’s out of town. He’s been out of town. And I’m sorry to hear that happened to Eduard, but it had nothing to do with me.”
She looked unconvinced, to say the least. She was distraught and grief could quickly morph into rage, and she had clearly settled on a target for her misfiring emotions. There was no reasoning with a person in that state.
“Well, just so you know, I told the cops all about his threats,” she said unevenly. “This isn’t over. Eduard wasn’t in a gang.” She said the last as though I’d been the one to imply such, when I knew as well as her how ridiculous that was.
“No, he wasn’t. That doesn’t mean his death had anything to do with my boyfriend.”
She waved a hand at me like she was trying to bat the words away. “We’ll just see about that, won’t we?”
“I guess,” I said, my voice as emotionless as hers was emotional. I’d turned off to her. Sympathy, anger, all of it was just gone. I wanted her to leave so I could call my sons about their father. I dreaded that even while I knew I needed to do it before they heard from someone else.
She turned to leave, thank God, but she hadn’t taken four steps before she whirled, snarling at me, “Also, I tried to tell your sons. They wouldn’t take my calls, either.”
“No, they wouldn’t,” I said coldly. “Did you think they would? I’ll tell them myself.”
I called first Raf, and then Gustave, and asked them both to come over.
I didn’t want to inform them over the phone that their father was dead.
Eduard’s death hit me slow and strange, more of a shock than anything. It was tragic, in its way, as all life cut too short is tragic, but it didn’t even feel like a loss to me personally. He’d already been cauterized from my life, and so it was no question that I wouldn’t be missing him.
But the way he’d died, that affected me, got to me. It was just so awful.
And the more I thought of it, it struck me.
That’s what she’d said. That word, that exact word was already burned into my mind in a traumatizing way.
Because it was attached to Heath, to that story from his gory past. It was something he’d done to people.
It couldn’t be such a common thing to do that it would come up again and be mere coincidence, could it?
But of course it could, and it was, I told myself. Heath hadn’t liked Eduard. Well, okay, he’d pretty much hated him. But he’d had no reason to kill him. And certainly not like that. He’d had no reason to seek him out at all.
I kept telling myself that, but I would have felt so much better if I could have had just one short conversation with Heath.
More than anything, even Heath’s violent past, I worried about how Eduard’s death affected my sons.
It was tiresome, how much I checked up on them the first day, calling every hour to see how they were holding up.
It was odd; they both took it the same, at least from what I could see. Their reactions were solemn but stoic, and they emphatically did not want to talk about it.
Sadly, they both took it about how I did, with dull perplexity as though someone they’d known had died, but not anyone they’d had a real relationship with.
It was evening, the day after I’d found out about Eduard.
I was just getting home after a shoot that had gone on until the last light fell from the sky. I was tired and ready to crash as I flipped on lights and headed for my bedroom.
I stopped dead about halfway into my room as I caught sight of something through the doorway to my bathroom.
There was something on the counter. Something odd. Something wrong.
Heart pounding, I moved into the master bath, eyes staring in disbelief at five objects that should not have been there.
Lined up, a few evenly spaced inches apart, were all five pregnancy tests I’d used.
There was no good explanation for them being back in my house, when I’d emptied my wastebasket, and taken out my trash days ago.
Who would dig them out and put them back in my house, lined up like that?
It scared me. Badly. Shook me up.
Who would go to the trouble to do something so strange?
And. . .
Who would be so interested in my pregnancy tests?
God, could it be Heath?
But no. I dismissed the idea almost instantly.
That woman, the one that had come to visit me? Somehow I’d still never learned her name, but she seemed to me the most likely culprit. She had spied on me and could still be spying on me now, and I knew without having to ask that she would not be happy I was carrying Heath’s baby.
I stewed on it for a bit while I went through my house, checking every nook and cranny, bolting every door and window.
Finally, I decided to reach out to Heath again.
He’d seemed sure this woman wouldn’t bother me anymore when last we’d talked, and so I thought I should let him know that she apparently didn’t agree with him, because she was bothering me. Badly.
“Jimmy’s Market,” a neutral male voice answered, sounding bored. I was pretty sure it was a different guy than the last time.
“I need to speak to Heath.”
“No one here by that name. Sorry.”
“Tell him Lourdes called again. Tell him I need to speak to him, and that his female partner is messing with me.”
The man’s voice changed from bored to brusque. “How is she messing with you?”
“I think she broke into my house, did some strange things meant to freak me out.”
“I’ll relay the message,” the man said, and hung up.
At least he’d given me some reassurance that my message would go somewhere. It was a vast improvement over the last interaction.
I could be patient if I knew I was at least being heard.
Next I called Raf.
“Hey, Mom,” he answered.
“Hey, baby. I need ’Tato back, if you don’t mind. This house is too empty without him.”
“Sure thing. I had a long enough turn. I’ll bring him over tomorrow.”
“Kay,” I said absently, eyes darting around nervously. I didn’t think I’d sleep a wink all by myself after what I’d found, but I wasn’t going to worry Raf with it.
The doorbell rang, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
“I’ll let you go. Sounds like you have company,” Raf said on the other end.
“No, no, don’t,” I said instantly, ears tuned to the front of my house as I inched my way there. “Just stay with me for a minute, okay? I’m feeling jumpy. I need to hear your voice.”
There was a long pause on his end, then, “Mom, you sound scared. What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. But don’t hang up just yet, okay?”
“I won’t. And I’ll do one better. I’m coming over.”
I barely heard him. I’d reached the front door. A glance through the peephole was not reassuring.
Some strange man was there, wearing all black, his arms folded across his chest.
After what I’d just found, the last thing I was going to do was open my door to a strange man.
And then he spoke, calling out loudly so I’d hear him through the door. “Lourdes! Open up. Heath sent me.”
I started to, then hesitated. How on earth was I supposed to know if that was true?
“I’m Mason,” he added.
I did recall the name. I’d heard Heath say it once, only in passing, when he’d told his sister someone named Mason was waiting for her, but it’d left an impression because he talked about so few people.
“I work with him,” he continued, his voice even at that volume, like he was used to yelling. “He just barely got your messages, and he’ll be here in about eight hours. In the meantime, he wanted me to check to see what was upsetting you. What is it that you found that’s freaking you out? He said if you wouldn’t let me in to tell you he has something sweet to say to you, just as soon as he gets here. He said that’d mean something to you.”
It did. I opened the door slowly, eyeing up the stranger I was about to let into my house.
He was big with dark hair and eyes, tan skin, and a heavy five o’clock shadow on his hard jaw.
He held up his hands in the universal sign for I’m not a threat. The thing is, if you’re a huge man wearing a gun it just doesn’t work.
“You can just tell me from here, if it makes you more comfortable. I was sent because of your call, that’s all. I’m here to help you, however you need.”
Watching his eyes, which were warm and kind and hearing his voice lowered down from a shout, all helped to put me at ease. I was starting to believe that this guy was who he said he was and began to feel guilty for doubting him.
“I found something in my house that I know for a fact I threw in the trash days ago.”