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Authors: Katherine Holubitsky

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BOOK: Hippie House
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She told me that as you sort through these belongings—the mementos, the letters, even the books and their various subjects—you may uncover secrets that make you realize that you did not know that person as well as you thought. It makes you wish you had known, or at least thought to ask, so that you could have made an effort to reach out to them differently. “Or,” my mother quietly added, looking off in the direction of—I wasn't sure what, “perhaps it's just as well that it remained hidden.”

At the time, I sensed her need to talk. But I did not really understand what she was telling me. I have since learned that what she said is true.

I was at the castle the day Mrs. Russell discovered a packet of letters and a secret I'm sure she wished she had never found.

I had spent the morning perfecting the pattern for Nancy's costume. After first sewing it in muslin, I had fit it to the dress form by making tucks and darts in the fabric where needed. This was how Ruby had suggested it should be done. Late in the afternoon I had taken the completed muslin dress over to the castle for Ruby's inspection. Hetty and Tanya were out with Mr. DeSousa, clearing the last of Tanya's belongings from the apartment she had shared with Katie. Mr. and Mrs. Russell were also at the apartment; they had only the bedroom furniture and a
bookshelf of Katie's left to move. It had been a long and weary task with many episodes of tears slowing progress.

After approving my work, Ruby picked up a seam ripper and carefully began to open the seams. I would now use the muslin pieces to trace the final pattern onto tissue paper. I began to spread the tissue paper on the floor. While I was doing this, Hetty, Tanya and Mr. DeSousa arrived home. Sobbing uncontrollably, and still wearing her coat, Tanya headed straight up the stairs. Hetty and Mr. DeSousa joined us in the living room, where Hetty stood over me. Ruby looked after Tanya, then questioningly up at her husband as the sound of a door slamming reached our ears.

Mr. DeSousa stood with his back to the fireplace. He was a tall man with fine, expressive hands and fair skin weathered by nothing more harsh than boardroom lights. He was also very kind, quick to laugh, and under normal circumstances he would entertain Hetty and me with stories of his trips. But now his expression was solemn, as if whatever he had to say was not something we would particularly want to hear.

“Marie Russell found some letters.” He was not looking at any of us, but at the stilled work in Ruby's hands.

“Oh?” said Ruby.

Mr. DeSousa looked briefly at me, but perhaps deciding that Hetty would not let the author of the letters remain a secret for long—that is if she hadn't told me already through some mysterious series of gestures, eye movements and general teenage telepathy—he told us what they concerned.

“The letters were from Lewis Gillespie. It appears that he and Katie were having an affair.”

Naturally, I thought I must have heard him incorrectly. Or perhaps he had confused something between the hearing and the telling of what he had just said. Unless, of course, it was a joke. But how unlike Mr. DeSousa to make up something in such bad
taste. Whatever the confusion, it was simply beyond belief, for not only was Mr. Gillespie half bald, but he also sported a gold tooth and he was more than twice Katie's age!

I glanced at Hetty, who screwed up her face. “Have you ever heard of anything so sick?”

“You mean it's true?”

“Uh-huh. Tanya's been freaking out since she heard.”

“Oh my, I'd better go speak to her.” Ruby folded the muslin piece she was working on and placed it in a neat pile on the arm of the chair. “Have you turned the letters over to the police?”

Mr. DeSousa confirmed that despite Mrs. Russell's protests, he had left the packet of letters with Constable Wagner at the station on the way home. Mrs. Russell was concerned that if their existence were known, they might harm Katie's reputation. It had taken some convincing on Mr. DeSousa's part to persuade her that they might contain information crucial to the investigation. He was visibly worn from his efforts, and he was only thankful that she had finally seen it his way.

Ruby's steps rang out as she climbed the stone staircase. Hetty and I looked back to her father.

“I'm sorry,” he said, shrugging slightly, tossing his hands in the air. It was as though he felt the need to apologize for Mr. Gillespie's behavior on behalf of all middle-aged men. He turned toward the kitchen.

Hetty and I wasted no time in reaching the privacy of her bedroom to discuss this incredible news. Once the door was closed, we quickly decided that this new piece of information far outranked all other discoveries of the past year. It was more sensational than the news that Mrs. Young, Megan's former history teacher, had been hospitalized after becoming addicted to diet pills. It was so wild it outdid the discovery that Mandy Green's older sister had not quit school and moved to Toronto because she was spotted in line at a movie theater and offered a modeling
job, but because she was pregnant and had gone to live with her aunt until the baby came.

At that time in our lives, we knew only certain facts related to the word “affair.” Most of these facts we had gleaned from movies, sitcoms and trashy romance novels. The facts were: An affair was almost always spoken of in the negative by adults who were not directly involved. One or both parties in the affair were married, so that carrying out the affair involved a lot of sneaking around and covering tracks. Satisfying an uncontrollable physical attraction to one another was at the core of every affair. Love never seemed to be a part of it, unless of course the word “love” preceded the word “affair,” as in “love affair,” in which case it took on an entirely different meaning. But when it was simply “an affair,” we knew that the emotional attachment was absent, and sex and finding a time and place to engage in it were of much greater concern.

Since “an affair” was how Hetty's father had referred to the relationship between Mr. Gillespie and Katie, obviously this brought our understanding of the term seriously into question. This was because a physical attraction to Mr. Gillespie on Katie's part was simply inconceivable to us.

Once we had decided this was the most sensational news of the year, Hetty sat down on the bed while I drew up the desk chair across from her. She didn't say anything for a moment, but the way her lip curled in an expression of disgust I guessed she was thinking hard about what an affair with Mr. Gillespie would involve. I was right.

“But he has so much hair sticking out of his nose,” she remarked, as though I had challenged what she was thinking. As though I had suggested that it really wasn't all that strange.

“Yeah. And when it's hot and he's been cooking all day, he gets all sweaty and greasy on top of his head.”

“Maybe he was giving her money,” she suggested, certain there had to be another reason. “I mean, she really wanted to go to school next year.”

“Maybe. It would make more sense than if she did it because she actually thought he was good-looking or sophisticated or something.”

Sitting cross-legged with her arms around her knees, Hetty tilted forward on the edge of her bed. “But then that would make her a prostitute.”

She was right. And my research showed this was virtually impossible. With any stretch of the imagination, it was not within reach of her character. “Then that couldn't be it. Katie wasn't like that,” I said.

Hetty looked up. “No, she wasn't. And that's what everybody would think. But say he somehow talked her into it. Say he convinced her that she would have enough money to leave Pike Creek in six months instead of being stuck in this one-horse town for a whole year. Eventually, she realized how wrong it was and she threatened to expose him.”

“So he killed her?”

“Well, yeah. Because in this town he'd be ruined if the truth were known.”

“Nah.” I shook my head. “It's too far-fetched. I've been going to the Dairy Bar since I can remember, and it wouldn't happen. Mr. Gillespie isn't such a bad guy. He gets grumpy sometimes when kids start throwing fries around, but I can't see him murdering anyone.”

Hetty frowned. But she didn't disagree.

We were convinced there had to be some hidden reason Katie would have had an affair with Mr. Gillespie. It was unthinkable that she could have found anything attractive about the man.

I bounced it off Eric, who was in his bedroom, organizing his forty-fives, when I got home. His lack of interest surprised me.

“Well, don't you think it's just about the grossest thing you've ever heard?”

“Not really.”

“But he's an old man—at least forty—maybe fifty. He's probably even got false teeth. He's got hair growing from his nose and two chins.”

“Ever seen Mrs. Gillespie? She's got about four.”

He had a point.

“Yeah, I guess. But do you suppose he could have killed her?”

Eric pulled “Layla” from its sleeve. He set it on the record player and blew dust from the needle. “Why?”

MR. GILLESPIE HAD NO CHOICE
but to come to his own defense, and within a few days all of Pike Creek knew the details of the affair. It had begun six months earlier, Hetty told Megan and me with some authority. Hetty had learned the details from her dad earlier in the morning at breakfast as he'd attempted to explain the situation to Tanya.

Flush with secret knowledge, Hetty had rushed Megan and me out to the smoking area during the first break in classes. With only a matter of minutes to fill us in, she hastily began.

“Gillespie said it wasn't a sleazy affair,” she told us, rolling her eyes like it would be easier to believe the moon was made of cheese. “Dad said she came on to him when he was closing the Dairy Bar one night.”

Megan made a face. “Wait a minute. She came on to him? Your dad said it like that?”

“Well, no, he didn't say it like that. He said ‘the first time she'd confessed her feelings,' which boils down to coming on to him, right?”

Megan and I looked at each other and shrugged.

Hetty rushed on. “Anyway, so he was flattered and what's he going to do? He's this old guy and, let's face it, married to Mrs. Gillespie, the original hag of the Hockley Valley. Katie wasn't exactly Cybill Shepherd, but compared to his wife she must have seemed like a real babe. So anyway, she starts flirting with him, and because it's probably been months, maybe even years, since he's got any action from Mrs. Gillespie, he gets all hot and worked up and, well, there's no turning back.”

Megan and I were both gaping at her, somewhat confused. As it turned out, we were thinking the same thing. “Your
dad
told you all this?”

“Well, yeah, but like I said, not exactly like that.”

The warning bell sounded, summoning us to our next class. We never did hear how Mr. DeSousa's version really went. But we did eventually hear what was the more likely story from Aunt Alice, after Uncle Pat had spoken to Mr. Gillespie himself.

Mr. Gillespie often kept the restaurant open longer on nights when Katie worked the night shift. They were alone in the restaurant when Katie confessed her feelings to him on one of these late nights. Mr. Gillespie was flattered and admitted that he'd always felt an attraction to her. Then, when she'd unexpectedly embraced him, it had awakened something inside of him, something he thought had left him long ago.

Anyway, Pike Creek folks could call it whatever they liked, but it had been nothing less than love, and Mr. Gillespie was glad that it was now out in the open. He had suffered in silence long enough, having to sneak around like he was some kind of a criminal and keep his true feelings hidden from a wife who had allowed him no affection in years and a town that would never understand. And then Katie's violent death—well, the weight of it all had almost been too much, and no one could possibly know how sick he had been.

Mr. Gillespie's confession further convinced Megan that we had to get out of Pike Creek as soon as possible.

“Poor Katie. Every decent guy her age had moved away. She obviously got desperate. See what I've been saying, Emma? We've got to get out of here or before you know it we'll be stuck here too.”

“Yeah.” I said, “I guess. But I'm glad we know about it. Not that Katie having an affair with old Mr. Gillespie isn't totally weird. But knowing about it is kind of a relief. I mean—” and I realized this observation was more to myself “—I think we've found Katie's secret side.”

“Maybe so, but that doesn't make it any less pathetic,” Megan told me, “and if we stick around something similarly pathetic will happen to us. Oh man, when you think about it, the whole thing is just sad.”

Tanya refused to believe there had been an affair at all. She lived with Katie. How could it have been going on without her knowledge? Hetty was in the kitchen when Tanya was interviewed by the police.

“The thing is, we talked about guys all the time. We talked about looks and how we liked to be treated. Katie liked guys to be clean-cut, not nerdy or anything, but like the Beatles, not the Rolling Stones. Nicely dressed, styled hair, they didn't have to be stunning, but they did have to take some pride in themselves. Look, all I'm saying is that Mr. Gillespie was not Katie's type. I don't know whose type he is, except maybe Mrs. Gillespie's, but he wasn't Katie's, that's for sure.”

Tanya could offer no explanation for the existence of the letters, but she insisted Katie had never mentioned his name. “The only thing Katie said was, once, she asked me what I thought about going out with older guys. I asked her how much older she was talking about. ‘Much older,' she said.

“I told her I didn't see any problem. But of course I assumed she meant Maury Kaplan. He's hardly clean-cut, but he's always
so friendly and lots of fun to talk to. I knew she always sort of liked him.”

BOOK: Hippie House
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