“Why, do I look tired?” she asked almost defensively.
“No,” I said, coming around to sit on the edge of her bed. She did have dark circles under eyes and this sense of weariness to her, but I was no better off. “I just barely slept at all. Doesn’t help that these beds aren’t made for two.” I observed her, pondering over her words from last night, that she wasn’t in her right frame of mind. It had been at least two months since she and her ex-girlfriend broke up and I wondered if she was still deeply affected by it.
Before I had a chance to ask her though, a breathless Dex appeared in the doorway, a six-pack of beer cradled in his arms like he’d just stolen the holy grail, and quickly shut the door. “That was close,” he said, opening the cupboards under the nurse’s sink and sliding it in there. “Let’s hope Kelly doesn’t like beer.”
“Did anyone see you?” I asked.
He grinned. “With the beer, no. In my underwear? Let’s just say I gave a few teachers something to dream about tonight.”
I snorted while Rebecca’s eyes sought the ceiling.
With the school slowly coming alive, it became easier to go about the morning without that ever-present cloud of dread hanging over me, enough that I was able to use the showers by myself and not freak out that someone was going to trap me in the stall or pull a Psycho. The events of last night seemed far away, and even though I was a bit nervous about the tour, I was excited to hear some of the truths about the place from a trusted source and not “Dikipedia.”
Just before nine o’clock, as bleary-eyed students were shuffling into their classrooms and occasionally looking at our motley crew with curiosity, the three of us waited outside Davenport’s office for Brenna and the guide.
“Hey guys,” Brenna said, waving at us as she came down the hall. She looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and I had no idea how she was able to work at this place day in and day out without going absolutely crazy, especially given the things she had seen.
Dex smiled, adjusting the camera in his hand. “Does your boyfriend ever sing ‘Hot for Teacher’?” He glanced at me. “Man, if you were a teacher, I’d be singing that to you every night. Maybe pull your hair back into a bun, put on some sex kitten glasses, and carry a large ruler…”
“Dex!” I admonished him, jerking my head at Brenna.
She only laughed. “It’s no bother. And yes, he sings ‘Hot for Teacher’ all the time. Makes a nice change from Raffi.”
Rebecca leaned in closer to her and lowered her voice. “So what can you tell us about the man who will be giving us the tour?”
“Patrick?” she asked. “He’s legit. Lived in Gary his whole life. His mother or grandmother used to work here.”
“But does he know about what you’ve seen?” I asked. “Will he think we’re nuts if we start talking about what we saw last night?”
Her attention sharpened. “What did you see last night?”
Dex patted the camera. “We have footage. We haven’t looked at it yet, but I think it picked up most of the anomalies. When do you have a break today?”
“Just at lunch,” she said. “Noon.”
“We’ll come by your room then, if that’s okay,” I said. “I personally have a few questions for you myself.”
She nodded with trepidation. “Okay.”
The doors to the school opened and in walked a man in his mid-forties with thick brown hair and glasses. He was hunched over a bit from bad posture and wearing a khaki jacket that looked too warm for the sunny day we were having.
“That’s Patrick,” she said, gesturing to him. “I’ll see you at noon.”
While she walked off, Rebecca managed to catch Patrick’s eye.
“You’re Mr. Rothburn?” she asked.
He gave her a shy smile and walked over to us. “I am, but please call me Patrick. Are you…?” He had quite the low, raspy voice.
We all introduced ourselves, which went well until Dex added “Ghost hunters” to the end of his introduction.
Patrick brought a toothpick out of his front pocket and stuck it in his mouth. “Oh, I don’t care much for ghost hunters.” He eyed Dex’s camera warily.
“Weren’t you told why we’re here?” Rebecca asked.
He nodded slightly. “I was. But I thought you were from a paranormal society, not for an actual show.”
“We don’t have to film you,” Dex told him. “And if we accidently do, we can blur you out.”
“I’d like that,” he said appreciatively. His eyes softened beneath his glasses. ”Sorry, I work at the museum and don’t want to be associated with any sort of show or entertainment. I’ll gladly show you around though. It’s much better this way than it has been in the past.”
“What happened then?”Dex asked.
“Ghost hunters or paranormal researchers have broken in on their own, trying to film. So, I guess we can all appreciate you taking the official route and respecting the history.”
I exchanged a loaded glance with Dex. It was probably a good idea if we left last night’s rule-breaking shenanigans out of it.
“No problem,” Rebecca filled in quickly. “Shall we get started? Do you want a spot of tea or coffee from the break room?”
He raised his palm. “No. Thank you though.”
“Are you still offering, Rebecca?” Dex asked. “Because you know I’d love one.” He batted his eyes at her.
“Get stuffed,” she told him. She and Patrick turned and headed for the stairs.
Dex looked so stunned at her comment, as if he was genuinely let down, that I had to kiss him on the cheek. “Nice try,” I teased.
“The nerve,” he said. “She does it for this Gary Oldman impersonator but not for good ol’ Dex.”
I put my arm around his waist, loving the feel of his abs beneath his thin t-shirt. “Tell you what, I’m not going to get you a coffee either but when we get back to Seattle, you can put on Van Halen and I’ll dress up like the bad, bad teacher that I am.”
“Fucking hell,” he groaned, turning so his body was pressed up against mine, his eyes becoming seductive. “Don’t tease me because I’ll seriously pull you into Davenport’s office right now and bend you over her desk.”
I grinned, sticking the tip of my tongue out through my teeth. “I told you, I’m not having sex in this place even if—“
“I had two dicks,” he supplied. “Yeah, so you say.”
“Ahem,” Rebecca said, clearing her throat. We looked over to see her and Patrick (who did look freakishly like Gary Oldman) standing at the middle of the staircase and waiting for us.
“Sorry,” I apologized. I looked back at Dex, covering him from their unamused eyes while he adjusted the erection in his jeans.
We caught up to them just as the morning bell rung and I nearly flew out of my skin in surprise.
“Got the creeps already?” Rebecca asked.
“I guess in some way I know what things might lie ahead,” I said carefully.
“Actually,” Gary Oldman said as we climbed the stairs, “Sea Crest was a hopeful place. My grandmother was a nurse here, just at the end of the administration when the cure for TB had been found, and she said that most of the children were happy. Sick, yes, but not all of them died. Many of them went home, and until then, they had their friends here to play with. Have you seen the playground out back?”
We stopped on the landing and he nodded out the large bay window that faced the back of the property as he fished another toothpick out of his pocket and placed it in his mouth. I had no idea where the other toothpick went.
Outside there was a large play area—a small grassy field lined with flower beds, a baseball diamond, a woodchip flecked jungle gym complete with swings and slides. Everything looked brand new, if not unremarkable.
“That’s where the playground used to be back when Sea Crest was operating,” he said. “See that grassy area there just before the trees? The students often go there to paint nature scenes. The forest, the flowers, the clouds. In the old days, that grass stretched along the length of the building. The nurses would wheel the patients out there for fresh air and leave them there for hours. If they were well enough, they’d play on the old swing set which is where the new swing set is located now.” He let out a sad sigh. ”Being outside was important for these kids—they believed fresh salty air was the cure. On the fourth floor, where they had the deathly ill, they had the windows open all the time, even in the dead of winter. Sometimes the nurses would come in the morning and find them dead of hypothermia.”
“My god,” I said, putting my hand to my mouth. “That’s horrible. You said this was a happy place.”
He gave me a wry look. “Happier than you’d think, yes. But like any hospital back in the day, there were horror stories. It didn’t mean it was the norm for these kids, though.”
We started back up the stairs to the second floor. Dex was already filming. “And these horror stories would be…” He trailed off.
“You want to hear some of them?” Oldman asked.
“A floor by floor rundown would be great,” Dex said. He looked over the camera to see Oldman wincing, toothpick in mouth. “Don’t worry, I’m not filming you, just past you.”
He nodded and stopped in the middle of the hall, the same place where Dex and I had been when we saw the thing. “The second floor,” he announced without flourish. “This floor housed the majority of the children. To our right here, down this wing, they kept the lower-class children. Over to our left is where they housed the upper class.”
“And the difference?” Dex asked.
“Minimal differences now,” he said with a wave of his hand. “Let me show you.”
He took us down to where we were last night, near the room where Dex saw the rat. We poked our heads into one of the rooms. In the daylight it was still creepy, but a little more morose; the walls were a stark grey, the floor hard and austere. Dead leaves and yellowing newspaper littered the ground, along with rat droppings. You could see the broken glass of the windows, jagged edges glinting against the sun. I walked across the room and peered out. From this floor you could just see over the tops of the trees, the Pacific Ocean glinting on the horizon.
“They had a nice view,” I said.
“They did when it was sunny, like today,” he said. “But most of the time, the fog rolls in and gets stuck here on these hills. When they first built the hospital back in 1912, they were having good luck with the summer. This spot never saw a lick of fog. Then, a year after it was built, the fog rolled in around Gary and never left. The patients were caught in the clouds.” I turned around to see him addressing Dex, who was filming me. “That’s something to note for your show. On the fourth floor people report seeing fog in the hallways, no matter what time of day or what the weather is like outside. Sometimes the fog gets so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face.”
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