“I have a confession to make,” I eventually say.
“Let me guess,” Dane says, deadpan. “Your real name is Windy.”
“Close. I didn’t come back just to renovate Baneberry Hall. My real reason for returning is to try to figure out why we left this place the way we did.”
“You think there’s more to the story?”
“I know there is.”
I tell him everything. My checkered history with the Book. My father’s cryptic last words. My certainty that my parents have been withholding the truth from me for twenty-five years.
“I know my father was a liar,” I say, giving a nod toward Rover’s grave. “Now I want to know just how much he lied about. And why.”
“But you already know it wasn’t the truth,” Dane says. “Why go to all this trouble just to learn the specifics?”
“Because—” I pause, trying to find a way to articulate a gut feeling that can’t be expressed in words. “Because for most of my life, I’ve been defined by that book. Yet my parents refused to tell me anything about it. So I grew up lonely and confused and feeling like a freak because everyone thought I was the victim of something uncanny.”
Dane nods approvingly at my use of his grandmother’s term. “It’s a good word.”
“It really is,” I say, smiling even though tears are gathering in my eyes. I wipe them away with the back of my hand before one can escape. “But I never experienced it. It never happened. Now I just want to know the real story. There’s your rambling, embarrassingly personal answer.”
“Thank you for your honesty,” Dane tells me. “That couldn’t have been easy.”
“It wasn’t,” I say. “But Baneberry Hall has been the subject of so many lies, I figured it’s time someone started telling the truth.”
The next day, I was back in the woods, this time with Hibbs. Jess was inside with Maggie, attempting to ease our daughter’s pain with some child aspirin and cartoons. Our trip to the emergency room had ended up being better than I expected. It was still slow—more than three hours from arrival to departure—and still expensive. But Maggie hadn’t needed stitches, which was good news all around.
The bad news was that we had a graveyard on our property, which was why I’d asked Hibbs to tag along. I needed someone to help me count the headstones.
“I’d heard rumors they were out here, but never believed them myself,” Hibbs said as we scanned the ground, looking for more graves. So far, I’d found three. Two presumably for William Garson’s eldest son and grandson—William Jr. and William III, respectively—and one too weathered to read.
“No one knew about this place?” I said.
“Someone did, once upon a time,” Hibbs replied. “But time passed, the place changed hands, and the forest kept on growing. It’s sad, when you think about it. The final resting place of a once-great family now sits in a forest, forgotten. Here’s another, by the way.”
He pointed to a fourth brick-like stone rising from the earth. Carved into its top was a name and a date.
“She was a beauty, that one,” Hibbs said. “That portrait of her up in the house? That’s true to life, or so I’ve been told.”
“Do you know a lot about the Garsons?”
“Oh, I’ve heard plenty over the years.”
“Do you know what happened to Indigo? She died so young.”
“I’ve heard her story,” Hibbs said. “My grandfather knew her. Back when he was just a boy. Told me she was the spitting image of that portrait. So it should come as no surprise that the artist who painted it fell madly in love with her.”
That had been my first impression upon seeing it. That the only reason an artist would have rendered Indigo Garson in such an angelic fashion was that he had been enamored of her.
“Did she love him in return?” I asked.
“She did,” Hibbs said. “The story goes that the two planned to run away and get married. William Garson was furious when he found out. He told Indigo she was far too young to get married, even though at that time being a bride at sixteen was quite common. He forbade Indigo from ever seeing the artist again. Despondent over her lost love, Indigo killed herself.”
I shuddered at the realization that another former resident of Baneberry Hall had committed suicide.
“Poisoned herself.” Hibbs pointed farther down the hill, where a cluster of plants sat, their spindly branches covered with scarlet berries. “With those.”
“She ate baneberries?” I said.
Hibbs gave a solemn nod. “A true tragedy. Old Man Garson was heartbroken about it. The rumor is he hired that same artist to come back and paint his portrait on the other side of that fireplace. That way he and Indigo would always be together in Baneberry Hall. The painter didn’t want to, but he was flat broke and therefore had little choice.”
Now I understood why the portrait of William Garson in the great room was so sneakily unflattering. The painter had despised him, and it showed.
I walked to Mr. Garson’s gravestone, the smear of Maggie’s blood still there, now dried to a dark red.