Second Installment of ALL HOLIDAYS MATTER by R.E.Mullins
“Come on.” Aaron drew Talia toward the doorway. “Mom’s got the great room set up for dancing.”
“Dance with me?”
Being hit by the blast of Carter’s smile, Meg blinked, was enough to dazzle the eye. Backed into a metaphorical corner by good manners—especially in front of their families—she was prevented from any snarky replies. That meant she couldn’t come back with, “I wasn’t good enough for you before, and you aren’t good enough for me now.”
That made it a dilemma she hadn’t anticipated. Yes, she’d enjoyed their conversation at lunch, and it had brought back remnants of the bond they’d once shared.
Illogical or not she wasn’t sure how to fully release a grudge festering for four years.
However, fate had stacked the cards against her, and she accepted the inevitable. They joined the other couples right as an upbeat number ended. “Give us a break,” Aaron hollered at his cousin manning the tunes. “Slow it down.”
Carter took Meg’s hand and curled her under his arm in a slow twirl designed to have the partner ending in the closed dance position. It was a move learned during their mandatory and much hated Middle School Cotillion classes. Which, judging by his smirk, he also remembered.
A haunting melody stirred the air. Carter slid his palms down her arms to her hands which he then lifted to place demurely on his shoulders. Then lightly holding her waist, he swayed them back and forth in time to the music.
Moments later, he bent her backward in a low dip. The illusion of falling made her gasp and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.
His low chuckle sent a breath of warm air along the rim of her ear. “That’s better,” he said and slowly danced them across the room until they were near the large, bay window. “Look,” his voice softly rumbled beneath her cheek. “It’s snowing.”
She looked, and it was, and it was lovely. On a soft sound of awe, Meg watched fat white flakes drift down from the heavens.
“For the last couple of years, I've been bugging Aaron to tell me why you always avoid me,” he said. At her jolt, he seemed afraid she might take off and started talking faster, “He finally fessed after lunch and told me what you overheard…God, Meg, I’m sorry. There’s no excuse. I was stupid and immature. But, please know I didn’t mean it, and I hate that I hurt your feelings."
“Tal always said it was because Jenny Grady let you touch her breasts.” The quip popped out of her unruly mouth.
“There is that.” His grin flashed before he turned serious again. “Let’s clear the air. I need you to forgive me and be my friend again.”
“It’s not that I didn’t consider you cute, sweet, and smart back then. I did. I always have…It’s just, well, some relatives were urging me to ask you out, and I thought of you like—well, more of a kid sister than a potential girlfriend.”
"I get it, Carter. Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt."
"Contempt? Never. No matter how it sounded." Carter rested his forehead against hers. "Since I was too stupid to ask you out before—will you let me take you to dinner while I’m home?”
The yes trembling on her lips died when Tal interrupted. “Come on,” She ordered and clutched Meg’s arm. Within moments she had tugged her out of the room, down the hall, and into a little powder room.
“I see you’ve forgiven Carter.” Tal closed and locked the door. “I guess most seventeen-year-old males go braindead after touching their first set of boobs. Golly, I remember how Aaron reacted. Do you think, from the moment a boy gets weaned, he starts a quest back to the nipple?”
“Is that what you dragged me in here to discuss?” Meg perched on the edge of the sink. “And since when have you bought into this blaming the woman crap? It sounds like a guy’s convenient excuse for making unwanted sexual advances.”
With Tal momentarily silenced, Meg dramatically placed a hand on her heart. “I couldn’t help it, your Honor. Look how she's dressed. So what if I run around without a shirt? It’s her short skirt that causes my lack of control.”
Getting into the spirit, Tal chimed in, “It's her fault for sheltering my unformed fetus inside her body until I could survive on my own. That’s the reason I have this primitive urge to return to the womb. And if she hadn’t nourished me with milk from her breasts, I wouldn’t have an oral fixation."
"Besides,” Meg held a hand to the side of her mouth and stage-whispered, "us men got together and decided to blame all our shortcomings on the female. I know you know it’s true because I saw you at the meeting."
Tal’s laughter slowly died. “You know? That’s too true to be funny."
"It is. Now tell me why we’re here.”
“You’re going to get a headache, and I’ll take you home.”
“Why don’t you get a headache?”
“Because Aaron will insist on taking care of me. He’ll be okay with me helping you.”
It made sense. However, Meg frowned as she slid off the vanity to her feet.
Tal noticed. “What’s the matter? You chickening out?”
Cocking her hip, Meg sneered, “Have I ever? I was thinking we better dress warm if we're going to be outside for any length of time."
Relief poured over Talia’s face. Crossing her heart in the time-honored tradition, she vowed, “I’ll never doubt you again.”
“At least not until the next time.”
“You got it. Okay, here’s what we’ll do…”
Close to an hour later, Meg was stuffing herself at the buffet with the guys when Talia joined them. Idly, her friend picked up a black olive and ate it. Taking her time, she selected another one, but this time she paused with it halfway to her mouth.
"You feeling okay?" She made a show of placing her palm against Meg’s forehead. "You're a bit flushed."
Oops, Meg choked down a bite of under-chewed spinach tartlet. Somehow, she'd gotten sidetracked from the plan. “Uh. Yeah. Um...headache,” she stammered. To further seal the deal, she pinched the bridge of her nose. It was a gesture she'd once seen an actor make during a migraine commercial to demonstrate his massive pain.
Talia placed her hand maternally on Meg’s arm. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Turning to Aaron, she announced briskly, “I’ll take her home, give her some pain relievers, and stick around until they take effect.”
A very confused looking Carter cupped Meg's chin in his hand and peered into her clear eyes. After a moment, he said kindly, “I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’ll call tomorrow to make sure you’re on the mend and to firm up our date.”
Aaron seemed oblivious to any subterfuge. He slapped Carter on the shoulder. “Come on, dude. We’ll walk the ladies out to their car, so Tal can get Meg home and medicated.”
Raising up on her tiptoes, Talia planted a kiss on her fiance's mouth. “Thanks, Sweetie. I’ll sit with her until I know she’s better.
"I will," Talia promised, "if I don't fall asleep on her couch.”
Part Three: December 24th 11:05 p.m.
The friends entered the Hebrew section of the cemetery on foot. They wore layers of insulated clothing and were packing cell phones, flashlights, and thermoses filled with coffee. Their spirits were filled with grim determination, and their bodies were too cold to register fear.
The original town planners designed the graveyard in the shape of a capital L with those considered unworthy of spending eternity planted alongside uptight, white, Christian corpses relegated to the leg. A low stone wall further divided the two sections. It was as if the bigots had been afraid the ghosts might mingle.
The plan was simple: set up sentry stations on either side of the Hebrew funerary grounds and keep them under surveillance. After that, all they had to do was remain hidden and film any trespassers.
“There’s a good spot.” Meg pointed her flashlight at a scraggly trio of shrubbery where the exterior fence met the interior barrier.
“You take it,” Tal told her. “There’s a Willow over there," she gestured. "If I sit under the droopy branches I’ll look like part of the tree trunk.”
Meg hesitated but needed to ask the question bothering her, “I get that the place used to be segregated but that can’t be legal now. Why hasn’t someone demolished this barricade?”
“We no longer have to be buried over here. Now we choose to be.”
“I don’t know. Tradition, maybe?” She motioned to the gentile section. “It’s a little problematic to be buried over there if you want to spend eternity next to your granny.”
“Oh,” Meg mumbled. “Well, that sucks.”
When Talia left for her lookout post, Meg stifled a strong urge to call her back. She found she didn’t like them being so far apart. Splitting up might be the best way to monitor everything, but there was safety and comfort in numbers. Her anxious eyes followed the small circle of light indicating Tal’s progress until it winked off.
The darkness blanketing the ground seemed complete. Eerie gray snow clouds were doing their best to shroud the moon and stars, and an icy breeze lifted the ends of her hair in a sinister way. Meg shivered and huddled between wall and bushes as a windbreak.
It was quiet. Too quiet. Not long after the timeworn catchphrase from countless horror films played through her mind, she thought she heard something. Footsteps? If anyone showed, Meg needed to be able to see them to get a clear video of the action. Eyes and ears straining, Meg rose to her knees and looked around.
Even with her senses on high alert, she didn't detect any movement. Squeezing back into her hiding spot, she'd barely gotten settled when she heard the slight rustling again. This time she stood all the way up, but still saw nothing.
It had to be the wind. Yeah, blaming the wind was good. It was, after all, the most probable and indeed the most innocuous explanation for any and all strange noises. Satisfied with her answer she was ready to sit back down when a voice broke the night, “Not cool, Meg.”
Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of ALL HOLIDAYS MATTER by R.E.Mullins
To see what else the author is working on go to remullins.com
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