The Guests on South Battery (37 page)

“Can we see?” he asked, holding out his hand toward the small stack of photos she'd pulled out of her purse.

“You can have them—these are copies.” She held them out to Jack, then somehow managed to drop them on the floor before they reached Jack's hand. “Sorry,” she said, attempting to hold the crutches with one hand while bending down to get the pictures, knocking Jack in the head as he bent to do the same thing.

“You two stay where you are, and I'll get them,” I said, kneeling to pick up the four photographs. I stood, holding them out so we could all see them, but far enough away from Meghan that she couldn't knock them out of my hands.

“See how in the first ones it's bright and clear?” she said. “You can see the sunshine and a bit of blue sky through the trees?”

I looked at my poor damaged garden, the toppled rosebushes, and the sunken earth. The photos were all taken on the far side of the cistern, facing the house. I flipped through the first three, all relatively the same, then stopped when I got to the fourth. She didn't have to point out the anomaly—my gaze went right to it. It was a full figure of a man standing on the edge of the cistern. If I hadn't been looking for something, I might have at first dismissed it as a wisp of smoke, but when I looked closely I could see his nineteenth-century jacket and cravat, his dark hair and mustache. The apparition was looking right at the camera, its eyes dark and hollow. But what truly horrified me was what he was holding in his outstretched hand.

“Is that a piece of jewelry?” Jack asked, leaning in to look closer.

It took me two tries to force out the word. “Yes,” I said. I met his eyes. “Just like Jolly saw.”

“Like I said, you can keep them. I don't think I'll use that weird one in my report, but the other ones are good. I'll probably take more when I come back in a couple of months to finish up.”

“A couple of months?” I forced a smile as we finished escorting Meghan toward the drawing room. Nola called to her and stood to help her into a chair, but Jack held me back in the doorway.

“What's wrong?” he asked.

“Besides that man standing by the cistern in our garden who happens to match the description in Jolly's vision?”

“Well, yeah, that's a bit disturbing. But there's something else. Remember—we promised not to keep anything back. I think we've both learned that lesson.”

I thought back to the photo I held in my hand, of the odd wispy figure standing by the edge of the cistern. But nobody else had pointed out the dark shadow in the upstairs window, a shapeless
something
looking out at us. From Nola's bedroom. It was one thing to have a spirit hanging out in the backyard. It was quite another to have one lingering around your children's sleeping spaces. I was still so exhausted from the ordeal at the Pinckney mansion. I just needed another week of recovery and then I'd tell him. I'd find an excuse to move Nola out of her bedroom for a week, such as a promise to redecorate it or paint it. Because then I'd be ready to deal with it. Just one more week.

“Nothing to worry about,” I said. “Now, let's go celebrate surviving our first year as parents of twins.”

He pulled me back into his arms and kissed me soundly. “I love you, Melanie Trenholm.”

I met his eyes, feeling the truth of his words. “And I love you, too, Jack Trenholm.”

We held hands and walked into the drawing room, feeling the love that surrounded us that almost, but not quite, covered up the sense of foreboding that seemed to lurk beyond the periphery of my vision.

The Guests on South Battery

Karen White

Questions for Discussion

  1. Melanie Trenholm has psychic abilities that she is reluctant to use in a public way. If you had psychic abilities, would you feel the same as Melanie does and try to hide them from people or would you share them? Why?
  2. Melanie is able to see and communicate with ghosts; is this a blessing or a curse? Do you know anyone with similar abilities?
  3. The novel is set in Charleston, South Carolina, which is a city that really celebrates its history and is reputed to have many ghost sightings. If you had Melanie's ability to communicate with ghosts, would you choose to live in Charleston and/or work as a Realtor? Why do you think Melanie stays in both her city and her profession when she seems to hate her abilities?
  4. Karen White often uses real, existing buildings and locations in her novels. Do you enjoy “seeing” a city through a novel in the way a reader sees Charleston in
    The Guests On South Battery
    ?
  5. As a new wife and mother, Melanie still expects to live life according to her detailed plans and schedules, but she is finding it extremely difficult to do so. Why do you think Melanie can't seem to allow for deviation from her plans for her family and life?
  6. Do you consider Melanie to be a reliable or unreliable narrator? Why?
  7. Melanie has a complicated relationship with her mother, and has to confront her mother's past unexpectedly in the novel. If you discovered your mother had another child whom she never told you about, would it permanently affect your relationship with your her? Do you think Melanie reacted in a realistic way?
  8. Jack is the first one to realize who Jayne Smith is; did he do the right thing by not telling Melanie right away? If you were him, would you have told Melanie or kept it a secret?
  9. Do you think that Melanie jumped to conclusions prematurely about Jack and Jayne or was she justified in believing they were having an affair? Do you think Melanie should have trusted Jack despite any evidence to the contrary?

Photo by Claudio Marinesco

Karen White
is the
New York Times
bestselling author of more than twenty novels, including
Flight Patterns
,
The Sound of Glass
,
A Long Time Gone
, and
The Time Between
, and the coauthor of
The Forgotten Room
with
New York Times
bestselling authors Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig. She grew up in London but now lives with her husband and two children near Atlanta, Georgia.

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