Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. That line was his favourite. He preferred the Tesla version of the song, even though the original was written by a Canadian band. Being a Canadian himself, he had a fondness for homegrown music, but there was just something about Jeff Keith’s raspy voice that made him shiver inside. It was those feelings that drove him to be a musician in the first place, that and the killer rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
Body lowered into the hole in the cold ground, Cassidy teared up, struggling to control her emotions. While tragic, she thought this day might come. It was not unexpected given the poor choices he made in the last few months of his life. As always, Ava stood beside her, comforting and protective. Unlike her sister, Ava knew this day would come when they first met at her parents' house. Cassidy introduced him to the family. Ava didn't think he was right for Cassidy. Now, she felt no emotion at all knowing his days were now limited to rotting away in a casket, six feet under.
“Do you carry Fat Tire? It’s the one by New Belgium Brewing out of Colorado.”
“Heard of it but we don’t carry it. We do carry Round Trip Amber Ale made by a local brewery, Red Truck. Interest you in that?”
“Sure, I’ll have a pint. Thanks.”
Settling onto a bar stool, Ethan surveyed his surroundings as always, checking out the small establishment into which he strolled following a long day at the studio. Alone time is what he sought, and the company of a beer. The tough recording session was done for today and he needed to unwind. He clashed with his bandmates over the direction he wanted to take for a few songs, and in the end, Ethan prevailed. He always did. It was not in his nature to back down, which was a fault he refused to acknowledge. Instead, he considered it a strength, as it was for his father, a defence lawyer for a prominent downtown Vancouver firm. However, Ethan was no defence lawyer. He made his living playing rhythm guitar in a band making a name for themselves locally. He had high hopes for stardom. After all, his province was home to famous Canadian artists such as Bryan Adams, Loverboy, and Theory of a Deadman. Adding to his hopes was that Vancouver was home to Little Mountain Sound, the famous recording studio used by so many internationally-known groups. Vancouver was the place to be for Ethan and his band, and Ethan felt like stardom was just around the corner if everyone could just follow his musical direction. But that is life in a band, always conflict and compromise. However, right now, he wanted to be by himself, enjoying a drink.
She was sitting in a booth near the front door, alone, staring out the window, fiddling with the plastic straw in her blue drink. Both her expected company and time appeared to pass her by. Studying her environment, the young woman briefly glanced Ethan’s way before moving on. She was attractive, but not in the same way as the women Ethan normally spent time with. Her straight, shoulder-length brown hair loosely framed her face. A warmness in her light brown eyes contrasted with the sly, come hither smokey eyes of girls in Ethan’s life. Blue jeans complemented her grey striped, button-up blouse, completing a casual but smart look. Naturally pretty, her face lacked the layers of make-up deftly applied to the faces of the women vying for Ethan’s attention. She drifted through his mind, and wondered if she could be the topic of a future song. Didn’t Lady Antebellum once write a song about a girl in a bar? He hadn't finished the thought before he turned his attention behind the bar, not wanting to miss too much of the game on the big screen. He had become a Raptors fan in the years since the Grizzlies bolted for Memphis, another city rich in musical history.
Time passed, and Ethan ordered another beer. He curiously peered out of the corner of his eye and saw the woman’s guests had not arrived yet. Stood up I guess. Just another night on the town. Loud cheering coming from the TV drew his attention back. A 3-pointer put the Raptors within 5 of the lead. A voice interrupted his alone time.
‘So, what’s your sign?”
What's my sign? Bumpy Road Ahead, Stop or maybe even Dead End. He wasn't inclined to even look in her direction, but he didn't want to be rude, so he turned his head.
“You heard me, what sign are you? Taurus, Aries, maybe Libra? Yeh, definitely Libra. You look like the self-loathing type, sitting alone in the bar, mulling over some deep events of the day.”
Yup, Dead End for sure.
“You know, I don’t mean to be rude but I am not looking for company right now. Thanks.”
Ethan turned away, but the lady persisted, more gently this time.
“Hey. I’m sorry about that. I saw you earlier, noticed you were alone and and thought I’d come over. Misery loves company right? Besides, my date never showed."
Ethan looked at her, his blank face not giving away any clues as to his thoughts about this stranger.
"Come on. I’ve had that line used on me so I thought what the heck, at least I can start a conversation with it.”
Nothing but an expressionless stare in return.
“Look, I am just looking to talk to someone. That alright or do you really want to be alone?”
He studied her for a moment longer. Well, she couldn’t be any worse than his bandmates right?
“You can grab a seat but only if you answer this one question.”
“Oh…a riddle maybe? Definitely an Aquarius.”
What’s with the zodiac sign stuff? Never mind.
"Is your dad a thief?”
“Because I think he stole the stars out of the sky and put them in your eyes.”
They looked at each other, waiting to see who would break first. Then they both just laughed.
"And you said my line was corny?”
“What is with the zodiac sign stuff?”
"Oh, I don’t really believe in it, but my sister does, and so I know a little bit about it. You a basketball fan?”
Maybe Ethan actually didn’t want to be alone.
A science degree, eh. Ethan was impressed. Cassidy obtained her Bachelor of Science from Simon Fraser University and then filled her days working as a Lab Technician in town. He was actually attracted to smart women, not the groupies that hung around, and the mental image of Cassidy in a lab coat, dark hair put up, concentrating as she manipulated some gadget, made him want to get close and deliver a kiss. Or maybe it was the beer. After all, he was now on his fourth and they had been talking for a couple of hours. He studied her face as she let him into her world. Oh yeh, he definitely wanted to kiss this girl.
Over the next week, Cassidy and Ethan met up each evening. One night they watched a movie, another was a hike along one of the many local trails, and a tennis match occupied yet another. Cassidy was a master on the tennis court and Ethan became her latest victim. In hindsight, he hadn't stood a chance. She arrived on the court with tennis gear that made her look like a pro, her clothes showing off her petite, fit figure. In contrast, Ethan looked like a fish out of water; tie-dyed t-shirt, casual shorts, a racket void of any carrying case, and a body that showed off his taste for beer. However, it didn’t matter what they wore, how they looked nor how well they played. Ethan and Cassidy were partners on the same path, enjoying each other's company and thinking, but never actually speaking, about their future.
That Friday evening, Ethan invited Cassidy to band practice, wanting her to see the group he spoke of from the time they met. The band was tight and Ethan was lost in the sound, head grooving with the beat and fingers firmly coaxing melodic sounds from his worn guitar. He was mesmerizing to watch and Cassidy understood why women wanted to be around him. Ethan, through his flowing hair, gave Cassidy a slight smile every now-and-then, making sure she knew where his mind was. She was all in now.
Driving her home that night, he made sure their kiss lasted longer than usual, wanting her to feel the emotions he was feeling. Damp lips finally parting, eyes locked, Ethan uttered “So, what’s your sign?” They laughed again, something they did often.
“Pick me up tomorrow by noon and you’ll find out. My friend is having a BBQ and you are invited.”
A week or so after first meeting, Ethan was meeting Cassidy's friends, and that suited him just fine. He was crazy about this girl.
“Capricorn. How about you?”
That, and a soft kiss with her sensual lips, was how Cassidy greeted Ethan in the car the next day.
"I don’t know. I never really understood or cared for zodiac signs. My birthday is April 10th. What does that make me?”
A slight look of concern betrayed her feelings.
"It’s nothing really. According to my sister, Capricorn and Aries are not a good match. When you meet her, don’t bring it up. You’ll regret it. She's not shy about expressing her opinion.”
That sounded like a challenge, and he didn’t back down from challenges.
The warm, windless sunny weather was perfect. Colourful Hawaiian shirts, sun dresses and sandals were the preferred choice for the guests at the BBQ and Ethan felt like he missed the mark. His white t-shirt and bluejeans didn't exactly fit the scene.
"Was there a theme to this BBQ that I was supposed to know about?"
“I forgot to mention that,” said Cassidy. “But it’s fine.”
She was right. They were more interested in the boy Cassidy brought to the BBQ than in his clothes, and pelted him with all sorts of questions.
"How did you meet?"
"What do you do for work?"
"Tell me about yourself."
He took them all in stride. Thankfully, no one asked him what his sign was.
The hum of tires rolling down the road was the only sound heard inside the car as Ethan quietly drove Cassidy home. They were relishing the silence. As the car pulled up to Cassidy’s place, she inhaled deeply, let out a slow breath, and looked at Ethan. A look of concern gave away his unease.
“What did I do?”
Cassidy smiled, tilted her heads slightly to the side. She was radiant.
“Ethan Freelander, I am falling in love with you.”
“It's about time. I was there last week."
They both laughed.
“Come in, please."
Cassidy's parents had not seen their daughter this happy with anyone in some time, so Ethan had already scored points in their books. They chatted over appetizers in the living room, Cassidy’s parents prodding Ethan’s life and Ethan accepting each challenge with an open and honest response. No sense in trying to be sly about who I am. They’ll see right through it. He told them how his grandparents died before Ethan was born, how he had no relationship with his parents due to their strict rules and strong religious beliefs, and how he was an only child. Cassidy’s parents warmed quickly to her new boyfriend. In their eyes, he was as honest as they came.
A tall, blonde-haired, stunning young woman stepped into the room shortly before dinner. She was in casual, baggy clothes that were unable to hide her glorious physique.
"Ava, this is Ethan. He is the one I told you about."
Ethan, unfazed, stood up and offered his hand.
“I’ve heard so much about you Ava. The pleasure is mine. I’m Ethan.”
She nodded, gave him a weak handshake, before addressing the room.
“Supper is ready. I hope everyone likes it.”
Conversation flowed smoothly during dinner, with laughter giving away the mood in the room. Ava had made a luscious roast chicken dinner, which added to the inviting atmosphere. Studying Ethan from time-to-time with short, deep glances, Ava was relatively quiet, wearing a pleasant smile. By the time the evening was done, Ethan was confident he had been accepted into Cassidy’s family.
“Maybe we can see your band one day?”
"Absolutely. I’ll let Cassidy know the dates we are playing and you can figure out what day works for you. I’ll make sure to save some tickets. You as well Ava?”
She nodded. As Ethan stepped out of the house, Cassidy beside him, Ava called from the doorway.
“Ethan, what sign are you?”
Cassidy warned me. It wasn't a challenge but rather a simple question.
“Uhm...Aries, right Cassidy?”
“Oh. That will not do.”
Ava closed the door and went inside, murmuring to herself.
“What was that about?”
Cassidy reminded Ethan that she had cautioned him about talking zodiac signs with Ava, refreshing his memory on how Aries and Capricorn were polar opposites and not very compatible. Ethan shrugged it off and he and Cassidy drove away. From an upstairs window, Ava watched closely.
"How do you feel about children?"
They had moved in together and Cassidy was curious to see what his thoughts were on a family. She eventually wanted children but was unsure about Ethan's stance, especially since he had no real family of his own. His response was somewhat dismissive.
“Sure, maybe eventually but right now, I want to focus on the band. I feel like we are so close to getting a big break.”
It wasn't Dead End but more of a Yield, or Proceed With Caution. As it turned out, the topic never came up again.
They saw a lot of Cassidy's family, but Ethan could not seem to win over Ava. She smiled, being polite, but he felt nothing but cold from her. Even when she visited, it was the same; outwardly warm, inwardly cold. Further, he felt as though she was calculating every one of their interactions. She was.
One day, when Ava stopped by before Cassidy had come home from work. Calculating. Ethan warmly invited her in, almost regretting it immediately. She strutted by, swaying her shapely hips wrapped in tight jeans. Ethan had never felt anything towards Ava but she seemed to be enticing him. It didn't help that her small t-shirt was tucked into those jeans, and her ample chest provided the background for Rocky Mountain National Park design. Calculating. Ethan refocussed.
"Cassidy won't be long."
"I know. I came to see you."
It was like a chess match and Ethan was feeling up to the challenge. He made the next move.
"Listen, can I ask you something while Cassidy is not here? I want an honest answer."
She arched back into the armrest of the couch, her chest now on full display. She's testing me.
"I get the feeling you don't like me. Am I right?"
She raised her eyebrows as if to give him a chance to withdraw his question.
'Yeh. I want to know."
Ava's disposition completely changed. Now she was truly icy, her eyes piercing and her lips tight. Ava's body firmed up and she prepared to spit out the answer.
“You and Cassidy are not meant to be together. She is a Capricorn and you are an Aries. Don’t you see? It’ll never work and you are going to hurt her. And when you do, I’ll be there to pick her up and then, I’ll deal with you.”
What the hell! Did she just threaten me? Without another word, Ava pushed past Ethan and marched out the door, just as Cassidy pulled into the driveway.
“Sorry 'sis. He asked and I was just being truthful."
Ava drove away, leaving Cassidy alone and wondering what just happened. She went inside and listened as a frustrated and angry Ethan explained. Cassidy thought how Ava had been fixated with horoscopes for years now, nearly since the time she entered Cassidy's life so many years ago. She wasn't ready to tell Ethan yet. Besides, unless he was blind, he probably knew by now.
Unable to have any more children of their own after Cassidy’s complicated birth, her parents decided to grow their family with the help of an adoption agency, one that specialized in placing children from the orphanages of a certain eastern European country. At the time, no one knew that many of the children from those orphanages would end up suffering with mental health issues, including difficulty engaging with people and problems forming relationships.
The one strong relationship that Ava did have was with Cassidy. She looked up to and was fiercely protective of her, to fault. Ava seemed as though she could hurt anyone in defence of Cassidy, and exhibit no remorse.
Ethan called to Cassidy as he departed their house to catch a flight to Toronto.
“I’m on my way, sweetheart!”
The band finally got the break they worked so hard for and were about to embark on a two month North American tour as the opening act for Muse. Opening night was in two days at the Air Canada Centre. Cassidy hurried to the door, a small box in hand. This was the first time they were going to be apart for any amount of time.
Inside was a subtle, silver, herringbone necklace.
“To remember me while you are gone.”
"I don't need that to remember you. You have been on my mind for the last year-and-a-half. But thank you."
“Eight weeks right?”
"Right. I’ll call you each day.”
A hug and kiss and he was off to the waiting taxi. Cassidy, while sad that he would be gone, also was brimming. Everything was going so well. Ava, as always, disagreed, reminding Cassidy that astrological signs are always right.
Although the tour was going well, two weeks in and the friction within was increasing. Ethan’s calls became less frequent as he struggled to keep everyone on the same page. When they were on the phone, he always seemed to be under pressure to be doing something else. Sometimes Ethan was very distant and distracted, as though his mind was elsewhere. Cassidy chalked it up to the pressures of being on the road. Ava saw it for what it was. Ethan was an Aries.
As they had agreed before he left, Cassidy was flying to Denver to see Ethan and take in the concert. Ava was coming along and Cassidy saw it as a kind gesture. Ava saw it as necessary. They arrived in Denver with plenty of time to check into the hotel and see the local sights before taking a limousine to the show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the renowned concert venue which hosted U2 as they filmed their Sunday Bloody Sunday video.
The show was spectacular and Cassidy was on a high when she and Ava headed backstage to meet Ethan. While pleased to see them, he look tired and was elusive, deflecting their questions by saying he would meet them later that evening at the hotel bar for dinner and drinks. Cassidy chalked it up time pressure, hiding disappointment. Beside her, Ava frowned as she spotted a small group of women waiting nearby, all dressed up and chatting amongst themselves. Another sign.
Dinner went well and Ethan was glad to have time with Cassidy, but he had to hurry off to meet their road manager and prepare for the next day’s activities, which included a radio interview at 7:00 a.m. Again, Cassidy smiled as she hid her disappointment. Ava stared as Ethan departed, shaking her head, stifling her anger. The signs were everywhere. Ethan was breaking Cassidy’s heart.
By the time the Vancouver concert date arrived, eight weeks after Ethan first left, Cassidy and Ethan were no longer a couple. She could not handle his new ways and life as a rock-star girlfriend was not all that it was cracked up to be. This was not the life she signed up for.
For his part, Ethan fell into the arms of the numerous woman who sought him out after each show. While he hid it from Cassidy, rumours nevertheless reached her. He was being impulsive and reckless, living for the moment as though Cassidy did not exist. He was an Aries poster boy. After comforting her sister for the umpteenth time, Ava decided it was time to deal with the person who had destroyed Cassidy’s hopes.
As it turns out, you can buy just about anything in Las Vegas, including a branding iron in the shape of an Aries zodiac sign. Ava found one in a pawn shop just off the strip. $10 was the agreed upon price, but then she added a guitar case to her purchase.
“You can have that one for free,” said the middle-aged shop owner, unable to take his eyes of his latest customer.
“Thanks. I'll take that Beretta as well. This city can be dangerous for a gal like me.”
She turned her back and quietly left. The shop owner had seen his share of gorgeous women in Vegas, but nothing quite like the lady who just exited his store.
Having booked a room at a swanky hotel on the strip, Ava set about her activities, making sure all the details were thought through. Ethan was staying in a suite on the floor above, and each night after the previous two shows, had ordered room service for two. Ava planned to be the room service tonight.
Ethan replied to the doorbell as he cleaned himself up in the bathroom. It was after midnight and he had already downed a few glasses of a peaty, single malt scotch, feeling loose by the time the doorbell rang, signalling the arrival of his evening guest.
His preference was tall and blonde, and he was relaxed when he spotted the match slide into the room dressed in a tight black dress with matching high heels, a guitar case in hand. This should be interesting. Ava made sure to keep her body turned, avoiding Ethan's gaze. She used a firm but sultry and whispery voice to further disguise herself.
“I am leaving a blindfold on the bed. Put it on, but don’t peek.”
She stayed concealed as Ethan did as she asked. Sitting on the bed, he listened intently as drinks were poured. By the sound, he knew the glasses were full, but he did not detect the slight splash as a pill sunk into his glass.
“To an evening only Vegas could offer.”
The silky voice was almost too much to handle, and Ethan downed the drink in anticipation, and smiled. A minute later and he was slightly unsteady. It's the booze. He wanted to remove the blindfold and reached up.
“Why don’t you keep that on. It will add to the experience.”
He did as asked, putting his trust in the woman. “Stand up, put your hands out. I want you to experience me through your fingertips first. I work hard to have a body like this."
Ethan went to stand up. It was a mistake.
His body failed him and he fell to the floor in a daze. Ava made no attempt to catch him. Instead, she walked over to the guitar case and clicked open the latches. A quick glance over her shoulder to make sure he was out and then she went to work.
Duct tape strapped over Ethan’s mouth, she pulled a torch from the guitar case, got the flame going, and heated the branding iron. The Aries sign now glowing red hot, Ava thought of how the bad kids in the orphanage were branded using words. Ethan was not going to be that lucky. She slapped him hard until he awoke and propped him up against a chair. His eyes grew wide with fear as recognized his guest.
“I told you Aries and Capricorn weren’t compatible. You didn’t listen. Worse, you hurt Cassidy. Now I have to deal with you.”
Ethan tried to scream when he saw the glowing iron in Ava's hand. Before he could see anymore, she tossed him onto his stomach and put a stiletto heel into his back.
“This will only take a few seconds. Think of it as the small price you pay for the lifetime of pain you inflicted on Cassidy.”
Before he passed out in shock, Ethan smelled his own flesh burning.
The crime scene appeared to be a shooting and robbery, but one predicated by the need to inflict pain on the victim. He was in a rock ’n’ roll band and had probably got himself into debt with his drug use. The toxicology reports would confirm the presence of drugs and alcohol in his system. The Las Vegas police had seen it many times before and were not inclined to put much effort into solving this killing. Besides, the hotel did not want the negative publicity. It was bad for business.