Haunted Raine

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They were supposed to be our Golden Years, but I didn’t feel so golden. Perhaps “weathered” would be a better description. At fifty-two years old, I could admit that I wasn’t in the same condition I’d been in when beginning this life with Richard thirty-one years earlier—that was for sure.

Richard Morrissey—Rick to his close friends and family—wore his fifty-seven years quite well. He still stood just over six feet—the aging slump had not yet taken a hold of him—and he was taller than me by three inches if I wasn’t slouching.

His hair had gone silver in a distinguished manner. The color looked good, peppered through his natural brown hair, sexy even, and somehow made his blue eyes pop. Rick’s fastidious nature demanded structure and order in his life, and pushed him to continue using the gym with regularity. It showed in the strong lines of his back and chest.

With my high forehead, wide nose, and brown eyes, I had no delusions as to which one of us was the better looking. At least I’d always been able to keep a nice tan. If I so much as thought about stepping out into the sun a golden glow appeared and if I spent any real time outside, I’d become a deep bronze. My body was softer around the edges than Rick’s, the ‘girls’ swung lower, and my hair was a bland gray—or it would’ve been if it weren’t for my good friend Clairol and her honey-blonde magic in a bottle. Once a month, I went down to the beauty school with my pharmacy bag in hand and had my roots done for a fraction of what it would cost me to support the snooty salon across town.

Yes, I had an issue with frugality. I’d learned how to get by on very little in our humble beginnings. While Richard went to law school, I picked up odd jobs here and there, taking what I could get with an infant in tow. In due time, Richard passed the Bar Exam with flying colors, but we continued to just get by while he started off as a legal clerk and then worked his way up to partner over the years.

Even when we found we had more money than we knew what to do with, I continued to clip coupons and eagle-eye the sale racks. I’d done it for too many years not to anymore. The upside to my penny-pinching was that when we wanted, or needed something, we had the funds. Extra-curricular school activities, cars, and putting three kids through college were never a cause of stress for us.

Extended summer vacations became our one big splurge each year. Rick would take all of his annual vacation time when the kids were out for summer break, and we would travel the world for two months. Richard Junior—Ricky—got his first passport when he was ten, Lucas and Lily had been seven, and we’d taken them all to Australia.

By the time the kids left for college, their passports were full of stamps, and the photo albums overflowed. We’d had an abundance of experiences and had made enough memories to last a lifetime. This was turning out to be a good thing, because the last few years . . .

Well, things had become strained between Rick and I—almost like we’d forgotten how we’d been in our younger days, and now needed the kids with us for any sense of togetherness. So many years of our lives had been spent as a family unit of five that somehow Rick and I had let ‘us’ fade away.

The kids had been out of the house for a good five years by now. Lily, being the last one to leave, had stayed at home and gone to Converse College for her first degree. Our boys had both left straight away from high school. Ricky had received a full ride to Rice in Texas, and Lucas had joined the Marine Corps, which had taken him to Parris Island in South Carolina for recruit training.

Rick worked a lot. In fact, it had been about eight years since we’d done one of our summer long vacations. His leave had hit a point of rolling as much over as could be, and then losing the rest. He had about three months saved up and sitting on the books.

My days were now spent quilting and volunteering over at Spartanburg Regional as a candy-striper twice a week, instead of running the PTA and chaperoning school field trips. I also spent a fair amount of time at the library.

Family roots—and the history that went with them—fascinated me because of my great-grandmother Nancy Shaw. She’d been abandoned as a newborn by the front doors of a hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, so I knew nothing of my own roots further back than that.

It was always an adventure to study different lineages and pretend that perhaps I was learning my own. The Gullah culture in the Carolina low-country was my current obsession. Hailing from Africa, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, the people who could now be found in areas of New York—such as Harlem, Queens, and Brooklyn—seemed at some point to end up down in South Carolina and Georgia. One thing I knew for sure: their history was rich with intrigue, scandal, and religion—Voodoo in particular.

Of course, there was more than just the library as a source of information available to me. The older patients at the hospital were a veritable fountain of knowledge. Which is why, at the suggestion of a patient I was visiting with one day, I came home with a proposition for my husband—and our wayward marriage—that would also further the pursuit of knowledge in my current subject matter. To be honest, I was surprised when Rick agreed. However, two months later, when the peak tourist season wound down at the end of July, we found ourselves the proud owners of a one-bedroom beach bungalow. It was on the coast of South Carolina, in the small town of St. Helena, a thriving Gullah community.

The catch to the low price we got the property for being that it was a fixer-upper. We’d bought it for dirt cheap, and the plan was to spend the next three months refurbishing it, with the intent to put it up for sale. If the flip went well, we thought perhaps this could become our new annual ‘thing’ with the added bonus that it would serve to be a good investment heading into our retirement years.

If we’d only known what was in store for us and how our lives would be turned upside down because of it.

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