Funny how you could solve a murder on Tuesday and still need to be back at work on Wednesday morning.
When A.J. arrived at work-admittedly late-following Gloria’s arrest the afternoon before for the murders of Dicky Massri and Medea Sutherland, she had to make her way through a gauntlet of concerned and curious employees and students.
“Your mom was great yesterday!” Suze exclaimed and A.J. winced.
The minute Elysia had completed her part of the police investigation into the events at Little Peavy Farm, she had driven into Stillbrook and held an impromptu press conference on the steps of the police station. Reporters had already gathered as the news of Gloria’s arrest had spread. Elysia had taken advantage of that to announce that she had in fact cracked the case-as she had said she would. She then demanded a full apology from everyone from the police to the courts.
“She’s something else,” agreed Emma Rice.
“Isn’t she?” A.J. said weakly.
“So why did Gloria Sunday kill Elysia’s boyfriend?” Suze asked as A.J. tried to edge down the hallway to her office.
“It turns out that Gloria was actually in love with Dicky. When she learned that he was going to marry Elysia, something must have snapped. Plus it sounds to me like she didn’t trust him not to give away their blackmailing scheme.”
“Did you hear about Yoga Meridian?” Simon asked quietly, following A.J. to her office door.
“Apparently it’s been bought out by Tussle and Rossiter.”
“The two business entrepreneurs who’ve been buying out some of the nation’s oldest, most prestigious yoga studios. The word on the street is they’re planning to create a national chain of yoga studios.”
“Maybe. But they’re promoting the idea that their studios will feature highly-trained teachers, high-quality classes, and still preserve that authentic, community feel of a neighborhood studio.”
“And they’re buying up established studios?”
Simon nodded and named two well-known California studios. “And get this. Mara Allen was let go.”
“They fired Mara Allen?”
“I don’t know about that. She may have left of her own free choice, but… either way she’s gone.”
Her mind reeling, A.J. let herself into her office. A branded national chain could mark the beginning of the end for yoga as they currently knew it. With corporate resources and money behind them, Tussle and Rossiter could quickly drive a lot of small studios out of business. Much of the individual charm and creativity of these individually owned enterprises would be lost as commercialism took over what was at heart intensely spiritual.
A.J. let herself into her office and sank down in the chair behind her desk.
There was a white envelope propped against the phone. Her name was typed on the envelope face. A.J. picked it up and ripped it open.
It was dated the previous afternoon.
This is to formally notify you that I am resigning from my position as co-manager of Sacred Balance Studio, effective immediately. Had you been in the office at any time during the past three days, I would have discussed my reasoning in person with you, although my decision would have remained the same.
I appreciate the opportunities both to learn and to teach given to me by your late aunt and my dear friend, Diantha Mason. However a new opportunity has come my way, which I feel it is my duty to pursue.
I wish you luck in your future endeavors.
The phone rang and A.J. picked it up automatically, still staring at the letter in her hand.
“Bonjour!” said Andy cheerfully. His voice sounded so clear he could have been in the next room.
“Hey! How are you?”
“Tr`es bon as we say in Gay Paree.” His voice faded and came back on the line. “Nick says hi.”
“Hi to Nick,” A.J. returned politely.
“We just saw on the news that Ellie was cleared of all criminal charges. They’re saying she solved the murder-although something may have been lost in translation.”
“No, that’s pretty much the story. Mother cleared her name. With a little help from me and Stella Borin.”
“That’s great! What happened?”
A.J. filled Andy in on everything that had happened since he had left them at his parents’ vacation home on the weekend. She finished, “So Mother is demanding a full apology from everyone up to and possibly including the governor and Stella has sworn to stick by her man. Although she may have to stick for a long time given the charges of extortion and accessory to murder.”
“And what about you and Jake?”
“He was great. He probably saved Mother’s life although she’s sure she did it all herself.”
“No, I mean what about you and Jake?”
“Oh. Well, there’s nothing to tell there. We’re still-”
She could hear his sigh all the way across the Atlantic. “Can I give you some advice?”
“No. I do not want romantic advice from my ex-husband. My gay ex-husband.”
“You’re going to get it anyway. Stop being so freaking chivalrous about this Witness Protection broad and go talk to the guy.”
“He knows where to find me, Andy. If he wanted to-”
The door to A.J.’s office burst open and Suze, her blue eyes nearly bugging from her excited face, gasped, “Oh my God! Lily has been hired as the new manager of Yoga Meridian.”
Somewhere in the background A.J. could hear Andy saying, “He probably feels like a jackass. Give the guy a-” She absently replaced the receiver, still staring at Suze.
“Say that again.”
“You heard me. Lily has been hired as the new manager of Yoga Meridian. She’s replacing Mara Allen.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“It’s true.” Suze was gleeful.
The phone rang. A.J. picked it up. “Sorry, Andy. I just had some unexpected-”
“It’s me, pumpkin,” Elysia chirped. “I’m at the airport.”
“What? Which airport? What are you doing at the airport?”
“I’m flying to Los Angeles for a meeting with Brad Schuster.”
“Who’s Brad Schuster?”
“He’s a Hollywood producer. He called last night to tell me about a TV series he’s putting together featuring a team of ‘mature’ female sleuths. I’m flying into LAX for lunch with him tomorrow.”
“Wait a minute. Are you sure this guy is legitimate?”
“Oh yes. He’s produced all kinds of shows. He describes this as a cross between The Golden Girls meets Charlie’s Angels. He saw me on the news last night and was so impressed that he tracked me down then and there.”
“How long are you going to be gone?”
“Oh, just a day or two,” Elysia said cheerfully. “Unless I get the part. Then I suppose I’ll move to California for at least part of the year.”
“Must run, lovie. They’re calling my flight. I’ll ring later. Cheerio!”
There was a dial tone in A.J.’s ear. Slowly she replaced the receiver.
Jake’s sports car was parked out in front of his house. There did not appear to be any other car on the street, which was a relief. No way was A.J. marching up to that house to have a dreaded Talk with Jake if Chess was anywhere in the vicinity.
The fact that Chess was not in the vicinity seemed like a positive sign. A.J. knew it was Jake’s day off because he had casually mentioned it in passing when he’d called the night before to let her know that Stewie had been booked and was already spilling his guts in the hope of a plea bargain.
She went up the tidy walk and knocked. She could smell something good cooking and hear music through the door-The Boss, she thought.
She was just reflecting that this impromptu visit might be a really bad idea when the door swung open.
Jake stared at her through the black mesh. After a long moment, he reached forward and unlocked the security gate. “This is a surprise.”
“Pleasant or unpleasant?”
He flicked her a quick look. If it had been anyone else, she’d have thought he was uncertain. “I guess that depends.”
She followed him inside, looking around. She’d been to his house a few times and everything looked unchanged. What was she expecting? Telltale signs of gingham curtains and antimacassars on the chair arms?
“So how’s Chess?” she asked as Jake led the way to the kitchen. He was apparently having his supper. A newspaper lay folded beside a half-finished plate of frozen pizza. He didn’t take his seat at the table, however. He leaned against the sink.
Jake wasn’t looking at her as he answered. “She’s requested the WPP to move her again. She told them she’s been recognized, which is true.”
A.J.’s stomach was churning as she asked, “Are you going with her?”
Jake shook his head. “My life is here.”
She had to get the nerve up before she could ask, “But is there anything here that you couldn’t find somewhere else?”
In the silence between them she could hear the rattle and hum of his aged refrigerator. “You,” he said at last.
Relief washed through her. “Then if you feel that way,” A.J. said, “why haven’t you called or been to see me?”
Jake winced, shaking his head. “I wasn’t sure what to say to you. I feel like a complete jackass. I couldn’t imagine you being anything but totally finished with me.”
“Me either.” His expression told her now was not the time to joke-not about this. “But, well, at least you had a really good excuse for being a… a…”
She bit her lip. “You were honest with me. That helped. It still hurt, but it helped. It is-was-kind of an unusual situation, you have to admit.”
“Yeah, I freely admit that.”
“So,” A.J. said tentatively, “it’s over between you?”
Jake nodded. “I admit I was confused when Chess showed up. I thought I’d never see her again and you know how you build something up when you don’t have a say in losing it-even if it’s something you weren’t sure you really wanted.”
“You weren’t sure you really wanted Chess?”
“The engagement was broken off twice before that last time. I loved her, but I don’t think it would have lasted with us. In fact I know for sure it wouldn’t have lasted. We don’t actually have anything in common. To tell you the truth-” He stopped.
“I don’t like her all that much.”
A.J. relaxed. She couldn’t have stopped herself from smiling if her life had depended on it. “Oh? Do you like me?”
His mouth quirked reluctantly. “Yeah. You make me laugh. You make me think.”
“I make you mad.”
“Sometimes. Yep.” He was grinning. “Somehow it doesn’t matter. You make me happy.”
A.J.’s throat closed with unexpected emotion. “You make me happy, too.”
“Yeah?” He stretched his hand out and A.J. placed hers in it. His fingers closed warmly, gently around hers. “Where do we go from here, A.J. Alexander?” His smile was uncharacteristically tender.
“I don’t know yet,” A.J. admitted. “But one thing I’ve learned. It’s as much about the journey as the destination.”