A/N: Usually when I complete a novel, I am done with the characters. Mission accomplished, I move on. But something about the character in the following short story is trying to tell me he isn’t done yet, lol. So, here we go revisiting a friend of mine. Hope you enjoy . 🙂
“All That And A Cup Of Sugar, Too”
I wonder how many relationships have begun with a cup of sugar? You know the old icebreaker. Show up at your neighbor’s house on the pretense of borrowing the confectionary when all you want to do is meet who’s behind that door. My experience with sugar was just that, though I wasn’t the one initiating things. In fact, I was just getting ready to go out and get the mail when I saw her there on my doorstep. I just opened the door and there she was, hand paused in mid air and ready to knock. Smiling a bit shyly she said, “I was just getting ready to knock.”
“I see you were.” I thought about holding my hand out but seeing how frail she looked, I was a little afraid I might find her touch intoxicating. She was a beautiful woman, white porcelain skin, dark auburn hair, and a shape that I’m sure had turned many men’s heads in her experience. In these minds I imagine she was what was considered as “all that.”
“I’m Tina,” she said. “Your new neighbor.” She glanced across my lawn to the house next door. I knew someone had moved in several weeks ago but as of yet I hadn’t taken time to introduce myself. The grief over the loss of my wife a year ago had me preoccupied. I had seen a man coming and going, and I think maybe once I had seen a woman in the garden out back, but she had looked nothing like this. You’d be surprised the difference a dress can make on a woman.
The dress in question seemed more suited for a debutante ball than knocking on a neighbor’s door. It was sleeveless and black silk, the front of it cut low in a V. Under different circumstances I imagine the typical male would be dreaming of getting her out of it, but it was my anniversary I had other things to think about.
“I know this is going to sound awkward,” she smiled. “But do you have a cup of sugar I could borrow?”
I almost laughed. You couldn’t get anymore cliché than that. If this were a movie, I guess I would say ‘yeah come on in and we’ll give you some sugar’ to which she would fall into my arms in a maddening embrace. But this wasn’t a movie. It was me standing on my porch just wanting to get my mail and have the world leave me alone with my memories.
“I was just on my way to get my mail,” I replied, stepping around her to go down the steps. She turned to watch me pass, and to be honest I didn’t really care if she found me rude or not.
“Just one cup would do,” she said, following me, as I went down the walk towards my mailbox and the road. “I know we have some, but I just can’t seem to find it.”
I opened my mailbox and pulled a stack of envelopes out. I hadn’t gotten my mail in three days. There was no real reason to check it every day. It’s not like I was awaiting a sweepstakes check or a letter from my late wife saying she was sorry she had to go. I knew for damn sure I wouldn’t be hearing from her again. Well at least not until we meet in heaven, if I’m allowed to go there.
I flipped through the mail as my neighbor stood there patiently waiting for me to say something. Most women would have walked away if a guy were ignoring her the way I was, but this lady was persistent. I could almost hear her toe tapping on the sidewalk, as if her sheer force of will was trying to compel me to say something to her.
I sighed. “Listen Tina,” I finally said, trying to find the right way to approach this. “Maybe you could come back later when your husband is home. Maybe I can find you folks a cup of sugar then.”
“Oh, he will be home soon. He just stepped out for a minute.”
“Well, send him over when he gets back,” I told her, as I headed back up the walk to the house. I really didn’t want her following me and I thought this would end our conversation.
She stepped up alongside me. “It will be too late then. I wanted to surprise him with something.”
I didn’t know what her surprise was, but I knew I didn’t want it to be her in the house of another man. I went up the porch steps, and noticed that she wasn’t following me. She stayed on the sidewalk just looking up at me with sad eyes, and though I felt like she had used that doe eyed look on men before, it still seemed to melt the coldness of my heart.
“Okay look, you wait here, and I’ll see if I can find you a cup of sugar.”
She smiled brightly. “Thank you.”
I went inside to see what I could find for her.
When I came back out, she had moved back up on the porch and was standing at the door. Maybe she had been looking inside the whole time, trying to catch a glimpse of me, I don’t know, but when I opened the screen door she backed up as if maybe she thought I was going to take a swing at her for being nosy. I would never hit a woman though, and certainly not for being curious.
“Here’s your sugar,” I said, handing a coffee mug towards her that I had filled to the brim with the confectionary. She didn’t take it, but instead gave me that look that said she wanted something more from me.
“Um, I was wondering, if maybe you’d like to um..Come over.”
There it was. Finally. I knew she didn’t need sugar. She was just a lonely housewife looking for a single man to while away the afternoon with. I knew from her revealing dress and manner she wasn’t getting ready to bake a cake.
“Tina,” I said. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I do not think your husband..”
“To hell with him,” she interrupted. “He’s upset with me anyway.”
There it was again. The truth. The couple had had a fight, so to strike back at angry hubby, she figured she’d go flirt with the neighbor.
“Well, let me put this another way,” I said. “Today is the wedding anniversary of me and the wife. And though she’s no longer here, I still love her. And when you came up on my porch I was preparing to go to the cemetery and take her some flowers.”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I wouldn’t have come over here if I didn’t think you could help me.”
I was near exasperation and just wanted her to take the cup of sugar and get off my porch. “And just what is it you want my help with?”
“I just want you to come over. I have something I want to show you. I promise it’s right up your alley.”
How in the world she thought she knew what was ‘up my alley’ was beyond me, and she was pouring on the seductiveness thick, playing to that more animal side of man. I found it hard to refuse. In hindsight, I’d say it was simple curiosity that allowed myself to follow her off my porch, but maybe I’m just fooling myself. Maybe I did find myself attracted to her in ways I shouldn’t have been thinking of.
“Come on,” she cooed, and started across the lawn to her yard. I looked at the cup of sugar in my hand, shook my head, and quietly followed.
All the houses on my street are pretty much the same. It’s like the developer built one house and then used a replicator ray to build the rest. Not that such things exist, but I’m just saying that to let you know the outside of her house was almost the same as my own. The only difference with hers was a big welcome wreath hung on her front door. Hell, if I would have had a wreath on my door it would have said ‘go away.’
She opened the door and stepped over the threshold. She made sure to cast me a ‘come hither’ look over her shoulder, and I looked around to make sure no one was watching, and followed her in. I closed the door quietly behind me and checked to make sure it was locked. I didn’t want any surprises.
“This is home sweet home,” she said with a sarcastic tone, waiting for me in the foyer. I noticed the interior of her house was much like mine: foyer, living room, dining room / kitchen, back door. At least I would know where the exit was. I looked towards a staircase at my right. I knew it led upstairs where there were two bedrooms and a bath, a carbon copy layout of my own house.
“So what was it you wanted to show me?’ I asked.
She licked her lips. “I want to make sure you’re prepared first.”
I smiled a little shyly and looked at the cup in my hand. “I did bring my own sugar.”
She laughed. “Well it did take some coaxing to get you over here.” She winked. “I knew based on your reputation it wouldn’t be easy.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And what is my reputation supposed to be?”
She wagged her finger back and forth. “No fair, I can’t tell you that. But you’re just what I need to surprise my husband with.”
“Look Tina, I won’t mince words here. I don’t want to get in the middle of whatever is going on with you and your husband. If you are having problems, another man is not the solution. Trust me, only communication and understanding can heal a broken marriage.”
“Oh the marriage is beyond broken,” she confessed. “There will be no more communicating, and any understanding we had went out the window two hours ago when I discovered the name of his mistress.”
I couldn’t believe anyone would cheat on this beautiful woman, and I told her so. She laughed. “Well thank you, but the bitch is loaded. Money seems to matter more to a man than genuine affection.”
“With some men, I imagine so.”
“But you aren’t like that, are you?”
“No, I’m not.”
“You appreciate a woman for who she is and what simple pleasures she can bring you.”
“Yes, mam,” I agreed.
“And if you saw that someone had hurt a woman you would do something about it, right?”
“Well, I guess it depends on the hurt.”
She smiled. “Of course.”
We stood there looking at each other a few minutes, as if neither of us knew what to do next. The stillness of the house was only interrupted by the sound of my breathing.
Finally she broke the silence. “Would you like to take the sugar into the kitchen? I want to slip into something more…comfortable.”
I couldn’t imagine what could be more comfortable than what she was wearing, but I had come this far, so there was no point turning back now. What was going to happen would happen, and neither of us could stop it.
“Sure, no problem,” I said, as I watched her start up the stairs, her dress already starting to come off her shoulders. My breath caught in my throat. “I’ll be in the kitchen.”
“Thank you,” I heard her say as she reached the top of the landing. “I know you will treat me respectfully.”
I shook my head and headed towards the kitchen. Here she was worrying about being respected after inviting a man she didn’t even know into her house. Sometimes I can’t figure out people.
The kitchen had two saloon type swinging doors and I pushed them open. I don’t know what hit me first, the sight or the smell. Any policeman will tell you the smell of blood and death can be overwhelming, but things like that didn’t faze me anymore. Still the smell was strong. I came around a Formica counter and stopped in my tracks. The cup of sugar dropped from my hand to shatter on the floor. A body lay there on the kitchen tile, still and lifeless. The victim had pale skin and her red hair was splayed across the floor. Her black silk dress was made even darker by the kitchen knife that protruded from her stomach. She had been stabbed several times as if rage had been the killer’s sole motivation. The victim’s eyes were open and as I leaned over her, I realized the doe eyed look was gone forever. I touched my fingers to her eyelids and quietly closed them.
I noticed a phone on the wall, and I went to it, immediately dialing 911.
I waited for the dispatcher to answer and then spoke. “I’m at 5311 Leslie Drive. A woman has been murdered. I think her name is Tina.”
“I’ll send a life saving crew and a squad car. Can you stay on the line?”
“What is your relationship to the woman?”
“I’m her next door neighbor.”
“Are you sure she is dead? Can you tell me what happened?”
“I think her husband was having an affair. She found out and confronted him. He stabbed her to death with a kitchen knife.”
“Is he there now?”
“No I don’t think so.”
“How do you know that is what happened, sir? Were you there when it happened?”
“No, it’s just when she came to me, she said..”
“Wait a minute sir. You say she came to you? When was this?”
“After she died.”
“After she died? …Uh, what is your name, sir?”
“Winter. Cole Winter.”
“I’ve heard that name before.”
“Yeah, I heard I had a reputation.”
“What do you do, sir?”
“I’m an advocate for the dead.”
She was silent for a minute, and I imagine she was trying to decide whether I was serious or not. “Well thank you for calling us immediately, Mr. Winter,” she finally said.
“No problem.” I could hear the ambulance and police siren approaching. There was no need to stay on the line. “I’m going to go now. I have another spirit to pay my respects to.”
I hung up. The police knew where they could find me if they needed to ask me anything. I went to the back door and opened it, stepping out into the sunshine. I really needed to get those flowers to my wife. If I was late though, I’m sure she’d understand, considering the situation. As I headed across the lawn, I looked back to my neighbor’s house. Tina stood in an upper window looking down at me. She smiled and silently mouthed the words, “thank you.”
I nodded my head and kept going. I knew soon she would go to.
2017 Paul D Aronson.
If this is your first time experiencing Cole Winter, Advocate For The Dead, you can check out the complete novel chronicling his paranormal investigations here: