Gina Jud grew up with her dad, Jeremiah Jud, in a very old wooden house next to a vast old plantation in the American South. When Gina was very young her mother was taken to a mental institution where she died years later. Gina’s father is an artist, a painter and sculptor.
Gina has a secret: she can see dead people and sometimes animals. She didn’t know the difference between the dead and the living when she was small, but she learned as she grew older.
When Gina left for college, she found out that she can only see the dead on and around the plantation where she grew up. As she completed veterinarian school she all but forgot about her dead friends, often wondering whether it was real, or whether she suffered mental illness just like her mom did. She got some therapy in her first year, but grew out of it since she got no answers there.
Gina is now 25 years old and just finished veterinarian school. She decides to move back home to open a small animal hospital in her dad’s house – partly to take care of him as he is frail and getting very old.
She is joined in her pursuit by her jealous boyfriend, Frank Foster, who decides to follow Gina home to the South to finish his PhD in anthropology and to get her to marry him as soon as possible. Soon, Gina’s dead friends start to come back, and she meets the erstwhile plantation owner’s son, who died in 1846 – murdered at the age of 28. Gina instantly falls in love with Louis Bonfontaine, and a conflict arises between Frank who slowly finds out about the “dead people” and Louis. Gina has to decide which one she really loves.
CHAPTER ONE:THE PLANTATION LIVES
The cicadas were already screeching when Gina Jud finally escaped from the house and skipped down the old wooden stairs that went from the kitchen of the old dilapidated wooden cottage into the vegetable gardens her dad tended with something akin to an obsession. Gina’s mom dressed her up in vintage white shoes and long socks, a colorful checkered skirt and then combed her hair, rounding it all off with a white bow tied into her braided blonde hair.
The heat made the horizon simmer and Gina attempted to get rid of the bow, but it was impossible. Her mom tied it very carefully into her hair fully aware that her daughter would attempt to get rid of it as soon as she turned her back.
Gina hopped, skipped and jumped around the house following the path her dad built with river rocks and cement blocks. She stopped at the corner near the rose bushes. She could hear her mommy and daddy talking animatedly. Little Gina shifted in between the roses and rested her back against the wall, a spot where she often eavesdropped.
“But you keep dressing her like that, like we’re living two-hundred years ago.”
“Is not. She looks lovely.”
“Margie, you will have to stop the madness. This is 1995, not 1895. Are you hallucinating again darling? Are you seeing ghosts again?”
“No. Not at all. I drink my pills every day. That’s why my limbs are so stiff. You can go and check. I drink all the tablets every morning, you know that, it’s got nothing to do with that. I just like her to look like a real little girl.”
“You are lying to me. You know you are. You played with a goddamned dog in the garden last night. Really? A dog. There. Was. No. Dog. Nada. Nothing. And you actually spoke to the owner of the dog. You are losing it again. Seeing things, hearing voices. I’m not exposing Gina to any more of this. It’s over. You have to go back until you’re well. Until you stop the madness. I phoned Dr. Meredith. You can go back for more treatment. Louisiana State will pick up the tab, part of their mental health drive.”
“Please Jeremiah, I’m fine, I’m perfectly fine. I promise. Please. Please just leave it. Please darling, please.”
Gina couldn’t hear her dad’s response, but she could hear him walking towards the window, and she hunched and lowered herself deeper into the rose bushes. Her dad closed the window and she could hear the curtains closing. The Missouri heat was rolling over the plantation towards them, and the simmering humidity forced people to keep their windows and curtains closed to keep their houses cool.
Gina climbed out of the roses. Ouch! She shook her hand in a flurry and then licked her finger where one of the sharp thorns just drew blood. She put the finger in her mouth and sucked, hoping to stop the blood.
Gina heard her dad closing the sliding door at the opposite side of the house, and she heard him closing the studio door behind him. Jeremiah called the derelict wooden barn his studio, but everybody else just saw a shack condemned years ago, a wooden shed that were so full of holes and so covered in broken planks that you could see the sun shining through its thousands of openings in the afternoons when the sun went down on that side of the house. But to him it was his studio.
“You look pretty.”
Gina spun around, delighted to hear Annie’s voice. “Annie! I’m so glad you are here. You look pretty too.” Annie was dressed very much like Gina. She also wore long bobbysocks, white shoes and she too had a big bow in her hair.
“You wear the same clothes every day. I have to wear something different every day. My mom thinks I’m still little. I’m seven” Gina explained to her friend before she realized that she spoke without thinking. Her mommy always told her to put a lid on it, to think before you speak, but Gina always blurted out whatever she was thinking.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way – Annie, where are you?”
Gina walked away from the house towards the plantation. A hundred years ago Bonfontaine Plantation was still the biggest farming operation outside Louisville, but today only a small part of the huge acreage were cultivated, and around the edges of Bonfontaine, large trees were slowly being surrounded by indigenous plants and trees that returned the land to the natural semi-tropical forests of the south.
“Where are you Annie?”
Gina heard Annie giggle somewhere inside the forest, and she ran towards her. She found Annie laughing and dancing around one of the largest swamp chestnut oak trees in the forest, and she took her hand and they danced around and around repeating the children’s rhyme
Ring-a-ring o’ roses,
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.
“Can I play too?”
The girls stopped their dance and ran towards Manfred, Annie’s brother. He was always clad in a workman’s overall with ugly shoes that looked as if it lay at the bottom of a pond for a long time before he dried it out to put it on. He wore a hat made from dry straw, and his face was covered in freckles, but he knew the best stories and he always ended up telling the girls tales about life on the plantation two hundred years ago.
The girls carefully folded their dresses in under them like real Southern belle’s and sat down in the long grass under the giant tree, Manfred sat crossed-legged opposite them, apparently unaware that the wet clay could permanently stain his pants.
“Why don’t you ever get dirty when you sit in the clay?” Gina enquired in the way little girls do when they mimic their female authority figure.
“We don’t get wet. Or dirty. Or cold. Do we Manfred?” Annie answered proudly.
Manfred had dark blue eyes, almost black if you didn’t look carefully, eyes lined with a token of sadness. He looked warmly at this little sister. “No, we don’t do we?”
“I always get so dirty, mommy wants to spank me every time I come back after playing with you. She says I’m not a lady, I’m a piglet” Gina laughed loudly, her arms flailing about as she tried to amplify her sense of pleasure telling her friends about her mommy.
“Daddy!” Gina jumped up and ran towards her daddy and hugged him folding her arms around his long legs.
Her dad stroked her head. “Who were you talking to?” he asked, his voice quivering slightly. “What are you doing sitting here in the grass all by yourself?”
“Daddy?” Gina pronounced it ‘da-dhiehie’ to indicate her frustration at his ‘silly’ question. “With them. My friends. Annie and Manfred. They live here, way deeper near the old burnt-out church. She stared intently at her dad’s look of incomprehension. “Just past the orange groves?” She intoned her voice so as to change her statement into a question to counter her daddy’s stern expression.
“I think we’d better go” Manfred mumbled. “Come on Annie, say good-bye to Gina.”
“Don’t go. Tell them to stay Daddy – we play here every day.”
“Bye Gina” Annie said in her sweet voice. See you.”
“Don’t go yet” Gina pleaded.
“Gina what are doing? There’s no one here. No Man Fred and no Annie? No one. Just you. You have to stop this” he growled and grabbed her hand and pulled her along.
“Daddy! Let me go. I want to stay.”
Gina turned to look for her friends, to at least wave them goodbye, and she used her free hands to clear the tears away from her cheeks.
“Now Gina. You are never – never – do you understand, never to come back here again. Ever. And I forbid you to talk about this to anyone, ever again. And specifically nothing in front of your mother. She is already frail enough. My God child, not you too? Please God, not her as well.”
I hate Daddy. Very much Gina thought, and this made her sob, something that appeared to anger her Daddy even more. “Stop crying. Right now. You can’t be a cry-baby, not now, you have to come and say goodbye to mommy. She’s going back to hospital this afternoon, she’s ill again, and we can’t have you going off and getting sick too, can we?” Mommy is weak and she wants to say goodbye to her little girl before she leaves.”
Gina cried now. Really cried. Loudly. Wailing with unhappiness. And she cried when they took her mommy away and she cried when her mommy waved as they drove off, and she cried until she fell asleep. And then little Gina stopped crying altogether, and never cried again for years and years.