A WALK IN THE PARK (Chapter 1)
The wind picks up as I wrap my sweater tighter around myself, casting an eye over at Pippin, my mother's tiny Yorkshire terrier. She's hard to spot, nosing around the rushes by the water, but I know she's too much of a wuss to go in, so I go back to reading my emails.
First the usual round of thanks but no thanks in response to the job applications, and then I can't help it. I hit the messages and scroll back through the texts from Eric.
It's a compulsion. I can't stop reading through the course of our relationship, trying to find a clue, trying to understand how I didn't know that the minute I moved out of the apartment, he moved in on my roommate and best friend.
So maybe it was my mistake, thinking late-night booty calls meant he was my boyfriend, but sometimes we hung out; sometimes we went to bars. Once he even made me breakfast.
I see a movement out of the corner of my eye. A huge dog appears, sniffing through the sand, freezing as he spies the tiny bundle of Pippin. He lets out a low growl as Pippin looks up, tail wagging. She bounds toward this hound, his muscles tensed, his lips curling back over his teeth, and much as I dislike Pippin, this isn't going to be good.
I'm there in a flash, yelling, although it feels as if it happens in slow motion. The big dog pounces, its huge jaws wrapping around Pippin who gives a pathetic yelp. I'm not thinking at this point, I'm screaming, trying to pull Pippin out of its mouth, when a man suddenly appears.
He barks a command, and the dog instantly drops Pippin, who lies motionless as I fall over her body, sobbing.
And then she licks my hand.
"You asshole!" I scream, still sobbing, for I may be back home in the suburbs now, but I didn't grow up in New York City for nothing.
"What the hell are you thinking? I'm going to sue your ass! My dog's probably gonna die because of your devil beast."
"Miss?" he says, very calmly. "I am so sorry. It's my grandmother's dog, and it escaped. Which is no excuse. May I see your dog?"
Something about his calm voice makes me step aside, quietly. He kneels down and gently reaches a hand out to Pippin.
I have to explain something to you. Pippin hates everyone except my mother, and that's only because my mother feeds her. She has bitten everyone in our family more than once, but because she is the size of a very overweight teacup, we just laugh at her, which causes her to lie underneath the coffee table and give us all the evil eye.
But here, on this patch of grass, Pippin--traitor that she is--looks up at the person taking care of the devil beast who may have caused her imminent death, and licks him.
He croons quietly to her as he examines her, pushing her fur up to reveal deep puncture marks, her fur matted with blood.
"This is pretty deep," he murmurs, as a wave of dizziness washes over me. Spots of blackness, like a circle of pins and needles from the outer corners of my eyes, grow, until everything is dark.
Before I even open my eyes, one thing's clear: I'm sure as hell not at the beach.
I'm lying on a sofa so soft, so old, I should sink down to the floor, but the springs are poking into my back every few inches, like the Princess and the Pea.
I try and sit up, before groaning as my head pounds. I sink back down, grateful for whoever put the cool washcloth on my forehead, trying to remember how I got the nasty bump underneath; wondering where I am and how I got here.
I remember taking Pippin for a walk in the park by the beach. I remember sitting on a bench, thinking about Eric, jobs, life, and what a damned mess I'd made of it all.
I did have a job. I was a junior editor at a small, prestigious publishing house, and I loved it. I have wanted to be a writer forever, but nobody just becomes a writer anymore. Not these days. My parents kept offering to introduce me to people they knew, but I needed to do it myself, needed to prove that I could make it on my own.
When I started, I was so fired up from spending all day surrounded by literary types, I'd spend every minute of my spare time working on my novel.
Until I met Eric. Those late-night booty calls and endless barhopping took their toll. I had a lot of warnings from work, but I knew they loved me; I thought I was indispensable; I didn't take them seriously. Until it was too late.
Even then I thought I'd walk into something else immediately. It never occurred to me I'd have to give up all that I had: a great apartment in Williamsburg. And I mean great--nothing like the stuffy Park Avenue apartment I grew up in. This was cool; the kind of apartment they write TV shows about: sharing with my best friends, and we shared everything--clothes; makeup; food. It was like this great, sixties-ish communal living.
No one told me you were expected to share your boyfriends.
Oh, wait. That only applied to me.
I still don't understand how my best friend could do that. I'd gone back to take one last look; drop off the key; collect my things. No one was supposed to be there.
Thanks to the lovely surprise of my duplicitous ex's, I ran out sobbing with nothing.
At least Gina later had the semi-decency to send me my stuff. Except for the one thing I truly can't live without; the one thing she always used to "borrow": my Bioré Combination Skin Balancing Cleanser.
Six weeks later, and having gained ten pounds, I've slunk out to my mom's summer house in Connecticut. I have no job, no money, and no more Bioré, so my formerly perfect skin is now freshly covered with zits. What twenty-three-year-old has teenage acne anyway?
When I lost my job I thought I'd get another one instantly. Instead I was offered a million internships. Unpaid.
"Publishing's a very different world now, Olivia," interviewers would say sorrowfully, one after another, sitting on their sofas as they regretfully set my résumé down on the coffee table, a wistful look in their eyes.
"Everything's up in the air and no one's taking chances right now."
My savings quickly ran out. At twenty-three, you don't have savings. You have spending money. My spending money lasted a week. I knew I could have asked my dad, but I try not to speak to him since he left my mom for his twenty-six-year-old secretary.
Much to my dismay and humiliation, I slunk home to the summer house in Connecticut, which hasn't been touched since my childhood. I crawled back to my lilac bedroom, where I tried to pick the Tinkerbell decal off the wall, succeeding only in her right leg, which deformity only made me feel worse.
Everyone I know is in the Hamptons. I have no idea why my parents ever decided to buy a place in the middle of nowhere, nor why, in the divorce, my dad kept the amazing New York apartment, and my mom insisted on keeping the rundown cottage in Connecticut.
I didn't think life could get any worse, but suddenly I find myself with no memory of how I got to this fusty, dusty room, why there is a throbbing lump on my forehead, and here I am, in this room that looks like it hasn't been touched in fifty years.
It occurs to me that I should feel a knot of fear, but instead there is merely curiosity, for this is unlike any house I have ever seen. I turn my head slowly, taking in the room that is, or must once have been, absurdly grand.
The walls are wood-paneled, with a huge sweeping staircase out in the hall and a chandelier above that is probably crystal underneath all the cobwebs.
Put it like this. If Miss Havisham drifted down the staircase in her moth-eaten wedding gown, I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised. And if you don't know who Miss Havisham is, you weren't paying enough attention at school.
And if you weren't paying enough attention at school, don't sweat it, because I worked my ass off, went to a great school, and thanks to disastrous betraying ex-louse Eric, I can't get a job, so none of it matters anyway.
I slowly sit up, waiting for the throbbing to subside, wanting to see more. This doesn't look like any of the houses around here. Not a sectional in sight. No flat-screen TVs or built-ins; no sisal rugs or cute pillows with embroidered coral or starfish.
It's dark, the blinds are down, and I click on an old Tiffany lamp, not expecting it to work, but it immediately casts a faint orange glow. This room is stuffed with furniture, books, things. There is hardly an inch of space.
Books are piled up on the floor, close to toppling over, held in place by large brass sculptures.
By the window a life-size brass woman holds a bird high up in the air; flanking the fireplace are a pair of huge stone hounds, half hidden by baskets, andirons, and trays piled up on top of each other.
I bend over, pick up a dust-covered heavy silver frame. The photograph is black and white, a woman with a face so exquisite, she must have been a model, or a movie star. She leans against a fireplace, smiling, one hand resting on the head of a large black dog....
The hound! The devil dog!
It comes flooding back just as I hear a noise from the other room. Now I am feeling a knot of fear, and it's a big one. The man with the dog. Those jaws. Pippin! Where the hell's Pippin! Where the hell am I?
I back slowly toward a set of French doors. I have no idea if they're locked or not, but the noise is moving closer, and it's the only exit route I've got.
Once I'm there, with a hand on the handle, I glance quickly out the door, as my mouth falls open. I know exactly where I am. I'd recognize this view anywhere.
I'm in Ella Montgomery's house.
The crazy old lady at the end of the bluff.
Who wasn't always a crazy old lady. Who was, indeed, a movie star about a hundred years ago.
When we were kids friends used to come out for weekends and we used to play Ding Dong Ditch at her gates. She'd come out in her dressing gown and scream at us as we ran away, breathless with fear and exhilaration.
We used to see her around the beach. She'd walk over to the deli in a trucker's hat and mirrored aviator sunglasses, with an army ranger jacket and slippers. Or a nightgown and rainboots with a huge black-and-white Kentucky Derby-style hat. Always with a hat.
She never talks to anyone, or smiles. If someone speaks to her, she usually parrots their words back to them nastily. I remember my parents saying they had all learned to ignore her, but can't help sniggering when some poor tourist recognizes her and tries to compliment her, or tell her how much they loved her work.
It's what the locals refer to as our summer entertainment.
I'm so shocked that I'm in Ella Montgomery's house--the grandest and most dilapidated house for miles, which no one, and I mean no one, has been in for years--that I stop trying to get out.
For someone to whom nothing very interesting happens, something very interesting is happening. I could write about this. No one has seen the inside of this house for years--this could be my writing debut.
My imagination runs wild. The New Yorker! One Story! The New York Times Magazine! This, surely, is the setting to put me on the map.
I take my hand off the knob and step back in the room at exactly the same time as the man from the beach walks in, holding a large, glistening knife.
"You're up?" He doesn't sound like a serial killer, but I'm pretty sure Ted Bundy didn't sound like a serial killer either.
Panicked, my eyes dart to the knife, as he looks down, realizes why I am close to freaking out, then bursts out laughing.
"I'm sorry. I was chopping lettuce. I thought you might be hungry." He reaches slowly round the doorway and puts the knife down as I assess him.
I will say he doesn't look like a serial killer. Or even a one-off killer. He looks kind of cute if you were into that kind of guy. Which I'm not. In fact, he's the direct opposite of what I like. I'm into Eric types: artsy, creative, unpredictable; a little edgy, a little dangerous. I'm into guys a little hipster-ish.
And the most important requirement? That they treat me like shit. Actually, take away everything else and leave the treating me like shit part, and I'm in.
This guy looks like he'd treat you like a princess. Plus, he's so New England he's practically got Nantucket stenciled on his forehead. In a faded blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up, old chino shorts, and flip-flops, he's way too straitlaced and preppy for my tastes. He's like every guy I ever met who went to Collegiate--and trust me, I think I met all of them--who were never my type. I've spent the last five years studiously avoiding them.
He's also smiling. None of the guys I know smile. It's just weird.
"Where's my dog?" I'm not smiling back at him. I want to get as much info about the house and about Ella Montgomery as possible, and then I'm out of here.
"She's in the kitchen. She was lucky. The wounds looked really bad, but they're superficial. I cleaned them out and washed them with Hydrogen peroxide. You should probably take her to the vet, but they're not bleeding anymore so I don't think she'll need stitches."
I peer at him suspiciously. "What are you, some kind of vet?"
"No! Really?" I'm jealous, and fascinated, and filled up with a million questions to ask.
"I wrote a screenplay a couple of years ago about a couple of vets. It was a comedy, but I had to get the details right so I shadowed a vet. I think I did okay today."
I don't want to sound amateurish, but I can't help the question I know everyone must ask. "Anything I might have seen?"
"Animal Louse?" he says sheepishly, the end of his sentence rising in a question, as if there's a possibility I wouldn't have seen the biggest movie of last year. Actually, I didn't see the biggest movie of last year, drunken partying lice moving onto the heads of trainee vets, because I don't fall into its demographic of fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds, but I saw the trailer. Many, many, many times.
"I saw the trailer!" I say excitedly. "That was huge! You wrote that?"
He nods, as I remember why I'm here. "I've just finished the one I'm working on. No more head lice, though," he grins. "Or vets."
"If you're so good with animals, how come you didn't train your own devil dog?" I mumble.
"I am so sorry." He does look contrite. "It's my grandmother's. He's supposed to be kept inside at all times because, as you saw, he hates all other dogs. Loves humans, hates dogs."
He's walking toward a colorful bundle in the corner of the kitchen, and as he steps aside, I see Pippin.
She is lying in the lap of luxury, on a fleecy blanket, gnawing happily on a rawhide bone, eyes closed in rapture.
Mr. Sailing Club gets down on his haunches and pets her, carefully avoiding her stitches, as Pippin drops her bone, rolls over on her back, and practically swoons with love.
I swear, you can see her fluttering her nonexistent eyelashes.
"Good girl," he croons, looking up at me with a smitten smile. "She's adorable!"
"I know," I bend down next to him and reach out a hand to pet her, as the fucker growls at me before launching her entire adorable body at my hand, missing my extended finger with those razor-sharp teeth by less than a half inch.
"That's her way of expressing her love," I explain to Mr. Sailing Club. "Loves dogs. Hates humans."
"We'd make a terrible pair," he jokes, as an unexpected flush hits my cheeks.
Please god, no! This cannot be happening. I cannot be attracted to this Prepster Screenwriter. Although...the screenwriter bit is interesting. But he so isn't my type.
Why am I blushing?
"I'm William." He extends a hand, which I just look at for a second, before remembering this is how you introduce yourself outside of Williamsburg, where you just raise a hand with a "hey." I extend my hand, feeling the warmth of his palm, the strength of his grip.
"William Montgomery. My friends call me Bill."
"Olivia. Olivia Adamson. My friends call me Olivia."
"I bet they don't." He doesn't let go of my hand. "I bet they call you Liv."
I laugh. He's right. They do.
I wish I hadn't eaten doughnuts for breakfast this morning. Or yesterday morning. Or the morning before that.
I wish I hadn't spent the last six weeks grazing in the fridge whenever I feel lonely, or bored, or sad.
I wish I didn't have to pull my jeans off in disgust when they wouldn't go up beyond mid-thigh last week. Muffin-top? Oh, I am so beyond muffin-top it isn't even funny.
Bill is getting cuter by the second, but all I'm worried about is the spare tire of flesh around my middle, that I may be able to use the grease from my hair for the salad dressing (no, that isn't a good thing), and I hope he doesn't think the reason my hand is hovering in front of my chin is because I have a nervous tic.
Oh Combination Skin Balancing Cleaner! Where are you when I need you? Right now I forgive Gina for stealing my boyfriend, but I'll never forgive her for stealing my Bioré.
"So what is the deal with your grandmother?" I ask, when I've recovered from laughing so hard I actually snorted coffee out my nose. At which point I give up hope of pretending this might develop into anything more, even though it was Bill's fault, for telling me this ridiculous story of filming with a movie star who...well...it wouldn't be right to name him.
Bill looks a little taken aback. "What do you mean?"
"I just mean that hardly anyone ever sees her, and she seems a little...crazy."
"A little?" He laughs. "By a little do you meant completely loop-the-loop?"
I shrug. "That's one way of putting it. She's always seemed slightly...mean?"
"Oh, she's the worst!" he says cheerfully. "A horror. Witch on wheels."
I laugh, but I'm sure it's out of nerves. "You can't mean that. You're joking."
"I wish I was. She was in her fifties when she had my mother, which was something of a miracle back then, and the only reason she had her was to try and keep my grandfather, who was the great love of her life."
"Of course not. And she blamed my mother. Whom she hated. She made her life hell, which was very painful, and very public. I'm sure you know all about it, everyone else seems to, but I was lucky."
I am frowning at him, with no idea what he is talking about, when I remember. His mother was a suicide. He was a young child. And he was there. He saw the whole thing."
"How were you lucky?"
"Because I was unofficially adopted by a friend of my mother's. He knew my father didn't care, so he basically brought me to live with them up in Cape Cod...."
"Damn!" I blurt out. "I figured Nantucket."
"Close." He smiles that devastating smile. "But they saved my life. They have four kids whom I consider my brothers and sisters, and they gave me a sense of stability and love I'm not sure I could otherwise have had. My mother was fantastic, when she was good. When she was bad, it was pretty rough. She had no idea how to be a mother...." he trails off, a fleeting sadness in his eyes.
I don't know what to say. I know about Ella Montgomery. I've read the unauthorized biographies, seen the E! True Hollywood stories, but here it is, straight from the horse's mouth, and parts of the story that have never been heard before.
"That's enough about me!" He grimaces, quickly changing the subject. "I've probably bored you stupid. Tell me about you. How do I stumble upon a cute girl like you in the park by the beach in the middle of the day?"
"You mean why am I clearly one of the great unemployed?"
But that's not what I'm thinking.
This is what I'm thinking:
He called me cute! He called me cute! He called me cute!
Okay, Liv. Grow up. (One more. He called me cute!)
"Are you one of the great unemployed? I presume everyone in a coffee shop in the middle of the day is a writer."
"It wasn't a coffee shop, it was a park," I remind him.
"You're not a writer then?"
He whoops in delight. "I'm right! The writers are always the cute ones. Novelist, yes?" I shrug, thinking about my unfinished manuscript, the one that got abandoned once I met Eric, when I decided to revise the whole plot to incorporate the sexy musician who called late at night, who then felt torn between his bandmates (losers, for he was the one with the talent), and the beautiful girl he had fallen in love with.
Except I was too busy partying to write.
When I moved back home, I was too depressed to write anything other than really, really bad poetry. (And a short story that basically describes the moment of walking in and seeing Eric's naked, pumping buttocks, that might be fantastic, and might be awful, but I know I won't be able to tell which until I've had a little distance from the emotions).
"Let's just say aspiring novelist," I confess. "I was a junior editor, but they were making cuts. Last in, first out. I can't afford to intern for nothing, so I'm back home for a while until I figure it out. How about you? What are you doing in Guilford?"
He shrugs. "Figuring out stuff for my grandmother. She hasn't been well for a while, and there isn't anyone else to...sort through everything. I'm the only one left. I'm planning on being up here for the summer. Maybe we can do some writing together?"
I have no idea if he's serious, but my heart skips a little beat.
"Maybe," I tease. "If you promise not to bring any deadly beasts to attack my poor defenseless creatures."
"You don't seem defenseless. You look like a woman who can take care of herself."
"Thanks," I snort. "Is that a compliment or an insult?"
"Trust me. It's a compliment. There's nothing I find hotter than a strong woman."
"Oh," I giggle. Pathetically.
I look up, and he's just looking at me. For a few seconds longer than perhaps we should, we just stare at each other. My heart does this little flip, which is when I have to break the gaze. I remember this feeling. This is dangerous. This is when I get myself into trouble, and let's face it, I have no idea who this man is.
"I have to go." I gather Pippin--carefully--hardly able to look at Bill.
"Thank you for...everything. I've had such a nice time."
He looks disappointed, and walks me to the door, our feet kicking up clouds of dust that swirl around us in the air as we reluctantly move through the house.
Able to breathe again on the doorstep, I turn once again to say goodbye, to find his face inches from mine.
There is a pause. I catch my breath, his face comes closer, lips brushing mine, as gently as a butterfly.
His hand comes up to graze my cheek, his lips closing softly over mine, my tongue searching out his as I moan slightly, my body bending into his. Pippin yaps.
I break away, embarrassed, expecting the same from Bill, who laughs as he reprimands a swooning Pippin who attempts to roll over in my arms to have him rub her tummy. That yap was probably jealousy.
"I know it's short notice," he says, "but are you doing anything later? Do you want to...do something?"
"Sure." My voice is calm, but I wish I could find a way to wipe the three-foot-wide grin off my face.
"Do you like seafood?" I nod. "I'll book somewhere for dinner. Usually I'd pick you up, but the car's not working. Would you get me?"
He pulls me in for another kiss, before I float all the way home.
Screw you, Eric, you loser musician with your loser apartment and your unwashed clothes, and your late-night booty calls. I'm going out tonight with a successful screenwriter! He's cute, and funny, and a grown-up!
When I tell my mother, she is so excited, she starts hyperventilating. At first I think it is because she is worried about Pippin, until I realize it is with excitement at my date with Ella Montgomery's grandson.
She even offers to take me shopping, which is why I have a J.Crew sundress hanging in my closet that actually makes me look reasonably thin, three new pairs of shoes (okay, I milked it, but wouldn't you have done the same thing?), and--thank GOD--a full set of Bioré to fix my poor broken-out skin.
I'm curling my hair as I wait for the Deep Cleansing Pore Strip to harden on my nose, toes stretched out so the newly applied polish can dry.
Let's just say I never tried this hard for Eric.
Nor do I remember anything quite so satisfying as pulling off the strip and seeing a thousand giant blackheads, like small determined worms, clinging to the strip, leaving my skin shiny and new.
I do the Pore Unclogging Scrub, finishing off with the Blemish Treating Astringent, as my zits, realizing they have met their match, start their hasty retreat. A touch of concealer and my skin is as perfect as it has ever looked, my hair shiny and soft, my figure a little more voluptuous than I would like, but in the dress I appear soft, sophisticated, and more than a little sexy.
I almost don't make it out of the house because I am too busy admiring myself in the hall mirror. I've never seen this version of myself before. I've never even wanted to try a version like this before, but now that I have, I think I really like it.
"You going on a date with yourself?" my mom's new "friend," James, attempts a joke from the kitchen. "I hear the carpet's very comfortable at the bottom of the stairs."
"Ha-ha!" I harrumph, grabbing the keys and walking out the door.
The doorbell at Ella Montgomery's doesn't work. The house is so big, no one hears my knock, and after a few minutes of standing on the doorstep, I push the door open before wandering around the foyer, calling out a tentative hello.
I'll admit, I'm a little scared of disturbing Ella Montgomery. I have no idea where she was earlier, but I have no desire to meet her, however famous she might once have been. There's no doubt she'll be horrible to me, and chances are she won't believe I'm here to see Bill. It could all go horribly wrong.
"Hello?" I call softly, putting my head into the kitchen, praying I find Bill before Ella.
The first floor is definitely empty, and against better judgment, I make my way upstairs.
Each step creaks loudly as I continue to call out, only silence answering back. I push open the first door, to find a small guest bedroom, two twin beds, made up, untouched. No sign of any personal effects.
The next door leads to a bathroom, bright green tile, vintage fifties. Oh, how my ex-roommates would have loved this.
The next is a large darkened bedroom that's freezing. Every window has an air-conditioning unit in it, with blinds drawn over the top. I walk over to the window to let in some light, glancing over at the bed as I do so, and I do something they only do in the movies.
I freeze in terror, as a gurgling scream escapes my throat.
"It's not what you think!"
The only thing I'm thinking is I should have listened to my instincts. When it occurred to me that Ted Bundy sounded normal, too, I should have stayed with that thought.
And I should have worn ballet flats and not the high heels my mother insisted upon.
For on the bed, neatly arranged on the crisp white sheet, is a gruesome selection of tools: forceps, cannulae, scalpels, hoses, scissors, twine.
And next to them is the very dead body of Ella Montgomery.
I have no fight-or-flight mechanism, it seems.
Mine is freeze or flight.
Luckily, at that point, flight kicks in. I fly past Bill, brushing off his hand, as I run down the stairs.
I think I've made it, when his hand closes on my arm, and my mouth opens in a loud, terrified scream.
"Olivia. Stop," he says, as calmly as he spoke to Pippin. "Let me explain."
My eyes frantically try and assess the distance to the door, judge whether I can get out.
"If you stand by the open door and I stand over here, will you let me explain?" he says. "That way, if you don't believe me, you can leave."
I want to leave now. I want to believe him. I have to trust my instincts. But my instincts are crap. They always were. But he's so handsome. I don't know what to do.
I have no idea what to do.
He lets go of my arm and puts his arms up in the air, backing away from me slowly.
"It's okay, Olivia. See?"
I take a deep breath and nod, still suspicious, as he moves further away.
"My grandmother died," he says.
I narrow my eyes. "When?"
"Eight days ago."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I can't tell anyone. She didn't want any press, or anyone to know. I shouldn't be telling you now. She didn't want an announcement until she was ready."
Ready? I almost snigger. It looks like her days of being ready are over. That thought is replaced with the picture of the gruesome tools.
I narrow my eyes. "How did she die?"
"Old age. Alzheimer's. Take your pick. It was natural."
"So what are those tools next to her?"
Bill widens his eyes, then stifles a grin. "Oh my god...you thought..."
I shrug as his grin is replaced with a sigh.
"My grandmother was crazy, as you know. The Alzheimer's didn't help, but she was crazy long before that. She left strict instructions about her death in her will."
"She has to be embalmed in her own home, by the best in the business. Who happens to be the busiest. Who is also in Los Angeles. She then wants to be dressed in her most famous gown from her most famous movie, Queen Mary's Secrets, and placed not in a coffin to be viewed, but on the throne from the movie."
I haven't realized that I've taken a couple of steps closer to him while he's talking. I consider stepping back to safety, but I don't feel unsafe, so I shuffle a little bit as if to tell him not to mess with me because I'm still undecided, and raise an eyebrow.
"So where's the throne?"
He gestures with his head, and sure enough, one of the chairs pushed back against the wall is indeed throne-like. I hadn't noticed it earlier.
"You realize that's completely sick?" I say.
"I realize that," he says. "But it's not up to me."
"So if she'd asked to be hung from a helicopter and flown all over the beaches of Mystic, would you be doing it?"
"I'm not joking."
"I know. I'm not actually going to sit her on the throne. I'm going to dismantle it and put the throne bit behind her in the coffin. But I am waiting for the embalmer to get here. It's been hell. He was meant to be here four days ago but he keeps getting delayed. I think I've spent most of my inheritance on air-conditioning units, but she's definitely going off."
Finally I take a breath.
"How do I know you're telling the truth? How do I know you didn't slit her throat with the scalpel that's lying next to her on the bed, and you're not Bill Montgomery, and your next victim is me?"
"First, because you wouldn't be saying that if you really thought it. And second because when you got home this afternoon you Googled me and you know I'm the real deal."
I blush. He takes a step closer.
"Did you follow me home and look through my windows, too?" I say. "Can I add Stalker to Serial Killer?"
"I'm not sure I like either of those," he says. "I quite like Boyfriend, though. Or, Boyfriend-in-Training, maybe. We have all summer to find out. If, that is, you ever let me near you again. Wait there," he turns and runs upstairs. "I have something for you."
Seconds later, he flies back down, a sheath of papers in his hands, which he slides across the floor to me, careful not to come too close.
Last Will and Testament of Ella Montgomery.
He tells me to flick to page 46, and I read, from top to bottom.
"You're right," I can't hide the relief in my eyes. "She was crazy. And I do believe you."
"Thank god," he grins. "You had me seriously worried for a moment there. Shall we go out for dinner?"
"Are you out of your mind? You think I have an appetite now? I have a better idea," I take his hand and lead him outside. "How about a walk in the park?"
A WALK IN THE PARK. Copyright 2012 by Jane Green.