Crimes of the Fay, Chapter 28

Once again, I expected the worst. I thought he would confess to a horrible crime and then ask for my help in getting him cleared. I also believed that he could have used this chance to blackmail me into doing some illicit deed, and if that had been the case, I felt fully prepared to confess my technically illegal surveillance. I hadn’t considered him figuring out my plot before, but now that I had, it seemed like exactly the type of thing a sociopath would do! I was already going over how I’d word my admission to my department in my head as he began to explain what he wanted, “My sister’s father in law went to the hospital, so she asked me to watch the kids while they went to visit him. I can’t handle them all by myself right now, so would you mind coming with me when I take them out to dinner tonight? I know an arcade with five kids isn’t a great second date, but…”

My body flooded with relief upon hearing this! I prepared myself for much darker demand, and with all of the precarious scenarios that ran through my head, doing this seemed like a piece of cake! “That’s not a problem! I’ll do it!”

“You’re a saint!” I could tell he wanted to kiss me, but he stopped himself as he glanced at the two-way mirror behind my back. Instead, he gave me a little tap on my hand and told me, “I’ll text you the address. Meet me there around six?”

“Sure!” I grinned at him, and when he smiled back, I could have swooned! As I watched him leave, I pushed my suspicions about his criminal nature aside as I savored the affection I just received from him and imagined all I had coming to me later!

With a smirk, Sandra joked, “And Chief Mazarine worried about me acting like a school girl!”

As I pulled out my wand to turn the surveillance equipment back on, I gently chided her, “You shouldn’t have done that!”

“What? He was a friend of Jasmine, he had a right to know how she died!” she justified as the listening devices turned back on. I gave her a hard stare, and she awkwardly shrugged, “Alright, so maybe I just wanted to-.”

“Detective Nason! In my office, maintenant!” Chief Mazarine pointed out the door, and Sandra sheepishly left the room. I figured that he would chew her out for going off the record like that, and I almost felt bad for her. She tried to do something nice for me, and her stunt did score me another date with Aidan, but she could have gone about it in a different way. I walked back to my cubicle and came to the conclusion that her desire to get a confirmation of our relationship oversaw her sound judgment, and I hoped her curiosity on the matter would subside a little after this!

After I read an email from forensics saying that they didn’t recover anything from the cellphone but would continue searching as they repaired it, I decided to type up my report on the new evidence before I headed out. As I gazed at my notes about the killer in my serial murder case, I got reminded of how much his profile matched Aidan. Suddenly, it seemed foolish to go on another date with him! Once again, he picked the location too! I did feel a bit better knowing a bunch of kids would surround us, so he couldn’t do much with so many witnesses around. Plus, I’d get to drive myself this time, so I thought this rendez-vous offered less dangerous potential consequences. I really needed to find out the information he kept hidden from me, so I settled on the notion of continuing with the evening as planned but added the firm resolution of snagging what I needed to know from him!

Sandra came out of Chief Mazarine’s office pretty shortly after she went in. Apparently, he got the impression she went off the record so she could hit on him, which gave us both a good laugh. Before she could attempt to gather more details from me though, I had her look over my report so I could dash out. I did feel a little guilty for keeping a secret from a friend, but I assured myself she’d understand why once I uncovered the truth from him.

I drove to the address he texted me, and before I went in, I brought out my wand to doll myself up a bit. I know it may have appeared a little silly to dress my finest to go to some kiddie place, and he did already see me not that long ago, but I needed to do everything I could to get what I wanted from him! And yes, I realize that has a double entendre to it. A part of me wanted more than just kisses from him, and I had no idea how I’d accomplish that in front of his nieces and nephews, but as I saw him waiting for me at an empty table, it was all I could think about! I tried to keep my investigation at the forefront of my mind, but as I walked in, I didn’t know which side of myself would become the victor here!

I thought the expression on his face displayed an impatience for waiting, but as I got closer to Aidan, I could tell he had gotten irritated by all of the children running around. Based on his previous description of his sister’s kids, I could pick them out from the crowd pretty easily! I previously assumed he exaggerated on their behavior, but as I watched their rambunctious antics, I saw that I stood corrected! I totally understood why he wanted some help for the night now! As soon as he noticed my arrival, he beamed and then joyfully greeted, “Hey! You didn’t run away the moment you saw the reality of the situation!”

“A promise is a promise!” I giggled at his quip as I sat next to him, and he gratefully gave me a kiss.

“Ew!” the two youngest reacted in repulsion.

Aidan directed them, “Go play!” After they ran off, he turned his attention back to me. “How did the rest of your day go?”

I shrugged. “It was pretty uneventful. Do they serve food here? I’m starving!”

“They just have pizza I think.” He handed a small menus over to me, and then he amended his statement, “Oh, they have a salad bar too.” He spotted one of his nephews playing with the food in that area, so he scolded him, “Hey, get out of there! That’s not a toy!”

“I’ll probably skip the salad bar.” I made a face just thinking about all of the other kids that dipped their hands in there!

He said with a grin, “I don’t blame you!” We shared a laugh, and then he began searching around the restaurant slash arcade area. “Is there a waitress or-.” One of the workers came over to our table, and he pleasantly regarded her, “Oh, hi! Can we get a large pizza for the table?” He asked me, “what kind do you like?”

I answered, “Pepperoni is my favorite, but whatever you guys want is fine.”

“One large pepperoni, please,” he politely requested.

“Um, okay, I can do that, but I actually came over to ask if that was your kid over there…” She pointed to a child that had climbed on top of the skeet ball games and was currently trying to go inside the air vent.

Aidan groaned and then yelled, “Harper! Get down from there!” The little girl pretended like she couldn’t hear him, so he took out his wand and used his magic to float her down. He apologized to the employee, “Sorry about that.” She sort of half smiled before she ran off to the kitchen. Aidan gave me an appreciative look and then commented, “I can’t believe you agreed to this date! Then again, I’m still in shock you wanted to go out with a guy like me in the first place!”

I shook my head in exasperation as he played the humble card again! I’m a decent catch, maybe a bombshell to a loser like Ben, but I couldn’t accept a man this handsome, fit, charming, and rich wanting to act like he wasn’t good enough for someone like me! “Why do you keep saying that? I’m a plus sized woman who’s about to get divorced, and I live in a crime-ridden trailer park with my mom and crazy stepdad, that’s a lot of baggage! I haven’t even had the chance to dress my finest, and you keep saying I’m so pretty! I got so stressed that you had to teach me how to have fun again! Why do you wanna take all that on? You’re funny, talented, you make decent money, and you’re one of the most gorgeous men I’ve ever seen in my life, so why do you want me? Why do you want me when you could have the most beautiful woman in the world?”

“Oh, I can have you?” He gave me an amorous smile as he spoke.

“I was serious!” I thought the gesture was cute, but I truly wanted some honesty here. If he wanted to manipulate my feelings in order to pull the wool over my eyes to his potential crimes, then this operation of me going out with him to gather evidence against him would have been pointless. I pondered what story he would come up with, and if I detected any hint of deception, I readied myself to walk out and let him deal with these wild kids on his own!

With an intensely serious face, he looked me right in the eye and insisted, “So I was!” I hadn’t expected any authenticity, and the concept stunned me in the best kind of way! He went on, “When I first saw you, I had to look twice ’cause I thought an angel just walked in! I swear! You’re smart, and you seem curiously adventurous, but what really drew me to you is a strong sense of decency that’s very rare and very attractive! You’re a better person than me, and I’m lucky you even gave me a chance! I know you almost didn’t.”

After blushing furiously for all of the sweet ways he described me, I felt a little guilty for my initial hesitation of dating him. “Well, you gotta understand, I just left my husband, like, a week ago…”

“Oh, that makes sense.” He nodded in comprehension.

“I didn’t expect to date again for a while, and then you came along, and it just felt so fast…” I almost spilled my guts out about how attracted I grew to him, but then it occurred to me that a window of opportunity to discover the secret that I needed to uncover for my case just opened up, and as much as every fiber of my body wanted to elongate this romantic occasion, I couldn’t let my community down by not seizing this chance! If he did play a part in the murders, I needed to know right away! If I acted too selfishly, I could put innocent lives in danger, and I refused to let that haunt my conscious! So, I came up with, “I like you a lot, and I’m ready to be yours, but only on one condition… You have to tell me what’s in those missing files at your work!” His face soured a little, but I pressed on, “I need to be able to trust you, and I can’t date someone who doesn’t tell me what they really do at work!”

He contemplated my offer for a few seconds, and then he concluded, “Okay, I’ll tell you. I just hope you don’t hate me too much when I do!” He mentally prepared himself to expose his secret, and I waited with bated breath…

A Christmas Void, Chapter 11- The Naughty List

Knock, knock, knock! “Ugh! Why do people insist on waking me up early when I get a chance to sleep in?” I grumbled. I felt like I got hit by a freight train! I just couldn’t stop thinking about the previous night. It hurt so much to have fallen in love with someone who I thought I could never have, and I knew what I had to do- I would need to pursue my photography so I could get the heck away from him. I couldn’t stand the idea of leaving him, but my heart couldn’t take seeing him happy with Gryla. The idea that haunted me most was that until I got a job offer somewhere else, I would have to keep dealing with seeing her and hear about their upcoming marriage. I really hoped that I would get a job offer in the next three weeks so I didn’t have to go through the pain of seeing their wedding, but I didn’t think it seemed likely. I didn’t think I could ever fall for another man in the same way I fell for Isaac, but I couldn’t spend my whole life pining after him. Even though it would hurt like crazy to leave him, it was something I had to do. I figured that Isaac must have felt that way too, which is why he kept pushing me to do photography again. That really hurt, but I couldn’t think about that right then. I forced myself out of bed, pulled on my robe, and headed to the door hoping it was someone that I could dismiss quickly.

It turned out to be my mom, which disappointed me because a small part of me hoped that Isaac might have shown up to confess his love for me. I also inwardly cringed that I now had to pretend that nothing was wrong. I couldn’t tell anyone my true feelings, and I definitely didn’t want to tell my mother about the stupid situation I had gotten myself in. Okay, so I told Ruth about my crush, but no one could know how deep I fell. I noticed that my mom wore her lab coat, so I knew she must have been on her way to work, which gave me a little relief to know I would only have to fake my good mood for a little while. I had to really bring my A game too because she was my mom and mom’s always seem to figure out when you’re hiding something. “Hey, Mom!”

Mom surveyed me with suspicion, and already, I felt like I was in trouble! She handed me a box as she came in. “I did my meal preps for the week and brought you over your portions.” Before I could say thank you, she immediately asked, “What’s wrong?”

I was old enough and wise enough to know that saying nothing would prove an utter waste of time. Actually, I would make things worse because she would know I was hiding something and ask more questions. I learned the best way to approach this question was to admit to a softer offense. I complained, “I never sleep well anymore! Millstone’s is always changing my hours, so my body can’t get used to a normal sleeping pattern! I’m just dreading Christmas- a whole week of being open twenty-four hours! I just know they’ll give me the worst shifts too! They hate me on a good day, and my Pine Pass sales have been abysmal lately, so I’m sure they’ll punish me by making me work horrible hours in the middle of the night! But, I know what you’re going to say- it’s just temporary, right?”

My mom seemed to accept my explanation, especially as a medical standpoint since losing sleep was so unhealthy. “Well, it’s a seasonal job, so it really is just temporary. I didn’t think I needed to point that out. Actually, I don’t like how much Millstone’s has ruined Christmas for you!” She had no idea how true that was! If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have met Isaac and I wouldn’t have had that heartache! But, if Isaac hadn’t been in the picture, I would still be angry about the holidays, everything I said to my mom was true! “Actually, I was going to suggest you do something more emotionally fulfilling to create more of a balance in your life. What would that be? Hmm… Oh, I know! Remember when you were younger, you used to come with me to the hospital to volunteer?”

“Oh yeah! I needed volunteer hours for Honor Society when I was in high school.”

“But you kept going even after college! You would go whenever you were lonely or just got cabin fever. Tell me you didn’t love it!”

She was right. Another passion I had forgotten about. I knew it was the right thing to do, and it was healthy to stay home and mope. Something was missing though. “Do you think they would let me snap some photos? It’s been way too long since I worked on my portfolio, and with all of the nature shoots I did, I could use some live action shots…”

“I’m sure you can find a few kids who would want to participate!” Mom looked so delighted that I liked her idea. “I have some time, I can wait while you get your camera ready and makeup done…”

“Uh, Mom, I’m not gonna take selfies!” I pointed out.

Mom offered a counterpoint, “Yes, but your lack of sleep makes you look sick.” I hadn’t thought of that. All of the stress and yes, the lack of sleep too, probably did make me look ill. It made me wonder how I could think of competing with Gryla’s perfect complexion. I didn’t have time to think about that though, so I rushed to get ready.

A little background on my family: Mom is a pediatrician, and my youngest sister, Leah, is an intern in the same wing. My other sister, Tamra, is a housewife with five children, but occasionally she too, comes to the hospital with her dog, who she trained as an emotional support animal. I told my sisters about this photography project idea, and they both loved it! I chatted with Leah until Tamra arrived, and not only did she bring her dog, but she had a wagon full of old books and toys that her kids didn’t want anymore! With mounting anticipation, we entered the first room. The little girl beamed with excitement when she saw the sweet black lab in his Santa hat, and she glowed when we handed her a book to read and a toy to play with during her stay! Her parents gave me permission to take her picture, and I got some good ones. We repeated this process six more times. Each kid reacted just as delightedly as Comet bounded into their room and they got an early holiday gift. I had so much fun that I didn’t notice one of my sisters taking my camera to get shots of me! First off, touching my camera was a cardinal sin. Generally, photographers like to take pictures and not be the subject of one, so I probably would have said no on a good day, but after everything I had been through, I would have more than likely cringed if I knew my picture was getting taken. It ended being a good thing she did though. A reporter from the our local newspaper just happened to be visiting the hospital to meet with their PR director. Of course, she caught wind of what we were doing and came over to talk to us. “Hi, ladies! I’m Lucia Whittaker from the Dasher Daily. I’m working on human interest stories, and I wondered if I could talk about your good deed here in the paper.”

“No way!” I refuted. “I did this for the sake of doing a good deed. If we make it all about us, then it looks like we just did it for the glory.”

Lucia disagreed with my viewpoint, “Girl, this ain’t vogue! We’re reaching out to people who care about Dasher Lake. I just figured that with all of the negativity in the press lately that we could run a piece about kindness, you know, show the readers that there’s still good people in the world.”

That struck a chord with me. After how awful I felt about falling for an engaged man coupled with how low Millstone’s made me feel about myself, I hadn’t felt much like a good Samaritan lately, so it warmed my heart to be considered a pillar of the community. Tamra put in, “I think you should make this more about Tiffany. If she hadn’t volunteered here first, I wouldn’t have thought to train Comet and join her!”

Leah added, “I work here, so this kind of stuff is sorta my job. Tiffany’s the hero here for donating her time to these kids! You should definitely make this story more about her.”

I had no idea my little sisters felt this way! I always thought of them as more successful than me, and so it came as a surprise to hear that they looked up to me! I’m pretty sure my face flushed a deep shade of red at this point! I humbly brought up, “But there’s not even any pictures of me in this roll!”

“Yes, there is!” Leah grinned mischievously. I immediately looked through my camera in shock and a little offense, but before I could yell at her doing that, she remarked, “There’s no point in killing me with all of this life saving equipment around!”

I couldn’t help but laugh, and I was in a good mood, so my anger ebbed pretty quickly. Plus, Leah’s shots weren’t half bad! I sat down with Lucia and told her my history with the hospital. It was kind of fun to get interviewed, especially about something I cared about! Lucia planned to use some of my shots in the physical newspaper, but she could fit more of them into their website, and I felt pleased that I could attach a link to any photography jobs I applied to! I still felt a little bruised from my heartbreak, but doing photography and volunteer work definitely lifted my spirits!

The next day, at Millstone’s, I went in hoping to get a little recognition for that hospital story from some customers or even coworkers who may have seen it online. Not like I actively sought out the attention, but it would have been a nice change to the attention I usually got. Millstone’s didn’t say a thing about the article, but they did mention my terrible Pine Pass record. None of the customers mentioned it all. No one said anything, that is until I took my last break… I saw Isaac intently reading something on his cell phone. It sort of hurt to see him knowing that we were nothing more than friends, but my heart did sing a little at his presence. I didn’t want to damper what little we had in our relationship, so I sat next to him and conversed, “Are you closing tonight?”

“Yeah…” he answered without taking his eyes off of his phone.

I didn’t think there was much point in chitchatting when he was so distracted, but it felt too awkward to sit quietly, so I may as well keep it up. “I leave in forty five minutes, but I-.”

“Tiffany, you really did this?” He pointed to his phone.

I peered over his shoulders and saw that he had been reading that article! His face got so full of admiration, and I gazed down to hide my blushing. “Well, yeah… I started doing this in high school and just fell in love with those kids!”

“Wow! Just incredible!” He gushed. “For someone to have such a big heart and to do something so selfless… I’m speechless! You’re amazing!”

Before I could let it sink in that a kind, sweet man thought such wonderful things about me, I noticed tears welling up in his eyes! Isaac hadn’t even broke down when he talked about his family’s tragedies, so to see him break down now was a little unnerving! What could have stirred up his emotions to get to that level? I couldn’t let him go out on to his shift like that, so I had to ask, “What’s wrong?”

He tried to hide his tears, but when he realized I had already seen them, he gave up. “Sorry. It’s just… I love kids so much, and now I…”

“Work with them?” I guessed.

“I work with teenagers. I can’t work with kids. It’s just… well… You gotta understand, Gryla has a huge heart, but she just doesn’t have any interest in kids. In fact, she kind of hates it when I mention them. It brings up too many bad memories for her, and I can’t blame her for not being able to stomach it. I love her, so I gave up…”

“Teaching kids,” I supplied.

He admitted, “Yes, but I also gave up the idea of being a father!” He couldn’t hide the tears anymore and ran to the men’s room. I cared about him, regardless of whether he loved me or not, so I had to run after him.

I really hoped that a man wasn’t using a urinal when I burst in, and thankfully, there wasn’t. I heard some sniffled sobs at the end of the largest stall and softly walked over to it. Isaac didn’t lock it, and I saw him sitting on the toilet (pants on) holding up a tissue. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t want you to see me like this!”

“Don’t apologize!” I knelt beside him and put my arm around his back. “Weddings are stressful enough, but you’re going through more than most would since you’re giving up so much! I don’t blame you for breaking down!”

He sobbed, “Because I love her, I gave up kids for her. But I really don’t want to! You don’t know how tempting it was to call of the wedding when she said that!” Now he started to get angry and threw his tissue in the trash by the stall’s exit. He missed. As he got up to throw it away, he vented, “You know, sometimes reality just sucks! I can’t give up on her, not after all she’s done for me, but what do I get out of this besides a wife? That’s it? This just isn’t how I pictured my life would go! I always thought I would fall in love with my best friend, someone to go on adventures with, create a family, and take them on adventures too. It’s not like I need a bunch of kids, but I can’t even have one? I can’t even work with them! I didn’t think I would have to give up so much for love!”

I walked towards him, and I could suppress the impulse anymore. I had to ask the question that lingered on my mind for a long time now. “Are you sure you love her?”

“Yes!” He hesitated a little before he added, “Well, I mean, that’s what love is, isn’t it? Finding someone you’re comfortable with? We’ve planned this for a long time, and now we’ll build our lives together…”

“Is that what you want?” I looked him in the eyes when I asked that. He needed to be honest with me, and I would hold him to it. Maybe I would finally get my answer. He was having serious doubts, and it would be so tempting to sway him…

“Yes…” he answered dutifully, but I could hear his conviction start to ebb. “I mean, it would’ve been nice to have had some passion. But that can’t be real love, can it? To have my future wife also be the one that makes my heart race? I wish! I wish I was marrying the woman who was so hot that I couldn’t stop thinking about her. The woman with dangerous curves that I just wanted to run my hands all over. The woman with beauty inside and out. The one who gets my adrenaline going just thinking about her. Is it even possible to get so lucky to be with the person who makes you feel like that? Sometimes, I wish I had time to figure that out…”

His eyes were tense, and I felt positive he had been talking about me. Our bodies were so close… No doubts lingered in my head, I was gonna let this happen…. Unfortunately, at that moment, Cecil burst open the stall door! I jumped away as a child would when they got caught doing something they weren’t supposed to! I expected him to ask romantic questions, but instead, he inquired, “Cleaning the bathroom?”

“Uh, yes! I sure am!” I picked up his tissue and pretended to wipe the stall down.

Cecil laughed, “Well, little lady, it’s almost your sixth hour, so you gotta clock out!”

“Oh, okay!” I darted out of the bathroom, totally embarrassed. There was no more patting myself on the back for doing a good deed yesterday. As I clocked out, I stared at a cheesy holiday poster, and I thought that if there was a Santa, based on what just happened, I would have been put on the naughty list!