In the greenhouse, Roz watered flats of annu-als she'd grown over the winter.. It was nearly time to put them out for sale. Part of her was always a little sad to know she wouldn't be the one planting them. And she knew that not all of them would be tended properly.
Some would die of neglect, others would be given too much sun, or not enough. Now they were lush and sweet and full of potential.
She had to let them go, the way she'd let her sons go. She had to hope, as with her boys, that they found their potential and bloomed,, lavishly.
She missed her little guys. More than she'd realized now that her house had boys in it again with all their chatter and scents and debris. Having Harper close helped, so much at times that it was hard for her not to lean too heavily on him, not to surround him with need.
But he'd passed the stage when he was just hers. Though he lived within shouting distance, and they often worked together side by side, he would never be just hers again.
She had to content herself with occasional visits, with phone calls and e-mails from her other sons. And with the knowledge that they were happy building their own lives.
She'd rooted them, and tended them, nurtured and trained. And let them go.
She wouldn't be one of those overbearing, smothering mothers. Sons, like plants, needed space and air. But oh, sometimes she wanted to go back ten years, twenty, and just hold on to those precious boys a little bit longer. •
And sentiment was only going to make her blue, she reminded herself. She switched off the water just as Stella came into the greenhouse.
Roz drew a deep breath. "Nothing like the smell of damp soil, is there?"
"Not when you're us. Look at these marigolds. They're going to fly out the door. I missed you this morning."
"I wanted to get here early. I've got that Garden Club meeting this afternoon. I want to put together a couple dozen six-inch pots as centerpieces."
"Good advertising. I just wanted to thank you again for watching the boys for me last night."
"I enjoyed it. A lot. Did you have a good time?"
"I really did. Is it going to be a problem for you if Logan and I see each other socially?"
"Why would it be?"
"In a work situation …"
"Adults should be able to live their own lives, just like in any situation. You're both unattached adults. I expect you'll figure out for yourself if there's any problem with you socializing."
"And we're both using 'socializing' as a euphemism."
Roz began pinching back some petunias. "Stella, if you didn't want to have sex with a man who looks like Logan, I'd worry about you."
"I guess you've got nothing to worry about, then. Still, I want to say … I'm working for you, I'm living in your house, so I want to say I'm not promiscuous."
"I'm sure you aren't." She glanced up briefly from her work. "You're too careful, too deliberate, and a bit too bound up to be promiscuous."
"Another way of calling me a tight-ass," Stella muttered.
"Not precisely. But if you were promiscuous, it would still be your business and not mine. You don't need my approval."
"I want it – because I'm working for you and living in your house. And because I respect you."
"All right, then." Roz moved on to impatiens. "You have it. One of the reasons I wanted you to live in the house was because I wanted to get to know you, on a personal level. When I hired you, I was giving you a piece of something very important to me, personally important. So if I'd decided, after the first few weeks, that you weren't the sort of person I could like and respect, I'd have fired you." She glanced back. "No matter how competent you were. Competent just isn't that hard to find."
"Thanks. I think."
"I think I'll take in some of these geraniums that are already potted. Saves me time and trouble, and we've got a good supply of them."
"Let me know how many, and I'll adjust the inventory. Roz, there was something else I wanted to talk to you about."
'Talk away," Roz invited as she started to select her plants. ;
"It's about the ghost."
Roz lifted a salmon-pink geranium, studied it from all sides. "What about her?"
"I feel stupid even talking about this, but… have you ever felt threatened by her?"
"Threatened? No. I wouldn't use a word that strong." Roz set the geranium in a plastic tray, chose another. "Why?"
"Because, apparently, I've seen her."
"That's not unexpected. The Harper Bride tends to show herself to mothers, and young boys. Young girls, occasionally. I saw her myself a few times when I was a girl, then fairly regularly once the boys started coming along."
"Tell me what she looks like."
"About your height." As she spoke, Roz continued to select her geraniums for the Garden Club. "Thin. Very thin. Mid- to late twenties at my guess, though it's hard to tell. She doesn't look well. That is," she added with an absent smile, "even for a ghost. She strikes me as a woman who had a great deal of beauty, but was ill for some time. She's blond, and her eyes are somewhere between green and gray. And very sad. She wears a gray dress – or it looks gray, and it hangs on her as if she'd lost weight."
Stella let out a breath. "That's who I saw. What I saw. It's too fantastic, but I saw."
"You should be flattered. She rarely shows herself to anyone outside the family – or so the legend goes. You shouldn't feel threatened, Stella."
"But I did. Last night, when I got home, and went in to check on the boys. I heard her first. She sings some sort of lullaby."
" 'Lavender's Blue.' It's what you could call her trademark." Taking out small clippers, Roz trimmed off a weak side stem. "She's never spoken that I've heard, or heard of, but she sings to the children of the house at night."
" 'Lavender's Blue.' Yes, that's it. I heard her, and rushed in. There she was, standing between their beds. She looked at me. It was only for a second, but she looked at me. Her eyes weren't sad, Roz, they were angry. There was a blast of cold, like she'd thrown something at me in temper. Not like the other times, when I'd just felt a chill."
Interested now, Roz studied Stella's face. "I felt as if I'd annoyed her a few times, on and off. Just a change of tone. Very like you described, I suppose."
"I believe you, but primarily, from most of my experiences, she's always been a benign sort of presence. I always took those temper snaps to be a kind of moodiness. I expect ghosts get moody."
"You expect ghosts get moody," Stella repeated slowly. "I just don't understand a statement like that."
"People do, don't they? Why should that change when they're dead?"
"Okay," Stella said after a moment. "I'm going to try to roll with all this, like it's not insanity. So, maybe she doesn't like me being here."
"Over the last hundred years or so, Harper House has had a lot of people live in it, a lot of houseguests. She ought to be used to it. If you'd feel better moving to the other wing – "
"No. I don't see how that would make a difference. And though I was unnerved enough last night to sleep in the boys' room with them, she wasn't angry with them. It was just me. Who was she?"
"Nobody knows for sure. In polite company, she's referred to as the Harper Bride, but it's assumed she was a servant. A nurse or governess. My theory is one of the men in the house seduced her, maybe cast her off, especially if she got pregnant. There's the attachment to children, so it seemed most logical she had a connection to kids. It's a sure bet she died in or around the house."
"There'd be records, right? A family Bible, birth and death records, photographs, tintypes, whatever."
"I'd like to go through them, if it's all right with you. I'd like to try to find out who she was. I want to know who, or what, I'm dealing with."
"All right." Clippers still in hand, Roz set a fist on her hip. "I guess it's odd no one's ever done it before, including myself. I'll help you with it. It'll be interesting."
"This is so awesome." Hayley looked around the library table, where Stella had arranged the photograph albums, the thick Bible, the boxes of old papers, her laptop, and several notebooks. "We're like the Scooby gang."
"I can't believe you saw her, too, and didn't say anything."
Hayley hunched up her shoulders and continued to wander the room. "I figured you'd think I'd wigged. Besides, except for the once, I only caught a glimpse, like over here." She held up a hand at the side of her head. "I've never been around an actual ghost. This is completely cool."
"I'm glad someone's enjoying herself."
She really was. As she and her father had both loved books, they'd used their living room as a kind of library, stuffing the shelves with books, putting in a couple of big, squishy chairs.
It had been nice, cozy and nice.
But this was a library. Beautiful bookcases of deep, dark wood flanked long windows, then rose up and around the walls in a kind of platform where the long table stood. There had to be hundreds of books, but it didn't seem overwhelming, not with the dark, restful green of the walls and the warm cream granite of the fireplace. She liked the big black candlesticks and the groupings of family pictures on the mantel.
There were more pictures scattered around here and there, and things. Fascinating things like bowls and statues and a dome-shaped crystal clock. Flowers, of course. There were flowers in nearly every room of the house. These were tulips with deep, deep purple cups that sort of spilled out of a wide, clear glass vase.
There were lots of chairs, wide, butter-soft leather chairs, and even a leather sofa. Though a chandelier dripped from the center of the tray ceiling, and even the bookcases lit up, there were lamps with those cool shades that looked like stained glass. The rugs were probably really old, and so interesting with their pattern of exotic birds around the borders.
She couldn't imagine what it must have been like to have a room like this, much less to know just how to decorate it so it would be – well, gorgeous was the only word she could think of – and yet still be as cozy as the little library she'd had at home.
But Roz knew. Roz, in Hayley's opinion, was the absolute bomb.
"I think this is my favorite room of the house," she decided. "Of course, I think that about every room after I'm in it for five minutes. But I really think this wins the prize. It's like a picture out of Southern Living or something, but the accent's on living. You wouldn't be afraid to take a nap on the couch."
"I know what you mean." Stella set aside the photo album she'd looked through. "Hayley, you have to remember not to say anything about this to the kids."
"Of course, I won't." She came back to the table, and finally sat. "Hey, maybe we could do a seance. That would be so spooky and great."
"I'm not that far gone yet," Stella replied. She glanced over as David came in.
"Ghost hunter snacks," he announced and set the tray on the table. "Coffee, tea, cookies. I considered angel food cake, but it seemed too obvious."
"Having fun with this?"
"Damn right. But I'm also willing to roll up my sleeves and dive into all this stuff. It'll be nice to put a name to her after all this time." He tapped a finger on Stella's laptop. "And this is for?"
"Notes. Data, facts, speculation. I don't know. It's my first day on the job."
Roz came in, carting a packing box. There was a smudge of dust on her cheek and silky threads of cobwebs in her hair. "Household accounts, from the attic. There's more up there, but this ought to give us a start."
She dumped the box on the table, grinned. "This should be fun. Don't know why I haven't thought of it before. Where do y'all want to start?"
"I was thinking we could have a seance," Hayley began. "Maybe she'll just tell us who she is and why her spirit's, you know, trapped on this plane of existence. That's the thing with ghosts. They get trapped, and sometimes they don't even know they're dead. How creepy is that?"
"A seance." David rubbed his hands together. "Now where did I leave my turban?"
When Hayley burst into throaty laughter, Stella rapped her knuckles on the table. "If we could control the hilarity? I thought we'd start with something a little more mundane. Like trying to date her."
"I've never dated a ghost," David mused, "but I'm up for it."
"Get her time period," Stella said with a slanted look for David. "By what she's wearing. We might be able to pinpoint when she lived, or at least get an estimate."
"Discovery through fashion." Roz nodded as she picked up a cookie. "That's good."
"Smart," Hayley agreed. "But I didn't really notice what she had on. I only got a glimpse."
"A gray dress," Roz put in. "High-necked. Long sleeves."
"Can any of us sketch?" Stella asked. "I'm all right with straight lines and curves, but I'd be hopeless with figures."
"Roz is your girl." David patted Roz on the shoulder.
"Can you draw her, Roz? Your impression of her?"
"I can sure give it a shot."
"I bought notebooks." Stella offered one and made Roz smile.
"Of course you did. And I bet your pencils are all nicely sharpened, too. Just like the first day of school."
"Hard to write with them otherwise. David, while she's doing that, why don't you tell us your experiences with … I guess we'll call her the Harper Bride for now."
"Only had a few, and all back when I was a kid, hanging out here with Harper."
"What about the first time?"
"You never forget your first." He winked at her, and after sitting, poured himself coffee. "I was bunking in with Harper, and we were pretending to be asleep so Roz didn't come in and lower the boom. We were whispering – "
"They always thought they were," Roz said as she sketched.
"I think it was spring. I remember we had the windows open, and there was a breeze. I'd have been around nine. I met Harper in school, and even though he was a year behind me, we hit it off. We hadn't known each other but a few weeks when I came over to spend the night. So we were there, in the dark, thinking we were whispering, and he told me about the ghost. I thought he was making it up to scare me, but he swore all the way up to the needle in his eye that it was true, and he'd seen her lots of times.
"We must've fallen asleep. I remember waking up, thinking somebody had stroked my head. I thought it was Roz, and I was a little embarrassed, so I squinted one eye open to see."
He sipped coffee, narrowing his eyes as he searched for the memory. "And I saw her. She walked over to Harper's bed and bent over him, the way you do when you kiss a child on the top of the head. Then she walked across the room. There was a rocking chair over in the corner. She sat down and started to rock, and sing."
He set the coffee down. "I don't know if I made some sound, or moved, or what, but she looked right at me. She smiled. I thought she was crying, but she smiled. And she put her finger to her lips as if to tell me to hush. Then she disappeared."
"What did you do?" Hayley whispered the question, reverently.
"I pulled the covers over my head, and stayed under till morning."
"You were afraid of her?" Stella prompted.
"Nine-year-old, ghost – and I have a sensitive nature, so sure. But I didn't stay afraid. In the morning it seemed like a dream, but a nice one. She'd stroked my hair and sung to me. And she was pretty. No rattling chains or bloodless howls. She seemed a little like an angel, so I wasn't afraid of her. I told Harper about it in the morning, and he said we must be brothers, because none of his other friends got to see her."
He smiled at the memory. "I felt pretty proud of that, and looked forward to seeing her again. I saw her a few more times when I was over. Then, when I was about thirteen the – we'll say visitations – stopped."
"Did she ever speak to you?"
"No, she'd just sing. That same song."
"Did you only see her in the bedroom, at night?"
"No. There was this time we all camped out back. It was summer, hot and buggy, but we nagged Roz until she let all of us sleep out there in a tent. We didn't make it through the night 'cause Mason cut his foot on a rock. Remember that, Roz?"
"I do. Two o'clock in the morning, and I'm packing four kids in the car so I can take one of them to the ER for stitches."
"We were out there before sunset, out near the west edge of the property. By ten we were all of us half sick on hot dogs and marshmallows, and had spooked ourselves stupid with ghost stories. Lightning bugs were out," he murmured, closing his eyes. "Past midsummer then, and steamy. We'd all stripped down to our underwear. The younger ones fell asleep, but Harper and I stayed up for a while. A long while. I must've conked out, because the next thing I knew, Harper was shaking my shoulder. 'There she is,' he said, and I saw her, walking in the garden."
"Oh, my God," Hayley managed, and edged closer to David as Stella continued to type. "What happened then?"
"Well, Harper's hissing in my ear about how we should go follow her, and I'm trying to talk him out of it without sacrificing my manhood. The other two woke up, and Harper said he was going, and we could stay behind if we were yellow coward dogs."
"I bet that got you moving," Stella commented.
"Being a yellow coward dog isn't an option for a boy in the company of other boys. We all got moving. Mason couldn't've been but six, but he was trotting along at the rear, trying to keep up. There was moonlight, so we could see her, but Harper said we had to hang back some, so she didn't see us.
"I swear there wasn't a breath of air that night, not a whisper of it to stir a leaf. She didn't make a sound as she walked along the paths, through the shrubs. There was something different about her that night. I didn't realize what it was until long after."
"What?" Breathless, Hayley leaned forward, gripped his arm. "What was different about her that night?"
"Her hair was down. Always before, she'd had it up. Sort of sweet and old-fashioned ringlets spiraling down from the top of her head. But that night it was down, and kind of wild, spilling down her back, over her shoulders. And she was wearing something white and floaty. She looked more like a ghost that night than she ever did otherwise. And I was afraid of her, more than I was the first time, or ever was again. She moved off the path, walked over the flowers without touching them. I could hear my own breath pant in and out, and I must've slowed down because Harper was well ahead. She was going toward the old stables, or maybe the carriage house."
"The carriage house?" Hayley almost squealed it. "Where Harper lives?"
"Yeah. He wasn't living there then," he added with a laugh. "He wasn't more than ten. It seemed like she was heading for the stables, but she'd have to go right by the carriage house. So, she stopped, and she turned around, looking back. I know I stopped dead then, and the blood just drained out of me."
"I guess!" Hayley said, with feeling.
"She looked crazy, and that was worse than dead somehow. Before" I could decide whether to run after Harper, or hightail it like a yellow coward dog, Mason screamed. I thought somehow she'd gotten him, and damn near screamed myself. But Harper came flying back. Turned out Mason had gashed his foot open on a rock. When I looked back toward the old stables, she was gone."
He stopped, shuddered, then let out a weak laugh. "Scared myself."
"Me, too," Hayley managed.
"He needed six stitches." Roz scooted the notebook toward Stella. "That's how she looks to me."
"That's her." Stella studied the sketch of the thin, sad-eyed woman. "Is this how she looked to you, David?"
"Except that one night, yeah."
"Best I can tell."
"Same for me. This shows her in fairly simple dress, nipped-in waist, high neck, front buttons. Okay, the sleeves are a little poufed down to the elbow, then snug to the wrist. Skirt's smooth over the hips, then widens out some. Her hair's curly, lots of curls that are scooped up in a kind of topknot. I'm going to do an Internet search on fashion, but it's obviously after the 1860s, right? Scarlett O'Hara hoop skirts were the thing around then. And it'd be before, say, the 1920s and the shorter skirts."
"I think it's near the turn of the century," Hayley put in, then shrugged when gazes shifted to her.
"I know a lot of useless stuff. That looks like what they called hourglass style. I mean, even though she's way thin, it looks like that's the style. Gay Nineties stuff."
"That's good. Okay, let's look it up and see." Stella tapped keys, hit Execute.
"I gotta pee. Don't find anything important until I get back." Hayley dashed out, as fast as her condition would allow.
Stella scanned the sites offered, and selected one on women's fashion in the 1890s.
"Late Victorian," she stated as she read and skimmed pictures. "Hourglass. These are all what I'd think of as more stylish, but it seems like the same idea."
She moved to the end of the decade, and over into the early twentieth century. "No, see, these sleeves are a lot bigger at the shoulder. They're calling them leg-o'-mutton, and the bodices on the daywear seem a little sleeker."
She backtracked in the other direction. "No, we're getting into bustles here. I think Hayley may have it. Somewhere in the 1890s."
"Eighteen-nineties?" Hayley hurried back in. "Score one for me."
"Not so fast. If she was a servant," Roz reminded them, "she might not have been dressed fashionably."
"Damn." Hayley mimed erasing a Scoreboard.
"But even so, we could say between 1890 and, what, 1910?" Stella suggested. "And if we go with that, and an approximate age of twenty-five, we could estimate that she was born between 1865 and 1885."
She huffed out a breath. "That's too much scope, and too much margin for error."
"Hair," David said. "She may have been a servant, may have had secondhand clothes, but there'd be nothing to stop her from wearing her hair in the latest style."
"Excellent." She typed again, picked through sites. "Okay, the Gibson Girl deal – the smooth pompadour – was popularized after 1895. If we take a leap of faith, and figure our heroine dressed her hair stylishly, we'd narrow this down to between 1890 and 1895, or up to, say '98 if she was a little behind the times. Then we'd figure she died in that decade, anyway, between the ages of… oh, let's say between twenty-two and twenty-six."
"Family Bible first," Roz decided. "That should tell us if any of the Harper women, by blood or marriage, and of that age group, died in that decade."
She dragged it in front of her. The binding was black leather, ornately carved. Someone – Stella imagined it was Roz herself – kept it dusted and oiled.
Roz paged through to the family genealogy. "This goes back to 1793""and the marriage of John Andrew Harper to Fiona MacRoy. It lists the births of their eight children."
"Eight?" Hayley widened her eyes and laid a hand on her belly. "Holy God."
"You said it. Six of them lived to adulthood," Roz continued. "Married and begat, begat, begat." She turned the thin pages carefully. "Here we've got several girl children born through Harper marriages between 1865 and 1870. And here, we've got an Alice Harper Doyle, died in childbirth October of 1893, at the age of twenty-two."
"That's awful," Hayley said. "She was younger than me."
"And already gave birth twice," Roz stated. "Tough on women back then, before Margaret Sanger."
"Would she have lived here, in this house?" Stella asked. "Died here?"
"Might have. She married Daniel Francis Doyle, of Natchez, in 1890. We can check the death records on her. I've got three more who died during the period we're using, but the ages are wrong. Let's see here, Alice was Reginald Harper's youngest sister. He had two more, no brothers. He'd have inherited the house, and the estate. A lot of space between Reggie and each of his sisters. Probably miscarriages."
At Hayley's small sound, Roz looked up sharply. "I don't want this to upset you."
"I'm okay. I'm okay," she said again and took a long breath. "So Reginald was the only son on that branch of the family tree?"
"He was. Lots of cousins, and the estate would've passed to one of them after his death, but he had a son – several daughters first, then the boy, in 1892."
"What about his wife?" Stella put in. "Maybe she's the one."
"No, she lived until 1925. Ripe age."
"Then we look at Alice first," Stella decided.
"And see what we can find on servants during that period. Wouldn't be a stretch for Reginald to have diddled around with a nurse or a maid while his wife was breeding. Seeing as he was a man."
"Hey!" David objected.
"Sorry, honey. Let me say he was a Harper man, and lived during a period where men of a certain station had mistresses and didn't think anything of taking a servant to bed."
"That's some better. But not a lot."
"Are we sure he and his family lived here during that period?"
"A Harper always lived in Harper House," Roz told Stella. "And if I remember my family history, Reginald's the one who converted from gaslight to electricity. He'd have lived here until his death in…" She checked the book. "Nineteen-nineteen, and the house passed to his son, Reginald Junior, who'd married Elizabeth Harper McKinnon – fourth cousin – in 1916."
"All right, so we find out if Alice died here, and we go through records to find out if there were any servants of the right age who died during that period." Using her notebook now, Stella wrote down the points of the search. "Roz, do you know when the – let's call them sightings for lack of better. Do you know when they began?"
"I don't, and I'm just realizing that's odd. I should know, and I should know more about her than I do. Harper family history gets passed down, orally and written. But here we have a ghost who as far as I know's been wandering around here for more than a century, and I know next to nothing about her. My daddy just called her the Harper Bride."
"What do you know about her?" Stella readied herself to take notes.
"What she looks like, the song she sings. I saw her when I was a girl, when she came to my room to sing that lullaby, just as she's reputed to have done for generations before. It was… comforting. There was a gentleness about her. I tried to talk to her sometimes, but she never talked back. She'd just smile. Sometimes she'd cry. Thanks, sweetie," she said when David poured her more coffee. "I didn't see her through my teenage years, andbeing a teenage girl I didn't think about her much. I had my mind on other things. But I remember the next time I saw her."
"Don't keep us in suspense," Hayley demanded.
"It was early in the summer, end of June. John and I hadn't been married very long, and we were staying here. It was already hot, one of those hot, still nights where the air's like a wet blanket. But I couldn't sleep, so I left the cool house for the hot garden. I was restless and nervy. I thought I might be pregnant. I wanted it – we wanted it so much, that I couldn't think about anything else. I went out to the garden and sat on this old teak glider, and dreamed up at the moon, praying it was true and we'd started a baby."
She let out a little sigh. "I was barely eighteen. Anyway, while I sat there, she came. I didn't see or hear her come, she was just there, standing on the path. Smiling. Something in the way she smiled at me, something about it, made me know – absolutely know – I had child in me. I sat there, in the midnight heat and cried for the joy of it. When I went to the doctor a couple weeks later, I already knew I was carrying Harper."
"That's so nice." Hayley blinked back tears. "So sweet."
"I saw her off and on for years after, and always saw her at the onset of a pregnancy, before I was sure. I'd see her, and I'd know there was a baby coming. When my youngest hit adolescence, I stopped seeing her regularly."
"It has to be about children," Stella decided, underlining "pregnancy" twice in her notes. "That's the common link. Children see her, women with children, or pregnant women. The died-in-childbirth theory is looking good." Immediately she winced. "Sorry, Hayley, that didn't sound right."
"I know what you mean. Maybe she's Alice. Maybe what she needs to pass over is to be acknowledged by name."
"Well." Stella looked at the cartons and books. "Let's dig in."
She dreamed again that night, with her mind full of ghosts and questions, of her perfect garden with the blue dahlia that grew stubbornly in its midst.
A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place.
She heard the voice inside her head, a voice that wasn't her own.
"It's true. That's true," she murmured. "But it's so beautiful. So strong and vivid."
It seems so now, but it's deceptive. If it stays, it changes everything. It will take over, and spoil everything you've done. Everything you have. Would you risk that, risk all, for one dazzling flower? One that will only die away at the first frost?
"I don't know." Studying the garden, she rubbed her arms as her skin pricked with unease. "Maybe I could change the plan. I might be able to use it as a focal point."
Thunder boomed and the sky went black, as she stood by the garden, just as she'd once stood through a stormy evening in her own kitchen.
And the grief she'd felt then stabbed into her as if someone had plunged a knife into her heart.
Feel it? Would you feel it again? Would you risk that kind of pain, for this?
"I can't breathe." She sank to her knees as the pain radiated. "I can't breathe. What's happening to me?"
Remember it. Think of it. Remember the innocence of your children and hack it down. Dig it put. Before it's too late! Can't you see how it tries to overshadow the rest? Can't you see how it steals the light? Beauty can be poison.
She woke, shivering with cold, with her heart beating against the pain that had ripped awake with her.
And knew she hadn't been alone, not even in dreams.