Author’s Note: One swear word.
The moon was still in the sky when the sun rose the next day. Strangely, looking out the hotel room window, what I saw reminded me more of photos I’d seen of the moon’s surface than of Egypt.
In the same way, I felt at odds with myself. It didn’t seem I was the same person now as the one who’d lived with Beckett.
Quietly, I slipped into the bathroom. The last thing I wanted to do was wake up Xalen since he’d been by my side without sleep for so long. He hadn’t left me once even though I’m sure he was frustrated that I hadn’t given him many details.
He kept saying he wanted to take me to the police station so this could be reported. He wanted whoever had done this to pay a price. It was admirable of him but all I wanted to do was push this behind me. I didn’t want to think about it ever again because every time I did, I felt like I couldn’t breathe – like the air was being pushed right out of my lungs.
This was the first time I’d been alone since my fight with Beckett. I shivered a little bit as I looked at my puffy, red eyes in the mirror and began to remove my now chipped nail polish. The lacquer Beckett had said he liked.
“Marty?” a woman’s voice said on the other side of the door.
Reluctantly, I said, “Come in.”
As I’d thought, the voice belonged to Xalen’s colleague Shelly Bingham.
“I apologize for barging in on you like this. Do you remember me?”
Slowly I nodded. Everything I did seemed sluggish as if I was trying to control someone else’s body, not my own. “Yes, Shelly.”
“I know you’ve been through a lot – ”
” – Where’s Xalen?”
“He went out for a few minutes and he asked me to check on you. He thought maybe it would be easier for you to talk to me… uh, a woman. I know we don’t know each other very well, but I’d like us to be friends.”
It would be nice to have a friend right now. I knew that, deep down, so I motioned for her to come further inside.
“I’d like that, too,” I said. “And Xalen definitely deserves a break.”
She smiled then and appeared to be more comfortable now. “I hope this wasn’t too presumptuous of me, but I brought you an outfit from my closet. I think it will fit just fine. Oh, and I’m prepared to take you to town for some shopping and to get your hair done if you want to, that is.”
My eyes filled with tears again. Although I wasn’t crying outright, I couldn’t seem to control what my eyes were doing. In a way, Shelly’s kindness felt too good for me. Was I worth her attention after the way I’d acted? At one point, Xalen had suggested we call my mom and dad. But I had refused. How could I ever tell my parents what I’d been through or what I’d done in response? They’d raised me to shun violence and I was certain they would be ashamed of me.
All of this was swirling around in my head in crazy tornadoes, thoughts going this way and that until my brain felt like a tired, jumbled mess.
Realizing I hadn’t answered her, I responded candidly. I still couldn’t believe how kind she was. “You would be willing to do all of that with me?”
“Well, sure,” she said, her voice encircling me with warmth and friendliness.
“Thank you.” I managed a little smile back even though inside, I didn’t feel like it.
“You’re welcome,” she said.
It was that genuine friendliness that put me more at ease and made me more open to talking to her. Xalen had been right, as usual, about things. At the moment, I felt if I just leaned on him a little and followed his advice, I might quiet my mind and get through this in one piece.
Over the course of the day, I found out that Shelly worked at the Neptune Foundation with Xalen – well, I already knew that. But the weird part was, she was just as secretive about her work as he was, not even telling me exactly what it is she does there.
“How did you meet Xalen?” I asked as I sipped the coffee we’d stopped for.
She smiled as if remembering a fond memory. “I was already working in the field when he hand-picked me for the Foundation.”
Nodding, she stirred some sugar into her coffee. “Yes, everyone at the Foundation is hand-picked by Xalen or his father before him. He has this way of finding people with very special… abilities.”
“It all sounds so ridiculously cloak and dagger.”
“I suppose it does to you. Someday, I’m sure you’ll understand.”
“So what are your special abilities?” I asked.
Shelly paused a moment as if she didn’t want to answer. “It’s difficult to explain.”
She provided some more vague answers about the artifacts the Foundation had collected yet nothing she said brought me any closer to the answers I was looking for.
Finally, I asked her the one question that had been burning in my mind since I’d met her. It was the one inquiry I hoped would have a definite answer.
“So, are you and Xalen…. involved?”
This brought such an eruption of giggles from her, I started to feel kind of silly for asking. “Good heavens, no,” she said between laughs.
“What’s so funny about it?”
Looking right into my eyes, she very seriously said, “He’s so in love with someone, no one else could ever measure up.”
Saying my heart sank would be the understatement of the year. I did manage to ask, “Who is she?”
Shelly’s eyes sparkled as she spoke. “Oh, he has never admitted it to himself. He keeps his feelings very close to the vest and sometimes, I think, he is afraid he’ll lose control if he acknowledges them.”
“How do you know so much about what he thinks and feels then? Are you a mind reader?”
She smiled softly at my joke. “Call it intuition, if you want.”
Fact is, I wanted her to say it was me Xalen was so in love with and I didn’t care how she knew it. Reading the things I just wrote to you, Diary, I sound half crazy. I don’t know what’s become of me but I hope I get back to how I was soon.
Before this thing with Beckett, I was sure of myself and no one told me what to do. Now, it seemed like I was desperately hoping someone would order me about just so I could get through this without having to think too much. Thinking hurt too much and so did my heart.
I was still wearing the sundress when I got back to the hotel later that night. My intention as I stood in front of the main counter was to get my own room so Xalen could have his space back. However, when I began telling the clerk what I wanted, my throat closed up and my pulse quickened.
What if I moved into my own room and Beckett came here looking for me? He knew this was the hotel my team was staying at when we weren’t in the field, so I’m sure he would check this one first if he wanted to find me. What if all he had on his mind was getting back at me? After the things he’d already done to me, I was sure he was capable of anything.
It was getting late, so mostly ashamed of myself, I went back to Xalen’s room. How could I move forward if I couldn’t even stand to be alone yet?
When he opened the door, I was not expecting what I saw.
“OMG, you’re not wearing anything.”
“I told you a long time ago that I don’t sleep with a tie on but you didn’t believe me.”
“D-did I wake you?”
“No, no. I was reading in bed. Are you coming in?”
As my cheeks flushed red, I quickly came into the room, Xalen closing the door behind me.
“I-I tried to get my own room. It was the plan, you know.”
I couldn’t tell if he was smiling out of patience or if he was simply trying to make me feel better.
“Why are you so nervous? It’s okay, Marty. You can stay here or with Shelly as long as you like. There is no rush.”
Forgetting myself was easy to do as grateful sobs escaped my lips and I fell into his arms.
“Who did this to you?” he whispered into my ear. “You must tell me.”
“Shh… just hold me.”
He did as I asked. My fingers found their way to the soft hair at his nape and I relaxed against him.
He held me long after I stopped crying and I knew I was safe. His strong arms were the only place at the moment that I knew no one would dare hurt me. I hated being so weak, yet I loved exactly the spot I was standing in.
All I had to do then was to let myself go. To just enjoy the moment. The feeling of him holding me, the smell of his soap and his hot breath at my ear.
I kissed his cheek first, then his lips. They were soft and seemed to welcome me. Our kiss wasn’t heated and animalistic like it had been with Beckett. There was still a passion, though – an overwhelming passion – that struck me like lightning from my head to my toes.
Xalen’s kiss was tenderly yearning, gentle yet fiery. Hard to explain.
All at once, he held me at arm’s length, his eyes searching mine.
“Marty – ”
” – I need you. Please don’t tell me no again.”
I saw conflict raging through his eyes and it was almost as if I could read his thoughts… He was afraid he was taking advantage of poor little Marty; I couldn’t possibly know what I wanted right now after so brutally being attacked. On the other side of the coin, I wanted him and his body, pressed against mine so tightly, was ready.
“Are you sure?” he whispered with a groan.
Nodding, I drew him toward the bed.
It was the sweetest experience of my life, making love with Xalen. He was thoughtful and passionate. He didn’t rush toward his own end, excluding what I might need. If I ever doubted I loved him, that doubt was now washed from my mind as if it had never been there in the first place.
We talked deep into the night.
Later, after he fell asleep, I showered and dressed in the borrowed sundress again. Because I couldn’t sleep, I’d been staring at the ceiling, my mind racing. Maybe I should have gone to the police after all because I was sure Beckett would be home right now.
Maybe if I’d been brave enough and reported him, he’d be in jail where he belonged and I could get into his house without him ever knowing.
As I stared at myself in the mirror and at what Beckett had done to me, I felt a determination well up within my heart. I wanted back into that house. I wanted to know what the ghost wanted and who she was.
Pacing the floor, I almost thought I could hear her crying now. Of course, it was in my head. Just thinking of how bereaved she sounded gave me the shivers. But it also made me want to figure this out all the more.
“Are you all right?”
I hadn’t even realized I’d awakened him. “Yes, I’m fine. Go back to sleep.”
“No there is definitely something wrong. I can tell.”
“There’s something I’ve gotta do. I’m just not sure how to go about it yet.”
He paused for a moment, taking in what I said. “So, you’re not up because you have regrets?”
I think my eyes grew two times their size as I gazed into his worried eyes. “No, of course not.” Tears welled in my eyes as I thought of how much I loved him. “We were perfect together. I could never regret it.”
Relief washed over his features, softening them, yet his eyes were still filled with concern. “Then what is it?”
“I don’t know how to tell you. I don’t see how you would ever believe me.”
He took my hand and brushed it against his lips. “After what we shared, you can tell me anything.”
Sighing, I could only hope he was right. “Okay… but keep an open mind.”
“I will try.”
He stood there without expression as I told him about waking up in the night on several occasions because of the wailing woman. He seemed very interested as I got to the part where I searched and searched for her, then finally, one night, saw her.
“Who was she?”
“That’s the thing. I don’t know and I want to find out.”
“Well, what did she look like?”
Shuddering, I said, “She was scary! The first time I saw her, I screamed and dropped my flashlight.”
Raising a curious eyebrow, he said, “It almost sounds like you’re talking about a ghost.”
“See, that’s exactly what I’m trying to tell you! It was a ghost! A real life, freaky as shit ghost! And now you think I’ve lost my mind, right?”
The strangest thing of all was that Xalen didn’t appear surprised in the least. “No, you have not lost your mind.”
“You believe me?” I gasped. “I mean, I can think of a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t, but you do?”
“Despite all that has happened to you, I trust your instinct,” he said. “I believe you one hundred percent and I will help you with this.”
“Oh okay, so you’ve done this kind of thing before?”
He smiled softly at me as if I was some kind of simpleton. “You know, it is your feisty, sarcastic side I find so endearing. And yes, actually, I have.”
“That is what I said. Now, I take it this ghost resides in what’s-his-name’s place? That is why you aren’t sure how you are going to see the apparition again?”
With the most astounded and dumb look on my face, I merely nodded. Had I just entered The Twilight Zone? Was this an everyday thing for him? Who was this guy?
“Close your mouth. Everything will be fine.” I jumped when he clapped his hands together as if he was excited to go on a huge adventure. “I’m going to take a shower but I will only be a minute.”
Life is weird and that’s all I have to say about it at the moment. In a jiffy, Xalen was showered, dressed and urging me downstairs to the lobby. The sun wasn’t up yet but would be soon.
We stood huddled together for a few minutes, deciding how we would approach our little outing.
“You do realize that if I am to help you, I will have to know his name.”
Slowly, I nodded. “Yes.” This was one thing I had actually thought ahead on. I still felt reluctant to share any more details than I had let alone the perpetrator’s identity. But if we were going to find the ghost, I had to tell him at least that much.
“Well, here you are!”
As soon as I heard Beckett’s voice, I about jumped out of my skin. I spun around, my legs literally shaking and my breath catching in my throat.
Xalen turned around with me and I couldn’t read his expression. But I could see plainly enough the fear in Beckett’s eyes when he saw Xalen.
When Xalen saw how I reacted to Beckett’s presence, he placed himself between us, shielding me from my attacker.
“What are you doing here?” Beckett managed to croak out.
Not wavering in his gaze, Xalen said, “Your father called me and I brought my team in to investigate.”
“Wh-what have you found out?”
“I know the remains belong to Aria,” Xalen steadily answered. “How is it that you’re back in Egypt?”
“Father put me in charge of the expedition.”
Now Xalen did show some surprise. “Well, that is unusual.”
Beckett’s eyes narrowed at me and his voice was full of accusations. “What are you doing with my uncle of all people? Is this who you were cheating on me with, you whore!”
“Your uncle?” I stammered. Once again, I felt several steps behind and was struggling to catch up.
“Keeping it in the family?” he yelled. “Playing us both so you could get your hands on the money, were ya’?”
“That’s enough!” Xalen stepped closer to Beckett, inches from his face. “After what you’ve done to her, you had better watch your step!”
“Oh, that’s rich! She deserved everything she got after the way she treated me! I trusted her! And I trusted you! But that’s over!”
“It’s too bad my brother-in-law never got it through your head that you never lay your hands on a woman. Only a coward behaves that way, Beck. Speaking of your father, he wants you to turn yourself in immediately.”
“Turn myself in?” he sputtered.
“Yes. My team is nearly ready to have you arrested for Aria’s death, we are only waiting for one more thing. In the meantime, I spoke to Douglas and he wants you to do the right thing and turn yourself in.”
“And I want my boots back!” I furiously added.
“She wants all of her things back,” Xalen agreed.
“You know what? I don’t believe you have anything on me because I didn’t kill Aria. How could you accuse me of killing my own sister?”
“The evidence points to you. I have been looking for her since she disappeared and after speaking with your father, I suspected it was you. I always told Douglas not to play favorites yet there was something in you he could not abide. Anyone who is around you for any length of time eventually sees it.”
“Do not put our family through any more turmoil, Beck. Do what is right. I will go with you.”
This totally threw Beckett over the edge. “Oh gee, thank you, Uncle Xalen. Thank you for never treating me the same way you treated my sister. Thank you for always taking my parents’ side in everything and making me feel like a failure all the time. Thanks for wanting to put me in prison, and thanks so much for screwing my girlfriend behind my back! You’re the hero of the family!”
“Why can’t you see I am only trying to help you?”
“If what you’ve given me is help, then why am I so screwed?”
“You are impossible!” Xalen growled.
“Yeah, well you can try your best to have me put away, but it won’t be that easy! I’m out of here!”
I stood in stunned silence as Xalen watched his nephew flee the room.
“I don’t know what to say,” I said quietly. “I didn’t know any of that… that you were related, that you think he killed your niece.”
Xalen returned to me, putting his arms around me and nuzzling his face against me. “I know. I was surprised it was Beckett you were involved with, but I am not shocked it ended the way it did. He has a history of bad relationships.”
Suddenly, it dawned on me. “Do you think our ghost is Aria then?”
His expression turned downcast and he sighed. “I think it very well could be. We should go find her if we can.”
“But how will we get into his house?”
Xalen smiled slightly and said, “We’ll use my key. It isn’t Beckett’s house. It belongs to my side of the family.”
We hurried to Beckett’s and I was happy to see he wasn’t there. Of course, he could have been lurking around somewhere in one of the many rooms, but his car wasn’t there and it was dark.
Xalen said we needed to hurry because the best time to see the ghost would pass by soon. So, after we slipped inside, I showed him exactly where I’d seen her. On the way up the stairs to the attic, we paused.
“Do you hear her?” I whispered.
She was moaning so loudly, I pictured all the windows breaking out kind of like they do in movies when a soprano hits the high note.
“Yes, I do. Loud and clear.”
As we crept upstairs, the sobbing grew louder and louder. It made me wonder if she knew Xalen was with me this time and I got goosebumps all over just thinking about what might happen.
We came into the darkened room without flashlights but I wasn’t worried about that because the ghost was so bright last time, the room lightened when she appeared. I motioned to Xalen that we were in the right spot and we waited for what seemed an eternity.
Gradually, the howling ghost appeared and I heard Xalen gasp.
“What is it?”
“That is not Aria!”