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What goes around….

New Jersey clergyman brutally beaten, police have no suspects.

By Michael Cohen
NJ Ledger Staff Writer

Friday, February 5 2010, 4:46 PM

BERGEN COUNTY NJ – Reverend Justin Oliver, Pastor of the Willows  Baptists Church in Willows Township New Jersey was brutally beaten by an unknown assailant Monday night.

The Pastor, recently featured on the public television program, “New Jersey Today” had recently completed a counseling session with a parishioner, Ms. Harriet Winslow when he was attacked.

The attack took place inside the church, in the Pastor’s office, a Willows Township Police Department spokesperson said.” The place looked like a tornado hit it, the Reverend was thrown about like a rag doll. We know someone big and strong did this but we have no suspects at this time. The investigation is ongoing,” the spokesperson added.

The Pastor’s injuries are extensive but he is expected to make a full recovery.

Congressman George Diamond, a “close personal friend” of the Reverend’s called the incident “a despicable and cowardly attack on an innocent man of God” and an affront on the Church” and said he would be watching closely for news of an arrest in the matter.

mcohen@njledger.com

New Jersey clergyman linked to pregnant HS track star.

By Michael Cohen
NJ Ledger Staff Writer

Monday, February 8 2010, 5:22 AM

BERGEN COUNTY NJ – The Willows Township High School athlete who was recently disqualified from a state championship track meet recently when it was found out that she was pregnant named the recently assaulted Reverend Justin Oliver as the father of her unborn child.

Holly Howard, 16,  favored to win both the 1500 and 3000 meters events and was rated as one of the top 5 female High School runners in the country collapsed at the Eastern USA Championship track meet on February 10th. Subsequent medical examination revealed that she is pregnant.

Ms. Howard at first declined to name the father of her child but later admitted a months-long affair with the Reverend that began when she was 15. The Reverend was counseling her when the affair began.

The Reverend Oliver denied the allegations from his hospital bed where he is still recovering from a severe beating at the hands of an unknown assailant. “She is a troubled young woman and I will be praying for her.” he said.

The Reverend’s friend Congressman George Diamond could not be reached for comment.

mcohen@njledger.com


Bergen County DA to indict Pastor for sexual assault of teen track star.

By Michael Cohen
NJ Ledger Staff Writer

Friday, February 12 2010, 5:00 AM

BERGEN COUNTY NJ- The Bergen County DA recently announced that they will seek an indictment against the Reverend Justin Oliver, Pastor of the Willows Township Baptist Church, for sexual assault.

Reverend Oliver continues to deny allegations that he had a physical relationship with 16 year-old Holly Howard, track star of Willows Township High School, which resulted in her pregnancy.

“Our investigation has turned up irrefutable evidence of a physical relationship between the Pastor and the minor and we will present it at the appropriate time.” Bergen County Assistant District Attorney Danielle Toro said in a prepared statement.

The Reverend’s friend Congressman George Diamond could once again not be reached for comment.

mcohen@njledger.com


New evidence links clergyman to pregnant teen.

By Michael Cohen
NJ Ledger Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 16 2010, 10:00 AM

BERGEN COUNTY NJ – In a press conference earlier today, Bergen County Assistant District Attorney Danielle Toro announced that the Bergen County DA’s office will seek to expand the sexual assault charges against the Reverend Justin Oliver to include embezzlement stemming from his “mismanagement and misappropriation of church funds.”

When asked about evidence of the sexual assault against the clergyman ADA Toro said that the DA’s office is in possession of a DVD clearly showing the Pastor engaging in “various sex acts with the minor.” ADA Toro declined to elaborate on how and where they obtained such evidence, saying only “it came to light during the investigation.”

“We are confident the Pastor will be convicted and we will be seeking the maximum term of 5-10 years on the sexual assault and 2-6 years on the embezzlement charges.” ADA Toro said.

“The Reverend has been relieved of his position and the church plans on pressing full charges against him and hope that he is punished to the fullest extent the law allows for his betrayal of our church and our community.” said Eustace Willis, Deacon of Willows Baptist Church.

mcohen@njledger.com

Clergyman indicted on sex assault and embezzlement charges.

By Michael Cohen
NJ Ledger Staff Writer

Friday, February 19 2010, 10:00 AM

BERGEN COUNTY – A Bergen County clergyman was indicted this morning on charges of embezzlement and sexual assault.

A grand jury returned the indictment against Reverend Justin Oliver on charges that he had a sexual relationship with a 15 year-old which resulted in the minor becoming pregnant.  He also illegally diverted more than $100,000 in cash from church accounts into his own accounts and opened credit cards in the church’s name for personal use.

“The defendant in this case usurped his position as a trusted man of God for his own personal pleasure and gain. He even used the church premises as a venue for his affair with the minor.” said Danielle Toro, Bergen County Assistant District Attorney.

Oliver, 45, faces a maximum of 16 years in prison if convicted of both counts.

Oliver said in a statement issued through his attorney that he retains his “perfect faith in God” while he fights the charges. “The charges filed against me today are without merit and are completely untrue,” he said.

Oliver remains in the Bergen County lockup pending release on $500,000 bail.

mcohen@njledger.com


Clergyman beaten, sexually assaulted in lockup.

By Michael Cohen
NJ Ledger Staff Writer

Saturday, February 20 2010, 10:00 AM

BERGEN COUNTY – A Bergen County clergyman was beaten and sexually assaulted last night in the Bergen County lockup while awaiting trial on embezzlement and sexual assault charges.

Reverend Justin Oliver, 45, was taken to Bergen General Hospital where he was treated for injuries sustained during the sexual assault, internal bleeding and massive head trauma.

Bert Campbell 25, homeless, was charged with attempted murder. The police have not ascertained a motive for the attack.

“We managed to relieve the pressure on his brain but even so there is still massive swelling and he is still in a coma. There will be some brain damage as a result of his injuries but how extensive the damage will be its impossible to tell until if and when he comes out of the coma. We have seen patients in his condition linger in a coma for years so his prognosis is not good.” said Dr. Sunila Patel, a hospital spokesperson.

“This changes nothing. If and when Reverend Oliver emerges from his coma, the Bergen County DA will press forward with charges as planned.” said ADA Danielle Toro.

mcohen@njledger.com

January 30, 2010 – Letting go

I sat in front of Tami’s apartment building the next morning, nervous about what I was going to do. What I HAD to do. It was early, 6:45am to be exact, but I knew Tami was an early riser and by now she would have been up for an hour.

I got out of the car, approached the building and took a deep breath. If I did this, there was no going back, but it was what I had to do. I rang her bell and a moment later Tami’s voice came through the intercom.

“Yes?”

“Tami. It’s me, Marc.”

She was silent for a moment before answering.

“Marc, what are you doing here?”

“I have to talk to you. It won’t take long.”

She said nothing but the door buzzed and I opened it and took the stairs up to her apartment.

My plans to get drunk last night and watch Tami’s DVD thankfully never came to pass because of Jessica and Dee. I’d brought Jessica up to speed on what had happened and she had watched snippets of the DVD’s in utter amazement. I’d felt myself getting angry again at the callousness of the man who could use so many people for his own sick amusement, then my anger turned to sadness and once again a need to watch the Tami video and somehow purge myself of the demons that haunted me.

“Why would you want to watch it?” Jessica asked. “Don’t you think it would only hurt you all the more?”

I had no answer for her, I said nothing.

“Remember the time we were rode our bikes in Alley Pond Park Marcus?” Dee said suddenly.

I lifted my head and looked at her.

“Dee what in the world can that have to do with this?”

“Do you remember the time we rode our bikes in Alley Pond Park?” she asked again.

“Yes. I do. Our parents told us not to go there the trails were too steep but we went anyway and you fell off your bike and got that gash on your knee.”

“Yeah, I cut myself pretty good. That cut took three times as long as it should have to heal, and do you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because as soon as it would scab over I would pick at it. When I got that cut everyone felt so bad for me and I got a lot of sympathy. I didn’t want that to end, so I didn’t want the cut to heal. Every time it started to heal, I would pick at it.”

“She’s right.” Jessica said. “Let yourself heal Marcus. It’ll take a while but you have to give yourself the opportunity. Watching this DVD is going to reopen the wound. You know what Tami did, hell, you saw it in person. That’s enough. Start to let it go.”

I looked around my house. Tami was everywhere. She was in the floors and the walls, she was in the furniture and the foundation. She was in my every hope and dream to turn this structure of brick and mortar, this house, into a home. I’d imagined carrying her across the threshold and up the stairs as my wife. We were going to make our babies here, and one day bring them home. I had dreamed of sitting in this very room and rocking my crying son or daughter to sleep. It’s ok, I’d say. Daddy’s here. Daddy’s here. I’d thought about birthday parties and kids running underfoot in happy chaos, playing games and whacking piñatas. We would have had barbeques, and Thanksgivings and Christmases. We would have held one another at New Year’s and thanked the Lord for the year past and for the coming one which we would spend together in love.

None of my dreams would come true now, what was there to live for? I wanted to get up and lock myself away and weep by myself, and I tried but these two women, these two amazing beautiful women with whom I had grown up and who loved me dearly put their arms around me and cried along with me.

We spent the rest of the evening eating and talking and laughing and sometimes another tear or two fell. As we talked I noticed that Dee’s hand was in mine. At some point, I don’t know when, Dee’s hand found mine and we held hands as we sat together. It felt good. Even in the midst of my pain, it felt really good and I didn’t let her go.

Hours later I walked them to their cars and Jessica and I embraced. Words couldn’t possibly convey the depth of my gratitude to her. I tried anyway to get the words out but they wouldn’t come. She saw my dilemma and smiled.

“You’re welcome. I love you too.” She said.

I grinned and hugged her.

“She like you you know. A lot.” She motioned over to where Dee was standing.

“I like her too but…”

“I know Marc, it’s too soon. Nobody is saying you should start anything tomorrow or next week or next month. But let her be your friend ok. Let her be there for you. Be vulnerable with her.” She winked. “Women LOVE that.”

I smiled and hugged her again and watched as she drove off.

I joined Dee at her car and hugged her hard.

“That was unexpected.” She said when I let her go.

I held her hands and looked into her eyes.

“You still didn’t tell me what you wanted to tell me.” I said.

“And I’m not. Not now anyway. Maybe one day but not now.”

She stood on her tiptoes and kissed me lightly on the lips. There was no passion or lust or even love in the kiss, just trust and friendship and maybe a promise of all the other things to come one day.

“So what are you going to do with the DVD’s? She asked.

“Well I know I’m not going to watch Tami’s. I have plans for it. I have no idea what I’m going to do with the others.”

The truth was I was spent emotionally and had no anger left in me for the Shark. He wasn’t forcing anyone to do what they did with him, and although he was totally despicable maybe it wasn’t up to me to see that he got his. He claimed to be a man of God, and God should be the one who saw that he got his punishment.

“Well, I’m here for you whatever you decide ok.”

“You’ve been there for me ever since we were five years old.” I said.

“You’re right, I watched out for you then and I’ll watch out for you now.”

We laughed and hugged again and she got into her car and I watched and waved as she drove off.

The house felt strangely empty when I went back inside. As I put away the dishes and threw out the takeout containers I tried to figure out what was different but I couldn’t. I turned out the lights and went upstairs to go to bed, but even upstairs there was a strange emptiness that haunted me. As I got ready for bed I continued to think about it but it eluded me until my head hit the pillow.

I wasn’t seeing Tami. She wasn’t in every corner of the house anymore; I didn’t see her influence in every nook and cranny as vividly as I did. She was still there to be sure, but her presence was a ghost of what it once was. I was sure that in the days and months to come it would be gone completely and my house would be just that again, a house, not a sad structure housing lost dreams.

I fell asleep sad, but not depressed, knowing that soon the future would be brighter, but I had one thing to do before I could truly begin the healing process.

That thing had brought me to Tami’s door and I caught my breath from taking the stairs then rang her doorbell. She answered it right away as if she was standing on the other side, waiting for me.

“Hi Marc. Come in.”

I stepped into the hallway and she shut the door behind me. Her apartment was in a state of disarray, boxes and luggage everywhere.

“Going somewhere?”

“Yeah. I was going to call you. My job had that opening in Italy and I applied for it and got it. I’m leaving in a few days.”

The news surprised me, but I smiled. I was genuinely happy for her, living in Europe had been a dream of hers for as long as I’d known her.

“Congratulations Tami. I’m really happy for you.”

She cocked her head in surprise.

“You are? I thought you’d be really upset. Frankly I didn’t know how I was going to tell you.”

“I’m not upset. I’ll miss you but I know you’ve wanted this for along time. I hope it’s everything you dreamed it would be.”

She seemed at a loss and we stood there awkwardly for a moment.

“Listen. I came over to give you this.” I said, pulling the DVD from my pocket.

She took it from me with a puzzled look.

“What’s this, I don’t understand.”

I told her about Angela’s package and what it contained. She paled and her legs buckled. I moved some clothes and made some room for her on a chair.

“Are you serious? He did that? He taped us?”

“I’m afraid so. I didn’t watch it.” I hastened to add.

“But…why give this to me Marc, after what I did to you. You could have screwed me over if you wanted to. I don’t understand why…”

“I guess you don’t understand. I love you Tami. After all that’s happened I still love you. I could never hurt you, never hate you. God knows I wanted to hate you but I couldn’t. I came here to give you the DVD and tell you I love you and to wish you all the best.”

She looked at me with tears in her eyes. I knelt before her and stroked her hair. I closed my eyes and felt the old familiar feeling flooding back and my own tears were close. I looked into her eyes and we kissed for the last time.

“Goodbye baby. I won’t ever forget you.” I said.

I left the apartment without looking back. Outside, the sun had fully risen and I squinted against the glare. I walked to my car and looked back at the building. I thought I saw Tami’s curtain move but I couldn’t be sure she was watching but I waved anyway, then got into my car and drove off to face the future.

January 29, 2010 – House Calls

I stared at the darkened television screen, remote control in hand and finger poised over the play button. The pain of seeing Tami being unfaithful to me live and in person was still a fresh and bleeding wound, the pain and extreme heartbreak were still fresh so why did I want to subject myself to that again by watching the DVD?

The truth was the DVD labeled TAMI had been on my mind ever since I saw it. It sat in my imagination, and I feared it. It was the boogeyman in the closet. It was a specter that would rise up to destroy the paper thin peace I’d tried to build since Tami had left my life. Part of me, the part that had my finger on the play button thought that since I already saw what was on it live and in person why even fear whatever was on the disc?

I knew that part of me was wrong. It was using reason to get me to press the button. The more I thought about it, is the more I realized there was a part of me that didn’t want to get over Tami. The pain of losing her now felt…comforting, somehow. It was a warm blanket that I put over me, it was an excuse to hide away from the world and immerse myself in familiar grief. The alternative, going on with my life without her was scary. How could I go on? What would I do, day to day? Who would I call to share a funny story or just to say I love you? All the activity of the past few days had allowed me to put my hurt to the back of my mind but now I was alone with nothing else to ponder.

I rose and wandered the house pausing in spots, reliving memories. So many places in the house had a story to tell about her. She was there when I first saw the place, there she was helping me pick out the furniture, here we were making love in the early morning hours, wasn’t that us watching a movie together on the very spot I was sitting only a minute ago. I thought again of all the times we’d made love in this house. Every single time my love for Tami had driven my wanting of her and we’d made beautiful, passionate love. Sure we had fucked too and we had experimented with various things as couples do, but she had never seemed to want to indulge in any of them on a regular basis so to think about her doing what the other women had done with the Shark was puzzling to me. Was it me? Was I not enough for her? The whole time we were together was my love lacking? What else did she need and why didn’t she say anything? Or did she say something and I was too blind and stupid to notice? Or was it something about him that made women (and men) go along with whatever he wanted and love it.

Was she bored with our lovemaking and that’s why she had turned to another? Did she get tied up too? Did he leave welts or cruel handcuff marks on her beautiful body? Did she know what it felt like to have a gag in her mouth and foreign objects thrust roughly inside her? Did he beat her like a mule with the big leather belt? Worse, much much worse, did she like it? Why didn’t she realize that to him, she was just another conquest? Just one more DVD to add to the growing collection. To me, she was my whole world, she was my everything and I would have done anything at all for her. Isn’t that what women say that they want? To be treated like queens, and not used and beat and then sent home to the ones who really love them, stinking of another and worse still bearing the marks of his cruelty.

Torturing myself with those thoughts was the last thing I needed but once I began I couldn’t stop. I paced around my living room in a smoldering, impotent rage.

I put the remote control down and went over to the bar and fixed myself a stiff drink. I am normally not a drinker but if there was an occasion that called for a drink this was certainly it. I hadn’t been drunk since I was a teenager but I had made the decision to watch the DVD and it would certainly be better viewing with a fair amount of twenty year-old scotch in my system.

I poured the drink and swallowed it in one gulp. It was like lava going down but enough of those and I wouldn’t feel, I wouldn’t think and I wouldn’t hurt. I poured another and brought the bottle over with me and sat down and readied myself to push the play button.

Before I could do it my phone rang and a glance at the caller ID told me it was Jessica.

Jessica!

I’d forgotten that I had invited her over. Maybe hers was just the perspective I needed at a time like this.

“Hello, Jess?”

“Hey Marcus I’m done with babysitting for the night, is your invitation still good?”

“Sure…sure it is.”

“Are you ok Marc? You don’t sound so good.”

“I’m ok. I’ve just been thinking too much as usual.”

“I’m on the way honey, I’m good with thoughts, you can tell them to me ok.”

I hung up the phone and despite my mood I had to smile. The Universe never gave you more than you could handle and when it did, it sent someone to help you handle it. Maybe Jessica’s perspective was just what I needed to get my mind right and deal with the DVD.

I looked around my place. Things were fairly neat but I ran around making sure things were clean and then called the local Thai place and placed an order for delivery.

A couple of minutes later my doorbell rang and I opened it to find a smiling Jessica standing there. She’d dyed her normally brown hair to a red color that suited her perfectly. She looked great in snug jeans and a white button-down shirt. I was so happy to see her I hugged her right there on the doorstep.

“Aren’t you going to let me in?” She asked, smiling, once we had finished hugging.

“I’m sorry. Come on in.”

“Nice place.”

“Thanks. Let me give you the tour.”

I take her hand and give her the grand tour of my house. She asked questions about this piece of furniture or that piece of art and I tell her it’s all Tami’s influence. As I take her about the house I remember again when we made love or struggled to put up a piece of art or argued what would go where and I became subdued.

Jessica sensed my mood and held my hand as we made our way back downstairs.

“Memories?” She asked, when were seated on my couch.

“Too many of them.” I said.

She said nothing, just squeezed my hand.

“Why did she do it Jessica? Why couldn’t I have been enough for her? She was my whole world and she knew it. It had to be me. What did I do Jess? What did I do to her? Why did she not want our baby? Why didn’t she want me?”

“Baby? What baby?”

I realize Jessica didn’t know what Tami had told me at the church so I quickly recounted what she’d told me. Then I showed her Angela’s letter and journals and filled her in about the DVD’s.

“My God.” She said when I was done. “No wonder you were going to get drunk. But you know that’s no solution right.”

I was about to respond when the doorbell rang.

“I ordered some food for us, I completely forgot about it.”

I got some money and opened the door, expecting to see the deliveryman from Thai Thai but instead it’s Dee that’s in the doorway.

“Oh. Hey Dee, what’s up? Did you forget something?”

“No I just came to see if you were ok. Knowing you, you probably watched the Tami DVD, I just wanted to make sure…”

Her words drop off as she sees Jessica sitting on the couch.

“Oh…I’m sorry, I didn’t know you had company. Looks like you didn’t need me after all. I’ll see you later Marcus.”

She turns on her heel and strides down the walk. Just then another car pulls into my driveway and the Thai deliveryman runs up the walk with a large bag of food.

“Dee wait! Wait!”

I run past the startled deliveryman and catch Dee before she can enter her car.

“Listen Dee, it’s Jessica. It’s only Jessica, it’s not…”company”. You’re welcome to join us if you want.”

“Three’s a crowd Marcus. Plus I see you guys are about to eat dinner I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

I hold her by her shoulders and look into her eyes.

“Dee, it’s NOT like that ok. I had forgotten I’d invited Jessica over and just before she came I was about to get stinking drunk and watch the Tami DVD. I feel like shit Dee and I need you here with me. I need you both here with me. Please stay.”

“You better have ordered some Pad Thai.” She said. “Shrimp. None of that cheap chicken stuff.”

I laugh and take her hand and we head back to the house together.

January 28, 2010 – Whips and chains and candle wax, oh my!

I popped in the first DVD and hesitantly joined my friends on the couch. I knew and liked most of the people on the discs and felt conflicted about watching them in intimate moments but I had to see what was on those DVD’s.

The first one began and at first all you saw was the same bed down in the tunnel where I had seen the Shark and Tami going at it. Then in a moment he stepped into the frame leading a hesitant looking Harriet Winslow by the hand. They both had glasses of something we couldn’t identify but we guessed was some kind of alcohol. They drank and talked and as they did you could see Harriet becoming more comfortable. He was complimenting her and then slowly began to touch her, arms, legs, face, then her breasts and stomach.

She was nervous at first, you could hear it in her voice but as the Shark progressed you could almost hear her inhibitions hit the floor along with her clothes.

The Shark was smooth, I’ll give him that. Very, very smooth. He spoke to Harriet about the Sunday School and her dedication to it, he spoke of her work in the community, he even spoke to her about her late husband. His voice was low and hypnotic and as he spoke he touched her here and there, and soon began to remove her clothes as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Harriet put her drink down and submitted to his attentions and soon she was naked and still he kept up his banter as he caressed her body. He lay her down on the cot and put his head between her legs and his voice ceased and hers began. Soon he took off his clothes and we pressed the fast forward button and the machine sped through the frames as he screwed Harriet in every way imaginable. The next chapter of the DVD showed him and Harriet in a room, it looked like an apartment bedroom, with a huge four-poster bed. Harriet was on it, dressed only in thigh-high black leather boots and with a ball-gag in her mouth. He hands were handcuffed to the posts and her legs spread wide and her feet tied to the bed.

The Shark circled the bed, naked, with a riding crop in his hand. He told Harriet what a whore she was and punctuated his sentences with whacks on Harriet’s bare breasts and thighs. She squirmed and tried to speak but the gag did its job well.

Soon he stopped circling the bed and knelt between her legs. He took the gag from her mouth and roughly forced the handle of the riding crop down her throat. She sucked it greedily and he then took the glistening handle and rubbed it between her legs then suddenly and without warning forced it inside her. It looked painful and I winced at the sight, but Harriet seemed to be in her glory. She moaned and smiled and moved her hips in time to his forceful thrusting. Soon he rose and left the room and we were left with the spectacle of Harriet smiling, anticipating what was to come. A moment later he returned with an enormous lit candle and a mask which he put over her eyes. He once again took up his place between her legs, put on a condom, and thrust himself roughly inside her. She gasped and as he stroked her he dripped what seemed like gallons of candle wax onto her body, concentrating on her stomach and nipples. She screamed in pain and he smiled, showing his rows of shark-like teeth.

I stopped the DVD in disgust and ejected it, then slid the second one in. My friends said nothing then Tai broke the silence with an ironic laugh.

“Man. The Rev is a freak huh?”

“The Rev? What about the Sunday School teacher? Who woulda thunk it?” Neville answered.

Despite my anger I had to laugh.

“Just goes to show, you never know what kind of freak someone is.” Dee said.

The other DVD began and it was more of the same. The same with the next video and the next and the one after that. Video after video showed the Shark had the same MO. He would take the women into the tunnels and talk to them in that same hypnotic way and before you knew it their clothes were on the floor. Some took longer than others but all of them got the Shark treatment. All of them had multiple “chapters” in their DVD, and all of them underwent some form of bondage and torture which they seemed to love.

We cycled through all the women and then came to the first man, Alex Howard. Tai and Neville and I looked at each other. I didn’t know about them but I was not looking forward to seeing what we all knew we would see. I am in no way homophobic but seeing two men have sex was low on my list of things to see.

I stood with the DVD in my hand and Dee looked at my, puzzled.

“What’s the holdup Marc, put that bad boy in there.”

I looked at the guys and Dee saw the look we exchanged and grabbed the DVD from me in disgust and popped it into the player.

“Grow up guys.” She said, and inserted the disc into the player.

Alex Howard was a giant of a man. He was well over six feet talk and looked to be two hundred and fifty pounds at minimum. His shoulders were wide and his trapezoid muscles bulged out like twin mountains. His biceps were enormous and his chest muscles bulged from his shirt. His hair was long and very blonde and he looked like an uber muscular version of a hair band pretty boy.

Unlike the women, the video began in the Shark’s office. The camera was in a corner of the office and seemed to be hidden behind some books. There was no preamble, no talking no calm removing of clothes. They came into the frame falling into each other’s arms, kissing and groping furiously and removing clothing as they went. Alex Howard was the bigger man by far but it was plain that the Shark was the dominant one. Once naked, the Shark had Alex up against the wall, legs spread wide and arms up over his head, like a cop frisking a suspect. He ran his hands appreciatively over the larger man’s hard back muscles then his ass. He stepped back, removed his belt and suddenly gave Alex one, two, three loud and painful looking whacks across his back and bare buttocks. Alex winced but didn’t move from where the Shark had placed him.

“You’re a big mothafucka ain’t you?” The Shark said.

Alex said nothing.

“AIN’T YOU!” the Shark bellowed, punctuating the words with a cruel lash across the big man’s back.

“YES! I’m a big motherfucker! YES!”

“You a big mothafuckin’ bitch!”

“I’m a big motherfucking bitch!” Alex repeated.

The Shark showed his predatory teeth. He was shirtless but his pants were still on and he had a large and very visible erection. He ran his hands almost tenderly over the welts the belt had made, tracing them with his fingers.

“Move over here.” He ordered Alex.

The Shark swept all the papers off his desk in on motion then made Alex lie on the desk. He circled the desk like his namesake circling prey, his eye firmly on the large man’s enormous erection. Alex’s body was sculpted and amazing and you could tell the Shark was very turned on by it. He ran his hands over his pecs then to the rock hard stomach and over the hills and valleys of spectacularly sculpted abs.

I looked over at my friends and found them watching as enraptured as I was. I was not turned on but I couldn’t look away, wondering for the thousandth time what the hell was it about this man that made people seem to do his bidding.

On the screen the Shark had removed his pants and Alex gasped at the sight of his erection.

“Get your ass up off my desk.” The Shark said.

Alex did as he was told and then meekly bent over the desk.

The shark grabbed Alex’s long blond hair and pulled it back cruelly and as he entered him Alex gasped and moaned and once again the Shark grinned his toothy grin at a job well done.

The Shark began to say something to a moaning Alex but then the screen went blank.

“That’s quite enough of that.” Tai said, remote control in hand.

“You guys are such babies.” Dee said, ejecting the DVD and inserting the next.

“I don’t think we need to see anymore.” I said.

Dee ignored me and pressed the play button. Like with Alex Howard the encounter with the drug dealer D Mo took place in his office. Again, there was no talking or tender removal of clothes, nor was there submission as with Alex. The two men seemed to fight each other as they kissed. D Mo was only about five nine and wiry so this time the Shark was the bigger man and he took advantage of his greater strength to subdue D Mo, removing his clothes bit by bit then bending him over the desk in the same spot he’d taken Alex. The smaller man had a burst of energy and managed to get up and turn around and the Shark held him by the scruff of the neck, pulling his face to him and they kissed savagely, almost biting one another in passion. The Shark pushed him down onto the desk by his neck and held him there while he undid his belt and pulled his pants down around his ankles. D Mo was on his back and the Shark used his knees to open up D Mo’s legs while keeping one hand on his neck, choking him, and the other held down his shoulder while he took him forcefully.

“He’s raping him.” I said.

“No.” Dee said. “It’s some kind of role playing.”

“Then they deserve an Oscar it looks like rape to me.” Neville said.

Dee stopped the DVD ejected it and inserted the final one. It seemed as if the Shark preferred to have his male lovers in his office because this DVD was also took place there. Congressman Diamond stepped into the frame, dressed much like the Shark in an expensive suit looking confident and every inch the up and coming political power. He was a big man, a former football player, still muscular but going a little soft.

He and the Shark stood looking at one another then fell into each other’s arms. No submission, no fighting, just two lovers on an equal footing who seemed to care about one another deeply. They kissed and caressed each other’s bodies passionately and removed their clothes until they were naked before one another. They moved slightly out of the frame and the Congressman went onto his knees and out of the frame but the look on the Shark’s face and the sounds coming from just out of camera range betrayed what was happening.

This time Dee was the one who pressed the stop button.

“Ok, we’ve seen enough. Now what do we do?”

“I don’t know, but I’m going home to take a shower.” Neville said. “I feel dirty.”

Tai rose and followed him out the door. “Next time you have a movie night bro, I prefer Spielberg ok.”

I laughed and we touched fists and I walked them outside. Dee hugged me as she got in the car with the guys.

“See you later porn king.” She said.

I watched them leave then went back inside. The stack of DVD’s seemed to call me and I went through them until I got to the one with Tami’s name on it. We hadn’t watched it and I had never planned to but curiosity was getting the better of me. I took the disc from its case and put it in the player.

January 27, 2010 – Movie Night

I asked the waitress for my check, paid for the food, which sat on the plate, uneaten, and left a healthy tip. I ran out to my car and peeled off leaving a strip of burnt rubber and a very confused waitress behind.

I raced through Connecticut and into New York but my mind was moving even faster when it thought about the possibilities of using the evidence that Angela had left me. There were ten names on the DVD’s besides Tami’s. Ten names, each one belonging to a member of the congregation.

As I sped down the Major Deegan Expressway to the George Washington Bridge I wondered how I would use the information. Would I go to the people individually and let them know they were being recorded? Would I make copies and send to the spouses? Would I face the Shark with what I had? I had no idea what to do so I called Dee.

“Hi Marc.” She said, I could hear the others in the car with her talking in the background.

“Angela left me something.” I said abruptly.

“She did what?”

“She left me something.”

“What do you mean she left you something? Did she have a will?”

“No, she sent me a package.”

“What? I don’t understand.”

I told her about the package and its contents and where I thought it was from originally and how I’d opened it in the diner. I told her about the DVD’s and what I suspected was on them and she gasped.

“He gets around doesn’t he?” She said. “Did you actually look at them yet?”

“No, I’m headed home now to do that. Can you guys meet me at my place?”

She spoke with Tai and Neville and they agreed to meet me.

The George Washington Bridge loomed ahead of me and I joined the other motorists on the on-ramp heading to New Jersey. The bridge gave you a choice of a lower or upper level, and although traffic was sometimes heavier on the upper level I often chose it as you got a brief but beautiful view of the majestic Hudson River and on a clear day, the New York Skyline. As I enjoyed the brief view, my phone rang and I was surprised to see it was Jessica.

“Jess, I’m happy you called.” I said, and I meant it.

“Hey Marc. I heard it was Angela’s funeral today, how did you make out?”

“It was pretty sad, but it’s not the funeral that’s got me thinking.”

For the second time I told the story of the package. She said nothing just listened while I recalled the letter and the DVD’s and the journals.

“So what are you going to do?” she asked.

“I have no idea. I’m on the way home now to meet my friends and see what’s on the DVD’s. I guess I’ll decide then.”

“And the journals?”

I said nothing for a moment.

“I think I’m scared of reading them.” I admitted.

“Why?”

“I didn’t do the right thing by Angela, Jess, I wish I had been a better, stronger person for her. From her letter it sounds like she had a rough life and I’m sure the journals will bear that out. It probably…no I know it will make me feel much worse about how I treated her.”

“Well Marc, it’s you choice to read them or not, but she wanted you to have them, and I think she wanted you to know her story so you might understand better why she made the choices she did. Revealing who you are, who you really are, is never easy and that’s what she did, she’s showing you who she really is. That’s a great honor.”

I thought about what Jessica said as I left the bridge and merged onto the New Jersey Turnpike.

“You’re right.” I said finally. “I’ll read them.”

“I think you should.”

“Thanks Jess.”

“My pleasure Marc, call me anytime ok, I’m gonna get going I have to…”

“Areyoudoinganythingtonightyoushouldcomeover.” I said suddenly.

“What? I didn’t get that.”

I took a breath and said it more slowly.

“Are you doing anything tonight? Maybe you can come over, if, you know, you’re free. You know, to talk.”

Jess laughed and I smiled despite myself. I was acting like an awkward teenager asking a girl out for the first time.

“Well I was saying I have to get going since I’m babysitting your niece tonight, but your sister tells me they won’t be late so is it ok if I stop by afterwards?”

I grinned a huge Cheshire Cat grin.

“Sure, I would like that a lot.”

“Ok, see you then.”

We said goodbye and I as I drove I thought about what she said and made up my mind to put aside whatever I would feel about Angela’s journals and dedicate myself to reading them and trying my best to understand her.

I pulled into my driveway as the sun was going down. My friends had arrived ahead of me and I walked in to find them watching TV. When I opened the door they clicked the television off and stared at me somberly.

Dee rose and hugged me and I hugged her back.

“Why the long faces?” I asked them.

No one said anything; they looked at one another then back at me.

“Turn it back on.” Dee said.

Tai turned the TV on and I saw the Shark sitting on a talk show set, teeth white and gleaming resplendent in an obviously expensive Italian suit.

“What’s this?”

“It’s New Jersey Today.”

“I know what the show is! What the hell is he doing on it?”

New Jersey Today was a small but popular show on the local PBS station. The host, Tamara Boyd, was a respected journalist, author and host with multiple awards to her name. I watched the show from time to time as she interviewed everyone from the Governor to the gardener. Her interviews were known to be so in-depth and penetrating that it was considered an honor to be invited to her show.

“We have no idea, we turned it on and there he was.” Dee said.

Neville turned up the sound and we listened as the Shark charmed his way through the rest of the interview. He expounded on morality, the family and everything in between. It was clear by the end of the interview that Ms. Boyd was totally charmed by him and I wondered how long it would be before there was a DVD with her name on it.

“That guy makes me fucking mad.” Dee said, when it was over.

I was enraged by the pathetic spectacle of hypocrisy I’d just witnessed but pulled myself together. I turned the television off then pulled the DVD’s from the package dramatically and held them in my hand.

“Here’s the evidence guys.” I said. “Now we just have to decide what to do with it.”

Dee held out her hand for me to hand her the discs. “Let’s see who’s on them.”

Instead of handing them to her I read the names aloud.

“Victim number 1. Tami.”

I handed the DVD to Dee.

“We shouldn’t watch that one man, Neville said.

“Yea Marc, I mean after all that’s happened maybe it’s best if we trash that one.”

I ignored them and pulled out the second DVD with a flourish.

“Number two. Harriet Winslow.”

They gasped.

“Harriet Winslow? Harriet Winslow? Sunday School Harriet Winslow?” Tai asked in disbelief.

Harriet Winslow was the consummate image of the Sunday School teacher. She was a beautiful woman in her fifties whose husband had passed about five years ago. Ms. Winslow oozed class and deportment and would be the LAST person you would imagine to be taken in by the Shark.

I handed the DVD labeled HARRIET W to Dee.

“Number three. Judy Winslow.”

If Harriet was the epitome of the Sunday School teacher her sister Judy was the epitome of the small-town librarian, which she had been since ever since I could remember. She’d attended an all girls college years ago and when she returned to town there were rumors she was a lesbian. She had never married and like her sister, was a beautiful, classy and dignified woman.

Dee got the JUDY W DVD.

“Number four. Fran McKenzie.”

Neville sat up and took notice at the mention of that name. He and Fran had been High School sweethearts. Fran was now a noted African American history professor, living and teaching in New York with her husband and two children. She faithfully took the drive to New Jersey every Sunday with her children to attend church with her parents.

“Number five. Denise Chan.”

“Holy shit. That fucker really is brave. Greg would murder him.” Said Tai.

Denise Chan was the wife of Greg Chan, a friend of ours and owner of New Jersey Aikido, one of the premier Martial Arts schools on the East Coast. Greg was the holder of numerous awards and titles in several disciplines and although he was a great guy, he wasn’t one I would readily mess with. Greg was known to be head over heels in love with his wife of over fifteen years and God knows what his reaction would be if he ever found out.

“Number six. Minnie Rivera.”

Dee slapped her palm onto her forehead. “Good God.”

Tai and Neville stared at each other in disbelief.

Minerva “Minnie” Rivera was one of the better known members of the community. She had authored several books in recent years and was a frequent and outspoken advocate for the rights of the disabled as she was confined to a wheelchair after an accident she suffered as a teenager.

Number seven. Sunila Patel.

Dee paled.

“Sunny? Sunny Patel? DOCTOR Sunny Patel?”

At one time or another Tai, Neville and I, along with the entire male population of our High School class had nursed a huge crush on Sunila “Sunny” Patel. Sunny was the classic Indian beauty with long flowing hair and huge brown eyes and lashes that went on for days. Not only was she beautiful but she was friendly and approachable and one of the smartest people I had ever met. She had several modeling offers but turned them all down and instead opted for medical school. She lived in New York and was a surgeon at Mount Sinai hospital. As with Fran Mackenzie, Sunny often came back to attend church with her parents.

“Number eight. Yolanda Howard.”

Dee, Tai, and Neville looked at each other, puzzled. I was puzzled at that name too, it was not one I was familiar with then after some thought I recalled the name. Neville’s eyes opened wide and I knew he had come to the same conclusion I had.

“Wait. Isn’t she the girl from the high school who just won the state track championships? But…isn’t she like only sixteen?”

“Seventeen.” I said.

“Her father is the coach. Alex Howard. I go to the same gym as him. He would KILL that guy for messing with his daughter! Alex would rip him to pieces, have you ever seen the size of that guy, he’s one huge walking muscle!”

“Number nine. Alex Howard.”

There was stunned silence for at least ten seconds.

“Marc that’s not funny.” Neville said.

“I’m not trying to be funny.” I held up the DVD with ALEX H plainly written on the label.

“Jesus.” Tai said. This guy in unbelievable.

“Number ten. Damien Morris.”

Shock was not the word to express what we felt. Damien Morris aka D Mo was the town badass and reputed to be a drug dealer. He seemed like a true thug and played the part to the hilt, complete with doo-rag and cornrows wife-beaters and expensive jeans worn half-way down his ass.

“And last but not least, George Diamond.”

An audible gasp went up from all three.

“Congressman Diamond?” Tai asked.

“The one and only.”

George Diamond was an up-and-comer in New Jersey politics. I didn’t follow the ins-and-outs of the New Jersey political scene but from what I’d read he was one of the new, younger crowd of politician reputed to be one of the future political heavyweights of the state and maybe beyond. He was a few years older than we were and had gone to our high school and had deep roots in our town. He was in the papers and on television fairly often talking about family and often seen with his wife and two small children.

I handed the last DVD to Dee and we stared at one another in silence.

“We have to be very very careful with this.” Neville said.

“Agreed. A lot of people will be hurt by this if we don’t handle it right.” Dee said.

“Well, we still won’t know for sure what’s on them if we don’t look so let’s take a look then decide what to do.” Tai said.

We each took a seat and I put the first DVD in the player. We braced ourselves for what was to come but nothing could have prepared us for what we saw.

January 26, 2010 – The Package

I sat there looking at the box as if the tape holding it closed would fall apart at my gaze or the word on the label would somehow change. No matter how hard or how long I looked it remained the same.
ANGELA.
The word was written in blue ink in a clear and neat hand and didn’t look at all like a woman who was about to take her own life had written it.
The waitress returned laden with my food and I pushed the package aside to make room for the plates. She smiled when she was done placing the plates as if she had made the food herself and was proud of her handiwork.
“Enjoy it sir, you just yell if you need anything else ok. My name is Rhonda.”
I said nothing and she walked away and left me alone with my meal and the box.
ANGELA.
I pushed the food aside and put the box in front of me, then used the butter knife to try to open the tape holding it together. A moment later the waitress was by my side holding a pair of scissors.
“That dull butter knife will never work. Try this.”
I thanked her and went to work on the package. The scissors made short work of the tape and I opened it to reveal an envelope and yet another, smaller box. There was writing on the envelope in the same neat hand as on the package.
TO MARCUS, it said.
My mouth was dry and I took a sip of the juice that came with my breakfast, then opened the envelope.
Dear Marc,
I’m sorry.
I know you don’t understand what I did and why I had to do it. All I ask is that you please forgive me. When you think of me, please think of the times you and I and Tami spent together before all this, or think of you and I making love. That’s how I want you to remember me.
For the record Marc, Tami is a fool. You gave her the love I’ve been searching for my entire life and she threw it away. I hope you know that it wasn’t you, it was some need in her that she needed to fulfill, some part of her that refused to accept that a good man loved her fully and unconditionally. And you are that Marc, you are a good man.
I needed a good man.
I am no good at picking them Marc. I know now that everything I’ve done was me trying to find love, the love that I missed growing up. I’m not trying to make excuses, I take responsibility for what I’ve done, but I wish I could have done differently. I wish I could have met a good man who was willing to do what it took to love me, to tell me he loved me, to make me his one and only.
I thought I had that with Justin, I really did. I was only fooling myself I know. But I believed it Marcus, I really did. He listened to me, you know, when I spoke he held my hand and looked into my eyes and listened. I told him about my past and he seemed to really care and I fell for him hard. He asked me to do things that I would have never done Marcus, but I loved that man and I did them. Part of me knew him for the monster he was but I denied it, I told myself I was wrong, I was only being paranoid but I knew I wasn’t.
I knew I wasn’t.
I wanted to believe the best of him, I wanted to think he would settle with me and only me and we would go somewhere and live happily ever after.
Then I found out about all the other women. Then I found out about Tami.
I wanted to confront her but I didn’t have the courage because if I looked into her eyes and saw it was true then I thought I might die right then and there. So I watched and waited and as I told you, the night you happened to find them was the night I was going to kill them. Kill them both Marcus then myself because what would life be worth after that?
Well, you know the rest.
I get sick in the morning Marcus and sometimes during the day. My baby is growing inside me.
But, I have to go. And I have to take her with me.
Yes I know it’s a girl, I can feel it. She would have been beautiful Marcus. So so beautiful! She would have grown strong and healthy and I would have loved her every second of her life, but you know what, it wouldn’t have been enough. I know how it feels to be without your father and I know how that leaves a hole in a little girl’s heart that can never be filled. But you try to fill it Marcus with men who only want to use you and men who don’t wish you well and men who sense your void and use it against you.
I don’t want that for her Marcus. I refuse to let that happen, so I have to go, and I have to take her with me.
I wish things had been different between us but I want to know that when I made love to you, I meant it. I know Tami was on your mind, but you made me feel loved and I’m grateful to you for that.
I hope your heart heals Marcus. You have a big one and you have so much love you want and need to give. I hope one day you find the right one for you and you are happy.
Love,
Angela.

“Is everything ok sir?”
The waitress startled me and I looked up.
“Yes, I’m fine, delicious. It’s great.”
She looked at me quizzically then walked off. The plates of food sat before me cold and untouched.
I read the letter for a second time and tried to contemplate the complete state of despair that Angela must have been in. My fury at the Shark grew and I shook with impotent rage. I folded the letter and put it back in the envelope then opened the other box. In it were six well-used journals filled front to back with Angela’s neat handwriting. There was a note taped to the first journal.
These are for you Marcus. I hope you can get to know me better now I’m gone and you might understand why I did the things I did. Maybe one day you can even tell my story.
Please don’t forget about me.
Angela.
Next to the journals there was a large manila envelope. I opened it and emptied the contents out onto the table. About a dozen cd’s in jewel cases tumbled out along with yet another note.
Marcus,
These were some of Justin’s “trophies”. I know you’ll know what to do with them.
Angela.
What I thought were CD’s turned out to be DVD’s. there were eleven of them in all each with a different woman’s name written on it in black Sharpie.
I flipped through them in disbelief and my heart dropped when I came to the second to last one, emblazoned with Tami’s name.

January 25, 2010 – Ashes to ashes…

They put her in the ground on a cold but sunny day. It had snowed the day before and the cemetery was a white plain with headstones growing from the snow like hard, ugly flowers.

The gravesite was the only spot clear of snow in the field of white and we stood and listened to the thin, red-faced priest speak in a soft but clear voice that carried over the snow. Angela’s one surviving relative, a brother, a handsome, sad-faced man sat with his family by the graveside holding his wife’s hand. Angela’s friends from work were there as well as one or two of her ex-boyfriends. Tami sat with the family and I stood apart unable to purge the bitter bile of regret from my system.

Tami and I hadn’t spoken since Angela passed. We’d left the hospital together and I drove her home. We didn’t speak or communicate in any way except for long wistful looks at one another. We arrived at her apartment building and I escorted her inside and watched her shaking hands try in vain to find the keys to open her door. I gently took the keys from her and opened the door. She nodded her thanks, went into the apartment, and took one last look at me before closing the door. I stood in the hallway for a moment then turned to leave, but her door opened again and she was in my arms. We kissed passionately and when it ended she went back into the apartment and closed the door.

The days following were a blur. I took some time off and work was tempted to fall back into my old pattern of isolating myself and wallowing in my melancholy. Instead I forced myself to confide in my sisters and my friends. I called Jessica and got the number of a therapist colleague and so far had had one session. It was good to talk but so far I hadn’t been able to come close to finding any sort of peace. A number of times I was tempted to find the Shark and talk to him. Whether I wanted to see if he had some measure of human regret and compassion or to smash his face in again I didn’t know. Maybe both.

Angela was from Hartford, CT and would be buried there alongside her parents. It was an almost three-hour drive and my friends were all driving up together but I declined to drive with them. I needed the time alone to prepare myself to say goodbye. I woke up on the day of the funeral with a feeling of dread, as if something ominous loomed on the horizon and was fast approaching me. Try as I might though I could not decipher the feeling. What else could possibly happen, someone had died over this situation and I had lost Tami forever, it was as bad as it was going to get.

As I was leaving the house I almost stumbled over a Fed-Ex box on my doorstep. I picked it up and threw it on the seat next to me in the car and drove up the funeral without another thought as to its contents.

My GPS guided me on the drive from Central New Jersey to Hartford. It took me up the NJ Turnpike then across the George Washington Bridge into the Bronx for a minute then into New York’s Westchester County, then up into Connecticut. The day was cold, but sunny and bright and I arrived at the church with about fifteen minutes to go before the funeral began. All the way up I had heeded the soft voice of the GPS, listened to music, admired the beautiful scenery on some parts of the drive, anything to keep my thoughts at bay. Now the GPS had done its job, the radio was off and there was no scenery to watch except for a church door and a sign with Angela’s name and the time of her service and burial.

I hadn’t shed a tear for Angela since I left the hospital on the night she died. Truthfully I hadn’t felt much of anything. Now, as I sat and stared at the somber sign that announced the timetable for saying goodbye to Angela one last time I recalled my memories of her. From the double dates with her horrible boyfriends to the night we spent together only a few weeks ago the images came at me. I remembered her laugh, I remembered how beautiful she was and how our lovemaking, wrong as it was, felt so good. I recalled her beautiful body and her passion then I thought about how she was just a scared little girl, looking for someone to love her and wondered why she always chose the wrong ones to be with and it hurt to think I was one of the wrong ones. I thought about her baby and wondered if it was a little boy or a little girl.

Then I cried.

I wept for her and her baby and I cried because I shouldn’t have added to her misery and it hurt me that she was gone forever. I hated Tami because she set these events into motion and I loved her because I would never stop loving her, ever. I cried because I was so lonely, and not all the friends or family in the world could fill that spot, that special spot that only the love of your life can even approach. I sat in the car and hung my head as the first strains of an organ wafted out of the church. I should be inside, mourning with my friends but my legs wouldn’t obey me and sat in the car and grieved on my own as the choir began to sing a slow mournful song.

As the song ended Dee emerged from the church, phone in hand and a moment later my phone rang. I let it ring twice then picked it up.

“Hello.”

“Marc. Where are you honey, we’re worried about you.”

I said nothing.

“Marc? Did I lose you? Marc?”

“I’m here Dee. I’m in the lot.”

I watched her scan the parking lot until she saw my car, then quickly walk towards it.

She arrived at the car and I opened the door for her and threw the Fed Ex package on the back seat.

“We were worried about you.” She said when she got in the car.

“I’m sorry, I was just sitting here. I was going to come in soon.” I lied.

She looked at me skeptically and held my hand. “C’mon, let’s go in.”

I started to open the door then stopped.

“I wanted to ask you something Dee. That day at the church you were about to say something. What was it?”

She looked flustered and turned red.

“It was…nothing…really…don’t…don’t…worry about it.”

Now it my turn to look at her skeptically.

“Marc, really…it was nothing.” I stared at her without speaking and she sighed. Inside the church the choir began a new song, a more up-tempo song of praise.

She held my hand and looked into my eyes. “Marc. It was something. You’re right. But not now ok? Please?”

“Ok Dee. But soon.”

We left the car and walked hand in hand to the church. Although she was dressed for a funeral she looked stunning and I wondered where the little girl who used to make mud pies and get into trouble with me went.

Just before we went up the church steps she stopped suddenly.

“What’s the matter.” I asked.

“I really wished you hadn’t asked me that question in the car.”

“Dee I’m sorry I know it’s a terrible time, I didn’t think.”

“No it’s not that. It’s…it’s just…”

“What?”

Tears were shining in her eyes and as I looked at her one broke free and began to flow down her face. I tried to wipe it away but she held my hand and kissed it, then put an arm around my neck and looked me in the eyes. Her face moved toward me and I was certain she was going to kiss me but at the last moment she stopped and only lay her head on my chest and held me.

“C’mon.” she said when the moment had passed. “Let’s go inside.”

The service was short but beautiful. Seeing Angela’s coffin was a shock and throughout the service I stared at it, unable to comprehend how we were about to commit the beautiful, vibrant woman I’d known to her eternal rest.

The cemetery was only a short drive away and I arrived there and sat in the car as I’d done at the church. I was finding it hard to say good bye to Angela and I couldn’t figure our why. When most of the mourners were at or on their way to the gravesite I sighed and got out of the car. My coat was in the back seat and as I picked it up I once again saw the Fed Ex package left on the doorstep. Probably work stuff, I concluded. I had taken time off work and they probably needed some papers signed. I placed the package on the front seat again to make sure I would remember to open it later. The quicker I dealt with it the quicker it would be off my plate.

As I walked to the grave, my mind again tried to figure out why it was that I was having a hard time saying goodbye to Angela. She was gone, that was without question, but somewhere in a corner of my mind it was like she wasn’t. Not yet. And she wouldn’t be until…what? I had no idea.

The day was cold but as we gathered at the gravesite the sun broke free of the clouds and shone brightly on us. The priest began to speak and as he did so Dee found me and stood next to me. I put my arm around her and we stood and cried together as the priest said beautiful words about the sad young woman who was gone too soon. Tami sat with Angela’s family and could see Dee and I from where she sat. We exchanged pained glances and I noticed her from time to time glaring at Dee as she held me.

When the service was over I shook Angela’s brothers’ hand and made my way back to the car. Dee held my hand and walked with me.

“Do you want me to ride back with you?” She asked.

I didn’t answer her question.

“Marc? Marcus? Did you hear me?”

“Dee I feel like I’m supposed to do something.” I said.

“Do something about what?”

“Angela.”

She stopped me and held my hand. “Marc, I know you have a lot of regret and I lot of guilt. That happens when someone you care about takes their own life, but…”

“That also happens when you have a lot to regret and be guilty for.”

She sighed.

“Marc, all I can ask of you is that you not do this to yourself. Angela made her choice. HER choice, not yours or Tami’s or even that Reverend’s. The choice was hers and hers alone and there is nothing you can do about it. Not one thing. So you have to mourn her and remember her and live your life the best you can.”

“I know Dee and you’re right but I feel like there’s something I need to do. I feel like she can’t rest and I can’t go on until…something happens. I just don’t know what that is.”

She sighed and we stood there in silence for a minute.

“Well, if you figure it out, remember I’m here for you ok. We’re all here for you. I…we…love you Marcus.”

She seemed flustered all of a sudden and gave me a quick peck on the cheek and hurriedly walked off to rejoin Tai and Neville for the long ride home.

I started my car and turned the heat up full blast. Now that the mourners had gone the cemetery workers were busy filling Angela’s grave. I watched them for a moment then wished I hadn’t and put the car in drive and pulled out, wishing that I had taken Dee up on her offer to ride with me.

I pulled out of the cemetery and realized I was hungry and a mile or so down the road stopped at a diner. The Fed-ex package once again caught my eye and I brought it inside with me to review while I ate.

I sat in a booth and the waitress was there right away. She was young and plump and cheerful and her cheeks were red, as if she had just come in from the cold and I was her first customer of the day. I ordered coffee and juice and the biggest breakfast they had and she smiled cheerfully and left the table.

The package loomed on the table in front of me and for the first time I looked at the label expecting to see my office’s Manhattan address. The label had no return address and in the FROM field it simply said, ANGELA.

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