The Trail of Gemma Caulfield (Akre Island 2)

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Chapter Fifteen

Nearly a week later, on the day before Cassidy was supposed to go home, Hallie’s family arranged a ceremony to properly bury Gemma’s bones. It had taken them a few days to dig up as many of them as they could find, and then handing them over to Akre’s tiny police station to inspect. They couldn’t explain exactly how they had found the bones, but Hallie made up a convincing story about their investigation into Gemma’s disappearance, and the incredible luck when Cassidy had almost fallen on top of the bones.

They buried her on a bright sunny day. Most of the people who lived in East, or nearby, attended. Some of the older residents remembered hearing stories about Gemma from their parents or grandparents. Harriet stood at the front of the group and told her father’s story, with tears in her eyes. And then, finally, more than a hundred years later, Gemma’s bones were laid to rest under her tombstone.

That evening, Hallie’s parents and Harriet joined them at Page’s. They ate dinner together, and talked, and Cassidy showed them the research they had done about Gemma. Harriet told them more stories about growing up on the farm, and marrying Joseph Page, and what it had been like running the store back then. At one point, as it got even later in the evening, Hallie dragged her parents into her office to show them how much farther along she was in her mission to scan all the old papers, leaving Simon and Cassidy with Harriet in the kitchen.

Only when they could hear Hallie talking to her parents in the other room did Harriet lean forward with a knowing smile. “Cassidy, honey, you were researching ghosts. Did you find one?”

Cassidy was taken aback, and her gaze darted to Simon. Not because he was the answer to Harriet’s question, but… he was. “Well, we followed the story, and the clues, and we were lucky. I got my foot stuck between two logs and when Simon and Hallie helped me out, we saw the bones.”

Harriet looked at the old clock that hung near the door. “Two weeks ago, every night around two I woke up with the strangest feeling. I think I’m getting that feeling now.”

So was she, Cassidy realized. She hadn’t woken up with this feeling since they’d found Gemma’s bones. The night they had watched Gemma fall was the last time she had felt like this. And yet—she turned to Simon, and didn’t have to say anything. He understood her.

“Harriet,” he said. “Would you like to join us for a walk?”

Cassidy pulled Hallie aside to explain what they were doing, while Simon helped Harriet get ready. Hallie’s parents were distracted looking through her scans, and she hurried to get dressed. Simon offered Harriet his arm while they walked, and she took it, with a smile at Cassidy.

“You have quite the gentleman here, Cassidy.”

“I know,” Cassidy agreed.

Harriet already seemed to know where they were going, and while she used Simon’s arm for support, she was the one leading him. It hadn’t snowed in a few days, and the snow was hard under their feet. It was easy enough to walk across the field, towards the site of the old farmhouse.

“This was where I grew up,” Harriet said. “The house was right here. We owned all of these fields. The forest was closer then, and my father hated it when I played in the trees. I didn’t understand why until he told me about her. The day Hallie called about the bones, I remembered something I forgot to tell you about Gemma—”

It was like the girl had heard her name. She appeared suddenly, in front of them, staring at them. Harriet gasped, and Hallie put her arm around her grandmother’s shoulders.

“Harriet?” Gemma approached them cautiously, her head tilted a little curiously. “Jerold… Harriet, Wyatt, Hallie.”

“Yes,” Harriet whispered. “Yes, Jerold was my father. You’re my Aunt Gemma.” She put a hand over her mouth, and tears welled in her eyes. “Oh, Gemma, you’re exactly like I remember you.”

“You remember her?” Hallie asked.

Harriet nodded. “When I was a little girl, I was playing in the woods, trying to catch a rabbit, I think. And I got lost. When I got home, hours later, I told papa that my friend had helped me find my way home. He was upset, and that’s when he told me to stop playing in the woods. I didn’t think anything of it for years. Gemma saved me.”

Gemma nodded.

“He always blamed himself for what happened to you,” Harriet continued. “He told me he yelled at you, so you ran away, and then he couldn’t find you. He blamed himself.”

“No,” Gemma shook her head firmly. “I heard him looking. But I fell, and… it was not his fault.”

“He loved you so much,” Harriet said.

“I know,” Gemma said. She faded, but then came into focus again and looked at Cassidy. “You found me. Thank you.”

“You showed us the way,” Cassidy said.

Gemma smiled. It was the first time the little girl had looked happy, and Cassidy found herself crying. She thought of the bones, she thought of the scared little girl falling over a cliff in the dark, she thought of the life Gemma might have had. And while she thought of these things, Gemma came forward and wrapped her little arms around Cassidy’s waist.

Cassidy instinctively, without even thinking about what she was doing, returned the hug. “I’m so sorry for what happened to you. Do you still need help? What can we do?”

“Nothing. You found me,” Gemma repeated, looking up at her. “You found Jerold.” She slipped from Cassidy’s arms, and sank into Harriet’s. “My family.”

Harriet drew Hallie into the hug, and the three of them held each other for a long time. Harriet had let go of Simon’s arm, so he stepped around them to pull Cassidy into a warm hug. She cried against his chest. But it was a happy cry, she knew that, because they had helped make this little girl smile again. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but she felt better when they separated. She took Simon’s hand, and they watched Harriet, Hallie and Gemma again.

They were whispering to each other, but Cassidy couldn’t make out what they were saying. Then they stopped suddenly, and turned towards the invisible house. Cassidy glanced at Simon, expecting to meet his confused look with her own, only to realise that he, too, was staring at the house. She squeezed his hand to get his attention.

“There was a voice,” he whispered, not looking away.

“Jerold?” Gemma spoke up.

“What?” Hallie whispered, more surprised than actually asking.

Harriet laughed delightedly. “I heard him too, honey. He’s calling you. Go on.” She leaned down to kiss the top of Gemma’s head. “Tell him I love him.”

“Yes,” Gemma agreed. She squeezed Harriet and Hallie one last time and ran. At the top of the invisible stairs she paused, and smiled back at all four of them. “Thank you,” she said again. She reached out her arms like she was hugging someone, and then she disappeared.

It felt final, although Cassidy couldn’t exactly explain why. She, Simon, Hallie and Harriet stood there, still turned towards the house, silent, lost in their own thoughts.

Then Harriet cleared her throat, wiped her eyes and turned around. “Mr. Battle, your arm, please. I think it’s time we get warm, don’t you?”

They walked home in silence, Cassidy and Hallie a few steps behind Harriet and Simon. When they got to the house, Simon helped Harriet inside, but Cassidy took Hallie’s arm before she could follow.

“Did you tell your family Simon’s last name?”

“No,” Hallie said. “They would have recognized his last name immediately and, oh… Mr. Battle.”

“How long do you think she’s known?”

Hallie shrugged. “I have no idea. But she didn’t seem that surprised to see Gemma.”

“Girls,” Harriet’s voice came through the open door. “Come in, Wyatt seems very excited about something.”

Hallie smiled. “Yeah, sounds about right.” She stepped into the house, shed her outdoor clothing, and went to see what her dad wanted. Cassidy hung up her coat, and placed her boots on the crowded mat, then followed Simon and Harriet to the kitchen. She started the kettle boiling, knowing everyone in this family would appreciate some tea.

Harriet sat down at the table. “Cassidy, there’s an envelope on the counter near you. Can you bring it here, please?”

Cassidy brought over the large envelope, and tried to put it in front of Harriet.

Harriet shook her head. “Go ahead and open it. It’s for you.”

“Oh, thank you,” Cassidy said automatically. The paper inside was rough, and thick, and when Cassidy pulled it out she was looking at a watercolour painting. It was Gemma, but not as her ghost had looked, pale and cold and sad. This was Gemma standing in a snowy, sparkly forest, with a huge smile and bright eyes. Her arms were outstretched like she was trying to catch the snowflakes fluttering down around her. “This is… Harriet, this is beautiful! Thank you! But how did you know?”

“I painted it the morning I remembered Gemma saving me,” Harriet said.

“I love it,” Cassidy said. “Can I hug you?”

Harriet laughed. “What a silly question.” She opened her arms and pulled Cassidy into a loving, if a little awkward over the table, hug. “You are a wonderful young woman,” Harriet told her. “I think you’re going to help a lot of people.”

“Thank you,” Cassidy said, again, so touched she could hardly think of an appropriate way to convey her feelings.

Then Hallie burst into the kitchen dramatically. “Cass, Dad wants—woah, grandma, that painting is perfect! Is that what you told me you were giving Cassidy?” Harriet barely had time to nod before Hallie remembered why she had come in. “Cass, Dad has an idea I think you’ll love. Come on. Simon, I suppose you can come too.”

Simon was just placing a mug of tea in front of Harriet. She thanked him but then stood up, and looped her arm with his again. “Let’s go see what Wyatt wants.”

Hallie led them into the basement, where her father was inspecting the printing press. It was a large, odd looking piece of machinery. Hallie’s mother was leaning against a pile of boxes, an amused look on her face as she watched her husband.

“Dad,” Hallie announced their arrival.

Wyatt stepped out from behind the press. “I used to love this thing. My dad taught me how it works, but by the time I took over the store we weren’t printing an Eastern Hamlet paper anymore. Now, I’m not saying I want to start another paper with this old thing.“ He gave the machine an affectionate pat. “But wouldn’t it be fun to print something again? Something small, just to play around with the old process. Cassidy, Hal says you’re a writer. Which got me thinking, maybe you could write up a story about Gemma Caulfield.”

Hallie beamed. “What do you think?”

“That sounds incredible,” Cassidy agreed immediately. “But I’m actually leaving tomorrow and—”

“That isn’t a problem,” Hallie said. “Take your time, email it to me and we’ll mail you a printed copy. It’ll be amazing!” She waved her hands in the air, like she was reading a poster. “Page’s Printing Press. And the first publication will be “Cassidy Acres’ incredible true story…?” she paused expectantly. Cassidy smiled, because she already knew the perfect name for the story.

The Trail of Gemma Caulfield

Thank you for reading Gemma's story! Exciting news, I'm pretty close to having the book ready for self-publishing (with illustrations!), and I will make an announcement when that happens.

As for Cassidy and Simon, I still have plenty of ideas for them and Akre Island. They will be back!

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