A View of the River

A View of the River
Kathleen Eagle

July 2017 $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-773-1

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Birch Trueblood—a proud Ojibwe healer, who now works as a shaman, performing rituals for New Age believers and tourists.
He does what he has to in order to support his young daughter. But when he’s called on to help communicate with ghosts at an historic bed and breakfast, he never guesses it’ll be the woman who runs the place that will haunt his dreams.

Rochelle LeClaire—owner of Rosewood B&B.
She and Birch have crossed paths before, and she has no reason to believe he’s anything but a fraud. But then her eccentric aunt hires him—to communicate with the spirits haunting the house of all things! Suddenly he’s in her space, in her thoughts . . . and eventually, in her bed.

But when long-hidden secrets come to light, will their fragile bond be strong enough to hold them together?

Kathleen Eagle published her first book, a Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award winner, with Silhouette Books in 1984. Since then she has published nearly 50 books, including historical and contemporary, series and single title, earning her nearly every award in the industry. Her books have consistently appeared on regional and national bestseller lists, including the USA Today list and the New York Times extended bestseller list. Kathleen Eagle lives in Minnesota with her husband, who is Lakota Sioux. The Eagles have three children and three grandchildren.


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Little Falls, Minnesota, 1911


Anyone who might intrude on her would be surprised to find her seated before the vanity mirror, all done up. Anyone who did not know her—and almost no one did—would assume that she had taken the odd notion to join the party, that she was ready to soon descend the paneled staircase, choose a partner among her sister’s guests, and dance the night away. But there was nothing so frivolous in her choice of layered crinoline and satin. A thick wool cape lay across the bed, and her winter boots stood nearby in testimony. Rebecca would soon be going out.

She could delay no longer. The advent of winter was too unpredictable in this godforsaken place. The cheerless season had already begun to press the day into a few gray hours, to squeeze Rebecca’s mind, freeze her feet, grind her joints, and bind her muscles. Soon she would be powerless to free herself.

But not yet.

Her heart pounded, pressured by the thrill of self-determination. She could still make a choice for herself, still act on it. She was, for this one night, in control of something. A small thing, her life, but something truly in her hands, at least for tonight.

Her sister’s annual harvest party had started with a musical flourish, but Rebecca would not be missed. Nor would she be missed from her sister’s house unless the baby woke up and managed to make his voice heard. Taking pen in hand, she imagined Rose’s lithe fingers dancing over the piano keys, ivory on ivory, delighting her guests with her own clever arrangement of lively ragtime tunes.

Dearest Sister,

Be brief, she told herself as she dipped into the inkwell. A guest’s poor attempt to sing might prompt Rose to decide to come looking for her. Rebecca had not sung in years—not since she had left the warmth and sunshine of New Orleans, where there had been something to sing about. No wonder the new-sprung Mississippi rushed headlong past this grand misfit of a house on its way to the South.

Winter is coming. I feel my humor declining by the hour. I am forbidden all company that gives me pleasure except yours. I cannot continue to live this way, but after giving a great deal of thought to the problem, I find myself at a complete loss for any other way to live. And so I am content to seek the alternative. I have puzzled for some time over the questions of time and means. For a few hours, I thought giving birth would kill me, but unfortunately, it did not. A fat lot of pain wasted, if you ask me.

Rebecca smiled at the shadow she cast over the paper. Slight and fair, she appeared to be the more fragile of the two sisters, but she had a strong body. Sadly, weakness prevailed in her mind and will.

Only God knows why I am cursed with a child and he with me. It does not take a sane mind to breed, but a woman ought to have her wits about her for mothering, as you and I well know. I leave the whelp in your capable hands, sister, for he is the child you were meant to have. If this was the purpose for my existence—and I can think of no other—then it is fulfilled. Please, may I be excused now?

A wave of nausea precluded her from signing any more than an R. With a clammy hand, she carefully placed the pen in the inkwell tray. She did not look forward to the act itself. She had to think past it. Better yet, she had to stop thinking and simply move along withher plan, taking her cue and her direction from the river. She would depend on the river to deliver her.

She opened the window, dropped her cape onto the roof below, pulled the back of her skirt between her legs, and secured it to her waist. Cautiously, she climbed from sill to ledge to jutting roof. It would not be long before the cold air woke the baby, even though she had swaddled him in warm wool. With her last breath, she would will him to survive and live well.

At the edge of the second-story eave, she enlisted help from the Woman Tree, making a practiced descent along the forked trunk until her right foot found secure perch in the tree’s crotch. Shifting her weight onto her left hip, she found the navel knot with the toe of her left boot, stretching her own birthing-battered crotch almost unbearably. Like the tree, whose human features she and her sister had discovered together, she bore abuse with hushed horror.

Look, Rosie, doesn’t this look like a woman standing on her head? Look at her from this angle. See? The roots look like a woman’s hair spreading over the ground.

Her sister was dubious, as always. Rose had never been able to do a handstand the way Rebecca could, not even when they were girls, and she would never wear men’s pants or tie her skirts up for fun. But Rebecca did. Rebecca was a woman like no other. Rose was a lady, like many others. For Rebecca’s sake, Rose had relented and tipped her head. Yes, that could be a face at the base of the tree, the eyes there, and there the mouth, laughing or screaming, with no sound coming out.

And these gnarly bumps—one breast hanging a little lower than the other, the nice deep navel here. And look at the way she’s spreading her legs for God! No, it isn’t lewd or disgusting. Why wouldn’t God make love to a tree?

Because trees are trees, and God is God.

And Rose has no imagination. Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop. Look at her slim hips and her strong thighs, Rosie. If God felt like having an earthy, passionate, sexual experience, He would choose that tree. I’m sure of it.

The memory sent Rebecca fairly skipping through the wet grass. She avoided the garden paths, even though she knew she could not be seen from the brightly lit windows on this moonless night. The music had stopped. Guests were taking their places for dinner. Martin Bruner’s business associates would find their place cards on the dining-room table, while Rose’s book-club friends would dine on the River Porch. Sometime between dinner and the return to music and dancing, Rose would send a plate of food upstairs for her sister. By that time, food would no longer be necessary.

Cupid’s Bench was Rebecca’s favorite place in the gardens. Perched just above the rocky shoreline, the massive stone bench was her place to have her communion with the river. Night was the best time, when the lumber mills on the opposite shore were hardly visible. Summer voices had gone dormant, all but one. The baby’s dreaded bleating came sooner than expected.

Rebecca found a large rock for every pocket in her cape, then sat down to put her boots on and partake of her last rites. The outward, visible sign—the river’s soft gurgle and sweet eddy—assured her of inward, invisible grace. No more long winters. No more desperate, impossible liaisons. No uninvited child to tend. Rebecca would wrap herself in the river and ride its currents home.

Ojibwe village of Chief Wadena,
Mille Lacs Lake

Mary clutched one child in her arms and shouted the other’s name. The baby bleated like a terrorized lamb. Mary’s father had gone back into their burning cabin for little Trueblood, and neither of them had reappeared. "Help us,” she pleaded, reaching for her neighbor as he hurried past her with a bucket of lake water in each hand. "They haven’t come out yet!”

"Stay back, Mary!” Arlin shouted, sparing a glance that his tired, tearing eyes could ill afford. "Take the baby and run!”

"That’s your uncle in there, Arlin. Can’t you try the back door?”

Backpedaling, water sloshing over his boots, Arlin had the dazed look of a lost soul. "It’s all going to burn!”

"Let the houses go,” Mary pleaded. Surely the man could see that his efforts to douse the flames were useless. The loss of their homes was nothing new for the Ojibwe people, but the loss of a man’s sense of what he had to do was unnerving to a woman of clear vision.

See to the children and the elders, you crazy man.

"Here, hold the baby.” Mary persisted as she shoved her bundled daughter against her befuddled cousin’s chest. "I’ll get them out myself.”

"Stay back,” the big man ordered, backing away from the proffered howling baby. One bucket slipped from his hand and landed on its side in the dry grass. "Who are they to tell us we cannot live where we have always lived? We are so few, and they—” He flung the other bucket toward the house with a furious howl. "They have no right!” he shouted as he ran toward the back of Mary’s house.

They were the white sheriff and his men, and they came to the village many times to deliver paper demands from this one and final notices from that one—the Minnesota governor, the army, the department in Washington—all strangers to the people of Chief Wadena’s small village on the lake. This time the sheriff and his posse had brought guns instead of paper, and fire instead of words.

There were so few of them left on the wooded south shore of Mille Lacs, where earthen mounds and burial grounds stood witness to their timeless occupation. Most of the people had yielded to the whites’ demand for their relocation, but Mary and her relatives had stayed. Wadena, one of their leaders, insisted that no response was warranted. Saying nothing, they would neither move nor be moved. There was no stopping the white men from doing as they pleased, Wadena told his people, but surely they could take all they wanted without bothering to bodily lug fewer than a hundred Ojibwe holdouts all the way to the northwestern corner of the state.

It was not the Ojibwe themselves the whites had come to remove, but as much of their property as would fit into the wagons the sheriff’s men had brought to the village. He had ordered the winter cabins dismantled, and while the people watched, the logs from some of the roofs had been pulled down and tossed in a pile. It was a strange bit of business. The Ojibwe didn’t know what to think. They had not anticipated the torching, and when the first kerosene-drenched rags were set aflame, they stood momentarily dumbfounded, as though the white men had come to entertain them with fire.

But a sudden move from Wadena caused a flurry of activity. "Watch them!” the sheriff shouted as he clapped Wadena in irons. "You people stay away from any weapons!”

Arlin and a few others had gone for buckets and cook pots instead.

Now Arlin staggered forth just as Mary’s home caved in on itself. But she gave a joyous squeal. A squirming, slippery prize, little Trueblood was unceremoniously dropped at his mother’s feet by his exhausted deliverer, who retained his hold on a small coat sleeve.

The boy tried to shake him off. "He won’t get up,” Trueblood sobbed, clutching his grandfather’s medicine bundle close to his chest. "Grandfather won’t get up.”

"‘We will not be moved,’ he said.” Gulping several breaths, Arlin shook his head. "His legs were broken, Mary.”

"Better than his spirit.” Her teary gaze followed the smoke that carried her father into the purpling sky. "They cannot deny us that.”



Chapter One

Little Falls, Minnesota, present day

ROCHELLE SMELLED grass burning somewhere in the cold night. And it was no ordinary Kentucky Blue.

The light was still on in Aunt Meg’s bedroom window, even though she had sworn that she was too tired to eat or bathe or brush her teeth before going to bed. But it was just the two of them at Rosewood tonight, and somebody was burning something. It wasn’t Rochelle. In her condition, Aunt Meg was liable to set her precious old mansion on fire. Hadn’t she had enough smokus pokus for one day?

Rochelle hated to go back inside. She had just gotten comfortable on the stone bench overlooking the river, tucking herself in a blanket to keep the early-autumn chill at bay while she listened to the water lap against the rocks below. She loved this time of year in this place she would always call home. She particularly loved to wrap herself in the seclusion of this tranquil spot at the edge of the gardens and dream, especially after a day of being painfully nice to some very strange people and an evening of tallying the columns in all-too-familiar books. What a pleasure to count stars for a while instead of pennies!

The granddaughter of Minnesota lumber baron Martin Bruner, Aunt Meg didn’t know how to be anything but wealthy. But the Bruner money no longer grew on trees, and Rochelle had all she could do to keep the two roofs of Rosewood over the old woman’s head. The Bruner estate had been named for Great-grandmother Rose, Martin’s beloved wife. Dear wife. Precious wife. During the years that had passed between her death and his, the terms of endearmenthad been applied with such consistency that even now the name Rose or the words Martin’s wife were never spoken at Rosewood without one of his favorite qualifiers.

The rambling vestiges of Bruner family life on the upper Mississippi—a far cry from Mark Twain territory in almost every way imaginable—were all Aunt Meg had left, whether she realized it or not. From all indications—the variety of books shelved in every room in either house, the music, the letters from prestigious acquaintances—Margaret Bruner had been a woman of independent thought in her day, if not independent means. As near as Rochelle could tell, she had not spent money so much as she had donated it. She had given it away hand over fist, which was fine. It was her money.

But Rochelle would not allow the houses to go before Aunt Meg did. Now, as the threat of fire smelled more imminent than bankruptcy, Rochelle dragged herself off the bench, tossed a corner of the wool blanket over her shoulder, and trudged up the gravel path toward the "new” house, the home Martin Bruner had purchased from his partner for his only son, Ernest, who had enlisted in the army against his father’s wishes in 1941 and gone missing somewhere in France. Ernest’s wife had then gone missing somewhere in Chicago. Family tradition, the old woman was wont to say without elaborating, but Rochelle imagined two poor little rich girls who would one day be her mother and aunt left to rattle around Rosewood with their grandfather and his household staff.

Aunt Meg had modernized the new house when she’d taken charge after her grandfather’s death in the early 1950s, but she had not seen fit to change much since that time. Its dark green siding and Father Knows Best furnishings were right in style with the current retro craze. But for the main house, dear Rose had known best. It remained white. Inside, Martin Bruner had kept every stick of dark wood, every scrap of Victorian wallpaper, every glass lampshade, and every bit of embroidered linen the way his precious wife had left it. The main house was perfect for the business Rochelle was now struggling to establish in what had become an out-of-the-way town after its single industry had dried up. And the new house was perfect for preserving two generations of girlish daydreams.

"Aunt Meg, is everything all right?”

"Some things are. Some aren’t.” The old woman turned from the window, lifting her chin to welcome the sound of Rochelle’s voice even before she angled the wheelchair for a frank look. "I’m feeling restless. It’s still too early in the season to turn the heat on, but the night’s chill has a way of sinking into dry old bones. I feel old and cold, and that makes me restless.”

"This is what you used to call good sleeping weather, isn’t it? Are you burning something in here?” She’d lost track of the smell, but she scanned the room for other signs.

"After I caught hell for burning a few little candles the other night? I should say not.”

"It was only because you fell asleep.”

"Oh, yes, that’s right. You said something about a warning label. Everything comes with a warning these days. Be afraid, they say. Be very afraid. But technically, they weren’t burning unattended. I was only half asleep.”

"And you only caught half a hell.” Rochelle smiled as she claimed the window seat—her own special place in her aunt’s bedroom ever since she could remember—putting them knee to knee and eye to eye. "I was outside, sitting by the river on Cupid’s Bench, and I’m sure I smelled grass or incense—something was burning. If I didn’t know you better, I’d swear you were up here smoking a joint.”

"Do you smell anything now?”

Rochelle diffidently lifted one shoulder, easy with being quizzed. Looking after the woman she had looked up to all her life felt awkward at best. She wanted her old role back.

"It must have been from before,” Meg said absently, turning her attention beyond the window, into the darkness.

"But they’ve been gone for hours.” Worried about coming across as a cynic rather than a bemused skeptic, Rochelle had carefully avoided the odd group of women who had spent the weekend at Rosewood. She didn’t want to make the Daughters of Earth feel uncomfortable. They were good for several weekend retreats a year.

"Some of them have been gone years,” Meg mused. "Centuries. But I sense their presence more all the time—those who were here before our time.”

"What are you saying, Aunt Meg? Be—”

"Afraid,” the old woman chimed in, a sign that she was, in Rochelle’s mind and much to her relief, back from beyond. Smiling at each other, they chanted in unison, "Be very afraid.”

"But you’re not,” Rochelle said.

"Of course not. They’ve done no harm yet, and I don’t expect them to start now. Do you?”

"Oh, Aunt Meg.” Rochelle laughed and shook her head. "I don’t know what to say to you on that score.”

"Then don’t say anything. I don’t want you to start patronizing me in my dotage, dear girl. I never patronized you, did I?”

"You never treated me like a child, even when I was one.”

"You’ve always been a worthy companion, no matter what your age. Age is nothing, Shelly. An open mind is ageless and boundless, you know. You’ve never been stingy with your views, and I’ve never been offended by them. So feel free to say what’s on your mind. After all, to say a thing is or is not doesn’t make it so.”

"What about seeing it or not seeing it? Doesn’t that make a difference?”

"I have a friend who is blind. She sees nothing through her eyes. Does that mean we’re all invisible?”

"She can feel our physicality,” Rochelle reasoned.

Dim lamp light softened Aunt Meg’s crafty smile. "And you smelled their scent-sitivity.”

"I smelled something,Rochelle admitted. "It was real, though, really in the air—right now, tonight. In the moment. Clear and present smell, and that’s all I know for sure. Whether one of our weekend guests was still lurking in the bushes, I couldn’t say, but do know that I saw every one of them off with a very polite smile—even that crabby old Marilee.”

"I’m sorry that woman turned out to be such a poop,” Aunt Meg said with a sigh. "When she approached me about offering her program at Rosewood, she seemed pleasant enough, and the topic sounded interesting—finding your creative spirit.”

"That’s the way I worded the announcement, but I now stand corrected. Repeatedly. The title was The Road To Creativity—Getting Acquainted With Your Spirit Guides.”

"She certainly turned out to be a sour soul, didn’t she? Ariel’s friends seemed to take her in stride, but I think Ariel’s right. We need to purge the grounds of her bad vibes. Although, if you’re smelling something burning, maybe the spirits have already taken care of it.”

"Ariel!” Rochelle wagged an aha finger. "She must be burning some of her herbal delights.”

"Oh, no, she went home earlier. I spoke with her on the phone a few minutes ago. We’re going to have a ceremony as soon as she can arrange something.”

A warning light flashed in Rochelle’s mind. "What kind of a ceremony?”

"We’ll see what Ariel can come up with,” the old woman said with a shrug. "A cleansing ceremony. The road to the spirit guides runs right through Rosewood, and I don’t want it littered with bad vibes.”

"You made another donation to the Indians at Mille Lacs, didn’t you?” Rochelle surmised.

"A very small one.”

"Aunt Meg, you have to consult with me first,” Rochelle pleaded. But her aunt looked away. She was a proud woman, unaccustomed to being on the receiving end of a consultation, and Rochelle wasn’t taking well to the giving end. "Or at least tell me right away so I can—”

"Five thousand for a new display at the museum. That’s all.” She lifted her hand, gnarled fingers splayed. "Five thousand. And it’s all tax deductible.”

Rochelle nodded. No use scolding the woman. After sisters Margaret and Selena had inherited the Bruner fortune, each one had practiced her own method of relieving herself of the burden of wealth. Rochelle’s mother had spent hers on old wine, new clothes, young men, and unreliable advice. She had been the proverbial prodigal daughter. Rochelle always believed that her mother had lived and died exactly the way she chose.

Aunt Meg, on the other hand, had given much of hers away. She had supported fledgling artists, talented prodigies, and gifted scholars, particularly those whose eligibility for funds was tacitly undermined by their gender or race or some other fact of life that should not have put them at a disadvantage. But Margaret Bruner understood that it did. She invested in the "underfunded,” as she called them—both people and programs—with her mind and her money. She would not say heart,which sounded too much like charity.

When she had divested herself down to the two hulking houses, their contents, and the barely manageable grounds, her own heart revealed its frailty. She claimed to be experiencing her mother’s "spells,” and her doctors agreed that she was in trouble. The summer Rochelle had planned to spend taking care of her had turned into more than a year spent devising ways to stall off selling the property and thereby save her aunt’s peace of mind. She had agreed to take charge of the bookkeeping in return for Aunt Meg’s consent to a business experiment, "just for fun.” Rochelle’s claim that teaching in Minneapolis had become increasingly difficult and proportionately less fulfilling was true—talk about under-funding.... No, she could not talk about it, not with Aunt Meg. Any more donations and she would be out in the street.

She was also unwilling to admit that she didn’t intend to give up entirely on her career as a teacher and become a full-time innkeeper. If Rochelle could get the business started, she hoped that Ariel might be able to keep it running. In fact, the promise of keeping Ariel on the payroll was the best part of Rochelle’s pitch. While Aunt Meg couldn’t imagine doing without her housekeeper and personal assistant, she already suspected that Ariel had cut her own wages. If she found out that she had nothing left to give away, Aunt Meg might well decide that her job was done and that it was time to join her invisible grass-burning friends in the next life.

But Rochelle was not ready for that to happen.

"Do we have any bookings for the first week in November?” Aunt Meg couched her surprising question in a casual tone. She rarely asked about bookings. It was understood that hosting guests in her home for money was fundamentally distasteful to her, and so they spoke little of the details of the business or the necessity to make it work.

"They normally taper off around then.”

In fact, they had no bookings for November. Or December.

"What about the writers’ retreat we talked about? It’s so peaceful here. You promised me that we’d be hosting artists and writers and musicians if we opened our home for these so-called retreats. So far it’s been bankers, salesmen, and Ariel’s interesting but half-a-bubble-off-plumb friends.”

"So you’re not really buying into that stuff?”

"I’m not buying into their stuff, Shelly. I have my own ideas, my own stuff. Look around you, dear.” Her sweeping gesture directed her niece’s attention to a fraction of the book collection she housed at Rosewood. "There’s a lifetime of study on these bookshelves. My lifetime, and my studies. I didn’t suddenly notice this aging face in the mirror one day and start hatching reassuring notions about the spirit world.”

"I know that, Aunt Meg.” She also knew that the woman had read every book on the premises and loved nothing more than a lively discussion of any idea they might contain. "And we do have the Midwest Ghost Photography Association booked again for next spring, which should lift your spirits.”

"Indeed.” Aunt Meg smiled, leaving Rochelle to wonder what her knowing look was all about.

Sometimes it was better to wonder than to ask. All too often the knowing was really an invitation to one of those lively discussions, which could be exhausting. Rochelle couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t longed to impress Margaret Bruner with an original thought about some enduring question. She continued to come up short, probably because her curiosity only stretched so far. Beyond earth, flower, river, or bird in the bush, Rochelle was on shaky ground. And like most Midwesterners, she didn’t much like shaky ground.

"Don’t you think our ghosts would appeal to writers?” her aunt persisted.

"I’m working on it, Aunt Meg. It seems that writers would rather retreat to places like Hawaii or southern California. Minnesota isn’t top on the retreat list.”

"Not even in the fall?”

The disappointment in her aunt’s voice was enough to send Rochelle out on a writer hunt. "Maybe if we—”

"I’m sure a painter would be enchanted by the way the spiritual presence in the garden enhances the fall colors. Your great-grandmother was a wonderful painter, you know. What do they call those photographs with the showers of colored lights?”

Trick photography, Rochelle thought, but she said, "Orbs?”

"The orbs are the circles—those wonderful white bubbles. But the colorful shower of tiny lights that shows up in some of the pictures taken in the garden would surely inspire a lovely watercolor.”

"And we could call it The Thousand Points of Light in Rosewood’s Bushes.”

"Oh, Shelly, we used to have wonderful parties here when I was a girl,” Aunt Meg enthused without so much as a chuckle for Rochelle’s show of wit. "I would invite people I’d met in New York. Van played the grand piano in the music room. Chloe Finch read her poetry on the river porch. Oh, there were some whispers about town when Marian Anderson visited. In those days, you know, people raised a fuss when I entertained people of color, but I didn’t give a fig for that kind of attitude. And, oh, that woman had the voice of an angel.”

"You were a generous patron of the arts, Aunt Meg.”

"As I see it, that’s our job. What did I do to deserve all this money? I was born a Bruner. My only gift is in recognizing the gifts of others. Grandfather didn’t always approve, but he indulged me. And when he died, well...”

"You went all out.”

"Those are the people we must bring to these retreats of yours, Shelly. I want you to enjoy the company of gifted people.” She patted Rochelle’s knee. "Not that you aren’t gifted yourself, my dear, but mixing with interesting and talented people helps us develop our gifts. I’ve gained far more than I could ever give, and so will you.”

"You had a reason for asking about the first week in November?”

"Oh, yes.” She took a pale blue envelope from the pocket of her robe. "I have a letter from your sister.”

"Crystal wrote you a letter?

"She’s getting married again.”

"Really.” That her older sister would remarry was no surprise, but it was the kind of news Rochelle would expect to be the first to hear in gushing detail. "And she wroteto tell you about it?”

"I’m sure the letter was meant for both of us. She must not have our phone number.”

"It’s easy enough to find.”

"She’s thinking of having the wedding here.”

"That would be quite a switch from the first wedding.” Rochelle didn’t want to dampen Aunt Meg’s enthusiasm before Crystal did, but she needed to get real from the outset. "Did you tell her what the rates are?”

The old woman raised her brow. "Do I detect an unseemly bite to that remark?”

Rochelle smiled affectionately. "Unlike some people, I still have all my teeth.”

"Ouch. Another bite.”

"Is she still in California? The last time I tried to call her, the number was no longer in service.”

"The letter came from Chicago.” Aunt Meg checked the postmark to make sure. "Yes, Chicago. Interesting.” She reached for Rochelle’s hand. "I know what it’s like, Shelly. Crystal is so much like her mother. Selena had no use for family ties. If it hadn’t been for you, I might have lost track of her, too.” They exchanged hand squeezes. "But wouldn’t it be lovely to have a family wedding here? There was only one other.”

"Not my mother’s.”

"Oh, no, that one was held at the Plaza. No, you’ve seen the pictures of your grandparents’ wedding. Mother’s dress was so beautiful.” She brightened. "We should find it, Shelly. Maybe it would fit Crystal.”

"Even if it did, don’t you think it might bode ill? That marriage was relatively short. Your parents both died so young.”

"Don’t tell me that my skeptical Shelly has a superstitious streak.”

"Of course not. Crystal wouldn’t wear it, anyway. She’ll go for a designer dress, and she’ll look fabulous in it. But this would hardly be the place to show it off, so I can’t see...” With no reaction from her aunt, Rochelle puzzled over the situation. "Have you spoken to her lately?”

"I can’t remember when I last heard from her. And when your memory gets to be as bad as mine, you’ll be relieved of the burden of keeping score.” Aunt Meg offered a sympathetic smile. "I’m not being judgmental, Shelly. It’s just that I went through all this with my sister. You are who you are, and—”

"She is who she is, I know. It’s fine with me. I just can’t believe she’ll go through with it, and I don’t want us to be disappointed. She’ll have us all psyched for November, and then she’ll decide on Paris in the spring.”

"But she’s marrying a Minnesota boy, and he has family close by. As for Crystal, we’re the only family she has besides little Garth, and I haven’t seen him since he was a tot. She knows I don’t get out much anymore.”

Rochelle let the assumption pass unanswered. The call she hadn’t been able to complete had been her dutiful attempt to let Crystal know that Aunt Meg was in the hospital. She’d hoped her sister would come. She’d imagined a happy reunion, the delight in seeing how much her nephew had grown, the sweet surprise for a sick woman.

"It would be fun to have a wedding here,” Rochelle allowed softly.

"I’ve always hoped we’d have yours in the gardens.”

Rochelle laughed reflexively, the way she always did when the subject of men, marriage, or maiden aunts came up. "Let’s practice on Crystal’s. Did she give us a phone number?”

"Read the letter,” Meg urged, pressing the envelope into her hand. "We can probably find out from the address.”

"I’ll take care of that. You need your rest now. You have a big day ahead of you tomorrow.”

"I do,” Meg remembered happily. She was to be the grand marshal of the town’s Labor Day parade. "And then Ariel’s group will be coming back. They’re all set to partake in a thorough purification of Rosewood whenever I get it organized.”

"If you go chasing the spirits out of their haunts, we’ll have nothing to draw the creative retreaters to our chilly climes.”

"It’s not the spirits’ side we’re purifying. It’s ours. I think I’ll ask Birch Trueblood to take charge of the ceremony. You remember him, don’t you?”

Rochelle stiffened. Her aunt knew perfectly well what she remembered about Birch Trueblood. She’d made a fool of herself every time she ran into the Ojibwe medicine man. As a teenager and beyond, she had followed Margaret Bruner around in her quest to show her interest in and appreciation for the small band of American Indians who, through generations of challenge, had managed to hang on to a tiny piece of the Mille Lacs shoreline.

The twinkle in Aunt Meg’s eyes drew Rochelle’s obligatory groan. Oh, yes, she certainly remembered the way Birch’s easy smile made her insides turn somersaults.

Oh, this was perfect. With Sinclair Lewis’s birthplace just down the road, wasn’t purification from the Native American Elmer Gantry just what she needed?

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