We’re happy to be hosting Lauren Carr and her THE MURDERS AT ASTAIRE CASTLE Book Blitz today!
Title: The Murders at Astaire Castle
Author: Lauren Carr
Publisher: Acorn Book Services
Purchase at AMAZON
Mac Faraday Meets the Wolf Man!
Never tell Mac Faraday not to do something.
In The Murders at Astaire Castle, Spencer’s police chief, David O’Callaghan, learns this lesson the hard way when he orders Mac Faraday to stay away from the south end of Spencer’s mountaintop—even though he owns the property. It doesn’t take long for Mac to find out what lies on the other side of the stone wall and locked gate, on which hangs a sign warning visitors to Keep Out!
Topping the list of the ten most haunted places in America, Astaire Castle is associated with two suicides, three mysterious disappearances, and four murders since it was built almost a century ago—and Mac Faraday owns it!
In spite of David’s warning, Mac can’t resist unlocking the gate to see the castle that supposedly hasn’t seen a living soul since his late mother had ordered it closed up after the double homicide and disappearance of Damian Wagner, a world-famous master of horror novels.
“Halloween has always been a fun time,” best-selling author Lauren Carr explains in a note at the beginning of her fifth Mac Faraday mystery. “It’s the time to break out and be someone else. As a child, I would pretend to be one of the Bobbsey Twins searching for clues to lead me to a secret treasure. If I was lucky, it was made up of chocolate. As a teenager, I was Nancy Drew. Always, when October rolled around, I craved mysteries with something extra added—something beyond the normal—something supernatural. As an author, I couldn’t resist taking this one Mac Faraday Mystery on a scary Halloween adventure.”
In this latest installment of Carr’s hit series, what starts out as a quick tour of a dusty old castle turns into another Mac Faraday adventure when Astaire Castle becomes the scene of even more murders. Mac is going to need to put all of his investigative talents to work to sort out this case that involves the strangest characters he has run into yet—including a wolf man. No, we’re not talking about Gnarly.
November 2002 – Astaire Castle, top of Spencer Mountain, Deep Creek Lake, Maryland
Shivering, Rafaela turned up the fan for the heater in her old Plymouth. The weather channel was calling for snow. With an eye on the storm clouds heading straight for Spencer Mountain, she picked up the speed a notch. Her car bumped along the worn road cut through the trees and rock to take her to Astaire Castle.
The notion of being trapped at the castle by a winter storm made her curse the day she had accepted the job as housekeeper at the Astaire estate. The young illegal immigrant thought her prayers had been answered by landing the job at the luxurious estate. Not only was it prestigious to work in a castle, but lucrative since Damian Wagner was paying almost twice her normal hourly wage.
What a gem to put on my housekeeping resume! To be hire by only one of the world’s most famous authors of horror books—even more famous than Robin Spencer—to clean an honest-to-goodness castle. So what if the Astaire Castle has a reputation of being haunted? I’ll be making a bundle for cleaning five days a week in the daylight. Besides, I don’t believe in no ghosts.
Rafaela regretted her decision the first time she walked into Astaire Castle.
At first, she dismissed her cleaning supplies moving from where she had left them as forgetfulness. Then there was the time she kept hearing someone whispering her name. She had looked around, but never saw anyone. Same with doors closing or opening or footsteps coming up behind her, and the old-time music and party noises in empty rooms when no one was there—she tried to tell herself that it was all her imagination.
None of that was anything compared to the Wolf Man who she had seen in the dining room mirror while she was cleaning it.
She had heard all about the Wolf Man who lived in the woods surrounding Astaire Castle. The woman with two teenagers who lived in the apartment next to hers was quick to tell her about him. Rafaela had dismissed it all as ghost stories made up by her neighbor’s kids to scare her—until she had seen him with her own two eyes.
That day she ran out of the castle. She returned only after Genevieve, Damian Wagner’s daughter, had promised that her father finish his book and be moving out of the castle by the end of the year—at which time he would pay her a handsome bonus that would give her enough money to visit her family in Brazil for Christmas.
Rafaela caught her breath when her Plymouth entered through the gate at the end of the road to pull into the front courtyard and fountain.
The fountain was off. Damian Wagner had never bothered to turn it on. He wouldn’t notice if it was. He spent his time banging away on his computer in the study on the top floor. He wouldn’t eat if it weren’t for his daughter bringing food to him.
Then there was the editor—Mr. Jansen.
He reminded Rafaela of a bird with his bony frame, high cheekbones over a pointy chin, and thick eyeglasses with his blinking eyes magnified behind them. He sounded like a squawking bird with his high-pitched voice no matter what his mood or what he was saying. Ready to pounce in anticipation of any need from Damian Wagner, he was always lurking nearby.
Damian’s daughter, Genevieve, was as charming as beautiful. She often asked Rafaela about her family in Brazil and about her life in Deep Creek Lake. For the new immigrant to America, Rafaela felt as if she was making a friend who would give her good references for more housekeeping jobs in the resort town of Spencer—more millionaire estates to clean—estates that weren’t haunted.
Rafaela pulled her car around the circular drive and parked at the bottom of the steep steps that led to the front door. When she got out of her car, the wind howled and whipped her long dark hair around her head. The wind actually seemed to want to rip her thin coat off her body. Grabbing her box of cleaning supplies, she squared her shoulders, and sucked up her nerve to go inside.
Need to make this quick. They don’t have enough money to make me stay here during that storm.
The wind yanked the heavy wooden door from her grasp to slam it against the side of the house.
“Stupid door!” Rafaela set the box inside the foyer and went outside to grab the door and pull it shut. “Mr. Wagner! Mr. Jansen! Genevieve! It’s me, Rafaela! Hope I’m not disturbing you.” She picked up the box and made her way through the foyer.
She stopped. With wide eyes, she peered up the staircase to the second floor balcony. “Is that you, Mr. Wagner?” She paused to listen. “Genevieve?”
“Get out. Now.”
Has to be my imagination. She reassured herself. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. There’s no such thing as ghosts,” she muttered over and over to herself while hurrying to the back of the castle.
“I don’t suppose you had any trick-or-treaters last night, did you?” she called out to ease her nerves with the sound of her own voice. “Not up here I suppose.”
She waited for an answer. She heard footsteps on the floor up above.
The smell of burnt meat came to her nose. It smelled like steak that had been left on the grill for too long.
They must have grilled steaks last night.
“Lots of little children stopped by my apartment.” Feeling braver as she rattled on, Rafaela set the box of cleaning supplies on the kitchen table and gathered together her duster and furniture polish.
Best to start in the living room. The antiques, wood, and silver takes the longest.
Admiring the decades-old priceless china encased in the china closet, she went through the dining room. With her cleaning lady’s eye, she gauged what needed to be addressed on this visit that she may have missed before. She stopped when the blotch of red on the doorframe through the kitchen caught her eye.
What’s that? Catsup?
It wasn’t until she spotted a spot on the floor that she first considered that it wasn’t a condiment, but something much more sinister. She spotted another. Bigger this time … and another.
There was a red pool in front of the kitchen door that opened out onto the back patio and deck that projected out over the rocks to provide a massive view of the valley down below. All of the drops and splatters and pools led to the common source—the fire pit outside.
She saw the flames and smoke wafting in the wind whipping around her where she stood in the open doorway. She stared at the blackened objects in the pit. What at first appeared to be a burnt log projecting out of the flames took shape.
The hand and fingers reached out to her.
The index finger was pointing at her.
Through the rapid beating of her heart, Rafaela could hear the footsteps behind her coming closer.
His image was reflected in the glass pane of the door. The wild hair. The crazed eyes.
It’s the Wolf Man!
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About the Author:
Lauren Carr is the best-selling author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Twelve to Murder is the seventh installment in the Mac Faraday Mystery series.
In addition to her series set on DeepCreekLake, Lauren Carr has also written the Lovers in Crime Mysteries, which features prosecutor Joshua Thornton with homicide detective Cameron Gates, who were introduced in Shades of Murder, the third book in the Mac Faraday Mysteries. They also make an appearance in The Lady Who Cried Murder.
Lauren launched the Lovers in Crime (first introduced in Shades of Murder) mystery series in September 2012 with Dead on Ice.
The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also a publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for independent authors. This year, several books, over a variety of genre, written by independent authors will be released through the management of Acorn Book Services, which is currently accepting submissions. Visit Acorn Book Services website for more information.
Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.
She lives with her husband, son, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.
For More Information
- Visit Lauren Carr’s website.
- Connect with Lauren on Facebook and Twitter.
- Visit Lauren’s blog.
- More books by Lauren Carr.
Lauren Carr is giving away one paperback copy, two ebook copies and three audiobooks of THE MURDERS AT ASTAIRE CASTLE!
Terms & Conditions:
- By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
- Six winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter.
- This giveaway begins October 6 and ends October 31.
- Winners will be contacted via email on Monday, November 3.
- Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!
ENTER TO WIN!
Jeff Gunhus is the author of both adult thrillers and the Middle Grade/YA series, The Templar Chronicles. The first book, Jack Templar Monster Hunter, was written in an effort to get his reluctant reader eleven-year old son excited about reading. It worked and a new series was born. His book Reaching Your Reluctant Reader has helped hundreds of parents create avid readers. As a father of five, he and his wife lead an active lifestyle simply trying to keep up with their kids. In rare moments of quiet, he can be found in the back of the City Dock Cafe in Annapolis working on his next novel.
His latest book is the thriller/horror novel, Night Terror.
For More Information
- Visit Jeff Gunhus’ website.
- Connect with Jeff on Facebook and Twitter.
- More books by Jeff Gunhus.
- Contact Jeff.
About the Book:
Ten years after her abduction and near-sacrifice to the Source, Sarah Tremont struggles to be a normal teenager. As much as she’s tried to suppress the power inside of her, it’s grown dangerously strong and has drawn the attention of those who want to possess her power for themselves.
The nightmare that she thought was long over starts again as powerful forces descend upon Prescott City to seek her out. With her parents and Joseph Lonetree’s help, Sarah must stand up to an evil much more powerful than the one she faced in the caves a decade earlier. But in the end, she discovers the greatest danger might come from the power living inside of her.
For More Information
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Jeff. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
I am a multi-published hybrid with self-published and traditionally published titles. That makes me sound like some kind of mutant from the X-Men, but that’s the state of publishing today.
Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go – mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?
My first book was a non-fiction motivational career guide for college students called No Parachute Required, published by Hyperion. Based on that experience, I chose to self-publish my first novel, Jack Templar Monster Hunter. This middle grade fantasy was written in an attempt to get my reluctant reader 11-year-old excited about reading. It was too personal of a project to give up creative control. It’s been very successful and I’ve been happy with my decision. I’ve recently sold one of my self-published books, Killer Within, to Thomas & Mercer. I’m interested to see how this partnership goes. So far, working with the T&M team has been amazing.
Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?
Thomas & Mercer purchased Killer Within in August and they are re-releasing the book in its new form in February 2015.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
It was amazing. With No Parachute Required I took my wife to a nice dinner. With Killer Within, I took my wife and our five kids to a nice dinner. That give you a sense of how much time has passed between those two events!
Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
For No Parachute Required, I did a radio interview. I was totally under-prepared and the radio host had obviously not read the book, so it got off to a slow start. Once I relaxed I remember I was the expert on the subject so I got into my groove. Now I always prepare before interviews.
Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?
My dissatisfaction with my own writing has increased over time. I stand in awe of the masters of my genre and I read them often to keep my ego in check. My work gets compared to Stephen King a lot in reviews, so I start to believe I write like Stephen King. Then I reread The Stand or The Shining and all those thoughts get wiped away…but page two or three! It’s humbling but it also keeps me hungry and pushes to me to attend workshops, read more, ask for critiques and just generally try harder. I think it’s a positive thing.
Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?
The rise of the self-published author has been a disruptive force in what many view as a stodgy industry of insiders. I’ve been surprised how very established authors (not all) have risen up against the new models, sometimes with a lot of vehemence and invective. The Amazon-Hachette dispute is an example of this with the James Pattersons of the world on one side and the Hugh Howeys on the other. It will be interesting how it all sorts out.
Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?
Connecting with readers. I love getting emails from readers who have enjoyed the books…or even if they haven’t. The idea that someone chose to spend hours with a story I wrote is humbling to me.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
Read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, once every six months. Pay attention to when he says that to be a writer you must write a lot and read a lot. Do both of these activities every day and call yourself out for the liar you are when you claim not to have the time. Either do it or don’t. Simple as that.
Author: Bobbi JG Weiss
Publisher: Independent Self Publishing
Publication Date: July 21, 2014
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Horror
Format: Paperback, eBook, ePub, PDF
He is not Captain Hook.
His name is Jonathan Stuart, and he’s just an ornery post-alcoholic bookstore owner from Pasadena with a mania for fencing and a bad habit of disappointing his girlfriend. He doesn’t want to be in the Neverland, impossibly trapped aboard the Jolly Roger with a horde of greedy stinking pirates. He was tricked there by Peter Pan.
Pan happily invites children to come to his wondrous magical island, but he has to trick adults. No adult in their right mind would go willingly. Adults, you see, don’t have a very good time in the Neverland. The fairies and mermaids are against them. The island itself is against them. Most of all, Peter Pan is against them.
In particular, Peter Pan is against Jonathan Stuart. Why? Jonathan had better figure that out, and he’d better do it fast before his mutating memories insist that, not only does he indeed belong in this nightmarish hell of bloodthirsty children, ticking crocodiles and vengeful boy gods, but he’s never existed anyplace else.
So you see, he’s definitely not Captain Hook.
Well, not yet.
Stuart didn’t laugh when he saw himself in the mirror this time. At first he wasn’t sure why, because he certainly looked like a lunatic who had just escaped out of a billboard for Captain Morgan rum. And then it hit him. “Everything fits.”
“ ‘Course it fits,” Smee said with exasperation. “It’s yers, ain’t it? An’ here, sar, the final touch.” Smee held it out.
Stuart wasn’t surprised to see his grandfather’s saber laying across those callused palms, tucked into a beautiful silver scabbard. “Of all things,” he said with a mixture of wonder and dread, “this makes the most sense.” His hand gravitated toward the hilt.
“Sense, sar?” Smee asked.
Stuart drew his hand back, slowly, with effort. The air grew heavier. “Oh, yes,” he replied as Smee, ever the dutiful valet, settled a red baldric across his charge’s left shoulder, the wide and heavily ornamented belt holding the scabbard at Stuart’s right hip. Stuart fought down panic. His flesh was tingling with a sudden black energy, the same energy he had felt during his ghostly saber battle that night at home. How long ago had that been?
Guided once more by its own objectives, his left hand reached to his right hip and this time succeeded in drawing the saber out. He gripped it, feeling the same marvelous balance between blade and hilt, the same eerie sense of sentience. It had him. He was on its home turf now, and he couldn’t run from it, not here. Something dark closed around him like great black jaws.
“Ah, yeh cut a fine figure, sar. The boys’ll be glad to see yeh.” All smiles and bounce, Smee plucked the saber from his hand and slid it back into its scabbard. He pulled out a rag hanging from his pocket, flapped it over Stuart’s clothes like a butler giving his master a final dusting, then propelled Stuart towards the door. “Come on, sar!”
The doorway was small. Stuart had to stoop to avoid bashing his head. The heels of the jack boots boosted him three inches beyond his own six foot height, and the wig and the hat added another three or four inches easy. He had to remain stooped as Smee led him along a short passageway, and then he went blind as sunlight — not from one sun but two — smacked him full in the face.
His eyes may have been useless, but his nostrils flared at the intense smell of salt and sea. His ears heard vast expanses of heavy canvas flap overhead while waves rippled below. The clamor of many gruff male voices all chattering at once was interrupted as Smee cried out, “All right, ya scurvy scugs! All hands fall in abaft the mizz’n!” Then Smee conducted him up the starboard ladder.
Stuart could do nothing but stumble along, shading his eyes with his hands and blinking, trying to adjust to the brilliance. As he did, he took in more sounds from below — the pounding of bare feet running every whichway, the creak of ropes, the deep grunts and moans of the vast wooden hull. When he could finally see, he found himself standing on the quarterdeck of a three-masted ship, looking down into the faces of forty or so swarthy pirates who stared back up at him, most of their mouths hanging open to reveal an alarming absence of teeth. Eight or nine more men up in the rigging hung like monkeys, gaping down at him.
Stuart gaped back. It had been much easier to deal with Smee. One man. One apparition. One entity to deny as a dream. But try as he might, Stuart couldn’t simply dismiss this motley and very real crowd before him. If nothing else, the overwhelming stench of the men couldn’t be explained away as a dream. A pig farm smelled better than this. He thought he could actually feel the hairs inside his nostrils cower down and try to flatten out rather than conduct such nauseating information to his brain.
Smee nudged him. “Say somethin’!” he whispered.
Stuart couldn’t move. Say something?
“Call all hands from below!” came a bellow from the main deck.
Smee nodded down at the man who had spoken, a handsome Italian pirate with a long black ponytail. “Cecco,” he informed Stuart. “Yer first mate an’ a fine feller.”
“I can’t take this…”
“Aw, c’mon, compose yerself, sar. Fer Chrissake, this here’s yer crew!”
Stuart clutched the edge of the rail hard enough to make his fingers cramp. “This is not my crew.”
“This is not my crew! I don’t have a crew!” He glared down at Smee, noticing how the layers of heavy clothing restricted his movements. In order to tilt his head — Smee wasn’t short so much as Stuart was tall, especially in the jack boots — he had to strain against his cravat. He wasn’t used to anything around his neck, and it contributed to the trapped animal feeling he already had. He struggled for control. “This isn’t real. I refuse to believe this is real, and I am most certainly not—”
The exclamation came from a young boy no more than eight years old, dressed in a filthy white shirt and black knickers. Stuart turned toward the voice, squinting to see its owner against the dazzling suns. He saw that the boy had climbed up out of the hatch, his expression a strange mixture of relief and trepidation. Come to think of it, all the pirates wore that expression.
“’Course yeh remember Lil’ Lad Jack,” Smee told Stuart. “Hard worker, he is. Good learner.”
“Captain Hook,” Jack repeated, quieter this time. He almost sounded reverent.
“Hook?” Stuart spat out before he knew what his mouth was doing. “Hook?” He held up his hands. “I’ve got two hands, you stupid little brat! I haven’t got a hook! How can I be Captain Hook if I haven’t got a hook? Anybody in this looney bin got an answer for that one?”
“He’s a bleedin’ ghost!” someone in the crowd muttered.
At that, Cecco turned on a tall, lean pirate whose every inch of visible flesh was covered with tattoos, including his hands and bare feet. Even his face was tattooed, although it was half-hidden by a hat bespangled with coins, jewels and a potpourri of shiny baubles. “What’s that you say about the Captain, Mister Jukes?” Cecco asked sharply.
Feet shuffled. Someone coughed. Jukes tried to duck behind one of his fellows, who roughly pushed him away. “Nothin’,” Jukes squeaked. “I didn’t say nothin’.”
“Aye, nothing,” Cecco repeated with satisfaction. “That man up there is no ghost, ya slackjawed jackanapes!” he boomed, and the men jumped. Stuart jumped, too — Cecco might as well have been using a bullhorn, he was so loud. “That’s the only man the Sea-Cook fears! He’s the only man who ever snared a siren, ate of her flesh and lived! He’s the only man who outsmarted Pan, outsmarted the croc, outsmarted death itself, to come back and beat Pan at his own game! Now act like his crew, by thunder, or you’ll feel the kiss o’ the cat!”
A roar went up the likes of which Stuart hadn’t heard since the last time he went to a Lakers game. They were cheering him! And not one of them, Smee included, seemed to care about his obvious lack of a hook.
Purchase The Book:
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hooked-bobbi-jg-weiss/1120077616?ean=9780990360001&itm=1&usri=hooked+bobbi+jg+weiss
Purchase at AMAZON
A surprise trip to Barcelona with her boyfriend, Jake, seems like the perfect antidote to Grace Sawyer’s current woes. The city is dazzling and unpredictable, but the biggest surprise for Grace is discovering who arranged and paid for the vacation.
Carrie Ann wasn’t just Grace’s foster sister. Clever, pretty, and mercurial, she was her best friend—until everything went terribly wrong. Now, as she flees an abusive marriage, Carrie Ann has turned to the one person she hopes will come through for her. Despite her initial misgivings, Grace wants to help. But then Carrie Ann and Jake both go missing. Stunned and confused, Grace begins to realize how much of herself she’s kept from Jake—and how much of Carrie Ann she never understood. Soon Grace is baited into following a trail of scant clues across Spain, determined to find the truth, even if she must revisit her troubled past to do it.
Mary Carter’s intriguing novel delves into the complexities of childhood bonds, the corrosive weight of guilt and blame, and all the ways we try—and often fail—to truly know the ones we love.
Grace Sawyer had never believed in magic, or miracles for that matter, but that didn’t mean a girl couldn’t pray for a little bit of both. She’d been praying a lot lately. She stepped into her mother’s hospice room and crinkled her nose as the scent of SpaghettiOs and Lysol washed over her. She glanced at her mom’s bedside table. Sure enough, sitting too close to the edge was a chipped brown bowl overflowing with SpaghettiOs, paired with an industrial-sized bottle of Lysol. Grace hesitated. Processed food in a can and industrial-sized cleaners were just the kind of things that could trigger an emotional avalanche inside her. This wasn’t what life should come to in the end. It wasn’t right. If replacing those bits with yellow roses and a nice roast dinner would have changed a single thing about this horrific situation, Grace would have done it lightning quick. This was her mother. The woman who had taken care of everybody else her entire life. Who had opened her heart to homeless, damaged children. She deserved more. But strangely, Lysol and SpaghettiOs were two items Jody Sawyer had insisted on lately. Grace had to fight her instincts, her primal desire to make everything nice, and instead keep each visit as pleasant as possible. She smiled even though neither of her parents had noticed her yet.
Her mother was wide-awake, eyes glued to the television in the corner where a soap opera blared. Before she had moved into this facility, Jody had never watched a soap opera in her life. She wouldn’t have been caught dead eating SpaghettiOs either. The Lysol, on the other hand, was familiar. Grace’s mother had spent her entire life within an arm’s reach of it. Most likely the product of having a revolving door of foster children. Where were they now? Not a single kid from the past had come to visit Grace’s mother. After all she’d done for them. It made Grace rage inside, but her mother hadn’t complained about it once.
Her father, Jim, sat next to the bed on his favorite recliner from home. Jim had put up quite a fuss to get them to allow it in the room, and he was extremely proud of the accomplishment. “I put up my dukes!” he’d say with a grin. Then he’d pump his fists in the air. He’d been practically living here since the doctor had given them the latest grim diagnosis. Grace couldn’t help but think it was probably a welcome relief for her father’s patients. Her father was a psychotherapist, and although he was insightful, Grace had always thought he was a tad too prying. Then again, maybe that was the whole point of going to a shrink. Baring your deepest, darkest secrets. It was Grace’s idea of a worst nightmare. “Hi, Dad,” Grace walked over and planted a kiss on her father’s cheek. He looked almost as thin as her mother. He lowered his newspaper and took off his reading glasses. “Well, hello there, Graceful.”
“How is she?”
“In and out.”
Grace nodded and slowly approached her mother’s bed. “Mom?”
Her mother’s eyes didn’t leave the television set. “Oh, hello,” Jody Sawyer said. “Are you the cleaning lady?”
“Like I said,” her father said. “In and out.”
“It’s me, Mom. I’m your daughter, Grace.”
“My daughter doesn’t clean,” Jody said.
“She’s got that right, “ Jim said.
Grace burst out laughing, then quickly tried to squelch it with a cough. Jody Sawyer pointed to the television and shook her head. She wanted them to be quiet. Grace looked at her father.
“Why don’t you wait for a commercial?” he said. He patted the folding chair next to him. Grace sat. “How was your day, sweetheart?”
Grace reached into her bag and removed two McDonald’s bags. She handed one to her father. He grasped the bag in one hand and squeezed her hand with the other like she’d brought him champagne and caviar. “Actually pretty wild,” she said. “I have news.”
“Do you mind?” her father said.
“Go right ahead.”
He unwrapped his Big Mac and took a bite. “Mm-mmm,” he said. He looked blissful. Grace wanted to bury her face in her sleeve and sob. SpaghettiOs and soap operas, and Mickey D’s? Didn’t they know they deserved better? They were from such a humble generation. Not like the entitled kids of today. Her parents were simple and good people. Let them enjoy what they enjoy. No use forcing kale or tofu burgers on her father now. Grace forced another smile, then reached into the second bag and handed him a napkin.
He winked at her and dabbed his mouth. Then his eyes went to her ring finger. “Did the boy finally pop the question?”
Grace laughed and stretched out her hand in front of her as if examining it for the first time. She hardly ever wore rings or bracelets; they got in the way of playing the guitar. Maybe now she would start. She would wear silver rings with semi-precious gems, like amber, and big chunky bracelets. Maybe even grow her nails and paint them pink. Was that a good enough trade for giving up on her dream? Grace slipped her hands under her legs as if she could shut out making any decisions by sitting on them. “Not yet. But you’re never going to believe this–”
The soap opera went to commercial. A jingle for car insurance came on. “Gracie Ann!” her mother said. She smiled and opened her arms as if Grace had just walked into the room.
“Hi, Mom.” Grace got up and hugged her mother. She felt so frail and tiny in Grace’s arms. Grace could probably pick her up and carry her around the room without breaking a sweat. Not fair, God! Not fair. “You didn’t eat your lunch,” Grace said, glancing at the SpaghettiOs.
“She insisted on them,” her father said.
“I ate ten Os,” her mother said. “I couldn’t possibly eat more than ten Os. I have to watch my figure.”
“If you stuck her in the middle of a cornfield, crows would land on her,” her father said with his mouth full of burger.
“You’re not far behind, Dad,” Grace said.
“Just how we wanted to spend our golden years. Hanging out in a farmer’s field like a couple of straw men,” her father mused in between bites.
Anything would be better than this place, Grace thought. She wished she could bring her parents to a beautiful field at the height of autumn. Give them trees with leaves on fire, and hay that shone like gold underneath an afternoon sun. Give them the smell of apples and the embrace of a warm wind.
“You look beautiful, Grace,” her mother said. Jody Sawyer reached up with a trembling hand and touched the pearls around Grace’s neck. “Is it your birthday?”
“In a few weeks, Mom.”
“Happy birthday, darling.”
“How old are you now? Thirteen?”
“I’m turning thirty,” Grace said. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m all better now, Gracie. I can go home now.” Jody Sawyer looked at her husband Jim, as if expecting him to start packing up the room.
“I don’t think today, Mom,” Grace said. Or ever. As much as she tried to shut it out, Grace could hear the doctor’s voice in her head in a constant loop. Maybe a month, six months at the most, we can’t say for sure. All we can do now is make her comfortable.
Make her comfortable? Was there any comfort in knowing you had six months, maybe one?
“Gracie said she has some news,” Jim said.
Her mother clasped her hands under her chin. “I love news,” she said. “And fries,” she called to her husband.
Grace nodded at her father. He picked up the second bag, then passed it up to Jody. It was odd. If Grace gave her the fries before she asked for them, her mother wouldn’t touch them. If Grace waited until Jody voiced a desire for them, Jody ate every single one. Just one of the little mysteries of dementia. What a double whammy. The doctors weren’t sure if fighting off the cancer had brought on the problems with her memory, or if she would’ve been hit with it anyway. There were just no two ways about it; life could be extremely cruel. “Give us the news,” her father said. “Hurry before her show comes back. We’re not allowed to talk during Days of Our Lives.”
“Jake won an all-expense-paid trip to Barcelona,” Grace said.
“Well, I’ll be,” Jim said. “How’d he do that?”
“The veterinarian group had some sort of a raffle,” Grace said. “But Jake didn’t even enter.”
“He won a raffle he didn’t even enter?”
“Dan went to one of the conferences without Jake and entered for him.” Dan was Jake’s partner at the animal hospital. He and Jake were like brothers.
“That was mighty nice of him.”
“But we feel guilty. Dan could have taken the trip himself.”
“I’m sure he filled out an entry for himself as well as Jake.”
“And Jake won. Seems fair to me.”
“But we would be leaving Dan to run the clinic all by himself, and he’d even have to watch Stella.” Stella was the best English bulldog a couple could ever ask for. If she could, Grace would take Stella to Spain. Stella was a hit wherever they went due to her prowess on a skateboard.
“Well, isn’t that special.” Jim slapped his knee. “Jody did you hear that? Gracie and Jake won a trip to Spain.”
He had entirely missed the point that they felt guilty that Dan would be getting the short end of the stick. It made her wonder how often he misunderstood his patients.
“That’s wonderful, dear,” Jody said. Her eyes traveled back to the television.
“I’m not going,” Grace said.
“What do you mean?” her father said.
“There’s a catch.” There always was.
“You have to pay for your hotel?”
“No, it’s all paid for.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“The dates are set in stone. We’d have to go at the end of next week.”
“It’s a ten-day trip. I don’t want to leave Mom for that long.”
“Nonsense,” her father said. “You have to go.”
“I’d be gone for my birthday.”
The soap opera was back. Jody snatched up the remote and aimed it at the television like she was holding it up at gunpoint.
Grace’s father patted her knee. “We’ll celebrate with you when you get back, kiddo. Take it from me, kiddo—life’s too short not to take free trips.” Jody glared at Jim and pressed on the volume until it was almost deafening. A few seconds later, there was a series of soft knocks on the wall behind her bed.
“Sorry, Mrs. Maple,” her father called out. “You have to turn it down, dear.”
“That old bitch,” her mother said. In all Grace’s years growing up, with all the strange boys tearing through the house, and fighting, and even through the whole Carrie Ann ordeal, Grace had never heard her mother curse, let alone direct it at somebody. Jody turned the volume down a smidge and pointed at the television. “He’s the one I like,” she exclaimed. There was a tall man, visible only in silhouette behind a flimsy shower curtain. “They think he’s Flo’s long-lost brother, but actually he’s just escaped from prison where he was convicted of murdering his second wife. Or is it his third? I can’t remember. Second or third wife, take your pick. It’ll come to me. Darn tootin’ he’s totally innocent, but I know that Flo. She’s going to be sniffing around his tight buns like a hound dog short of a bone. Second. Definitely second wife.”
Grace and her father looked at the television. The naked man stepped out of the shower, surrounded by steam. All you could see were his six-pack abs and bulging biceps. Grace supposed they wanted you to imagine something else bulging. This was definitely soft-core porn for women. Tan, and slick, and ripped, and glistening, he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to pick up a towel. He walked up to the bathroom mirror, reached up, and wiped away the condensation. Soon, his gorgeous face came into view. Grace had to stifle a laugh as he began to touch his cheekbones like a blind man trying to see what he looked like. “Isn’t it awful?” Jody said. “Pretending to be someone else? When all he wants to do is search for his wife’s real killer.”
Grace raised an eyebrow at her father. He looked down at his stomach, and in doing so dripped a thick glob of ketchup onto his fraying cardigan. “Didn’t even look like that when we got married,” Jim said.
“I think he must have had plastic surgery after his prison break,” Jody continued. “That’s why he doesn’t recognize himself!”
Jim Sawyer watched his wife with a smile and a shake of the head. “You wouldn’t leave her for ten days,” Grace said to her father.
“They sure did a pretty good job on him though, don’t you think?” Jody said. Based on where her mother was looking you’d think he’d had plastic surgery on his crotch.
“If Jake wants some old man tripping along with him, just say the word and I’ll pack my bags,” Jim said.
Jody glanced at Jim. He winked at her. She smiled back. Then she turned a smile on Grace. It was actually the first genuine smile Grace had seen out of her mother in a week. “You have to go, Carrie Ann.”
Carrie Ann. The words felt like two gunshots to the chest. Just hearing that name come out of her mother’s mouth made Grace’s heart start tripping. She almost shot out of her chair. “I’m Grace,” she said. “Gracie Ann.” Her voice cracked. “Dad?” she said.
“She’s confused, honey. The past and the present, it’s just one big, ugly glob.” Pinpricks of shame began forming at the base of Grace’s spine.
“I’m not confused,” Jody said. “Carrie Ann came to visit me.”
“My God,” Grace said. This time she did shoot out of her chair. Carrie Ann was the only girl foster child the Sawyers had ever taken in. At first she had been like a sister to Grace.
“Who is she married to now?” Jody said. “I can’t remember.”
“Pay no attention to her, Gracie,” Jim said.
“Why can’t I remember?” Jody pressed on her temples with her index fingers, as if she could squeeze the memory out of her head.
Grace took a step toward her mother. “When did she come and visit you, Mom?”
“Grace, I told you she didn’t,” Jim said. “Don’t egg your mother on.”
“I’m not egging her on, Dad, but if Carrie Ann was here, I want to know about it.”
Her father whacked his newspaper on the side of his chair. “I told you she wasn’t! And I should know. I’ve been sitting right here!”
“She’s still such a pretty girl,” Jody said. “She asked about you, Grace. She asked me all sorts of questions about you.”
Jim got up and threw up his arms. “She’s out of her mind!” He began to pace.
“Dad,” Grace said. “Hush.” Her mother suddenly became very still, which meant she was listening. Grace took her father by his arm and led him back to his chair.
“I’m sorry. She won’t remember me saying it.”
“That’s not the point.”
“I can’t help it. Carrie Ann this; Carrie Ann that. I thought we’d put that nuisance behind us for once and for all. Is this what it comes to? Reliving your worst nightmare?”
“I’ve never heard you speak so harshly about Carrie Ann,” Grace said. Her mom was the one who used to say the worst things about Carrie Ann. She said Carrie Ann was evil. She said Carrie Ann was a curse that would follow all of them to their graves. Once she had even said there wasn’t enough Lysol in the world to get rid of that stain. And each insult had cut into Grace like her mother was saying it about her. Her sister. Of sorts. Her own Dickens-like drama. Carrie Ann was the best thing that had ever happened to Grace, and she was the worst. She’d been out of their lives for nearly fifteen years. And Grace had spent every one of them trying, and failing, to put the past behind her. She turned to her father.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“That Mom’s been talking about her.”
“Because I don’t want to dredge up all that nonsense. It’s her damn medication. I keep telling the doctor it’s making her worse, and he won’t listen to me.” Her father slammed his fist on the arm of the chair. “These people think just because we’re old that we’re stupid. She wouldn’t be so forgetful if she cut down on some of those pills. How do I know that? Because she’s my wife. Because I’ve been married to this woman for forty-four years. You know what he said to me?”
“That snot-nosed doctor, that’s who!”
“What did he say?”
“Put me in my place. In front of my wife. ‘You’re a psychotherapist, correct? Not a psychiatrist? You don’t prescribe medication?’ That’s what the snot-nosed so-called doctor actually said to me. Can you believe that? Some twenty-year-old who just started wiping his own ass. I’m telling you she’s on too many pills! Makes her soupy. He won’t listen to me!”
“It’s okay, Dad. Calm down. It’s okay.”
“I can’t bear hearing her talk about Carrie Ann. Your mother’s the one who told us never to mention Carrie Ann’s name again.”
Forbid us. Forbid us to ever mention her name again. “I know, Dad. I’ll talk to the doctor. Calm down.”
“I always wanted to go to Spain,” Jody said. She turned off the television and patted the side of the bed. So she’d heard and understood the conversation. God, the brain was a mysterious thing.
Grace went over and sat down. “You never told me that.”
“I would hardly share that with a stranger.”
I’m your daughter! She wanted to shout. But her mother couldn’t help it.
“Just keep talking,” her father said. “At least she’s not dredging up ghosts, or drooling over naked stud muffins.”
And now Grace couldn’t believe her father had just said “naked stud muffins.” Maybe getting away for a bit wasn’t such a bad idea. Grace turned back to her mother. “Why did you always want to go to Spain?”
“My mother went to Spain. All by herself. When she was in her seventies.”
“I know,” Grace said. It had been just after Grace’s grandfather had died. Her grandparents were supposed to take the trip together. Everyone thought Annette Jennings would cancel the trip.
Instead, she buried her husband and packed her bags. Little Annette who had never been outside of her home state. Grace had had many conversations with her grandmother about that trip. She was proud of her too.
“It was really something,” Jim said. “Because in those days seventy wasn’t the new fifty or whatever the kids say today. Seventy was seventy.”
“Tell me about it,” Grace said.
Jody Sawyer straightened up, and her eyes seemed to take in more light. “Well, it’s not like it is now. Women didn’t travel alone back then. Wasn’t that brave? My mother sent me a postcard from Madrid of a beautiful tango dancer in a red dress. The dress was made of actual material—beautiful red silk right on the postcard. I’ll never forget it. She’d only written one sentence on the back. ‘Robert would’ve loved the landing.’ My father was very picking with landings and always impressed when the pilot pulled off a smooth one. Anyway. As soon as I got that postcard I knew my mother was going to be all right. ‘Robert would have loved the landing.’ After she died I spent hours just touching that silky red dress with the tips of my fingers and imagining my mother dancing in the streets of Spain.”
Jody Sawyer looked up and swayed her upper body slightly as if watching her faraway self dance. Then she looked down at her hands, twisting the bed sheet. “Look how ugly and wrinkled I am now.”
“You’re not ugly and wrinkled, Mom. You’re beautiful.”
“I wish I had that postcard now.” Her mother looked up into space. “I lost it.”
Grace hesitated. Did she, or didn’t she? Grace opened the bedside drawer and took out the postcard. Her mother was right. The dress was silky. Grace handed it to her mother and watched her eyes light up. Next her mother gently outlined the edge of the dancer’s dress with the trembling tip of her right index finger. Her fingernail was misshapen, the peach paint flaking. Grace would have to see if they could bring in a manicurist.
Jody looked at Grace, her eyes clear and bright. “Gracie Ann you have to go. Film everything. I’m dying to see Barcelona through you.” Grace must have looked stricken, for her mother laughed and then put her hand over her heart. “Sorry, no pun intended.” Like antennas being manipulated for a clearer signal, sometimes her mother tuned in perfectly. Jody Sawyer laughed again, and Grace couldn’t help but laugh with her.
“Make me feel like I’m there,” Jody said, closing her eyes. “Help me shut out this hospice. Let me see beautiful Barcelona.” She took Grace’s hand and held it. “Do it for me. I’ll feel like I’m with you. Bring a camera. And your guitar,” she added. “You never know.” When Grace still didn’t answer, her mother opened her eyes, and lifted Grace’s chin up with her hand like she used to do when Grace was a child. “Be brave, Gracie Ann. Just like my mother.”
“Like my mother too,” Grace whispered back.