I believe in ghosts. Not the kind in the movies that rattle chains or haunt houses. Ghosts quite frankly are not that simplistic. Nevertheless, they exist. They live in your mind, dance in your dreams and drive you mad. They are merciless until they get whatever it is that they need to find peace.
I know this...for my own ghost has seemed to be with me for as long as I could remember.
As I rifled through the yellowed newspaper clippings from The Salem Chronicle, she seemed to be so close to me that I could almost feel her whispery breath at my ear for I was being consumed by a world in the past. Her world.
With trembling hands, I turned from one ghastly headline to the next...
DIMERA HEIRESS STABBED TO DEATH
BLOODBATH AT WEALTHY MANSION
SERIAL KILLER SPREE IN SALEM
As I picked through some of the photographs, Renee Dimera was indeed hauntingly beautiful with her dark long black tresses hanging down her back, her big doe-like brown eyes gleaming with unspoken secrets. And she seemed to be looking directly at me from those faded images, taunting me, beckoning me...
What do you want from me, Renee? What will it take for us both to be at peace?
The details of Renee Dimera's untimely death were well known. Indeed, they had become part of Salem history as they were the first series of events leading to Stefano Dimera's reign of terror. She had been inadvertently killed by Andre Dimera, erstwhile nephew of Stefano Dimera, identical twin to Tony Dimera. So where was the mystery? Why was this spirit tormenting me?
The sudden outburst made me jump. The moldy Records Department at the London Spectator was dark and gloomy, at best, being part of a historic building that was centuries old. All of the spiders and cobswebs didn't help matters either.
Jack Deveraux stood before me with a smug expression on his face.
"Uh oh, looks like you're busted," he smirked.
I yearned to tell him off with a sarcastic comeback, but he was still my boss. And I was indeed caught red-handed.
The editor of the London Spectator was not entirely a happy camper, his arms folded across his chest as he glared at me in his sardonic fashion.
"So Vern was right!" Jack harrumphed. "You have been snooping around a story where you don't belong. In the Dimera files..."
"I don't know what you mean, Jack..." I started, batting my eyelashes, hoping innocent little girl ploys would work on him. "What's wrong with researching the Dimera files?"
"I have dealt with pesky cub reporters and teenage girls, Miss McDaniel...so I know all of the little lies and stall tactics. You know all stories on the Dimeras are off limits at this paper. I've made no secret of that. So what's the story? You're planning some sort of exposé, no doubt?"
Struggling to put the large accordion file of clippings on the top shelf of the bookcase, I felt myself break out into a sweat. Wearing high heels and pantyhose was not exactly the appropriate attire for power lifiting. Giving up the pointless struggle, I had no choice but to keep holding the weighty monstrosity to my chest.
"Look, Jack...you know..." I strained my brain, trying to come up with a way out of this mess. "Vern can get so melodramatic at times. This is not an exposé exactly."
He did not look convinced.
For the last two years of my employment at the London Spectator, I had greatly admired Jack Deveraux for his intelligence, his wit and cunning, his sense of humor. He was a mentor and a friend. And I respected him a great deal. But at this particular moment, I wished he wasn't so darned smart!
"Oh? Well, why else would you be digging into the old family dirt and crypts of the Dimeras in the Records Department?"
He bent down and gingerly picked up an old clipping that had floated to the floor.
"Even scrounging about into the shady old articles of the Salem Chronicle, nonetheless. I credited you with better taste."
I couldn't resist a small smile. Even now, Jack had to take a jab at his old competition in Salem. Which inspired me to my next strategy. Jack was nothing if not ambitious. Perhaps I should go along with the suspicions Vern had about a Dimera story. That certainly was better than the truth.
"OK, Jack," I shrugged, starting with my 'confession' and quickly grabbing the clipping out of his grasp. "I know you have some sort of hang-up about writing about the Dimeras, but..."
"Hang-up!" he interrupted, the Deveraux temper started to unleash itself. "Miss Daniels, this is not as you so quaintly put it a 'hang-up'. It is the POLICY of out paper that..."
"I know, I know..." I interrupted,."...that there are no articles to be written about the Dimeras at any time...for some mysterious reason..."
"Even though EJ Wells is rumored to be the son of Stefano and is the hottest story of the year...and he lived right here in London for a while! This is relevant news that people, that Londoners... here are interested in.
"I don't care if EJ tries to behead the Queen of England!" Jack bellowed. "No Dimera name is going to be written about in this newspaper."
"Jack, I know you have 'issues' with Tony Dimera..."
Jack snorted at my use of the word 'issues'.
"...But you are really losing objectivity here. Don't you realize that we are the only newspaper in the country that has not written one article about the John Black shooting or about EJ Wells or about...?"
"And it's going to stay that way!" Jack insisted, pointing at me, his blue eyes flaring with anger. "I am a businessman, but trust me, there are some stories that are just not worth the danger or the aggravation. Take it from someone who knows this first hand. And no matter what this says..."
Jack glanced at the file I was holding and then stopped, lost in thought.
"Wait a minute, this isn't even about EJ Wells, is it?"
"What do you mean?"
"All of our recent stuff is scanned onto disks and stored on the computer. But that..." He pointed at the accordion file. "That has to be at least a decade old."
Before I could respond, he tried to grab the file from me.
"Hey, wait a minute!" I cried out. "Jack!"
"Fall of 1982," he announced, having seen the label on the outside of the file. "What exactly are you up to?"
I hurriedly grabbed the accordion file from Jack. Then gingerly, I climbed onto a nearby footstool, regardless of my heels, attempting to return the file to its rightful place on the uppermost shelf of the bookcase, even if I had to break my neck to do it.
"Nothing, Jack! Jeez, why can't you just forget about..."
The weight of the file caused my right arm to cramp. Disaster struck as the whole file crashed down onto the floor, various papers and pictures flying all about in a whirlwind.
Was fate responsible for what happened next? Bad luck perhaps? Or was it you, Renee, once more trying to guide my life into your willful direction?
A blown-up photo still of Renee Dimera in all her glory rested right at Jack's feet. It was a picture taken of her the last night of her life. She was dressed in a black velvet gown with a silver sequined lining and ostrich feathers, her hair piled high upon her head, diamond earrings dangling along her neck. She looked like royalty, like a princess from times past, staring knowingly out into space as if she knew all the trouble she had just caused.
Jack looked down at the photograph in confusion and then at me. It took a moment for the realization to strike him. And then his eyes widened as he gaped at me with amazement.
"My God!" he exclaimed. "That's Renee Dimera, isn't it? And you look just like her!"
What could I say? It was absolutely true. Renee Dimera could have been my twin.
At that moment, Jack Deveraux, my gruff editor who liked nothing more to infuriate and boss me around, looked terrified of me. It broke my heart, to see him looking at me like I had just turned into a cockroach or something.
"You're one of...THEM, aren't you?!" Jack backed away from me in horror, pointing. "Y-y-you're one of THEM!"
"Jack," I sighed, trying to keep my cool, even while my nerves felt impossibly stretched. "Please just let me explain..."
"No, don't explain! I don't want to hear your lies. You're a Dimera and a liar! Just get the hell out of here!"
He stormed off as if fending off an attack from a vampire bat.
I tried to hold back a helpless sob of frustration, to no avail.
"You're fired! Leave me alone and leave my family alone!"
And Jack Deveraux was absolutely right. I am a Dimera.
For all of my life, my adoptive parents tried to give me enough love and attention to keep me from asking questions about the Pandora's Box of my past. And for the most part, their efforts worked. That is, until they both died in a car crash due to a drunk driver on a New Year's Eve five years ago. After the months of tears and grief, I finally set about going through their belongings to put away. That is when I found my adoption papers. Perhaps to find some sort of outlet to escape all of the sadness, I began to dig into my own past. And soon, what started as an escape turned into an obsession.
In this day and age of the Internet and genealogical studies, it has become easier than ever to trace one's past. Secrets are no longer as easily kept. And so I began chipping away at the clues, going down one path to the next. And the journey was not an inexpensive one. After a while, the websites were no longer of help to me. I had to hire genealogical specialists and detectives. I am ashamed to say that my parents would not have been happy to know that I was spending my inheritance finding out about the secrets that they had worked so hard to shelter me from.
Imagine my surprise when one of the detectives showed me a photograph of the woman who I suppose is my deceased aunt, my ghost, my mirror image, Renee Dimera.
Perhaps that moment was when Renee began to truly haunt me.
When researching the history of the Dimeras, most of the information I came up with was that Lee Dumonde only had one child by Stefano Dimera – Renee, who she had passed off as her sister for years while living in Georgia. But my newly dug up information revealed that was not true. There was another child, Charlotte Dumonde, a twin sister. That twin was my mother.
My biological mother's story was a sad one. Charlotte had not been as fortunate as I was. Illegally adopted, her parents turned out to be abusive drug users. At the age of five, social workers took her away from the parents. She was shuffled off from one set of foster parents to the next. As a teenager, she turned to drugs and prostitution. I was an unwanted pregnancy from one of her clients that she couldn't afford to abort. After having me, she gave me away for adoption. Perhaps resulting from guilt and postpartum depression, she committed suicide shortly after that.
Just one more sordid tale to add to the Dimera history...
I should have left well enough alone. After all, I never really knew Charlotte as a mother. What was she to me? I had loving parents who had given me everything I had ever needed, including a good college education where I got my degree in journalism. What did it matter if I was a Dimera? After all, being related to a notorious crime family was nothing to brag about. And I was a shameful footnote in their family tree. Stefano Dimera would sooner kill me than welcome me into his family with open arms.
But I couldn't let the knowledge go. I began to read everything I could about the Dimeras. Unfortunately, a lot of the information I could readily get hold of were unfounded news stories and unauthorized biographies, which made for great entertainment but did not satisfy my insatiable need to know about my family history.
Was it my obsession with the Dimera past and their victims in Salem that led me to apply for the position of journalist at the London Spectator? It was no secret that Jack Deveraux had some sort of mysterious connection with Tony Dimera. Getting the job had been an incredible stroke of good luck. But my employment at the newspaper only led to more questions rather than answers. Both Jack and Jennifer Deveraux would get very quiet and nervous if I even so much as made a reference to a Dimera. And Vern once took me to the side and warned me that it was a touchy subject, and that I would do well not to remind them of that particular time in their lives. Harold then proceeded to tell me about the "No Dimera story" policy at the paper.
Working for Jack Deveraux was no easy task. He liked my style and he was constantly giving me new assignments, so much so that I rarely had the time to pursue my real interests at the newspaper. But then the news stories about EJ Wells broke out, reminding me of my heritage. I had to find out more, about who I was and where I came from.
So I began my research in the Records Department, looking for more information about my ghost.
Perhaps I would not have been so consumed with the past...if it hadn't been for Renee and her curse...haunting my dreams...
As I began packing my belongings from my desk into a large cardboard box, Vern stood by my side, shaking his head.
"Leigh, honestly, if I had any idea that Jack would go flying off the handle like that, I wouldn't have said a word. Hell, I didn't even mean to let him on to anything, but you know how Jack has that way of..."
"I know, Vern," I sighed. "I know. That stubbornness is what makes him a good reporter."
And I did admire Jack Deveraux so much for all he had done in the newspaper business. He was smart, talented, witty, funny, spirited, incorrigible...and very happily married to Jennifer Deveraux, his partner in life and business. Too bad the good ones were always taken. It was just as well. Bad enough to be fired by him, but if I had been in love with the guy...
"Maybe so, but he's a lousy editor! How could he even think of firing you? You're one of the best."
I felt like crying again. Suddenly, I became very aware of just how fond I had been of my job at the newspaper.
"What was he talking about when he kept ranting about you being one of them?" Vern asked. "I couldn't make heads or tails out of it."
I shook my head, unable to answer. The truth would come out soon enough, but I didn't want to witness it. Vern was a valued friend and colleague. I could not bear the inevitable fear and hatred that would take over those kind wise eyes if he knew. It had been bad enough seeing how Jack had reacted.
"Leigh, is it true?!"
Harold stormed over to my cubicle, coffee cup in hand and mouth gaping wide with shock.
"Jack let you go?!"
God, news travels fast. Then again, it was a newspaper office, after all. Getting the scoop was what we did for a living.
"I'm afraid so, Harold."
"WHY?! You're the best reporter on the paper!"
I smiled my thanks.
"That's not entirely true, Harold. But, anyway, I'd rather not get into it..."
"Well, I'm going to give him a piece of my mind!"
"No, don't!" I begged, grabbing Harold by the arm. "It's bad enough that I have to go. Don't jeopardize your job too."
Harold gave me a hug.
"We're going to miss you, kiddo. You can give out my name as a reference anytime."
"I've got to go," I said abruptly. I needed to leave before the sobbing fit started for real.
Lugging up the big box, I started on my way towards the elevator bank.
"But where are you going to go?" Vern asked. "Do you have anything else to fall back on? Any other paper to go to?"
"I'll land on my feet, Vern. I always do."
Of course, I had survival skills, bred by instinct if nothing else.
After all, I was a Dimera.
I spent the evening in my lonely London flat doing some preliminary packing. It was obvious that my career in London had screeched to a halt, now that Jack knew my secret. Being fired by a powerful figure like Jack Deveraux in London was a death knell for my career. And I had no hope of his changing his mind. There was too much bad blood between the Dimeras and anyone from Salem. I could not possibly hope for understanding...or for even forgiveness for all of the sins and crimes that my family had committed.
As I began packing some of my clothes in cardboard boxes, I took another sip from the third Rum and Coke that had been precariously resting on my dresser top. I usually did not drink. I didn't need the calories or the hangover in the morning. Too often, I suffered ill effects from alcohol without any of the pleasures. But tonight, I needed the liquor. It would not make me feel better, but it might make me forget the look of disgust in my mentor's eyes.
You're one of...THEM!
Of course, Jack would hate me. Although they never talked about it, I knew enough to put the pieces together about what had happened to Jack and Jennifer. Tony Dimera had kidnapped Jack and made him suffer in countless ways that he couldn't even bear to talk about. And now, Jack had finally pulled his life back together. He was settled in the business that he loved, reunited with his wife and children. And here I was, another Dimera coming into his life to mess everything up. I couldn't blame him for firing me.
If only I could have thought of Jack Deveraux as just another boss. But he had been so much more to me over the last two years. A teacher, a taskmaster, a friend...no, I wasn't in love with him. I couldn't let myself. I liked his wife, Jennifer, too much to let myself feel anything like that. But still, his disapproval hurt. It hurt bad.
I would have to leave here...this swinging wonderful town of London that I had made my home. I hated the thought but it was too dangerous to stay here now. The secret was out now. And if any of the Dimeras got wind of my existence...well, I shuddered to think what would happen to me.
I still had a good amount of my inheritance left as well as my savings from the employment at the London Spectator. I could afford to go somewhere else.
If only I knew where to go.
My life now felt so aimless, adrift at sea.
Perhaps because of the alcohol, the dream was more intense than ever that night.
I was at a party in a large mansion, dressed in a black velvet gown with a silver sequined lining and ostrich feathers, my hair piled high upon her head, diamond earrings dangling along my neck. For some reason, I was the center of attention that night. Familiar faces were watching me. But I was only looking at one person. In fact, I could not take my eyes off of him as I pleading with him, tears running down my cheeks.
Do you know you opened up a whole new world for me? You protected me and you taught me what unconditional love is. Because that's what we had until fate tore it away from us...
Wearing a tuxedo sans tie, the dark handsome man looked as if he had walked straight out of some romantic gothic novel, his expression sad and brooding. With his black hair, swarthy complexion and dark eyes, he was truly a striking figure. And he seemed to be willing me to confess my heart to him.
I probably will always love you. You were my one passion. My one true love...
As I looked upon his sad face and intense dark eyes, I felt my heart breaking. I needed this man more than anything else, physically and emotionally and in every way possible. And I had lost him before I had ever really had him at all.
"Tony..." I sobbed, waking myself out of the dream and into reality.
I was no longer in that elaborate mansion but in my dingy London flat.
I was no longer Renee Dimera but Leigh Daniels.
And as I came back to my senses, I remembered the man in the dream.
The man responsible for the Salem Stalker plot of 2003. The man who had kidnapped several people and committed all sorts of unspeakable atrocities. The man who had been imprisoned as an international terrorist. How could I love him? How could I even dream that I loved him? And besides, weren't we related somehow? None of it made any sense.
Shaking and crying still from the dream, I slowly rose up from the bed. It had all seemed so real, so intense and detailed as if I had really lived it. Washing the tears from my face, I caught my image in the bathroom mirror. And I did not seem to even look like myself anymore. That lonely devastated woman in the reflection was not me. It was her. In the mirror, I seemed to be looking into Renee's eyes and not my own.
What do you want me to see, Renee? What do you want me to see with your eyes?