By Robin Alexander
I’ve just finished the sequel to Gloria’s Inn titled Gloria’s Secret, and I couldn’t seem to move away from these characters. So I took the girls off of the island for a little R&R in the States. I hope you enjoy. Feel free to comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. I always love hearing from you all.
“It’s one night. Surely, you can handle one night.”
“How about I sleep in the car?”
Adrienne rolled her green eyes.
“I don’t like spooky places. You know this.”
“Did you happen to notice when we drove through town that there were no hotels?” Adrienne grunted as she pulled our suitcase from the car.
“Did you happen to notice the sign when we pulled in? They’re proud that the place is haunted. What’s wrong with people?”
“They say that to bring tourists in, especially at Halloween.”
I looked at the moss-laden trees surrounding the old house, and a chill raced up my spine. “We could drive to the next town.”
“The next town is more than two hours away, and frankly, I can’t stand the thought of being cooped up in that car for another minute. Can we compromise? You agree to one night, and I’ll give you back rubs for a week.”
I weighed my options. Adrienne was not getting back into the car. I could tell by the expression on her face that I was already walking a fine line. I glanced back at the “quaint” bed and breakfast, as she called it, and figured that one night was doable…but she was gonna have to make good on the back rub promise.
“Okay, I’ll agree to this, but we leave first thing in the morning, and we sleep with the TV on.”
“Excellent!” Adrienne clapped her hands together. “Now let’s get inside before we get soaked.
I looked at the dark clouds moving in from the west. The wind had begun to pick up while we argued, and now it was bringing rain with it.
“Do you know how many horror movies I’ve watched where an unsuspecting couple spends a stormy night in…well, one of these?” I waved my hands at the house in front of us. The wrap-around porch with the swing and the rocking chairs didn’t fool me. It may have looked warm and inviting, but I knew better. “Somebody with an ax always shows up, and there’s no wood being chopped.”
“Shut it,” Adrienne said as she climbed the steps.
A woman with salt and pepper hair opened the screen door and let us in. “You picked the right time to join us,” she said. “Bad storm brewing out there. I just heard that it’s going to be with us all night.”
With the hair piled up on her head and a dress that screamed conservative, she was perhaps my ticket out of this nightmare. If my hunch was right, this woman would be kicking our queer asses to the curb. I thrust my hand out and shook hers with a firm grip. “I’m Hayden and this is my partner, Adrienne. You spoke with her on the phone. We’re headed to California to get married.”
“Congratulations! My partner and I got married in P-town last year. I’m Lexi Gibbs, by the way.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Lexi,” I said with a smile and refused to look at Adrienne, who was surely grinning from ear to ear.
“My wife, Monica, was trying to get some more wood chopped before the rain came in. I’m sure you’ll run into her soon.”
“Let’s hope she’s not still carrying the ax when we do,” I said.
Lexi shot me a confused smile as she moved behind her desk and began checking us in.
While she and Adrienne worked out the details, I wandered into a room off the hallway. Though it looked and smelled like an old house, the furnishings were modern. One entire wall was covered with shelves brimming with books. The opposite wall held the fireplace and a seating area perfect for reading. A row of French doors that opened onto the porch took up the other wall. If it had not been for the sign announcing the place was haunted, I would have wanted to spend the last week of our trip right here.
“I’ve got us checked in,” Adrienne said when she found me. “Let’s go upstairs and see our room. Then Lexi is going to give us a quick tour.”
We refused Lexi’s offer to carry our luggage, climbed the first flight of stairs, and found two rooms. Lexi opened the first door on the right and explained that it was one of the few with its own bathroom. She gave us the key and slipped out, leaving us alone to unpack.
“Since the weather is so bad, they’ve invited us to have dinner with them,” Adrienne said as she began to unpack our things. “She’s excited about chatting with fellow innkeepers.”
I put most of what Adrienne pulled out back into the suitcase as she put our toiletries in the bathroom. “There’s no need to take out everything. We’re only staying one night,” I said when she re-entered and noticed what I’d done.
“If you’re staying packed because you plan to drag me out of here in the middle of the night, the ghosts will be the least of your worries.”
“Just being practical,” I said with my best innocent expression, but that was exactly what I had on my mind. “Did you hear what Lexi said? Monica was chopping wood. That involves an ax.”
Adrienne pulled me into her arms and held me tight. “You watch way too many scary movies, and that’s why you have to sleep with a night light. Switch to comedies.”
“A back rub and a comedy might get us through the night. Then we’re out of here.”
“So we can drive cross-country and get married?” Adrienne asked with a grin. “That was so funny watching that lie blow up in your face.”
“I live for your entertainment.”
Adrienne’s face grew serious. “If she’d not been family and you would have gotten us thrown out of here, I would have—”
“Don’t say it.” I pressed a finger to Adrienne’s lips. “I’m sure it involves me riding on the hood of the car.”
We joined Lexi downstairs for a quick tour of the house. Then we settled in the room I’d explored earlier in front of the fire with steaming cups of coffee.
“Is there anyone else staying here now?” I asked.
“No, but business will pick up on the weekend,” Lexi said. “People love the idea of staying in a haunted house around Halloween.”
“That’s just a gimmick, right?” I asked, hoping that she would agree.
“The ghosts are real,” Lexi said, a little too seriously for my liking. “Lindsay is my favorite. She frequently visits the floor that your room is on.”
“Is Lindsay…friendly?” I asked as Adrienne reached over and gave my knee a squeeze.
“She’s very helpful. She’s turned down the beds a time or two.”
I am so sleeping in the car, I thought, as Lexi cheerfully relayed how the haunting did wonders for her business. Adrienne gave my knee another squeeze and smiled.
“Tell me about your inn,” Lexi said.
“Well, we have separate cottages, so we don’t actually have to share one roof with our guests,” Adrienne began. “And Cat Island is—”
“Full of superstitions and folklore. I saw an article about it. Have you encountered any otherworldly things there?” Lexi asked.
Adrienne shot me a glance, and I shrugged, leaving her to answer. “I guess the strangest things we’ve witnessed are the antics of our guests.”
A petite woman walked into the room and smiled shyly at us.
“Adrienne and Hayden, this is Monica, my wife,” Lexi said.
She was not what I expected at all. I had envisioned a muscle-bound brute dressed in flannel. Standing in front of us was a petite bespectacled woman who didn’t appear to be able to pick up an ax, much less swing one. I was relieved.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Monica.” I shook her hand.
“Nice to meet you both. Lexi tells me you’ll be joining us for dinner tonight.”
“Yes, and looking forward to it.”
“They’re innkeepers, too,” Lexi said as Monica took a seat beside her.
“Really?” Monica said with a raise of her brows. “Where?”
“In the Bahamas,” Adrienne said.
“Wow, sounds lovely. Any ghosts?” Monica asked.
Adrienne gave my knee another squeeze—her signal to keep my smart mouth shut. These two women acted like everyone had a ghost for a pet. Frankly, I found cats more appealing, even though they could be nightmares on occasion.
“Nope, I’m afraid our inn is ghost-free.” Adrienne smiled.
“They’re a great tourist draw,” Monica said. “When we realized that our place was haunted, our business picked up dramatically.”
I was thoroughly convinced then that the ghosts were simply a gimmick, and I felt myself relax. I wasn’t looking forward to dragging Adrienne out by her hair in the middle of the night despite her warning.
We chatted about life as innkeepers, but Adrienne and I mostly listened. Lexi and Monica were card-carrying members of the Haunted Innkeepers Society and attended every meeting. They showed us dozens of pictures of what they called orbs. Being a fan of ghost-debunking shows, I considered their orbs dust particles that reflected light, but I kept that tidbit to myself. Instead I oohed and ahhed at the appropriate times and waited patiently for dinner.
We were gathered around the table, and I was working over my second bowl when Lexi told us about the people who once lived in the house and how they’d remained over the centuries.
“Lindsay is my favorite,” Lexi said. “She’s a sweet spirit. She became the lady of this house in 1913 when she married Nathan Langley. They put on grand galas for every season. People would come from far and wide to attend the Langleys’ parties.”
“And Nathan found Lindsay in a compromising position and killed her in our very room,” I said, then grunted when Adrienne kicked me in the ankle.
“Lindsay would have never done such a thing,” Lexi said indignantly. “She worshipped the ground Nathan walked on. And he never harmed her in any way. They had a storybook marriage.”
A bruise was forming on my knee because Adrienne had a firm grip on it under the table.
“Lindsay broke her neck when she tripped and fell down the stairs. In his grief, Nathan took his own life six months after losing her. So you see, it’s a very tragic story.”
“That is tragic. I apologize for making light of it.” I felt Adrienne’s hand leave my knee. “So Lindsay and Nathan are still here?”
“They are,” Monica said. “But they’re unable to be together. They’re on separate planes because Nathan took his own life.”
Lexi’s eyes sparkled. “They communicate through us.”
I kept quiet because my knee was sore, but I had at least a dozen one-liners.
“So they sort of pass love notes through you?” Adrienne asked.
“Yes, and it’s so sweet. Lindsay professes her love for Nathan every day and promises to wait forever.”
“What do you mean by ‘wait’?” Adrienne asked.
“She won’t go to the light and rest until he’s with her,” Monica said. “He can’t go because he took his own life.”
“What does he say to her?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Monica said. “He never speaks to us, but we tell Lindsay that he loves her, too.”
“How often do you see them?” Adrienne asked before I could.
Lexi stood and began clearing away the dishes. “Not as often as Lindsay, but he does tend to roam the halls. Even though we can’t always see him, we know he’s listening, so we tell him of Lindsay’s promise to wait for him.”
Adrienne knew I was growing restless. Perhaps I made it obvious when I acted as though I was going to slit my wrist with a butter knife while the ghostly gals weren’t looking. We thanked them for dinner and made our way up to our room.
“We’re leaving before sun up,” I said when Adrienne closed the door.
Adrienne laughed at me on her way to the bathroom. I flipped the lid on our suitcase and was unpleasantly surprised to find it empty.
“Did you sneak in here and unpack our clothes?” I opened the armoire and found them folded neatly.
“I was with you all night,” Adrienne called from the bathroom.
“Well, one of those whack jobs has been in our room then.” I suspected Monica because we were with Lexi for the entire evening. “Somebody has been touching your underwear, and they turned down the bed.”
Adrienne took her time brushing her teeth, then joined me in front of the armoire. “It’s probably a courtesy they perform for all their guests,” she said nonchalantly. “I’m going to take a shower.”
Maybe it was a “courtesy,” but it left me unsettled. I felt violated in a way. Out of spite, I packed our things back into the suitcase, then joined Adrienne in the shower.
Adrienne climbed into bed naked, which is how we normally slept. But I wanted to have something on just in case I felt the need to flee. I flipped open the lid to the suitcase and stood there open-mouthed. It was empty. I spun on one heel and threw open the door to the armoire where our clothes lay in neat piles.
“Get up! We’re leaving!” I began throwing our stuff back into the suitcase.
“No, we’re not.” Adrienne sat up. “Do you hear the rain? It’s been pouring since we got here.”
“Honey,” I said as calmly as I could, “I repacked our things before I got into the shower…and look.” I moved out of the way and watched as Adrienne’s gaze settled on our clothes.
“Come to bed, Hayden. I’m too tired to be freaked out.”
“How can you not be? Someone or something has been fooling around with our stuff.”
“That’s just it, baby,” Adrienne said. “All they did was unpack our clothes and turn down the bed. Now get in, and I’ll give you that back rub that I promised.”
“I don’t want one now,” I grumbled like a petulant child as I marched into the bathroom. I felt like I was being watched, and it made me so nervous that I couldn’t pee until I turned on the water in the sink. I was unsettled, pissed off, and naked. I couldn’t get out of that bathroom fast enough and put on some clothes.
By the time I climbed into bed, Adrienne was asleep. I turned on the TV and flicked through the channels so many times that I had the lineup memorized. I lay there staring at a news channel when the TV switched off. I reasoned that maybe I dozed and hit the power button, so I turned it back on. This time, I laid the remote on the bed, and sure enough, the set switched off.
“Adrienne, wake up! The damn ghost turned the TV off!” I said as I shook her.
Adrienne rolled over and looked at me—angrily. “Hayden, lay down and go to sleep. I’m not leaving.”
Adrienne rolled back over, and I turned the TV back on. A few minutes later, the TV switched off. “That’s okay,” I whispered nervously. “I don’t like Bill O’Reilly, either.”
I lay there for what seemed like hours, studying every shadow in the room. My eyelids grew heavy, and even though I fought sleep, I felt myself drifting off. I felt a hand on my shoulder gently shaking me. When I opened my eyes, Adrienne lay next to me snoring. The muscles in my stomach tightened as I reluctantly looked around the room.
She was standing next to the window looking out. My heart pounded in my ears, but I couldn’t make a sound. I couldn’t move; fear had me paralyzed. Lindsay, I assumed, turned and walked across the room to the other window, and that’s when I noticed him.
He sat in a chair in the corner with his head slumped while running his fingertips over the pistol. He and Lindsay seemed unaware of each other. She stood with her back to him as he raised the gun to his temple.
“Don’t,” I whispered.
Though I couldn’t clearly see their faces, I felt their ghostly eyes upon me, and I was tempted to pull the blankets over my head.
“Don’t?” I heard a feminine voice say. It sounded like it was being carried away on the wind.
“He has the gun to his head,” I whispered, then pulled the blanket up to my eyeballs.
“Who are you talking to?” Nathan asked. His voice seemed closer, but it still sounded as though he was talking over the wind.
“Lindsay,” I said. “She’s here.”
“Tell her I’m sorry,” he said.
I looked over at Lindsay, who stared at me curiously. “Nathan says he’s sorry.”
“Tell my love there’s nothing to regret.”
“She says there’s no regret,” I said, feeling scared and foolish at the same time.
His sadness was palpable when he spoke. “She chooses to pretend it was an accident. My vile temperament robbed me of the sweetest gift.”
I was having a complete conversation with two dead people, and Adrienne was sawing logs like a lumberjack. I wondered briefly is she was going to suck the ceiling down on us. She didn’t so much as stir while I chatted with the spirits.
“Are you saying…that her death wasn’t an accident?” I asked, then regretted it as Lindsay moved closer to me.
“It was an accident,” Lindsay demanded. “My own temper is to blame.”
“She says that she got pissed off, too, don’t sweat it,” I said nervously.
Nathan was quiet for a moment, then said, “I don’t understand.”
Perhaps “pissed off” was not the best term to use under the circumstances. “She said she was angry, too. You weren’t at fault.”
A hand moved out of the darkness and came to rest upon my shoulder before I could duck away. I could see them clearly as they argued at the top of the stairs, though I could not hear what was being said. Lindsay stood close to the top stair when Nathan reached for her. She jerked her arm away angrily. The fall happened so fast that Nathan could not catch her.
“It wasn’t his fault, you see,” Lindsay said softly, bringing me back to the present. “He must release his guilt.”
“Nathan, it wasn’t your fault. You have to forgive yourself. Lindsay already has.”
“Tell him I’ve waited all this time for him. I can’t rest knowing that his remorse holds him in this place. I long to be with him.”
“Nathan, are you happy hanging around in this house with those two fruit loops? Don’t you want to rest?”
“Happy?” he said as he too moved closer to where I lay. “I’ve known no joy, only the constant companionship of loneliness and grief.”
“Then you have to forgive yourself, even though Lindsay’s death was not your fault. If not for yourself, do it for Lindsay. She waits for you.”
“Our disagreement was not so grievous that it lessened my love for him,” Lindsay said.
“She says the argument didn’t make her love you any less.” I thought about throwing in the promise of a back rub, but I wasn’t sure how Lindsay would feel about that.
Nathan grew quiet, and so did Lindsay. I looked back and forth between the two of them. Neither moved or said a word for what felt like an eternity. Slowly, Nathan lifted his hand palm up, and Lindsay laid her hand in his.
“You can see each other,” I whispered excitedly. There was no bright light, no clap of thunder. The two figures gradually faded from my sight. I sat there for a while listening and hearing nothing but Adrienne snoring away. They were gone.
“What do you mean they’re gone?” Lexi asked wide-eyed the next morning as she and Monica exchanged glances.
“They came into our room last night, and the three of us had a chat. Nathan let go of his guilt, and they walked off into the shadows hand in hand,” I said with a shrug.
“Why didn’t you tell us you were a sensitive?” Monica asked angrily.
“I’m not sensitive. Ask Adrienne…she’ll tell you that I’m the most insensitive woman on the planet.”
“I can’t believe this.” Monica slammed her hand on the table. “You’ve ruined us.”
I was at a loss and looked over at Adrienne for help. I watched as one eyebrow rose while she regarded the innkeepers but said nothing.
“I don’t understand. I thought you’d be happy that they finally were able to be together,” I said.
“The ghosts brought us business. Now you’ve ruined that.” Lexi’s hand shook as she pressed her fingertips to her temple. “You should have told us that you were a sensitive.”
Adrienne spoke up then. “So you’re saying that you specifically kept people away that you thought might be able to rejoin those souls?”
“Yes,” Lexi and Monica said in unison.
“Cruel bitches,” I said. “Then you deserve to lose your ghosts.”
“You need to leave,” Lexi said and took a step toward me.
“Our belongings are in the car. No need to show us out.” Adrienne took me by the hand.
“Assholes!” I said when we walked out onto the porch, knowing well that they could hear me. Adrienne squeezed my hand and led me to the car where she handed me the keys.
Neither of us spoke for the first few miles. I suppose we both needed time to digest everything.
“I have to admit I thought you dreamed the whole thing when you told me about it this morning,” Adrienne said.
“I assume that a ‘sensitive’ is someone who sees ghosts, which we both know I don’t normally do. Why do you think Nathan talked to me then?”
Adrienne chuckled, then gave in to a full-blown laugh. “Well, honey, I think Nathan was probably on the stubborn side. He stayed locked in that plane for hundreds of years refusing to let go of his guilt and finally found someone bullheaded to relate to.”
“You’re just a riot after a full night’s sleep, aren’t you? Between me wrecking their business and you snoring like a rhino, I doubt we’ll get a postcard welcoming us back.”
“Don’t worry, my love, there will be plenty more haunted houses for you to wreck on our way,” Adrienne said with a smile.