The sky wept. The rain drops mimicked my tears as they fell blending together so perfectly that I could not tell one from the other as they streaked down my face.
The cemetery was oddly empty compared to the seething street outside. Barriers had been erected to keep out the masses but still they came to hold their vigil. I slipped awkwardly through nodding absently to the policeman who had opened the way.
I came alone, not close enough to the family to be have come with them. I had hoped Per would come, to lend me his strength when I had none, but he had left town the day of Flax's murder with Nilla and Ice. Murder. I shuttered at the word. The first murder in Sunset Valley in 30 years. No one wanted to believe it was true. To admit it was murder meant admitting that someone in this sleepy town was a killer and that went against the grain. Didn't really matter, there was no doubting the evidence. The coroners report was conclusive. Cause of death: Suffocation.
I allowed myself to dwell on the facts for the first time. They took me away from is place, this moment.
Try as I might I could not escape it forever and as the officiator said the final word the tears flowed freely once again. We laid Flax to rest next to his parents and tucked away from prying eyes. Our small party began to break up and trail away from the grave side. I lingered for a moment hoping go catch Maize's eye but he was deep in conversation with the officiator head down as the rain dripped from the ends of his hair.
Picking my way through the wet grass I slowly moved to the exit. As I neared the now vacant barrier I grew distracted by the flowers that littered the ground.
Alone in a sea of yellow one bouquet stood out. The petals were a crisp white so fine that it seemed that they were made of ice. At the thought I shot upright. A familiar feeling came over me and my knees buckled. The nausea was finally gone but replacing it was a light headedness that came over me at the strangest times.
It rippled through my body and my vision blurred as I toppled to the ground. As my knees hit the pavement I felt strong arms around my waist supporting me and breaking my fall. I sighed with relief and pleasure at the feel of the warmth on my skin but just as I was leaning into the pressure I felt his hands tighten on my stomach and suddenly release pulling back abruptly.
Unsteadily I got to my feet hoping I could stand without stumbling and making a fool of myself.
"Thanks," I said sheepishly a little embarrassed that he was the one to save me from myself.
"Hmmph," he grunted before turning to go. Confused I watched him leave. Maize had never been short of words in all the time I'd known him but in the past week I'd hardly heard a thing from him. I could hardly blame him I supposed, I don't know what I would have done if I had lost either of my sisters or Per, but it still hurt a bit. After what we have shared I guess part of me had hoped he would turn to me in his grief. Then again I was preoccupied myself. It wasn't Flax's murder that was weighing on my mind, although that never left, it was this dizziness. As I left the cemetery I resolved to get to the bottom of at least one of the mysteries of my life and find out what was going on with my traitorous body.
"But what if I'm not? What if it's something serious? What I've waited to long and there's nothing they can do to fix me?"
"Seriously Mint your going to be fine. With everything that's been going on lately you just haven't been taking care of yourself. I bet you five simoleons that it's no big deal."
I laughed. "I'm not sure that's a bet I want to take."
"Chicken," she teased. I knew she was trying to make me feel better. She was probably right and it was nothing but I could see the faint lines of worry around her eyes and it edged my panic up a notch. There was just something about doctors and hospitals that terrified me. That's why I put off seeing someone for so long, the fear of being told bad news. I knew it was completely irrational but that didn't make it any less terrifying.
"So tell me," Moon said interrupting the downward spiral of my thoughts. "Did you ever find anything out about who was trying to poison Flax? I mean I know it's a long shot but maybe it's connected."
She hit on just to topic to distract me. "Actually in a way, yes." I couldn't help feeling a thrill of excitement when I remembered the phone call I had received just that morning.
"We've managed to get a lead on the opiates you sent us." Dr. Portland Blizzard's voice was eager as he shared the latest, and long overdue, developments. "Although the flower that is used to make the drug is extremely rare we have been able discover a shipment from Berrilize about six months ago. Now we don't know who received the flowers but it is only a matter of time."
It was the best news I could have hoped for, the possibility of finding the poisoner had been just what I needed to get me out the door. As I explained this to Moon I could see her expression go from hopeful to concerned.
"So you see we are one step away from finding out who is behind this, or at least the poisoning. All we have to do now is way for the phone to ring."
"Yeah maybe, but Mint..." she paused biting her lip.
Before she could find the courage to say whatever had halted her tongue the insistent buzzing of my phone distracted me. "This is it!" I said looking up excitedly. Ignoring her scowl at my use of my phone in the hospital I answered it anyway. There was no way I was going to miss this call.
"Hello." There was no denying the eagerness of my tone but I was disappointed by the reply. Instead of an excited police officer or even an enthusiastic scientist on the other end of the phone I was greeted with nothing but silence. It had been two weeks since my last call from the mouth breather and I had begun to forget that feeling of dread when the phone rang. Less than a second on the phone with him and it all came crashing back.
"I know where you are." The muffled voice rasped in my ear. "You were warned, you were shown the price of not listening and now you will have to pay. If you do not bring all evidence to the pier..."
"Congratulations Miss Parfait." The overly cheerful voice of the doctor cut through the whispered tones causing me to turn. "Or should I say mummy," she finished with a grin.
At the word everything went blank. I stood in complete shock, phone forgotten in my hand, the sound of the breathing lost behind the pounding of my own heart.
A shrieking squeal jolted through me shocking me back to life.
"Oh Mint that is so exciting." Moon squeaked rushing up to me. "I can't believe it I'm going to be an auntie.
"Hello little one," she was practically cooing to my stomach. "You are going to be such a pretty baby." She looked up at me then. "Seriously between you and Maize this baby is going to be stunning!" She continued to gush but my thoughts drifted away.
How had this happened? Maize and I were so careful. We both knew we weren't ready for this and we never...
An imagine flickered through my head so vivid it could only have been a memory long buried. Oh no!
It wasn't until a few days later that I realised that Mr. Mouth Breather never did finish his threat. There was something about the evidence but what? For once I was unsettled by his lack of calling. It seemed ominous that he would cut off his threats the moment I heard my life changing news.
My heart and mind kept flip-flopping about the little bump. I was scared, more scared than I had been of anything in my life, but every time I put my hand on my stomach and felt him there a warmth spread through me and I was at peace. I had begged Moon not to tell anyone yet and she had reluctantly agreed. She thought I wanted time to tell the father first, if only it were that simple. How did you tell the father when you didn't know who he was?
In an attempt to distract myself and appear as normal as possible I threw myself into the investigation with more vigorous than I ever had before. I became obsessed with botany and spent hours learning about the different exotic plants at the science facility.
In the absence of Per, Moon became my shadow. As each new fact revealed itself I became more and more convinced that I could be carrying the child of a murderer. It seems that Ice was somewhat of an expert on unusual plants. His mother had worked at the science facility and her father was a florist. Up until their death in our senior year they had been the leading experts on rain forest botany in the country. That combined with Ice's constant travel, specifically to Berrilize in the last year gave means enough for him to get the rare plant we were looking for. When you added in the fact he had been seen fleeing the scene of the murder and had conveniently left town that day it was beginning to look like we had cracked this case.
We were back at the science facility when the answer finally came.
"Mint, Moon what a pleasant surprise!" The scientist, Portland, was cute in a geeky younger brother type of way and I had been working with him while learning about the plants. I suspected he had a bit of a crush on Moon and her eagerness to accompany me every time I came here made me wonder if the attraction was mutual.
"I was just about to head out to the police station with the news but thought I'd take a chance and see if you were here. Guess I goot lucky." He smiled shyly over my shoulder and out of the comer of my eye I could see Moon blush furiously.
"News? Have you found something out about our mystery plant?"
"I'd say!" He enthused face lighting up. "An old buddy of mine over at Bridgeport university remembered that they received a shipment of the plant about eight months ago."
Now it was my turn to become excited. "You're joking? What's his name? Can I get in touch with him?"
Portland chuckled. "Just wait it gets better. After they received the shipment they sent part of it on, here to Sunset Valley!"
My mind reeled. "Please tell me you have an address."
"For you my lady, anything." As he handed me the paper I couldn't help but notice that he was looking past me, eyes locked on Moon, as he said the words. I smiled as I scanned the paper but the smile didn't last long. As I read down the line I gasp in astonishment. Unable to help her curiosity Moon peered over my shoulder and read the words aloud.
"1835 Landgraab Avenue. Why does that sound familiar?" Still in shock I was unable to answer. "OMB Mint isn't that where that boy who used to hang out with you and Flax lived? What was his name again? Toffee something. Toffee Crisp!" she declared pleased with her memory.
All I could do was nod dumbly. Eyes narrowing Moon stared at me shrewdly. "We'd better let the police know, there's no need to go rushing in prematurely."
She was right, I knew she was, but something made me reluctant to give this away so soon. Once the police got in there it would become official business and I would be shut out. I couldn't afford to be kept away. I had to know for myself and for my baby. Thinking fast I turned to Moon.
"Absolutely. I'll take it over right away." I started walking towards the exit as if to leave Moon trailing behind me. After going half a dozen steps I turned as if remembering something. "Oh Moon, were't you going to ask Portland about that flower we found up by the waterfall the other day?"
Portland instantly rushed over and began asking her questions about it, delighted to have a chance to keep Moon here a little longer. Pleased with my little distraction I slipped away before they could notice my absence.
I waited until nightfall. Having 'forgotten' to tell the police I didn't think anyone would be on to the house but I didn't see the sense in breaking in in broad daylight. The house was dark when I got there and the pile of old newspapers on the front porch were a good sign as far as I was concerned, no one was home.
Praying that my Internet research and small time practice would pay off I knelt in front of the door and began to pick the lock. It was frustratingly difficult and my fingers kept slipping trembling as they were from nerves. After what seemed like an eternity I heard the sound I had been waiting for, the small click of the lock opening. Unfortunately I also heard the sound I'd been dreading, the creak of the boards on the porch behind me.
"Per?!?" I gasped heart in my throat. "You have got to stop sneaking up on me like that!"
"Hey is it my fault you are completely oblivious to your surroundings? Seriously Mint you really ought to pay better attention."
Scowling at him I slipped into the house gesturing him to follow. "What are you doing here?" I hissed in the privacy of the darkened house.
"Moon called. She had a feeling you might try something like this and was worried about you coming on your own."
"Meddlesome twin." I muttered, but all the same I was glad he was there. The silence of the house was enough for me to imagine all sorts of menacing things in the shadows.
"Moon told me about the flower. I don't want to be here any longer than I have to so let's just find what we came for and get out of here."
I couldn't argue with that and we split up each searching for signs.
I tried to remember the house from my childhood but the memories were faint and I couldn't think of any time I had actually been inside the Crisp household. Ten minutes past, then twenty, then an hour. I was beginning to give up hope when Per whispered harshly from across the room.
"Hey over here."
"It's locked." he said as I made my way over to him. "Think you can do your trick and get it open?"
I shrugged in response, "It's worth a try."
Once more I got to my knees and wrestled with the lock. It was trickier than the one on the front door and by the time I was finished sweat had beaded on my forehead and my tongue was slightly sore where I had been biting it in my concentration.
When the lock finally did spring it did so with a pop and the door swung open on it's own well oiled hinges. Carefully Per and I peering into the darkness.
The open door revealed a set of stairs leading into a basement. The damp smell of soil wafted up from it's depths and the darkness was pierced by a warm glow off to one side. This had to be it, I thought adrenaline rushing through me. We'd found it. Turning I made to throw my arms around Per in celebration but as I did so I caught sight of something that made my blood run cold and froze me in my tracks.
He was there, in the darkness, watching us the unmistakable shape of a gun held lazily at his side. The figure wasn't the one I was expecting though and I strained to make it out more clearly. I needn't of bothered. With a suddenness that almost blinded me he clicked on the light.
I gasp as I took in the scene before me and clutched at Per's arm in fear and astonishment.
He chuckled at my discomfort, a low an sinister sound. "Well well well, what do we have here? I never thought I'd see you here, at least not any time soon." He paused an odd and unsettling smile creeping over his face. "Ah but where are my manners. Welcome to my house Mint Cream Parfait. I hope you enjoy it because you won't ever be leaving."