Instead, she forces her lips into a polite smile and says, “What can I get for you, Miss Holt?”
I’m sorry. That’s what I want to say. I’m sorry my father exploited your tragedy in his book. I’m sorry that because of him the whole world knows what your husband did.
“Coffee, please,” is what I end up saying, the words tight in my throat. “To go.”
Marta says nothing else as she pours my coffee and hands it to me. I muster a weak “Thank you” and pay with a ten-dollar bill. The change goes into a tip jar atop the counter, as if that seven dollars can make up for twenty-five years of pain.
I tell myself there’s no need to apologize. That it was my father, not me, who wronged her. That I’m just as much a victim as she is.
But as I leave that bakery, I know two things.
One, that I’m a coward.
And, two, that I hope to never see Marta Carver again as long as I live.
* * *
I return from the grocery store with a dozen paper bags in the back of my pickup. Because Baneberry Hall’s kitchen leaves a lot to be desired, I stocked up on food that’s easy to prepare. Canned soups, cold cereal, frozen dinners that can be zapped in the ancient microwave.
When I pull up to the house, I find a Toyota Camry also parked in the circular drive. Soon a man appears from the side of the house, as if he’s just been roaming the grounds. He’s in his early fifties, trim, with a tidy beard, a checked sport coat, and a matching bow tie. The outfit makes him look like an old-timey salesman. All that’s missing is a straw hat and a bottle of snake oil. As he approaches with one hand extended and another gripping a reporter’s notebook, I realize exactly who he is.
I can’t say I wasn’t warned.
“Good to see you, Maggie,” he says, as if we’re old friends.
I hop out of the truck, scowling. “You’re trespassing, Mr. Prince.”
“My apologies,” he says, doing a half bow of attrition. “I heard you were back in town, so I decided to drive out here and see for myself. When I saw the front gate open, I realized the rumors were true. Hope you don’t mind the intrusion.”
I grab a grocery bag from the truck and carry it to the porch. “Will you leave if I say yes?”
“Grudgingly,” he says. “But I do intend to come back, so you might as well get it over with now.”
“Get what over with?”
“Our interview, of course,” he says.
I return to the truck and grab two more bags. “I’m afraid I’m not very newsworthy, Mr. Prince.”
“Oh, I beg to differ. I think the community would be very interested to know that a member of the Holt family has moved back to Baneberry Hall.”
“I’m not moving in,” I say. “In fact, I’m moving out. There’s your article in two sentences.”
“What are your plans for the house?”
“Fix it up, sell it, hopefully walk away with a profit,” I say, nodding toward the equipment on the lawn as I make my way to the porch. First the table saw. Then the electric sander. Then the sledgehammer.
“The fact that Baneberry Hall will soon be back on the market is newsworthy in itself,” Brian says.
Deep down, I know Brian Prince is blameless. He heard a juicy story about a haunted house, interviewed my father, and wrote down what he said. He had simply done his job, just like Tess Alcott had done hers. The only two people responsible are my parents, and even they had no idea the story of Baneberry Hall would grow into the unruly phenomenon it became. That still doesn’t keep me from wanting to grab the sledgehammer and chase Brian Prince off my property.
“Newsworthy or not, I don’t want to talk to you,” I say.
“Your father did,” he says. “Sadly, he never got the chance.”
I lower the bags on the porch, my legs wobbly with surprise. “You communicated with my father?”
“Not often,” Brian says. “But we continued to correspond on and off over the years. And one of the things we discussed shortly before his illness took a turn for the worse was him coming back here to do an interview with me.”
“Your idea, I suppose.”
“Actually, it was your father who suggested it. He pitched it as an exclusive interview. Him and me talking inside this house, twenty-five years later.”
It’s yet another thing my father never mentioned, probably because he knew I would have tried to talk him out of it.
“Did he tell you what the gist of this conversation would have been?” I say, toying with the possibility it might have been an attempt to finally come clean after all these years. A confession, of sorts, taking place at the scene of the crime.
That idea is immediately shot down by Brian Prince.
“Your father said he wanted to reaffirm what he had written in his book.”
“And you were just going to go along with it?” I say, my opinion of Brian Prince swiftly changing. Maybe he’s not as blameless as I first thought. “Listen to my father tell a bunch of lies and write it down as fact?”
“I wasn’t planning on going easy on him,” Brian says as he fussily adjusts his bow tie. “I was going to ask some tough questions. Try to get at the truth of the matter.”