We spoke little on the drive back to Willow Lake, each of us consumed by our own thoughts about what had transpired. I wasn’t sure what was going through anyone else’s mind, but the image I couldn’t shake was the depth of sorrow and loss I had seen in Warren’s eyes. I was certain there was more to his grief than simply losing the love of his life in a tragic accident; there had been something else reflected in his eyes too–guilt? Fear?
Suddenly I felt Spook’s hand on mine. I looked up at him and then out the windshield and saw that we were just coming in to Willow Lake. I let out a long breath and realized I had been sitting rigidly for most of the ride back. I shifted in my seat and flexed my neck to relieve some of the tension there.
Spook pulled into the parking lot behind the Mustang Grill and shut off the engine. Turning to face Ed and Phil, he said, “Well, here we are. Too bad this evening wasn’t more successful.”
Phil laughed shortly, and Ed pulled her close to kiss her forehead before replying, “It wasn’t a total bust. We did hear about some other experiences in the bell tower, so at least we know we weren’t the only ones who encountered Mary, right?”
Phil smiled as Ed looked down at her and grinned. “I guess you’re right,” she admitted. “Although I’m really bummed that Warren wouldn’t open up to us.”
I had a feeling that part of the reason for his unwillingness had to do with having four people he’d never met interrogating him about a traumatic experience that happened decades ago, but I said nothing. I sat quietly as the others discussed Warren’s refusal to share his experiences and what it would take to get him to open up. Phil mused over whether or not it was possible to get to the bottom of this mystery without discovering what happened that night. I stared out the window at nothing in particular and pondered that myself. In my thinking, Warren was tied so closely to Mary and her reason for being there, and ultimately to whatever happened that I doubted we could solve anything without hearing Warren’s part in the events of that night. Our attempts at reaching out to Mary had been met with nothing but anger and malice. If we could just find out what had happened between Warren and Mary that night and how they both came to be in the tower, then maybe we could find a way to put her spirit to rest.
Spook’s hand on the back of my neck made me turn to face him. I noticed that Phil had leaned forward to rest her arms on the front seat so she could look at me. “You’re pretty quiet, Kyr. What do you think about all this?”
I could see curious concern in Spook’s eyes as I glanced at hiim, and I was sure he knew that I hadn’t even been listening to their conversation. Turning my eyes to Phil, I shrugged and replied noncommittally, “I’m not sure what to think.” I said nothing about the look that had passed between Warren and me, a look I was certain was significant. I offered, “I do know there’s something he’s hiding, or someone he’s hiding from.” A prickly feeling raced across my scalp. Someone? Why had I said that?
Ed picked up on my words right away. “What do you mean someone he’s hiding from?”
“I meant something he’s hiding from,” I covered quickly, shaking my head and rubbing my temples. “Sorry. It’s been a long day. I’m just really tired and a little overwhelmed, I guess.”
Spook’s eyes bored into me as he gazed suspiciously at me, but he said nothing. Phil gave him a nudge and a smirk before commenting, “I can’t imagine what has you so worn out.”
I turned away, blushing, as Spook gave me a suggestive grin and laid his hand on my knee. Actually, I was glad Phil had changed the subject. I needed time to ponder alone the words that had tumbled from my mouth.
“Well, I know what has me worn out,” Ed remarked, yawning. “The first week of classes, plus thirty hours of work this week. I’m definitely looking forward to the long weekend, but right now my bed is calling me.”
Phil wrinkled her nose at him; obviously she had been hoping to do something more fun than going home and going to sleep. Spook turned to him and joked, “You’re showing your age, old man. I think your woman was hoping for something a little more fun than an early bedtime.”
“Anyway,” Phil pouted, crossing her arms and sticking out her lower lip at Ed.
Ed laughed and pulled her close. “I didn’t say I’d be going right to sleep,” he joked suggestively. “Or going to bed alone.”
“Okay, that’s a little too much information,” Spook laughed, winking at me. I knew he was thinking about the same thing.
After Ed and Phil had gotten into their car and headed home, Spook turned to me and took my hand. I hoped my palm didn’t feel as clammy to him as I thought it did. He gazed at me without speaking for a moment, as though he were trying to decipher my expression. Finally he asked quietly, “So, did you really misspeak when you said Warren was hiding from someone, or was it another hunch?”
I avoided his eyes while I tried to find the words to answer him; I couldn’t give him an excuse because I knew he’d be able to tell if I wasn’t being honest with him.When I didn’t answer him, he reached over to place a finger under my chin and turn my face towards him. When I met his eyes, he smiled gently down at me, waiting patiently for an answer. “I…I don’t…” I stammered helplessly.
He closed the distance between us and swallowed my words with a kiss. His hands encircled my waist, and I could feel the heat of his body as he held me as close as the center console would allow. Suddenly ending the kiss, he murmured against my cheek, “Kyr, you know you can tell me anything. I can see the wheels turning in your head; what are you thinking?”
I leaned my head against his shoulder and took a deep breath, relaxing as he held me and caressed my back. I gazed up at him and smiled; his eyes shone with acceptance and understanding, and I knew that no matter what I told him, he wouldn’t think I was crazy. I sat back and laid my hand against his cheek, tracing his beard with my thumb. “I don’t know why I said that, Spook,” I began. “It really was just a slip of the tongue, but after I said it, I felt…weird…uneasy, like I was about to find something signficant.”
Spook captured my hand in his and gazed back at me through narrowed eyes. I bit my lip and looked away, knowing it sounded crazy. He brought my hand to his lips and kissed it, and then trailed kisses up my arm as he pulled me close again, making me giggle. “Kyr,” he said, kissing me gently. “Your guess is as good as mine what it means. But knowing your track record, I’m sure you’re onto something that will reveal itself in time.”
I was certain he was correct, but my question was who could Warren possibly be hiding from? Warren himself was 80, or close to it. Was there someone else who was still alive who had either been in the bell tower that night, or who knew what happened, someone who had some kind of power or influence over him? I shook my head, not wanting to think about it anymore. “I just feel like we’re running out of time,” I said hopelessly.
Spook chuckled and tugged my ponytail playfully. “I have to agree with you, Kyr m’dear.” I giggled, and he looked over his shoulder towards the river. “But right now, I think you need to get your mind off of Mary and Warren. What do you say we take a stroll through the street fair?”
“I thought you hated street fairs,” I teased, pressing myself against him.
He grinned down at me and yanked my scrunchie out of my hair. As he ran his fingers lazily through my curls, he conceded tenderly, “Well, maybe it won’t be so bad if I’m with someone I love spending time with.” I sighed contentedly and snuggled against him as he continued to play with my hair. He chuckled and teased, “Are you sure you’re not too worn out for the street fair? We could just take a page from Ed’s book and call it a night.”
I giggled and pushed away from him, although his words did make my body tingle with anticipation over what would likely happen when we got back to the hotel. “Oh no, you don’t,” I teased back. “You’re not getting off that easy.” Spook raised an eyebrow and grinned lecherously at my comment, and my cheeks grew hot as I realized how suggestive that sounded.
I threw open the door and quickly exited the car, then started walking towards the river. Almost immediately, Spook caught up to me and grabbed my hand. Barely looking up at him, I mumbled, “I can’t believe I just said that.”
Mischief gleamed in his eyes as he replied, “I was kind of looking forward to getting off, easy or not.” He burst out laughing as I pulled my hand away and gave him a playful shove. He caught me in a hug and kissed me soundly before turning me to face him. “Relax, Kyr,” he said softly. “As much as I want to, I’m not going to ravish you the first chance I get. Unless you want me to, of course.” He chuckled at my expression and continued, “I just want to enjoy spending time with you and getting to know you better, face to face instead of just over the phone. Anything else that might happen is just a bonus.” As I gazed up at him, my heart hammered so hard I was sure he could hear it, and I was sure he could see the longing mixed with nervousness in my eyes. Taking my face in his hands, he kissed me gently and whispered, “If you want to go to the street fair, we’d better go now, before I change my mind.”
Thankfully the street fair wasn’t as hot as it had been earlier, but there was still quite a crowd. We maneuvered our way around the knots of people, pets, and babies in strollers who were either standing around chatting or waiting in lines at the various craft booths and food stands. It seemed as though no matter which side of the street we tried to walk on, we had to push against throngs headed in the other direction. WIth all the noise and activity going on around us, it was difficult to talk or to do much more than try to avoid bumping into people. And now that it was beginning to get dark and the strings of lights were coming on along the street, we also had to contend with moths, mayflies and other bugs. I laughed to myself as I realized how fortunate I was to not have Steve’s fear of insects right now.
Before long, Spook turned to me with a strained smile and asked, “What do you say we get some ice cream and head up onto the levee?”
I beamed back at him, thinking I could really go for something sweet. “That actually sounds pretty good,” I responded.
We managed to find an ice cream stand with relatively few people waiting, so we got in line. Even though we had a short wait, Spook kept fidgeting and glancing around nervously. I began to feel on edge myself as I wondered if he was picking up on something paranormal. Once we got to the front of the line, I got a plain vanilla cone, and Spook got a chocolate milkshake, and we headed up on top of the levee where it wasn’t nearly as crowded. We strolled to the amphitheater and sat down close to the water to watch the boats drifting lazily on the river while we enjoyed our ice cream.
As I licked my cone, I observed Spook out of the corner of my eye. The tension I had seen on his face was gone, and he seemed much more relaxed. He must have felt me watching him because he turned to me and caught me looking at him. He sighed and set his cup down, looking a bit sheepish. “I’m not a fan of being in crowds,” he explained as he played with his straw. “When I was just a kid, my parents took Katie and me to a concert or something at the high school. Whatever it was, the place was packed. Anyway, there was a pretty bad storm that night, and there was a power outage.” The tension lines were around his eyes again as he continued, “For some reason, people started panicking; I got separated from my parents and Katie. So many people were pushing and shoving and screaming, trying to get out of the building. I got knocked down, and people kept stepping on me and falling on top of me so that I couldn’t get up. I wasn’t hurt badly, although I suppose I could have been.” He shook his head and looked at me. “Since then, I can’t stand being in crowded places.”
Just watching his face as he told his story, I could sense the trauma he had felt. Suddenly I felt horrible for making him walk through the street fair crowd. “Oh, Spook, I wish you’d told me before; I never would have…”
“Hey, it’s okay,” he interrupted kindly, smiling wryly. “You’re not the only one who faces up to their fears. Besides,” he added, pleading silently with his eyes. “I don’t tell a lot of people that.”
I smiled, understanding that he didn’t want everyone to know about his fear. As I looked at him, a light bulb went on, and I asked, “Is that why you put up such a fuss over staying for Karaoke Night at the Drop in the Bucket?”
He laughed and picked up his cup again. “Well, not really. I really do hate karaoke. But that was why I kept sneaking off to the bar and to the restroom, to get away from the crowds for a bit.” He winked at me. “I was also glad that someone needed to make a hasty exit.” He suddenly looked down at my hand and chuckled, “Hey, don’t forget about your ice cream.”
I looked down at my hand and realized I had been so wrapped up in his story that my ice cream was dripping down the cone and onto my hand. Letting out a frustrated yelp, I began quickly licking the rapidly-melting ice cream. When I had gotten the worst of it, I glanced up at Spook to find him watching me with a wicked gleam in his eye. “What?” I asked, grabbing a napkin to dab at my mouth. “Do I have ice cream all over my face?”
He shook his head and tried not to laugh. “I’m sorry,” he said, as usual not sounding very sorry. “I was just watching you attack that ice cream and wishing…” He leaned in close to whisper, “…That you were doing that to me.”
The image that came into my head made my face go scarlet, and I almost forgot about my ice cream again. I hurried to finish my cone, aware of his eyes on me the whole time. When I finished, I stepped carefully down to the edge of the water to rinse the stickiness off my hands.
Spook was still chuckling at my discomfort when I came back up to sit next to him, so I flicked water from my still dripping hands into his face. “Hey,” he laughed, wiping the drops out of his eyes before he scooped me up into his arms. “You better behave yourself, or I’ll carry you down there and dunk you in the river.” He looked down at me, grinning wickedly. “I’d love to see what you’re wearing under that T-shirt,” he teased.
I glanced down, realizing I was wearing the same T-shirt I’d been wearing the night we got caught in the rain. Thankfully I wasn’t wearing the same hot pink bra, but I still didn’t want the street fair crowds getting an eyeful of what I was wearing. “Spook, stop; you wouldn’t,” I pleaded, trying to get away from him.
He grinned devilishly and teased, “Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t.” I squirmed and struggled even harder to escape, but he held me even tigher against him so I could hardly move. His breath was hot on my face, and I could feel his muscles beneath my hands. As I breathed in his manly scent, I fought the urge to kiss and caress his chest. I slowly raised my eyes to find him smiling down at me. He relaxed his hold on me and kissed my forehead before asking, “Shall we go for a walk so we can be alone?”
I stared at him blankly for a moment, wondering if he hadn’t felt the same rush of desire I had just experienced; if he had, he certainly wasn’t showing it. I nodded wordlessly in answer to his question, and we got up and slowly climbed the steps of the amphitheater. Spook dropped his empty cup into a trash can, and we headed away from the crowds.
We were both silent as we walked. As we got further away from the noise of the street fair and crossed the bridge to the unlit side of the levee, the peacefulness of the river surrounded me, and I sighed contentedly. Fireflies winked in the yards of the houses along the street. I listened to the quiet sounds of the water lapping against the rocks and the steady croaking of bullfrogs calling to each other on the islands. I was so lost in the beauty of the river that I forgot Spook was walking next to me till he gently took my hand and brought it to his lips. When I glanced up at him, he smiled and asked, “Do you remember the first time we went for a walk up here?”
I laughed and leaned against him. “How could I forget? I was so mad at you for tagging along, and then for telling Jason that I needed you to protect me from the boogeyman.” I looked up at him through my lashes and continued, “But it ended up not being so bad.”
Spook chuckled and responded, “I wasn’t sure if I was impressed that you were gutsy enough to want to go walking alone or if I thought you were just plain crazy.” He dropped my hand so he could pull me close. “I think I started to like you the minute you crept down beside the residence hall and out the back way so we wouldn’t get caught. I was intrigued to find that you had a sneaky side.”
I giggled and admitted, “I think I started falling for you when you were picking on me about being in the Geology Club. I kind of thought you might be fun to be around.” I shook my head, blushing and added, “I can’t believe the things I told you that night, when I hardly even knew you.”
“So why did you?” he asked, smiling curiously down at me.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess a part of me sensed that I could trust you. When we weren’t at each other’s throats during the investigation…I really liked being with you.”
Spook stopped walking and turned to face me, taking my hands in his. With mock seriousness, he said, “I guess we owe a debt of gratitude to Grant and JoEllyn for faking food poisoning so we’d have to investigate together that night.”
I giggled and joked, “Maybe we should send them each a can of clam chowder as a thank you gift.”
Spook burst out laughing, and I joined in as I imagined the expression on JoEllyn’s face when she pulled a can of soup out of a fancy gift bag. I was still giggling when I realized Spook had stopped laughing and was gazing at me tenderly. “Even though this investigation took kind of a nasty turn, I’m glad you were the one I was with in the bell tower when all hell broke loose.” A cloud passed over his face, and he continued, “Although if anything would have happened to you…”
“Spook, don’t.” I really didn’t want to think about that possibility, although I had the distinct feeling that we weren’t completely out of danger yet. The question was, was that danger from a paranormal source, or was it from someone flesh and blood? I began glancing around, feeling the same uneasiness I had experienced the night Spook and I walked back to campus. I was certain it was just my imagination, but I just wanted to get off the levee.
Spook must have sensed my change in mood, because he pulled me close and asked, “Would you like to head back to the hotel?” Casting one last glance over my shoulder, I nodded, and we started walking back towards the Mustang Grill. By the time we got there, the parking lot was mostly empty, and one of the lights had burned out, making the shadows seem darker. As much as I always insisted I was okay walking around town alone, this was one time I was glad to be with Spook.
As we headed back to the hotel, we talked about the events of that evening. Spook gave me a sidelong glance and asked, “So, give me your honest opinion. Do you think it was a good idea to go talk to Warren?”
I sighed and looked back at him. “I think it was a good idea in theory,” I began. “I’m not so sure having four of us interrogating the poor man was all that smart. What do you think?”
He smiled wryly and replied, “I have to agree with you, Kyr, although like I said before, I didn’t want those two–especially Phil–talking to him alone. I thought you did a nice job of connecting with Warren and jumping in when Phil got a little too rambunctious.” He gave me a tender look and took my hand. “Things might have gone better if you’d done all the talking; you seem to have a way with people.”
I couldn’t help smiling, even as I looked away, wondering if he had his own hunch about what I was planning to do tomorrow. I avoided his eyes, not wanting him to read my intentions and attempt to interfere.