Chapter 1

“I heard the place was haunted,” Christy told her brother, a slight tremble in her voice. “Why are we doing this again?”
“Because mom loves this theatre,” Jake assured her, “and because if we don’t do this, they are going to demolish it.”
“Fine,” she argued, “but only ‘cause it’s for mom. I wouldn’t be caught dead here otherwise. I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”
“Just shut up, will ya?” Jake pleaded. “It’s bad enough cleaning this place without your incessant complaints. Let’s just get this done. Mother’s day is this Sunday, so that only leaves us three more days to get it ready.”
“Ok, I get it. What do you want me to do?” She asked.
“When we get there,” he told her, sidestepping Mrs. Naylor’s Pekinese. The little mutt nipped at his ankle.
“Good morning, Mrs. Naylor,” both of them chimed.
“Good morning, children,” she replied to them. “Busy day ahead of you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jake told her. “We are going to clean out that old theatre on Main Street.”
“Oh, heavens,” she coughed at them. “Whatever would you want to do that for?”
“It’s a surprise.” Christy told her. “We’ll let you know by Saturday night.”
“My word,” the old woman warned, “you children be careful. That old run down building can be dangerous. Be very careful.” With that, the old woman rushed away, dragging the little fur ball by its collar.
“She seemed,” Christy looked at Jake, “different. Nicer, even. What do you think that was all about?”
“No idea,” Jake looked back at her. “Isn’t she always, different?”
“No, I mean different than her normal different. She didn’t yell at us about anything. Not even you almost stepping on that stupid dog of hers.”
Jake knew his sister was right, but didn’t want to admit it. Something was wrong. Mrs. Naylor was a mean old lady on her best days.
And she actually told us to be careful, he thought. Weird.
Jake and Christy walked down Fourth Street until they reached the corner of Main. They turned right onto the sidewalk leading to the old theatre at the end. Jake looked down at his muddy sneakers as they continued on. Being the tallest kid in Clearmont High, at 6’2”, he always looked down on just about everything.
Christy brushed a crimson curl from her eyes and laughed at her brother. “Looking down on the little people again?” She always joked on his height. Barely breaking five-foot-nothing, she felt insignificant next to him, so any opportunity to spring a height joke, she took.
“Yea,” he laughed with her, “just trying to make sure you don’t get caught between my toes while I walk. I’d have to have to explain to mom why I accidentally crushed you.” He said accidentally with a little too much sarcasm.
“Really,” Christy scolded, punching her brother in the arm.
“Couldn’t resist,” he laughed again, pretending to rub a pain from his arm. He ran a hand through his sandy hair trying to keep it out of his eyes. Long hair was the style his skateboarding buddies shared with him. They competed to see who could come up with the best retro-do every day. He usually lost, but he enjoyed the game.
After about a mile of Main Street shops, “hello’s” and “how are you’s” from the store owners and townspeople, they finally reached the entrance to the theatre. The mayor had allowed them access to the condemned building as a restoration project for the community a few weeks ago. Jake spent every day there cleaning the place up. It was the least he could do, after all. It was for his mom. She did everything to take care of him and Christy, and he felt like he owed her something. Sure, he always helped around the house, did everything she asked him to, but he wanted to give her something that would make her happy again. Ever since their father was killed by a robbery-gone-wrong in the city, Jake felt like he had to take up the man-of-the-house mantle. His mom was strong, but she couldn’t do it alone. Jake always admired her strength. Hoping that he would be half as strong as she is when he had children of his own. He worried that she wouldn’t be around to see that day. Experiencing death so early in life gave him a grim outlook on the world; something his mom always tried to break out of his head.
“Always broody,” Christy joked on him, noticing the grimace on his face. “One day you’re going to have to smile again, you know. Hopefully, when you see mom light up on Saturday, you will, for a moment anyway.”
“Sorry,” he assured her. “I didn’t mean to think out loud again.”
“You weren’t. I just know you.”
“How fortunate for me,” he laughed.
She hit him again, this time harder. “Don’t be a jerk. You got me down here with you. The least you can do is be nice to me”
“Sorry, again.”
Outside the theatre, the grand marquis read

October 13, 1987
Live at The Regent - One Night Only
The Phantom of the Opera
Starring Lucinda Swain

It was always strange to Jake, seeing his mother’s name on the marquis. Ever since he could remember, the sign read the same thing. It was his mother’s last performance. A week after the show closed she found out she was pregnant with Christy. She quit acting and shortly after, the theatre closed down. Their father got a job in the city. Insurance Claims Investigator was his official title. He investigated for fraudulent insurance claims. He used to work for a major insurance company while he studied to get his private investigator’s license. After that, he opened his own investigation firm and offered his services to his former employers, among other companies. He was on his way home from work the night he died. It was Christy’s twelfth birthday party.
Jake was only six at the time, but he never forgot what the sheriff said to his mom that night. Christy hadn’t come home from her best friend Dana’s house yet, but Jake was staring out the window, waiting for his dad to pull up in the driveway. Jake’s favorite pastime was running out to meet him at the car. His dad always brought home the best presents from places he visited. Jake kept them all in a shrine devoted to his father; a snow globe with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, from Italy; The miniature Eiffel Tower statue from Paris; the authentic cowboy riding spurs from Texas; and so many other things. Jake could only imagine what that shrine would look like today. He imagined the look his father would have next week on his eighteenth birthday. A tear formed in the corner of his eye. He brushed it off. This week was about his mom, not him. This theatre was her life before she had kids, and he promised to bring it back to life for her. He’d gotten a job delivering newspapers when he was twelve, and saved every penny he earned. Then when he turned sixteen he moved up to the local burger joint as a cook. Over the years, he managed to save up about $9,000, and he would continue to save his money until he could buy the theatre for her. He hadn’t told Christy about that.
Money was always tight at home, and Christy had to go to college from the house because they couldn’t afford dorm fees. She acted like she was okay with it, but he knew better. What twenty-four year old girl wants to live at home with her mom and baby brother while she goes to college? Exactly. None. But she would never admit it, to her family anyway. She just took it all in stride. She’d just started her senior year and was already making plans for a graduate program. That was Christy, always trying to outdo herself.
The two of them stared at the theatre doors for a few minutes. The awe of the building encompassing them.
It was Christ who spoke first. “Can you believe our mom used to be a star here?”
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Jake couldn’t hide his pride. “One day, I would love to buy this place for her. One day.”
“Yeah,” Christy joked, “and what are you going to do that with, your looks?”
“I’ll figure it out.” Jake smiled, keeping his secret.
“You’ve done a really good job, so far,” Christy admired how clean her brother got the lobby. “You even cleaned up those old posters. I’m proud of you, bro.”
“I didn’t do it alone,” Jake reminded her, “Denz got all into art restoration and couldn’t wait for her chance to practice it.”
“Is she coming today,” Christy asked, completely interested in her little brother’s girlfriend, “to help, I mean.”
“She said she would try after work.” Jake didn’t like talking about his relationship with his sister all that much, even though Jake knew almost everything about every single boyfriend she had ever had. She liked to talk, and talk, and when she was finished talking, she liked to talk more.
“Good,” Christy smiled. “It’ll be nice to see you around someone who makes you smile. Shall we get to work then? What do you want me to do first?”
Jake nodded toward a small closet to the left of the room. The word “Maintenance” barely visible in the worn plating. The door was opened, slightly, held by a broom and standing dustpan.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Christy told him. “You want me to sweep?” Her voice pitched higher at the word. “Tell me there’s something else, Jakey. Anything but sweeping.”
“There’s a mop and bucket in there too.” He smiled. “Your choice. Sweep or mop. I’ll do the other one.”
“Jeez,” she said, frustrated. “I thought there was some fun in this place, like wallpapering, or watching paint dry, or looking through old picture reels, or something other than cleaning.”
“Nope,” Jake told her. “This was a playhouse, not a movie theatre. The only thing to do in here is clean all the crap out of it. Think you can handle it, college graduate?”
“I’m not a graduate yet,” she reminded him. “Just give me the broom.”
“You got it.” He handed her the broom and dustpan, then walked her into one of the dressing rooms. “Start here. I haven’t gotten to it yet. I’ll be mopping on the main stage. Yell if you need me.”
He left the dressing room and strolled through the backstage area. Every time he walked through this place, he could feel the energy of the old performers, still lingering so many years later. He imagined what it would be like to stand under the lights, the attention of the crowd focused on him as he performed for them. The intensity in the awe and reverence that prevailed over the stage made him shudder.
I would have loved to be part of that, he thought. But I doubt I would’ve done it justice. Wish I’d gotten to see mom perform at least once.
He climbed the stairs onto stage right, mop in one hand, and dragging the bucket with the other. He dipped the mop head into the dirty water and sloshed it around before he remembered it needed changing. He squeezed the mop with the bucket plunger to wring it out, and then carried the bucket back down the stairs. On his way to the maintenance closet, he heard his sister scream, a blood-curdling cry for help. He dropped the bucket, splashing the muddy water all over him, and ran to the dressing room.
His sister was staring at the mirror, like she’d just seen a ghost, mumbling incoherently to herself.
“Did you,” she stuttered, “did. Did you see that?” Whether she’d seen Jake enter the room was a mystery, but she suddenly jerked around to face him.
“What’s wrong?” Jake cried out reaching for her. “What happened?”
“I think…” she began, trying to collect words that made sense. “I think I just saw….” She paused, turning to face the mirror again. She just sat staring at herself.
“Saw what?” Jake snapped her out of her daze. “What did you see Chris?”
“I think I just saw.” She paused again. To Jake it was an unbearably long pause. Then she finished her thought, “Dad.”

Author's Notes/Comments: 

Chapter 2, tomorrow.

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