Welcome to FROST HARROW, my new modern (1990s) gothic horror series! If you’d like to support this and my other work, go to www.CushingHorrors.com and become my patron! You may also enjoy the Scribe Award-Winning MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE – In print, for kindle, and for all e-book formats. And check out my retro-horror-comedy classic CANOE COPS VS. THE MUMMY as well as my other books. Now… On with the show!
SEVEN – CATCHING UP
Grant pushed Ivy’s wheelchair down the halls of Beth Israel at a breakneck pace. Ivy giggled like a schoolgirl as Grant wheeled her around the corner and hurried toward the hospital’s front entrance.
Grant laughed, being careful to avoid the doctors and nurses as they went. Ivy waved to the other patients with her right hand; her left arm wasn’t yet up to waving.
It had been just over a week since Grant Winslow first appeared in Ivy’s hospital room—a week of brief, furtive calls on a nurse’s “missing” portable phone while Ivy’s relatives and the hospital staff weren’t listening.
Ivy had secretly arranged with Grant to check herself out this morning, before the family chauffeur was supposed to pick her up. Of all the Frosts, only Anthony had any idea of his younger cousin’s plan.
Daniel would be furious when he found out, Ivy knew. Not only was she bucking his authority as head of the family, but she was sneaking off on her birthday, too—and with one of the family’s “arch enemies.”
But Ivy had no intention of spending the twentieth anniversary of her birth cooped up in the cloistered rooms of Frost Hall—or “Frost Harrow,” as Tony liked to call the family mansion.
No, spending the day renewing her friendship with Grant seemed a far better way to celebrate.
At the hospital entrance, she signed the necessary papers, hopped out of the chair, and the two of them sprinted to Grant’s jeep, laughing all the way.
They were still chuckling when Grant pulled the jeep into a parking space at Riverside Park ten minutes later.
“So,” he said as he engaged the parking brake, “how does it feel to be a fugitive?”
Ivy ignored her aching ribs and smiled broadly at him, making a mental note to take the rest of the day a bit easier. “Wonderful. Liberating. And famished. Much more of that hospital food would have killed me.”
“Ah!” said Grant. “I’ve just the thing for that.” He reached into the back of the jeep and pulled out a wonderful-smelling basket.
In response to Ivy’s quizzical look, he said, “I had the servants throw something together before I picked you up. Just in case.” He opened the driver’s side door and got out of the car with basket in hand.
He came to her side of the jeep to open the door for her, but Ivy beat him to it. I won’t be helpless just because I’ve got a busted wing, a cut on my neck, and aching ribs, she thought.
Grant took her good hand and led her down one of the paths toward the riverbank. It had been unusually warm for the time of year, and Ivy was enjoying every minute of the good weather. “You know,” she said, looking at Grant’s handsome face, “I never figured you for the type of guy who’d have servants.”
Grant laughed. “How do you know that I haven’t changed my rebellious counterculture ways in the years since you knew me? Perhaps I’m now a greedy hedonistic old miser like my late uncle.”
“Ha! Not bloody likely.”
Grant shot her a wounded look. “You’ve found me out. I’m still the same muzzy-headed liberal I’ve always been.” He indicated a picnic table next to an old maple tree by the river. “That look okay?”
She nodded, and the two of them sat down opposite each other on the table’s benches. Grant opened the basket and doled out the food: asparagus quiche, blueberry bagels with fat-free cream cheese, honeydew melon slices, orange juice. “Coffee?” he asked, pulling a thermos from the basket.
“No, thanks,” said Ivy. “Never taken up the habit.”
“Pity. Sometimes a good cup of Joe is all that stands between a person and a bitter North Sea morning.” He poured himself a mug, then fetched another thermos. “Good thing I brought some skim milk,” he said, smiling.
“That I’ll take,” said Ivy, proffering her cup with her one good hand. He poured and then set the thermoses aside, and they ate. The warm morning sun shone on the two of them from across the River Haven. Gulls swooped down and landed nearby, hoping for a handout.
“Mmm! This is excellent,” Ivy said around a mouthful of quiche. “No wonder you kept the servants on.”
Grant saluted her with his cup of coffee. “No wonder,” he said. “Seriously, though, I’m not the kind of guy who fires people just because they don’t fit into my particular world view. God knows my family’s done enough of that in the past.
“Some of the people working my uncle’s place have been with the family for more than thirty years. What was I supposed to do, sack the lot of them and go live in a cave somewhere?”
“Maybe,” she said, smiling. “The old Grant might have. I guess your stint in the Navy has changed you a bit.”
A puzzled look played across Grant’s face. “Navy?”
Ivy stopped eating. “Sure. Everyone knows you joined the armed forces to get out of Frosthaven and away from your family.”
“Ha ha! Shit! Is that what the family told people?”
Now it was Ivy’s turn to look puzzled. “Sure,” she said. “Isn’t that what happened?”
“Maybe in my uncle’s super-patriotic dreams. Hell, no. I went to sea with Greenpeace. Guess maybe it busted the folks up so much that they couldn’t stand to tell anybody the truth.”
“Shit,” said Ivy. “When I came back to Frosthaven to live after my parents died, that’s what everyone told me—even the kids at school.”
“I’m not surprised that’s what you heard at Haughton Academy,” Grant replied, chewing on a piece of melon. “Both our families have always had far too much influence there. That’s why I left Haughton during my junior year and finished at Frost High.”
“I remember. You wrote and told me,” said Ivy, biting off a bit of bagel. “But I went there, too, though—when I came back. I think it was my uncle’s ‘punishment’ on me for my parents’ moving away. But even in the public schools, the story was that you’d joined the Navy or Marines or something.”
Grant leaned back, forgetting for a moment that the bench had no back. He caught himself just in time and laughed. “Well, I guess the ‘or something’ part of that fits. It looks as though both the Winslow and the Frost disinformation bureaus have been working overtime.”
Ivy nodded. “So why didn’t you write me after you left? I must have sent you half a dozen letters before I gave up.”
“Shit,” said Grant. “I never got those letters. I wrote you before I left for Greenpeace, explaining what I was up to. I figured when you didn’t write back that you must have been mad at me or something.”
“I never got any letters,” said Ivy. A shadow seemed to have fallen over the bright morning sun. She rubbed her eyes. “God damn my family,” she muttered.
“God damn both our families,” Grant agreed. He drew a deep breath. “Sorry to hear about your parents.”
“I was sorry to hear about yours, too.”
Grant gazed at the river and watched the current carry a brown leaf downstream toward Lake Superior. “I was at sea when it happened,” he said. “Didn’t even make it back for the funeral. Not that I think my uncle wanted me there anyway.”
He chuckled bitterly to himself. “Pretty ironic that the old bastard died without a will, leaving me sole heir. I guess he thought he’d never kick off.”
“He seemed the same ornery son-of-a-bitch last time I saw him,” noted Ivy.
“Yeah. That was uncle Abner. Seldom a good word for anybody. He must be rolling in his grave now that I have control of the family fortune and business.” He shook his head. “I didn’t even hear about your folks until I got back last week. Tony filled me in after your accident. He’s a keeper, that one. Only one of your family that would even talk to me after the crash.”
Ivy smiled. “Sometimes I don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s more like a brother than a cousin to me.”
“So, how’d it happen?” asked Grant. “Your folks, I mean. If you don’t mind talking about it.”
Ivy closed her eyes. “A train accident on Long Island. Really bad one, over a dozen people killed. Hundreds injured.” She took a deep breath and clutched the medallion where it dangled near her breast. “I was in school when I heard about it. A counselor took me to the principal’s office.
“Uncle Dan fetched me back here pretty quick after that. Sometimes I feel like my life ended there, on that train with my folks.”
She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “God. It’s almost four years now. Seems like yesterday.”
Grant put his hand sympathetically on her good shoulder. “Sorry I asked. Why’d you stick around if it’s been so rotten for you?”
Ivy laughed bitterly, pulled out a Kleenex, and blew her nose. “This is going to seem really stupid to you, Grant… But I stuck around for the money.”
Grant furrowed his brow. “The money?” he asked. “That isn’t like you. Not like the girl who wrote to me for so many years after she moved to New York when I was eleven.”
“I know,” said Ivy, sniffing back another tear. “I haven’t felt much like myself since I moved back here. Maybe I don’t even know who the ‘real’ Ivy is.
“Anyway, my great aunt—God rest her soul—left me a chunk of money in her will. She’d always been kind to Dad, Mom, and me. Trouble is, I don’t get the money until I’m twenty-one.”
“Is it that much?”
Ivy chuckled bitterly. “Not really. Oh, it’s enough to buy a nice place and set up shop somewhere—somewhere other than here. But it’s not really worth the shit I’ve had to put up with.”
“Then why stick around? Not that I’m not grateful to see you again.”
“I stuck around because I didn’t want to leave and let the rest of the family divvy up the loot. Pretty stupid, eh?”
“Not so stupid.” Grant sighed. “Ever wonder what normal families are like?”
“I’m not sure there are any.”
Grant chuckled, tossed back his blond hair, and took another sip of coffee. “Not in Frosthaven, anyway. Sometimes I think this town is cursed.”
Ivy leaned across the table and put her good hand on his arm. “Let’s not let it curse us, then. Not anymore.
“We’ve been friends since we were just kids. We were best pen pals from the time I moved away when I was nine until you graduated high school and joined the Navy.” She smiled, catching her mistake. “…Greenpeace.”
Grant took her hand. “We were even pretty good about it when we became teenagers,” he commented.
“Yeah,” Ivy agreed. “If we can make it through puberty together, we can get through anything. Let’s not lose each other again.”
Grant gazed at her with his deep green eyes.
Could he see both the sorrow and hope in her blue-grey orbs?
“Promise?” she asked expectantly.
He squeezed her hand. “Promise.”
TO BE CONTINUED…