Leslie wakes up the next morning at 5:23:32, and not solely because the cops are coming ‘sometime between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. She had had a nightmare in which John had returned to her, but as a zombie. Now, while the real John would have appreciated that as he was an absolute fiend for zombies, Leslie had freaked the fuck out in her dream as John tried to eat her brains. She had had to dead him again, and it broke her heart to have to empty a bunch of bullets in his brain and then decapitate his head, even though she knew it was a dream. The head remained alive, and she was careful not to put her fingers in its mouth. John’s eyes were trying to tell her something, but she couldn’t decipher the message.
She shuffles off to the bathroom to go about her daily ablutions. She notices that Josephine is not behind her, and one quick glance backwards shows her a sleeping cat who is parked in the exact spot where John’s chest would be—if he were still alive. Tears filled Leslie’s eyes as she realizes she’s not the only one who fiercely misses John—so does Josephine. Leslie wants to comfort the cat and tell her that John will be home before she knows it. However, Leslie tries not to out-and-out lie whenever she can help it, so she remains silent and goes about her morning ritual. She is somber as she thinks about John and all she’s learned about him since he was murdered. She has to admit to herself that’s she’s pissed—at him. She’s not mad because he’s dead—no, she’s mad because he hadn’t trusted her enough to share his past with her. She could hear him protesting in her ear that it had nothing to do with how trustworthy she was, but it’s cold comfort, indeed.
She cringes as she remembers all the things she confessed to John—the molestation, the abusive relationship she endured right after she moved into her own apartment, and her two hospitalizations. In turn, he had told her about the difficulties he encountered growing up in the south. While he was from the south, he was not born of the south, or so he’d been told. He was labeled different by the time he was four years old. He wore it as a badge of honor once he hit his thirties. He was into the Clash before they got popular, and everything about him screamed dork! Leslie has not been able to find any evidence to the contrary, so she accepts provisionally that what he had told her about his childhood was mostly true.
Still, Leslie cannot help but be shaken by the facts of the case as she discovers them. Though she knows that Freddy did not kill Amy, she isn’t finding much evidence to support that supposition. And, what is more disturbing is that every new bit of revelation only tightens the noose around his neck even further. His fingerprints on the rope. Well, that could actually be explained if the rope was just something lying around the house. The cufflink? That was a bit more difficult. If Freddy was not the killer, and Leslie is going on the assumption that he isn’t, then someone went to great lengths to set him up. That person would have had to break into Freddy’s apartment, take the cufflink, and plant it in Amy’s bedroom. And, considering the fact that Amy hadn’t struggled as she was bound, that meant that if she wasn’t intimidated into it, then she knew and trusted the person who had killed her. The newspaper articles implied that meant her killer was Freddy, but he wasn’t the only person Amy trusted—was he? Well, perhaps. But, if, say, a family member stopped by, Amy most likely wouldn’t suspect that person of wanting to kill her. Emotional damage, sure. Physical harm, maybe. But killing? Who readily believed that someone who purported to love you would want to kill you? Yes, Leslie knows that if a woman is killed, it’s seventy percent likely to be her husband/spouse/significant other and ninety percent likely to be someone she knows in general, but still, it’s not something most people believe with any ease.
Leslie is not hungry, as she often isn’t upon first waking. She pulls on a pair of jeans and a red sweater because she does not want to get caught in her sweats again by the police. She brushes her hair slowly, working out the tangles that inevitably snarled her hair as slept. She usually French braids her hair before going to bed, but she sometimes eschewed that step if she was too tired or simply too lazy to do so. When she doesn’t braid her hair before sleeping, it’s more tangled than ever upon awakening. She shuffles into John’s office and powers up his laptop once again. She takes a flashdrive from his desk and sticks it into the laptop so she can copy the Irish Black Rose folder. After thinking about it for a minute, she copies the My Future Wife folder as well. She quickly runs through John’s files to make sure she hasn’t missed anything. She is not enough of a techie to spot anything hidden, so she shrugs and turn off the machine. She stashes the flashdrive under her bed, and then she goes into the living room so she can turn on the TV and see if there is any news on John’s death.
She doesn’t find anything on CNN or MSNBC, naturally. The local news media briefly mention the murder, but it’s in the context of, “What is this world coming to that a respectable white man can’t walk the streets of Hennepin Avenue without getting killed?” Leslie sneers at the reporter with his serious face on who is standing outside Target Center as he pontificates about how dangerous Minneapolis is becoming—even though John’s body was found in the Hennepin Theater District, which is in the same general area, but not in the actual neighborhood. Leslie supposes it’s because Target Center is better known, but she still finds it shoddy reporting. She flicks off the television and makes her way into the kitchen to start the coffee perking.
“Mrrreow!” Josephine is up, and she makes her presence known. Leslie opens a small can of Pet Guard Turkey and Rice Dinner and plops it onto Josephine’s plate. Josephine attacks the food as if she hasn’t eaten in days. She makes it disappear with astonishing speed, and then, in thanks to her human, she rubs her head against Leslie’s shin. Leslie kneels down so she can pet Josephine—she needs the comfort any way she can get it.
Leslie gets up and bolts to the bedroom. She pulls out her keepsake box and rifles through it until she finds a picture of John. The only solo picture of John she has because he said he didn’t like the way he looked in pictures. She had accepted his explanation at the time because she, herself, hated having her picture taken, but she wondered if his reticence stemmed more from the fact that he had been running from the police rather than his stated distaste for the way he looked in pictures. She picks up the photo and starts tearing up because in it, John’s sporting his trademark smirk—the one that made Leslie want to fuck him for hours. She caresses his lips with the tip of her finger before gently placing the picture back in the box before closing the lid. She holds the box in her hand—a gorgeous handmade box carved out of mahogany. There is a yin-yang inlay, set in pearl and onyx. John had given it to her for her birthday. She remembers the occasion well.
“I love this place,” Leslie said enthusiastically as she and John were seated at a table at Amazing Thailand. “This is the best Thai food I’ve ever had!”
“I love how you love this place,” John smiled tenderly at Leslie, his eyes crinkling in amusement. “I also love the fact that when I said I’d take you to any restaurant for your birthday, you picked this one.”
“Oh, I know I should have tried to soak you at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant or some place like that, but I was really in the mood for Thai.” Leslie beamed at John, her whole face alive. She was wearing a scarlet mini dress that showed off her curves and tats to their best advantage. All three of her tats had water and/or flames incorporated into them as symbols of her personality—but only two of them are visible when she was clothed. She had pulled her hair high up on her head in a sloppy bun, and she was even wearing a dash of lipstick. There was more than one guy giving her the eye. When Leslie sparkled, the world crowded near to feel some of the warmth. John was wearing black khakis and a nice button-down maroon shirt. They made a dapper couple.
“I always knew you were after me for my money,” John said, sighing theatrically.
“Nope. I’m with you for your big cock.” Leslie smiled wickedly at John, who chuckled in response. “You can’t take me anywhere, can you?”
“That’s another thing I love about you.”
The night was magical. They started with the Angel Wings—chicken wings stuffed with things, including pork, and then deep-fried. They were light and airy and utterly addictive. Leslie had the Fisherman Coconut—a bunch of seafood in a coconut shell—and despite her best efforts, she could only eat half of it. John had the Haw Moak Kai—a chicken and curry sauce with a bunch of veggies and basil. John had several glasses of a nice red wine while Leslie stuck to a Thai iced tea. Then, because Leslie had an insatiable sweet tooth, they rounded out the night with dessert—mango and sticky rice. They decided to have coffee at home.
“This really hit the spot,” Leslie sighed, patting her stomach contently while sipping her coffee. They were in their living room, snuggling on the couch. Leslie knew that she would pay latter for drinking so much caffeine at night, but since she never slept well, anyway, she didn’t much care.
“Leslie, I want to give you your gift.” John’s tone turned serious. “We’ve been together for six months, and I can’t imagine my life without you.” He pulled a medium-sized box out from behind the couch and placed it on the coffee table in front of Leslie.
“You don’t have to, silly,” Leslie said, smiling fondly at John. “I’m not going anywhere.” She hugged John, eyeing the box as she did. If it had been any smaller, she would have been afraid he was proposing. The box, however, was more like the size of a largish music box. She opened it without hesitation. Inside the box was a gorgeous handmade mahogany keepsake box with a yin-yang pearl/onyx inlay. “Oh, John. It’s beautiful,” Leslie breathed, touching the yin-yang very gently. She held the box in her lap, stroking the outside softly several times. “It’s exactly what I wanted, even if I didn’t know it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Leslie threw her arms around John’s neck and hugged him. She kisses him hard, her lips promising that she will thank him later in ways he’s never dreamed.
“Open it,” John said once they disentangled their limbs. Leslie looked at John quizzically before opening the lid. Her heart thumped as she saw a smaller box nestled inside. This box was the right size to contain a ring, and Leslie didn’t know what to do. Strangely, though, not all her anticipation was dread—some of it was…eagerness. That disturbed her more than the possibility that John was about to propose to her. John placed his arms around Leslie’s waist, pressed his forehead to hers and whispered, “It’s OK. Open it.” He let her go so she could do just that. Her heart started thumping even faster when she saw that it was a ring box. She looked in John’s eyes and saw nothing but love. Her confidence bolstered, she opened the box. Nested inside was an exquisite ring made of platinum. The band was impossibly intricate, and yet, sturdy. And, in the middle, instead of the diamond Leslie was half-fearing, half-expecting, sat a large onyx, impossible black, shaped like a tear.
“John! It’s beautiful!” Leslie threw her arms around John’s neck again and kissed him soundly. When she let him go, he picked up her right hand and slid the ring on her third finger—it fit as if it were made for her.
“I know how you feel about marriage, so this is not a proposal. This is a promise. I will always love you, Leslie Ann Chang. No matter what happens—nothing will ever change that. Ever.”