My head pounded like a drum. My legs slid underneath me like a slide trombone. My arms twitched like an orchestra conductor with a neurological disorder. It was the end of the school year, and I was an exhausted teacher. In my delirious state, I somehow managed to walk the five blocks from the grade school in Hoboken, New Jersey to my apartment building. I thanked the local gym for my powerful arms, legs, and firm bubble butt.
The Art Deco style apartment building was once the home of wealthy playboy Freddy Birtwistle, who inherited the house at age twenty-four after his parents and sister died from influenza. Freddy met his end on his thirtieth birthday in 1935, when a misguided jealous husband shot him. However, that wasn’t really the end for Freddy. After I rescued an old player piano from the basement, my pedaling somehow brought Freddy back to life, or at least his ghost into my apartment. To my surprise, Freddy and I fell in love and solved two murder mysteries together.
Summoning all my strength, I pried open the heavy silver front door, and considered resting in my aunt Nia’s first floor manager’s apartment before going upstairs. After my parents, a French American and an African American, and my baby brother had died in a car accident when I was four, Aunt Nia, my mother’s sister, had become my sole family. However, I assumed Aunt Nia was otherwise engaged with her new husband, the detective. So, I dragged my battle-scarred body up the two flights of stairs.
When I reached the third floor, I thought about knocking on Victor’s door down the hall. Victor had often complained to me about his career—or lack thereof—as an actor, and turnabout is fair play. However, I assumed my best buddy was busy with his new husband, the lawyer. Though I knew everything about Aunt Nia’s husband and Victor’s spouse, my aunt and best friend had no knowledge of Freddy. Having a ghost as a boyfriend isn’t easy to talk about, especially since others can’t see or hear him.
When I finally arrived at apartment 3A, my home for the last six years, I somehow unlocked the door and swung it open. I dropped my bookbag on the narrow table and maneuvered myself across the living room, passing the Gustavian scalloped pedestal and side table, noticing my haggard reflection in the tiered mirror over the screened fireplace. I landed with my back flat on the turquoise chaise opposite two wide armchairs in the balconied bay window.
“You look zozzled.”
“You know I don’t drink, Freddy.”
“Then perhaps you should start on the giggle water.” Freddy walked through the arched doorway of the kitchen, passing the dining alcove, and stood in the living room next to two statues of singers from his Roaring Twenties period. “Did little Marva lose her lunch in a tuba, and did Bobby Jr. place an arrow in his violin bow and stab someone in the eye?”
“That was last week.” My school year flashed before me: screaming children demanding to play rock music instead of learning about Beethoven and Chopin, ogre parents insisting their tone-deaf children will be the next Mozart, overpaid administrators burying me in paperwork and reports.
Freddy sat next to me, placing his large hand on my shoulder. As usual, I shivered from his touch. Though we had been together for two years, Freddy appeared exactly as I had first met him: tall, thin, with black hair parted in the middle and slicked back off his handsome face. “You should have been a dewdropper, Andre.”
Over the past two years, I learned a lot of Freddy’s colorful Roaring Twenties lingo. He was speaking of someone like himself, who lived off his family’s wealth. “I love being a music teacher.” Grinning, I added, “Especially in the summer.”
Freddy placed his arms around me and rested my head on his lap. I gazed up at the man of my dreams. As always, he looked amazing in the clothing of his era: a pinstriped black suit and vest, white silk shirt, and gray suspenders with matching bow tie and silk pocket handkerchief. He also wore his tantalizingly sexy smile. “Time for a beat session, my love.”
This isn’t what you think. A beat session is Freddy’s jargon for a chat between two men. “I’m too tired,” I whined.
Freddy rubbed my forehead and temples, his long, thin fingers like silk on my skin. “As I once said to my old friend Israel—Irving Berlin to you—after I turned down Israel’s advances in the music room of his manse, ‘When you’re put out because someone won’t put out, it’s time for Puttin’ on the Ritz!’ And the rest is history!”
I sat up and focused on his perfectly proportioned face. “What does that have to do with me feeling exhausted?”
“It’s time for us to put on the Ritz. Dress up. Party. Have a change in scenery.”
I moaned. “I can’t move. The scenery in this apartment is fine with me.”
He placed a warm hand on my cheek. “As my dear friend Mae West once asked me, ‘You want to play in the sand with me and then make some waves?’”
I was lost in his violet eyes, sparkling like jewels. “What do you mean?”
“Andre Beaufort, love of my life, I’m asking you to run away with me to the beach.” Freddy nibbled on what he called my milk chocolate neck, which caused my pants to tighten.
I held his beautiful face in my hands, enjoying the feel of his peaches-and-cream complexion. “Freddy, have you forgotten? You’re a ghost.” For some reason, Freddy’s ghostly status meant I was the only person who could see him, and Freddy was unable to leave his former sitting room, bar, and bedroom—my apartment. Happily for Freddy, I had decided to keep the Art Deco character of the rooms.
Freddy cocked his head at me. “Have you forgotten we went to my country home upstate New York?”
“Because it was turned into a bed and breakfast, and I was able to summon you there via the player piano in my room—your old bedroom.”
“Now you’re in the trolley!” His soft ruby lips covered mine, and I melted into his arms.
In a dreamlike state from his champagne scent, I ran my hands along his broad back as we shared another kiss and then another. Each was deeper, wetter, and more passionate than the one before it. As we parted, I played back in my mind what Freddy had said. A light bulb went off. “Your family had a beach house?”
I rested my hands on his broad shoulders. “Where?”
His white smile widened. “On Key West in Florida.”