After the delicious dinner and the strange conversation about David’s future, she was shown to her room. One of David’s younger brothers, a hulking football player, carried her suitcase up.
The room was on the third floor and had its own bathroom. It was bright, clean and new. Her old bedroom back in Innsmouth was large, but it was hollow, decrepit and old.
“Thank you,” she said to Mrs. Taliafero and David’s brother who hadn’t introduced himself.
She didn’t go in though. She followed them to see where David’s room was. She wanted to see what kind of things he kept there.
When she glanced in she saw rock and movie posters as well as models of realistic military vehicles and brightly colored robots from those Japanese cartoons David liked to watch.
“It’s definitely your room,” she said.
“Yeah. This is it.”
“You two get some sleep. You had a long drive and need to rest,” David’s mother said. “When you’re older you’ll realize how important rest is.”
“Right, well, good night,” David said.
“Good night,” Gretchen said.
She went back to her room and sat down on the bed. It was softer and fluffier than any bed she had ever felt. She’d get lost in it.
Gretchen stripped down and climbed under the dozens of thick quilts and blankets. It all felt so soft and she could rest in that bed for days and never want to get out.
But she couldn’t sleep. They had been driving all day and was tired, but she didn’t want to sleep. She wanted to stay up talking to David and exploring this house where he grew up surrounded by love and normalcy.
She wondered how she would have turned out if she had had a normal childhood. If she’d grown up in a house like this she might have been someone good and happy.
Gretchen got up and looked out the window. All she saw were dark trees. Not much of a view. Her house at Innsmouth was a horrible place, but her room offered a view of the sea that she never took for granted.
What was David doing? Was he sleeping? She wanted to see him. She wanted to kiss him and wanted him to kiss her. She wanted to feel his hands on her skin.
She put on her bathrobe and crept down the unlit hall to David’s door. She lightly knocked so no one else could hear. A few seconds later the door opened just a crack. David peered out.
“What are you doing up?” He asked.
“I wanted to see you. Can I come in?”
He thought for a moment.
“Yes,” he said and opened the door.
She walked into the dark and he closed the door behind her. All she could make out was his outline.
“Do you have something on your mind that you want to talk about?” He asked.
Talk? She hadn’t really come here to talk.
She walked over and sat down on the bed. Then she lay down and crawled under the covers. David walked over and got into bed next to her.
“This is bold,” he said.
“I feel comfortable around you.”
He then moved over her and began kissing her. It wasn’t long before her robe was open and they were at second base. She knew what came next.
It dawned on her what third base was and they spent the rest of the night at third base. She bit his shoulder to keep from moaning out and disturbing others.
She hated showing herself in a swimsuit but to David she felt no such hesitation. She would give him anything and everything he wanted.
She didn’t go back to her room until the sky started turning purple. She was exhausted and felt tingly all over but as soon as her head hit the pillow she went right to sleep.
When she woke up four hours later she took a long shower and thought of David.
She walked down stairs to the kitchen and found David there with his mother. She seemed the nicest of his relations. She also felt her cheeks redden as she met David’s eyes.
The things they did last night were…shocking. She didn’t know where it had come from. She was still a virgin, but only just. Her father had warned her on pain of death to remain a virgin. She was starting to not care what he had told her to do.
“Good morning, Gretchen. Sleep well?” David’s mother asked.
“I believe I’m…still tired from the long trip,” Gretchen said.
“I’m going to take Gretchen on a tour of Richmond today,” David said.
“But first you need breakfast,” his mother said.
She fixed them a full breakfast of eggs, toast and something called “grits.” She had no idea what the substance was made of, but it was good in a simple fashion.
Then they got back into David’s car and drove to Carry Street and parked. They spent the afternoon walking around and going through the different stores. She tried on numerous vintage clothing, some styles she had seen in what used to be her grandmother’s wardrobe. She settled on a pair of circular blue tinted sunglasses that David said she looked good in.
They had lunch at an Indian place and then continued to walk around and explore.
Then she saw an art gallery and walked over to the window to look in. The sign said “Byzantine Gallery” in gold and black mosaic.
The paintings in the front window were dark and beautiful. Some of them were portraits of people that showed their complete life story in a single expression. But then a photo in a black frame caught her eye. It was a photo of what looked like a dead little girl playing the violin.
This was no makeup job or trick photography. She had seen enough real bodies to know if it were fake or not. And this photo was not fake.
“Can we go in?” She asked.
He opened the door for her like a proper gentleman and she entered the white room filled with art. There was a door at the rear and a staircase going up to a second floor with a sign that said “private residence upstairs.”
Then a head poked out from the open doorway at the back; thin man with scruffy black hair and a goatee. He smiled when he saw them.
“Welcome!” The man said and pushed himself out of the office chair he was sitting in. He was wearing black slacks and a black buttoned up shirt.
“You have a lovely collection,” Gretchen said.
He looked around and smiled.
“Yeah, we work hard at it. Name’s Alex.”
“Pleased to meet you Alex,” David said and they shook hands.
“I noticed the photo in the front window,” Gretchen said.
“Ah, yes. That’s done by my daughter, Elizabeth,” Alex said.
“It’s quite intriguing. What process did she use to create such a dramatic image?” Gretchen asked.
“Well, she likes to keep her techniques secret,” Alex said.
“Is there any way I could meet this young artist?” Gretchen asked.
Before he could answer the door to the gallery opened up and a small woman with short dark hair entered. She was wearing a black jean jacket, loose dress that came down to the knees, stripped leggings and large boots. She was smiling but it was the kind of smile that covered her entire face and was as natural to her as breathing.
She was carrying a Taco Bell bag.
“Oh! Hello!” The happy woman said.
“This is my wife, Adriana,” Alex said.
“A pleasure to meet you,” Gretchen said.
Adriana shook her hand with genuine glee.
“I got the grilled stuffed burrito you like,” Adrianna said to Alex.
“Awesome. Hey, these people here are interested in Elizabeth’s work.”
“It’s a very curious image. May I speak with the artist?” Gretchen asked.
“I don’t see why not,” Adriana said.
Adriana then went to the stairs and called up for Elizabeth and Edna to come down.
“Lunch is ready!” Adriana added at the end.
Two teenage girls came running down the stairs but stopped when they saw their guests. Gretchen saw that the girl in the photo was this Edna.
Something was different about this girl, she could feel it in the corners of her mind. She opened her mind and let the magic flow in a passive way. The Edna girl was practically radiating magic. Edna's dark eyes locked onto Gretchen and didn't let go.
“Mind if we eat and talk?” Alex asked.
“Not a problem. We already ate,” David said.
They pulled up chairs and the two girls sat on the stairs.
“You took that photo?” Gretchen asked.
“I did,” Elizabeth said.
“May I ask about your techniques? How did you accomplish such a real appearance of death?”
The photo was real and Gretchen wanted to know how Edna looked dead. If there were other users of magic then she wanted to know more about them. She wanted to know if their magic was inherently evil or if magic could indeed be used for good. She had never met a sorcerer or witch that wasn’t wicked, but they had all worshiped the dark gods. Were there other sources of power out there?
Elizabeth looked to Alex and then to Edna.
“Photoshop,” Elizabeth said.
“I think you and I both know that isn’t true,” Gretchan said.
Alex then leaned in.
“Who are you?” Alex asked.
“Someone that knows death when I see it. This girl,” she pointed at Edna, “is dripping with supernatural energy.”
The gallery people fell silent.
David cleared his throat.
“Gretchen’s somewhat of an expert on the unusual,” David said with a forced laugh.
“How do you know all this?” Alex asked.
“I was raised around magic all my life,” Gretchen said.
“I’m dead,” Edna said. “Or at least, I was.”
“What brought you back?” Gretchen asked.
“An ancient relic and a certain ceremony,” Edna said.
“What kind of ceremony?”
“Not a good kind,” Edna said.
“I’m sorry,” Gretchen said.
Maybe there was no such thing as good magic. Maybe magic was inherently evil and corrupting. She didn't like this thought. She had used magic many times, often to save lives. Could it be that it was really evil or was it the intent?
She bought the photo and thanked them, getting their full names so she could friend them on Facebook. They promised to keep in touch.
They left the gallery with promises to return.
“What’s wrong?” David asked.
“Nothing,” she said.
They didn’t return to the house until well after dark. They had had dinner and a movie at the old fashioned Byrd Theater. It had been an actual date. They got home, went to bed and then she snuck over to his room to get back on third base. He liked kissing her belly and she liked him to do it. Not as much as other things though.
The next week passed in a similar dream world of happiness and forgetting about all the bad things that lay just under the surface of this world. He took her to see Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Washington D.C. and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Virginia was beautiful and filled with history that she had never learned. American history hadn’t been important where she was from. The Esoteric Order of Dagon wasn’t a very patriotic religion.
Gretchen was smiling more than usual. She generally seemed to be happy with him. She was always ready to go see something new, even things most people would consider normal or boring. She wanted to see it all and he wanted to be with her when she did.
Then Thursday rolled around: Thanksgiving. So far he had seen very little of his family and he preferred it that way. They’d just embarrass him or would offend Gretchen. He wasn’t looking forward to the big Thanksgiving meal at noon. Some people had dinner: the Taliaferos had lunch. That way they could lounge around the rest of the day and snack on leftovers.
It wasn’t a bad system. It also meant that he could ignore his brothers after the meal.
Breakfast wasn’t allowed on Thanksgiving to save room for the feast. He and Gretch woke up late and barely had time to shower and get ready.
He waited outside her room while she prepared. When she came out she was wearing a white buttoned up shirt, simple black skirt and Vans shoes. She looked normal and nice. She could have worn her pajamas. The Taliaferos weren’t ones to stand on formality when comfort could be achieved instead. Her hair was neatly combed and straighter than he’d ever seen it. She was trying to impress and succeeding magnificently.
He took her hand and led her down stairs to the dinning room where everyone was gathering.
Both Nate and Steve were wearing football jerseys of the teams that were playing that day. Steve had flown in last night and he hadn’t seen him yet.
“Hey, bro,” Steve said.
“Glad you could make it. The weather was looking rough over in Chicago.”
“This your girlfriend?” Steve asked.
“Yes. This is Gretchen,” he said.
“Why’s your hair white?” Steve asked.
He saw a scowl fly briefly across Gretchen’s face.
“Don’t be rude,” David said.
“What? I was just asking a question,” Steve said.
They took their places and he squeezed Gretchen’s knee to remind her that he was right there.
Mother came in with platters of food. His brothers didn’t volunteer to help so he jumped up and helped mom bring the feast to the table. Mom didn’t cook any of it, though she liked to pretend she did. She did hire the cook that did prepare it though. He doubted if Mom knew how to cook anything that didn’t involve a microwave.
Once the table was set they began to dig in. Platters and bowls were passed around he David got a triple serving of stuffing. Stuffing with gravy was one of the things that made life worth living.
“So, Gretchen, what are you studying in college?” Dad asked.
“Comparative religion, history and art.”
“You can’t earn a living off of any of that,” Dad said.
“College is a waste of time,” Nate said.
“You don’t learn anything useful, just a bunch of science and history crap that doesn’t do any good,” Steve said.
“When are you two getting married?” Dad asked.
David rolled his eyes and threw his hands in the air.
“What? You two obviously like each other. This isn’t going to be a shotgun wedding, is it?” Dad asked.
“Henry!” Mother said.
“Just make sure you’re using protection,” Dad said.
This was going from terrible to catastrophic.
“Protection? Like guns?” Gretchen asked.
Nate and Steve just started laughing and Dad looked confused.
“How does your family normally celebrate Thanksgiving, Gretchen?” Mom asked.
“We…uh…we eat a lot of pizza,” Gretchen said.
“Pizza? Non traditional, huh?” Dad said.
“Yes, non traditional,” Gretchen said.
At least the conversation had steered away from sex advice from his dad.
“You don’t have a big family, do you?” Dad asked.
“No, sir,” Gretchen said.
“I can tell. You don’t have good hips on you. Too narrow.”
“Enough, Dad,” David said.
“All I’m saying is that if you marry her, don’t expect to have twenty kids. She won’t be an Octomom.”
“Thank you, Mr. Taliafero,” Gretchen said, though the look in her eyes said that she had no idea what he was talking about.
“She does have a pretty neck though. You can judge a woman by her neck, you know. If she has a good neck now, she’ll have an alright neck when she’s older,” Dad said.
“And such pretty eyes,” Mom said, obviously trying to steer the conversation back on track.
“So, why you going out with my brother? You like war heroes?” Nate asked.
This was the last time he was bringing anyone home again. Ever.
“I’m going out with him because he is kind, considerate and desired to accomplish more in life than making money,” Gretchen said. Her silver eyes bored into Nate and he looked back down at his plate.
“Why pizza? Your family Italian?” Father asked.
“No,” Gretchen said.
“Yeah, I remember learning about the Indians sharing pizza with the pilgrims,” Steve said.
“Yes, that’s why we have pizza,” Gretchen said.
Steve couldn’t tell if she were being sarcastic or serious.