The first time that I heard of the town of Murder, a sleepy settlement if not mentally neurotic, situated in the northern Georgia county, was quite awhile ago. I sometimes still wander whether or not I had made up that fateful conversation between me and Kent (and that other weird personae of the “Lafayette Amateur Unit”–of which I will not go into now). I wouldn’t have been surprised if the conversation never happened. For, you see, Kent and I have always been swimming in a sea of make-believe, or imagined Terebinthian bridges over Sherwood Forest creeks, finding Spielbergian Indian treasures hidden amongsth the moss-and-algae covered boulders, and other fantastic whimsies of our imagination.
And what treasures we found together! I close my eyes and vividly remember those lemonade-sprinkled summer days, searching, waiting, wanting to know where the “true north” of our magical compass led and where to go next. We followed scents–we gathered clues–we were young and in love, not with one another but with the fond memories of innocent childhood. Our favorite game of those summers was pretending–so much so that even into our twenties we still adhered to it like a Catholic tradition.
“Suppose you pretend to be Nancy Drew?” Kent had suggested amicably with his sweet smile. I remember that I arched an eyebrow.
“Why Nancy Drew?” was my somewhat untimely response–I seem recalling being immersed in a good murder mystery book or other. Kent shrugged his broad shoulders as he looked at me with another smile–he enjoyed portraying a manly toughness yet he had a particularly soft spot when it came to me.
“You would just be pretending–that’s all.”
Again I arched an eyebrow and accidentally let out a girlish giggle. Kent always blushed when I giggled. His rugged face would turn a bit redder and the tips of his ears would display an interesting shade of pink. And, yes, I will scandalously admit that I enjoyed the presence of Kent much more when he was like this. Every once and in awhile I would make fun of him. He brushed those comments off and dug into his own arsenal of insults–sweet, complimentary insults. Hence began our war of roses…
And every once and in awhile, the same thought would pass through my mind.
I…I think I love you, Kent Carson…every since we first met in third grade…
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I awoke from the daydream of church-bells ringing and found myself staring dumbfoundedly at the handsome young man sitting across the cafeteria table from me. Once upon a time he had asked me to marry him…”Just think, Jackie, what we could be!” She had thought of it–alot. She had thought of it so much that she accepted those words as reality. The bitter realization came to her later: Kent Carson was just saying a line in a student-written play. Both of them had been in the drama club.
And, in the superlatives, both of them were the “cutest couple”–even though they think of each other as such.
“Oh–no reason.” Kent tilted his head a little to one side, a mannerism of his that told me that he didn’t believe me.
“I rather doubt that. There is always reason when it comes to you, Jackie.” I found that very funny and I told him so.
“Jackie Allsborough,” Kent leaned forward and said my name in a very grown-up serious tone, “would you ever lie to me?”
I was not expecting that question to come from him at all. Then again, Kent has been known to surprise me. We’ve been friends for so long that we have become accustomed to on another–the friendship had grown to such an extent that one of us could finish the thought of the other. It was a special kind of friendship that bonded us together. There were no secrets between us, with the sole (and allowed) exception of secretly loving one another. Those were the only unexpressed feelings. Albeit that a hint of it has popped up here and there, it has laid under quietly and nurturingly. During the time in which I thought of all that had passed between the two of us, I tried to think of an honest answer to Kent’s question. For honesty was what was expected–I had never lied to him and I didn’t intend to start now.
“No,” was my emphatic answer. “No, Kent, I would never lie to you.”
It was almost as if he was expecting and not expecting that answer at the same time. He took this into account, his brow furrowing in subtle concentration. There was something that smacked of a scholar in him when he was concentrating–he assumed a whole new poise, a different outlook, and became more contrite than before.
This was Kent. And I loved him.
And he loved me too. Why on earth neither one of us ever took the bold step in expressing those feelings is beyond me. Perhaps it was because we were waiting for the other. Eventually that would have to change if anything were to come of it. But my answer had been enough for the moment. The topic returned.
“Why Nancy Drew?” I asked again as I took my book and continued reading from where I left off.
“No particular reason”–(there was that word again!)–“I’ve always thought that that role suited you.” I stopped reading.
“Suits me? You think that it suits me? Tell me Kent, why on earth would prancing around creepy old mansions, castles, ranches, or wherever the mystery is, suit me? If there was anything that I’m not it would be an amateur detective.”
With that being said, I returned to the engrossing matter of whether or not it had been the butler in the dining-room with the candlestick…or, another just as plausible alternative, the chamber-maid in the study with the pistol–but if that was so, how in the world could she fire the darn thing without the noise booming across the manor?
“–and that’s why I thought you could easily assume the role,” Kent was saying to me.
“Huh?” was my rude monosyllable in return. Why must he insist on talking to me when I have finally reached the good part? Kent sat quietly for a second and then sighed. To add to his “shame on you” ritual, he shook his somewhat shaggy head.
With that, he quickly got up and threw his trash away, placed his lunch-tray in one of the cafeteria bus-tubs, and whipped out two dollars like a bank teller. The two dollars were for a drink at the soda fountain. He recalled my attention.
“Pepsi or Mountain Dew?” he asked in a very business-like manner.
“You know I like Pepsi–“
“Yesterday it was Mountain Dew–“
“Pepsi, please.” My attention returned to the denouement–the detective was about to reveal the murderer…