Everything had to be put in its perfect place. Everything had a perfect place, forks to the left of the spoons, brooms to the right of the vacuum cleaner and toothpaste always hidden away in the medicine chest, not bludgeoned to death with all of its exposed white blood. Clarissa thought that was the problem with toothpaste, it always wound up looking like it had a drunken binge the night before and was spitting up all over itself. Whenever possible, she purchased toothpaste powder. Life had to have order. Wayward toothpaste and shapeless tubes did not belong in a perfect world. In a perfect world, days had purpose and toothpaste tubes had spines. Clarissa Blackwell was the creator of purpose. Life had a driver's seat and she was in it. Turmoil was unbearable and caused her too many visions she couldn't explain.
Her house was her pride and joy. Nice expression, pride and joy. It didn't matter who entered her lovely Victorian home, it only mattered that she could read on their faces how they envied her. How perfectly comfortable everything looked. That's the thing about fine things, they couldn't alienate, they had to invite, as hers did. Her garage sale finds had to whisper their desire to be picked up. Her paintings had to demand pleasing stares and the cushions on her chairs had to long for a derrière to deflate their puff. Nothing could utter pretension or scream 'Go Away.'
Clarissa Blackwell was very much like her house. She demanded notice, as well. Though she was soft spoken and never did anything out of the ordinary, people stared at her. They assumed she must be somebody, like a movie star or surely someone they'd seen on television, like a famous female sports figure. Maybe something or other to the president? A newscaster? They were always a bit distressed to learn that she was no one, no one famous that is.
Clarissa had the look of a woman who grew up well, the look of confidence, poise, flair, even though the way she felt inside was often a contradiction to her external presence. She was grateful that her intelligent face made her appear worldly and wise. She would have preferred being beautiful to looking as if she were perpetually sucking on sour drops. She would have welcomed a very straight aquiline nose to the one she had, it naturally turned up, nothing she could do about it. But it gave her a condescending demeanor as if she were constantly sniffing something foul. But when Clarissa smiled, she became approachable, like her house and all things in it. Carissa made a point to smile often.
She was approaching sixty-six, a little secret she kept from others. Well, why shouldn't she? She believed that the body was a temple one should treat with respect. She looked much younger, she was sure, because her temple of a body had not been abused for years. She ate foods that did not oink or go moo, and she power walked the distance between Summerford and Edgefield two or three times a week, a good mile and a half. Well, she power walked in between stopping at garage sales, visiting a friend or two, and lunching at her favorite coffee shop in Edgefield.
Clarissa rarely ever went into Hollow Creek. It was another half mile or more out of the way but she'd read about a new health food store opening over there called The Fine Fettle. She assumed she could get almond milk and fish oil and other absolutely fabulous things like pure goat soap and organic face creams. As wonderful as the Edgefield Café was, it was just a café and it was more prone to BLTs and burgers than soy milk shakes and protein bars.
The Fine Fettle did not disappoint. Clarissa was quite content sitting there in a nice, large comfortable booth with the sun streaming in the window. She'd treated herself to the whole wheat spiced pumpkin pancakes and organic coffee all the way from Maine. She was thinking, as she stared out the window at the picturesque town, that it was worth walking the extra half mile to get into Hollow Creek more often. She'd definitely want to return to The Fine Fettle. As she took a napkin to her mouth to wipe off the remaining homemade maple syrup, she happened to look out the window. A scream immediately caught in her throat and she held her breath—to her absolute horror, there was a girl on a bicycle riding straight toward the little café looking like a demon on fire. She was maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, old enough to know better, Clarissa thought. The girl made a sharp left at the curb and Clarissa breathed a sigh of relief. If she hadn’t made that sudden turn she might have gone through the plate glass window and landed right in her lap.
It was only for a second that Clarissa had gotten a glimpse of the girl's face. In the glare of the sun the girl had looked just like Chloe Rappaport. It had to be an apparition because Chloe Rappaport had been dead for years, but Clarissa could have sworn she'd just seen her on a blue bicycle racing down the main street of Hollow Creek like a wild savage. Of course, Chloe had died at twenty-three, not at fifteen. But Clarissa had known Chloe at the age of fifteen and this girl could have been her double.
Clarissa's body shook, as if cold, as if she'd been frightened by something. The girl on the bike had startled her so much. It was like seeing Chloe again. It wasn't the familiarity in the girl's face altogether but something about the attitude of that girl, nothing cautious about her, no sensitivity to the speed at which she was going. She appeared so cocky, just like Chloe had been at that age. How close had she been to the girl, at least twenty feet away? It must have been the glare from the sun. It had made some remote resemblance appear familiar, chillingly familiar.
As Clarissa paid her check and walked out of The Fine Fettle she crossed the street toward the route that would take her back to Summerford. She was a bit distracted, so perhaps that was why she didn't see it coming, but without warning, she was knocked to the ground, as if caught in the fury of a fierce tornado. She felt the collision in her entire body, the cuts on her hand and the sting of her flesh as she slid into the cement. She was on her ass in the middle of the street and there was that same Chloe double staring down at her with a horrified expression.
"Good God," Clarissa screamed. "Ow."
The sun still glared and Clarissa put her hand up to shield her eyes. The girl's features came into view so clearly. Clarissa realized that the familiarity was not caused by the glare from the sun. The resemblance was uncanny. She immediately got 'that feeling,' the one that rattled her to the core. She called 'that feeling' a tapping, it made her heart race. She knew this bizarre run-in with the girl had been fated.
Well, perhaps she shouldn't put too much stock in this. Perhaps she exaggerated her own experiences. She didn't really know that this painful collision with the girl on the blue bicycle was meant to happen, but the tapping in her heart told her otherwise. Clarissa did what she usually did in these instances; she tried to talk herself out of what she knew to be true. After all, not everything necessarily had meaning; meaning in a glance, meaning in an accident, meaning in this or that, all too vulnerable to a subjective interpretation. But meaning in her taps always held significant pause, whether she always understood them or not.
She was disturbed; confused by the girl's resemblance to Chloe, but other than that her mind was still. There were no messages in her head of any kind. Contact had been made between she and this stranger and the only interpretation for it was that it had to be important in some way. Take heed. Listen, she told herself. But skepticism was normal. Had she really seen the resemblance or had the tapping just been the result of confusion, the pandemonium of shock as she landed on her backside?
After she'd been thrown to the ground by the girl, she knew she would not be able to walk the distance home. Her ass hurt more than her hands and she might have sprained her ankle.
"Excuse me," the girl said. "Oh, I'm so sorry." But all Clarissa could do, while she was being tapped by God only knows what, was to gasp. The significance of her encounter with this girl was overwhelming her. The taps were like a knocking on her heart but that's all it was, there was nothing else, no interpretations.
"Are you all right, lady? Can I call someone for you? Help you somewhere?"
"No, no, I'm fine."
The girl stood up straight. "You sure?"
"Chloe?" Clarissa whispered.
The girl was off, like lightning. But she left behind the unsettling recognition in Clarissa's mind of someone long dead.
Clarissa fished her cell phone out of her bag and called Dennis to come get her. She hated calling him but he was always around, doing nothing, practically at her beck and call. He'd been retired for the longest time. She never understood how he was able to do that. He'd been free to discover what to do with the rest of his life long before he was fifty. Clarissa assumed he'd probably die before he figured it out. Well, maybe it was the result of his divorce from Savannah. Maybe Savannah had to buy him off to get rid of him.
Dennis drove out to pick her up, which he always did. Whenever she called him he made himself available. He was probably still guilt ridden over making her life a living hell twenty-five years earlier and ruining her friendship with Savannah. Well, it was water under the dam, life had to go on.
"Getting old, Clarissa?" Dennis swung open the door of his Lexus SUV and she jumped in.
"Fuck you, Dennis." She put her head back in the seat and recalled the young girl's face.
"I hate profanity.”
"You live so well. How do you do it? Did you take up gambling after our divorce? Oh, that's right, I forgot, you married into money."
He reached out and pinched her cheek. "Still beautiful."
"Told you not to do that."
"You know, you're not making it to Edgefield the way you used to."
"I didn't go to Edgefield, I went to Hollow Creek. You’re picking me up in Hollow Creek, Dennis."
"Oh, right. What were you doing here?"
"I went to The Fine Fettle."
"A dress shop?"
Clarissa laughed. She remembered how they ate when they were married, the young cannibals devouring their way toward high blood pressure and or cancer, a perfectly normal skinny couple barbequing their way into jowly cheeks and fat thighs.
"It's an organic café."
Dennis made a face. "Ay, right, where's the fun in that?"
She decided not to get into with him. They'd had too many arguments years ago on what not to put into one's body. When she stopped flipping steaks and pouring one too many scotches at happy hour their marriage broke up. Well, actually, their marriage broke up when he took up with Savannah, but no need to carry that around like a steel necklace. Clarissa looked ten years younger and he looked, well, Clarissa forced herself to be kind, he looked his age. Despite his money, he'd spent it on toys instead of his health. Karma had its advantages and he had brought it all on himself.
"I've been thinking about Chloe," she said out of nowhere. At least it was out of nowhere for Dennis. She'd thought of nothing else since she'd been knocked to the ground in Hollow Creek.
His whole body seemed to stiffen. "Chloe? How come?"
"You remember her murder?"
Clarissa watched his face, noticed how it tensed up. He had never been close with Savannah's daughter. Chloe hated him, used to go around saying that her mother couldn't sink any lower than Dennis Haworth unless she fell in a well.
"I don't like to think about her murder," he said softly.
"Well, I don't either but I saw a girl today in Hollow Creek, looked just like her, brought a lot up for me."
He turned to her. "Really?"
"She was so much like Chloe."
"You helped solve Chloe's murder. Never got over that, still beguiles me. You're something."
"I didn't solve it at all."
"Didn't? You led them to a body. You saw it all in your mind or something. You saw the killer's face in your head, your description turned out to be a perfect rendering. They caught the son of a bitch because of you."
"I didn't see anything about Chloe in my mind at all."
"Well, whatever you saw led to the capture of a serial killer."
"Ain't I something?"
Dennis starting twirling his finger around his head, "you are one spooky woman, Clarissa Blackwell."
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