Today’s post includes three chapters: 17, 18, and (drum roll) 19.
Coming next week (November 25):
Chapters 20 and 21 (story conclusion).
I thank you all for taking this journey with Jessa, Cathers, and me!
Blair P. Clavel
Jessa Meets Her Match
Chapter 17: Together in Spirit
My mood had brightened tremendously. Cathers was back! I couldn’t see her, but she had to be seated next to me. As the large, red convertible negotiated a turn along the parade route, I scooted a few inches over into the area I’d opened up for her. I didn’t want the Governor and his wife to feel cramped, nor did I want the seating arrangements in the car to appear odd. Taking cues from the others, I put on a broad smile and started waving. I found it much less awkward than I had imagined.
The crowd seemed to be in high spirits. They were definitely staring at me, but smiling and waving back – quite energetically in fact, a few of them appearing as if they were trying to get my attention. I’d never seen so many people, not in Stonefield. The mass of bodies spilled off of the sidewalks in every direction, even extending as far as half a block down the side streets.
As I waved and smiled, I scanned the crowd for familiar faces. The first person I recognized was my brother, Mason. He was holding hands with a girl. I recognized her instantly – Keira – the round-faced, busty teen with the bubbly attitude who was roughly his age, eighteen or nineteen.
I was so happy that things looked to be working out nicely for them – a summer romance – how fun! There were a few other teens grouped around them – friends, I assumed, but given how the crowd was packed together, it was hard to tell who knew each other and who didn’t. I waved and pointed, acknowledging that I had seen them.
A short time later, my phone dinged with the arrival of a text. I glanced at it even though Tracy was glaring at me. It was from Carmen, the string bean who had given me a ride back to the cabin. It was a photo, one she’d just taken of us passing by in the convertible. Realizing that I’d missed seeing her, I spun around and looked back. She was there, waving wildly. I gave her a thumbs up.
“Nick, Carmen’s here,” I said, turning back around.
“Carmen … the girl who picked me up the time I hitched a ride.”
He nodded. I made a mental note to reply to her text when I got the chance. After glancing again at Carmen’s photo, I adjusted my sash so it was easier to read.
At that point, I was really feeling the heat. As planned, in addition to the bikini, I was wearing the blouse and the sturdy denim shorts I’d been wearing the morning of the arrest. What made my outfit uncomfortable was Nick’s heavy, dark-blue shirt with the belt cinching it up around my waist.
“I’m boiling,” I said, looking to where I assumed Catherine to be. “But I’ll survive,” I said with a smile, realizing that I had every reason in the world to get naked. “I hope you are waving to your fans, Catherine,” I said softly, expecting that Tracy might overhear. I didn’t really care. “All these people, they are here to celebrate you! To celebrate what you and I accomplished together.”
Nick turned and looked back at me. Fortunately, he had an approving smile on his lips. “Yes, Catherine … wherever you are. Wave to your fans.”
The look on Tracy’s face was a curious one, but it didn’t matter.
Toward the end of the parade, I caught sight of my parents together with my grandmother. They were seated in some bleachers that had been constructed along one side of the parade route. It was right in the center of town, straight across from city hall. Studying how the bleachers were positioned, I could tell that they were intended to do double duty as additional seating for the awards ceremony. There was a large, raised stage just across the parade route from them. A man with a microphone was busy calling out details as we passed slowly by. I heard the Governor’s and his wife’s names mentioned as well as my own. A cheer went up, but the cheering had been more or less nonstop during the entire parade.
Less than a block farther on, Nick got my attention, pointing out Dirk, Brent, and Kim. I searched the crowd around them for Brenda, but I didn’t see her.
The parade hadn’t lasted as long as I had feared, and yet I breathed a sigh of relief when we turned back into the high school parking lot, signaling that it was over.
I had a brief conversation with the Governor, but nothing new came up. He thanked me, told me that I was doing great, and reminded me when to be at the stage to receive my award. We had a bit more than an hour. Our car had been near the front, meaning that the rest of the parade was still winding its way through town.
“Let’s go and see my grandmother,” I said to Nick.
He thought for a moment. “That’s going to be difficult, Jessa. The area around city hall … there are so many people there. They are going to all want to talk to you. Autographs and pictures.”
“I know. How about this,” he interrupted. “Call them. Ask them to meet us behind the post office. It’s only a block and a half from where they were. It should be well out of the thick of things.”
“Good idea,” I said, dialing my mother.
She didn’t answer, but a minute later I had Dirk on the line. He seemed to be adapting quite nicely to his new phone. I handed mine to Nick to let him work out a specific location. He and I were going to make our way there, Catherine supposedly in tow, and Dirk would find my parents as well as Grandma Patty and bring them along.
“I’m so proud of you,” my mother announced as we came up. She stepped forward, giving me a hug. I hesitated, but allowed the embrace. It all seemed so odd to me. One day, I was the best daughter, the next, I was the worst. “Mom told me everything,” she said, glancing over at grandma.
“She did?” I asked, giving her a dose of side-eye.
A moment later, my grandmother was hugging me. “I know you swore me to secrecy, but I couldn’t have your mother saying such things about you. You are the hero in all this, and your mom couldn’t get her mind around that without understanding why you’ve been going about naked.”
“I just wanted her to trust me. To believe that I might actually know what I was doing,” I retorted. “For God’s sake, I’m twenty-five.”
“I know that. Of course, I know that,” my mother countered.
I decided I wasn’t in the mood to let her off the hook so easily. “So then, why do you always assume the worst? Why am I always a slut in your eyes?”
She was trying her best to hush me, but I wasn’t done. “I never get the benefit of the doubt. From dad, but never from you.”
“You’re right. I’m so sorry,” she said, hanging her head. “It’s just that I never would have thought that … Catherine … mom’s little sister. Is she here now?”
I glanced at Dirk and he nodded. “She is,” I said.
“But don’t you have to be naked? I mean, to be sure?”
“Dirk can see her,” I explained. “He doesn’t have to be naked. It all seems rather sexist, but that’s how it is.”
“Go ahead. You can undress,” my mother said.
“I don’t need your permission,” I snapped. “The part about ‘I’m twenty-five.’ Have you forgotten already?”
My father stepped forward as my mother stepped back. “It’s alright, Jessa,” he said, giving me a reassuring hug. “She means well. I’m sure of it. Let’s all try and enjoy the day. It should be a happy day.”
“It should,” I agreed, changing my tune. “I’m sorry mom. It’s just so easy to jump back to our high school head butting. But try and understand. I was never naked because I wanted to be. Always because I had to be. Working as a team, Catherine and I got a cold case reopened. And together, hand in hand, we caught a killer. I expect that by now you’ve heard the whole story.”
“I have and I love you,” she said in a meek voice. “I really do.”
“Enough of that,” my grandmother said. “I’ve got a present for my kid sister. Since she’s here, I’d like to give it to her. It’s for you as well, Jessa. It’s decades since I had a sister to buy a present for. Doing so was fun, quite fun. Mason helped me,” she added, looking around for her grandson. “But I suppose he’s off with his girlfriend.”
Suddenly it hit me. Yet another person getting Cathers a gift. Ugh! But I decided to be happy for her. For Catherine as well as for her ‘big’ sister Patty.
She reached into her purse and pulled out an envelope, handing it to me.
“Where are you Cathers,” I asked. “Come and stand next to me while I open this.”
The envelope contained several printed sheets of paper. “Concert tickets!” my grandmother exclaimed. “Those printouts show the confirmation numbers – no actual tickets like in the old days. At least that’s what Mason tells me.”
I glanced at the date. “July 7th. Three days from now!” I exclaimed. “Greta Van Fleet? That’s not a band I’ve heard of.”
“Neither had I,” she admitted. “But I did some research. They are often compared with Led Zeppelin. You might not know this, Jessa, but Cathers loved concerts. She loved Led Zeppelin. As a matter of fact, she and Dirk had just gotten tickets to attend one of their concerts, but then she went missing.”
“Grandma,” I said, my eyes again growing moist. “I have those tickets. They were in her room. Early this summer, she directed me to a hiding place – underneath a floorboard which also happened to be under the carpet. That pair of tickets – unused – they were there. Her diaries as well.” That last part, grandma knew, but my parents didn’t.
“I had Mason get four tickets,” grandma said, “…so that each of you can take your guy.”
I looked at Dirk. “Catherine … what does she think?”
“Beaming,” he replied. “You should see her … bouncing on her toes, she’s so excited.”
In my mind’s eye, I could picture her. Unlike some of the gifts she’d been given, Catherine could actually make use of a concert ticket.
A short time later, Dirk pulled me aside. “Catherine needs to talk to you. She says it’s important.”
Nick had overheard. “How about the police station,” he proposed. “Bev will be there … manning the front desk, but other than that, the place is bound to be empty.”
Nick started to lead the way, but I saw Dirk hanging back. “Nick,” he said. “Catherine wants to speak with Jessa. As in, alone. Let’s wait here until they’re back?”
Nick hesitated, but he agreed. A minute later, I pulled open the door. A blast of cool air hit me. It felt wonderful.
Fortunately, I knew Bev. “I know it’s not for the public, but can I use the restroom?”
“Of course,” she said pointing. I nodded; I knew the way.
Seconds later, I was kicking off my shoes and peeling off my many layers.
I hugged Catherine as she appeared, reveling in the tingling sensation of skin on ghost skin. “Whatever that was, let’s never do that again,” I exclaimed. “Best friends forever!”
She nodded and we engaged in a little light conversation about the parade and the upcoming concert, but then a serious look came over her face. It was as if a cloud had suddenly passed in front of the sun. “He’s here, Jessa.” She paused before continuing. “I saw him from the car … standing on a low wall … all by himself.”
“The young man. The one who’s the spitting image of my killer.”
“That guy? His visitor?”
“That guy,” she said, nodding. “Come with me.”
With those words, Catherine turned and left the bathroom, walking right through the locked door.
I stood there, not knowing what to do. “Catherine. Come back,” I hollered, stretching out the words.
I waited. Nothing.
After a minute, I opened the door and peeked out. She was there, a short distance down the hall. Fortunately, she had gone in the direction away from the front entrance.
She waved to me, indicating that I should follow. Cautiously, I slipped out. I started tiptoeing after her, an arm across my chest and a hand placed strategically down below. “Where are we going?” I asked in a hushed voice.
She kept walking. A second later, she turned into a room off of the primary hallway. It was an equipment room of sorts, all manner of cop paraphernalia organized on shelves.
“Why bring me here?” I asked, looking around.
“If I asked you to do something, for me, would you? Because you love me … or for whatever reason … because I have a favor to ask.”
“Of course. Absolutely,” I replied.
“Good. Because I want you to wear one of these.” With that, she turned and started examining the bulletproof vests arranged on hooks along the wall. “Some are for men, but others are for women,” she said. Pointing at a particular one, she continued. “Maybe this one. See how it’s cut. Extra room to accommodate a bust.”
I looked at it, but then I turned to her. “You want me to wear a bulletproof vest? Whatever for?”
“I’m telling you. I saw him. He’s here. I’m worried … that’s all. So wear the vest … for me.”
I paused, studying the look in her eyes. She was obviously quite serious. I licked the corners of my mouth, considering carefully her request. It made sense and it didn’t. Why had I just given her a blanket promise? Hopefully she’d understand.
“Catherine, I have bulletproof breasts, remember?”
“No you don’t! Maybe I do, but you most certainly do not.”
I needed to reason with her. “Even if he is related, what does that matter? I’m sure he’s just here to watch the festivities … same as everyone else.”
“But what if he’s not? Just wear the vest.”
I looked at it again – the one she had indicated – even walking over to it and reaching a hand up to feel the material. I wanted to keep my promise, for Cathers’ sake – I really did. I felt a strong inclination to lift the vest down and try it on. Instead, not wanting to lead her on, I turned and faced her.
“Cathers … I’m so sorry, but I can’t. After the awards ceremony, Kim is going to auction off my clothes. It will make no sense if I have one of these on.”
“So what! Just a minute ago, you said you’d do something for me … anything … just because I asked. So … I’m asking.”
“And I will, but there needs to be a reason. A good reason.”
“There is. He looks like a murderer … like the man who welded me in that trunk all those years ago. Also because he’s related to him. … likely raised by him.”
“That’s not a reason. He’s a short order cook. You said so yourself. He wants to be a pastry chef.”
“Please,” she pleaded.
“Everything is going to be fine, Catherine. You’ll see,” I said, attempting to allay her fears. “Stonefield is crawling with police. I’m not in any danger.”
“My sixth sense tells me that you are.”
I stood staring at her. We were at an impasse. But I wasn’t angry, not at all. What she was saying made complete sense – to her. I tried to think of an alternate, and we talked. But her mind was made up.
A minute later, I made my way back to the bathroom. Catherine was on my heels. She was begging. I really didn’t know what to do. There was really no reason to be afraid of a young man who enjoyed baking – even if he looked like the man who had sealed her in a trunk to die all those years ago – even if he was a direct descendent.
“Don’t shut me out,” she pleaded as I reached down to pick up my bikini.
“I’m not shutting you out. I have responsibilities. In a short amount of time, I need to be on that stage. The Governor will say a lot of nice words, and he’ll give me an award. Kim will auction off my clothes, and that will be that.”
~ ~ ~
And, just like that Jessa shut me out. She started dressing and shut me out. I could still see her. I could still hear her. But I knew that as far as she could tell, I was no longer in the room.
Jessa Meets Her Match
Chapter 18: Catherine
Jessa continued to apologize while I stood there wringing my hands and watching her dress. She said she was sorry for going back on her word – that she was fully aware that right after saying that she would do anything I requested, she had refused to do so. At least we were in agreement on that. From there she started talking about how she’d chosen a life in the public eye, saying that she knew there would be risks. She went on to say that she refused to be afraid of her shadow.
I loved Jessa. I loved her dearly. But I hated when she lectured me when she was dressed. All I could do was stand there and listen. I’d never been so upset – or so worried. She was making a bad decision, plain and simple – risking her life, in fact.
A short time later, I followed her out of the police station. As we rejoined the others, Dirk asked me how it went.
“Not well. I always knew she was stubborn,” I complained, shaking my head as I walked by. I knew better than to let my emotions get to me – venting to Dirk might do that. I needed my wits about me. Hearing what Jessa might tell Nick of our conversation was important.
“So, what was that all about?” Nick asked as she walked up.
“It was nothing,” she told him. “Catherine is worried, that’s all. You remember the guy she was talking about before the parade … the young man who visited the killer? Well, she saw him along the parade route.”
“Really? Here … in Stonefield?” he said. There was a touch of concern in his voice.
“Yes, she said she saw him standing on a low wall.”
As they continued to talk, Nick kept pressing Jessa for more information. It was heartening to hear that he seemed genuinely interested in learning exactly what I’d said. Unfortunately, Jessa was downplaying our exchange. For example, she didn’t mention that I had asked her to wear the vest. I didn’t want to be mad at her, but she wasn’t playing fair. I wanted Nick to know just how worried I was.
After concluding that he’d heard everything, Nick shrugged. “I guess it makes sense that he’d be here. As a matter of fact, I think the entire state of Vermont is.”
“I expect Catherine’s again upset with me. At least, I don’t think she’s going to take off this time. I certainly hope she doesn’t. I just don’t seem to be able to keep everyone happy.”
I shook my head in disgust. I was sure her situation was difficult, but even so, I was genuinely concerned for her safety. Keeping me happy – that wasn’t at all what it was about.
Jessa pointed at Dirk. “She’s probably over there bending his ear about what a bad person I am. But I’m glad she has someone to talk to. I like being that person, but I can’t always be naked.”
“Damn you, Jessa,” I said to her face. “You don’t have to always be naked!” I felt like scolding her some more, only it served no purpose – she couldn’t hear me. I walked back to where Dirk was standing. I’d have to come up with a plan B.
A minute later, Nick came over and reminded Dirk to put in his earbuds when he was talking to me. Dirk tried to engage him in conversation, but Nick just kept going.
“Look at that! Now he’s blowing you off,” I said unhappily. It was as if we were both invisible.
“No, he’s not,” said Dirk. “He’s busy. There’s just a lot going on.”
A short time later, Jessa was up on stage. I’d followed her up there as it was a good vantage point from which to search the crowd. I was hoping to get eyes on the killer’s visitor. Jessa was looking at the row of folding chairs. The one closest to the podium had her name on it, written on a piece of tape. The chair next to hers was labeled ‘Officer Harris.’ I was glad that Nick would be by her side. He’d be right there to protect her, if need be.
Next to Nick was Officer Bixler. I knew Jessa liked him. As far as I was concerned, he was a dirty old man. However, he was also a loyal partner. He’d proven himself when the chips were down.
Still scanning the crowd, I followed Jessa as she continued on down the row of chairs. Next was Officer Guererro. I remembered her, Erin Guererro. She was the officer shot the morning of the arrest. Jessa had visited her in the hospital.
Next to her was Captain Evers. Jessa scowled upon seeing his name. But I agreed; it made no sense that he would be receiving an award. Jessa had told me all the obscenities he’d yelled at Nick over the radio in Hammonton. If he’d gotten his way, people would have died that day – police officers as well as the killer.
The next chair was for Tom Wynn. I’d never met him, nor had Jessa, but Nick had spoken of him. He was with the MCU division of the Vermont State Police – that much I knew. There were other chairs, but I didn’t recognize the names.
Just then, I heard a familiar voice behind us. “Bix!” Jessa shouted running to where he was making his way up the steps. He was on crutches and appeared as if he was still learning how to use them. She gave him a big hug. At least she wasn’t naked.
“Doing great. Leg’s healing, they tell me,” he said in response to her questions. “The crutches are as much for show as anything.” I expected that wasn’t quite the case, but it’s what he told Jessa. She directed him to his chair and sat down next to him.
There was still quite a bit of time before the awards ceremony would begin. I imagined that I knew why Jessa was already up on stage. It was an oasis, of sorts. There, she was surrounded by the large crowd, but no one dared venture up the stairs to ask for an autograph. People were taking pictures, but from a distance.
Leaving Jessa there, I headed off into the crowd to continue my search for the young man. Maybe Jessa was right. Maybe there was nothing to be concerned about. Even so, I was going to find him and follow him around. Anything suspicious, anything at all, and I’d have Dirk inform Nick. The police would be able to arrest him or get Jessa to safety, whatever the situation required. So, even if Jessa wasn’t willing to wear a vest, I could – fingers crossed – still keep her safe. Maybe I had an overactive imagination, but for some reason, that guy had all kinds of alarm bells going off inside my head. As I imagined it, he hated everyone that would be receiving an award. They’d all played a role in putting his father behind bars – at least I was pretty sure he was his father. An uncle maybe? That was another possibility.
Ten minutes later, I had been everywhere in the vicinity and still had not located the guy. I decided that Dirk and I needed to have a conversation with Nick. Jessa had mentioned my concerns to him, but she’d made no effort to convince him of anything.
Dirk and I walked up to the back of the stage. Jessa didn’t seem to be there, but Nick was. Dirk waved to get his attention. He came over, hopping down onto the grass so we could talk. Nick listened intently as Dirk explained the nature of my concerns. I even had Dirk tell him that I thought it wouldn’t be safe to allow Jessa to go up on stage – that maybe she shouldn’t be in Stonefield at all. After considering all we had to say, Nick shrugged. “Let me know if I’ve got this right. Catherine’s worried about what someone who isn’t here might do.”
“I guess…” Dirk admitted. He too shrugged. I punched him. I hated guys shrugging off my concerns.
“If he were here, I could have an officer talk to him. But since he’s not …” Nick’s voice trailed off. “I know what I’ll do. Come with me. I’ll introduce you to Sergeant Truman and his partner, Officer Nasir. If Catherine finds this guy … or sees anything else at all suspicious, just let them know. They’ll investigate. Or come to me, but I’m going to be up on stage. I’ll stay glued to Jessa. If this guy wants at her, he’ll have to come through me.”
I wasn’t completely happy with what he was proposing, but it was quite a bit better than nothing. I liked Nick, and he had a good point – what could the police do if the guy wasn’t there?
Nick led the way over to two uniformed officers who were standing off to the side. I recognized Sergeant Truman immediately. He’d kept watch the night we’d stayed at the Stonefield Inn. Nick told them to believe anything Dirk said – no matter how unlikely it might seem – and to follow up on any suspicions immediately. That was heartwarming – to hear Nick talk so highly of Dirk – and by extension, me.
After agreeing with Dirk that he should keep tabs on the two officers, I followed Nick back to the stage.
“What was that all about?” Jessa asked when he took the seat next to her.
“I think you know. Catherine has a bee in her bonnet. Dirk’s a good man. He’s doing everything he can to support her.” Suddenly I liked Nick just a little bit less, but at that point the Mayor of Stonefield advanced to the podium to introduce Governor Adams.
As the Governor started speaking, my mind was jumping around. In the first place, I was peeved at Jessa. I’d asked for one small favor, but it had been too much for her. All I was trying to do was keep her safe. Why didn’t she trust my intuition? Why hadn’t she put the vest on simply because I had asked?
“Think, Catherine, think,” I said aloud as I started pacing back and forth between Jessa and the Governor.
I caught sight of Dirk. The officers he was shadowing had shifted to a position behind the crowd, so he was there, all the way across the square. Jessa’s family – my family – they were watching from VIP seats right in front of the stage.
What had happened to the guy? It made no sense to me that he would travel to Stonefield for the parade but then leave before the ceremony. Frantically, I continued scanning the crowd.
But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement where it would be least expected, along the top of a two-story building just across the small plaza. It was the library. The head or whatever it had been had only been visible for a split second, but in my mind’s eye it was him. I stared at the same location, waiting for confirmation. Nearly a minute later I again saw something. Someone was there!
“Shit, he’s on top of the library!” I shouted, anguish surging within me.
The Governor kept droning on about this or that. He couldn’t see or hear the naked blonde yelling right next to him. “Damn you, Jessa!” I added, looking over at her. Dirk was of course my only hope. At breakneck speed, I leapt from the stage and raced to where he and the two officers were standing. They were just one building to the left of the library.
“Dirk, he’s on the library!” I yelled as I approached. “I’ll go up and check on what he’s doing. Talk to the officers. Do your best to get them to the roof as fast as you can.”
“Which is the library?” he asked. I pointed it out, remembering that he hadn’t lived in Stonefield for forty years – it was after all the ‘new’ library.
I then took off, passing through a wall of glass to get inside. Seconds later, I was on the roof. As expected, he was there. Rushing over and standing next to him, I surveyed the situation. There were a couple of rifles next to him as well as a handgun. He also had a backpack. I imagined that it contained either more guns or ammunition, probably both. Off to the side was a large flat cardboard box. Likely he had used it to conceal the guns on his way to the library.
“Damn you, Jessa!” I yelled down from the roof. “I tried to warn you.” She of course didn’t hear me. Even the man right next to me heard nothing. He didn’t even know I was there. I kicked him in the head. As expected, he didn’t notice. “God damn it,” I yelled again. I was pissed at the world. In the next moment, I was jumping angrily in place, stomping my feet on the flat roof. Being a ghost could be so frustrating!
In a state bordering on panic, I raced back down to find Dirk. I had a decision to make. Should I have him bring the officers up to the roof to confront the man, or should I have him explain the danger and tell them to evacuate the center of town? I imagined the latter option would be a poor choice. If they believed him and tried to do that, the man on the roof would start shooting, picking off people one by one as they attempted to flee. A lot of people might die. The obvious course of action was to try and get the officers to the roof as quickly as possible.
When I found them, they hadn’t even managed to get into the library. “It’s locked,” Dirk said as I came up. “It’s the fourth of July.” I saw Sergeant Truman eyeing him curiously, but it couldn’t be helped. Every second counted.
“Well, the man with guns on the roof found a way in,” I said, hooking around the back of the building. Dirk and the others followed.
The first door we came to was ajar. There was a small block of wood duct taped to the latch so that it wouldn’t close. Seeing that caused the two officers to draw their weapons. Suddenly, they seemed to be taking what Dirk was telling them seriously.
“Okay, quickly to the roof,” I said. “But quietly. If he hears you coming, he might start shooting.”
As Dirk began relaying my words, I pointed out the stairway. I then left them there, zooming back up to the roof. Fortunately, the gunman hadn’t yet opened fire. He was organizing clips of ammo next to where he sat behind the low perimeter wall.
What was taking Dirk and the officers so long? A second later, I was in the stairwell with them. “Hurry,” I said. “Tell them that he looks to be wearing a protective vest. They’ll have to shoot at his arms and legs … or his head.”
Without waiting to hear Dirk convey my words, I hurried back to the gunman. In horror, I saw that he had shifted up onto his knees. He had a rifle up, his elbows resting on the low wall. He appeared to be aiming at someone on stage. If only Jessa had put on a vest! And yet, she wasn’t the only person on that stage.
I started screaming at the guy, furiously punching him in the face. Somehow I needed to stop him, only I didn’t know how.
Behind me, I heard a door open. Looking back, I saw the guys exiting the staircase. They were still a good distance away, all the way across the roof.
The man turned his head and glanced at them, but then he shifted his attention back to the stage. A split second later, he pulled the trigger.
The loudest, most blood curdling scream I had ever emitted escaped my lips. It came from somewhere deep within – deep within my soul. Jessa looked up and our eyes met. However, it was too late. There was nothing either of us could do. In horror, I watched the bullet travel toward her as if in slow motion. It hit her full in the chest, knocking her back. Her body seemed to rise up. She hung in the air momentarily. Stumbling once, she fell limp backwards onto the stage. I even heard her head hit – a sickening dull thud.
“Noooooo!” I shrieked, falling to my knees. I shuddered uncontrollably, anguish and sorrow wracking what little was left of my ability to think. I felt like I was going to die a second death. I’d seen this coming, and yet I’d been powerless to prevent it.
The man took another shot and then another. The gunfire was deafening, each round piercing my heart. But then, seconds later, he lay next to me bleeding. With great effort, I turned and saw the two officers advancing toward us cautiously. Their guns were up as if they’d just been firing. Dirk was behind them. I looked at him, but then the world started spinning. I felt as if I might pass out. Jessa had been shot.
Jessa Meets Her Match
Chapter 19: Darkness
I’d never felt such pain. Everything hurt, my entire being – but all of it focused on my chest. And it wasn’t just the pain. I couldn’t breathe. Or maybe I was just not willing to risk finding out what would happen if I tried.
Nick’s voice was in the air, words but no meaning. He was saying something, and yet, he wasn’t. Was I dreaming? And then I remembered the scream – so loud. It had been Cathers – piercing time and space. This time I was absolutely positive. I’d even seen her – briefly. She’d been on top of a building. Why had she been on top of a building? Why had I been able to see her?
I tried to open my eyes, but maybe they were open. The world, everything was black. If I was dreaming, was I sleeping? Or was I dying? I wasn’t ready to die. Again, I tried to open my eyes. There were faces, dark shadowy shapes silhouetted against a blazing sky. I picked one and tried to focus.
I felt a sharp sting. I glanced over. A man had just poked me in the arm. “It’s an IV,” he said, but then he raised up. “She’s conscious,” he added in a much louder voice as if talking to someone behind him.
Conscious? Was I?
Turning my head the other way, my eyes met Nick’s. “Am I dying?” I asked.
He was looking at me, but he didn’t reply. Could he hear me? He didn’t act as if he’d heard anything.
But then I realized what I needed to do. If I was dying, it was important. “Nick, look at me,” I said. He continued to look at me. “I love you,” I announced in the strongest voice I could muster. “Truly and deeply, I love you.”
He looked up, but then back down. Had he heard me? Why wasn’t he reacting?
But then he smiled. It was a warm smile, but one tinged with concern. “I love you too, Jessa,” he said, lifting a hand and stroking my hair. “But save your energy.”
“But if I’m dying, I don’t want to save my energy. Talk to me.”
“You’re not dying. You were wearing a vest. But why? Why are you wearing a vest?”
“Cathers…” I sighed, allowing my eyes to drift closed.
~ ~ ~
A moment or a minute later, it could have been longer, I was being jostled onto a stretcher. Nick was there – holding my hand. I glanced around as I was being carried down the stairs. The center of Stonefield had transformed into a scene of complete and utter chaos. Chairs were tipped over; the crowd was mostly gone, their belongings as well as garbage strewn haphazardly about. Glancing in the other direction, I saw flashing lights. Sirens were blaring.
“You’re going to be fine,” Nick said as the aide car doors closed. And then we were driving. I squeezed Nick’s hand – his presence was the only comforting thing in a suddenly frightening world.
~ ~ ~
The next I knew, the stretcher was being wheeled into a building. I looked all around for Nick. Oh, he was there, still holding my hand. I attempted to smile up at him, realizing what I needed. “Nick, I want Catherine. Find me Catherine … please.” I didn’t know if she knew that I’d gone back for a vest. There hadn’t been time to strip everything off to see if she was there.
“I’ll try,” he said, lifting his phone to his ear. “Dirk, it’s Nick. Where are you?”
Rotating the phone so his mouth was farther from it, he looked down at me. “He says Catherine is crying.”
“Dirk, I’m fine,” I called out. “Nick, hold your phone so I can talk.”
With his phone inches from my mouth, I continued, “Tell her they say I’ll be fine. Tell her I put a vest on … that she saved me. Thanks to her … I … What?” Dirk was talking. “Nick, I can’t tell what he’s saying.”
Nick put the phone to his ear.
“Is she still crying?” I asked.
To Be Continued…
Author’s note: If you are reading and enjoying Jessa Meets Her Match, I would love to hear from you! You may comment here on the storyboard (as ‘anonymous’ or register and give yourself a name, any name). Alternately, feel free to send me an email: BPClavel@gmail.com
Very best regards,
Blair P. Clavel
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