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Gaining Knowledge and Experience

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The morning after That Night — the night everything ended and began; the night Sandy found out about Jeffrey and Dorothy Vallens; the night Jeffrey killed Frank Booth and kissed Sandy like he never wanted to do anything else in his life — Sandy called the Beaumont home. It was almost noon, but when Mrs. Beaumont answered the phone she said that Jeffrey was asleep.

“He was at the police station for hours, answering questions. The sun was up and the birds were singing by the time he got home, and he was all done in. Can whatever it is wait?”

“That’s fine. When Jeffrey wakes up, would you please tell him I called, and ask him to call me back?”

“I will, dear. Take care now.”

“You too, Mrs. Beaumont. Goodbye.”

She’d only had a couple hours of sleep herself, after her father had asked one of the other detectives to drive her home, and they hadn’t been very restful. She’d dreamed that she and Jeffrey were back at the Slow Club watching Dorothy Vallens sing, but instead of a black dress she wore nothing but bruises, and the man at the piano kept changing: first, Dorothy’s husband, Don, with blood running down his neck; then Detective Gordon in his yellow sportcoat; finally, Frank Booth, not dead after all, his eyes and teeth gleaming at the edge of the Black-and-Blue Lady’s light. Then another spotlight turned on Jeffrey, and he stood up from the table as the Lady walked down from the stage, both of them shining brighter and brighter as the rest of the club faded away … and then Sandy had woken up.

She shook her head, realizing she’d been standing there for who knew how long, still holding the phone to her ear with one hand while the other played with the cord. She disentangled her fingers, put the handset back in its cradle, and took a deep breath. She was not going to moon around the house, waiting for Jeffrey to call.

“Mom? Do you need help with any chores?”

An hour later, Sandy was in the backyard in an old T-shirt and jeans, beating the hell out of the guestroom rug, when she heard a tentative, “Hi.”

She looked over the clothesline. Jeffrey was standing on the other side, in his usual khaki slacks and a white shirt. Sandy stepped around the rug, holding the carpet beater. “Hi. How are you?”

“Okay, I guess. How are you?”

“The same, I think.”

“I got your message. Maybe I should have just called back, but I really wanted to see you.”

“No, you did the right thing, I would have told you to meet me somewhere. We need to talk.”

“Yeah. Yeah, we do.”

“Not here, though. Why don’t you come in and have something to drink while I clean up and change, and then we’ll go someplace. All right?”

“Okay.”

He followed her into the kitchen.

“Is your dad home?”

“No, I haven’t seen him today. He’s probably still at the station. I’ll just be a second.” She left the carpet beater leaning against the wall at the bottom of the staircase.

Upstairs, she peeled out of her shirt and jeans, did a quick wipedown with a wet washcloth, brushed her hair and clipped it back from her face, and decided to wear one of her shirtdresses. Jeffrey was just finishing his glass of water when she came back down.

“Is it okay if we stop by the hospital? With everything that’s happened, I haven’t been to see my dad for a couple days.”

“Sure. Mom, I’m going out!”

Neither of them spoke during the drive to the hospital. Sandy stole glances at Jeffrey as he drove, his hands at ten and two on his steering wheel, and admitted to herself that for all her protestations of faithfulness to Mike, she’d been gone on Jeffrey from the moment she saw him outside her house. She liked his clear eyes and strong jaw, his dark hair and the small gold hoop in his ear. Then, as she got to know him better, she’d liked his earnestness and his goofiness, his curiosity and concern. She even liked his wheedling, because he did it in a teasing, playful way.

He was pale and quiet as they walked into the hospital, and when a doctor told him that Mr. Beaumont was sleeping and shouldn’t be disturbed, but that it would be all right for Jeffrey to “just take a quick peek.” As he did that, Sandy walked over to a policeman who was sitting by another door further down.

“Hi George.”

“Oh hey, Sandy! How are you?”

“Fine, thanks. What brings you here?”

“Well,” he leaned a little closer and lowered his voice, “that singer lady, you know, this is her room. Your father decided there should be someone on guard until we were sure no one was coming after her.”

“Do you know if her little boy’s been found?”

“Oh yes. He’s in the kids’ ward now. Not hurt, thank goodness, just scared and wanting his mother.”

Jeffrey’s soft “How is she?” caught Sandy by surprise, and she jumped. George’s eyes narrowed.

“It’s okay, George. This is Jeffrey. He’s the one who tipped off Dad. Jeffrey, this is George.”

“Oh! Nice to meet you, son. I guess it’s all right to tell you. She was pretty banged up — well, you saw. Nothing life-threatening, though. Right now she’s sedated. To be honest, I think the doctors are more worried about …” he tapped his temple and wiggled his eyebrows meaningfully “... than anything else. Now, don’t go repeating that, or your father will have my head.”

“Thanks, George. Mum’s the word. Jeffrey, are you ready to go?”

“Yeah. Nice to meet you George.”

They were nearly to the car when Sandy asked, “What is it?”

“What is what?”

“You keep looking at me like ... I don’t even know what.”

“It’s just … you’re wearing your hair the same way you did that first night, when we walked from your house to Lincoln Street and back.”

“Oh,” she said, startled. She hadn’t realized.

“It’s beautiful. I thought so then, too.”

“Thank you.” She stopped. “I think we really need to have that talk now.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“You found the ear while you were going back to your house from here, right? Show me where.”

A few minutes’ walk brought them to the field. The crime scene tape was still up, along with the sticks and string marking out the searchers’ lanes.

For a while, the only sounds were wind and birdsong. Then Sandy asked, “Are you in love with her?”

“No. I care about her, I want her to be okay, but I’m not in love with her.”

“You had sex with her, though.”

“... Yes.”

“She said she loved you.”

“I think she loved me the way a drowning person loves a lifeboat. She was so sad, Sandy, and so scared. Sometimes, she’d call me by her husband’s name.”

Jeffrey bowed his head. Sandy stared. For once, he hadn’t buttoned his shirt up all the way, and she could see the hollow at the base of his throat.

“I want you to tell me what happened. What really happened. Everything.”

“Sandy — ”

“Please. I need to know I’m not making a mistake in loving you.”

He sighed. “Okay. I’ll try. Here, though?”

“It’s private. We’ll be able to see anyone coming from a long way off.”

“All right. Let’s sit down.”

They found a comfortable patch of grass under two slender trees. Sandy leaned on one, and Jeffrey on the other, facing each other.

“When did you start … seeing her?”

“I guess it started the night I hid in her apartment.

“I knocked first, to make sure the place was empty, before I went in. I walked from room to room in the dark. I was in the living room when the front door opened and the lights came on.”

“Why didn’t you get out when I gave the signal?”

“I never heard it. You know what must have happened? I, uh, I used the bathroom just before she came home, and the noise of the toilet flushing drowned out the car horn.”

“Okay. So she came in …”

“I ducked into the closet. There were slats in the doors, so I could see out, a bit. I heard her say thank you and good night to the man who brought her home. When she came into the living room, she, um. She took off a necklace, and then pulled her dress off, up over her head, but kept her shoes and underthings on. She was walking toward the closet when the phone rang. It was Frank. She leaned back against the wall next to the phone, and called him sir. He let her talk to her husband for a few seconds in the middle of the call. She sat down on the couch and told him not to worry, and asked about their son. Then Frank came back on, and she promised to be sweet, and said, ‘Mommy loves you.’

“After the phone call, she crawled to the middle of the room — no, wait. First she got down on her hands and knees to look at a framed picture that she pulled out from under the couch. Then she crawled. I don’t think she was crying, really — I couldn’t see her face — but it sounded like she was sobbing. Then she pulled herself together, sat up, took her wig off, and carried it with her to the bathroom. She went down the hall with both arms out, like she had to brace herself against the walls so she wouldn’t fall.

“I thought about trying to sneak out, but she’d left the door open and I was afraid she’d see me in the mirror. I had to squeeze into a corner of the closet when she reached in for a blue velvet robe. While I was getting back into position so I could see, I knocked something, probably a hanger, to the floor, and she heard it. She walked into the kitchen, and I could tell by the sounds that she’d opened a drawer and taken out a knife. Then she sort of circled around to the closet, outside my field of vision. I had my head tilted right up against the door, trying to track her, when she yanked the closet open and screamed at me to come out.

“She ordered me to put my hands on my head and get on my knees. She asked who I was. When I wouldn’t tell her my last name, she nicked me with the knife and made me give her my wallet so she could read my driver’s licence. She asked me what I was doing there. She was afraid that someone had sent me there to spy on her. I pretended that I came up with the idea to sneak in while I was spraying her apartment for bugs, and I told her I’d only wanted to see her. She made me tell her what I’d seen that night. Then she said, ‘Get undressed. I want to see you.’

“You know, it wasn’t until then that I even thought of apologizing and asking her to let me go. But she wouldn’t. She kept the knife pointed at me and yelled at me again to get undressed. So I did.

“When I was down to my shorts and my socks, she told me to stand up. Her voice had gone soft. She knelt in front of me, still holding the knife, and told me to come closer. When I did, she asked, ‘What do you want?’

“I told her I didn’t know. I really didn’t. I was scared — terrified — but I was also …”

“You were turned on,” Sandy whispered. She realized her hands were fisted in her skirt.

“Yeah,” Jeffrey said. He looked down at his lap, where she was looking, and cleared his throat.

“What happened next?”

“She pulled my shorts down. She told me not to move or look at her. She started kissing my stomach, and I thought I was going to pass out. When I put a hand on her shoulder, she stopped and shouted, ‘Don’t touch me, or I’ll kill you!’ Then she asked me if I liked that kind of talk.”

“Do you?”

“No. I told her that. Then she ordered me to go to the couch and lie down. She climbed on top of me. There was a moment when she looked at me, with the knife raised, and then she leaned in and kissed me. I started kissing her back, and she lowered the knife, and I think, I think we would have had sex then, but Frank knocked on the door.

“Dorothy told me to get in the closet and keep quiet. She helped me grab my clothes. I heard her drop the knife somewhere, and then she went to open the door.

“I don’t want to talk about what Frank did to her.”

“Okay. Okay, Jeffrey.”

“I wish I’d killed him then. At the time, I was just frozen, horrified — it was so strange and awful, Sandy.

“When he was done, Dorothy was lying in the floor, and he stood over her and said, ‘Stay alive, baby. Do it for Van Gogh.’ I waited a little while after he left, before I put my shorts back on and came out. Dorothy was still curled up on the floor. I helped her over to the couch and asked if she was all right. She said she was, but then she called me Don and begged me to hold her. When I put my arms around her, she whispered, ‘You’re back,’ and kissed my neck, but then she looked me in the face and seemed to remember who I really was. She whispered, ‘Do you like me? Do you like the way I feel?’ and put my hand on her breast. But then she started saying, ‘Hit me, hit me!’ and pulled away and punched the wall. When I tried to stop her, she got up and went down the hall. I got dressed and told her I was going. She was leaning over the bathroom sink, and I heard her say, ‘Don, help me.’

“Before I left, I looked at the picture she had hidden under the couch. It was a photograph of her husband and son, and her marriage certificate was taped to the back of the frame.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s all that happened that night. The next day, after our talk by the church, when you told me your dream about the robins, I went back to her apartment, and that’s when we actually … that was the first time.”

Sandy looked past him, down the path they’d taken from the hospital, as she said, “I wanted to kiss you then. That’s why I said I had to go home.”

“I wanted to kiss you, too.”

“If we had … would you have gone to her? Is that why you went, because we didn’t?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t mean to sleep with her. I just wanted to see that she was okay. But when I got there … the way she looked at me, the things she said … we just kept stepping closer and closer together, and then we were kissing … I’m sorry, Sandy. I never meant to lie to you. I never meant to hurt you.” His voice thickened as he said, “I never wanted to hurt anyone.”

He pulled his knees up and hid his face. After a moment, Sandy moved to sit next to him and put a hand on his back, between his shoulder blades. “It’s all right. I know you didn’t. I forgive you.” After a moment she added, “I’m sorry I slapped you.”

Jeffrey looked up, wiped his nose with the back of his hand, and managed a weak smile. “I had that coming.”

“I’m still sorry.”

“I forgive you for slapping me.”

“Thank you.”

They sat together silently for a while. Then Sandy said, “I’m going to have to break up with Mike. God, I hope his asshole friends haven’t been blabbing about what happened.”

“Heh. Do you want me to be there when you tell him? Is he likely to cause trouble?”

“No, I don’t think so. Mike’s not a bad guy. Just sometimes, you know, if he’s been drinking and the guys are egging him on, he can be a jerk.”

“You sure you don’t want to give him another chance? You might be better off.”

“What, are you chickening out on me now?” Sandy stopped smiling. “Are you sure you’re not in love with her?”

“Sandy, honestly, I never was. I wanted to help her, and, yes, I wanted her, but I love you.” He hesitated and added, “I do still feel responsible for her. But Frank’s … gone now, so she doesn’t need a lifeboat any more.”

“You love me?”

“More than anything.”

“Do you want me?”

“Very much.”

“Show me. Kiss me.”

“Sandy … oh, sweetheart. Oh, yes.”