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Rated: E · Novel · Fantasy · #2289816
Kaitlyn is sent to live with her only relative, and meets four ghosts no one else can see.
The handwritten sign reading “KAITLYN NORTH,” was held by a tall, pleasant-looking middle-aged man. Kaitlyn stood still; no one here knew her, and she might still get back on the train. The brick Sacramento train depot had not looked at all welcoming as the train pulled in.

Damn, she thought, disappointment rushing through her. If she didn’t respond to the sign, they’d just tell the social worker, and maybe something worse would happen to her. Maybe they’d send her to a group home.

She held back her tears; she’d hoped there would be no one to meet her, and she could just turn around and go back to Oakland. If her best friend Myrna hadn’t moved to Denver last year, she could have lived with them. They would have been happy to take her in.

Oh, well, she thought in desolation. I guess I just have to face it. Mentally shrugging, she approached the man with the sign. “I’m Kaitlyn North.”

He nodded soberly. “I’m your driver. Please call me Frederick. I’ll take you to Wicker House.”

Kaitlyn frowned. They’d sent a man to pick her up? A full-grown man? I don’t know, she mused, maybe he’s a maniac who found out about me and he’s just waiting for the right moment to do something evil to me.

But despite her youth, or maybe because of it, Kaitlyn had the subconscious certainty that she would live forever. So she mentally shrugged her shoulders and followed him.

Frederick, she mused, nodding internally. He looks like a Frederick: tall and thin, thick glasses, and direct brown eyes. He looks harmless enough. Maybe this won’t be so bad.

He plucked the suitcase out of her hand and led her to a big black Town Car parked just outside. She’d seen Town Cars in movies picking up actresses and other rich people, and thought it couldn’t possibly be for her. She held back as this Frederick walked to the car and turned to look expectantly at her. When she didn’t move, he opened the back door and held out his hand for her. She stepped hesitantly forward and took his hand, and he assisted her to climb into the back seat. Then he stowed her suitcase in the trunk and slid into the driver’s seat.

Kaitlyn sighed as the car silently moved off. She felt scared, defeated, and hurt. Scared because she really had no idea what lay ahead of her; defeated because her pleas to join Myrna’s family had fallen on deaf ears, and hurt because no one seemed to care about what she wanted.

As they drove off, she expressed her feelings by muttering to herself, and ignoring Frederick’s efforts to converse with her. She wondered what it would be like where Frederick was taking her.

The social worker, Missy, had only told her that her great-aunt Thelma lived in northern Sacramento County, and that she owned a lot of property. It might be dreadful, she thought; in fact, it could be worse than a group home. She shivered, her earlier dreams that this might be a good thing flickering through her mind.

Missy had visited the home herself, but said she just couldn’t describe it; Kaitlyn would have to see it for herself. She had smiled when she said it, but Kaitlyn didn’t know her well enough to figure out what that smile might mean. I hope the house will be nice; I suppose that’s all I can expect, she thought.

They passed through what Kaitlyn thought must be the downtown area of Sacramento. There were dozens of fast food places that she recognized, and she saw banks and department stores, and lots of people hurrying, going in and out of buildings. It was much like Oakland’s downtown.

As they drove, Kaitlyn noticed puddles on the street and rushing water in the gutters; it must have rained here at some point. She knew that California was in a drought, and that rain was good but, like most Californians, she expected it wouldn’t be enough.

It was a late morning in June, and the day was warm and clear now, with bright, fluffy clouds high in the sky. It had just started raining at the Jack London Square in Oakland when Missy had put her on the train two hours ago. She had been glad to see the dark clouds receding as the train rumbled through Davis.

After they’d been driving for a few minutes and were about to merge onto a freeway, the chauffeur, Frederick, asked from the front seat, “How old are you, Kaitlyn? They only told me you were a teen.”

“I’m fourteen,” Kaitlyn murmured, not really caring if the driver could hear her. She couldn’t think of anything else to say, so she kept looking out at the passing scenery. Normally reserved anyway, she tended to be even quieter when she met new people. She had no idea how to continue the conversation, and hoped he’d just let it be.

“And you’d be in, what, ninth grade?”

She grunted. Maybe he’ll stop talking now, she thought.

After a while, though, he spoke again. “Are you hungry? In my experience, 14-year-old kids are always hungry.”

When she said nothing, he was quiet for a moment more and then said, “Of course, my experience is mostly with boys. Are 14-yearold girls always hungry?”

Unsure whether he could see her, she shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. She supposed she was hungry; she had only had cereal and toast early this morning, and it was almost noon. So, after a long moment, she added, “Yes, I guess I am hungry.”

She met his eyes in the rearview mirror and saw another grin. Will I have to learn to get along with this man, or is he just someone hired to pick me up? He seemed to be trying to make friends with her, so she thought he probably worked for her great-aunt. So far, she thought she liked him, though she still wasn’t sure she could trust him. She hoped he might be a friend, and couldn’t help smiling back at his image in the mirror. She began to feel a little better and started to relax.

“Lunch will be ready as soon as you settle into your room,” he told her. So he must work for Great-aunt Thelma, she concluded.

During the rest of the drive, he pointed out occasional sights he said she might find interesting—a miniature golf course, a movie theater, a huge shopping mall. He didn’t seem to expect her to add to the conversation, so she said little. Her stomach growled, and she hoped they would get there soon. He had said it would be about a thirty-minute ride.

The big buildings started to thin out, and there were more and more houses, and fewer people on the streets. The car turned a few times, and Kaitlyn could see dirt roads off the main highway, and pickup trucks, and a few horses and some cows.

My aunt must live in the country, she reflected. Should I ask this driver, what was his name, Frederick? Should I ask him if we’re going to live in the country? I’ve only ever lived in the city; maybe it’s different in the country.

Nearly forty-five minutes after leaving the train depot, they drove through an ornate wrought iron gate set between two thick brick pillars. Frederick must have had a remote gate opener since he didn’t even slow down as they approached the gate. The tree-shaded driveway went on for at least a half mile beyond, she thought, curving so she couldn’t see the house until they were almost there.

When the car slowed and stopped, she could only stare at the house—no, not a house, a mansion. She couldn’t believe she was going to live in something so awesome!

She must be rich! she thought. OMG! I have no idea how to live with rich people! What if I do something terrible? What if they see how gauche I am? What if they laugh at me?

Frederick stepped out of the car and walked around to open her door. She sat immobile for a long moment, so unsure of what lay ahead for her that she thought he might take her back home if she wouldn’t get out of the car.

He offered his hand to help her out, and she could see that there was no choice here. He opened the trunk while Kaitlyn stood and gazed at the house, entranced. It was huge. There seemed to be at least three levels, Kaitlyn thought. I’ve never been inside such a grand house.

Frederick turned and ushered her toward a massive double door, with a narrow window beside it.

As she walked up the steps, she noted images of birds in the stained-glass window beside the door. A peacock, a hummingbird, butterflies, and more. She bent to examine the window a little more closely. The sun slanting in turned the stained glass all different jewel colors—amethyst, turquoise, coral, emerald, ruby, and sapphire—she had never seen anything so beautiful. She sighed, drinking in the absolute beauty of the window, forgetting for a moment why she was here.

Frederick put his hand on her back and pressed gently, and she moved inside. A pretty young woman approached, and Frederick said, “Kaitlyn, this is Patricia. She’s responsible for keeping the house fresh and sparkling. She’ll take you to your room.”

Wearing a professional-looking grey dress, Patricia grinned at him and shook Kaitlyn’s hand. She took the suitcase from Frederick and led Kaitlyn to the staircase on the left. There are two staircases! Kaitlyn was amazed at this, one stairway on either side of the broad foyer.

As they climbed, Kaitlyn gazed entranced at the huge, sparkling chandelier suspended over the foyer from two stories above. Just about to decide she must be dreaming, she pinched her thigh; nothing changed, so she wasn’t dreaming. She wasn’t dreaming!

At the third floor landing, Patricia moved in front of her toward a set of double doors and opened them without ceremony. The room inside appeared large to Kaitlyn’s view, and as she entered, she saw that there were actually two rooms, not just one.

She was shown into a grand room, a “sitting room,” Kaitlyn thought, that opened into a bedroom. There was a huge bed, a walk-in closet, and a large, wonderful bathroom. The windowed French doors on one wall of the sitting room looked out over a garden, with a view of mountains in the distance.

She gazed around the space in awe. The walls in both rooms were painted a very pleasant soft green, and the heavy drapes, open on either side of the French doors, were the same green and looked like brocade. The floor was a beautiful, shiny wood, not just covered by a carpet. Both apartments Kaitlyn had lived in had had carpets in most of the rooms; she had never been in a room with such beautiful floors.

Very comfortable-looking pale green chairs sat on either side of the east-facing window, with a small table between them, and on the wall with the door was a tall empty bookcase.

This must be a model room, something they show off to poor relations in order to make them envious.

“Is this my room?” she asked, her voice rising in awe.

The woman grinned as if she completely understood the girl’s reaction. She set the suitcase on the bed and said, “Yes, this is yours, honey. Check it out. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Kaitlyn stood in the middle of the sitting room and told herself this couldn’t possibly be happening to her. She’d never been in such a luxurious room, and had never even seen rooms like it on TV. She turned around slowly, trying to take it all in. Is it too soon to call Myrna? she wondered. Myrna was her best friend, and she felt like sharing all this with someone who would be as amazed as she was. She decided it was too soon, but knew she wasn’t going to wait too long to share this news.

She walked through an arch and into the bedroom, moved to the bed and opened her small suitcase, first taking out the single pair of shoes she owned besides those she was wearing. She hung her few clothes in the walk-in closet. It was so large she wondered if there might be an echo, if she were gutsy enough to holler.

Drawers and shelves were built in at the back of the closet, and there were two rods on the left and one on the right. She thought the two rods might be for skirts and blouses, and the other for dresses.

She put her underthings in one of the drawers and her shoes on a shelf. It still looked as empty as ever. She imagined a guest in years past who would have hung a dozen gowns, and shelved half a dozen pairs of beautiful high-heeled shoes. This imaginary guest would have used several drawers for her lingerie and hosiery. She thought this guest might have had hats to store on the top shelves.

She sighed. What an imagination! she chided herself.

Backing out of the closet, she turned to the bookcase. She had brought all the books she owned and was a little amused to see that they only filled one of the shelves. Her suitcase also contained her Disney collectibles, which she’d very carefully packed in newspaper so they wouldn’t break. These she unpacked carefully and set on the shelves, crumpling up the newspaper. She looked around for a trash basket and finally found one on the other side of the bed, a wicker basket with an empty liner.

Opposite the bed was an antique-looking console and, when she opened it, she found a small TV. She put the remote beside the bed and set up her laptop on the little table under the south-facing window.

She set her diary and her mother’s photograph on the bedside table, and stood back to ponder how close these rooms came to feeling like home.

It’s just about the size of our whole apartment, she concluded, shaking her head in wonder. What would Mom have made of this? That thought brought back her grief over her mother’s death.

Sighing, she walked over to the French doors. These opened onto a long terrace from which she could see below her some of the topiaries she had passed on the drive, as well as a circular pond. There was a nice view of the nearby hills, and Kaitlyn felt quite a bit better now. I could stand out here for hours, she thought.

She turned and noted a small, round, glass-topped table and four chairs set up on the terrace. She walked over and sat down and pulled her iPhone from her backpack. She pressed 2 on the speed dial and was soon connected to her friend, Myrna.

Kaitlyn and Myrna Rawlings had lived two blocks apart for the past three years, and had spent most of their free time together. But Myrna’s family had moved to Denver after Christmas, and the girls had sworn to keep in touch. Both were on Facebook and Twitter, but Kaitlyn felt none of that really substituted for having her best friend in the same city. She had the court’s permission to call Myrna every other day, but they tended to talk only about once a week now, as Myrna had gotten busier after the New Year.

“Are you in Sacramento now, Katie?” Myrna asked. “Is it, like, as hot as they say it gets?”

“Not yet, anyway,” Kaitlyn said. “You should see this place, Myr, It’s humongous, and so cool!”

She shared the impressive fact that she’d been picked up at the train station by a chauffeur, in a limo! And then, “What’s it like in Denver?”

“Well, you know, I told you it took, like, a week or so to get used to the altitude, but now it’s fine. The sky’s so big here. I bet you’d, like, love it.”

“I’m really sad that the courts wouldn’t let your folks take me in,” Kaitlyn said. She had argued vigorously for this, as had Myrna’s family. “But maybe in a few months you’ll be able to visit me here.”

“Have you met your great-aunt yet?” Myrna asked. Kaitlyn had told her best friend everything she knew about her great-aunt, her only remaining family, who had agreed to take her in. Ever since the court hearing, she had worried that Great-aunt Thelma was only doing what she thought she had to. It wasn’t until Missy, her social worker, had told her about visiting the house that her anxiety about what she was being thrown into lessened somewhat.

“No, I haven’t seen Great-aunt Thelma yet,” Kaitlyn said. “I just got here. And there’s this awesome terrace outside my room! But it’s not a room, even; it’s a suite! There’s a huge walk-in closet, a gorgeous bath, the bed is wonderful, and the terrace overlooks the grounds and the hills. I’m on the third floor, so there’s a great view. Just wait’ll you see it!”

“Oh, geez, it sounds terrific!” A pause, then, “Yeah . . . Okay. Oh, Katie, I have to go. Call me again, like, soon, okay?”

“Sure. Bye.”

Kaitlyn wandered around her rooms for the next few minutes, pacing back and forth. Once in a while she felt tears on her cheeks, and chided herself. She felt so lonely, and abandoned, and a bit afraid that she wasn’t going to like it here, and they wouldn’t like her.

And looking around once again at the luxury of this suite of rooms, she couldn’t help worrying that she’d do something terrible, like say the wrong thing, or use the wrong fork at dinner, or break a valuable vase, or something.

Once, she stopped at a nightstand and looked at the lovely little vase sitting there. I might just pick it up and throw it, she thought. But she stopped herself before doing that. These are not my things.

Then she walked into the closet and picked up one running shoe. She stood for a moment, considering, then threw it against the door and watched it bounce off the mirror satisfyingly.

She scoffed at her actions, shook her head and smiled, then sat down to await Patricia’s return.

A light knock at her door a few minutes later pulled Kaitlyn from a brief daydream about her friend’s visit, and she jumped up to open it. Patricia walked in carrying a tray with two covered plates, a cup, and a tiny vase.

“Where would you like to eat your lunch?” she asked.

Kaitlyn shrugged; this was a new notion. She had always eaten lunch, and all her other meals, at a table in the kitchen with her mother. She shrugged. “I guess you can put it out there—on the terrace?” she said, a question in her voice.

Patricia smiled and nodded, then carried the tray through the open French doors and set it on the glass-topped table. There was a lovely peach-colored rose in the vase. Patricia removed the cover from the larger plate to reveal a steaming cube of ravioli, with a heel of warm garlic bread. She took another cover off the cup and more steam rose.

“It’s hot chocolate,” she said. “Mrs. Dubrowski, the cook, made it just for you; we hope you’ll like it.”

“I love hot chocolate,” Kaitlyn responded, the wonderful smells making her belly seem doubly empty. There was also a small bowl with chopped fresh fruit on top of a scoop of ice cream.

“Mmm,” she said. “It looks delicious. Thank you very much!”

“You’re most welcome.” Patricia gave her a friendly smile, unfurled a napkin and waited for Kaitlyn to sit on one of the chairs. Then she placed the napkin on her lap and stood back. The girl wondered if the maid would stand there until she finished but, as she picked up the fork, Patricia turned back to the French doors. “I’ll return in a half hour or so for the tray. Enjoy.”

“Wait a minute, Patricia, would you?” Kaitlyn asked, setting the fork down again. “Can you tell me anything about Great-aunt Thelma?” The housekeeper turned back.

“All I can tell you, Kaitlyn,” she said, standing with her hand on the door, “is that her father died a number of years ago, and that she’s been married two or three times—I’m not sure. Her dad owned this property and left it to her, and she’s lived here ever since.

“I don’t know much about him besides the fact that he wasn’t well liked in the community, but I have no idea why.”

Kaitlyn had nothing else to ask, and remained silent. Patricia asked gently, “Is there anything else?”

Realizing that Patricia was unwilling to gossip further, Kaitlyn shook her head and picked up her hot chocolate. Patricia left and Kaitlyn dug into her meal. It was well after 2 p.m. and she was starving by now.

The ravioli was delicious, as was the rest of the meal. Kaitlyn wondered if all her meals were going to be this good. It was almost unbelievable. Her mother hadn’t been the best cook, and they’d had lots of sandwiches and pizza.

She sat staring out at the grounds and thinking how different her life was going to be from now on. She had been an above-average student in her school, though not outstanding. She would now have to meet new people at her new school in Sacramento; she wasn’t really looking forward to that.

She thought about her family situation, why she was here and what she wanted here. Mom’s gone, my dad is long gone, I have no siblings, no aunts or uncles, only great-aunt Thelma. How will my life change living with my great-aunt? At least for now, my aunt is ill, and has no time for me. What if she dies? What if she gets better, and still has no time for me?

Although she felt that she was beginning to be closer to the staff, they weren’t family, and they really didn’t have any responsibility to her.

Her thoughts went again to her life back home. She had enjoyed listening to music, particularly Country and Western, and hoped there might be a teen club like those she’d gone to in Oakland.

She wondered how the household would feel about her music. She was glad she had most of the music she loved in playlists on her phone, and earphones to listen to them so she wouldn’t bother anyone.

Line-dancing was a new hobby for her, and she had been getting pretty good at it. She had recently begun noticing boys and liked them, but was shy and had not been on a date yet.

Her mother had taught her to crochet, and she enjoyed making things like jackets, handbags, and shawls for herself and her friends. Maybe that could be a way to make friends in this new place, she thought.

After her mother died three months ago, Kaitlyn had stayed with her church’s minister and his wife. But the County had assigned her a social worker, Melissa Strong, and the court had decided that she should go to live with her great-aunt, even though Thelma was ill. Since there were others living on the property, and her doctor had testified that Thelma wasn’t terminal, the judge had awarded custody to her great-aunt.
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