Thank you to my beta and fic Sis, Sunflower Fran!
Welcome to What-A-Burger
In Northern New England, there is a fifth season that occurs between winter and spring.
Technically, this phenomenon of nature occurs when the roads and paths become mud-covered due to the fact that the deeply frozen ground thaws from the surface down as the air temperature warms above freezing. The snow melts but the frozen lower layers of ground prevent water from percolating into the soil, therefore creating surface layers of soil that are saturated with water, which slowly but surely turns to a sludge-covered murky mess.
I suppose, being a Professor of Literature, I am predisposed always to think in terms of literary devices. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that my mind began to make the analogy between mud season and my relationship with James, albeit, surprising, that the source comes from The Farmer's Almanac, rather than a book of prose.
When I first met James, I was totally mesmerized by his good looks, smooth manners, and his intoxicating, British accent. The fact that everyone on campus (save Jasper) adored him, served to make him all the more appealing. And, if I am to be honest, it made me feel a bit smug; out of all the women in the world, he chose me.
Let me be clear; I am not a timid person. I worked diligently all through my youth and young adult years to gain the knowledge, skills, and the advanced degrees to hold the position of Professor Swan, Ph.D. at Haworth-Adams. This was no small feat. I had to forego the intimacy of friendships and all the social trimmings in order to achieve this. The self- discipline was arduous, and often, lonely. True, I found comfort in my books, and occasionally with like-minded individuals, but it was, for the most part, a solitary existence. Still, despite the way it may appear on paper, I was not an insecure woman. I was confident in my teaching and my classroom was my kingdom of sorts, where I reigned. The young men I taught enjoyed my lessons and they respected my authority, despite the fact that I was a decade or less apart from them in years.
I hadn't set my academic cap on teaching at an all men's college; indeed I had never even given it much thought when my Ph.D. was granted, but it was a natural fit. I had spent my undergrad years teaching at a boy's preparatory school in Boston, so my career path was fueled by testosterone, a fact that frustrated Renee, who was now teaching Women's Studies at Florida State University.
'Bella, you cannot possibly be serious; a men's college? Why on earth would you want to align your career with such an antiquated concept as a school that only educates men? There can't be more than three left in the entire country … it's absurd! And besides, what on earth could you possibly know about men? Is this supposed to be some kind of payback towards me for being a lesbian?'
Naturally, Renee always assumed everything I did in life revolved around her, which was laughable. Aside for a yearly visit or two and a weekly email exchange we had very little to do with each other.
My Aunt Margaret had been an educator, and later, the headmistress at a small private school for girls in Concord. After it had been determined that I would stay with her on a permanent basis, she enrolled me at Miss Peabody's Country Day.
It sounds, and was, I suppose, like an elitist school for rich girls. But, surprisingly my life was not made miserable by this institution; far from it; I excelled at Miss Peabody's; at least academically. Socially, I was at a disadvantage; I was two years younger than my peers and my Aunt was the headmistress. Still, if I lacked in age appropriate friendships, I didn't know it at the time; life with Aunt Margaret was like a dream come true. Renee was correct; we were indeed, kindred spirits.
Margaret Higginbotham was already close to retiring when I came to visit her for what was supposed to be just for the summer. A tall woman with coarse features and a rather prominent nose, Margaret was a self-described maiden aunt. Never married, she saturated her life with the arts, in particular, literature, and filled her hours imparting her knowledge and love of other people's words with other people's children. By all accounts she was a marvelous teacher; structured but also creative; she was not opposed to the girls having a day off from their core of studies to simply indulge in reading a book of choice outdoors, providing they gave a full report on the book itself and the way it made them feel, the following day.
I adored this steel haired, no-nonsense woman who shared my affinity for words and long dead authors.
Our relationship went from awkward to something deeper and infinitely fuller after I spent the afternoon getting my sexual education certificate from The North Branch Library.
I had just exited the library and saw her dark gray sedan trailing the tree-lined street, looking for me.
She took one look at my face and drove me straight to Bliss Brothers Ice Cream where we each licked cones and wounds as she waved off my mother's declaration with a dismissal of her hands. Her pronouncement that Renee was always something of a flake and that she expected she wouldn't be returning at the end of summer as she promised. She asked me if I had any questions about sex in general and in specific, homosexuality. After four hours in the resource room, I could have taught a unit on Women's Studies, so I shook my head no. To her credit, Aunt Margaret, despite her advanced age and conservative nature, appeared to be non-pulsed about the topic.
'People are sexual creatures, Isabella. It's in our very DNA to reach out to those we find attractive regardless of one's sex. You'll soon find out one of these days, much to my dismay. I don't know if an old lady like me has any business trying to raise a young girl at this stage of her life, but I promise I will do my best.'
And she did.
We talked about many things that night, from the practical to the fanciful. That was the night I fell in love with this crusty old woman, who smelled of lavender and chalk dust.
"When the time comes, you'll know it, Isabella. Love that is. It's wonderful, magical, special, and will make everything right in your world, you'll see. Don't sell yourself short and don't give your heart or body to a man until you're certain he is the right one. And most importantly, when love finds you, and it will, don't ever let it go.'
She knew all too well the cost of that of that loss.
'He wanted me to marry him before he left, but I refused. I wanted to wait for him to return so we could have a proper wedding, with a ten-piece orchestra, eight bridesmaids, and a six-foot train. He begged me of course, but I wouldn't give in; I was always headstrong.
'Oh well, no use crying over spilled milk now, I suppose. However, sometimes, at night, I think of Jacob, his sweet face and silly ways; he always made me laugh. And on those nights, I often wonder if I had married him before he left would he have returned to me? It's a well-known fact that soldiers are more apt to survive if they have a family to return home to, Bella.
'Now then, shall we collect your belongings in person or is Renee sending them to you by post?'
And with that, my new life in Massachusetts began to take root.
As the years passed, my life became a symphony of rhythm and movement. My aunt provided the structure and allowed me the freedom of expression, which I discovered through her own love of literature and the authors who gave them life.
I went to school with her every day and came home with her every night, where we would read by the fire in the winter and a cool brook in the summer. I missed the heat of Arizona at first, and in the long cold winters, I mourned it most. New England, though beautiful, with its four seasons that were expressed so magnificently, were, unfortunately short in the warmest months and dreadfully long in the coldest. But even so I eventually came to love the mottled gray skies, and to appreciate the stark white grounds, even as I shivered under the massive quilts and comforters that my ancestors passed down through the generations.
Aunt Margaret was a big believer in exercise, although she didn't hold for planned classes within the confines of a chrome and glass gymnasium. Instead, we took long walks in Concord, Lexington, Salem, and occasionally, Boston. It was through these walks that she educated me on the literary geniuses who once stepped on the very grounds we had trod; Emerson, Alcott, and Thoreau, now lay in the ancient cemetery of Sleepy Hollow in a row of graves affectionately known as Author's Ridge.
It was there that I discovered a new hobby, gravestone rubbings, and it's one that I still engage in on occasion. I adored the quaint and often witty epithets etched carefully on granite and marble. Several of them hung in my small cottage much to James dismay, who thought them to be quite morbid.
'Would you mind terribly if you put them away when I'm here, Isabella? They give me the shivers, and not the good kind like when you're lying in my arms, or better yet, beneath me.'
I laughed at his silliness but after his remark, I put them away in the small, cold attic, wedged between my aunt's collection of hats and my father's hunting rifles.
Why I did that, I do not know.
Yes, you do … my conscience whispers.
I blow out the voice, but it flickers regardless of my efforts to snuff it out.
"Dr. Swan? What happened to your face, did you fall?"
I look up, startled, to see the concern in Jessica Stanley's face. Jessica is my TA, a brilliant young woman whose love for words almost matches her love for men.
It's a bit unconventional to have a young woman serve as a TA at Haworth-Adams but Jess is the niece of Stuart Berty. Although she is four years my junior, she is also light years ahead of me when it comes to lessons of the heart, or dare I say, in her case, the flesh? No matter, Jess might be a bit wanton, but she is also one of the smartest and friendliest girls I have ever known. Her concerned face is full of questions.
"Um, yes … I took a bad fall over the weekend," I lie.
I lied to Jessica Stanley.
My hands begin to shake, and I swallow, almost convulsively. Sweat beads on my forehead and runs into the baby fine hair near my temple.
"Bella, what is it?" Jess asks, all formalities vanishing in the wake of her concern.
I feel like I am going to faint.
My hand sweeps across the violet bruise that I tried unsuccessfully to cover with Dermablend this morning. The woman at the cosmetic counter had assured me that it concealed everything from tattoos to birthmarks.
'But what it won't conceal is heartbreak, dear. Now I know you said you had a tumble, but this bruise is the mark of an angry man, not a set of stairs, believe me … I know what that looks like. Won't you please let me call someone for you?' she asked, gently.
I was horrified.
I assured her that this bruise was from clumsiness and not from an abusive man.
I lied to the woman behind the cosmetic counter at Lord & Taylor.
I reacted badly then too, barely making it out to the parking lot where I proceeded to vomit the contents of my breakfast beside my car.
"What's wrong with Dr. Swan?" I hear one of the freshman boys, maybe Riley Biers; call out from the back of the room. His voice sounds muddled as if he is under water. I open my mouth but the only thing that comes out is bile, which I force myself to swallow.
"Here, have a seat … You look terrible, Bella.
"Paul, run down the hall and get Mr. Whitlock. Tell him Dr. Swan needs assistance."
I try to protest; Jasper is the last person I want to see right now, but I can't form the words because I am suddenly hyperventilating. Jessica forces me to sit in a chair and hands me a small paper bag which she miraculously produces from her Kate Spade satchel. Jess is one of those women who should have been in the audience of Let's Make A Deal. If Monty Hall had asked for a piece of hardware, hard candy, hardcover book, or even hard tack, Jess would certainly have it in one of her expensive and massive handbags.
My stomach is queasy and I feel the telltale signs that my breakfast sandwich is about to make a reappearance. Gathering my last ounce of strength, I manage to squeak out an, "Excuse me," and dash as fast as I can to the ladies room.
Once there, I eliminate my breakfast, and after I rinse my mouth, I sit on the toilet trying to get myself under control.
I glance up to see a poster of a young woman covered in bruises.
'Are you, or is someone you know, the victim of domestic abuse. If so, please call …'
Oh, Jesus … The irony doesn't fail me even now and I have to fight back a chuckle.
Could this morning get any worse?
"Bella, are you in there? Are you all right? Jessica says you took a bad fall and now you're in here puking up your guts!"
And it just did.
I'd been avoiding Jasper for weeks; his flood of emails, texts, and voice messages were proof that he was none too happy with the change in our relationship. He'd even sent me a small bouquet of wild flowers with a note of apology. I grimace, remembering …
"BELLA!" His voice rises to the rafters and his fist pounds on the door.
I sigh, roll my eyes upward and clear my throat.
"I'm fine, Jasper, really. I just need a few moments to freshen up and I'll be out in a second. Tell Jess to put my lesson on the projector and I'll be with her presently."
"The fuck you are. Jessica has your class under control so get your ass out here right this minute before I take the damn door off."
I let out an inward groan and tentatively open the door to face the music.
"Jesus wept, what the hell happened to your face?"
"I fell down the stairs last night."
I lied to my best friend.
I lied to Jasper.
He walks over to me and takes my face in his hands to examine. Without any forethought, and much to my dismay, I flinch and step back.
And in that moment, he knows.
I close my eyes and clench my jaw waiting for his onslaught of words to begin the verbal attack on James, but none comes. I open my eyes to see, much to my horror, his, filled with tears.
"What has he done to you?" He whispers.
He walks over to me and takes my face carefully in his hands, examining. I watch, fascinated, as his mouth hardens into a straight line and his eyes turn from watery compassion to fiery rage.
"Where is he?"
I step out of his arms and walk over to the sink and splash some water on my eyes, careful not to disturb what little cover-up I have left. If Jasper sees the whole truth behind Dermablend # 4, he'll have a stroke.
"If you mean James, he is in Boston today and won't be back until tomorrow. But this," I say, pointing to my bruise, "has nothing to do with him; I fell down the stairs yesterday."
Which isn't exactly a lie; I had fallen down.
Right after he slapped me across my face.
Jasper sighs and walks over to me at the sink. I feel his eyes on mine and catch them in the mirror. I quickly avert my own from his steely gaze as he takes me by my shoulder and turns me around to face him.
"Bella, how many degrees do I have?"
I look at him, puzzled. He gives me a penetrating stare, quirks his brow and awaits my reply.
I sigh in resignation.
"Yes, four. And out of those four degree's which one is my true passion?"
I close my eyes and groan.
"Hey … answer me."
"I don't know; you-you're passionate about all of them …"
I let out a huff of air through the side of my mouth. But Jasper is like a dog with a bone and won't let it go until I bite.
"Criminology?" I mutter.
"Well, that's fabulous, Jasper. Look, I have to go to class and relieve Jessica. Maybe we can talk later, okay?"
"NO, we're talking now. I've already had Paul cancel my classes and yours for the rest of the day. Here's your purse and your bags; now let's go back to your place," he says, firmly.
One hour, two cups of tea, and three snifters of brandy later, Jasper knows the rest of the story ala Paul Harvey.
"So you mean to tell me he just hauled off and slapped you over some dead, fucking flowers?"
"No! I mean, well, yes. He did sort of hit me after he kicked over the trashcan but it wasn't about that. We'd been arguing over something else …" I drifted off, uncomfortably.
I avoid his eyes, reluctant to draw him in. I don't want to talk about the events that led up to James striking me.
He hit me.
I'd never been struck by anyone before. An only child, I'd never been roughhoused or even had my hair pulled, let alone slapped and pushed. It was not just painful; it was mortifying.
And completely unexpected; James had never been anything but gentle with me.
That's not entirely true, my conscious nudges …
I blush, remembering his aggression in the bedroom. The second time he'd made love to me he took me from behind and had wrapped my hair so hard around his fist that my eyes bulged and I cried out in pain, begging him to stop.
But he didn't stop, not until he climaxed in a panting, crushing heap on top of me.
"Look, Bella, I know I told you that I didn't trust this guy a few weeks ago and right after that you started pulling away from me; I'm not stupid. But you have to understand; your safety and happiness are important to me. I don't have many friends and that's intentional; I simply don't trust people until I've gotten to know them and generally after that happens, I end up not liking them because I don't trust them. It's a vicious cycle.
"When James came around I could see the stars in your eyes. I know Berty practically had an orgasm in his pants when he heard James was courting you; hell, everyone was over the moon; Mr. Perfect meets Professor Swan; it seemed like a match made in Harlequin Heaven.
"But I didn't trust him.
"His manners and happy-slappy personality seemed as phony as his accent to me. So, after you stopped answering my calls and texts I decided to do a bit of investigating on Mr. James R. Witherdale."
I let out a gasp and promptly knocked over my snifter of brandy.
"Hey, calm down … I knew you'd be pissed about it, but Jesus, Bella, look at your face and tell me I did the wrong thing by checking on him."
"I know … but you should have asked me how I felt about it first, Jasper."
"What, so you could tell me to butt out and that you could handle him yourself, because, again, go look at your face. I'd like to clean that asshole's clock. If he were here right now, he wouldn't know whether to scratch his ass or wind up the cat after I got through with him. When is he due back anyway?
"Tomorrow night. We're supposed to have dinner …"
"What? No. No way are you having dinner with him tomorrow night or any other night on the Julian Calendar."
"I'm not. I-I just have to get a few of my things from his apartment and then it will be over, I promise."
"I'm going with you then."
I start to protest, but the look of determination on Jasper's face tells me it would be in vain. Besides, after our last encounter I am afraid to confront him by myself.
"You know we have to go to Berty about this, right?"
"What, no, Jasper; I don't want to get him in trouble at school just because of a minor physical altercation. Besides, he was very apologetic when it happened and I honestly believe it took him as much by surprise as it did -"
Jasper's voice cuts through my excuses for James' behavior like a knife through bullshit, vulgar as that analogy might be. My face crumbles at his simple command and I bend over at the waist and weep. He wraps his arms around me as I cry and begins to talk to me softly, but firmly.
"Bella, come on … You have to know how cliché you sound right now making excuses for him. There is NO excuse for a man to hit a woman and you know that. I don't give a shit what his reasons were, he had no right to strike you. Jesus, think about what your Aunt would say if she were alive or what your mother will say if she ever finds out."
I sit back on the couch and wipe my eyes with the back of my hand. Jasper reaches into his pocket and pulls out a bright blue bandanna, an article he always has on his person, and one, which I find both charming and amusing. I sort of half chuckle and half sob as I blow my nose.
"Aren't you going to ask me what I found out about James?"
I look at him and hold my breath waiting for his answer.
"What do you mean nothing?"
"I mean, I wasn't able to find out anything about him that was less than circumspect. He grew up on the Isle of Wight, attended Oxford, and graduated with honors. Beyond that I don't have any details; I'm still waiting for my friend to send me his personal investigation. He is supposed to run a complete background check on him and fax it to my office. Of course, I already checked his files here at Howie and there doesn't seem to be anything amiss, but I can't help shake the feeling that this guy is as phony as a football bat.
"Now, are you ever gonna tell me why he hit you?"
I let out a sigh and my eyes wander over to the kitchen counter where a vase of daisies sit, drooping. Jasper had sent them to me last week as a form of an apology.
Jasper catches my eyes and I swear I can hear the click as he makes the connection.
"Oh, fuck … It was because of me, wasn't it? He was jealous."
I nod my head, remembering how it all played out.
I had made dinner that night; roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, James' favorite dish. He'd just returned from a week-long college fair in the Midwest. He seemed agitated and anxious as soon as he entered the cottage. He kissed me too hard and his fingers dug into my shoulders and neck. He didn't seem at all himself as he paced the rooms while I dished up our meal.
'What's wrong, James? You seem a bit unsettled … did you have a rough week?'
He gave me a small smile and walked over to hug me.
I no sooner wrapped my arms around him when the answering machine started up.
'Hey, Bella … it's me, again. Listen, when are you ever going to return my calls? Look, I'm sorry if I pissed you off the last time we were together. I know you don't want to hear it about James. Okay, I respect that. Sort of. Okay, fuck it that's a lie … I don't trust the man. But please don't shut me out. You know how I feel about you. Did you at least get my flowers? I know daisies are your favorite.'
And in that moment, I saw James' face morph from being sweetly apologetic to something darker and unfamiliar. It was disturbing yet fascinating; his entire being from his expression to his posture changed dramatically.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
That was my first thought.
Even his eyes, the bluest and happiest eyes I'd ever seen, had grown dark and stormy.
I tried to step out of his embrace, but his fingers clung to my shoulders, biting into the flesh and held me fast.
'Where are the violets?'
'Where are the goddamned violets I gave you?'
I shook my head in astonishment. Where was all this coming from? I backed up slowly against the counter, but James never let go of my shoulders. His eyes bored into me, demanding answers.
And that was when I felt it; that tiny fission of electricity, the one that I had felt when I first met him in the faculty lounge at the end of March. At the time, I thought what I was feeling was excitement, but just then, as I stood in his pinching grasp and felt it again I knew I'd been wrong.
It wasn't excitement.
It was fear.
He pinned me against the counter and reached over to press the button on the answering machine.
You have one new message and fourteen, saved messages.
Another punch of a button and all fourteen messages began to play, one after the other.
Bells, it's me. Listen … I'm sorry you're upset with me. Please call me.
James is out of town; can I come over?
Hey, Bella … I'm standing at your door with a box of Archie's famous pizza in my hand. Are you home?
Bella, it's Jasper, again. Listen, we really need to talk. I miss you.
Okay, this is getting ridiculous. I'm coming over tonight after my symposium. I'll bring some wine.
Hey, me again. You weren't home. I left the flowers on the steps; did you get them?
I put my hands against James' chest and shoved him off me.
His reaction was to knock the answering machine to the floor where it fell with a thud. Jasper's messages came to an abrupt end.
'James … I don't understand what's wrong with you, but you need to leave.'
'Why, so he can come over to take my place? Tell me, "Bells," just how long did you plan on stringing me along anyway?'
'You heard me … How long have you been shagging him?'
'I'm not … we're not … we're just friends.'
'I'll bet. A friend with benefits is more likely.
'Now then, I'm asking once more … What did you do with the fucking violets that I had specially flown in from France?'
'James that was weeks ago. I tried to dry them, but they got moldy. I finally had to throw them out…'
He turned away from me and kicked over the trash can. The contents spilled out on the tile floor. He bent over and picked up what was left of the violets and shook them in my face.
'I thought these were special to you but I can see how you treated them. You tossed them aside the second I walked out the door and replaced them with his.'
'James, you're acting ridiculous.'
'Ridiculous? You're calling me ridiculous? I'll tell you what is ridiculous … You having the audacity to stand before me and lie to my face.'
'I'm not … I'm not lying. Jasper is a friend. He's my best friend. We've …'
And that's when it happened.
His face turned purple and he raised his arm up and struck me hard across my face.
You know the expression, "I never saw it coming?" Well, that wasn't the case here. I did see it coming. It was as if it happened in slow motion; the flex and curl of his fingers, the tightening of his fist.
Unfortunately for me, even though it seemed like an eternity before it connected with my cheekbone, my reaction was also in second gear. I was rooted to the spot.
The impact of his assault sent me flying back and I fell down the short flight of stairs that led from my kitchen to the sunken living room.
I lay there on the floor, stunned.
He hit me.
I began to cry.
No one had ever hit me before.
'Isabella … I … are you hurt? Oh my lord … what have I done?'
I crouched away from him in fear.
'No, no … please … Darling, I'm so sorry. My God, are you all right?'
I close my eyes and wince, remembering the act of contrition … How he tenderly scooped me up into his arms and tried to cuddle me against his chest, murmuring how sorry he was into my hair … begging me to forgive him. I shake my head trying to rid it of the memory, but it clings to the recesses of my mind like Saran Wrap.
"So, what happened after that; did he just leave?" Jasper's voice breaks through my barrier and I look at him, nodding.
He pours me another shot of brandy and offers it to me with a shaking hand. I can tell he is upset so I put my hand on his to offer comfort. He squeezes my hand lightly, in return.
"Yes, pretty much. I mean, he tried to apologize and assure me that nothing like that had ever happened before … that he had a bad day … that it would never happen again. He seemed as disgusted with himself as I was."
I feel Jasper's body go rigid and he slams his snifter on the cocktail table. I watch as he composes himself and turns towards me taking my face carefully in his hands.
"Okay, surely you're not thinking that is going to be the case, here, right?
"Men who hit women always say that kind of shit. You do know that, Bella. Please tell me you know that."
"I know that. I'm not stupid, Jasper."
"I didn't say you were. It's just that I've seen this kind of thing before. I had an older cousin who was married to an abusive bastard and she always forgave him, time after time."
"How did she manage to get away?"
"She didn't. He killed her."
"I'm sorry, Jasper … I didn't know."
"Her name was Candace; Candy. She was the sweetest girl I ever knew. Beautiful, smart, had everything going for her … But when it came to men, she was a bum magnet. She got married right out of college to this loser and the whole family tried to warn her after the first time she came in the door with a black eye, but she wouldn't listen. She always believed his bullshit about how sorry he was and that it would never happen again.
Blah, blah, blah.
But the thing was, it DID happen again. And again and again and again … it just about killed my Aunt and Uncle to watch her go from this vital and carefree girl to this ghost of a woman.
"What happened to the husband?"
"He killed himself before the police arrived."
"I'm sorry Jasper."
"Yeah, well, it happened a long time ago; I was just a kid, but I never forgot."
I turn to hug him and he wraps his arms around me and sighs.
"I don't ever want to see someone else I love go through something like that, so please promise me that whatever you had with James Witherdale is over. Promise me?"
"And promise me that you won't go anywhere near him without me."
But I crossed my fingers just in case.
I meant to keep that promise.
I swear I did.
But the next day Jasper texted that his Granny Whitlock had suffered a stroke. He had to fly out to Tyler, Texas and begged me not to go see James by myself.
I didn't think twice.
I broke my oath.
My best friend.
I wanted it to be over.
I was sick with dread and anticipation all day long.
I simply couldn't wait another moment.
So I went.
I didn't hesitate, not even after I heard the frantic messages from Jasper on my machine.
Please, Bella … don't go over there alone. Wait until I come back. That fax I was waiting for from England arrived this afternoon.
Bella … Are you listening to me?
The James Witherdale you know isn't who he claims to be.
Damn it, girl … answer the phone!
Jesus Christ … Where in the hell are you? You never answer your cell phone and you never read your texts.
I didn't want to do this over the phone …
James Witherdale is dead.
He was killed in a car crash six months after he graduated from Oxford. I've got a copy of his death certificate right here in front of me
Don't do anything stupid. We'll confront him together in Berty's office the minute I return.
Please call me as soon as you get in, okay?
And now, as I kneel over the bloody body of the man whom I knew as James Witherdale, frantically checking for a pulse
I realize with sudden clarity
I should have listened to Jasper.
I lied to my readers.
This update is much later than I promised.
The simple truth is this:
Every time I opened this document I fell asleep before I could kill James' ass.
If you're still with me, thank you from the bottom of my heart!