The Stories In Between
“We’ll take it slow, Detective. We’ll go at your pace. This is about your healing.” The woman in the chair across from Will was beautiful. Long dark hair flowing over exposed shoulders. Subtle makeup on her face. A slight smell of jasmine on her skin. She knew about her beauty. She knew how to leverage it in social situations. But this was different. This was her job, and right now, the man in front of her was badly damaged. He was broken, and it would take months of her patience to help him if she could at all. She wanted to because she loved Will Pence.
They dated on and off again through high school. He was a drama student. She was friends with everyone but didn’t align with any particular group. They were both good students, self-driven and motivated. But the time wasn’t right for either of them. So when they split for good at the start of their senior year, both agreed that if they met up again down the road, they would at least give it a shot.
That time came several years later with the college for her and the academy for him. Both had been doing their respective jobs and getting paid well in their fields. But neither had made time for someone special. So one night, back home visiting their families, they bumped into each other at Harry’s Pub. It couldn’t have been more cliche. They saw each other, made easy conversation, and ended up in bed a few hours later.
It was when Will started bringing home his work that Elise saw the first red flags. Her profession had taught her how these cops internalized their anguish. She had learned the hard psychology of what it felt like to carry the weight of murder on your shoulders, even when the murder was justified. But as much as she had wanted to help him, she knew better. And the selfish part of her felt like she deserved a better life.
Neither of them found the perfect life in the eighteen years that separated the time they had seen each other. Now sat the same broken man from eighteen years ago, hurt and crying. It felt like those eighteen years had folded in on themselves, like a loop or deja vu. And that love suddenly felt like too much to bear.
Back in her office, in the present, Will Pence spoke.
“I know you mean well, Elise. I know this is also part of your job. And I know how we feel about each other.”
“You think they should have given this case to someone else? Someone in Internal Affairs?”
“I think I can’t do this shit for much longer. My bones ache. My heart aches. I internalize everything. And it’s eating me alive like cancer.”
Elise set her notebook aside and leaned forward. She played with the ends of her hair. And when she finally decided on her words, she stood up. Her arms were out to Will, palms up. “Come here,” she said. She did not expect him to rise.
But he did. He stood up and took her hands. They embraced, and together they cried fiercely.
Jocelyn made her way up the steep incline that led to her husband’s grave. She set the three tulips and the small paper bag on the dirt by his headstone and then slowly got down on the ground. She tucked her ankles under her butt and let out a long wheeze.
“I’m 82 years old, Lou. I won’t be able to make this walk much longer.”
Birds cawed overhead, and the bright sun sent rippling shadows across the ground to her right. It was a beautiful morning, and Jocelyn intended to spend most of it here with her husband. She didn’t expect to get a verbal answer from him; he was dead after all. But she did expect to find some peace.
“Do you remember your friend Marco? Remember his third wedding? The big dancehall reception and the amazing fried pork belly sliders. Remember that woman that asked you to dance?” Jocelyn leaned on her arm and looked up. She closed her eyes and let the warm sunlight wash over her face.
“I remember her dress. It was impossibly beautiful. I remember thinking that she was overdressed for a wedding. She looked like royalty, almost. And the rest of us in our standards of white and black and typical wedding attire. She asked you to dance.”
Jocelyn looked down at Lou’s headstone. The simple markings on carved stone. Rene Lou Fornier, 1936-2018. A blackbird convened on the tree to her right. It gave one sharp squawk and flew off. Several meters behind her, along the small road that ran through the cemetery, a red jeep rolled past. And then it was quiet again, and Jocelyn was alone with her thoughts.
“You looked at me in the cutest way when she asked you to dance. You looked like a little boy who had been caught reading with a flashlight under his covers instead of going to bed. And you smiled at me…I’ll never forget that smile…and you asked me if it was okay to dance with this woman.”
Jocelyn felt the tears coming. They were warm on her cheeks, but she didn’t wipe them away. She liked how they felt. They felt like a cleansing. “I watched you take this woman’s hand and head out on the dance floor. And then I watched you dance. Not a single hint of jealousy hit me. I know that’s what you were worried about, the reason you asked my permission. But I only watched you with admiration.”
More tears, and a rare smile. Jocelyn loved this memory. “You were a good dancer, Lou. Me? I have two left feet.” She let out a loud laugh. Two blackbirds returned to the tree. “I watched you dance, clearly a much better dancer than this woman. She did her best, though. I remember you twirled her at one point, and I thought for sure she was going to lose her balance. But much like her dress, her resolve was impeccable. And then just like that, the song was over, and she returned you to our table with a nod and a wink to me. I never spoke to that woman, but I like to believe that wink told me how lucky I was to have such an amazing man.”
Jocelyn pulled her legs out from under her butt and attempted to stand. She paused halfway up before resuming the journey. “My goodness!” she exclaimed. “My old bones.” She straightened out her blouse and wiped dirt from her palms. And then she paced in front of his headstone.
“I love that memory because it defined what I thought I knew about you, Lou. I always felt safe with you. I always felt secure. And the weird part is, I still do. Even after seeing that letter, I feel like I don’t see the big picture. Maybe that’s the denial people who stay in abusive relationships always tell themselves.” Jocelyn stopped pacing and looked down at his grave. “Maybe I’m in denial.”
Another car drove past along the small road behind her, slowed down for a moment, and then resumed its journey.
“I’m blessed to be in good health and still able to get around, Lou. But losing you is tough. Losing your face in my hands, your body next to mine in our bed. I’m rambling. My God am I rambling, but I just need some closure on this, Lou. I just need to rest alongside you, knowing what it all means.” She paused for a long time before kneeling and opening the brown bag she had brought along with the tulips.
Inside the bag was the letter and the gun and a small flask filled with wine—deception, violence, and alcohol. Jocelyn thought this would make the most wonderful mystery.