I was sixteen when my life changed forever. It was a Friday afternoon and Jeremy Wolfe asked me to hang out with him. He recently moved to Warwick Falls from London – his father was some banking executive sent to the United States to head up the company’s New York Office.
Jeremy was everything a teenage girl could ask for. Well, everything this socially sheltered bookworm could want. He was athletic, smart, and handsome. He even had an adorable accent.
As we walked to his house, I asked why his parents sent him to Catholic school. I thought most Brits were Anglican. He explained that, while most of his countrymen followed the church of England, there were a fair number of die-hard Catholics. He came from such a family.
He only lived a few blocks from St. Michael’s in a large Victorian that made my parent’s comfortable, but small, home look shabby.
We went inside, and I immediately fell in love with the place. I’d never seen so many antiques outside of a museum. I could stare at the oil paintings decorating the walls for ages and promised myself that I would one day own such a place. “Your home is amazing.”
“Thank you, love!” His mother was a cheerful woman who reminded me of Maggie Smith.
I was afraid to sit in the chair she indicated, but didn’t want to seem like a bumpkin, so I delicately lowered myself into it. Having no such qualms, Jeremy plopped down on the seat next to me.
“You two must be hungry.”
“Try famished, mum!”
“Get started on your homework and I’ll prepare a treat.”
Since Jeremy and I shared four classes, we agreed that he would do the Italian and AP Biology while I took the AP Calculus and US History.
We had just divided the labor when his mother returned with a tray laden with all sorts of goodies for a traditional English tea. Setting down the food, she poured us our drinks, then excused herself, saying she had shopping to do.
Jeremy and I did our homework, all the while sipping tea and munching on small sandwiches and sweet cakes. Once done, we exchanged our pages and copied the others work, trying not to do it verbatim to throw our teachers off.
Homework done, we cleared and washed the delicate china. The set had belonged to his father’s mother. She collected the pieces in the nineteen thirties. Apparently, theaters would give out different pieces of china during the depression to entice people for a night out.
He told me stories about traveling through Europe and Asia. He visited to so many amazing places. Although I had only been to nearby New York City, he didn’t treat me like a hick.
Finished, we moved back into the living room and talked about our favorite movies and books. We both loved mysteries and bad comedies.
A fierce debate started over whether the numerous remakes were worth seeing. I said they were all trash compared to the originals. He held that there was nothing new in the last hundred years and all authors stole from those who came before.
After a moment of silence so we could cool off, he said there was a new movie out and invited me to see it with him. I barely let him finish asking me out before I said yes.
I don’t recall what started the conversation, but we told each other ghost stories. I shared a tale my grandmother had passed on from the small Italian town where she grew up. It must have triggered a memory because he stood up smiling.
“Want to see my great-great grandmother’s talking board? It’s been in the family for two hundred years.”
Not your standard pick up line, but he had my full attention. “What’s a talking board?”
“It’s a precursor to your Ouija boards.”
“I thought Ouija boards were parlor games?” I read that they have been invented in the late nineteenth century, but they still gave me the creeps.
“They are. However, talking boards came first. They were used in medieval China.”
I thought he was pulling one over on me. “They played with Ouija boards in the middle ages?”
“They weren’t games. Spirit writing has a long history in both Eastern and Western civilizations.”
I didn’t like the idea of calling upon spirits, but wanted to see the antique board. All we had in my family was an old pizzelle maker that belonged to my great-grandmother. It was used to make the cookie in a fireplace. Unfortunately, we no longer had it. Without asking my mother’s permission, my aunt gave it to a distant cousin when my grandmother died – they hadn’t spoken for months over that incident. “Well, let’s see this talking board.”
He smiled, and ran off. I could hear him moving around upstairs as I walked around the room admiring the art work. Something upstairs crashed, and the window behind me slammed open. I almost jumped out of my skin. It must not have been locked. It was raining, so I closed it and made sure the lock was fastened.
I was wiping up the rain that had blown in when Jeremy returned with the board. We moved into the kitchen where there was a large table.
Sitting across from one another we admired the talking board. The object clearly had more than just sentimental value. It must have been worth a fortune and I doubted we should be playing with it.
His family’s crest – an anvil in a field of red – was in the corner. The board was a mosaic of semi-precious stones. The inner ring was comprised of the zodiac sign, the next circle contained the letters of the alphabet, and the final ring contained astrological symbols. It was a work of art.
There was a crystal ring that we placed in the center. “We need to put our fingers on it before we can begin.”
Even as I willed myself not to blush, I could feel my cheeks turning warm and our fingers touched. “Why do we need to hold the ring? Can’t the spirits move it on their own?”
He shrugged. “I only know what I’ve been told.”
“So, what do we do now?” I asked, nervously.
“We call upon the spirits and ask them questions.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. I had seen enough movies to have a healthy fear of the supernatural. Still, I wanted him to like me. “Let’s get started.” I was proud to hear my voice sounding a lot braver than I felt.
He smiled, and called upon the spirts to hear us.
We felt a breeze. I looked around, but the windows were shut.
“Who are you?” He asked.
The crystal circle started moving on its own. Fear washed over me. I looked at Jeremy’s green eyes. He concentrated on the board. I realized he was having fun with me, moving the ring, so I focused on what the “ghost” was spelling.
“Who is Peter Villiers-child?” I asked.
He turned pale. “Are you dead?”
The circle moved three times, spelling out “Yes.”
“Who will be the next Lord of Redmon?”
It spelled out his name.
He laughed. “Very funny, Anna.”
I was confused. We both knew he was the one moving the ring. “What are you talking about? You were the one moving it.”
He considered my eyes, as if searching for an answer. “That, wasn’t you?”
The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I shook my head. “Who is Lord Redmon?” This time I could hear the fear in my voice.
“My mother’s uncle. He is the eleventh earl of Redmon.”
I didn’t want to sound foolish, but I had to ask. “Is he still alive?”
“As far as I know, he it.”
“Could he have died? Even if he did, wouldn’t your mother get it?”
“Impossible. The title and estate are inherited through the male line. He had no children, but my mother is his sister’s daughter. Some distant relative will inherit the title.”
Pride and Prejudice came to mind. Through the antiquated system of primogeniture, various titles and property could only go to the male line. It was hard to believe things hadn’t changed.
He stood up.
“Where are you going?” Although I didn’t believe in ghosts, I didn’t want to be left alone.
He smiled. “Back into the living room. I thought we could go snog on the sofa for a bit.”
My heart started pounding. I’d never been kissed before. I took the hand he offered.
Back on the sofa, he leaned in and kissed me. His lips were warm and the kiss was nice. We continued snuggling and kissing for a while when I felt like someone was watching us. I opened my eyes.
A man was sitting in the wing chair to Jeremy’s right. There was pure menace in his eyes as he stared at me. Screaming, I pushed away from Jeremy. Confused, but aware something was wrong, he leapt up pushing me behind him and looked around the room. He was too late. The man had disappeared.
His mother picked that moment to come home. She assessed the situation and hustled us into the kitchen where she made me a cup of tea. After a few sips, she persuaded me to tell her what was wrong.
I felt foolish. Clearly, the talking board had frightened me more than I wanted to admit. As I sipped the tea, I told her what happened and what I thought I saw.
Instead of laughing it off, she asked me what the man looked like.
I described him as best as I could. She listened, then ran out of the room, and returning moments later with a box of photos. She dug around in the box until she found what she was looking for. She slid a picture of a man across the table.
Picking it up, I examined it closely. “That looks like him, only he’s a bit younger than the man I saw.”
“That’s my Uncle Peter. I barely knew him. He was older than my mother, and he resented her marrying my father – a man he considered beneath her.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“While I was out, I received a call from Peter’s solicitor. He died this morning.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Wolfe.”
“Thank you dear.” She patted my hand as she looked at Jeremy. “Apparently, before he died, he solicited the crown. His estate and his title all go to you.”
“I’m the twelfth Earl of Redmon?”
I kissed the twelfth Earl of Redmon? That was almost like kissing a price to an American teenaged girl. Look out Cinderella. I wondered if he would have to go back to England, or if he could stay in Warwick Falls.
“Do you know what this means?” Mrs. Wolfe asked. We shook our heads. “He reached out to you before passing over. It was his way of passing you the reigns and giving his blessing to our family.”
I recalled the look in her uncle’s eyes and knew I had not received his approval. I hoped his being dead meant he couldn’t hurt me.
Until that moment, I would have argued that ghosts didn’t exist. That was my first encounter with the supernatural.