Between her grandmother, who insists she's Anastasia Romanov, the thirty-bedroom mansion she can't afford, and the one hundred-fifty pounds she needs to lose, Raquel thinks she's going crazy.
Abel Rollins, the ghost only Raquel's grandmother can see, has a different opinion. He loves Raquel the way she is and he sets out to make sure she doesn't have that surgery. According to Abel, hospitals are bad news. After all, he died in one from mustard gas in World War I.
I looked up to see Grandmother wheeling herself down to the pool area. Maria Elena, the woman I employed to take care of my grandmother, was probably taking a nap.
Being a glutton for punishment and anything edible, I had to ask, "Grandma, why isn't Maria Elena with you?"
She arched her neck, being sure to jut her nose out. "If you are referring to my sister, Tatiana, I don't know."
"I don't like you coming down the hill by yourself." The sidewalk leading from the mansion to the pool was crumbling and entire concrete chunks were ready to break loose.
"I'm hardly alone, my dear." Her eyes moved to the side quickly as if pointing to someone.
"Who is with you?" I hoped she wasn't starting to imagine people now.
"As if you haven't noticed." She winked at me.
"Grandmother, no one is with you."
"Don't be that way." She leaned toward me holding on tight to the armrests of the wheelchair. "He's very sweet on you. And he's so charming—as we used to say in my day—debonair."
Sometimes she was as sharp as the edge of a guillotine. She'd gotten a clean bill of health from the doctor, so it wasn't Alzheimers or dementia.
"Maria Elena should have brought you down here."
"If you are referring to my sister, Tatiana, perhaps she's taking a nap. She needs her beauty sleep, you know."
"Her name is Maria Elena Caceres, not Tatiana. She's from Ecuador. And she is the maid, not your sister."
She made a raspy sound in her throat. "Raquel, you've always been my favorite, but you are very mistaken about who your grandmother is."
I hoped one day she'd see the light, although it had been at least five years since she'd started insisting on this nonsense. "Grandmother, I know exactly who you are. You were born Mary Margaret Minor in Richmond, Virginia, in 1926."
"That's what people say who don't want to accept the truth." She stuck her nose up again, her eyes glaring at me. "I was born Anastasia Nicolaevna Romanov in Russia."
"That's funny," I said with a lilt. "You don't sound very Russian." Sometimes I liked making her mad. A little anger might get her to stop this insanity.
"I have forgotten my native tongue. It was so long since I was there," she said wistfully, as if remembering the Alexander Palace.
"Another thing, Grandmother, you were born in 1926 and Anastasia was born around 1901." I looked over at her, but she wasn't fazed by my remark. "You are much too young to be Anastasia."
Her lips pressed together, pushing some of her wrinkles out. "How do you know I wasn't born in 1901?"
"Your drivers license, your passport, and the fact you had my father in 1950."
"I believe someone else bore that child, although I did so adore your father."
"What a terrible thing to say."
I looked around at our backyard and our old pool. The cement was so chipped that grass grew between the pieces of stone.
She eyed my freckles that always appeared when I sat out in the sun. "You should be careful. You'll burn out here."
"I wouldn't mind getting a little tan." What Grandmother really meant was that she was afraid she'd burn.
"I'm sure your gentleman suitor prefers you to be fair. It's a sign of noble birth."
"He's standing right behind me and hasn't taken his eyes off you since we came down here."
"I can't take any more of this." I stood up, no easy feat considering I weighed close to four hundred pounds. "I'm going to get Maria Elena."
"If you mean Tatiana, please have her join me here by the pool." She fanned herself with a piece of tissue. "And be a doll and have one of the servants bring me my sun hat."
One of the servants. Right.
I stormed up the crumbling steps that led to the back of the house. Above me, on the back side of the house, verandas overlooked the pool. They looked intact from here, but if someone ventured onto one, no doubt it would come tumbling down. Great-granddaddy built the house in the 1890s, and in spite of a rather good salary I made as a writer, I was unable to maintain the thirty-bedroom, two-wing mansion. In fact, there were times I wondered if the roof would come tumbling down on our heads.