Chapter Fourteen

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"I need a nap," I mumble, turning away from my aunt and heading back to the hallway.

"Don't worry, I'll still be here when you get up," she calls after me. "Maybe we can work on your hosting manners then."

Wonderful. It's hard enough trying to help Riley when he's stopped answering his phone and I have no idea how to find him and no clue what it is I'm supposed to do if I somehow manage to see him again. Now I have to deal with an overbearing chaperone who makes Noah look like a pushover with the personality of pure sunshine.

I fling myself face-first onto my bed once I get to my bedroom, burying my head in the pillows. I stay there, not moving, until I doze off.

When I wake up an hour later, the strains of classical music coming from the living room remind me that my aunt's arrival wasn't just a bad dream. Spotting the running shoe I left in my suitcase earlier, I carefully get up from my bed, trying not to make a sound. After digging through the rest of the clothes in the suitcase, I locate the matching shoe. With a shoe in each hand, I tiptoe down the hall in the opposite direction from the living room. I put on my shoes once I'm safely out on the veranda, looking up every few seconds to make sure my aunt isn't watching me from one of the windows. I need to get out of here for a while.

It's already half past seven when I jog through the gates of Runyon Canyon Park. Weaving in and out of the families and couples walking down to the base of the canyon, I concentrate on the crunch of the dirt trail beneath my feet. It doesn't matter that it's warm enough outside for sweat to drip from my hairline in seconds, or that almost everyone else here is smart enough to be walking instead of running on the trail. If I can focus on putting one foot in front of the other and just breathing, then I can put the last few days out of my mind. Forget about how I'm going to help Riley, and forget about my aunt. Just jog, and just breathe.

I round a curve in the trail, and a pile of flowers and unlit candles sitting at the bottom of a nearby slope catches my eye. A middle-aged woman kneels in front of it, and I watch her place a card beside a candle in a glass jar. I can see tears on her cheeks when she stands up. The energy around her and around the candles, flowers, and her card tells me this is a memorial site for somebody.

I know people mourn and grieve what they see as loss of life not only because of someone's physical absence, but also because they have no way of knowing what comes next, or if there's anything at all. They don't know grief happens mostly because they can no longer feel the energy of someone who's passed away. When two people are very close, whether they're family, friends, or two people in love, their energy connects. When someone can't feel the energy of their loved one anymore they feel loss, but think it's because they'll never see that person again. They don't know how much the energy connection has to do with it, and don't understand it until they get to The Life-After and are aware of the other person's energy again.

I wish I could tell the grieving woman what I know and make her believe that none of this life here is what she thinks it is. I can't, though. That's the hardest part of being a second-timer. So I do what little I can, jogging past her and connecting my energy to hers in the hopes it will boost her a bit and help her feel a moment or two of peace. I bring my energy back closer to me when she disappears from view.

I stop for a drink of water when I reach the canyon's first plateau. The view of the city from here is spectacular. I remember a long ago summer afternoon when I sat at the end of the plateau with David, the rush of my legs dangling off the edge mixing with the high of watching the sunset with the person I loved. There's a tree here somewhere that David carved our initials in, D.B. + A.M. If it's still here, it's the only marker left of our time together. There are a lot of trees here, though, and it's been a long time.

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