I KNEW HER AS VADA
I KNEW HER AS VADA
Actually, her name is Vada Panourgias and she is as Goth as a girl could get.
Vada and I attended the MFA program at the local university and quickly became close friends. She edited my works (as I did hers) and soon we became an old married couple without being married or old. The first calendar break from classes, Vada invited me to her home to meet her Greek family. I initially had reservations about such an encounter until I spoke to her twin brother, Bacchus, who told me since we were not dating, and did not participate in any funny business; it was OK by the family. Having an invitation endorsed at the proper levels, I accepted.
Upon arriving, I instantly became engrossed in all things Greek, all resulting in failure. I went out of my way to assist the entire Panourgias clan with whatever work in which they required assistance. At the conclusion of the second night, Vada’s three brothers asked me if I had a girlfriend. I replied I did and she was more than a girlfriend. I told them that by Christmas, I was going to propose so we could be married in the summer. I presented the three with a photo of Clarissa and myself and they all agreed I was indeed one lucky man.
The drive back on the holiday Monday was uneventful because Vada was a bit quieter than her normal self. She still had that cheerful face of the last Thursday, but it seemed forced, almost acted. Something was bothering her, but Vada wouldn’t tell.
By October, Vada was now inquisitive about my proposal plans. She wanted a part in what I was to say and how I was to act. She encouraged me to “rehearse” my proposal until it passed her muster. To say that Vada became even more excited than I was with each passing day was a misnomer. On December 23, when we parted ways for the holidays, Vada was downright ecstatic for me. She wished me the best and expected to hear all the details upon my return for my last semester in studies. I gave Vada a warm hug and waved her goodbye for the Holidays.
Upon our return in January, she wasted no time and I answered all of her questions in greater detail. I do believe she was going to use my engagement as the source of her graduate thesis. I asked her bluntly and all she could do was blush and coyishly agree with my assertion.
Having known Vada for everyday for the last two years, I gave her a smile and told her I would be honored to be a part of her thesis. She giggled and hung on my every word, letter, and phone call (about Clarissa). This was something new about Vada I had never witnessed before. I phoned Bacchus and asked him about it. He told me she gets all sentimental just before weddings and is very happy for me.
During our Spring Break, Vada left for home and I went to visit Clarissa. Five days in Miami was refreshing and more than enough to agree to honeymoon in Hawaii. A small wedding, a short reception, and off we would go to the big island to begin our lives together.
When I returned, I found a stranger trying to open Vada’s dorm room door. I inquired if she needed assistance and all she did was laugh at me. It wasn’t until she looked directly at me that I realized I was looking at Vada. Gone were the accoutrements of a past Goth life. Before me was a beautiful, modern, and highly sophisticated woman of refinement and poise. I could not breathe. I could not stand. I did fall down in outright shock. At first, Vada continued laughing then became concerned for my well-being. She almost began chest compressions to revive me. Fortunately, we both came to our senses and she invited me in for a cup of coffee.
I remained for a few hours, still in a state of complete disbelief at the woman I was watching. Vada had the make-over of all make-overs and did not want to talk about it. Vada wanted to consume all things about my upcoming wedding. She gathered this information as an interview (maybe an interrogation) and took notes while I answered each question. If she had not kept me on focus with my fiancé, I would have never left her room that night. But left I did. Sleep, I did not.
Until graduation, I became almost a voyeur to Vada’s transformation. Out of the chrysalis she emerged, with more polish and refinement, with each passing day. I finally got the nerve to ask her about her life. Vada told me she had applied for a teaching position at the university so the “upgrade” became a necessity. She informed me there were two such positions and I could apply also. I thanked her for her foresight, but I would be relocating to Miami with Clarissa studying to be a stock broker in her father’s brokerage firm.
Vada smiled the very polished and refined smile so unnatural to Vada of last year. No one has that smile naturally. It must be learned.
Never-the-less, Friday graduation came and Vada and I dined together for the last time as single people. Clarissa scheduled the wedding for next day.
The graduation was letter perfect.
The wedding was not.
In retrospect, I have had two weeks to think about those two minutes where everything went wrong. I cannot believe the police report to be accurate. I even question both the coroner’s report and the private investigator’s report. None of these have all the facts. Something must be missing. Every time I review what I know to be true, nothing seems to be true.
What happened was thus. My bride-to-be was the last person to enter the church. In attendance were (nearly) her entire family, (almost) my entire family, four brides’ maids, and one best man who was wearing a black dress. I could think of no better person than Vada for this honor. When I asked her, she nearly cried and immediately said yes. She told me she would do a great job and make me proud. I was sure Vada would.
The church hired a number of off-duty police as security, every fourth one complete with a K9 unit and an escort for after the reception. I felt at ease when I saw Clarissa begin her walk, escorted by her father, down the aisle. Everyone saw the bridal march in its entirety.
The police dog nearest the door was also a drug dog. When Clarissa passed, he sprang into action. The dog bit her dress and pulled hard. The police officer tried to pull the dog off, but the other dogs began to move to Clarissa to do the same. In the ensuing chaos, one of the policemen took his dog to the limousine that brought the bridal party and announced the presence of drugs and drug paraphernalia.
The organist ceased playing her tune. Guests began to rise. A police officer pulled out a set of handcuffs for the brides’ maids. And Clarissa turned and ran out the church. The first police officer halted for her to stop. Clarissa ignored his orders. He released the police dog to chase and Clarissa’s heels fell off and one struck the dog in the head, knocking him out. The officer ordered Clarissa (again) to halt. When she didn’t, the police officer shot Clarissa. The bullet in the back caused her to fall from the road to the adjacent stream. The impact of her head on the picturesque stone embankment killed Clarissa instantly.
The police locked down the wedding and I spent the night in custody with (almost) every guest at the wedding.
At the trial, the prosecutor displayed illicit drug residue on Clarissa’s dress, her hands, and in her blood. I testified Clarissa never touched drugs in her life. Her doctor testified he gave her some antihistamines for allergies. The police lab reported that each of the capsules had been opened with the contents removed, replaced with street drugs, and hastily resealed. This last step caused a few to spill their contents and stain Clarissa’s hands was the prosecutor’s case. I asked, “Who did this?” The prosecuting attorney entered into evidence the sworn statement of the lab tech that the fingerprints on each adultered pill were Clarissa’s.
In the course of two trial days, the jury found Clarissa responsible for the drugs, their distribution, and their use. The judge found the police officer who shot her to be within proper protocols and returned back to active duty. Eventually, my family began accusing her family causing a rift that I could not seal. I became a demon in her family and a suspect within mine. Time might heal the latter, but only distance could reduce the fury of the former.
I spent the next two years wandering, taking odd ghost-writing jobs to make ends meet. I thought this was all I would ever have to look forward to, until my editor called. He told me to get cleaned up and get to my alma mater to apply for the teaching position I discounted at graduation. It was now open and he wanted me to stop suffering from a past I couldn’t change. I told him I would be there and thanked him.
In two days, I was back at my old stomping grounds. It felt like home for the first time ever. I needed no guide and found my way to the English Department and waited in the lobby for the interview. A very nice intern escorted me to my destiny. On the door of the office read, Vada Panourgias PhD, and I knew I was truly home.
I accepted the position, began my doctoral research, publish my first novel, and found love with Vada. She waited for me, giving me the space and time I required to bring myself back from the dead. I thanked her and began dating her. Weeks turned to months. Months turned to a year. Eventually, I asked her brother, Bacchus (for her father had passed by then), for her hand in marriage. He agreed and we married in a small ceremony before we both settled into our positions of Professor (Vada) and Author (me).
And we should have lived happily ever after.
On the party for our first anniversary, I toasted my bride for all she gave me. I now have a wife, a job, a huge addition to my family, and (after I winced) a rather large headache brewing. Not wanting to miss the festivities, I excused myself to get and aspirin from the bathroom. Not finding one there, I went to the bedroom and searched Vada’s side for one.
What I did find was curious.
I found a bottle of antihistamine, in capsule form, labelled for Vada’s sister, Sabina. Sabina was going through a nasty divorce with her cheating husband and his secretary. She currently stood to lose everything if divorced. She would inherit everything if widowed. The powder in the hastily sealed capsules was white.
I didn’t find any aspirin.
When I returned, I found Vada and her family bubbly with excitement.
I wanted to speak first.
Vada didn’t listen or care. She told all in attendance that she was heavy with child.
What I had to say didn’t matter.
Later that night, Vada came to me and thanked me for the life she now has.
I told her I found the capsules that mirrored the ones Clarissa one had.
Vada told me, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. They last only as long as they are appreciated.”
Then she told me to get to bed.
I didn’t sleep at all that night.
With degrees in physics and chemistry, Andy Betz has tutored and taught in excess of 30 years. His novel, short stories, and poems are works still defining his style. He lives in 1974, has been married for 26 years, and collects occupations (the current tally is 95).