***SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM TO READ AN EXCERPT & SEE MY REVIEW***
Title: Unexpected Outcomes
Author: Carolyn Ridder Aspenson
Published: September 9, 2017
Published by: Carolyn Ridder Aspenson
Genre: Cozy Mystery, Paranormal
Unexpected Outcomes An Angela Panther Mystery is the 4th book in the
Angela Panther paranormal Mystery series.
Angela is a stay at home mom who just happens to be a psychic medium.
Join Angela, her dead mother Fran, and her best friend, Mel as they help
Atlanta are detective Aaron Banner solve crimes and cross over spirits
in this women’s sleuth mystery.
LIES, SECRETS AND THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL.
When a frantic 911 call stumps a suburban Atlanta police department, psychic medium Angela Panther is asked to help. Without a body or a ransom note, the cops question whether there’s even a crime, but Angela's certain the woman's no longer among the living.
On the outside, the woman’s family seems run of the mill, but Angela’s sixth sense tells her something different, she just has to find the evidence—and the victim’s remains, to prove it.
With the help of her best friend, Mel, and Fran, her celestial super sleuth mother, she
sets out to find it and stumbles into a web of dark, dangerous family secrets
worse than she ever imagined.
When a desperate spirit forces Angela to act on impulse, she makes one wrong
move and lands right in the path of the killer. Alone, and begging for her life
, Angela realizes she might not make it out alive.
This book is the 4th in the series but as with all the others, can be read as a stand-alone.
On a more professional note, she is the bestselling author of the Angela Panther cozy mystery series featuring Unfinished Business An Angela Panther Mystery, Unbreakable Bonds An Angela Panther Mystery and Uncharted Territory An Angela Panther Mystery, The Christmas Elf, An Angela Panther Holiday Short, The Ghosts, An Angela Panther Holiday Short, The Inn At Laurel Creek, a contemporary romance novella, Santa's Gift, a Cumming Christmas Novella and 8 To Lose The Weight, a lifestyle eating program.
Carolyn is also a freelance writer and editor with Literati Editing.
Carolyn Ridder Aspenson Author on Pinterest
Carolynridderaspenson on Instagram
The Complete Angela Panther Mystery Series
Available on Amazon
~~~ LYNN"S REVIEW~~~
Oh how I missed the antics of Angela, Fran, and Mel. And now that they are working as Special Investigators for the PD I just know there will be trouble. Author Carolyn Ridder Apsenson did not disappoint.
As the series goes, Unexpected Outcome is darker than the previous books; delving into a double homicide and molestation. But the laughs are still there as Angela, Mel, and super celestial sleuth Fran get into mischief. And Fran has a few new tricks up her sleeve! What was Detective Aaron thinking giving Ang and Mel badges? lol
I adore Mel. She's my favorite character in the series. Mel has no shame. She is fun, witty, and always has a quick comeback. I love the dynamic between her and Angela. Everyone needs a Mel in their life.
The storyline in Unexpected Outcomes is complex and gritty. Just when you think you have it all figured out, BAM! Surprise! You don't! I'm talking a slack jawed, OMG, no you didn't, kind of ending.
Excerpt from Unexpected Outcomes
“I CAN’T BELIEVE I’m gonna die. Please, no. Why are you shooting at us?”
I pulled the trigger and watched as the bullet raced through the air, smacking my best friend in the center of her chest.
I bolted upright; sweat dripping from my forehead, tears streaming down my cheeks, my heart beating faster than ever. I’d just dreamed I’d shot my best friend, my best friend. I mumbled under my breath. It’s just a dream, just a dream.
My husband Jake rolled over and rubbed my leg. “You okay, babe?”
I lay down and snuggled into him. “Another nightmare. I shot Mel.”
He wrapped his arms around me and squeezed. “We both know that would never happen. It was just a dream. Don’t let it upset you.”
I glanced at the clock. It was four AM, and I knew I wouldn’t fall back asleep, so I kissed Jake and got up for the day, resigned to the fact that I’d be exhausted before nightfall. I shuffled to the bathroom, closed the double doors, and flipped on the light. My eyes sunk like anchors in the blue and black pits swelling below them. Sleep eluded me most nights, and the nights I did catch a few z’s contained restless and fitful slumber, and it showed.
Downstairs, I made a fresh pot of coffee, and while waiting for it to finish, replayed the dream in my head. Nothing was clear except Mel. Fuzzy images of gravel and trees flashed briefly in my head, but their pictures remained too blurred and indistinct to identify with any clarity. My gift allowed me to communicate with the dead, not predict the future, and half of me thought the dream meant nothing. The other half though, threw red flags up all over the kitchen, practically screaming “Danger, Will Robinson”, like that old TV show. That half knew the Universe didn’t have a rulebook, and the fear of what it could mean crushed my heart like a ton of bricks. Six months ago I couldn’t feel what a ghost felt, but that had changed, so I knew endless possibilities existed, and that scared the bejesus out of me. I powered on my phone and pounded out a text to Mel.
“I had a bad dream,” I wrote.
It didn’t take long for her to respond. That’s how best friends worked. No matter what time it was, they were there when we needed them. “Wow, me too. It was so strange. I shot you.”
My heart raced into the anaerobic zone. I snatched my keys from the key box, slipped on my tennis shoes and bolted out the door and into my car in the garage. Both of us having the same dream wasn’t a coincidence. It meant something, and I didn’t need my spidey sense to tell me that.
I sped fifteen miles over the speed limit and made it to Mel’s house in record time. I killed the lights as I drove into her driveway and sent her a text. “Don’t freak when the garage door opens; it’s just me.” I’d had the code for years, just like she had mine because best friends shared that kind of stuff.
She met me in her kitchen, her long black hair pulled into a bun, and her feet snuggled into the fuzzy teddy bear slippers I’d bought her for Christmas last year. “It’s a little early for coffee, doncha think?”
I couldn’t speak. I just flung myself at her and wrapped my arms around her neck, holding on for dear life.
“I…I…you’re cutting off my oxygen.”
I softened my vice-hold but didn’t let go.
She broke free and raised her eyebrows my direction. “I’m sorry I killed you, but it was just a dream.” She shuffled over to her coffee maker and grabbed the pot. “Flavored or regular?” Clearly, ending my life didn’t impact her as much as her death did me. Then again, she didn’t know I’d bumped her off, too. The double sucker punch would surely knock her out, or at least I’d hoped it would.
I sat at the counter feeling a bit embarrassed for freaking out, but based on the changes in my life over the past few years, I was justified. “Either is fine.”
She rinsed the pot and asked again why I’d showed up at such an ungodly hour.
I knew Mel’s dream increased the probability of the Universe giving me a message I didn’t want to hear. Was Mel going to die? Was I? If one of us did have a death date sooner rather than later, would it be by the respective best friend? I couldn’t imagine any situation where I’d kill my best friend, but then again, a few years ago I couldn’t imagine talking to dead people, and that was a daily occurrence.
She placed a fresh cup of coffee next to me. I held it to my nose and took in the spicy, fruity smell, stalling to answer her question.
“So, you gonna spill it, or are we gonna sit here and pretend you’re just here to hang out at butt-early o’clock?”
“How did you kill me?”
“Why? You do something that would cause me to carry through?” She giggled, but I didn’t think it was funny, and my expression told her so. Her smile flipped over. “Come on, what’s going on?”
“I dreamed I killed you, too.”
She dropped into the seat next to me. “Well, that’s alarming.”
“I shot you twice in the chest. Some place outside, but I’m not sure where. It was a quick dream.”
“Mine too, and it was the same.” I sipped my drink. “Did I say anything to you?”
She tightened her bun. “I think so, but I can’t remember.”
“I can’t believe I’m gonna die. Why are you shooting at us?”
She pointed at me. “That’s really freaky.”
“But,” she rubbed my shoulder. “We didn’t shoot each other, and we’re not going to, so it’s all good. Now can you go home so I can go back to sleep? I’ve got a busy day tomorrow. Deadlines.”
“It means something. I know it does.”
She stared into her cup. “I know you’re right, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that we can’t rush the powers that be into telling us what we don’t know. If you’re supposed to find out, you will. If you’re not, you won’t. But I don’t think one of us is gonna bite the bullet anytime soon.” She grimaced. “No pun intended.”
“I would never shoot you.”
“Of course not. You don’t have a gun.”
“There is that.”
“But I do.” She smirked. “And I know how to use it.”
“So, in other words, don’t tick you off.”
“If I didn’t shoot my cheating ex-husband, there sure as heck ain’t any reason I’d shoot you.”
“You didn’t have a gun then.”
I guzzled the last bit of my coffee, and when I stood, I hugged her again. “I love you.”
“Who doesn’t?” she joked and squeezed me back as hard as I’d squeezed her. “Love you too.”
I drove home thinking about the dream. Even though talking to Mel made things better, something still wasn’t right, and everything told me so, even the air in the car was different. Instead of light and soft, it had been replaced by an impending doom so thick, if I’d had a knife, I could have sliced it into pieces.
* * *
“I can’t believe I’m gonna die. Please, no. Why are you shooting at us?”
I jumped high enough out of my seat I nearly smacked my head on the ceiling of Detective Aaron Banner’s office. “Oh, my gosh, last night Mel and I dreamed we said the same things to each other.”
He smacked his hand down on the stop button of the recorder, and we locked eyes. “Care to explain?”
He rewound the tape and played it again from start to finish. The boom of a gunshot echoed through the recorder. Something heavy dropped onto the ground with a thud. A woman screamed. “No, why? Oh my God, no.”
A man’s voice mumbled something I couldn’t make out. Then another man muttered something else, but I couldn’t understand him either. Whatever happened, happened in real time, and it was abominable.
“Why? Please God, don’t kill me. My babies. They need me. I can’t believe I’m gonna die. Please, no. Why are you shooting at us?”
The line went dead.
I rubbed my neck. The call had come into the dispatch center earlier that morning, and Aaron called me in to help.
“It’s hard to listen to. Sounds like maybe two men and a woman, but I’m not sure. Thought you might be able to help us with her identity or maybe the location. We don’t know if it’s a robbery or an assault or if the woman is dead—nothing.”
The woman on the line never spoke to the operator directly, and never said her name. It appeared she was just trying to give clues to what was happening. Because of the shots, time was important, and we didn’t have much of it.
“The operator called back once the line went dead. Got a voicemail for a girl named Sarah.”
“Can you trace the call or find out the billing address for the owner?”
He shook his head. “Track phone. They’re not traceable. We’ve been calling the number back since we received the call, but it just goes straight to voicemail.” He paused and played the recording one more time. “Usually the phone company doesn’t keep the information on the purchaser, but the carrier gave us the number for the last call. Belongs to a man by the name of Stu Walker.” He tapped a pencil on his desk.
“Have you called him or sent anyone out there?”
“Got voicemail on his line, too. Sent a squad out twice already, but no one’s been home. Thought I’d call you and have you come out with me.”
I stood. “Let’s go.”
Aaron and I met a few years back when a little boy’s spirit asked me to give his parents a message. I’d been able to communicate with spirits for some time, though according to my mother Fran Richter, I’d done it as a child too, but as I aged, the gift lessened until it disappeared completely. It resurfaced when my mother died and decided to test the psychic waters. When her ghost appeared to me, I thought I’d flipped my lid. It was even harder when other ghosts came around asking for help with their earthly business. I wasn’t thrilled at first but eventually realized the curse was truly a gift. Ever since Aaron saw my gift up close and personal, I’d been his psychic medium consultant, off the record and free of charge. We’d also become friends, and I was grateful for all of it, but for the friendship most of all.
We arrived at a shabby brown stucco house on the outskirts of town, where the city had yet to pilfer all the farmland from its owners and stack two hundred plus homes nearly on top of each other in an upscale, amenities-laden subdivisions. The house was in disrepair, with shutters hanging by a hair and a boarded up window in the garage. A Pitbull sat chained to a tree near the gravel driveway. It was thirsty and tired. I wanted to unleash it and take it home with me. The whole scene matched the stereotype image other parts of the country have of the south. I said a silent thank you to the Universe for the blessings in my life.
Aaron knocked on the door and a young man, maybe in his twenties, with a shaved head and a dark, brown, at least six-inch long beard, opened it. “Yeah?”
My spidey senses sent a smidgen of a tingle zipping down my spine.
Aaron flashed his badge. “You Stu Walker?”
The man’s shoulders curved inward just a bit. “Yes, sir.”
“We understand you made a call to a woman named Sarah at about nine AM this morning. Can you tell me anything about that woman?”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Uh, yeah. Sarah Rochen. My cousin. Why you asking?”
“We’re trying to locate her whereabouts. Do you happen to know where she is?”
I caught his eyes widen for a millisecond. Had I blinked, I would have missed it. It sent my spidey sense shooting back up my spine like a just lit firework.
He studied the ground near his feet and then shook his head. “I haven’t talked to her since this morning, but you could talk to her ma.”
Aaron took down the mother’s phone number. “Thank you, Mr. Walker. What was your conversation with Ms. Rochen about?”
He rubbed his head. “I told her I could get her a new car, and she was supposed to call me back later today to go and see it before she went back to Savannah.”
“Do you know why she was going to Savannah?”
“That’s where she lives.”
“Do you know what she was planning to do today or why she was in town?”
He shook his head. “Something ‘bout seeing her kids.” He hemmed and hawed and kicked at the ground. “I don’t know anything about it really, but her ma might know.”
Aaron cut the meeting short. “You got an address for her mother?”
“I don’t know the address, but I could get you there from here.”
“It’s okay. I can get it through my department. Thank you for your time. You have a nice day.”
I smiled at him and followed Aaron back to the car.
In the car I gave Aaron my two cents. “Something’s not right about that guy.”
“He’s just a good ol’ country boy.” He got on his car radio and asked to have an address run on Sarah Rochen’s mother’s cell number. “You have time to go there, too?”
Based on the address, her mother was only fifteen minutes from where we were. Dawsonville was growing, but there were still a lot of traditional neighborhoods and farms instead of designated subdivisions like mine. Sarah’s mother, LuAnn Jacobs, lived in one of them. Her house, a blue and white, hardieplank sided ranch, sat on a small, weed infested hill. Aaron trudged up the gravel and dirt driveway, and the bumping from the holes in it agitated my sciatica. I rubbed my leg to relieve the throbbing.
LuAnn Jacobs answered the door immediately. “We’re not looking to convert, but thanks.” She slammed the door before Aaron could respond.
I giggled under my breath. Aaron, however, did not.
He tapped on the door again, a little harder. “Mrs. Jacobs, I’m Detective Aaron Banner.” He flipped his badge toward where the closed door met the frame.
She cracked the door open, snuck a peek at the badge, and then swung it open again.
“G’morning, ma’am. Earlier this morning we received a 911 call from a woman who we now believe to be your daughter, Sarah Rochen.”
Aaron explained that the call was disturbing, but didn’t go into any detail. “Have you heard from your daughter, Mrs. Jacobs?”
“Uh, not since breakfast. What’s going on?”
“Do you know why Sarah was in town?”
She clasped her arms across her chest, and in a sticky, almost too sweet voice, said, “Yeah. Uh, she and her husband Larry, they came up from Savannah yesterday for a visit and maybe to buy a new car.”
A man stood in the doorway behind Mrs. Jacobs. His greasy brown hair long enough to be pulled into a ponytail at the base of his neck hung in stringy strands instead. We made eye contact, and I shivered. The man creeped me out.
Mrs. Jacobs chewed a piece of gum the way Emily did, her mouth open, making juicy, chomping sounds while she spoke. “Just for a visit. They came to visit.” She explained that they’d come to see their two daughters, and they’d hoped to take them home if they could get approval for the new car.
I forced back the anger brewing in the pit of my stomach. My misophonia—generally coined the hatred of human sounds, and particularly those related to eating—fought to get the best of me, but I refused to let it, instead, focusing on the task at hand. I hated listening to people chew anything.
“Can you explain why her children are here in town?” Aaron asked.
“The county took them away, and they’re living with family ‘til Sarah and Larry get their house in order. They came here so they could get a safe car. Stu was supposed to get them a deal on one.
“When did they arrive?”
“I just told you they got here yesterday.”
Mrs. Jacobs had a nasty attitude for someone whose daughter might be missing, or worse, dead, which was what I figured had happened to her considering the dreams.
“When was the last time you saw your daughter?”
“Last night. She came by to visit with Ashley.”
“Is that one of her daughters?”
“Her oldest. She’s been living with us.” She angled her body toward the man behind her and placed her hand on his shoulder. “My husband Johnny and me, ‘til this whole mess is handled.”
I glanced back at the man and caught him eying me again, but he cut away and focused on his wife. The hairs on the back of my neck shot to attention.
“What happened when she came by last night?”
“Nothing. She came by to visit Ashley. Larry stayed back at the hotel so she could have some alone time with her kid. Also because we don’t want that man here at our house.”
“Why is that?”
“He’s not good enough for my kid or her babies.”
My brain wrestled between her words and the juicy chomping. I wanted to reach into her mouth and yank the clump of gum out like I used to do with my kids, but of course, I couldn’t. I had to force myself to focus on her words, not the chomping.
She said they’d decided to stay at a hotel somewhere about halfway between her house and Sarah’s cousin, Jenny’s house, where her other daughter, Lizzie stayed. LuAnn explained that Sarah told her they’d planned to see Lizzie the next day.
“They got that little two-door thing, and those back seats just aren’t big enough for two car seats, and the seatbelts don’t work neither, so they hoped to get a minivan or an SUV. Stu said he knew someone who could give them a good deal.”
“Is Ashley here with you now?” Aaron asked.
She nodded, and I noticed her husband’s facial expression shift. If I’d blinked, I would have missed it. “She’s in the kitchen eating pancakes. You wanna see her?” She poked her husband. “Johnny, go fetch Ash for them, will ya?”
He stood there for a second, his eyes drilling into his wife’s.
She grimaced. “Please?” She chomped on the gum.
A minute later, a petite, strawberry blonde-haired girl ambled over to the door, Johnny’s hand squeezing her left shoulder. She kept her eyes glued to the ground, even though I’d raised the tone of my voice several octaves when I said hi. Her skin was so pasty; I assumed she hadn’t seen the sun in months. From the looks of her shallow face and sunken in cheeks, it was unlikely she’d had a good meal in that time either. It made my heart hurt. The good news was she was safe with her grandmother, even though she didn’t appear happy about it.
“Okay,” Aaron said. “So they stayed at the hotel last night?”
“Right, and then they were going to her cousin’s to see Lizzie. I just…I just talked to her a bit ago. She was happy. She was excited to possibly be getting to take her babies home with her.”
“What kind of car were they driving?” Aaron asked.
“Lemme think about that for a bit.” She chewed on the gum like a cow.
“Johnny, what kind of car they do they have again?”
“One of those old Datsuns. A 240Z, I think.”
“That’s right. A gold one. Larry loves that car. He’s torn up that they have to sell it. Too bad for them. Shouldn’t have bought something like that with the babies.” She rubbed her hands together. “Is my baby okay?”
“We’re doing our best to find out, ma’am.” Aaron asked for Sarah’s cousin’s contact information, wrote it down, and then closed his notebook. “We’ll be in touch as soon as we have more information. In the meantime though, if you could write any phone numbers you have for Larry and Sarah, as well as their address, I’d appreciate it.” He handed her his notepad and pen. “And if you hear from your daughter or think of something that might help us, please call me right away.”
She wrote out the information and handed him back his things as he gave her his business card.
As LuAnn closed the door, her husband pushed it back open and stepped outside. “I was you, I’d be looking at Larry Rochen for doing something he ought not to do.” He spoke as if he’d just had a tooth pulled and his face was still numb, except from the looks of his teeth, it was obvious he hadn’t been to a dentist in years.
Aaron had already stepped away from the door, but he paused and flipped back around. “Why is that?”
He pushed back his shoulders. “Marriage was doomed from the start.”
LuAnn Jacobs opened the door and stepped partially out. “Everything okay out here?”
Johnny Jacobs’s face morphed into a snarl like one of a dog ready to attack. “Get inside, woman.”
Her jaw tensed, and I caught her hands form into fists. She noticed me notice them, released them, and did as she was told.
Back in the car, Aaron called in the make and model of the Rochen’s vehicle and got the tag number. “Set up a BOLO for the vehicle and notify the surrounding counties,” he told his dispatch. He dialed Jenny’s number and put the call on speaker.
“She’s not here,” Jenny said. “She called and said she had something to do before she came by, and she’d call on her way.” She confirmed Lizzie was still there.
Aaron asked her to notify him if she heard from her cousin, but didn’t give any details as to why. I assumed he figured the word would get out soon enough.
“Do you think Larry’s involved?” I asked. “Johnny Jacobs sure threw him under the bus. Actually, LuAnn Jacobs didn’t seem like that big of a fan, either.”
“We usually look at the spouse first in domestic cases.” He headed south on the highway. “We’ll go back to the department, and I’ll find out what we can about him and his family. I’ll get the DA to ask for a warrant to get their financials. See if there’s been any recent transactions since the call, or shortly before. You get anything from the mother?”
I exhaled. “I’m pretty sure I’ve explained the difference between psychic and psychic medium before, so…”
He nodded. “I know the difference, but you’ve got a good—what does Mel call it?”
He snapped his fingers and pointed at me. “Spidey sense. Figured it was worth a shot to ask.”
“Actually, spidey sense is my term, and I did notice LuAnn didn’t refer to Johnny as Sarah’s father, but other than that, not really. But there’s definitely something off about him.”
“You don’t have to be psychic to notice that. I’m guessing he’s a stepparent.”
“Did her chewing grate on your last nerve?”
He laughed. “The kinds of things I see every day, that’s nothing.”
“Yeah? Well, someone needs to teach that woman some manners. Five more minutes and my brain would have imploded.”
“Glad you didn’t leave me with that mess.”
“You should be. It would have been massive.”
He dropped me off at my car in the department’s parking lot, and I headed home, calling Mel on the way. “Just hung out with your boy toy.”
“Without me? Rude.”
Aaron and Mel had been a couple for some time, and things were serious between them. They were happy, and I was happy they were happy. After Mel’s husband cheated on her with a younger woman—whom he knocked up and married—she definitely deserved happiness. Though the relationship was a bit awkward for me at first, her dating my unofficial boss and all, I understood it wasn’t about me.
“Did you give him a sloppy kiss for me?”
“Yup. A big , wet, tongue-wrestling one. I think he liked it, too.”
“Oh goodie, because that’s all he’s getting today. These deadlines are gonna be the death of me.” She heavy-sighed.
“You’re working a lot lately.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“I miss hanging out with you. ”My voice bordered on whiny.
“Right back atcha, and you can blame the cheating rat bas—“ She cut herself off. “My ex for that. I don’t get to spend a lotta time with my kids either.”
“It is what it is. I just don’t like it a whole lot.”
“Neither do I, but you’re providing for your kids and showing them how a single mother steps up, and that’s important.”
“Can you tell them that, please? All they do is complain about me never having time for them.”
“They’re young. They’ll understand eventually.” I knew that didn’t matter at the moment, but it was all I could think to say.
“Well, eventually better come soon because I can only handle so much.”
I decided not to tell her about the 911 call and the connection between our dream since she already had enough on her plate. “Anyway, he’s got me helping him with a possible case. Lemme know when you’ve got time to discuss.”
I made it home just in time for my oldest kid Emily to ignore me. She’d been on a roll as of late, only talking to me when it was an absolute must. She felt she had reason, and to a point she sort of did, but it’d been going on for months, and my patience bucket had reached its limit and teetered on its edge.
A few months back her boyfriend Mike’s mother was killed in a car accident. He was at our house when I found out, and since the Universe had a wicked sense of humor, that’s when his mother’s spirit decided to make an appearance. As the saying goes, the poop hit the fan.
Emily didn’t know about my gift. Jake and I had decided to keep it from her because she bordered a bit on ridiculously overly dramatic to the hundredth power, and what she didn’t know wouldn’t make us crazy. With the death of Michelle Stevenson, Mike’s mom, she’d obviously found out. I’d been working to re-establish trust with her ever since, but to no avail. Emily got her stubbornness from me, and sometimes dealing with her was like looking into a magical mirror and glimpsing bits of teenaged Angela and middle-aged Fran and their relationship. It made me want to apologize to my mom.
I’d chosen to handle Emily’s latest angst with a slow and steady approach. It hadn’t worked, but I refused to give up. It was better than the alternative; losing my cool, which never worked either, and usually just caused more drama. “Hey Em, how’s it hangin’?” Ugh. My attempts at being cool, calm and collected had such an 80s air to them.
She sat on the couch, I assumed, planning creative ways to ignore me.
My mother shimmered in beside her. “Ah Madone, this kid ain’t ever gonna forgive you if you don’t try and make her.”
I’d already told Emily her grandmother was present more often than not, but she couldn’t see her, and that just made her even more angry with me. Knowing her brother Josh also had the gift made it a billion times worse, too.
“Your grandmother says I should use force to get you to stop being mad at me.”
“I didn’t say that. I said you oughta make her forgive you.”
“Okay, I stand corrected. She’s saying I should make you forgive me. Apparently, there’s a difference.”
Emily scanned the room for her grandmother. When she couldn’t see her, she huffed and stood. “Can you not? It’s really bizarre, you like, talking to Grandma.” She stomped to the stairs and pounded up them to her room where she drove her point home by banging her bedroom door closed.
“That went well,” I said.
“You oughta drag her back down here by her ear lobe. Time she stops acting like a two-year-old.”
Well then, Ma’s patience had plummeted to rock bottom too, but she was right. I initially thought I’d give Emily some time to adjust to the news, to deal with the fact that ghosts actually existed, and that some of them, her grandmother included, showed up at our house. It turned out my gift didn’t impress her, and she already believed in ghosts. She was peeved we’d kept it a secret, but wouldn’t fess up to what bothered her the most, so all I could do was assume it was that Josh shared my ability. And that was somehow my fault because apparently, I could control what the Universe did. “Why is everything always my fault with that kid? It’s impossible to change something I can’t control.”
“That right there is whatcha call karma. You did the same thing to me when you were her age.”
I rolled my eyes. “I didn’t blame you for everything.”
“You gotta be kidding me. You blamed me for your wavy hair, those child-bearing hips, and remember that whole 1966 red Mustang thing? That was my fault too.”
“Well, actually that kinda was. Had you married that guy I could have had it.”
When I was sixteen, her fiancé Buddy died. She briefly dated a wealthy man who wanted to marry her so badly he told me if I could convince her to, he’d get me a 1966 red Mustang. I gave it my best shot, but couldn’t close the deal, and I never let her forget it.
“I didn’t love him, and I couldn’t help that. I wanted my Buddy, and no one else compared.”
I didn’t understand that until I met Jake. If something–God forbid—ever happened to him, I’d spend the rest of my life alone. My stepmother Helen once said something about my father, and it made sense to me. She said, when you’ve had the best, no one else could live up to that, so why bother trying? I realized my mother never dated anyone after Buddy died, and I understood why.
“I know, but it was a red 1966 Mustang.”
“But it was a red 1966 Mustang. Madone, and it woulda been a loveless marriage.”
“I know, and I get that now, but then all I cared about was myself. What you wanted didn’t even cross my mind.”
She raised her eyebrows.
The irony hit me. I dipped my head back and sighed. “I hate it when you do that.” I poured myself a glass of water and plopped onto a barstool. “I don’t know what to do.”
“You gotta show her that she’s got a bit of the gift, too.”
“But she doesn’t.”
“That don’t matter.”
“Okay then, how do you propose I do that?”
“Ya know, give her a few signs, make her recognize them. Like you got mad at me for doing before.”
Ma had tossed a few pillows, moved a few things on Em’s dressers, and one time she ripped the sheets off her bed after a miracle had happened, and Emily had actually made the thing. Instead of getting the hints, Emily just accused a family member—me—of deliberately messing up her room and of course, snooping. But now that she knows her grandmother is around, if Ma did it again, she might realize it’s not me, but her grandmother, and maybe she’ll think she’s got a little bit of the gift. Maybe being the operative word in that sentence.
“That’s not a bad idea,” I said. “But it’s probably—”
Before I could add to that, she interrupted me. “I’m on it.”
I chuckled, figuring she’d probably headed up to her granddaughter’s room to toss a pillow or two.
I snatched a Diet Coke—affectionately known as Diet Crack in my house—from the fridge and headed to the deck, my place for contemplation and focus. I wanted to try and connect with Sarah Rochen. If she was dead, and I was pretty sure she was, I might be able to concentrate on her spirit and find her. If I was wrong and she wasn’t, then I was out of luck.
Summoning spirits wasn’t tops on my list of things to do. I could do it, but I didn’t like it, so I avoided it as much as possible. Mel once asked me what I didn’t like about it, and I couldn’t come up with anything other than it made me feel icky. Feeling icky wasn’t reason enough not to do something except workout, so I centered my mind on the photo LuAnn Jacobs gave Aaron and gave it a shot.
“Sarah, can you hear me?” I closed my eyes and thought about the things she’d done since coming to town. “Sarah? Hello? You there?”
The dream played like a movie in my mind’s eye. Me holding a gun pointed at Mel. Mel on her knees, begging me not to shoot her. The gravel, the trees. Pulling the trigger. The booming sound of the bullet exploding from the gun.
I flinched, and my eyes burst open. Sarah was definitely dead. I just had to figure out what she was trying to tell me through the dream. Whatever it was, was key to what happened, where we’d find her body, and the answers to the questions running through my mind. And I wouldn’t stop trying to find out until I figured it out.