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!
SIXTEEN – TONY
“Jesus, Ivy, that’s a really strange dream,” said Anthony Frost. He traced the delicate curve of her cheekbone on paper as he talked.
Jenni Malone admired the drawing over his shoulder, her bathrobe tied carelessly at her waist. “That’s pretty good, Tony. You should be an artist or something,” she commented, smiling.
Tony put his hand on Jenni’s face and gently pushed her backwards onto the couch. “I think that’s enough from the hired help,” he said. “Aren’t you supposed to be on break?”
Jenni got up and poured herself a cup of coffee. “Aren’t you?” she asked.
Tony stuck his tongue between his lips and concentrated on his work. “Not when the light is this good. Hold still, Ivy.”
Ivy smiled. The only really warm place on the whole Frost estate was Tony’s beach house. The small, modern A-frame sat just a hundred feet from the shore of Lake Superior on the Frost property near Wind Point. The large north-facing windows gave both a spectacular view of the lake and plenty of light for Tony’s studio.
It had been a dog’s age since Ivy last visited her cousin at his place, but not much had changed during that time. The studio still occupied most of the main floor, the kitchen and a bathroom the rest. Canvases crowded the room, and a few figurative sculptures filled the remaining space. Tony had furniture, but most of it remained hidden by work when he wasn’t using it. He slept in the loft and used the building’s small basement for storage.
Jenni had been posing on the couch when Ivy dropped in. She’d been nude, of course, and Ivy hadn’t been surprised by her state of undress. The youngest Frost had seen a lot of models come and go through her cousin’s studio, but Jenni had been around a long time. Ivy liked her. Apparently, Tony did, too.
“Ivy, chin,” reminded Tony.
She picked her chin back up to where it had been before she lost concentration. Posing for Tony could have been a chore if he weren’t such a damn good artist.
“Break time,” said Jenni, dangling a cold beer in front of Tony’s face. “Care for anything, Ivy? A beer? Wine cooler? Coke? Mountain Dew?”
“Just a Coke, thanks.”
Jenni scurried off to get one.
“I’m finished anyway,” Tony said, putting up the drawing so Ivy could see it.
She recognized her dark, wavy hair and pale eyes, the bow of her mouth and her round cheeks, the line of her neck, the top of her sweater, the chain of her medallion. With the family money, Tony could have been an artist even if he hadn’t been any good. But he had a gift. No doubt about it.
“Where’s the bandage on my neck?” Ivy asked. “You left it out.”
“That’s because I see you as you truly are,” Tony replied, taking a swig of beer. He smiled, and his violet eyes flashed at her. Ivy thought Tony had the most beautiful eyes in the family.
“I’m surprised you didn’t see me as a slavering, rutting beast, then,” Ivy told her cousin. “That’s how I’ve felt lately.”
“Mmm,” Tony replied. “So you’ve said. The question is, what are you going to do about it?”
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t have come here for advice,” said Ivy.
“Oh, is that it?” replied Tony. “I thought you’d come to visit your favorite cousin. Or maybe to pick up your birthday present.”
Ivy slapped her forehead with her good hand. “I’m sorry, Tony. I’d completely forgotten.”
Tony shrugged. “Hey, it’s your present. You can leave it here forever if you like.”
“Of course, not, goofball,” Ivy replied, laughing. “Fork it over.”
Tony crossed to a corner of the studio, brought back a small canvas, and handed it to his cousin. She looked at it and smiled.
“The old lighthouse,” she said. “You know it’s always been one of my favorites.”
“I had to keep my distance when I painted it this time,” said Tony. “The guy who lives there now is a writer of some sort. Very reclusive, from what I hear.”
Jenni came back with Ivy’s Coke. She set the drink down near Ivy, smiled, and put her arm around Tony. “Sounds like Tony may have found a soul mate,” she commented.
Tony put his free hand on her hip and looked up at his model. “I thought that’s what you were, Jenni dear.”
“Nah. I’m just the hired help.”
Tony raised his beer with the other hand. “In any case, Ivy, happy birthday. May this lighthouse always guide you in times of trouble.”
“Thanks, Tony. I could use a little guidance right now.”
“So, this guy you’re seeing,” said Jenni, plopping down on Tony’s lap, “does he like you?”
“I think so,” said Ivy. “We were friends in grade school and wrote to each other for years after I moved away.”
“Then I don’t see what the problem is.”
Ivy sighed, set her painting aside, and took a drink of Coke. “The problem,” she said when she had finished, “is the intensity of the feelings I’ve been having. I’ve never felt this way before. It’s like a warm, tingling sensation in the back of my brain threatening to ignite at any moment.”
Jenni smiled. “Maybe you’ve found true love—or true lust at any rate. I say, go with it.”
“God, you’re as bad as Cassie.”
Tony stroked his chin. “Hmm. I don’t know if I’d go that far… But Jenni definitely has her naughty days.”
Jenni slapped him playfully on the cheek. “Tony likes his nudes naughty.”
Both Ivy and Tony blushed. Ivy rose.
“Well, I should be going,” she said.
“What’s your hurry?” asked Jenni. “It’s Saturday.”
“Yes, Ivy, stay a while and chat if you like,” said Tony. “You can watch me work. If the sight of this old broad’s body doesn’t offend you, that is.”
“Old broad, indeed,” huffed Jenni. “I may be ancient compared to Ivy, but I’m younger than you are.”
Tony smiled. “Only by a year.”
“They should put you up on charges for robbing the cradle,” Jenni said, getting up off his lap.
“You’re sure it would be okay if I stayed?” Ivy asked Jenni.
“Please do. I don’t get to spend much time with Tony’s relatives.” She put her hand aside her mouth and stage whispered to Ivy. “I think he’s ashamed of me. I’m a fallen woman, you know.”
Ivy laughed. “More likely he’s ashamed of our family.”
“Just so,” said Tony, picking up his palette and brush. “Back to work time.”
Jenni doffed her bathrobe and took up her position on the couch. “A fallen woman’s work is never done.”
The afternoon in the studio passed pleasantly. At dusk, Tony invited Ivy to stay for dinner. She accepted. After a long day posing nude, Jenni changed into sweats while Tony cooked tortellini in garlic sauce.
“Mmm,” said Ivy, taking a bite. “You cook almost as good as you paint.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere in this family,” said Tony. “Care for some wine with dinner, Ivy?”
“I shouldn’t. I just turned twenty, not twenty-one, remember?”
Jenni bustled in with some freshly-heated bread and took her seat at the table. “In some European countries, they don’t have a drinking age,” she said. “You Frosts always seemed pretty Old World to me. Besides, you can legally drink with your family, even if underage, in Wisconsin. I say, go for it. I’ll drive you home if you like.”
“And who’s going to drive you home, Jenni dear?” Tony asked.
“Maybe I’ll stay in Frost Hall tonight,” Jenni declared. “I hear there’s plenty of room.”
“Ah,” said Tony, “the hallowed halls of Frost Harrow—suitable only for the dead and dying of soul, morals, or imagination. Present company excepted.”
“What a horrible thing to say, Anthony Russell Frost!” Jenni scolded in mock horror.
“Far less horrible than living there,” Tony shot back.
“I think I will have that wine,” said Ivy, extending her glass.
Tony poured her two fingers of Spatlase from a blue bottle.
Ivy took a sip. “Mmm. This is very good.”
Tony smiled. “I steal nothing but the best from the Frost cellars.”
They chatted quietly while they ate. Ivy refilled her wine glass when they retired to the living room after dinner. Tony cleared off some of the furniture and built a small fire in the fireplace.
“You know,” Ivy said, gazing at the flames through the pale wine in her glass, “I think I should relax with Grant—take things slowly. One step at a time.”
“Baby steps, or giant steps?” asked Jenni, her head resting on Tony’s lap.
“Good luck,” said Jenni. “It won’t be easy. Once the hormones catch fire….”
“I know it’ll be hard,” said Ivy. “But some things are worth waiting for.”
Tony stroked Jenni’s straight blond hair. “Let’s hope that Mister Grant Winslow turns out to be one of them,” he said.
“You’re not sure?” Ivy asked. “I thought you knew him fairly well. Didn’t you see him after I moved away?”
Tony shook his head. “In the schoolyard at Haughton sometimes. Remember, I’m three or four years older than he is. I knew him mostly as the guy you had a crush on, way back when.”
“I didn’t have a crush on him,” Ivy said, blushing. “We were just friends.”
Tony smiled at her. “Whatever. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve had much more contact with him than I have—even if it was only through the mail. Our families were feuding back then. Maybe we still are.”
“God, you rich folk and your quarrels,” said Jenni.
Ivy furrowed her brow at her cousin. “Then why did you help him to see me in the hospital, Tony?”
“Because I recognized a kindred spirit,” he answered. “And I didn’t want Dad deciding who did, or did not, get to visit you.”
He took a sip of wine. “You’re old enough to choose your own friends, I think.”
Ivy leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thanks, cuz.”
Ivy put her wine glass to her lips and stared out the large, sliding-glass doors toward the lake.
“Oh!” she gasped, dropping her drink.
Jenni sat up quickly and Tony looked at his cousin, concern written on his face.
“Ivy, what is it?” he asked.
“S-something outside!” she said, pointing.
Tony and Jenni looked out the window. The sun had set long ago, and outside darkness reigned. Neither seemed to see anything.
“What did you see?” asked Jenni.
Ivy blinked and shook her head. “It’s gone now, but I could swear I saw two red eyes looking at me.”
Tony picked up Ivy’s glass and took it to the kitchen. “I think that’s enough wine for you, young lady.”
“I must be more tired than I thought,” Ivy noted. “Maybe I should go home.”
“What, no rendezvous with Mr. Winslow?” asked Jen.
“Not tonight,” said Ivy. “I think I need the rest.”
TO BE CONTINUED…