72. No Rest to Be Had
Adding together all the dreams and nightmares, Tara had slept only a few hours; the remainder spent tossing and turning unable to get the hurt to subside. The mystery surrounding the woman entering Quantum Solutions gnawed at her; dressed too well to be a janitress; Jeff claimed, more than once, he had no employees; could not be Craig's girlfriend. The conclusion was always the same and it sickened her. At four a.m., she had opened the bedroom curtain but even the Sisters were hiding behind dark clouds.
For once in her life, this should be a relaxing time for she was not taking classes and cramming for exams; work was not consuming her mind; the police were not interrogating her; Jeff and Craig's IPO died with H & U; Cyrus was behaving himself like a well-trained pet; and her health was good. Even night trading was on hold since the bears had taken control and the markets, even foreign ones, were frozen. Regardless, she felt lost, as if a storm had disrupted her path and she had been swept away by a torrent of debris.
She dreaded the thought of a burial, any burial of any creature made her sad but that of a friend was especially disturbing. Perhaps today's event with Felicia would go well though she was not counting on it; instead she felt exceptionally melancholy at the realization that the Amber Seven no longer existed as she knew them; not as a happy, fun-loving group. This truth made her feel weak and alone. She knew she would eventually look for work; but what type of work? She was tired of the stock market, tired of this house and all of its furnishings, maybe now would be a good time to buy a new house; move away; but to where?
She decided to stop torturing herself and get on with the day. After concluding that black was the only correct color to wear, she washed, dressed, fed Kari's little hamster, and gave her bird friends some garlic toast. The sky was cloudy and dreary; perhaps in reverence, she thought, to Steve's burial.
The coming weekend was when she was to accompany Susan and the coach on a double date; she was beginning to think the timing was not good. Getting another man involved in her life was not what she needed right now.
Traffic was light on the roads approaching Amber University, a characteristic that always appealed to Tara. She liked the tree-lined streets, the birds, squirrels, and people walking their dogs. The subdued mood of the campus was comforting as everyone seemed cordial and friendly-waiting at intersections; students laughing.
Felicia was seated on a bench at the entrance to her office building when Tara arrived; an open backpack resting beside her. "I guess I have everything," Felicia ran the zipper across the bag and clutched it reverently in her arms. "I want to tell you again how thankful I am that you're here." She turned her head away hoping Tara would not see that she was already beginning to cry. "I just would not be able to do this without you."
"Oh, you don't have to thank me. We are friends, Felicia. And that's what friends are for."
The two Amber graduates walked silently across campus to the small lake behind the library. Tara was pleased to see the grove of trees exactly as she always remembered them; thankful they were untouched by storms or urban development. "I love this place and envy you working here," Tara confessed.
"I do too. I feel young and hopeful when I'm here." Felicia commented. "Then I go home to an empty house with all of Steve's belongings and I want to . . ." she took a tissue from her pocket. "I know I have to somehow make some changes in my life."
Tara nodded in agreement. "Believe it or not, I feel the same way. I could not sleep last night."
Felicia was not surprised. "Well after what we saw yesterday, I'm not surprised. I always thought you and Jeff were perfect for one another."
"Funny, I did too." Tara gave out a sigh. "I also thought Merc and I were soul mates at one time."
Felicia stopped walking and looked about as if searching for something. "This is the area. Do you remember us eating at that picnic table?"
Damn, Tara thought, this was giving her the creeps.
Felicia set her backpack upon the picnic bench and removed five items: an urn, two keys, a small shovel and a plastic glove. "Remember these keys?" She pointed to the tabletop.
"Yes. I sure do." Tara stared at the objects wondering what her friend intended to do.
"One is Steve's. And one is mine. That one is mine." She pointed to the key with a nasty dark streak running down the edge. "Remember how mine was found next to a dead cicada?" The pitch of Felicia's voice was increasing with each word.
"I remember it was by a stick and oh, yes, there was a dead insect."
"That dark streak was a clue I should have noticed at the time. After all, that's what anthropology is all about: solving mysteries."
Tara was puzzled. "A clue?" what did she mean? "A clue to what?" she asked.
Felicia started softly weeping. "Kari had been standing in that exact spot. The key that I got was meant for her and she knew it." Angry emotions, not tears, were now controlling Felicia's speech. "That bitch! She switched keys and gave me the bad luck."
Tara was bewildered. "What difference would it make which key you got?"
"A great deal of difference." The anthropology expert explained how fetishes throughout ancient civilizations have had the power to affect a person's life, either positively or negatively. "A strange marking, like that streak on my key, is a bad omen: a danger sign. Kari must have noticed it and wanted to switch keys. I was the only one who had not yet found my key. Remember?"
"Yes. I remember." Tara was trying to recall details of that day when suddenly an owl hooted in the distance startling her because it was daylight and she remembered the owl she had heard on that day years ago. It sent a shiver down her spine. What was it about all this mystical stuff? She wondered.
"Well, Kari switched them giving me the bad luck." Felicia carefully slipped her hand into the glove and picked up the cursed key.
"What are you going to do?" Tara asked apprehensively.
"I am going to remove it from my life." Felicia gripped her gloved hand and walked to the edge of the water. After firmly planting her feet, she threw the key into the lake; then stood motionless as if in a state of prayer, watching the spot on the water until the last ripple vanished. She turned back toward Tara and shouted. "There . . . I did it!"
Tara was surprised at the feeling of release she, too, felt at that moment. When Felicia returned to the picnic bench she picked up Steve's key, the urn and the small shovel. "Steve always liked his key so I don't know what he would have wanted me to do with it. I decided I am going to bury it with him so I never have to see it again." She looked to her friend for some reaction but Tara gave no indication of approval or disapproval.
"Let's go over there to those flowers by that tree." Felicia began to explain, "Steve always loved wild daisies. He used to send a daisy bouquet to his Mother on her birthday. He told me it was because as a little boy he would pick a daisy from a baseball field behind his house and give it to her on her special day." Her voice faltered. "He was such a kind and good person."
Felicia composed herself then used the small garden tool to dig a tiny grave in the soft soil, reverently spilling the ashes inside the small cavern and laying Steve's key beside them; then gently pushed the dirt back into place sealing it forever. The flowers blooming behind the grave made it look like a cemetery plot. Felicia stood up and brushed her hands together before wiping them on her slacks. "At least I will know that he is here in this beautiful place and near me everyday."
Tara took Felicia's hand and both bowed their heads in silence. After an appropriate time, she grabbed her friend and they hugged. Nothing more needed to be said.