I still dream about you.., p.26

I Still Dream About You: A Novel, page 26

 

I Still Dream About You: A Novel
 


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  BACK AT THE cemetery, as was usual on Easter morning, carloads of families started arriving with flowers. Maggie had completely forgotten how pretty children looked on Easter. When she went back to her car, she could hear her cell phone ringing away in her purse, to the tune of “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover,” and she had to laugh, since she was holding a four-leaf clover in her hand at that exact moment.

  She figured it was Brenda calling. “Hello … Happy Easter!”

  “Maggie?”

  “Yes?”

  “Where the hell are you?”

  “At the cemetery—”

  “Jesus Christ!”

  “Who’s this?”

  “Babs Bingington. You haven’t done anything stupid yet, have you?”

  “What?”

  “You haven’t taken anything, have you?”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “What do you mean what am I talking about … I read your note.”

  “What note?”

  “The note you left in the kitchen …”

  “What kitchen?”

  “Your kitchen, you idiot!”

  “My kitchen? What are you doing in my kitchen? What note? I didn’t leave you a note …”

  “It says, ‘To Whom It May Concern.’ ”

  Maggie felt all the blood drain from her body. Oh, no. And just when she’d thought there was going to be a happy ending.

  Babs continued her tirade: “What the hell’s wrong with you, leaving a note like that? You must be nutty as a fruitcake. I’ve got a good mind to call the police.”

  Maggie panicked. “Wait, please, don’t do anything. Just stay there, and let me come home and explain.”

  “I don’t have time to wait around on you; I have to take my clients to the airport. But you need some serious help, sister.” And she hung up.

  Just then, Mrs. Troupe heard Babs yelling in the kitchen and came in and asked, “Is there anything wrong?”

  Babs cocked her head to one side, smiled, and said in her phony southern accent, “Why no, darlin’, not a thing.”

  Maggie sat with the phone in her hand, wondering what to do. She tried speed-dialing Babs back, but Babs wouldn’t pick up. Of all the people in the world to find her letter, why did it have to be Babs? She had to somehow try to stop her from spreading it all over town, and knowing Babs, it would be just like her to post her letter on the Internet. Oh, God! She had to stop her before it was too late. She started the car and headed out to the airport as fast as she could. When she got there, she parked in front of the Southwest Airlines terminal and waited. This being Easter morning, the airport was almost deserted, and thank heavens, the airport police did not make her move her car the way they usually did. Fifteen minutes later, she saw Babs drive up in her big silver Lexus and let her clients out. Maggie pulled up behind her and got out and walked over just as Babs was smiling and waving goodbye. But as soon as Babs’s clients went inside the glass door, she turned and glared at Maggie. “What the hell are you doing here?”

  Maggie leaned in the window on the passenger side and said, “Please, I really need to explain. Can I get in and talk to you for just a minute?”

  Babs quickly pushed the locks on all the doors, and they snapped shut with a loud click. “No! I’m not letting you in my car. You’re as crazy as a loon; you might have a knife or a gun.”

  Maggie stepped back. “All right, okay, but please, just meet me somewhere and let me talk to you. I need to explain to you about the letter. Please … just for a little bit … let me buy you a drink or coffee or something. It won’t take more than five minutes, I promise; just hear me out, and then you do whatever you want. But please just meet me somewhere.”

  Babs looked at her for a moment, then looked at her watch and let out an exasperated sigh. “Well, all right, but I’m still going to the Board of Realtors first thing in the morning to get your license suspended. Where do you want to go?”

  “Anywhere. You pick it.”

  “Wait a minute. It’s Easter, there’s nothing open. Oh, forget it …”

  Maggie desperately racked her brain and then said, “Meet me at Ruth’s Chris over at the Embassy Suites Hotel. I know they’ll be open; I’ll meet you there.”

  Maggie ran and jumped back into her car and sped across town and arrived at the restaurant first. They were open and serving a lovely Easter brunch, but Maggie wasn’t interested in food. As she sat in the booth waiting for Babs, she was scared to death that she wouldn’t show up and that any second now, men in white coats would be coming through the door to cart her off. But to her relief, a few minutes later, Babs walked in and plopped down across from her. Maggie was a nervous wreck and when the waiter came over, she said, “I’ll have a Pink Squirrel, and make it a double.”

  Babs looked at her and made a face. “A Pink Squirrel? Is that a joke? What’s a Pink Squirrel?”

  “I don’t know, but it’s good.”

  The waiter said, “It’s like a Grasshopper, only it’s pink.”

  “All right, whatever,” said Babs. “Bring me one, too.”

  After the waiter left, Maggie thought about telling Babs Hazel’s joke about a grasshopper named Harold to try to lighten the mood a bit, but she decided against it and started with “First of all, Babs, thank you so much for coming. I know it’s a big imposition, but before I say anything else, I want you to know that the letter you found doesn’t mean a thing. I wrote it at a time when … well, anyhow, I just didn’t expect anyone to find it.”

  “What was it doing there, if you didn’t expect anybody to find it?”

  “I had planned to go to the office this afternoon and shred it. It never occurred to me anyone would be coming to the house on Easter. Anyhow, I know it was very upsetting for you, and I’m sorry.”

  Their drinks arrived, and Maggie slugged hers down in two gulps, then motioned to the waiter for another one and continued.

  “When I wrote that letter, I wasn’t thinking very clearly. I may have been having some sort of a little mini-breakdown or something. I’ve had an awful lot of disappointments lately.”

  “Oh, boo hoo, who hasn’t?” said Babs. “Are you sure you’re not just some nut job? That letter sounds wacko to me.”

  Maggie had no good quick comeback to that.

  “I think you need to go and have your head examined.”

  “Well, you may be perfectly right about that, but in the meantime, I can assure you I’m not going to do anything stupid.”

  Babs took a long sip of her drink and made a face. “God, this is sweet!” She looked at Maggie and said, “Not that I care, but I am curious. Just how were you planning to dispose of your own body?”

  “Oh … well, if you promise not to tell anyone, I’ll tell you.”

  When Maggie had finished telling her the entire plan from start to finish, Babs nodded and said, “Pretty good, but you forgot one thing.”

  “What?”

  “The raft. They have serial numbers. Somebody could have found it and traced it right back to you.”

  Oh, dear … Babs was right. She hadn’t thought about that, but she didn’t want Babs to know it, so she leaned back and smiled. “Very true … however … there was absolutely no way that anybody would ever find that raft,” she said, while trying to quickly come up with a reason why not.

  Thankfully, just then the waiter walked over with two more drinks and announced that they were from the nice man in the brown gabardine suit at the bar. Maggie smiled at him, pleasantly but not too friendly; she didn’t want to encourage him.

  Babs said, “Well? How were you going to get rid of the raft?”

  “Oh …” Maggie said, making it up as she went along. “Well … okay … so after I got out to the middle of the river, I was going to tie myself to the raft with a piece of clothesline.”

  Babs frowned. “A clothesline?”

  “That’s right. Then I would puncture a hole in the raft, and when all the air was out, instead of me going
down with the ship, the ship would go down with me.” Maggie couldn’t help but feel a little pleased with herself for coming up with something so fast.

  Despite herself, Babs looked impressed. “Well, you’re either crazier than I thought you were or smarter. I don’t know which.”

  “Well, thank you, Babs. Anyhow, I’m sorry that you of all people had to be the one to find the letter; I know you don’t particularly like me.”

  Babs agreed. “No, I don’t,” she said. “Even if you had done yourself in, it wouldn’t have mattered to me one way or another.”

  “Then why were you so upset?”

  “I didn’t want you to mess up my sale of the unit in your complex before we closed escrow. After that, you can go jump in the river for all I care.”

  Maggie looked at her. “Oh, Babs … surely you don’t mean that.”

  “Yes, I do. Look, I feel the same way about you as you feel about me.”

  “What do you mean? I don’t dislike you.”

  “Oh, come on, who’s kidding who here? I know you and every other realtor in town hates my guts.”

  Maggie tried to protest. “Oh no, we don’t hate you, Babs … My heavens.” But then the three double Pink Squirrels on an empty stomach started taking effect, and she said, “Well, yes … I guess we all kinda do.”

  “Of course you do, but the difference between me and all of you is that I couldn’t care less what you think about me.”

  “But Babs, how can you not care what people think of you?”

  “Easy. I just don’t care.”

  “You really don’t?”

  “No, I really don’t.”

  Maggie sat back in the booth and mulled it over, then leaned in and said, “Well, Babs, and I don’t mean this in an ugly way, but considering that you obviously don’t have a conscience or any ethics whatsoever or even one ounce of human decency … I think it’s much easier for you not to care.”

  Babs thought about it a second, then nodded. “I guess that’s true.”

  Maggie continued on with a pleasant smile. “In fact, you’re probably the meanest, most despicable and evil person I’ve ever met.”

  Babs looked at her. “Is that so?”

  “Yes. You are without a doubt the most perfectly horrible person I’ve ever encountered in my entire life.” Maggie put her finger up in the air to make a point. “And, I might add, a thoroughly rotten human being, rotten to the core. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody didn’t wind up running you over with a car someday.”

  Babs, now on her third Pink Squirrel as well, started to laugh. She suddenly thought everything Maggie said was hilarious.

  “Really, Babs. I don’t see how you can live with yourself. You are a vicious fiend, a two-faced vampire-bat snake-in-the-grass bully. And by the way, those shoes you have on went out of style in the seventies and, Babs, garnet earrings? Nobody wears garnets anymore, much less in the daytime. You have absolutely no morals. You’re rude, hateful, and thoroughly unpleasant, a liar and a cheat and a criminal.”

  By this time, Babs was almost doubled over, she was laughing so hard.

  “In fact, you probably should be in jail right now.” Maggie stopped and looked at her. “Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t a complete sociopath!”

  Babs screamed with laughter at the word “sociopath,” and so did Maggie!

  A woman sitting in the corner of the dining room, wearing a pretty pastel green dress with a lace collar, scowled at them, then punched her husband on the arm. “Look, Curtis, both of them drunk as lords, and on Easter, too!”

  After they finally were able to control themselves, Babs reached into her purse and handed Maggie a Kleenex and sighed. Then she said, “But what do you really think about me?” And they both started laughing all over again.

  When they had recovered and could talk, Babs looked over at Maggie and said, “You may have cotton balls for brains, but you’re funny.”

  Wiping her eyes, Maggie said, “Thanks. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings calling you a sociopath.”

  “Me? No, I’ve been called worse than that.”

  Maggie gave out a big sigh and looked at Babs somewhat wistfully. “Oh, Babsy, what’s it like not to care about what people think?”

  “It’s great.”

  “It must be. I wish I didn’t care so much, but really, tell me the truth … deep, deep down, don’t you care just a tiny bit?”

  Babs thought, then said with some certainty, “No, I really don’t.”

  “Truly?”

  Babs shrugged. “No, like I said, what people think about me is no skin off my nose.”

  “Aaah,” said Maggie, “but I think it is. I think it probably affects you in ways you don’t even know about and will probably never even find out.”

  “How? I’m the top seller in the Southeast. How bad could it be?”

  “Yes, but even so, I still think it’s important to have people’s good will.”

  “Why?”

  “Why? When something bad happens to you, don’t you want people to say, ‘Oh, that’s too bad,’ instead of ‘Oh, goody, she had it coming’?”

  Babs shrugged again. “Don’t care.”

  “Don’t you want people to wish you well?”

  “Don’t care.”

  “Oh … Babsy,” said Maggie, reaching for her drink and missing it, “you must have had a terrible childhood. That must be the reason you’re so unethical.”

  “My childhood was fine. But while we’re on the subject, let me ask you something. How did you manage to steal Crestview away from me?”

  “Oh, that.”

  “Yes, that.”

  Maggie was caught red-handed and had to admit the truth. “I know the man who handles the Dalton estate, and I called him.”

  Babs was surprised. “Oh, really.”

  “Yes. Of course I’m not proud of what I did.”

  “Why not? I would have done the same thing.”

  Maggie looked at her in amazement. “You’re not just saying that to be nice, are you?”

  “Me? No.” Babs looked around the room. “I think I’m getting hungry. Should we eat?”

  “Of course, order anything you want … the sky’s the limit.”

  Babs ordered her steak rare, and Maggie was not surprised.

  After they finished eating, Babs said, “I don’t have any plans. Do you?”

  “No, I’m free as a bird.”

  Twenty-four hours ago, if someone had told Maggie that she would wind up at the Alabama Theatre, still half drunk on Pink Squirrels, seeing The Sound of Music with Babs Bingington, she wouldn’t have believed it. After the movie, when they were walking back to their cars, Maggie said, “Do me a favor, Babs: if you ever do buy our company, you can fire me, but keep Ethel and Brenda, okay?”

  Babs smiled and said, “Not on your life,” and got into her car and drove away. Like her or not, there was one thing you could say about Babs: she was consistent.

  Home for Good

  AFTER MAGGIE HAD LEFT BABS IN THE PARKING LOT, SHE REALIZED again just how lucky she was that she had not jumped in the river. After all her long and careful planning, the serial number on that raft could very well have given her away. No matter what they said, there really was no such thing as a perfect plan.

  When she got home and walked into the house, her phone was ringing. She picked it up, and it was Brenda on the other end. “What happened to you? Are you all right? I’ve been worried sick. Where have you been all day?”

  “Oh, honey, I’m sorry, but I’m fine, better than fine … in fact, I’m just perfectly … wonderful!”

  “Well, I’m glad you’re so wonderful, but you almost worried me to death. I tried calling you all afternoon. I almost came out looking for you. Why did you have your cell phone turned off?”

  “Oh, well, after we had lunch, Babs and I went to the movies, and I had to turn it off.”

  There was a long silence on the other end. And th
en Brenda said, “Have you been drinking?”

  Maggie laughed. “Why, yes … as a matter of fact … I have.”

  “Well … I think you’d better take some aspirin and go to bed.”

  Maggie said, “Yes, Mother, I will. Good night … Sleep tight … Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

  Brenda hung up the phone and said to Robbie, “I told you she sounded drunk. She’s loaded to the gills. She thinks she went to the movies with Babs Bingington.”

  After the phone call, Maggie decided that ever telling Brenda what she had really been planning to do today would be far too upsetting for her. There was no need for her to ever know. She’d get to work early Monday morning and take the note out of Brenda’s desk. But for now, she was suddenly very thirsty. It must have been all that Easter ham she had eaten for lunch and the salty popcorn at the movie. Maggie had just poured herself a glass of water when she heard the sound of a fax coming in on her machine in the den. She wondered who could be faxing her this late, and on Easter, too. Oh God, she hoped it wasn’t her cousin Hector Smoote. She walked back to the den. Just another fax from Miss Pitcock. The woman was like a dog with a bone. She was still at it, and on a holiday, too. Miss Pitcock had now gone online and was searching all the English and Scottish newspapers and the Hall of Records for any information. But after all her digging, she had never been able to locate a birth or a death certificate for Edwina Crocker. She had just faxed over a picture of Edwina Crocker at some reception in a white dress and wearing three big white feathers in her hair. Well, whoever the woman was, she looked like she was happy. Good. Tonight, Maggie wanted everyone in the world, dead or alive, to be as happy as she was.

  As Maggie kicked off her shoes and looked around the empty den, she now wished she hadn’t shredded all her photos and all her old press releases, but maybe it was for the best. She had spent far too much time dwelling on the past, and maybe it was a sign that she should concentrate on the future. What an odd thing. Just a few weeks ago, she’d had no future. And now, she had nothing but a future, with so many things to do. She sat down at her desk and started a new list.

 
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