It’s raining when the cab pulls up outside the townhouse.
“Been like this for days,” the driver had said when he picked him up from the airport. “Weatherman don’t know when it’s going to stop. Hope you were coming from somewhere sunny. Who knows when we’ll see it again.”
Sid doesn’t care much about the weather. He’ll spend most of his time inside writing. Or, trying to write. The whole city could be under twelve feet of snow and he wouldn’t care.
Still, he pulls his collar up to protect his face from the early October wind as he walks through the wrought iron gate to the front door.
The key sticks in the lock and he has to drop his duffel bag at his feet so he can lean into it with his whole weight.
After three good hard shoves the door pops open and he stumbles inside.
He swears as he catches himself, just barely, hand flailing out and finding the coat hooks on the wall.
The house is dark and hot.
“It runs warm, we’re not sure why,” the real estate agent had said during his first tour. By the time she brought him down to the basement, the only cool spot in the whole house, to show him the hot water heater and breaker box there was a thin layer of sweat on her face and Sid had shed his jacket. Her eyes darted nervously around the room and she gave him a forced smile. “Must be good insulation. Keep you warm in the winter, why don’t I show you the kitchen again,” and then scurried back up the stairs leaving Sid standing in the middle of the room, dirt floor beneath his feet.
He doubts it’s the insulation.
The house was built in the 1800’s and hasn’t been through many upgrades since then.
It’s just a wonky thermostat and a landlord who can’t be bothered to fix it that is currently set to seventy eight.
He turns it back to sixty eight and ventures further into the house flipping on lights as he goes.
Besides the issue with the thermostat the house is well made. Built on a solid foundation with sturdy oak door frames and fireplaces in the living and bedroom. The real estate agent had been quick to point out the crown molding and the intricately carved banister going up the stairs to the second floor.
The kitchen is in the back of the house. He passes by the living room, the half bath, and a coat closet on his way.
He puts his bag on the small kitchen table and takes a glass out of the cabinet and filling it with tap water.
He drinks it slowly and picks idly at the wallpaper that’s peeling next to the door.
It’s hideous. Muted floral with peacocks resting on brown branches.
He wrinkles his nose and doesn't know how the previous tenant could stand it.
The kitchen is small with outdated appliances but the clock on the stove still works and the fridge is running cold.
Hopefully he won’t be here long enough to need to replace them.
He sips at his water as he looks out the backdoor and into the pathetic little scrap of grass that’s his backyard. It’s a loss cause this late in the year but he imagines it could look nice in the spring.
There’s a small, black cat sitting on the fence that lines the back of the property. He narrows his eyes at is as he turns on his phone. It had better belong to a neighbor because he’s not about to take in a stray.
There's a voicemail from his agent and he leans against the side of the fridge to listen to it.
“Hey, Sid, it’s Kris. Hope I'm catching you before you get to your house, please god be normal for once and turn on your phone as soon as you get off the plane. I just want to warn you and tell you to not freak out about the furniture situation. I've got it under control.”
He holds the phone against his shoulder and looks around the room. Everything looks fine.
“-misplaced the information about where everything was supposed to go so they just dumped everything in the living room, like that's something that's acceptable. Like they couldn't have called either me or you or used their goddamn common sense to figure out where the fuck the kitchen table was supposed to go.”
He walks down the hall and pokes his head into the living room.
There's the couch he picked out. A buttery leather with deep cushions and a matching armchair.
The area rug is placed squarely beneath the coffee table and the lamps are on the end tables.
A modest sized flat screen on a low entertainment center.
Everything is exactly in it’s place.
“Anyway, they're fucking avoiding me at the moment and not taking my calls- I think they're afraid, but I swear to god I'm going to make them come back-no charge- and fix that shit.”
Sid hangs up and dials his number.
“What the hell are you talking about with the furniture,” Sid says by way of a hello.
“Are you at the house yet? Don't freak out. I know how you get.”
“I'm at the house. I'm standing in the living room.”
“Don't freak out.”
“Why would I freak out. Everything is fine.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean everything is fine. All the furniture is in the right place.” He moves the lamp on the end table more towards the middle then moves it back. It was perfect how they had it.
“They said they had to leave everything in the living room. That thing should be packed. Are you sure?”
“I’m standing in the middle of the living room and it looks fine. They even put the dishes in the cabinets for me. They really didn’t have to do that.”
“What about upstairs?”
“I’ll go check but I don’t know where else it could be ah-.” He whacks his shin into the coffee table.
“Fine. Walked into the table.”
He shakes off the pain easily enough and takes the stairs two at a time.
They creak beneath his weight.
The second floor is set up the same as the first. One long hallway with rooms branching out.
He passes a guest room first that he plans to use as an office. The desk and chair are set up in there just as they should be along with the floor to ceiling bookcase. A handful of books on the shelf.
The master bedroom is down the end of the hall and he hesitates just outside the closed door.
Right here it’s freezing cold.
Something smells smoky and metallic, so strong he can almost taste it.
There’s a sudden heaviness that has the hair on the back of his neck standing up as he reaches for the door knob.
It’s like ice as he slowly turns it.
“Sid?” He jumps at Tanger’s voice and opens the door.
Bed, nightstand, dresser. All in place.
The air is stuffy and warm just like the rest of the house.
Everything is normal. He can breathe again.
“Sorry,” he says into the phone. “Bedroom is fine. They even put sheets on the bed.”
“What the fuck?”
“Looks fine.” He slides open the closet door. All of his clothes are neatly hanging. “I don’t know if I appreciate them putting my clothes in the closet but-.”
“What the fuck? Why would they tell me they just left everything?”
“I don’t know.” He pulls his sweater over his head leaving him in his thin, white undershirt. “God, I really have to get someone in here to look at that thermostat.”
“I’m boiling. Looks like the windows are painted shut too.” He runs his thumbnail along the top seam. Paint chips away and falls to the windowsill and after a few good pulls the pane finally slides up and cool air rushes in. “The movers must have circled back and put everything in the right place. Some sort of major miscommunication.”
“Must be. I still think I should give them a call. Going through your shit like that isn’t cool.”
“Probably just overcompensating for their mistake. Don’t worry about it. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.”
“You’re too nice, Sid. You make me look like a dick.”
“You’re too hot headed. That’s your own fault.”
“So anyways.” He abruptly changes the subject. “How is the rest of the house? Feeling inspired yet?”
He sits down on the end of the bed then falls back against it. “No. Not yet but that has to change.”
“It doesn’t have to, Sid.”
“Yes, it does. I can’t keep doing what I’m doing. It’s not working.”
“And you think running off to some random house in Pittsburgh is going to fix you?”
“I clearly can’t write in New York or at home so yes.”
“You think it was the location that was the problem?” “Either that or it’s me. I’m truly mediocre and uninspired and boring.”
“You’re not any of those things.”
“So it’s just my writing then. What’s the difference?”
“Sid, Light A Candle and Ask Not-.”
“They were bad. We couldn’t even find a positive review to put on the back covers. They were shit and they sold like shit.”
“Maybe that’s the problem with historical mysteries. Eventually you just run out of mysteries.”
“I'm going to lay low here until something works out. And if nothing does-.” He pauses and takes a deep breath. “Rent is so cheap here I could live here for the rest of my life and not even make a dent in my savings.”
“Things will work out. You’re too talented to stop writing.”
“Maybe I’m not anymore.”
“I’m not feeling sorry for myself. It just is what it is. This is my last shot. I am making it my last shot.”
“You know what you could always do?”
“I’m not writing a love story.”
“You don’t have a write a love story,” he rushes out. “Just a little romance. It doesn’t have to be the whole story.”
Sid reads between the lines and says “I am not writing a sex scene.”
Kris groans. “Please don’t make me find a new client.”
“We’ll see,” Sid says, “I have to go. There’s no food in this house.”
“Maybe I’ll call the movers and they can bring you some. Call me if you need anything, okay? Promise.”
Sid promises and hangs up.
The temperature in the room has dropped considerably and there are goosebumps on his arms. The sweater gets left on the bed and the window stays open.
Halfway down the hall he hears the window slam shut and shakes his head. One more thing he’ll need to get fixed.
He double checks the thermostat on his way out, still set at sixty eight, and locks the door behind him.
There’s a small grocery store just down the block.
He fills a basket with the essentials, eggs, bread, milk, peanut butter, jelly, and coffee. He’ll buy more later. Right now all he wants is food and to go to bed.
The front door sticks again and the thermostat is turned back up to seventy eight.
He sighs and juggles the grocery bag into one arm so he can turn it back.
He takes his sandwich into the living room and makes a note to get a hold of the cable company so they can hook the TV up.
For now he eats and thumbs through the local newspaper he picked up at the store.
He’s reading an article about the Penguins and how they’re struggling with injuries even though the season has just started when there’s a noise from upstairs.
He freezes and listens.
There’s another sound, like a footstep followed by two more.
His heart slams in his chest and he jumps when a gust of wind rattles the windows.
“Stupid,” he says so himself. It’s an old house. It’s going to move and settle and make noises. It’s just the wind. It’s just an old house.
He’s all alone here.
He takes the last bite of his sandwich and stands, hitting his shin on the coffee table on the way up.
His sweater is folded on the bed and he can’t seem to move himself from the doorway or stop staring at it.
He can’t remember folding it but it seems like something he would do.
It’s been a long day and he’s so tired and he’s confident that this is his mind playing tricks on him.
He pushes himself through the door and grabs the sweater off the bed, dumps it in the hamper and heads for the bathroom.
The water pressure is surprisingly good and he stands beneath the hot spray in the shower for a long time letting the heat loosen up the knots at the top of his spine.
He changes into sweatpants and a long sleeved shirt and opens the window a crack before he gets into bed.
He wakes up at 2:13 drenched with sweat.
It’s pooling at the small of his back and the fabric of his shirt is heavy with it as he pulls it over his head and drops it on the floor.
It takes him a moment to untangle his legs from the sweat soaked sheets and he shoves a hand with his damp hair as he finally stumbles to his feet.
The window slid shut at some point during the night and when he opens it he leans on the frame and lets the cool air dry his skin.
He lies down on the other side of the bed and is just drifting off when he hears the window slowly slide down.
He groans and gets up to open it and barely gets back to bed before it slams shut again.
This time he goes down the hall to the spare room to grab a book to prop it open. He taps the spine of Ask Not against his palm as he walks back down the hall.
“Only thing you’re good for,” he mumbles as he wedges the book between the window and the windowsill.
He gets one knee up on the bed before the book hits the floor and the window shuts.
“Dammit,” he swears and props the window open once more. He’s barely a step away from it when the book flies out and lands at his feet.
He bends down to pick it up but it’s ice cold just like the the doorknob earlier and he leaves it where it is.
“Fine. Whatever,” he snaps, too tired and cranky to be anything other than whiny. Quarter past two in the morning is not the time to be rationalizing anything. “Stay closed, I don’t care. I’ll just roast in this dumb house.”
He lies on top of the covers and flips the pillow back and forth trying desperately to find a cool side.
He tosses and turns until he finally finds a semi comfortable position on his stomach with his arms stretched beneath the pillow.
It’s still much too hot and he can begin to feel sweat beading at his forehead.
He’s about to flip back over when his back goes cold.
Not freezing. Not like the the book or the knob. It’s like someone came in from being outside for just a few minutes and are pressing their bare hands to his back but there’s no pressure. Just the sensation.
It’s a draft, he thinks. It’s an old house that creaks and settles and has drafts.
It’ll be a problem when he gets the heater fixed but for now he welcomes it.
There’s nothing else for him to do.
In the morning his skin is still cool and Ask Not is back on the shelf in the office.
The scent of hot metal lingers in the air.
There are footsteps running up his basement stairs and Sid holds the tea bag halfway out of the water as he turns towards the door.
The HVAC technician trips on the top stair then laughs to himself when he sees Sid standing there.
“Yeah. Everything’s fine.” He huffs out a nervous laugh as he looks back down the stairs. “Basements a little….strange.” He closes the door securely behind him.
Sid doesn’t ask him to explain.
The cable guy had said the same thing. He said felt like there was someone down there with him- was sure of it- no matter how many times Sid assured him he was the only one living there.
Basements are inherently creepy and he wouldn’t give the way the men are acting much thought if it wasn’t for his mug waiting for him on the kitchen counter every morning for the past three days.
“Does everything look okay?”
“Yeah. Everything looks great. I’m kind of surprised considering how old the house is.”
“So you don’t know why the heat gets so messed up?”
He shakes his head. “I can put in a new thermostat for you if you’d like but I’m not sure what it would do. Just a waste of money to be honest.”
Sid shakes his head. “Thanks for coming out to check.”
“No problem.” He looks back to the closed basement door. “Sorry I couldn’t be more of a help.”
Sid shrugs off his apology. The distraction from all the writing he’s not doing.
It’s not for lack of effort.
He sat in his office for a full hour looking out the window at the rain while the cursor blinked at him.
He blamed the room and spent the next forty five minutes at the kitchen table staring out that window and into the back yard and the black cat that was staring at a squirrel up a tree.
Every sentence he types is the worst sentence he’s ever typed and he deletes it before he can even stick a punctuation mark at the end of it.
When the repairman showed up he was laying down on his bed with his feet against the headboard tapping a pencil against a pad of paper trying desperately to come up with an idea.
“If you need anything else just give me a call.”
Sid puts his mug down to shake his hand and see him to the door.
The most comfortable position on the couch is with his back pressed into the corner with one leg stretched out on the cushions and the other resting on the coffee table.
He’s just settled in and has his fingers poised over the keyboard when he hears three distinct footsteps coming from upstairs.
He ignores it and a few seconds later hears three more, quicker this time, and followed by the sound of a door shutting.
There’s someone in his house.
While he was in the kitchen waiting for the service guy to come up from the basement someone snuck in to rob him. Maybe they were in on it together and the second guy didn’t have a chance to sneak out and now he’s stuck up there because the windows don’t stay open long enough for anyone to get themselves out.
Sid’s heart is in his throat as he listens.
Two more footsteps just barely there.
“Fuck,” he says as he closes his laptop and grabs his phone off the coffee table. He knocks his shin against it on his way up. He’s been living here for almost two weeks and hasn’t learned to avoid it.
There’s an umbrella in the hallway that he wishes were a bat or a hockey stick or something with a little more heft behind it but it’ll have to do.
The stairs creak as he climbs them and he winces at each sound until he’s standing on the top landing looking like an idiot holding the umbrella like a weapon in one hand and his phone in the other.
A bead of sweat drips down his back as he slowly takes his first step down the hall and peaks his head into his office.
It’s empty, window closed and locked.
So is the bathroom and linen closet.
He swings the umbrella over his shoulder as he checks behind the shower curtain and his whole body jerks when there’s a noise from his bedroom.
Not a footstep. A bump. Like someone hit the dresser and it rattled. Like they’re going through his drawers hoping to find something. He listens for more but the only thing he can hear is his heart pounding away in his ears.
“I know that you’re in there,” he says, voice not as strong as he would like it to be. He clears his throat before he continues. “There’s nothing for you to take because I don’t have anything here. I keep twenty dollars cash on me and that’s in my wallet which is downstairs. You can have it if you want it but you have to open the door.” He readies the umbrella to swing. “Just come out slowly.”
The door doesn’t open and Sid shakes his head, takes a deep breath and doesn’t give himself time for doubt before he swings the door open.
The room is empty and the dresser drawers are all closed.
His closet door is open, just the way he left it this morning and the window is locked from the inside.
The bed is perfectly made. Comforter pulled tight and wrinkle free with the pillows lined up perfectly to each other against the headboard.
It’s not how he left it this morning and he bumps into the door frame as he backs out of the room.
“Okay,” he says, as calm as his newly shot nerves can allow. “Okay. It’s fine.” He starts down the stairs as a normal pace but it picks up when he swears he hears footsteps behind him and a cold rush of air and smoke.
The bottom step definitely creaks the second after he steps off it.
He slides into the kitchen and grabs his wallet then into the living room.
He almost hits the coffee table but it scoots the other direction at the last second and the lights dim.
He shuffles around the table to grab his laptop then get his keys out of the bowl by the door and his coat off the hook.
His legs are still shaky with adrenaline when he reaches the bakery.
There’s a large wooden side out front that says Forrester's and a green and white striped awning over the door.
He’s passed it on his way to the grocery store but has never stepped inside until now.
It’s warm and the young man behind the counter is restocking the display with loaves of bread. Sid can see steam curling off of them. The rest of the display is filled with cupcakes and cookies and pastries. It all looks so good that he doesn’t notice the kid trying to get his attention until he taps his hands on the counter.
“Can I get you something?”
“I…” He might still be hopped up on adrenaline. “Is it okay if I just sit and write?” He holds his laptop away from his side and the man, a kid really, probably still a teenager for a few more years, shrugs a shoulder.
“Are you going to buy something?” A woman emerges through the double doors that lead to the kitchen. She’s tall and slim and her greying hair is the only thing that gives away her age. Her name tag reads Elizabeth. She narrows her eyes. “You’re new in town, aren’t you?”
“I just moved a couple of weeks ago.
The kid pops up to look at him over the counter. “The blue townhouse? A few doors down.”
He snorts. “Good luck with that.”
Elizabeth slaps her hand against his shoulder and sharply says “why don’t you get back there and get the rugelach out? Make yourself useful.”
He’s through the door before she turns back to Sid with an easy smile on her face. “You’ll have to forgive my grandson. Talks out of turn. Now, anything look good to you?”
“It’s fine.” He looks down at the display case and points to the cake at bottom. “Red velvet please. And a large coffee.”
He sits at a table by the window.
He can see his house from this angle and watches it while he eats his cake and tries to write.
The cake is delicious, rich and not too sweet and the writing takes a back seat to googling various shades of I think my house is haunted and what to do if I'm living in a haunted.
“How's the cake?”
Sid jumps. His fork clatters against the empty plate and he covers it with his hand.
“Sorry,” he says giving Elizabeth and apologetic smile. “Got a little caught up.”
“It's alright. Seems like you enjoyed yourself. Everything is baked right here so I'm flattered.”
“It was really great. Maybe I'll take some home with me.”
She eyes him critically. “You sure you’re alright?”
“I'm fine. Sorry.” He shakes his head. “Tired I think.”
“Well can I get you another coffee?”
“I think I'm good.”
“Okay, well…yell if you need something.”
She's a few steps away when Sid says “wait,” and she turns around.
“Yeah. When he said good luck, what did he mean by that?”
“You’re not still thinking about that, are you?”
She waves a hand. “He didn’t mean nothing by it. It’s just that people usually don’t tend to stay in that house for very long. There have been dozens of people in and out ever since I was a kid.”
“You grew up around here?”
She points to the ceiling then holds her hand out. “Elizabeth Forrester. Lived right upstairs. My mother used to own this place. I took it over when she passed.”
Sid shakes her hand and introduces himself.
“Everything going okay with the house?”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” he lies because he’s not about how crazy he’s going to a stranger. “The heat is a little messed up but besides that it’s fine. Just going a little stir crazy. Needed to get out.”
“Suppose that’s understandable.”
He gives her a tight smile and it's on the tip of his tongue to tell her everything. Just get it off his chest.
His phone rings instead and Tanger’s name flashes across the screen.
He grabs his coat off the back of his chair and picks up the phone.
“I should take this.”
She nods. “I’ll keep an eye on your things for you.”
He has one arm through the sleeve of his coat when he answers..
“Hey, did I catch you at a bad time? Took you awhile to answer.”
“No, it’s fine, I was just…” reading about seances, “getting something to eat.”
“I won’t keep you long then.”
“It’s fine, really.” He sits down on the bench in front of the shop. It’s unprotected by the awning and water seeps through his jeans.
“I was just checking in. How’s it going?”
I think my house is haunted.
“I think I have mice,” he says instead. Almost everything he’s read has cautioned people to rule out the rational explanations first. “Or bats.”
But he knows that mice and bats don’t make the bed for him or fold his sweaters for him or make the temperature swing from too hot to too cold.
“And maybe a carbon monoxide leak.”
“Okay well, one of those is a lot more serious than the others.”
“I'm taking care of it. I'll set traps.”
“I'll buy a new CO detector and then I'll set traps.”
“Go buy one now and sleep with the windows open tonight just to be sure.”
Sid laughs. If only.
“I’m serious. This is serious. You’re in an old house, who knows what’s going on with it.”
That only makes him laugh harder.
“I’m fine,” he says faintly, “everything’s fine.”
“Okay,” Tanger says. He doesn’t sound like he believes him. “I don’t want to bug you or anything but I was just wondering-.”
“How the writing is going? It’s going.”
Word is one of the tabs open on his laptop right next to the one that promises to teach him how to smudge his house in five easy steps.
“That’s great! You want to talk about it.”
“Alright, fine. Trust the system or whatever…..you sure you’re okay?”
He huffs. “Yes, god, why does no one believe me when I say that I’m okay.”
“Because you don’t sound okay.”
“I’m fine. I promise. Just having a couple of issues with the house. I’ll figure it out.”
“Keep me updated. Maybe you should get a cat.”
“I don’t want a cat.”
“It’ll take care of the mice.”
“I don’t want a cat,” he repeats.
“So stubborn. Call me if you need anything.”
“Always,” he says before he ends the call.
He turns the phone over in his hand and looks down the street at his house.
One of the curtains in the second floor window moves and he sighs.
He drinks one more cup of coffee and Elizabeth sends him home with another slice of red velvet, waving off his attempt to pay as she tapes up the box.
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” she says, “hope to see you back.”
“I’m sure you will,” he says as he takes the box. He lingers in front of the counter and Elizabeth looks at him expectantly. “You didn’t happen to see a moving van parked in front of my place a few weeks ago did you?” “I think so. It was a Monday or a Tuesday. Monday, I think.”
“Yeah.” He got in on Tuesday. “Good. You didn’t notice if they came back? See the van again or maybe a smaller truck? Anyone going in or out?”
“Can’t say I did but it can get busy in the afternoons. I might have missed them. Why?”
He shakes his head. “Was just wondering.”
Sid buys three carbon monoxide detectors and after carefully reading the instructions sets them up in the hallway outside his room, in the living room, and the basement.
The basement is still the most unsettling room in the house. Cold enough to see his breath but he doesn’t feel like the temperature is to blame for the constant sensation of someone standing right behind him.
He sets mousetraps next. He scatters them around the house then hauls himself into the attic crawlspace.
It’s a tight fit but after a few minutes of wiggling his hips he finally pulls all the way through.
It’s hot and stuffy and when he turns off his flashlight it’s pitch black.
There’s no daylight coming in from anywhere and when he shines his light along the pitch of the roof he doesn’t see any signs of any kind of animal.
Still, he sets a few traps and slides them across the floor.
He doesn’t catch anything in the traps and the carbon monoxide detector never goes off but the footsteps continue on.
“This is my life now,” he says with a sigh and he lies on the couch and listens to footsteps walk up and down the stairs.
It's thundering and lightning as Sid strips the wallpaper in the kitchen.
If he’s going to live in this house he cannot stare at this tacky paper a moment longer.
He has his headphones in listening to an audiobook while he works because for the last hour and a half there’s been a thumping coming from the hallway leading to the front door that he’s determined to ignore.
It’s not the wind or a tree tapping against the outside of the house. There’s something inside of his house, something he can’t see, making this noise.
Right now he doesn’t have time for it.
The wallpaper is coming off in little bits and pieces and with the storm he’s not sure how much longer the powers going to stay on. He wants to get this done.
There are a few more insistent thumps and Sid turns the volume up.
The next one is enough to shake the house and the putty knife he’s holding falls to the floor.
“What the fuck is it,” he snaps, too angry to feel embarrassed about talking to himself. “Can I do this one thing?”
The only sound is a roll of thunder and the rain pelting the roof and then there’s a knock on the front door. It’s softer than the rest but he can see the knob start to turn.
He rolls his eyes and starts down the hall, mumbling empty threats about buying sage as he goes.
There’s no one standing outside when he flips on the porch light but he opens the door anyways.
The cat that has been hanging around his backyard is soaking wet and pathetic and crying up at him.
The door is only open a crack but the cat squeezes in and runs down the hall.
“Seriously,” Sid says to the house. “This was about a cat? I don’t want a cat.”
The muddy pawprints disappear beneath the couch and he crouches down to look.
Golden eyes standing out against dark fur are the only things that he can see and when he sticks his arm beneath the couch to try to grab it the cat hisses and presses it’s body against the baseboard.
Outside there’s a deafening clap of thunder and he pushes himself to his knees.
“Fine. You can stay until the storm passes but then you’re out. I don’t want a cat,” he repeats and the coffee table gets shoved into his hip.
He pushes it back and stands up. “Don’t test me,” he warns.
The paper disappears behind the stove and Sid moves the kitchen table out of the way so he can slide it forward and get in there.
It’s brighter there and he can almost see who whoever put it up chose it but he’s quickly distracted by the thick layer of dust that’s managed to find it’s way beneath the stove.
There are other things mixed in; a yogurt lid, a dog treat, a couple of magnets, and an envelope.
He picks that up first.
It’s empty and yellowed with age and the return address is written in blocky letters but the address in the middle is in beautiful looping cursive.
There’s a loud crash of thunder followed immediately by a flash of lightning and the house goes dark.
He has the letter clutched in his hand as he walks to Forrester’s.
A google search for Evgeni Malkin came up empty. So did Evgeni Malkin+Russia, Evgeni Malkin+USSR, Evgeni Malkin+Soviet Union.
Elizabeth said that she grew up here, she knows the neighborhood and the people and this envelope could mean nothing- just a piece of garbage that got kicked beneath the stove- but it could also mean everything.
There’s a short line when he gets there and he impatiently taps his foot while the man in front of him has a hard time deciding between cherry or pumpkin pie.
He goes with pumpkin and Sid almost pushes him out of the way so he can step up to the counter.
“Sid, it’s been awhile. Was starting to think you were lying to me about liking the cake and you’d never come back. What can I get for you today?”
Sid puts the envelope on the counter. “Do you know who he is?”
Elizabeth sighs. “So you found out?”
“Found out what?”
She looks him right in the eye. “About the murder.”
Elizabeth slides a plate of peanut butter cup pie in front of him and he numbly reaches for a fork.
He must have gone pale because she had quickly ushered him into the back room and told Ethan to take care of the rest of the customers. “You feeling better?”
“I’m fine,” he says. “I just know that someone was murdered in my house.”
“Oh Sid, it was years ago. I was a little girl when it happened. He was such a nice man.” She touches the edge of the envelop. “So funny. He let me call him Geno because I couldn’t say his real name. He had a job down at the mill with my father and used to stop by here every night and pick up the bread we didn't sell for cheap. My mother would have a fit because he'd show up with my dad and they'd both stink of metal and smoke.”
Sid blanches but Elizabeth keeps going.
“He used to sneak me candy when my mom wasn't looking and I'd help him with his English. He learned quick. Tried to teach me Russian but nothing stuck.” She laughs softly then frowns. “He was only here for a little more than a year when he was killed.”
She shrugs. “He didn't show up to work and after a few days they came looking. They found him in his basement shot through the chest.”
“Who did it?”
“A man named John Welch. Took the police a bit to find him but they did. Didn’t even try to deny it.”
“Why did he do it?”
“It was 1953 and Geno was Russian. Some people, stupid people, thought he was a spy. John thought he was doing his patriotic duty.” She rolls her eyes. “Geno was a sweet kid thousands of miles away from his family for the first time. But he was alone and liked to ask questions….he just liked people. He was lonely. He had a cat,” she says fondly. “A little calico thing. Used to wait for him out on your front steps for him even after he died. Broke my heart. My mother let me feed her.” She looks at Sid. “You shouldn't let this bother you, Sid. It was years ago.”
“It's still a house. It's your house. What happened before….you can't control. What happens now you can.”
He must look as shaken as he feels because she reaches over and covers his hand.
“Are you sure everything is alright in that house?”
He gives her a tight lipped smile.
The cat is on the steps when he gets back to the house.
He had no problem getting out of the house once the storm ended but she's been sticking around. It's clear she doesn't have a home.
He sticks his hand out for her to sniff and she stands and stretches and waits to be let in.
Why worry about a cat when he already has a ghost?
She runs ahead of him and he shuts the door and leans back against it.
He's met with silence.
“I talked to Elizabeth Forrester. From the bakery. She said you let her call you Geno so….I hope that's okay I call you that too. She told me what happened to you….this is so stupid,” he finishes softly. “She told me what happened to you and I’m really sorry. It’s horrible. But she also told me you were really nice and friendly so I figure we can work something out. I’m not sure what you’re trying to do here. If you’re trying to scare me or not but-.” He pauses to watch the cat. She’s been sitting in the doorway to the kitchen staring up at nothing but now she tips her chin up like someone is scratching beneath it then stands and rubs her body up against an invisible leg. “I’m not leaving. I came here so I could start writing again and I really need to start writing again and it’s hard to do that when I’m constantly looking over my shoulder or running upstairs to make sure no one has broken in or turning the thermostat back because no one can live at 78 degrees.” He winces. “No offense. Maybe you can keep it down while I’m here and when I’m gone the house is yours. We can make a schedule.”
There’s no response and the cat is sitting down and back to looking at him with a mix of boredom and annoyance.
“Okay,” Sid says. “I’m going into the kitchen now to find something to feed the cat because you’ve apparently decided that I need to have a cat.”
It’s cooler down the end of the hallway and he quickly steps through it and into the kitchen. The cat follows after and jumps on the counter while he takes leftover roast chicken out of the fridge.
He puts some on a plate for her and lightly pats her head.
When he turns away there’s a man standing in the hallway.
He’s wearing dark pants and a charcoal grey sweater vest over a white dress shirt. It all looks a bit too big on him, hanging off slim hips and narrow shoulders.
He’s young and tall and floating six inches off the ground and when he raises his hand to wave Sid yells and the cat takes off running. Sid dives for the back door but there’s a weight on it and he can’t get it to open.
“No,” a voice says, deep and low and thickly accented, “you said you wouldn’t leave. Please don’t leave, everyone leaves.”
Sid darts down the hall to the front door but he can’t get that one open either.
Everything is cold and smells of smoke and Sid collapses with his back against the door and his knees against his chest. He jams the heel of his hands into his eyes.
“Is okay, don’t need to be scared.”
Sid shivers, his whole body rolling with it.
“Sorry, I’m so sorry.” There’s a few footsteps and Sid warms up but the hair on his arms stays standing on end. “Always cold. Sometimes don’t think. Can look, it’s okay. Won’t hurt. Never meant to scare. You come home and say you know I’m here I think maybe it’s okay to show you. Didn’t mean to scare,” he repeats.
“I’m crazy,” Sid says, voice muffled by his knees. “This isn’t real. I’m going crazy.”
“Is real. Not crazy.”
“I liked it better when I thought I was going crazy.” He slowly pulls his hands away and the guy, the ghost, Geno, is still floating there. Sid slaps his hands over his eyes.
“Maybe we talk,” Geno suggests quietly. “I wait in living room. You come when you’re ready?” There’s a beat of silence and then “can leave if you want. Won’t make you stay.”
Sid takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out.
He counts to ten then to fifty then to one hundred in an effort to focus on something other than his racing heart.
He knew that this was going to happen, that everything that was happening in this house couldn’t add up to anything other than paranormal.
But seeing it in front of him is something he couldn’t prepare for.
When he finally gets his eyes open the hall is empty and the cat is back on the counter. She looks over at him when he gets to his feet and then goes back to eating.
Sid stands outside of the living room for a long moment before he says “okay,” just loud enough to be heard, and steps in.
Geno is hovering by the window with his back to the room. When he turns Sid jumps and Geno puts his hands out.
“Sorry. Keep scaring you. Probably didn't make best first impression.” He puts a hand over his chest. “Evgeni. Can call me Geno. Welcome to my house.”
Sid can’t stop staring at his feet and where they don’t touch the ground. “Could you maybe….not float like that right now?”
“Oh. Sorry.” He lowers his feet to the floor. “Can be a lot. You say you talk to Elizabeth? She all grown now. Must be almost seventy. Such a cute little girl. She still runs that bakery? Best bread.You try bread yet?”
Geno sticks his tongue between his teeth. “All you bring back is sweets.”
“I haven’t been going there very long.”
“Should try bread.”
“Can we just…” He tiptoes into the room and takes a seat on the armchair. “I need a second. I still can’t believe this is happening.”
“I could be hallucinating.”
“No. Put in those new detectors. Very smart. Not everyone does that. Just take off running.”
“You’ve scared a lot of people off?” Geno looks devastated. “Don’t mean to. I try to be nice, try to help. Most people leave before I can explain.”
“So you’ve never showed yourself to anyone?”
“One time in the 70’s. I think the guy went crazy. Runs out and never comes back. His stuff sat here for years. Finally someone came to take it away.”
“But how? Why?” He stutters. “How are you here?”
“Don't know. One second I was in the basement trying to find the breaker box because the power went out and the next I was looking at myself on the floor. Was…..scary but at least I didn’t hurt anymore.”
“Was long time ago. Had time to accept it. Okay to be scared, but don’t need to be.”
“You’ve said that before.”
“You look scared.”
“I’m staring at a ghost.”
“Yes. But not scary. You think I look scary?”
Sid shakes his head because he doesn’t. He looks like someone he would pass on the street or smile at over a cup of coffee at Forrester’s.
“So it’s been you then? All the footsteps and the mug every morning and making my bed?”
“Just trying to be helpful.”
Sid hums. “And the heat?” “It’s always so cold,” he says, “don’t like the cold. I put all the furniture in the right rooms, didn’t I? Can move if you don’t like.”
“That was you?”
Geno nods. “Movers just leave everything in big pile. Obvious what goes where. Took a lot of energy but I did it.”
He looks so proud of himself and smile, wide and pleased.
It’s like living with a roommate.
If he ignores the fact that Geno floats above the hardwood floor and can walk right through walls it’s almost exactly like being back in grad school and renting a small apartment with with three other guys.
The house had been empty for so long that all Geno wants to do is talk and Sid is happy to listen.
Geno names the cat Rose because he used to plant roses beneath the windows in the front of the house and he learns about where he was born and about his parents and how much his mother cried when he left for America.
“Was better for me. Wanted me to have a better life. This was best way. Never see them again,” he says softly. “Was supposed to go to school, get job, save money, and send for them. Never even made it to school.”
“Elizabeth said you wanted to be a teacher,” Sid says. His foot is falling asleep where it’s tucked beneath him on the couch but he doesn’t want to get up yet. “What kind?”
“I don’t know. Thought I would have more time to decide but….” he trails off with a sigh. “Like kids. Maybe teach small kids.”
“You would have been good at that.”
Rose sniffs at Geno’s hand then butts her head against it. Sid had read that animals perceive spirits differently than humans do. For some reason Geno can touch her and she can feel it.
Yesterday Geno was following him around the house and complaining about the outfit that he was wearing when he was killed, ill fitting and picked up from the thrift store and how he couldn’t have picked worse clothes to die in.
It was supposed to be funny but it took Sid off guard and he stopped suddenly.
Geno walked right through him. A rush of cold air that left him breathless and left Geno apologizing profusely.
Rose puts one paw on his leg and then another and curls into his lap.
He grins at Sid. “Been awhile since anyone have a pet.”
Sid smiles back. He wishes he had brought her in sooner.
Sid gives him the rundown on sports and politics and what he knows about pop culture, even if the latter is severely limited.
“So Jay-Z just cheat on Beyoncé?”
“I know,” Sid says as he runs the putty knife beneath the wall paper. “I don’t get it either.” A corner of the paper pops up and he tries to rip it away. Only an inch of it tears off.
“Did you put this on? What kind of glue did you use?”
Geno shrugs and flicks through the paint samples on the table.
Sid’s transfixed by his hands, the way his fingers pass over the samples, never touching but moving them nonetheless.
“What color you going to pick?”
“I haven’t decided yet. You couldn’t make this easier on me could you? You don’t have some….power or something?”
Geno stares at him over an almost aloe sample. “Ghost. Not magic.”
It’s not the first stupid thing Sid has asked.
He had awkwardly asked him if he wanted him to fix a plate of dinner for him a few nights ago, not knowing if he could eat or not.
Geno had laughed and shook his head. He can’t eat or drink and Sid felt like an idiot for even thinking it but it didn’t stop him from asking if he could smell things.
“Yes,” he had said. “Dinner smells good. Wool coat when you come in from the rain is bad.” He stepped close. “Shampoo smells good.”
He had felt his face go hot despite the wall of cold air standing beside him.
“Don’t know what shade?”
Sid shakes himself from the memory. “I was thinking yellow.”
“Boring,” Geno says but he shuffles to the yellows anyways. “This one’s called flirtatious.”
Sid doesn’t even look. “Not that one.”
“Fuzzy Navel. Fuzzy Navel is good.”
Sid yanks another piece of paper down. He’s yet to convince Geno that the house doesn’t need to be this warm and there’s sweat dripping down his back. He’s testy and that’s why he says “you know for a dead guy you certainly have a lot of opinions.”
Geno sets the paint chips down and stares at his hands. They're blurry at the edges.
“I didn't mean it like that. This was your house first.”
“Your house now.”
“It's your house too,” Sid says, “pick a color. I don't know what I'm doing anyways.”
Geno rolls his eyes. “Obviously. You think yellow is a good color for a kitchen.”
“What do you know, you're the one that picked this awful wallpaper.”
Geno smiles wide. “Nothing wrong with wallpaper.”
“It's got a peacock on it.”
Geno shrugs and picks through the greens. “Like birds.”
Geno's quiet for the rest of the day and when Sid tells him he's heading out for a bit the next morning Geno only nods his head and walks through the living room wall to the kitchen.
Elizabeth smiles when the bell rings above the door at Forrester’s.
“Haven't seen you in a bit. Was thinking you forgot about us.”
“I've been busy.”
“Writing must be going well then.”
He gives her a fake smile and orders two loaves of fresh bread.
He doesn't see Geno when he comes in but Rose is sitting on the couch purring so he has an idea about where he is.
He doesn't say anything, just continues on to the kitchen and slides the bread out of the bags.
“Elizabeth told me that you used to buy the loaves at the end of the day. These are freshly baked and I know that you can't eat them but you said something about the smell and I just-.”
Geno appears beside him and laughs when Sid flinches.
“So jumpy,” he teases then closes his eyes when Sid tears the bread open.
“I'm sorry for yesterday,” Sid says.
“Didn't do anything wrong.”
“What I said-.”
“It was joke.”
“It wasn’t funny. This is your house as much as it is mine. Probably even more so. I’m sorry.”
Geno nods and tips his chin towards the fridge. “Okay, now go get butter and eat bread before it cools off. Best when it’s warm.”
Sid eats almost half the loaf before he pushes it away from towards the center of the table.
Sid nods. “Too good. I’m going to need to start working out if all I eat is food from the bakery.”
“Important to enjoy yourself,” Geno says. “Only have so much time. Don’t waste it doing things you don’t want to do.”
Sid cuts himself off another slice and Geno smiles when he sinks his teeth in.
Sid saves a piece of the wallpaper and frames it.
Geno helps him make sure it’s level when he hangs it in the kitchen behind the stove.
On the morning of Halloween Sid realizes that Geno his best friend.
He lies in bed and laughs at himself for not only befriending a ghost but for letting him get this close.
There’s a thump from the hallway. “What’s so funny?”
“It’s nothing,” Sid sighs as Geno walks through the closed door.
“Laugh at nothing this early in the morning, you feel okay?”
“I’m fine,” Sid says as he stretches his arms over his head and catches Geno watching him with a look on his face that Sid would be tempted to call interest.
He’s taken to sleeping shirtless to combat the heat because he and Geno cannot come up with a compromise about the temperature and right now Geno is looking at his collarbone.
It’s been a long time since someone has looked at him like this. Even longer since he looked back.
That’s what he’s doing now.
Now that the shock has worn off and he knows Geno is so much more than just a few bumps in the night he can really look at him.
He knows that if he were to get up right now and try to touch him, press his hand to his chest to feel his heart or his palm to his cheek to catch the hint of stubble that was always there he wouldn’t be able to but he seems so solid.
The want for things to be different is overwhelming.
Geno’s holding a book in his hand, his thumb between the pages and the rest of his fingers splayed over the cover and Sid’s too busy studying the thickness of them to recognize the cover but when he does he throws himself towards the end of the bed quick enough to make Geno take a surprised step back.
He’s been reading Ask Not.
“Why are you reading that?” He takes a swipe at the book but Geno holds it higher.
“What? Is good book. Almost done.”
Sid laughs bitterly. “It is not good.”
“What are you talking about? Is great, maybe not as good as the other stuff he’s written but it’s good.”
“You’ve read all of them?”
“Yes. Have to do something while you’re sleeping. You know if he has anymore books? Maybe you could get them for me.”
He finally grabs the book and tosses it back towards the bed.
“There aren’t anymore because I haven’t written any yet.”
Geno’s face scrunches up. “What you mean?”
“I mean I wrote those. All of those.”
Geno stares down at the book. “This says written by Tim Roye.”
“I use a pseudonym.” He sits down on the bed. “I like my privacy.”
“You really write all those? When No One Is Watching, Last Words, Right Of The People? You wrote all those?”
“Sid, you’re amazing.”
“I'm not. I'm terrible. This book,” he holds it up, “is awful. Everyone hated it. I hate it. No one bought it. Moment of Triumph wasn't much better.”
“I loved that.”
“No one else did. They didn’t sell and if you don't sell books your publisher drops you. You don't get a lot of second chances and I'm already on my third. If I can't write something good and soon I'm done.”
“You will. So good, Sid. So much talent. When No One Is Watching…..so good. Was my favorite. Anyone would be stupid to drop you. You'll get there.”
“I've been here for a month and I haven't written anything. Not a single word. I don’t even have an idea.”
“Sometimes things take time.”
“Publishers don't have time. There are tons of other authors that they can work with that will make them money.”
“Would have bought a ton of copies if I could have.” He smiles and sits down beside him. The bed doesn't dip beneath his weight and Sid has to hold back a shiver at the temperature change. “Just need an idea.”
“Nothing sticks. My agent says I should write some romance-.”
“Yes,” Geno interrupts. “Everyone likes that.”
“I don’t know how to write about that.”
“Just write about real life,” Geno says like it’s so easy. “You been in love, right? Had to have been.”
The handful of random hook ups with guys he never spoke to again does not count.
“High school then. No high school sweetheart?”
“I took my spot on the school's paper very seriously and didn’t have time for much else.”
“I don’t believe this.”
“It’s true. I don’t think I’m the easiest person to love. I have my family but they have to put up with me. You should know first hand that I’m not easy to live with.”
“You’re great, Sid.”
“Yeah but you have to put up with me, too. It’s not like you can just leave.”
“I like living with you. Wouldn’t want to leave. You've been the best one that's lived here. Everyone else run away. You stayed. It's been a long time since I had a friend.” He laughs sadly. “Even when I was alive, not many friends here. Life not always easy. Know there were rumors about me. They think I have secrets for people back home. Avoid me. Don't ever take time to get to know me.” He gives Sid a sidelong glance. “You ever think that I was a spy?”
“No,” Sid says quickly and then, “you weren’t were you?”
Geno laughs. “No. Was a nobody. Wanted Pittsburgh to be my new home. Make friends, maybe play hockey. Didn’t work.”
“You never played here?”
“No. Not easy, not popular. Before city had a team and only a few guys played. They never invited me.”
“I would have if I was here. Who cares if you were a spy if have a good shot.”
“Not just spy. Think maybe...think maybe they know I like men.” He gives Sid a careful look, like he’s expecting the worse.
“I still would have asked you to play. Would have been nice to have something in common with someone.”
Geno gives him a grateful smile. “You're good, Sidney. Easy to love.”
“But that doesn't help me write about it.”
Geno rolls his eyes and falls back on the bed. “Will happen someday. Have to have patience. In the meantime maybe put your face on the back of the book like other authors do.”
“How would that help me?”
Geno props himself up on one elbow. “Good face. People will buy.”
“Should at least use your own name. Get credit for the good things you do.”
“I'll think about it.”
“You have to save some for the kids, Sid.”
He looks down at the half full bowl on his lap and the pile of wrappers on the table next to him.
“There's still plenty here,” he says as he swallows down a fun sized Snickers.
Geno frowns and turns to look back out the window.
“It's getting late anyways.”
“It's eight o’clock.”
“It's a school night.”
“You just want to eat candy.”
Sid shrugs and digs through the bowl for a package of M&Ms.
There’s a knock on the door and he drops the package on the chair when he stands up and ignores Geno when he says his name in a disapproving tone.
Rose is waiting by the front door so he scoops her up so she can't run out and spends the next five minutes holding her as a cowgirl, a dinosaur, and a ballerina pet her.
When she finally has enough she squirms out of his arms and runs back to the kitchen and the kids all set their sights on the candy bowl.
“Take one,” their chaperone says.
“Take lots,” Geno calls from the living room. “He's going to eat them all.”
The kids look so hopeful that Sid has no choice but to hold the bowl out and nod to them.
They take handfuls and leave with smiles on their faces and Sid shuts the porch light off as soon as they get to the sidewalk.
“That wasn’t funny,” Sid says but Geno is looking very pleased with himself when he turns away from the window.
“Next year we should do more. A haunted house. Scare the bigger kids.”
“Yeah. If I’m here next year, I mean.”
“What’s that mean?”
“I only signed the lease for a year. You know I’m not going to be here forever, don’t you?”
Geno snaps his head up to look at him. “You’re leaving me?”
“I’m not leaving you. It’s not you. I only came here to write my book and whenever that’s finished I’ll go back home.”
“You never finish book. Be here forever.”
“I will eventually,” Sid says defensively and then softly adds, “but even if I didn’t, if even if I lived here for the rest of my life that’s all that it would be. I won’t stay after. Not like you. Unless-.”
“No,” Geno says, voice fierce. “Don’t want this for you.”
“Do you want to be here forever?”
He gestures around the room. “Don’t mind this.” Not so bad here. I know this place. It’s familiar.” He looks down at his hands where they rest on his knees. His voice is soft. “Not so bad here with you.” He sits down on the couch and Sid moves to sit next to him. “But if you leave I’ll be all alone again. Always going to be alone.” “Do you ever think about what’s keeping you here,” he asks gently. “If we could figure out a way for you to move on would you do it?”
“Don’t know. It’s scary to think about it. What if wherever there is after this is worse?”
“But what if it’s not? What if it’s where your parents are?”
Geno squeezes his eyes shut and Sid wants to take it back. He didn’t have the right to bring them up.
“I miss them,” he says quietly.
“I bet they miss you too. I could help. We could figure this out.”
Geno has his hand down on the couch and Sid moves his to hover over it.
Geno looks up at him as Sid slowly lowers his hand.
It slips right through and hits the couch.
His hand feels like there’s a static charge running through from his wrist to the tips of his fingers.
“Could you feel that?”
Geno shakes his head. “No. Nothing.” He pulls his bottom lip between his teeth and raises his hand next to Sid’s face.
Geno closes his eyes and concentrates. The lamp next to the couch dims as Geno takes the energy from it.
Cool air rolls off of it in waves even before he moves to touch him. When he does it feels like ice. Sid’s breath catches in his throat.
“You feel that,” Geno asks, voice a whisper that he can barely hear over the hammering of his heart.
Sid shakes his head and his heart breaks at the look in Geno's eyes.
Geno pulls his hand back and stands. The light comes back to full strength.
“Stupid,” he snaps. “So stupid. Can pick up books and furniture and pet cat.” He gets louder as he goes and all of the lights in the house flick off and back on again. “My life gets taken from me, my whole future gone and I wait years and years for something good and I think I finally get it and I won’t be able to keep it.”
The bulb pops in the lamp and Sid yanks his arm away from the hot glass and Geno looks stunned into silence.
“Only thing I want to touch,” he says finally. “I can't.”
“Geno.” Sid reaches out towards him on instinct and Geno pulls away.
“Doesn’t matter, Sid. It’s late. Should go to sleep.”
“It’s only eight o’clock.”
Geno’s already begun to fade away when he says “it’s a school night.”
Sid cleans up the glass and makes sure Rose has fresh food and water before he puts himself to bed.
He wakes up shivering in the morning.
The thermostat is set to sixty eight, a temperature he’s not used to anymore so he clicks it back up.
“You don’t have to do that. I know you like it warm and I’ve acclimated to it.”
Geno doesn’t respond and the house stays quiet for the rest of the day.
Sid knows he’s still there. He still catches pockets of unusually cold air and the faintest whiff of smoke and Rose will jump up on the empty couch and purr loud enough for Sid to hear from the other side of the room.
Sid paints the kitchen fuzzy navel and Rose jumps into the paint try while he’s not looking and tracks tiny yellow paw prints down the hall.
“I think it looks okay,” Sid says as he picks up the rag he’s been using to clean up the paint. “You picked a good color. I was thinking about doing the living room, too. You can pick that one too. I’ll even let you decide the shade.”
A tree branch tapping against the living room window is the only thing that answers him and he sighs.
“Okay, good talk.”
Sid leaves the brushes in the sink and the paint chips out on the kitchen table.
He turns the thermostat back up before he goes to bed.
In the morning the brushes are clean and laid out neatly beside the sink and his coffee cup is down from the cabinet like it always is with the card for a shade of grey called Shining Armor sitting on top.
Geno has been unheard and unseen for two weeks when Sid gets drunk off a rum cake from Forrester’s and paints the living room.
Elizabeth has been fiddling with the recipe to get ready for the holidays and gave it to him to test free of charge.
“It’s strong,” she had said, pulling it back from his grasp momentarily, “don’t eat it all in one sitting and don’t be calling up people you wouldn’t normally be calling up if you do. I’m not responsible for what happens.”
He drapes drop cloths over the furniture and the floor before he breaks into the cake.
It’s rich and moist and despite Elizabeth’s warning stronger than he was expecting.
“Oh shit,” he says as he swallows the first bite down. The living room seems huge and the task of painting it daunting.
He laughs and goes back for another taste.
By the time there’s nothing but crumbs left in the box he’s on the very border between tipsy and drunk, the living room only has one wall painted, and not very well, and he is leaning against the sink trying to drink water directly from the faucet.
“That cake cannot be legal. Oh my god,” he laughs and water goes up his nose. He splutters and hears a footstep in the hall. “Did she ever make this for you? Or, I guess, did her mom ever make this for you? Were things more lax back then? She cannot sell this, what if a kid gets a hold of it? I can barely handle it. It would kill a kid.” He sticks his head back beneath the faucet. “I haven’t been drunk in a very long time. Not since college.”
Rose trills in the doorway and stands up on her hind legs.
“I know you’re standing right there,” he says. There’s a hard edge to his voice and Rose drops back down on all fours. “I don’t know what your problem is.”
He’s getting a headache so he closes his eyes and leans all the way into the sink. The bottom is starting to fill with water and it’s soaking into the sleeve of his shirt. “Don’t you miss talking to me? I miss talking to you.”
The water shuts off and when he opens his eyes Geno is standing next to him.
“Going to drown, Sid. Can’t save you.”
It's hard to stand up straight but Sid does his best. “Geno.”
“Can’t save you.”
“Should go to bed.”
“I want to touch you too.”
Geno stops and lets his head hang. “Drunk. You're drunk.”
“No. Not really.”
“Little bit. Don't know what you're talking about. Don't mean it.”
“I do. I’ve been waiting too. I’ve been waiting for something like this, for you, and now I don’t get to keep you.”
“You want me to move on. You said you would help me. You don’t want to keep me.”
“I want you to be happy. I wish things were different but they’re not and I’m trying to do the right thing.”
“You think you know what’s best for me?”
“It’s not being stuck here all alone. I don’t want you to have to have to go through that.”
Geno’s head hangs. “I know, I know you right but it’s hard. This is all I’ve known. Wish I met you sooner.”
“Sorry I didn’t suck at writing before now.”
Geno scoffs and shakes his head. “Should go to bed, Sid.”
“Yeah,” he says softly. “Come with me.”
Sid puts on a sweatshirt and socks and burrows beneath the blankets as Geno lies down on the comforter beside him.
“It’s weird,” Sid says as the buzz of the alcohol lowers his inhibitions enough to make him reach out and put his hand right through Geno’s chest. “I know there’s supposed to be something there and I think that if I really focus I can feel it but….you don’t feel anything?”
Geno shakes his head and brings his hand up to Sid’s blanket covered shoulder. He walks his fingers up the side of Sid’s neck to the side of his face leaving goosebumps in his wake.
“Like torture.” His voice is barely a whisper and it’s hard to hear above the rain that’s hitting the window. He drags his fingertips to Sid’s mouth and it’s like he’s holding an ice cube between his lips. “So close to something I love but can’t ever touch.”
Sid’s breath stutters in his chest.
“What did you want when you first came here? What did you really, really want to do that you didn’t get a chance to?”
“I think more than anything I just want to be happy.”
Geno's hand is resting on the bed between them and Sid holds his hand over it. If he really concentrates he can almost feel it beneath his palm.
“What can I do to make that happen?”
Rain is falling softly against the window pane and the light from the street lamps makes Geno’s face glow.
For the first time it looks like he’s alive when he smile and says “you’re doing it right now.”
Sid wakes up alone and can feel a shift in the energy of the house as soon as he opens his eyes.
It’s silent and still and we he goes downstairs the paint is still out in the living room just as he left it and his mug is still in the cupboard.
The rain has stopped and the sun is starting to break through the clouds.
It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day.
Sid takes a deep breath, long and slow, and starts to write.
“Crosby, writing under his real name for the first time, takes a giant step in the right direction with his newest work, Sillage. Known for historical thrillers, with varying degrees of success-.” Tanger stops and rolls his eyes and says “dick” under his breath before he clears his throat and continues reading. “Crosby weaves the tale of a Russian immigrant in the 1950’s and a lonely writer looking for inspiration,” he pauses and raises an eyebrow, “and tells a story of love and loss all wrapped around a supernatural twist. Skipping this book would be a disservice to yourself. Sidney,” Tanger says as he drops the paper onto his desk. “You did it. What the fuck did I tell you? Love, Sid. Love stories sell. And this one, holy shit. Rip my heart right out. Damn, no mercy.”
Sid picks at the arm of the plush office chair on the other side of his desk. “I’m glad people like it.”
“Like it? They love it. I haven’t read a bad review. I haven’t even read a lukewarm review. This is going to get you back into Oprah’s book club and then some. We have to get you on TV.”
“I know you don’t like giving interviews but that’s too bad. That face will help sell more copies.”
“I don’t really care about selling more.”
“What the fuck? Of course you do.”
“I’ve already outsold everything I’ve written before. Why do I need to sell more?”
“There’s gotta be some kind of record you can beat. You like that, right?”
He does, unfortunately, and Tanger smiles.
“I’ll put a list together and you can pick and chose. Also, I’ve already got Warner Bros. on the phone calling me about a movie deal. What do you think about that?”
Sid shrugs. Tanger is too excited to notice.
“I don’t know what happened to you in Pittsburgh but I hope you can recreate it. It was gold.”
“I was actually thinking about going back.”
“Already? Do you have a new idea or something?”
“No. No, nothing yet. I think I’m going to take a break for a bit. Regroup. Writing took a lot out of me this time.”
“Sure, sure, you deserve a break. If it were me I’d be off to some tropical island but Pittsburgh is nice too.”
“It grows on you. Am I done here?”
“Yeah, yeah, go on. Keep your phone on though, I am going to need the okay from you about the movie deal. Maybe I can work it into the contract that you have final say over the actors.”
“I’m not going to be any good at that.”
“I know but I would be. Have fun and hey-.”
Sid stops in the doorway.
“Who is G?”
“You don’t dedicate your book to no one.”
“Just someone I met in Pittsburgh. He helped me when I needed it.”
“Well, I hope you see him again. He’s magic, Sid.”
Geno is buried in a small cemetery on and outskirts of the city.
The headstone is leaning and neglected and after a few long phone conversations with the owners of the cemetery he talks them into letting him fix it.
The new headstone is marble and engraved with Geno's full name in cyrillic along with his parents names. Sid thinks he would have liked that.
He leaves roses against the stone and steps back with his hands in his pockets and talks to him.
“I think Rose misses you,” he says. “I let her out of the crate and the first thing she did was run from room to room just looking around. Then she looked back at me like, you're the only one here? That's shit. She always liked you more.” He takes a deep breath and rocks onto his heels. “I wrote a book about you. About us. Changed the names and the place but kept all the rest. I hope that's okay. I think it was too much to keep to myself. People needed to know about you and how important you were to me. This was the only way I could make them understand. I hope you're happy wherever you are. I hope it's warm for you.”
A breeze picks up suddenly, warm and lovely and carries the scent of the roses on it.
He smiles and turns away.
Sid has an iced coffee in one hand and a few books that he’s checked out of the library in the other when he sees him.
He’s standing on the street in front of a florist and chatting with the owner over a bunch of daisies.
He’s tall and slim with broader shoulders than he used to have and he’s wearing clothes that fit.
Jeans that hug his long legs and a white t-shirt that shows off tan skin. He’s spent plenty of time outdoors in the sun.
He laughs at something the florist says, tipping his head back and Sid takes an unsteady step forward.
It gets his attention and when he turns his head there’s a look on interest on his face but not recognition.
Sid’s heart sinks.
“We know each other,” he asks. He nods at the florist and picks a daisy from the display. “Face like yours, think I would remember you. Could never forget.”
“No, we don't know each other. You just look like someone I used to know.”
“He have my name too? All the best looking guys do.”
“Your name is really Geno?”
“Evgeni,” he says. “Geno easier for people.” He rolls his eyes. “Name not hard to say but you know. People. You have name?”
“Sid. Sidney.” He juggles the coffee and the books into one hand and Geno watches him, amusement clear on his face and bottom lip tugged between his teeth. “I’m Sidney.”
Geno’s hand is warm and soft against his own. He doesn’t let it go right away, just holds it tighter and looks into his eyes.
“You sure we haven’t met before?”
Sid shakes his head and pulls his hand back. “No. We don’t know each other.”
Geno holds the flower out to him and tips his head to the side. “Would like to get to know each other?”
The front door sticks when Sid puts the key in the lock and he throws Geno an apologetic look over his shoulder as he leans against it to pop it open.
The house is bright and airy and when Geno steps in behind him it finally feels like a home again.
Geno lets his fingertips glide against the wall as he follows him through the house. He pauses at the living room and looks around.
Geno shakes his head. “Fine.” He smiles. “Like the color.”
Rose comes tearing down the stairs crying the whole time and stops at his feet.
Geno looks delighted and picks her up, tucking her into the crook of his arm and scratching at the top of her head.
She purrs and presses into the touch.
“Love cats,” he says with a big smile. “Always love animals.”
“It looks like she likes you.”
Geno scoffs, “of course she does.” he says and Sid rolls his eyes.
“Do you want something to drink? I have tea. Black, peppermint, earl grey. whatever you like.”
He turns to look back towards living room but Geno is standing right there. Rose is back on the ground and Geno is looking at the framed piece of wallpaper. He straightens the frame with his fingertip.
When he looks at Sid it’s like he’s the only thing in the whole world.
“Don't know you,” he says as he reaches out to touch the side of Sid’s face. The curve of his cheek fits perfectly into his palm. “Why does it feel like I know you?”
“It’s just deja vu.”
“No,” Geno says softly. “Something more.” He cradles Sid’s face in both of his hands then says “bedroom upstairs, yes?”
Geno's lips on his skin is one of the hottest things he's ever felt second only to Geno's body pressing his own into the mattress in his bedroom.
The headboard knocks against the wall and echos through the house and Geno has his lips on his neck and his hands beneath his shirt.
Sid laughs when his fingertips trace across his ribs.
“Tickle,” Geno asks. His breath is hot on his skin.
“Feels good,” he answers. “Feels….” he trails off. He can feel this.
Geno kisses him, long and slow and Sid holds onto him.
He presses his face against Geno's neck and breathes in warm skin and sweat and the faintest hint of smoke.