“Here you go.” The waitress set Lyndsey’s wine glass down with a smile. She turned to me and her smile broadened. “And here is yours! I hope you enjoy the ale. It’s one of my favorites.” She set it down in front of me.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Let me know if you need refills or anything.” She smiled at me and then left.
“What is it about you?” Lyndsey asked.
“The waitress was flirting with you, that’s what.”
“No she wasn’t. She was just being nice,” I said.
“Well she was a heck of lot nicer to you than to me!”
“That’s because she’s looking for a big tip and I’m sure smiling at the guy helps there. And what about at the restaurant? That waitress was a lot nicer to you than to me, even if I was the one picking up the check. Looked like flirting to me.”
We had talked mostly about work at the restaurant. I found that Lyndsey totally got my job, more than anyone I knew, and I understood her. It clicked. But since we arrived at the club it had been all small talk. This thing about flirting seemed like a prelude to something else to me, something that had been gnawing at Lyndsey’s mind.
“We had the female thing going, you know. Sometimes women just feel more comfortable with other women. Guys can be, I don’t know, intimidating, while other women are welcoming. We don’t want to send unwanted signals. It had nothing to do with flirting.”
“OK, so then why do you think this woman is flirting? Maybe it’s just that she likes smiling at guys more than women, not homophobic, per se, just, you know. And perhaps she does love beer but isn’t into wine. Truthfully, I’ve often wished more woman flirted with me! I haven’t had a date since…”
“There’s Jess, she flirts plenty.” Her eyes looked funny as she sipped her wine.
“That’s true, but also different. I’m not going to ask Jessica out on a date and everyone knows it.”
“Why does she flirt with you like that? What is it about you?”
I laughed. “I wish I knew. Actually, I do have a theory about Jessica. When she flirted with me back when she was kid, I had no idea what to do. I mean, she was a kid! Yeah, looking back, so was I, but I thought I was an adult.” I sipped my beer.
“Here’s the thing,” I said, “back then it really affected me when she flirted with me, but I felt I wasn’t allowed to show it. I pretended to ignore it, but I’m sure there was some clue that I wanted to act on it. I felt like a scum, being attracted to a kid. I think she saw through me, and did it to tease me. Not because she thought I’d act on it, but because she knew I wouldn’t and yet knew it’s power over me. It gave her power. I mean, I was only 22 and hadn’t been out with a girl in a very long time.” Lyndsey laughed. “OK, I’ll admit it, I was horny. Show me a 22-year-old who isn’t. She discovered she was pushing my buttons and liked it.”
“I can go along with that. But how about now?”
“I would say that 95% of the time it’s just a game and I play along. Old habits and all. But then, she still knows how to push my buttons. I can’t help it and hate myself when I allow myself to be manipulated.”
“You know that your ‘game’ has been noticed and you haven’t made a friend with Nate, don’t you?” She was watching me carefully.
“I really don’t know him well. Can’t say I get bad vibes from him, but I also can tell he doesn’t want to get to know me any better than he does. We aren’t friends and never will be.”
“Well, he hates your guts,” she said. I flinched at her bluntness. “But then, I hate him even more, so that’s alright. Do you know how old he is?”
I shook my head. “I always figured he’s a little older than me.”
“How about 10 years older than you?” I almost chocked on my beer. She nodded. “Yes, he’s 16 years older than Jess. She was 18 when she graduated from high school and he was 34. They got engaged the day after her graduation. I blame him for keeping her a 16-year-old air-head forever. That’s what he wanted, a juvenile, air-headed sex toy, and that’s what he has.”
“I thought you said she only acted like that around me.”
“Well, like that, yes, but she hasn’t grown in decades. My theory about her flirting with you is that she is still that same 16-year-old that teased you. Nothing has changed for her. She still treats me the way she did in high school. She acts like a five-year-old for Nate and always has. A five-year-old sex toy. All of her relationships seem frozen from the time they married. She’s frozen in time, at least emotionally. Yeah, she makes new friends and all, but even there she does it like a teen. Maybe it’s something with her and I’m wrong to blame him. But I do hate him, so I want to blame him so bad.”
I reached over and took her hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.” She smiled, squeezed my hand then dropped it.
She took a sip of her wine. “And then there is Martha.”
I know I looked like an idiot as I gaped at her. She nodded.
“Did you notice how much she looked like Jess when she was flirting with you?” I nodded. Suddenly I realized that the whole thing, why she acted so strange driving home from the mansion, why she brought up flirting, was about Martha. “That was just strange. I’ve heard of her talking to people and telling stories, but never flirting. I’ve also heard she appears as different ages at different times, but usually it’s the smart 50-year-old business woman or the decaying corpse. Yeah, I’ve only seen the corpse. I don’t think she likes me, and surely not after last night. But I never heard of her appearing as a teenager. I’ve never heard of her described as…” she looked at me and swallowed. “I never knew that she was ever beautiful. And she was beautiful, very beautiful, but only for you. Why?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“It was almost as if it was Jess there instead of Martha, but Jess back when she was 16. That is what really has me spooked. And, of course, why did she flirt with you? Martha Goode flirted with you, and was sexually suggestive to boot, even more so than Jess ever is. Why did she do that? Why did she flirt with you? Why?”
“I thought about this all day. Maybe not in those exact terms, but…” I paused. “OK, a few more theories here. I think you hit the nail on the head, that there is some type of connection between her and Jessica. What is it? Couldn’t tell you. Either somehow Martha picks up Jessica’s vibe and threw it back at us last night. Wouldn’t be too far out, I guess. Or, it’s the other way around.”
“You mean that Jess continues to flirt with you and act odd when she thinks about you because of Martha.”
“Yes. But that is just one part. Here is the stranger part.” She laughed. “I know, what just I said was strange enough. Anyway, I have a feeling that something is going on and has been since last fall. I think it centers around the mill and the mansion, around the Goode family. I also think that there is a war brewing. They’re picking sides. For whatever reason, at least two sides want me. Martha is the one. She wants me to join her, and if flirting does it, she’ll use flirting.”
“You’re right, that is just plain strange.”
“Haven’t you felt it in the air when you visit Amesbury? You said you’ve been thinking about the mansion a lot.”
“OK, I’ll admit, there is something going on, I can feel it, but sides? A war?”
“That’s just a feeling. A few things to remember. Galvin thinks we’re in another ‘dying time’, like 1821.”
“Galvin is an idiot and totally whacked.”
“I agree, but most of the guys at Strickland’s agree with him. Things have been happening, and it really started when the Adams moved into town.”
“Haven’t met them.”
“Well, it’s possible you will sometime, but it is also possible you’ll only meet her. Mr. Adams passed away last October.”
“I guess I won’t meet him then.”
“Almost everyone in town has seen him over the last few weeks. I’ve talked to him.”
“Call your sister. Put her on speaker.”
Lyndsey pulled out her phone, hit a speed dial and set it on the table.
“Hey, you’re not supposed to be calling. You’re supposed to be with Gill!”
“Hey Jessica, this is Gill. Quick question, when’s the last time you’ve seen Mr. Adams? You know, George.”
“About 20 minutes ago, walking with that sleazy Mrs. Adams. Anyway Lynds, you’ve got to be careful. Mrs. Adams has the hots for Gill and is trying to snag him away. That’s why he’s asking. Wants to see if the husband’s out of the way so he can move in.”
“Bye Jess. I’ll talk later.” Lyndsey hung up before Jessica could reply. “You say he’s dead?”
“I can show you the obituary if you want.”
“No, thanks. So, what are the sides? What’s it about?”
“I wish I knew. I know Mrs. Adams is not on Martha’s side. God, I’ve just been so obsessed with this for the last few days! I wish it would go away, but I feel I’m being drawn deeper and deeper into it. And then last night…” I shivered.
“Hey, do you want to think about something else?” She was looking at me with concern.
“Of course. Anything new in your life that we didn’t talk about earlier?”
“My office is closing. Did I tell you that?”
“No. Oh man, that’s awful. It sounds like such a fantastic job for you and I know you love it.”
“I didn’t say I was leaving the job, did I?”
“I’m going to start telecommuting full time.”
“That’s fantastic. I typically do three or four days a week and can’t tell you how great it is.”
“Yeah, that’s what you said. I have so few connections to Burlington. Oh a few friends, but not many. And I do like being that close to the city and all. There is so much to do down there. But…”
“So you’re planning on moving.” She nodded. “And you are thinking of coming back to Amesbury.” She nodded again. “You’ve been house hunting. That’s what you did all day Thursday and Friday.”
“Sort of. I’ve been looking for an apartment or house to rent. I want to get used to the area again, get back into the New Hampshire way of life, before I buy. I’m not in a hurry.”
I reached over and took her hand again. “So we can do this more often.” She nodded. I looked deeply into her eyes and saw something, a bright fire, but it was quickly over. “When are you moving?”
“In about a month. I’m not sure. My lease in Burlington doesn’t end for about five months, but I could sublet. I hope. There are a lot of details to work out.”
She squeezed my hand and I saw that flash in her eye again. I squeezed back.
“Anyway, let’s dance,” she said.
“OK, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Oh, you’ll do fine. If Martha wanted to dance with you, can’t be that bad.”
“She doesn’t know me well I guess, either that or ghosts have no taste. Besides, she’s dead and I dance like one who’s dead. We’d be a perfect match. But you’ll find out.”
I stood, walked over and gave her my hand again. We walked to the dance floor. That’s when I noticed it was a slow song. I smiled and took her in my arms.
The night passed with more dancing, though mostly to upbeat music, and small talk. The club closed much too soon. Gaining energy every time I was near Lyndsey, I could have danced all night. She didn’t say much on the way home, but smiled at me every time I looked over to her. It was a warm smile, as far away from Jessica’s flirty smile as possible.
I pulled into her parent’s drive and got out. I walked around the car and opened the door. She took my hand and got out. I don’t know how we started kissing or how long we kissed, but it wasn’t long enough. I wanted it to last forever.
“Will I see you tomorrow?” I asked. I was still holding her.
“No, I have to return pretty early. I’ll be back next weekend. I wasn’t originally planning on it, but wild horses couldn’t keep me away.”
“Well, if you weren’t coming up here, I’d be have to go down there. I’m sure there’s a lot to do closer to the city.”
“Then how would we sneak into the Goode Mansion again?” She winked. “Don’t look now, but my parents are watching from the windows. You’d think I was 17. Anyway, I need to go in. We’ll talk tomorrow. Night, night!”
We kissed really quick and then she was through my arms and into the house.
I dreamed of her all night.
Or was it the 16-year-old Martha that filled my dreams?