New Winslow S7E6

Fruit trees required a mate, right? If there was one, then there had to be another. Otherwise, they weren’t able to pollinate. So if he got one tree, there wouldn’t be any fruit. But if he got two, there wouldn’t be any room left in the yard for anything else. Maybe fruit trees weren’t the best idea, as tempting as the idea of being able to just go outside pick apples or peaches was.

A peach would be so good right now. When had he last eaten?

Hyacinths might be nice too. They had a few good-looking ones over on the other side of the garden center. They were small, but they’d grow with time.

This was actually pretty exciting. He’d landscaped plenty in his early and mid-twenties, but he’d never had much of a garden before. His dad planted tomatoes every year, though. Maybe he’d have some ideas on how to keep a garden alive. They’d plant tomatoes at the new house. Maybe an herb garden too.  And flowers. So many flowers for the baby.

Pansies were simple enough. He’d buy a few flats, then plant them along the stone pathway in the front yard. He tried to remember where the damage was. At least some of the stones were missing and replacing them was at the top of the to-do list. But he could do that, then plant the pansies along the edge of the path for the spring and summer.

“Can I help you, sir?”

Noah blinked and turned to the young woman who was standing expectantly beside him. “No thanks,” he said. “I’m just…just thinking.”

“Let me know if you need anything,” the woman said with a smile.

The nametag on her orange apron said Kelly. Noah smiled back at Kelly, then turned back to the row of plants in front of him.

There was an empty cart a few feet away from him that nobody seemed to be claiming. After waiting another minute, Noah took it and started wheeling it toward the flower displays. Pansies and violas created a vivid splash of color on the metal tables and he scooped up a few flats of each, putting them carefully in the cart. There were shrubs against the far wall and Noah tried to remember if the new house already had shrubs out back. The yard was big. Not big enough for two fruit trees, but big enough to easily hold a few shrubs and an entire garden if he wanted.

A large tomato seedling went into the cart, quickly followed by another. Then cucumbers, runner beans, and zucchini. He couldn’t cook for shit. Liv loved cooking, but she couldn’t cook so much right now, so maybe he should learn a few recipes and bring dinner over to her.

More flowers went into the baby seat and pretty soon there really wasn’t room for anything else. The cart was heavier than Noah anticipated as he pushed it back into the store, the cool interior dim and cave-like as his eyes adjusted. He joined the line at the self-checkout register, paid quickly, and was back out in the sweltering sunlight moments later.

Where the hell had he parked? Noah tried to think back to when he’d arrived, but couldn’t remember which part of the enormous parking lot he’d been in before the garden center. And his truck was so old that there was no way to set off the horn to find it. So he accepted his fate and began pushing the loaded cart into the first row of the lot.

Three rows in, he finally found the truck parked beside a high lamppost. Two seagulls were gleefully tearing into an abandoned hot dog in the parking spot beside it, flying away with indignant squacks as Noah began loading up his truck bed. By this point, Noah’s shirt was sticking to his back with sweat and his stomach was growling. He considered stopping for food on the way home, but Greenfield to New Winslow wasn’t too bad of a drive. He’d eat something there, then work on getting these planted.

Something itched at him as he drove out of the parking lot and onto the main road, though he couldn’t quite place what was wrong. Right now there was so much to consider with the new house that it could have been any number of things. Noah wasn’t concerned though. He’d just consult one of the many to-do lists he’d made over the past few weeks and the problem would jump out at him. For now, as long as he got home and started working before he lost all motivation, he’d be fine.

A little while later, he pulled off the highway and onto the main road through the woods back to town. There was no one else out here right now, but it wasn’t exactly the most highly traveled part of the state so that wasn’t unusual. If anything, he tended to get frustrated when there were other people, especially when they drove slowly. Not that he had the right to, but whatever. Noah accepted his flaws.

He passed the Welcome to New Winslow sign and kept going up past Keegan’s. He didn’t have work today, but was he working tomorrow? Shit, he was scatterbrained today if he couldn’t even remember that. Oh well, he’d figure it out. It looked pretty empty as he drove by, anyway. So tomorrow’s shift wouldn’t suck too bad. Especially since Liv would almost definitely be there with him.

He went through downtown and passed the road to his father’s house. The new house was up further, toward the western side of town. As he pulled in a few minutes later, he parked next to Liv’s car and got out, going to the back of his truck to get the plants out of the bed. He’d gotten about half the flowers and none of the vegetables out onto the yellowing grass when the front door opened and Olivia came running out.

“Noah?” she exclaimed, running toward him. “Where the hell have you been?”

Olivia slammed into Noah with a force that knocked the wind out of him. Staggering slightly, he caught her in a hug, holding her tighter when he felt the way her body was shaking. She looked up at him without letting go. “Where the hell have you been?”

Noah gestured toward the plants on the ground and in his truck. “Home Depot,” he said. “Sorry, I should have called to see if you needed anything, but I think I left my phone here.”

She let go and looked at him, her gaze sharp. He looked back, unsure what was going on. “Noah, are you drunk?”

“No?” he answered. “I just said I was at Home Depot. Liv, are you feeling alright?”

“It’s been thirty-six hours. You just took off! I thought you were dead! We all did!”

She was in tears now and Noah gave her another hug, gentle this time. “You should get inside,” he said. “It’s too hot out here, and you’re still recovering.”

“What do you mean?”

Shit, the sleep deprivation was taking it out of her, wasn’t it? She’d probably fight him, but he’d try to take the baby for the night so she could get some unbroken sleep. “From the baby,” he said. “Go lay down. I’ll be in soon, let me just finish this.”

Maybe that was the wrong thing to say because she went pale, eyes still shining with tears. “The baby?” Olivia repeated. “Noah, do you mean Mia? She’s two years old.”

He laughed. “That’s ridiculous,” he said, turning to the plants, then back as something tugged at him and dissipated. “I’m thinking hydrangeas by the windows, what do you think?”

“Andrew!” Liv called over her shoulder, making no move to go back inside.

That had to be an unfortunately named new boyfriend or something. Because there was no way that…

But no, it was Andrew rushing out the front door. A little older, but still him. Beautiful and aggravating and gone. No, he was gone.

But Andrew ran to Noah like they were teenagers again, like it hadn’t been years since they’d seen each other. “Noah, thank God,” he said, throwing his arms around Noah.

Noah gasped sharply, stepping out of his grip before he could either melt into it or punch Andrew like he deserved to be punched. “What are you doing here?”

Andrew looked like Noah had hit him anyway. “Noah, what’s-“

“I never thought I’d see you again.”

“No, it’s alright,” Andrew said. “We’ve been so worried. I’m so sorry about what happened.”

Noah shook his head, waving him off with a dismissive flick of his hand. “Sure, yeah,” he said. “Don’t- just leave me alone, Andrew. You shouldn’t be here.”

He turned to Liv, doing his best to ignore the fact that the man who had destroyed him was standing around like he lived here. “I’m going to finish unloading these. Liv, what do you think of the pansies to go along the walkway?”

He motioned toward the brick path toward the stairs, then looked at her again. She was still crying. Why was she crying? Was it a postpartum hormone thing? Noah didn’t know much about those things, but he’d learned as much as he could while she was pregnant. And she had cried a lot then, so maybe it was just a continuation of that.

“Liv, are you feeling okay?”

He put a hand to her forehead. She was pale, but not feverish. “Did you have the baby yet?”

“I’m calling Dr. Degas,” she said.

“Good idea,” Noah said, looking from her to Andrew, then quickly back at the flowers. “She’s great. She’ll fix you up. Oh, you know what? I’m thinking hydrangeas under your windows too. Get some symmetry, you know.”

Liv nodded shakily, and he steered her toward the front door of their new house.




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The Northern Worcester County branch of the Foundation for Paranormal Research is one of the organization’s top investigation and cleanup teams. So when a case comes in involving a century of mysterious disappearances, they figure they’ll be done before their lunch break is supposed to end. Investigators James and Amelia go to the site while their coworkers remain behind. But in seconds, Amelia vanishes in the cursed house and the others are forced to find her with no help from their bosses. Will they be able to get her back or will the house claim one final victim?

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