Emotions swirled like
a fine, ever-changing mist, filling her mind with long-ago images that faded in and out.
She looked down from the upstairs bedroom window
of the house. The darkening sky and low rumble of thunder announced the coming storm. In the half-light, a young woman stood
alone on the lawn. Slim and blonde. It could have been herself.
An unfamiliar feeling began to stir deep within . . . hope.
been alone so long.
Dare she hope?
Jenny stood on the lawn, staring up at the dark storm clouds behind the steep, peaked
roof of the old Victorian house.
Oh, Lord, what have we done? she thought. She'd
been adamant about this move, and finally they were here—where she knew they had to be. Now, however, the house looked
ominous against the threatening sky, instilling her with a sense of hopelessness and despair.
I'm tired, she decided,
just tired. As she turned to join Michael on the front porch, something in the upstairs bedroom window caught her eye. Was
someone standing in the shadows? The hairs on the back of her neck and arms rose.
She started to call out
to Michael then hesitated. The window now only reflected the greenish light of the approaching storm.
A fleeting impression
remained—tall, slender, blonde—a woman in a long, high-necked dress. It could have been herself.
Michael was walking towards
her, the rising wind whipping his dark wavy hair. In shorts and tee shirt, he looked younger than his thirty-nine years.
What would I do if
he ever left me? Startled at the thought, she glanced again at the bedroom window then turned to run to him, stumbling
and half-falling into his open arms.
"Whoa, be careful! We
can't afford for you to break a leg. Too much work to do."
Jenny clung to him. He was her anchor, strong and brave and . . . .
"What's wrong, sweetie?"
he asked. "Having second thoughts?"
Jenny pulled away. "Of course not. This is our home now!"
Michael looked down at
her, concern in his deep brown eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said,
confused at her own conflicting emotions. "I’m just tired."
She reached for his hand. “Come on, it's starting to rain. Let's go inside.
Thank goodness, the movers finished before the storm hit!"
They ran up the steps
to the porch that wrapped around the front of the house, stopping for a moment to admire the beveled, rose-design window that
made up the top half of the front door.
"Isn't the stained glass
beautiful?” Jenny's enthusiasm returned. She loved this house. They would restore its original beauty.
As she and Michael stepped
over the threshold, lightning flashed, followed by a low rumble of thunder. The oak door creaked. Jenny made a mental note
to oil and polish the ornate brass hinges. Michael closed the door behind them and pulled her into his arms. They stood in
the darkened hallway, listening to the rain on the roof.
"I think," Jenny murmured
into his ear, "that we should build a fire in the fireplace in the bedroom."
"Now that is an idea with
They climbed the winding
staircase, stopping on the landing for a lingering kiss.
There was noise, confusion, blood everywhere. And the despair of knowing he would never
see the woman he loved again. Michael sat straight up in bed, bathed in sweat. Jenny. Where was Jenny?
"Lord, what a nightmare,"
he muttered to himself, jumping out of bed and pulling on his robe. Through the bay windows, he could see the fanlights, gables
and gingerbread design that decorated the other parts of the house. The rain had stopped during the night.
The aroma of freshly brewed
coffee drifted up the stairs.
He found Jenny scrubbing
down the kitchen cupboards.
"Morning!" she called
out. "Your cereal and coffee are on the table."
The kitchen looked bright and cheerful with sunlight streaming through the tall bay windows. Their plants from the
apartment in the city sat on the window seats, creating an indoor garden.
"I wish we had been able
to get the roof replaced before moving in," Michael said, pouring milk on his cereal. "I kept waking up wondering if the attic
"I slept like a baby."
Michael started to tell
Jenny about his nightmare then hesitated. She looked more content this morning than he had seen her in a long time. He had
been worried about her. When they married in 1985, they had postponed having children for a few years, focusing on their careers.
However, ten years later, they were still childless, and Jenny was beginning to lose hope. In truth, so was he.
No, he wouldn't mention
the nightmare. He didn't want to do anything to spoil her happy mood. His old Jenny was back.
Michael stopped eating
to watch her climb on the counter to reach the top of the pine cabinets, enjoying the sight of her long, shapely legs. In
shorts and tank top, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, she looked like a young girl. It was hard to believe she had
turned thirty-eight a few months ago.
Jenny caught him watching
her and winked, her green eyes sparkling. Michael smiled back. If anyone could restore this Victorian monstrosity, it was
Jenny. He loved her passion for life. It balanced his more cautious, prosaic personality.
Jenny turned, sat on the
counter, slid to the floor and joined him at the table.
"Hi, yourself. Slow down,
sweetie. You have plenty of time."
Jenny poured herself a
cup of coffee. "Not really. Fall will be here before we know it, and besides renovating the house, I want to finish my new
piano composition. I think I'll work on the music room first."
Michael nodded, listening
as she talked about her plans for the house. He envied Jenny having the summer off from her music teaching position at New
York University. He dreaded the upcoming commute from Haverford, New York into the city where he worked as a corporate attorney.
However, if it meant Jenny could be happy again, it would be worth it.
The rest of the weekend Jenny and Michael put away the contents of the boxes. They stopped
only to eat and by Sunday evening, the basic unpacking was complete.
On Monday morning, Jenny
drove Michael to the train station and his new life as a commuter began.
For the next few weeks,
the outside of the house was overrun with roofers and painters. The inside had been painted and the oak floors stripped and
varnished before they moved in.
When Jenny wasn't supervising
the workers, she was researching the history of the house, hoping to discover how each room looked in the last century down
to the exact placement of furniture. In the process, she was learning a great deal about the family that had once lived there.
The day she explored the
attic, her renovation efforts took a giant leap forward.
She sat at the kitchen
table that morning looking at her 'to do' list. Many items were already checked off as she'd gotten up early. Sweat trickled
down her back even though it was only ten o’clock. She reached up and pulled the cord to the new ceiling fan. The installation
of ceiling fans in every room had been her concession to Michael's request for some kind of air conditioning.
The next item on her list
was in regard to décor. This would be the real challenge, because the rooms had to be exact reproductions. For some reason
that felt important to her.
Where should she start?
Jenny sat still. For weeks
now, thoughts had wafted through her mind. Today it was more like a soft whisper—the attic.
On her few quick visits
up there, it had appeared to be a chaotic, dusty jumble of stored furniture. And it was so hot this morning. Maybe she should
wait for a cooler day.
No. It's time.
A shiver went through
Jenny. The words had been clear and distinct. It wasn't her imagination although Michael would think so. He had little patience
with anything outside his linear thinking, practical world.
The phone rang.
Jenny loved the sound
of her husband's voice, always so calm and sure.
"Listen, I'll be late
tonight. Don't worry about supper. I'll grab some Chinese take-out on the way to the train. Okay?"
"Am I interrupting anything?"
"No. Just getting ready
to tackle the attic. I'm hoping that some of the original furniture is there."
"Oh, honey, it's going
to be so hot up there today. Are you sure you want to do that?"
"No, not really but .
. . well, it's time."
Michael sat for a moment, thinking about Jenny and their new life together. Every time
he called her, she seemed a million miles away. The house was all she thought about anymore. She worked day and night on it.
That evening, an exhausted
woman shared a supper of Chinese food with him and was in bed asleep by nine o'clock.
Michael sometimes wondered if he'd acquired a house and lost a wife.
Michael stood in the hallway with his hand on the brass doorknob
of the front door. Why in the world did Jenny sound so angry? He had just kissed her goodbye in the music room at the back
of the house. Michael turned around. No one was in the hall.
The sound of the piano confused him even more. It couldn't have been
Jenny's voice. She was still in the music room. So what had he heard?
The light in the hallway was dim. Michael glanced at the winding
staircase. Jenny was always running up and down the steps, and he wished she'd be more careful. It was a long way down.
A long way.
The words filled Michael's mind.
His gaze fell to the bottom of the staircase. Sanding hadn't lightened
that area. It was still darker than the rest of the floor.
It’s like the damn house has a life of its own, he thought.
Jenny fits right in, but I . . . .
Michael rubbed the back of his neck, feeling chilled and . . . what?
He shook his head. Not enough sleep last night. Opening the front
door, he stepped out onto the wide porch and breathed in the morning air.
The door slammed behind him.
He stared at the large door with its ornate stained glass.
These old houses were drafty, but…. He backed across the porch floor. All of a sudden, his feet slid out from under
him. He grabbed for the railing and stumbled down the four steps, regaining his balance only when he reached the bottom. Shaken,
Michael stood, catching his breath. Was the porch still wet with dew?
Feeling disoriented, Michael decided to walk rather than drive
downtown to check out the town barber. Maybe he just needed some exercise and fresh air. He crossed the yard, paused, glanced
back at the house and continued down the street.
He was unsure about
changing barbers, but Jenny believed they should start using the services of the local people. Over the past few weeks,
she had gotten to know most of the merchants in town.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning. A rainy
spring had produced lush, green foliage. The yards he passed along the way were full of blooming color, the air fragrant with
flower and earth smells. People smiled and waved even though he was a stranger. Jenny was right. This would be a great place
to raise a family.
The one barbershop in
downtown Haverford was a hub of activity. Charlie, the barber, promised to work Michael in, if he didn't mind waiting. Forty
minutes later, he climbed into the barber chair, feeling apprehensive. Did this guy know what he was doing? All his life,
Michael had downplayed his good looks, perhaps because he resembled his father, a handsome, brilliant man but cold and cruel.
His mother had been a warm, loving parent who doted on her only child. After both his parents died, he remembered his mother's
sweet face but avoided thinking about his father's dark, brooding image. It brought back painful memories. Maybe that was
why he avoided his own reflection.
When it came to his hair,
however, he paid attention. He didn't like it too short or too long. Cut correctly, it was wavy rather than curly, and that
was important to him. Charlie followed his instructions, and Michael began to relax.
"So you moved into the
Michael confirmed the
"Never thought anyone
would buy that old place."
Michael explained he hadn't
bought it. It had been left to him indirectly by a great uncle.
"Never knew Ned had any
family," Charlie said.
"Well, it's complicated.
My great uncle adopted Ned late in life and left him the house. Since none of Ned's blood relatives are living, it reverted
back to my father who died when I was twenty-five, and therefore, to me."
Charlie nodded and continued
cutting Michael's hair in silence. When he was almost finished, he brought the subject up again.
"What's it like living
in that house?"
Unsure how to answer,
Michael talked about their latest renovations.
"Anything strange happen
"Well, I think it might
scare some people to live there."
Michael stared at Charlie
in the mirror.
Charlie looked uncomfortable.
"Uh, maybe because old Ned was sort of, well, peculiar. When people asked him why he didn't replace something, he'd always
say 'she wouldn't like that', as if some woman was livin' with him…and you have to admit having two people die of broken
necks in the same spot is a bit of a coincidence."
"What? Who, for heaven's
Charlie hesitated then
explained that Ned had suffered a heart attack and fallen downstairs one morning and six months later, a transient, seeking
refuge from bad weather, had been found at the bottom of the same stairs.
"Since then," Charlie
said, "no one has trespassed on that property."
"I guess not," Michael
said, wondering how much of this he should tell his wife.
Later that evening, as
he and Jenny sat in the living room talking, he mentioned their new home was a subject of curiosity in the community.
Jenny's response caught
him by surprise.
"It's just local gossip!
People like to make a mystery of things. Ned was a recluse which made him a bit strange, but he fell because he had a heart
attack, and the other man was wandering drunk through a dark house."
"You mean you knew all
this and didn't tell me?"
"I was going to, but I
Michael looked at her
in amazement. "You forgot to tell me that two people died in the same kind of accident in this house?"
Jenny glanced at him then
away. What else did she know that he didn't?
She got up, walked over
to the library table in front of the built-in bookcases and picked up a long roll of lace curtain material. "Isn't this lovely?
I'll need yards and yards of material for the floor-to-ceiling windows in here. I hope I bought enough—"
"Jenny, how's your composing
coming along?" Michael asked, interrupting.
"I've been busy with the
house. You know that."
"I also know six weeks
have passed, and summer's going to be over soon."
She didn't seem to hear
him as she stared into space.
"The house is more important,"
she said, turning away and walking out of the room.
In the dining room, Jenny laid out the curtain material on the long, mahogany table.
He doesn't understand,
she thought. I have to get the house finished. Everything has to be perfect. Right down to the last detail. Then I can relax
and enjoy living here.
And the child will come.
Jenny continued working. She was used to the
voice by now.