PLAYMATES Part One

Betsy Slavin knew the house was haunted when she bought it. The previous owners were candid about it. They’d told her about the little girl, Rose Marie Slater, who had died in the back bedroom upstairs in 1837, during a typhoid epidemic. They’d told her she was still there, not menacing, but present. Betsy didn’t care. She didn’t believe in ghosts anyway. She wanted to live in St. Augustine.

As a single mom Betsy had struggled for several years, until a long-lost uncle left her with millions. Tired of living out in the sticks in Hastings, she turned her eye toward St. Augustine and quickly found this fine, old coquina house on Marine Street. The asking price was $950,000, a little steep perhaps, but Betsy had the money. Why not? She could afford it. The house had been built in 1794 by Don Hector Vitorio Montalvo de Sevilla, during Spain’s last possession of Florida. It was one of the oldest structures in the city. The history of St. Augustine fascinated Betsy, and she snapped up the house as soon as she saw it.

Seven-year old Alice Sue loved the house, too. She ran through all the rooms, laughing, inquisitive, and instantly was drawn to the back bedroom. “This is my room, Mommy,” she shouted to her mother out in the hall. Betsy, knowing the room had once supposedly belonged to Rose Marie Slater, smiled and said, “Of course, sweetie. You can have the room.”

The property was narrow but ran from Marine Street all the way over to Avenida Menendez with a wall surrounding it. The previous owners had done a wonderful job of landscaping the back garden with little nooks and crannies, vine-covered pergolas, and hideaways. Betsy thought her daughter would be enthralled by it all, but from the very first Alice Sue preferred her own room overlooking the beautiful garden.

Alice Sue loved her room, because she had found a playmate there, another little girl about her age who arrived and left through the closet. Alice Sue thought that a bit odd, but the little girl was otherwise a wonderful friend. Her name was Rose Marie. She said her father was an American and her mother Spanish. Her black hair and dark complexion contrasted nicely with Alice Sue’s light skin and blond hair. And she didn’t come just to play. Sometimes she came at night and slept with Alice Sue, because she missed her parents.

Betsy often passed by her daughter’s door to hear giggling and laughing. She might have been concerned at least enough to look in on Alice Sue, but the child had always had imaginary playmates. Betsy thought this was the case again, just an imaginary playmate. She did think about Rose Marie Slater but quickly dismissed the thought. Besides, if Rose Marie was the “imaginary” playmate, what harm was there.

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