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At night, in bed, we held each other, we cuddled, we kissed, but we went no further. Delayed gratification had never felt so good. I cher­ished every moment with her, and decided that we might have to de­lay the marriage only two weeks instead of a month.


On the morning of the fifth day, the reporters were rousted by the Pico Mundo Police Department, on the grounds that they were a pub­lic nuisance. They seemed ready to go, anyway. Maybe they had de­cided that Stormy and I weren’t in residence, after all.


That evening, as we readied for bed, Stormy did something so beautiful that my heart soared, and I could believe that in time I might put the events at the mall behind me.


She came to me without her blouse, na*ed from the waist up. She took my right hand, turned it palm up, and traced my birthmark with her forefinger.


My mark is a crescent, half an inch wide, an inch and a half from point to point, as white as milk against the pink flush of my hand.


Her mark is identical to mine except that it is brown and on the sweet slope of her right breast. If I cup her breast in the most natural manner, our birthmarks perfectly align.


As we stood smiling at each other, I told her that I have always known hers is a tattoo. This doesn’t trouble me. The fact that she wanted so much to prove that we share a destiny only deepens my love for her.


On the bed, under the card from the fortune-telling machine, we held each other chastely, but for my hand upon her breast.


For me, time always seems suspended in Stormy’s apartment.


In these rooms I am at peace. I forget my worries. The problems of pancakes and poltergeists are lifted from me.


Here I cannot be harmed.


Here I know my destiny and am content with it.


Here Stormy lives, and where she lives, I flourish.


We slept.


The following morning, as we were having breakfast, someone knocked on the door. When we didn’t answer, Terri Stambaugh called loudly from the hall. “It’s me, Oddie. Open up. It’s time to open up now.”


I couldn’t say no to Terri, my mentor, my lifeline. When I opened the door, I found that she hadn’t come alone. The chief and Karla Porter were in the hall. And Little Ozzie. All the people who know my secret - that I see the dead - were here together.


“We’ve been calling you,” Terri said.


“I figured it was reporters,” I said. “They won’t leave me and Stormy alone.”


They came into the apartment, and Little Ozzie closed the door be­hind them.


“We were having breakfast,” I said. “Can we get you something?”


The chief put one hand on my shoulder. That hangdog face, those sad eyes. He said, “It’s got to stop now, son.”


Karla brought a gift of some kind. Bronze. An urn. She said, “Sweetheart, the coroner released her poor body. These are her ashes.”


SIXTY-SIX


FOR A WHILE I HADGONE MAD. MADNESS RUNS IN MY family. We have a long history of retreating from reality.


A part of me hadknown from the moment Stormy came to me in the ICU that she had become one of the lingering dead. The truth hurt too much to accept. In my condition that Wednesday afternoon, her death would have been one wound too many, and I would have let go of this life.


The dead don’t talk. I don’t know why. So I spoke for Stormy in the conversations that she and I had shared during the past week. I said for her what I knew she wanted to say. I can almost read her mind. We are immeasurably closer than best friends, closer thanmere lovers. Stormy Llewellyn and I are each other’s destiny.


In spite of his bandaged wounds, the chief held me tightly and let me pour out my grief in his fatherly arms.


Later, Little Ozzie led me to the living-room sofa. He sat with me, tipping the furniture in his direction.


The chief pulled a chair close to us. Karla sat on the arm of the sofa,


at my side. Terri settled on the floor in front of me, one hand on my knee.


My beautiful Stormy stood apart, watching. I have never seen on any human face a look more loving than the one with which she fa­vored me in that terrible moment.


Taking my hand, Little Ozzie said, “You know you’ve got to let her go, dear boy.”


I nodded, for I could not speak.


Long after the day of which I now write, Ozzie had told me to keep the tone of this manuscript as light as possible by being an unreliable narrator, like the lead character in Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I have played tricks with certain verbs. Throughout, I have often written of Stormy and our future together in the present tense, as if we are still together in this life. No more.


Ozzie said, “She’s here now, isn’t she?”


“Yes.”


“She hasn’t left your side for a moment, has she?”


I shook my head.


“You don’t want your love for her and hers for you to trap her here when she needs to move on.”


“No.”


“That’s not fair to her, Oddie. Not fair to either of you.”


I said, “She deserves… her next adventure.”


“It’s time, Oddie,” said Terri, whose memory of Kelsey, her lost husband, is etched on her soul.


Trembling in fear of life without Stormy, I rose from the sofa and hesitantly went to her. She still wore her Burke &Bailey’s uniform, of course, without the perky pink hat, yet she had never looked lovelier.


My friends had not known where she stood until I stepped before her and put one hand to her precious face. So warm to me.


The dead cannot speak, but Stormy spoke three words silently, al­lowing me to read her lips. / love you.


I kissed her, my dead love, so tenderly, so chastely I held her in my arms, my face buried in her hair, her throat.


After a while, she put a hand under my chin. I raised my head.


Three more words. Be happy. Persevere.


“I’ll see you in service,” I promised, which is what she calls the life that comes after boot camp.


Her eyes. Her smile. Now mine only in memory.


I let her go. She turned away and took three steps, fading. She looked over her shoulder, and I reached out to her, and she was gone.


SIXTY-SEVEN


THESE DAYS I LIVE ALONE IN STORMY’S APARTMENT WITH her eclectic mix of thrift-shop furniture. The old floor lamps with silk shades and beaded fringes. The Stickley-style chairs and the contrast­ing Victorian footstools. The Maxfield Parrish prints and the carnival-glass vases.


She never had much in this life, but with the simplest things, she made her corner of the world as beautiful as any king’s palace. We may lack riches, but the greatest fortune is what lies in our hearts.


I still see dead people, and from time to time I am required to do something about it. As before, this proactive strategy often results in an unusual amount of laundry.


Sometimes, coming awake in the night, I think I hear her voice say­ing, Loop me in, odd one. I look for her, but she is never there. Yet she is always there. So I loop her in, telling her all that has happened to me recently


Elvis hangs out with me more than he used to. He likes to watch me eat. I have purchased several of his CDs, and we sit together in the


living room, in the low silken light, and listen to him when he was young and alive and knew where he belonged.


Stormy believed that we are in this boot camp to learn, that if we don’t persevere through all this world’s obstacles and all its wounds, we won’t earn our next life of great adventure. To be with her again, I will have the perseverance of a bulldog, but it seems to me that the training is unnecessarily hard.


My name is Odd Thomas. I am a fry cook. I lead an unusual life, here in my pico mundo, my little world. I am at peace.


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