Broken Pasts
Author:C.M. Stunich

chapter 12

Cedric and I were playing a game of chess when Rhea came through the front door. I stood up quickly and caught sight of her friend's mother, Sheila I think it was, disappearing down the front walk. I'd asked her to walk Rhea to the door, but I guess she hadn't felt the need to say hi to me. I supposed it was because Sheila was one of those lunching, married-to-a-doctor type mothers. She didn't work and spent all day driving around town in her Escalade, shopping. I, on the other hand, was a twice divorced single mom with a business to run. I wasn't included in her preppy little club which was fine by me, but I still found her behavior rude. It's why I always took Jamie to school functions. “Oh, you're a doctor?” she would say and put her arm around my waist, making me fidget. “Well, I'm a lawyer. And a lesbian. Ever get some from a chick? Beats nasty old dick any day.” I sighed at the memory and watched to make sure that Rhea locked the door behind her. No sign of Gary since the house incident, but I wasn't going to write him off just yet.

Rhea paused and raised her eyebrows at the sight of the big man.

“Where's Nathaniel?” were the first words out of her mouth. I gave her a half-smile and kissed her head.

“Did you have a good time?” I asked as I got her a glass of juice that she didn't ask for. I was overcompensating. How stupid. When she gave me a weird look, I felt cornered and blurted out, “He doesn't live here you know.”

“Duh,” Rhea said as she scooted past me and down the hall. “But why is he here and not Nathaniel? Do you have two boyfriends or something? What would Dad think?” I rolled my eyes and tried to resist the urge to tell her that I didn't give a shit what her dad thought. He left me because I had cancer. He left me because he never loved me, because reproduction was more important to him than I was.

“Are you hungry?” I asked instead.

“No,” Rhea called out, voice muffled by her partially closed bedroom door. “We had duck breast with apple honey sauce.” And then she slammed the door closed completely. Cedric was shaking, obviously trying his best not to laugh. I put my hands on my hips.

“Duck breast?” I said, feeling like I wanted to do a little stalking myself, chase Sheila down and slit her tires. Who feeds duck to a nine year old? Whatever happened to mac 'n' cheese? Hot dogs? Pizza? “Well fuck me sideways.”

“Ms. McMaster, if I may,” Cedric said, steeling his face as he turned to look at me. Despite all of his professionalism sputters, I had gotten him to eat a sandwich and play a game with me. Now, unfortunately, it looked as if he was getting all serious bodyguard on me. “I think it might be time to start working on your case?” I sighed and flopped down in the chair next to him, giving him a look. It never worked on Rhea, but it was worth a try.

“Gary's gone now, isn't he?” I said, but the words sounded pretty pathetic. He was gone, but our parting had not exactly gone smoothly. He acted like he hadn't even heard me. A confession of love from a crazy person is probably not the best sign that they're done with you. I gave another sigh and sat back, raising one hand in surrender. With one last sorry glance at our chess game, I said, “What do you want me to do?”

“Let's go through the e-mails,” he told me, and I shivered. I had kind of wanted to go through them with Nathaniel.

“I have a feeling they're … inappropriate,” I told Cedric and glanced away, not because I was ashamed, but because I was disgusted. I had a feeling my face was squinched and wrinkled. Cedric put his big hand on my shoulder and gave me a friendly shake. It felt more like an earthquake, but I could tell he was trying to treat me like a friend and not a client.

“We have to record the number and the frequency, print out anything that has a threat in it, and block him from sending anymore.”

“It's kind of a joke, isn't it?” I asked as I glanced back up at his big, square face, round nose and dark eyes. “This whole stalking thing? I mean, come on, the guy has been sitting outside my house for days. That deserves a one way trip to the crazy shack in my opinion.” Cedric shook his head, and grunted agreement.

“I couldn't agree with you more, and if I could change it, I would, trust me. Nathaniel's been working for years trying to get stricter stalking laws. Nobody wants to listen. Nobody seems to care. It's something that happens to somebody else, never to you.”

“His wife … ” I began and then paused. Cedric already looked uncomfortable, and I could tell he didn't want to talk about his friend's past behind his back. “What was she like?” The big man smiled with square teeth and chuckled.

“Two peas in a pod … ” he mumbled, and before I could question him about it, he launched into this animated speech about Gillian and all the wonderful things she did and was a part of. The woman sounded like Mother freaking Theresa. If I said I wasn't intimidated, I'd be lying.

Gillian Sutherland had been the director of the local animal shelter, single-handedly changing it from what was a death camp for dogs and cats to the county's first “no kill” facility. She baked apple pies for the local fair (and came home with the blue ribbon five consecutive years in a row), raised foster kittens and puppies, and grew an organic garden. Holy shit. I didn't want to bad mouth a dead woman, but how could I compete with that?

Whoa, whoa, whoa, Theresa. Compete? You don't need to be competing with anyone or anything. What are you thinking? That you like Nathaniel Sutherland? Don't even go there.

I swallowed hard.

“She sounds … perfect.”

“Aye,” Cedric said with a nod. “She was beautiful. You're a lot like her actually.”

“Right,” I said tugging at a strand of my dark hair. In looks maybe. Either Cedric was a mind reader, or I had my thoughts written all over my face.

“You've got the same spirit. You're a strong woman, Theresa. I think that's what Nathaniel sees in you.”

“Sees in me?” I asked, and I felt like a teenager gossiping with a girlfriend. You mean, he like, totally likes me? I sat up straighter and wished I had a glass of wine in my hand, just so I could look more grown-up. Cedric smiled and pointed at my laptop, sitting forlornly on the edge of the tabletop.

“E-mails?” he asked, and I could tell by the set of his shaggy red brows that we were done with this conversation. For now.

***

I had a horrible night's sleep.

First off, I had a sex dream featuring the one and only, Nathaniel Sutherland. In it, he gave me the most fabulous oral sex and then while I returned the favor, he whispered sweet nothings in the moonlit air. When I'd awoken from that dream, I'd had to deal with the fact that Cedric was standing in my doorway and that he almost certainly had heard noises. I talked in my sleep, a lot. It was something that Glen had hated about me. The jerk. So I'd gotten up, stolen a quick sip of Jäger (I do not have a problem) and stolen back to bed.

My next dream – nightmare actually – had been about Gary, standing over my bed in the dark with a knife in one hand. His eyes had been glassy and blank, like they'd been at the house yesterday. He'd then proceeded to stab me, over and over and over again until I was lying on my back in a pool of black blood, screaming and calling out a single name. Nathaniel. Now what the fuck does that mean?

When I told Jamie, she was as unhelpful as always.

“Theresa, don't be dense. You like the guy. Is it that hard to understand?”

“I'm in a transitional period in my life, Jamie. I don't need a man right now.”

“Don't need, want. There's a difference. Everybody dreams of having someone to love, Theresa. It doesn't make you any less of a woman. Women can love men. It's okay to want and still be a headstrong, self-assertive, independent go-getter, which you are.”

“Are you eating during my pep talk?” I asked her as she chewed and snapped and ground something in my ear.

“Listen, if you want to chill out and relax, come out with me tonight. I'm going to dinner with a bunch of power hungry demons from work. It's a girls only night, should be fun.”

“I don't know … Nathaniel said he might be able to take me shooting.”

“I'll pick you up at eight, 'kay?”

“Jamie … ”

“And bring your sexy hunk for security. Just in case.”

“But – ”

She hung up on me.

I sighed and exited the bathroom as Cedric moved seamlessly out of my way and did his best to blend in with the wall behind him. It wasn't working. He was just too damn big.

“Want some pancakes?” I asked as I opened the fridge and searched for bacon.

“I hate pancakes,” Rhea said as she came out of her room in a pair of Hello Kitty pajamas and glared at Cedric like he was the enemy, as if somehow, it was his fault that Nathaniel wasn't here.

“You love pancakes,” I said as I grabbed the eggs and put them on the counter. “I always make you pancakes on Sundays.”

“I want an omelet,” Rhea said as she eyed the growing file on the corner of the table. It was as thick as War and Peace and about as pleasant a read. “With chives.”

“What?” I asked as my daughter rolled her eyes and gave me a look.

“A chive is a perennial plant related to the onion,” she told me, as if I'd never heard of it. “Often used to season food.”

“You're nine,” I said and started on the pancakes anyway. Rhea sighed and stomped off to watch cartoons, turning the volume up to a level she knew I didn't approve of. I left her to it and tried to focus on my cooking as I thought about Gillian Sutherland and her apple pies. “Hey Cedric,” I said, glancing at him around the fridge. “The man that killed Gillian, her stalker, did he kill himself?” Nathaniel had said that he'd come home and found them both dead, so I had just assumed, but maybe that wasn't it at all. Maybe Gillian had wounded him critically in her fight to save her own life. She sounded like a woman who could take care of herself.

Cedric didn't respond, not for a long time. I even had to peek at him to make sure he was still there. Just as I was about to repeat my question, he answered me.

“Yes.” And that was it, no elaboration, nothing. His face was cold and blank, not just a professional facade, but something else. Cedric was hiding something from me. I knew that just as surely as I knew that Nathaniel had other secrets, things he hadn't told me. It was instinctive. I cracked an egg into the pan and let it go, for the moment. Of course, my mind supplied all sorts of other answers. Is the killer still alive? Did he escape? Is he out there now? I hoped not. I hoped Cedric was just being strange because it was a such a difficult subject for him, but I doubted it. Something was up with these two, and I was always game for a good mystery.