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Doin' Okay (But Not Very Well)

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Doin Okay But Not Very Well

The urge to create had vanished, like a flower drawn with disappearing ink.

Evan hadn’t picked up a paintbrush or a pencil in over a month. He looked at a blank canvas and felt…nothing. He was just as blank, just as empty. He’d stuffed all his art supplies in the hall closet so he wouldn’t constantly be reminded of his failure to move on with his life.

He tried filling his time with other things – reading, knitting, doing a thousand-piece puzzle of cows in a pasture – but nothing held his attention long enough to be completed. Evan had tried wandering around the city, searching for a way to fill his hollow spaces, but one misstep landed him with a fractured ankle and put an end to that attempt at distraction.

If he didn’t know better, he’d say the universe had it in for him. And then the heatwave came.

Atlantis Gardens was a beautifully historical building with regrettably vintage HVAC and rules against air conditioning units being placed in the front facing windows because it would detract from the Art Deco façade. Some of the tenants had the rattling units in the rear, but Evan didn’t care for the noise. He was rapidly cycling through his collection of shorts and tank tops, and had a fan in every room. His front-facing window, as well as many other windows on the opposite side of the courtyard, were wide open.

Evan didn’t own a television, but he did have a digital camera with a 30x optical zoom, which he used to watch his neighbors. He didn’t take any pictures, because he wasn’t a creepy stalker, but watching the tenants across the way helped get him out of his own head longer than anything else he’d tried.

His unknown fellow tenants had become characters in a reality series they didn’t even know they were in.

Lonelyheart was a tall, lean, handsome guy with spiky hair. What little Evan could see of his apartment was spartan. The guy played a lot of video games, sometimes practiced his golf swing, and occasionally plucked at a guitar, but never had anyone over while Evan was watching. No friends, no lovers. He had a lot of late nights, and Evan could commiserate with the insomnia.

Next door was the Pianist, who never played a complete song on his upright piano. Mostly he did scales or banged out little chunks of songs. Evan wondered why he kept at it when he seemed to take no joy from playing. He worked erratic hours, always seemed to be yelling at people on the phone, but still managed to find time for dating. Evan never saw him with the same person twice.

The Newlyweds lived above the Pianist. They were a young couple, still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. Evan had gotten an eyeful on more than one occasion, since they didn’t confine their sexual activities to the bedroom, but never lingered on their window on those occasions because het porn really didn’t do it for him. The woman, a redhead, was the more aggressive of the two, and her Scottish-accented husband seemed to be the sensitive one. When they weren’t fucking, they were entertaining other young couples.

The Dancer lived next door to the Newlyweds. She was exotic and beautiful, and seemed almost to float on air when she was dancing. Evan had seen fliers in the lobby for the Athosia Dance Studio and wondered if she worked there. She always seemed sad, even dancing. Evan saw her in the courtyard sometimes, chatting with people, but she rarely had anyone up to her apartment.

Downstairs and one apartment over from the Dancer was the May-December couple. Evan was pretty sure December, a silver-haired man with a very laid-back vibe, was retired. May went to work dressed in a military uniform. They were affectionate without being pornographic, and often had friends over for dinner parties or poker nights. They had a little mongrel dog named Maverick that December took on lots of walks, presumably to the dog park down the block, and also through the garden at the far end of the courtyard.

The only neighbor whose name Evan knew was Michael Kenmore, because he’d once seen Kenmore leaving his business cards on the table in the lobby. Kenmore Scientific, whatever that was. He worked a nine-to-five job, and was always impeccably dressed in a suit and tie. Mrs. Kenmore was ill, and Evan didn’t know if it was something chronic or just a bad case of the flu. She spent a lot of time on the couch, wrapped in blankets and drinking tea while she watched TV. She seemed very fragile. There were never any visitors.

Most of what Evan knew about his sort-of neighbors he learned from watching through the camera lens and from the bits of conversation that drifted across the courtyard. It was certainly easier to get caught up in their lives than spend time living in his own.

Today someone had their radio turned up high enough that Evan could hear the music drifting down from one of the upper floors. It was an unintentional score to the little dramas he watched unfold.

I'm such a dubious soul
And a walk in the garden
Wears me down
Tangled in the fallen vines
Pickin' up the punchlines
I've just been fakin' it
Not really makin' it

Evan hummed along under his breath, the tune more than familiar. Simon and Garfunkel had been a musical staple in his house growing up. It made him a little nostalgic listening to it now. His life had been so much simpler back then.

“What’s the news across the courtyard?” Ali asked when she came at lunchtime. “Can we take a commercial break and put the fan on? It’s stifling in here.”

“Can’t hear with the fan on,” Evan replied. He was in his usual chair in front of the window, camera trained on the other apartments. “Lonelyheart got a letter today. He tore it to shreds.”

“Dear John letter?” Ali surmised. She unpacked the canvas bag of groceries she’d brought over.

“Maybe.”

“Poor guy. I wish he’d find someone.”

Ali dropped something wrapped in a napkin on Evan’s lap. He set the camera aside and unwrapped a donut, little bits of the paper sticking to the glaze.

“What’s this for?”

“Glen sent it over,” Ali replied, “in case you were missing group. Tuna salad or turkey?”

“Turkey’s fine.”

Ali was a sweet girl, young and pretty and kind. They’d met at the support group; Ali’s brother had died nine months ago, drunk driver. She’d volunteered to check in on Evan while he was laid up, and she kept to a regular schedule, never missed a day. Evan normally would’ve protested – he was more than capable of taking care of himself – but he liked having someone to gossip with. And he didn’t mind being a distraction for Ali from her own grief.

“Maybe Lonelyheart could hook up with Dancer,” Ali said. “They both need someone in their lives.”

“Not everyone needs a romantic partner to be happy,” Evan muttered. He’d be proof of that just as soon as he learned how to be happy again.

Ali handed him a paper plate with a neatly cut sandwich on it and kissed the top of his head. “I know that. But even you have to admit Lonelyheart needs some companionship, even if it’s not the romantic kind.”

Evan remembered the expression that had been on Lonelyheart’s face when he tore up that letter. Anger at first, and then something akin to despair.

Ali perched on the arm of Evan’s chair while he ate, taking possession of the camera and getting her own look at the neighbors.

“Scottish Newlywed is reading a book of poetry,” she reported. “Shouldn’t he be at work? It’s the middle of the…Oh. Never mind. Booty call.”

She described the redhead’s frothy pink peignoir, though Evan could’ve done without the narration. Luckily the Newlyweds took the action to their bedroom. Evan didn’t want Ali’s color commentary on that.

“Maybe we should send a get-well basket to Mrs. Kenmore,” Ali said. “She still looks pretty bad.”

“I don’t want to engage with them,” Evan said around a mouthful of turkey.

“Because it’s so much healthier to sit and watch them all day?”

“I’m not hurting anyone,” Evan replied, hating how petulant he sounded.

Ali gave him a sympathetic look. “You’re not helping anyone, either. Least of all yourself.”

“This isn’t group,” Evan pointed out, “and you’re not Glen.”

“No, I’m not,” Ali agreed amiably. “And I have to go.”

Evan felt a stab of guilt. He knew Ali meant well, but he was handling things his own way, and he wasn’t going to apologize for it.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Ali said, scooping up her grocery bag. “How do you feel about a pastrami sandwich from the deli?”

“I wouldn’t say no.”

Ali left, closing the door behind her, and Evan finished his sandwich in time to catch December in the courtyard, headed for the dog park with Maverick.

*o*o*o*

The next day dawned overcast and rainy, neither of which did anything to alleviate the heat or humidity. The air was thick enough to chew.

Evan stayed in bed, even though the heat was oppressive and he was sweating on the sheets, listening to the rain falling against a metal awning on the first floor. It drowned out the sound of the fan in the corner that was sluggishly moving the air around. What point was there in getting up, when all the day offered was sitting in his chair watching his neighbors? He used to find life unexpected and exciting. He didn’t think he’d ever get that back, one more loss to add to the list.

He tried very hard not to think about how the empty half of the bed hadn’t always been so empty. He tried very hard not to think about that every single day.

“Evan?” Ali knocked on the bedroom door. “You’d better not still be sleeping! I brought lunch. Come out in ten minutes, or I’m coming in!”

Evan pulled the blanket over his head, groaning. Why couldn’t Ali just let him wallow? The threat of her coming in was sufficient enough to get him up, though. He brushed his teeth, got dressed, and hobbled out to the kitchen with seconds so spare.

“It lives!” Ali said brightly. She already had the sandwich and an iced tea set up on the breakfast bar. “Dig in.”

“Breakfast of champions?” Evan quipped, sliding onto a stool. Ali brought over a pouf from the living room for him to prop his wrapped ankle on.

“Says the man who stayed in bed all morning. Did you get any sleep last night?”

“Some.” Evan wasn’t really all that hungry, but the deli was out of Ali’s way, so he started nibbling at one half of the sandwich. “Lonelyheart kept me company.”

“Aren’t you the slightest bit interested in reaching out to him?” Ali asked, leaning on the counter. “I think he needs real help. Him and Mrs. Kenmore.”

Evan took a big bite of the sandwich to keep from having to answer. He knew his mother would be disappointed if she could see how he was living. She’d come to stay with him for that first week, when the pain of loss had been freshest. Billie Lorne was sympathetic, in a no-nonsense kind of way, and she wouldn’t be pleased to see him sitting idly by watching other people suffer.

Evan just didn’t have it in him anymore to be that person, to step in and offer assistance and open himself up to more heartache. Lonelyheart was better off on his own.

“So you help him then,” he muttered when Ali gave him an expectant look and a raised eyebrow.

“Maybe I will,” she replied.

“Make sure to tell him you think he’s lonely because you’ve been spying on him from across the courtyard.”

Ali scowled. “You can be a real jerk sometimes, Evan Lorne.”

She slammed out the front door without saying goodbye, and Evan threw the remains of the pastrami sandwich in the garbage. He wished he could blame his short temper on the heat.

He should’ve stayed in bed.

*o*o*o*

The rain continued unabated and messed with the focus on Evan’s camera. He swapped it out for a pair of binoculars he’d bought several years ago when he thought he might like to try bird watching. It was after dark, and he kept the light off in his apartment so no-one would see him.

Lonelyheart was playing a first-person shooter video game. Pianist’s apartment was dark; he was probably out on another date. The Dancer was out too. Newlyweds and May-December both had guests over, and it was unsurprising that the younger couple had the rowdier friends.

There was a flash of lightning, and Evan counted the seconds until the thunder rumbled without really thinking about it; it was just something he’d done since he was a kid. He watched the Newlyweds and their friends play a weirdly erotic game of charades as the storm moved closer. Maybe it would finally break the heatwave. Evan had to keep a towel on the back of the chair to absorb the sweat running down his back, and a stack of napkins on the side table because of all the condensation dripping down his bottled water.

“Don’t!”

The scream came almost at the same time as a clap of thunder so loud it shook the windows, but Evan knew what he’d heard. A woman had screamed, but he was certain it wasn’t anyone at the Newlyweds’ party. May-December was having their regular poker night, and no-one there seemed to have heard anything.

Evan turned his binoculars on the Kenmores, just as Mr. Kenmore walked past the living room window with what might’ve been a knife in his hand. Mrs. Kenmore, who’d been on the couch the last time Evan had checked, was nowhere to be seen.

“No way,” Evan whispered to himself, gooseflesh rising on his arms despite the heat.

Without taking his eyes off the empty couch, Evan fumbled on the side table for his cell phone.

“Siri. Call Ali.”

Evan? It’s late. What’s wrong?

“I think Mr. Kenmore just murdered Mrs. Kenmore.”

What? How?

“I heard a scream, and then I saw him by the window. I think he was holding a knife. And I don’t see her in the usual spot.”

Isn’t stabbing a little old school for a guy who runs a science lab, or whatever he does?

Evan hadn’t taken that into consideration. “Well, maybe that just means it wasn’t premeditated. Maybe it was a crime of passion.”

I’ve seen Kenmore. He looks like an android in a suit. I don’t think he was programmed for passion.

“I know what I saw,” Evan insisted.

You saw a guy maybe holding a knife. For all you know, he was cutting vegetables. Did you see any blood?

Evan sighed. “No.”

I’ll come over tomorrow and we can talk it out, okay?

Evan ended the call and dropped the phone in his lap. He didn’t see anything else noteworthy through the Kenmores’ window. But just before he decided to turn in for the night, he saw Michael Kenmore come out to the courtyard. He was wearing a long, black raincoat and pulling a cart behind him that was loaded up with white boxes that said Kenmore Scientific on the side.

And he was heading in the opposite direction from the parking garage.

*o*o*o*

“And why were you spying on your neighbor?”

Detective Dex filled the room – physically, he was a mountain of a man, but he had a presence about him that was even larger – and he was looking very pointedly at the camera and binoculars that were on the side table.

“Evan’s been –” Ali started to say, but Evan cut her off before she could say the words ‘grief’ or ‘grieving’.

“I fractured my ankle. I’ve been bored.” Evan shook his foot, which was elevated and encased in the walking boot. “I didn’t mean any harm.”

“It’s like watching a soap opera,” Ali said helpfully.

“Look, Detective, I know what I saw. Kenmore had a knife in his hand, after his wife screamed. And I haven’t seen her since.”

Ali nodded. She was sitting on the arm of Evan’s chair, her hand on his shoulder. “Mrs. Kenmore is always on the couch in the afternoon, to watch television.”

Evan told the detective about Kenmore coming down with the boxes later on that night, but not taking them to the parking garage where he presumably kept a car.

“I assume you think Mrs. Kenmore was being transported out of the building,” Detective Dex said. “In pieces.”

“Gross,” Ali said.

“Yes,” Evan confirmed.

Detective Dex jotted some notes in his notebook before tucking it back in his jacket pocket. He didn’t look much like a police officer, with the leather jacket and the long dreadlocks tied back with one of those elastics that had blue plastic balls on each end, something a little girl would’ve worn. Evan’s gaze kept going back to that elastic, which for some reason he found very distracting.

Almost as distracting as the interesting scar running through the detective’s eyebrow.

“I’ll pay a visit to Mr. Kenmore,” Dex said. He produced a business card seemingly out of thin air and handed it to Evan. “If you think of anything else, give me a call. And stop spying. It’s creepy. If your neighbors find out, you could be charged with voyeurism.”

Ali saw him to the door, and Evan already had his camera in hand.

“I see you really took his words to heart,” Ali said dryly when she came back in the living room.

“If it hadn’t been for the damn rain, I could’ve gotten a picture of Kenmore with the knife,” Evan said. “I’m not going to miss another chance.”

“He’s not even home,” Ali pointed out.

Kenmore had left for work at his usual time, looking and acting as he normally did. But Evan’s patience paid off when he saw the detective talking with December.

“He must be asking if December heard or saw anything unusual last night,” Evan surmised. “Which he probably didn’t. The poker game didn’t break up till after midnight.”

“At least he’s looking into it, and not just dismissing you as a Peeping Tom.”

It was nice to have at least the illusion of being taken seriously by the cops, but Evan knew what the reality was. Kenmore had plenty of time to get rid of any evidence. But if he couldn’t produce Mrs. Kenmore, surely that would be enough for a full-blown investigation.

Unless Evan could find some evidence and speed things along.

“Do you know where the dumpsters are?” Evan asked Ali.

*o*o*o*

The dumpsters were a bust. Either Kenmore was extremely lucky, or it hadn’t been a crime of passion at all, because the garbage service had come that morning and hauled away all the trash. Not that it mattered, since Ali had refused to sift through garbage, and Evan couldn’t get up in the dumpsters with his broken ankle.

So Evan kept watch, recording notes on his phone.

Mrs. Kenmore’s absence continued.

Lonelyheart sat by his window for a long time, just staring out. Evan was sure he’d been spotted, but the man didn’t seem to be mentally present. It was a little disconcerting. Had he suffered his own loss, to seem so adrift?

December walked the dog much more than normal, and seemed to be focused on his side of the courtyard specifically. Maverick, who was usually so well behaved, kept pulling at the leash and barking.

Pianist came home from work and immediately started yelling at the girl who came and cleaned his apartment once a week. She yelled back at him in Spanish.

Dancer had drinks with three other women down in the courtyard, the sound of their laughter and voices drifting up to Evan.

When was the last time he had anyone over, besides Ali? Evan had been very social once upon a time. He’d had a lot of friends in the local artist community, and they frequently got together to support different art shows, or to challenge each other with different techniques, or just to eat and talk and share their lives.

Listening to Dancer with her friends made him painfully aware of the holes in his own life. Evan thought maybe he ought to try and get back to the group counseling sessions, even though he was supposed to be staying off his foot as much as possible. Glen always knew what to say.

Evan watched, and made his notes, until Kenmore got home from work.

The lights went on in Kenmore’s apartment. He appeared in the living room a couple of minutes later, loosening his tie and fixing himself a cocktail. He didn’t look like a man who’d just murdered his wife in cold blood. Evan watched him through the camera lens, wondering what was going on in his head. Was he even a little sorry?

Kenmore left the room and Evan waited a minute to see if he’d be back before moving the camera. And then his breath caught in his throat when Kenmore returned…with Ali.

“What the hell are you doing?” Evan hissed.

Was she suicidal? What line had she used on Kenmore to get him to let her in his apartment? Evan held his breath, phone clutched in one hand and camera in the other, ready to call 911 if things took a turn.

“…sick…” drifted across the courtyard. “…just want…offer…services…”

At one point Ali left the room, but Kenmore stayed, fixing himself another drink. She wasn’t gone long. When she returned, Ali smiled and batted her eyelashes at Kenmore, and when he turned away, she stared pointedly at Evan through the window.

Ten minutes later she let herself into Evan’s apartment.

“Are you crazy? He could’ve killed you!” Without even thinking, Evan pulled Ali into a hug. He was embarrassed at the way his hands were shaking. “Don’t ever do that again!”

Ali hugged him back, and then moved away. She held up her hand, showing off a substantial diamond ring.

“You wanted evidence, right? Well, here it is. Mrs. Kenmore’s engagement ring.”

Evan held her hand and leaned in to get a closer look. “No way. Where did you find it?”

Ali grinned. “He tried to flush it down the toilet, but it didn’t go.”

Evan drew back and wiped his hand on his pants. “That’s unsanitary.”

“You better call the handsome detective,” Ali advised.

*o*o*o*

“And this is evidence of what, exactly?” Detective Dex asked. He held up the Ziploc bag containing Mrs. Kenmore’s ring.

“Clearly Mr. Kenmore was trying to get rid of it,” Ali said.

“Why?”

“Why?” Ali parroted. “Because…Because he killed her! It’s proof she’s not off at a retreat!”

The detective had interviewed Mr. Kenmore, who’d reported that his wife was at a health retreat somewhere up north. He’d told Ali essentially the same thing when she went over to offer her services as a home health aide. Evan didn’t buy that for a second.

Detective Dex raised an eyebrow. “Or she left it behind.”

“Then why flush it?” Evan asked. “Because if you’re suggesting Mrs. Kenmore accidentally dropped it in the toilet and didn’t realize it, and then Mr. Kenmore used the same toilet and didn’t notice it –”

“Not suggesting anything,” Detective Dex interrupted. “Merely saying there’s not enough information.”

“Did you call the retreat?” Ali wanted to know. “Is she there?”

“I can’t comment on an on-going investigation.”

Evan and Ali exchanged a look. The detective had to know something, if there was an actual investigation and not just an inquiry.

Detective Dex slipped the bag with the ring in his coat pocket. “I strongly suggest the two of you stop playing Hardy Boys and leave the investigating to the police.”

He showed himself out.

“He’s probably right,” Ali said with a sigh.

“Yeah,” Evan echoed.

There wasn’t much else they could do anyway, not without committing an actual crime and breaking into Kenmore’s apartment. Maybe it was time for Evan to find a new hobby until his ankle healed up.

And then there was a second murder: Maverick the dog.

*o*o*o*

The courtyard was full of flowers and dog toys. Evan had watched a steady stream of tenants come to pay their respects to Maverick. It was a pretty good turnout for a dog. He hadn’t seen May or December, not even through the window; they were probably taking the loss pretty hard.

Evan didn’t realize the dog had been murdered until Ali came up after paying her respects with a squeaky toy.

“Well, it’s just the saddest thing ever,” Ali reported. “There’s a picture of poor Maverick down there. They’re going to donate all the toys to the Humane Society, so that’s one good thing.”

“Do they know what happened?” Evan asked. “He didn’t seem sick.”

Ali poked around in the fridge and pulled out the lunchmeat to make sandwiches. “Mr. Heckles says Maverick was murdered. The O’Neills called the police about it.”

Evan didn’t know who any of those people were, but he could extrapolate. The O’Neills must be May-December. It was weird having an actual name for them. And he was horrified that someone would’ve purposefully killed their dog.

“Murdered how?”

“Someone wrung the poor thing’s neck. Mr. Heckles said he got off the leash at the dog park and Mr. O’Neill was looking all over for him, but Maverick came back here and was digging in the garden. That’s where they found him.”

Evan couldn’t believe the cruelty of that act. Who would have it in for Maverick? He was such a good, quiet little dog. Not lately, with all the barking and…and…

“Ali! The garden! Maverick kept trying to get at the garden!”

“So? Dogs dig. It’s a thing.”

“No. Not Maverick. He only started going for the garden after Mrs. Kenmore disappeared.”

Ali paused in the middle of putting lunchmeat on bread. “Holy shit.”

“He killed the dog,” they said at the same time.

“Wow.” Ali finished making the sandwiches. “That guy really is an asshole. You think Mrs. Kenmore is buried in the garden?”

“That’s the way he was headed with those boxes,” Evan said. “That late at night, no-one would’ve seen him.”

He couldn’t see the garden from his window – something he’d been happy about because he couldn’t stand to see anyone new tending it – or he’d have witnessed the burial himself. And the cops would have to take the situation much more seriously. Kenmore should be in jail, not going about his daily routine like he wasn’t some kind of monster.

Ali passed one of the sandwiches to Evan and leaned against the counter while she ate hers. “So what’s our next move?”

“I’ll let you know as soon as I figure it out,” Evan replied.

*o*o*o*

It had been ten minutes, but still Evan couldn’t make himself open the door to the front hall closet. He had a plan, which consisted solely of digging up the courtyard garden until he found Mrs. Kenmore, but to execute that plan he needed something to dig with. And that something was in the closet.

“This is ridiculous,” he said, chiding himself. “Just go in there and get it.”

The closet was deep and lined with shelves. Everything in there, except for the art supplies that had been hastily tossed on the floor, was neatly organized and labeled. Evan let out a shaky breath, overwhelmingly relieved that almost everything was in colored plastic bins and hidden from sight. That made things a little easier.

Gardening Things was written on one label in Evan’s mother’s swoopy handwriting. She’d packed up everything that first week, at Evan’s request and despite her own objections. He pulled out the bin and carried it to the kitchen, setting it on the counter. This time he popped the lid off without waiting, like tearing off a bandaid.

“Shit,” he whispered. His eyes immediately filled with tears when he saw the green caddy with all the gardening tools stored in their individual pockets, and the gardening gloves with the bumblebee design on them, and a half-used bag of potting soil held shut with a chip clip.

Evan rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. He pulled out the spade and put the lid back on the bin, hiding away the unused terracotta pots and the well-read issue of Horticulture magazine that was now over a year old. He didn’t have time to wallow in the past, not when he needed to prove there’d been a murder in the present.

It was late, well past midnight, when he hobbled to the elevator, and down to the lobby. Walking with the boot on wasn’t great, but it was better than having to use crutches. Still, he’d been stagnating in his apartment too long because he was out of breath by the time he crossed the courtyard and arrived at the garden.

The memorial to Maverick was still there, and it was heartbreaking to see it. How many people would do the same for Mrs. Kenmore, if they knew what had become of her?

Evan scanned the windows of the apartments closest to the garden, but everyone’s lights were off. There was only security lighting at the front of the courtyard by the gate, to discourage anyone from breaking in, so he felt safely shadowed from view.

Someone had been keeping up with the garden. There were no weeds, and the dirt looked freshly turned and watered. Something was off, though. Evan used the flashlight on his cell phone to get a better look and saw some of the flowers seemed to be in a dip. A couple of the plants looked a bit damaged, too.

Evan pulled the spade out of his back pocket and started digging, focusing in on the area where the plants had bent and broken stems, but all he found for his trouble was a little piece of pink plastic. No murder weapon. No body parts.

He burned with frustration. Kenmore was going to get away with murder and there was nothing Evan could do about it.

He got back to his feet and turned off the flashlight. He scanned the nearby apartments one last time before heading inside, and burning frustration turned into an icy chill. The light was on in Kenmore’s apartment, and Kenmore himself was standing at his window, martini glass in one hand.

He was staring right down at Evan.

There was no denying they’d made eye contact, and Evan was the one to break it. He tried to act casual, like he was just out for a late-night stroll. He tucked the spade back in his pocket, hoping he hadn’t been caught digging, and walked slowly back to the lobby door like he didn’t have a care in the world. On the inside he was panicking. Kenmore already had two deaths on his hands. What was one more?

Evan’s heart was in his throat until he got safely back inside his apartment and chained the door. He leaned against it, panting with nerves and exertion, before having the thought to shut off his lights. He stayed out of the living room, just in case Kenmore was still watching.

There was no way he was getting any sleep that night.

*o*o*o*

Ali was unimpressed when Evan shared his story about digging in the dirt in the middle of the night.

“I’ve been trying to get you out of this apartment for weeks, and you decide to do it all alone in the dark?” Ali glared at him. “And now a potential homicidal maniac and dog murderer knows you suspect something.”

“He might not have seen me digging,” Evan said in his own feeble defense.

“Shall I assume you didn’t find anything, since this place isn’t crawling with cops and CSIs and sniffer dogs?”

The sarcasm was thick. Evan glared back at her. “I had to check, didn’t I? See what it was Maverick died for?”

“Very heroic. So there really wasn’t anything? No clues at all?”

Evan gestured at the piece of pink plastic in a ziploc bag by the sink. “Just that. Probably broke off a plastic flowerpot or something.”

Ali picked it up and turned it around in her hands. “Evan, this is a fingernail. A lady’s fake fingernail.” She looked up at him with wide eyes. “I think it’s Mrs. Kenmore’s.”

Evan was a believer, he really was, but that seemed a step too far. “I could be anyone’s. I’m sure plenty of women work on the garden.”

“No. I’m sure this is Mrs. Kenmore’s. I remember thinking one time that, even though she was so sick, she still wanted to feel good about herself. Her nails were always perfect. And they were this color, I swear they were.”

It wasn’t exactly a smoking gun, and definitely nothing they could take to Detective Dex, and Evan told Ali as much.

“Yeah,” she sighed. “I know. So what do we do?”

“I hate to say it, but I think the detective is right. We need to sit the rest of this out.”

There wasn’t anything else they could do, apart from breaking and entering into the Kenmores’ apartment, and Evan figured that sort of thing could sink an investigation. If only he’d found something useful in the garden.

“Maybe I should stay,” Ali suggested. “What if Kenmore tries for you?”

“Why would he? There’s nothing solid against him yet, or the police would’ve brought him in for questioning. He wouldn’t take that risk.” Of that, Evan was certain.

Ali tossed the fingernail back on the counter. “So it’s back to watching the lovelorn and pornographic?”

Evan glanced toward the living room. “I think I’m ready for the series finale,” he said.

Ali came around the counter and gave him a hug. “Good. Look at all the trouble it’s gotten us into.”

“You want to watch for a while? You can have the binoculars.”

“Maybe just a few minutes,” she said.

*o*o*o*

There were flickers of lightning in the sky and distant rumbles of thunder that promised another storm on the way. Evan hoped this one would break the heatwave, because he was tired of his apartment feeling like the inside of an oven. Ali was right, he should invest in a portable AC unit.

Evan sat in his chair, watching his neighbors for the last time. He was a little surprised at how attached he’d become in just a couple of weeks. Glen would probably say that meant he was ready to get back out in the world as an active participant. Maybe Evan would go to the next group meeting and find out for sure.

Pianist was sitting at his piano, scowl on his face as poked half-heartedly at the keys. As always, Evan wondered what he gained from having the instrument there in the first place. But then Pianist’s hands stilled and he looked toward the window at the same time Evan heard the sound of guitar strings.

Lonelyheart was sitting in his window with his guitar, and he was playing something Evan vaguely recognized. Pianist must’ve known it, too, because after a moment he started playing accompaniment, and that’s when Evan realized it was an Oasis song.

Backbeat, the word is on the street
That the fire in your heart is out
I'm sure you've heard it all before
But you never really had a doubt
I don't believe that anybody
Feels the way I do about you now

It was the first time Evan had heard Pianist play a song in its entirety, and he didn’t understand the other man’s struggles because he didn’t miss a note. He played beautifully. When he segued from Oasis to something more classical-sounding, Lonelyheart kept pace with him on the guitar.

Evan blinked away the prickling in his eyes.

“My name’s John,” Lonelyheart called out his window when the music stopped.

“Rodney,” Pianist replied. He was in his own window now, leaning out. “I don’t suppose you’d like to get some coffee with me.”

“Coffee sounds good.”

Just like that a connection was made. Both Lonelyheart and Pianist ducked out of their windows, presumably to meet up in the hallway. Sure enough, fifteen minutes later Evan saw them come out of the lobby and head down the block together.

He wished them the best of luck, and tried to banish the achy feeling in his chest when he remembered how it felt, being in the first blush of a new relationship.

Evan swung the camera back around, seeking out the Kenmores’ window out of force of habit, and then nearly dropped it when he saw Kenmore watching him back through a pair of binoculars that looked military grade.

“This is bad.”

He hurriedly set down the camera and snatched up his phone to call Ali.

What’s up?

“He was watching me. Kenmore. With binoculars.”

That’s not good news. Did you call the hunky detective?

“To complain about being spied on? He’d laugh himself all the way back downtown.”

No, Evan, listen. He must know there was a witness. Why else would the police talk to him? If he saw you digging in the garden, he’d know it was you. You’re not safe.

“But the situation hasn’t changed, has it?” Evan asked. “It still wouldn’t make any sense for him to draw more suspicion down on himself.”

I’m not sure homicidal maniacs operate under a lot of logic.

“I know, but –” Evan’s counter argument was cut short when Kenmore’s light snapped off. Was he going to bed? Or sneaking out? “He might be on the move. I gotta go.”

I’m calling the detective! Ali said before the call ended.

Evan swapped out the phone for the camera, but it was too dark in Kenmore’s living room to tell if he was still in there or not. Evan scanned the courtyard, but it was empty. Could Kenmore be trying to psych him out? Maybe rattle him enough that he’d stop trying to figure out what happened to Mrs. Kenmore?

It was way past time for Evan to put away the camera. For good.

He got out of the chair, being careful of the ankle since he wasn’t wearing the boot, and headed for the front door to lock up for the night. The loud knock startled him. Seeing Michael Kenmore through the peephole made his skin flush hot with fear.

“I know you’re in there,” Kenmore growled from the other side of the door.

Evan hastily engaged the chain and backed away. Ali was right. He should’ve called Detective Dex. Surely Kenmore wouldn’t try and bust down his door, though. That would draw the attention of Evan’s neighbors at the very least.

Kenmore had something else in mind.

As Evan watched, dumbfounded, the chain slowly started moving back along the track as if touched by an unseen hand. Strong magnet, said his logical brain. Get a weapon! shouted his lizard brain.

Evan fumbled for the knob on the closet door, hand slipping a couple of times before he got it to turn. He yanked the door open and frantically pawed through the art stuff, looking for something he could use to defend himself. Why the hell didn’t he at least have a baseball bat? Everyone had a baseball bat!

He'd been raised a non-violent pacifist, but Evan had taken a self defense course when he first moved to the city. He wasn’t sure that would help him now, because Kenmore surely wouldn’t pull any punches. But what else did he have?

The gardening tub! Evan yanked it off the shelf so hard the top popped off. He pulled out the three-tined hand-held rake thingie, which he couldn’t remember the name of. He whipped around just in time to see Kenmore step inside the apartment and close the door behind him.

“Get out,” Evan said, surprised at how steady his voice sounded. “I’ll call the cops.”

“You’ve been spying on me,” Kenmore said, his back against the door.

The knee-jerk denial died before Evan could blurt it out. “I didn’t see anything,” he said instead.

“You’re a liar as well as a spy.”

As close as they were, Evan could see Kenmore had lifeless eyes, doll’s eyes. The eyes of a man who could kill a helpless dog just as easily as a sickly wife and feel no remorse over either one. Evan’s hand tightened on the rake.

“Get out of my house.”

“You’re a loose end,” Kenmore said. “I don’t care for loose ends.”

He started to advance, and Evan retreated, bumping along the wall until he got to the living room. Maybe he could yell for help out his window and someone would come. The universe shafted him yet again when the threatening storm finally broke, releasing torrents of rain along with frequent flashes of lightning and claps of thunder so loud Evan couldn’t help wincing.

Did Kenmore somehow control the fucking weather? Because it had rained the night of his last murder, too.

“I know about you,” Kenmore said congenially, slowly following Evan into the living room. “Grieving widower. Little more than a shut-in. They’ll think you killed yourself.”

Evan’s heart was pounding so hard he was surprised Kenmore couldn’t hear it. How could anyone speak so casually about murder?

“They won’t stop looking at you,” Evan said, stumbling a bit when he hit the back of his chair. “When Mrs. Kenmore doesn’t show up –”

“They’ll think she left me. I’ve made no secret about the troubles in our marriage.”

That, more than anything else, put Evan’s heart in his throat. Kenmore wasn’t a man who acted on passion, Ali was right about that. He was methodical. He planned things out. And there were probably plenty of people who’d believe Evan was so grief-stricken he took his own life. All the signs were there.

He tried to divert away from the open window, but he was hindered by his bad ankle. Kenmore saw his opening and took it, striking fast as a snake. He had one hand around Evan’s throat, the other around his wrist keeping the rake at bay.

Non-violence lost out to self-preservation every time.

Evan bucked, trying to throw Kenmore off-balance, and when that didn’t work, he put all his strength into his weapon hand. He managed to get it close enough to Kenmore’s face to scratch him with it, a deep gouge down his cheek.

Kenmore growled and flipped their position, moving Evan backward toward the open window. Evan could hear the roar of the rain even over the roar of blood in his ears as he struggled to pull in a breath. He brought up his knee, other leg nearly buckling as it took all his weight, and got in a solid shot at Kenmore’s groin.

Kenmore’s grip loosened and Evan was able to jerk out of his grasp. He tried to get away while Kenmore was bent over and cursing, but Kenmore snapped out one hand and grabbed hold of the back of Evan’s shorts, and they both crashed to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs.

Evan swung the rake around as hard as he could and buried it into Kenmore’s shoulder, eliciting a howl of rage and pain. Trying to take advantage of the opportunity, Evan started pulling himself toward the front door, trying to get back on his feet, but Kenmore wouldn’t stay down. He threw himself on Evan’s back and knocked Evan’s head against the floor once, really hard.

Everything got a little hazy after that. Evan’s vision swam and he was only dimly aware of being rolled on his back. There were hands at his neck again, cutting off his air, and Evan scrabbled weakly at them.

For the briefest moment he thought he saw a painfully familiar face looking down at him, mouthing a word that looked a lot like ‘flash’.

David?

Out of the corner of his eye, Evan could see his camera lying within reach. The lens was cracked. His vision was darkening the more he struggled for air, but he grabbed for it and popped up the flash. With the last of his strength, Evan pointed the camera in Kenmore’s face and kept his thumb pressed on the shutter button.

The camera flash competed with the lightning, but it was enough to disorient Kenmore and get his hands off Evan’s neck. Evan struggled to pull in gulps of air, moving feebly to get away from Kenmore.

And then someone else was there, pulling Kenmore back with an arm around his throat.

Evan rolled on his stomach, coughing and panting, tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes.

“Don’t move,” Detective Dex said, one big, warm hand on Evan’s shoulder. “Paramedics are on their way.”

Evan closed his eyes, relieved.

He’d helped with the case against Kenmore after all.

*o*o*o*

ONE YEAR LATER

The courtyard had been decked out with streamers and tables covered in white linen. There were tables laden with food, most of it contributed by the tenants so it was a mix of ethnic food and finger food and casseroles, and beverages both alcoholic and not.

The tenants of Atlantis Gardens mingled together, talking and laughing and getting to know one another. The party had been Evan’s idea, and he was happy to see such a large turnout.

“Nice party,” Ali said, joining Evan by the garden. She handed him a glass of punch. “Do I sense a new career in party planning?”

Evan laughed. “I don’t think so.”

In fact, he’d hauled his art supplies out of the closet and was back to painting. Getting back into the community was a slower process, but Evan had discovered that all his old friends were still there waiting for him, and that helped a lot.

The garden now had a fancy placard – In memory of David Parrish and Maverick the Dog. – and that helped, too. Evan wasn’t the only one who missed David, or remembered his devotion to the garden, and that was a good feeling.

“I guess the honeymoon is over,” Ali said, gesturing at the Newlyweds.

Evan now knew they were Laura Cadman and Carson Beckett, living together but not yet married, and they were currently bickering because Carson wanted to get pet turtles and Laura did not.

“Why are you so thick-headed?” Laura lamented.

“Why are you?” Carson shot back.

Ali and Evan exchanged an amused look, and then a little dog was running around Evan’s ankles. He reached down to pet him.

“Hey, Ace! Good boy! You’re such a good boy!”

Ace rolled on his back, tongue lolling, and offered up his belly.

Sam Carter-O’Neill, the May of May-December, came over and picked the dog up. “Shameless,” she said with a grin.

“He’s a sweetheart,” Ali said, scratching Ace behind the ears.

“We’ll see how he does on the road,” Jack said, coming up behind his wife.

Sam had recently retired, and the two of them – plus Ace – were going to be heading out on a lengthy road trip across the country. Evan was glad for them. They seemed like a genuinely nice couple.

There was a burst of electronic static, and then music started to play. Rodney had carried an electric keyboard down to the courtyard and was joined by John on his acoustic guitar. Even money said there was a wedding proposal in their future. It was nice to see John so happy.

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Rodney didn’t sing, but John did. He’d never win any awards for it, but Rodney looked at him like he’d hung the moon and that was all that really mattered.

Some of the tenants started to dance, the older ones mostly, and Teyla was right there with them, dancing with her husband. Evan had learned the reason she’d seemed so sad all the time was because Kanaan had been deployed with the military, and she hadn’t seen him in a very long time. But he was back now, and she was sporting a very obvious baby bump.

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying
”I love you.”

The lives Evan had observed through the camera lens had been woefully incomplete. Not unlike his own. He’d learned that there were no shortcuts to connecting with people. You had to talk to them, share stories, share life experiences. Lonelyheart, Pianist, Dancer, the Newlyweds, and May-December had been mere caricatures. Their real selves were infinitely more complex and interesting.

Evan hadn’t done anymore spying since the night he’d almost died.

“Hottie at twelve o’clock,” Ali said. “I think I’ll go see if Carson wants to dance. It might save his life.”

She gave Evan a kiss on the cheek and made her exit as Detective Ronon Dex moved through the dancers and past the tables.

Evan had a lot of mixed emotions about Ronon. He was attracted, which anyone would be because the man was sexy as hell, but that also made him feel a little guilty. David had been gone almost a year and a half now, but Evan wasn’t sure he was ready to move on. With Ronon or anyone else.

He’d only just taken some of David’s things out of the closet and put them back where they used to be. It didn’t make him so sad to look at them anymore.

“Hey,” Ronon said. He had a bottle of beer in one hand. “Nice shindig.”

“Thanks.”

“How’re you doing?” Ronon wasn’t one to mince words or make small talk. It was kind of refreshing. And also a little scary, because he always said what was on his mind.

“Good. Really good,” Evan replied honestly.

Ronon had stayed with him that night, at the hospital. Evan had been admitted because of his head injury and the damage to his throat. It had made him feel safe, after everything that happened, and Evan would always be grateful.

Ronon had stopped by every couple of weeks after that to check in, and with more frequency ahead of Kenmore’s trial. He never put the moves on Evan or indicated he was interested in doing so. The part of Evan that was struggling to come back to life was a little disappointed about that.

Mrs. Kenmore’s body still hadn’t been recovered. They did find the murder weapon – which showed signs of having been buried in the garden – and enough circumstantial evidence tucked away in the Kenmores’ basement storage room to put Michael Kenmore away for the rest of his life. He never took the stand and spoke on his own behalf, so Evan would be left wondering why poor Mrs. Kenmore had been so brutally murdered.

“Wanna dance?” Ronon asked, tipping his head to where the others were swaying together. John and Rodney had started a new song, something with a country twang.

It didn’t have to mean anything. Or maybe it did. And maybe Evan would never be ready, but he’d never know if he didn’t try.

“Sure.”

Ronon pulled him close, their height difference even more ridiculous without any space between them, and started moving Evan around the courtyard in a simple two-step.

The weird thing was it wasn’t weird at all, and Evan let himself relax into the dance. One two-step at a time, maybe that’s how his life was going to move forward. The thought made him smile.

At my door the leaves are falling
A cold wild wind will come
Sweethearts walk by together
And I still miss someone