Samantha rolled down the passenger window of Dan’s black Audi coupe, and laughed into the inrushing flood of warm, Indian summer air.
“I don’t see why you always insist on air conditioning when we’re driving,” Samantha chided him. “The fresh air is so much more invigorating.”
Dan was about to tell Samantha, as he had told her many times before, that he preferred air-conditioning because this was the season in which his hay fever and allergies went crazy. Samantha, he knew, would not listen. She had not listened all those times before.
But that didn’t bother him, not really. Nor did he overly mind that he couldn’t really afford the Audi, even with his substantial income as an agent at the brokerage. He stole a glance at Samantha, as he so often did when they were together: She had long legs, and long chestnut hair, and her deep tan was beautifully accentuated by the white tank top and khaki shorts she was wearing. During his youth as the diffident son of a factory worker, Dan would never have dreamed that he might someday have a car like this, let alone a live-in girlfriend like Samantha.
They had left West Virginia late that afternoon, a Sunday. Now was the early evening, the time of lengthening shadows. Driving west, they were passing through the southernmost stretch of Ohio, only a few miles from the Ohio River. There were few major towns, and no real cities, until you hit Cincinnati.
This was a country of struggling family farms, mobile homes placed on hillside clearings, and vast, almost virgin wilderness. This was a section of the state that had never really developed, despite the efforts of Ohio governors of both major political parties. Nevertheless, the fall colors were in their full brilliance, nicely offset in the golden light of the early autumn twilight. September was probably the best month to be in Ohio.
“That one-room schoolhouse,” Samantha said, “the one that’s supposed to be haunted. It’s not far from here, you know.”
“I guess it is,” Dan agreed. He had heard about the one-room schoolhouse that stood on a vacant patch of land between Dillonsville and Murphy. It was a local legend. But Dan was not interested in the schoolhouse. He was already thinking about his Monday morning routine at the brokerage in Cincinnati tomorrow.
And, of course, Samantha. Always Samantha. How did a poor man’s son with a weak chin (which Dan strategically covered with a well-manicured beard) end up with a woman like Samantha? They had been living together for six months now; and Dan was always half-expecting that he would wake up to discover that it had all been a dream.
“Did you enjoy Keith and Ellie’s wedding?” he asked her. He sincerely hoped that she had. Samantha was not only out of Dan’s league in the looks department, but her family was also much more affluent than his. Keith was one of Dan’s childhood friends, now an instructor at West Virginia University. Half of Dan’s relatives lived in West Virginia. Truth be told, Dan was more comfortable in West Virginia than he was in the upscale neighborhood where he now lived with Samantha, three blocks from downtown Cincinnati.
Samantha had been a good enough sport during the wedding last night, and throughout the reception that followed. But there were moments when she had let her distaste show through, as if to emphasize that these were not her kind of people, and never would be.
“Oh, the wedding? It was nice. And I like to observe different cultures from time to time.”
This last was the kind of remark that would not have been offensive had Samantha delivered it with playful irony. But she had spoken in a tone which suggested that West Virginia really was a remote, primitive part of the world that she would never be accustomed to, and that Keith and Ellie and their friends were its aborigines.
But there was no point in challenging Samantha when she was just being Samantha. Dan decided to let the remark pass.
“Hey,” Samantha said, out of the blue. “Let’s stop at that schoolhouse.”
“You mean the haunted one?”
“Of course I mean the haunted one.”