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Thirteen For Dinner

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Averie Cooke has never set foot on the old Faulkner plantation. She refuses because of the macabre history surrounding it, and the fact everyone says is haunted. A hundred and fifty years ago a slave by the name of Lunar Wilson was hung there. His lifeless body dangled in the breeze along with the Spanish moss. Later that same night, the petite southern belle, Emily Faulkner wrapped a thick rope around her delicate neck and joined her lover in the afterlife. Legend says all hell broke loose after that. Unaware that their only daughter was hanging dead in the cupola, Emily’s parents continued on with their festivities, gorging themselves on prime rib, and guzzling expensive wine. They were pretty drunk by the time Lunar’s brothers burst inside the house slinging their hatchets, vindicating their brother’s murder. They decapitated James Faulkner, his socialite wife Elizabeth and dismembered all eleven-dinner guest. The massacre was the bloodiest ever recorded. So why would Averie agree to sit at the same table, on the same night, a hundred and fifty years later? She needs the money that’s why. However, she gets much more than she bargains for when she and another mysterious guest transports back to the year 1859, exactly one month before the fateful event. Things go from bad to worse when she discovers the only way back home is to stop the hanging. Can she put her fear aside long

Romance / Adventure
Denise Parton
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

Gray moss sways with the cool evening breeze, tickling the top of my head as I make my way up the cobblestone walkway. Shuddering, I pick up my pace and focus straight ahead, daring not to look at the massive trees surrounding me.

The last thing I want to see is the ghost of Lunar Wilson. They hung him, right here on this very property. A hundred and fifty years ago, his lifeless body dangled, swinging in the breeze along with the Spanish moss, while a distraught Emily Faulkner watched from the cupola. Later the same night, the petite southern belle wrapped a thick rope around her delicate neck and joined her lover in the afterlife. Legend says all hell broke loose after that. Unaware their only daughter was hanging dead in the cupola, Emily’s parents continued with their festivities, gorging themselves on prime rib and guzzling expensive wine. They were drunk by the time Lunar’s brothers burst inside the house, slinging their hatchets, vindicating their brother’s murder. They decapitated James Faulkner, his socialite wife, Elizabeth, and dismembered all eleven dinner guests. The massacre was the bloodiest ever recorded in these parts.

Up until this afternoon, I had never set foot on this property. Unlike my friends, I don’t particularly enjoy spooking myself. They come up here all the time, hoping to catch a glimpse of Emily Faulkner’s body hanging in the cupola. For the life of me, I’ll never understand the perverse pleasure of being scared out of your wits. Purposely putting yourself in fearful situations is about as crazy as making yourself throw up. Neither of those two are any fun. Needless to say, I’ve never accepted any of their invitations.

Tonight is different. I have every reason for coming, although I dreaded it ever since I agreed. I am here because I desperately need the money, and Mike, my best friend in the entire world, knows it. Mike’s mother, or the MILF as all the guys refer to her, is Steffi Booker, and she owns Cherry Tree Catering. On occasion, when the parties are big and extra servers are needed, she has Mike round up some of the gang to help. It’s a good way to earn quick cash. Steffi usually pays at the end of the night. She gives us ten bucks an hour, too, so everyone always jumps at the chance. Most of the guys would do it for free, just to be near Steffi. She smells like sugary-sweet cotton candy, and her smile lights up a room.

As much as I adore Steffi, I have other reasons for taking the work. Rent is due in the morning, and I am short fifty bucks. My momma didn’t send anything this month, and I refuse to ask her about it. She has enough on her shoulders. She left for Florida two months ago to take care of my grandmother on my dad’s side. She loves my Grandma Flitcraft as if she were her own mother. It was charitable of her to go there and help, but I wish she wouldn’t have. I feel guilty for being selfish, but I need her here with me because I don’t have anybody else. My dad left us both for another woman eight years ago. I was ten. He never sends any money and I know he could care less about me. He didn’t come to my high school graduation last month and, of course, he won’t pay for college. He doesn’t care about anyone other than his own damn self. I doubt he even knows his poor old mother suffered a stroke.

The wind picks up, and dark clouds brew in the distance. Great. All I need is a good electrical storm to add to the ambiance of this creepy place. The Spanish moss blows out like a curtain, and I duck to keep it out of my face. My heart is inside my throat, and for a second, I think I see someone watching me from behind the big oak. I look again, but no one’s there. Just keep walking I tell myself. Think about something other than all the horror stories everyone is so eager to share about this place.

I go over tomorrow’s schedule. I’ve kept momma’s hair salon going this summer. Her clients trust me, and I am pretty good with hair, even though I don’t have any formal training. Momma says I am somewhat of a natural. She says I have talent, and she hopes we’ll work together someday, but I have bigger aspirations. Although for now, it’s our only source of income, which is why I am working there. State Board never gets down our way, so I get away with not being officially licensed.

I’m finally past the gargantuan trees. I shudder, making my way up the steps and onto the broad wooden porch. The planks groan as I trespass across the shaded lumber, and I couldn’t agree more with their remorseful protest. I reach for the old brass doorknob and hesitate. Do I simply walk in, or should I ring the bell? And if I do ring the bell, I fear who might answer. I imagine the door chimes, echoing through the desecrated halls of this mansion, wakening the dead from their sleep and warning them of my arrival. Skipping the bell, I turn the knob and push open the door of doom.

I step inside. Everything smells old. The foyer is bigger than my entire apartment. I shiver again. The furnishings are daunting. It’s nice if you like antiques, but I don’t. I think they’re creepy as hell. The renovator tried capturing the authenticity of the time era when the mansion was constructed so the wood is dark and intricately carved. A chill traces its way up my spine, and my hair stands on end. Momma always says when I have a chill, it means an opossum is running over my grave. I hate it when she says that. Not only does it sound hick as hell, but it makes me shiver more, and then she goes and says it again.

From the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a beautiful young woman appropriately dressed for tonight’s occasion. She is wearing the perfect southern belle costume and is stunning in her lavender and black gown. Silk gloves cover her arms up to her elbows and a choker is fastened around her thin neck, making her appear a bit gothic. Her fiery red hair is curled in spirals and adorned with black ribbons. I know some girls at school who would die for the costume, but as hot and humid as it is this evening, I bet she is melting in that ridiculous ensemble.

She’s the only person I see, so I wave my fingers in the air, trying to get her attention. Maybe she can point me toward the kitchen. “Hello,” I call out, hoping she will hear and turn back, but she doesn’t. She is too preoccupied and doesn’t see me. She gracefully ascends the colossal staircase and disappears down the hallway. I am definitely not following her.

My nose picks up the scent of something delicious, and it calms my nerves. Steffi’s food is a comforting thought, and I need to go to my happy place right now. If I can just follow the tantalizing aroma, I should be able to find the kitchen. I hesitate before taking another step. Confound it fear! Why does it paralyze me so? What could have happened inside my momma’s belly that caused me to be so damn afraid? I want to be adventurous and courageous, but I’m a freakin’ coward.

Clutching my backpack, I cautiously make my way through the foyer, only to end up at an impasse at the bottom of a massive staircase. I am sure the kitchen is not upstairs, so my choices are to go right or left. For some reason, right seems like the best option. Pushing open an oversized door, I step into an elegant dining room. My heart stampedes against my chest. Death looms inside this room. I can sense it, and for a moment, I think I can hear the shrieks of the departed. The walls are watching me, and the air inside the room turns thin.

I force my size seven sneakers along the threadbare carpet of no man’s land where the faint of heart dare not tread. The floor squeaks and gives me a subtle warning. I am trespassing, walking on the graves of the deceased. I try not to let my mind go there, but I can’t help but imagine the horror. Legend says the blood pooled over three feet deep inside the dining room. I’m ready to bolt for the door when I hear something moving behind me.

“Eeek! Eeek! Eeek! Eeek!”

I whirl around and scream at a silver butter knife slashing through the air. My legs turn to wet noodles, and I would’ve fallen if Mike hadn’t caught me. His toothy grin fades fast when he realizes I am on the verge of tears.

“Damn it, Mike! Why would you do something like that?”

His eyes dance, and he bites his lip to keep from laughing in my face. As terrified as I am, I can’t be mad at him. He is adorable and sweet and the best thing in my life.

“I’m sorry, Averie.” He’s quick to apologize. “I just couldn’t resist. I did it to mom, too. She slapped me hard.”

“Think you would’ve learned your lesson.” I smile at the thought of petite little Steffi backhanding him out of fear.

The kitchen is enormous, and the moment I step inside, I go into work mode. The first course, roasted red pepper bisque, is simmering on the stove. I inhale deeply, taking in the delicious smell. My mouth waters and my stomach growls. I haven’t eaten a decent meal in who knows how long. I hope there are leftovers. Mike always sends them home with me, and I deeply appreciate it. I am rather tired of eating Top Ramen.

“Here ya go, Averie.” Steffi kisses my cheek while she hands me a tightly crocheted hair net. “Make sure you tuck all those pretty ringlets inside. We can’t risk having someone find a stray on their plate.”

I reluctantly take the hideous piece of mesh. It’s bad enough I have to wear an oversized white shirt, long enough to be a dress. Steffi insist we be presentable, so I shove the extra yardage into the waistband of my black double knit pants. My shirttail balloons out the fabric. I look like I am five months pregnant. And now, the old lady hair net I’m forced to wear completes the ensemble, making it all the more atrocious. I sigh. It doesn’t matter anyway. I will be staying inside the kitchen with Mike filling the serving bowls while Daniel and Brent, our two most seasoned waiters, work the table. I tuck my chestnut curls underneath the net while Steffi digs through her black, sequined clutch. She is beautiful and perfect and could rock a hairnet if she wore one.

“I’m leaving Mike in charge,” she announces, as she snaps her clutch closed. “You’re in good hands. I have another event tonight I must attend, and since I can’t be in two places at once, I am leaving my adorable offspring behind to do what I usually do.”

Mike rolls his eyes and grins. He is cute and blond, like his mother, and has perfectly straight teeth because he wore braces in the seventh grade. I like the way he wears his hair, long and messy like a California surfer dude, except we live in a small town in South Carolina. Still, he rocks the look. Mike has a different girlfriend every month. It’s not that he’s a player, but he is picky. He will be madly in love with a girl, and within a couple of weeks, he’ll find something wrong with her. It’s safe to say he’s broken a lot of hearts. I’m just glad I’ve never had those kinds of feelings for him. I wouldn’t want my heart broken on top of all my other problems. Besides, I don’t think he’s ever been into me that way. At least, he never lets on like he is. I think he sees me more like a sister, and it’s okay with me, because I would never want anything to come between our friendship.

“Mike will drop you at home tonight, sweetie,” Steffi tells me as she places a folded one hundred dollar bill in my hand. I gasp. A hundred dollars? I was only expecting fifty. Before I can say anything, her eyes dance. “The client tonight is a big spender. He paid double for the service.”

I am elated. I will have extra money to buy some groceries. I can actually get peanut butter and strawberry jam. I might even splurge and buy orange juice and some eggs. My anxiety about this place vanishes and, all of a sudden, I am thrilled to be here.

“My client, Mr. Brackett, will be here in thirty minutes, and his guests should arrive at the top of the hour.” Steffi gives her final instruction as she gazes at her reflection in the silver kettle and adds another layer of lipstick. “It’s a simple three course meal and dessert for fourteen people. Keep the food hot and the wine flowing. Daniel and Brent are serving. Everyone else stays inside the kitchen and out of sight.” With a wave of her hand, she marches her stilettos out the kitchen door.

Part of me panics. Why, tonight of all night’s, does she have to schedule another event? “I wish your mom was staying,” I confess. “It’s not as depressing when she’s around. Something about her always lifts my spirits.”

“She lifts parts of me, too.” Daniel is crass. “Except it ain’t my spirit, that’s for sure.”

I roll my eyes and change the subject before Daniel crosses the line. “Who is the chick in the hoop skirt?” I ask Mike while I put the first seven salad plates in the freezer to chill. “Is she the hostess your mom hired?” Mike turns to me, his brows furrowed in confusion as if I was speaking in another language.

“The redhead, in gothic southern belle fashion.” I describe the girl I saw. “She was rushing upstairs when I came in earlier.” Mike tilts his head the same way he does in math class, deciphering numbers in his head instead of scratching the problem out on paper like the rest of us. A sly grin spreads across his face. He shakes his head.

“You’re not tricking me with that one Averie.” He laughs. “You’re just trying to spook me ’cause I got you in the dining room.”

Now, I’m confused. “What are you talking about?”

He hands me another stack of plates. “You want me to think you saw Emily Faulkner’s ghost, but I’m not buying it.”

I nearly drop the dishes. My arms go weak, but somehow I slide the stack onto the rack. “You mean to tell me there is no one else here other than us?”

Mike just laughs and shakes his head.

I think I might faint, and now I want to leave again. “Seriously Mike, I saw a girl going upstairs.”

Mike’s grin turns somber when he realizes I am serious. Daniel and Brent both pale. Brent tugs at his bow tie. “Are you for real or just pranking us?”

I hear fear in his voice. “I’m for real,” I say quietly.

At that very moment, a gust of wind blows the back door wide open, revealing a well-dressed gentleman watching us from the doorway. We all scream at the sight of him.

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