It was seven fifteen and mostly everyone, at least everyone who didn’t either own the gallery, paint the pictures, or was being given a ride home by the artist in question, had filtered out of the gallery. Aimee certainly felt awkward just now, more than a bit out of place but grimly, she thought, this wasn’t a new experience for her. People like her rarely felt comfortable anywhere.
As she waited for Jacob to finish up whatever he might be finishing, she drifted toward the back of the gallery still taking the time to soak in some of the paintings that she hadn’t focused on during the evening. Briefly, she had caught a glance from Frances Sanders that seemed more curious than anything else, but she didn’t cultivate it. She didn’t have answers for anyone else, answers that she hadn’t figured out herself.
Again, as the moments slowly crept by, she gravitated to the painting of the house on the ocean. It felt mysterious, full of secrets, and soothing at the same time. On some inexplicable level, it beckoned her. Her fingertips itched to brush the uneven surface of the canvas and even more closely feel the brushstrokes and the thoughts of the artist that accompanied them. In some respects, she wanted to crawl inside this picture, breathe in the ocean air and feel. It seemed like a place she could be and forget everything else, forget herself, and the odd little box of a life she’d created.
She glanced down. Her cheeks were burning. How bizarre, even for her, to be feeling these things. The painting was seductive. All her nerves felt as though they were on absolute edge, ready and prickling with anticipated sensation.
She felt his breath on her neck, and her heart stopped for what felt like an endless moment. “Are you ready to go?”
Had he heard her thoughts? Had she called him as he had her on that day in the bookstore?
Her throat felt dry, and her voice sounded ridiculously self-conscious in her ears. “Are you finished with everything you need to do?”
She glanced to her side. His expression looked curious, speculative. “Yeah we’re done, if you are.”
She smiled, “I was just getting together some last-minute impressions.”
“I hope they were pleasant.”
“Yes,” still feeling her face a bit warm. “Very pleasant.”
He shook Bob’s hand, his friend looking genuinely pleased with the night’s turn-out. “I think we did really well here. Are you sure you and your friend wouldn’t like to join us for a drink somewhere to celebrate?”
Jacob glanced back to a distant corner of the gallery where Aimee was lingering, still studying his paintings. “Uh maybe I’ll take a rain check on that tonight.”
Frances touched his arm and gave him a friendly smile. She was back to plain old Frances. The businesswoman had left the building. “You know I have read some of her writing Jacob. She’s seems very intelligent but also intuitive. Maybe we could all get together sometime. I’d like to get to know her.”
Jacob nodded and sighed a bit, “Yeah me too.”
He moved over to the gnarled tree coat rack and collected Aimee’s dark grey coat. He liked the feel of it on his fingers, soft, gentle but maybe a bit sad. He frowned. Now how could a coat feel sad? He walked up behind her and draped it around her shoulders. She flinched. He’d caught her off guard again. It seemed for a good part of the evening that he’d been doing just that. Her mind had been elsewhere, maybe deep in some kind of contemplation far from the confining walls of the gallery. He was restless to know where she went, as an artist to see it even only with his imagination. “I was thinking.”
As she pulled on her coat and began to put on a pair of black leather gloves that she’d fetched from a pocket, she looked to him with those very wide green eyes. He had to admit very captivating, and yes sexy green eyes. “Yes?”
“I was thinking that you might be hungry.”
A glimmer of a smile, “Yes, a bit.”
They started walking to the door where Bob and Frances were taking care of last-minute details before closing the gallery. “I know a nice little restaurant not far from here. Do you like seafood?”
Again, a smile, yes going well. “I grew up on it.”
“That’s right.” They stopped in front of the door where the Sanders were circled for a final goodbye.
Bob held out his hand to Aimee, “I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet during the showing. I’m Frances’ husband Bob.”
Aimee shook his hand, “It’s good to meet you. It seemed to be quite a successful opening.”
“Well that’s what we think. And we’ll be looking forward to your article.”
Frances chorused in, “We do hope to be seeing more of you Aimee.”
Jacob tapped Bob on the shoulder and received a quick hug from Frances. “Thank you again for everything you two have done.” And then they were out the door. The air was much chillier than when he’d walked into the gallery earlier that afternoon. And the night had set in completely, as it did on all January evenings. He pulled on the trench coat that he’d been carrying across his arm.
“They seem very nice.” She commented softly beside him as they began a sort of meandering walk out on the Downtown Mall area.
“They’ve been good friends to me, very supportive.”
Her voice sounded kind of distant as though she were putting something together. “So, you went through a bad time? I mean when you needed their support?”
Now this was a bit surprising. He glanced over to her, but she was just serenely looking ahead of her. No, ah huh I got you glance. Kind of matter-of-factly he stated, “I went through a difficult divorce.”
“I’m sorry. I was prying.”
He shrugged, “That’s okay. I wasn’t trying to hide it.”
“You just seem like something tumultuous had happened in your life.”
“What made you think that?”
“I have a sense of these things.” She looked up in the sky and held out her gloved hand. “I think it’s snowing.”
He felt the soft icy flecks on his face. “I think you’re right.”
She tried to block out the impressions. This was the problem with dated buildings. They had history, too much history that was flying at her senses all at once. She had known it would be an issue the moment they had crossed the threshold of the three-story brick building on the corner of Main Street. It was a custom particularly in this section of town to refurbish old buildings for businesses rather than construct new ones. The historical society, or whoever pulled the strings around the city council these days, was intent on preserving the past. Unfortunately, in her experience, some of the past did not merit preserving.
The ground floor of Anderson’s Surf was a bar and pool room with a widescreen TV. As they walked in and Jacob conversed with a waitress, Aimee’s eyes were immediately drawn to the unseen. Indeed, it was a pool hall of sorts but there were gunshots and blood everywhere and screaming, terrified screaming. Jacob’s hand on the small of her back jolted her away from the disturbing vision.
He motioned to the wooden stairway across the room. “The main restaurant is actually up there. I hope you don’t mind climbing stairs.”
No, actually she was more than anxious to get out of this very troubled room. The stairs they began to climb were very narrow and steep. She tried to concentrate on them and block the impressions pounding in on her. She scrambled upward to get away from the gunfire and avoided placing her hands atop the bloody marks on the banisters.
“It’s all the way up.”
He was just behind her, close, and just now she found that helpful. A strength emanated from him that she found useful and comforting just now.
They entered one of several small dining rooms situated on the top floor of the building. It was sparsely or rather better said rustically furnished with wooden tables near large windows overlooking the street below. She felt slightly better as she entered the room, a bit less of that suffocating, panicked feeling. Across from where they were seated, there was one group, seemed to be a family gathering. If it weren’t for the tumultuous vibrations that she was picking up, she thought it might be a lovely place. The room was decorated with pale, green wallpaper and several seaside paintings on the wall. She focused in on one of a boat on the sea. It felt familiar to her. “Is that yours?”
He looked surprised, “You could tell that from across the room?”
“I guess I’m getting a feel for your style.”
“Well honestly, I didn’t remember they hung it in here. I wasn’t trying to impress you, at least not consciously.”
“You’ve done a few seaside paintings. Have you spent much time near the ocean?”
“Some, one summer I rented a cottage out on Myrtle Beach, for a change of scenery.”
“That sounds nice.” She opened her menu willing herself to calm down. If she could manage to block things a bit, she might even enjoy herself.
“You like the water.” She glanced up from her menu, “Don’t you?”
He was staring again with that intense I’m trying to figure you out look. “Yes, I do,” she answered.
“You seemed to have spent a lot of time with that particular painting, the one at the gallery.”
She felt a little embarrassed. Like she’d been caught at something, though what she wasn’t quite sure. “By the beach, it felt familiar, I guess. Was that the cottage you rented?”
He nodded, “The very one. It was a strange time for me.” But he didn’t elaborate and oddly she felt it was best to drop it.
She went back to the menu trying to shift through a tumult of conflicting emotions. And then her eyes focused on the doorway of the room and her throat went dry. There was a little girl standing there in a long white dress, such a beautiful little girl with long blond hair but blood running down the front of her pristine, white garment. She closed her eyes to block it. She’d been caught in the gunfire, her family lived over the barroom, and tragically she’d been hit.
“Are you okay?”
Jacob had put his hand on her from across the small wooden table. Opening her eyes, she glanced at him and then back to the door. Mercifully, the girl was gone. “Yeah, I’m fine.” His expression told her that he wasn’t convinced, and he didn’t remove his hand. It was disturbing and calming at the same time. And she was grateful. She felt as though she was shaking inside from the intensity of emotion that she was feeling around her. Usually, she could manage more control, but she was all over the place tonight. The touch of his skin right now was good. For one thing it distracted her and anchored her in the moment, instead of the other moments that seemed intent on ripping at every inch of her.
He moved his hand along her arm and rested it on top of her hand, covering her hand entirely with his. “I wanted you to know how glad I am you’re here.”
Her cheeks burned a bit with self-consciousness, and the warmth from his hand seemed to spread just about everywhere inside her. His presence was acting as a buffer between her and everything else. And then the waitress appeared, and he removed his hand.
His eyes flickered over her with a tad of concern. “Do you want a glass of wine Aimee?”
Yes, yes that would be good but not wise. She was supposed to wise. “I don’t know, probably shouldn’t, maybe iced tea.”
He nodded, “Make that two and an order of those decadent, stuffed mushrooms.”
The young waitress grinned a bit, “Yes Sir,” and then she was gone.
She leaned back in the chair. “Do you come here often?”
“Once and awhile, I don’t know when I’m in a particular mood.” He eyed her speculatively, “You don’t like it here.”
“No,” He had a habit of catching her off-guard with his forthrightness. “It’s just,” she stammered.
She paused, wondering. There was no way she could get into this with him, but she wasn’t much in the mood to make up a story either. “It’s hard to explain. Anything I say will sound silly.”
“Well silly doesn’t bother me too much. Why don’t you give it a try?”
She opened her mouth to begin then closed it. How did she get herself into this? “This building was probably an old house or something first,” she began awkwardly.
He glanced around them, “Yeah, I think it’s pretty old, early 1900s.”
She nodded, “Well sometimes in really old buildings, I—I don’t feel well, comfortable.”
He stared at her kind of blankly trying to put together in some coherence what she’d just said. “So, you mean you just don’t like old buildings?”
“I knew this wouldn’t sound right. It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s that they make me feel uncomfortable.”
He frowned, “All old buildings make you feel uncomfortable?”
“No,” she shook her head, “not all, just some.”
She clicked her fingers on the table nervously. Well whatever had drawn Jacob to her, she had undoubtedly squashed the life out of in a few seconds.
He leaned back in the chair thoughtfully, then spoke. “Well then after the appetizer comes, maybe we should go.”
She was a bit stunned, “Look I don’t want to—”
And then his hand was on her arm again, “No, we can go somewhere else. I just don’t want to take you home yet, if that’s okay?”
She couldn’t deny she was surprised and somewhat pleased by his reaction, “Yes, that’s okay.”
As they walked back out into the night air, he noted that Aimee had an unguarded expression of relief on her face. He glanced back briefly at the building they’d just exited, not entirely clueless as to what she had meant. Strange, before his divorce he couldn’t remember having come to this place at all. He had actually not discovered it until sometime afterwards. He remembered first hearing of it from Frances who had joked about it, something about it having a reputation for being haunted. And oddly, hearing this was what had spurred him to seek it out. At that time, he was definitely feeling a bit reckless and driven to the new experience that might penetrate the emotional numbness that had settled within him. Not once had he considered the source of its appeal, only that it had a power that reached him, stimulated his senses. It hadn’t occurred to him that the source of its atmosphere might be less than positive.
She smiled at him, with hesitation he thought, not sure of what he thought of her now. He hadn’t considered this before, but there was something quite fragile about Aimee Marston. She was definitely a dichotomy very strong in some ways and in others profoundly delicate. And he had to admit that the otherworldly aura that she so unconsciously emanated was immensely appealing and attractive to him,
“I have an idea.” She raised an eyebrow in response, “No, no more old buildings. How about ice cream?”
Looking a little dubious now, “Ice cream, in this weather?”
“Sure, ice cream is appropriate at any time. And if you’re cold, we can make it hot fudge.”
“I’m sure that would help so much. So, we go from appetizers to desert? You are a little odd you know.” Her voice had that teasing schoolteacher sound, interesting combo.
“Yeah well, with no offense meant, I would have to say birds of a feather.”
She glanced away, perhaps that wasn’t the smoothest thing to say, “Point taken. Where would we appropriate this wintry ice cream?”
He hooked his arm through hers quite possessively, and she did look a little surprised. “I just happen to know of a place.”
“I thought you might.”
Actually, it was a restaurant, a fairly, new, chain sort of restaurant not anywhere near the historic district of Charlottesville. And her ice cream was atop a piece of heated apple pie, so it was more seasonal not that she really cared. And across from her, good to his word, Jacob was having a very tall, very frothy-looking chocolate sundae.
He glanced up at her from the mound of confection before him, and then to their surroundings. “Is this okay?”
She nodded, “This is actually very nice. Sorry to be a pain.”
“Well, I don’t find you to be a pain. Unique yes, but definitely not a pain.” He took a spoonful of whipped cream off the top, and she wondered how he did that so expertly with none of it getting in his closely cropped mustache or beard. Perhaps it was a talent. “So, tell me something.”
“Hmm?” she’d just taken a substantial bite of apple pie and ice cream.
“How long have you had this phobia to old buildings?”
She checked to see if he was teasing her. But his eyes seemed very serious. She shrugged, “It’s not exactly a phobia. I don’t have a fear of them. And I’ve always been this way, since I was a child.”
“Any clue why?” She smiled. He was sort of licking his spoon. He reminded her of a big kid just now. She looked down at her pie, pensively sort of swirling around the vanilla ice cream with her fork. And then she felt his hand on her arm and looked up. “I’m really interested Aimee.” She glanced at his hand, and he removed it. Progressively during the night he’d taken to becoming more physical with her. It was as though consciously or not he was testing and pushing her boundaries.
“I don’t have simple answers Jacob. I could come up with an explanation that might seem palatable to you, if it weren’t so late and my mind wasn’t so taxed with other things.”
“Then I caught you at a good time. Because all I’m interested in is the truth.”
She smiled grimly, and felt her expression puzzled him. “Most people are more comfortable living without the truth.”
“That’s awfully cynical.”
She shrugged, “It’s been my experience.”
His eyes became a little steely, “I thought we were talking about old buildings,” wouldn’t be distracted this one. Maybe a little of the truth would be enough to send him away. Would it? Was that what she wanted now?
“We’re not talking about just any old buildings, or just any place. There are particular ones.”
“Particular how?” He was right with her.
“Ones with a past.”
Perhaps she’d gone too far, but she had his attention now even though they were venturing into an unsafe realm. “Everything has a past.”
She nodded, “And every past leaves it imprint. A church feels holy because so many people have prayed there and celebrate what is best in the world. A hospital feels sad because there has been so much illness and suffering there.”
“And an old building with a past,” he stopped and waited.
She finished his statement, “With a violent past,” and then with a certain emphasis, “feels intolerable.”
He stared at her for a moment as though soaking in what she’d said. She continued, “Certainly you’ve been places Jacob where you felt a heaviness, a claustrophobic feeling coming from the very walls itself. People who have visited the concentration camps have been overwhelmed by the disturbing atmosphere they’ve encountered.”
“Yes, but that could be attributed to the emotion of knowing the suffering and atrocities that occurred there.”
“I suppose, and there is always an alternative explanation to be found if you want to badly enough.”
He frowned, “But Anderson’s Surf is not built on a concentration camp.”
Yes, perhaps she’d gone too far. She did know how to ruin a good evening. “No, it’s not.”
“It’s packed every weekend. Most people don’t find it in the least disturbing.”
She agreed, “If they did, it would certainly be a poor location for a restaurant.”
“But you do. You feel it has a past. You found it, how did you put it, intolerable.”
She breathed deeply, “Can we just drop this?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure we can.”
“Your ice cream is melting.”
“You’re being evasive.”
“Let’s just say I’m a bit of an oddball. My radar for such things is a bit more amplified than most people.”
She smiled prettily, “You know I was having a nice time. Let’s not spoil it with true confessions.”
He glanced down, not looking as though he was willing to drop this in the least. “Now your ice cream is melting.”
“Wonderful, soupy apple pie.”
And then it came in a swirl, violently, perhaps because her mind had been so engaged elsewhere, first a slashing pain in her stomach and then as her wrists. She forced herself to be still, so that he wouldn’t see. The thought was so concrete, so determined. And then she saw the face, a thin pale face. She glanced at her watch. There wasn’t a lot of time. How in the world was she going to get to her before she did something irreversible?
She glanced up at Jacob. His eyes were fixed on her. It certainly hadn’t escaped him. Nothing ever seemed to escape him. “What’s the matter Aimee? You look ill.”
Well there was no way around it. It just couldn’t be helped. “Do you think you could take me somewhere Jacob?” She said a little shakily.
“Do you need to go home?”
“No, I actually need to go to a grocery.”
Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert
Jacob Wyss is caught in a rut, in fact on the verge of being engulfed by it. After an excruciating and disillusioning divorce, his life as an artist in a sleepy-college town at the foot of the Appalachian mountains has become quiet, routine, and maddening in its predictability. One wintry day, his deep restlessness drives him out in precarious conditions to a largely empty bookstore nearly devoid of another living soul, nearly.
Aimee Marston isn’t like everyone else. On the surface, she lives a sedate life working as a feature writer for a small local newspaper in addition to several other editorial jobs to help make ends meet. But just beneath, her existence is largely not her own. She is a sensitive, an empathetic psychic, guided by her calling to use her gifts to help others. Unfortunately, as a result, her secretiveness has made her defensive, protective of herself, and prevented her from having much of a life of her own.
A psychic call for help sends Aimee out on a freezing January morning where her destiny and Jacob’s collide sending both their lives spiraling onto an unexpected and often disturbing track. Two lonely souls connect, not by accident, but by design. Theirs is the intersection of two spiritual paths, two lovers who must struggle to overcome the phantoms of a past life, as well as the challenges of their own inner demons to carve out an extraordinary future together.