The pathway looked truly gorgeous, Bethany thought to herself. The pumpkins were in place with the lanterns inside to emit their eerie orange light. The brooms were stacked beside the house. A string of lights hung on the fence and near the door. Needing to get her mind off of things and to wear her body out, she’d outdone herself.
She’d not properly slept since she more or less kicked Eric out of the house. He had scared the crap out of her, and nothing good could come of it.
Yet the card he’d given her started showing creases of being held and stared at. The kitchen didn’t feel the same safe place it had always been. Even the draft that had been there seemed to have disappeared as if it held its breath. If the weather had turned, it would have felt appropriate to Bethany, but it hadn’t. A few showers here and there, but no substantial Fall weather to speak of.
It was going to be perfect Halloween weather. Chilly, dry, with a few clouds passing by the moon.
Bethany had made another trip to her sister’s, and Emily had wondered what was wrong with her sister.
“Maybe I should sell the house after all.”
Bethany had said when Emily wouldn’t back off. She’d not told Emily about Eric. Like she’d not told her little sister about a lot of things.
“I thought you were in favour of me selling it.”
“Bullshit. Something brought this on.”
“I was just wondering. Never mind. Pretend I’ve not said it.”
Emily had checked out her sister. Something was off with her.
Bethany wasn’t thrown off easily. Even after the passing of their mother she’d appeared as a beacon of calm amidst the storm.
Emily barely remembered their mother. She had pictures of the woman she looked like so much. Not Bethany. The eldest of the two had always looked like she’d come from another planet. There were many versions of the story of the woman’s death going around. Curses, spells, poison. Some even as audacious as pointing to their grandmother or even Bethany herself as bringing it about. None of them were true, of course. But it had had a huge impact on both girls.
Heavy hearted Bethany had gone back home. One more day until Halloween. She would have wanted to ask her sister’s twins to stay over, but it was a school night, so they couldn’t.
Last day before Halloween. Bethany was in the kitchen feeling more like a ghost than ever. It had been nearly a week ago she’d been carving pumpkins with Eric. He’d not been around again. She should be happy about it. Nothing good would come of it.
The house seemed to have stopped its fight. The draft over her cheek told her things would be fine. But they didn’t feel fine. Not inside of her.
Halloween always made her nostalgic and this year it seemed worse than ever. She was getting older and lonelier it appeared. Despite the many online friends she had. Since last week’s kiss, all seemed to have lost their gleam.
If true love’s kiss would set everyone free, the kiss she’d had with Eric appeared to have done the opposite. It had reminded her of all the mistakes she’d made, the misery she’d caused, the hurt she couldn’t prevent. She didn’t want to do that to him.
Again that draft pulling at her hair. She looked at the kitchen table and could almost see her grandmother sitting there. The tall old lady. Telling the girl Bethany that this kitchen would always be safe for her. No matter what. Had Bethany spoiled it by kissing Eric here? Had it cursed him?
She finally dared ask herself that question, and as a result, the kitchen appeared to come back to life again. It was warmer and safer. It didn’t answer her question, but it told her not to worry too much like her grandmother had told her a thousand times. Bethany had always been a girl who thought and felt things too deeply. The tears she’d pushed back for days decided not to be pushed away any longer. She sank to a kitchen chair and uncontrollably started to cry.
Eric had noticed the silence of his phone. No messages, no calls. At least not from Bethany. Two possible employers wanted further contact though. In response to what he had felt with Bethany, the warmth of her house, the idea of being seen, he had gone for the place that gave him the best feeling. It paid less than the other one, which he smartly not told his sister, but he got to do work he’d enjoy.
It also made him drive passed Bethany’s house every day. In fact, it wasn’t far past it. The job was simple carpentry. Making custom furniture and other projects that would challenge his creativity.
He looked at the strings of light on her fence as he drove by in the early morning to sign his contract. Her words came to mind. ‘Luck is a fickle friend.’ It was. But it seemed ever since his car broke down here, his luck had turned. Did it include her?
His sister had kept on warning him about her. That she was bad news. The rumours, the curses. He’d thought them nonsense, but after her response last week, he had gotten worried. Not about her, but about why she would be so scared after their sweet kiss.
So after signing his contract and agreeing to start work after the weekend, he took advantage of being in a town with a bigger library to use the computer and look up old newspaper clippings. He’d not wanted to use his sister’s computer, scared she might find out.
It turned out an interesting afternoon. Although Eric still was convinced there was no such thing as curses, he couldn’t help but understand why people thought there was. At least in the case of Bethany and her house.
He indeed found the story of the lost teenagers, who had admitted not even to have been on the grounds. Also the remains of old witches’ circles, moonlight rituals. Reports of several deaths on the land or tied closely to it.
He gasped as he read about the suicide of Bethany’s mother. Bethany had been eight years old when her grandmother found her mother hanging from a tree. No mention anywhere of the girls’ father, which Eric found rather odd.
On a blog site, he found another link to Bethany. ‘Witches’ house curse strikes again’. A boy dying from a freak accident after she’d broken up with him. Eric could even remember the event, though it was vague in his memory. He’d already moved away from the town.
Having read up on her, suddenly her confusion and fear made a lot of sense. Did it scare him? Not much. It was a weird coincidence. If there was one thing he’d learned in his life, it was that death was random. He’d lost friends. He knew how much it could throw a person off kilter.
On his way back home, he had to stop by her house. He halted by the side of the road, staring at the house in the distance. He couldn’t see if the light was on. He remembered that kitchen. Her hot chocolate and her fuzzy pyjamas. How warm and kind she had been to him.
Eric doubted like he never had before in his life. He was nice, cute even. Ever since growing out of his awkward teens, he’d never had a problem courting and dating woman. He’d even gone as far as moving in together on two occasions.
Deciding not to go see her that night, but maybe the next, while trick-and-treating with his nephews to safely test the waters, he wanted to start the car. It wouldn’t start.
Sighing he leaned back in his seat. Not again!
He tried a few more times. Waited a few minutes and tried again.
When it still wouldn’t work, he put his hand in his pocket to grab his phone only to remember he’d forgotten it. He’d not counted on needing it, so hadn’t gone back for it. He rarely got called.
There was a light drizzle when he got out of the car. He pulled up the hood of his jacket and locked up. Trying to come up with a story he walked past the pumpkins up to the house.
He hadn’t found the words yet when he rang the doorbell. No one answered. Bethany’s car stood parked beside the house, like previous times. There appeared to be light coming from inside.
He rang again and followed it up by a firm knock on the door.
The lack of sound was disturbing. For a moment he considered what to do. A stroll around the house to see if she was alright? He might startle her by standing on her back porch in the dark.
One last time he rang the bell.
“Coming!” He heard. Footsteps on the stairs coming down.
The first thing he saw when she opened the door was the red around her eyes. She had been crying.
“You came back.” She whispered, standing rooted to the spot.
He couldn’t stop himself, stepped forward, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her in the tightest hug.
She did the same. Pushing her head to his shoulder. Repeating her words. “You came back.”
“Of course I did. How could I stay away?”
She couldn’t answer, scared the tears would start again.
He retreated to look at her. She smiled at him.
“You look like crap.” He said, cradling her head. “I’m sorry.”
She shook it, stroking his cheek. “I’m so happy you’re here.”
He sunk his mouth on hers. It was even better than last time. This time Bethany didn’t hold back, she wasn’t surprised or overwhelmed.
“My car broke down,” Eric said when he let go of her. Their hands were still holding in between them.
Bethany’s eyes widened. “It did?”
“Yes. It did.”
“Oh, I bet you’re angry. I mean getting it repaired wasn’t cheap.”
“I don’t know. I never saw the bill. But no, I’m not angry about it.” There was a light and playful tone to their voices.
“I think this house is trying to tell me something.”
“It might be.”
“And I fear its owner much enchants me.”
“Enchanted? Not cursed?”
She let go with one hand and pulled him to the kitchen where the fire was burning. The room seemed full of both the smell and the sight of candy.
“You see, if it were a curse, that kiss would have turned me into a frog.”
She pushed him down at the kitchen table and turned to the stove.
“Like the fairy tale, you know…”
“I think it was the kiss that turned the frog into a Prince.” She’d already grabbed two mugs.
When she put the hot chocolate on the table, he grabbed her hip and pulled her onto his lap. “Bethany…” He stared into her eyes and couldn’t find the words. “I’d not… I mean…”
“Ssst.” She ran her hand through his curls. “I’m so sorry about last week. I’d honestly not expected you back.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have come here, but I had to see you.”
“I thought your car broke down.”
He smiled. “I think sometimes the Universe is smarter than I am.”
“I was confused last week. And scared.”
“I know. That’s why I backed away. I don’t want to cause you to hurt.”
She lightly kissed his lips. Was she insane in even considering this? Who was he anyway? A man she’d met twice before.
Stepping back into this kitchen had felt like coming home to Eric. The candy, the pot on the stove with the now familiar hot chocolate. His hand touched her wet, raven black hair.
“I’d just come out of the shower.” Not until now did he notice her pyjamas. The same she’d worn last week.
Despite not wanting to get his hopes up, he allowed himself to imagine coming home to this every day.
There was no draft this time, but the light bulb above the table flickered. It made Eric stiffen up.
Bethany laughed. “I should replace that before it goes completely.” It was her way of comforting him. She’d noticed his response.
“Okay.” She said as she got up and sat down opposite of him. “I’ll give you the quick low down, and if afterwards, you think I’m not completely insane, you can stay.”
“Try me.” He knew it wasn’t a game. Not to Bethany.
“The draft you sometimes feel around here is a residue of my grandmother’s energy. Or spirit if it makes you feel better. It is often to tell me things are alright. The reason I was so scared last week is that I lost people close to me. And even more, I’ve been accused of having a hand in their death. If that happens to a person often enough, you start to doubt.”
“I know you didn’t.” Eric calmly acknowledged.
“I’m not cursed, but I did turn up at the wrong time at the wrong place because I thought someone was in trouble.”
“And they always were? Are you a psychic? Or medium, or whatever you call it?”
He moved the treats out of the way and reached out to her over the table. She put her hand in his, and his warmth grounded her.
“No, I’m not. I’m hypersensitive to the energy of people. Especially if it’s dark. Not being around them too much, and not getting attached makes it easier.”
“It does.” He agreed with her.
“It also makes me lonely.”
He could well imagine. During his time at the hotel, he had felt it trying to drag him into its darkness. It wasn’t a stretch to apply it to her situation. This house, here on the hill, it represented light and balance to her. It helped her recharge as it did him. Both times he’d been here he had felt so much lighter than anywhere else. Especially after having hit rock bottom.
“You said that first time that lonely isn’t bad. It’s not if the opposite is being in other people’s darkness. I don’t want to give you darkness.” He spoke bravely.
“I know you don’t. I’ve seen the transformation happen in this house before. Never as strong as I did with you.”
“Maybe our souls are aligned.”
She let go of him and sipped her hot chocolate to give them both time to figure things out.
“You are serious about this Halloween thing, aren’t you?”
He said looking at her hard work with a warm smile. Damn, his smile could light up a room, Bethany thought.
“It’s the Holiday of my people.”
“Will you wear a costume?”
“But of course.”
“Can I ask?”
“Maybe you should come and see tomorrow.”
“Maybe I should. Are you kicking me out again?”
She shrugged. “I’ve hardly slept this past week. I am afraid that if I ask you to stay and I see my pillow, I’ll be gone. I think a first night together deserves more.
He laughed out loud. “Perhaps you’re a witch after all.”
“And hot chocolate is my potion. I can live with that.”
In everything that had gone through her mind that week, all the people she’d lost, she could not save, she’d not been scared for him. Not one breath. Although he had seen and been touched by darkness, it had not taken hold on him the way it had on her. It still scared her. He was the first man, however, who didn’t even try to get her away from this house. Who admitted to feeling at home here. Who accepted all its and her quirks without questioning.
It was late. They’d moved from the kitchen to the living room and talked for hours when Bethany walked Eric down the path to his car.
“It was broken, remember?” He said while she’d put on a long cardigan over her pyjamas. They’d kissed. A lot.
“I’m fairly certain you’ll find it in perfect working order again.” She reassured him. It was cold. The drizzle had stopped, and when they turned and looked at the house, they saw a nearly full moon hovering over it.
“Don’t go dancing around trees naked. You’ll catch pneumonia.” He warned her off.
“I think my grandmother was of the last generation to do that,” Bethany answered.
Eric chuckled, not sure if she was serious or not.
At the gate, they stopped. One last time he wrapped his arms around Bethany and kissed her.
“I’ll be around tomorrow, might be late though. I promised my nephews I’d go trick-and-treating with them, and I doubt my sister will allow me to venture this far out.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be here.” She still tasted the chocolate milk on his tongue.
Reluctantly he got into his car and started it. Indeed it did so on the first try. “Thank your house ghosts for me. Without them, I might never have plucked up the courage to come to see you.”