I’d spent a good part of the next few hours rummaging through the many items from Aunt Jenny’s past that she had neatly stored in various boxes and trunks over the years. I decided as I started this overwhelming task that I’d make four separate piles for the items: one for those to be tossed out, one for those to be donated, one for those to be kept, and lastly, one for those to be gone through later.
Now, despite my organizational skills when it came to separating trash and treasures, this was still quite the difficult task to undertake. My aunt, as it turned out, had found it important, for what ever reason, to keep the oddest of items and I was having quite a time deciding what might be an important memento from her past that she may not actually wish to part with. I mean, who saves old cigarette butts, anyway? My aunt, apparently, as I found one wrapped in a delicate lace-trimmed handkerchief. The fact that in the corners of the white linen handkerchief was intricately stitched four tiny blue forget-me-nots tipped me off that this was something definitely of some past importance to my aunt.
I kept wavering on whether or not to put the odd little memento in the keep pile or the look-through-later pile. Finally, I set it aside in yet a new pile – one for significant keys to my aunt’s past relationship with Alex Ross. There was a story behind that little treasured item, I just knew it, and I hoped that I’d find something in one of the other boxes that might fill me in on what it was.
I’d just finished going through the last of the cardboard boxes and was about to go through the first of the three old steamer trunks, when I heard my aunt’s voice calling me down for lunch.
“Be right down!” I called back to her, pushing myself up off the floor where I’d been sitting amidst the piles. I brushed the dust from my jeans, did a quick wash-up in the bathroom and then headed down the stairs to the kitchen.
Aunt Jenny had already set out lunch for me on the table, which consisted of a tuna salad sandwich, a pickle wedge, potato chips and a tall glass of iced tea. I smiled at her as I walked into the room and had a seat across the table from her.
“Hope you like tuna,” she told me, not looking up from her plate.
I could hear a bit of sadness in her voice as she spoke. Her eyes were a bit red and puffy, too, as though she’d been crying. I wanted very much at that moment to just wrap my arms around her and comfort her, but I knew that we weren’t yet at that point in our relationship where she’d be accepting.
So I just smiled at her and said, “I love it. Thank you.”
Aunt Jenny gave a little nod and then went back to eating her lunch. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, noticing even now how she seemed to be struggling to keep her emotions at bay. This man, Alex, must have really broken her heart somehow. I’d leave her be about it for now, but it truly only made me that much more curious as to what had happened between the two of them.
I finished my lunch and put my dishes away, then headed back upstairs to finish my task. I’d just reached the doorway of the kitchen when Aunt Jenny asked, “How’s the work going?”
I turned and smiled, “It’s going... great!” I said, enthusiastically.
“Find anything in that old junk you might wanna keep?” she asked. I wondered if she was just being polite or if she was really curious if I’d found anything interesting from her past.
“A few things, yes,” I said, “though I think there’s probably more going in the donate pile at this point than anything.”
“Ah,” was all she said. “Well, let me know when you’ve got it all sorted out. I’ll call the local Goodwill and get them to send a truck ‘round to pick the stuff up.”
“Will do,” I told her. I was about to head out, then stopped and added, “Ya know... I found a few items you may just want to hang on to yourself, Aunt Jenny. I’ve put them aside for you in case you’d like to go through them later at some point.”
I could see the wall Aunt Jenny had built up over the years snap firmly back in place. “Ain’t nothin’ I wanna hold on to from those boxes. Like I said before, no use comes to dwelling on the past. I much prefer to spend what little time I have left on this Earth living in the present and appreciating the things I have in my life, not the things I’ve... lost.”
“If you change your mind...,” I started, but she put her hand up, interrupting me.
I quietly nodded, then went back upstairs to my room, struggling with the emotion I myself was feeling inside. I hated seeing someone I cared about hurting so much and it really broke my heart. I stood in my room with my back to the door and silently pulled out the old photograph of Alex. I stared at it, his handsome face and mesmerizing eyes. “What happened?” I whispered, “Help me, help me understand. I can’t help her if I don’t know.”
I hugged the photo to my chest and let out a little sigh. It was obvious, if I wanted to find anything out about what happened between my aunt and the man she evidently still loved I was going to have to do a lot more detective work.
I tucked the photo of Alex into the leather-bound book I’d found it in and set them in the little drawer of my nightstand for safe-keeping. I was just about to get back to work when I happened to notice I had messages on my cell phone.
The first message was from Lissie, naturally, as I don’t think a day has gone by since we met that we hadn’t at some point during the day called each other at least once. I giggled as I listened to her rambling message about how she missed me and how she was devising a plan to come up here and kidnapped me back home. Somehow I got the feeling she was only half joking about the whole thing. That Lissie, she always could put a smile on my face.
The next message was from my loser ex-boyfriend, Nick, saying how he was sorry and he missed me and he knew he screwed up big time, (Well, yeah!), and how he needed to see me, blah, blah, blah! Sorry, Nicky-boy, not a chance! I smiled to myself as I hit the delete button, thinking how cool it would be if my cell phone came with a little app that could actually incinerate unwanted messages.
I was still imagining Nick’s recording going up in flames as I pushed the button to hear the next message.
“Emmie, this is your mother...I haven’t heard a word from you since you arrived at Aunt Jenny’s last night and your dad and I were worried you’d already forgotten all about us. Give me a call when you find the find the time, dear. We love you and miss you. Bye.”
“Oops!” I said to myself, quickly punching in the numbers to my mom’s home phone. She picked up on the first ring, most likely she’d been sitting and waiting by her phone all this time for me to call.
“Hi mom,” I told her, lying back on the bed, my cell phone pressed to my ear, “I’m so sorry I didn’t call sooner. I just got busy with unpacking and all.”
“Uh huh,” my mom teased, “I know how it is. Now that you’re all grown up and living away from home, you don’t have time to call your mother anymore.”
I thought I could actually hear her smiling through the phone. “Jeez, it's only been a day, mom,” I chuckled. “Anyway, I’m sorry. I really did mean to call.”
“That’s okay, darling, I know you did,” she assured me. Or was she humoring me? Hard to tell with Mom sometimes. “Now, tell me,” she went on, “how do you like it there? How’s Aunt Jenny?”
“Oh, I love it here,” I told her. “This house is amazing! I can’t believe how big it is, and Aunt Jenny let me choose any room I wanted on the upper floors... I chose the attic room, by the way.”
“The attic?” my mom asked. “Why in the world would you want to stay in that creepy room?”
“Its not creepy, Mom,” I replied. “It's great, really.”
“Aunt Jenny used to tell me that it's full of ghosts.”
“Ghosts?” I chuckled. “Only maybe ghosts from her past. Did she ever mention some guy named Alex?”
“Alex? No... not that I recall her ever mentioning,” Mom said. “Why?”
“Nothing, just an old photo I ran across of some guy I think may have been in love with Aunt Jenny a long time ago,” I told my mom, not sure if I should say anymore about my findings or what happened earlier in the kitchen when I showed the photo to my aunt.
“She never mentioned any past relationships with me,” mom said, “but then, as I told you before, she’s always been such a private person.”
“Yeah, I’m finding that out.”
“Well, give her my best, and you hang in there in that creepy old haunted attic. Watch out for any ghosts still lurking around there.”
“Yeah, I will,” I laughed. “Tell dad I love him.”
“Will do, sweetheart, and take care of yourself,” she told me, then added, “We both love you and miss you.”
“Thanks, Mom. I love and miss both you and dad, too. Bye.” I hung up and shoved my cell phone into my back pocket.
That taken care of, I decided to finally get back to my task at hand – emptying out the three remaining trunks and hopefully finding out more about my aunt’s past through the process. I wondered if any of what my mom had said about this room being haunted was real or was just something my aunt had told her to keep her from snooping around up here when she was a child. I smiled to myself, shaking my head at my aunt, then stooped down in front of one of the old steamer trunks.
The first trunk I looked through mostly contained old articles of clothing and other personal effects from the family. There was an antique lace christening gown, several old bonnets, bloomers, dresses and even an old corset. I set the entire trunk aside, thinking perhaps they actually might be worth something to a collector or a local historical society. The second trunk held more personal items, such as old costume jewelry, hair accessories, a couple of old dolls, playing cards, etc. There was an old photo album, too, which I flipped through and put in the keep file to go through later.
Once I’d sorted through the remainder of the items, I turned and looked towards the third and last of the trunks. Letting out a sigh, I knelt down in front of it and slowly opened the lid. Inside I found an assortment of items similar to those in the other two trunks.
“So much for any more clues about Alex,” I mumbled to myself as I sorted through the last few bits and bobbles.
Disappointed that I hadn’t found more, I set about putting the items that were to be saved into one of the old trunks and pushing it back into the corner of the room, then moved the donate pile off towards the stairs so I could begin carrying it downstairs in the morning.
I went back over to the side of my bed and sat quietly on the edge of it, my eyes closed, thinking about the mystery that was my Aunt Jenny. It still baffled me that I’d not been able to find more than I did about my aunt and the man from the picture. If anything else did exist my aunt must have it tucked away safe in her bedroom downstairs and there was no way I was going to go snooping in Aunt Jenny’s private possessions. Though I was quite curious, I wasn’t willing to upset my aunt in a way that might damage our relationship. Like the saying goes – Curiosity killed the cat. Well, I sure didn’t want to die trying to satisfy my curiosity, so-to-speak.
Heck, I wasn’t even sure why I was so interested in the whole thing anyway. Really, it was none of my business. I looked at the little side-table drawer that held Alex’s picture in it and I bit my lip. Something was gnawing at me from within, beckoning me to open the drawer and pull out his picture. I hesitated a moment, trying to fight the urge, but it was too strong and finally I gave in.
“Alex,” I sighed, staring at the photo in my hand. “If only I knew what happened to you.”
I lay back on my bed, staring into those piercing eyes of the man in the photo, and drifted off to sleep.
BACK AUTHORS NEXT