About The BookA psychological ghost story: Haunting memories lurk in the shadows of this mysterious walk from the past.
When Dr. Marc St. Clair inherits his eccentric aunt Miriam’s old Victorian house at Calico Acres, in southwestern Wisconsin, her Last Will and Testament states that he and his invalid wife, Summer, must live there for one year before they can own it. Despite the fact that the house is rumored to be haunted, Marc falls in love with it and accepts Miriam’s generous offer … against Summer’s wishes. But after a disastrous honeymoon, and a riding accident that left his beautiful wife confined to a wheelchair—bitter and full of self-pity—he believes that for their marriage to work, they must move away from her meddling parents.
Summer hates the spooky house on sight when they arrive at Calico Acres with their housekeeper, Josephina, on a cold, snowy January day. As unexplained events occur throughout the year, Summer, Josephina, and even their gossipy neighbors try to make Marc give up his insane idea of owning the house. But Marc is determined to stay. He desperately wants the house and feels a strong connection with his late aunt, although he had never met the woman and his family never discussed her except to say she was crazy.
Dr. Marc searches the house for details of Miriam’s life, while his wife is forced to confront secrets from her own past. He must discover who or what is haunting Calico Acres before the year is up, or risk losing his inheritance, the woman he loves, and perhaps even his mind. Little does he realize how close he is to losing all three.
Get Up To SpeedAunt Miriam’s will stipulates that Dr. Marc St. Clair and his invalid wife, Summer, must live in her old Victorian house for a year before they can own it—even though the house is rumored to be haunted. But haunted or not, it’s a deal Dr. Marc can’t pass up. In January, the St. Clairs and their housekeeper, Josephina, move to Calico Acres to fulfill their part of the bargain.
Months pass, bringing them closer and closer to the year deadline. But a series of mysterious events occur that spook the women, and they insist that Marc give up this insane dream of collecting his inheritance. Then, Summer’s new therapist arrives, and Raven Bear is more than Marc can handle.
On the first warm day in March, Marc went out to inspect the barn with thoughts of buying a therapy horse for Summer. It was a long shot—that she might take an interest in riding again—but nothing else had worked so far.
Leaving the barn, he saw Josephina at her garden spot, stooping to inspect the soil. She’d spoken of nothing else since the weather began warming, except what she’d plant once the ground dried sufficiently. Here and there, signs remained of winter—snow in low areas, beneath trees and shrubs, and in the shadows of Stonehenge—places the sun couldn’t reach and the ground was still frozen. The garden plot lay right out in the sun and was beginning to thaw. A large area, and instead of tilling it himself, Marc planned to give the job to John Hatchett.
He whistled a springy tune as he approached Josephina.
“What are you looking for, fishing worms?”
She straightened up and smiled.
“If it doesn’t rain, the ground might be dry enough to work soon.”
Marc turned over a rock with his foot. “I’ll have John take a look next time he’s here.”
“Mr. Hatchett knows lots of things,” Josephina said, “most of it just a crock of bull.”
“I thought you liked him.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I didn’t say I didn’t like him, but I don’t know how any woman could put up with him. He scared poor Summer out of her wits.”
Before Marc could reply, the sound of music filled the air.
Josephina stepped back and clutched the front of her sweater.
“Someone’s playing the piano, Marc!”
Marc frowned. “That’s absurd. We both know there’s no one in there to play a piano—we left Summer asleep on the sofa.”
“Then she’s got company.”
“What a brilliant statement, Josephina. Who would let them in?”
She searched for words. “Umm, maybe the door was open. Maybe Mr. Hatchett came—”
“No, we would’ve heard the truck. Come on, let’s go see.” Josephina refused to budge. “Oh, come on, Josephina, there has to be a reasonable explanation.”
“Yah—yah, like when the old men’s pictures fall off the wall.”
“Well, we’ll find out, but I think you’re trying to spook me.”
Marc grabbed Josephina’s hand and led her to the house, and when they reached the mud room, the music stopped.
There was no pianist in the living room, real or otherwise, no explanation for the music. Summer was asleep, the wheelchair still parked near the sofa. Marc checked the front door and found it locked, and when he opened it, sounds of spring rushed in—birds singing in the evergreens—and birdsong did not sound like an ancient piano. Closing the door softly so as not to disturb his wife, he went over and inspected the piano keys. What should he expect—hot ivory?
“Nobody’s been here,” he whispered to Josephina.
She came to his side, and keeping her voice low, she asked, “What are you looking for?”
Marc shrugged. “Fingerprints?”
She touched her lips. “Shhh. Ghosts don’t make fingerprints.”
He turned. “What did you say?”
Josephina glanced over at Summer. “Maybe a ghost—”
“No,” he said, “it was our imagination.”
Summer’s voice interrupted them. “What is your imagination?”
They turned to find her watching them. Marc put a smile on his face and went over to her.
“Well, did sleepyhead wake up?”
Summer stifled a yawn and nodded. “It was the best sleep I’ve had since coming here. What time is it?”
Marc checked his watch. “A quarter to four. You look rested for a change.”
“You had a good nap,” Josephina told Summer, “and you heard nothing?”
Summer looked from Marc to Josephina. “Was I supposed to hear something? When I awoke, you were whispering about someone’s imagination. What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Marc replied. “Oh well, it’s silly, but we were outdoors and thought we heard this old piano playing. It couldn’t have been, obviously, since you were here alone. Maybe the spring weather’s playing tricks on us. God knows we’ve had cabin fever for months.”
“Th–the piano played itself?”
“No,” Josephina said, signaling Marc to be careful. “I think we didn’t hear anything. Maybe just birds, or—” She turned abruptly. “I’ll get supper ready.” She hurried through the arches to the kitchen.
Josephina disappeared and Summer turned to Marc. “What are you two hiding from me?”
He kissed her cheek. “Nothing, honey. We surely didn’t hear anything.”
He patted her shoulder. “Come on, I’ll get you up to the bathroom then out to the front porch. It’s beautiful out there, and so clear you can see Holy Hill.”
“Holy Hill? Where’s that?”
“It’s a very high hill with a cathedral on top,” Marc said. “They say you can see Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee skyline from the church, thirty miles away … and hear the monks chanting.”
Summer groaned. “Not from here.”
“No, of course not.” He laughed. “It’s a joke.”
“You’ve got a lousy bedside manner. Holy Hill, indeed.”
He pulled the wheelchair over and helped her into it.
Outdoors, Summer commented briefly on the trees and neglected shrubs, then turned her thoughts inward and stared mindlessly at the surrounding countryside. A soft breeze toyed with her hair, trailing silk strands across her porcelain skin like golden spider webs caught in a tree. Something on the road beyond caught her eye, and she recognized a horse and rider. When the pair turned into their driveway, she was surprised to see a young woman astride the horse’s broad back. She turned to Marc.
“Tell me it’s my imagination we’re about to have company.”
Marc walked to the edge of the porch. “Probably a neighbor.”
Summer appraised the visitors. “She’s traveling. See? Saddlebags.”
“Did you ever see such a magnificent animal, Marc? Sometimes I wish…”
He glanced down at her. “You wish what?” I wish she’d look at me the way she’s looking at that horse.
“Never mind. Oh, look, it’s Pocahontas.”
Oh Summer, such rudeness.
The rider reined in the large sable stallion, whose muscles rippled with excitement. Hatless and wearing boots and tight jeans, the young woman silently observed the couple on the porch. Small and very pretty, her nutmeg-brown face, high cheekbones, and small straight nose appeared chiseled from granite; a full, sensitive mouth and almond-shaped eyes, like pools of black ink. No makeup—who’d go horseback riding wearing makeup? She needed no makeup, being naturally high-colored.
Intrigued, Marc descended the steps with an airy confidence, and when he approached the animal, it tossed its head and snorted. Unsure whether to proceed, he stopped a few feet away.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m Marc St. Clair.” He indicated the porch, where Summer waited. “And this is my wife, Summer. Would you care to rest a while on the porch?”
“Yes, thank you.” The young woman began to dismount, and when Marc moved to help, she motioned him back. “My horse is tired and excited. I can manage.”
She swung a leg over the horse’s rear and dropped lightly to the ground.
“He’s beautiful,” Marc said.
“His name is Gichi-manidoo, better known as Great Spirit.” The girl pulled the reins over the horse’s head and ground-tied him, then took stock of her surroundings.
Marc was surprised she was no taller than his chest, even with the boots, as he escorted her up the porch steps.
“I was beginning to wonder if other people lived in this godforsaken state,” Summer said in greeting. She offered her hand, but when the younger woman ignored it, she quickly pulled it back. “Well—I see you’ve met Marc, and I’m Summer.”
The two women sized each other up, and the visitor smiled slightly. “My name in Chippewa is Keezheekoni, which means ‘Fire Briskly Burning.’ But that name means nothing to English-speaking people, so for practical reasons, I’ve shortened it to Raven Bear.” She turned away from Summer and spoke to Marc. “Have I found my way to Calico Acres? Are you the new physician I’m looking for?”
“You have, and I am,” Marc said.
Summer motioned to the stallion as he nosed the ground.
“What a lovely animal. Sometimes I—well, never mind.”
Raven Bear nodded. “His name, as I told your husband, is Great Spirit. He has beauty and intelligence, but the soul of a scorpion.” She turned to Marc. “He’d like a drink. Could we please have some water?”
“Yes, of course.”
Marc disappeared into the house and returned with Josephina’s cleaning pail full of water. Raven set the bucket on the ground and stroked Great Spirit’s neck as he drank.
“We’re about to have dinner,” Summer said, “would you care to join us? We can get acquainted while you and your four-legged friend rest. I suspect you’ve been riding a long way.”
Marc started to say something, but changed his mind. She must be lonelier than I thought. It’s the horse. She’s not usually this friendly with young women. Well, what’s the harm?
Raven explained. “I only rode from Belmont. My home is near Lac Court Oreilles Reservation.”
“I’m not familiar with that,” Summer said.
“It’s just below Lake Superior, near Chequamegon National Forest.”
Josephina appeared in the doorway, and Marc motioned to their visitor.
“We have a guest for dinner, Josephina.”
Josephina eyed Raven Bear, nodded, then returned to the house without a word.
Josephina had polished the dining room to a brilliance, and the rose-colored antique draperies had been cleaned and re-hung. On one wall, matching brass sconces adorned faded, flower-patterned walls on each side of a heavy ornamental mirror. At each end of the large oval table, she had placed candles in holders discovered in the cherry-wood buffet. The tapers flickered brightly, and a lovely old room suffering from years of disuse came alive again.
“So, Miss Bear,” Marc said after they were served, “what brings you here? You’re a long way from home.”
Raven smiled at him. “Would you believe I’m working my way through college?”
Josephina narrowed her eyes. “I don’t believe Indians go to school.”
“Oh, please, Josephina!” Summer said. “Don’t offend our guest. Why wouldn’t they?”
“I’m sorry, I just—”
“No offense,” Raven cut in. “Actually, I’m researching on the side.”
“What research?” Josephina asked. “How much it cost to operate a horse? How many gallons of hay?”
“You’d be surprised how many gallons my horse eats,” Raven replied with a wink.
Marc found the girl fascinating. There was a gentle, though wild beauty about her, although her eyes didn’t behave properly. Indeed, when they looked at him, they also seemed to look elsewhere, and in the back of his mind were thoughts of finding her an ophthalmologist.
“What are you researching?” he asked. “Certainly not how much horsepower your transportation has.”
Raven grinned. “Indian lore,” she said. “I’ve heard many stories from my grandfather, Moozoonsii—Little Moose.”
“I’d like to hear some of those tales,” Summer said.
Raven burst into a beautiful wide smile.
“Perhaps after dinner, if you have time. But first, I’d better explain why I’m here.” She turned to Marc. “I was told you need a therapist for your wife.”
“Oh?” Marc said.
“I’m a physical therapist with references from Dr. Muhle.”
“Dr. Muhle? I did mention I was looking for someone.” He glanced at Summer. “That was decent of him. You might be the answer to our prayers, Miss Bear.”
“I did not pray for a therapist,” Summer said.
Raven laughed and turned her strange eyes upon the blonde woman in the wheelchair.
“More likely I rode in on a devil of a black stallion and it had nothing to do with praying. However, if you think I’ll do … would you like to see my certification? It’s in one of the saddlebags.”
“Maybe later,” Marc said. “I’m sure Karl wouldn’t have sent you without proper credentials.”
Summer reached across the table and touched Raven’s hand.
“Don’t pay any attention to me, Miss Bear. If Marc thinks I need therapy, well, I’ve tried arguing with him before and gotten nowhere. You’ll find me a stubborn patient. Besides, you can then tell me all the lovely native stories.”
Raven’s face clouded. “Some aren’t so lovely, Mrs. St. Clair. There’s poverty on the Reservation, for instance, and the lack of decent medical care is disgraceful.” She picked at her food as she spoke. “Nimishoomis—Grandfather—lies up there now without medical attention. Bedsores cover much of his body, and he can barely lift his head.” She turned to Marc, her tone suddenly bitter and resentful. “You—a physician—must feel shame for the way my people suffer. The white gods have neglected the true owners of this beautiful country.”
Heat rose beneath Marc’s collar. Damn, she sounds like an actress on a stage.
“I’m a dedicated physician,” he said, “and whether you realize it or not, I do feel a certain shame for the plight of your family and friends. You don’t have to rub it in. What can one person do?”
Raven lowered her dark lashes. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have singled you out, especially if you offer me a job.”
Marc wanted to snatch this girl up and shake the living daylights out of her, like a pup caught peeing the floor.
“Forget it,” he said. “I’m sure you didn’t mean it personally.”
“Of course she didn’t,” Summer said.
There came a loud snort from Josephina as she rose and began clearing the table. With a look of disgust at their guest, she left the room. Summer watched her go, then turned to Raven.
“Don’t mind Josephina. I don’t know what got into her.”
“A lot of people don’t like me,” Raven said. “Can’t imagine why.”
“Well, I like you,” Marc said, “even if you did cut down my profession a moment ago.”
Raven shook her head and sighed. “It isn’t you, Dr. St. Clair, it’s your government.”
“Our government,” he corrected, “whether you like it or not.”
He sipped his coffee, trying to figure out what was so appealing about this girl.
“You mentioned school,” he said. “How is it you appear so knowledgeable when, as you say, there’s so much poverty on the Reservation?”
“I’ve moved around,” Raven said. “My father worked in movies. After my mother died, I went to California with him. I’ve gone to good schools, and the University of Wisconsin at Platteville. You’re surprised?”
“Only two years,” she said. “Then I ran out of money. Last year, I took a couple of easy courses, and here I am.”
Marc sat forward. “May I ask what your fascination is with Calico Acres?”
“Yes,” Summer added, “I don’t see what our home has to do with colleges or Reservations.”
“I told you I was sent by Dr. Muhle.”
“There’s more, isn’t there?” Marc asked. “At least it’s the impression I had when you first arrived and—”
Something crashed in the foyer, causing Summer to jump, and Raven Bear—about to speak—closed her mouth and stared from one to the other.
Summer sighed. “I’ll bet it’s Mr. Chavarria this time.”
“Mr. Chavarria? Does someone else live here?”
Marc nodded. “You could say Mr. Chavarria lives here. There are some old portraits on the front stairway—of my great-aunt’s former husbands—and one by one they’re popping off their hangers.”
“Why don’t you remove them?”
“Because I’m not allowed to change anything, since I don’t own the house yet.”
“I don’t understand.” Raven glanced toward the foyer. “If—”
“What I don’t understand,” Summer interrupted, “is why they should choose this particular time to fall. One after the other. Why didn’t they do it before we moved in?”
“They probably did,” Marc said. “We weren’t here to see them.”
He excused himself and left the room.
Returning shortly, he said, “Chipped the frame and cracked the glass.”
Raven got to her feet. “If we can go somewhere else, I’ll explain why I’m here. I need to sit on the floor and stretch my legs.” She smiled and turned to Summer. “Speaking of which, I have special stretches to strengthen your muscles and help you walk again. If I come to work, that is.”
Marc waited for his wife’s outburst, which wasn’t long coming.
“Even my doctors can’t make me walk,” Summer said. “And if they can’t, nobody can. I’m sure you’re a very good therapist, Miss Bear, but I’ll never walk again, nor ride a horse.”
“It was a riding accident that left her paralyzed,” Marc explained. “We were told it’s a temporary paralysis, and she should’ve healed by now. No one can explain why it hasn’t happened yet, unless—”
“Don’t start again,” Summer said. “You think I don’t want to walk and it’s not true.” She turned to Raven. “Don’t listen to Marc. He’s got some wild-ass ideas for a physician who hasn’t been practicing very long. I can’t walk, and that’s final.”
Raven smiled. “I see what you meant about being a difficult patient. However—” Her eyes fluttered briefly in Marc’s direction, as if to say, We’ll see about that, won’t we?
In the living room a few minutes later, Marc settled Summer on the sofa next to him, while their guest performed a few yoga stretches on the floor before crossing her legs and regarding the couple intently.
“That felt good,” Raven said, her eyes going slightly out of focus like she was meditating on some unseen presence. “You can’t imagine how stiff I get from being in the saddle so long … oh, I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologize,” Summer said.
Marc considered the girl. She was very attractive, this small woman dedicated to saving her people from white injustices.
“You asked why I came to Calico Acres,” Raven began. “It has to do with an old legend I heard as a child. I decided that when I grew up, I’d come down here and see what I could dig up—literally.” She folded her hands in her lap as though waiting for permission to speak further.
“Oh!” Summer exclaimed. “Tell us the legend.”
“Yes, please,” Marc said. “I’d like to hear it.”
Raven nodded. “Very well. In Salem, Massachusetts, in the seventeenth century, a young woman had been imprisoned and sentenced to the gallows for witchcraft.”
Marc tried to recall his knowledge of the Salem witch hunts.
“Gallows? I thought they burned witches.”
“No,” Raven said, “they hung suspected witches. Burning was in England.”
“Very interesting,” Marc said. “Sorry I interrupted. Please, go on.”
“Her name was Charity Tawer—a beautiful but headstrong woman with long golden hair.”
Summer reached up and touched the French braid Josephina had created for her earlier.
“Before the hanging could take place,” Raven cast a glance at Summer, “Charity beguiled a guard and escaped to Canada. There, she became friends with French fur traders and traveled with them to Wisconsin as the lover of one.” She stopped and looked deeply into Marc’s eyes.
“Her presence caused so much jealousy and fighting among the men, that she was eventually traded to a peaceful Indian tribe around Lake Winnebago for—would you believe?—ten bundles of beaver pelts. Charity had been a hindrance to the men, slowing them down, and a bit crazy acting, so they were well rid of her.”
“That’s too funny,” Summer said. “I can’t imagine Marc trading me for beaver pelts.”
Raven laughed. “I’ll bet if you were as conniving as Charity Tawer, he wouldn’t think twice.”
“Hmmm,” Summer replied. “You may be right. Do go on with the story.”
“Charity lived in peace with the Indians for several years,” Raven continued. “But when the tribe was later attacked by hostile Sioux warriors, she was abducted and carried westward to a place near the sacred blue mountains.”
“That sounds like Sacajawea’s story,” Summer said.
“Yes, their ordeals were similar, but Sacajawea was a princess and Charity an escaped witch.”
There was no way Marc could believe the legend, but seeing how it held Summer’s interest, he urged Raven on. As she spoke, he again thought of an actress, for her words were crisp and clearly enunciated.
“Charity detested life with the Sioux,” Raven said, “and with the chief’s son, Storm Cloud, who had claimed her for his wife. One night, she could no longer stand her husband’s hands on her body, so she decapitated him while he slept—then boiled his head in hot tallow.”
“Oooh, yuck.” Summer nestled closer to Marc. “What a hideous thought.”
“And when the miserable deed was discovered the next morning, they tied Charity to a stake and burned her to death, while she screamed a curse on all Frenchmen who would thereafter cross the spot.”
“So the witch was burned after all.” Marc laughed. “Strange she didn’t curse the Indians, too.”
“Yes, that’s odd, but remember the fur traders had become her friends, and they betrayed that friendship by trading her to the Indians.” Raven paused. “It’s believed Charity’s bones are buried in this vicinity.”
Summer straightened up. “They are?”
Raven nodded. “Nobody knows for sure. But I’ve talked to people in Belmont, Dodgeville, and Calamine about strange occurrences at Calico Acres.”
“Do you think there’s a connection?” Marc asked.
“I don’t know what I believe.” The girl shrugged. “Over a period of time some French families lived here. I had to see for myself.”
“What kinds of things?” Summer turned to Marc and exclaimed, “Oh, you’re French.”
“Well, I—” She looked up as Josephina came in and plopped down in the rocking chair. “Our guest is telling ghost stories, Josephina.”
“Yah, a bunch of bull,” Josephina said.
Raven uncrossed her legs and got to her feet. “Well, they say that since the witch’s death—at least since recorded history—unexplained events have happened here. For example, a barn burned. It’s also rumored that every woman who ever lived on this farm was possessed of Charity’s spirit, and was so haunted she eventually destroyed herself.”
Summer gasped, and the girl continued.
“They say that moans can be heard in an upstairs bedroom, but I don’t know if I believe it.”
Marc jumped up. “All right, that’s enough. You’re scaring my wife.” He crossed his arms over his chest and stared the young woman down. “You have quite an imagination, Miss Bear, but you can’t come in here and upset my wife and Josephina. Witch’s curse? Ha. There are no sounds in this house except the wind when it blows through the siding. No spirits haunting Calico Acres. None. If there were, it would likely be my own deceased aunt.”
Raven Bear stood before him, small but fiercely determined.
“It’s only a legend, Doctor, but native people know things white men don’t.”
“All the same…”
Marc walked over to the fireplace and studied a dead black log. He recalled the piano playing without a soul in the house except Summer, who’d been fast asleep and couldn’t have walked to the piano in the first place. Thoughts of the pitchfork also entered his mind, and the damned pictures falling. On second thought, he knew there were reasonable explanations for those incidents. Anyone could’ve been stabbed with a pitchfork. A slight underground tremor might set the piano going and shake the portraits down. Perfectly logical, scientific explanations.
Raven came up beside him, and her presence was disconcerting. He turned and gazed down at her.
“Great Spirit is impatient,” she said. “He’s blowing and snorting out there.” She paused to listen. “I’m going back to Belmont for the night and to feed my horse. In the morning I need to buy medicine for Nimishoomis. I’ll be back this way next month. If you want to hire me, you have plenty of time to think it over.”
Marc had doubts about the girl, but Summer took the decision out of his hands.
“Of course we want you, Raven.”
“You’re not afraid of me? After, you know, the legend?”
“Don’t be silly,” Summer replied. “Yes, it was a terrible story, but I keep telling myself those things couldn’t have happened. I also need someone to visit with.” She turned to Josephina, who sat silently watching Raven Bear from the corner of her eye. “Wouldn’t you like some help, Josephina?”
“Yah. I would, but—”
“Good. Then it’s settled. When Miss Bear is finished up north, she may return and be my companion. I might even surprise everyone by doing those exercises.”
Marc shook his head. Unbelievable, but it might work, at that. But this woman’s presence in his house was the last thing his marriage needed. He walked Raven to the door and watched as she mounted Great Spirit, urged him gently with her heels, and disappeared into the night. My God, what have I done?
“I don’t like her,” Josephina said. “She’s got crazy eyes like a wild colt. They look everywhere at once.”
Summer and Marc both laughed, then Marc hugged Josephina.
“I’m sorry I laughed,” he said, “but you were too serious.”
“You’re not one to make snap judgments,” Summer told Josephina. “I for one found Raven Bear bright and refreshing—even if her eyes do go cockeyed. She’s right out of a fairytale, isn’t she? She’s charming, and rather pretty, too.” She glanced at Marc. “But if you have reservations about having her here—excuse the pun—maybe we should change our minds.”
Josephina went to the sofa and straightened Summer’s lap robe.
“I don’t have a good reason for not liking her,” she said. “If you want her, it’s all right with me. What does an old woman know?”
Marc took a seat on the arm of the sofa. “I thought you trusted everybody, Josephina.”
“Not everyone. Old Mr. Hatchett, for instance.”
“Aw, there’s nothing wrong with him, either,” Summer said. “He’s just a widower who needs friends.” She paused a minute. “Well, Raven’s horse didn’t seem menacing. Isn’t he gorgeous? She calls him Great Spirit.”
Josephina patted Summer’s hand. “That’s a good name, but I still wouldn’t trust him. Ha! Maybe she worships her horse, instead of God.”
Marc, deep in thought about the horse, went over and sat in Josephina’s rocker. If Raven’s appearance had accomplished nothing else, it had helped make up his mind to buy Summer a riding horse. Then he’d see just how determined she was not to walk. He turned his attention to the women’s conversation as Summer spoke.
“You haven’t read my palm for a while, Josephina. Let’s do it now.”
“No,” said Josephina. “I won’t read your palm in a haunted house.”
“Oh please,” Summer persisted. “It’s so much fun.”
Josephina sighed and took Summer’s hand.
“Nobody can say Josephina doesn’t keep her girl happy. Okay, I’ll play the game.”
Marc watched from across the room, knowing Josephina’s palm-reading was more than a game to her. As far as he was concerned, it was a load of crap, but sometimes he wondered if Summer took it seriously.
“What do you see?” Summer asked.
“I see you don’t eat enough. I see bones.”
Summer laughed. “Be serious, Josephina.”
Josephina sat for a long time running a finger slowly around the lines in Summer’s palm.
“I see the wheelchair. Yah, I see it—why, the chair’s empty!” She looked up at Summer, surprise written on her face. “I see the wheelchair empty beside your bed.”
“Yes? Where am I? Am I in the bed?”
“No,” Josephina said. “I don’t see you.”
“Very well. I may be flying around the room. Please continue.”
The reading resumed. “Yes, I see—” Josephina suddenly dropped Summer’s hand. “Nothing more. I’m done now.”
“Just when I was having fun. Please?”
Josephina got to her feet and backed away. “I tell you I don’t see nothing.”
She quickly left the room, muttering under her breath, shaking her head. Marc stared after her, then turned to Summer.
“Did you hear that?” she asked him. “What about my empty wheelchair? Do you think I died?”
“Don’t be silly,” Marc said. “Of course you didn’t die. What a morbid thought.”
“But—did you see the look on her face?”
“Don’t worry about it. She’s superstitious, and even believes the house is haunted.”
“How can you be sure it’s not?” Summer said. “I’ve also had shivery feelings about this place, beginning with our first night here. In the spare room.” She lapsed into silence for a few minutes, then said, “I think we should pack up and leave. Tonight.”
Marc paced the room in long, angry strides. Both women were against him. They’d do anything to make him lose the house, but it wasn’t going to work. Damn the luck. He wouldn’t put it past them to have staged the palm-reading incident.
He returned and stood before her. “What about Raven Bear?” he said. “We promised her a job. You said you liked her. I’m asking you to give it another try.”
“I haven’t forgotten her,” Summer replied. “As for giving it a try, what choice do I have?”
“Don’t do this to me,” Marc said. “We only have to stay a year. One small year. Then the house is ours. I had hoped that if I couldn’t heal your paralysis, I could at least heal your bad moods. Every time I turn around you’re complaining about something. How can I help you when you refuse to help yourself? Tell me.”
Summer’s green eyes flashed. “You don’t owe me a damn thing, Marc.”
“Maybe not. But as a physician, I owe it to myself to try. I’m doing this for us, Summer, for our marriage.”
Summer remained silent for a moment, then changed the subject.
“What did you think of the legend of Charity Tawer?”
“I think Raven’s either stupid or crazy.”
Summer laughed. “You know as well as I do, she’s neither of those things.”
“Not only do I have two hysterical women on my hands,” Marc said, “but I’ve invited a third.”
“She wasn’t hysterical, and she did say it was only a legend. But it wouldn’t surprise me to discover the legend is actually true. Instead of your aunt raising hell around here, it’s the spirit of Charity Tawer.”
“Now you’re the crazy one, Summer.”
“I’m what? I’m crazy to state what I believe? If you ask me, an extra flesh and blood human around here should ward off evil spirits.”
Marc was ready to explode. He was fed up with ghosts, witches, and pianos playing without fingers. Pictures crashing. Pitchforks stabbing people’s groins.
“I’m tired of listening to this garbage,” he said. “I’m going for a walk.”
“It’s darker in here.” He spun on his heels and slammed out of the house.
Behind him, another dead husband fell off the wall.
For the rest of the month, Marc consoled Summer, humored Josephina, and generally chased ghosts out of the house. The rest of the portraits fell; he re-wired them. He’d become used to seeing the men’s faces, but though he searched the house over, he found no photos of Miriam Van Dyck. He thought it was strange she’d left no family images other than her collection of spouses.
Marc kept busy on his days off work. He stocked the barn with hay for Great Spirit and mended the fence enclosing a small corral behind the barn. Each time he entered the barn, he was reminded of Mr. Fiori’s death by pitchfork.
In April there was other work to be done. When he wasn’t at the clinic or hospital, Marc did whatever he could to brighten the outside of the house—but he could only do so much due to the contract. The place was a gigantic eyesore from the road; a few coats of white paint would help, but he’d probably have to settle for washing the windows. And Josephina’s garden stood in soggy anticipation of bright days and warm nights.
Though life may have been on hold in some respects, there was still a great deal of action. The countryside emerged from the dreary winter. Fields got plowed when dry enough. Animal babies saw their first light of day, and Summer had cheerfully begun sitting on the front porch awaiting Raven’s return to Calico Acres.
One morning at breakfast, she said, “I wish we could tear down Stonehenge.”
Marc smiled. “What would we do with it? Do you realize how many stones are out there? I suppose I could build a nice wall or a patio.”
Summer hadn’t mentioned moving for weeks, and he felt hopeful she was beginning to accept the idea of living here.
She pushed her food around on her plate. “I don’t want those rocks here at all,” she said. “Something about them scares me.”
Marc glanced through the sunroom window. “Maybe Josephina can plant Hollyhocks or Morning Glories to hide them.”
“Old things depress me,” she said, ignoring him. “I wouldn’t dare go around those boulders. Probably spiders and snakes and—”
Marc got up and kissed her cheek. “You’ve hardly eaten.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Then why don’t I take you out for fresh air? The sunshine should give you an appetite.”
Suddenly, something outside caught her eye. “Oh, look, Marc. Behind the garden—near the grove of trees—” She pointed in the direction of the cemetery.
“What?” Marc went over and looked out.
“A deer,” she said.
She pointed. “He’s quiet now, eating grass, but soon he’ll turn and go in another direction. He comes every morning and retraces his steps in the afternoon. Now wait—he’s moving again. See?”
Marc saw the deer now, a white-tailed buck with a rack of antlers.
“He’s camouflaged by trees and shadows,” Marc said. “Beautiful, isn’t he?”
Summer’s face became radiant. “I’ve seen rabbits and pheasants, and a partridge, I think. Are there any partridges in Wisconsin?”
“Probably,” Marc replied. “I wouldn’t know a partridge from a turtle.”
They turned together at the sound of a truck pulling up outside the rear door.
“Someone’s up early,” Marc said. He left her in the sunroom and went out to the small mud room off the kitchen.
When a loud knock sounded on the back door, he opened it to a find a man dressed for work in a pair of overalls and work boots.
“You Dr. St. Clair?” the man asked.
“I am. What can I do for you?”
“I’m from the County Health Department. Your real estate man sent me to check the depth of your well and test the water.”
Marc frowned. “I thought those things had already been done.”
“Maybe so, but he said you have problems, and since nobody’s lived here for a long time, it might be a good idea.”
“We’ve been here a while,” Marc said, “and we haven’t died. Should be drinkable.”
The man grinned. “Yeah, people usually think so till I find a dead rat in the well.”
Marc’s stomach tightened as he stared at the workman with a mental picture of a rat stuck in a water pipe.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” the man said, “but it’s happened once or twice.”
“Unbelievable,” Marc said. “The water has shut off a few times, but the gauge has been replaced, so no more problems running out of water.”
“Do you mind if I check anyway?”
Join us for a nice cup of coffee. Let Josephina serve you a big hearty breakfast of ham and eggs. You need to keep up your strength so you can scare the shit out of people with visions of dead rats in their water.
Marc returned to his wife and—omitting the small detail about the rats—explained who the caller was. When he left for work a few minutes later, he saw the well cover in the front yard was off and long pipes had been lowered into the hole. He disliked the idea of anyone digging in his yard, and it bothered him all the way to work. He couldn’t explain why it bothered him, but it did.
Something else bothered him, too—there hadn’t been any lettering on the truck saying it belonged to the County.
A couple of hours later, after morning rounds at the hospital, Marc drove to the real estate office, relieved to find Robert Jablonski still at his desk. The realtor welcomed him over a stack of listings.
“Good to see you again, Dr. St. Clair.” He motioned to a chair, but Marc declined.
“What I want won’t take long,” Marc said.
“Is something wrong?”
“Maybe you can explain why you sent a man out to check our well. Didn’t you say all the tests had been done? I hate to think my family and I have been drinking polluted water.” Polluted with dead rats.
Jablonski rolled his pen between his palms. “Yes, I did. You were having problems, and if your aunt expected you to live there for a year, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have it done again.”
“The problems were mechanical,” Marc said.
“It’s just a precaution.”
“Maybe you’ve reason to suspect the water’s bad—? Something you haven’t told me?”
Jablonski smiled. “Oh surely not. Why? Does it taste bad?
“With the stories we’ve been hearing about the place being haunted—I don’t believe them, but the women do—if they thought something was wrong with the water, they’d be on me again about moving back to Iowa.”
Jablonski laughed and got to his feet. “That story goes back a long way. I’m sure the house isn’t haunted.” He stuck out his hand.
Marc ignored the hand and the realtor walked him to the door. “I’m sorry I bothered you. I worry about my wife, she being disabled.”
“Tell her I said hello,” Jablonski said, then called him back. “Would you object to having the septic system checked out, as well?”
“Why not? Anything to make the place habitable, right?”
When he returned home after work, Marc was furious to find holes had been dug all over the front and back yards. They’d been refilled, but it was a mess just the same. He went inside to find Summer silent and moody. Josephina, however, had plenty to say.
“He made a mess and lots of noise with the big machine—brrr brrr—all day long. Poor Summer didn’t take her nap, but sat by the windows watching the sky and the barn.”
“I spoke with Mr. Jablonski,” Marc said. “He felt the water needed testing, just to be sure it’s safe. They’ll also be checking the septic tank. Wouldn’t want that backing up into the house, would we?”
Josephina followed Marc into the sunroom. Summer scowled, then wheeled the chair down the hall and into her sitting room, slamming the door behind her.
In the kitchen, Josephina poured herself a glass of water. “I’m worried about Summer, Marc. She’s not happy.”
He waited for her to drink and say the water tasted like shit, but she drank it down without a word and set the glass on the counter.
“She seemed bright and cheerful this morning, Josephina. She even showed me a deer she’s been watching every day.”
“Maybe so, but I’m not happy, either. We’ll go back to Iowa, yah?”
Already irritated by Summer’s behavior, Marc grabbed Josephina’s shoulders and glared at her.
“No, we will not go back to Iowa, yah! Not until our one year is up, Josephina, and not until you women get off this infernal obsession with haunted houses. I’m not leaving until I’m forced to, do you understand?” She shook her head yes. “And neither of you had better try that, because it won’t work.”
Seeing Josephina’s eyes brim with tears, Marc dropped his hands and stepped back.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”
She sniffed and wiped her eyes with her apron. “It’s only for Summer I beg. One day she’s happy, and the next day she cries and carries on something terrible. She don’t eat.”
“She needs to eat,” Marc said, “and like I said, she was happy this morning.”
“She spends too much time in her downstairs room,” Josephina said, “and the sunroom, staring at the barn and mumbling. I’m scared for her. When I read her palm, I—” She averted her eyes.
“What?” Marc touched her shoulder gently. “What did you see, Josephina? Come on, out with it.”
“Why should I tell someone who’ll laugh and make fun of me? You don’t believe it anyway.”
Marc shrugged. “Maybe I want to believe it.”
“Ha. No you don’t.”
He smiled down at her. “Whether I do or not isn’t the point. If you thought you saw something, I have a right to know what it was.”
She looked away. “No.”
“It was something bad, wasn’t it?”
Josephina nodded, and he imagined a lump in her throat when she said hoarsely, “Yah—yah, I got a bad feeling in here.” She touched her belly. “I—I saw fire.”
“Where, Josephina? Where was the fire?”
“I don’t know where it was. There were just flames. I felt the heat, and I—”
Marc backed away from the terror on her face.
“I see.” Although he didn’t see anything. “What makes you think it had something to do with Summer, those flames?”
“It was in her hand, Marc. Do you think I’m crazy? I know what I saw.”
Marc lowered his voice. “I hope you didn’t tell Summer.”
She shook her head. “You saw me leave the room. I wouldn’t scare her like that.”
Her hand trembled as Marc clasped it gently.
“I don’t think you should worry,” he said. “You’ve been overreacting to everything lately. These things you’re afraid of probably have reasonable explanations.”
She shifted her eyes toward the living room. “Yah, like pianos playing when nobody’s around.”
“Sooner or later, we’ll learn how that happened,” Marc said. “A mouse running along the keys, or—”
A sudden banging on the front door interrupted them. Josephina put her fists on her hips and moaned.
“Can you get it?” Marc asked. “I have to change.” He peeked out the window as Josephina followed him toward the front of the house. “Whoever it is came on a big tractor—whatever he’s selling, tell him we don’t want any.” He raced up the stairs, waving at the dead husbands who’d taken all Miriam’s secrets to their graves.
When he returned fifteen minutes later, Summer had made her appearance and was visiting with Josephina and another woman in the living room. He joined them, smiling.
“Hello,” he said to their guest. “I’m Marc St. Clair.”
The woman stood and offered her hand. She was stout, with gray-streaked brown hair clipped short, creating the image of a baseball sitting on a pitcher’s mound. She studied him intently from eyes that reminded him of the possum he’d scared off a wooden fence when he was a boy.
“Pleased to meet you, Doctor. I’m Gladys Finch, from the next farm west.” She took a seat again and looked thoughtfully around the room.
Summer’s mood had changed again, this time for the better as she sat in the wheelchair smiling pleasantly at their guest. She turned to Marc.
“Mrs. Finch kindly brought us fresh eggs, a jug of milk, and a large casserole of chicken fricassee.”
Marc nodded. “That’s very neighborly of you, Mrs. Finch. Thank you.”
Gladys smiled. “I needed an excuse to see inside this big old house. But of course I wanted to welcome you folks anyway.”
“Would you believe,” Summer said to Marc, “that in all the years Miriam lived here, she never once invited anyone in?”
“That’s right,” Gladys said. “I was just telling Mrs. Fleckenstein and your wife when you came in, I did actually come over a couple of times. The first time, nobody even bothered to answer the door, though I seen someone peeking out a window. And the other time, the old lady herself yanked the door open and yelled, “We don’t want any.” And she practically slammed the darn door in my face. Not very neighborly, if you ask me.”
“What did she look like?” Josephina asked.
Gladys laughed. “Oh my—well, I remember she was a huge woman. Bigger than me, anyways. With a few extra double chins and—get this—bright purple hair. Eggplant. That’s what it reminded me of, a big purple eggplant.”
“Purple hair?” Marc’s eyes widened. “I’ve always pictured her as a little old lady with white hair. No kidding? Purple?” He couldn’t resist a chuckle.
“A rinse,” Gladys said. “More lavender, come to think of it. Old ladies used to put rinses on their white hair to make it whiter. I reckon she got too much on and turned it purple. It was a long time ago, Dr. St. Clair. I’d say about ten years or so before she died. After her slamming the door in my face, I just didn’t bother to come again, you know what I mean? I considered that an insult.”
“I didn’t know Aunt Miriam,” Marc said. “I understand she was reclusive. After some of the stories I’ve heard, I’m surprised she didn’t keep a vicious dog chained to the front porch. You needn’t be afraid to visit now. We love company.”
“Thank you,” Gladys said, rising. She wandered through the large room. “Is this her furniture?” She stopped beside the piano. “I can’t imagine her playing this thing. Surprised you’d want any of this stuff, especially all the dusty old knick-knacks. Makes a place look cluttered. Some of the furniture looks expensive, though.”
“Antiques,” Summer explained. “Some of the pieces date back to the Civil War.”
Gladys returned to the sofa. “Humph. Now I’ve seen it, I can’t say I’d want to live here. Just look at those high ceilings. Fancy the cobwebs up there.” She swung her eyes around the room again. “I wouldn’t be happy in a place like this, but it won’t stop me from visiting. It might be all right in the daylight.”
Marc and Summer exchanged weary glances, and Josephina, who’d been relatively quiet, walked to the door with the neighbor.
“Yah. You come again, Miss Finch. I love company.”
Then, almost as an afterthought, Gladys turned to Marc again.
“I don’t suppose it means anything, but my two kids, Brian and Ronny—they’re your paper boys—well, they were cutting through your back grove a few nights ago and saw a woman standing on the balcony with the wind billowing her long dress and her hair all flying out.”
Marc stepped into the foyer. “That’s impossible—” He glanced back into the living room at Summer, who appeared quite alarmed.
Gladys nodded. “Well, they said they seen her, and the house is haunted, you know. It was the ghost of Mrs. Van Dyck, rest her soul. I told them it couldn’t have been the new lady who lives here—” She smiled sweetly at Summer. “Because she’s all crippled up, ain’ so? She really can’t walk now, can she?”
As much as Marc appreciated her neighborly concern, he wished to be rid of this gossip at once.
“It’s true,” he said. “Summer absolutely cannot walk, Mrs. Finch. It’s impossible for your sons to have seen anyone on the balcony. The ghost tales are ridiculous.”
Josephina found her tongue. “Maybe it was the witch, Marc. You remember the witch that Raven Bear told us about?”
“Now Josephina,” he warned, shaking his head.
“It’s an old story,” Josephina told Gladys, paying Marc no mind. “An Indian girl told us about a witch who was burned here—and she put a curse on this house, and—”
“That’s enough!” Marc yelled.
Gladys Finch startled, then stepped forward to hear more.
“Go on, Mrs. Fleckenstein. I’m anxious to hear all about that. A witch’s curse, you say? Right here in Wisconsin? Oh, my goodness.”
“Yah, yah!” Josephina exclaimed. “Her name was Charity Tawer, and she married an Indian chief and cut his head off and—”
Marc grasped Josephina’s arm hard enough to make her wince.
“That will be quite enough, Josephina.”
Gladys Finch spread from Calamine to Belmont, and probably points beyond, the story of the Salem witch, Charity Tawer. In spite of frequent visits to Calico Acres bearing eggs, cream or butter, she’d wasted no time telling her friends she’d visited the haunted house itself, in broad daylight, of course. She heard of the mysterious goings-on, such as pictures falling from the walls, the well drying up, a piano playing itself, and a cold room no one would enter, not even handsome Dr. St. Clair himself. Then, too, her own boys had been literally scared out of their pants at seeing the witch floating around on a balcony—in the light of a full moon. Although such tales made Marc angry, neither Summer nor Josephina would let him put an end to her visits, insisting she was harmless and they enjoyed her company.
One afternoon in mid-April, when the sun was warm and a brisk wind blew from the south, Marc returned from work to discover the septic tank open. He stormed into the house to find the women sullen and depressed.
“What in the hell do they think they’re doing?” he shouted.
Summer regarded him from behind a handful of tissues, her eyes swollen and teary. She coughed a few times before replying.
“They said Mr. Jablonski sent them to pump it out. Something else is wrong in there and they have to come back.”
Marc stomped around the kitchen, then slammed his fist down on the table so hard it made Summer jump.
“They didn’t have to leave the damn thing uncovered. It smells like Miriam buried her dead cats in there. What else is wrong with it?”
“You don’t have to take it out on us,” Summer said. “It’s a-a riser, I think. Because the old one was cracked.” She coughed again and quickly replaced the tissues over her nose.
“They said it needs a new drywell,” Josephina added. “Such a lot of digging, Marc. Piles of mud all over, and toilet smells in the house.”
He left them staring red-eyed after him and went back outside. His senses rebelled at the nasty sewer odors coming from the gaping hole.
“It has a plank across the top,” he said, returning to the kitchen. “It’s not sanitary, by any means.”
He marched into the den and snatched up the phone to call Jablonski; there was no answer, so he returned to the women.
“I can’t raise Mr. Jablonski, but first thing tomorrow morning, I’m—”
“We can always move,” Summer said. “We can pack up and go back to Iowa.”
“Don’t say it,” Marc warned. “Don’t even think it.” Then to Josephina, “I don’t suppose you’ve cooked anything?”
“We came out to the kitchen to try to make dinner,” Summer replied. “Just the thought of food makes me queasy.”
“Whatever I could cook would only taste like shit,” Josephina said. “I’m sorry.”
“We haven’t eaten since they opened that nasty hole this morning,” Summer added.
“Both of you must be famished,” Marc said. “Let’s go find a McDonald’s.”
It was dark when they returned. The warm daytime air had given way to a cold wind that blew some of the stench away from the septic tank. With all the windows thrown wide open, the house became more habitable. Marc figured a good night’s sleep would make them all see things differently, including Robert Jablonski. He had told the realtor to go ahead and check out the sewer system. Surely Jablonski might’ve warned them to be gone for a day so the fumes wouldn’t get them. What was he trying to do, run them out?
Later that night, weary of hauntings, his new job, and his crabby associate, Dr. Muhle, and also tired of nosey neighbors who gossiped to his already spooked wife and Josephina, Marc gathered Summer into his arms and shortly fell asleep. He was too tired to hear what the wind was doing outside; too tired to think of Raven Bear, who would arrive in a few days.
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The next morning he woke to see exactly what the wind was doing. In all his life, he had never seen such weather. Raging outdoors was a terrible sleet storm. It continued without let-up from morning to sundown, and the house groaned and creaked so much that all three residents became edgy. Outside, scraps of shingles and branches swept by, and the soil from the septic-tank pit lay scattered across the lawn, covering new grass which had survived the harsh winter—which was apparently not over yet. For the first time since moving in, Marc St. Clair was almost ready to quit.
All through the night, the wind moaned and whistled through cracks around the upstairs windows. Shutters banged. Loose shingles flapped like tap dancers on the roof over the bedroom. Although Josephina was most likely sound asleep, Marc spent most of the night consoling his hysterical wife, who could neither run to safety nor pace the floor. There was a constant high-pitched roar, with snapping and popping sounds, and Summer’s agitation greatly increased.
“It’s making me dizzy!” she wailed. “The house is moving. Swaying. It’s making me sick to my stomach—for God’s sake, Marc, do something!”
“The house isn’t swaying. You’re imagining things.”
She trembled so much, even holding her against him didn’t help.
“It is moving. I can feel it.”
“Please, please, make it stop. Oh—the roof—the roof will blow off! I’m afraid.”
He kissed the top of her head and whispered into her hair.
“If I could make it stop, I’d be God. It won’t blow the roof off. This house is solidly built, and by morning it’ll be over.”
Even as he said it, he wasn’t sure it was true. The torturous windstorm was wearing on him, too.
Summer pushed him away. “It’s an omen! It’s telling us we shouldn’t be here.”
“No,” Marc said, “it’s merely a furious Wisconsin wind.”
“It’s the witch! It’s Charity’s wind coming to drive us away. Let’s go downstairs!”
That same moment, there came a crash from somewhere on the other side of the house. Summer screamed, and Marc sat up, angry to find himself shaking.
“Something fell,” he said. “Or something was blown against the house, a limb perhaps.”
She clutched at him, but he pulled away and got out of bed.
“What are you doing?” she asked, as he switched on the lamp and reached for his bathrobe.
“I’m going to see what that was,” he said.
“Don’t leave me here alone!”
“Okay. If you’re that scared, I guess it’ll wait till morning.”
He sat beside her until she fell asleep, then got up and paced restlessly until the winds abated about four o’clock; as suddenly as they’d come, Josephina’s “buffoons” were gone. He stood in the center of the room, listening to the glorious silence. Glancing momentarily in the direction of the haunted bedroom, he crawled wearily into bed.
“You slept through it all,” he told Josephina the next morning.
Brilliant sunshine greeted them through the sunroom window, and Josephina was pleasantly cheerful as she brought in the food. The doors were open, and a fresh clean scent drifted into the room, unlike the putrid one of yesterday.
“Nein,” said Josephina. “I sat up all night in the front room.”
“Well,” Marc said, “our first taste of Wisconsin weather is playing with our minds.”
“The first was the cold and snow,” Summer said.
“You survived them both if I recall.” Marc pushed his coffee cup out for a refill.
“Barely,” Summer replied. “Last night was the final straw.”
“You’re in a lousy mood,” he said.
“Why shouldn’t I be? What woman, given the same circumstances, wouldn’t be in a bad mood?”
Josephina refilled Marc’s cup, then took a seat and looked out the window.
“I think the wind blew off the roof,” she said. “See? Shingles on the ground. A big limb on top of the stinky hole. It’ll be a good lid till they come back to cover it up.”
After breakfast, Marc told the women he was going up to the storage room to see if he could learn what crashed the night before.
“The haunted room?” Summer cried. “I don’t think you should go in there.”
“You worry too much,” he said. “I was going to ask you to go with me, but I already knew what the answer would be. You and Josephina stay down here and cry on each other’s shoulders while I go chase the spooks out.”
Summer groaned as Marc left the room and went upstairs. He hesitated a moment outside the small room, then removed the key from its hiding place above the door. He felt a bit queasy when he opened the door and stepped over the threshold. The musty odor was still there, and a slightly sickening one, as well. He walked over to the oval smoky-glass window and ran a hand around the edge, searching for a latch. His hand came away coated with many years of dust and cobwebs. Yes, there was a rusted latch, which required tools and a lubricant to make it operable. The large window on the adjoining wall, he discovered, was nailed firmly shut.
There was not much light, just what filtered through the dirty glass. After a minute, his eyes adjusted to the dimness and he saw staring at him from across the room a large baby doll with painted-on hair. One of the arms was smashed, one glassy eye had been poked into its socket—evidence the doll had certainly been played with. The question was, by whom?
To his knowledge, Miriam had been childless. The doll had probably belonged to a step-child, perhaps a child from a first marriage of one of her husbands. He walked over to the old trunk on which the doll rested and picked it up. Funny they hadn’t seen the doll when they first visited the room. Its dress was reminiscent of an era perhaps fifty years before. A typical baby dress with long, tight sleeves, one of which hung limply to the doll’s side, and a lace-trimmed skirt.
A sudden chill came over him as Marc replaced the doll on the trunk. Sensing a shift in the air, he swung around just in time to see a mouse disappear behind a stack of old books. He dusted the books off with his sleeve so he could read the titles—old novels he’d never heard of. Some volumes were so completely worn as to be unrecognizable, but from what he could see, Miriam had been an avid reader of romances. He smiled. Obviously, his aunt had never found the right man for herself, and she lived her dreams through one husband after another.
When he turned to leave, he spied the object that may have crashed during the night: an oil painting of a little girl about a year old, lying on a pile of vases, old biscuit tins, hat boxes, and a mirror with a jagged crack running diagonally from one corner to another. Seven years bad luck came his grandmother’s voice.
After locking the door again and replacing the key in its hiding spot, Marc carried the picture downstairs, stopping at each of Miriam’s former husbands on the way to look for a resemblance. There was none. No photo of Miriam, either. He thought the queen of the manor should’ve hung her own portrait at the beginning of this visual record of failed marriages.
He found Summer waiting for him in the living room and placed the picture in her lap.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“It’s the ghost that raised hell in the spare room last night.”
Summer studied the portrait thoughtfully, then looked up at him, eyes full of questions.
“A baby? Whose?”
“I have no idea,” Marc replied. “Look—almond-shaped eyes, a round face and small chin. She had Down Syndrome. I’m certain of it, from what I see in this image, of course.”
Summer gazed at the startlingly lovely face of the little girl. “Mentally disabled, then?”
“Do you think she was Miriam’s?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t see how—”
“I suppose you’d have known, if that’s the case.” Summer looked him squarely in the eyes. “She would’ve been your cousin. Are you sure you don’t remember?”
He shook his head. “If she was Miriam’s, I should’ve known about her. Second cousin, to be exact.” He nodded toward the staircase. “I’ve already compared her features to the old men. She doesn’t resemble any of them.”
Summer traced the child’s curls with a finger.
“You persist in referring to them as old men, but they’re all different ages.”
Marc laughed. “Maybe they were young when she married them and old when she got done with them. They look old to me. Must be the cameras they used back then.”
Summer examined the picture again. “This is very nice work,” she said. “Such a beautiful model in the old-fashioned lace gown. Even a baby’s ring on a ribbon around her neck, especially for the portrait, probably painted from a photo, because she was too young to sit. Do you really think she had Down Syndrome?”
Marc nodded. “It’s fairly obvious. In those days, they didn’t understand retardation. I suppose it’s possible no one knew Miriam had a child, because she was ashamed of a disorder nobody understood back then. It would’ve carried a certain stigma.”
Summer handed him the portrait, which he placed on the mantel next to Miriam’s other keepsakes: small vases, figurines, and candlesticks. A glass paperweight in the shape of a frog appeared out of place in the otherwise elegant room.
From behind him, Summer said, “Maybe she kept the baby locked up in there.”
He went over and kissed her cheek. “Oh, I doubt that. Even Miriam wouldn’t do something as gruesome as that, even if she wasn’t all there. Anyway, the noise we heard last night was probably the picture tumbling off one of those old trunks and knocking over some boxes. We have mice, too; remind me to set a trap. It was probably mice all along when we were there before. Musty mouse droppings.” He laughed. “Imagine you afraid of mice haunting an old storeroom.”
Summer wasn’t paying attention, and pushed him away so she could see the painting better.
He followed her gaze. “What?”
“Look at her from where I sit and tell me what you see.”
“A baby in fine clothing, sitting for her portrait.”
She grabbed his hand. “Oh, but there’s a definite resemblance to you. She had to be Miriam’s child.”
As May approached, Summer spent many evenings on the front porch viewing the countryside. Dandelions grew in profusion in the new spring grass, all the way down the sloping front yard to the road, and she now had some idea why the farm had been named Calico Acres. Beyond the road lay patchwork fields in hues of brown and gold, dotted here and there with groves of trees. Indeed, the result was like a huge square of print fabric. Peonies, with waxy pink and crimson buds stood in clumps throughout the yard. The bridal wreath along the driveway was heavy with spraying white branches of sweet-scented flowers. Summer seemed almost content to let the warm air, clean country odors, and riotous colors claim her.
One such evening found both Summer and Marc sitting peacefully on the porch when they caught sight of a lone equestrian some distance down the road. They watched as what had at first been a mere speck grew larger as it approached the farm.
“I thought so.” Summer laughed. “Who else would come calling except little Pocahontas herself? The girl with crazy dark eyes returns.” She turned to Marc with a smile. “I was about to give up hope of seeing her again.”
Marc got up and walked to the edge of the porch as Raven Bear and Great Sprit climbed the driveway and stopped at the bottom of the steps. We should be so lucky.
“What did you say?”
He stole a quick glance at his wife, but shook his head. “Nothing. I was just thinking.”
Glad Raven’s appearance had interrupted his thoughts, Marc descended the steps, and with a professional air of confidence, strode up to the stallion.
“Hello and welcome back!”
Raven was about to speak when suddenly the animal reared and snorted, his dark eyes blazing with rage. She spoke gently to him, and soon had him under control, then dismounted and marched up to Marc.
“You have a short memory, Doctor. I warned you not to come too close to him. Do it again and he’ll grind your bones to cinders.”
Marc stepped back abruptly, whether from fear of the horse or its owner, he wasn’t sure.
Raven stroked Great Spirit’s neck and smiled at Marc.
“You’re forgiven already. Where do I put him?”
After getting the animal settled in his stall, they entered the house by the back door, and Raven placed her bundle on the kitchen table. Marc picked it up, then set it down again.
“It weighs a ton. What do you have in here—rocks?”
Raven untied a leather thong and opened the pack. “Another set of clothes—and—” She turned with a start as Josephina clomped into the room with a basket of laundry. She nodded, then turned back to Marc. “—and I’ve brought some herbs for Mrs. St. Clair. They’ll give her strength.”
Before Marc could protest, Josephina set the basket on the floor, stormed over to the table and slapped the bundle.
“Yah. Maybe they’ll make her sick. What Summer needs is ham and eggs and hot biscuits with plenty of country butter—not Indian food.”
“Josephina!” Marc shouted.
Raven smiled. “It’s all right, Doctor. Your housekeeper’s a good friend to your wife. She has her best interests at heart, just as you and I do.” She gave Josephina her sweetest smile. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Fleckenstein, if he wants to check out the herbs, it’s fine with me. They’re simply natural foods with healing benefits.”
“Humph. We’ll wait and see, Miss Bear.” Josephina glanced at Raven’s bundle. “You didn’t bring many clothes. What will you wear? What’ll you sleep in?”
At the moment, Raven wore what appeared to be the same jeans and shirt from her first visit, and Marc found himself suddenly embarrassed as he mentally undressed her. She was voluptuous, with a waist small enough for his hands to encircle. Had he been a blusher, he might’ve done so now as she watched his frank gaze with interest. Then her eyes found his and held them intimately as she replied to Josephina.
“I don’t require many clothes, Mrs. Fleckenstein. I’m perfectly comfortable in what I’m wearing now. As for something to sleep in—I’ve discovered my skin is best, especially in hot weather.”
With some effort, Marc broke the eye-lock and turned away. Panic rising, he felt like fleeing from this young woman who could both delight and anger him at the same time. But before he could shrivel up and disappear, Summer rolled her wheelchair into the kitchen.
“It’s so good to see you, Raven!”
Josephina snorted and pointed to Raven’s bundle. “She brought some magic weeds for you to eat.” With that, she snatched up the laundry basket, stomped out of the room and up the back stairs, forgetting that Marc had shown her how to place items on the stair lift to transport them to the second floor.
Marc burst out laughing. “Don’t pay any attention to her, Raven, she’ll come around. Josephina’s been with us since Summer’s accident. She feels like family. I imagine she considers Summer and me her children—and herself our mother.”
“Yes, she’s harmless,” Summer added with a wink.
Raven glanced after Josephina. “Don’t be too sure of that. She doesn’t like me. I know prejudice when I see it.”
“Oh, I’m sure that isn’t true,” Summer said. “Just give her time to get used to the idea of another woman in the house.” Seeing Raven’s bundle opened on the table, she asked, “What weeds was she talking about, for heaven’s sake?”
Marc picked up a small pouch of questionable content, sniffed, and handed it to Summer.
“Only some herbs,” he said. “Raven says they’ll make you strong.”
Raven smiled and reached into the bundle again. When she pulled her hand out, she held what appeared to be a small bunch of straw, which she handed to Summer.
“And this is a cornhusk doll,” she said. “If you like, I’ll teach you how to make them during harvest season.”
“Josephina will think it’s a voodoo doll,” Summer said. “Did you bring me anything else? Now just listen to me. I sound like a child, don’t I?”
Raven patted Summer’s hand. “I’m afraid it’s all I have. We’ll be good friends, won’t we?” She turned to Marc. “May I have a glass of water, please?”
“Of course.” He went to the sink and returned with a glass of cold water.
“Thanks.” Raven drank thirstily of the tap water, then made a face. “Not to be insulting, Doctor, but this crap is nasty.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
“If you don’t mind, I’ll drink bottled water while I’m here.”
Raven moved into the large bedroom directly across the hall from Josephina’s. A huge four-poster bed dominated the room, the walls were papered in cream stripes alternating with dull blue flowers, the windows and floor bare of coverings. Raven didn’t mind what the room looked like, but thought it afforded a better view of the calico countryside.
The only other alternative was the haunted room.
“We can fix this one up later,” Summer said, apologizing for the starkness. “You’ll make another trip up home, won’t you? You’ll probably bring the rest of your belongings.”
Raven placed her parcel on the old cherry-wood bureau.
“This is fine. I won’t be bringing anything else. I’ve got all I need—hairbrush, toothbrush, and—” she shot Marc an amused glance “—plenty of pretty underwear, my weakness besides horses.”
Summer laughed. “We wouldn’t be women if that weren’t true.”
Raven sat on the side of the bed and bounced, testing it for comfort.
“As for going back to the Reservation, I’d like to go up at least once this summer to check on my grandfather. He misses me when I’m gone. I’ll take his medication and some special foods.”
“Whatever you want is fine with us,” Marc said, preparing to leave. “Just make yourself at home. The bathroom’s right down the hall. The master bedroom is directly across from it.” He stepped toward the open door. “And of course the stair lift on the back staircase, if you need to bring Summer up or down.”
“Thank you,” Raven said. “Oh, and there’s something I wanted to ask you.”
Marc glanced over his shoulder. “Yes?”
“I wonder if you’d mind if I dig in the yard occasionally.”
He swung around. “You what?”
“To search for Charity’s grave.”
Marc took a step toward her then stopped. “Do you know how many other people have dug in this yard over the last few weeks? No—of course you couldn’t know. The answer is no, Raven. I don’t think you should. Absolutely not.”
He could not finish. She was doing it again, the strange things with her eyes. Was she looking at Summer? Him? Or was she looking at nothing in particular? Those eyes—black, bottomless pits, sparkling onyx—shades of Heaven and Hell rolled into one. Suddenly, he felt the familiar stirring of passion. An electric sparking in his groin, a red-hot fever that threatened to consume him. He struggled with his flyaway emotions, his physical needs, hoping neither woman would notice. Fighting down the urges, he managed to speak.
“Do anything you want, Raven, but I don’t know what you hope to find in an old grave of a Salem witch who may—or may not—have existed. Just be sure you fill them back in when you’re done.”
Raven refocused her eyes.
“Maybe I won’t find anything.” She sighed. “Do you mind if I go to bed now? I’m very tired from the trip, and this bed looks inviting.”
Summer backed her chair toward the door. “By all means. We didn’t mean to keep you up. Tomorrow will be time enough for a good long talk. There’s so much I want to know about you.”
Raven got off the bed, went over and patted Summer’s hand.
“Tomorrow we start your therapy, after a gentle massage to warm your muscles.”
Marc lay wide awake beside Summer, her head nestled in the crook of his shoulder. The scent of her bath powder was overpowering, her soft skin warm against his own. He needed to love her thoroughly and properly, but it was already too late, for she was fast asleep. Even if she hadn’t been asleep, it was still too late; she wanted nothing to do with her husband’s body. All she had wanted since the accident was for him to protect her. Protect her from what? He didn’t know.
As he listened to his wife’s gentle breathing, his mind formed a picture of the vital young woman down the hall. He recalled how she’d held his eyes earlier, searching his soul. It was the oldest game in the world, a come-on he couldn’t mistake for ordinary friendliness.
He eased Summer’s head from his shoulder and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The room was too warm. He went over and opened the French doors and stepped onto the balcony, where a full moon hung like a neon light above the barn. Shadows swept across the lawn, thrown there by Summer’s Stonehenge and the twin silos. From the shadows appeared a small figure, which quickly disappeared into the barn. Raven Bear. Marc heard Great Spirit neigh as he returned to the bedroom and closed the double doors.
The next morning at breakfast, Summer scolded Raven for sleeping in the barn. Raven took a small bite of toast and sipped her coffee before replying.
“The room is fine, but when I went to check on Spirit, I found him throwing a tantrum.” She smiled at Marc as he reached for his juice glass. “Yes, I slept with my horse. I saw you on your balcony, doctor, so I assume you couldn’t sleep, either.”
Marc finished his orange juice and stood abruptly. He did not like to be teased. Did not like his hired help baiting him. Well, he wasn’t simple-minded, and she’d damn well have her work cut out for her. He leaned down and kissed his wife.
“I have to go, sweetheart. You ladies have fun today.” He glanced at Raven momentarily. Or else.
“You’ve barely eaten,” Summer said. “Is something wrong?”
“I’m not hungry,” he said. “I’ll grab an early lunch in the hospital cafeteria.”
Marc’s work day had been frustrating, with Dr. Muhle cranky and hard to please. Set in his ways, Karl may as well have lived in the dark ages for all the trust he put in modern medicine and newfangled machines. Marc liked Karl and usually enjoyed working with him, but a widening generation gap seemed impossible to bridge. He knew that if he wanted to own Miriam’s house, he’d better tolerate the elder physician’s idiosyncrasies, because he could not afford to be out of work.
On the way home, he bought a few bottles of water for Summer’s therapist. His thoughtfulness turned to fury when he pulled into his driveway a short time later and saw that Raven had gouged her first holes in his front lawn, which was beginning to come alive again after the septic tank excavations.
He stormed into the house and found the women in the den—Summer in her wheelchair, listening with rapt attention to Indian lore related by Raven Bear, who sat cross-legged on the floor. In Marc’s own private hideaway, the little wench sat—smugly, Marc thought—as if she owned the place. He stifled the impulse to give her a piece of his mind, thought better of it and went over to kiss Summer. He became aware of Raven watching, and turned to her.
“You wasted no time digging up my yard.”
She looked straight through him with her crazy eyes. “I intend to fill in the holes first thing tomorrow. Summer and I had work to do.”
It was infuriating. He couldn’t tell exactly whom she looked at.
“It’s supposed to rain,” he said. “If it does, we’ll have one hell of a mud hole out there.”
Raven shrugged. “They’re small holes. No big deal.”
Marc leaned against his desk and folded his arms across his chest, closed for further comment. You little witch. You cross-eyed little witch. Look at me if you dare. He became aware of Summer watching as he willed Raven’s dark eyes to focus directly into his.
“I’m beginning to wonder,” he said, “if you came to help my wife—or to search for relics. Which is it?”
Before she could reply, Summer threw up her hands in despair.
“What’s gotten into you, Marc? How can you be so rude?”
He glanced sideways at her. “I’m not rude, Summer. I’m just stating some facts and waiting for answers.”
“Yes, you are rude. For your information, she put me through a light exercise routine, just as you wanted her to do, and you come stomping in here to attack her for—”
He turned to the girl. “Yes, of course, that’s nice. It’s why you’re here. I’m grateful, Raven.”
Summer slammed her hands down on the arms of her wheelchair.
“That’s all you can say? That’s nice. That’s nice. Well, let me tell you, it wasn’t a damned bit nice.”
“Her muscles are tight,” Raven said. “It’ll get easier.”
Marc went over to Summer, looked down on her, feeling sympathetic. Of course it couldn’t have been easy.
“I’m sorry, honey. I had no business getting so riled up.”
Raven got to her feet, went to the window and looked out for a few minutes before speaking.
“I don’t expect you to understand. About the holes, I mean. If you forbid me to dig, I won’t. After all…”
Her words didn’t register as he stared at her ass, encased snugly in the tight jeans. Her long black hair hung in one thick braid down her back, like an arrow.
At the sound of the wheelchair, he reluctantly tore his eyes away from Raven’s butt and turned around.
“You said she could dig,” Summer said. “For God’s sake, Marc. She digs, and you’re upset when she does. What’s got into you?”
He pushed his hair off his forehead and managed a weak smile. “You’re right. Of course I did.” He sighed and shook his head. “I had a hard day with Karl pointing out the harm my modern medicine is doing to our patients. The old bastard thinks he—I’m sorry. What happens at my office is not your fault. Sometimes I forget.” He turned to Raven. “I did say you could dig. I just didn’t expect it so soon, and so many holes. Just so they’re filled in.”
“Don’t worry,” she said, “they will be.”
Summer maneuvered her chair to the doorway. “You two can stand here all night if you like, glowering at each other. I’ll go see if Josephina has supper ready. Raven offered to help, but Josephina threw her out of the kitchen.”
“The old hag knows what she can do!” Raven snapped. “She probably thought I’d poison the food.”
Summer giggled, then exited. Marc resumed his stance at the desk, arms crossed even more tightly, stubbornly. For a long time, neither of them spoke. Suddenly the girl’s face softened.
She flirted exquisitely, and cast her glance toward his crotch. In the next moment, she once again held his eyes, searching for an answer to her unspoken question.
Marc had no answer, but he was absolutely certain his desires were revealed in his own eyes. How could he tell her he couldn’t do what she wanted. What they both wanted. He loved his wife. This young woman was a tease, and she was taking advantage of his obvious physical needs. She had to know Summer was no wife to him.
Then his senses returned, and he was disgusted with himself for his lewd thoughts and feelings. It was as though he’d already committed adultery in his mind. Even worse, Raven knew exactly how he felt, and how to manipulate those feelings.
He turned and fell into his large desk chair, crossed his legs, hoping to hide evidence of his frustration. Her eyes followed his every move with calculated interest.
“I’m sorry I barked at you,” he said. “Like I said, it was a bad day at the clinic. You may dig all the holes you like, as long as you cover them again and don’t dig up the damn septic tank. Don’t even go near it.”
Raven threw back her head and laughed.
“I’m sorry, but you were so serious.” Then she sobered. “If you insist, I’ll try not to dig much. You’ve been so nice to me—and you’re so—”
“I was about to say you’re so—incredibly beautiful—” She sighed. “Well, men are handsome, not beautiful.”
Blood rushed to Marc’s face. “Look, Raven, why don’t we stop playing games? I know what you’re after—I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“What am I after, besides old relics in your yard?”
Marc shook his head firmly and looked her straight in the eyes.
“You know as well as I do—it wouldn’t work. Oh hell, Raven, let’s just forget the whole thing.”
“Please try to behave yourself.”
She grinned mischievously. “Very well, but one of these days.”
“One of these days—I’ll trade you off for—for a beaver pelt.” He returned her grin. “Speaking of pelts, there’s something I wanted to ask you.”
“You mean if you can get your mind and eyes off my body.”
“You’re hopeless,” he said. “Will you help me find a horse for Summer? A riding accident caused her paralysis. There was nerve damage, but her doctors feel it wasn’t extensive enough to prevent her from walking again.”
He nodded. “Yes, and frankly, I think her problem is fear. It’s a wild chance, but since she always loved riding, if she had a horse, she might be persuaded to try.”
She considered his words. “I’m not sure it would work. She’s pretty stubborn, and any fear is probably unconscious.”
“I’ll try anything,” Marc said.
“I’m sure you would.”
“So, what about it? Will you help me? I don’t know anything about horses, but you do, obviously.”
“Sure. Why not? Of course I’ll help.”
“I have next Thursday off,” Marc said. “Let’s set a tentative date for then. I’d like to surprise her. We could call it a birthday present.”
“Oh? Is it her birthday?”
“Her birthday was in March.”
“No idea. You into astrology, too? What next?”
“I’m into everything and anything interesting. Come on—guess what sign I am.”
He shook his head. “I couldn’t begin to guess.”
She laughed. “I was born kicking and screaming when the harvest moon was full. I’m Scorpio.”
She said it with a certain pride. Marc had no idea about such things. He was a scientific man, not into things you couldn’t prove under a microscope.
“Your parents must’ve been wildcats,” he said.
“How did the therapy session go today?”
“She didn’t want to do anything, but in spite of her obstinacy, we managed. I’m taking it slowly. She needs to know I’m her friend. Then she’ll do anything I ask.”
“Are you still sleeping in the barn with your horse?” Josephina asked Raven a few days later. “A nice bed in the house and you’d rather sleep with a horse. Disgusting.”
Josephina’s outbursts had become more frequent, and she didn’t mince words when it came to telling Raven exactly what she thought.
“I’ve slept in the barn once or twice,” Raven said. “Not because the room or bed isn’t nice, but because Spirit’s been agitated since we came here. He calms down when I’m with him.”
Summer burst out laughing. “He’s jealous, Raven.”
“Nonsense.” Raven laughed. “Impossible.”
“He doesn’t want anyone near you,” Marc said.
“He’s a one-owner horse, Dr. St. Clair. I hope you’re not thinking of going near him. I’ve already told you what might happen.”
Marc eyed her and shook his head. “You said he’ll grind my bones to dust, or some such crazy remark.” After I tame you, I’ll tame your damn horse.
Robert Jablonski dropped by on Wednesday. Dressed impeccably in a navy three-piece suit, he sat erect at one end of the living room sofa. It was the first time he’d met the new mistress of Calico Acres, and Marc proudly noted the man couldn’t take his eyes off Summer.
Summer sat serenely in her wheelchair, her pale hair fashioned in a cluster of curls atop her head, her graceful neck plunging into a low neckline of crimson silk. Her cheeks were bright, and she’d even gained a few pounds.
Jablonski managed to wrench his eyes away from Summer and focus them on Marc.
“I was afraid you’d be angry after the workers dug into your yard, but I see they’ve hidden the evidence quite well.”
Marc nodded, sat back and folded his hands. “Except for a few new holes, it looks almost normal again. Did you see the one that looks like a grave filled with rainwater?” he laughed. “By the way, Robert, how do you get rid of dandelions? They’ve gone to seed, and the yard’s a field of cotton balls. Cutting them down is impossible. They see the mower coming and lie down, then spring back up after it’s passed over.”
“Have you tried weed killer?” The man smiled. “You can make a non-toxic one with vinegar and salt.”
Marc shook his head. “Can’t put chemicals on them, because Raven eats them.”
Jablonski’s smile vanished. “Raven? Oh, do you have a pet bird? Or maybe a dog.”
“Raven is a young woman. She lives here, and makes salads and soup out of the weeds. I guess vinegar and salt wouldn’t hurt.”
Jablonski cleared his throat.
“I wasn’t aware you had a house guest,” he said. “Family?”
Summer wheeled her chair closer to him. “She’s not a relative, Mr. Jablonski. The young woman Marc referred to is Miss Raven Bear.”
“Summer’s therapist,” Marc explained. “She in the barn now with her horse, but—”
No one had heard Raven’s soft footsteps as she came through the dining room. Now she spoke.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you had company.” She eyed the visitor.
Marc got to his feet. “Come in and meet our realtor, Raven. Robert Jablonski.”
Raven hesitated, then came over to them. Today, she wore moccasins instead of boots.
Jablonski got to his feet as the girl extended her hand. He touched it briefly, a mere brush of the air, and without a word, sat back down. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Marc spoke.
“Raven has been filling our heads with Native American lore—I’ve given her permission to dig for relics.” He paused, then added, “I hope that’s all right, seeing we don’t own the house yet.”
“What’s that?” Jablonski said. “Oh, I should think just digging a hole would be all right,” He glanced at Raven. “Have you found anything?”
“If I find anything,” she returned, “I’ll be sure to notify you.” She turned her back on him and spoke to Marc. “I’d like to speak to you when you have time. I’ll be upstairs.”
Jablonski stared after her as she left the room and hurried up the front staircase.
Summer spoke up now, full of enthusiasm. “Raven has been a great comfort to me while Marc works and Mrs. Fleckenstein is busy elsewhere. I’m afraid Josephina hasn’t much use for her, though. Too many women under one roof, perhaps.”
Jablonski crossed his legs and settled back. “She doesn’t appear very friendly.”
“Oh no, she’s friendly enough,” Marc said. “But I couldn’t help noticing the two of you took an instant dislike to each other.”
“I don’t know why you’d think that,” Jablonski replied, “since I’ve only just met her.” He quickly changed the subject and gestured to the picture on the mantel.
“Lovely child, Mrs. St. Clair. Is she your sister?”
Summer followed his gaze, then faced him with a sweet smile.
“I don’t have a sister,” she replied. “Marc found the photograph in one of the upstairs rooms. We wonder if Mrs. Van Dyck had a stepchild, since she was supposedly childless herself.”
The man lowered his voice. “As far as anyone knows, there were never any children living here.”
“So we’ve heard,” Marc said. “It appears this baby had Down Syndrome.”
“Really? Hmm, well, still, not even a retarded child could’ve lived here without anyone knowing. On the other hand, I suppose she could’ve given birth to such a child and had it institutionalized.”
“I don’t think so,” Marc replied. “There’s baby furniture and toys upstairs. I’m sure a child did live here once; however, I’m not altogether certain she was my aunt’s child.”
Robert Jablonski rose. “Probably a relative came to visit from time to time. I wouldn’t concern myself with it, Dr. St. Clair. You’ll probably find other unexplained photos, clothing, etcetera.” He turned to Summer. “It’s been nice meeting you, Mrs. St. Clair. Maybe we’ll meet again soon.” To Marc, he added, “I almost forgot why I came. How’s the well doing?”
Marc accompanied him to the front door. “We still run out of water occasionally, but we’re coping.”
“I have no idea what’s wrong,” Jablonski replied. “Nothing appears amiss inside the well, the hardware and gauges are practically new, and the water level’s good.”
Marc opened the door and stepped aside. “My wife and Josephina say it’s because the house is haunted. They’d say anything to drive me out.”
A few minutes later, Marc excused himself and went upstairs. Raven answered his knock, then closed the door behind him.
“I thought he’d never leave. Your Mr. Jablonski knows what he can do with his expensive suits and snotty manners.”
“Whoa!” Marc smiled at her outburst and leaned against the door, holding out his hands to ward her off. “I thought you wanted me for something important, not to chew me out for my taste in realtors.”
She motioned to the only chair in the room, a stiff ladder-back with a cane seat.
“Please, sit down.”
“It’s safer over here. What do you want?”
For once, she held his eyes steady.
“I’ve located a stable not far from here,” she said. “They’re advertising a three-year-old gelding, and if you want, we can look at him tomorrow.”
Raven’s gaze was magnetic, and when Marc tried to look away, he found he couldn’t.
“Stop ogling me,” he said.
“It bothers you?”
“You know damn well it does, Raven. You’re the most outrageous flirt I’ve ever seen. Just knock it off, I’m not interested in cheating on my wife.”
“It’s only because I adore you.”
Marc shook his head and rolled his eyes. “You’re not a very good actress.”
She came closer and touched his face with a warm hand.
“I can give you what she can’t—what she refuses to give you.”
“How do you know what she gives me?” He grabbed her hand and forced it down. “I love my wife. You’re supposed to be her friend.” He stepped away from her. “You hardly know me.”
“I’ve always known you.”
“You’re insane. You can’t do—”
Without warning, she was against him, pressing into his body with urgency, arms wrapped tightly around his back. She laid her head on his chest.
“I hear your heart throbbing. Who do you think you’re trying to fool, Doctor?”
“Of course my heart’s beating, dammit. Did you think I was dead?” In spite of himself, something else was also throbbing.
“Oh, I knew you weren’t dead.”
Nearly out of his mind with desire, Marc grabbed her arms and pried them loose from his waist.
“Goddammit, Raven, no.”
“I love my wife. How many times do I have to say it?” He pushed her away, more angry with himself than with her. She searched his face, and he felt his body responding. “If you don’t stop this, I’ll have to send you packing.” He looked her right in the eyes. “Don’t force my hand.”
Raven stepped back calmly and smiled. “I’ll give you time. Go back downstairs to your beautiful, cold wife, who prefers to sit in a wheelchair like a china doll. A grown woman who needs pampering and spoiled like a baby.”
He reached for the doorknob, hand shaking. “If I’d known you were a nymphomaniac, I’d never have hired you.”
“Oh, is that what you think I am?”
“Damn close—I should make you leave today.”
“What would you tell Summer if you kicked me out? Will you say I tried to seduce you? No, I don’t think you’d deliberately hurt her.” She shrugged. “Well, never mind. If you still want to go with me tomorrow, we’ll find a horse for your wife.”
Marc paused in the open doorway.
“By the way, I’m sorry you didn’t like Robert Jablonski. You two would make an interesting match.”
“You think?” She smiled. “Well, today wasn’t the first time I’d seen him. I’d remember him anywhere.”
“You’d remember any man.”
“Your realtor was in a hardware store the other day purchasing rat poison.”
The foreman of Silver Mound Stables led Marc and Raven to the bullpen, where a pinto gelding munched on grass near a rail fence. The animal raised its head when the man entered the pen, then resumed grazing.
Marc turned to Raven. “He’s beautiful!”
Raven reached over the fence to touch the pinto, but he twitched his ears and stepped away.
“He’s a little tall,” she said. “I had a smaller one in mind.”
“For a child?” the foreman asked.
“No, a small woman,” Raven replied.
“For my wife,” Marc explained. “She’s disabled.” He glanced at Raven’s bare legs below a pair of old cut-off jeans.
“Is that right?” asked the man, shielding his eyes from the glaring sun. “Then what do you want with a horse?”
“I’m a physician,” Marc said. “I have an idea she might ride for therapy, with help, of course.”
The man shrugged. “Well, maybe if she has help—here, I’ll show you what he’s like in motion.”
The gelding shook his head and snorted as the foreman led him away from the fence and around the pen before returning to the couple.
Marc turned to Raven and caught her watching him. “He’s very nice, isn’t he? What do you think?”
Raven grinned and pulled herself up and over the fence and landed in the dust on the other side.
She patted the gelding’s nose and was rewarded with a nuzzle on her shoulder. “I’d like to ride him and see how he handles. Does he have a name?”
“Name’s Bandit,” the foreman said. “Sweet as a lamb. Even if he is a little big, he might be okay for what you want. He behaves himself pretty good, don’t you, boy?”
Raven examined Bandit’s ears and mouth, and ran a hand firmly down each leg, picked up each foot and checked the hoof. Then she grabbed the rein, mounted, and straddled his bare back. With light pressure from her thighs, she walked him to the center of the pen, circled twice, then trotted him to the far side, away from the men.
“The girl sits a horse good,” remarked the foreman.
Marc glanced at him, then focused his attention on Raven, noticing how her behind floated above the gelding’s back; the way her thighs curved around his sides like a pair of salad tongs.
When Raven returned, she dismounted and whispered something in Bandit’s ear before coming back to the men.
“I don’t know about Summer,” she said, “but I already love him.”
“You won’t go wrong with Bandit,” the man said, “but riding any horse won’t be a picnic for a disabled person.”
“As long as he’s gentle,” Marc said, “I think we can manage.”
They found Josephina in the kitchen, and Marc pointed to a basket on the counter.
“Hey, where’d you get the mushrooms?”
“Gladys sent them,” Josephina replied.
“That was neighborly of her. I’ve never eaten wild mushrooms, have you?”
Josephina nodded. “When I was a little girl, Papa found them in the woods, and Mama dipped them in egg batter and fried them.”
“What kind are these?” Marc examined the mushrooms. “They look like toadstools.”
“I don’t know,” Josephina said, “why don’t you ask Miss Bear?”
Marc turned to find Raven watching from the dining room doorway.
“Our neighbor sent these,” he said. “Can you tell us what kind they are?”
Raven came over and went through the basket, picking up mushrooms and examining them carefully. Suddenly, she snatched up the basket and the bowl Josephina had already cleaned, ran to the wastebasket and dumped them in. Horrified, Marc marched over and grabbed her arm.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“She threw away perfectly good mushrooms!” Josephina yelled.
Raven’s eyes blazed as she turned to Josephina. “Someone’s either very stupid or blind as a mole. You don’t know your ass from the drainpipe under the sink!”
Marc dropped Raven’s arm. “If you’re going to insult people, you’d better tell us what you’re talking about.”
Raven glared at him. “The stupid old lady needs her eyes examined before she kills us!”
“Now you look here! I won’t have you being disrespectful to Josephina.” He reached to grab her again, but she twirled away from him.
“You threw our supper away!” Josephina cried. “You got no right!” She turned to Marc. “Send her away. She brings trouble to this house. Josephina can see—”
“Bite your tongue,” Raven said. “If I hadn’t been here, we might all be dead tonight.”
Marc’s brow furrowed. “Dead?”
Raven retrieved a mushroom from the wastebasket and handed it to him.
“What is this?” she asked him.
Marc examined the mushroom, then met Raven’s furious eyes.
“It’s obviously a mushroom,” he replied. “Pure and simple.”
“Not pure and simple.” Raven tossed the mushroom into garbage again. “These are false morels, Marc.”
“What are you saying?” Then, feeling utterly ridiculous, he felt the blood drain from his face as an old Biology lesson came back. “False morels—are you sure?”
“Positive.” She composed herself, then turned to Josephina. “I’m sorry, but if we’d eaten them—”
Marc pulled out a chair and sank into it. “I can’t believe Mrs. Finch would deliberately bring us poison mushrooms.”
“Poison?” Josephina looked in astonishment from Raven to Marc, then back to Raven.
“Yes,” Raven said. “It seems that for some reason, she doesn’t want you living here.”
She went to the refrigerator for her bottle of spring water, poured a tumbler full, and drank it down without stopping. Replacing the bottle, she returned to Marc.
“She has no reason not to like us,” he said. “She barely knows us.” He sighed. “I’ll admit she’s been spreading rumors about your Salem witch, Charity Tawer, but I believe she’s harmless.” He stopped talking and observed her a moment before continuing. “I hope you agree, we can’t tell Summer about this.”
Raven took a seat, removed a shoe, and massaged her foot. “I hate shoes,” she said to no one in particular. “I agree we can’t tell Summer. It’s news to me the woman was discussing the witch. Are you sure?”
He nodded. “You mean legendary witch. From what I’ve heard, she’s told everyone the witch has returned to haunt Calico Acres. She claims her sons saw Charity’s ghost one night on our balcony—and get this—in the light of a full moon. Now that’s creepy!”
“I think some people have too much time on their hands,” Raven said. “Nothing to do except gossip and make up stories.”
“Yeah, they get dramatic, don’t they?”
Raven’s eyes went googly again. She appeared about to speak, but changed her mind, gathered up her shoe and hobbled away—one shoe on, the other off—and ascended the rear stairs.
Marc watched till she was out of sight. If I’d had an ounce of common sense, I would’ve sent her away the day she arrived. Yet, he was getting used to turning around to discover she’d approached on whispering feet and was watching him with lust-filled eyes. It would be difficult to send her away now, and he was no longer sure he wanted to.
Added to the other mysteries connected with the old house was a new one: Why on earth would Gladys Finch send them deadly mushrooms? It was an accident, surely. He brushed away the negative thoughts, closed his eyes and turned his imagination loose as Josephina sat quietly with her head in her hands:
Visions of Raven running barefoot beside a shimmering lake, sunlight kissing her naked skin; visions of his Chippewa princess riding bareback on Great Spirit; approaching him silently through a morning mist, her long hair flying in a light breeze…
Marc startled when Josephina raised her head and interrupted the daydream, and he wondered if she could read his thoughts.
“Where did you go today?” she asked. “Raven said she was going shopping. I don’t know what to believe anymore. Even about the mushrooms.”
“Are you still upset?”
“No.” She shook her head. “What makes her think she knows more than anyone else?”
Marc got up and stretched. “We should be grateful she noticed the mushrooms, Josephina.”
“I guess I should apologize.”
“It wouldn’t hurt, sweetie.” He patted her hand and winked. “Where we were—is a secret.”
She glared at him. “Humph. Keeping secrets now.”
“I’ll let you in on it if you promise to keep your mouth shut,” Marc said.
Josephina crossed her heart and eyed him suspiciously. “Okay, I promise.”
He grinned. “We bought a horse for Summer, Josephina.”
“What?” she cried “Summer needs a horse like I need poison mushrooms. What will she do with a horse? Answer me!”
“Now don’t get all worked up,” Marc said. “We hope she’ll want to ride again, but if she doesn’t, we’re stuck with a pinto gelding named Bandit.”
Josephina got up and shook a finger in his face. “You want to know what I think? I think Raven put you up to it. Miss Summer can’t ride with legs like wooden clothespins. What nonsense.”
“Raven had nothing to do with my decision, Josephina. I made up my mind to buy one shortly after moving here. I know Summer’s crazy about them—”
“Used to be.”
“She used to like horses, but no more.”
“Well, if given a chance … don’t you see?”
“Yah. I see you are the crazy one, Marc.” Josephina shook her head, sadly. “It’d be cruel to make her ride when she can’t. The poor little thing goes through enough agony with just her treatments. Now you want to tempt her with a horse.”
“Summer’s a grown woman,” Marc said. “She’s a lot tougher than either of us give her credit for. The sight of her very own gelding might give her incentive to actually work at getting well again. We even found a pretty English saddle. I want Summer to walk again, and so do you.”
“You know me better than I know myself.” Josephina sighed. “Of course it’s what I want. But you bring her to a house she hates. Then you invite another woman here—a young woman with healthy legs, hot temper, and eyes that follow you around like a dog in heat. You watch out for her. I tell you, she’s big trouble.”
So, Josephina was more observant than Marc realized. He chuckled nervously.
“I can handle all three of you,” he said, flexing a biceps. “By the way, do you think we should ask Gladys about those mushrooms?”
“Yah, maybe. I think she’ll want to know.”
Marc slipped an arm around Josephina’s shoulders and hugged her. “If it wasn’t an accident, what then? On the other hand, I don’t suppose she’d admit to plotting a murder, do you?”
At supper, Marc found Summer unusually tired and pallid. He watched with a trained eye as she picked at her food, then asked, “Aren’t you feeling well?”
She laid her fork down. “I’m not very hungry.”
“You’re spending too much time indoors, honey.” He reached for her hand. “Why aren’t you out enjoying this great weather?”
“Her stomach has been upset today,” Josephina said.
Marc looked from one woman to the other. “Oh? Why wasn’t I told sooner?”
“I’m telling you now,” Josephina said. “She threw up today. I just forgot to tell you.”
Summer picked up the fork again, then threw it down.
“Must you discuss me as if I’m not here? Must you discuss vomiting when I’m trying to eat?”
Josephina stared at her. “Then tell your husband how sick you are.”
Summer turned to Marc. “I didn’t want to worry you.”
Marc replaced his cup in the saucer with a crash and a splash. “Damn it, Summer, I expect you to tell me when you’re ill. How can I help when you don’t say anything?”
“You’d worry too much.”
“It’s my job to worry about you, dammit! How much vomiting have you done?”
Summer looked down at her plate. “I felt a little queasy after breakfast yesterday. I’m tired, and food doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve been drinking gallons of water—and it’s been coming back out the usual way.”
Raven, quiet until now, spoke. “Maybe she’s pregnant.”
“My God,” Summer whispered.
Raven smiled. “Didn’t you know married women sometimes have babies?”
Marc half rose from his chair, “Goddamn it, Raven, leave her alone! She doesn’t feel like playing games.”
Summer stared across the table at Marc, a sick look of despair on her face.
Raven lowered her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Sometimes my mouth engages before my brain.”
Summer dabbed her eyes with a napkin. “It’s—it’s all right.”
“It’s not all right,” Raven said. “I had no business saying that. My apologies.” Then she smiled. “At least we’re not dining on poisoned mushrooms.”
Marc jumped up. “Goddammit, Raven!”
Summer’s dark-shadowed eyes moved from one to the other of them. “What poison mushrooms?” She turned to Josephina. “What are they talking about?”
“Nothing.” Josephina sneaked a peek at the others, then rose. “I’ll go bring the pie now. Fresh peaches.”
She gave Marc an apologetic look and disappeared into the kitchen. He stared after her. I hope the damn peaches aren’t poisoned, too.
He turned his fury on Raven. “You had to open your big mouth again!”
Summer slammed her hands down on the table. “Will you please include me in your conversation? Do you think I’m deaf or invisible? Maybe I’m dead and you can’t see me.” She threw her hands into the air. “What the hell’s going on around here?”
Marc shot Raven another dagger and slumped into his chair again.
“I just remembered something I have to do,” Raven said. “Uh—I forgot to feed Spirit.”
Marc shouted, “No you don’t! You stay right here and help me explain.” She sat down again. “And wipe the smug look off your face!”
“I wasn’t aware I was smugging.”
Marc groaned and turned to his wife. “When we came home yesterday, Josephina was cleaning wild mushrooms Gladys sent over.”
Summer blinked. “So?”
“So Raven said they were poisonous mushrooms. False morels. We didn’t want to worry you.”
“Poison mushrooms? Not worry me? You insisted a few minutes ago I tell you everything.” She burst into tears. “Oh, my God, poison? Why would Gladys—?”
“Good question,” Marc replied.
“You’re trembling,” Raven said. “Maybe you’d better lie down.”
Summer hit the table with her fist. “Of course I’m trembling! What the hell do you expect? If you’d just moved into a–a haunted house and mysterious things were happening, you—”
Marc watched her cry, feeling helpless to do anything. “Summer, please. We have Raven to thank for discovering the mushrooms in time.”
“Why?” she whimpered.
“I’m sure it was an accident,” he said.
Summer pressed her hands to her face and sobbed. “Something’s hideously wrong, Marc. This house is evil and someone I thought was a friend tried to kill us. Wh–what else are you hiding?”
Marc did not miss Raven’s glance toward the rear of the house. Oh well, it was now or never.
“The only other thing I’ve kept from you—for your own sanity—is a small cemetery at the back of the property. It’s nearly hidden by weeds and brush, and Aunt Miriam’s buried there with one of her husbands.”
“That’s what Robert Jablonski told me.”
“Oh shit!” Raven said.
He ignored Raven and continued explaining to Summer, trying to console her, but knew he was doing a poor job of it.
“There’s nothing to fear, honey. You don’t ever have to go back there if you don’t want to.”
When Josephina returned with a fruit compote, she gave Raven a scornful look and patted Summer’s shoulder.
“Gladys is a good friend, honey. It was a mistake, surely. We won’t go to the graves, yah? No bodies in them anymore. Just dust and worms.”
Summer wailed, refusing to be consoled by the thought of decaying bodies and worms.
Raven stared at the dessert. “I thought we were having pie,” she said. “Peach pie.”
“I forgot to buy peaches!” Josephina snapped. “You eat this fruit or do without, young lady!”
“Yes, of course.” Raven turned to Summer. “It’s hard to tell real morels from false ones. I’m surprised a farm woman wouldn’t know the difference.” She paused to taste the dessert. “I don’t think Gladys meant to hurt anyone. There’s no proof she had murderous intentions.”
“Shut up!” Summer said, and turned her rage on Marc. “There, you see? What does it take to convince you to leave?”
Marc groaned. “We’re back to that?”
“For God’s sake, Marc! It always comes back to that. Always.”
He was tired of hearing about it. Tired of fighting.
“You’re welcome to leave,” he said.
She choked back a sob. “Some fucking joke! How in the hell would I leave?”
“On your broom. Dammit, woman, get hold of yourself!”
She fell silent for a moment. Then, “I asked for that, didn’t I? I guess I have been acting witchy.”
Raven ate the last of her fruit compote, then got up from the table.
“I just remembered I have to do some more digging. If you’re still speaking to me when I come back in, Summer, we’ll make Indian toys for a church bazaar I’ve been hearing about. You’re still not looking well. I hope whatever you have goes away soon.”
After Raven left, Josephina spoke sarcastically. “I never liked her in the first place. She talks about a witch who died here, and—”
Marc forced a smile he did not feel. “If there really was a Charity Tawer, it’d be hard to know exactly where she died. I wonder if Raven has a treasure map to show her where to dig. She never digs very deep, either. She won’t find a body in eight inches of soil.”
Josephina lowered her voice and glanced over her shoulder. “Indians have instinct. They know things we don’t. They know about magic and poison.” She looked around again. “I don’t trust Raven and her big devil horse.”
“Maybe she doesn’t like German ladies, either,” Summer remarked. “I don’t think she likes Frenchmen, either, from the way she picks fights with Marc.”
“Raven doesn’t pick fights with me,” Marc said.
Her eyes drilled so intently into his that Marc was certain she could read his mind.
“Maybe she gave Summer something to make her sick,” Josephina said.
Summer’s face blanched. “You don’t trust anyone, do you, Josephina? Whatever made you say that?”
Marc frowned. “What has she been giving you?”
“Oh, nothing really.”
“Humph!” Josephina said. “She grinds up weeds and makes strong potions. She makes Summer drink them. No wonder our girl’s sick.”
“Is that true?” Marc asked Summer. “Don’t keep anything from me.”
“Oh well, she made a drink from herbs. Said it’d give me strength. Harmless, I’m sure. Why would she want to make me sick? We hired her to take care of me.”
“Did she say what it was?”
Summer shook her head. “No, but it tasted like something from the septic tank.”
“See?” Josephina said. “I told you.”
“Damn!” Marc said. “I wish she’d check with me before she experiments on you with her homemade concoctions. Could be something did make you sick. I’ll talk to her about it.”
“Don’t be too hard on her,” Summer said. “She wouldn’t hurt me deliberately. In fact, the drink tasted a little like sassafras, which I don’t like in the first place. No harm done.”
“She said it would make you strong, but instead, you feel like crap. I wonder—”
“She’s a strange person,” Summer said. “On the other hand, do you suppose her arrival here brought back Charity’s spirit? You’re of French descent, and the curse was for Frenchmen. And—”
She broke off suddenly and doubled over in pain.
Marc was at her side instantly.
“What is it?”
She gasped. “…a sharp pain … there … it’s going away. Help me, Marc. I want to lie down.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck as he lifted her from the wheelchair and carried her into the living room, placed her gently on the sofa. He brushed her hair away from her forehead and kissed her brow.
“You don’t feel hot.”
“I told you I don’t have a fever. I need a drink, though. I’m terribly thirsty.” She took his hand and tried to squeeze it, but he barely felt the pressure.
“Do that again, Summer.”
“Squeeze my hand.”
She tried, with the same result.
“I’m just tired. I don’t have any energy. What’s wrong with me, Marc? Is the rest of my body becoming paralyzed?”
“No, no.” He kissed her softly on the cheek. “Where did you get an idea like that? Of course you’re not becoming paralyzed anywhere else.” He straightened up and observed her. “First thing I’m going to do is ask Raven what kind of crap she’s giving you. Will you be all right for a while?”
“Yes, feeling better already. Thanks.”
“You’ll probably feel better in the morning. If not, I’ll have Karl take a look at you. Could be any number of things making you feel bad. A virus or something.”
“What was in the drink you gave Summer?” Marc demanded of Raven a short time later in the yard.
She looked up from the hole she was carefully refilling. “What are you talking about?”
“Summer said you gave her something to drink. I want to know what it was.”
She got up and brushed off her jeans. “What if I don’t want to tell you?”
“Then I’ll break your damn neck. Don’t be a smart-ass, Raven.”
She burst out laughing. “You’re funny when you’re mad!”
“You haven’t seen funny yet! What the hell did you give her?”
She sobered. “What I gave her was nothing more than some wild herbs with medicinal value. You probably wouldn’t even know their names. Grandpa takes them, and he’s still alive.”
“You said he’s dying, probably from those nasty drinks you make. Medicinal? I don’t deny some plants are beneficial to humans, but I wish you’d leave the healing to professionals, Raven. Next thing I know, you’ll be chanting and dancing naked around a stump under a full moon.” He tried to envision such a scene and groaned.
“You’d be surprised at the miracles my people have worked over hundreds of years,” she said. “Rest assured, I gave Summer nothing harmful. There was some sassafras, for one thing, and rose hips and a bit of aloe. I bought those—the aloe and rose hips—at a health-food store. They’re loaded with vitamins and minerals.”
“My wife doesn’t eat flowers,” he said. “What kind of person are you, anyway?”
“Suppose you tell me, Doctor.” He ignored her, and she continued. “What I hoped to accomplish was a little mind over matter. Her illness isn’t my doing, and I’m surprised—no, I’m insulted you’d think so.”
He stared down at her, towering over her like a giant as she tipped her face up to his.
“Why should I believe a smart-ass like you?”
“For your information,” Raven said, her pride overcoming any emotional pain she may have felt at his words, “I’m dedicated to improving life, not destroying it. The herbs I gave your wife are the same ones responsible for keeping my grandfather, Nimishoomis, alive so long, in spite of not having the educated white man’s medical treatments.”
Marc backed down quickly. Perhaps she was right. He didn’t know. On the other hand, he had no intention of apologizing. He suspected apologizing to Raven amounted to an invitation to throw herself at him again.
“What you say may be true, but let me warn you—”
He stopped. She was going cockeyed again, and he had no anger or desire to fight with her.
Marc lay for some time listening to the water running in the bathroom. It was six a.m., and whoever was taking so long was interfering with his schedule—probably Raven Bear, because Josephina respected his hours and often used the wash room off the kitchen.
Summer was still asleep at this hour, and he considered her situation while waiting for the bathroom to empty. He was accustomed to getting her up in the night, if necessary, as well as taking her downstairs to spend the day. But other than being unable to manage the stairs on her own, even with the lift, she wasn’t completely helpless. She could easily move her upper body and drag herself into the wheelchair or a nearby chair. However, she did little of that and expected—no, demanded—help from someone else. It depended on her mood, or whether storm clouds were brewing.
He adjusted her pillow, trying not to wake her, and recalled Raven had told him she was still fighting therapy. More than anything, he wished Summer would try to accomplish something, if not for him, then for herself and the parents who meant the world to her.
Sounds from the bathroom indicated the bather was finished. Footsteps padded by outside his door, and a moment later, he heard a door close softly.
The bathroom greeted him with a blast of musk-scented steam. The mirror was fogged, and draped over the shower rod was a pair of skimpy blue panties. It wasn’t the first time Raven had hung her underwear there to dry, but this time he snapped.
Snatching up the wet garment, he stalked down the hall to her room and knuckled the door. The door opened a crack, and when she saw who it was, Raven opened it wider and let him in.
She was wrapped in a soft white bath towel. Drops of water clung to her thick lashes and the scent of musk overpowered him. Marc’s eyes popped as she smiled at him.
“You should’ve warned me you were coming,” she said.
Marc scowled and thrust out the wet panties. “I’d appreciate it if you’d stop drying your underwear in my bathroom. There’s a laundry in the basement, as you well know.”
Still smiling, she draped the panties over the back of a chair.
“I had no idea the sight of ladies’ underwear upset you.” She stepped forward and sized him up. “Wow. I knew you had a terrific build, but this is incredible.”
Marc looked down at himself—clad only in a pair of briefs—and blushed. “Oh, I didn’t think—”
She laughed softly. “With a body and face like Adonis, you don’t have to think.” She touched his cheek with a warm, moist hand. “You really are—gorgeous. But you already know that. Why else would you come prancing in here almost nude?”
“Knock it off, Raven.”
She rolled her eyes seductively. “Hmmm, I question your motives, Doctor. Are you going to operate on me?”
Conflicting emotions rushed through Marc’s mind and body, and before he realized what was happening, he grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her roughly on the mouth. Then he pushed her away, furious to find himself shaking.
When he found his voice, he said, “I hope you’re satisfied.”
She touched her bruised lips. The towel fell to her feet, and he stared at the sight of her standing there stark naked.
“Get some clothes on,” he ordered.
In the hall a moment later, thoroughly shaken, Marc leaned against the wall to get his breath. How long had it been? Much too long. Passions asserted themselves with a driving intensity, but he couldn’t do a damn thing about them. At the click of a doorknob, he glanced across the hall to see Josephina leaving her room. She gave him a disgusted look and hurried down the back stairs without speaking.
Then Bandit arrived, but before Marc could become acquainted with him, he and Josephina contracted the same illness Summer had, which appeared to be a stomach virus. Although nobody ran a fever, they drank gallons of water and complained of parched, raw throats. Josephina was now too sick to care about Marc having left Raven’s room in his underwear a few days before. Strangely, the only one who wasn’t sick was Raven Bear, who was now forced to assume nursing duties. Luckily for everyone, she never complained about the extra work.
Marc hadn’t mentioned Summer’s condition to Karl, thinking that whatever it was would run itself out, but he was now so sick he couldn’t lift his own head from the pillow, let alone help someone else. He had no choice but to call his colleague. Their symptoms were all the same: constant thirst, weakness, nausea, and stomach pains.
When Raven brought in a tray of soup, Marc took one look at the steaming bowls and his stomach turned inside out.
“I’m embarrassed for anyone to see me like this,” he said.
“Poor Marc,” Raven said. “What do you think is causing this?”
He rolled his head slowly from side to side, his head ready to explode with the slightest motion. “I thought it was a virus. Now I’m not sure. You’d think with all the fluids we’ve been drinking, whatever it is would be flushed out by now.”
Raven went around to the other side of the bed and adjusted Summer’s bedclothes. She turned to Marc and whispered.
“I don’t like the way she looks. Should I phone Dr. Muhle?”
Marc groaned. “I wouldn’t let that idiot treat a sick gopher.”
“From what I’ve heard, he’s a very good doctor,” Raven said. “It’s you with your recent medical training that no one trusts. Sorry to be blunt, but I’ve heard your name mentioned a few times around town. Not always good comments, either.”
Marc was too sick to argue and closed his eyes to shut her out. All thoughts of intimacy had gone out the window when he got sick; now he was only irritated. Why isn’t she sick, too?
“I thought people would welcome new ideas and new treatments after putting up with the old vulture all these years,” Marc said. “He’s got a penicillin hang-up longer than his … well, he prescribes the drug for the slightest bug … everything he does is overdone.”
“You don’t like him,” Raven stated.
His eyes snapped open. “I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“It isn’t true, Raven. I respect Karl, but he’s old-fashioned and stuck in his ways.”
“Some old-fashioned folk remedies have healed people for centuries,” she said. “Please let me call him.”
“Do you have a magic potion for yourself?” Marc held her eyes past the comfort point. “I could use one.”
Raven laughed. “If I had magic potions, they wouldn’t be to make you well, but—” Her eyes flickered toward Summer, lying beside him half asleep. “Never mind.”
Marc rolled over. “Go ahead and call him if you want. It doesn’t make much difference if I die from a microbe or a fool.”
Raven touched his arm briefly and nodded. “I’ll check on Josephina first.”
“She’s no better?”
“No, and she doesn’t want my help. That infuriating old woman insists on doing everything for herself.”
Dr. Muhle arrived somewhere around eight that evening. Tall and lanky, his dusty old suit hung from narrow shoulders as if from a wire clothes hanger. Soft snow-white hair threw off its own special light in a room already filled with shadows. Though his walk had slowed with age, there was a spring in his step as he went straight to Miriam’s bed and dropped his bag on the floor beside it.
“You look like hell’s headache, Marc.”
“Thanks.” Marc drew the sheet up to his chin and stared at Karl. “I knew I could count on you to cheer me up.”
“You like my bedside manner?” Karl leaned forward to get a better look at his patient. “I’d have been here sooner, but you know how it is. Miss Becker went into labor. I left her at the hospital, groaning and carrying on like a big baby.”
“She’ll hurt a lot more in a few hours.”
“Sandy Becker is only seventeen,” Marc reminded him. “She’s scared out of her wits. Was her boyfriend there?”
Karl shrugged. “There was a young man, but I don’t know if he’s her boyfriend or the milkman.”
Marc groaned again. “You need new material.”
The doctor nodded. “My jokes have served their purpose for over forty years.” He peered over Marc to where Summer lay watching with dark-ringed eyes too big for her pale face.
“Hello, there, Mrs. St. Clair—may I call you Summer?”
Summer nodded yes and turned away, her long fingers rolling the edge of the sheet into a ball as Karl glanced around the room.
“I’ve been in here many times,” he said. “Treated Miriam—Mrs. Van Dyck—right here in this bed before she died.”
“No wonder she died,” Marc whispered.
“I didn’t say anything.”
Karl laughed. “Well, I’m surprised a bright boy like yourself couldn’t diagnose his own illness. You’re the one with all the answers, hey?”
“I never said I had all the answers. Stop putting words in my mouth.” Marc massaged his forehead. “Whatever this is acts like a virus, except there’s no fever and it’s got its claws in our stomachs nice and tight. I guess I’ll have to pull in my pride and admit I’m stumped, and anxious for your expert opinion.”
Karl scratched his chin. “I could give you a shot of penicillin.”
“Jesus Christ, Karl! Will you get serious?”
“The whole household is sick?”
Marc nodded. “Mrs. Fleckenstein came down with it right after Summer did. I was next.”
“The little girl who answered the door seemed fine.”
“Raven Bear. Ah yes, she’s healthy as a—forgive the reference—she’s healthy as a mule.”
After his examinations, Karl walked over to the French doors and gazed thoughtfully into the night. Marc struggled to one elbow.
“Well? What’s wrong with us, Dr. Einstein?”
Karl returned to the bedside. “I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s a virus. I’d bet my life it’s a toxic condition of some kind. Most likely from your water. I’ve seen symptoms like this before.”
Marc fell back on the pillow and nudged Summer. “Did you hear that, honey? He thinks our water’s bad.”
“No shit.” Summer peered at Karl from very sick eyes. “I don’t care what caused it, I just want to be rid of it.”
“Mr. Jablonski sent the Health Department out to check the depth of the well, water level and all,” Marc said. “Even had the septic system repaired. New drywell, everything. So it can’t be the water. Right now, I could drink that well dry.”
Karl ran his hand through his hair. “Still, there might be contamination from the septic tank. It wouldn’t be the first time, and don’t forget all the farmland around here. Farmers spread manure on their fields a few times a year. Wouldn’t surprise me if some seeps into the water tables. But—”
“I think the water’s all right,” Karl said.
Summer laid a shaky hand on Marc’s chest. “Raven drinks bottled water. She doesn’t like the well water.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s contaminated,” Marc said. “Besides, she’s eaten food, drank coffee and tea prepared with the well water. Same as we have.”
“She hasn’t had as much as we’ve had,” Summer insisted. “She hasn’t been here long.”
Karl stooped over and retrieved his bag from the floor.
“She drinks bottled water you say? Interesting.”
“She does, yes, but it’s not the only thing she does around here that’s out of the ordinary. You sent her to us, so you know her better than we do.”
Karl blinked. “I did?” Before Marc could reply, he asked, “Where’s she from?”
“Lac Court Oreilles,” Marc said.
Summer spoke to the doctor. “Did Marc tell you she discovered we were about to have poison mushrooms for dinner one night?”
“Poison mushrooms? Where on earth would poison mushrooms come from?”
“From the woods, obviously.” Marc’s head now hurt like crazy, and he wished to be rid of Karl. “Our neighbor, Mrs. Finch, sent them over. If Raven hadn’t been here, we’d probably all be dead by now.”
“Hmm,” Karl glanced around the room. “I find it hard to believe someone would deliberately send you poison mushrooms. Unless he wanted to get rid of you. I know Gladys Finch, Marc. She wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“I really don’t care what you believe at this point,” Marc said. “She sent them.”
Karl’s eyes drilled into Marc’s. “Have you considered that your friend—what’s her name?—just made a mistake?”
Summer sighed. “It’s possible.”
“Unlikely,” Marc said, taking Raven’s defense whether she deserved it or not. “I imagine a Chippewa would know something like that.”
“An old-timer would,” Karl said. “Maybe not a new-fangled one with a modern education.” He set his bag down again and picked up the water pitcher, held it to the light, examined it, then poured a small bit into a tumbler.
“You’ll catch our germs,” Marc said.
“A germ wouldn’t dare attack me.” Karl sniffed the contents of the glass, then sipped, smacking his lips after. “Phew. It doesn’t set right on my tongue. Little bit warm.” He put the glass down and picked up the bag again and scowled. “You kids just out of med school think you know everything. Why, let me tell you, I’ve seen things in my lifetime you’d never believe. There’s something colleges can’t teach. It’s called instinct.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard it all before, Karl.”
“You just think you have. Let me tell you—this water is polluted, or my name isn’t Karl Muhle. Maybe not much pollution. Just enough to make you feel bad. My advice is to not drink anymore of this.”
“That’s like telling a drowning man not to inhale,” Marc said.
“Just till it’s tested again. Could be something simple, like a weed killer, has got into the well.”
“I haven’t used any weed killer or pesticides.”
“I’ll take a sample of this and have it analyzed, just in case.”
Marc shut his eyes and concentrated on the killer bees in his head.
“Thanks for coming, Karl.”
“Don’t mention it.” The doctor trotted around to Summer’s side of the bed and picked up her skinny, blue-veined hand. “You take care of yourself, my dear, and do your exercises. Marc tells me he got you a pony.”
“Ah yes, the pony. I haven’t seen it yet, but I don’t expect to ride again. I’m sorry we had to meet like this, with me sick. Marc and Josephina, too.”
“It’s what I’m here for, dear. I’ll go on being of service to people as long as I can stand up,” Karl said. “I mean until some young whippersnapper like your husband makes me quit.”
“He wouldn’t dare,” Summer said.
“How do you like Wisconsin, Summer?”
“You don’t want to know.”
He chuckled. “Well, it grows on you after a while. You’ll love it after you’ve lived here a while. Maybe you need a vacation.”
Summer’s eyes brightened a little. “I have an appointment with my physicians in Iowa City next month.”
“Your family’s there?”
She nodded. “They live in a suburb near Iowa City. My father’s a chemistry professor at the university.”
Marc heard Karl close the bedroom door a few seconds later.
Marc aroused slightly at the sound of an alarm and was suddenly back at the hospital in Iowa City. Through closed eyelids, he saw the bright overhead lamps of the operating theater. Imagination wiped out the glare, then he was on his cot in the dorm. He heard a commotion outside the room, someone rapping on the door, an agitated voice yelling, “Marc!” Paul Garretson? No, Paul worked at another hospital now. A woman’s voice. Soft. One of the nurses, of course. She came in and touched his forehead with a cool hand; it felt good and smelled of body powder. Nurses often wore perfume that made some patients relax and others sneeze.
“Marc, the telephone.”
“I’m not on call tonight.”
He tried to ignore the woman’s voice. They weren’t going to get him. Not after having him on the floor all week. A man had to rest once in a while. The alarm kept ringing and the voice grew persistent.
“Please answer the phone.”
His eyes snapped open, and he realized Summer was shaking him. Not the nurse. Only his wife—but he hadn’t met her yet. He tried returning to the blissful comfort of sleep, but she persisted.
“The damn phone’s been ringing its head off. Will you get it before it drives me crazy?”
He listened. The ringing stopped, so he shut his eyes again.
“Thank God,” Summer said.
“Why didn’t you answer it?” he asked.
“You know perfectly well I can’t reach it.”
“Then why not Josephina?” He remembered Josephina was sick. “Or Raven? Where the hell is she? She should’ve answered my phone for me.”
“Maybe she’s outdoors feeding the livestock or something. How should I know where she is? Besides, you told her you’d take your own calls, in case they were patients.”
“I said that? Probably did, but she should’ve had better sense. She knows we’re all sick.”
“Oh Marc, she can’t read your mind!”
He yawned. “Whoever it was will call back if it’s important. Raven should’ve been here to help. It’s why I pay her.”
“You pay her to be my therapist, not your secretary, and right now, I have to go to the bathroom.” She nudged him again. “I don’t think I can manage the commode.”
“I’m too tired,” he said.
Summer’s voice rose. “What am I supposed to do, pee the bed?”
He rose up on one elbow and looked down at her. “You feel that weak? Oh hell, so do I.”
“Well hurry, I can’t hold it much longer.”
He struggled out of bed and reached for the wheelchair, and after getting her situated on the toilet, he returned to the bedroom just as the phone rang again. He snatched it up with shaky hands.
Karl’s gruffness came across the line like sandpaper.
“You all right, Marc? I thought you’d died over there. Did I wake you?”
“Yes, I died, and yes you did wake me. What do you want this early?” He turned and faced a brilliant display of sunshine streaming through the double doors. “What time is it?”
“Nine-thirty,” Karl said. “I wanted to tell you I got a quick analysis of the water earlier this morning.”
“And didn’t find anything, right?”
Marc felt nauseated again. His stomach was tying itself into knots. His bowels rumbled and complained from emptiness. He braced the receiver between one ear and a shoulder, then poured a glass of water from the pitcher.
“What are you talking about, Karl?”
“I hate to shatter your faith in the local health department, Marc, but sure enough, the water is contaminated.”
Marc lowered the glass.
“That’s impossible.” He set the full glass on the nightstand. “You’re sure?”
“Contaminated? W–with what?” Marc’s mind was waking up now.
“Would you believe arsenic?”
Marc almost dropped the phone. “You can’t be serious. Arsenic?”
Karl’s voice came over the line nice and easy. “Now don’t let your imagination run wild, Marc. It’s not like you’re going to die or anything.”
“I can’t believe it,” Marc said. “How much? How in the hell did arsenic get into our water?”
“High levels of arsenic occur naturally in some wells throughout Wisconsin,” Karl said. “But sometimes it gets into the water supply from other sources and becomes too toxic. My advice is to use bottled water until the problem can be checked out and remedied.”
“Your guess is as good as mine as to how it got in there,” Karl said. “An insecticide, maybe.”
Marc’s knees felt like broken toothpicks as he lowered himself to the side of the bed.
“You still there?” Muhle said.
“I’m here,” Marc replied. “Just trying to sort this out. I haven’t used insecticides since moving here. I haven’t done much yard work at all.”
The more he talked, the drier his throat became. He turned away from the glass of water on the nightstand. It was like being in an ocean of sand hoping to quench his thirst. One more drop. He reached for the glass again, but changed his mind and swore softly.
From the bathroom came Summer’s signal to get off the toilet. He spoke again to Karl.
“The symptoms fit. I’m surprised I didn’t see it myself. This well water has been tested very recently. I thought it was okay.”
“You’ll have to call the Health Department and talk to them,” Karl replied. “Maybe Mr. Jablonski has a record of the last test.”
When Summer called out again, Marc yelled, “Wait a minute, I’m on the phone.”
Karl spoke again. “We old farts still know a few things.”
Marc knew he owed Karl an apology, but for the life of him, he couldn’t get the words out. “I didn’t say you didn’t know anything. What I said was you ought to update your methods.” His heard his head split.
“Nope. Not the same. Well, thanks for letting me know. My wife’s calling. Excuse me—”
“Tell her I said not to worry,” Karl finished. “I’ll look in on her tomorrow. Seems she got the worst of it.”
Marc replaced the receiver and staggered across the hall to the bathroom.
The effects of the arsenic began wearing off after a few days of drinking bottled water, leaving a generalized muscular weakness.
On the way to the clinic his first day back, Marc stopped at the real estate office, only to discover Jablonski was on vacation.
His next stop was the Health Department, where he perused copies of the well inspection: The water had tested safe just before they moved in. Mr. Jablonski had ordered additional tests about a month previously. Where, then, had the arsenic come from? In the meantime, they’d have to be content with bottled water.
One warm Sunday in June, Summer suddenly expressed a desire to see Bandit. Marc was delighted, feeling hopeful for the first time in weeks. They found Raven behind the barn, grooming the gelding.
“I’m almost done,” she called.
Marc leaned his forearms against the fence rail and watched Bandit for a minute, then turned to Summer, sitting silently in her chair.
“What do you think?” he asked her.
Summer was a long time replying. “You said he was beautiful, and he is.”
“He was Raven’s choice.”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“And he’s your birthday present,” Marc said.
“A belated gift. What am I supposed to do with him?”
Before Marc could respond, Raven led the gelding through the gate and over to the wheelchair. Summer tried to pet Bandit’s nose, but he snorted and shied away.
“Humph,” she said, “he doesn’t like me.”
“At least he made the first move,” Raven said. “Would you like to sit on him?”
Summer gripped the arms of the wheelchair.
“You’re both out of your minds!” she said.
Marc stroked the animal’s gleaming coat. “Maybe when you have your strength back, you’ll let me put you up there.”
Summer shook her head. “I wouldn’t count on it.”
Marc laid a hand on her shoulder. “I am counting on it, but I won’t insist. When you’re ready—”
“I won’t ever be ready,” Summer said. “How can you imagine I’d want to ride again, after what happened last time?”
“It was an unfortunate accident,” Marc replied. “An act of God.”
Then, Great Spirit trotted around the corner of the barn in his own section of the corral and came up to the fence. He tossed his head when he saw Raven with Bandit, then squealed and stomped the ground. “If I could ride at all,” Summer added with a smile, “I’d want to ride him, if he’d let me.”
Raven handed Bandit over to Marc and turned to console her jealous horse.
“He won’t,” she said.
“How do you know?” Summer’s eyes never left the stallion.
Raven laughed. “Trust me, I know.”
From behind them came Josephina’s voice, and they turned to see her standing a good distance away with an armload of garden tools.
“If I wanted to ride a horse,” she said, “I’d choose the spotted one.”
“You don’t want to ride at all, do you?” Summer asked Josephina.
She left them laughing and skirted the area in a wide arc, going toward the garden. At the sudden roar of a jet plane, Summer looked up into the sky, which had clouded over. The air was still warm and humid, smelling of hay and manure.
“It’s too hot out here,” she said. “If it’s going to rain, I’m going back inside.” She turned the wheelchair toward the house without further comment.
Frustrated with Raven, Marc began sleeping on the chaise he’d bought especially for the bedroom. The appearance of the item of furniture went against Miriam’s will, but there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. At least there hadn’t been any lightning bolts or mysterious wall rapping; no demons slithering out of the woodwork; no unexplained moaning. The reason for the purchase was obvious: he’d grown increasingly uncomfortable in bed with a woman who wouldn’t even attempt to make love to him.
Summer had once admitted, “It isn’t because I don’t love you. You know I do, but what you ask is impossible. How could you make love to me when my legs are dead?”
Marc had replied, “There are other ways.”
“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?”
“Sorry isn’t enough,” he said. “It’s like you feel the need to punish me for God only knows what.”
“Maybe you should get a–a mistress.”
“You’re not serious!”
“I am serious,” she replied.
From the tone of her voice in the darkness, he knew she was weeping, and when he touched her cheek, his fingers came away wet. Just the simple touch of her skin was too much, for suddenly he was about to explode.
“You’re out of your mind,” he said. “You know perfectly well a mistress would go against my scruples.”
“You had no scruples before we were married.”
“Oh good heavens, Summer, that was different. I experimented, as most men do.” A mistress? What happened to her wedding vows? “I don’t want another woman, dammit! I want my wife.”
A long silence filled the space between them before Summer spoke again.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of you with another woman, but I’m not cruel enough to keep you begging forever.”
“Perhaps Raven … she’s young and healthy.”
The mention of Raven’s name was the last straw. What did Summer know? How much had she seen? Was it obvious his frustrations had grown since Raven entered their lives? He had no way of knowing for sure what she suspected, and when he left their bed in anger and pain, he heard her crying intermittently through the night. She wasn’t the only one hurting, but he couldn’t make himself go to her.
The strain between them developed into a full breach, and she refused to speak to him at all. Their lives became more snarled than ever, and, although the chaise wasn’t very comfortable, he refused to relinquish it. He continued sleeping there, and each morning he awoke stiff and sore.
“You’re not getting enough rest,” she said. “What’s wrong?”
She’d begun digging in the backyard after fruitless searches in the front, and, true to her word, she replaced the sod so the wound was nearly unnoticeable. She’s a human mole that leaves no bumpy trails, Marc thought.
Now she looked up at him, a hunting knife poised over a long slash in the sod.
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said.
She lowered her eyes and plunged the knife to the hilt at the corner of the first cutting and drew it through the soil at right angles. She repeated the action at the other corners, until a neat square was cut. Working one side loose, she then pried up the sod and placed it nearby, leaving a brown window filled with bugs and roots.
Marc smiled. “I could’ve told you nothing was in there.”
“If I dig deeper I may find something.”
“You’ll dig to China without finding anything, Raven. How do you know where to dig? What tells you to dig either here or there? Do you have a map?”
Her eyes made contact with his, then traveled down his body, stopping at his zipper.
“Instinct.” She glanced back up into his face and smiled, her teeth gleaming in the sunlight. “I go where my heart tells me to go.”
Marc tried to ignore her piercing scrutiny. “Yet you’ve discovered no relics, Miss Bear.”
She pulled her eyes away and touched the ground.
“They’re hidden for now, but I’ll find them.”
“You don’t even know what you’re looking for.”
“Is that what you think?”
“What I think doesn’t count. You’re digging in the wrong places. You’d have better luck on the Reservation.”
She resumed digging, loosening the soil first with the blade, scooping up small handfuls and piling them next to the green pillow of sod.
“Are you saying you don’t want me here?”
Marc could not reply. Instead, he moved toward the barn before she could see what her gaze had aroused. Someday, she would push him too far.
No, honestly, he didn’t want her to leave, but for the sake of his marriage, he should have insisted on it.
When he returned from work the following Thursday, Marc found Josephina in the front room wringing her hands, and from Summer’s downstairs sitting room, something crashed against a wall.
“What the hell’s happening in there?”
Josephina wiped her eyes with the hem of her apron.
“It’s Summer and the little hussy,” she said. “They’ve been fighting almost an hour. Raven tried to make Summer exercise, but Summer didn’t want to.”
Marc sighed. “She never wants to. She doesn’t want to exercise, Josephina, for then she might walk again.”
The woman nodded. “Yah, I know. Poor Marc.”
Just then, Summer screeched, and something landed against the door, this time, shattering with a tinkle of glass.
Marc ran to open the door, but hesitated as Raven’s angry voice spilled out.
“How dare you speak to me like that! How dare you suggest I make love to your husband just to get him off your back!” She paused. “If I wanted to, I would not need your permission!”
“I said to get out of here and leave me alone!”
“No!” Raven shouted. “I’m not leaving till I’ve had my say. I’ve always suspected what a spoiled brat you are.”
“You want him,” Summer insisted. “Don’t deny it. Do you think I’m blind? You’ve wanted my husband from the first day you saw him. So guess what? Take him. I’m giving him to you.”
“Take him, you little bitch!” Summer screamed. “Take all of him. All the parts you want that I can’t use. Why the hell should I care?”
“You would care if I slapped your smug little face,” Raven said. “What a phony woman you are, Summer. You’re a damn fool. I could slap your brains out for talking like this.”
“Go ahead—I dare you!”
A moment of quiet descended on the room. Then Raven said, “Why are you punishing yourself like this, Summer? Because that’s what you’re doing. Is it guilt?”
“I have nothing to feel guilty about!” came the distraught cry. “You don’t understand. Nobody understands!”
In the long silence that followed, Marc held his breath, waiting for the next outburst. He wanted to run. To escape the fury of his wife’s hateful tone and ugly message. His feet were stuck to the floor, his hand glued to the doorknob. He heard Summer mumble something. Then Raven spoke again, this time in a whisper.
“Do you want him to hear you? He’s due home any minute.”
Marc’s mind conjured up an image of his wife’s hysteria: Her face would be swollen with rage. She would grab huge handfuls of hair and try to rip it out by the roots.
“I don’t care if the whole goddamn world hears me!” Summer screeched.
“Shut up and listen to me,” Raven said. “Perhaps you have seen my lust for your husband. I can’t deny that. I could have him today if I decided to. But you will not decide for me. Do you understand?”
“Go away before I scream, and tell him what you’ve done to me. Before I—”
Raven laughed. “What you mean, is before I tell him what I know about you. What do you think he’d say if he knew he was married to a scheming little bitch? It’s what I’ve suspected all along. How do you suppose your loving husband would feel if he knew?”
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop playing such a stupid, dangerous game. Until then you’ll never have a real marriage.”
“Get the hell out of here!” Summer screamed.
“Sure, I’m leaving, and good fucking riddance.”
Marc’s legs grew weak as he stood holding the doorknob, eavesdropping on a private conversation about himself. He scarcely noticed when Josephina slipped an arm around his waist.
“You come away now,” she said. “You don’t want to hear this.”
He released his numb fingers from around the knob, but before he could remove them, it twisted away from him and the door swung open. He stepped aside automatically, in a daze, as Raven slipped into the hall. She seemed surprised to find him there and started to speak, then changed her mind and hurried past him. A moment later, he heard the back door slam.
“Don’t go in there,” Josephina pleaded. “Please, Marc.”
He thrust her aside and stepped into the room. At his sudden appearance, Summer reached out to him.
“Oh, Marc, honey! I’m so glad you’re home.” She was hysterical, laughing and crying at the same time.
He took in the disarray, the slivers of broken glass. Felt the hateful vibrations in the room. Their eyes met. Hers were swollen and red. Red from anger, wet from tears. Deep vertical lines creased the space between her brows, as if they’d been cut with a blade. Her mouth quivered. She looked small and vulnerable, hunched over in the wheelchair. This person—this bitter, disheveled woman—was someone he didn’t know. She was a woman who, perhaps, he’d never really known. They stared at each other for long moments, neither of them speaking, with a silence so deep it hurt.
Summer cried out again. “Please, Marc. Say something. Please.” Then, getting no reply, she screamed, “Oh, damn you!”
She rolled the wheelchair to the dressing table, snatched up a gilt-edged hairbrush and slung it across the room at him, catching him on the side of the face. He winced, but felt no pain as the weapon sailed on past, through the doorway and clattered on the hall floor. A reckless driver, she rolled the wheelchair to the telephone table and snatched up the receiver.
“Daddy!” she wailed. “I’ve got to call him!”
Lunging, Marc yanked the receiver from her hand and hurled it into the center of the room.
“Daddy can’t help you this time, Summer.”
A new cascade of tears failed to move him—Marc felt numb as he turned and left the room, almost bumping into Raven just outside the door. Summer saw her therapist and screamed, “What are you doing back here, bitch?”
Raven turned to Marc. “I’m leaving Calico Acres. I’m sorry.”
Summer maneuvered the chair into the hall.
“You can’t leave me like this, Raven! I didn’t mean it. You’re the only friend I’ve got.”
Raven ignored her, walked on down the hall and entered the kitchen. Marc gave Summer a disgusted look, then hurried after Raven.
He caught up with her at the back door, spun her around to face him. Her eyes were out of focus again. He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her like a rag doll.
“Look at me, dammit. Why can’t you look at me like a normal human being?”
Raven refocused her eyes and Marc dropped his hands.
“You’re not going anywhere,” he said.
“I screw up everything I do,” Raven said. “Maybe I was too harsh with her; however, since neither of you need my services, I’m going home tonight.” Then she added. “Your wife is as hard to tame as a fucking wild bronco!”
Marc’s tongue felt furry and thick as he whispered, “You can’t go, Raven. You can’t come into my life, then leave when things go bad.”
She touched his face, and her hand felt cool and gentle.
“You’re bleeding,” she said. “She did this because of me.”
“It’s just a scratch,” he said as she pulled her hand away covered with blood. “No, you’re wrong—it’s not your fault. Whatever caused this began long ago. I keep wondering if there’s another reason. Sometimes Summer acts like a—”
Raven snorted. “A wildcat is an apt description. She’s like a cornered animal, Marc, striking out at the first thing she sees, or imagines she sees.”
“You have a unique way of putting things in perspective.”
She stepped away from him. “Better tend to that gash.”
He tipped his head and smiled at her. “What would you recommend, Raven Bear?”
Marc grinned. “You’re crazy, you know that?”
“I’m not crazy, and they do work.”
She smiled and turned to leave; he touched her arm, but she brushed his hand away.
“We need you,” he said, groping for words. “Summer needs you, and—” Raven nodded toward the doorway to the dining room. He turned to see Josephina watching. “At least wait till morning.”
A sudden illness overcame him. He gave her a last pleading look, then disappeared up the back staircase to the second floor bathroom.
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