1: Shivers in the Heat

Present day

The smell of char wafted through my open bedroom window, disturbing Ty Ritter’s beautiful voice. I scrunched my nose, wondering what could be burning to cause the god awful smell. My guess was that Dad had left the patties in the grill for too long and now they would be burnt to a crisp. But if he was grilling he would have mentioned it this morning.

Unless…

I dropped my headphones to the floor and ran to the window. Panic leaped inside my stomach as I hastily jerked the sheer purple curtains to the side. The hot July sun scorched my retinas, the light too much to bear all at ones. After blinking a few times, my eyes racked the yard for my little brother Max. Fear crawled up my insides as I thought the worst case scenarios for the smell. He was always getting into trouble, getting and doing things that were not appropriate for a six year old.

God only knew what he did now.

The panic ebbed away as my eyes landed on a moving van across the street. Puffs of smoke drifted from the front of the car as a man stood to the side, waving his arm aimlessly at the air around him. A second later, the hood popped open and he proceeded to inspect the damage. The driver seat door flew open and out jumped a guy from the high seat, kicking the door close with his foot.

I couldn’t get a good picture of him from the second story, but he looked like he might be the same age as me. A smile lifted the corner of my lips as I realized that they were moving in across the street. The house had been vacant for as long as I could remember. I had never even seen a realtor step onto our street, much less that house.

As I wondered what had brought them to Oak Isle, I saw the guy begin to unload big cardboard boxes from the truck, passing it one by one to his father. Some words were exchanged between them and the next thing I knew they were both staring up at me. My skin flushed from embarrassment at getting caught watching. Talk about a peeping Tom. I shut the curtains in a quick fluid motion and shook my head, wanting to shake the feeling of complete and utter awkwardness. They’d probably think I was an absolute nutcase. It’s the same thing that I would think of someone if I caught them gawking at me like some wonderful new discovery.

But that’s kind of what they were. We rarely got new neighbors in our quaint little town, much less the isle itself. The piece of land was off the coast of New York where a ferry transported those who worked back in the city to and fro.

I headed down stairs, sidestepping through the hallway like it was an obstacle course. There were toy cars and Legos scattered everywhere along with the odd disarray of color drawings Max loved to doodle. H e wasn’t that bad for a six year old, in my opinion. I always told him that he’d be the next Picasso and he’d look up at me with innocent brown eyes and say “Who’s Pick-assho?”

Mom looked up from the dough she was kneading when I walked into the kitchen. The sweet aroma of peanut butter cookies and baked pumpkin pie assailed my nostrils and made my mouth water. I picked up a cookie, bringing it to my list before mom yanked it out of my hand.

“Hey! I was going to eat that,” I protested, jumping up on the counter and parking it.

“They are for later. Will you pass me the plastic wrap? I need to keep these from your brother, you know how he is.”

I did. If Max was here those cookies would have never seen the light of day. They’d be safely down the dark tunnel of his sarcophagus.

“Are we having company over tonight?” I asked. Mom only went into house cooking mode when she and Dad were trying to impress some important people at their firm. I would never understand the art of kissing ass.

“No. Actually…” The timer went off from the oven and she hurried over to the metal contraption, grabbing the mitts from the counter. She took out a tray of freshly made chocolate chip cookies and set them on the stove.

“Where was I…oh!” She pivoted on her heel and did an about face. “You are going to take the pie and cookies over to our new neighbors.”

I jumped down from the counter, eyes wide like a baby kitten. “No, Mom I can’t. Why can’t you and dad do it?”

“Because your father and I are already late as it is for a meeting at work.” She looked at her wrist watch and frowned, beginning to untie the apron from her waist.

“But I can’t. I-I…I hurt my ankle earlier, tripping over one of Max’s toy cars. I can barely walk. See.” I faked limped from the counter to the refrigerator. It would have been a good sale if Mom didn’t already know me. The only reason I didn’t want to go was because of my run in with them already. What would they think of me when the weird girl from the window showed up with a tray full of pastries good enough for a five star restaurant?

“Rose.” She gave me a pointed look. “You need to be more social. This is just the first step in the right direction,” she paused, tossing the apron on the counter. “Now, I want you to take the pie and container full of cookies to them. Be kind and welcoming just like I know you can be.”

I let out a resigned sigh and nodded. “That’s my girl.” Mom kissed my forehead as a goodbye and headed towards the living room, muttering something about where her heels were.

I grabbed a plastic container from the pantry and began to dump both kind of cookies into the bin. They looked so delicious, I couldn’t help myself. I peered in every direction before I snuck a peanut butter cookie and stuffed it in my mouth. Mom wouldn’t know and it’s not like there was anyone around to witness the act.

“There’s a storm…Rose?”

“Yeah?” I walked into the living room where Dad stood in the middle of the living room; his eyes trained on the TV screen watching a weather broadcast.

“We’re going to be home late. Can you get Max into bed early? Don’t let him con you into staying up late.”

I smiled. “Not a problem. It was a onetime deal.”

He snorted, an easy going smile lighting up the serious expression on his face. “I’m afraid I’m not familiar with today’s lingo. Does six equal one now?”

I groaned. “Dad.”

He put his hands up in mock surrender. “Okay, okay, going now. Behave. Max is in the backyard digging.”

“Digging?”

He nodded, fishing his briefcase from underneath the coffee table. “He insists that there are remnants of dinosaur bones buried close to the center of the earth.”

“One of his new adventures?”

“Seems like it.”

I laughed. God, that kid had such an imagination. It fascinated me how vastly a world he could create in only a matter of hours. One thing was for certain – there was never a dull moment at the de Lys household.

I waited an hour after they left to go deliver the goods. I felt really uneasy about the whole thing as I grabbed my keys from the counter and hollered for Max to accompany me. There was no way that I was going by myself. Plus, Max would serve as a great distraction. He had a way with people unlike me.

We made our way down the stone path to the driveway and crossed the street, pies and cookies in our hands. The guy that I saw earlier was unloading some more boxes, swiftly setting them on the curb. He saw us coming and stopped for a moment, his eyes flickering back and forth between me and Max.

“Hey.” I inwardly groaned, hating Mom for doing this to me. This was going to be an epic fail in the history of epic failures. The thing that made it worse was that the guy was…hot – in lack of a better word. Really, he wasn’t the type you read about in books, so devilishly handsome that it hurt. He had a wholesome look that became his personality. With his messy brown hair, kind hazel eyes, and easy grin, he looked like one of those southern gentlemen in the movies that rode horse back around plains and whatnot.  He was the kind of guy that I’d never talk to in a million years because of how completely unattainable he’d be in school, surrounded by a flock of girls just waiting to get a piece of him. Hot guys and I did not go well together. First off, most of them were complete jerks. Second, I always found myself unable to form coherent sentences when one was in the same vicinity as I was.

Talk about being a complete spaz and a major contradiction. You’d think that since I found a guy a jerk he’d be easier to deflect. But no. That was not the case at all.

“Hey,” he said, unloading the last of the boxes from the truck. He whipped his hands clean on the front of his jeans and held it out. “I’m Finn.”

Some of the tension deflated when I took his hand in mine, relieved that he took the imitative to introduce himself first. “I’m Rose and this,” I pointed to Max who was bouncing with contained energy on the balls of his feet, “is Max.”

“You’re going to live here?” my little brother asked.

Finn flashed a smile, making his face softer and his eyes shining with amusement. “Yes we are.”

“Cool! We could chop up some snakes together! I bet there’s a lot hiding in the grass.”

I shook my head while Finn laughed and ruffled Max’s hair. “Sounds like fun. I’m game.”

“Awesome!” Max pushed the box of cookies to me and ran towards Finn’s backyard, inspecting the ground like Sherlock Holmes.

“Cute kid,” Finn commented.

I laughed. “Oh, you have no idea.”

We shared a look and smiled; the awkwardness that had lingered in the air at the beginning dissipating. We stood in silence, watching Max trudge on the overgrown grass like a small cub learning the ways of the wild unknown.

“Oh.” I had completely forgotten why I had come here in the first place, the smell of chocolate, peanut butter, and pumpkin reminding me. “Umm…my mom made these for you and your family.” Finn raised an eyebrow but took the containers from my hands.

He sniffed at the boxes, a pleasing smile quirking his lips. “Tell your mom thanks. These smell delicious.” Finn walked forward and as an afterthought handed me back the containers to gather two heavy boxes in his arms. At least they looked heavy by the way his muscles bulged by the strain.

“Why don’t you come inside and I’ll show you around?”

“Sure.”

I followed him inside, telling Max to stay in the front yard where I could keep an eye on him. He obliged and scurried off.

His house was the same as mine was from the inside, except that the walls were weathered and chipped with age. The floorboards were layered with dust and grime while white cloths were thrown over an array of furniture in the living room and dining room. I wondered how many years had passed by without a single soul living in this place. From the looks of it, it seemed like it had been over two decades that the house had been vacant. The place was practically falling apart and it would need a lot of remodeling done.

My nose tickled and I covered my nose, muffling the high pitched sneeze that escaped. Finn glanced at me sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. “We haven’t had the time to clean up the place.”

I waved away his concern. It was understandable. He’d only just arrive today. There would be plenty of time to tidy up the place. I’d definitely keep Mom away until then or she’d have a coronary.

The light pattering of footsteps above caught my attention as we came to a stop in the living room. Puffs of dust and plaster ebbed its way down from the ceiling. I was assaulted with another round of sneezes as Finn’s concerned eyes racked over me. I was a little worried myself. Was I allergic to high concentration of dust motes?

“Hey, dad?” Finn called.

A second later there was a muffled reply. “Yeah?”

“Can you come down for a minute? We have company.”

“Sure thing, son.”

There was a long pause and then the sound of rattling chains, grating against the place above my head. Finn’s strong hand wrapped around my arm and he pulled me forward just as a panel opened in the ceiling. A staircase jutted forward, puffs of dust springing from its steps and contaminating the air. I pinched the bridge of my nose, not wanting to have a fit of sneezing attacks in front of Finn’s dad.

“So,” Finn’s dad said coming down the steps carefully with his back turned to us. “What did you need me for-oh!” His eyes, very much like Finn’s, brightened at my presence. I couldn’t help but return the smile plastered on his face. “Hello there, I’m Mr. Rowan. Pleasure to meet you…?”

“Rose,” I said, offering my hand in greeting. He shook it and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. “Rose de Lys. I live across the street. My mom made some treats that I hope you’ll both like. She wanted – we wanted,” I corrected, “to make you both feel welcomed.”

“Well, we sure are. Right, son?” He smiled and put an arm around Finn who looked embarrassed.

“Right, Dad.” Finn smiled at me and I felt my skin flushing of its own accord.

Mr. Rowan clasped his hands together and began to make his way up the stairs that I guess led to the attic. My house didn’t have a secret door much less an attic. If we did, Max would have already discovered it.

“Well, I gotta get back to cleaning out the attic. It’s in complete disarray. It was nice meeting you Rose, maybe I’ll get to meet your parents later?” he asked earnestly.

“Of course, Mr. Rowan. It was a pleasure to meet you as well.”

Satisfied, Mr. Rowan peered down at his son from the top of the stairs “Finn, why don’t you show Rose around the place.” He didn’t wait for Finn to respond as he disappeared through the opening in the wall and pulled back the staircase.

Finn turned to me and said, “You up for it?”

I nodded and he proceeded to show me the remainder of the first story. I warily followed him up the old, creaky stairs; afraid that at any minute the step beneath my foot might give and I’d fall to my perpetual doom. There wasn’t much to see on the second floor. The walls were bare while the four bedrooms were filled with the owner’s previous furniture covered with the same linen white cloths as the downstairs furniture was.

The first floor might have been the same as mine – all except the secret staircase leading to the attic – but the second floor was very Victorian built. There was a beautiful crystal glass floor-to-ceiling window at the end of the hall, with the beautiful display of the woods right in sight. Rays of sunlight penetrated through the glass, making the hallway warm and crisp as the setting sun slowly disappeared over the treetops.

I tore my eyes from the view and reluctantly followed Finn back down the hall, but stopped mid stride when I noticed a pile of papers and old antiques precariously tossed aside by a closed door – the only door that was closed in the hallway.

“What is all this?” I asked, kneeling down by the stuff. My hands itched to rifle through the boxes, but it wouldn’t have been polite. Plus, they weren’t mine to begin with.

“They were all up in the attic. He said it was junk and is throwing it away.”

“Do you mind if I…?”

His lips quirked into a bemused smile. “Not at all. Be my guest.”

I carefully rummaged through the pile, finding an old jewelry case and letters dating back to the early 1800’s. I opened the case and a small gasp of awe escaped my lips. Inside was the most beautiful lace cameo necklace I had ever seen. The pendant had a symbol I couldn’t decipher on the back of it.

“Your dad can’t throw all these things away.”

Finn nodded, understanding evident in his hazel eyes. He was holding an old wooden horse he’d scrounged from the boxes. The wood was worn but it was still in perfect condition. It was a precious item from history that should be treasured and not sent off to the scraps.

“I know,” he said. “I’ll talk to him about it. This probably belonged to our ancestors and he thinks it’s all garbage. If you want you can keep the necklace.”

“Really?”

He nodded. “In the meantime, I’ll take them to my room.”

My spirits soared and I genuinely smiled at him, grateful that he considered my words. Finn put all that we’d taken out back into the boxes and picked one up. I helped him with the other and headed to his room where we set them haphazardly in the entrance. He wouldn’t listen to how dangerous it was to leave them there. Instead, Finn ushered me out of the room and down the stairs – his hands carelessly on my shoulders. The warmth of his touch seeped through my shirt, igniting my skin. I was lucky that his eyes were on the back of my head or else he’d see how terribly flushed my cheeks were.

I was acting like Marci Graymoore when she had her eye on a new guy. She was like a chicken on steroids when she found new prey – not letting it out of her sight until it was hers. I wasn’t like that but I still hated this. I didn’t even know Finn. I was getting way too carried away. But I couldn’t help it. Finn was like a pearl, thrilling and rare when one is found in a clam.

God, I just compared him to a clam. What is wrong with me?

“Rose! Rose!”

I snapped out of my thoughts and ran down the remainder of the stairs to the front door where Max crashed into my knees. His small arms wound around my legs, his eyes wide with fear when he looked up at me.

“I-I…” Poor kid was scared out of his wits. His voice shook as he struggled to form coherent words. I glanced at Finn and he shrugged, worry creased on his forehead. He crouched down and gently pried my brother from my legs.

I dropped down to my knees and took his shaking hands. “Max, what happened? Are you hurt?” My eyes racked his body unable to detect any scrapes or the tell-tale sign of bruising forming on his knees or face.

He shook his head. “No…I-I’m okay. I-I saw something over there by the window. A lady with a scary face just…” He didn’t continue, burying his head into my shoulder. “I wanna go home, Ro. I wanna go home.”

I looked at Finn, his brows downwards in concentration. “Want us to check out where you saw the scary face?” Max looked up from my shoulder and peered at Finn, nodding.

We followed Max’s directions toward the rear of the house where several of the windows were boarded up. I shivered as icy fingertips danced cruelly up my spine despite the humidity in the air. There was a discarded piece of wood lying on the ground. It looked like it had been torn from its hinges, revealing a broken opening in the window. I looked down at the ground and didn’t see any shards of glass anywhere. There was also no sign of a scary face.

“Max, are you sure you saw it? Maybe you just imagined it.” I thought it was the latter rather than the former. I knew my brother and he wouldn’t lie about something like this. That would mean that there was a serious psychological problem if he was also pretending to be scared over what he lied about.

“No, I saw it!” he said defiantly. “I saw it, Ro! You don’t believe me.” His lips curved into a pout as he turned on his heels and stalked off.

“Max!”

He didn’t deviate from his path, crossing the street and disappearing into our fenced backyard.

I sighed, threading my hand through my hair. “I should go to him. I’m sorry about all…”

“Don’t worry about it.” Finn crossed his arms over his chest, a wistful look surfacing in He kind of reminds me of how I was. I was very eccentric while growing up in Syracuse.”

I felt the devilish smile form on my lips as I uttered, “You went running around naked too?”

“Yes I – wait, what?”

I laughed. His face contorted into bewilderment, but it only lasted for a second as his mouth broke into an easy going smile.

“I have a feeling that we’ll get along great.”

I smiled, thinking the same thing.

He walked me across the street as gray clouds began to roll in from the east, covering the sky in dark gray shadows. I recalled what Dad said earlier in the afternoon before he left. There was going to be a storm tonight.

“Max!” I called as we reached the front door. “C’mon! Get inside, kiddo!”

He appeared immediately, a frown set on his mouth. His eyes were glassy like he had been crying. I felt a pang through my chest and quickly decided to make it up to him. I shouldn’t have told him he’d made it up. Somehow I knew that was the reason why he was so upset.

I opened the door and he stalked inside, averting his eyes from me and Finn.

“Is he going to be alright?” Finn asked, concern laced in his voice.

I nodded, leaning back on the frame of the door. “Yeah. I’ll give him some cookies I stole from the batch and bribe him.”

He laughed for the first time today, the sound welcoming in the rumbling of thunder. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Definitely.”

He turned on his heels and walked back down the path as the first drops of rain fell from the sky.

Advertisements
Previous Post
Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. ohhhh love it can’t decide if it is the mother or a ghost connected to the necklace but want more

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: