At last the moving van pulled away with a series loud groans. Jaime collapsed into the new Hitchcock rocker the movers had left conveniently in the center of the high-ceilinged living room and set her coffee mug down with a resolute thump on a nearby occasional table. Jaime smiled at her husband, Evan, who sat on the sofa and wiped the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief. "Well, we're moved in. I'm glad this part of it is over."
"And I so appreciate all your hard work."
It really is a beautiful house. Jaime gazed around the room. She'd had it wallpapered in a pale yellow print, "morning sunshine," and it did indeed reflect the shy morning light that peeked through the tall, elegant windows.
"Well, here we are." Jaime stretched her arms, trying to relieve her aching muscles. "Mill Pond, Massachusetts, middle of nowhere."
Evan stuffed the handkerchief back into his jeans pocket. "Look, Jaime." His voice oozed patience. "I know you didn't want to leave Atlanta, I know you gave up a promising career, and I admit this was a selfish move on my part, and I want you to know that I realize--I owe you, kid. We'll make it work, I promise."
"I just hope this is worth it for your sake I was about to be promoted to sportswear buyer for all three stores. Where am I going to find a job in fashion in these parts?"
"Too far to commute."
She snorted. "There's no store there that begins to compare with Jordan's. I don't want to start all over again, any more than you would want to."
He sighed and stood up "I can make such a difference here. I never would have made super in Atlanta, as you well know. In spite of getting my doctorate and teaching part time at Emory, it's so political there that I never would have been more than head of the English department."
She nodded. "I know, Evan, but--"
"I'll have three districts here, Mill Pond, Sandville, and Westlake. I feel called to do this. They need me here to bring them all together into one modern school system. I have the vision to do it."
"Called, like a clergyman?"
He ignored that but added, "and it will be a much better place for the boys to grow up. Small town atmosphere, running in and out of each other's houses without having to take a bus somewhere, ice-skating on that little pond down by the mill--"
"Snow, ugh. Ice, yuk. I'm a southern girl, Evan. I don't know why I ever agreed to this." She looked around at her living room. "It is a beautiful house, though," she admitted with obvious reluctance. "Much nicer that we could ever have afforded in Atlanta."
"Come on, Jaime, I know you'll grow to love it here. You're a strong woman who's adapted to other difficult circumstances in your life." He stood up. "I have to shower and change. I have a meeting with the three principals in half an hour."
Jaime puttered around, putting things away as she heard Evan's deliberate movements upstairs, the water running, then his footsteps coming back down the stairs.
"Come on, walk out with me," he coaxed, taking her arm.
Reluctantly, she got up and went outside with him.
"It feels like home, doesn't it, Jaime?" he asked as they stood on the sidewalk, holding hands, gazing at the intricate Victorian facade of their newly purchased house.
She nodded and ran her hand over the old-fashioned mailbox, which she had already painted with the name. It did have a home-like feel to it-- The small town with its one main street lined with necessary shops; the Mom and Pop grocery; the hardware store; the drug store, not a chain, but locally owned still; the local beauty shop, Main Street Manes; and the rest. And here was their beautiful new house, a true jewel among other Victorian gems lining Oak Street.
"It'll be a good place for Jack and Josh to grow up," Evan said. He grinned at her and placed a hand on her belly. "As well as for whoever is coming along next."
"Well, there's nobody living in there yet." She laughed. "But there might be soon. I'll keep you posted."
"You'd better!" He leaned over to kiss her on the mouth, right in front of anyone who may be looking out their windows at them.
Later, Jaime let herself relax against the rich, burnished wood of the rocker, closing her eyes. She had to admit there were advantages to this move, even though she'd had to give up her own blossoming career. Evan was so gung-ho and so happy, and he was right, it would be a great place for their children to grow up. If they stayed long enough, they would have the same friends all through their school years, from kindergarten through high school, and that was a wonderful gift to give children, that sense of place and belonging. She'd been grateful to her parents for providing that for her, and she had to agree with Evan, she did have an eerie sense of it feeling like home here.
It was almost as if she already knew the town with its antique-looking streetlights, the winding streets off Main leading down to the river where the old woolen mill, now silent and brooding, covered with vines, slumped, hunched over and useless. And outside of Mill Pond, just before the acres of light woodland began, was the P & B Lumber Company--"Everything you need to build or repair." It all seemed so familiar to her, as if she had lived here before, but that was just deja vu, the trick the mind plays on you, or memories from novels she had read that were set in small towns like this.
The doorbell rang and startled her.
The woman, one side or the other of fifty, thin and wispy-haired, dressed in shorts and a striped tee-shirt, held a steaming casserole, her hands protected by colorful potholders. She had interesting, almond-shaped amber eyes that held Jaime's for a moment before she spoke.
"Hi!" She projected an aura of cheeriness. "I'm Jane-Michelle Taylor, next door in the green house." She nodded her head in the direction she meant. "Welcome to the neighborhood."
It was so small-town, so bucolic, but so comforting in its cheerful directness, that Jaime could not help but smile back at her. Did people really still bring casseroles to new neighbors? Shades of the 1950s. She accepted the dish, mitts and all.
"Come in. I'm Jaime Reid. My husband, Evan, is the new--"
"Oh, we all know that already!" Jane Michelle flashed a toothy grin. She looked around the room. "This is such a beautiful house. If it had ever been for sale when we were buying, we would have bought this one. I've always loved it. I used to roller-skate by it when I was a little girl and fantasize about living here."
Again the feeling of deja vu swept over Jaime, and she leaned against the kitchen counter to steady herself. In her mind she saw the girl, green corduroy overalls and long braids flying, skating along the sidewalk and staring with longing eyes at the house, her house.
Jane-Michelle accepted her offer of coffee, and they sat together on the sofa, which the movers had placed in front of the two tall windows flanking the street. Jaime had pushed the coffee table into place in front of the sofa. She tapped the arm of the sofa. "I'm not sure I'm leaving the sofa here."
Jane-Michelle gestured across the room. "I think I'd put it over there, facing the fireplace, and let this side of the room be the more formal one."
"Just what I thought!" Jaime followed her gesture. "And I don't really want the television in here. There's a den off the kitchen we'll use for that."
They went on companionably, sharing thoughts and learning about each other's lives.
"Main Street Manes is your mom's?" Jaime asked in surprise, as Jane-Michelle told her about her humble upbringing in the shabby house down by the river, and her mother, Willow, who had somehow got the money and energy together to go to beauty school and eventually borrowed the money to open her own shop. "Her real name is Willow?"
Jane-Michelle smiled and nodded. "Isn't that awful? I'm sure glad I didn't get saddled with that! Jane-Michelle is old fashioned and complicated enough."
"Your name is lovely," Jaime objected. "Actually, I think Willow is pretty, too."
"For a dog," Jane-Michelle said. "There's actually a golden retriever in that pink house..." She waved a finger in the direction of a salmon-colored, three-story house with a turret across the street. "...named Willow. My mother was planting some flowers in the yard for me once, and one of the neighbors called to her from their yard. The dog came running!"
Jaime laughed. "What about your father?"
Jane-Michelle's friendly, open face shut down instantly. She shrugged and pretended to examine a small figurine on the coffee table. "We don't talk about him.
Embarrassed, Jaime retreated. "I'll need a haircut soon. For sure I'll make an appointment with your mother."
"Just walk in. No appointment necessary. Of course you don't have any choice of where you get your hair done in Mill Pond--unless you want to trek into Springfield. Then you can make an appointment."
Amid their laughter, the phone rang. As Jaime, an apologetic expression on her face, got up to answer it, Jane-Michelle, with gestures readily understood by all women, fluttered her fingers at Jaime and bowed herself out of the house.
"I think I made my first friend here." Jaime described Jane-Michelle's visit. "Her mother runs the only hair salon in town."
"I knew you'd make friends fast." Evan sounded pleased. "In spite of your dependence on concerts, art galleries, power lunches, and big-town shopping. There are things to be said for small-town life, especially for the kids."
"I can see that. And how did your meeting with the board go?" She couldn't deny the enthusiasm in his voice, which she suddenly realized she hadn't heard for a long time in Atlanta, and because she loved him, she was glad. Yes, she would miss the galleries, the excitement of the city, the clubs they occasionally frequented with friends out in Buckhead, but she would adjust. And they still had friends there. She could fly back for weekend visits, letting the kids have all-boy weekends with their dad.
She checked back in to what Evan was saying. "And we're going to hire more special ed teachers, more art and music people, and set up some activities where kids from all three towns can get together. Hopefully we can eliminate or at least dampen down the rivalry between the kids of all three schools, especially at the high school level."
"That's good, really good, Evan." Jaime thought he'd made an excellent start. "All three schools serve all the grades in the their own towns, K-12, isn't that right?"
"Right, and as cozy an arrangement that might have been in the past, the elementary kids need their own school, and the high schoolers definitely need their own turf. And...," he said, excitement rising in his voice, "there's a real possibility that in a few years we might start a building drive for a new, state-of-the-art regional high school that would serve all three towns. Just think, Jaime, what that would mean for this region."
He went on. She half-listened, half-drifted, thinking about Jane-Michelle, how comfortable she had instantly felt with her, and how different life would be now, here in Mill Pond. No more keeping up with the Joneses. We are the Joneses.
As if on cue, when she hung up with Evan, the boys came tumbling down the winding staircase. For two small boys, they made all the noise five-year-old twins could manage to make, which was considerable. She clapped her hands over her ears. "Inside voices, boys!"
"We want lunch!" Josh announced. "What's this?" He lifted the foil from one corner of the casserole, bent down. and sniffed.
"Chicken and biscuits, by the smell," Jaime smiled at her son and ruffled his hair. "We're going to have to get you guys haircuts before school starts."
"Yuk!" Jack said. "Grilled cheese!"
"Peanut butter and jelly!" Josh demanded.
"And then we want our bikes," Jack insisted. "Where are they?"
"In the cellar, I think. I'll go look for them after I make your sandwiches." She set about pulling the ingredients from the refrigerator and putting the sandwiches together, cutting off the crusts and cutting the bread into quarters, as the boys preferred. She poured glasses of milk and set them up at the table, from the forties, she guessed, that had been left in the house by the former occupants. Truth be told, the whimsical side of her nature really liked the old table and thought they just might keep it--on the other hand, she wrinkled her nose as she glanced at the stained old porcelain sink that had not responded to any of the cleaners she had tried. That definitely had to be replaced, and soon. She'd already spoken to Evan about it, and he'd promised to drive out to that lumber company, P & B Lumber, down on the river road to see what they had or could order for them.
While the boys ate, and giggled, and poked each other, Jaime wandered into the living room. She pulled aside one of the heavy green damask drapes--they really had to go--and stared with a strange, growing sense of unease at the green house next door.
Jane-Michelle. It was a pretty name, a combination she had never heard before, but it seemed vaguely familiar, as if she had known someone by that name. And that house--she could just picture the living room, old dark furniture, a well-worn rug with a pattern of flowers and leaves, two teen-aged girls sitting on the floor by the fireplace, one of them writing something in a small, brown book... Jaime shook her head as the vision faded, but as she let the drapery fall back across the window, she looked around and realized with a shock that the living room she'd imagined was not Jane-Michelle's; it was hers, the way this room had looked a long time ago.
"Mom! The bikes!"
Jaime turned to see Jack standing with his hands on his hips. He tapped his toe impatiently. He looked so much like Evan that it made her smile.
"Okay, let's go downstairs and look for them," She led them down the rickety, cobweb-lined staircase that led to the unfinished basement--the kind that once housed an actual coal bin and a root cellar.
"Here they are!" Josh and his twin jumped on their bikes and began to pedal around the large, open space.
"Man, it's spooky down here." Jack screeched to a stop after several turns around the floor. "How do we get the bikes out of here?"
"There's a door over here," She led the boys across the floor to the far end of the cellar, where the cement floor gave way to dirt. A shabby door--its dark green paint mostly worn down to ancient wood--opened with a series of creaks and groans to the driveway.
"Here you go." She held the door open for them. "Stay close to home, please, guys until we get to know the neighborhood better."
They were gone with whoops and shouts, and after making sure they were staying within bounds, Jaime closed the door and turned back to survey the cellar. It would take a lot of time, work, and money, but a nice rec room could be created down here eventually. She smiled as she noticed a metal shelf unit stacked with old-fashioned glass canning jars--the kind her grandmother had used.
"These jars are antiques and might be worth something. I've noticed several antique shops around that might be interested." She pivoted slowly around, taking note of the ample space and strong structure. Her eyes went to the rugged wooden beams that crisscrossed the ceiling. I like those. They can stay when we rehab.
"What's that?" Something wedged into the corner of two intersecting beams caught her eye. It looked like--what? A book? What was a book doing up there? She looked around for something to stand on and spied an old ladder on the other side of the room. Jaime dragged it over, balanced it as well as she could against one of the side walls, and climbed up, going step by step to make sure the ladder held. It did, and she was able by the fourth rung to reach up and pry the book loose.
"Ugh!" It was covered with grime, and a large brown spider she disturbed crawled indignantly over her hand. She flicked the spider into the air, dropped the book, and scrambled back down the ladder.
It looked like someone's diary, well-worn and filled with undisciplined scrawls. She flipped through it; the names meant nothing to her: Sylvia, Francie, Janie. Oh, my goodness! There was a mention of Willow! That had to be Jane-Michelle's mother. Well, I guess this might make interesting reading after all, when I have the time.
The diary was sparsely written, and seemed to span a number of years, yet it was only three-quarters filled. She turned to the last page.
It's all set, Saturday, June 14th, the tenth reunion of the class of '51. Forrest and Balls have the guns, and I will call them from the Inn and tell them exactly where we're sitting. I wish I had a gun, too. I'd blow off snobby Sylvia's head with real joy. And all the rest of them too--Francie, Paul, Barb, Donnie, Janie, yes, and even Suki who's supposed to be my best friend. Some best friend. Every time she can get away and do something without me, she does. I hate them all so much--too good for everyone else, their noses in the air, their parties where no one else is included, their secret conversations, where nobody else knows what they're talking about.
Forrest told me, "I've waited forever to pay back that snotty Sylvia for the way she's treated me. Even if she agreed to marry me and bear my kids, it wouldn't change my mind. I want the bitch gone forever."
We've had to wait ten years for our revenge, but it'll be worth it, just to see the looks on their faces when they realize what's happening. Saturday night they will all be dead.
Jaime collapsed onto the lowest step of the stairway. "Oh! Oh, my God!" she whispered. "I never made that connection. This is where that first Columbine-type massacre happened forty-some years ago!"
She narrowed her eyes, thinking. Her husband had conveniently forgotten to mention that little fact.