After over an hour of getting the students unloaded and turned over to the care of their high-school bunk counselors, Levitt and the rest of the teachers got their own luggage from the back of the bus.
Before they had finished, Ms. Larson, who had introduced her self to the students as the principal of Boyer Lodge, rounded the rear of the bus and approached the teachers, her smile tight, yet friendly.
“Welcome, teachers! I am thrilled to have Scott Elementary with us this week. I know that the school year has only just begun and there may be issues that arise, as many of you don’t yet really know your students. I just wanted you to be aware that we at Boyer Lodge are here to assist you, as well as your students.” As she addressed the teachers, her eyes passed over each one appraisingly. The corners of her lips turned down in judgment as she took in Ms. Needle’s substantial girth. “I know you have been used to the accommodations at Fort Wentworth, sleeping in a cabins next to your students, but things are slightly different here.” Her eyes traveled back to Levitt, her gaze holding his, “While you are here, you will be residing at the Lodge.” She made a slight gesture over her shoulder toward the back of the valley. “It’s quite a trek, especially with all your luggage,” again judgment clouded her expression, “but I dare say you will find it well worth the trip.”
At Ms. Larson’s words, Levitt’s eyes widened, and in the first time in the memorable past, he felt his breath catch and his heartbeat quicken. He tore his gaze from Ms. Larson, redirecting it onto the lodge.
Although winded, the short hike to the house didn’t seem to take long at all. Before he knew it, he was there, standing at the threshold. All the other teachers had gone in, the door shutting behind them.
He wasn’t sure what to make of it. Why did his heart feel like it was preparing to rip from his chest? Why was sweat beginning to stream down his back? Why did the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention? The last time his body had felt so alive was the first night he had seen Jason standing naked in front of him.
With a shake of his head, he repositioned the strap of his duffle bag and forced his hand forward to grasp the brass door handle. Before his skin made contact, the door swung open. Emitting a short yelp, Levitt stumbled backward, nearly loosing his balance.
“Mr. Patterson, I do apologize.” Ms. Larson stood in the opening, her hand pressed against the inside of the door. “I didn’t realize you had not followed the others.”
Levitt stared at her stupidly for a moment, unable to force out words. She stood in front of him in what was clearly meant to be an old-fashioned dress, faded blue and brown gingham. For some reason, he hadn’t even noticed what she was wearing when she’d met them at the bus, but now, surrounded by the house, the dress stood out like a beacon.
As if feeling the need to explain, she motioned downward. “I always dress the part the first day. I think it adds the history and charm of the place. After dinner, we’ll bring the kids up here and give them a tour.”
His eyes rose to hers once more. “We get to take a tour?” Again, he marveled at how his heart pounded in his chest.
Ms. Larson cocked her head, as if she could hear the beating of his heart. “Yes, although I’m afraid it is the watered down version.” The pink tip of her tongue darted out to lick her thin lips. “However, while the other teachers are unpacking and resting for the moment, I could give you the real tour if you’d like.”
Feeling as if speaking would cause him to shatter, Levitt nodded and stepped through the threshold, his luggage dropping with a loud crash on the gleaming hardwood floors. Jumping once again, he turned, expecting to see Ms. Larson glaring at him in condemnation. Instead, she was already halfway across the living room, heading towards the large picture window that looked out over the valley and the mountain ranges in the distance.
He hurried to catch up to her, but stopped abruptly when she turned, placing her hand on the ancient grand piano sprawled in front of the window.
Her voice was low, causing Levitt to lean forward to catch everything she was saying. Her tone wasn’t that of a tour guide giving a rehearsed speech that had been reiterated on countless occasions. Twinkling in animation, her eyes narrowed as she too leaned forward, the tremble in her words promising a tale that shouldn’t be missed.
“The Boyer’s were a rich banking family from the Midwest; they moved to Denver in 1904. This,” she made a sweeping gesture to the room, “was their summer home, although it became their primary residence later on. It took Mr. Boyer four years to complete the mansion, at least in theory. Beth Boyer’s family was the source of the money and she was accustomed to things being how she expected them. She was never entirely satisfied with the interior of the lodge. The most modest of assessments say that she had Mr. Boyer, Charles, completely redo the interior of the lodge no less than twenty-three times.” She stepped around the piano to caress the amber wood paneling on the walls. The tip of her finger traced the checkerboard crisscross pattern. “This, they say, was the original design Mr. Boyer created. She made him tear everything out and redo it to match when they had first moved in.”
Levitt’s voice was so low, he was surprised that she could even hear him, “She had him redo it over twenty times only to do back to the original?”
She nodded conspiratorially.
Her eyes held his, refusing to break away. “Depends who you talk to. Some say she was just a bitch who enjoyed castrating her husband. However,” he voice somehow lowered even farther, “I am inclined to believe the theory that her son’s death prompted the final renovation. I think she was trying to re-create the past.”
She motioned to a portrait over the fireplace in the center of the room. “Beth never recovered after Jack’s death. Most believe it was the reason she killed herself—even though it was over twenty years later.”
Levitt had walked over to the painting and had been reaching out to touch the frame, but turned at Ms. Larson’s words. “She killed herself?”
She didn’t say anything, only started up at the portrait.
Turning back to look into the dead woman’s face, he felt a chill run down his spine. “How?”
Ms. Larson didn’t answer, and Levitt lost himself in studying the painting. The woman was beautiful but severe in appearance. Her midnight black hair pulled back into the high bun on top of her, causing the already thin face to have a pinched and hard look. Her chin was lifted, in pride or defiance; the artist seemingly hadn’t been able to decide. Shoulders were thrown back squarely, covered in a rose colored shawl that hid most of the dusty yellow taffeta dress beneath.
Levitt jolted yet again as Ms. Larson’s voice spoke directly behind him, inches away from his ear. “Shot herself in the mouth with her husband’s rifle.”
He turned to stare at her, wide-eyed. “With a rifle? Is that even possible?”
She shrugged. “In Jack’s old bedroom,” her eyes lifted to the floor above them and then returned to Levitt. “You can still hear her walking the halls at night, pacing from room to room. Searching.”
Typically, such a statement would have made Levitt let out a burst of sardonic laughter, but a wash of ice cold water seemed to rush over him. “You can hear her?”
“Oh, yes. Among others.”
She nodded. “Don’t worry. Nothing ever truly bad. Just noises and voices, things out of the corner of the eye. Sometimes a little push or a grasp on the shoulder.”
He stared at her, as if waiting for her to laugh and slap his arm letting him on the joke.
She simply looked at him, her eyes never wavering.
Doing his best to shake off his chills, he turned his attention back to the painting. “Is that Jack?” Beside Beth Boyer stood a young man. The piercing green eyes the only resemblance of his mother. His skin was fair, nearly porcelain, and his blond hair was careless and wild. Although in a different form, he had inherited his mother’s beauty. If it hadn’t been for his angled bone structure and muscular frame, his beauty would have seemed feminine.
“Yes. That’s Jack. Jack Joseph Boyer.” She stepped beside Levitt and peered up at the couple in the painting. “He didn’t even reach his seventeenth birthday.”
Levitt lowered his eyes out of reverence for the boy. “How?”
Another shrug. “No one knows. The family handled the burial and told family and friends after the fact.”
He looked at her quizzically. “They didn’t tell them how he died?”
She shook her head.
Levitt waited for more of a response, but it seemed Ms. Larson deemed that unnecessary. After a few moments, his gaze returned to the painting, inspecting the curve of the boy’s lip and the hint of expansive chest peering through the neck of the white flowing shirt.
With a puzzled expression, Levitt turned to Ms. Larson, who was staring at him unapologetically. Taking a step away, he voiced the question that had just come to mind. “Why is it just Ms. Boyer and Jack? What about Mr. Boyer?”
Ms. Larson’s lips curved into a crooked smile, she gave him a nod of approval, as if he’d reached the mystery in an acceptable amount of time. “There are several portraits throughout the house. Some just of Ms. Boyer, many more of Jack, and a couple more of mother and son together. There are none of Charles Boyer, nor of Alice.”
“About a year after Jack’s death, Ms. Boyer gave birth to a little girl, Alice. From all accounts, she never even held her daughter. Mr. Boyer adored her and hired a nanny to care for her.”
“What became of her?”
Ms. Larson turned away from the portrait and motioned towards the doorway opposite the picture window.
Levitt peered through the opening, taking in the huge formal dining table and the massive painting of Beth Boyer on the main wall, the same severe expression on her face, this time her long raven hair cascading over a vibrant crimson dress.
“This is the dinning room.” The pride in her voice was evident, as if she had personally been responsible for the preservation of the homestead. “Everything in the house is original. After a few years, Ms. Boyer had all the gas lamps switched to electric. It was one of the first homes within a hundred miles with indoor plumbing.”
The dinning room was equally as grand as the living room. Both were roughly the size of Levitt’s entire apartment, and more lavishly decorated than he could afford over a hundred years later.
The rest of the tour went quickly. The rest of the rooms were small and less intricately decorated; however, every surface was covered in wood—planks and logs. Nothing had been painted or wallpapered, every inch shown out in a warm earthy glow, giving the house a living, palpable essence.
They skipped the bedrooms that the other teachers occupied on the second story, Ms. Larson instead taking him directly to his bedroom, which was directly over the living room and looked out over the valley below.
“Since you are the only male teacher this week, you have the luxury of having a room all to yourself.” She glanced at the other empty bed that took up the remaining space in the tiny room.
“Thank goodness for small blessings, I suppose.”
She gazed at him, her eyes narrowed. “Don’t you want to be here?”
Levitt felt his face flush, as if caught in a truth that wasn’t appropriate to share. “Honestly, no. I don’t really feel up to this week. However, I am excited to stay here in the lodge. I’d like to spend a week here without the kids sometime. Just exploring the wilderness and enjoying this gorgeous house. No responsibility. No bad memories. Nothing except just being.”She shook her head slowly. This time, her smile left Levitt with a sense of foreboding. “No bad memories? Mr. Patterson, haven’t you been listening? Why ever would you think there are no bad memories here?”