The Spirit of the Fairbanks
Jamison Parker twirled around and surveyed the honeymoon suite at the Fairbanks Inn. “I can’t believe we’re here.”
“I can’t believe we’re married. And it’s legal.” Katherine Kyle pulled her wife in for a long kiss. “I wasn’t sure we’d see this in our lifetime.”
“Me, either.” Jay slipped out of Kate’s arms and ran her fingers along the scarred woodwork. “This place is fabulous. I love that it was built in Revolutionary War times. You can just feel the history here.”
Kate captured Jay’s hands and brought them to her lips. “I promise we’ll have a look around later. Right now, I’ve got a different kind of exploration in mind.”
Joanna Snow hovered at the foot of the bed and smiled through her tears at the handsome couple lying asleep tangled in each other in the afterglow of their lovemaking. Yes, these were the ones. She’d been watching them all day. Their combined energy was phenomenal. The tall, dark one with the piercing blue eyes exuded a fierce protectiveness that masked a tender heart. The smaller blonde had kind eyes, intense curiosity about everything around her, and an unquenchable enthusiasm for life. They were so in love. Just as she had been… She abruptly curtailed that line of thinking. In the morning, Joanna decided, she would help them discover her deepest secret—one that had lain dormant in this house for more than one hundred years.
Kate and Jay sat in the sunshine on the back patio of the Fairbanks enjoying the sounds of early morning.
“Those muffins were incredible.” Jay delicately licked her fingers.
“Kathleen and Alicia make them from scratch every day.”
“Innkeepers who can bake. Mmm. I don’t know where they find the time, but I could eat about ten more.” Jay looked up to find Kate smiling at her indulgently. “What?”
“After all these years together, I still can’t figure out where the heck you put it.”
“Hollow leg.” Jay blushed as Kate made a show of examining her legs.
“Nope. That’s not it.”
“Very funny.” Jay stood up and stretched. “As I recall, someone made me a promise last night.”
Kate laughed easily. “Which one? As I recall, I made many promises.”
“That you did. And you delivered on all but one.” Jay leaned forward and placed a lingering kiss on Kate’s lips. When Kate moved to deepen the kiss, Jay pulled away. She wagged her finger. “Ah, ah, ah. I will not be distracted again.”
“No.” Jay fought to ignore the insistent pull deep in her belly. The twenty-one years they’d been together had done nothing to dampen their passion. She sucked in a deep breath. “You promised me we could explore the history of this place.”
“Ah. So I did. Where do you want to start?”
Jay led them back inside, through the screened-in porch and the seductive scent of fresh-baked goods, and into the main part of the house. Alicia was standing in the kitchen whipping up some batter. “Enjoy your breakfast?”
“It was fantastic,” Jay said. “Thank you so much.”
“You two have big plans for the day?”
“Actually,” Jay said, “we really wanted to know more about the history of this place.”
“Kathleen would be your girl, then.” Alicia called to her partner, who materialized from the little cubbyhole they used as an office. “These two want to know more about the history of the Fairbanks.”
“We’ve read what’s on your website. About how Captain Eben Snow built the main house with ballast bricks and pine planking from his ship,” Jay said.
“And how in 1826, he sold the place to David Fairbanks, who later became a prominent banker,” Kate added.
“Can you tell us what happened after that?” Jay asked.
“Fairbanks sold the house to Charles Baxter Snow—no known relationship to the original Captain Snow,” Kathleen said. “His family kept the house until 1950, when his youngest daughter Gertrude died. If you want to know more than that, you’re on your own. We haven’t had time to dig any deeper.”
Jay frowned, disappointed at being thwarted in her quest.
“Mind if we look around?” Kate asked.
“Not at all. Have at it.” Kathleen turned back toward the office. “Let me know if you need anything.”
When she and Jay were alone, Kate turned in a circle. “Where do you want to start?”
Jay closed her eyes and concentrated. “Here, in the parlor, I think.” She couldn’t explain it, but she felt drawn to the bookshelves on the far wall. Without stopping to question why, she pulled a book off the shelf. It was a history of Provincetown during its heyday as the premier maritime center of the country. She paged through it and replaced it on the shelf.
Kate moved behind her, reached up to the shelf over Jay’s head, and plucked out a tattered book. She blew dust off the top and examined the scarred cover.
“Looks like an old novel.”
Jay took the leather-bound volume from Kate’s fingers. “A Marriage of Convenience by J.A. Snowden.” Jay gently opened the front cover and looked inside. “Wow. This was published in 1897.” She walked absently to an armchair and plopped herself down to read.
Joanna watched Jay’s lips move as her eyes devoured the pages. She smiled wistfully. It had been daring to write something so close to the truth, even pseudonymously. That no one had discovered her true identity was a source of great pride, but it was more than that. Her life as she knew it would have been forfeit. The scrutiny and scandal would have driven her from her beloved Provincetown and from… Joanna gasped as her heart turned over. She couldn’t have borne it, and it hadn’t happened—not that way, at any rate.
She turned her attention to Kate, who was browsing the nearby shelves. When Joanna directed Jay toward the hiding spot, she hadn’t taken into account that Jay might be too short to reach. Kate, however, was another story. Joanna closed her eyes momentarily and focused her energy, willing Kate to look again at the empty space left by A Marriage of Convenience. She sighed. This wasn’t as easy with Kate, who was less psychically sensitive and receptive than her wife.
After several unsuccessful attempts to send the message to Kate, Joanna decided on a more direct approach. It wasn’t something she did often, as it took a tremendous amount of energy to accomplish, even for a spirit as evolved as she was. Joanna directed her attention to the gigantic tome to the far side of the opening left by her novel. She narrowed her gaze and stared at the large volume with all the intensity she could muster. After several anxious moments, she watched with relief as the book fell to the right and landed with a thunk against a much smaller book, starting a chain reaction that resulted in the book at the end of the row falling on the floor.
Jay jumped in fright and let out a small yelp. Kate, who had been on the other side of the room, whipped around to see what had caused the commotion. She noticed the book on the floor and moved to pick it up. As she was replacing the book and righting the others in the row, she paused in front of the gap.
Thank God, thought Joanna, as she closed her eyes in relief.
“Huh. This is interesting,” Kate muttered.
“What’s that?” Jay asked distractedly, her eyes never leaving the novel.
“There’s a crack in the wood here. But it looks more like a seam than a crack.” Kate took several of the surrounding books from the shelf and placed them on the windowsill. With an unobstructed view, she was able to see that the seam, although somewhat crude, formed a rectangle roughly five inches by eight inches. She ran her fingers around the jagged line, but could find no purchase. She looked around and spotted a butter knife on the kitchen counter. Carefully, she inserted the tip of the knife into the crack and used the handle as a lever. After using this technique in several places, the wood gave way.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Kate’s eyes opened wide.
“Hmm? You say something, honey?”
“Jay, you’re going to want to see this.” Kate’s heart was beating fast.
“I want to reach into this book and rip out the father’s throat. What an ass,” Jay said. “You can’t imagine what poor Emily had to put up with. I’m so glad I didn’t live back then.”
“Jamison,” Kate tried again. “Please come here.”
“I see that, and I’m sure it’s a fabulous book. But if I were you, I’d get my cute little butt over here pronto.”
Jay sighed dramatically and put the novel down, marking her place. “What’s so important?” She stretched and sidled up alongside Kate.
“There’s a secret compartment behind where that novel was, but my hand is too big to fit through the opening.”
“What? Are you serious?”
Jay stood on her tiptoes, but her eyes were still below shelf-level. “Grrr.”
“Easy, tiger.” Kate surveyed the room. From the corner, she grabbed a stepstool. “Try this.”
Jay climbed up the two steps. “No way! This stuff only happens in movies. Kate, there’s a secret compartment.”
Kate chuckled at Jay’s enthusiasm. “I tried to tell you. But maybe you should go back to your engrossing novel.”
“Get real.” Jay rolled her eyes. “Do you think it’s safe to put my hand in there?”
“I don’t think they have scorpions or snakes in this part of the country.” Kate smiled.
“Very funny, smart girl. I meant, will I damage anything?”
“You want to ask Kathleen and Alicia first?”
“Oooh. No. Yes. I don’t know.” Jay slumped against the shelf. “What if they tell us to leave it alone? There could be something really cool in there.”
“Whatever it is, it rightfully belongs to them.”
“Absolutely. What do you take me for? I just meant it would be a crime not to at least find out if there’s anything to tell them, don’t you think?”
The light of excitement in Jay’s eyes warmed Kate all the way to her toes. Her imagination and sense of adventure were infectious, and Kate, as always, was a willing victim. But first, she would have some fun torturing her.
“Mmm. I think I kind of like having you at eye level.” Kate ran her hands through Jay’s hair and kissed her neck.
“Kate.” Jay drew out the “a.”
“Yes?” Kate nibbled a nearby earlobe, pleased when Jay sucked in a breath.
“Come on. Be nice. This is important.”
“Argh. Unraveling the mystery. Unraveling the mystery is important.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Kate continued her ministrations.
“You are so not playing fair. You’re doing this on purpose.”
Kate smiled against Jay’s neck. “I should hope so.”
“Not that. You know what I mean.”
“Mercy. Please? I’m begging here.”
“I love it when you beg.” Kate slid her fingers underneath Jay’s sweater.
“Not funny.” Jay tried to squirm out of Kate’s reach, but her precarious position on the stepstool made escape impossible. “Please?”
“Please what?” Kate ran her tongue over Jay’s lips and bit down lightly on the lower one.
“Umm. Please do that again later? Rain check? Uncle?”
Kate chuckled. “I don’t know if I’ll be available later, but, if you really want to get back to what you were doing…” She laughed outright when Jay, clearly torn as to what she wanted more, growled in frustration. “Okay, Sherlock. Let’s see what’s inside, shall we?”
“Thank you, God,” Jay said as Kate released her. Slowly, tentatively, she reached inside the cubbyhole.
Kate smiled at the look of intense concentration on Jay’s face. Her eyes were narrowed and the tip of her tongue danced across her upper lip. “Well?”
“I don’t…wait. Wait! I can feel something.” Jay leaned harder into the shelves and rose up on tiptoe. Her arm disappeared into the opening up to her elbow. “It’s…” She continued to fish around. “It feels like another book.”
Kate tried to peer around Jay’s arm, but couldn’t see anything beyond the darkness. “Can you get it?”
“I think so. I’m trying to get my fingers around it.” Without warning, Jay’s balance shifted and she began to tumble backward.
Instinctively, Kate reached out and wrapped long arms around Jay’s waist, effectively stopping her momentum. “Feel free to drop in anytime.”
“Cute, stretch.” Jay sneezed and gazed down at the dusty object she held in her hands.
Kate rested her chin on Jay’s shoulder. “Whatcha got there?”
Jay blew on the book, dislodging the first layer of grime. “It looks like a diary, or a journal of some sort.” She turned it over so they could examine the other side. She ran her fingers carefully over three initials carved into the leather. “J. A. S.”
“C’mon, get down from there and let’s check it out.” Kate lifted Jay easily and set her feet on the wood-planked floor. When she was sure Jay was steady, Kate moved to the sink and retrieved a damp cloth.
She gazed back at Jay, who was standing, staring transfixed at the treasure they had discovered, turning it over and over again in her hands. Kate shook her head fondly. No matter how long they had been together, observing her lover in unguarded moments like this still made her pulse jump. That Jay was now legally her wife was just sinking in, but that they would be together forever was something Kate hadn’t doubted since the day they had rediscovered each other by chance in the aftermath of the 1987 bombing of the state capitol in Albany, New York.
Gently, she tugged the book from Jay’s grasp and brushed the cloth over the surface of the leather, erasing layers of dust, cobwebs, and grime to reveal the soft brown leather beneath. Together, the two women sank onto the sofa and lost themselves in the life within the pages.
“My name is Joanna Snow, and this is my story. I would have dared not commit to paper except that I have nothing left to lose. All that matters has been taken from me. I do hope the years have been kind to these pages, and that my hand is legible.
“This is the year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and ninety-nine, and we are on the cusp of a new century. The town and its merchants are preparing a great celebration. I cannot think of such things. Time stands still for me, as it has since that awful night more than a week past when my beloved was taken from me—ripped from my bosom and the warmth of my bed. I do not know her fate. I know only that, without her, surely I will perish. I welcome the darkness, for only if it ceases to beat will my heart find relief.
“The world goes on around me, activity buzzes, ships dock and disgorge their cargo, merchants sell their fish and wares, wealthy tourists arrive by the droves. The sounds are the same, the sights are the same, and yet they mean nothing. My father says he has yet to decide what to do about me. I will not speak to him, nor to anyone. For the most part, I stay locked in my room at the top of the stairs, crying and praying, though I know it will do me no good.
“I write this as a testament to our love, so that history will remember what we shared. Perhaps future generations will be kinder to women like us. I pray with all my heart that it can be so, for this pain is unbearable. But I digress.
“Her name is Rebecca, and she is as beautiful as the setting sun o’er the water. Her eyes are deep pools of obsidian, her hair silky-soft and as inky-black as the night. She moves with the grace of a princess. She is an artist. The bold strokes of her paintbrush capture the very essence of the landscape. I often sit transfixed by the magic she creates with her fingers.
“I first spied her as I walked along the shore in the summer. She was perched at the top of a dune, her brush poised midair, her lips slightly parted. She caught me staring and watched in amusement as I tripped over my skirt in embarrassment. The sound of her laughter rippled along my spine. The sight of her twinkling eyes stopped my heart. When she turned that gaze full upon me, the air fled my lungs. She was unlike anyone I had ever met. It was as if I had been waiting all my life just for her, and yet I was rooted to the spot, unable to move or even to speak.
“She closed the distance between us and took my hand. The touch was little more than a brush of fingers, yet it sent shockwaves through my body. From that moment, I knew we were destined to be together. Later, Rebecca confessed that she, too, had felt the electricity.
“Over the course of the next few months we found ways to see each other. She was bold where I was shy, forward in a way that thrilled me beyond measure. She wanted to take chances, though I cautioned restraint. In alleyways, behind dunes, and under the cover of darkness we stole kisses. The sweet taste of her lips was intoxicating, the swell of her breasts a source of endless fascination.
“Finally, we could stand it no longer. We had to be together—truly together. I was so nervous. What if we were discovered? Rebecca calmed my fears. After all, I was a young widow, my husband having died at sea in the Portland Gale. I was living, once again, under my father’s roof while I grieved. Who would suspect a thing? We were simply two women of roughly the same age, passing the time together. She convinced me that no one would think it inappropriate for her to accompany me home when my father was out of town on business.
“My fever for her was such that I acquiesced, and so began a journey of discovery for which I have no words. What I felt for her was so unlike anything I had experienced with my husband. I had always known I possessed an attraction to certain women.
“I married because, according to my father, it was ‘unseemly for a woman of my station and looks’ to remain unattached. Particularly when there was a perfectly suitable young gentleman who had expressed interest in taking me as his bride. I endured my husband’s attentions because that was what was expected of me.
“But Rebecca. Oh, dear, sweet, passionate Rebecca. I never imagined what true bliss might feel like until we lay together. I became obsessed with her, and she with me. The times we could not see each other were torture. The moments when I caught glimpses of her in public, where I could not touch her, set my soul on fire.
“We began to take chances. In retrospect, I know we became reckless—our need for each other overrode our good sense. That is how our world came crashing down. I argued that it was too great a chance to take—sleeping like husband and wife in my father’s house while he was away for a few hours. Rebecca waved away my concerns. After all, it was Christmas Eve, and I would be monopolized by my family the whole of Christmas Day. When I opened my mouth to protest again, she covered my lips with hers and all thought ceased to matter.
“So wrapped up in each other were we that I never heard the telltale creak of the wooden steps. Even once the door burst open, it took me several seconds to register the sight of my father, red-faced and shaking, at the foot of the bed.
“I barely felt the blows as they rained down upon me. The only thing to penetrate my consciousness was the sound of Rebecca’s screams and cries. I lay helpless and bleeding as he lifted her over his shoulder and bodily removed her from the house. I know not where he took her. Despite my pleas, he will not tell me. He spits on the ground and calls her terrible names. He will not look me in the eye, which is just as well, as I cannot bear the sight of him.
“I shall die if I never see my dearest Rebecca again. This I know as surely as I know that our love shall last for all eternity. Would that the Grim Reaper comes quickly, for I cannot bear the pain and the solitude. My heart is irretrievably broken.
Jay wiped a tear away and snuggled closer to Kate. “It’s so sad.”
“Mmm. I’m sure glad we didn’t live back then.”
Jay shivered involuntarily. “I can’t even imagine.” She looked up at the woman she’d been blessed to wake up with almost every day for more than two decades. “If we’d been separated like that I would have gone mad.”
Jay fell silent then. She knew they were both remembering the darkest weeks of their relationship, when each believed the other was dead. She was gratified when Kate pulled her into her lap.
“Don’t,” Kate said. “It’s all over now. I’ve got you, we’re married, and I’m never letting you go.”
“Whoa,” Jay said, a smile crinkling the corners of her eyes. “Pinky swear. That’s serious stuff.”
“You bet.” Kate kissed her on the forehead.
Jay sighed. “I wonder whatever happened in the end. I hope they found each other.”
Tears shimmered on Joanna’s lashes. Yes, these two were the right ones. The love between them was as strong as the bond she and Rebecca shared. They understood the depth of her pain in a way few others could. They bled with her as they absorbed the words she’d written more than a century earlier.
Kate thumbed through the remaining pages. They were all blank. She turned the journal over and examined the heavy stitching in the leather. Her fingers found a small opening and she tilted the book onto its spine so that the light would shine on the gap. She nudged Jay, who seemed lost in her own thoughts.
“Can you stick your little fingers in there? I think there might be a piece of paper wedged—”
Before Kate could even finish the sentence, Jay was probing the tiny pocket. She teased out a single sheet of paper and held it in her hand as if it might disappear at any second. Carefully, slowly, she unfolded the page. “Oh, Kate. Look.”
Kate peered over Jay’s shoulder. The handwriting was the same, although written with a far less steady hand. “Looks like you’re going to get your answers.”
“Addendum. Christmas Eve, 1960. I am an old woman nearing the end of my days on this Earth. My family no longer owns this house. My youngest sister, Gertrude, died ten years ago. I, of course, died to my family exactly sixty-one years ago tonight, when my father took from me everything that mattered in my life and banished me forever shortly thereafter.
“I return here on this wretched anniversary because it is the last place I held my beloved Rebecca, the last place I saw her face, and felt her breath on my skin. I return here because it is where my heart ceased beating, though fate unkindly has kept me alive all these years.
“The current owners have taken pity on an old lady and allowed me to have a final look around. Mercifully, they have left me unchaperoned. They told me to take all the time I need. I suppose they figure I can do no harm. I am penning this in haste, then, to serve as the final record of a love so profound that it endures still. I will tuck it inside my journal, which I carry in my purse.
“I have rediscovered the hidden cubbyhole I carved here so many years ago as a young girl. I am surprised that the old books, including a certain novel by one J.A. Snowden, still sit on the shelves. That is where I will house my deepest secret. Someday, I feel sure, the truth will be revealed so that a kindred soul might bear witness to my great love, and my ultimate heartbreak. Here, then, is the final chapter.
“Despite a lifetime spent searching, hoping for a glimpse or a word from my beloved, or news of her fate, I remain bereft. Never have I touched or been touched by another. For me there could be no other. Now that the end finally approaches, I pray that she will be at the gates of Heaven to greet me or, should I precede her in death, that I will be deemed worthy to greet her, for I cannot imagine enduring the rest of eternity apart. This lifetime has been almost more than I could bear.
“I must hurry. I hear activity afoot and I fear I have intruded on these kind folks as long as I dare. If you are reading this, I suspect it is because you are meant to do so. I would like to think I have had a hand in guiding you to this. If that is the case, and, after all, who can really know such things, I pray that you are not alone—that you have the kind of love and devotion in your life that Rebecca and I shared, and share still. That would please me very much, indeed.
“Oh, Kate.” Jay blinked and the tears spilled over. She noted Kate’s eyes were full, as well. “Do you think she’s watching us? Do you think Joanna made those books fall?”
Kate pursed her lips in thought. “I don’t believe in coincidences, so yes, I think it’s possible that she meant for you to find her journal.”
“But I didn’t find it, you did.”
Kate smiled fondly. “Wrong, pip squeak. You found the spot, you were just too short to reach it.”
“Vertically challenged, I prefer vertically challenged, thank you very much.” Jay narrowed her eyes as she considered. “Us.”
“Us. Joanna meant for us to find it. Together.”
Kate nodded. “I know that if I lost you as she lost Rebecca my heart would stop beating as hers did.”
Jay wrapped her arms tighter around Kate. “I don’t even want to think about it.” She rested her head in the crook of Kate’s shoulder, comforted as always by the sound of her steady heartbeat so near. After several moments she said, “Do you think they’re together?”
“Who? Joanna and Rebecca?”
“I’d like to think so. I know my soul will seek you in every lifetime. I hope I’m lucky enough to keep finding you.”
Jay sighed happily. “I think they’re together.”
Joanna smiled sadly. “I pray that you have an eternity together. Love like the bond you share never dies.” Joanna started as a hand closed over hers. She turned, her eyes opening wide.
“You’re right. That kind of love burns so brightly it is a beacon lighting the way.”
Joanna gasped. “Rebecca.”
“Darling. I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to find my way home.”
Joanna leaned forward and brought their lips together. When they pulled apart, she said, “I’m sorry I gave up hope. But I never stopped loving you. Never.”
“I know.” Rebecca inclined her head in the direction of the two lovers on the sofa. “It was their hope—their promise that lit the way and brought me here.”
“They’re newlyweds. Married. Can you imagine?” Joanna smiled at Kate and Jay through her tears.
“I never thought to see the day. I suppose we were born in the wrong generation.”
Joanna turned fully toward the woman whose face and touch had been ingrained in her memory for so many years. “You’re here now and there are no barriers between us. That’s all that matters.”
As Rebecca took her in her arms, the years melted away. It was as if no time had passed, and nothing in the world existed except their hearts, beating in synchrony.
Kate and Jay stood alongside their rental car. They already had checked out.
“Wait,” Jay said, touching Kate on the sleeve as Kate loaded the last of the bags into the trunk. “We’ve still got one piece of unfinished business.” She took her wife’s hand and led them into the main house. Kathleen and Alicia were sitting in the parlor.
“Hey,” Kathleen said. “We thought you guys would’ve been on your way by now.”
“We will be in a minute,” Jay said, “but first there’s something you need to see.” Jay looked at Kate and nodded to the shelf.
Obediently, Kate removed several books and revealed the cubbyhole. She beckoned Kathleen and Alicia to come look. Kathleen, of course, was tall enough to see right away what Kate pointed out. Alicia was forced to stand on her tiptoes.
“No way,” Kathleen said. “Are you kidding me? This stuff only happens in movies.”
“And our inn, apparently,” Alicia added dryly.
Kate reached in and removed Joanna’s journal. “We thought about leaving it in its original hiding place for you to find, but we thought it might be better if we showed you where it was.”
“Thanks. For some reason we don’t seem to have time for scavenger hunts these days,” Alicia said.
“And that’s a good thing,” Kathleen added.
“This is Joanna Snow’s journal. It dates back to the turn of the last century,” Kate said.
“With an addendum from 1960,” Jay added, taking the journal from her wife and pointing to the pocket in the back cover.
“Joanna Snow?” Kathleen asked thoughtfully. “Never heard of a Snow named Joanna.”
“When you read this, you’ll find out why,” Jay said. “In any event, the journal belongs in this house. So you should have it.”
“When you’re done reading, you can decide whether it should remain in hiding for someone else to find, or whether you want to keep it on display,” Kate said.
“Either way, we think Joanna would be pleased to know her story has been preserved and her legacy lives on in the memories of the inn’s owners and their guests,” Jay said. With a final caress, Jay handed the volume to Kathleen and Alicia. “Take good care of it. It’s quite a story.” She threaded her arm around Kate’s waist, and with a wave, they were gone.