Authors: Liz Schulte
“Are you sure you've not exaggerated this in your mind as an excuse to keep from being with me? Let’s face it, Holden, you haven’t exactly been open to me.”
“I’m doing the best I can. I don’t have a problem with casual sex—in fact, that's all I have—”
He continued to blather on about how he didn’t want me to be “casual” or some such rot and that he needed to protect me. I didn’t want to be protected. I bit my lip and wrapped my arms around myself. The news about his sex life wasn’t all that surprising, but thinking about Holden with other women was like a stab in the gut.
“Exactly how many women are we talking?” I asked, though I didn’t want to know the answer.
“I couldn’t even begin to count,”
He seemed so far away from me. I shifted back to my own spot on the couch and faced forward. I wasn’t naïve, but I didn’t like my romantic notions being so dashed so easily. I felt special with Holden, like I was singled out. I didn’t want to be one in a long line of many.
“Suddenly, I'm not that interested in you,” I said, not quite joking, trying bury my feelings a bit deeper.
“Well, I’m still interested in you,” Holden teased, leaning in and nibbling and kissing the side of my neck and check. It seemed he only wanted me when I wasn’t sure I wanted him. In spite of that, a smile came to my lips. I couldn’t seem to stay mad at him.
“Will you be okay by yourself?” Holden asked as soon as he was satisfied I wasn't angry.
“Sometimes you're a little bi-polar.” It was probably good that he was leaving. I had a lot more to think about, “I'll be fine—but this conversation isn’t over.”
“We’ll consider it postponed, indefinitely.”
“Hmph.” I wasn’t sure I could accept indefinitely. He would have to open up to me sooner than later. I could only take so many secrets. At some point, enough would be enough. Being with Holden was like being in a pitch- black warehouse with only a candle. It was only a matter of time until I found the light switch. Or until the flame went out.
“I really have to go.”
I turned on the TV and waved good bye.
Every channel was reporting on the accident. It was tragic. Apparently the driver was suspected of drinking and many families’ lives were altered for the worst by his poor decision. Thinking about it brought tears to my eyes. Those poor people in such pain. What kind of monster could do that?
I flipped off the TV and took Juliet’s letter from my purse. The now-wrinkled white envelope looked up at me as if daring me to open it. I ran my fingers over the edges; dread crept into me. Could I really read a letter from Juliet about why she would take her own life? Would it be full of accusations and finger pointing? Would it be an apology? Would it be nothing like her? The Juliet I knew would have never done this. I couldn't imagine what she would’ve written because she wouldn’t have written it in the first place. I put my finger under the flap and tore the right corner open. The sound of the paper ripping echoed through Holden’s apartment. I felt so alone.
I can’t do this, not now. Later.
I put the envelope back in my purse and paced around the room. I needed something to do. Something to occupy my time, so I wouldn’t be swallowed whole by remorse again. But there was nothing to do. Holden's entire apartment was immaculate. He even seemed to pick up after me. I put the book he had out away, but other than that there was nothing. I wandered through the rooms listlessly looking for something to catch my attention. His closet was very organized and held no secrets to discover.
Finally, I plopped down on the bed. I hoped to fall asleep and forget everything. Forget that Juliet was gone and forget that Holden was strange and secretive. Instead those very thoughts swirled in my mind, taunting me, beckoning me to give into them. The old man’s words seeped through the sadness and doubt. I had to be strong. This wasn’t the time for moping around feeling sorry for myself. That didn’t honor my life or hers.
I sat up. If I wanted something, I needed to take it. I wanted to know who her killer was, and I would start trying to find out tomorrow. My heart wanted Holden no matter what the cost; I wouldn’t let my brain and fear get in the way of that. Holden would be mine. The old man was also right that I wasn’t alone, not truly. Juliet lived in my heart and in thousands of wonderful memories. I didn’t have to be ruled by the one most horrible instance when so much good existed.
I spent the rest of my evening remembering the happy times we spent together. The ridiculous things we did, the uncontrollable laughter, the inside jokes . . . I remembered Juliet for who she was, not how her life ended. Hope filled me.
When I arrived back at the loft, Olivia was asleep. I stood in the doorway watching her chest rise and fall with such peace. My own personal angel glowing in the moonlight on my bed. How I wished I could keep her. But she was too good for me, and it was only a matter of time before she discovered it too. If I could’ve just watched her forever, even if I could never touch her or speak to her again, I think I would be satisfied. Being in her presence stilled me in a way I have never known. Not a bored or statue like stillness—that I knew well. It was like being filled with contentment and peace, which opened me up to a plethora of other emotions that were just as foreign. It had been with no small measure of amazement that I realized she needed me. However, tonight’s epiphany was even more startling: I was beginning to believe I needed her as well. Dangerous thoughts.
Lying down beside her, I wanted to put my arms around her, pull her close to me, and lose myself in her soft glow. But I didn’t allow myself such luxuries. I couldn’t. It was about preservation. I listened to her slow deep breathing and inhaled the soft floral scent of her lotion. Olivia’s peace surrounded me. But suddenly, her breath became more labored—
Knowing what came next, I braced myself for her scream. This was always the part of her dream where she woke up screaming, the part where she found Juliet in her apartment. I wished she would bring me into the nightmare. I could help her, keep her from going in the room, let her forget about it for just a moment. . . .
Olivia’s scream tore from her throat and filled the apartment. She sat up in bed, wall-eyed and arms flailing. Every night it was the same. I turned her face towards me. “Olivia. It's okay. You're here. You're with me. I have you.”
She grabbed fistfuls of my t-shirt and made eye contact with me, slowly coming back to reality. Normally she’d fall back to her pillow, curl into a ball and cry until she drifted to sleep or until morning, depending which came first. Tonight, she didn’t do that. She collapsed against me, crying on my shoulder, clinging to me for dear life. I held her as the sobs racked her body and settled back into the pillows with her in my arms.
It felt too natural. I held her tight wanting her to feel safe from everything, though she'd never been in more danger than she was with me. Soon her breathing evened out and the whimpers were fewer and farther between. Her hair felt like silk underneath my hand as she huddled into me like a kitten until I too fell asleep.
The next morning was awkward. We’d crossed a boundary I hadn’t planned on crossing. I didn’t want my relationship with Olivia to become physical. It was hard enough to maintain my distance with her as it was. The problem was I wasn’t sure how to go back. My arms now felt entitled to hold her. They constantly reached for her and brushed against her; an internal battle raged within me, one that she did nothing to help. She hugged me as I came out of the bathroom, ran her fingers over mine as I handed her the coffee, kneaded my shoulders when she stood behind me. . . . The woman was trying to kill me.
“Where should we start?” I asked, busying myself pouring bowl of cereal, trying to focus my mind on anything but her.
“Our investigation. You know Juliet better than anyone—where do we begin?”
Olivia was quiet as she munched on grapes and contemplated my question. “I honestly have no idea. What exactly are we looking for?”
“Clues. Clues as to whether or not she was somehow involved with the type of people who could make this happen. Had she changed recently? Was there any part of her life to which you weren’t entirely privy?”
“No. I knew Jules better than I know myself. She was upset about Christopher, and she was a little jealous of my time with you. Those are the only two things I can think of that were out of the ordinary.”
“Olivia, no one knows everything about someone else. There are always secrets.”
“Not with us.”
“Maybe it was something new, something she didn’t have a chance to tell you about. Who was new in her life?”
“She did just go on a date with some guy she met at my opening. He works for the Journal. I met him—definitely wasn’t her type.”
“What does that mean?”
“Just that he wasn’t the kind of guy she normally went for. He wasn’t tall, attractive, and arrogant. He seemed really nice—I thought he'd be good for her.”
“What about the ex-boyfriend? What was he like?”
“Joe was her normal type, but she’d dated him longer than she dated anyone else. She was pretty crushed by their breakup.”
“Did she leave him or did he leave her? Was he the jealous type?”
“He broke up with her—thought she was pulling away from him. Joe wasn’t any more jealous than any other man, but Jules could be flirty, so yeah, they had their fair share of fights over that—but I don’t think he would have hurt her.”
The new boyfriend seemed to be the most likely suspect. Suddenly dating outside of her type, his convenient appearance at the most opportune time—when she was at her weakest, feeling insecure and lonely. That’s what I would've done, how I would've targeted her. She probably never saw it coming. One day she's getting over being dumped, the next she's on the hook. So I needed to keep Olivia away from him, distract her with a different angle.
“So what do you think?” Olivia broke into my thoughts.
“I think we should check out Joe. He seems to have the best motive.”
Olivia cocked her head to one side. “No, that's wrong. Joe couldn’t have done this. He's not smart enough to plan something like this. If he’d killed her, it would’ve been a messy crime of passion fueled by rage and jealousy, not something so cold and calculated. I think this is more closely connected with Christopher.”
A sinking feeling hit me in the gut. This wasn’t a road I wanted her to travel down. “They didn’t hang around each other did they?”