Roses and Violets
: The Magic Touch
At the age of nineteen you would think I would be at least somewhere in my life. But instead I am working at a local bakery in the town of Le De Lu and waking up the dead. As you may have already noticed, I am not your average high school dropout.
Since I was about eight years old, I have had the gift to bring anything back to life. From plants to animals to humans. With just a touch of my finger the breath comes back to whatever was once dead. But there are some consequences to this gift. First off, whatever I touch can only come back to life for ninety seconds. That is a minute and a half. Not very long. Especially if you're asking that person how they died exactly and if they have any last things to say to the people they once loved. Which is my other job. I help solve crimes with the crime solving business called Wilson Rowe Agency ran by the one and only Wilson Rowe.
My gift really comes in handy when we need more bucks. But I really hate taking advantage of my gift that way but how else would I get paid enough to keep my apartment? So, I am stuck raising the dead on a daily basis while trying to keep my job at the bakery, Sugar, Sugar. The owner of Sugar, Sugar never comes because she is too 'busy' so I pretty much own the place.
At the moment I was fixing a beautiful cake covered in roses made of icing that sat atop the three tiered cake. My hands were covered in flour; my apron was dusted with a rainbow of icing; and my strawberry blond locks were matted up behind my ears.
I hadn't realized I was being watched from behind by my fellow coworker, Oliver Ogle. I turned around and there he was standing there staring at me and my work. His brown hair almost covered his eyes and his eyes were the color of dark chocolate truffles. He had been 'interested' in me since I started working at Sugar, Sugar.
"Hey, B.J.," he said using my nickname for the title of Becca Joanne Stiles.
"Hey, Oliver." I headed over to the sink to wash my hands as he followed.
"How was your night?" He always wanted to know what I did after work hours, which was totally confidential. No one else needed to know that I solved crimes by waking people who are supposed to be at rest.
"Um, fine. I'm going to take off," I told him now wanting to carry on the conversation.
"Okay, bye!" he called as I walked out the front door down the streets of Le De Lu.
Buildings of all sort lined the street. From, shops, to restaurants, to agencies, to business firms, to apartment buildings. I walked on past the small yoga studio and the Chinese restaurant to my apartment complex Lost Meadows. Up the stairs to the third door on the left led to my apartment where I called home.
It was just a simple one bedroom, one bath place to go with a living room and kitchen. But it was my place of peace and rest. I could just be my normal, gifted, but still normal self here. No work, just relaxation.
The walls of my bedroom were lined with shelves of books of different kinds. Another one of my favorite hobbies was to read. Reading put me in my own little world where anything could exist.
After eating, showering, and getting ready for bed, I turned on the bedroom TV to the news channel.
"Yesterday," the reporter said into the camera, "there was a body found at the high priced, five star hotel in Blue Ridge, Ala Faire. The body was found in the bushes on the edge of the building. People say the body was dropped all the way from the top floor. All workers and owners have no idea how this death happened. The identity of the body is being kept low key at the moment until further notice."
I zoned out as they showed the hotel and the bushes. There was a weird feeling in my gut. I had no clue what it was. It was pain, not from an ache that lay in my stomach from eating too many chocolate covered strawberries at the bakery but pain for whoever had died.
It felt as if whoever had died was a close friend of mine. But that would be impossible seeing as I had no idea who it was who died. It was all a mystery. A mystery not worth solving.
I shut the TV off not wanting to heart the happy things going on in the world. Then, I lay in bed staring up at the flat white ceiling thinking of the person who died. Whoever it was had a family, a home, a dog. And his or her life was just taking away. He or she had a past no matter good or bad. A present. And would had had a future, but all of that was taking away.
The thoughts made me wonder: What exactly do we all have in life? Everyone has their own take on it. Some people think about others and how their life should be. Others think only of themselves. There was hot and cold. Deep and shallow. But where exactly did we all fit in those particular categories? Where did I fit in?
I woke up the dead to help solve their murder but then just with a touch I put them back to rest. IT was as if I was the killer. But the killer the second time around. All I did was bring people back for a minute or so then collected the prize. Was I cold, greedy and shallow?
The question haunted me. But I pushed it out of my mind and fell into a deep array of sleep.
"Why?" I was asking my partner in 'waking the dead' Wilson Rowe.
"Because I need a vacation. And to get a vacation I need some mullah," he told me in a stern voice. Wilson loved making money. He looked like it too. Dark skin, tall, heavy set, bald head.
"Well, then you're going to have to do this investigation yourself. Because I'm out." I grabbed a cake out of the supersized oven.
"Okay, suit yourself. I guess that quarter of a million dollars goes to me then."
I almost dropped the cake I was holding. "Twenty-five thousand dollars?"
"Evidently these people want some answers." He gave me a smile that just read 'cash'.
"Okay. But we're spitting it fifty-fifty."
He nodded then headed out the back door of the shop. Then, the TV that sat right across the room on the counter came on the news.
"Reporting live," the reporter said. "The victim of the latest murder at a local hotel has been named. Nathaniel Gates of Harrington Meadows at the age of twenty."
The cake I was holding slid out of my grip and smashed onto the tiled floor. Nathaniel Gates. I knew him. I was just staring off into space remembering the times before at Harrington High between me and him.
I had not noticed Oliver and my other fellow coworker Stacie Rae running into the kitchen to see what all the commotion was about. They tried to snap me out of my trance but could not succeed. Finally they got me into a chair.
IT was a mystery how much time went by. Minutes? Hours? It was dark when I finally woke up with a snap of the fingers in my face.
"B.J.?" Stacie asked her pale skin paler and her red air redder. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah," I gulped.
She put a hand on her chest and got up starting to pace around the room. "Thank goodness. We were so worried about you. We just heard a loud bang and saw the cake on the floor and you standing there. What happened?"
Stacie Rae Ray was always interested in everyone's business. She knew all of the gossip going on around town and always wanted to know more. She had bright red short hair, brilliant green eyes, and was very short and petite. She waitressed at Sugar, Sugar and had a massive crush on Oliver.
"I…I don't know," I told them. "I was just watching the news when they said…" It all came flooding back to me. "Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!" I started breathing fast.
"Get her a paper bag or something!" Oliver ordered Stacie.
Stacie came back and handed me the bag. I started breathing heavily in it.
"B.J., what happened?" Oliver asked me again. "What did who see on the news?"
I finally caught my breath and started crying. "He…he…he died!"
Stacie came back over to us. "Who died?"
I couldn't answer. All I could do was cry. Cry for Nathaniel. Cry for Nate.
"Who died?" Stacie repeated urging to know.
"N…n…Nathaniel!" I cried out still bawling.
Stacie turned to Oliver with a confused look on her face. "Who's Nathaniel?"
HE shrugged. "Oh, that dude that got killed at the hotel?"
Then, he turned to me. "Do you know him?" he asked.
I let out another screeching sob letting it all out not hiding anything. All my feelings were laid out right in front of everyone.
"I guess that's a yes," Stacie concluded.
I was lying in my bed still crying. My face was wet with tears. And I was still sobbing over him. Though it had been hours, I had not stopped. Oliver drove me home and made sure I kept hydrated seeing as all the water was leaving my body.
He was gone. I hadn't seen him in years. I haven't seen him since I was fifteen years old at Harrington High. He was the most popular guy in school while I was the geek. But for some odd reason he still liked me. We hung out, we fell in love, and I left. A classic teenage romance, sob story. But there was a reason behind all of it.
The sun was shining through my window by the time I woke up. My face had dried tears all over from me crying in my sleep. It was not a dream. Nate had died. And today was the day I had to wake him back up and put him back to rest.
I got up, washed my tearstained face, showered, and got dressed in a black three-quarter inch sleeve mini dress with a red sash belt on the waist and a different colored flowered skirt and red leather flats. Letting my blonde hair fall freely down my back giving myself the confidence. I was ready for anything.
When I arrived to the bakery, Stacie and Oliver looked up from checking the cash register and cleaning tables to me.
I ignored their worried looks asking 'are you okay' and walked right past them to the kitchen.
Then, Wilson burst through the front doors.
"In five minute we need to be in that car heading for Harrington Meadows. Now stop wasting time because time is money," he told me heading back out the door to his car parked on the street.
I followed him back outside only to say as he was hopping into the car, "I'm not going."
"Oh yes you are. Now get in."
With a sigh I got into his blue car as we headed towards Harrington Meadows where so many things went wrong. In my past. Where I grew up until the age of sixteen. Where I left him.
We finally arrived to the funeral home, its high brick walls and stain glass windows menacing. Its series of stone gray steps trip worthy. Inside, even more frightening.
What if people recognized me? I know I have changed in the past few years from geek-looking to the all-American beauty I was now known as.
As soon as we stepped in, I ducked out of the way making sure no one would see me. While Wilson talked to the owner of the home, I peeked into the room full of mourning people for anyone I might have known before.
In the front, were the two people I knew of and still remembered. Briar and Cindy Bridges. Also known as Nathaniel Gates uncle and aunt. They both looked very sad, depressed. Though I hadn't seen them in all these years, they hadn't changed much at all.
Cindy had the same light brown locks but now they fell down her shoulders showing off her beautiful heart-shaped face that held pale blue eyes. Instead of her usual wardrobe from what I remembered of pink and red tops and floral skirts, she was dressed head to toe in a black satin dress, stockings, stilettos, a black jacket worn over, and a big black floppy hat.
Briar hadn't changed a bit. He still had the same dark cropped hair, high cheekbones, and dark, almost black eyes with a hint of gold very much like Nathaniel's were. It was amazing how much they looked alike and they weren't even blood related. Cindy was Nathaniel's mother, Nellie's, sister and Cindy married Briar.
Briar's eyes unknowingly traveled to where I was standing by the doorway. Quickly, I ducked out making sure he didn't see me.
"It's time," Wilson said leading me into the room where I was supposed to do my duty.
The room was hollow except for the oak casket that lay on a on the stand in the middle of the green-carpeted floor.
"You okay?" Wilson asked looking at me weirdly.
I hadn't noticed I was sweating and breathing heavily. I turned to him. "Um, can I do this one alone?"
He gave me what I suppose was an amused look but went right ahead and out the door waiting outside in the hall.
After a series of short deep breaths I walked over to the casket slowly lifting the lid hoping for the better. Laying there in pure in pure beauty was him. He looked even better than before. His dark hair was darker and he had grown some.
As I decided how exactly to do this, I remembered the last time we saw each other. IT was at school during the night of the dance. I was leaving. Running away. We were in the hallway dressed in formal wear saying our goodbyes.
Finally, I worked up the courage to bring him back. Softly I touched him lightly with my index finger on the cheek as he came out of rest his lids opening showing beautiful dark eyes while he shot straight up and hopped out of the casket.
"What happened? Where am I?" he asked looking around the room.
I threw my hands up. "You're at the funeral home."
"Did I die?" He had the most worried look on his face that made me want to cry.
I nodded slowly. "Yes."
He looked over to me. "Who are you?"
That's when I finally got the look of the Nate I knew. The gold in his eyes shown though highlighting his beauty reminding me of the past.
"Nate," I whispered taking it all in not hearing his previous question at all.
"Nate? I'm Nate. How do you know…?" HE took a good look at me. "Rebecca?"
That snapped me out of my reverie. I hadn't been called that name in years. Nobody knew me for it.
"Um, it's B.J. now," I told him.
"B.J…" He stared at me hard. "I haven't seen you in years. You look good."
I smiled. "Thanks. You, too. Well, for a dead man."
He looked at the casket. "How did you…?"
"I have the magic touch. It's a long story. But we don't have long. I need to know who killed you like now. And please give me the short version."
"I don't know who killed me. I was at the hotel when I found a staircase to the roof. I was looking out at the city thinking when someone came up from behind me, tried strangling me, and pushed me off."
"So, you have no idea of who killed you?"
He nodded. "But whenever I was dying my only thoughts were on a girl in high school." He started walking towards me. "She was a nerd. An outsider. But I felt like I really knew her. From that first day when she dropped her books and I looked into her eyes, I knew she was the one for me."
He was now standing over me, staring down at me. I couldn't touch him now. Not ever. I could not watch him die. There was only so much time left before I had to make a choice whether to touch him and watch him die again or to let him live.
He bent his head down leaning in closer. His lips almost to mine when I stopped him.
"Wait," I said. "What if you didn't have to die? What if you had a second chance at life? A second chance with me."
"Is that a choice?"
"Only if you want it to be."
He step back telling me his decision.
I smiled. Then there was knock on the door.
"B.J.? You done yet? We only got so much time." I heard Wilson's voice on the other end.
I turned abruptly to Nate. I had completely forgotten about Wilson. What would he think of me keeping one of our victims alive? But I didn't care.
I told Nate in a quick whisper, "Sneak out the window and I'll meet you by the blue car. Don't let anyone see you."
I turned toward the door opening and closing it quickly trying not to look too suspicious. By Wilson's expression, he didn't believe it.
"He is dead right?" he asked.
I turned away and started walking towards the front door.
"You did not, not put him back to rest. He's supposed to be dead. You can't mess with nature B.J. You just can't. Not unless you want it to bite you in the butt. Now do want that?"
I ignored him and hurried down the outside steps to the car.
"Do you know what you are doing? Are you crazy?"
I spun around to him. "I don't know. Maybe I am crazy! Because I defiantly am not normal. I don't know what came over me. I couldn't watch him die. Not under my hand. You wouldn't understand."
We got into the car in a huff.
Then Wilson looked in his rearview mirror to see who was sitting in the back seat.
Nate waved at him, but he just grimaced and drove on.
The ride was quiet, abnormally quiet.
We finally arrived at the bakery. Wilson passed a hat and pair of sunglasses to Nate.
"Put these on. I don't want anybody freaking out about you being dead then not dead."
Oliver and Stacie were inside. Oliver making a pie and Stacie counting money in the register. They both looked up when we walked in. Oliver looking somewhat jealous while Stacie was just surprised.
"Hi," Stacie greeted us putting the stack of bills she was putting back into the register. "Who's this?" She eyed Nate.
"This is," I started unsure what exactly to tell her. It was like I could say 'this is my high school crush and the guy who got killed the other day.' I'm sure I would be sent to a mental institute if I told her that.
"Nate." Nate held out his hand.
"Well, I'm Stacie," she said shaking it. "You know you sort of look like that guy who got pushed off the hotel the other day."
We all gave each other panicked expressions. Could Stacie possibly figure it out that fast? Was I going to the institute sooner that I thought?
She shrugged and laughed. "But that's impossible! And by the way that is a compliment. That guy was pretty good looking if I said so. B.J. knew him too. That's weird."
Thank goodness Stacie wasn't the brightest person in the world.
"All we need to know is who killed you." Wilson was using his PI tone.
"I'm telling you, I don't know," Nate told him. "The last thing I remember is being strangled. The rest of it is blank. Nothing."
We were sitting at an empty table in the closed Sugar, Sugar. It was dark outside and I had asked Oliver and Stacie to go home. So, now I was time for the interrogation.
"You have to remember something," Wilson pushed. "What were you doing all that time? Reliving your life? Because by the looks of it, it wasn't much of a life."
I glared at Wilson. How could he be so rude at a time like this? Nate had already died. Wasn't that enough?
"Look," Nate started. "I know you don't like whatever has happened here that brought me back to life, but as you can tell, it has happened. Don't get all PI on me. I've been through this stuff more than enough times."
"And why is that?"
Nate hesitated not wanting to let out his past. Wanting to keep it to himself bunkered down inside.
Finally he said, "When I was twelve years old, my mother died. Some weird unknown death according to the papers. I witnessed it but when someone asked me, I didn't tell them anything because right before she died she told me to not tell anybody anything. So, I kept it to myself forever."
Wilson's eyes were distant, trying to remember something in the past. He finally turned back to us. "Were you that kid from the Nellie K. Gates case?"
"Yes, that was me."
"Do you remember what happened?"
"Yes, I remember everything. The good and the bad."
Wilson looked in intrigued. He was listening more than he ever did before. It was probably because the Nellie Gates case was such a big one that all the PIs knew about it and wanted to know even more about it.
"It was always just me and my mom. Ever since I was born. That day…when she…died…it was the worst day in my life. The day started out like any other. But in the afternoon…things started to get weird. Very weird."
Wilson and I were listening intensely, catching every single word. Though I had always known what had happened to Nate's mom because my dad was on her case, the story was still a mystery to me. There were spots that got me confused. And I had never really heard the story from someone who was there to witness it.
"I was just watching TV like any normal kid would do on a Saturday when there was knock on the door. My mother went to answer it. I wasn't paying very much attention but I heard her speaking to the stranger at the door. They were speaking in a different language…Spanish. I didn't even know my mom knew Spanish. But I'm positive she was talking it. The conversation seemed casual, but then they started arguing. I went to go see what was going on. The person was a man. He was tall and wearing a suit and hat. He had a brief case which made me suspicious.
"She finally closed the door and went back into the kitchen. I sat there thinking about who the man could be. At first I thought it might have been someone my mother worked with, but she was just an office secretary. Then, part of me thought it was…my father."
Ever since I knew Nate, he never talked about his father. He knew nothing about him. His mother never said a word either.
"Later on that night, my mother was about to put me to bed when there was another knock on the door. I followed her to the hallway. Then she saw who it was. She panicked. I had never seen her that worried, that scared. She turned to me and told me she loved me and to never speak of this. If someone asked what happened to her, to say nothing. I hid in the closet with the door cracked open the tiniest bit. She opened the door and many tall men stepped in dressed in all black this time. There was a woman too. She looked like the leader. But I didn't see any of their faces.
"They started surrounding her talking harshly in Spanish again. She was trying to tell them something, but I couldn't understand it. The last thing I remember happening is the woman taking out of gun, getting in the middle of the circle and shooting her. After that, they left. I ran out of the closet to see she was gone. Her body was limp and blood was running from her. I started crying and screaming help.
"The police and ambulance and everything else finally came, but it was too late. I spent the night at the police department being interrogated by a bunch of bigwigs trying to get to the bottom of things. I wouldn't say a word, not even my name. The next morning they called my only relatives. I didn't even know them. And they didn't know me. They did not know I existed. But they knew what I did not want to talk about. So there was no pressure. I was…happy. Or somewhat happy with Briar and Cindy. They made me feel like I was part of a family instead of an orphan."
I was frozen, lost in the story. My mouth was hanging wide open but I wasn't breathing at all. I had always though Nate was just the high school heartthrob that had been through tough but never really know much about what had happened. But I was wrong. He knew everything about his mom's death. He just tried to make better of it.
He had already been through so much but he looked on the bright side of things.
"And this…" I opened the door of my small apartment and flicked the lights on. "Is it."
Nate took a step in and looked around. "Wow."
That was a neutral response. Not one I was expecting. His tone had a downer tone to it though.
"Is it that bad?" I asked him.
He started shaking his head. "No…I like it. It reminds me of home."
I smiled at him. He gave me a dazzling smile back.
I walked into the living area. "So, I guess you can sleep in the bedroom and I'll be out here."
"No," Nate protested. "You sleep in there, I'll sleep out here. You've had a hard day."
"Well, I'm not the one who died," I mumbled.
He looked at me hard. With the look I remember from long ago. The one that had always made me melt. The one that seemed he saw the real me.
"I'm serious. You've already given me enough. Let me give you one thing."
How would I be able to deny that look? It was impossible. I would be an idiot if I opposed.
"Okay. If you insist…"
Now I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, not at all getting sleep. Just thinking. Thinking about my decision today. I let Nate live. Was it because I couldn't bear to see him die again? Was it because he wanted to live his life again? Or was I just thinking about myself?
All the above. I wanted him back. I wanted him. Was I that selfish? Did I save my thoughts for anyone else? No. That was how selfish I was. The only person on my mind was me.
I wanted to ask him what he thought of me now. If he could stand me for being so selfish.
I got out of bed and tip-toed quietly into the living room. I bent down on my knees by Nate's face.
"Nate!" I whispered his name trying to wake him up. "Nate!"
His left eyes popped open. One sphere of darken gold. Then they both opened.
"Yeah?" he asked.
"DO you think I'm a selfish person?" I asked him in a whisper.
He sat up. "It's three in the morning, Rebecca."
"Well B.J., it is three o'clock a.m. I thought you needed some sleep. I know I do. Now go back to bed."
He lay back down and closed his eyes.
I was still sitting there not moving an inch.
He opened his eyes again. "No I don't think you're selfish. It was just fate. Fate brought us together the first time in high school. Fate brought us apart. Fate made me die. And now fate has brought us back again."
I had never put it that way.
"I had never thought of it that way," I commented out loud. "But you know fate didn't think this through very well or just wanted to punish us."
He stared at me clueless.
I hadn't told him yet about the disadvantage of being able to wake the dead. Better late than never.
"If I touch you, you die again. But this time you can't come back."
His face fell. "Oh. That's why back at the funeral home you backed away."
I slowly nodded.
"So we can't touch or I'll die. Great! That's just great. I came back to have a better, happier life but instead I can't be with you."
"It's not your fault," he told me.
"Yes it is. If I hadn't been so stupid, I would've left you and your dead self alone."
"It's okay. It'll all be okay. Now that I'm alive, you, me and Wilson can all get the money for solving my murder."
"Wait." I was taken aback. What did he just say? "What did you just say?"
"I said that after we are done solving my murder we can all slit the money. After all, I was the one who died. Don't you think it's only fair that I get something out of this?"
I nodded slowly. "I guess. But I want you to know that I don't just do this for the money. I only do it because it's what's right. And it helps people. I know it is beyond selfish for just taking the money and going on with my life while the people still have a loss. And I hate that I have to kill people again after I get all the information I need, but that's just how it is so…"
Nate laughed. "You've always had a trouble with rambling. Especially unnecessary rambling. Even after we became close, you would always ramble."
I rolled my eyes but at the same time blushed. Wow. I hadn't done that in a while. Not since high school. When everything was right in front of me. I had a future. I was on the right path.
Most people didn't know the reason why I dropped out of high school. I had good grades, I was a good student. Sure, maybe I was a laughing stock a majority of the time. I didn't have any friends back then. Well, not until Nate. People would always wonder why he hung out with a girl like me. Unlike me, Nate was popular. He was an all-star athlete, a lady's man, smart, and also extremely nice.
We were friends at first sight, but we both knew there was something deeper. We never explored those feelings until the night of winter formal. I went solo, and he went with some other popular girl because we were fighting. I remember that exact moment.
I had seen him walk in with Rachel, his date, and I ran into the hallway to cry. He had seen me run out so he followed me. We said things, about love and stuff, and then well…one thing led to another and we kissed. That was the last time I saw him. Over winter break, my whole life changed forcing me to leave.
I hadn't seen Nate since that night. And now he was here right in front of me. It was like a dream come true, but things had changed. I didn't know anything about him now. He really didn't know a thing about the new me.
"Nate," I said slowly. "I want you to know that I didn't leave because of you. I had my reasons. I really did love you and I wanted to stay but I just couldn't. It was complicated. And it still is. I just want you to know I would've stayed if I could've."
He looked up at me with those heartfelt eyes. "But why'd you have to leave in the first place if it wasn't because of me?"
"Like I said," I took a deep breath, "it's complicated. The short story is…I had no choice. It was a matter of life or death."
He was silent for a moment then he asked, "What happened during winter break?"
I took a big gulp. I hadn't admitted the truth about those days in forever, never maybe. "My father died. No, he was killed."
I closed my eyes and cringed at the memory. I wasn't exactly on the crime scene like how Nate was with his mom. I just remember seeing it through a bird's eye view.
"He was murdered like your mom. Except probably for a whole different reason. That being he solved murders. But I don't why he was the one who had to be killed. He worked with other PIs. Why him?" I started going into full panic mode. This was extremely rare. I was usually a serene, calm person.
"It's okay," Nate assured me. "I know what you're going through. Even years after they die, you still feel empty and start having panic attacks. But it will get better as time goes by. Trust me. I know exactly what you are going through."
"Good morning!" I said as I walked into the bakery.
Oliver, like he always did, ran and greeted me with a huge smile plastered on his face.
"Hi, BJ… Nate." His expression went grim as he looked over at Nate.
Awkward. "Um…Oliver, Nate going to be around a lot and I was thinking because you need help bussing the tables sometimes so…"
"I don't need help," Oliver said quickly. "And besides, I'm sure Nate has plenty of other things to do during the day."
"Actually," Nate began. "I would be glad to help out. It wouldn't bother me at all."
"It would bother me," Oliver muttered.
I stepped on his foot. "Oliver I think the timer is going off. You might want to go check on whatever you're baking."
He turned around and walked to the kitchen.
Nate turned to me. "What was that all about?"
I sighed. "Nothing. Just that Oliver has a little crush on me."
Nate raised his eyebrows. "Little? Trust me that was not little. To me he looked jealous. Wow."
"I've never heard of anybody having a crush on you."
I rolled my eyes. "Really? Because last time I checked, you had a crush on me."
He shook his head. "No. I was in love with you."
"Exactly. Oliver is the same way. What is up with you guys? Always have to fall in love with the same girl."
"Sorry, but I fell in love with you first."
"Well you were the first one to meet me. Oliver and I hadn't met until three years later."
"Yeah, but he fell in love with a pretty new you. I fell in love with the smart, glasses wearing, nerdy old you. If he saw you like that, I am very sure that things would be different."
"Whatever. Come on, I'll show you how to work everything."
I led him to the kitchen. The television was on the news channel. We all stopped and listened to it.
"On the Nathaniel Gates murder," the reporter said into the camera. "The only surviving family of late Nathaniel Gates are his aunt and uncle Cindy and Briar Bridges." They showed a video of Briar and Cindy at Nate's funeral, grieving.
I glanced over at Nate. A pained look was on his face.
"The murder has yet to be solved. All Cindy and Briar have to say about this situation is, 'We won't rest until we figure out who killed Nathaniel. He was like a son to us and we would like him to rest in peace.'"
Stacie grabbed the remote and turned off the TV.
"So," she said breaking the silence. "I heard Nate is going to working here now. Exciting, huh?"
Nate still had the same expression. He finally snapped out of it and ran out the back door.
"What did I say?" Stacie asked.
I found Nate sitting on a park bench in the back alleyway.
"You okay?" I asked him.
"No." He looked up at me. "I'm alive and I can't tell them. They're mourning over my death and all I can do is sit here."
"That's not all you can do. You're helping solving this crime, remember?"
He was quiet again. He wouldn't say anything for a total of ten minutes. Then he looked at me with a different expression. Begging.
"Can you see them for me? Please? I just want to know how they really are. I mean I haven't seen them in a couple of weeks because of that business trip. Please?"
I put my head in my hands. "Nate…I can't just tell them that everything's okay. That you are off to a better life. I don't want to get their hopes up so quickly."
"But they need to know that someone is there for them. Someone I knew and was close to. You and them are the only people I've cared about for a long time."
I thought it through.
Going back? Again? To people I never really knew? I didn't know if I could do that. It would be a whole lot to handle. Especially at circumstances like this. What would I tell them? Nate was going to have to come up with that.
I couldn't exactly tell them that Nate was actually alive. They would only come to two possible conclusions. Either he faked his death or he had come back from the dead.
"Okay. I'll do it. One condition though."
He smiled. "Okay. What?"
"You cannot go anywhere near the house. I don't want to risk the possibility of them seeing you."
"Fine by me. But you really need someone to go with you. Someone who knows what's going on. Someone protective…"
"I can't believe you are making me do this," Wilson complained as we were going into Harrington Meadows.
"Sorry. I just can't do this by myself," I told him straightening my sunglasses.
I looked out the passenger window remembering the times I had had here.
Not long passed by when we arrived at the Bridges' home.
I froze, staring at the familiar house. I hadn't been here that many times. Only when Nate and I had first met. We were science partners. I had to go over to his house to work on our project. That's when the sparks started to fly, in the sense of we started falling in love and also the sense that we almost caught the entire house on fire.
"B.J.? You okay?" Wilson asked me.
"Yeah," I said opening the car door. "Let's go."
I walked up the three shorts steps onto the front porch and rang to doorbell.
My breathing quickened in anticipation. I wasn't ready for this. But it was too late to turn back now.
Cindy opened the door. Her eyes wide and curious.
"May I help you?" she asked, her voice gentle, motherly.
"Um, I was a friend of Nate-Nathaniel." I knew my nerves would get me somehow or another.
Her eyes saddened as she remembered. "Oh. Please come in."
We walked into the house, the smell of cookies and vanilla and flowers and all sorts of stuff hit us as we went through the foyer into the living room. It was decorated how you would imagine a house. Light patterned wallpaper. Wooden floors. Wooden furniture. Couches stuffed with pillows and cushions. Flowers everywhere.
"Sit down, please. Would you like something to drink?"
"No, thank you," I told Cindy.
"Do you have green tea?" Wilson asked.
"Yes. It will only take a minute." Cindy turned and walked into the kitchen.
Then, footsteps came down the stairs.
"Cindy, who was that at the door?" Briar asked as he realized we were sitting there in his living room.
He stopped dead in his tracks staring at me in a way of reorganization. How could he remember me? He hadn't seen me since that one time years ago.
"Um, hi," he said, unsure.
"Hi. I'm a friend of Nathaniel." I didn't know what else to say. It was like I was staring at Nate's twin. They looked so much alike. It was still weird that they weren't actually blood related.
"Yeah, I remember you. Rebecca, right?"
Shoot. I forgot about the whole old me deal. Luckily Wilson knew the whole story, so he didn't find it suspicious or anything.
"Um, it's Becca now."
"Right. I don't think I saw you at the graduation. Did you graduate early?"
"Um, no I...transferred. Yeah, I graduated in Le De Lu."
I knew Wilson was rolling his eyes right about now, but that was all I could come up with on the spot.
Thankfully, Cindy came in with Wilson's green tea then. I couldn't take any more questions about college and my career.
"I see you've met our guests." She handed Wilson his drink and sat down on the couch opposite of us.
"So, um, what brings you here?" Briar asked me taking a seat next to Cindy.
"Uh…" Shoot. I hadn't though this far through. I hadn't thought any of it through at all. I came here blind not knowing what to expect. So I said what I would've said if Nate was really dead. "I heard on the news about Nathaniel."
"Yes," Cindy said, trying to hold herself together. "It was a tragedy. The last time we saw him was two weeks before. And…and…" She burst out in tears.
Briar comforted her and gave us a look. This wasn't the first time this has happened.
"And what?" Wilson pushed.
Cindy wouldn't answer.
Briar sighed. "Right before he left we had a fight. It was terrible. After he left, he wouldn't call us or write to us or anything. Those words were the last that we shared, those horrible words we said to each other."
"What did you fight about?" Wilson leaned toward him listening intensely.
"It was nothing major, nothing at all really."
"What did you fight about?" Wilson's voice turned stern, the voice he uses to scare people into telling the truth.
Briar's brow furrowed. I could tell he was going back to that moment. Back to that day not to long ago.
Cindy stopped crying and tried to pay attention, but then remembered her sister's death.
"You don't think Nathaniel's death has anything to do with Nellie's, do you?" Wilson asked raising his eyebrows incredulously at Briar.
"I…I don't know." Briar's eyes went blank with sorrow. "I never thought about it." He focused back on us. "Is that possible?"
"It could be."
"Can you help figure this out?" Cindy asked. She wiped her eyes and framed a pleading expression on her face.
Wilson dug in his pockets which made me roll my eyes.
"Here's my card." He handed Briar his fancy business card and smiled.
Briar stared at the card. "You're an investigator?"
"Sure am. And I can most definitely help with your case. Just call that number or come by that address anytime." He grabbed my elbow and pulled me up from the couch. "We have to go now. Sorry to cut it so short."
"Wait," I said trying to let loose of his grip. "Let go. We can't just leave them like that." We were already to the car.
He pushed me into the passenger seat.
"Gee, pushy much?" I mumbled.
He put the car into gear and drove off onto the road.
"What was that all about?" I asked him furiously.
"I can't believe I didn't see this before," he muttered.
"What? Wilson, why did we leave?"
"It's all connected. Whoever killed Nellie Gates killed Nate too. But why?" He started talking to himself.
But I knew he was right. It was all related.