Today marked a year since Jeremy disappeared. I sat in the corner of the small bar letting the dark shroud me from the gathers here to celebrate his life. Everyone here was either a family member, a friend or some client that Jeremy made feel like a friend.
No one here actually meant anything to Jeremy. His frail mother, even now as she sat at a small rounded table chewing on a pretzel, assumed her role as the tormented mother of a missing son. Most of the time they argued about her living with us. He never wanted it, but she blamed me, and he let her.
Oscar, his father, bent his head towards his younger son Chris. Probably going over what I should do with the insurance money now that the judge declared Jeremy dead.
Jeremy Pierce was dead at 37 years of age.
I just couldn’t wrap my head around it, even when the judge had slammed his gauntlet down. It was with encouragement from my lawyer that I had the declaration issued. My house was going into foreclosure, I was having a hard time paying bills and I needed money to raise the reward. My own mother encouraging me not to put more reward money in the pot as soon as the ruling had been declared.
“His family should offer more money.” she had said.
I watched her now, in her flowy black dress as she patted the corners of her eyes. She lowered the veil from her hat back into place so it covered half of her face. She looked more like the widow than I did.
Unlike me she was patted on the back and given words of encouragement. I was still getting side glances with accompanied whispers. Some would offer a half hearted smile before moving on, perhaps pretending to see someone they knew.
I took a sip of my beer letting the now room temperature bubbles slide down my throat. In reality I wanted to slam the damn thing then ask for another. This entire wake was a joke, and everyone here knew it.
I was the black widow to these people, though they couldn’t put the dots together. Just because someone on the news mentioned once that I might have been involved with Jeremy’s disappearance.
Just then a waiter dressed in black slacks and a white ruffled shirt approached me with a tray full of drinks. I traded with him my empty bottle for a fresh pint of some kind of ale. I took a very appreciative sip when I noticed my mother stood from her table with her glass of wine in hand.
“On behalf of my daughter I would like to thank everyone for coming.” She smiled at the crowd as though she were first lady and she was trying to win votes.
It took everything in me not to snort.
“My family and the Pierce family has been through so much these past few months. I pray that wherever Jeremy is, he has peace and there is no more pain.” she raised her glass. The crowd followed like she was the pied piper, together they took a sip on Jeremy’s behalf.
I looked over at the picture of Jeremy’s smiling face. His bright blue eyes sparkling with mischievous and his dark brown hair blowing in the wind. I had taken that picture. I loved the way the close up showed off his freckles and long nose. He had a jaw line that would have made any movie star jealous and a smile that always made me squirm.
I smiled at his picture, trying desperately not to think of the last time I had spoken to him. Spoken was the wrong word, argued. I had just learned he had been cheating on me. Something I still think I should have told the police about, at the time I figured that looked like motive.
He had said some pretty mean things to me. Horrible names seemed to fly out of his mouth like bats from a cave. Anything from fat, to lazy. After hours and hours of therapy I had come to the realization none of those things were true. However, at the time they had hurt worse than if he had punched me.
I bit back a sob and took another sip of my cooling beer.
“Nice turn out.”
I looked over to find the most bothersome detectives I had ever had the privilege to meet. Clayton Daniels sat with his arms cross along his chest. His blue suit was neatly pressed, and his black shoes shiny as though they had been recently buffed. He wore his dark brown hair the same as he had when she first met him one year ago, parted down the side. He smiled at her as though they were friends, even his brown eyes sparkled with delight.
“It was just supposed to be family.” I murmured.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I am guessing your mother in law and mom took over the guest list.”
Even Clayton understood that my family was weak for the spotlight. I cringed to think what he thought about me.
I leaned in close to him and said, “I am trying to make my escape.”
He nodded. “ I assume that you will need a ride?”
I followed his finger that was pointing to the beer in my hand and snorted.
“I was going to call a cab, officer.” I hissed.
He snorted. “I can take you home.”
I was sure there was an ulterior motive behind his offer.
I shook my head. “ I think I’ll stick with the cab.”
Just then my mother waved her hand in the air, she had caught me talking to Clayton. During the heated moments of the investigation my mother had wanted me to try to get Detective Daniels to develop feelings for me. “After, all you need a new husband. A lady of your advanced age will not get very many takers.” she had said.
I snorted. “Great.”
Beside me I noticed Clayton squirming.
“You didn’t have to come.” I pointed out.
He laughed under his breath. “It’s part of the investigation.”
I nodded though I wasn’t sure why there was still an investigation. The case had gone cold after a month, and Jeremy’s wealthy family wanted the nightmare to be over. They threw money at the police and asked them to go away or be more discrete.
“If you’re ready.” he said getting up from his seat.
My mother was now weaving her way through the crowd inching her way to us.
“Only if you don’t ask me questions about the will or the insurance money. I am not sure I’m in the will and the insurance money has pretty much gone to paying bills.”
He nodded. “I will not ask you any questions.” he held up three fingers in a mock scout’s honor salute. “Now, can we please go.”
I stood on shaky legs after setting my drink down then grabbed him by the hand. I led him through the back of the bar. All the while laughing at my mom, I could just see her face when she realized I had left with the detective.
The crisp Portland air bit at my skin, while the beer warmed me from within. Clay took his suit jacket off and draped it around my shoulders. I would have protested, until I caught the hint of his cologne. It was woodsy and calming. I wrapped the jacket tighter around me and tried not to think how the warmth spread from the small of my back where he had his hand pressed. He led me down a narrowed alley to his black Ford SUV. Unmarked of course.
I got in loving the smell of the leather and the feel of the warmth that pushed through the vents.
“So you just want to go home?” he asked turning the engine on.
“I am pretty sure I’m being watched.” I winked at him.
He snorted. “Seven years.” he mumbled. “And you got your husband declared dead after one.”
Trying not to roll my eyes I turned to look out the window. We were stopped at some unmarked intersection while a slow freight train inched by.
“That was not my doing.”
“I understand why you needed the money.”
I was still bothered that he knew all my secrets but I knew nothing about him.
“I’ll give you something you may not know if you tell me one thing about you that is both personal and embarrassing.”
After he snorted a couple of times, and let out a sigh, he said. “I failed my test to become a detective the first time I took it.”
I narrowed my eyes at him.
“What? That is embarrassing!”
The train in front of us blew its horn, the cars rattling as it began to pick up speed.
“I meant something intimate!”
He laughed and it sounded so light and carefree that I had to join in. The train finally ended and we began our way on to the 216. I watched as he switched hands on the steering wheel, flipped his signal on and looked over his shoulder. I was sure he was being overly cautious because I was watching.
“I was almost removed from this case.” he said so low that I had to inch towards him and ask that he repeat it.
“Why?” I whispered suddenly incredibly fascinated.
He cleared his throat and tightened his grip on the wheel. I noticed he swallowed a few times before he began. “I mentioned how beautiful you were to my partner.”
I snorted. “That doesn’t mean anything, you were just making an observation.”
He looked over at me with large eyes and pressed lips.
“I was looking at your picture, and I didn’t mean to speak out loud.”
“Oh.” was all I could come up with.
It was my turn to swallow hard.
After a few silent moments I said, “Jeremy cheated on me. I don’t know with who, or how long it had been going on. I had found a letter in one of my magazines, almost like he wanted me to find it.”
“You know what Sam.” He said turning off the freeway and heading into Beaverton.
“I do not mean this to be rude but your husband was a piece of work.”
I laughed under my breath. My two story brick house slowly coming into view. The tall evergreens and oak trees making way.
“He wasn’t always like that.” I said more to myself.
I had to hold on to the past version of him, that was the man I fell in love with. That was the man I still held on to while I waited for closure. He had been my best friend, and my lover, I just couldn’t forget all of that because he had changed the last few months before he disappeared.
“I’m sure he wasn’t people change.” he said.
“Thanks for the ride.” I smiled at him.
He was looking out at my house, I was not sure if he was wanting an invitation side so I didn’t move. The silence in the car was ear piercing. I wanted to scream. Instead I let out a long sigh.
“Ok, well I’ll see you around.”
I opened the door and slide out of the SUV.
“Sure.” He smiled. “I’ll see you around.”
I didn’t watch him leave, I knew he wasn’t going to until I got into the house. After I unlocked the door and got inside did I hear his tires crawl over the the gravel. I pressed my back to the door and let out a long breath. Today had been so long, and I was glad it was over. I pulled out the worn picture of Jeremy, that I normally kept in my pocket, from my purse. Jeremy’s smiling face looked back at me.
I traced my fingers around the curled corners trying to push them back. The colors of the picture were faded and laced with tiny cracks. I had to keep this picture, there wasn’t a way for me to get another. I kissed his smiling face and pressed it to my heart. Where was he?
“I miss you.” I whispered to the universe.