Chapter Ten; Part Three
Wait a minute. Julianna left me all her money. Uncle said it was around three-quarters of a million dollars. If I invest carefully, I should be able to quit my job right now. Well, once the will goes through probate. I quickly Google how long it takes to process a will and find out it can take anywhere from a few months to a year. If someone contests the will, which I’m sure Eric will if he’s able, then it can take longer. In other words, I can’t count on that money any time soon. Then again, I have a healthy bank account, and if I’m very careful—I suddenly realize that I’m focusing on the money left to me by my murdered best friend. I start gagging, but nothing comes up. How could I be such a callous bitch as to spend my murdered best friend’s money? I put my face in my hands and weep. Onyx and Jet meep in protest, but they don’t follow me as I get up. Instead, they move together as one and curl up into a ball. I grab my smokes and go outside. I try to light one, but my hand is shaking. I steady it and light my cigarette. I take a long pull off of it and hold the smoke in my lungs. I deserve the punishment for being so cavalier about Julianna’s death. What’s more, I haven’t Googled anything else about it in a day. I made a promise to Uncle that I’d find Julianna’s murder, and I’ve been lax.
I go back to the couch and pull my laptop onto my lap. I Google Julianna’s murder and read a dozen articles. I don’t learn much that I don’t already know. She was killed in the wee hours of the morning by having her throat sliced and her tongue cut out. I learn that she was probably killed by some kind of hunting knife which the perp brought with him. Or her. I shouldn’t be sexist, though that kind of ferocity is more a dude thing. There’s a new tidbit—she was tied to her bed with her own scarves. Four scarves, one for each limb. The article lists the kind of scarves, and I realize I gave one to her for Christmas. It was a cashmere scarf from Nordstrom, and now it’s ruined. I brush that aside because it’s not relevant. OK. The perp planned ahead by bringing a knife, but he didn’t bring restraints? I’ve watched enough Criminal Minds to know that’s weird. Says to me that this person was, what? Impulsive? The person wanted to commit the murder, but didn’t think it through. Also, how did he know Julianna would be alone? Coincidence? I highly doubt it as Ramona had just left. Wait a minute. I sit up straight. The perp was watching Julianna! That had to be how he got her just after Ramona left. I scribble several notes to myself, my mind reeling.
Who would hate Julianna so much that he would stalk her? Who would have the time? Her ex-husband would have the time, probably, but not the means, I don’t think. What was the name of that woman who had plagiarized Julianna’s style at the Minneapolis Slammin’? Paula…no, that’s not it. Pamela…no. She’s a Latina…oh, right. Paola! I plug in her name and Minneapolis Slammin’. I come back with hundreds of hits, most of them related to her slam poetry. Her last name is Escobar, and she’s from New Jersey originally. She came here because the slam poetry scene here is second to none. Her boyfriend, Joey Simmons, came with her. This was three years ago, and they live in Loring Park in a two-bedroom apartment. He’s some kind of businessman, though there’s nothing explicit there. I raise an eyebrow at the fact that they have a yacht. A fucking yacht? He must be making bank for that kind of shit. What does she do? Not much. She claims to be a freelance writer, but I can’t find anything current written by her, at least not with a cursory search. That means she had plenty of time to stalk Julianna. What about Ramona’s husband? She said he didn’t work as hard as she did, and she was definitely lying about him being home that night. Goddamn it. This isn’t narrowing down my search at all. What about Eric, Julianna’s brother? On impulse, I call him. To my surprise, he answers.
“’Lo?” Eric barks, his voice taut. I blink. We’ve never been close, but he’s been nothing but civil to me in the past. I surmise it’s his money problems that’s causing him to be short with me.
“Eric, it’s Megan. Julianna’s best friend.” I barely get the words out of my mouth before he bursts into tears. Loud, raspy ones.
“Meggie! Who could have done that to her? Who would be such a monster?” His unhappiness seems genuine, but I don’t know him that well. Plus, there was that comment he made to the media about how she deserved to be killed.
“I don’t know, Eric. Maybe you? You said the ‘bitch’ deserved to be killed.” My voice is icy, and I don’t even try to hide it.
“That asshole reporter took my words out of context! I would never harm Julianna. Never! Besides, I was here.” Eric’s voice is defensive, which is understandable, I suppose. I had just accused him of murdering his sister.
“When’s the last time you talked to her?”
“The night before she was—before her birthday. I called to wish her a happy birthday.” Eric’s voice is sincere, but there’s something just off about it.
“What else?” My tone is brusque because I don’t like being lied to, especially since I’m trying to find Julianna’s murderer.
“Nothing!” Eric’s voice rises, which is a sure indication that he’s hiding something. “Can’t I call my big sis to wish her a happy birthday?” There’s a pause followed by a deep inhale. Jesus. Is he snorting up as we’re talking? Maybe he’s just trying to keep his emotions under control—I’ll try to give him the benefit of a doubt.
“Eric, Julianna’s dead. I’m trying to find out why. I need you to be honest with me.” I put some steel into my voice, and he crumbles.
“I asked her for money. My…creditor has been pushing me hard for a return.” Eric stops. Deep breath. I’m going to kick his ass if he’s getting high as he’s talking to me.
“How much, Eric?” I slowly count to ten before he responds.
“A hundred thousand.” His response is almost inaudible, and when I finally process what he said, I gasp.
“A hundred thousand? Are you fucking kidding me?” I shriek at Eric, outraged that he would do such a thing. “You have some fucking nerve.”
“I didn’t mean to let it get out of hand! I was being really careful, Meggie. Honest!” Eric is now pleading with me, and it makes me angrier than ever.
“Tell me what you said to her. Exactly!” I’m shouting at him by this point, and I don’t even try to rein in my temper.
“I told her that I had a bad spot of time at the cards, and I borrowed money from the Levine family.”
“You did what?” The Levine family are West Coast mafia, and they are ruthless. They’re more businessman-mode than gangster, but there are still hundreds of dead bodies attributed to them. You would have to be a fool to borrow money from them, or desperate. Eric is probably both.
“It’s not my fault! I was on a hot streak, and I was feeling it. I needed fifty thousand for a buy-in to a high-stakes poker game. They gave it to me.” Now, Eric’s voice is whiny. I want to punch him in the gut several times.
“I take it you lost?” The frost is dripping from my words, but apparently, Eric doesn’t notice.
“I don’t know what happened! I was feeling so good about it.” God. Can he even hear himself?
“You thought Julianna would give you a hundred thousand just like that?” I am gripping my phone so tightly, I’m afraid I’m going to break it.
“It’s not like she doesn’t have it! And it’s not like it’s not coming to me now!”
“What did you just say?” My voice is deadly quiet. Eric just shot up my suspect list with his last statement.
“She’s my big sister. She’s supposed to take care of me.” Eric says sulkily.
“Where were you when she was murdered?” I ask, clenching my teeth. I’m met with silence. “Eric? You still there?”
“I was working.”
“At four in the morning?”
“I work odd hours. I have to be ready whenever my clients call.”
“What exactly do you do?” I rub my forehead, an incipient headache is forming.
“I’m an entrepreneur,” Eric says evasively. “I work with clients all around the world.” Entrepreneur, my ass. It’s gotta be something shady, but he’s not going to tell me. Speaking of, he still thinks he’s in Julianna’s will. Which means he has a good reason for wanting to kill her. Do I actually think he flew out here to murder his sister? Honestly, I don’t know. Another question. Do I tell him about the will? I don’t think it’s my place, and I don’t know for sure what Uncle has told me is correct. Julianna might have said she was changing her will, but then didn’t. I do know her last will splits her assets fifty-fifty between me and Eric because she showed me a copy of it. I decide to sit on it for now.
“Your father said you were coming here to visit Julianna at the time of her murder.” I could have put it more delicately, but I’m fresh out of nice.
“What? No! I was supposed to visit her, but, I, um….” His voice trails off, and I realize what he was going to say. He didn’t have the money. Typical. I turn the conversation back to his phone call with his sister.
“What did Julianna say? After you asked for the money, I mean.”
“She hung up on me,” Eric says in a low voice. “I called her back, and she cussed me out before hanging up on me again. That’s the last time I talked to her.”
“What time was that?”
“Around midnight my time.” Which means two in the morning here. How typical of him and so fucking inconsiderate.
“What are you going to do now?” I don’t really care, but he’s Julianna’s brother.
“Talk to my parents. Hopefully, they’ll loan the money to me.” Loan. Sure. Whatever. I hang up, feeling disgruntled. Eric’s naked venality is ugly, but I can’t really blame him for it. Yes, he wants the money for nefarious reasons, but it’s natural to dream about that kind of money. Then again, he’s in deep to some very nasty people. He probably counted on Julianna to take care of his mess once again, and I bet he was pretty pissed when she turned him down. He had no right to be, of course, but that never stopped anyone. We human beings are really good at self-delusion, and I’m including myself in this admonition.
“Is there anything else you can tell me?” I ask, clipping my words. I’m pissed that Julianna’s brother cares more about her money than her murder, but I keep that to myself.
“No. Except I miss her so much!” Eric sniffles, but I can’t tell if he’s sincere or not. I finish up my conversation with him and click off my phone. I stare at the wall, thinking about what Eric has told me. Not much, frankly. Except, it gives him a strong motive for murder. I snoop around a bit to see if I can find any concrete evidence that he was in Los Angeles at the time of Julianna’s murder. There’s nothing. He doesn’t do Facebook or Twitter, so no social media trail. I give up after fifteen minutes. As messed up as Eric is, I have a hard time believing he flew all the way to Minneapolis to kill Julianna. He loves her and looks up to her. Then again, he’s desperate for money, which she has in spades. Still. I can’t get too excited about him as the murderer. I put him at the end of the list and move on. Just as I’m about to check my website, my phone rings. I don’t recognize the number, but it’s local. It’s probably a telemarketer, but I have actually given out my number to a few people. I answer it.
“Megan? It’s Trinity.” Trinity? For a minute, I’m stumped. Then, I make the connection.
“Trinity! Of course. How are you?” Simon’s girlfriend. I wonder why she’s calling me?
“Terrible. Simon called me today. He’s in the hospital!” Trinity bursts into tears, and I’m at a loss as to what to say. I let her cry for a several seconds before talking.
“His creditors got fed up and decided to teach him a lesson. They beat him up pretty bad!” Trinity is still crying, but her sobs have gotten quieter. I wonder what kind of people Simon has borrowed money from that they would beat him instead of, say, shoot a kneecap. “I’m at Abbott Northwestern now.”
“Did he tell you where he’s been for the last week?” I ask. Onyx presses her nose against my hand, and I jump. I gently push her nose away, but she’s back at it in a second.
“He wouldn’t say!” Trinity is blubbering, and I don’t want to cause her further distress. I make a note of the fact that he’s at Abbott Northwestern and decide to visit him myself in the near future. “I’m tired of this, Megan. I can’t deal with this any longer.”
“You don’t have to.” I cradle the phone as best I can with my shoulder so I can pet Onyx. “You can walk right now. No shame.”
“He’s hurt, though. It would be so mean of me to leave him now.” Trinity is whimpering, which is getting on my nerves. It also makes me sad that we still teach girls that they are responsible for boys’ feelings. “I’ll think about it. I can’t keep doing this.”
“You’re a strong woman, Trinity. You can get through this if you decide to walk.” I sigh and hang up. I don’t think she’s ready to leave him, but I think she’s close. It’s only been three months, and she’s already fed up with his shit. I also note that she called me in her time of need. It seems like she thinks of me as a friend or a mentor. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. I can barely keep myself together, let alone someone else. I cuddle with Onyx and Jet for half an hour so I can let my brain rest. I know I need to Google some more, but not right now. I’m in serious danger of blowing out my circuits, and I know from experience that if I don’t rejuvenate, I’ll be down for the rest of the night.
I fall asleep. I dream of a land of a thousand black cats, all different sizes, shapes, and genders. They dance around me, meowing in unison, as if they’re in a cat food commercial. I try to pet the ones nearest to me, but I can’t move. I slowly morph into a black cat, and then I’m able to meow. I wake up, feeling oddly happy. Considering the kinds of dreams I normally have, this is a good dream by any measure. My cats are sleeping on top of me, and they look so cute cuddled together. I smile as I reach for my phone. I want to check my website because I haven’t given it much attention all day. I really should write another post, too, but I refuse to do that on my phone. I check the comments on the last post, and there are several more negative ones. I’ve had more negative than positive comments on this post by far, which means I’ve hit a nerve. There is one negative comment that is actually worth publishing. ScenicRoute694W (a local highway) says, “I understand and sympathize with your desires not to simply follow societal norms. We are individual, and it’s no fun to be pigeonholed. However, society falls apart if there are no rules. Then, we have anarchy, which is not a good base for any stable society. In addition, we need to propagate in order to keep the species alive. If everyone thought as you do, then we would die out.”
Within minutes, MNborn replies to the above comment. “Societal norms are fine and dandy, but do you really want to dictate what individuals must do with their reproductive organs? It’s sounds civilized to say that we must keep the species going, but what does that mean practically? Mandating that every woman has to have at least one baby? Besides, we have enough people in the world. Too many. It’s refreshing that there are women like Megan who are unabashedly pro-childfree.” I really wish MNborn still lived in Minnesota; I think we would be fast friends if she were here. Two minutes later, ScenicRoute694W rebuts, “I am not by any means suggesting that we should enforce propagation. I’m merely stating that society is built upon rules and heuristics and babies. Where would we be without babies?”
It’s two in the morning, but I’m wide awake. I pull my laptop towards me, disturbing my cats as little as possible. I type in my website and wait for it to load. It’s time to write a new post, and I scan my brain for something to say. I don’t want to talk about politics, though I feel as if I should. I’m not going to talk about dating, marriage, or kids again because I’m burned out on that. My cats? Not feeling it. Food? Nah. Honestly, I want to write about Julianna again, but not about her murder. I want to write about her life. I’ve talked about her quite a bit in the last week, but it’s understandable. It’s my blog, anyway. I’m going to write about whatever I want.
They say the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They used to think it was a linear progress through each emotion, but have come to realize that it’s more fluid than that. You can feel denial one day, then depression the next, go back to denial, before hitting anger. In addition, you can feel more than one emotion at the same time.
Right now, I vacillate between anger and denial. I’m trying to keep myself busy enough so I don’t constantly think about Julianna, but it’s not working. She haunts my thoughts day and night, disrupting every facet of my life. It’s strange because while Julianna was alive, I talked to her almost every day, but I rarely thought about her otherwise. Now, she’s constantly on my mind, and I don’t know what to do about it.
There are so many things I want to say to Julianna, things I’ll never be able to say now that she’s dead. I want to thank her for being by my side through thick and thin for the last twenty years. I want to reminisce about the time we pretended to be each other for a day and confused everyone around us. Or about the time we took a trip to Asia together, Taiwan and Japan, to visit our roots. We hooked up with men and women in both countries for three delirious weeks, and anything more than that, I’m not at liberty to say. Or the time we dated twin women and couldn’t tell which was which. I could go on for days, but I won’t.
I also want to tell her that I love her more than I’ve loved anyone in my life. She is a part of me, which will never change. I’ve been so fortunate to have her in my life for twenty years, but I’m greedy. I want twenty years more. Or forty. Or sixty. The traditional wedding vows include, “Until death do we part”. I don’t hold with tradition, but I know Julianna and I would have been friends until the end of time.
I hadn’t thought I was going to write about Julianna’s death, but I felt compelled to, obviously. I write for another half hour, and the post is melancholy in nature. I want Julianna back. It’s the only thing I want, and I can’t have it. Or her. I long to feel her arms around me, cradling me from all the dangers of the world. I want to watch Alan Rickman movies with her, bonding over our love of all things British. We could make it a true British night by having Earl Grey tea, scones, and clotted cream or something. Then, I could tell her about how big Rembrandt’s dick is, and she can confide in me about the crazy things Ramona can do with her tongue.
“Goddamn it, Araki! You should be here with me. How dare you leave me like that?” I start crying, which causes Onyx to mew in anxiety. I pet her head, but I can’t stop myself from crying. She licks the tears off my face, and I let her. The tears subside after a few minutes, and I rub Onyx’s face in thanks. I check for comments, and I already have five. MNborn writes, “It’s so hard when you lose the love of your life. In our society, we tend to diminish any relationship that isn’t romantic, but it can hurt just as much, if not more, to lose a dear, dear friend. My heart goes out to you.” A minute later, QueenBee comments, “You have to move on. Do you think she’d be mourning you like this if you were the one who had died? I doubt it.” Stung, I lash back. “You don’t know her. You don’t know how she would have reacted. Don’t talk about her like you know her.” MNborn adds, “It’s been less than a week! That’s no time at all. Cut her some slack.” I close down the tab, trying to control my anger. People don’t understand my relationship with Julianna—they never have. I don’t blame them as I don’t understand it completely myself.
I stare at the ceiling, not seeing anything. How can life keep going on when Julianna is dead? I’m angry at the world for not stopping, for continuing to go on as if nothing has happened. The sun continues to rise and set, despite the absence of Julianna. I don’t know how to act without her in my life. Part of my identity is having her as a best friend—how do I handle that being ripped from my soul? It’s as if I’ve lost a limb, or more importantly, an organ. My heart, specifically, which is of no use to me any longer. I wish I could tear my heart out of my chest because all it does is ache. Every time I think I have a reprieve, the pain starts up again. I start hyperventilating, and I force myself to breathe smoothly and slowly. It helps, but only temporarily.
Time passes. I don’t know how much as I keep staring at the ceiling, but it feels like eternity. Onyx and Jet continue to snooze as tears leak out of my eyes. I don’t have the energy to wipe them away, so I just let them fall to the couch. I summon enough energy to set my laptop back on the coffee table before clasping my hands across my chest. I can’t stop the tears, nor do I even try. Waves of grief wash over me, and I shiver uncontrollably. I think I should get up, but I don’t care enough to try. I close my eyes, but all I can see is Julianna’s mangled body. I open them again, which doesn’t make it much better. That image is permanently seared on my brain, and I don’t know how to get rid of it.
“Meep?” Onyx asks sleepily, lifting her head.
“It’s OK, baby. I’m OK.” I pet Onyx’s head, taking comfort in it. She tucks her head into my palm, and I cry some more. After several minutes, I stand up, careful not to disturb them. I go to take a shower because I need the water beating down on my body. I turn it as hot as I can stand before stepping into the shower. I’m numb as the water pours down on me. I can feel the pain somewhere deep inside me, and I’m glad for a brief respite. I stay in the shower until the hot water runs out, then I turn off the water. I don’t move, however, as my legs seem to have forgotten how to operate. I grab a towel and wrap it around me before forcing myself to step out of the shower. The cats are waiting on the counter when I get out, and they stare at me with identical looks of bemusement on their faces. I smile at them, but it quickly collapses. I grab the edge of the sink with both hands so I won’t fall to the floor. I’m dizzy, so I take several smooth and steady breaths. I feel marginally better and go into the bedroom to put on fresh sweats. I consider that a victory and go back to the couch. I slouch in the couch again, my motivation nil. I check my website, and the comments on my latest posts are mostly sympathetic and positive. There are a couple of ‘move ons’, but mostly, just, ‘take all the time you needs’.
SeattleSymphony writes, “When I lost my mother in a car accident, I didn’t get out of bed for a week straight. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. I just lay there, almost catatonic. I didn’t answer my phone; I didn’t take a shower; I just lay there. I thought if I was very still, it would just go away. It didn’t. Then, the second week, I got out of bed to—I don’t even know what. I can’t remember. I immediately went back to bed, but I got up again to scrounge for a sandwich. A month later, I actually went out with friends. I returned in an hour, but it felt good to get out. That was the beginning of the long, slow process to healing.” AceofBass adds, “My old man jumped off a building when I was seventeen. He wasn’t much of a dad, but it still hit me in the gut. I started ditching school, smoking weed, and getting into all kinds of trouble. Five years later, I found myself standing on the Golden Gate Bridge, as high as a kite, ready to jump. I got myself off of there and sobered up quick. Haven’t touched weed since, and this was fifteen years ago. I still think of my father almost every day, but it doesn’t hurt nearly as much.” SadTrombone writes, “I lost the love of my life twenty years ago to this day. I wanted to die when he did, but I knew he wouldn’t want that. I thought of him every day for hours on end. The first time I laughed, I felt as if I were betraying him. It got a little easier every day, but it’s never healed completely. I remarried five years ago, and I love my new husband very much, but he will never take the place of my first true love.”
Then, a negative comment from GetOverIt2934, “Getting mawkish over it isn’t going to help anything. You need to suck it up and move on.” Predictably, MNborn counters, “You cannot move on if you don’t go through it first. If you just stuff it down, it’ll explode at some point. Probably at the worst time and place. You can only deny your pain for so long.” There are more positive comments, then I find in my emails, “You must think you’re so special to go on and on like this. Like you’re the only one who lost a loved one. Stupid slut.” I dump this one into my loser file as well. I don’t need that shit on my website. As I’ve explained to my commenters, my blog is like my home. I’m in control of who comes in and who doesn’t. I don’t have to explain why I won’t let someone in, which I rarely do. Periodically, I get someone who belligerently questions my policy, usually a dude. I don’t answer those emails, either. I have my policy clearly stated on my blog, and I don’t respond to demands. It’s time to write another post, but my heart isn’t in it. I could just post a cat video, but that feels like cheating. Still, I’m just hanging on by a thread, and that’s as much as I can handle right now. I look up a cute Maru in a box video, one that has a cameo by his sister Hana, write a few words, then post it. I call it a night after that, even though it’s not even ten.