One acre, two stories, fifteen hundred square feet, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a front porch. Minus the married couple who made too many promises within its walls to keep up with them. Daniel and I shared a look as we joined each other just outside the fence of our old farmhouse. The landscaping looked like it hadn't been taken care of for a couple of days, but other than that, the house looked as if it had just been built yesterday. A fresh coat of white paint had been given to the exterior, and it contrasted well with the new black shutters that had been recently installed.
The magnolia trees stood proudly on either side of the front porch, framing the house and adding to its charm. The sunset in the background only highlighted the beauty of this land and I hadn't realized how perfect this place had been until now.
Daniel opened the front gates and stepped aside to let me enter first before he joined me. I took in a deep breath as we both hesitated before opening the front door. On our way here, I had told him about Gabe's phone call and how if this is how Gabe wanted his murder to be solved, then we owed it to him to be cordial until we solved it. Even if it could potentially make things worse. Especially knowing now that keeping that phone call a secret from Marley had been a bad idea. She hasn't been answering my texts or phone calls for the last two days and I was beginning to worry this would cause everything else to fall apart.
Daniel, on the other hand, wasn't angry at all that I had kept this secret, considering we haven't been getting along that well. And we decided if we were going to find out who did this to Gabe, we were going to at least try and be friendly while arguing.
"Are you ready?" he asked, reading my face carefully. I nodded and took his hand when he offered it to me. He kissed the back of my hand before he opened the front door and led me inside. The interior looked like it had been updated as well, with new appliances, more fresh paint, and a couple of other modern pieces and I'd love to have in my condo.
"Wait, you've been coming out here?" I asked him, as I continued to compare the old with the new while he closed the door behind us.
"Sometimes. More often now since Gabe's funeral, but yeah," he answered solemnly, as he opened up some curtains to let the natural light in. The sun was almost gone but it didn't take away the renewed warmth this house now held.
"Damn, this place has a lot of memories in it. Remember the night you guys finally finished the house and we got to sleep in an actual bed?"
"I don't remember us doing much sleeping," he replied with a sly smile and I rolled my eyes as I laughed at his innuendo. His smile widened and once I felt my pulse race again, I cleared my throat and gestured towards the door.
"Let's go find this clue."
"I'll get the shovels from the shed and meet you out there."
We spent at least two hours in the dark digging up the surrounding areas around and under of all those magnolia trees. We were now on our last one, which was the one whose trunk and branches looked completely dead. I sighed in frustration, wishing we had started there first. While I wiped my forehead with a towel, I heard Daniel's shovel hit something hard in the dirt. It looked like something metal, like a toolbox. Similar to the one we had found up in Gabe's cabin along with the old newspaper clippings.
I helped Daniel dig it up with my hands, and we finally brought the toolbox out of the dirt and onto the only patch of grass above us that hadn't been destroyed by our shovels. We both headed back inside the house and placed the toolbox on top of an old rag on top of the island in the kitchen. After we washed our hands and dried them, I noticed there was an old-school combination lock keeping the toolbox from opening.
"Let me see if I can find some bolt cutters," Daniel suggested as he disappeared out of the house and I began thinking about possible combinations. Whispers. Newspaper clippings. The cabin. The toolbox. They must all have something in common...
"Hey, do you remember the date on those newspaper clippings?" I asked Daniel when he came back in empty-handed and closed the back door.
"Nineteen...nineteen thirty-five. And the toolbox had some numbers carved underneath too. I just didn't think anything of it at the time," he answered and I started to put in the numbers as he told them to me.
"Nineteen, thirty-five, zero, four," I recited and the combination lock popped open when I finished. We both shared a smile before I opened the dirty box and found a couple of small pouches tucked underneath the old and rusty tools.
"Wait, don't touch that. You don't know what's in there," Daniel advised as he put on some gardening gloves he took from the storage compartment on the island and began to remove the tools, one by one. He took one of the pouches and opened it, releasing pieces of paper onto his palm. As he finished emptying the rest of the pouches, I started displaying the pieces on top of the kitchen table, trying to piece them together.
"Is that...is that a picture of all of us?" Daniel asked incredulously when I pieced together the last few pieces of the puzzle and took a step back to observe it better. He was right. It was a picture of all of us. The photo had been taken by a stranger, whose name I forgot, but I remember that picture being taken at Gabe's old house, the summer after our first year of college. That house had been repossessed by the bank when his family couldn't afford the mortgage payments and Gabe had to move in with us for a while. I'd be lying if I said I enjoyed the lack of sex I had because he was always around. And now he wasn't. He was rotting in a box, while we were left literally putting the pieces of his life back together.
"What the hell does this even mean? Does he want us all to go back there? Why?"
"I don't know. But I do know that that house was relocated to Whisper Street, just a couple of blocks from there," Daniel added, and I hugged him for figuring out that part of Gabe's message. It'd been driving me crazy since this entire mystery started.
"We can get cleaned up before we head back out. There's still some of your old clothes in the closet," Daniel informed as I pulled away from him. I held his gaze for a moment, and he licked his lips before stepping closer to me and resting his sweaty forehead on mine. I didn't push him away. We didn't argue. We simply stood there, in each other's spaces, going back to a time when things weren't so messed up and the love we had for each other had been enough.
"I miss you," he confessed, grazing his nose over mine. I was tempted to pull away, to remain as distant as I needed to be, but I couldn't deny what my body wanted anymore. It had been screaming for him since we had sex in the backseat of my car and I wasn't about to ignore it again.
"I'm right here," I reminded him and he smirked at my smart remark.
"I still miss you."
"We should go," I interrupted, as I began to unbuckle his belt.
"On the counter. For old time's sake," I sassed and he laughed as he crushed his lips over mine once again.