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Essentially Yours
cover art Ardy M. Scott.

 

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Format: Trade Paperback
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Essentially Yours

mystery

Aaron Paul Lazar

 

 

Chapter One

 

Callie waved a yellow scarf from her pontoon boat and headed erratically toward my dock. The girl who'd been like a sister to me since I was thirteen had never mastered the art of steering. Matter of fact, she'd avoided getting her driver's license for the past twenty years, and would probably never drive that old Buick her dotty mother left moldering in the garage.

Shocked to see her outside, I waved back, then swam to the dock and scrambled up the ladder to avoid getting crushed by her two-ton vessel. I grabbed my towel, blotted water from my face and hair, and wrapped it around my new bright pink one-piece suit. I'd been nervous to wear it--I thought it made my thighs look big. But now I'd been caught, and I couldn't get that towel around me fast enough.

I watched the boat drift closer, shocked at my friend's appearance. Her face twisted in despair. Her coal black hair hung limp on her shoulders, and her eyes puffed red. Instantly, my brain ran through the possibilities.

What got her out of the house?

Maybe somebody died.

Her sister? Not likely. She'd written off Willow years ago. They hardly spoke, even though they lived only two houses apart. And that woman was so nasty she'd probably live forever, preserved in her own acidic vapors.

Could it be her dog?

Beau had been sick a few months back. The Bernese Mountain Dog had been Callie's constant companion for the past five years. But the life expectancy of the grand creatures was only eight or nine years. She'd been concerned for months, and Doc West, the vet who'd always been sweet on her, still paid her house calls for no extra charge. But when we'd spoken on the phone yesterday, she'd said Beau had recovered from his stomach problems and was doing fine.

Worried now, I grabbed the rope she tossed to me and secured it around a piling. The boat glided closer.

She looked horrible, as if someone had twisted her insides and squeezed all her pain up into her eyes.

Damn. Had someone hurt her again?

Some people were magnets for bad luck, and my dear friend seemed to attract trouble like mosquitoes to wet skin after the rain. Last year, her Honeoye Lake cottage had been broken into. The jerks had cleaned her out and beaten her senseless. She still bore the scar on her temple where the bastards had bashed her with her avant-garde pink flamingo centerpiece.

Yes. A pink flamingo. Not in her yard, on her coffee table. Draped with pink pearls and fake ivy. Don't ask. And don't look so surprised. My best friend cut a tragic figure, was pretty in a haunted sort of way, but I never said she had good taste. Of all the households in our quiet lakeside community here in upstate New York, her place was definitely the quirkiest.

Callie switched off the ignition, and the boat miraculously nudged the dock with a soft thump. I quickly secured the stern and offered her a hand. "Honey, what's the matter?"

With a sob that sounded more like a hiccup, she heaved a big box over the railing and onto the dock, and climbed out after it. "You won't believe this…"

I put my arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "Try me, Velvet." Callie's dark hair, delicate features, and big violet eyes used to remind me of the young Liz Taylor in National Velvet, thus the nickname.

She choked and wept fresh tears. Trembling, she glanced fearfully around her, then locked eyes with me. "Marcie, I…" With another sob, she fell on my shoulder. "Can we go inside, please?"

"Of course, sweetie." I picked up the box and led her off the dock and up to the porch. Maneuvering backwards through the screen door, I got us inside and laid the box on the coffee table, then sat her on the couch. "Now. Spill it."

Instead of talking, she fell into a fresh gale of weeping. I patted her shoulders, hugged her, and let her get it all out. She tried to speak, but the intensity of her emotions made her stutter and wail some more.

Her newest disaster--whatever it was--already weighed heavily on me. The pain in her eyes was palpable, and I knew it was something huge without having to ask. Callie and I had shared high school crushes, teenage angst, kooky hairstyles, and unrequited love over the years. She'd been my maid of honor, in spite of her aversion to public places. A little extra Xanax had helped her through the ordeal where people actually looked at her and she had to converse with strangers. I'd thanked her from the bottom of my heart for that. I couldn't have been married without Callie at my side.

"Callie? What's wrong, sweetie?"

She looked at me, at the box, back at me, and burst into a fresh torrent of tears.

I gave her a box of pink tissues, and she grabbed a handful, pressing them against her eyes. She leaned over, hands to face, and rocked back and forth.

My dear little Velvet rarely stepped outside and had all her goods mailed or hand-delivered to her door. She'd been like this since freshman year in college. Although I still didn't know all the awful details about the event that had messed her up so much, she'd dropped out of school and become a permanent cave dweller. I knew it had to do with two men in a black Mustang, hours of brutal rape, and the subsequent abortion her mother had forced her to have a few months later. Mrs. Lissoneau had kept her locked up like a prisoner for four long months. I'd missed her dreadfully. When I finally was allowed back in her house, she'd cried on my shoulder for days. But she'd never been able to get up the courage to talk about it.

Like I said, my friend attracted trouble, and it had been that way since I'd known her.

After several minutes, the tears finally slowed. Wiping her eyes, she looked around nervously. "Is your mother home?"

"Nope. She's playing bridge. You're safe."

My mother, who insisted I call her Thelma, didn't know the meaning of tact. She'd always resented my friendship with Callie and didn't hide it, making rude comments about her agoraphobia and even stooping to insult her family when she could. It was all veiled, of course. But my mother had a mean streak in her, especially when it came to Callie, and as much as I loved her, she frequently galled me to red-faced fury. At times I was certain I'd been adopted.

Callie started to shiver, so I wrapped her in a navy blue throw that we kept folded on the back of the couch. "Are you cold, honey?" I tucked it around her. She was so tiny and looked as though she'd lost weight again. "There you go. It'll be okay."

She closed her eyes. "Where's Quinn?"

"Relax. He's up at the barn, refinishing that set of Eastlake chairs we just got in."

"When will he be back?"

"Not for hours."

Her agoraphobia didn't end with the outdoors. She'd also managed to cultivate a severe case of social anxiety, and even my sweet, dear husband scared her.

Quinn Black Eagle Hollister was the unique result of the union between his British playwright father, who died very young, and a beautiful Seneca Indian, White Dawn. She'd raised Quinn to be one with nature, to abhor artificial anything, and to be incredibly clean. My sweet spouse insisted on doing all of our housework, since my attempts never passed muster. And although it sounded weird, it never once detracted from his raw masculinity.

With his lean, strong body, lovely dark skin, and angular face, he resembled an Indian brave, with the exception of his startling turquoise eyes he'd inherited from his father. The color of the stones in Native American jewelry, they had the effect of seeing right into my inner core. It was hard for me to imagine anyone being afraid of Quinn, but I empathized as best I could with poor Callie's fears.

She leaned back and closed her eyes, still hiccupping a few sobs. "I haven't seen you in so long, Marcie. God."

As frustrating as it was to wait for her to open up, I knew I needed to be patient. And I felt a little guilty, because since we'd reinvested in our antique shop to expand the old barn and fix up the place, I'd had very few free days to take the boat over to her place on the other side of the lake. I think she'd gotten even more reclusive since, and I struggled not to let myself feel too much blame for her loneliness.

Of course, Honeoye, one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, wasn't exactly a remote location. The shores were populated with residents and renters alike, and although it wasn't as people-packed as a city, there were plenty of folks to socialize with, including those who'd graduated from our high school. But dear Callie only hung out with me, a responsibility I'd shouldered from day one without resentment. I loved Callie like a sister, and taking care of her was a privilege.

She shifted closer to me, but still looked scared. "The only one you have to worry about is Ruby, and she's sleeping." I chuckled and pointed to our prize-winning ring-necked parakeet, whose rosy-tangerine color had won her best in class last summer. She snoozed on her perch. She'd been doing that a lot since her mother passed away two weeks ago. Poor old Sarafina had succumbed to some rare condition Doc West had mumbled and I hadn't understood. Ruby's reaction--not eating and sleeping most of the time--had been immediate. The doctor called it clinical depression, but I called it natural.

Callie looked at Ruby briefly and buried her head in her hands. "Okay. I… I can't breathe. Marcie. Help me." In seconds, fat tears soaked her cheeks.

I pulled her toward me, trying not to stare at the box on the coffee table. "Callie. Honey. What is it?"

She shuddered against me, then sat up and sighed, pointing to the box. "It's from Sky. And I'm too scared to open it."

My throat almost closed. "What? When did it arrive?" I balanced the heavy carton on my knees. Battered and stained, it looked to have been around the world and back. Callie's name and address were printed neatly on a label. There was no return address, but its postmark was no more exotic than Speculator, New York.

"It arrived this morning."

I started to tear the packing tape off the box, then stopped and looked at Callie's devastated face. "Wait a minute. How can you know it's from Sky?"

Callie looked down at her delicate hands. She whispered so softly I barely heard her. "I got a phone call last night. After midnight."

My heart beat faster and my hands grew clammy. "From Sky?"

Could he still be alive?

She shook her head, cascading loose locks over her cheeks. "No."

Frustration welled inside me. "Then who called you?"

"He didn't say. Or if he did, I couldn't tell. The connection was bad. It was someone who knew him. Knows him." She sobbed. "I'm not even sure if he's still alive, Marcie. But the guy said Sky wanted me to have this. Whatever the hell it is."

I wanted to shake her, but I knew it wouldn't help shed any more light on Sky's eighteen-year disappearance. If she knew anything, she would have told me. I ripped into the box and tore at the ragged foam that surrounded an olive green knapsack. I stared at familiar peace symbol buttons and the patches I'd sewn onto the bag for Sky when we were teens. "Oh my God. This is the same bag he had in high school."

She reached for it and held it to her, rubbing her face against it as if it were Sky's hand.

A strong scent rose from the bag. It was pungent, yet sweet. Strong, yet enticing. I gently disentangled Callie's fingers from the strap and unbuckled it. The scent grew stronger. Peppermint? Lavender? And something that reminded me of the ceremonies in a Catholic church.

Callie's big eyes grew wider. "What is that smell?"

I pulled out a dark maroon zippered case. Lumpy and heavy, the fabric was blotted with stains. "Let's see." I unzipped it and flipped back the top. Inside were nestled dozens of brown glass bottles with colorful labels. I picked up the first.

"White Angelica." Unscrewing the cap, I sniffed it. "Wow. What is this?"

I held it to Callie's nose. "Nice, huh?"

She frowned. "Yeah. It's beautiful. Is it perfume?"

"I don't think so." I rubbed my fingers over the bottles, turning them up to read the labels. "Wintergreen. Balsam fir. Lemon. Frankincense. Lavender. Thieves. Inner Child." I opened the balsam fir and smelled it. "Wow. Strong. It really smells like the tree."

"What's it say on the label? And why would Sky send me these?"

"Good question." I grabbed my reading glasses from the coffee table and brought one of the bottles to the window to read the fine print. "Young Living Essential Oils." I rotated the bottle. "One hundred percent peppermint oil." I almost forgot about Sky for a moment, so intrigued with the collection of exotic smells. "Cool."

"What are they for?" Callie asked. As if Sky had sent her a box of chocolates, she started opening and sniffing each one. Heady aromas filled the air. "Mmm. This one is beautiful."

"Let me try." I reached for the bottle marked Valor and inhaled deeply. "Wow." Turning it in the light again, I read the ingredients. "Spruce, rosewood, blue tansy, and frankincense. Frankincense? Man. That's what one of the wise men brought Baby Jesus, right? I didn't know it was real."

"Me neither." Callie's eyes shone. "Marcie. Sky wanted me to have these." She took both my hands in hers as if I'd know the answer. "But, why?"

With my heart pounding, I set the box of oils aside and dug deeper into the backpack. "I don't know. But let's see what else is in here. Maybe we'll find some answers."

 

Chapter Two

 

I plunged my hand deeper into the knapsack. My fingers closed over a thick book. I half expected it to be a Bible, since we'd just been talking about the Baby Jesus. But it wasn't. I thumped the heavy volume on the table. Dark green, with a heavily worn cover, it smelled like the oils in the bottles, as if it had been opened in a room where they were used a lot. "Wow. This is an old one."

"What's it about?" Callie asked, still stroking the knapsack as if it brought her closer to Sky.

I leafed through the first few pages. "It looks like some kind of holistic health guide. Let's see… Okay. Here's a section on illnesses and remedies." I flipped through and opened to a page dealing with skin burns. "Apply pure lavender oil liberally over burned area. Frankincense and melrose are also useful for healing skin, and a blend of all three may prove beneficial to general skin disorders." I absentmindedly scratched at the fine rash on the back on my left hand. "Huh. Maybe I should put some of these on my hand."

While I flipped through pages, Callie reached into the bag to pull out the last few items. She looped a long hemp necklace with a small vial attached to it around her neck, then held the bottle up to the light, gently sloshing the liquid back and forth. "This one must be really special." She examined the strands of hemp carefully. "He wore it often. It's really frayed."

"Why would he wear one of these oils around his neck? Think he was warding off evil spirits?"

Callie chuckled for the first time. "It's not garlic, silly. It's something really special. I can just feel it. I think it was sacred to him."

She laid the last items on the coffee table and shook the back to be sure there was nothing left inside. Before us sat a slim leather-bound book of Shakespeare's sonnets, an amber crystal, about the size of an egg, and a moth-eaten velvet pouch with a drawstring.

I stared at the items, praying they weren't Sky's final effects. Could this have been all of value that was left of him? Had he kept these treasures in the ratty old backpack, close to his side? Had he whispered on his deathbed to his doctor or companion, asking them to send it to Callie?

Callie reached for the velvet pouch.

My brain began to work overtime. "Callie?"

She loosened the string.

"Yeah?"

"Did you get that call on your cell phone or home phone?"

"The house phone."

"Did you try dialing star-six-nine to call them back?"

She looked at me blankly. "No. I didn't even think of that." With a shake of her head, she spilled the contents of the velvet bag onto the coffee table. I couldn't ask her more, because my mouth had dropped open. "What the…"

Callie's hand flew to her mouth. "My God."

A pile of green stones glistened in the afternoon sun streaming through my windows.

I didn't know much about gems, but they sparkled as if they were delighted to be out of their dark prison.

Callie picked up the largest one and held it between her thumb and forefinger. Her lips spread in a huge smile. "I think they're emeralds. Look how they shine." A far away look stole across her face. "Emeralds, Marcie."

I ran my finger gingerly over the pile of jewels. They spilled to the side, revealing something black and distinctly non-gemlike beneath the pile. "What's this?"

Callie couldn't take her eyes off the big stone in her fingers. "I dunno. This would sure make a pretty ring."

I fished a small Sony memory stick out of the stones and palmed it. The white letters on the side claimed it held one hundred and twenty-eight gigabytes of memory. "It's a memory stick, Callie. A pretty new one, I'd say." I'd just sprung for a sixteen-gig stick the week before. Prices were coming down fast, and I got it for less than twenty dollars. But this one had probably cost a pretty penny. At least a couple hundred bucks, maybe more.

She finally put the emerald down and opened her hand for the stick. "What's on it?"

I exchanged a serious glance with her. "That's what we're about to find out. I'm getting my MacBook."

* * *

Before I could unzip my computer case, a car pulled into the drive.

Callie froze and all color drained from her face. "Someone's here."

She said the words as if proclaiming the couch on fire. Her eyes nearly rolled back in her head, so intense was her panic. She shoved the emeralds into the pouch, tossed the crystal and the Shakespeare book into the backpack, and stuffed the hemp necklace inside as well. Holding the backpack to her chest, she practically disappeared between the couch cushions. The heavy reference guide lay open on the coffee table beside the bottles of oil.

I approached her like I would a nervous filly. "It's okay, honey. Why don't you go in the bathroom to freshen up, and I'll see who it is?"

Like a shot, she tore down the hall and vanished.

Knuckles thudded against the door. When I'd first heard the car arrive, I thought maybe my mother's card game had been canceled, or Quinn had forgotten something. But neither of them would knock. And most people didn't knock like they were slamming the door with a ten-pound bag of potatoes.

I shook off my damp towel and shrugged into a dry beach wraparound. Tightening the belt around me, I swung the door wide open to find an environmental officer in olive green shirt and shorts standing with one hand on his gun hilt. The other hand held a clipboard. "Is…" He frowned down at the board. "…California Lissoneau here?"

I chuckled. "Bet you never knew anyone named California before, huh?"

He stared at me with flat eyes. I guessed the idea of charming him with my humor wasn't going to fly.

I slid outside and drew the door closed behind me. "Callie's my friend. What's going on, officer?"

He glanced down at his clipboard. "We had a report that she drove across the lake without a boating license."

"A report?"

"Er. Yes. Called in by a Miss Willow Lissoneau."

His widened eyes made me realize he hadn't connected the two last names until this point.

"Oh. Did Willow call in again?" I shook my head and smirked. "She's always trying to get her poor little sister in trouble. Must be the tenth time this summer."

He grimaced and wrote on the clipboard. "A family squabble? Damn."

I approached him, pointing to the board. "Do you really have to see her? She's pretty upset."

He looked at me--for the first time, actually--and his features softened. A quizzical expression filled his eyes for a brief moment, as if he thought he recognized me, then he went right back to business. "I need to see the vessel. And her license."

I exaggerated a little. "Listen. Callie just found out someone died. She needed to see me. Really bad. I'm her best friend." I pointed to the bathroom window. "She's inside now, crying her eyes out."

His eyes followed my finger and he flinched a little. Not much, just enough to show me how uncomfortable he'd be with a crying woman.

"I have a valid boating license. That's my bass boat out there, on the other side of the dock. I'll drive her back, officer. Honest. And I'll make sure she updates her license. I'm sure it's just a few weeks out of date."

He looked at his clipboard. "Try twenty-four years. I'm afraid your friend's gonna be under arrest."

A hand flew to my mouth, as if I were surprised. Of course, inside I cringed. I knew Callie hadn't renewed her license since her life had fallen apart. "The timing really sucks."

He started to walk toward the front of the house and out onto the dock toward the pontoon boat. I followed.

"This it?"

I shot a nervous glance back toward the house. "Uh huh."

It was when he turned to examine the boat that I recognized him. Trent Small. He'd been in my senior English Lit class in high school. I touched his sleeve and he looked at my hand as if I'd committed a felony.

"Trent? Is that you? I didn't recognize you in those dark glasses and that cap. My God, it's been years, but I remember you used to sit beside me in Mr. Framson's English Lit class. Senior year. Remember?"

He took off his glasses, squinted in the sun, and finally smiled. "I thought you looked familiar. Marcella Montel?"

I reached for his hand to shake it. "It's Marcella Hollister now. I'm married. And you?"

His smile broadened. "Me too. Married Nicki Patterson right after college. We have three boys. Twelve, nine, and a little surprise born two weeks ago."

I laughed and gushed more than I should have. I really wanted to get Callie off the hook. "My God, that's wonderful! I remember Nicki. She was a runner, wasn't she? Didn't she help us win the sectionals that year?"

His smile spread to a ridiculously proud grin. "That's right. She broke the school's record for the 5 K. And now my oldest, Brent, is following in her footsteps. You should see him hurdle."

I continued to play along, as if the discovery of a guy I'd barely noticed in school had made me the happiest woman alive. "Want to come in for a beer or iced tea? Maybe we could talk about old times, and…"

His serious expression came back. "Sorry, no. I need to wrap this up and bring your friend in to be charged."

My devastated expression must have triggered his empathy. He looked up and down the lake, as if everyone on the shore would be judging him if he let Callie off the hook. "Look. I'm sorry."

I slumped into the chair by the dock. "It will kill her, Trent. She's very fragile right now. Isn't there any way you could--"

His cell rang and he held up a finger to stop my words, as if he was expecting a call from someone much more important than me.

"Oh. Hi, honey." He turned his back to me. "Uh huh. Just wrapping up an investigation. What? A hundred and three point what?" He listened for a second. "You think it's strep again? Damn." Another few seconds of circling, of looking at me, and of apparent conflict within his law-abiding soul. "Okay." He cringed. "I said okay! I'll be there in five minutes."

With a sigh, he hung up and let the clipboard fall against his thigh. His shoulders lowered a fraction of an inch, and he took off his glasses to clean them. "Listen. I have to go. Sick kid. You know the drill."

I shrugged and smiled. Of course I didn't. I was cursed in that department. No little ones in my future.

He looked me directly in the eyes, this time with purpose. "Promise to get her to renew her license. Or at least take away her keys. I don't wanna be called on this again. Next time, I won't be able to let her off the hook."

I jumped up and put both hands on his arm. "Oh, yes. I could. I will. I mean, I'll see that she doesn't do it again. I promise. Honest. It's only because she got this news today, and she--"

He held up a hand. "I get it. And maybe you should encourage her to make up with this… Willow. Her…"

"Sister," I said. "And there's no chance in hell. They'll never make up."

He looked as if he wanted more details, but there was no way I was divulging that kind of information. Not to some guy I sat next to in high school. Not to anyone.

He put his glasses back on. "Pity."

I followed him up the side yard and out to his green SUV with the official-looking seal on the door. "Thanks, Trent. And I hope your son gets better soon. Which one is sick?"

He nodded, flashed a half-smile, and fished out his keys. "Thanks. It's my middle boy, Nate." He started the engine and closed the door, continuing the conversation through the open window. "Keep your friend out of trouble." He adjusted his rear view mirror. "Promise?"

I gave him a fake smile and put up my hand as if swearing on a stack of Bibles. "I will," I lied.

Nobody could keep Callie out of trouble. Not even me.

 

 

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Author Bio

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys.

Author web site.

TTB titles:

Green Marble Mysteries
   Terror Comes Knocking
   For Keeps

Gus LeGarde Mysteries
   Tremolo: cry of the loon
   Mazurka
   Firesong
   Don't Let the Wind Catch You

Tall Pine Mysteries
   Essentially Yours

 

 

###

 

Essentially Yours Copyright © 2012. Aaron Paul Lazar. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

Format: Trade Paperback
    Available now!
List Price: $17.95 USD

 

  Author News

Double Forte' by Aaron Paul Lazar is a finalist in the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the category of Mystery.

For the Birds by Aaron Paul Lazar is a finalist in the 2011 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the category of Mystery.

Healey's Cave by Aaron Paul Lazar is the winner in the Commercial Fiction category for the 2011 Eric Hoffer award, winner in the Paranormal category for the 2012 EPIC eBook Awards and 2011 Global eBook Award Finalist in Mystery Suspense!

Tremolo by Aaron Paul Lazar is an Award-Winning Finalist in the category of Historical Fiction Contemporary in the 2011 Global eBook Awards.

 

  Reviews

"...Lazar's mystery offers an original and offbeat aspect of the genre that will hold your interest and increase your curiosity to look forward to the next book in the series."
Warren Adler, author of The War of the Roses, Random Hearts and other novels and short story collections
 



"...Aaron Paul Lazar's novel Essentially Yours will keep you feverishly turning pages not only to find out what happens next, but to bathe in the sensuality of his vivid descriptions that draw you into his story and keep you there through all the excitement and fear and romance."
Joan Hall Hovey, author of The Abduction of Mary Rose
 


 

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