Cameron has given up on romance after a difficult childhood made it difficult for him to trust enough for intimate relationships to develop. But mostly he’s happy with the life he’s built for himself. When two paranormal investigators show up at the home he recently inherited, claiming he may be in danger, he sends them packing, convinced they’re nothing but con men.
Until several incidents prove they’re telling the truth. The past Cameron tried so hard to leave behind is coming for him, and it’s angry.
Cameron didn’t have a lot on his walls. Most of the walls were bare. He had a couple of paintings that he’d picked up cheap because his friends had painted them back in school, hanging in different parts of the house. He had a couple of his own pieces too, just because he liked them and didn’t want to get rid of them. And he had one photograph that he’d had restored and blown up, hanging in the most prominent place in the living room.
The picture was a portrait of Cameron, his older brother David, and his little sister Ashley. Grandpa had taken the picture right in front of the ancient, gnarled oak tree in their grandpa’s backyard. Cameron couldn’t remember why they’d all been over at Grandpa’s house, but he couldn’t have been older than seven when it was taken. His mother, Catherine, had made sure that visits with Grandpa got to be few and far between after that. Cameron could still remember little details from those mini-vacations without his mother’s looming presence. He remembered the smell of roses, from his grandfather’s beloved bushes. He remembered some kind of a Portuguese stew that Grandpa made for them, filling and delicious. He remembered the quiet most of all. Even with three rambunctious children running around the place, Grandpa’s house had been an oasis of peacefulness.
Now that Grandpa’s house was Cameron’s house, he loved coming home and seeing that portrait as soon as he walked in the door. He’d found it among his grandfather’s things when he inherited the place, in a manila folder, along with all of the maintenance records for the appliances and the lease records for the other side of the duplex. The folder had one word on the label: “Cameron”, written in a shaky hand, as though Grandpa had always intended to pass the house down to Cameron. As though Grandpa had anyone else to leave the place to.
Cameron had gone out and gotten the picture restored, and framed, and hung it up on the wall. It was the only record he had that they’d been a family, three siblings living together, and as twisted as their childhood had been Cameron wanted to honor the potential they’d had. He hadn’t expected to feel much about it. After all, he’d had years for the wounds to scab over. As January stretched into April, he started to recognize the warm feeling he got every time he saw the photo. He stopped fighting it. It was nice to feel like part of a family again, even if the family had to be in the past tense.
Naturally, the thing fell off the wall on a regular basis.
Cameron couldn’t figure out why the frame kept falling from the wall. The duplex stood on a side street, with no heavy traffic or big trucks to make it shake. None of the other pictures came down, at all. It had been hung in a good, solid spot, even if the walls were a good two centuries old, but this one lightweight frame flew off the wall at least every other week. It didn’t just fall, it flew. When Cameron complained to an old friend, the friend laughed at him. “Maybe it’s a sign,” Tyler said. “Maybe you should stop kidding yourself about family and look to the future.”
If it had come from anyone else, Cameron might have thrown a punch. Tyler had grown up in the system, though, same as Cameron, and Tyler understood more about Cameron than other people. So Cameron just sighed and said, “Maybe.” He bought a new frame and hung the picture right back where it had been, and the cycle began again.
He came home the Wednesday after Easter to find the picture on the ground again, glass shattered, and cursed out loud. Sometimes he missed living in a nice, modern apartment up in Boston. Okay, so there hadn’t been any privacy. He’d had to share an apartment with four other guys, which had gotten uncomfortable by the end, but at least the building had been built in the seventies and had absolutely no idiosyncrasies whatsoever.
Then again, the price was definitely right here. Worth the occasional bit of glass, anyway. He could pay for replacement frames out of the amount he wasn’t paying in rent or a mortgage.
He closed and locked the door behind him and lugged his groceries into the kitchen. The other side of the duplex had gotten a complete kitchen renovation before the current tenants came in; apparently Grandpa didn’t want the Shaladis coming into an old-fashioned kitchen, or maybe the prior tenants had trashed the place. There was no way to tell now. The old man hadn’t left any notes or messages about it. Appliance records and lease records were one thing, but the inner workings of the old man’s mind were a different story. Cameron’s own kitchen had a few newer appliances, but the bones of the room hadn’t changed since Cameron had been a little boy. Eventually Cameron would get around to renovating the kitchen, but for now he could live with the way things were. It wasn’t as though he needed anything fancy to throw together a few salads a week.
A knock on the back door shook him out of his reverie. When he looked up, he saw his tenant standing at the door. He relaxed when he saw that she was alone. Mrs. Shaladi had come here from Libya two or three years ago. She was picking up English as quickly as could be expected of anyone, but it was still slow going. When she had something big or complicated to discuss, she brought her son to translate. Otherwise, she was content to communicate in a combination of her half-understood English and Cameron’s half-remembered high school French. Today she’d come alone, so things on the other side of the wall must be good.
He opened the door and smiled at her. “Hey, Mrs. Shaladi. How are you?”
She smiled back. Her smile was lovely, the kind of smile that improved Cameron’s mood right away. “I am okay,” she said, picking her way around the words. “And you?” Today the tight scarf that framed her face was light pink, perfect for spring. It set off her warm brown skin perfectly.