Water’s dark depths chilled my flesh as I swam through a mess of underwater plants. My head broke the pond’s surface and I took a deep breath of warm air. My body floated lazily in the water before I swam back to the water’s edge where Matthew sat.
“Have fun?” he asked.
“I needed this,” I said, stepping out of the water.
“I can imagine,” Matthew grinned.
I sat next to him and savoured the warmth of the sun kissing my wet skin.
“This has been an excellent reprieve for me, as well. I love apprenticing in the city, but visiting home always gives you a new perspective.”
“I wish you were able to stay longer,” I said.
“If only doctors in training were allotted peaceful summer breaks,” he winked.
“What happened to Jeremy Thomas?”
Matthew cleared his throat, staring straight ahead.
“You do know,” I pressed. “Please tell me, Matthew. You will be a doctor yourself in due time and I hope that you take this at least as seriously as a writer.”
“Of course I do,” he sighed, shaking his head.
“I was going to write a portion of my book about Jeremy. I want to write about all of the suicides. If you know even a small detail about what happened to him, it would help me.”
“This is a noble cause, Alfred, but you have to be much more cautious than you have been. Think about your aunt’s reputation, even if you do not care about your own.”
“I mean no harm. I only hope to…”
“Bring justice to those who died from a diseased mind,” Matthew finished. “Yes, I understand your passion. The mind is an unknown field of research which I may partake in one day.”
“What happened to Jeremy?”
“Good God,” Matthew muttered. “So much for an afternoon reliving our boyhood.”
“We are not boys anymore. This is important, Matt.”
My drive to know what had become of Jeremy far outweighed my sympathy for Matthew’s comfort. He picked at the sand and stones without uttering a word.
“I spoke to Mrs. Thomas about Jeremy a few nights ago and she admitted to me that he is not dead.”
At last, Matthew’s blue eyes stared hauntingly into mine. There it was; the chilling energy that would not cease in its pursuit of me.
“I know that he is alive, Al. Hell, if I tell you something then perhaps you will stop harassing the poor townsfolk about him.”
“Is he in an asylum? Is that why Mrs. Thomas appeared so willing to forget about him?”
Matthew nodded slowly, still staring at me. “Good deduction.”
“He attempted suicide?”
“Now, I cannot tell you that, old boy.”
He flashed me an empathetic smile. “Perhaps you have something you could write about now.”
“Do you know what method he used to try to kill himself?”
The Adam’s apple on Matthew’s neck rose and fell as he swallowed hard. “From what I heard he… continually bashed his head into the side of a building.”
I stared at the water, not wanting to imagine it, but imagining it anyway.
“What was going on in your mind, Jeremy?” I whispered.
“There is someone who knows more about Jeremy than I do.”
“Who?” I asked. Irritation laced my words.
He frowned at me, clearly taken aback by my aggressive tone. I was grateful to him for telling me more than he should, but I disliked his cryptic statements.
“You are a good friend, Matthew. You do not need to tell me anything more.”
“Of course not,” he said as he stood and put his shoes back on.
I cringed as my stomach began to knot up. I had pushed him too much and now he had no patience left for me.
“I really should return to my family since I leave early tomorrow morning.”
“Of course. Thank you for…”
“Be careful. That is all that I have left to say to you, Al.”
He stepped away, haphazardly putting his white cotton shirt back on. I knew he would not be pleased with all of my questions, but I did not expect him to desert me. No longer wishing to sit there alone, I jumped to my feet and I pulled my shirt over my wet hair before reaching for my shoes.
In less than half an hour, I found myself standing in front of the general store with dread forming in the pit of my stomach. I stepped inside, feeling as though I were outside of my body, watching the scenario from just above.
“Mr. Allen,” said a deep voice from the direction of the front counter.
“Good day, Mr. Macfarlane.”
Mr. Caleb Macfarlane was only an inch or so taller than I, but it appeared as though he had kept up his love of boxing. His lofty, sneering expression had not softened in the least after five years.
“What can I do for you?” he asked.
“I would like to buy some tea,” I stammered, feeling more than a little foolish.
“Really? Sarah mentioned that you had already stopped by and made a fuss about there not being enough selection.”
There was no point in explaining myself.
“Did she also mention to you that she agreed to exchange writing samples with me?” I lied.
He glared at me. “I doubt that, but I assume you are here to speak with her.”
“I did have a question to ask her that pertains to writing.”
“What a novel idea,” he said flatly.
His stone face was much worse than his insulting one. My eyes went to the open door and I longed to run back out to the safety of the street.
“Forgive me. I should go.”
“No, no. Wait here,” he said sharply.
Within seconds, he disappeared through the store’s back door. My heartbeat raced as I thought about the trouble I had caused Sarah. The last enemy that I needed was a hostile man like Caleb. I hovered in the empty shop for half an hour without a sign of either Caleb or Sarah. Ideas came to me about what could be happening and I tried to blot them out.
After another five minutes, I stepped out of the store feeling lower than when I had stepped in.
“I’m a damned fool.”
When I set foot back into my aunt’s home, she walked straight to me.
“I thought you were spending the day outside with Matthew,” she said without hiding her concern.
“We went for a swim, but then he had to leave.”
“What do you know about Sarah? You have known her for years, correct?”
“Why can’t you just sit respectably at your writing table instead of gallivanting around town?” she cried.
My jaw dropped. She had never once risen her voice at me. We stared at one another, speechless, for too long.
“I am sorry,” she sighed, shaking her head wearily. “I just wish you would stop asking me so many questions that I do not want to answer.”
“Matthew knew about Jeremy. How many other people know that he is still alive?”
She gaped at me for a second before stepping over to the window. Her gaze softened as she stared out at the blazing sun. “I wish your uncle were here now. You need him, not me.”
“I wish he were here, too,” I said gently. “But I am happy you are here.”
A soft smile lifted the corner of her lips. Just as quickly, she cowered away from the window.
“Oh, God,” she groaned.
I joined her at the window. At the sight of Caleb storming toward the house, with Sarah trailing behind, I shuddered.
“I promise you that I will make this right,” I said quickly.
“How could you possibly do that?”
“Perhaps it is time that someone puts that idiot in his place.”
Her only response was a frown.
Three loud knocks rattled the dishes and china in my aunt’s cupboard. I opened the door and met the unblinking, psychotic glare that I had expected. My gaze fell on Sarah, whose eyes were red and watery. Her hair was unbound and messy as though she had been awakened from a nap and then dragged out of the house.
“Is everything all right?” I asked calmly.
“Sarah is here to help you with your research,” said Caleb.
Silence weighed the air for a good minute before Caleb’s hollow laughter disturbed my ear drums. Sarah stepped forward. Her eyes stared just past me.
“You were wondering about Jeremy,” she said. “I have something I need to say.”
“Tell me only if you want to,” I said.
“Tell him,” said Caleb.
My fists clenched at his arrogant, dismissive nod at Sarah. She stared at her feet.
“Take your time,” I said.
How often had Caleb publicly humiliated her?
“I wrote you the note,” Sarah blurted.
I exchanged glances with my aunt.
“Why, dear?” asked my aunt.
Sarah’s sad eyes reached me. “I wanted you to know that he is alive. I hoped that you might be able to help him.”
“I see,” was all that I could say.
She ran her hand through her tousled dark hair while her pupils darted all over the place.
“Tell him why Jeremy had to go to an asylum,” Caleb growled.
Sarah covered her mouth, shaking her head repeatedly.
“Your words will not leave this property,” I assured her.
“I was a fool for encouraging him so much,” Sarah stuttered. “I helped him submit one of his writing pieces to a magazine, but then they rejected him harshly. I… it was my fault.”
“My wife is an insane little wench,” said Caleb, smirking. “She was holding secret group meetings on Friday nights when she knew that I was predisposed. Heaven only knows what happened at those.”
“Enough of that!” I shouted. Caleb’s lack of reaction only sent me into a rage. “Get off of my aunt’s property, Caleb! It would do you some good to treat your wife with respect.”
“Respect is earned, you son of a bitch,” he sneered.
He reached over and yanked Sarah by the wrist and dragged her rapidly down the path with him.
“Wait,” I called.
“No, Alfred.” My aunt’s warm hand rested on my chest. “Let them go.”
“Can you believe that man?”
“I am sorry that you are only now discovering that life is not as fair as how you were brought up to believe.”
Her tired eyes glistened. A part of me wanted to embrace her, but the stronger part of me wanted anything other than to be touched. I felt helpless to help Sarah and I knew that no one in the town would care about a husband reprimanding his “disobedient” wife. I would help her as much as I could if only I would be able to speak with her alone.
“I already have realized that. I must go for a walk.”
My chest ached for her pained voice calling for me, but I had to be alone to think. I was going to find Jeremy no matter how long it took me to do so. I had heard about backwoods mad houses that the poorer people were sent to. They were institutions, if you could them that, which I hoped to help shut down in the near future.
As I walked further away from my aunt, my nerves calmed as my senses were able to take in the natural beauty surrounding me.
“Jeremy,” I whispered. “I will find you.”