“I told them they were crazy,” Siobhan says, her face flushing. “I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about, and I knew that if you had known, you would have told me.”
“Damn right,” Leslie says, nodding her head vigorously. “I don’t know what the hell they mean, but—oh, I have to go back home.”
Predictably, Siobhan objects. Leslie will not back down, however. She needs to get her hands on John’s laptop—the one that is sitting pretty in his office. The same office in which she has yet to step since his death. Siobhan is throwing out reason after reason why Leslie should not go home. Finally, Leslie says if Siobhan will not take her, she’ll just walk the two blocks back to her own damn home, thank you very much. Once she says this, Siobhan knows it’s futile to argue any further.
“Let me tell Eduardo so he can put Eamon to bed,” Siobhan says, abruptly standing up. She rarely leaves the kids home alone, but she can trust Eduardo to watch the younger two while she runs Leslie home. Siobhan marches upstairs with Leslie right behind her. Leslie veers off into the guestroom so she can grab her bag. She can leave the cat food as the boys will enjoy the treats. Now, she just has to find Josephine.
“Josephine, where are you? We’re going home.” Leslie waits. She knows that she has said the magic word, and she is confident that Josephine will show up sooner rather than later. She is right. One minute and fifty-three seconds pass before Josephine saunters into the room and into her carrier. Three seconds later, the Beastie Boys enter the room, looking hangdog at the sight of Josephine marching into her carrier. They know this means that she will be leaving them, and they are nearly inconsolable.
“Good girl, Josephine.” Leslie shuts the carrier and picks it up along with her duffle. She is ready to leave.
For the entire two blocks, Siobhan tries to convince Leslie to not go home. Even after Leslie explains why she’s returning, Siobhan doesn’t give up. Leslie should just grab the computer and go back to Siobhan’s house, Siobhan suggests. Leslie shakes her head. She wants to go over the house with a fine-toothed comb to make sure she hasn’t overlooked anything. Nothing Siobhan says will change her mind. By now, they are parked in front of Leslie’s house, and Leslie is suddenly fed up with the conversation. She hugs Siobhan hard before exiting the Subaru. She waves at Siobhan before disappearing into her house.
“Meow!” Josephine starts trilling at Leslie forty-two seconds after entering the house. Leslie let her out, and she tears across the hallway in a mad dash to get somewhere. Leslie follows her, and is not surprised to see Josephine plunk herself outside the closed door of John’s office. John had kept it open, but Leslie can’t bear to feel John every time she walks by the office. She had shut the door in a vain attempt to keep him the fuck out of her hallway.
“Give me a second,” Leslie says, her voice thick with emotion. She places her hand on the door, then retreats. She flees to her computer room where she Googles John, putting in everything she knows about him—which, to her dismay, is surprisingly little. She knows where he had lived before he moved in with her three months, two weeks and six days after they had started dating, but that was it. While John was a gregarious man by nature, he isn’t someone, wasn’t someone, with many friends. In fact, one of their recurring arguments was about the fact that John refused to introduce Leslie to any of his friends.
“You’re ashamed of me,” Leslie sobbed, pounding on John’s chest with her fists. He held them easily in his hands, but didn’t say anything. “You’ve met Siobhan and Sasha and Priscilla. You’ve even met my therapist, for god’s sake. Why the fuck can’t I meet your friends?”
“You wouldn’t like them, baby,” John said, his voice steady. “They’re mostly gamers and IT geeks. You’d have nothing in common with them.”
“That doesn’t matter. I should meet them. You’ve met my friends. What are you hiding from me?” Leslie peered up at John, her eyes wet with tears.
“I’m not hiding anything,” John said vehemently, dropping Leslie’s hands. “You know I don’t lie to you—just as you don’t lie to me. We’re honest with each other.”
“I can’t lie to you,” Leslie reminded John. “I don’t know why that is, but there you go.” Leslie had lied with ease before she met John. Oh, she never lied about anything important, but she would lie to Peter in order to keep the peace. Leslie had had no qualms about telling little untruths to Peter—however, she simply could not do it with John. No matter what the topic, she felt compelled to tell him the truth, even if it led to a disagreement or an argument.
“Leslie, trust me that you do not want to meet my friends right now, OK?” John crushed Leslie in a monstrous hug, negating whatever protest she might have lobbed his way. She still had doubts in her mind, but she kept them to herself.
“Why didn’t I push him on it?” Leslie asks herself, tears gathering in her eyes once more. She dashes them away because she needs to concentrate. She does not have the luxury of wallowing right now—she’ll have to shelf that until after she finds out what happened to John. Leslie takes a few calming breaths. Eight months ago, she would have done some tai chi meditation, but since John had moved in with her six months ago, tai chi meditation started triggering flashbacks—memories that Leslie had suppressed for thirty years of her life.
Leslie turns to her computer again and starts plugging in as much data as she has. She comes up with—nothing. She searches the articles about John’s death—murder—to see if she can glean anything pertinent. Besides the fact that John was shot in the temple and dumped like yesterday’s garbage, there is no information to be had about his murder—or about him. Like the cops, the media had tried to uncover more about the man—it’s not often a professional-looking white man gets murdered, even in the downtown area. This is News with a capital N, damn it, and the mainstream media is frantically trying to milk it for all it’s worth. Unfortunately for them (and for Leslie), they have come up with bubkes as well. So, since they couldn’t come up with anything from John’s past, they speculate about the meaning of him being found outside the Gay 90’s-—a gay bar. They wonder if he’s on the downlow or bi, both suggestions which make Leslie laugh, albeit bitterly. John is, was, one of the most heterosexual men she’d ever met. What’s more, he was comfortable enough in his sexual identity that he had no problem with gay guys hitting on him—he just wasn’t interested. If he had been in the 90’s—and there is no evidence that he had been—it wasn’t to pick up a trick.
“Damn it!” Leslie pounds on her ergonomic keyboard in frustration. Why the fuck can’t she come up with any information on John? More to the point, why hadn’t she tried harder when she had Googled him before their first date? She knows the answer to that. She didn’t bother researching him because she had fallen for him pretty quickly after they had met. She had let her hormones drive the bus for once, and now she’s paying for her mistake.
“Meow!” Josephine has entered the room, and she’s making her presence known.
“OK. Treats for you, and then, John’s laptop.” Leslie gets up from her computer and strides to the kitchen. She pulls out a hunk of free-range chicken and places it on Josephine’s plate. Josephine delicate sniffs the meat before deciding that it’s to her liking. She slowly licks the crispy skin, savoring each swipe. Once she’s de-salted the skin, she attacks her ‘prey’ with a vengeance. Leslie takes the opportunity to approach John’s office. Facing the closed door, she offers up a silent plea to the gods that she be strong enough to do this. She wraps her hand around the doorknob and only after the slightest hesitation, she pushes open the door. John’s essence assaults her, and she nearly buckles in grief. She steels her spine and marches into the room. She turns on John’s laptop and is immediately flummoxed because she had converted to the Dvorak typing system years ago, and John’s laptop is in Qwerty, of course. She switches on Dvorak so she’ll be able to type without resorting to the hunt and peck method. Taking a deep breath, she opens the top drawer of John’s desk. There are his passwords. She has to smile because EinFaye is one password and Cyclops is another. All of his passwords are comic book/series-themed, which is so like him.
Feeling like a criminal, Leslie pulls up his various most-frequented websites and starts typing in the passwords. Most of them are related to online shopping, such as his Amazon account, so they are of no use. She has saved his Gmail account for last, however, as she has a feeling that it will be the proverbial goldmine. After she has exhausted the rest of the list, she hesitantly types in “TohruHonda” as John’s Gmail password and presses enter. As befitting his meticulous nature, John has sorted his inbox into various folders. As befitting his whimsical side, he has labeled Leslie’s folder, “My Future Wife”. Leslie smiles at the nomenclature. John knew that Leslie didn’t believe in marriage, but he can’t, couldn’t suppress his optimistic nature that he would win her over. She doesn’t bother clicking on her folder because she knows there will be nothing of interest in it. Instead, she skims the names of the other folders, grateful that most of them are more straightforward in their labels than is hers.
“What’s this?” Leslie frowns as she sees a folder labeled, “Irish Black Rose”. Who or what the hell is Irish Black Rose? The damn thing is password protected, and the password is not listed. Leslie tries various different graphic novel names for twenty minutes. She is about to give up when the name of the folder hits her. Usually, it’s Black Irish, so why the inverse? John wouldn’t have done that without a compelling reason. Turning to the Googley, Leslie types in Irish Black Rose and comics. She comes up with several hits containing Black Rose. One is about a fantasy world’s industrial revolution, and the main character is named Arion Nelkan. Leslie wastes several valuable minutes tinkering with that name until reluctantly conceding that it’s a no go. Next, she finds out via Wiki that the Ghost Rider’s girlfriend, Roxanne was turned into a villain called Black Rose. So, Leslie tries Roxanne. And Johnny Blaze. Nada. Leslie screams in frustration, but then she notices an entry for Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose. For some reason, the name resonates with her, and she tries Tarot (the main character), TarotWitch, and Raven (Tarot’s sister). Nada. She tries Black Rose Coven. Nothing. She notices that Raven has a middle name and tries RavenHex. Bingo! The folder unlocks. Leslie opens the oldest email which includes the email John had first sent Irish Black Rose and starts reading.
Dear Rose, I know I shouldn’t write to you, but I can’t help myself. You are the only one I trust. Freddy.
Leslie stops reading and sits back in her chair, stunned. Is Freddy her John? If so, why did he change his name? And, who the fuck is Rose? Heartsick, Leslie is not sure she wants to continue reading. However, she knows that she can’t let her emotions get in her way this time. She NEEDS to know the truth—even if it’s unpleasant. She continues reading.
Oh, Freddy. It’s bad, bad, bad. It’s a good thing you got out when you did. They would have lynched you for sure. Write again when you can. Rose.
Leslie spends the better part of the next hour reading all the emails sent between John—Freddy—and Rose. It soon becomes clear that the two are not lovers and that the affection between them is more…sibling-like than romantic. This eases Leslie’s mind, but it also brings up more questions than answers. The emails talk about something horrible that happened, but nothing is ever specifically mentioned. Rose steadfastly proclaims her devotion to John—Freddy—while simultaneously urging him to be careful. Leslie also discovers that John had been visiting Rose one weekend a month—yet another thing she and John had argued over.
“Where are you going? You can’t just leave without telling me where you’re going.” Leslie stood and watched John pack, her fist on her hip. Even though this was the fourth time they had reenacted this scene with John prevailing every time, Leslie couldn’t help but repeat it once again.
“Leslie, I can’t tell you where I’m going. It’s better if you don’t know.” This had been John’s standard reply, and it never failed to infuriate Leslie. She hated being told something was for her own good, and this was no exception.
“I’ll be the judge of what’s best for me, John,” Leslie said, her voice dropping to a cold whisper. Her friends knew if she was yelling, they didn’t have to take her too seriously. However, if she was whispering, then they were in serious trouble. John knew it, too, but he didn’t back down.
“Leslie, please. I’m not saying it to be a jerk. I really can’t tell you where I’m going, and it really is for your own good. Please trust me that I have your best interests at heart.” John placed a hand on Leslie’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. She was about to make a smartass comment in return when she noticed that his lips were pinched white and that his eyes were fatigued. She swallowed her protest and nodded her head once instead.
“OK, John, I trust you,” she said in a small voice. She still had her doubts, but she kept them to herself.