A Tipsy Collins Novel (Tipsy Collins Series, Book 2)
southern fiction · paranormal thriller · Charleston, SC · ghost story
"Haint Blue is a highly engaging paranormal mystery filled with frolic, fun, and genuine nail-biting moments as we race to its conclusion. The book is filled with charming and likable characters that will keep you invested throughout...The author does a masterful job of giving us a look at Tipsy’s backstory without getting off track. The plot itself is well thought out with twists and turns you do not expect, but the conclusions and links make sense all the same. I enjoyed how uplifting and warm this story felt, and the humor that was given to break up some of the more emotional scenes. Author Stephanie Alexander gives us a really fresh take on the paranormal genre, setting this novel apart from others within the genre. Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend Haint Blue to fans of intriguing mystery novels with a paranormal twist." —Readers' Favorite
Clairvoyant single mom Tipsy Collins is easing into a post-divorce new normal. She’s solved a century-old murder mystery and brought peace to her house. She’s rebuilding her artistic career and co-parenting with her ornery ex-husband. She’s hopeful that her boyfriend is Mr. Right. Mercurial phantom Henry Mott still haunts her house, but he’s become a dear friend. Tipsy plans to return to her lifelong habit of ignoring restless spirits.
A series of sudden financial and personal setbacks leave her feeling like she's back to square one, until a new friendship offers unexpected financial salvation. Ivy More has been haunting a Sullivan's Island cottage since the 1940s. Ivy's eccentric granddaughter, Pamella Brewton, will pay big bucks if Tipsy can figure out how to free her moody, volatile Meemaw. It turns out there was more to Ivy’s death than a simple swan dive off the dock at low tide. To complicate matters, Ivy had a secret lover. Shockingly, he's someone Tipsy has seen before.
As Tipsy struggles with heartbreak, her ex-husband's shenanigans, and a growing sense of frustration with life, she turns to Henry for help solving Ivy's mystery. She finds herself learning from her brooding housemate, but also from Ivy, who has far more in common with Tipsy than either of them expect.
— scroll down to read book sample —
"I loved revisiting the story of Tipsy Collins! Stephanie Alexander mixes southern fiction with mystery and a supernatural element...Stephanie's way with words transported me into the story. I'm hoping for a third book with Tipsy!" —Tammy, PeaceLoveBooks
"This is a delightful series with a host of unforgettable characters! Set in the lowcountry of Charleston, SC and other surrounding areas, Tipsy Collins, recently divorced mother of three, tackles every day life and solves ghostly mysteries. A great fun story with lessons to be learned by all! I highly recommend these books!" —★★★★★ Reader Review
"This was a great book with excellent writing, and I will definitely read the next which I hope will come. Highly recommend." —★★★★★ Reader Review
"When I finished the first book, Charleston Green, I was dying to know what happened next to Tipsy Collins. In Haint Blue, we are introduced to several new characters and ghosts, but we also get more back-story on characters that we remember from Charleston Green. Tipsy is still navigating the dating scene post-divorce while trying to solve a new ghostly mystery so that she can feel financially secure. She seems to have grown as a person and is more willing to stand up for herself, which was exciting to read. Tipsy is not a pushover! You get to see the good, bad, and the ugly of her personality...The ghostly characters are just as well-developed as the living characters. By the end, the reader is invested in Henry, Ivy, John, and Camden. After the mystery is solved, there is a sweet twist at the very end that makes you want Stephanie to hurry up and write the next book so you can find out what happens!" —★★★★★ Reader Review
"Haint Blue was my first foray into the Tipsy Collins mysteries and I am hooked! I don't usually go for ghostly stories but I loved the ghosts as much as the living characters in this story...While the setting was definitely drool-worthy, I enjoyed the characters so much I kept flipping pages to see how everything would resolve for them. And Tipsy is definitely a lady after my own heart and the crowning achievement of the book. So many books skimp on character development but we get to see Tipsy in all of her flawed glory, trying her best to put her post-divorce life back together while helping the ghosts around her move on. Her growth by the end of the book was immensely satisfying." —★★★★★ Reader Review
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephanie Alexander grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Drawing, writing stories, and harassing her parents for a pony consumed much of her childhood. After graduating from high school in 1995 she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the College of Charleston, South Carolina. She returned to Washington, DC, where she followed a long-time fascination with sociopolitical structures and women's issues to a Master of Arts in Sociology from the American University. She spent several years as a Policy Associate at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), a think-tank focused on women's health and economic advancement.
Her award-winning first Southern fiction novel, Charleston Green was released in April 2020 and is the 2020 Readers' Favorite Book Awards Silver Medalist for Paranormal Fiction.
Stephanie and her husband live in the Charleston area with their blended family of five children and their two miniature dachshunds, Trinket and Tipsy. She is represented by Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit Associates, New York, NY.
SAMPLE FROM HAINT BLUE
Almost two years after her ex-husband moved out, Tipsy Collins was still trying to figure out her life. She’d learned some handy lessons, for sure. When it comes to personal revelations, divorce is the gift that keeps on giving. For example, as her dating life collapsed around her like a house of unpleasantly prophetic tarot cards, she reached the liberating yet disheartening conclusion that she would never understand men, living or dead.
Like most women in their thirties, Tipsy had plenty of experience with the behavior of living men, but she only understood that dead men were just as flummoxing because she lived with one. After a lifetime of avoiding spirits, she’d inherited ghostly roommates when she had the good fortune to move into Miss Callie’s house in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant, across the Ravenel Bridge from Charleston. Thanks to her former brother-in-law’s generosity with his late mother’s home, she didn’t pay rent, but she had to share space with two cantankerous, kooky phantoms. Jane and Henry Mott hadn’t escaped their miserable marriage with ‘til death do us part, but with Tipsy’s help and the mystery of their century-old murder solved, Jane had done the sensible thing. She moved on. A year later, Henry still lingered in Ms. Callie’s house, as confounding as ever.
On this morning a few days after the Fourth of July, Tipsy brushed past him as she hustled her three children—Ayers, Mary Pratt, and Olivia Grace—out the door for camp. “Morning, Henry,” she said under her breath.
Henry sat at the dining room table. He whispered to himself as he wrote in the air with one pale finger. His dark blue eyes followed his imaginary penmanship. Bright red, tousled hair hung in his face. He smiled, as if he’d just noticed Tipsy wrestling her three boisterous kids into submission in the foyer. “Good morning, Miss Tipsy,” he said, “Where are y’all off to today?”
Dropping them at summer camp. Tipsy spoke in her mind. Henry would hear her as clearly as if she hollered through a bullhorn.
“Of course! How could I forget? I apologize, but this chapter of THE GREAT STORY is terribly demanding of my attention.” Even when he was grinning like a fox in the early stages of rabies, Henry cut a dashing figure at Ms. Callie’s antique mahogany table. In the age of kitchen islands, such edifices of formal meals were going the way of the flip phone. Meanwhile, neither Henry nor the furnishings had changed much since he died in 1923.
Which chapter now? Tipsy asked, although she pretty much knew the answer. Henry was compiling his mysterious magnum opus at a speed approximating that of a drunk slug crawling up a slippery wall.
“I’m nearly finished with chapter two!”
Another voice rose in Tipsy’s mind. Her Granna, who had died years ago but shared her talent for seeing the dead and hence some of her headspace, spoke up with her usual country forthrightness. It’s taken him a year to finish two chapters, said Granna. He wants you to transcribe for him, but you’ll have joined me in the afterlife before he’s finished. Why doesn’t he move on now that he can?
I don’t know, Granna, but if he wants to hang around haunting this place, that’s his choice. She looked at the eccentric ghost like her own errant offspring. Besides, I’m used to him at this point, bless his crazy ass heart.
“Y’all have a nice day now,” said Henry. “I’ll take the basket of clean clothes to your room.”
Tipsy gave him a subtle thumbs up. Henry’s telekinetic powers definitely came in handy around the house.
He’s more helpful than Big Ayers was, said Granna, in reference to Tipsy’s famously self-centered ex-husband.
If I have to live with a man, I think I prefer a dead one. Living men drive me to drink.
Still getting the heebie-jeebies from Will?
That’s as good a way as any to describe his vibes lately.
The kids’ arguing recaptured her attention. Little Ayers had typical nine-year-old boy morning energy. He was singing a borderline inappropriate rap song he’d heard on YouTube at his father’s house. He tugged one of Olivia Grace’s curly brown pigtails while bouncing his soccer ball on his knee.
“Stop it,” said O-liv.
“Ayers, stop it. Hold onto the ball. What’s that song? I don’t like the sound of it.”
“It’s the clean version, Mom.”
He’d lately switched from Mama to Mom, reminding her that there was a lot more YouTube in her future.
Tipsy helped Mary Pratt sling her camp backpack over her shoulders. “Your bathing suit and towel are in—”
“Where’s my lunchbox, Mama?” asked Mary Pratt. “Did you put fruit snacks in there?”
“Ayers, staaaaap!” Olivia Grace was about to lose it. While she was often the most compliant member of the Collins Kids Triad, she’d been known to clobber her siblings when they pushed her.
“Ayers Lee! You’re almost ten years old, for heaven’s sake. Leave your sister alone!”
“She started it! She called me a poophead!”
“Oh lord, are we revisiting poophead? O-liv, no more poophead.” Tipsy reached for M.P.’s lunchbox. She planned to head straight to Sullivan’s Island to discuss a new painting commission after drop off, so she wore wedges and a long sundress. As a freelance artist, commissions were her most important source of income. She always dressed up to meet a potential client, but her outfit was not kid-friendly. As she handed over the pink rectangle, she stumbled on her hem and stepped on her own toe.
“Damnit!” she yelled. “Shit!”
The kids shut up mid-complaint.
“You okay, Mom?” Ayers flipped his shaggy blond hair out of his eyes.
“She cussed,” Mary Pratt whispered to Olivia Grace. Olivia Grace grimaced in acknowledgement. The two girls, as identical at seven-years old as they had been as newborns, didn’t need to talk to communicate any more than Tipsy had to speak to talk to Henry or Granna.
Tipsy looked in the hallway mirror and straightened her dress. A tall, slim woman with wavy brown hair and gray eyes stared back at her. She appeared only mildly frazzled. No parenting induced eye tick yet, but hell, it wasn’t even eight in the morning. Still plenty of time for her hair to stand on end and her mascara to run. She smiled at her reflection as if practicing for a television interview. Money was always tight in her post-divorce life, and she needed this commission.
Her phone dinged insistently as she gave Little A his water bottle. “Yes, buddies. I’m fine. I’m sorry I cursed, but y’all are driving me batty. Let’s all try to chill out, okay?”
“Sorry,” said Ayers. “Sorry, O-liv.”
“S’okay,” said Olivia Grace.
“I don’t need fruit snacks,” said Mary Pratt.
“All good, y’all. Please get in the car.”
They meandered out the front door, chatting and laughing with the abrupt conviviality of children, while Tipsy grabbed her purse. She looked at her phone.
Will Garrison Text Message (2)
It’s about time, she thought. He’d been distant the past week and hadn’t texted a good morning. She swiped across the text.
Will: Did you go to Pamella’s about the commission yet?
Tipsy: No, I told you, I have to drop off the kids first. Driving to Sullivan’s after.
The question irritated her. Will had connected her with Pamella Brewton, as he’d done carpentry work on her house. His sporadic communication of late harped on this meeting.
Tipsy: Why do you keep asking?
She stuck the phone in her purse and walked down Ms. Callie’s front steps with the July sun baking her shoulders. She checked the kids’ seatbelts and got into her old faithful Tahoe. Her phone dinged again as she buckled her belt. She tried and failed to ignore it. She couldn’t stop herself. Her arm might as well have belonged to someone else.
She swiped across Will’s next text.
Just let me know how it goes. And can I come over tonight to talk?
Tipsy’s heart sank. Will Garrison was no chatterbox. If he wanted to talk, it couldn’t be good.
Tipsy dropped off the kids—the girls to swim camp and Little Ayers to soccer camp—without sending Will any messages demanding clarification. So frustrating of him to drop a “talk” on her with no context, but she refused to question him and then wait for another vague text that would likely increase her anxiety. She drove over the Ben Sawyer Bridge, but she didn’t slow down to admire the stretch of picturesque marsh between Sullivan’s Island and Mount Pleasant. Her mind raced over the past year as she crept through Sullivan’s quaint business district, with its coffee-wielding pedestrians and stop-and-go golf cart traffic.
Will initially started acting weird around Thanksgiving. He’d cited his frustration at having a girlfriend to answer to during deer season, and she thought he was breaking up with her. She was crushed, until she realized he wasn’t really going anywhere. She gave him space and he slowly came back around. By February, with deer season over and Will not much of a duck hunter, things almost returned to normal. Tipsy understandably felt more insecure about their relationship, however, and not only because of the break up scare. As their first bucolic summer together faded behind them, frustrating trends emerged that neither Tipsy nor Will seemed able to resolve.
When she was brutally honest with herself, she knew she’d always struggle to give Will the long leash he wanted. His idea of an appropriate leash was more like an invisible fence. She never understood where the boundaries were. Tipsy didn’t think of herself as high-maintenance, but she did have expectations. She was happy for Will to spend time on the weekends hunting or fishing, as long as their relationship remained a priority. After all, she’d already been a deer stand widow in her marriage.
As for herself, she continued to wish Will would be more expressive. She thought with time and patient encouragement, he’d open up more, but she’d accepted that Will would never be one for effusive declarations of love or long, deep conversations about feelings. Tipsy had gone so long without any of that, she found herself craving it.
Maybe we’ll never be able to make each other happy, she thought.
Her emotions did an about face, as they always did. She loved so many things about Will. He was as steady as a summer day was long. He was always there to help when she needed him, whether it be connecting her with new painting clients through his work as a residential contractor or fixing her garbage disposal. Most complicating of all, their lives were as entwined as the invasive vines that crept up the walls of Ms. Callie’s house. The twins regularly had sleepovers with his two younger daughters. Her two best friends, Lindsey and Shelby, were married to his closest old friend (P.D.) and dating his closest new friend (Brian), respectively.
Lastly, and not unimportantly, they never lacked for physical chemistry. She still got the tingles when he ran his hand up her arm. Given the big messy picture, she’d decided the good outweighed the bad. She’d made the conscious decision to stick it out.
Am I settling or expecting too much? She’d never figured out the answer to that question. Granna, who married the first boy she ever kissed and lost him to bladder cancer twenty-some years later, didn’t know either.
She missed Jane, Henry’s wife. If she still haunted the house, Tipsy could talk to her about Will. Jane had always listened while offering snippets of practical advice. She was compassionate without being judgmental. Tipsy knew what Lindsey would say (“Just give him some time!”) and what Shelby would say (“I love Will but if he’s back on his bullshit, then screw him!”).
I tend to agree with Shelby, said Granna.
Tipsy pondered as she drove past Sullivan’s Island Baptist Church into the historic district known as Moultrieville. Isn’t there something in between? Between a mile long leash and screw you? Between settling for less and expecting perfection? And why am I still asking these questions? Frustration roiled in her midsection. I’ve been divorced for going on two years. Shouldn’t my life be sorted out by now?
Granna didn’t provide an answer, which meant she didn’t have a good one for those questions, either. Tipsy followed her phone’s directions down Middle Street toward the south end of Sullivan’s. While the northern Breach Inlet side of the island had a sparse, grassy beach town feel, the southern end had a small town Steel Magnolias vibe; that is, if Chinquapin Parish had included Revolutionary War fortifications. The oldest remaining homes were mostly tiny bungalows, but a few pseudoplantation houses with traditional double-decker piazzas lingered on Officer’s Row, a section of historic military housing on I’On Avenue. Ancient live oaks had observed the island’s long, dark history, including a tragic stint as a quarantine station for enslaved Africans. Post-Civil War, an African American farming community had slowly transitioned to an exclusive seaside enclave. Brick ranchers from the 1960s with hodgepodge additions huddled beside towering contemporary board and baton mansions. As always, Sullivan’s was proudly disorganized and eccentric. The architectural version of an academic convention; an eclectic mix of sleepy tenured professors and arrogant doctoral students.
She took a few sharp turns onto Thompson Avenue near Station 14, on the Intracoastal side of the island along the marsh. She looked up as her phone announced that she had arrived at her destination.
Will had told her that Pamella Brewton— Pam-ella, with two l’s, don’t forget— was a little eccentric.
From the looks of this place, said Granna, he wasn’t telling tales.
The house was one of the island’s clapboard senior citizens. Butterflies, moths, and fat bumble bees flittered over a front yard covered in white daisies and yellow brown-eyed susans. Purple wisteria blossoms and Confederate jasmine swarmed over the trellis above the front gate. The archway looked as if it were made of flowers instead of the same rotting wood that made up the fence. A cracked flagstone path led to a two-story house on raised pilings. Five crooked steps ended in a wide, slightly lopsided porch furnished with four red rocking chairs and a Charleston green joggling board. The strangest thing about the whole place, however, was the color.
Everything from the siding to the shutters to the fence itself was painted in shades of pale blue. Given the peeling state of it all, it was an old paint job, and a stubborn one. A bit of fading here and there, but otherwise that blue paint clung to the wood like a bad case of frostbite.
Haint blue? Tipsy asked Granna.
Looks like it, but my word, someone got a mite carried away.
Tipsy nodded her agreement. Normally haint blue—the shade of pale blue common to South Carolina porch ceilings—was one of her favorite colors. This house’s color scheme reminded her of diluted toilet bowl cleaner, or mouthwash spit in a sink.
It took a moment to make sense of the darker blues and sea greens that interrupted all that used Listerine. At least ten bottle trees dotted the yard. They rose out of the flowers, iron crab legs capped with cobalt claws. A few were crafted from driftwood. Those upright arboreal skeletons reminded Tipsy of morbid Christmas trees decorated with spacy blue lights.
As she shut off the ignition, she read Will’s text again. She swallowed the lump in her throat like an egret trying to gulp down a particularly large fish. She tossed the phone onto the passenger seat and got out of the truck.
Good decision. He threw the ingredients in the pot, said Granna. Let him stew a while.
She pulled the jasmine away from the weathered gray sign on the trellis. True Blue Cottage.
The bottle trees couldn’t possibly be waving at her; they were made of metal or stiff dead wood. Still, something about the sunlight glinting off the blue glass made the whole yard seem topsy-turvy. If I didn’t know how such things worked, I’d think there were spirits moving around in there.
So silly! said Granna. Imagine trying to cram Henry Mott’s lanky behind into one of those itty bitty bottles.
Tipsy walked under the trellis and down the path. The browneyed susans bent toward one another as if they were gossiping about an unwelcome visitor. She climbed the creaky stairs, but when she got to the porch, she turned back to the yard. Sunshine on the pale blue fence created an unpleasant glare. She closed her eyes, but the shape of the bottles remained in splotchy blue streaks in the blackness. She rubbed her face.
The door swung open behind her. It banged against the exterior wall. “You must be Tipsy!”
Tipsy spun around. “Yes. Hey!” The woman before her was probably around fifty, even taller and thinner than Tipsy, with dark curly hair and bright green eyes. She wore a neon pink Bohemian tunic, green and yellow striped cropped jeans with fringe at the bottom, and a pair of sandals that wrapped halfway up her calf. Somehow, it all worked. “Pamella?”
“That’s me, honey! Pam-el-la, with two l’s!” Pamella grabbed her hand and squeezed, hard. Tipsy winced. Still, she couldn’t help but smile back at this pretty woman who dripped enthusiasm like a leaky bucket of happiness.
“Come on in. I am so beyond happy to meet you! When we spoke on the phone, I knew you were the perfect artist for this project. Will Garrison had so many nice things to say about you. So did May Penny!”
“May Penny Collins?” asked Tipsy, surprised at the mention of her former mother-in-law.
“Yes! She and Tripp were friends of my late father.” She peered over Tipsy’s shoulder. Her voice dropped to a whisper, as if the spirits in the bottles might hear her. “It’s pretty impressive to get a glowing reference from your ex-husband’s mother.”
“Yeah, well, we’ve had our moments.”
Pamella tugged her toward the threshold and then abruptly stopped. Tipsy bumped into her.
“Oh, wait. Listen, I inherited True Blue from my daddy a couple years ago. I just moved back to town from Atlanta. So good to be back in the real South.” She wiggled her shoulders. While she didn’t blink for emphasis the way Jane had, she added pizazz to words of import. Mostly in flailing hands, wagging eyebrows, and those shoulders that bounced like she danced to music only she could hear. Pamella talked as fast as a New Yorker, yet her husky voice retained its Southern twang. Like a taxicab horn crossed with a baying hound dog. “I know it looks like a fricked up version of the witch’s house from Hansel and Gretel.”
“It’s truly blue, that’s for sure.”
“Hopefully I’ll be able to change it soon, if this works out.”
“Oh, jeez. I don’t do exterior painting. Is that what—”
“Of course you don’t! You’re an artiste extraordinaire!” She dragged Tipsy into the house. True Blue had no foyer. Upon crossing the threshold, they were in the living room. A brown leather sofa and matching club chair sat around a hideous coffee table with a glass top and a base made from an old boat propeller. No carpets on the old hardwood floors. Faded beachy prints on the walls and a faint musty smell.
Pamella led her toward the kitchen in the back of the house. It was as fresh as the rest of the house was dated. White cabinets, white quartz countertops, and light wide plank wood floors courtesy of Will. An oyster shell chandelier hung over the island. All perfectly orderly, with the exception of two empty sauvignon blanc bottles and a wine glass in the sink. Pamella pointed at a bare expanse of wall behind the rustic kitchen table. “I’d like to hang it here.”
“Perfect.” Tipsy sized up the wall. “You want a painting of the front of the house with you and your father sitting on the stoop?”
“Yes. Or maybe the back. To get the marsh view? I’m not sure yet.”
“I’ll do a bunch of sketches to give you some ideas.”
“Great. I want the figures to be me as a child and him as a younger man. I never knew my mother, so it was just me and Daddy.”
“She ran out on us when I was a baby. No biggie.”
Tipsy’s own mother had left her, albeit as a teenager and not an infant. Even before her mother had really peaced out, Granna had basically raised Tipsy in her tiny, threadbare house in the rural upstate. Tipsy knew firsthand that maternal abandonment was kind of a biggie, but she didn’t know Pamella from Adam so she kept her mouth shut.
“I can’t believe I don’t have a photo of me and Daddy outside!” said Pamella.
“It’s okay. If you show me a couple pictures of the two of you from back then, it won’t be a problem. I’ll work y’all in however you want. Position, facial expression, whatever.”
“That’s pretty cool. Will said you could paint anything, but I didn’t know he meant, like, anything.” Cue shoulder wiggle.
Tipsy shrugged. She had no way to explain her supernaturally inspired ability to replicate life with paint.
Pamella gestured to the table. “Let’s sit. Can I get you anything to drink?” The lady herself had a large Yeti tumbler. Tipsy shook her head as she joined her.
“I hope I’ll be able to display the painting here.” Pamella sipped from her Yeti. “But if I have to sell the house at least I can take something of it with me.”
“You’re thinking of selling? The market on the island is sure hot.”
“I don’t need to sell it for the money. I need to sell it… because… you know. The you know what.”
“Will didn’t tell you?”
“He told me I was coming out here to talk about a painting commission.”
“You are… and we did talk about the painting. Of course I want the painting. But he didn’t mention anything about my grandmother?”
Pamella leaned back in her chair. “My grandmother haunts this house. Will told me you have some experience with such things.”
Tipsy about fainted. Her eyes bugged from her head like she was dead herself and someone needed to close them. No living person had ever frankly called out her talent for seeing the dead. She’d confided in exactly two people about it: Granna and Will. Yet Pamella was stating she had some experience with the paranormal in the same way she might ask to look at Tipsy’s paintings on her Instagram feed.
She tried to eke moisture out of her suddenly parched mouth. Maybe she’d misinterpreted Pamella. “Will told you I have experience with what now?”
“Ghosts, lady. He told me you had a similar problem in your own house and you dealt with it.” Pamella snapped her fingers.
“What else did he tell you?”
“Not much. Just that you’d found out why the ghosts in your house were stuck there, and then they moved on.”
“Can I have some water?” Tipsy stood and walked past the kitchen island. She opened a few cabinets, and removed a tumbler. She ran lukewarm water from the tap. She needed to guzzle this water and the cold might make her head explode. How dare Will casually tell this woman about her lifelong secret?
Pamella started chattering behind her. “So. Right! My grandmother haunts the house—my father’s mother. Ivy More Brewton. She died in 1944. Fell off the dock out back, bless her heart, when my father was only twelve. She—”
“Ma’am. Pamella. I need a minute. I came out here thinking this was a painting commission, not an invitation to conduct a s.ance.”
“I really, truly do want the painting. But if you can help me with this other problem—”
“How do you even know the house is haunted? Can you see ghosts?”
“No, but I know she’s here. Things happen in this house. Objects move. Doors open and shut. Sometimes, when she’s angry—”
“She gets angry?”
“I think so. When I was a teenager Daddy and I got in an argument about my curfew one night. He was so strict. I was kind of, like, a rebel, but like in an eighties punk rock way that wasn’t that rebellious. Like I wore leather jackets and once I dyed my hair jet black. I wanted to go to a party at— wait. Where was I? Oh, right. We were yellin’ at each other and the coffee table flipped over. Magazines went everywhere. Daddy’s bourbon all over the floor. Then the windows flat out exploded. I still have a scar, where glass hit me.” She showed Tipsy a thin line on the side of her cheek. “It was a loud argument. I suppose we were disturbing her peace.”
“How do you know it’s your grandmother?”
“Daddy couldn’t see ghosts, so he never actually laid eyes on her either. His grandmother, Ivy’s mother Alma More, somehow knew it was Ivy. Maybe she saw ghosts.”
Despite Tipsy’s hesitation, the discovery of a kindred family caught her interest. “It does run in families, but not always in a straight line. My mother has no supernatural talent, but her mother, my Granna, she did.”
“I didn’t inherit anything from Ivy besides my face, from what photos tell me.” She patted her cheek. “Anyway, after Ivy died, Alma warned Daddy about her haunting this place. Alma died long before I was born, so I never got to ask her any questions.”
“So your grandmother—”
“Meemaw. I always wanted a grandmother to like, teach me to bake and sew and stuff. Ivy was as close as I could get. So I call her Meemaw.”
“Meemaw. Okay. Pamella, listen. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I’m sure it must be annoying—”
“It’s gone beyond annoying. It’s gotten worse over the years. When I was a child, Meemaw rarely got angry. By my thirties, it got bad. She’d go quiet for a few days and then she’d rage around like our family hurricane. Daddy loved this place, but we couldn’t stay here as often as he would have liked. That’s why Daddy painted the whole damn place haint blue and set up all those frickin’ bottle trees. You know the old stories. Keep the spirits at bay. Trap them in bottles. Yada-yada-yada.”
Tipsy glowered, her sense of justice offended. “He wanted to trap his own mother in a bottle?”
“Is she still his mother? I don’t know anything about this stuff. I’ve tried to do research, but there are a lot of charlatans out there. I mentioned to Will that the house is haunted. He’s the first person that ever gave me any real hope something could be done about it.”
“It seems pretty quiet here now.”
“I’ve only been back for two months. I rented a townhouse downtown. I paid the kitchen contractors bonuses to get things done faster. But she’s starting to get annoyed. I can tell. Two days ago, when I arrived, all the potted plants I’d set up on the porch were turned upside down. Dirt everywhere. Yesterday, I opened the back door, and even though it’s a hundred degrees out, I felt a chill like I’d been plunked down in Antarctica.”
Tipsy filled her water glass again and sat down. “If she’s throwing things around and stuff like that, then she was a seer herself.”
“What do you mean?”
“Only ghosts who were able to see ghosts as living beings have that kind of telekinetic power.” Tipsy thought of Henry knocking over the bookshelf in her kitchen a few days after she moved to Miss Callie’s. How afraid she’d been of his power. It sounded like this woman Ivy was just as volatile, if not more.
It’s one thing dealing with your own restless spirits, said Granna. But someone else’s…
That was enough for Tipsy. “I’m sorry. I hate that you’re having these problems, but I don’t think I can get involved.”
“Please,” said Pamella. “I seriously don’t know what else to do. My father had three houses during my childhood. His family home downtown near the Battery, a new house in Atlanta where he did business, and this cottage. The house downtown was lovely, but I never missed it when he sold it. Atlanta? Not a second thought. Sold it myself when he passed. This place, though—it’s so special. I want to make it happy and cozy again, like when I was little. I’d seriously like to live here, but I can’t if Meemaw can’t find peace. Poor woman, stuck here like a fly between a screen and glass. It’s seriously so sad.”
As much as instinct yelled at her to run out of this house, Tipsy felt the familiar burn of compassion for Pamella and her late grandmother. “I agree. The lingering dead are always sad, believe me. Maybe there’s another way to get some peace around here.” Even as she said it, Tipsy couldn’t think of any other reasonable solution.
“I don’t even know if I could sell the house. In my research I found a legal case from New York or somewhere, where someone got sued for not disclosing a haunted house! How can I sell a place and say, yeah, it needs a new roof, and my dead grandmother might hit you upside the head with a broom? So tacky. And potentially litigious.”
“I get it. But I didn’t give Will permission to tell anyone about my ghosts. It’s a private matter—”
“I’ll make it worth your while.”
“It’s not that—”
“Fifty thousand dollars.”
Tipsy about fell out. “Are you serious?”
“Let’s say three thousand for the painting. Forty-seven for the exorcism!”
Tipsy sat back in her chair. Fifty thousand dollars would be life changing for her. She no longer suffered from painter’s block and she’d been making decent money from her paintings, but she always watched her bank account like a hawk flying above a sneaky fish. Unlike other business endeavors, as an artist she was one person and she only produced so much. She refused to let the quality of her work suffer. That kind of money would finally give her a cushion. She could pay off her credit cards and start saving.
“If you’re sure, and you really have fifty thousand dollars you can just hand over—”
Pamella grinned. “Don’t you worry about that, lady. My daddy left me a lot more than a haunted cottage and a shed full of haint blue paint.”