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When Skylynn O’Brien McNamara came home to bury her grandfather and settle his estate, she was surprised to see that the house across the street was still vacant. The big, old, three-story house, surrounded by a high wrought-iron fence, sat on a half-acre lot. A covered porch spanned the front of the house. The place put her in mind of a giant among midgets, surrounded as it was by newer, smaller, more modern homes. Granda had once told her that Kaiden Thorne’s grandfather had refused to sell the place to real estate developers, and so they had built around him.
Kaiden Thorne had moved away shortly before Skylynn left for college. She thought it odd that he hadn’t sold the house when he moved. As far as she knew, the house had been vacant ever since.
He had been a strange one, Mr. Thorne. For years, he had collected his mail and his newspaper after dark and always mowed his front yard after the sun went down. He had gone to the high school football games, but only the ones held at night.
Sky had been five or six the first time she had seen Kaiden Thorne. She remembered it as if it had happened yesterday. She had been sitting on the front porch that summer evening, playing with her favorite Barbie dolls, when a moving van pulled into the driveway of the house across the street. Curious, she had watched two men in gray overalls jump out of the cab and begin unloading the truck. There hadn’t been much in the way of furniture, just a black leather sofa and a matching chair, a couple of glass-topped end tables, a dresser and chest of drawers, and a big-screen tv. The last thing the movers had unloaded had been a large oblong box.
Skylynn had frowned when she saw it. What on earth was in there? Her interest in the new neighbor soon waned when she realized there would be no playmates her age moving into the house, only a tall man with thick black hair. At five, she had thought of Kaiden Thorne as an old man. Looking back, she realized he had probably been in his late twenties or early thirties.
Her second distinct memory of Kaiden Thorne occurred on Halloween, Sky’s favorite holiday, except for Christmas, of course. Back then, everyone in the neighborhood decorated their houses, each family trying to outdo the other, but none of them could hold a candle to Mr. Thorne. His yard looked like something out of a Hammer horror movie. There had been a coffin that looked as if it was a hundred years old, a skeleton that looked so real, it had given Sky the creeps. Ancient torture devices had lined his driveway. A scary-looking clock that would have looked at home in a Vincent Price movie chimed the hours as assorted ghouls and monsters popped up out of old pirate chests and from behind weathered headstones.
Sky had been seven when her brother, Sam, took her trick-or-treating at the Thorne house. Sam had been ten at the time, and even though her brother could be a major pain, she had idolized him. He had told her, straight-faced, that Mr. Thorne was a vampire, but Skylynn hadn’t believed him because Granda had told her there were no such things as vampires, witches, ghosts, ghouls, or skeletons that walked and talked. But when Mr. Thorne opened the door, Sky had taken one look at his blood-red eyes, his gleaming fangs and long black cape, and screamed bloody murder. Her brother had teased her for months about the way she had turned tail and run back home just as fast as her legs would carry her. She’d had nightmares for weeks afterward, even though her grandfather had persuaded Mr. Thorne to come over and explain that he had been wearing an elaborate costume.
As time passed, Granda and Mr. Thorne spent more and more time together. They made an odd couple – her short, gray-haired grandfather and the tall, dark-haired Mr. Thorne. As far as Sky could tell, they’d had nothing in common. Granda was a retired doctor who dabbled in chemistry and alchemy in his lab down in the basement. He had often kidded her that he was looking for the secret of eternal life. As for Mr. Thorne, she didn’t know what he did for a living. For all she knew, he, too, had been retired. The two men had spent many a night locked up in Granda’s lab.
More than once, she had snuck down to the basement. With her ear pressed to the door, she had caught snatches of conversation, but Granda’s talk of plasma and platelets and transfusions meant nothing to her.
Occasionally, a strange man came to visit Granda. Sky never saw his face, never heard his name, but there was something about him that, even back then, had made her skin crawl.
The summer Sky turned twelve, she started spying on Mr. Thorne. She wasn’t sure why. Curiosity? Boredom? Who could say? She bought a notebook and made copious notes about his habits, the cars he drove, the clothes he wore. He rarely had visitors, but when he did, she wrote down the color and make of the car and the license number and descriptions of the people who came and went so infrequently. Sam thought he was a drug dealer or a hit man.
Sky had always had a flare for art and she drew numerous pictures and portraits of the elusive Mr. Thorne. A faint white scar bisected his right cheek. He had another scar on his back near his left shoulder blade. She had seen it one night during a scavenger hunt. The last item on her list had been to find an old newspaper and she had gone knocking on Mr. Thorne’s door in hopes that he could help. He had answered the door wearing a pair of swim trunks and nothing else. He had invited her to step inside while he went to fetch the paper, and she had glimpsed the scar when he turned away. As she grew older, she began to wonder how he had gotten those scars.
By the time she was thirteen, she had a full-blown crush on the mysterious Mr. Thorne. And then, when she was fifteen or sixteen, an odd thing happened. For no apparent reason, he stopped staying inside during the day.
She would never forget the Friday afternoon she had come home from school and seen him outside, mowing his lawn. Wearing only a pair of cut-off blue jeans and sunglasses, he looked sexier than any man his age had a right to.
But that had been eight years ago, and she was no longer the wide-eyed innocent child she had once been.