Mystery Contemporary American

         “Rise and shine! I have bagels!” Teddy trilled just as Esme had nearly mustered up the resolve to get off his couch and rummage around in the bathroom for something to quell her blinding headache. As he bounced to the kitchen, she sat up slowly, straightened the borrowed T-shirt, and dragged herself over to join Teddy at the kitchen table. Annoyingly, Teddy was immune to hangovers, even on New Year’s Day. “Who was that handsome stranger you were making out with on the couch all night?” Teddy asked, eyes wide with delight. 

              “Jaime…James….er…Jason? Jason. He was friends with some of your Broadway friends,” she replied.

              “Girl, all of my friends except you are Broadway friends, that does not narrow it down,” Teddy retorted.

              “Teddy I’m too hungover for this interrogation. Do you have Advil? And Gatorade?,” Esme pleaded.

              Teddy rolled his eyes and handed her a glass of warm tap water, but nonetheless scampered to the bathroom to retrieve the pain relievers. On the way he peaked in on his boyfriend Rahul who was still sound asleep on top of the covers in his bedroom. Rahul was an assistant manager at a busy theater district restaurant and had been working even later than usual all week to make up for being off for Teddy’s party. Teddy pulled the door closed gently and returned to Esme in the kitchen. She seemed slightly rejuvenated by her water and half of a bacon egg and cheese. 

              While Teddy devoured his breakfast sandwich, Esme dug her phone out from her purse next to the couch and swallowed down a wave of disappointment that she only had a slew of “Happy New Year!” texts from her friends on the West Coast and nothing from Jason yet. She idly scrolled through pictures of the neon lights of Times Square taken from Teddy’s balcony after checking her contacts to find that Jason had not given her his number when he took hers as he said goodnight and promised to “see her again soon”. She felt gleeful to have finally met a guy she was interested in in person and not on a dating app, at a party full of gay men and overly theatrical women nonetheless, and reassured herself that Jason was probably just still asleep at 9am on New Year’s Day.

              A small part of Esme wished she was 30 blocks farther south lazing around in her own bed but given the fuzziness of the end of the night and the Russian roulette of transportation options in Manhattan on New Year’s Eve, she was very grateful she had taken Teddy up on his offer to sleep over. Feeling guilty she hadn’t made it over early enough to help set up, she stood to get a trash bag from under the sink and tried to motivate herself for cleaning. Fortunately, almost all of the food and alcohol had been consumed, and he had forgone confetti or glitter party because it couldn’t compare with the glitz and color right outside. As they dumped all of the half full cups in the kitchen into the sink and loaded the dishwasher, Teddy chattered about a pair of his friends who had broken up over Hannukah two weeks prior but both still showed up to the party with different dates and ignored each other all night, no easy feat in a packed 600 square foot apartment. 

Once the trash was mostly cleared from the kitchen, they moved around the corner into the living room and continued picking up debris. They tried to gossip in whispers, both aware of Rahul still asleep on the other side of the wall, but Esme couldn’t contain a few loud giggles as Teddy recapped more drama within his friend group. How had she been oblivious to all of this? Probably by being completely entranced with Jason all night. She was definitely glad she had dragged him off the couch and onto the balcony with everyone else right before midnight. 

Remembering the clouds of confetti and the muted cheering from 40 floors below gave her a pang of sadness. “I wish Vivi had been there last night. She always loved staying up late to watch the ball drop,” she said. With a smile, Teddy replied “Oh come on, she was always too cool for us, she would never have come to one of my parties” and gave her a side hug.  Esme’s close friends knew her sister had been murdered, but Teddy was the only one of her New York friends who had actually known Vivi. They had all grown up on the same block in suburban Long Island, and Teddy understood better than anyone else the stifling effects of Esme’s overprotective parents (in fact he had come out to his family and hers sophomore year of high school in part so that he would be allowed to spend time alone in rooms with Esme without drawing her parents suspicion). He had spent days helping Esme’s family post missing person flyers when Vivi didn’t return after leaving the house in a huff about not being allowed to go to Florida for spring break with her friends, and had done his best to protect Esme from the whispers and stares at school when Vivi’s body was found in a wooded park two weeks later. Teddy understood Esme and her loss better than anyone else, even her parents. A sad smile crept onto Esme’s face because he was right about the party – Vivi may have wanted to move to New York City more than anything, but she was the kind of person who would have been in a club in Ibiza or watching fireworks in Dubai for every New Year’s Eve of her 20s.  

Teddy disappeared to the bathroom and Esme kept working on picking up the larger pieces of food from the living room floor. As she was wedging her right hand under the old steam radiator in the corner of the living room to pull out what looked like a Slim Jim (had Teddy served gas station meat sticks? She would have to ask when he came back), she realized she wasn’t wearing the gold art deco ring she had borrowed from her roommate. It had probably slipped off her finger while she was sleeping. She started pulling the cushions off the couch and saw a glint of gold in a corner. Picking it up, her right hand grasped not a ring but a locket. Her left hand flew to her neck but found that her locket was still secure in the notch of her throat, where it had been since she and Vivi put them on eleven years ago. Despite Vivi being at the peak of her difficult teenage years, Esme at 14 and Vivi at 16 had the good taste to appreciate the classic timelessness of the matching gold lockets. When their great aunt Celeste died and left hers, with the initials CAL, to Vivi their Grandmother Martine had said “They belong on sisters” and took hers, with a delicate MDL on the face, off her neck and placing it on Esme. Esme had never taken hers off since that day and as far as she knew Vivi hadn’t either. When the police found Vivi’s body, the locket wasn’t around her neck, and Esme had scoured vintage stores and Ebay for months, even though she wasn’t sure if it was valuable. She remembered the lead detective mentioning once that the two sisters who had also been murdered on Long Island earlier that year had both been missing matching Cartier bracelets when their bodies were found, and speculated that it if indeed it was the same killer in all of the cases, he could be keeping the items as mementos. 

              As she turned the locket in her hand over, her breath caught in her throat when she saw the initials CAL engraved in swooping cursive on the front. Looking closer, she realized the flourishes and intricate floral design on the back was exactly the same as the locket around her neck. It had to be Vivi’s locket, but at the same time it couldn’t be. Heart pounding, she tried to be rational – maybe a woman at the party had bought it and was wearing it (although surely she would have noticed the unique hexagonal shape on someone’s neck) or maybe Jason had found it on the street earlier in the night and forgotten he picked up it… although this sounded like a stretch even to her.

Her mind back on Jason, she realized that in retrospect, he had been vague with a lot of details as they chatted. She thought back to when he had first walked into the front door with a group of Teddy’s friends and locked eyes with her. Could what she thought had been an instant spark of attraction have been recognition of her face, almost identical to Vivi’s? Another memory flashed back to her – as his hand was making its way up her dress, a jangle of what she assumed to be coins had fallen out of his pocket, and he had immediately stopped kissing her and plunged his hand down into the couch cushions. It had seemed weird that he gotten flustered about a few quarters. One more odd detail crossed her mind as she stood frozen in the living room with the locket in her hand – she was sure she had seen him put “Esme Pettigrew” into his phone, and equally certain that they had never discussed her last name.

May 14, 2021 01:03

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