The Ghost and Mr. Moore
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by Ryan Field
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: When a famous child actor, Dexter Moore, leaves Hollywood and moves to Provincetown, MA, with his daughter and his longtime housekeeper, he doesn't expect to find that his new house is haunted. And especially not with the ghost of a strong, virile young sea captain who looks like Hugh Jackman and makes love like no other living man Dexter has known. But Dexter must deal with more important things than ghosts. He soon discovers that his ex-partner lost all his money in a bad investment and Dexter is forced to go back to work. So he reluctantly agrees to do an intrusive TV show, where he is followed with cameras for three months. If he doesn't, he'll have to sell his magnificent new home and move back to Hollywood. In order to make the TV show more interesting, Dexter's new best friend gets him involved in a heated town dispute. The new president of the chamber of commerce wants to cancel a town tradition and start something new, and half the town is against him. But Dexter doesn't get involved with this for the TV show or ratings. He's only interested in helping people and saving an important fundraiser from being canceled. While all this is happening, Dexter slowly gets to know the ghost of handsome Captain Lang. He's the only one who can see and hear Lang. They make passionate love together, they spend long hours talking about Dexter's strong feelings, and they start working on a series of books about Captain Lang's notorious adventures at sea that will ensure Dexter's financial future. But when the books are finished and the two men finally admit they are in love, how will they reconcile their feelings with reality?
eBook Publisher: Ravenous Romance/Ravenous Romance, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
42 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [244 KB]
Reading time: 161-226 min.
On a warm Friday afternoon in June, Dexter Moore pulled into the driveway of his new home, Keel Cottage. The thick gravel crunched and cracked beneath the tires. The car rolled to a stop. He parked the black BMW sedan in the middle of a long, narrow driveway and switched off the engine. Then he unfastened his seat belt, ran his fingers through his hair, and took a deep breath. "We're finally here, Brighton. We made it."
He turned to his six-year-old daughter in the back seat and smiled. The little girl had already removed her seat belt and was leaning forward so she could look out the window. She stared up at an old house with gray shingled turrets and bright white trim and said, "It's huge, Dad. And it's nothing like our old house in Hollywood." A small, white Bichon Frise jumped onto her lap and barked a few times. "Calm down, Cleo," she said. "I can't open the door or the window. Dad has them locked again."
Dexter took a deep breath and raised his eyebrows. He felt like yawning; his eyelids were heavy and his legs felt stiff. "Wait until I get out, Brighton," he said. It had been a long trip from New York. He'd stopped in Manhattan for the night, and traffic had been heavy all the way up to the tip of the Cape. But that had been only part of the trip. He was exhausted because he'd been driving for days--all the way from Hollywood, California.
When he unlocked the doors and pulled the key from the ignition, Brighton pointed to the house and shouted, "There's Marion. She's standing on the porch waiting for us." Brighton opened her door, jumped out of the car, and ran toward the house. It would have been futile for Dexter to try to stop her. She hadn't seen Marion in two weeks. Cleo followed her up the green lawn and past two large black urns filled with blood-red geraniums. Cleo was the kind of dog that didn't need to be on a leash all the time. He never wandered, and he always listened to commands.
Dexter opened the car door and watched Brighton run to the house. He smiled and shook his head. Marion had been their housekeeper for five years, and she'd practically raised Brighton. They hadn't seen Marion in a while because she had flown to Cape Cod earlier to prepare the house for their arrival.
On his way to the front porch, Dexter thought he saw someone standing up on the widow's walk, beside the cupola. He looked down at the path for a second so he wouldn't trip on the unfamiliar lawn. But when he looked up again the widow's walk was empty. He chalked it up to his imagination and lack of sleep; he'd been driving too long.
When he reached the house, Brighton was already on the porch. She was jumping up and down and Marion was laughing, trying to calm her. Marion's hands were clasped together and resting on her ample waist; her head was tipped to the side and her eyes were gleaming. She was wearing a pale blue cotton dress with a thick, white apron. Her shoes were black leather with large gold buckles and chunky three-inch heels. Dexter smiled and lifted his hand to his mouth so she wouldn't notice. Marion had been raised in New England, but she'd lived in Southern California almost all her adult life and she'd resisted moving to Cape Cod. Now she looked as if she'd never left New England and California was on another planet.
"It's so good to see you, Marion," Dexter said. "I don't think I want to get into a car for the next month."
Marion smiled. "You just leave everything to me," she said. "I'll take care of the car, and I'll bring all the bags upstairs. You just go up to your room and take a good, long nap, Mr. Moore. I'll leave your bags outside your door in the upstairs hall."
Marion had never called him or his ex-partner by their first names. She could have and it wouldn't have mattered, but she was old school in this respect. "I made a nice Yankee pot roast for dinner and a Cape Cod cranberry pie for dessert."
He reached for the banister and walked up four wooden steps to the porch. This was the first time he'd actually seen his new house. He'd purchased it long distance from a photo he'd seen online. The trim on the wide, wraparound porch was painted bright white, the planked floor was dove gray, and the bead board ceiling was a traditional sky blue. He looked at the white wicker furniture with apple green cushions and smiled. He tilted his head and stared at the copper light fixtures hanging from chains on the porch ceiling. The oversized front door was made out of thick walnut and it was supposedly original to the house.
Above the door, a brass sign read, Keel Cottage, 1897. Dexter had been told by his Realtor that Cape Cod had been called "Cape of Keel" by the original explorers, and the sea captain who had built the house in the nineteenth century had named the house Keel Cottage.
The white trim was glossy and smooth. He ran the tips of his fingers along the front rail and said, "I think I made a good decision, Marion. I like what I see so far. I was worried the house wouldn't look like it did in the photos. But now I see that it's even better than I imagined it would be."
Marion frowned and smoothed the front of her apron.
When Dexter noticed the serious expression on her face, he asked, "What's wrong?" After five years, he knew how to read all her moods.
She forced a smile; she wouldn't look him in the eye. "Nothing serious," she said. "It's a fine old house, Mr. Moore. It's just that I've noticed a few things, is all. Peculiar things." Her voice was low, almost apologetic.
Dexter took a deep breath and sighed. "Have you been listening to local gossip, Marion?" Dexter knew what Marion was talking about and he didn't want to discuss it in front of Brighton. So he patted Brighton on the back and said, "Why don't you go upstairs and check out your new bedroom, sweetie? Turn right at the top of the stairs, and it's the last door on the right. Marion will be up there in a minute." He'd studied the floor plans of Keel Cottage on the Internet.
Brighton smiled and looked down at Cleo. "C'mon," she said, "I'll race you upstairs." Then she rushed through the wide doorway and headed for the staircase with the little dog in tow.
When she was gone, Marion pressed her palm to her chest and said, "Each morning when I go downstairs, there's a cupboard door wide open. I know I close them all at night, and yet one of them is wide open in the morning. And the butcher, Mr. Klinger, asked me if I'd seen any ghosts yet. The things he told me about this house, Mr. Moore." She put her hands on his hips, pressed her lips together, and shook her head back and forth.
Dexter smiled. "Marion, I know all about the ghost stories. The real estate agent who sold me this house said it was rumored to be haunted. It's just urban legend and folklore. There's no basis to these stories. Every small town like Provincetown has at least one haunted house." He didn't tell her he'd purchased the house at an extremely low price because the previous owners also thought the house was haunted. The straight couple, two interior decorators from Boston, had renovated the entire place and they'd only been there a year. Dexter had fallen in love with the photos of the house, and then when he compared the price of Keel Cottage to other properties in Provincetown that weren't even half as nice, he realized it was the buy of a lifetime. He didn't believe in ghosts, witches, or vampires. He only believed in what he could see. But he knew Marion was extremely superstitious and he didn't tell her about the ridiculous ghost stories because he didn't want to alarm her.
Marion forced a smile and said, "I'm sure you're right, Mr. Moore. It's probably my imagination running away with me. Big old houses like this can be very quiet at night. I'm glad you're both here."
"That's more like it, Marion," he said. "I think I'll go upstairs now and check out my room. And nice long nap sounds like a great idea. Will you be okay with Brighton?" He didn't have to ask; he knew she couldn't wait to be with Brighton again. The two had always been inseparable.
She smiled and waved her wide arm. "We'll be just fine. Mr. Moore. You go on up and rest, and I'll call you when supper is ready."
When Marion went back into the house to find Brighton, he crossed into the entrance hall and looked around. The refinished hardwood floors gleamed, the white trim sparkled, and the walls were a pale shade of sage green. The dining room was to his left. The house had been sold fully furnished and there was a long mahogany table with Chippendale chairs, five on each side and two on the ends. The sideboard was Hepplewhite and the breakfront was built into a wall. Even though the house was Victorian, it was classic New England and very simple. The trim and the crown molding were solid and straight, without swirls, ornate carvings, or gingerbread. He took a deep breath and smiled. The whole place smelled like a combination of old wood, furniture polish, and the salty sea air.
Dexter turned to his right and crossed into a huge double parlor. The walls were painted light taupe and the trim was white like the rest of the house. There were two elegant Chippendale sofas beside a walk-in fireplace. They were the most ornate pieces of furniture in the room, with white cotton slipcovers and ball and clawed feet. The other furniture was simple. Two club chairs with sage and white striped slipcovers balanced the sofas, a black baby grand piano had been angled at the other end of the room, and the side tables and accessories mixed periods. He liked the modern rectangular coffee table with a two-inch-thick glass top that separated the sofas. The entire room was a balance of old and new, but everything had neat, tailored lines and worked well together. It's a good thing the previous owners had been decorators, because he knew that he would never have been able to pull this off on his own.
He put his hands in his pockets and walked toward the fireplace. Above the tall, white mantle, there was a large oval portrait of a handsome man--one of the best-looking men Dexter had ever seen. He couldn't take his eyes off the painting. He leaned forward so he could read a small bronze plaque at the bottom of the thick gold frame. "Captain Major Lang, 1899." The real estate agent had told Dexter that Captain Lang had been the original owner of the house. He'd designed Keel Cottage and had it built back when Provincetown had still been an important fishing village and was filled with men whose lives revolved around the sea.
Dexter looked up at the portrait and rubbed his chin a few times. The face in the painting reminded Dexter of Hugh Jackman in the werewolf film. Captain Lang was sitting on a dark, hand-carved chair with his muscular hands folded on his lap. He had wide, square shoulders and what looked like a hard, lean body. His dark blue uniform and his sea captain's hat made him look distinguished and important, yet his steel blue eyes were soft and mellow. He had a strong, angular face and a dark, well-trimmed beard. Captain Lang wasn't smiling or frowning. His dark eyebrows weren't up or down. And his overall expression could only be described as pleasantly amused, as if sitting for a portrait had been self-indulgent and silly.
Dexter leaned in closer and whispered, "Damn, you must have broken more than a few hearts in your day, man. You're the hottest freaking sea captain I've ever seen." He stared at the lips in the portrait and whistled.
While he was whistling, he felt a warm breeze and he stepped back from the fireplace. He turned to the right and watched a rush of wind pass through one of the tall front windows. It blew the white cotton draperies forward and knocked over a pewter candlestick that had been sitting on a round cherry table. Dexter crossed to the table, lifted the candlestick, and closed the window. Then he covered his mouth and yawned. On his way out of the room, he looked up at the portrait again and made a mental note to do some research on Captain Lang. Supposedly, he'd been very well known and slightly notorious, and Dexter was curious.
When Dexter was upstairs, he heard Brighton and Marion. They were down the hall in Brighton's bedroom, and they were laughing about something. It was good to hear Brighton laugh again. In the past year, Dexter had experienced many sleepless nights worrying about her. When Dexter's ex-partner, Michael, had left them to move in with a nineteen-year-old guy, Brighton had been devastated. Her grades had gone down, she'd stopped seeing her friends, and all she did was watch television. Dexter had tried to put up a good front, but he'd been devastated, too. But he'd worked hard to keep his separation with Michael amicable for Brighton's sake. After all, athough Michael wasn't much of a father, he was Brighton's other father and she loved him in spite of his flaws.
The sound of their laughter at the other end of the hall made Dexter smile. And for the first time since he'd decided to move to Cape Cod, he felt a warm, comfortable feeling pass through his body. Starting over wasn't going to be easy, but at least it felt right.
Dexter had read the floor plans of Keel Cottage so many times he knew exactly where he was going. He crossed to the other end of the long hallway and opened the door to his bedroom. It was the largest bedroom on the second floor. There were four others on the second floor, including Brighton's bedroom, and three more on the third floor. Marion's private bedroom was on the first floor, off the kitchen.
His room was the one above the dining room, where the front of the house rounded to form a turret. The turret was lined with tall windows flanked with cream colored cotton draperies. He went inside, closed the door, and turned the old skeleton key to lock it. His heels clicked on the wooden floor as he walked through the room. There was an antique high boy beside the window seat. He passed a four-poster bed with a white cotton duvet, and a large desk with tons of small drawers. He stood in front of the windows and looked out to the sea. Keel Cottage sat high on a hill in the far West End of Provincetown, at the end of Commercial Street. Even though Keel Cottage wasn't directly on the water, every room in the front of the house had a clear view of the ocean. The Realtor had told him that the only other building with a better ocean view than his was the Pilgrim Monument on High Pole Hill Road.
Dexter yawned again and walked to the bed. He sat on the edge of the mattress so he could remove his shoes and socks, then stood up and removed the rest of his clothes. When he was naked, he went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. It was a simple bathroom, with white subway tiles, a white marble floor, and white marble counters. He looked at his body in a full-length mirror and sighed because he hadn't had a chance to work out since a week before he'd left Hollywood. He'd lost a few pounds, and the muscles in his arms looked smaller. Dexter had a naturally lean, defined body. When he worked out with weights, his compact muscles popped and rounded with definition. Even though he was thirty-two years old, he still looked like he was in his twenties. Now that he was single again, after twelve years of being in a monogamous relationship with Michael, he wanted to hold on to his looks for as long as he could.
When the water was hot, he stepped into the shower and closed his eyes. The hot water saturated his short blond hair and coated his naked body. His legs were smooth and tan, and his ass was round and firm. Dexter didn't have much body hair, and the little he did have below his waist he trimmed and shaved regularly. He always kept a small patch of blond above his penis, a triangle that pointed down.
He reached for the soap with his left hand and grabbed his penis with his right. He was already semi-hard and a full erection was forming fast. He hadn't had sex with anyone since Michael had left him. And he hadn't masturbated in weeks because he'd been on the road with Brighton. His balls felt low and heavy; the tip of his penis was already dripping with clear pre-come. He usually masturbated at least once a day, and this was the longest he'd gone without coming in his entire adult life. So he leaned back against the tiled shower, spread his smooth legs wider, and started to jerk his dick. The water splashed against his body; he arched his back and closed his eyes. When he pictured Captain Lang's face from the portrait in the double parlor, his balls tightened and the head of his penis expanded. He usually fantasized about a porn movie he'd seen, or a famous actor from a recent film. But for some reason, Captain Lang's strong, masculine face entered his mind. A minute later, he rubbed out a load that was so intense it smacked into the white tiles on the other side of the shower and left his legs trembling.
When his body was clean again, he stepped out of the shower and dried off with thick white towels. These were his towels. He'd had them and a few other personal things shipped to Provincetown ahead of time so he'd feel at home. He'd hated leaving his house in the Hollywood Hills, but there hadn't been a choice. Dexter lived on money he'd made as a child actor, and Michael handled all his finances. He could afford to not work as long as he lived within his means. In the years that he'd lived with Michael in the Hollywood Hills, property values had increased so much that when it was time to sell the house, he couldn't afford to buy Michael out without dipping into his capital. So when they split up, they sold their home and divided the money in half. Dexter bought Keel Cottage with his half and he didn't have to touch his capital. And the fact that Keel Cottage had been listed at such an outrageously low price allowed him to own a beautifully restored home for a fraction of what he normally would have paid.
When he was finished in the bathroom, he went back into the bedroom and double checked to make sure his bedroom door was locked and shut tight. He wanted to take his nap in the nude, and he didn't want Brighton or Marion walking in on him by mistake.
Then he walked to the bed and went down on top of the white duvet cover. He plopped hard in the middle of the bed, on his stomach, and spread his legs. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. The light cotton duvet felt smooth against his balls and the mattress was firm, but not too hard.
And just before he dropped off into a deep sleep, he thought he heard a whistle. Not just any whistle. This was a soft, clear whistle that sounded like an old song he'd once heard. But he couldn't remember the title. He wanted to lift his head and turn around, but his feet began to tingle and he couldn't lift his eyelids. He was so relaxed he just drifted off to sleep with the whistle running through his head.
* * * *
On his first morning in Keel Cottage, Dexter woke to the sounds gulls squawking and cars creeping down the narrow, one-way path of Commercial Street. He opened his eyes and pulled the white duvet cover up to his chin. The antique clock on the mantel over his bedroom fireplace said seven o'clock. He looked to the right and saw he'd left one of the front windows in his room wide open all night long. A cool, early summer breeze was blowing in from the bay. But the sun was shining, the sky was vivid blue, and he knew it would be warmer by noon. Though he was a native Californian, he knew the climate well. Dexter and his former partner had taken many summertime vacations to Provincetown. They usually went during the fourth of July, when all the good-looking young circuit boys were in town. Michael had insisted on going then.
Dexter rubbed his eyes and looked at the open window again. He tilted his head and twisted his lips. Though he'd gone to bed late the night before, he could have sworn he'd closed the window. He always slept in the nude, and he knew Provincetown mornings tended to be cool that time of year.
Then a strong breeze blew the drapes forward. It passed over his bed, touched his face, and caused his erection to jump. He closed his eyes and smiled. A quick release before breakfast always put him in a good mood for the rest of the day. But when he reached down to wrap his hand around his penis there was a hard knock on his bedroom door. The door was locked. Even though the rule in the house had always been to knock before entering bathrooms or bedrooms, he would have never taken the chance that his daughter would walk in on him.
"Dad," Brighton shouted. "Are you awake?" Her soft voice was high, with an excited, musical lilt.
Dexter smiled and rolled his eyes. "Yes, sweetie, I'm awake."
"Good," she shouted, "because Marion is making cream cheese omelets for breakfast, with little sausages and fried bread." She pronounced omelets, om-a-leds.
Dexter smiled and rubbed his eyes again. "Okay, sweetie, I'll be down in ten minutes. I just want to jump into the shower and get dressed first. You go down and I'll join you."
He heard Cleo bark. Then Brighton said, "I'll see you downstairs, Dad."
When he heard her scamper down the hall to the stairs, he pulled back the covers and looked down at his naked body. His erection was already shrinking. Having children, he'd learned, tended to do that. But he didn't care. His daughter was the most important person in his life, and he knew she was excited about being in a new place. He didn't want to miss the expression on her small, innocent face when she ate her first breakfast in the new house; he didn't want to miss her wide eyes when they took their first walk up Commercial Street after breakfast. Dexter and Michael had adopted Brighton at birth, and he'd never missed a single event in her life. He'd fed Brighton her first spoonful of solid food, he'd been there for her first steps, and he'd never missed a school function. Michael had missed more than a few events, but Dexter had always been there for everything, and he always would.
So he jumped out of bed and jogged into the bathroom. His semi-erect penis smacked against his leg. He had to reach down and hold it because the head was still sensitive.
Then he showered and dressed fast. And when he left his bedroom and reached the top of the staircase, he smelled fresh coffee and frying sausage. Marion was a tremendous cook, and Dexter was lucky that he'd always been thin and never had to worry about what he ate.
Brighton was sitting at the white antique kitchen table with a bowl of cereal and a tall glass of orange juice. The massive kitchen in this house had been totally renovated, with stainless steel appliances, white shaker cabinets, and white marble counters. The original hardwood floor had been sanded and refinished just like those in the rest of the house. There was a large eating area on one side of a long center island, and the cooking side was on the other.
Dexter sat down across from Brighton and smiled. Marion was cooking on the other side of the island, staring down into the frying pan. Dexter smiled and said, "Marion, you look like one of those chefs on TV in this huge kitchen." Their kitchen in Hollywood had been a long, narrow galley kitchen, with a small table at the end. The house had been very modern.
Marion looked up and smiled. "Maybe I should dress for breakfast then. I'll wear my diamonds tomorrow, Mr. Moore." Then she laughed and told Cleo to move over. Dexter couldn't see the little dog, but he knew he was sitting in front of the cook top, waiting for a small morsel to fall of the counter. For such a small dog, he had an enormous appetite.
When Dexter looked to the right, he noticed some of the cabinet doors were open. They were at the end, near the refrigerator. "Marion," he said, "why are those doors open like that?"
Marion didn't look up at him. She was ready to flip an omelet. "I didn't notice it, Mr. Moore. I know all the doors were shut last night when I went to bed."
Dexter pressed his lips together and lifted an eyebrow. "I see," he said. He didn't want to discuss it in front of Brighton, but he knew by the look on her face that she was referring to this imaginary ghost. He also knew she'd left the doors open so he'd see them. "You can close them when you get a chance and we'll talk about it later."
Marion lifted the pan, flipped the omelet over and smiled. "Yes, Mr. Moore."
After breakfast, Brighton wanted to go into town. But Dexter said, "Let's go up and check out the widow's walk first, then we can take a long walk all the way up to the east end." In all the years he'd been coming to Provincetown, he'd stayed in guest houses and rental condos. But he'd never actually been up on a widow's walk. Now that he had one of his own, he wanted to check it out first hand.
Brighton tilted her head and said, "What's the window's walk?"
Marion laughed so hard she dropped a breakfast sausage on the floor and Cleo ran for it. He scooped it up and ran out of the room as fast as his little legs would take him.
Dexter smiled. He wanted to explain it in simple terms. He said, "It's not 'window's walk,' sweetie. It's the widow's walk. It's like a roof deck at the very top of the house. A lot of the old houses on Cape Cod have them. When the sailors used to go away to sea for long stretches of time, their wives used to go up to the top of the house, to the widow's walk, and watch for their husbands' return. They could see all the way out to the ocean for miles and miles." His lifted his arm and spread it out wide. He didn't tell her that most of the time, the women were waiting for men who had died at sea and would never return.
Brighton jumped off her chair and rubbed her palms together. "I want to see it, Dad. Let's go. Maybe we'll see some boats...or even some whales." Then she grabbed his hand and pulled it toward her small body. She was wearing his favorite pink T-shirt that morning, with a pair of jeans and pink sneakers. The front of the T-shirt read, "Live Life Like A Butterfly: Always Fly with Gentle, Graceful Wings."
Dexter stood up. "Okay, sweetie. But we have a new rule here in Provincetown. You only go up there with me or Marion. You are never to go up there alone." Then he turned to Marion. "I'm going to make sure there's a lock put on the door to the stairwell this week, just to be sure." He knew Brighton would listen, but he'd also learned that with small children you should never assume anything.
"Good idea, Mr. Moore," Marion said. Then she turned to Brighton and said, "This is an important new rule, Brighton. Your father is right. You are never to go up there alone. Do you understand?"
Brighton frowned and stared down at her shoes. She didn't like restrictions, and was too young to realize this one was for her own good. "Yes, I understand." Then she grabbed Dexter's hand and said, "Let's go now, Dad. I want to see where the widows walked to look for their husbands."
The entrance to the widow's walk at Keel Cottage was on the third floor. A doorway in the center of the hallway led into a narrow stairwell with semi-circular staircase that had the old-fashioned pie slice steps. When they reached the door, Dexter frowned because as he had predicted, there was no lock. He made a mental note to call a locksmith that morning to get a good, strong deadbolt put on the door so Brighton wouldn't be able to go exploring on her own.
When they reached the top of the steps, they entered a small, square cupola with a door that led outside. He frowned again; there was no lock on that door either. Evidently, the former owners hadn't had children.
Dexter opened the door and they stepped outside onto a gray painted deck that was surrounded with a glossy white rail. It was a smaller version of the white railing all over the house. He looked out to the sea and put his hand on his hips. Then he took a deep breath, inhaled the salt air, and said, "It's even more beautiful than I thought it would be." Beyond the tree tops--in the front, on the left, and on the right--he had ocean views. "I'll bet if we wait long enough we'll see a whale or two."
While he was staring at the ocean, Brighton stepped forward to get a better look. Her favorite bedtime story had been about a lost whale who couldn't find his mother. When she crossed to the edge, Dexter wasn't worried. The rail came up to her chest.
First she looked up, then looked down. She pointed to the front yard. "Look down there, Dad. Marion is walking back from the mailbox at the end of the driveway. Cleo is with her." She lifted her arm and waved at Marion, shouting Marion's name at the top of her lungs.
Marion looked up and pressed her palm to her throat with one hand and waved with the other. She shook her head back and forth and shouted. "You be careful up there. I get chills just looking up at you that high." Then Cleo ran around in a circle and barked a few times.
"I will," Brighton shouted. "I'm safe. I'm with Dad."
Dexter raised his arm and waved. Marion looked small and she seemed so far away. He could barely see her features or the stack of letters she was carrying. But he saw she was smiling and that the wind was blowing a loose strand of gray hair next to her ear.
While he was waving at Marion, Brighton leaned forward and pressed her weight against the white rail. Dexter heard a quick snap and the rail cracked. When the rail went forward, Brighton followed. She fell off the roof so fast it seemed like she went down in slow motion. He reached down to grab Brighton's pink T-shirt, but he wasn't fast enough to keep her from falling.
Cleo barked first, and it sounded like a long, deep howl from the bottom of his gut. Then Marion dropped the mail on the driveway and pressed her palms to her face. At the same time she screamed, Dexter reached forward with both arms outstretched and shouted, "Brighton!" His heart stopped beating; his legs became wobbly and he went down to his knees. For a second, he couldn't move--the entire world stopped moving. A force of heat passed through his body and made his ears ring. When he looked up again, he saw Marion down on the driveway with both arms outstretched and her mouth wide open. She looked up at him and tried to open her mouth to speak. But nothing came out.
He ran down all three staircases, taking two at a time. When he reached the front hall, he knocked over a table with a lamp and pushed the screen door open with both hands. His stomach thumped and his heart raced. The images that ran through his head were too awful to even consider.
Cleo was running in circles on the grass, barking up toward the porch. Marion was standing on the grass, in front of the porch, reaching up with both arms to the top of a tall, square shrub. It was a yew, with soft, cushiony evergreens that had been pruned so many times over the years the flat surface was almost completely solid.
When Marion saw him, she said, "I can't reach her. I'm going to call an ambulance."
"I'm okay," Brighton said. "I just can't get up."