The sound of the train passing over the tracks had been enough for her to fall asleep. But now that she was waking up, the sound seemed to be louder, much less calming. Anne had decided to visit her aunt Sylvia once in the spring, as her mother had asked her so many years ago, way before she had died in that horrible accident with her father. It was a tragedy the family didn’t discuss openly but that had carved deep scars between all of them. The deepest one had to do with the Cheever girls, Anne and her sister Marissa, having to run the business her father had owned. Her aunt and uncles had wanted that for themselves but her father had been very clear now in his will.
As Anne watched the trees pass by her the window beside her, she felt suddenly annoyed. Even with the shiny sun outside and the beautiful scenery of the region, she couldn’t forget the reason she was there: her sister Marissa, who was older and supposedly wiser, had realized running a store such as her fathers was a very difficult task that needed the hand of a strong man. After all, the times they lived in weren’t precisely easy for young women like them and not one or the other had chosen a bachelor yet. The fact that they were orphans made the deal even harder to achieve, as most parents would be quite disturbed to have to arrange everything with the bride instead that with her parents. Traditions were not something people threw away often in that corner of the world.
Aunt Sylvia had married Octavius Potter, a businessman who owned a very well known chain of new restaurants called Norma’s. Those places were supposed to bring the charm of country cuisine into the big cities and towns of the country and, by whatever rumors Marissa had been listening to, apparently Potter was hitting the jackpot with such an invention. People hadn’t heard about anything like that in this side of the ocean and, naturally, they were all eager to try out something new and exciting that everyone just wanted to experience. Even Anne had been to a Norma’s restaurant with Marissa but their experience had left a lot to be desired.
As she contemplated a small town of beautiful small red houses, Anne remembered the dreadful deserts and sour tea she had tasted with her sister in that restaurant. And the comments from their friends who had visited were not much better. Maybe it was that branch in particular that wasn’t really working up to Mr. Potter’s expectations but Marissa soon forgot all about that when she heard about the money. It was what they needed. The small convenience store managed by the Cheevers was going through a very rough season and, if they couldn’t find a solution, they would have to close down the store that their father had inherited from their grandpa, who had established it himself at a very young age. It would be the disgrace of their name and the final nail in the marriage coffins.
As the train started to hit the brakes, Anne felt she was sweating. Of course, she was very nervous about seeing her aunt again. They hadn’t talked since her parent’s funeral and after that not even a letter had been exchanged. She knew everything was going to be tense and Marissa had had the stupid idea to make her stay there for a whole week. As she stood up to grab her suitcase from the upper compartment, Anne realized that she was there and there was no turning back. She owed it to her parents to try to make the best sales pitch ever to her aunt and her husband in order for their lives not to be ruined for good.
However, as she stepped on the platform of the station, she couldn’t see her aunt Sylvia or Octavius Potter anywhere in the vicinity. Many people descended along with her, so the platform got very crowded and she decided it was better to stand outside and wait for them to arrive there. But nothing happened either. Everyone who had come for a passenger, or had been a passenger themselves, had already left. There was no one else there except an old man who appeared to manage schedules and helped people in need although it wasn’t very clear who would need any help in such a small station. It had to be said that Mr. Potter, although managing a successful business, had decided to leave rather away from the spotlight, in a small town called Caltot. So Anne was not very surprised to not see a single soul near her for the following hour.
Yes, Anne had to wait for up to an hour in the shade, trying to keep her hair from curling further and her skin from being exposed to the damaging sunlight. She was about to lose it when a young man, about her age, appeared on a bicycle. He stopped in front of her and talked as if they had been acquainted for quite some time. The truth was that Anne was so shocked at this behavior that she didn’t even acknowledge what the man was saying. Out of nowhere, she turned around, grabbed her suitcase from the floor and entered the station again. She had decided to go back home.
The young man rapidly crossed her path and talked to her again, slowly and looking straight into her eyes to make sure she was listening this time. He didn’t grab her, yelled or did anything inappropriate. He just said he had been sent by Mr. Potter to pick her up at the station, as they knew she would be arriving momentarily. They apologized for not being able to pick her up themselves, but apparently everyone was too busy in their house and couldn’t be bothered to just go to the station and pick their relative. Anne calmed down and the man waited until she seemed less furious. Then he suggested she jumped onto the bike and rode with him but that made Anne even more furious so the boy realized he should stop talking and just decided to walk back to the house.
As they walked over the narrow streets of the town, he told Anne he was Mr. Potter’s assistant. He was in charge of getting everything his boss needed in order to be comfortable in any given day. Normally, he would only do things related to work but often Mr. Potter had other demands that had nothing to do with work. Out of nowhere, Anne said that was appalling. As she lived in the city, she knew how horrible it could be to work without a proper pay. Granted, she was a woman and there was no real way she could know anything for a fact, but she assured the young man she wouldn’t rest until she got a fair pay.
Then she stopped and went all red. Not only because she talked so candidly to that man but also because she hadn’t been a proper lady. She did not know her name. He said his name with a big smile on his face, as he was proud of something he hadn’t chosen for himself. Frederick March. He was called March by Mr. Potter but everyone else in town called him Fred. They shook hands, as Anne presented herself to him in a manner that made him smile even further. She stopped short when she realized she was being mocked. As headstrong as she was, Anne decided not to talk anymore with Fred, instead leading him into the town and towards the Potter’s house but that ended shortly because, of course, she had no idea where to go. Fred was kind enough not to laugh anymore although Anne felt he smiled behind her back.
Once they arrived at the house, Anne realized all the rumors were true: the house was enormous and occupied a large portion of the side of the main square of town. The church was directly across it and the city hall was just on the side. It was beautifully decorated. So magnificent were the paintings on the wood on the outside, that Anne had to step away from the building to appreciate it better. Fred told her that the house had been restored completely by Mr. Potter, just a couple of months after him moving here with Anne’s aunt. Fred also said the lady of the house could be very strong in character but she made her voice be heard and her opinion be respected.
Anne wanted to know more about Fred’s perception of her aunt as he said this, because the hard truth was that she didn’t know anything about her own relative. They had been apart for so long that the girl even doubted she actually knew what her aunt looked like. Two seconds afterwards, the front door of the house burst open: her aunt was there, breathing heavily, her hands and face covered in blood. She was hysterical, crying and yelling and saying something. Both Fred and Anne ran to help but the scene they saw through the threshold of the house was enough to freeze them solid: Octavius Potter had his intestines out and about, leaning against a piece of furniture.
As Anne tried not to keep watching the horrible scene, she heard her aunt say: “I didn’t do it!” She sobbed so hard everyone in town was attracted to the square and, in no time, Anne saw herself submerged in a mystery she could have never seen coming, or the people of Caltot, which she would be able to get to know very well in the upcoming days.