A flash of brilliant light burst from the lower righthand window of Shops on Main, drawing my attention to the FOR LEASE sign. I’d always loved the building and couldn’t resist going inside to see the space available.
I opened the front door to the charming old mansion, which had started life as a private home in the late 1800s and had had many incarnations since then. I turned right to open another door to go into the vacant office.
“Why so glum, chum?” asked a tall, attractive woman with a dark brown bob and an impish grin. She stood near the window wearing a rather fancy mauve gown for the middle of the day. She was also wearing a headband with a peacock feather, making her look like a flapper from the 1920s. I wondered if she might be going to some sort of party after work. Either that, or this woman was quite the eccentric.
“I just came from a job interview,” I said.
“Ah. Don’t think it went well, huh?”
“Actually, I think it did. But I’m not sure I want to be doing that kind of work for...well...forever.”
“Nothing’s forever, darling. But you’ve come to the right place. My name’s Max, by the way. Maxine, actually, but I hate that stuffy old name. Maxine Englebright. Isn’t that a mouthful? You can see why I prefer Max.”
I chuckled. “It’s nice to meet you, Max. I’m Amanda Tucker.”
“So, Amanda Tucker,” Max said, moving over to the middle of the room, “what’s your dream job?”
“I know it’ll sound stupid. I shouldn’t have even wandered in here--”
“Stop that please. Negativity gets us nowhere.”
Max sounded like a school teacher then, and I tried to assess her age. Although she somehow seemed older, she didn’t look much more than my twenty-four years. I’d put her at about thirty...if that. Since she was looking at me expectantly, I tried to give a better answer to her question.
“I want to fill a niche...to make some sort of difference,” I said. “I want to do something fun, exciting...something I’d look forward to doing every day.”
“And you’re considering starting your own business?”
“That was my initial thought upon seeing that this space is for lease. I love this building…always have.”
“What sort of business are you thinking you’d like to put here?” Max asked.
“I enjoy fashion design, but my parents discouraged me because—they said—it was as hard to break into as professional sports. I told them there are a lot of people in professional sports, but they said, ‘Only the best, Mandy.’”
Max gave an indignant little bark. “Oh, that’s hooey! But I can identify. My folks never thought I’d amount to much. Come to think of it, I guess I didn’t.” She threw back her head and laughed.
“Oh, well, I wish I could see some of your designs.”
“You can. I have a couple of my latest right here on my phone.” I took my cell phone from my purse and pulled up the two designs I’d photographed the day before. The first dress had a small pink and green floral print on a navy background, shawl collar, three-quarter length sleeves, and A-line skirt. “I love vintage styles.”
“This is gorgeous! I’d love to have a dress like this.”
“Yeah. What else ya got?” Max asked.
My other design was an emerald 1930s-style bias cut evening gown with a plunging halter neckline and a back panel with pearl buttons that began at the middle of the back on each side and went to the waist.
Max caught her breath. “That’s the berries, kid!”
“Thanks.” I could feel the color rising in my cheeks. Max might throw out some odd phrases, but I could tell she liked the dress. “Mom and Dad are probably right, though. Despite the fact that I use modern fabrics—some with quirky, unusual patterns—how could I be sure I’d have the clientele to actually support a business?”
“Are you kidding me? People would love to have their very own fashion designer here in little ol’ Abingdon.”
“You really think so? Is it the kind of place you’d visit?” I asked.
“Visit?” Max laughed. “Darling, I’d practically live in it.”
“All right. I’ll think about it.”
“Think quickly please. There was someone in here earlier today looking at the space. He wants to sell cigars and tobacco products. Pew. The smell would drive me screwy. I’d much rather have you here.”
Hmm...the lady had her sales pitch down. I had to give her that. “How much is the rent?”
“Oh, I have no idea. You’ll find Mrs. Meacham at the top of the stairs, last door on your left. It’s marked OFFICE.”
“Okay. I’ll go up and talk with her.”
“Good luck, buttercup!”
I was smiling and shaking my head as I mounted the stairs. Max was a character. I thought she’d be a fun person to have around.
Since the office wasn’t a retail space like the other rooms in the building, I knocked and waited for a response before entering.
Mrs. Meacham was a plump, prim woman with short, curly white hair and sharp blue eyes. She looked at me over the top of her reading glasses. “How may I help you?”
“I’m interested in the space for rent downstairs,” I said.
“You are? Oh, my! I thought you were here selling cookies or something. You look so young.” Mrs. Meacham laughed at her own joke, so I faked a chortle to be polite. “What type of shop are you considering?”
“A fashion boutique.”
“Yes, I design and create retro-style fashions.”
“Hmm. I never picked up sewing myself. I’ve never been big on crafts.” She stood and opened a file cabinet to the left of her desk, and I could see she was wearing a navy suit. “Canning and baking were more my strengths. I suppose you could say I prefer the kitchen to the hearth.” She laughed again, and I chuckled along with her.
She turned and handed me an application. “Just read this over and call me back if you have any questions. If you’re interested in the space, please let me know as soon as possible. There’s a gentleman interested in opening a cigar store there.” She tapped a pen on her desk blotter. “But even if he gets here before you do, we’ll have another opening by the first of the month. The web designer across the hall is leaving. Would you like to take a look at his place before you decide?”
“No, I’d really prefer the shop on the ground floor,” I said.
“All right. Well, I hope to hear from you soon.”
I left then. I stopped back by the space for lease to say goodbye to Max, but she was gone.
I went home—my parents’ home actually, but they moved to Florida for Dad’s job more than two years ago, so it was basically mine...until they wanted it back. I made popcorn for lunch, read over Mrs. Meacham’s contract, and started crunching the numbers.
I’d graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing and entrepreneurship but just couldn’t find a position that sparked any sort of passion in me. This morning I’d had yet another interview where I’d been overqualified for the position but felt I had a good chance of getting an offer...a low offer...for work I couldn’t see myself investing decades doing.
Jasmine, my cat, wandered into the room. She’d eaten some kibble from her bowl in the kitchen and was now interested in what I was having. She hopped onto the coffee table, peeped into the popcorn bowl, and turned away dismissively to clean her paws. She was a beautiful gray and white striped tabby. Her feet were white, and she looked as if she were wearing socks of varying lengths—crew socks on the back, anklets on the front.
“What do you think, Jazzy?” I asked. “Should I open a fashion boutique?”
She looked over her shoulder at me for a second before resuming her paw-licking. I didn’t know if that was a yes or a no.
Even though I’d gone to school for four years to learn all about how to open, manage, and provide inventory for a small business, I researched for the remainder of the afternoon. I checked out the stats on independent designers in the United States and fashion boutiques in Virginia. There weren’t many in the Southwest Virginia region, so I knew I’d have something unique to offer my clientele.
Finally, Jazzy let me know that she’d been napping long enough and that we needed to do something. Mainly, I needed to feed her again, and she wanted to eat. But I had other ideas.
“Jazzy, let’s get your carrier. You and I are going to see Grandpa Dave.”
Grandpa Dave was my favorite person on the planet, and Jazzy thought pretty highly of him herself. He lived only about ten minutes away from us. He was farther out in the country and had a bigger home than we did. Jazzy and I were happy in our little three-bedroom, one bath ranch. We secretly hoped Dad wouldn’t lose the job that had taken him and Mom to Florida and that they’d love it too much to leave when he retired because we’d gotten used to having the extra space.
I put the carrier on the backseat of my green sedan. It was a cute car that I’d worked the summer between high school and college to get enough money to make the down payment on, but it felt kinda ironic to be driving a cat around in a car that reminded people of a hamster cage.
Sometimes, I wished my Mom and Dad’s house was a bit farther from town. It was so peaceful out here in the country. Fences, pasture land, and cows bordered each side of the road. There were a few houses here and there, but most of the land was still farmland. The farmhouses were back off the road and closer to the barns.
When we pulled into Grandpa Dave’s long driveway, Jazzy meowed.
“Yes,” I told her. “We’re here.”
Grandpa Dave lived about fifty yards off the road, and his property was fenced, but he didn’t keep any animals. He’d turned the barn that had been on the land when he and Grandma Jodie bought it into a workshop where he liked to “piddle.”
I pulled around to the side of the house and was happy to see that, rather than piddling in the workshop, Grandpa was sitting on one of the white rocking chairs on the porch. I parked and got out, opened the door to both the car and the carrier for Jazzy, and she ran straight to hop onto his lap.
“Well, there’s my girls!” Grandpa Dave laughed.
It seemed to me that Grandpa was almost always laughing. He’d lost a little of that laughter after Grandma Jodie had died. But that was five years ago, and, except for some moments of misty remembrance, he was back to his old self.
I gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek before settling onto the swing.
“I was sorta expecting you today,” he said. “How’d the interview go?”
“It went fine, I guess, but I’m not sure Integrated Manufacturing Technologies is for me. The boss was nice, and the offices are beautiful, but...I don’t know.”
“What ain’t she telling me, Jazzy?”
The cat looked up at him adoringly before butting her head against his chin.
“I’m...um...I’m thinking about starting my own business.” I didn’t venture a glance at Grandpa Dave right away. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what he was thinking. I figured he was thinking I’d come to ask for money--which I had, money and advice—but I was emphatic it was going to be a loan.
Grandpa had already insisted on paying my college tuition and wouldn’t hear of my paying him back. This time, I was giving him no choice in the matter. Either he’d lend me the money, and sign the loan agreement I’d drafted, or I wouldn’t take it.
I finally raised my eyes to look at his face, and he was looking pensive.
“Tell me what brought this on,” he said.
I told him about wandering into Shops on Main after my interview and meeting Maxine Englebright. “She loved the designs I showed her and seemed to think I could do well if I opened a boutique there. I went upstairs and got an application from the building manager, and then I went home and did some research. I’d never seriously considered opening my own business before--at least, not at this stage of my career--but I’d like to try.”
Another glance at Grandpa Dave told me he was still listening but might take more convincing.
“I realize I’m young, and I’m aware that more than half of all small businesses fail in the first four years. But I’ve got a degree that says I’m qualified to manage a business. Why not manage my own?”
He remained quiet.
“I know that opening a fashion boutique might seem frivolous, but there aren’t a lot of designers in this region. I believe I could fill a need…or at least a niche.”
Grandpa sat Jazzy onto the porch and stood. Without a word, he went into the house.
Jazzy looked up at me. Meow? She went over to the door to see where Grandpa Dave went. Meow? She stood on her hind legs and peered through the door.
“Watch out, Jasmine,” he said, waiting for her to hop down and back away before he opened the door. He was carrying his checkbook. “How much do you need?”
“Well, I have some savings, and—”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“Okay. Now, this will be a loan, Grandpa Dave, not a gift.”
“If you don’t tell me how much, I’m taking this checkbook back into the house, and we won’t discuss it any further.”
“Ten thousand dollars,” I blurted.
As he was writing the check, he asked, “Have you and Jazzy had your dinner yet?”
We were such frequent guests that he kept her favorite cat food on hand.
“We haven’t. Do you have the ingredients to make a pizza?”
He scoffed. “Like I’m ever without pizza-makings.” He handed me the check. “By the way, how old is this Max you met today? She sounds like quite a gal.”
“She doesn’t look all that much older than me. But she seems more worldly…or something. I think you’d like her,” I said. “But wait, aren’t you still seeing Betsy?”
He shrugged. “Betsy is all right to take to Bingo...but this Max sounds like she could be someone special.”
First thing the next morning, I went to the bank to set up a business account for Designs on You. That’s what I decided to name my shop. Then I went to Shops on Main and gave Mrs. Meacham my application. After she made sure everything was in order, she took my check for the first month’s rent and then took me around to meet the rest of the shop owners.
She introduced me to the upstairs tenants first. There was Janice, who owned Janice’s Jewelry. She was of average height but she wore stilettos, had tawny hair with blonde highlights, wore a shirt that was way too tight, and was a big fan of dermal fillers, given her expressionless face.
“Janice, I’d like you to meet Amanda,” said Mrs. Meacham. “She’s going to be opening a fashion boutique downstairs.”
“Fashion? You and I should talk, Amanda. You dress them, and I’ll accessorize them.” She giggled before turning to pick up a pendant with a large, light green stone. “With your coloring, you’d look lovely in one of these Amazonite necklace and earring sets.”
“I’ll have to check them out later,” I said. “It was nice meeting you.”
Janice grabbed a stack of her business cards and pressed them into my hand. “Here. For your clients. I’ll be glad to return the favor.”
Next, Mrs. Meacham took me to meet Mark, a web site designer. Everything about Mark screamed thin. The young man didn’t appear to have an ounce of fat on his body. He had thinning black hair. He wore a thin crocheted tie. He held out a thin hand for me to shake. His handshake was surprisingly firm.
“Hello. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Amanda.” He handed me a card from the holder on his desk. “Should you need any web design help or marketing expertise, please call on me. I can work on a flat fee or monthly fee basis, depending on your needs.”
“Thank you, but—”
“Are you aware that fifty percent of fledgling businesses fail within the first year?” he asked.
I started to correct his stats, but I didn’t want to alienate someone I was going to be working near. I thanked him again and told him I appreciated his offer. It dawned on me as Mrs. Meacham and I were moving on to the next tenant that she’d said the web designer was leaving at the end of the month...which was only a week away. I wondered where he was taking his business.
The other upstairs shop was a bookstore called Antiquated Editions. The owner was a burly, bearded man who’d have looked more at home in a motorcycle shop than selling rare books, but, hey, you can’t judge a book by its cover, right?
I made a mental note to tell Grandpa Dave my little joke. As you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t have a lot of friends. Not that I wasn’t a friendly person. I had a lot of acquaintances. It was just hard for me to get close to people. I wasn’t the type to tell my deepest, darkest secrets to someone I hadn’t known...well, all my life.
The brawny book man’s name was Ford. I’d have been truly delighted had it been Harley, but had you been expecting me to say his name was Fitzgerald or Melville, please see the aforementioned joke about books and covers. He was friendly and invited me to come around and look at his collection anytime. I promised I’d do so after I got settled in.
Then it was downstairs to meet the rest of the shop owners. The first shop on the left when you came in the door--the shop directly across the hall from mine--was Delightful Home. The proprietress was Connie, who preferred a hug over a handshake.
“Aren’t you lovely?” Connie asked.
I did not say I doubt it, which was the first thought that popped into my brain, but I did thank her for the compliment. Connie was herself the embodiment of lovely. She had long, honey blonde hair that she wore in a single braid. Large silver hoops adorned her ears, and she had skinny silver bracelets stacked up each arm. She wore an embroidered red tunic that fell to her thighs, black leggings, and Birkenstocks. But the thing that made her truly lovely wasn’t so much her looks but the way she appeared to boldly embrace life. I mean, the instant we met, she embraced me. Her shop smelled of cinnamon and something else…sage, maybe.
“Melba, that blue is definitely your color,” Connie said. “By the way, did that sinus blend help you?”
“It did!” Mrs. Meacham turned to me. “Connie has the most wonderful products, not the least of which are her essential oils.”
I could see that Connie had an assortment of candles, soaps, lotions, oils, and tea blends. I was curious to see what all she did have, but that would have to wait.
“I’m here to help you in any way I possibly can,” said Connie, with a warm smile. “Anything you need, just let me know. We’re neighbors now.”
Mrs. Meacham took me to meet the last of my “neighbors,” Mr. and Mrs. Peterman.
“Call us Ella and Frank,” Ella insisted. She was petite with salt-and-pepper hair styled in a pixie cut.
Frank was average height, had a slight paunch, a bulbous nose, and bushy brown hair. He didn’t say much.
Ella and Frank had a paper shop. They designed their own greeting cards and stationery, and they sold specialty and novelty items that would appeal to their clientele. For instance, they had socks with book patterns, quotes from famous books, and likenesses of authors.
After I’d met everyone, Mrs. Meacham handed me the keys to my shop and went upstairs. Although my shop wouldn’t open until the first of September, she’d graciously given me this last week of August to get everything set up.
I unlocked my door and went inside. I was surprised to see Max standing by the window. I started to ask her how she’d got in, but then I saw that there was another door that led to the kitchen. I imagined my space had once been the family dining room. Anyway, it was apparent that the door between my space and the kitchen hallway had been left unlocked. I’d have to be careful to check that in the future.
But, for now, I didn’t mind at all that Max was there. Or that it appeared she was wearing the same outfit she’d been wearing yesterday. Must have been some party!
“So, you leased the shop?” Max asked.
“Congratulations! I wish we could have champagne to celebrate.”
I laughed. “Me too, but I’m driving.”
Max joined in my laughter. “I’m so glad you’re going to be here. I think we’ll be great friends.”
“I hope so.” And I truly did. I immediately envisioned Max as my best friend—the two of us going to lunch together, talking about guys and clothes, shopping together. I reined myself in before I got too carried away.
I surveyed the room. The inside wall to my right had a fireplace. I recalled that all the rooms upstairs had them too. But this one had built-in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on either side of the fireplace.
“Does this fireplace still work?” I asked Max.
“I imagine it would, but it isn’t used anymore. The owners put central heat and air in eons ago.”
“Just checking. I mean, I wasn’t going to light fire to anything. I merely wanted to be sure it was safe to put flammables on these shelves.” I could feel my face getting hot. “I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to say. I’m just so excited—”
“And I’m excited for you. You have nothing to apologize for. How were you supposed to know whether or not the former tenant ever lit the fireplace?”
“You’re really nice.”
“And you’re too hard on yourself. Must you be brilliant and well-spoken all the time?”
“Well...I’m certainly not, but I’d like to be.”
“Tell me what you have in store for this place,” she said.
I indicated the window. “I’d like to have a table flanked by chairs on either side here.” I bit my lip. “Where’s the best place around here to buy some reasonably priced furniture that would go with the overall atmosphere of the building?”
“I have no idea. You should ask Connie.”
“Connie?” I was actually checking to make sure I’d heard Max correctly, but it so happened that I’d left the door open and Connie was walking by as I spoke.
“Max was telling me that you might know of a good furniture place nearby,” I said.
“Max?” Connie looked about the room. “Who’s Max?”
I whirled around, thinking Max had somehow slipped out of the room. But, nope, there she stood...shaking her head...and putting a finger to her lips.
“Um...she was....she was just here. She was here yesterday too. I assumed she was a Shops on Main regular.”
“I don’t know her, but I’d love to meet her sometime. As for the furniture, I’d try the antique stores downtown for starters. You might fall in love with just the right piece or two there.” She grinned. “I’d better get back to minding the store. Good luck with the furniture shopping!”
Connie pulled the door closed behind her as she left, and I was glad. I turned to Max.
“Gee, that was awkward,” she said. “I was sure you knew.”
“That I’m a ghost.”
I realized I was gaping and closed my mouth. My legs felt weak, and I looked around for somewhere to sit.
“Windowsill,” Max said, pointing behind me. “Your scrawny butt will fit just fine.”
I backed up until I felt the windowsill against my thighs, and then I sank into a sitting position.
Max came and sat beside me. “I honestly thought you knew. I mean, how could you not?”
“How could I not? You’re as clear to me as Connie or anyone else in this place.”
“Really?” She clapped her hands together. “How delightful! I mean, I knew yesterday when we met that you were special. I thought you realized you had a...well, a gift...or a sensitivity...or whatever you want to call it.”
“No...I...no.” I shook my head slightly. “This isn’t an elaborate joke you guys are playing on me, is it?”
“Afraid not. Connie doesn’t know I exist. I have tried to get her attention a few times. Despite all her talk about chakras and crystals and energy, she has no clue. Neither does anyone else here. Until you.”
“I’m truly happy you’re here. I haven’t had a friend in almost a decade,” she said. “You can’t imagine how boring it is not having anyone to talk with. And it’s so frustrating trying to read books, magazines, or newspapers over someone’s shoulder when that person has no idea you’re there. I seldom get to finish anything.” She scoffed. “And don’t even get me started on those books upstairs.”
“How—if you don’t mind my asking—did you…?”
“How’d I die? Fell right down those stairs out there and broke my stupid neck. It was May of 1930, and I was going to a dance. I was wearing this beautiful new gown—” She indicated the dress she was wearing. “—and nobody even got to see me in it! The last time anyone saw me in the flesh, I was wearing that godawful monstrosity Mother buried me in. It was truly the kind of dress you’d take one look at and say, ‘I wouldn’t want to be caught dead in that.’” She shrugged. “Thanks a million, Ma!”
“I’m truly sorry.”
“Me too. I’d have much rather had a closed casket with a photo of me looking beautiful sitting on the lid or on a table beside the coffin. I did not appreciate people peering down at me.” She shook her head. “The dress was this muddy-water brown with no frills whatsoever. I’ve had over eighty years to try to figure it out. At first, I thought that Mother bought the dress to save money. But that makes no sense. I had plenty of gorgeous gowns in my closet. She didn’t have to buy anything new. And everything I had looked better than—”
“I meant I’m sorry that you’re dead,” I said.
“Oh.” She waved away my concern with a flick of her wrist. “That’s all right. I’m used to it. We can still be friends, can’t we?”
“I’m glad. Some folks are prejudiced against people who are…well…different.”
I smiled. “I know. I’m...I’m happy we’re friends.”
“So am I. We’re going to have such fun together. Do you have anything we could read?”
“I’ve got lots of things we can read.”
She gave a little round of applause. “Swell! I’d hug you if I could.”
I giggled, and I wasn’t quite sure if I was delighted, hysterical, or a little of both. "For now, I need to get to the antique store to see what I can find.”
“Yeah. I’d love to go with you, but I’m kind of confined to this building.”
“Kind of?” I asked.
“I can go out onto the porches, but that’s about it. I’m looking forward to seeing what you find in the way of furniture.” She grinned. “You’re going to make this place fantastic. I just know it.”
“Thanks.” I stood on legs that were still a little unsteady. “I’ll be back either later today or tomorrow.”
I didn’t go on downtown to the antique shops. Instead, I drove as slowly as I could to Grandpa Dave’s house. He was the only person I could think of who could possibly listen to my story without thinking I was I completely insane. Still, I went at a snail’s pace so I could think of what and how to tell him. I hadn’t come up with a good story by the time I got to his house.
I knocked on the front door and then sat on the porch. It was a hot, sunny day, but the shaded porch provided some relief from the heat, and the swing gave me something to do.
Grandpa Dave came outside and sat on his usual white rocker. “Would you like some water or sweet tea?”
“Maybe in a few minutes.”
“You’ve got that look on your face.”
“What look?” I asked.
“The look you’d always get when you were a little girl and something had happened that you weren’t quite sure about. You’d always talk with me about it before deciding whether or not to tell your mom and dad.”
I smiled slightly. “And whatever it was often stayed between you and me.”
Grandpa knew me well enough to sit quietly until I was ready to confide in him. Finally, I just blurted it out.
“Max is a ghost.”
“All right? You don’t even sound surprised.”
“Well, it is historic Abingdon,” he said. “Everybody with an old building supposedly has a ghost or two.”
“But, Grandpa, I saw her plain as day...and we talked the same way you and I are talking right now! And then, I mentioned her to Connie, but Connie couldn’t see her.”
“Now you’re getting ahead of me. Who’s Connie?”
I filled Grandpa in on how I’d gone this morning and spoken with Mrs. Meacham and secured the lease.
“Then she introduced me to everyone—one of whom was Connie who sells home stuff—and I went to my space to see how I wanted to decorate it. Max was there, and I asked her where I might find some furniture that would fit with the overall theme of the building, and Max said I should ask Connie.”
“So, you called Connie over?”
“Not really. She was walking by and heard her name.”
“Ah, Connie could hear Max?” Grandpa asked.
“No. I’d repeated Connie’s name—that’s what she heard. That’s when I told her Max had recommended I check with her about where to find furniture. But Connie couldn’t see her and said she didn’t know anyone named Max. After Connie left, Max apologized and said she thought I knew she was a ghost.”
“Do you still plan on leasing the shop?”
“Of course,” I said. “Unless you think I shouldn’t. I believe Max has had a hard life...or after...life, I guess. I believe it would be good for her to have me there.”
“But is it good for you?”
“I don’t think Max would harm me. She wasn’t threatening in any way.” I gave him a sharp look. “Do you feel she’s only being nice to me until she gains my trust or something?”
“No.” He blew out a breath. “Is this the first encounter you can remember having with...with the supernatural?”
For a few moments, the only sounds were those of the swing’s chains clanging together, Grandpa Dave’s rocker squeaking on the boards of the porch, and a bumble bee buzzing as it visited his red begonias.
At last, he broke the silence. “When you were a little girl, you sometimes saw people that no one else could see. Your parents thought you were making things up and scolded you until you either stopped seeing...things….people...or you simply quit talking about it.”
“They thought I was nuts,” I said.
“No. Well, maybe. But they didn’t understand you like I did.”
“You mean, you see ghosts?”
“No, but my grandmother had the gift of...the sight—that’s what she called it. She was kind of a spooky old bird, but she loved me and I loved her, and I didn’t mind her eccentricities. I always believed you might’ve inherited her ability.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before now?” I asked.
“I didn’t see the need before. But now you’ve befriended a ghost, and you need to know you aren’t crazy.”
“Will you come back to the shop with me? I want to know if you can see her.”
He grinned. “You need more reassurance you aren’t insane, huh? Well, don’t pin your hopes on this old man. I’ve never seen a ghost in my life.”
“It’s more than that.” And it was...kinda. “I want you to help me pick out furniture.”
“And you don’t think I have anything better to do than that?”
“I know you do,” I said. “But I’m your granddaughter.”
We took Grandpa Dave’s blue pickup truck back to Shops on Main. When we walked inside, Connie’s door was ajar. She was with a customer, but she waved to us. We waved back before unlocking the door and stepping into my shop.
Max was sitting on the windowsill where I’d left her. “Good to see you’re back. I was afraid I might’ve scared you off.”
I glanced over at Grandpa because I was about to tell him that Max was here and that she’d just spoken to me, but I could tell by his wide eyes and slack jaw that he could see and hear her too.
Max winked at him. “Who’s the silver fox? Got that expression from the old jewelry gal upstairs. It suits, though. You’re a looker, mister.”
Grandpa blinked a few times and extended his hand. “I’m Dave Tucker. You must be Max.”
Max gave a tinkling laugh. “Darling, I wish I could shake your hand. I wanted to hug Amanda earlier, but I couldn’t do that either.”
“Grandpa, how can you see her?” I asked.
“The same way you can, I suppose.”
“But you said you’d never seen a—” I glanced at the door to make sure we weren’t being overheard. “—a ghost in your life.”
“Max is my first.”
Max placed a hand over her heart. “You make me blush, Dave. I haven’t been anyone’s first in ages.” She laughed again, and he laughed with her.
I merely looked back and forth between them bewildered.
“Why are you surprised that I can see and talk with her?” Grandpa asked me. “You can.”
“But no one else here can.”
“That’s true,” Max said. “Maybe I’m special to the Tuckers. We’ll have to look into it.” She tilted her chin. “The love of my life was a Channing. Are there any Channings in your family?”
“My grandfather on my mother’s side,” said Grandpa Dave.
“Wasn’t George, was it?”
“Yes.” Grandpa’s normally robust voice sounded very small and quiet.
Max got tears in her eyes. “I was running late to meet him the night I fell down the stairs...and died.”
“I’m so sorry,” Grandpa whispered.
Okay, this whole ghost thing was getting weirder by the second. Was it actually possible that Max had dated my great-great-grandfather?
I hated to ruin a strange but sappy moment. All right, no, I didn’t hate to ruin this uncomfortable moment at all.
“So, hey, what do you think about having a small table in front of this window with chairs on either side?” I asked.
They both took the hint, and we started talking about decorating.
Grandpa and I had gone all over Abingdon, Bristol, and even Lebanon, but we’d managed to find some beautiful furniture and accessories for Designs on You. We had also talked on and off all afternoon about how strange it was that both he and I could see Max.
I hurried to the shop the next morning to await the delivery of the round table and upholstered chairs we’d bought to go in the sitting and fitting room.
I noticed there was some commotion on the street. There were police cars in front of Shops on Main, and one officer was directing traffic around an ambulance. I thought there must’ve been a car accident. I took the road leading to the back of the shop, so I couldn’t see exactly what had happened. I parked in the lot and went inside through the back door.
An officer was there, and Frank and Ella were too.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s Mark,” said Ella. “He’s dead.”
“Mark…” I echoed.
“He’s the web designer,” Frank supplied.
“Of course. I met him yesterday. What happened to him? Was it a car accident?”
“Someone shot him,” said Ella, “right in his office.”
“It was actually right in his chest,” said Max.