Silas tried to put Winnie’s keys back on the end table, but picking corporeal objects up was considerably more difficult than nudging them. Ginger watched him with interest, and he gave it up as a lost cause, realizing the ghostly cat would just knock them off the table again if he did manage to succeed. “We’re trying not to scare her off,” he admonished the cat, who meowed in indifference and sauntered off through the sofa to curl up by the fireplace. It wasn’t even lit, but that had been her favorite napping spot in life, and little had changed for her in death.
Ginger seemed to like having living occupants in the cottage, if only because they brought new things with which to interact. Silas suspected she took delight in hiding things like keys and trinkets—jewelry was a favorite. It seemed so much easier for her interact with things than for Silas, which he guessed was just a result of her strong feline assumption of existence having not been diminished at all by her death. At least she waited until the living were in other rooms before playing with their things. Silas didn’t know if that was cat instinct or ghost instinct. In any case, she was as cooped up in the cottage as he was, with much more tendency to be destructive when bored, so he tried not to deny her the entertainment.
Silas liked Winnie so far. She wasn’t messy, and when she was home, she wasn’t loud. She spent most of that time reading, cooking, listening to radio plays—podcasts, he supposed they were called now—and occasionally watching things on her portable computer. With her here, the cottage felt more like a home, which was an ambiance that the flow of renters never managed to bestow upon the place. The world changed vastly in the near century since his death, but even so, having someone really, truly, living in the cottage again left Silas feeling like he, in turn, was back at home. Even if he’d never left in the first place.
The water from the shower stopped running and Silas moved into the study, intending to give Winnie some privacy if she emerged from the bedroom before she was fully dressed. He wondered if she was going to cook herself dinner tonight, as she didn’t normally work so late. A sharp cry of pain interrupted his thoughts.
“What the heck are these doing on the floor?”
Silas risked a peek into the main room and found Winnie, thankfully clad in her sleeping attire, rubbing the bottom of her foot and giving her keys a dirty look. She sighed and set her foot back down, with care, before bending over to retrieve the keys and place them firmly in the middle of the end table. She shook her head and muttered to herself, “Must have set them too close to the edge,” before wandering over into the kitchenette on the far side of the room.
Winnie opened the fridge and peered inside, trying to determine how hungry she was. She’d gotten a a dinner break while the concert was going on, but had only eaten a sandwich and brownie. The cafe didn’t exactly have a large food menu. There was one more container of the lasagna Ronnie made for her after she’d moved in and started working at the cafe. “Guess I can eat that, then finally take all of Ronnie’s Tupperware back to her tomorrow.” She pulled the container out of the fridge and then grabbed a plate from the cupboard to scoop the lasagna onto. After a moment’s thought, she took down a second plate and used it to cover the food before putting it in the microwave. Trash collection was run by the county rather than the town, and their trucks couldn’t get to the cottage in any case, so Winnie had to haul all of her trash to the cafe’s dumpster. As a result, she’d quickly broken herself out of the single-use mindset. Not a paper towel in sight.
Silas ambled over to the kitchen while Winnie’s food heated up, enjoying the smell of the savory dish. He didn’t get hungry anymore, but he did still enjoy the scents of cooking. He stayed on the far side of the kitchenette so as to be out of Winnie’s way, watching the numbers count down on the microwave. It was one of his favorite inventions of the modern era, he thought. Having one when he’d been living would have been quite useful after long days maintaining the Hillis grounds and late nights checking on the lighthouse.
Ginger was roused by the scent of food, and wandered in to rub against Winnie’s legs. She shivered and murmured, “There’s that draft again.” Ginger ambled away, hopping up onto the small dining table to wait for Winnie to settle down, and Winnie shrugged. “Old house,” she said with a laugh. “Guess I’d better get used to it. I doubt its anything Jacob can fix.”
Silas smiled to himself and nodded. She was right about that. Jacob seemed a competent young man, but even he could not stifle a “draft” caused by the ghost of a long-dead cat. Although, Silas could admit, it had been amusing to watch him try on more than one occasion. It was good to know that Winnie was aware of his responsibility for the cottage, in case anything that he could repair needed fixing. Silas just had to make sure not to give her a reason to call him unnecessarily.
Winnie’s food finished and she poured herself a glass of water before moving to the table to enjoy her meal, Ginger’s shimmering eyes tracking every bite she took without her knowledge. The cat lost interest when Winnie finished eating and stood to clear the table, moving back into the kitchenette to wash her dishes. She was halfway through drying them when a musical tone sounded from her bedroom. She frowned and set down the towel, dashing in to retrieve her phone.
Curious, Silas followed after. As far as he could tell, the only people Winnie conversed with on the telephone were her mother and her employer, and it seemed late for either of them to be calling.
“Mom?” Winnie said, answering the phone. “What’s going on? Is everything all right?” She dropped down into the armchair under the window, a grimace crossing her face as her ghostly companion watched in concern.
“I got a friend request from Nick,” her mom explained. “I thought you should know.”
“You denied it, right?”
“Of course, dear. Right away. I think I blocked him, too, but I’m not sure if I did it right.”
“Well, your page isn’t public, so I think you’ll be okay.” Winnie sighed and rubbed her forehead. “We knew he’d probably try to reach out to you. He doesn’t have your new address, or your new phone number. I think you’re okay,” she repeated. “Just be careful what you put on Instagram, I guess.”
In the corner, Silas tilted his head. It sounded like Winnie was talking to her mother about the social media everyone seemed so invested in these days. Belatedly, he realized that Winnie herself didn’t seem to participate. The conversation continued, with Winnie cautioning her mother about location data settings. Silas shook his head and left to go back into the study. Winnie had gone to the library yesterday and there were new books on the desk to read. While she was distracted with her conversation was as good a time as any to get started.
Meanwhile, in the other room, the conversation shifted to more general topics. “Did you have a nice holiday, dear? We had a cookout in the commons and there was a horseshoes competition and swimming, of course, and I didn’t have to plan any of it! It was wonderful.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Winnie laughed. She’d been more than a little surprised when her mom announced her intention to move into a gated retirement community, but she seemed really happy there. The timing had been pretty damn good, too. “The town had a big cookout and concert in the park—just local performers, but it sounded like a lot of fun.”
“Sounded? You didn’t go? Could you hear it from your house, then?”
“I mean, I probably could have heard it from the cottage,” Winnie conceded, “but I was at work. New girl gets the shifts no one wants and all that.” It hadn’t really been like that. Ronnie offered to let her have the day off, saying Sunny and Kenny could help hold down the fort, but Winnie hadn’t really minded. She didn’t know enough people in town yet to feel comfortable at something like that. “It was all right though. We weren’t busy during the concert itself, and the cafe’s right across the street from the park. Ronnie opened up the doors and we got to listen in.”
“Are you still doing okay at the cafe?”
“Yeah, Mom, I am. I like it. It’s a nice change of pace.”
“I still say you should try to get a job at the school.”
“Small town, Mom, remember? No openings. But the cafe is good. It pays the bills, and my hours are decent. I’m getting a chance to know the place.” It wasn’t just that, of course. She wasn’t certified to teach in the state, for one thing. For another, that kind of job was a much bigger commitment than the cafe. If she had to leave on short notice, it would be more difficult.
“If you say so,” her mom conceded. “I just know you love teaching so much.”
“I did,” Winnie sighed. “But I was ready for a change.”
“I suppose you were, at that.” The other end went quiet for a bit. “Well, I’ll let you go, I guess. I should be getting to bed. I signed up for water aerobics in the morning.”
“I should be getting to bed, too,” Winnie agreed. “I’m opening tomorrow. Have fun at aerobics. Love you, Mom.”
“Love you too, kiddo, take care.”
Winnie ended the call and put her phone back on its charger. She needed to finish the dishes, but then she meant to put words to action and get to bed. As she stood, a clinking crash sounded in the main room and she dashed out of the bedroom to find her keys once more on the floor. “Seriously?” She sighed and moved to pick them up, tucking them into the outside pocket of her backpack. “This table must be uneven,” she grumbled, putting her hands on either side and pressing to see if it wobbled. It seemed secure, but she couldn’t think of any other reason her keys kept falling over. She glanced at the wall by the front door, considering. “I wonder if the hardware store sells command hooks. I don’t think anyone could object to me putting one of those up by the door.”
Resolved to stop by the hardware store after her shift tomorrow, and the grocer’s, she amended as she walked back into the kitchen, Winnie returned her attention to the dishes, only to stop short at the sound of a voice behind her. She whirled around, raking her gaze over the “living room” half of the main room. There was no one there. Of course. She could have sworn that she heard—well, something. A voice, she thought, but no words, certainly. “Stop being so jumpy, Winnie,” she muttered, turning back to the dishes. It was probably just the wind. It seemed to blow through the trees here at the edge of the bluff with a steady insistence. Her mom mentioning Nick probably just set her on edge.
Silas would have been holding his breath, if he still had breath to hold. He stood perfectly still in the corner by the hearth, watching as Winnie relaxed back into her chore of drying the dishes. He remained where he was as she finished the task and gathered several other containers, setting them in the middle of the table by her backpack. Only once she’d returned to the bedroom did he move to the couch, dropping onto it with a heavy sigh. He rubbed a hand over his face, missing the physicality such a motion carried with a corporeal body. Ginger hopped up beside him and he ran a hand over her ghostly back, trying to remember the soft feel of her fur. “I think she heard me chastise you,” he whispered to the cat. He’d been worked up enough that she had at least seemed to sense his rebuke of Ginger’s playing with the keys again.
Ginger didn’t seem bothered, and curled up beside him, purring. “We’ve got to get better, love, or she’s going to get spooked and leave.” This was the first time in eighty years that the town had tried to rent the cottage out to someone for longer than a week or two and, unlike the last time, Silas found himself very much hoping his new roommate might stick around. When Winnie looked around, her gaze landed right on him. He knew she didn’t see him, but for almost a second, he thought she had. It had been more than a little unsettling. He leaned back into the couch, rubbing his face again. Something about her phone call set her on edge. For the first time, Silas really thought to wonder where she came from. She didn’t seem to have come to town because she knew anyone here. She rented a post office box, but the mail she brought home seemed to be only things she ordered herself, and one large package from her mother. In fact, as far as he could tell, her mother was the only person outside of Birchland Bluffs that she ever spoke with. What, then, brought here here? She had very little in the way of belongings, certainly no knickknacks that could be knocked over or chased by a bored ghostly feline. It was probably why Ginger was so fixated on Winnie’s keys.
“I don’t know what a command hook is,” he said, reaching out to pet Ginger, “but if it keeps her keys out of your reach, I know I won’t object to her putting one up.”