The Ghost and the Graveyard

Chapter 8


Good Morning
Alone in my bed that night, I slept better than I had in a long time. I didn't even dream until the early morning hours. In that space between sleep and awake, I was running through the cemetery-naked. Logan was up ahead, calling my name. He needed help. He needed me. But something was behind me, at my heels with panting breath and heavy footsteps. Just before I reached Logan, a hand gripped my shoulder. I twisted my head around. Rick was behind me, naked and panting. His eyes were black as coal. I fell into his arms. Under the elm tree where we'd had lunch, between rows of headstones, he took me from behind, sliding into me and driving his hips home.
It might have been a scary dream, but it wasn't. I had the overwhelming feeling that I'd wanted Rick to catch me all along. Like he was saving me from something or someone. We were two pieces of a puzzle, fitting together in a way that was right.
When I woke up, I was on the floor next to my bed. What the hell? Had I humped my way off the mattress in my sleep? My obsession with the caretaker and his dark and dangerous persona had officially made it into my subconscious. What did this say about my mental state? Maybe it was biological. It had been months since I'd had sex. A girl has needs.
Cheek to the carpet, I pressed my hands to the floor to push myself up. When I turned my head to crack my neck, I saw a wink of raspberry beyond the dust ruffle and lowered myself back down. Prudence had left something under the bed. I reached out a hand and fished the object toward me, then criss-crossed my legs under me.
The old-fashioned hatbox had stripes down the sides and a gorgeous floral lid that gave it a Victorian quality. I rubbed my hands together, anxious to see what Prudence left behind, maybe an antique hat or, I don't know, a box full of money might be nice. With both hands, I attempted to lift the lid. "Ow!" Blood bubbled from a pinprick-sized hole in my finger. I stuck it in my mouth rather than wipe it on my shirt. With my good hand, I turned the box and found the offending staple. It looked like the box had originally had a handle of some sort. Carefully, I reached for the lid again, avoiding the sharp barb.
What I found when I lifted the lid was a leather scrapbook. I cracked the cover. On the first page was a clipped newspaper column: MOTHER DIES GIVING BIRTH. I scanned the article. This was about my mother! Why did Prudence have an article about my mother's death under her bed? I flipped a page, and then in confusion, I flipped another. Pictures of me as a baby, riding my first bike, my first dance, singing in the church choir, my graduation from nursing school. All of them taken from far away, like paparazzi pictures taken with a telephoto lens. What. The. Fuck. I closed the scrapbook and tipped the box toward me. The only other thing in there was a blue velvet bag, the kind large jewelry might be stored in, but the bag was empty.
Two theories formed behind my fluttering lids. One, Prudence was a stalker who targeted me as a child. Two, this was my father's album left in Prudence's house. Neither theory made sense.
I tucked the scrapbook under my arm and jogged downstairs. Logan had again made me coffee and also an omelet fit for a five star restaurant. It was steaming hot when I reached the kitchen. Either he had amazing timing or, more likely, had been watching me.
I flopped the scrapbook onto the counter. "What is this Logan?"
"I have no idea." He materialized as he spoke.
Flipping open to a spread that included six photos of six-year-old me with my first dog, Nigel, I held it up in the direction of his glowing orb.
He sighed. "I can't talk about it. I literally cannot. Prudence has forbidden me to, and since she's the senior ghost, I must obey her."
I slapped the counter. "Why can't you tell me anything? You still haven't explained how you ended up in my attic."
"I told you, I'm not supposed to talk about that, either."
"Why not? What possible reason could Prudence have for not telling me why you're living in my attic? Or why she kept pictures of me under her bed."
"It's for your protection, to keep you safe. The secret must be revealed in a certain way."
I groaned, exasperated. "Can't you give me a clue? Anything?"
He placed his hands on his hips and hung his head.
"Logan, come on," I said.
"How did you get the name Grateful, anyway?"
Way to change the subject. I hated talking about my name, but people were naturally curious about it. I decided I'd try to use it as leverage. "I'll tell you, but in exchange you need to tell me what I want to know." I crossed my arms and tapped my foot.
"I told you-"
"I know you can't say it straight out, but you can give me a clue. That's all I'm asking for."
"My dad named me Grateful because my mother died in childbirth and he was grateful to have me."
"That must have made for a difficult childhood."
The comment caught me off guard. "Not really. My dad has always been there for me. I mean, there were times I missed having a mom, but it's not the same as missing a person you actually knew. I'd never met her."
"Has your father ever told you the full story of how it happened?"
I considered his question. "I guess not really. I mean, I know now that she bled out. There's a medical term-disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC. No one was to blame. I work in the hospital where she died. Every year on my birthday, my dad used to send a card to the nurse who helped with my delivery."
"What was the nurse's name?"
"You know, I don't remember. I just know my dad thought the world of her."
"Ask your father. Ask him for the nurse's name."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because that's the clue I promised you."
"Oh, you can't be serious! What possible connection could there be? You made this up."
"That was our deal. Take it or leave it."
I sighed. "Take it."
He blinked out of sight and the omelet he made me slid across the table in my direction. "Eat."
I tucked the scrapbook in the cabinet under the island and took a seat on the barstool. "Thanks, Logan," I said, forking eggs into my mouth. I was usually a Pop Tarts-for-breakfast kind of girl. I wondered what my body would do with these newfound vitamins and minerals.
"I did a load of laundry too," his disembodied voice said. I couldn't make him out at all.
"Logan, you don't have to do my cooking or my cleaning." A pang of guilt cut through me for treating him like a spectral slave.
"It gives me something to do."
I smiled in the direction I thought he was in. "I appreciate it. I can't cook, and I'm a shitty housekeeper."
"There's a way you can pay me back."
"Stay away from the caretaker."
Shaking my head, I said, "You never quit."
"The caretaker is dangerous for you, Grateful."
"So you keep telling me." I dropped my fork and checked the time. "Shit, I've gotta get ready for work." I lifted the plate to clear the table.
"Leave that for me. Go ahead. Get outta here."
"Thanks, Logan." I grabbed my keys and took him up on his offer to clean up.
* * * * *
The hospital where I work is thirty minutes from Red Grove. I hopped into my Jeep and peeled out of the driveway, hoping I could still make my shift on time. The sight of Rick painting the cemetery fence shirtless had me slamming on the brakes before I could say "gonna be late."
"I hoped I would catch you this morning," Rick called, dropping the paintbrush into the pan at his feet and walking toward me. "Would you have dinner with me tonight?"
I was having trouble concentrating. The memory of my dream from that morning was fresh in my mind. My body responded just thinking about it.
Rick stopped a few feet from me and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath. Fast as the flutter of hummingbird wings, he was leaning in my window.
"How did you do that?" I asked.
"Do what?"
"Move so quickly just now?"
"If I was quick, it was for good reason. A man should never keep a beautiful woman waiting."
My cheeks blazed.
"Dinner tonight?" he asked again. He licked his full lips.
My mouth began to form the word yes, but I caught myself. Warnings buzzed in my head. Rick was dangerous. I needed to slow things down. "I think I need to catch up on some sleep."
His eyes narrowed. "You're having trouble sleeping? I have some herbs-"
"No," I said too quickly. I shook my head and smiled. "I'm fine, really. I've just been distracted with the move and everything. Haven't got to bed at a decent hour." And hell if I was going to invite another foot-stink bouquet into my residence.
He nodded, but the twist of his mouth told me he didn't quite believe my excuse.
I couldn't tell him about Logan. Not only would it potentially mark me as a lunatic, but I had a strong gut feeling that I shouldn't. "How about Friday night?" I countered.
"When can I expect you?"
"I get off at seven," I said. "I can be there around eight."
"Then eight it is." The corner of his mouth lifted, and for just a moment, I sensed something. Call it premonition. I'd known this man. I would know him again. The feeling passed as quickly as it had come, and I realized I'd unconsciously leaned through the window and kissed him.
I removed my lips from his and smoothed my scrubs. "Sorry," I said. "I don't know what came over me."
"Never apologize, mi cielo. Not for that."
I nodded, but I wasn't at all sure I agreed. I had a nasty habit of losing control with Rick. Visions of calling in sick so that I could show him exactly what I'd dreamed about played out in my head. My heart picked up its pace. All of my girl parts petitioned for amnesty from my brain as I silently repeated: I need my job, I need my job.
As if he could hear my thoughts, he raised an eyebrow and smiled wickedly. He stepped back from my Jeep. "See you Friday, Grateful," he said.
I regained my composure and waved goodbye, then accelerated for work, hoping I'd make it on time.