by Jody Valley
At last—the newest nail-biting Kera Van Brocklin mystery/thriller by Golden Crown Literary Society nominee Jody Valley.
Feeling depressed and needing a change in her life, Private Investigator Kera Van Brocklin’s identical twin, Deidre, decides to clear her head by taking a job with a small adventure cruise company in Alaska.
When Kera learns that Deidre has been seriously injured, she immediately flies to Alaska—only to find her sister unconscious and unable to communicate. Hospital and senior cruise staff try to convince her that Deidre’s fall off a steep cliff was either a tragic accident or a botched suicide attempt. Knowing that Deidre wasn’t suicidal and had a terrible fear of heights, Kera suspects something more sinister. But what?
With only a few days left of the cruise, Kera devises a risky plan to join the ship with her partner, Mandy, so that they can determine what really happened to her sister. Now trapped on a cruise filled with people they can’t trust and surrounded by the frigid Alaskan waters, Kera and Mandy are about to discover that Deidre’s “accident” is just the tip of the iceberg—and they have created their own personal Titanic.
A Kera Van Brocklin Series Book 3.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"My previous two Kera Van Brocklin novels, A Venomous Cocktail and Twisted Minds, took place in Michigan where I live. In Twisted Minds my protagonist started a detective agency. The idea to have her find trouble in Alaska in the The Bartender’s Secret came from a trip my wife and I took on a small adventure cruise ship that navigated the Inside Passage of Alaska. I thought it was a great place for something bad to happen for Kera Van Brocklin, and sure enough it was!
My protagonist, Kera, has a Shepherd/Rottweiler mix dog, Lakota, that helps Kera stay calm and focused, given she suffers from PTSD. Lakota is named for a dog my wife and I had for all too short a period of time, of the same mixed breed and name. Both the Lakota of my novel and the real-life Lakota were rescue dogs but contrary to the Lakota in the novel, the real Lakota was young and hyper and bolted out of our house one day and was struck down by a car and died. Even the short time we had her, she stole our hearts so I brought her back, calmed her down, and made a service dog out of her for Kera. Lakota made her first appearance in A Venomous Cocktail, rambunctious like the real Lakota, but had not yet been named or found a home with Kera. In Twisted Minds, she’d become Kera’s service dog and she found her way to Alaska with Kera in The Bartender’s Secret.
In my previous novels, my wife’s and my beloved sixty-pound white labradoodle, Sacari—who died a premature death from cancer—had cameo roles. In each novel, somewhere along the way, you’ll find her and always with two women. It’s been my way of keeping Sacari with me. Sure enough, Sacari made it to Alaska in The Bartender’s Secret as well—and yes, with two women—so keep an eye out for her.
The seeds for my trilogy were planted years ago when I worked with another lesbian woman who had an identical twin sister who was living a straight lifestyle. My coworker claimed that her sister was living a lie. My Van Brocklin twin sisters have the same issue and work it out, almost, through the three novels while confronting the chaos and difficult times in their lives."
Rachel B. - Great protagonists are empty vessels without a gripping, expertly constructed narrative and Valley hits the mark here. This is a taut mystery/thriller that shows off the best of lesfic and the wonderful talents of Jody Valley.
The ocean’s waves rocked the small ship as it headed out into the night. The storm resounded through her, intensifying her distress, escalating her anxiety. The open window above her bed—a few yards off the ocean’s surface—invited the mixture of briny water and rain, sprinkling her face.
She licked the salt from her lips.
Lightning stung the night sky, allowing momentary glimpses of the cramped lodging, in disarray, unkempt…
Like her mind…
Like her life.
Wherever you go, there you are.
Those words echoed in her head and reverberated in ripples. She’d offered that platitude to many a client. Now, it stuck in her craw.
She’d left her job, her home, her twin sister, her best friend, and her girlfriend. Left them all back in Michigan to take a job on a small adventure cruise ship in Alaska. She left because if she hadn’t, she would’ve burst out of her skin and splattered.
Her life was too tight, pinching her. She needed to breathe and figure things out.
At the beginning of the cruise season, her past had moved over, made room for her to focus and learn the ropes. But with competence came space, a vacuum that allowed self-doubts and confusion to suck back in, jangling her nerves, preying on her spirit, and dumping her into depression: a self-absorption that blinds.
Is that why she hadn’t seen it? Hadn’t questioned?
Was it even true?
A spear of ice pierced the base of her spine and released chilling needles that pricked her core.
She pulled out her diary from the wall-side of the bed where she kept it hidden. Her entries from the last weeks recorded her day-by-day slip back down into the emptiness and sadness that she’d climbed out of through the new challenges of her job.
And now this.
Did she even dare record her anguish, her fears, her anxiety?
With fatigue trumping anxiety, her eyelids grew heavy, and she tucked the diary back in her hiding spot. She rolled on her side, balled up like a fetus, and surrendered to the tossing and rocking of the waves.
Her eyes closed and sealed as she drifted off.
Until a scream ripped through the dark.
She sprang up.
It seemed to come from the deck above her, toward the bow.
She poked her head out the window just as something fell from above and smacked the water’s surface, and watched as the waves quickly gulped the foreign object. She only caught a brief glimpse and couldn’t be certain, but the shape of the falling object appeared to be a human form…
She ripped her body out of bed and tore up to the ship’s bridge.
“It’s your break, Kera.”
Vinny’s voice pops me out of my trance. I was deep in thought but whatever it was is gone, now—nothing new about that. This is the second game I’ve won tonight against Vinny, my partner in crime, literally. He’s the only employee in my business, Kera Van Brocklin Detective Agency, but he’s also my good friend and pool partner. I’m aware that multiple kinds of relationships with one person are not advised, but it works for us.
Vinny digs into his pocket and pulls out quarters. Our agreement is, whoever loses has to pay for the next game, so it’s on him to feed the table.
“You’re going to send me to the poor house, boss.”
I rack up the balls, let loose on the cue ball, and send a packed triangle of stripped and solid colored balls scattering over the green felt surface, smacking into each other. A solid sinks.
“Why is it that when you break, you almost always get the solids?” Vinny takes a swig of his beer and sits down on a chair.
“I never noticed.” I wonder how he keeps track of such things or why it even matters. I study the lay of the balls on the table and calculate my best shot.
Vinny and I play pool at least two or three times a week, right here at the Out and About Bar, Lakeside City, Michigan. Given the size of our town, we’re lucky to have a gay bar, although a college here does help raise our queer population. We agreed this morning to come early so we could warm up for our regular Thursday night tournament that we’ve played in ever since I returned from Iraq.
“I have a mind for detail,” he replies to my not noticing that I tend to get the solids on a break. He sits there tapping the handle of his cue stick on the floor in rhythm to the music of the Zac Brown Band blasting throughout the bar. He reaches down with his free hand to give some love to Lakota, my Rottweiler/German Shepherd service dog.
“That’s right, you do.” I appreciate Vinny’s ability to remember minutiae because I’m not all that good at it, and in my line of work details are important. My notepad serves as my memory, that is if I think to write it down. Along with a minutiae-gathering deficit, I have a mild case of ADHD, recently diagnosed by the VA. My twin sister, Deidre—her friends and I call her Dee—says it’s a bit more than mild and that everyone who’s ever known me is aware of it.
I sink two more balls but muff the third shot. So, I plop down in a chair on the other side of Lakota and run my fingers through her fur. It’s part of my therapy. Petting Lakota calms me down. In response, my furry buddy rubs her muzzle against my leg. It might be weird, but I love it when she does that. I got Vinny to thank for my pooch. He’s the one who trained Lakota to help me deal with my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), one of the perks I’d acquired from the war. Training service dogs for vets is just one of Vinny’s talents that I appreciate. He also gives me big discounts at his store, Vinny’s Gun and Knife Shop, not that I’m into lots of guns. I’m not. I’m mostly just a looky-loo and visit his shop to shoot the shit.
“Okay Vinny, get to it, let’s see you run the table. You need to up your game for the tournament. Didn’t you get your beauty sleep last night?”
“As a matter of fact, I didn’t,” he snickers.
“So, I take it your date went well.”
“Indeed, it did.” His smile is filled with satisfaction. “But as you’ve pointed out, I’m paying the price tonight.” Before I can get him to say more, he asks, “Have you heard anything from Dee lately?”
“No, not a lot, but that’s by design. I’m trying to give her space.”
“Space? Does she want that?”
“It seems so, and it’s good for her to have some time to be by herself, figure things out. She told me she’s never digested all that’s gone on in her life. Being a social worker, I think she took on everyone else’s problems and ignored her own—‘stuffed them’ is the way she put it to me.” I take a swig of my IPA, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. They have it on tap, here, thanks to me.
“Yeah, like not knowing whether or not she wants to be with women or men,” Vinny says. He hits the cue ball and sinks a difficult shot.
“That’s more like it.”
“What’s Dee’s tally now, men versus women?”
“I’d hardly say some of them were really relationships, more like brief encounters, but I haven’t kept count. If I did, I might accidentally mention the number and it would piss her off. She’s aware that the amount of relationships she’s had is a problem but doesn’t see her gender flipping as an issue. She says it’s not about which gender but about the person. At least that’s what she says, but you know my thinking on that one.”
“Everyone knows your way of thinking. You’ve said it a thousand times, many different ways: Since you two are identical twins and you’re lesbian, that’s what she must be too.” He slammed another ball into the corner pocket.
“Yup, you’d think she’d get it, wouldn’t you?” I’m laughing but I seriously believe, no, I’m convinced that Dee is lesbian, full blown, and not bisexual. Period. She just can’t face it, not for very long at a time anyway. When she’s with a woman for so long, she bails. Up next, a man. Then she’s not happy with a man. Nope. So back she trots to a woman. It’d be funny if it weren’t sick, and if it weren’t my sister. She’s seriously got issues in that respect.
Vinny’s smiling his I’m-humoring-her smile.
I ignore it and take a swig of my ale and add, “But I do understand her need to get away. Hope it’s working for her.”
“So, what are her issues, if she thinks it’s not her sexuality?”
“Dee told me, when she was applying for the Alaskan job, that she’s never dealt with our parents’ deaths. Mom died when we were not even teens yet. As you know, our dad died way too early in his life, and unexpectedly. Then her husband’s betrayal and death. Losing her unborn child. Jesus!
Vinny stops his play. “Yeah, when you add it all up, she’s been though the shitter all right.”
Besides that, I know she’s spent years worrying about me, even before I went into the army. “After Mom died, she took on trying to keep me from getting into trouble, not easy for a twelve-year-old kid taking over a mother’s role—and at that, she was only minimally successful.”
Vinny nods in agreement, along with a snicker.
I ignore that and move on. “I’ve often wondered if she went into social work to try and be successful in changing somebody.” The poor kid was trying to deal with me. It kind of makes me sad, though sad is not a well-developed emotion in me. It’s too painful to face…so says my therapist.
Vinny lines up his next shot.
I don’t think he’s listening anymore to my mental health musings, but I continue, nevertheless.
“Anyway, when the army sent me to Iraq, I think that episode did her in. She’ll never forgive me for that one.” I see that Vinny has finally fucked up and sunk the cue ball after an impressive run, so I set down my mug.
“By the way,” Vinny grabs his beer, sits, and slaps his feet onto a chair, “I have an appointment to get inked tomorrow.”
“Where the hell are you going to put it?” I poke Vinny in his chest with my cue stick and let it slip down his arm, “You have tattoos all over your chest and back, as well as running up and down your arms.” I laugh. “I honestly wonder where you’re going to squeeze another one in.”
Though short, Vinny is a burly, strong guy, about three inches shorter than I am, which makes him about five-seven. And he’s more body than legs, proportionally speaking. His dark hair extends to his shoulders, falls in his face, so he’s constantly brushing the mop back in order to see what he’s doing. I’ve told him he should clip it back, a bit, at least get it out of his eyes. Frankly, he’s a good-looking guy under it all, though I don’t tell him that.
He’s staring at me, now, waiting for my punch line, so I hand it to him, “I suppose you could start on your legs, although there’s limited space when it comes to them.” Vinny laughs, but he shakes a shaming finger at me. Insulting each other is how we show our love.
“My legs are bare canvases, needing some artwork, and there’s more room than you’d think.”
“Yeah, just enough length in those stumps to keep you off the ground,” I say, “but not much room for pictures.”
He cocks his lips up to one side, like he’s considering the next insult he’s going to lay on me.
“Hey,” Ally Davis, the bartender, yells over to us, “Do either of you need another brew?”
“Yup,” Vinny answers, “both mugs empty, and we can’t have that, now can we?”
I nod in agreement but know I should probably wait on another drink. I’m trying to watch how much I have before the tournament starts. I don’t want to get blitzed and not be at my best, but come to think of it, this would only be my second brew. So, I’ll be okay. I’ve developed a formula to get me to the right state of relaxation—as I like to call it—on pool nights. It turns out that weed—PRN—and a couple of drinks before the game, then no more than two an hour while playing works best for me. It’d taken a while and a few bad calls before I perfected my recipe for a successful game night, and I won’t have a hangover the next day when I have to teach my Friday taekwondo class. There’s nothing worse than kicking and punching with what feels like rocks bouncing around in my head. I was hungover when I went for my fourth degree in black belt. It about killed me.
I hear someone behind me. I turn to see Ally with two frosty mugs. “Special service tonight, at least before the crowd shows up,” she says.
Ally’s been the bartender here for years. She’s a priestess for her Wiccan coven, dresses alternative with spiked hair, piercings, and peppered with tattoos. She’s a walking billboard for counterculture. I love her look.
Ally and I go way back. She gives me office space here—that is, any available table or stool at the bar. I can indulge in weed in the backroom, sometimes she joins me. It couldn’t be any more comfortable, convenient, or cost-effective for me—unless she provided me free beer. I meet my clients here, never bring them back to my lighthouse residence. My sister and close friends are the only ones who are welcomed into my home space—and of course my sweetie, Mandy, who has logged a lot of time there. Mandy and I don’t live together because I have a need for mucho alone time, a retreat where I can hole up, block out the world. She understands that but would definitely like to cohabitate. That’s my goal, to someday live with her. She’s a wonderful, beautiful woman. Vinny says I don’t deserve her. He’s right.
“Hey Kera, are you going to shoot or not? My hot stick is cooling off, waiting for you.” Vinny takes his mug from Ally, glugs down half of it, and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Cool your heels, Vinny.” I concentrate on how I’m going to sink two balls with one shot, so I will have the eight ball in a doable spot.
A few years back, Vinny started working part-time with me when I needed extra help for some jobs. Now he’s full-time. As far as his shop is concerned, he’s hired another person to tend the store so he can work for me. He enjoys sleuthing and I needed more help because my business has picked up. Vinny’s a natural at snooping, which is the bread and butter of my cases: wayward husbands, wives, lovers, blackmailing, and insurance companies that want me to spy on folks they believe are pretending to be disabled. Only occasionally do I get an interesting meaty case that I can sink my teeth into. But it’s a living and I don’t have to answer to a boss.
I can see the bar trade has picked up, along with pool players toting their cue cases as they come through the door.
“Let’s finish up,” I say to Vinny, “it’s almost time for the games to begin.”
* * *
I step into my house, set my cue case down on the floor by the coatrack. Lakota heads toward the little room that connects the residence to the lighthouse. Hearing her claws click up the steel steps, I know my huge pup is on her way up to the lantern room in the tower. Lakota loves going up there. Most often it’s the first thing she does when she comes home. From that vantage point, she’s able to see out over Lake Michigan and watch the vessels’ comings and goings—at least that’s what I think she’s doing. Even in the night, movement can be tracked by the ships’ lights. Come to think of it, she’s probably more interested in the air dance of the gulls.
I plop down on the sofa, spread out lengthwise, barely able to keep my eyes open. The lantern light overhead bothers me, so I click it off. I converted that old lamp to an electric one when I first moved here. I’ve been determined to retain the original 1800s nautical decor of the lighthouse keepers that have come before me. To be clear, I’m not a lighthouse keeper of old. Really not a keeper at all, since the tower is automated now. My job is to keep an eye on the place, try to prevent vandalism, do any minor repairs. For that, I receive free rent.
I look at the time on my phone and realize my sweetie must be in Juneau by now. Our plan is that Mandy will call me tomorrow when Dee’s ship docks there from its first leg of the cruise. At that time, I will be able to talk to them both because they’ll have cell phone coverage. Mandy has been so excited to be able to hop on the second half of the voyage, the return trip that goes from Juneau to Ketchikan via the inland passages. My sister was able to arrange it, though it’s too bad that she’ll still have to work the cruise. But she assured Mandy they will still have plenty of time together, and there are lots of activities for Mandy to participate in when Dee’s working. Damn, I wish I could have gone along but I’ve already taken a lot of time off this past summer, camping and hiking. It would be unfair to Vinny to cover for me when he hasn’t had any time off all this year, especially since he’d like to travel around Michigan so he can vendor at some of the gun and knife shows this September.
I miss Mandy already, but I’m glad she could go. I’m anxious to know how Dee is doing. At first my sister seemed to like her job on the ship, but the last time I talked to her, underneath her fake—I believe—cheerful tone, I could hear something else, like she was depressed, or something was wrong. I remember telling her that it sounded like something was not right, but she denied it, then her tone perked up a bit more. She should know better, neither she nor I can keep things from each other, not for long anyway. The good thing is, if anyone other than me can pry something out of Dee, it’s Mandy. Mandy’s a lawyer who possesses those kinds of skills. And besides, Mandy and Dee are close friends and share things. As a matter of fact, Dee considers Mandy her best friend—other than me, of course.
I hear my cell sing out. Digging it out of my pants’ pocket, I notice Mandy’s name on the screen. Hmm, it’s a little early for her to be calling me. Maybe she’s missing me too.
“Kera, honey,” her voice sounds grave, “Dee was airlifted to the Juneau hospital, yesterday. I haven’t seen the doctor yet, so I don’t know her condition. But I’m here with Dee in her room right now.”
“She’s okay, right?” My heart is thumping so hard, it could fly out of my chest. I couldn’t stand to lose my twin sister. It’d be like half of me died—more than half.
“Yes, yes. She’s in and out of consciousness but not lucid when she’s awake.”
“What the hell happened to her?” My gut churns like I’d swallowed a box of nails.
“Oh honey, I’m so sorry. They’re saying she tried to kill herself.”
The door to the hospital room cracked open, widening slowly. Mandy watched as a face with aviator sunglasses peeked around the door. Kera stepped in with Lakota by her side, followed by an elderly woman she didn’t immediately recognize. Soon she realized who it was by the woman’s hippy dress style, long gray hair, and ever-present Detroit Tiger’s baseball cap. Moran Brady was somewhere in her late eighties. She was Kera’s shaman friend and, most importantly, her mother figure. Mandy had no idea that Moran would be joining Kera but was glad to see her and, frankly, relieved by the elderly woman’s presence. Moran was a stabilizing figure in Kera’s life, which Kera certainly needed, especially when she was under stress. Like now. Mandy didn’t put it past Moran to have insisted on coming with Kera.
Mandy got up from the bedside chair and hugged Kera then embraced Moran and whispered in her ear, “I’m so glad you’re here. Kera didn’t mention you were coming too.” She turned to Kera. “My God. I didn’t believe you when you said you’d get here by today.”
Kera removed her sunglasses and ran her fingers through her short auburn-brown hair. “Private plane, private pilot. A vet friend of mine flew us. It was the only way I could get here fast enough and bring Lakota with me.”
The dog raised her head with the mention of her name.
“Not someone from your PTSD group, I hope.” Reading Kera’s expression, Mandy knew she was right about the pilot. She flashed Kera a disapproving glance.
Kera ignored her and slipped over beside Dee’s bed. “I’ll tell you later. First, I need to know how my sister is doing.”
Meaning that Kera didn’t want to talk about it so was telling her to drop it. She figured it was Rob Crandall who’d flown them to Alaska. He owned a small charter airline company. She knew Rob, or more like heard of him, from Kera. He was in her PTSD group, and they’d become friends. Rob was even more unpredictable and reckless than Kera could be. Just two months ago, on a planned personal trip, he’d crashed a plane on take-off. Luckily, Rob sustained only minor injuries, but the plane didn’t fare as well. At the time, Rob was experiencing a flashback from his days in Iraq and reacted as if he were in his army helicopter, instead of a small jet passenger plane in Michigan.
Mandy realized she needed to let go of how Kera got there. Everything turned out okay. Kera was here safe and there were more important things to concern herself with now. She watched as Kera leaned over and kissed her sister on the cheek, while Moran scooted her chair up to the other side of the bed.
“Have you been able to speak to a doctor?” Kera gently rubbed her sister’s shoulder.
Mandy lowered her voice to almost a whisper. “She has a head injury from her fall, but they don’t know the extent of it.”
“Jesus.” Kera shook her head. “It’s a wonder she can sleep. Beeps and other noises coming from the machines connected to her. And all the goddamned tubes going in and out, everywhere…”
“She’s in a medically induced coma. The doctors decided to place her in it after I talked to you. They’re worried about brain swelling from the blow to her head.”
“For how long?” Kera blurted out, obviously rattled.
“They don’t know exactly.” Mandy put her hand on Kera’s shoulder. “It depends on how long it takes for the swelling to go down.”
“Jesus,” Kera repeated. “Anything else?” She took a deep breath and blew it out.
“Incredibly no, not that they know of anyway. Well, her left ankle is badly sprained.” Mandy lifted the sheet to expose Dee’s lower leg. “The X-ray showed no break. That’s pretty much it except for the scrapes and bruises you can see on her legs, arms, and face.”
“Were you able to talk to her before she was placed into the coma?”
“Yes and no. She was pretty much out of it when I got here. She muttered some things but wasn’t coherent.”
“Did she say anything about what happened?” Kera put her hand on Dee’s chest, as though she needed to confirm for herself that her sister was breathing.
“I talked to the EMT who was part of the rescue crew. He said he was told that she left the ship by skiff with a group for a scheduled hiking trip on land. Sometime on the hike, Dee stopped at a place near a cliff overlooking the inlet and said she wanted to meditate there. According to what was relayed to the EMT, Dee told the rest of them to go on with the hike and she’d rejoin them on their way back. But when they’d returned to where they’d left her, they didn’t see her until someone looked over and saw her lying on a small ledge that caught her fall.” Mandy shook her head. “I guess if that ledge hadn’t been there, she’d have gone down all the way. No chance she’d have survived.”
“Holy shit.” Kera swiped her forehead with her hand. “I don’t get it. Why in hell do they think she tried to kill herself?”
“Apparently, members of the crew were concerned that she’d been depressed and isolating herself. In the last couple of weeks, she barely came out of her cabin except to eat and work. And when tending bar, they said she wasn’t herself, friendly and joking with people, as she usually did. So, they figured she probably hadn’t really gone there to meditate as she’d claimed, but to kill herself.”
“Jesus, Mandy, we both knew she was down. I could hear it in her voice on the phone. And I thought that maybe she was upset about something, but she kept denying it.” Kera began pacing then stopped and looked at her and Moran. “But that depressed? That upset? Enough to want to kill herself? I don’t buy that. Then, maybe I don’t want to believe it. Jesus, why wouldn’t she tell me? God damn it, why wasn’t I more persistent with Dee and insist that she let me know what was going on?”
“I know, honey. We both missed it, at least the severity of it, if indeed that’s what happened. It’s still just speculation, still an unknown.”
“Isn’t that why you were coming to see her, Mandy?” Moran interjected.
“Yes. Kera and I both agreed it would be a good idea for me to spend some time with her, and Kera didn’t feel like she could get away, so—”
“Still, kill herself?” Kera shook her head.
“I know,” Moran mused, “it doesn’t seem like something Dee would do.”
Mandy could tell that Kera had disconnected from the conversation when she started pacing again. She watched Kera for a moment, trying to decide whether or not to lay more on her right now. She figured she might just as well get it all out on the table.
“The EMT mentioned hallucinations too.”
That stopped Kera in her tracks. She turned around and stared at Mandy like Mandy was making that part up.
“The hiking guide from the ship told the EMT that she’d been hallucinating about something, not on the hike, but sometime earlier.” Mandy said. “The EMT didn’t know when or what they were talking about but did ask me if she happened to be on any meds or been taking any kind of drugs. The hiking guide from the ship didn’t know.”
“Mandy, they can’t be talking about my sister. This shit about Dee is getting worse by the minute.” Kera sat down and put her elbows on her knees. She cradled her head in her hands as she stared at the floor.
Lakota rubbed alongside Kera’s leg then settled down next to her.
“I know. All this sounds like they’re talking about someone else.” Mandy shook her head. “It just doesn’t sound right. Good god. We both knew she was feeling down. That’s why we thought it important I come—”
“I know, I know. She was really glad you were coming. Making plans for things you two could do. So why would she do something like try to kill herself?”
“I agree. She was excited when the captain told her he’d let me come aboard for the second half of the cruise, and I could stay in her cabin with her. Hmm, maybe it was because he knew she was depressed and was grateful to have someone who might help her get out of it.”
“Is this a cruise for gay people?” Moran asked. “I mean, I’m wondering if she got involved with someone, and it went bad for her. I know she was upset about all the relationships she’s had.”
“No, it’s not just gay people,” Mandy said. “Well, mostly it is, but straight folks can come on if they’re relatives, allies, or gay friendly. But to the second part of your question, Dee would’ve told me if she were involved with someone else, I’m sure, given I’d be coming on the ship with her. At least I think she would have.”
“She’s going to come out of this, right?” Kera asked. “Dee’s the stable one. If anyone is supposed to do something stupid or nuts, it’s me.”
Mandy almost laughed at the unlikely self-revelation that had escaped from Kera’s lips. Kera nailed it. She and her sister had inadvertently changed the nature of their respective roles. It was usually Kera who was in trouble or hurt, and Dee was the one stuck with worry. Now, Kera was getting a dose of what Dee had to endure most all their life.
Moran got up, went over to Kera, and pulled her into a hug. “Dee will be all right. She’ll get through this. She has a strong will. And we’re all here for her now.”
Mandy thought she could see Kera’s shoulders drop and relax a little. Then Moran led Kera over to a chair and gently sat her down.
Mandy joined them, rubbing Kera’s back. “Dee’s doctor said she should be okay, and they’d be bringing her out of the coma as soon as possible, maybe in the next day or two…three, at most, I think she said.” The doctor hadn’t really said that, but what good would it do to tell Kera that the doctor hadn’t been particularly reassuring.
“My mind is racing, flitting around.” Kera put her hand on her forehead. “When it stops for a second, I get stuck on the why. It isn’t like Dee to do this sort of thing, no matter what. If for no other reason, Dee wouldn’t do that to me. I know she wouldn’t. Dee’s the responsible one, the one who holds things together, not blasts them apart. She can be counted on, always. As our Mom would say to her friends, “Deidre’s the reliable twin.” Kera looked up at Moran, then to Mandy, her eyes intense. “Dee’s the one who always does things right, even when life goes wrong for her. So, no. I can’t believe Dee tried to kill herself. Something’s wrong here.”
“I agree, honey. It’s hard for me to believe Dee would do that.” Mandy kept moving her hand gently over Kera’s back. “I believe her intent was to sit and meditate, not kill herself. She copes with things that way, always has. But I do keep wondering if it could be that she got too close to the edge, maybe slipped and fell off.”
“But Dee wouldn’t go that close to the edge, at least not on her own accord, I assure you,” Kera said. “She’s scared of heights. Terrified really. She was so fearful that on a few occasions when we were together at places with big drop offs, she would have a fit, even if I’d go to the edge to look over. It scared the shit out of her just to have me close. Her comfort level wouldn’t let her go—or me either—more than ten feet from the edge, maybe not even that close.”
Moran glanced at Mandy and said softly, “Do you know of a place—somewhere else in the hospital—that’s private so we can talk? People in comas can often hear what’s being said, and if Dee can, we don’t want to upset her.”
Mandy nodded. “You’re right. There’s a little room across the hall, one that Dee’s doctor used when telling me about her condition.”
“Good. I’m sure it’s more comfortable, too. My old back doesn’t appreciate the chairs they have in here.”
Mandy pulled on Kera’s arm and encouraged her to get up. She felt her resistance to move. “Don’t worry, honey. She’ll be okay. We’ll be close by and will come right back here after we’re done talking.”
* * *