Olivia wasn’t exactly sure why she decided to take the long way home from work today. Maybe because she was actually leaving while there was still daylight in the sky. Andrew was watching Mia while her mom and Sammy were away for the weekend. That morning, Andrew had explained the whole elaborate backyard play setup he was planning for Mia that day and made it clear that she should take her time coming home if she wanted to. With that in mind, rather than walk down Main Street all the way to the end, Olivia decided to take a turn up Rice Street and take the longer, winding route through the side roads home.
The Limerick building was there, just like it had been for at least eighty years now. It was a brick two-story building that didn’t look like anything special. Maybe someone could even say it was a little ugly. But Olivia thought it was beautiful. The brick was perfectly weathered and there were deep flower pots outside the wide windows. Though there were no flowers in them right now, Olivia could remember a few years ago when they’d been filled to an almost comical degree.
The first floor had been a tea shop when it was last open. Olivia had never actually met the owner, but she knew of him. Apparently, things had gone well with the business for about a year and a half. John had come to Chamber of Commerce meetings, held events at the tea shop, and had been a warm, welcome presence in town.
Then he’d gotten hit with the curse. It had lasted for a month and by the time it was over, all the spark and warmth were gone from him. He’d left silently, letting his staff go and shutting down the tea shop without notice. When Roman of all people had gotten in touch to check in on him, John had let him know that he was never returning to New Winslow. The shop was closed for good.
But for whatever reason, he hadn’t sold the building. So for the past four years it sat there, empty and collecting dust. If Olivia peeked in the dirty windows, she could see some of the fixtures and appliances still in there.
If she had the money and the opportunity, she would buy this place in a minute. Quit Keegan’s and open a coffee shop. It would be everything she loved about Keegan’s and none of the bullshit that Bret and his company brought into her life. As she approached the building, Olivia entertained the fantasy of tracking John down and asking him if he’d consider selling. But considering she didn’t even have enough money to pay her existing bills right now, she knew that the possibility was a stretch, even in her dreams.
That didn’t stop her from walking a little slower as she passed by today. The building hadn’t changed at all since last time she’d been here. The faded blue awning with its cheerful teapot, the two tiny tables that were still inside, the pastry case with a single plate sitting in it. It was like someone had sealed away it from the passage of time. Amazingly, no one had ever broken in. Nor had any animals gotten in. It was like it was preserved in a museum. An exhibit with the name like The fading remnants of an ever present curse or something.
It would be perfect, she thought to herself for the hundredth time in the past year. And while she knew on most levels that it was never going to happen, fantasizing about which sandwiches she would sell or the pastry options of the day made her feel better when things at Keegan’s or at home hit rock bottom.
So as long as she didn’t actually tell anybody, it could be her own little secret indulgence.
Iris had been making a conscious effort to actually check her email twice a day. After things had gone so wrong with Sandra Forrest, she couldn’t afford to miss another client. Even right now, during the shop’s busiest season, she wasn’t making enough money to pay her bills at Forest Charms alone and she wasn’t taking the small stream of incoming clients for granted anymore.
So here she was, sitting at her desk, eating another bowl of pasta while scrolling through her messages. Not that many new ones since she’s last checked first thing this morning. Her electric bill, a few promotional messages, and a notice that her information request from the state archives had gone through.
She was about to close the window and head upstairs when her computer dinged with the sound of a new message. The sender’s name was Missy Hill at The Countess.
Neither of which name she recognized. But it didn’t look like spam, so she opened it.
Dear Ms. Davies,
My name is Missy Hill and I am one of the owners of The Countess Bed and Breakfast in Petersham. My partner and I were hoping we could discuss a situation with you that seems to be within your realm of experience. While both of us are experienced in terms of the paranormal, things seem to have reached a level of severity with which neither of us are comfortable. If you have the time in your schedule, we would greatly appreciate setting up a meeting where we can discuss the situation and potentially hire you for assistance.
You can reach me at this email or at the phone number in my signature.
Iris took a thoughtful bite of pasta, trying and failing to catch a drop of marinara as it dripped off her fork and onto the table. She absently wiped it up as she reread the email.
The Countess Bed and Breakfast. In Petersham.
Unless a brand new bed and breakfast had opened with zero fanfare and a sudden infestation of paranormal phenomena, this could only be the creepy Petersham bed and breakfast.
And now they wanted her help.
Her bank balance flashed across her mind, but she closed her laptop. The professional thing to do would be to take the night to consider it, then email Ms. Hill back in the morning.
Noah was almost shaking too hard to throw up anymore. He collapsed onto the bathroom floor and curled up in a ball as cramps ripped through him, tearing at his insides and making his heart feel like it was being squeezed.
A drink would fix this. Just one small drink and he’d be so much better.
As he squeezed his eyes shut, he could hear Olivia through the vents, running a bath. It must be Mia’s bath time. Noah wanted to be there with them, fitting seamlessly back into his old life instead of choking back screams on his dirty bathroom floor.
He couldn’t ask them for help, he didn’t deserve it. He’d lost that privilege months ago when he’d shoved them away. He’d just get through this, stop drinking, and…
And then what? Go back to normal? Act like nothing had ever happened? He’d seen the way Olivia looked at him these days. Going back wasn’t possible.
And if it wasn’t possible, then was all this pain really worth it?