(Note – this is part 1 of a two part chapter.)
I took my eyes off of the road for a second to glance at Lyndsey. Her face was slightly illuminated in the dark by the dashboard lights. A surge of emotion ripped through my body, feelings I hadn’t felt since the early days of my relationship with Becky, almost 15 years in the past. My right hand slipped off of the steering wheel and onto Lyndsey’s thigh. I could see the smile out of the corner of my eye. She put her own right hand on mine and caressed it while threading her left arm under my arm and putting her left hand onto my thigh. Her left hand lightly squeezed my thigh in rhythm to the music.
“Oh, this used to be one of Jess’ favorites,” she said as a new song came on the radio. She hummed along for a minute. “Thinking of Jess. I was met her for breakfast this morning and she was the old Jess. I always wonder why sometimes she is so, well, present, and other times it’s like, well…”
“It’s like someone pretending to be Jess,” I said.
“Exactly! It’s like someone going through the motions of being Jess so that nobody would know that it isn’t her.”
“I have a theory about that.”
“Ha! I knew it. Does it have something to do with Martha or the Goode mansion?”
“I had a bet with myself that we couldn’t make it through the weekend without talking about the Goode Mansion at least once, and when you didn’t bring it up last night, I did a double or nothing bet that there would be a new theory involved. It’s been two nights of no Goode, and I almost lost.”
“I, uhm, you know, I felt, well, I mean… I enjoyed a bit of conversation away from there, about us and all…”
She laughed. “So did I. In fact, both nights were perfect.” She squeezed my thigh harder. “I brought up Jess partially because I didn’t’ want to lose that bet with myself.” She laughed again. “I do enjoy the mystery of it. So, what is this new theory?” She turned in the seat a little to better face me. Her eyes were burning.
“Actually, the idea was planted by Izle,” I said.
“Oh yes. The funny thing is, the more I thought about it and the more I learned, the more it made sense. OK, here it is. It is sort of like Jessica is possessed by Martha’s ghost, but not really. They have an agreement.”
“An agreement? What type of agreement?”
“In a way they kind of share Jessica’s body and mind. Sometimes it’s all Jessica, sometimes all Martha, but sometimes a mix. Jessica also lives up at the mansion. So when Martha became young and acted like Jessica, well guess what? It was Jessica.”
“I don’t know…”
“Here are a few things that this would explain. Why was Jessica so madly in love with me one day and the next day just pretended to be and went through the motions? Because it wasn’t Jessica, or at least not her alone. Why Nate and not me? Because I am more sensitive to spirits and so would have discovered the secret sooner.”
“Well, you are more sensitive to women, that’s for sure, so I can see that.” She squeezed me thigh harder, then continued with the rhythm.
“Thanks. But there are different sensitivity levels and… oh, never mind.” I’m sure I turned red as her words sunk in. “And, uhm, Martha pretended, and pretends, to be Jessica, so at times it’s like someone play-acting Jessica, not Jessica herself. She only knows the 16-year-old Jessica, so that’s where it stays. Sometimes when Jessica is back, she acts more mature, but she also sometimes play-acts the 16-year-old to be consistent. And it explains why sometimes she seems like a Jessica mask. Why sometimes she’s like a puppet with someone else pulling the strings. Why…”
“But what does Jess get from all of this?”
“She has a ball. Literally – she dances in the ballroom every night. Every day. Your father said that he took her there a couple of times as a child and she said she never wanted to leave. Later she said she wanted our wedding to be there.”
“I remember that. But it stopped, right when she changed. Right when…”
“Yes, when Martha took over.”
“Oh man, this is starting to creep me out. I can see it all. Poor Jess. Is there anything we can do?”
“I don’t know. Not yet. I think we need to solve this mystery and so let Martha go to the great beyond or whatever. When Martha is released, so is Jessica.”
“Just so odd.”
Lyndsey squared herself to the front of the car again, taking her right hand off of mine. I moved the hand back to the steering wheel. Her left hand stayed were it was, squeezing to the pulse of the music and occasionally rubbing. I began to notice it more and had to force my mind to the road.
“You were at the mansion with my dad today weren’t you?”
“Yes. I didn’t know he did work up there.”
“I guess I knew, but didn’t think about it. It’s as if the place he worked and the haunted mansion are two completely different places.” She moved her hand so her pinkie finger was pressed up against me but, before the distraction caused me to crash the car, she moved her hand closer to my knee. “Anything to tell?”
“Yeah.” I had to bring my mind back to the road and the story. “A lot, actually. I saw ghosts in the carriage house. I never want to go back in there again! And in the house, I saw Martha’s mother and I think I saw Jessica. That’s when I knew Izle was right.”
She took her hand off of me and folded her arms across her chest, as if suddenly cold.
“Damn,” she said. “I’m worried about Jess and want you to be a knight in shining armor, rush up there and rescue her, yet I’m worried about you. Really worried. I feel you are already too deep into this. Please be careful.”
She stared at me for a minute and then quickly turned to the window. We drove in silence, each lost in our own thoughts.
“I just feel so cold now. Not physically, but emotionally.”
I placed my hand on her thigh again, and she turned towards me. I looked at her and tried to smile reassuringly. She smiled and sat back, facing forward. She put her left hand on my hand, sliding the hand more to the inside of the thigh than on top, where I had placed it. She then leaned back and pushed her hips forward, stretching out. Her hand kept mine in place so my hand ended up pressed against her crotch. She put her legs together so my hand couldn’t move easily and rested both of her hands on top of mine, keeping mine as a prisoner.
I had a hard time concentrating on the road, but luckily we were in Amesbury and I was driving much slower.
“We’re almost home,” I said. “We can stop back at my place for a nightcap, if you’d like.”
She made an odd noise. I risked a turn towards her. Her head was back, staring at the ceiling of the car, but she turned as I did, to face me.
“Gill,” she said. “You know as well as I do that if we go to your place we’ll never have that nightcap. We’ll be in the bedroom in a minute. Hell, we might not even make it to the bedroom. What did my dad call it? Oh yes, I remember. The ‘shenanigans’ would start the second we left the car. I’m sure the neighbors would complain if we did it like dogs in the front yard.”
“They might, but it sounds fun to me,” I said.
She laughed. “It sounds very fun to me, too! I haven’t had sex in ages and I’m sure you can tell I’m hot and ready and want it bad, but…”
“What is it?”
“I can’t. Not tonight. Damn. I mean, I’m not even on the pill or anything anymore. But actually, that’s not it, that’s just an excuse. It’s just that it’s…. Damn. I can’t explain. But no, not tonight. I wish, oh how I want…”
She released the grip with her legs and pulled my hand out. I put it on the wheel and in a minute used it to make the tight turn into her parents drive. I got out of the car and walked around to her door. She seemed to materialize into my arms.
The kiss was full of fire and passion, but there was also almost a desperation, like she was dying of thirst and was afraid the well would go dry before she could get her fill. I let it flow and concentrated on the kiss itself so that I didn’t push my mind or body too far. I knew the disappointment would be harsh, but I didn’t want to make it worse on myself than needed.
After an unknown amount of time I could tell she was almost ready, her thirst at least partially quenched. We backed off slowly, like swimming up from a great depth. We were still pressed up against each other and I looked into her eye. There was a gleam of a reflection from her parent’s window. I could see the desire still smoldering.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“No, but I know deep down I have to go in.” Her voice was low and husky. “Good night Gill.” She still held on to me.
“Goodnight Lyndsey. I l…” she put her finger up against my lip, in a “shush”. When she removed it I said, “I’ll call you. When do you leave?”
“Early. Goodnight.” She slipped out of my arms and almost ran to the door. She stopped, leaned against the door and waved. She turned and went inside.
I could do nothing else except drive home. I felt the cold emptiness of the seat next to me, mocking me, the entire way home. I was glad it was just a very short drive.