“I heard you met the new neighbor.” Jessica looked at me with a slight pout.
“News sure travels fast in Amesbury,” I said. “Yeah, I met Barb.”
“Barb, huh? I’m jealous!”
“Nothing to be jealous about, sweetheart.” I winked at her.
“Of course not,” she said. “But on the other hand, she’s pretty hot for an old lady. I know you have an eye for the skirts. I always try to keep you away from them, but…”
“She’s not that old,” I said. “And you know I love nobody except you.”
“You better not! As I was saying, I try to keep you on the straight and narrow, but remember Becky? Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!”
“Yes, you did warn me.” Becky was my ex. We stayed married for five years, long enough for me to buy my huge house that we had planned on filling with children, but also long enough for me to resent the fact that I knew her; and visa-versa.
“The only person I’ll ever let you marry is Lyndsey,” she said. “Since I can’t have you, we might as well keep you in the family.”
“I’m sure Lyndsey might have something to say about that. Anyway, don’t you have something else to do? I’m busy.”
“Sure, kick me out the second I step into your office. But no, as a matter of fact, I’ve finished the rest of the house already. And you still haven’t reassured me about your new girlfriend. Stay away from her. Remember, I saw you first.”
“I remember, you did. Back when you were jailbait and trying to get me into trouble.”
She laughed. “You were so cute back then. All I had to do was smile and you’d turn 20 shades of red.”
“Yeah.” I could tell I was turning those 20 shades right then, just like when I was 22-year-old fresh college graduate.
When I had first moved to Amesbury I rented a small house that shared a driveway with the Lancing’s. Their 16-year-old daughter, Amy, was very popular and a group of her 16-year-old friends used to hang out there. They all used to tease me, at least when Mr. and Mrs. Lancing weren’t around, but Jessica was the worst. I’d often see her in other parts of town as I walked, quietly calling my name in a musical voice or winking at me. Sometimes I almost felt she was stalking me, though it’s not surprising I’d see her a lot in such a small town. And not only was she by far the biggest flirt, she was also the cutest of the bunch, at least to my 22-year-old eyes. I tried to ignore her, but I had to admit that I did have a bit of a crush on the pretty, flirtatious girl. But I grew used to it and the crush faded. As an adult, Jessica worked odd jobs mostly centered around house care plus a bit of gardening and yard work. She came over to help around the house once a week. Most of her other clients had physical issues. For me it was just too much house to handle on my own and so I used her for cleaning and other similar chores.
To get her off of the subject of me and my blushes, I said, “So, you’ve met Mrs. Adams then?”
“Well, sort of, at least when they first moved in back in late August. They bought the brick house and did a lot of work through September refurbishing it. And they started working on the Old Mill at around the same time. They were going to rehab the whole thing, starting in old Mrs. Goode’s offices and Galvin’s rooms. But then, I don’t know, mid-October or so, they stopped everything and disappeared.”
“So, you knew they had bought the mill back last year? Nobody, not even anyone down in Strickland’s, knew anything about it.”
“Oh, yeah, I wasn’t supposed to say anything, was I? But I can trust you, lover. Just don’t say anything to that no-good, nosy Galvin.”
“Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.” Jessica’s husband, Nate, was, amongst other things, the town building inspector. If someone was doing work on the Old Mill, he would know. Nate was a handful of years older than me and I didn’t know him well when I first moved in. I surely never saw Jessica flirt with him, not even once, so I was surprised when she married him within a year of graduating high school.
“The Adams’ have been missing all winter and into the spring. They just started showing up again the last couple of weeks. I see them walking together all of the time and I hear they often have lunch down at Maude’s.”
“You’ve seen Mr. Adams?” I asked.
“Well, yeah, why wouldn’t I? I mean, they are a married couple and all.”
I didn’t say anything. Mrs. Adams had told me that her husband had passed away and yet there seemed to be sightings of him all over town. On the other hand, Galvin couldn’t see him.
“I hear that he is related to the Goodes,” I said.
“Yes, but she’s even closer, at least to the Amesbury Goodes.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes. Her grandmother was old Martha’s sister, Margret. His great-great-grandfather was the second Thomas, but he had a male Goode in line all of the way down to his grandfather. Of course, they are also related to each other in another way, going all of the way back to the first George’s youngest son, Nathan, who moved to Boston to live with the Boston Goodes.”
“They seem pretty closely related, being from two directions and all,” I said.
She laughed. “Not unusual for the Goodes, at least the Amesbury Goodes. I hear the Boston Goodes are a lot more normal, but ours, well, you met the second Martha and I’m sure have heard of the first. The second Martha married a second cousin for the soul purpose of keeping the Goode name. He died young, just after their first child was born. That’s Carol Goode, later Carter. You know, Burt’s mom.”
“You seem to know a lot about the Goodes.”
She shrugged. “Doesn’t everyone? They are Amesbury, or were until Martha passed on.”
“I don’t know anything about them. And the old Goode Mansion? I know the Adams’ wanted to buy that.”
“Of course they would, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be for sale at any price. I hear that the second George had a grandson, also George, and he now owns it and hangs on to it real tight. George, the second George that is, not his grandson, married a descendant of Elizabeth Goode. I heard that it is actually Elizabeth’s side that wants to keep the mansion. The connection there is real close.”
“I’m so confused, I feel my head is about to explode. Elizabeth?”
“Don’t you know? The first Thomas had seven kids, three that we know lived to adulthood. No clues about the others. The oldest was Martha the ancient, then there was her sister Elizabeth who was two years younger. She moved to Boston during the going-ons of 1821. And then there was the first George. He built the brick house. Simple.”
“What do you know about the mansion?”
“Besides that it’s haunted? But isn’t that enough?”
“Oh yeah. There’s a lot that goes on in there. Everyone has seen Martha. But the kids, who supposedly went to Connecticut, are often seen. And then there is the ball that goes on all of the time.”
“And you’ve seen it?”
“I know, you’re from ‘Away’. If you grew up here, you would have spent at least one night up there. I never went in after sunset, but I sat outside of it plenty of times and listened to the old-fashioned music. The top floor, which is where the ballroom is, glows. You can see the shadows of people dancing. It is so creepy!”
“I’d like to see it.”
“Well, Lyndsey used to go in there all of the time, at least until she was caught. I bet she’d take you in.”
“I’m sure she would.”
“She’s coming up this weekend. How about I fix you up for a romantic date at a haunted house?”
“Uhm, don’t bother.”
“No, I need to do it.”
I’m sure I turned 20 shades of red again. I had gone out with Lyndsey once when she was home from University on break. She was 19 and I was 24. The age difference should have been small, but it still felt odd. I always regretted not pushing it further, but with Jessica’s constant flirting, badgering and joking, there was no way I could have.
“No, no, you guys both need a date. Hold on.”
She pulled out her cell phone.
“Hi Darling, it’s your favorite sister. Kisses.”
For a moment I thought she would put it on speaker, but was relieved that she kept it up against her head so I could only hear her side.
“Hey, I have a date lined up for you on Friday. No, I’m serious, you have to do this. Who? Gill Baxter.” She said my name in a sing-song voice, which made me blush again. “I am serious. I’ve told you a thousand times he’s the man for you. You didn’t listen about Jason and look what happened. OK, I won’t bring him up ever again, but I’m talking about Gill here. Yeah, you and Gill need to go out. Here’s the thing, I want you to take him up to the old Goode Mansion. He’s never been there and wants to meet the local ghosts. I am serious. And he needs to go there with you. No, you’re the one. Aren’t haunted houses romantic? You need to pretend to be frightened so you can hold his hand, and hug him if anything goes bump in the night. Fine, play it how you want, but I’m just telling you… Right. If you do this for me, I promise I’ll force him to take you out someplace nice on Saturday. I mean like Zimmerman’s nice. Or nicer. And I’ll suggest dancing afterwards. No promises. What? Only if he takes you dancing? Really? Great! Deal! Hold on.”
She lowered the phone down in front of her. “She’ll take you up to the Goode Mansion, but you have to make it up to her by having a true romantic evening on Saturday including dinner and dancing.”
I laughed. “Of course, wherever she wants to go.”
“OK, hold on. Hi, Lyndsey? He said yes. What? Of course he is here listening in, at least to my side. What did you think? Ha ha ha, yes, of course he’s beet red. Oops, now he’s even redder. I think he might explode. Hold on. You OK, Gill? Remember to breathe! Deep breath in, hold. Deep breath out. OK? Yeah, he’s alright. No heart attack yet. But you need to come down and place your claim before it’s too late! He’s been nosing around another woman again. Yes, I told him there was nobody else for him, but has he ever listened to me? You should have been married years ago. Ha ha, yes, he’s red again. OK, love you lots. Talk soon.”
She turned to me, a triumphant smile. “So there you go Gill, your weekend plans are made. I’ll have you as a brother yet. Since we can’t be lovers, that’ll be the next best thing.”
“Thanks! I hope that she doesn’t mind that I have two left feet where dancing is concerned, but I’m looking forward to the haunted house bit.”
“Don’t you have a romantic bone in your body? I don’t know why I bother sometimes.”
“Oh, sure you do.”
She smiled at me in a way that if I hadn’t seen it almost every day for the last 20 some odd years I’d have had some very impure thoughts. “You’re right, I do.” She kissed my cheek. “If I hadn’t known Nate since I was two…”
“Are you done with this room yet?” I asked.
She punched my arm. “Yeah, yeah, Mr. Romantic, you can kick me out now. Hey, do you want to schedule another day next week so I can help you get started with the garden?”
“Yeah, sure. Sounds good.”
“Great. We’ll make plans when you call to tell me about the date and thank me again. See you soon.”