The cracks in the foundation really started to bring the house down with this one. I love the research I did on Edmonton, and fully intend on visiting that beautiful city someday. But apart from that, this chapter is all over the damn place, and you don’t get any feel for why it’s here, apart from the painting scene. This kind of tonal dissonance only gets worse from here, so buckle up, kiddos.
If Calgary was a sweet fever dream, then Edmonton was a long, luxurious afternoon nap.
When Garrett and Brianna talked about the trip, they only made the loosest of plans – cities they’d like to see, a few tourist spots both had heard about or looked up on the Internet, or a few bits and pieces that friends and family recommended. Other than that, they wanted to play things by ear. Though Brianna did have to get back to the Hammerdown eventually, neither of them were pressed for time so long as the ghosts regularly checked in with news on crimes Garrett could report to Monica.
They’d left a lot of room in their schedule for the major cities, not sure what they’d expect or how long they’d want to stay, and when it came to Edmonton, both agreed later they were glad they hadn’t set anything in stone. Weeks could have been spent there, taking in shows, the nightlife, the food, the shops, the parks.
Coming from Rankin Flats, one of the dirtiest, smoggiest, ill-kept cities in the United States, Edmonton was practically fastidiously clean. Hardly a hint of smog touched the sky, helped somewhat by the day’s breeze, but also thanks to the long stretches of beautifully maintained trees lining the highways and streets. Glittering skyscrapers rose in the distance, but lacked the glaring industrial façade of most of the aging buildings in the Flats.
Though traffic was bogged down slightly thanks to the early morning work traffic, the arterial flow was at least steady and Brianna had no trouble navigating her way around.
“I wish you’d tell me where we were going,” Garrett groused good-naturedly. It was hard to be irritated with Brianna that morning, especially given the exuberant way in which he’d been woken up.
“Nuh uh.” Slowing to a stop for a red light, Brianna growled, “Gimme.” He held up a blueberry fritter and she turned her head for a large bite. “Oh, that’s goo-ood,” she moaned, largely for his pleasure, and was delighted when Garrett flushed a little bit.
With his thumb, he wiped a dab of blueberry filling from the corner of her mouth and she caught the digit with her teeth, giving him a teasing wink. “Not that I’m complaining, but what is even going on today?”
“I’ll tell you, but only if you promise not to go all self-serious on me again.”
“Again? What are you talking about?”
Amused, he said, “All right.”
“Pinky swear.” She held up the finger in question.
“What are we, six?”
Looping his pinky with hers, he said solemnly, “I, Garrett Beavis Moranis, do swear to not be so self-serious. Again. Whatever that means.” Before she let go, he added, “I also swear, I have the craziest wife on the planet. Who I love dearly and from whom I would love a repeat performance of this morning. Amen. Wait. Do I say amen?”
“No. But I like it.” Brianna bounced a little in the driver’s seat. “Okay, I am still feeling kinda like I need to pay up for the wedding bet-”
“Pinky swears are for life!” She caught him raising his hands in peaceable defeat. “I wanted to make today kind of a special day for you. I mean, I would do all this for you anyways-”
“Oh thank God,” he said, remembering the pounding on the walls from the room adjoining theirs at the hotel.
“-but… I don’t know. Today I thought we could do some stuff I think you’ll love.” Suddenly shy, she said, “But if you want to know, I’ll tell you, and we can do some other stuff.”
“No, this is perfect,” Garrett said, knowing her mood was shifting. And it was. He grinned. “It’s weird, but I kinda like surprises. They’re… not something I’ve gotten used to yet.”
That was an understatement. Garrett had spent a decade and a half essentially on his own. Until Brianna came into his life, he hadn’t celebrated a birthday with anyone living since he was a teenager. During the first one he spent with Brianna, they’d been working a job together and she’d brought along two slices of a caramel layer cake from a mom-and-pop bakery they both liked. He’d been so shocked and thrilled by the normalcy and kindness of the gesture that he wasn’t able to speak for a full minute.
“Then I’ll try to surprise you every chance I get. Like… oh, say, when we go to bed, I’ll wear a Freddy Krueger mask.”
“Only if I can bring a chainsaw.”
“All right, all right, I admit defeat.”
“Good. Donut me.”
* * *
One of the peculiar awakenings Brianna had caused in Garrett early in their relationship was a desire to learn more about art. Up until the point when she’d moved in, his walls had been barren. He’d thought of his condo as a means to blend in and little else, and had not personalized it in any way, keeping it as sterile and cold as his mind.
But when she stormed into his life, one of the first actions Brianna had taken was to get a picture of the two of them together. It was still the centerpiece of their living room – would always be, if he had his way about it. In just a few days, she’d peppered his walls with her own hobbyist photography as well as family pictures, more snaps of them together, and a few cheap prints she’d collected through the years from garage sales and swap meets. Brianna’s favorites were mostly abstracts or more symbolic pieces, but she’d also hung up a poster of a cityscape of a little fictional Italian villa, originally done in rich, vibrant hues that jarred in a fascinating way with the washed-out sunset behind it. It had been a present from a distant relative, and she hung it mostly because the walls needed decoration rather than any real fondness for the painting, but Garrett latched onto something about the print. One evening Brianna had come home to him trying to learn how to set the desktop image to a JPEG version of another one of the artist’s works. Ever since, he’d become something of a budding art fan, despite knowing nothing about it – though she secretly envied his complete lack of bias for what was considered “good” art. Everything he saw, he judged with fresh eyes and opinions.
It wasn’t much of a stretch then for her to make their first stop the Art Gallery of Alberta. With oddly angled walls of windows and swooping curves mish-mashed together, the exterior looked to Brianna as though it were melting, and after a minute of dumbstruck staring, Garrett agreed readily.
Inside, the bustle was just starting, and they managed to get in ahead of a tour group. Where the exterior of the building felt playful and wild, the interior’s first floor felt more warm, inviting, and mellow. A staircase sept up around one of the building’s central lighting fixtures, and they followed it up to a more professional and austere second floor. Their pathway weaved among several different rooms, all painted in different hues of lights and darks to better emphasize the paintings. Variable lighting for each work cast the photographs, paintings, and exhibits in everything from mellow lows to sharp highs.
Standing in front of a photograph of a train, Garrett whispered to Brianna, “Why’s the lighting so different from piece to piece?” Behind them, someone’s cough sounded suspiciously like a snicker and Garrett, who’d fought shapeshifters, cannibals, and psychopaths of all sorts, sagged like he’d been hit.
Brianna missed this, absorbed in a painting of the Mounties. “The lights emphasize different aspects about the works,” she said distractedly.
He wasn’t sure what that meant, but he already felt stupid. “Oh,” he said, as if this made perfect sense. Nearby, the child ghost sniffed the air, as if she could smell something delicious.
The works themselves were beautiful, harsh, thought-provoking, baffling, moody, cheerful. The exhibits seemed to focus quite a bit on Edmonton, Albertan, and Canadian in general history, and several audio pedestals played various facts about both the works and the moments in history depicted by the artists. They learned a lot, though a large portion of the intricacies of Canadian governance went over both their heads.
While Brianna sought out a bathroom, Garrett wandered up to the third floor. Here the focus was on Canadian history through art, and Garrett took in a few pieces before a red-framed painting caught his eye. Wildly out of place next to two photographs of life in the Rocky Mountains circa the turn of the 20th century, the painting was of a wary-looking woman, her hair snarled and hanging low past her bottom, kneeling next to a campfire, a dripping piece of meat between her fingers.
She bore a long-healed scar down one arm, and several animal bones pierced the skin between her knuckles and under her lower lip. Forever caught halfway between guilt and unmasked fear, something about the woman caught Garrett’s mind and he felt himself sinking into the painting. Beside him, the child ghost stepped up, and he was barely aware she was keening softly. Something tightened in his skull, and his ears thrummed with the rush of blood. Wrooom. Wrooom. Wrooom.
He wanted to tear this painting down. He wanted to burn this building to the ground. He wanted to find the artist who had captured this woman and cram his fucking brushes through the soft fatty chicken wings under his arms before Garrett drew his knife and carved hell upon his chest and stomach and groin and-
“Garrett?” Brianna asked.
At her touch, he jumped like a caught trout and the moment was broken. The memory of his rage vanished as quickly as it came on, and he stared between his wife and the painting on the wall. “I… it was…” It was what, though? This was just a painting of some woman time forgot, lost in the vagaries of life in the mountains. “Guess I got caught up in this one,” he said, smiling weakly.
Brianna looped her arm through his. “Can’t blame you. It’s a fascinating picture.”
Garrett blinked, once, twice, a third time, and the last of the fog in his mind was gone. “I am.” Hesitant and not sure why, he kissed her cheek. “Missed you.”
“I was only gone for a few minutes, goof.”
After a lengthy look through the gift shop where they bought a couple of small poster prints for their guest bedroom, Brianna led Garrett back out to the Durango. Halfway to the parking lot, she stopped and turned to him. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked, a note of frustration in her voice.
“You looked like you were about ready to kill someone in there. If I screwed up and brought you somewhere you didn’t want to visit, just tell me. It’s not like we’re locked into this.”
Something tugged at his memory but he couldn’t place it. “I… no. Sorry. I think that painting reminded me of something. The way she looked, the surprise and fear on her face… I don’t know. It bothered me.”
Placated – or at least pretending to be – Brianna started walking again. “Good. I was hoping we could visit a few more museums later this week. There’s a science one I know might not sound like the most exciting thing, but…”
“Whatever you want, I’m happy to come with. Besides, I like science.”
“Mmm hmm. Especially anatomy.”
“Oh God, I know where this is going.”
“Specifically, your female anatomy.” He paused, thinking. “But if they had that on display, I might be a little pissed.”
Brianna snorted. “You and me both.”
* * *
The rest of that day found them hitting up a water park at the West Edmonton Mall, their first taste of what would turn into a favorite landmark of theirs on their trip. Brianna was surprised that Garrett was a mallrat, but he explained that one of his favorite ways to pass the time when Murphy was working was to wander malls in Vegas or Rankin Flats. It was the people watching, he explained.
In any case, both of them were staggered by the scope of the mall and promised themselves plenty of time to explore its nooks and crannies. That afternoon though was devoted to waterslides, an enormous wave pool, and Garrett blatantly devouring his wife with his eyes in her new one-piece, the top and bottom separated by a series of thin strings that nicely showed off her stomach. With their wild gluttony over the last week, Brianna had been worried about it not fitting, but it hugged her just fine, he told her. At one point, resting against a wall, Garrett pulled her to him, her butt pressed against him, and he whispered into her ear that whatever she had planned next, he wanted an hour in between. What he murmured to her after that made her go bright red, and she agreed. It wasn’t long before they headed for the Durango and their hotel.
The cylindrical Chateau Lacombe had been one of the few places Garrett had firmly wanted to try. A few of his world-traveling poker acquaintances had reached out to him to offer congratulations on the wedding, and one of them, a man of practical but quality taste who Garrett trusted implicitly on these sorts of things, firmly recommended the concierge-floor rooms. Although the room was a bit pricier than anywhere else they’d been staying, the Lacombe was worth the investment when they saw the spectacular wide view of Edmonton sprawled out below them.
While Brianna took in the view, Garrett wrapped his arms around her. He began to undress her, ignoring the view, ignoring everything but her. The urgency with which he tore at her buttons made her think he meant to just take her, no foreplay, just hot and hard right there. She was right about the position – he pushed her hands against the window, bending her slightly, but he had other ideas as to the foreplay, and knelt behind her.
“This is your d… day,” she gasped, secretly hoping he’d keep doing what he was doing.
He pulled back just for a moment. “This is what I want. This is what I always want. Your pleasure. You’re so fucking sexy, Brianna.”
When he said it like that, and set back to work, his practiced tongue finding every sensitive inch of flesh, she gave in and let him explore, play, kiss, lick. Only when she rode the high of a hiccupping orgasm, his name escaping her lips, did Garrett rise and undress. He took her from behind, practically shoving her at the glass. It was the best sex of their honeymoon so far, and when it was over, she nearly collapsed on wobbly legs. He helped her to bed, brought her a glass of water, and went to get one for himself. As he sipped, taking in the sprawl of her hair, her bent legs, the slightly dazed smile, he asked almost casually, “Now what else did you have in mind for tonight?”