Home > The Dead Romantics

The Dead Romantics
Author: Ashley Poston

 


To every author who asked us to believe in Happily Ever Afters

 

 

A Buried Story


   IN THE BACK-LEFT corner of the Days Gone Funeral Home, underneath a loose floorboard, there was a metal box with a bunch of old journals inside. To anyone who found them, the scribbles looked like some teenager venting her sexual frustrations with Lestat or that one guy from The X-Files.

   And, if you didn’t mind ghosts and vampires and blood oaths and leather pants and true love, the stories were quite good.

   You could wonder why someone would shove journals full of smutty fan fiction underneath the floorboard of a century-old funeral home, but never question the mind of a teenager. You wouldn’t get very far.

   I hid them there because—well—I just did, okay? Because when I left for college, I wanted to bury that part of me—that dark, weird Addams Family side—and what was a more fitting place than a funeral home?

   And I almost succeeded, too.

 

 

1

 

 

The Ghostwriter


   EVERY GOOD STORY has a few secrets.

   At least, that’s what I’ve been told. Sometimes they’re secrets about love, secrets about family, secrets about murder—some so inconsequential they barely feel like secrets at all, but monumental to the person keeping them. Every person has a secret. Every secret has a story.

   And in my head, every story has a happy ending.

   If I were the heroine in a story, I would tell you that I had three secrets.

   One, I hadn’t washed my hair in four days.

   Two, my family owned a funeral home.

   And three, I was the ghostwriter of mega-bestselling, critically acclaimed romance novelist Ann Nichols.

   And I was sorely late for a meeting.

   “Hold the door!” I shouted, bypassing the security personnel at the front desk, and sprinting toward the elevators.

   “Miss!” the befuddled security guard shouted after me. “You have to check in! You can’t just—”

   “Florence Day! Falcon House Publishers! Call up to Erin and she’ll approve me!” I tossed over my shoulder, and slid into one of the elevators, cactus in tow.

   As the doors closed, a graying man in a sharp business suit eyed the plant in question.

   “A gift to butter up my new editor,” I told him, because I wasn’t someone who just carried around small succulents wherever she went. “God knows it’s not for me. I kill everything I touch, including three cactuses—cacti?—already.”

   The man coughed into his hand and angled himself away from me. The woman on the other side said, as if to console me, “That’s lovely, dear.”

   Which meant that this was a terrible gift. I mean, I figured it was, but I had been stranded for too long on the platform waiting for the B train, having a small panic attack with my brother on the phone, when a little old lady with rollers in her hair tottered by selling cacti for like a dollar a pop and I bought things when I was nervous. Mainly books but—I guess now I bought houseplants, too.

   The guy in the business suit got off on the twentieth floor, and the woman who held the elevator left on the twenty-seventh. I took a peek into their worlds before the doors closed again, immaculate white carpet or buffed wooden floors and glass cases where old books sat idly. There were quite a few publishers in the building, both online and in print, and there was even a newspaper on one of the floors. I could’ve been in the elevator with the editor for Nora Roberts for all I knew.

   Whenever I came to visit the offices, I was always hyperaware of how people took one look at me—in my squeaky flats and darned hose and too-big plaid overcoat—and came to the conclusion that I was not tall enough to ride this ride.

   Which . . . fair. I stood at around five foot two, and everything I wore was bought for comfort and not style. Rose, my roommate, always joked that I was an eighty-year-old in a twenty-eight-year-old body.

   Sometimes I felt it.

   Nothing said Netflix and chill quite like an orthopedic pillow and a wineglass of Ensure.

   When the elevator doors opened onto the thirty-seventh floor, I was alone, grasping my cactus like a life vest at sea. The offices of Falcon House Publishers were pristine and white, with two fluorescent bookshelves on either side of the entryway, touting all of the bestsellers and literary masterpieces they’d published over their seventy-five-year history.

   At least half of the left wall was covered in books by Ann Nichols—The Sea-Dweller’s Daughter, The Forest of Dreams, The Forever House, ones my mom sighed over when I was a teenager writing my smutty Lestat fanfic. Next to them were Ann’s newer books, The Probability of Love, A Rake’s Guide to Getting the Girl (I was most proud of that title), and The Kiss at the Midnight Matinee. The glass reflected my face in the book covers, a pale white and sleep-deprived young woman with dirty blond hair pulled up in a messy bun and dark circles under tired brown eyes, in a colorful scarf and an oversized beige sweater that made me look like I was the guest speaker at the Yarn of the Month Club and not one of the most distinguished publishing houses in the world.

   Technically, I wasn’t the guest here. Ann Nichols was, and I was what everyone guessed was her lowly assistant.

   And I had a meeting to get to.

   I stood in the lobby awkwardly, the cactus pressed to my chest, as the dark-haired receptionist, Erin, held up a finger and finished her call. Something about salad for lunch. When she finally hung up, she looked up from her screen and recognized me. “Florence!” she greeted with a bright smile. “Nice to see you up and about! How’s Rose? That party last night was brutal.”

   I tried not to wince, thinking about Rose and I stumbling in at 3:00 a.m. “It sure was something.”

   “Is she still alive?”

   “Rose has survived worse.”

   Erin laughed. Then she glanced around the lobby, as if looking for someone else. “Is Mrs. Nichols not going to make it today?”

   “Oh no, she’s still up in Maine, doing her . . . Maine thing.”

   Erin shook her head. “Gotta wonder what it’s like, you know? Being the Ann Nicholses and Stephen Kings of the world.”

   “Must be nice,” I agreed. Ann Nichols hadn’t left her small little island in Maine in . . . five years? As long as I’d been ghostwriting for her, anyway.

   I tugged down the multicolored scarf wrapped around my mouth and neck. While it wasn’t winter anymore, New York always had one last kick of cold before spring, and that had to be today, and I was beginning to nervously sweat under my coat.

   “Someday,” Erin added, “you’re going to tell me how you became the assistant for the Ann Nichols.”

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