The next day I awoke to the bright morning sun setting my small room alight. Grumbling to myself about country mornings and how quickly the sun falls across the mountains out in the middle of nowhere, I managed to drag myself out of bed. After a quick shower, I dressed in a pair of black leggings with a slouchy sweater. I applied some lip gloss and gave my hair a good brushing before heading down to breakfast. My back ached as I made my way down the steps, old fashioned and steep as they were. The dull pain sobered me to the events of late last night. Even amidst the reverie of sleep deprivation and a case of nerves, I knew I did not imagine nor hallucinate the ghastly haunting I’d experienced the night before.
I had always been a girl of logic, strong in mind. I was not given to fanciful stories and fantasies. Thus, I knew without the shadow of a doubt that the ghostly image was contrived to purposely frightened me. I also was not apt to believe in ghosts and haunting apparitions, so the only other explanation was that someone at Hollow Wind House meant to scare me away. Only, I had no idea who would do such a thing, nor why. I’d come to help Grandpa, I posed no threat to anyone by any means...or did I?
“Why, you must be the Miss Aubrey,” a friendly voice interrupted my thoughts as I made my way into the kitchen. “Heard a lot of things about you, I have!”
I looked up, surprised by the greeting. A plump lady with a mop of black curls stood over a skillet full of scrambled eggs and sausage links. She looked to be in her late forties or early fifities. She was a stranger to me but her smile was contagious. Grandma had never employed help, so I was taken by the notion that she must be a nurse or a visiting relative. Yet, no one had informed me of either possibility.
“Oh dear, forgive me,” she seemed to have noticed my questioning stare. “My name is Libby, I’m the house cook.” She smiled again. “Well, if you could call it that! That is, I cook and do some light cleaning during the week. Put an ad in the newspaper a few months ago and your sweet Grandma contacted me. Been cleaning and cooking all my life, I have.”
“I had no idea Grandma had hired help,” I smiled and held out my hand. “And yes, I’m Aubrey. It’s so very nice to meet you!”
“Pleasure to finally meet you too,” she drawled as she flipped the eggs and began a biscuit batter with an expert hand. Her country accent led me to believe she was probably a local.
“Have you lived here all your life?” I inquired.
“Oh yes,” she blew a stray curl away from her eyes and looked my way. “Born and raised, got a family of my own. Two daughters and a grandbaby, ‘course, she’s spoiled as can be.” Libby beamed, obviously proud of her only grandchild. “Inherited my curls, she did. Neither of my daughters did, but my Adda Lee sure did!”
“What a pretty name,” I said, looking out the screen door window, distracted.
Shadow sat at her usual perch on the porch, and in the near distance I noticed a young man. I couldn’t really discern his features as he ducked in and out from under Grandpa’s old ’87 Chevy. That was another pitfall of my grandparents, they refused to buy anything new until the old was absolutely unusable anymore, cars and clothes were not excluded. I used to hate when Grandma insisted on mending my torn clothes, rather than replacing them. I knew we didn’t have a lot of extra money to go around, but I was sure the other school kids noticed my raggedy jeans and sweaters, although no one ever outright said anything.
“I stay here five days a week, I do.” Libby continued, not noticing my preoccupation with the young man outside. “Your grandparents gave me the guest room at the very end of the hall, so homely, feels almost like my own place,” she gushed thankfully.
So, she lived here as well. I mentally added her name to the list of possibilities of those who could have ‘haunted’ me last night. Although, as I looked at this short, pleasant woman, I doubted she’d have enough gall to ever do anything so mean spirited. My belly was grumbling, and I soon grew tired of trying to catch a glimpse of the young man’s face. I took my usual seat at the table, noting the empty chair to my left that Vanessa had occupied during all my childhood dinners. I suddenly had a fierce longing for the girl. I hadn’t seen her in years, but I knew she probably hadn’t changed much. She’d always been the more beautiful of us two in her shining strawberry blonde hair and flawless skin as opposed to my dirty brown curls and freckled cheeks. But I’d loved her as I would have my own sister.
I had never felt any jealousy or sibling rivalry as some of my college friends seemed to experience with their sisters. If anything, I was drawn to the light spirit of Vanessa, how she could brighten a room merely by entering it. I found it almost impossible to believe she’d become angry enough at Grandpa to leave, especially if he was ailing. Yet I was also aware what strict limitations my grandparents had expected us to live by. We’d sparsely had any friends or been allowed any outings. Dating had been absolutely forbidden. I reasoned Vanessa had found these rules oppressive and terribly limiting during her teenage years. Perhaps she’d finally hit her breaking point when Grandpa insisted on finding her a suitor of his own and refusing her the right to make her own choices. After all, she was nearly twenty!
“Why, you’re a million miles away, dear,” Libby had set a steaming pot of coffee on the table. She handed me a teacup and saucer before placing a series of creams and sugar by the pot. “You got something on your mind? You can tell old Libby, sometimes it’s best to get things out in the open.” She flashed me a smile as she set a heaping plate in front of me.
“Oh I’m sorry,” I frowned. “I was just thinking about my cousin, Vanessa. I just wish she were here, it’s a bit lonely for me, and I haven’t seen her in such a long time.”
“Yes, it sure is quiet around here without that one,” Libby looked at me, a hint of sadness in her eyes. “But I can’t blame her for leaving one bit. What with the troubles she was having with her grandfather and all her troubles with love.” She shook her head and tsked. “Guess she finally made her decision, she did!”
I looked at Libby, taken aback. Whatever was she referring to about decisions and love? Of course, Grandma had said Vanessa ran off with her new boyfriend, Keith, but what troubles had ensued? Had something terrible happened? Was there more to this story than I’d been told? I put down my fork, no longer hungry.
“Whatever do you mean about love troubles, Libby?” I asked the evasive woman who’d turned back to piling the dishes in the sink.
“Why miss,” she walked close to me, bending her head down and lowering her voice to a whisper.
“Before she left, Vanessa had gotten in over her head, I tell you!” Her eyes widened as if for emphasis. “She’d been seeing Greg, the handyman, on and off for months when Keith stepped into the picture. Met him downtown somewhere, she said. Why, it was a bonafide love triangle, the talk of the town!”
I gasped and mixed a spoon of cream into my coffee, a mindless preoccupation. I found it hard to believe Vanessa would involve herself in such a scandal, but then I hadn’t seen her in years. People change over time, I knew that much, even I had changed a bit myself. Straightening my hair, learning the tricks of applying make-up, transforming myself. Who was I to believe that Vanessa could not change, also?
“So what happened next,” I asked Libby, trying to pretend not to care either way. I didn’t want the woman to think I enjoyed indulging in petty gossip, although from the looks of it, she appeared to.
“Oh, it was an awful night, dear,” her eyes grew big again, her frown deepened. “Your Grandpa had been feeling ill for some time, weeks before I arrived. I’d only been here a week or so. Was in my room when the argument broke out, there was screaming, someone threw a vase and broke it all over the upstairs hallway. Doors slammed and all was silent. I cleaned the mess in the hall but asked no questions, and no one offered up any explanation, either.” She shook her head as if in awe at this. “Next thing I knew that evening, Miss Vanessa and Keith had gone!”
Stay tuned for part 4. New segments added every Monday and Thursday!