"In other words, I believed, and still do believe, that truth, is frequently of its own essence, superficial, and that, in many cases, the depth lies more in the abysses where we seek her, than in the actual situations wherein she may be found." - Edgar Allan Poe
Ch 16: Truth is Superficial
The ride in the cruiser was not physically or mentally uncomfortable by any means, nor was Lydia concerned about riding with two police officers that were possibly hunting for her. In fact, she found that it was quite the opposite.
The feeling of empowerment swelled as she sat there while joking with her two childhood friends and the gentle cop who had an interest in her. It was inexplicable, but she now felt as if she was immune to the potential consequences of any mortal law. There was a separation between her and them. Plus, with the simple fact that they didn't believe that she was responsible for the murders, and they were trying to pin it on a ghost, was both thrilling and yet, oddly, aggravating.
She wasn't ashamed of what she had done. There was a sense of pride in how well she and Beetlejuice had worked together to dispose of the bodies, and it grew as they traveled down the streets of Peaceful Pines.
Pulling up to the old Wholesome Burger joint where she had once held her first real job, she nostalgically smiled while looking up to the neon sign. It prompted her to think of her own creation, Franken-burger, which was still running smoothly in the Neitherworld.
The group entered the establishment; three women filled with memories of the times they spent enjoying their complimentary meals. Not even the modern touch could take away the real soul of the burger joint. Luckily the current owner continued the tradition of remembering their past. Lydia gazing around fondly at the portraits of former employees reminded her that the original owner of this restaurant had a residence in the Neitherworld.
She paused and stared into that warm elderly face framed in a much more elegant than those surrounding the founder. He seemed so kindly staring back at her through those still lifeless eyes and yet, Lydia remembered how the Neitherworld was not just a place for the dead. It was so much more and being so, reminded her that this gentlemanly grandfather figure had to have committed intentional murder multiple times.
Suddenly the history of Peaceful Pines became more interesting.
"Gee Lydia, it's been a while since we've been back here. Look at how much has changed." Bertha noted, impressed by the updates and cracked a wide smile. "Do you think they have my usual?"
"Are you kidding? The recipe will never change, so of course, it'll still be here." Lydia laughed.
At this moment, she felt incredibly free and light. Everything just felt so right!
As they approached the register, the current teen who was working bubbled up in excitement at the prospect of customers. Enthusiastically greeting them, she took their orders while taking extra glances at Lydia. When they were done, the kid hurried back to the kitchen to prep the order for the cook.
"You must have had a lot of fun working here," Allen commented as he looked at the wall of photos featuring the past employees. His eyes softened when they had settled on Lydia's old portrait and had a ghost of a smile.
"It was interesting, to say the least. Funny enough, Beej tried to open a burger joint for me back when I thought I had lost this job. He's not the best at strategy or business." Lydia chuckled. "Remember the Spooky Boutique?"
The girls all began to laugh, but Allen was left trying to understand the context.
"Oh my gawd, that was so crazy how he was able to get that spot in the mall. It's a real bummer that it didn't take off. You've always had such a unique style." Bertha gushed.
After finding a booth, Bertha and Prudence deliberately stuck to the edge, essentially trapping Allen and Lydia in the benches that were across from each other.
When the food was brought to them, Bertha passed out their orders as Prudence checked their drinks and handed them out.
"So, how long have you girls known Mr. Beetleman?" Allen asked, leaning back in his seat while trying for nonchalant as he picked at his fries.
"We met Lydia in 7th grade." Prudence handed out the little cups of condiments to everyone as she spoke. "We already knew who she was, but we weren't brave enough to talk to her till then. You already knew Mr. Beetleman, right?"
"Yeah! He's been my best friend since I was eleven and you two met him when we were twelve," Lydia replied before taking a bite of her burger. "Mmm…still good, but I should have asked for extra pickles."
"You know, now that I think about it, you never did tell us how you two met," Bertha commented before stuffing an onion ring into her mouth. Chewing, she turned her attention to Allen and nearly spat out her food. "Oh god, Allen, are you putting mayo on your fries?!"
He didn't reply with words; instead, he lifted the white-covered, crispy, potatoey-goodness, and smirked before stuffing it into his mouth. With a satisfied expression, he side-eyed his partner as he quietly chewed and swallowed.
"Ewwww," both Bertha and Prudence stuck out their tongues while cringing.
"Oh, come on, you guys. It's just mayo; besides, Betty has eaten things in front of you that were much worse." Lydia sighed, then laughed when both girls flinched at any given memory of Betty eating.
"Lydia, how did you actually meet the Beetlemans?" Allen inquired as he offered her some of his mayo, to which she partook of without question.
"It's kind of hard to remember exactly." Lydia sipped on her soda while she thought back on it. "I was eleven when we became friends, but I had seen him before. Being a kid and all, it's not like I can remember everything, but he was always nice to me. He understood me when my dad started to really crack under pressure and then when Mother dwelled on how to make me normal."
"You don't seem all that abnormal." Allen was confused about her statement and watched her carefully.
"I'm surprised Bertha hasn't told you all about how "strange and unusual" I am." Lydia gave her friend a sly look, only to have Bertha evade it by digging happily into her burger.
"No, just the basics, like the crazy Halloween parties, The Brides of Funkenstein, and I think there was mention of something about being wilderness women…"
Lydia nearly choked on her soda. "Well, ah… that was interesting, but most of that was with Betty."
"May I ask, who is Betty?" Allen queried and leaned forward.
"She's a friend," Lydia said simply.
Sensing the evasion, he switched tactics and focused on the last of his food. Grabbing another fry, he looked up to her with only his eyes.
"So, your parents didn't seem to mind that you were friends with the handyman? He must have been a good friend to them too."
Lydia smiled gently while sipping on her soda straw.
"Daddy wasn't too fond of him, but he knew that I was safe. Mother actually liked him more, but that… didn't last."
"Did something happen?" He asked gently while the other two exchanged a concerned look.
Leaning on the table, Lydia let out a melancholy breath and rested her head in her hand.
"When I was about seventeen, I told them that I was going to prom with Betty, which I was, but something happened, and she didn't make it. Beej happened to be there and witnessed Claire being Claire, but he stood up for me. After that, he took me out for one last dance before offering to drive me home."
As they remembered that evening, Bertha and Prudence covered their mouths. They had both left early that evening; Prudence had wanted to get home so she could study for a class and Bertha, like hundreds of teens before, went the traditional route of taking her date out for the prom-night christening.
"To make sure that I made it home safely, Beej drove me back and to thank him, and I kissed him on the cheek. That was when dad had his first heart attack. Even though at the time it was only a minor one, I was so afraid for him. Unfortunately, that's when Delia went overboard, and suddenly, it was all curfews and check-ins. On top of it, just to make sure that I wasn't sneaking off with him, she enlisted people from all over the town to keep an eye on me."
"So that's how the rumors started!" Bertha yelled. "I knew it! I just knew that he never did anything."
Lydia solemnly nodded and said nothing. A heavy silence filled the booth while the girls stared into their laps, absorbing what she had shared with them. Going out of his comfort zone, Allen leaned forward and embraced her hand with his. Flicking up her dark, sad eyes, she met his grey-blue ones, and then between them, shared an intense gaze as he gently gripped her fingers.
Accepting his comforting gesture, she gave a gentle squeeze in return while pouring all of her gratitude back to him in a wave.
"I - I'm gonna clear these trays. Can you give me a hand Pru?" Getting up, Bertha and Prudence cleared the table, taking their wrappers and empty soda cups to the garbage bins, while leaving Lydia and Allen alone.
Glancing back at the two, Bertha was overwhelmed with concern at the thought of either of them possibly getting hurt by this investigation.
Prudence, on the other hand, was all focus as she pulled out a ziplock from her coat and placed Lydia's straw inside.
"Bertha, do you honestly think that Lydia is dating Mr. Beetleman?" Prudence asked as she watched the tension and the attraction build between their friend and the dusty-blonde cop.
"Pfft. Dating? Look at the way that Lydia blushes when we bring up their ''friendship'? Somethings going on, I can feel it, but right now my biggest concern is sitting at that table. Allen isn't the kind of guy who will show emotion for anyone. So, if Lydia and Mr. Beetleman are an item, it's gonna break him."
"I'm sure Allen can handle it." Prudence shook her head before going back to analyze the scene before them.
"No, Pru, you don't get it." Bertha grabbed her by the shoulders and leaned in close with a serious look in her eyes. In a hushed but stern tone, she continued. "I have never, ever, met a person that was not interested in anyone until I met Allen. Look, he may seem all friendly on the surface, but that's clearly his work persona for the public. He's honestly a great guy, but think about it, when have you seen him interact with anyone on his own unless he has to? When we have those group nights to celebrate, he is never interested in going. He never comes to any functions unless it's mandatory. In fact, one time, he told me that he has never had friends in school or has ever dated. I asked him who his childhood crushes were, and you know what he said? He didn't have one. Who's like that?! To be honest, I don't think he even likes people in general! Yet, when I first introduced him to Lydia, something in him was different. When he is around her, he started acting like, I don't know, a regular guy. Not like a guy-guy, but he actually started to show interest in her."
"This… is… big." Bertha shook the poor red-head with each word before releasing her.
Prudence adjusted herself, stuffed the ziplock bag back in her jacket, and looked Bertha in the eye. She studied Bertha's posture and saw how desperately she needed to gossip. After all, this was Bertha, and she always had a way to find out the juiciest news, the most scandalous of secrets, and of course, get a good read on people.
"Well, whatever is going on, I think it might be good for them to spend some alone time together." Prudence ducked her head and blushed when Bertha turned a shocked expression on her. With a nod, Bertha agreed.
Lydia was unsure about this whole seduction thing that Beetlejuice had planned. In the past, when she had tried to use her womanly charms on him, it had ended in total failure. So, what in the world made him believe that this plan could work on a trained police officer?
Those thoughts were weighing on her as she had lunch with her friends. Duplicitous behavior was new to her. While she was typically open about her interests and core ideals, Beetlejuice, on the other hand, was the one who had all of the slick moves and cons in his skill set.
True, over time, she did learn a thing or two. In fact, when Beetlejuice didn't know that it was her in disguise, she was able to fool and even blackmail her ghost. The trick that she used to pull it off was knowing what kind of woman would send him into a tizzy.
This new plan that he presented was very different from that.
Allen was just as well trained as Bertha, and that woman could read between the lines in every situation. She was good at detecting deflection, interest, and evasion. On the outside, her partner was difficult to read, but Lydia could tell that he was a nice and gentle guy.
It just didn't seem fair to lead him on, only so they could turn the investigation into a cold case.
When she was dropped off at home, she already knew that the whole plan was a bad idea. Later that night, when she undressed, she grew more uncomfortable thinking about it as she prepared for a long, warm bath to chase away the chill.
The changing of the seasons held a beauty, but the cold could wear on one's soul until they too, felt like they lived in eternal winter.
"Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore... it's the wind and nothing more."
Lydia sighed. She missed her dad terribly and his exact usage of these quotations. My, how the times have changed as she grew, and now, knowing that she was the reason for his frayed nerves, depressed Lydia to almost an unforgivable level.
She had been the one who broke him.
Thinking back to Beetlejuice, she knew that he would be hopping mad at her for sending him away. Though, it was his fault for even suggesting that she start putting herself out there as the bait. Then there was that whole 'juice' incident…
How could he have not warned her that this was going to be a possibility? So far, her own powers had only been used to transport herself places and fetch him. Never had she been able to use her so-called juice for any reason outside of those parameters.
Then, of course, there was that sarcastic offer that she made to buy drinks to get Allen to loosen up… ugh. Why did she ever let Beej talk her into this?
Raising her leg from the water, she marveled at the change in her perception of the world. The change in her friend, her view on people, and her moral compass were all so different.
What's more, what she had once thought to be an unforgivable crime back when she was young, was now nothing but a cathartic release of hostility. It was an aggression that she didn't know that she had as an adult, nor did she ever remember having it when she was a young child.
The first murder… the one she had long forgotten, had felt nothing like her recent kills. She had carefully planned that one. She knew that her mom would pick her up. She knew that the guise of a child was the perfect solution for getting the upper hand.
Most of all, she knew how to take a life and send them away so they couldn't hurt anyone else.
Lydia had always been a smart child. By the age of six, she could already read and oh how she loved horror movies with a passion. Call it abnormal, but in retrospect, Lydia was never normal. No, she was cunning, and she was a killer.
The twitch on her lips curled into a satisfied smile as she thought about the way that it felt to cut into the flesh. How smooth it was and how the resistance would give way once the skin was broken. Then, there was the delightful feeling of blood on her hands. It was a sticky warmth that dried like a mud mask that one could find in a spa.
Perhaps that was why Erzsébet Bathory fancied the blood of virgins to keep her young? What ingenuity in the ages of old!
Laughing at the thought, Lydia pondered the infamy of her childhood idols. One day she would be among them, and perhaps she too would be remembered long after the centuries had passed.