Too Good to Keep Secret
-- by Anne
“Where is it?”
Grady Fletcher stood in the middle of his childhood bedroom and stared at the mess around him, his brow furrowed in concentration. The room had been turned upside down, drawers emptied of their contents upon his bed, the closet excavated all the way to the back wall, and yet there was still no sign of the high school yearbook that he sought.
“It’s got to be here somewhere …”
For the fifth
time he dug through the box of books that had made it home from Purdue but
somehow never managed to get unpacked, let alone make the move with him to
“I know Aunt Jess wouldn’t throw it away …”
wasn’t Grady’s only reason for coming home to Maine for the long Labor Day
weekend, but it was definitely near the top of his “to do” list while he was
here. It was Kitt’s fault, of course. A week ago
they’d gone out for dinner in
But instead of being duly impressed, Kitt had laughed at him: “Playing lacrosse with a broken wrist?” she’d scoffed, her beautiful brown doe-eyes wide and incredulous. “Come on! You can’t play lacrosse with a broken wrist.”
“But I did,” Grady had insisted, wounded to the core at the very thought that Kitt might consider him a braggart, or worse, a liar.
“Prove it,” she’d shot back.
Well, he would prove it, he’d vowed
to himself that evening. He even knew exactly where the proof lay - in the
Class of ’76 Cabot Cove High School Yearbook.
On page thirty-two there was a black and white photograph of him scoring
a goal against the team from
“Think, Grady,” he told himself aloud – he found that sometimes speaking his thoughts out loud helped him to clarify them in his head. “Where would you have put it?”
In his bookcase, the logical part of his brain told him. The trouble was, he’d been through that bookcase, and every other bookcase in the house, with no results. He was running out of ideas for places to search.
He heard the sound of footsteps coming up the staircase and a moment later his Aunt Jessica appeared in the doorway of his room, a basket of neatly folded laundry in her hands. She took in the sight of his topsy-turvy room and asked, “Did a Nor’easter blow through here while I was down in the basement?”
Grady sighed, his shoulders slumping in discouragement. “No, Aunt Jess,” he replied gloomily. “It’s just that I’ve been looking for something and I just can’t seem to put my hands on it.”
“Nor are you likely to, not in the middle of all that clutter, anyway,” Jessica pointed out. “What are you looking for? Maybe I can help.”
“My high school yearbook,” Grady
told her, brightening a bit at her offer. “I want to brink it back to
She shook her head. “Not lately,” she said, much to her nephew’s disappointment.
Grady’s face fell again as his brief spark of hope was snuffed out. Feeling profoundly dejected, he sank down on to his bed, pushing a pile of clothes on to the floor to make room for himself. “Oh, boy,” was all he said. What more was there to say? Without the yearbook, he could never make good on his boast to Kitt. And if he couldn’t make good on his boast to Kitt, Kitt was sure to dump him. He wasn’t sure he could live without Kitt – she was smart, and funny, and she was just about the most beautiful girl he’d ever met …
Jessica shifted the laundry basket in her hands, thinking. She didn’t know why Grady was so intent on finding this high school memento, but he clearly attached a great deal of importance to it. “Have you tried the attic?” she asked him. “I know there are some old steamer trunks up there, and I’m pretty sure one of them may be yours. You might consider looking through those before giving yourself over to despondency.”
The attic! “Gee, I didn’t even think of looking up there,” Grady said thoughtfully, optimism once again dawning on the horizon.
“No, you were too busy planning your suicide, if the look on your face was any indication,” said Jessica.
Grady jumped up off the bed and crossed the room, carefully stepping across piles of debris as he did so. “Thanks, Aunt Jess,” he said, giving her a quick, filial peck on the cheek. “I’ll be upstairs if you need anything.”
“Good luck,” she called after him as he bounded down the hall toward the attic stairs. She peered into the disaster area that was his room again and decided that it would be foolhardy to venture in there, laundry or no laundry. Instead she piled his clean clothes just inside the doorway on the floor and continued on toward the linen closet with her basket.
Grady took the steps to the attic
two at a time. A lightbulb with a pull chain provided
illumination for the space, which as in many older Victorian homes was fairly
roomy and allowed him plenty of room to stand upright. He spotted a couple of
steamer trunks almost immediately, tucked amidst the boxes of Christmas
ornaments, stacked storm windows, and other things that one typically found in
He snatched it up and was about to head downstairs to start the arduous process of cleaning his room, but then his glance fell on the second trunk, making him pause. Grady had inherited a healthy sense of curiosity from his aunt and it was stirring now, prodding him to have a look to see what was inside.
When he lifted the lid he found what he had more or less expected to find: antique table linens that had belonged to Aunt Jessica’s mother, neatly folded and stored away; a collection of toys that Grady had played with as a small child, and other keepsakes. Then, as he lifted out a set of hand-embroidered handkerchiefs made by his grandmother, he found something that he didn’t expect.
He lifted it out of the trunk reverently, unsure if he did, in fact, have in his hands what he thought he had. He had to read the title page three times before he was sure: The Corpse Danced at Midnight … by JB Fletcher.
Once the initial shock wore off, Grady could see how it made sense that his aunt should write a book. She was an English teacher after all, and creative writing was one of the subjects she was most passionate about fostering in her students. And she had always been a storyteller; Grady fondly remembered many bedtime stories that she had spun for him straight from her imagination. He’d always thought that she had plenty of talent to write a novel; once he’d even suggested to her that she try. Jessica had laughed and shaken her head at that, but Grady had been able to tell, from the look in her eyes, that the thought was not a new one. Now, it seemed, she had finally done it.
Still kneeling next to the open trunk, Grady opened the manuscript to the first few pages and began to read – just to see what the book was about. As the title suggested, it was a murder mystery and a damn good one at that, if the opening paragraphs were any indication. Before he knew it he was engrossed in the story, only coming back to reality when he heard Jessica calling him from the foot of the attic stairs.
“Supper will be ready in about half an hour,” she said. “Did you find your yearbook?”
Grady was seized with sudden panic at the thought that she might catch him reading her manuscript. “Uh, yeah, Aunt Jess, it was in my trunk just like you thought it might be,” he said, putting the book down and quickly replacing the other items back into the trunk where he’d found them. “I’ll be down in just a bit.”
As her footsteps retreated back down the hall Grady let out a sigh of relief. He had been lucky that she hadn’t come up to the attic herself to check on his progress. Despite the close call, Grady wasn’t ready to put the book away with the other keepsakes. He was well and truly hooked, and knew that somehow, when his aunt wasn’t looking, he had to finish reading it. He headed back down to his room with both the yearbook and the manuscript tucked under his arm.
Thoughts of the book preoccupied Grady throughout dinner. He didn’t dare ask his aunt about it directly – it didn’t take a genius to figure out that she never intended for it to be found – but he was curious about why she had put it away when it was finished. Grady was no literary expert but even from the little bit of the book he had read he recognized that it was certainly good enough to be published, and maybe even good enough to become a best seller. It was a potential gold mine, a source of income to supplement Jessica’s meager income as a teacher – yet she had hidden it away in a trunk.
Grady abruptly resurfaced from his thoughts to the realization that Jessica had asked him a question that he had never heard.
“Um, sorry, Aunt Jess,” he said. “I guess I was daydreaming. Did you ask me something?”
“Daydreaming! You looked like you were a million miles away,” Jessica said. “I asked you if you wanted seconds on the tuna casserole.”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” said Grady. He put his fork down on his plate and asked, “Aunt Jess, have you ever thought about the future?”
Jessica looked askance at her nephew as she spooned another helping of her tuna casserole on to his plate. “’The future’ is a pretty broad topic,” she replied. “Would you care to be more specific?”
“Well, I guess I mean, what are you going to do in the future? You can’t teach forever.”
“Maybe not forever, but pretty close to it,” Jessica answered stoutly.
“It doesn’t pay very well,” Grady pointed out. “How are you going to manage to keep up the house?”
“Oh, it shouldn’t be much of a problem,” she said – she was trying to keep her voice light, but Grady could hear the note of underlying worry. “I’ve learned to do a lot of handy things for myself since your uncle died.” There was a quick catch in her voice, as there always was when she spoke of Frank’s death, but she managed to stifle it and gamely continued on. “The property taxes on this old place aren’t that expensive, and if I shut off most of the rooms upstairs, it isn’t too difficult to heat in the wintertime …”
“Have you ever considered a change?” Grady asked her. “Doing something different besides teaching?”
“Do something besides teaching? What would I do?”
“Well …” Grady knew he was treading on dangerous ground, but decided to speak his thought aloud anyway. “You could write … professionally, I mean.”
Jessica gave him a sharp glance but Grady had always been very good at schooling his features into a perfect mask of sweet, somewhat clueless innocence, and this talent did not fail him now. His aunt’s moment of suspicion was fleeting, replaced with a look of somewhat wistful sadness.
“I can’t write professionally, Grady,” she told him. “I’m simply not that good.”
Grady considered debating that point, but realized he couldn’t without potentially revealing that he had found the secret manuscript. “Well,” he said, “I just think that maybe you should keep yourself open to change, that’s all.”
“Oh, Grady,” Jessica sighed wearily, “I have been all but turned inside out by change. Losing Frank was traumatic enough … I think that I could be very happy without any more change.”
It was well after midnight before Grady finally dropped off to sleep, the manuscript having kept him awake well past his usual bedtime. Jessica’s protestations to the contrary, the book was extremely well-written. In Grady’s opinion most books suffered from two critical flaws: uneven pacing and flat characterization. Despite being the work of a novice writer his aunt’s manuscript exhibited neither of these shortcomings. The carefully crafted plot pulled the reader along at a good clip without rushing or coming off as contrived, and her characters fairly leapt off the page and came to life. He was convinced that if Jessica ever did have a mind to have the story published, it would be an instant hit.
Sadly, though, publication did not appear to be in the cards for The Corpse Danced at Midnight. Jessica would never be convinced of this orphaned novel’s worthiness, and it seemed destined to remain locked away in that trunk forever.
paused – it didn’t have to be locked
away forever, did it? Jessica had no
idea that he had the manuscript in his possession, so if he took it back to
Some things, once discovered, were just too good to keep secret.
Grady read the
manuscript again on his way back to
“Hi, Sweetie,” she said as he stepped on to the platform and gave him a quick kiss. “How as your trip?”
“It was fine,” he replied. “Aunt Jess said to say hello.”
Kitt noticed the manuscript tucked under his arm. “What’s that?”
“This? Oh, it’s a book my aunt wrote. I found it while I was looking for that yearbook picture we were talking about, and I read it.”
Kitt’s eyes grew wide. “You never told me your aunt was a writer!”
“She’s not,” Grady replied. “At least, not officially … I guess.”
Kitt gave him an odd look, “What do you mean, ‘not officially … you guess?’”
Grady sighed. “It’s kind of a long story,” he said. “How ‘bout I tell you about it over dinner?”
“Great, I’m starving,” said Kitt. “Where do you want to go?”
The whole issue of the lacrosse injury was long since forgotten, which on reflection Grady realized he should have anticipated – Kitt’s attention span was notoriously short. It made him feel a little foolish to have gone through so much trouble to find his yearbook just to prove his point, but on the other hand, if he hadn’t been searching for it Jessica’s manuscript would still be languishing in its trunk, unseen by any eyes except her own. All Kitt wanted to hear about was the book, so over pizza in a little Italian restaurant near Riverside, Grady told her about how he had found Jessica’s novel, and what he had done with it afterwards. Kitt, who worked as a publicist for Coventry House Publishers, listened with intense interest.
“It’s really good,” he concluded. “At least, it’s a lot better than she thinks it is. I really think it would do well, if only she would try to publish it.”
“Wait a minute,” Kitt said, frowning in confusion. “You mean, she isn’t going to submit it to a publisher?”
“But why would anybody write a book if they never intend to have it published?”
Grady sighed. “I dunno. I guess the only goal she had in mind when she wrote it was to fill time after Uncle Frank died.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Kitt declared. “If someone writes a good book, they should submit it for publication. The publishing industry needs all the good books it can get. And all the good writers it can get, too – I should know. For two years now I’ve been escorting new writers around this city for Mr. Giles. The good writers tend to be jerks or egomaniacs, and the rest are nice enough but they’re talentless hacks. I’d kill for the chance to meet someone who was both nice and talented, for once.”
“I know, I know,” Grady said. “But I doubt you’d ever convince Aunt Jess to change her mind about submitting her manuscript.”
Kitt drummed her fingers on the tablecloth. “Can I read it?”
“Sure,” Grady said. He started to hand her the manuscript and then paused – Kitt worked for Coventry House, after all, and suddenly it occurred to him that handing the book over to her without question could be a potentially dangerous thing to do. “You’re, um, not going to, you know, do anything with it, are you?” he asked tentatively.
Kitt laughed merrily. “Oh, Grady, don’t be silly!” she said. “I’m Mr. Giles’ publicist, not one of his editors. I don’t get to decide what gets published and what doesn’t! I’m just going to read it, that’s all. That way, if your aunt ever changes her mind about publishing it, I’ll already be familiar with it and I can advise her on whom to take it to next.”
This seemed to make sense to Grady. “Well, okay then,” he said, letting her take custody of the book. “It’s just that Aunt Jess will kill me if I lose track of it.”
“I’ll take care of it as if it were my own,” Kitt assured him as she slipped the manuscript into her briefcase.
“Promise you won’t show it to any of the editors?”
“Cross my heart, hope to die,” Kitt said.
The next day’s full schedule of afternoon meetings seemed to drag on forever, and Kitt found herself having to stifle her yawns more and more frequently. When the last meeting finally adjourned she headed back toward her office. Preston Giles, Coventry House’s CEO, fell into step beside her.
“Thanks for making sure that Mr. Brown-Davis got to his interview with New York Magazine on time, Kitt,” he told her.
“It was no problem, Mr. Giles,” Kitt replied. Actually, it had been a tremendous problem – Devon Brown-Davis, another recent addition to the Coventry House fold, was not in the habit of being on time for anything. He had missed most of the deadlines the publishing house had set for him, and this morning he had almost missed an interview that had taken weeks to set up. Kitt felt lucky to have gotten him to the magazine’s offices only fifteen minutes late.
As if his own thoughts were echoing her own,
In response Kitt yawned again, prompting her boss to ask, “Late night?”
“I was up reading,” she replied.
“Really good,” said Kitt enthusiastically. “A mystery – probably the best one I’ve ever read.”
Kitt smiled slyly. “Not yet,” she told him.
“Now you’ve got
“Well, it’s a manuscript by a new author that a friend loaned me,” Kitt admitted.
“Oh really? Maybe I should have a look at it. God knows we need some fresh blood.”
Kitt belatedly recalled her promise to Grady – to not give the book to any of the editors. But Preston Giles was not an editor, so if she passed Jessica’s manuscript on to him, she wasn’t really breaking her promise, was she?
She reached into her briefcase and handed him the book. “May I make a suggestion, Mr. Giles?”
“What’s that, Kitt?”
“Clear your calendar for this evening,” she said. “Trust me, once you get started on this book, you will not be able to put it down.”
Two weeks later, early in the morning, Grady picked up the phone to call home, feeling an odd mixture of excitement and apprehension. Kitt had delivered the good news the night before, but it had been too late to call her immediately – Jessica adhered strictly to the philosophy of “early to bed, early to rise.” So he had managed to contain himself – just barely – until morning.
The phone rang several times and he was just about to give up when his aunt answered, sounding a bit breathless like she had just run in from outside. “Hello?”
Well, this was it. “Hi, Aunt Jess!”
“Grady!” Jessica exclaimed in surprise. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing’s the matter, Aunt Jess. Everything’s terrific.”
“Nothing’s terrific at six-twenty-three in the morning,” Jessica pointed out. “You didn’t lose your job with that fish person, did you?”
“No, the job’s fine.”
“Oh, that’s a relief,” she sighed. “You know, you really should tell that Captain Caleb to do something about his food. The girls and I tried it last Friday, and honestly, it isn’t very good!”
“Aunt Jess, I’m only an accountant, I’m not the cook. Anyway, that’s not why I called.” He took a long breath and began, “You remember the last time I came up to visit? Well, I found your manuscript, and I read it. I hope you don’t mind.”
He braced himself for her reaction, but Jessica was neither angry nor put out – at least not yet.
“My book? Of course I don’t mind. But I certainly wouldn’t want anyone else to read it.”
“Oh.” Grady’s blossoming optimism that Jessica would greet the news he was about to give her with gratitude and delight abruptly withered. But there was no turning back now. “Uh, well, you see, not only did I read it, I gave it to a friend of mine, who showed it to Coventry House, and … and well, you see, Aunt Jess, they want to publish it!”
“WHAT?!” Jessica yelped. “Oh, dear, no!”
Grady cringed on his end of the conversation. “I thought you’d be pleased,” he said.
“I am not pleased, Grady! I’m not a writer! I was just filling time after your uncle died. I didn’t dream for a minute …”
“That’s the trouble, Aunt Jess,” Grady broke in with a renewed sense of purpose and backbone. “You’ve never dreamed. And it’s about time you did.”
Jessica remained unconvinced. “Oh, be sensible,” she told him. “Just because someone wants to publish my book doesn’t mean anybody will bother to read it!”
Eventually Grady was able to talk her down from her initial panic, or at least get her to the point that she promised she would not try to withdraw the book now that it was in the works for release. When he finally hung up he felt a sense of rightness about the whole situation. Cabot Cove was a wonderful place, but his aunt needed to see a bit more of the wide world, and she needed to grow into the person he knew she could be.
In time, he knew, Jessica would come to see this opportunity the same way.