The thing I missed most about home was the smell. I read somewhere that your sense of smell is the sense that is most strongly connected to memories. I know this is true because whenever I smell ‘warm vanilla sugar’, I think of home. My mom used to light scented candles all over the house when I was growing up, all of which were ‘warm vanilla sugar’ scented. It was a smell that reminded me of the few days before Thanksgiving when school would let out and I would spend hours and hours in the kitchen with my mom baking desserts that the rest of my extended family would come to enjoy when they came over for the holidays. The kitchen was our sanctuary and where we bonded when it was just my mom and I home alone. My dad was a busy man and I couldn’t blame him. He was climbing the ranks in his company in order to provide for us and give us the life he wanted us to have and thought we deserved, but unfortunately that meant a massive amount of travel. I didn’t mind it when he was gone, because the trips started out being fairly short. Eventually, they got longer and longer until that fateful day when my parents ushered me into the living room and sat me down on the plush leather couch. What my parents were about to say to me would change the course of events in my life for the worst.
“Sweetie, you know your father has been working long hours and traveling on business quite a bit lately,” my mom started.
“We think it would be best if we follow my boss when he makes his move so I don’t have to travel as much,” my dad picked up.
“So you want to move,” I asked in monotone. It was the summer before my freshman year of college, so I would be moving out no matter what. Most kids worry that they will come home and their parents will have done something to their rooms, but for me, I would be coming home to a house that I didn’t even know. I couldn’t even call the place home. The relocation in general made me feel like crying, not the people I’d be leaving. I’d miss my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, but no one that was close to my age was worth being upset over. It was actually terrifying for me, going away to school while my parents packed up everything and tried to get our house on the market. The move would result in a hefty bonus for my father, meaning that we would have the extra money to be able to fly me back and forth from school to home whenever I pleased, though I didn’t plan on coming home much. It was ironic now that I picked an in-state school because it was pretty close to home. Now, my parents were moving across the country, almost as far as possible away from my university, to San Antonio, Texas.
“There are some great schools down south. You could always transfer after your freshman year!” my dad had said.
“I picked my school because I liked it there,” I defended. I shouldn’t be forced to leave just because my parents were relocating.
“Keep your chin up. I promise I’m going to do everything I can to make the new house feel like home.”
I kept that promise in mind as we traveled down the highway on the way to the new family home.
“You’re going to love it. The neighborhood is great, the house is gorgeous and the city is magnificent,” my mother beamed. “The house is a few years old but only one other family has lived there before us and only for a short time. Not as keen of an eye for fashion, though, luckily the interior decorator was able to give it a new life.”
I listened with one ear as my mother babbled on about the house. I had seen pictures, and it did look like a lovely place. It wouldn’t be home for me, though. It wouldn’t smell like home and it wouldn’t have those memories from when I was a little girl. Coming from a dorm and going into a place just as foreign wasn’t my ideal start to the summer after my freshman year of college. I would have no friends, no job, and have only my mother and father to keep me company. My eyes started to droop as my thoughts about this unpleasant situation raced through my mind.
“We’ll be there in 5 minutes,” my dad piped up. My eyes shot open, taking note that we were no longer on the highway, but moving towards a neighborhood. We turned in to the entrance of the neighborhood, a stone sign sitting on the median in the road. The houses were huge, much bigger than the houses in my San Francisco neighborhood. The grass wasn’t like the soft dark green grass back home; this was scratchy and looked almost like weeds. In-ground pools filled the backyards and palm trees filled the fronts. The main road wound through the subdivision and once we reached the back, we were at our destination. We pulled into the driveway of a place I could not believe belonged to us. The house was a mansion.
“Whoa,” I breathed.
“I told you relocation came with a nice raise,” my dad said, getting out of the car. “We just want you to be happy here.” My dad talked to me like I was a spoiled child at times. I didn’t need a huge house to be happy; I just would have liked to stay in California. I knew in the back of my mind that the best career move for my dad was to move to Texas, however, so I didn’t want to make it into a big deal that we were here.
“I think I’m going to like San Antonio,” I walked over to my father, wrapping my arms around him in a hug. It wasn’t a total lie. Sure, I wasn’t going to be completely comfortable at first, but was anyone when they moved into a new place? I could grow to like it here. At least it was still a warm climate and my parents didn’t move me from Cali to Minnesota or something. At the end of the summer, I would be back to where I was comfortable in the sunshine state. Holidays could be spent with my extended family and maybe I wouldn’t even have to come back down here.
After checking out the massive house, backyard pool, and deciding which room would be mine for the time we would occupy this house, my parents and I headed out to the car, bringing in any last things that were packed up. By the time I walked back up to my new room, the floor was covered in bags, boxes, and furniture.
“I guess you know what you’ll be doing the first week of the summer,” my mom sighed. “Welcome home.”
I smiled and nodded. “Thanks Mom.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her this wasn’t home. I had been fairly quiet throughout the move. My parents knew that this wasn’t what I wanted, but vocalizing that over and over again wasn’t going to change anything for me. I hopped up on my bed, crawling under the sheets with my favorite novel. I didn’t have the motivation to unpack anymore tonight. My mom and dad knocked on my bedroom door and poked their heads into my room.
“I hope you like it here, honey,” my dad said.
“Enjoy your first night,” my mom smiled. They said their goodnights and were out. I got up to brush my teeth and wash my face and returned to my room, shutting off the lights. I laid in bed and closed my eyes, trying to fall asleep in this new place. There was a sound of wind coming through my windows and a slight creaking above me. This was supposed to be a new house, wasn’t it? I reached over to my desk and pulled my headphones off of it, plugging them into my phone to drown out the noises of the house. After a while, I drifted into a fitful sleep, still feeling uncomfortable and out of place, like this was not where I was meant to be.
The next morning, I got up and met my parents in the kitchen. My father was pouring a bowl of cereal and my mom reading the newspaper drinking a cup of coffee. I padded over to the coffee maker and got my own mug, filling it to the top and rubbing my eyes. My parents suggested I walk around and get acquainted with my new neighborhood. As unappealing as venturing out in the scorching heat seemed, it was better than unpacking.
I walked down the street towards the front of the neighborhood where we entered in yesterday. There was a park with a lake and a fountain off to the right of the big stone sign. I started toward it and sat on the swings, leaning back and forth to get my momentum going. I hadn’t been to a park in years and this was kind of refreshing. I took the long way back to my street and finally arrived back at my house. It was about midday, so I decided to check the mail. My family’s mailbox was between my house and the neighbors to the left. I trotted over, peering inside the black box. I slid my sunglasses up on my head squinting my eyes to read what every piece of mail said.
“So you’re one of the new people?” a voice behind me asked. I turned over my shoulder to see a tall boy with dark hair sitting on the porch of the neighboring house.
“Looks like it,” I shrugged, looking back at my house. The boy took a drag from his cigarette before flicking it to the ground. He stood up and smashed it under the heel of his shoe.
“Nice to see someone my age back in that house, though you look a bit young,” he smirked.
“I’m 19,” I said hesitantly.
“Oh, well I’m 20,” he smiled. “I live right here next door. I’m Max.”
“Nice to meet you,” I smiled politely.
“Well, from the looks of it, this shouldn’t be too hard to get used to,” he nodded towards my house.
“Yeah, it isn’t bad. I’m just figuring everything out,” I responded. Max seemed like an interesting character. When he stepped out into the light, I could see that his black hair actually had a huge streak of purple down the middle. He smoked, he dressed in all black, and he kind of looked like he hadn’t seen sun in weeks, but talking to him was better than being stuck inside with my parents all day. At least Max was my age. Who would have thought that I could actually make a friend so quickly? I wasn’t sure if I could call him my friend yet, but he did live right next door and was somewhat pleasant.
I turned to go back inside; it was getting to be uncomfortably hot.
“Hey,” Max called. “Has anyone told you anything about that house?” he asked.
“No not really,” I said truthfully.
“You’re in for a treat,” he warned. “That place is haunted.”
I stared at Max as he walked backwards towards his house, a smirk on his face. I couldn’t tell if he was smirking because of what he had said, or because of the dumb look that I knew I had plastered on my face. My house wasn’t haunted. It was fairly new. Maybe he was just trying to mess with me because I was new here? So much for making friends, I thought. Something was weird about him.
“See you around, Max,” I said, ignoring his comment.
“Bye,” he called. I walked away and entered my house, setting the mail on the table. I changed into my swimsuit and went out into the backyard to enjoy the heat and clear my head.
I thought back to what my neighbor had just said to me about my house being haunted. Maybe it actually was. What other reason would a family have for moving out so soon after moving in? I shook my head to myself. There was no way that could be true. Max was lying. My parents came to find me out back accompanied by two people who appeared to be a younger couple.
“These are our neighbors from across the street! This is Leslie,” my mom said, motioning to the woman. “And Brandon,” she finished, introducing the other half of the duo.
“We just wanted to come over and say hello and check out the house,” Leslie said excitedly. The pair was in their mid-thirties and had lived in San Antonio ever since they had gotten married. Their house was one of the first to be built at this end of the neighborhood, mine being one of the last. They didn’t have any children, but had a dog to keep them company.
“We were talking about throwing a house warming party for everyone in the neighborhood. Leslie and Brandon offered to help and introduce us to more people,” my dad said. This could be useful for me; maybe I would get to know someone else who was in college or at least high school.
“That would be fun. When were you thinking?” I asked.
“Tomorrow night! Do you have much more unpacking?” My mom asked me.
“Just clothes, really. The room itself is put together,” I replied.
“Perfect, we will put you on the email list so you can send an e-vite. It might seem kind of last minute but for a Sunday it should work. Plus, it’s summer,” Leslie stated.
“It was great to meet you, we’ll see you soon,” Brandon told me as the group walked back out to the front yard. Maybe this party was what we needed to feel like we fit in. I could also use it to forget about the disturbing thing Max said about my new home.
The next evening, the door was open and food was set up all along the countertops in the kitchen. I had put on a sundress and wedges and curled my hair, wanting to make a good first impression on my new neighbors. Couples filed in along with families that had babies or younger children. Leslie and Brandon showed up last, huge smiles on their faces.
“Good turnout, right?” Brandon asked.
“Yeah, I have no idea how I’ll remember everyone,” I laughed.
“It’s a good group, you’ll like everyone,” Leslie promised. “While your mom and Dad mingle, I’ll introduce you to some neighbors.” I followed her around the downstairs of my house, shaking hands and exchanging names. I was complimented multiple times on having a beautiful home and didn’t know how to respond to that. Yes, my parents did a great job buying this house and hiring a decorator. The only part of this place that was me was my room.
In the living room, a tall, blonde boy looked at the photos and decorations that hung on the wall. I had thought from the way Max talked that there weren’t any people my age around here, but he looked to be 19, like me. He appeared to be alone; maybe his parents were getting something to eat or drink. He was in a baseball tee and skinny jeans; it was way too hot in Texas for him to be dressed like that. He looked to be pretty attractive and I took note to find him again later to talk to him. I was all mingled out and my feet were starting to ache.
It had been a few hours and I assumed the party was dying down. True to my assumption, people were starting to leave, saying goodbye to my parents, exchanging numbers, and leaving housewarming presents. I didn’t see the only other teenager at the party, so I figured that he had already gone and I missed my shot to talk to him. If he was from this area, someone would know him, or of him, and they could give me information. Soon, my family was left with only Leslie and Brandon sitting in the kitchen, who had stayed to help clean up and enjoy a glass of wine with my mother and father.
“I’m going to head up,” I told them, knowing my parents were enjoying making friends. If I got to my room early enough, I could read before I got tired. I pushed open the door to my room, which had the light already turned on. The cute blonde who I had seen earlier was sitting on the floor in front of my bookshelf, scanning the titles.
“Uh, hi,” I said, catching his attention.
“Have you read all of these?” he asked.
“Yeah, most of them anyways,” I answered. “Can I ask what you’re doing in my room?” I asked, slightly annoyed. I had nothing to hide, but I still didn’t appreciate this random kid going through my stuff.
“It’s cool. I like what you did with it,” he said. I hopped up on my bed and he turned to face me. His eyes were so bright blue it almost caught me off guard.
“Thank you, I like it too. It’s kind of weird for me to get used to.” I admitted.
“I didn’t know what to do with the space. I didn’t have a desk or a bookcase, just my bed and dressers and other random shit,” he laughed.
“Did you used to live here?” I asked, catching on.
“Yeah and this was my room,” he said.
“What a coincidence,” I said. It was funny to me that a boy had been in this room first. He must have been a member of the “one other family” before us that I’d heard about.
“I’m Blake,” he said, reaching out to shake my hand. “Sorry, my hands are probably cold, it’s weird, I know.”
“Must be nice since it’s so hot here,” I laughed. “Are your parents here?” I asked Blake.
“No, they live in Austin,” he said. What was he doing here if his parents lived in Austin? Maybe he lived on his own or with other relatives? I figured it might not be the best idea to pry since I had just met him.
“Well I’m glad you could make it. I haven’t met a lot of college kids yet,” I told him.
“I’m 18,” he replied. “Just graduated.”
“I’m 19 and my next door neighbor, Max, is 20. He never mentioned anyone else our age from around here, though,” I said.
“I know him. We don’t really get along,” he shrugged.
“Yeah, he seems interesting. He told me that this house was haunted but it’s only a few years old,” I told him. “Did he ever say that to you?”
“No, that’s weird,” he said quietly. “I’ll see you later,” he said, standing up. It seemed like he was leaving so abruptly. I was asking him a lot of questions, so maybe he thought I was nosy. Maybe I had freaked him out with Max’s story.
“Oh, alright. Well, I’ll see you later. I’ll walk you out,” I smiled, still confused.
“For sure,” he answered. I turned around to put my shoes in the closet before walking down with him, but he was already gone. I went down the stairs and still couldn’t find Blake, so I assumed he just left without me. I was right about him being cute but he was kind of odd as well. There was something off about both of the boys I’d met in this neighborhood.
I had just changed and was comfortably reading on my bed when I heard footsteps in the hallway outside my door. My dad knocked and stuck his head inside the room.
“Hey champ,” he smiled.
“What’s up Dad?” I asked.
“Mom didn’t want me to tell you this, with our bedroom being downstairs and all, but I can’t keep a secret,” he started. “It has to do with the house. Leslie and Brandon told us about it,” he said.
“I’m not a kid, Dad! And we’ve lived here for like, three days. Moving already?” I joked.
“Not exactly. You know how only one other family has lived here?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I nodded.
“Well this house was built eight years ago and a family moved in right away. Nice people, Les and Brandon loved them; a mom, dad, and three boys. Well, they moved out because about two years ago, their youngest son died,” my dad said.
“Oooo scary,” I teased.
“He died at the house,” he said. I felt the hairs on my arms stand up as goosebumps began to form.
“Oh my God, how?” I asked.
“Apparently the kid was a huge partier and after stumbling in drunk one night, he fell into the pool and drowned. The family and community were devastated. It was absolutely terrible for all the kids that went to his school. He was only 18 and a senior in high school when it happened.”
“That’s actually kind of freaky,” I admitted. I felt a sense of panic as I started to piece together today’s events. I was just out in that very pool yesterday afternoon. A pool someone had died in.
“I know, right?” my dad said.
“What did the family do?” I asked.
“Well the older boys were both in college in Texas, so the family didn’t want to move too far. They ended up in Austin.” My heart stopped and my blood ran cold. Memories flooded my mind and my eyes went wide. Max told me yesterday that my house was haunted. Only one other family had lived here and they moved to Austin. A boy was in my room today saying this room used to be his and that his parents lived in Austin, a boy who was 18, the same age as the boy who had died here.
“Dad, did Leslie tell you the name of the boy who died?” I asked, not wanting to know the answer.
“Actually yes. I believe he was named Blake.” I covered my mouth with my hand. Time stopped and I couldn’t see straight.
I had literally seen a fucking ghost.