By Jillian DeSousa
Dark Falls was exactly as the name suggests—dark.
Of course, that could be attributed to the fact that it was raining and eight o’clock at night. But even if the sun were shining, it could still be spooky.
There was something too perfect about it, like a movie set. The quiet street, the quaint town square dotted with shops and restaurants, and the beautiful colonial and Victorian houses standing on top of well-kept lawns. It had an eerie feel to it.
Within fifteen minutes of entering the town, I find the hotel, named Falls Into Bed Inn (cheesy name) and park my car. I notice I’m one of maybe five cars in the parking lot.
A bell tinkled above me as I pushed the front door open, wheeling my suitcase behind me and carrying my computer bag over my shoulder. The clerk, a young man in his early twenties, was clearly surprised to see me. Obviously, Dark Falls doesn’t get too many out-of-town guests.
As I was checking in, the clerk, whose tag read Bradley, looked at my ID and said, “You’re from Boston?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Cool,” he said. “I love Boston. I applied to BU but didn’t get in, though. Mind if I ask what you’re doing in Dark Falls?”
“On business,” I replied. I examined him. His smile was open and trusting. He looked close to Lily’s age. And, to be honest, he kind of looked like a dweeb. He would certainly notice if such a pretty new girl came to town.
“My name is Ambrose Darnell. I’m a private investigator,” I told Bradley, showing my badge. His eyebrows rose in surprise and excitement. “I’m here for a missing person’s case I’m working on.” I pulled out my cellphone and showed him Lily’s picture. “This girl here. Have you ever seen her before?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve seen her, or someone that looks like her anyway. Her name is Arabella.”
“Yeah, she moved out here about two years ago. Really cute, but quiet. She hangs out mostly with Delilah.”
Bradley nodded again. “Everyone knows Delilah. Her uncle owns half the town and her aunt knows everybody and their brother by name.”
“Do you know where I could find Arabella?” I asked as he handed me my room key.
“She works at a restaurant a few blocks from here,” he replied. “Stackhouse’s. I think she’s there pretty much every night.”
She had dyed her hair what my niece Madison would call “Sleeping Beauty blond,” but it was definitely her.
The sight of Lily Cullen—or Arabella Rothschild, as Bradley the clerk called her—helped me to forget the growling in my stomach and remind me why I was in Dark Falls to begin with.
The hostess smiled welcomingly when I approached the front of the restaurant, surreptitiously watching Lily.
“New in town?” the hostess asked politely.
“Yes,” I said. “Business. Uh, do you mind if I have a table over there?” I nodded towards the section Lily appeared to be working.
“Sure, not a problem,” she said, grabbing a menu from inside the podium. “Follow me.”
My eyes were still on Lily as the hostess led me to a table, one with a view of the mountains in the distance, as she babbled on about potential sightseeing opportunities in the area. I vaguely replied to her questions, my focus mainly on Lily/Arabella.
She’s here. She’s alive. But what the hell is she doing here? Why hasn’t she gone to see her mother?
“Bella will be taking care of you tonight,” the hostess said as I sat down, throwing my jacket onto the back of the chair. “Let me know if you need anything.”
“Will do. Thank you.”
I pretended to be observing the menu—which was pretty thick—when I was actually watching the girl. I’m not sure what to call her. Lily or Arabella?
But when she finally started making her way towards me, I noticed something I hadn’t before: how beautiful she is.
From the pictures I’d seen, I knew Lily was pretty. Only seeing her now, not as a face on a missing person’s flyer…it was hard to describe what I felt. I chalked it up to “all guys being pigs” and the uncomfortable reminder that I haven’t paid a visit to anyone’s bed in a while.
“Hi,” she said, smiling as she approached my table. “I’m Bella. I’ll be taking care of you tonight. Can I get you something to drink to start?”
“Coke, if you have it,” I said. “And, can I order an entrée, too, while I’m at it, Lily?”
“Sure, what would you—” she paused, blood draining from her face. “Wh-what did you call me?”
I rested my elbows on the table, leaning in, locking my eyes with hers. “Lily,” I repeated. “That’s your name, isn’t it? Or do you go by Arabella now? Personally, I think Lily is much prettier, but I guess we all have our own preferences, don’t we?”
“I have no idea of what you’re talking about,” she said coolly. “Your drink will be out shortly.”
Several minutes later she came back with my drink, placing it down in front of me (along with customary biscuits) and avoiding eye contact with me. She muttered, “What can I get you?” under her breath. Her hands were visibly shaking.
“The American style burger, well-done, everything on it, with onion rings,” I said, playing along, trying to keep her calm. As she was writing it down, I added. “Your mother was the one who hired me to find you. She wants to see you. You know she doesn’t have much time left, right?”
“I will be back with your order,” she said, her expression blank.
Did Lily/Arabella honestly think that, even with today’s technology, she could never be found? That I, Ambrose Darnell, a man eleven years older than she with a PI license and keen determination and work ethic, would not be able to find her? After two years, she was starting to let her guard down.
When Lily/Arabella came back with my burger and onion rings, I tried again, this time with more tact. “Hon,” I said gently. “I know about Oliver Duncan.” I saw her shoulders tense. “I know about the crap he put you through two years ago. I’m here because your mother asked me to find you. She….”
A loud crash as she dropped the silverware on the table. She glared down at me, her eyes a blazing blue fire. People were staring, but neither of us noticed.
“My name is not Lily,” she whispered, almost sounding menacing. “It’s Bella. Stay away from me…you don’t know what I’m capable of.” She then threw the check down on my lap, signaling my leave, before stomping off, two of her co-workers watching her in shocked surprise then glancing back at me confused.
I stared after “Bella,” anger slowly simmering in my gut.
I’ve come this far, Bella, Lily, whoever the hell you are, I thought, my eyes narrowing. I’m not backing out now.
I paid for my dinner (which wasn’t all that great) and left a ten-dollar tip (because my parents raised a gentleman). “Bella” apparently decided to leave early. I waited exactly ten minutes before following her out the front door. Going out the back would be too suspicious.
I had come to Stackhouse’s in my car. I slipped into the driver’s seat of my Buick, my eyes open for Bella and, moments later, she stepped out of the restaurant, still in her waitress uniform. She looked from side to side, obviously looking for me, before strapping her handbag over her shoulder and walking towards a silver Acura three parking spots to the left of mine.
Once she pulled out of the parking lot, I followed, but not too closely. I didn’t want to spook her again.
Part of me was asking, Why the hell are you doing this? Just go home. Go back to taking pictures of cheating husbands and ignoring the drunken text messages from your ex. Go back to normal. Just tell Nora what she wants to hear and be done with it.
I don’t recall Nora specifically saying to bring Lily to her. But my conscience told me that that a woman on her deathbed—not to mention Jenny and Paula and all those other people in Lily Cullen’s life—deserved an explanation from this girl. It cannot only be about Oliver Duncan….
I was so deep in thought I almost missed the turn Lily/Bella took. I turned sharply, keeping my distance but still following her. Another right turn about two miles later, and we entered what was obviously the wealthier section of Dark Falls.
From what I had seen of the town so far, it was an all an upper-middle-class population, with lovely two-story houses and Toyotas in the driveway. Only the houses on this street—with their extravagant architecture and stone statues on the front lawns—could clearly be classified, in my mind, as palaces.
Lily/Bella pulled into the driveway of the house at the end of the street. I parked my car a few feet away, behind a long line of cars attending a party at another house, and walked the rest of the block to where she was.
As I got closer, the girl seemed to sense something behind her as she got out of the car. She spun around. When she saw me, her eyes widened in surprise, anger, and even fear.
What does she have to be afraid of?
“You!” she practically screeched. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Ambrose Darnell. I’m from Boston.”
“Did you follow me here?”
“No, I teleported here by accident.”
“What do you want?”
“Your mother sent me,” I said. “You know, Nora Cullen, the one slowly dying of lung cancer in the ICU at Boston General? The one who thinks you’re dead?”
The girl’s already white face lightened a few more shades. She then recomposed herself, standing up straight, looking me directly in the eyes as if she weremy height, though she only got as far as my chest.
“I left Boston a long time ago,” she said firmly. “And I’m not going back.” She turned her back on me again, heading towards the house. “Just leave, please.”
“You called her before, did you not?” I asked, striding to keep up with her. I tried to step in front of her, but she worked her way around me. “It wasn’t a problem for you three months ago.”
“It was a mistake,” Lily/Bella said, still walking to the house, her eyes focused solely on the front door.
“Look here, kid,” I commanded. My voice caught her off guard. She stopped walking. “I didn’t drive here for two hours and sit stuck for twenty minutes on a highway to play games with you.”
“You found me didn’t you?” she demanded, facing me again. “What more do you want? You did your job.”
“One thing you will learn about me, sweetheart,” I said condescendingly, “is that I keep my promises. It builds good karma. And when I make a promise to a cancer-stricken woman who drives to my office in the center of downtown Boston, on a brisk April afternoon, and coughs up blood on my desk, begging me to find her daughter before she kicks the bucket, and I tell her I will, I take that shit seriously.”
“Bella” takes a deep breath, holds it, and then lets it out slowly. Her eyes are bright, just like her mother’s were in the hospital yesterday.
“Why can’t you leave me alone?” she begged. “Do yourself and my mother a favor and go. Please, I—”
We both looked up. Standing in the shadow of the front doorway was a woman—a striking, inhumanly gorgeous woman.
She came down the polished stone steps like a lioness, limbs long and graceful, hips shaking predatorily. Her face was smooth and white, with minimal makeup, save for the bright red lipstick. Her nails were French-manicured yet sharp-looking, as if they could tear the clothes right off my back. The woman reached behind her head and untied her tight bun, releasing a mane of thick, brightly red hair.
“Elizabeth,” Arabella said, swallowing.
So, this is Elizabeth Calabrese. The woman Eric Portman said would be hiding Lily. He led me right to her.
Elizabeth smiled up at me. “Well, Arabella,” she said, casting a look at the younger woman who had slightly shrunk away. “Are you not going to introduce me to your new friend?” She held out her hand, and I took it. Her skin felt cool to the touch.
“Ambrose Darnell, ma’am,” I said. “I’m from Boston. Here on business.”
“Ambrose,” Elizabeth cooed. “Such a handsome name for a very handsome man. Very masculine, too. And no one here calls me ma’am. It’s Elizabeth.” Her smile widened, revealing sharp canines. “Or Lizzie, whichever is your preference. Mind if I ask why you are here? How long will you be staying?”
“He was about to leave,” Arabella interrupted, flashing me a look, teeth barred. “Right now.”
“Why, Arabella,” Elizabeth tsk-tsked. “Where are your manners? It is not very often that we have such guests in our little town.” She looked at me. “Would you like to come in for coffee, Mr. Darnell? Or perhaps some red wine? I was about to open a bottle for dinner tonight.”
“I would like that, Elizabeth,” I flashed her my best smile, offering her my arm. “Shall we?”
She laughed merrily, eyes glittering mischievously. “We shall.”
Arm in arm, we glided up the walkway, Arabella dragging behind us, her eyes on the ground, dyed blond hair curtaining her face.
Sorry honey, I thought. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.
“Welcome to our home,” Elizabeth said, her smile positively breathtaking, as the front door swung open into a bright light.