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Mandy sat at the small table in Appetites, sipping her coffee and looking through the observation window to the museum floor below. As the last of the day's customers fell into line to pay for their purchases, the annex slowly emptied of all but one. Eddie, his back to the café, gestured and talked to ... to nothing.
She recalled the day they returned from Chile with Amichu. He'd made a beeline for the very exhibit where he now sat, engaged in an animated discussion with--supposedly--her dead Aunt Vivian. No one had told him where she'd died. He just knew. Given her own experiences with the supernatural, Mandy didn't have a problem believing it. Most, if not all, of the artifacts in the museum seemed to possess a kind of memory--an erotic imprint of their history.
Even though Mandy couldn't feel Vivian's spectral presence, it didn't mean that Eddie couldn't ... or wouldn't ... or shouldn't. She hadn't exactly sought a connection with her late aunt's spirit, after all. Tales of people having such conversations with their dear departed were quite common. Most of the time, they were cathartic and helped people cope with their grief. When they reached the point of obsession, however, Mandy considered them counterproductive and even, to some extent, potentially dangerous.
She and Bruce discussed Eddie's preoccupation and agreed to give him ample time to adjust to his new home, new job, and new life without his only child. Olga's death obviously weighed very heavily on his mind.
As she drained the last of her coffee, Mandy bid Jay goodnight and exited the café directly onto the street. Although business hours ended almost an hourearlier, there were still a couple of reporters hanging out near its main entrance, and she was glad she'd opted to leave through Appetites.
Mandy slid behind the wheel of her car and took a deep breath before starting the engine. Between Eddie's obsession, the ridiculous lawsuit hassles, and Bruce's untimely absence, stress took its toll on her mood. She felt drained of energy and in serious need of some R&R. Since traffic wasn't typically an issue, given Erotique's odd business hours, Mandy engaged her auto pilot and drove home in an almost trance-like state. Her thoughts danced from subject to subject without digging deeply into any of them. As she pulled into the driveway, Mandy realized she had no recollections of the trip.
She dropped her keys into the stoneware bowl that had become their repository despite the fact that the four-hundred-year-old Kumeyaay artifact probably belonged in a museum far more conventional than the one she ran. They settled in the bottom and tangled themselves up with the keys to Bruce's truck. He'd left them behind, having no use for them and being far too likely to misplace them if he carried them to California. The blades of the two sets mingled and slid against each other in a way that did more to dampen Mandy's spirits than a dozen overeager reporters ever could. She missed her partner--her other half--and felt rather lost without him. Although she was glad he was accomplishing his goals, part of her only wanted him back, not caring why. On her way through the kitchen, she uncorked a bottle of wine to tame the selfish bitch inside.
Carrying a glass in one hand and the wine bottle in the other, she headed for the bedroom. Her business attire served as a nagging reminder of the issues facing Erotique, so Mandy wasted no time shedding those clothes. She stripped down to just her thong and--too tired to care--left her slacks, blouse, bra, and stockings in a pile on the floor. Opening the closet to extract her bathrobe, Mandy's gaze fell upon an array of neatly-pressed dress shirts. Passing the bar exam seemed to inspire Bruce to turn over a new fashion leaf, and he'd become quite meticulous about his professional clothing. She pulled a white oxford from its hanger and scrunched it to her face, seeking his scent but finding only the dry cleaner's starch.
Disappointed, but not dissuaded, Mandy carried the shirt into the bathroom and dabbed Bruce's aftershave under the collar. She slipped her arms into the shirt and rolled up its sleeves. It hung loosely from her frame, and Mandy hugged herself, imagining Bruce's strong arms around her.
She took a generous sip of the dry white as she freed her hair from its bonds, shaking it in thick waves across her shoulders. Bruce liked it that way, and the act made her feel somehow closer to him. He should be calling soon, she realized, glancing at the wall clock. It was almost midnight.
Returning to the bedroom, Mandy fetched the cordless phone and placed it on the nightstand along with her liquid relaxation. She fluffed the pillows and settled onto the bed--Bruce's side of the bed, where she slept when he was away. Turning on the television, she absently flipped through the channels while she waited for his call.
Mandy awoke with a start from a dream in which Bruce was laying next to her and whispering in her ear. The half-empty wine bottle sat on the table at her side as she reclined against the bed's headboard, wondering what time it was. Strangely, she thought she could still hear Bruce's voice over the snap as the crick in her neck undid itself.
"...figured that you might not still be awake, what with all the craziness going on back there. I'm sorry it's so late, baby. The judge's plans fell through, and she decided to share the misery. We got called back for a conference, and I just now got back to my hotel room. We can't get a good cell phone signal at the beach, but I'll call you as soon as..."
Shit! The answering machine! Mandy snatched the portable from the table and pushed the button before Bruce could finish saying good night. "Bruce? Honey, I'm here!"
"So you are. I catch you in the shower or something, baby?" The tone in Bruce's voice made it all too clear that he wouldn't really mind learning that Mandy was naked and wet as she talked to him.
"No, I lost track of how much wine I was drinking and how tired I was. But your voice woke me up, even when the ringing phone didn't. I miss you, counselor."
"I miss you, too, baby. And I'll miss you even more sitting on the beach by the fire with the sound of the waves crashing and the white flash of the foam against the dark of the sea. Have you ever made love on the beach at night, Man?"
"No," she drug out the vowel. "I assume you have, though. Maybe you can ... um ... describe it for me ... in vivid detail ... like, now. Maybe?"