The conversation around him wasn’t enough to pull him back from reminiscing about the encounter back at the supermarket with Olivia. On his drive back home, Michael Hurst had tried to understand how such an innocent chat with an intriguing, smart and beautiful looking woman had turned into him being an opportunist willing to take advantage of her.
He had to admit it wasn’t something he did regularly. Impulsively ask a total stranger out for dinner in the middle of the register line between the gossip magazines and dental floss. But as Olivia’s big brown eyes and soft creamy face floated into the foreground of his mind, Michael had to admit a dormant feeling awoke the second he set eyes on her. A feeling that much to his regret, was still pulsing and vibrating all over his body.
He had been about to give up looking for his niece’s deodorant and search shamefully for help, when he spotted this woman with the long wavy chestnut brown hair pushing her cart farther down the aisle. Her attention had been focused somewhere else. For a moment, Michael had sworn he had seen her turn to her side and look at the empty space beside her.
At first when she ignored him, Michael assumed she had probably been on the phone speaking through one those handsfree accessories people seemed to love these days. The second time he spoke to her, he saw her shoulders tense, before she turned around slowly. However, he’d never expected to have the wind knocked out from him the minute her big brown eyes landed on him. By the way her face immediately flushed, Michael was now a hundred percent sure, he’d caught her talking to herself.
Having barely recovered his breath, Michael had been fascinated by the confidence with which she immediately began talking to him. It was as if his predicament had been perfectly normal and not the most embarrassing moment of his entire adult life. He loved his niece but Michael made a mental note never to offer to run her errands unless she went with him, or gave him a detailed description together with a carefully drawn picture of every item in question.
And just when he thought he had recovered from the initial spark she had ignited inside him, they shook hands and the entire earth moved under him. The connection that passed between them had been more than just physical attraction, it had come from deep within. A fact that confused him still and if he was being honest, freaked the hell out of him.
Only that he was sure Olivia had felt it, too. Which was why he had been too slow to react when she said goodbye abruptly and all but ran to the paying lines. His entire brain had shut down due to the jolt her touch had caused over his entire body. His sensible side had wanted him to just forget about the whole weird incident. The side of him which had guided him through his entire life since he could walk, the side that liked to explore all the possibilities life threw at him, screamed at him to go after Olivia and find out more about her.
As soon as his brain had kicked back up into gear, he walked in the same direction she had left, until he spotted her at one of the less crowed check-out lines. Dinner had been the most easy and logical solution he could come up with. Her reaction to him though had not been at all what he’d braced himself for. Her outright accusation of him being nothing less than a stalker, whose target were women walking around in supermarkets, had been enough for his baffled senses to transform into one feeling he understood well: anger and hell yes, embarrassment.
Although her comment about making up the whole story about his niece still irked at him, the part of him that had had him almost running to the front of the store looking for Olivia just didn’t want to let go. Not that it mattered anymore. He would probably never see her again.
At thirty-three, Michael felt sorry for himself while he sat at the dinner table, sulking and thinking about this girl he met and who not too subtly batted away his attempt at getting to know her better.
“You’ve been awfully quiet this evening. Problems at work?”
Jerry Hurst eyed his brother over the rim of his wine glass. Being the older one always gave him the advantage of knowing when something was troubling his younger sibling. Even if lately, the one with the troubles and long absent silences had been him.
Jerry knew his brother appreciated and treasured his space and his solitude, which was why he would always be grateful with him for suggesting both him and Camie come live with him. It had been therapeutic to have someone to talk to about the whole mess his life was at the moment. For a few months now, even before their move to Michael’s house, Jerry had been the one in desperate need of letting go of his own problems, and his brother had been there for him from the start.
The divorce from Nancy, although not a bloodbath, had without a doubt become a not so pleasant one. Especially because there was still a lot of unresolved hurt between the two of them. Still, the only thing he would never deny about his wife was the love she had for their only daughter. Which was why she was now sitting at her uncle Michael’s dinning room table, waiting expectantly for her favorite uncle to answer her father’s question.
When Nancy’s law firm offered to transfer her to Chicago, she decided the best thing for Camie would be to stay with her dad, not because mother and daughter had a bad relationship, but because the divorce was already taking a heavy toll on her. The last thing she needed was to have her world turned upside down again.
The reason for moving here though had been part of the nasty consequences that usually come with a marriage falling apart. Even though she would be moving, the final settlement had left the house where they had lived in since Camila was three, to Nancy. Honestly, Jerry wasn’t upset about it or anything, only that the so desired stability both had wanted to maintain in the young girl’s life, had to suffer a few cracks when they decided to move in with Michael.
The connection his brother and daughter had was one of the reasons he knew Camila was making her best effort not to show, too much, how she’d hated to leave her friends behind. In a sense, more than her uncle, Michael was also playing the big brother role to his only daughter.
“No, no, work is okay. You know the usual delays but nothing to worry about.”
His older brother knowledge sure came in handy most of the times. Before he even asked this next question, Jerry was sure of the answer.
“So, what’s her name?” He grabbed a piece of steak with his fork and chewed, waiting for Michael to answer. After a long pause his brother snorted.
“Why do you assume this has anything to do with a woman?”
“Well, it’s always one or the other with you, son. If it isn’t work then it is always a woman. Unless, you’re upset Camila forgot to make her bed this morning, in which case we all know that you can just kick her out whenever you want.”
His daughter blushed slightly and then rolled her eyes to the sky.
“I might do just that but for entirely different reasons. Which reminds me.” He pointed his glass of beer at his niece. “Kiddo, next time dear uncle Michael offers to buy your stuff, be more specific about the things you ask for. Made a fool out of myself at the supermarket because of that.”
“Okay, soooo not the point right now. Dad just asked you a question and I happen to know it’s rude to keep the rest of us waiting for the answer.”
“You’re sure she’s yours?” He snickered at the one person he would give his life for, little Camila. He remembered the minute his father put her in his arms, that tiny baby wrapped in a bundle of pink blankets, his heart had been lost to her.
“Sadly, yes. But don’t worry bro, you’re still the good-looking one in the family.” Jerry winked at Michael.
“Hey, I’m sitting right here. And I’m waayy better looking than either of you. Grandma says so. So,” her eyes, the same color as her father and uncle, shone with unselfish love for both men and fixed intently on her uncle Michael. Being the only woman in the house gave her a slight advantage, too. She knew just how to act, how to flutter her eyelashes and how to pout her mouth whenever she needed to get her way. And when all that failed, she had to say the word PMS and everyone would do what she asked for if only to avoid the nasty side effects such a condition awoke in women all around the world. Which terrified men all around the world, her father and uncle included.
When Michael only sighed, she gave a silent cry of triumph and settled in her chair to hear to whatever her uncle was going to say next.
“Okay, her name is Olivia and I met her today while I was trying to find that spray thing for gym class you asked me for.”
“And?” Father and daughter asked in unison.
“And nothing. She was quite nice at the beginning but when I asked her out she turned all psycho on me and left me standing there.”
“Way to go uncle Michael.”
“Interesting. And why the sudden impulse to ask her out? I mean, it’s not like you have the habit of scouting the grocery store or the toiletries section looking for a date.”
“Exactly, thank you very much. Because that’s what she accused me of. Apparently, I made up the whole my niece will kill me if I don’t get her what she asked for, because she’s such a spoiled brat, story.”
“Again, sitting right here. And you boys are so narrow. If the thing is not bitting you in the hand then the world falls apart or something.”
“Hey, young lady. I happen know a thing or two about women and believe me, I had never felt so humiliated before in my life as I did today.”
“Okay, I think the important thing here is that this is probably the first time a lady refuses an invitation of his to dinner. Is that why you are upset?”
Michael shrugged his shoulders and answered nonchalantly. “No. I just didn’t like her thinking of me that way.”
“Interesting.” Camila mimicked her father’s tone and scratched her chin.
“What?” Both men asked in unison.
Camila enjoyed this few moments when both men looked at a loss and she was the only source of knowledge around the house. She gave herself a few minutes before she said.
“Okay, I know I’m like just a kid but maybe you really, really liked her and feel bad that you lost your chance.”
Both men stared at her and the two wondered how their little girl had begun to have a deeper insight into the complicated world of men and women. Worse yet, how she had voiced what Michael was having a hard time putting into words. In a simple manner, his niece had described exactly how he felt.
I’m afraid you’re less a kid with each passing day. Good luck Jerry! Michael thought.
Because the last thing he wanted was to have these two giving him advice on how to deal with a woman, he focused on finishing eating the steak his brother had made along with a huge bash of smashed potatoes and directed his gaze at Camila.
“And how was your day?”
Knowing when it was no longer wise to push on a subject, the young girl took a sip of her sparkly water and began a nonstop minute by minute recount of her first day at school.
“I mean, Miss B was sooo nice, you know? Asking everyone to skip the being mean part. And I really liked her class. Everyone in school likes her. Wait a minute, now that I think about it, her name is Olivia, too.”
“Really? That is odd.” Even if something stirred inside him as he thought about her again, Michael was sure the woman who had his niece so enthralled was nothing like the crazy and paranoid woman he’d encountered hours ago.
“Well,” Camie’s father added, “I’m glad Virginia Falls didn’t turn out to be the total nightmare you swore it was going to be.” Her father said, truly glad this transition in her daughter’s life had transpired with the least amount of pain.
“And what about the rest of the kids from your other classes?”
“Oh well, you know. It is high school after all. You have your regular queen b, but most of them were really cool.”
“Queen b? What are you going to the zoo or something?” Michael sounded confused.
“Michael, Michael, Gossip Girl? Man, you need to keep up on your teenager lingo.” Jerry shook his head while Camie was having a fit of giggles.
And then, Michael recalled what Olivia said to him before.
“By the way, don’t you have lots and lots of homework to do? Or are you just worried you won’t watch America’s Next Top Model?”
When Camie’s mouth fell down to the floor, Michael couldn’t help but smile and send another a thank you to dear Olivia, wherever she was. His niece’s look was priceless.
Aha, got ya kiddo.
“Maybe you and I can watch that particular show after cleaning up here, while my daughter dutifully goes up to her room and tackles that enormous amount of homework.”
“You know what Jerry? You’re a genius. I mean, that’s why I had to rush to the store earlier today right? All that incredible amount of homework?”
The disadvantage of being the only girl among two brothers, Camila fretted as she dragged her feet up to her brand new bedroom five minutes later, was that when those two teamed up, she didn’t stand a chance against them. Years of brotherly relationship were, too, much for a simple fifteen-year old.
Meanwhile, a different type of conversation was taking place between a ghost and a history teacher in the latter’s living room, while a comforting fire blazed and her Ipod offered as a background noise the sounds of Coldplay’s latest album.
“Ah! For the millionth time, you’re not dying. At least, I don’t think you are.”
“Oh, well. That’s reassuring, Emilia.”
Olivia took a sip from her mug filled with steaming hot-chocolate and melted marshmallows. She was currently seated at the bigger orange couch facing the cozy fire she started a while ago. Emilia’s pale body occupied the sofa next to the hearth.
“What I mean is, I think I would know if I had an urgent message to give you such as “hey you should say goodbye to your loved ones.” I’m telling you, that’s not why I’m here.”
“Okay, so maybe it’s not a message for me but what about your family, your friends? Maybe there’s something you want to tell them before you cross over, and I was the chosen one.”
Even if she wasn’t really alive, Olivia would’ve had to be blind to not see the hurt that clouded the other woman’s pale blue eyes. The ghost lowered her gaze and stared at the floor. Emilia replied in a subdued voice.
“No, that’s not it either.”
Without hesitating, Olivia quickly tried to fix the situation.
“You know, I wouldn’t mind it if you did need me to tell them something.”
Emilia looked up. Both women stared silently at each other before Emilia sat up and began pacing the room.
Olivia slouched back on the couch and without taking her eyes off Emilia, said.
“So, we can rule out death, impending doom. What else do we have? Maybe we’re supposed to help someone else. You said you felt a pull toward the new girl, Camie. Maybe she’s the one in need.”
“I don’t know. It’s just now that I think about it, I felt a stronger connection with this guy, Michael, than I did with her. Like what I sensed with Camie increased ten times with him. By the way, why did you say no to dinner with him?” Emilia stopped her pacing and narrowed her eyes at Olivia.
Olivia waved a hand, as if she could physically push away the embarrassing moment with her hand. “Oh, please. The guy only wanted more than just a dinner date. Too bad I unmasked his little charade there.”
“You’re telling me you didn’t notice how he reacted when you shook hands?”
“I thought you were too busy fainting from his amazing gorgeousness.”
“Call it multitasking. Don’t tell me you didn’t feel it, too? It was like a fire starting to sizzle.”
“Emilia, the last thing I need right now is you playing matchmaker from the twilight zone.”
“So, you did feel it!” Emilia clapped her hands.
Exasperated, Olivia got up herself and had to stop before jabbing a finger at the ghost’s chest.
“No! And in case you’ve forgotten, I have a match already, his name is Noah. So, you can cross out Michael from your evil plans.”
The silence that followed was enough for Olivia to focus on the woman currently gnawing at her bottom lip and curling and uncurling the tips of her hair with her fingers. She took a step closer to her. Being careful not to touch her – her arms still felt goosebumps as she recalled passing through her this morning- Olivia waited until her rich brown gaze connected with Emilia’s gray blue one.
“The cool thing about having been a teacher for three years now, is that I know when a student, in this case you, is keeping something from me. You already know, don’t you?”
Trapped and cornered, Emilia let out a sigh and began sharing her own theory. One she was dead certain, ha dead, funny, was the correct one.
“I think it has to do with you and Noah and what I witnessed yesterday outside your dinning room.”
When Olivia only continued to stare at her with a blank look painted all over her face, Emilia carried on.
“I don’t think it was a coincidence that I happened to appear right outside your house just when you were having the let’s-start-talking-about-the-wedding conversation with Noah. Especially, because before this happened to me, I had the same one with Sam.”
At the mention of his name, Emilia felt a pang, or the memory of what one felt like, tugging at her nonexistent heart.
God, in spite of everything, I miss him.
“Sam, he….was my boyfriend. I had just broken up with him because it turned out he didn’t want to marry me.”
“Oh God, you didn’t…..you know?”
“Kill myself on purpose? No. I was heartbroken but not that much. It was a stupid accident.” She waved away the memory of those final moments of her life before the car sent her flying through the air.
“I still don’t understand what does that have to do with me.”
“Jeez, and you’re supposed to be a teacher?”
Emilia ignored her.
“I think it has everything to do with you. Maybe I’m here to keep you from making the same mistake I did, which was to waste my time waiting for Sam to change his mind and marry me. Maybe I’m here to tell you not to do the same with Noah.”
Emilia saw the transformation in Olivia’s face as it went from clueless to enraged. The outrage started to build up, until finally, she let it out in a very loud manner. Her next words roared all over the living room’s walls.
“Are you insane? That’s ridiculous. My situation is in no way similar to yours.”
Feeling some of the frustration of her own looking for a way out, Emilia clenched her fists together and took another step closer, until she was face to face with Olivia.
“You don’t think it’s weird that I heard Noah say the same things Sam used to say to me over and over again? In case you missed it, he didn’t exactly start jumping up and down saying “yei let’s do it.”
“Okay, first of all, Noah wouldn’t do the whole jumping thing.”
“Whatever, I’m certain that’s why we’re roomies.”
Raking her fingers through her tousled hair, Olivia walked back to the couch. She let out an exasperated groan and let her body fall down on the couch.
“Look, Emilia, I’m sorry things with Sam and you ended badly. But Noah is not Sam, and I’m not you.”
“Obviously. At least, I would know better than to wait for someone who’ll just keep coming up with excuse after excuse.”
“No, because you have something I don’t have and that is time. So, here is my first piece of advice: don’t waste it.”
“First this thing with Michael and now you are telling me you are here to give me lessons on how to dump my ten-year boyfriend?”
When she didn’t answer, Olivia was afraid to hear the answer, but she asked anyway.
“The thing is…..I think Michael is related to all of this somehow.”
This time, the not-dead woman put her head between her knees and just hoped the dizziness she was experiencing by the implication behind Emilia’s words would pass. It would be useless to prolong this argument. Instead, she let out a shaky breath and hoped what she said next was enough to convince Emilia she was wrong.
“I’m sorry you and Sam weren’t meant for each other.”
“You mean, that Sam realized I wasn’t the one for him.”
Before the thought formed inside her mind, she skidded to a halt and kept her opinion to herself. It could be Sam hadn’t been the right man for Emilia, either. But for now, Olivia decided not to share this with her ghostly friend.
“And I am even more sorry that you didn’t have enough time to find someone who wanted to spend the rest of his life with you. But I know Noah, and he loves me and I love him. That’s all that matters to me.”
Because, even if she was dead, getting into a fight with a stubborn woman would end up tiring them both uselessly, Emilia decided to back off. For now, anyway.
“So, it seems we’re back to square one.”
“I guess we are.”
Olivia got up and before taking her mug back to the kitchen, she walked over by the window to turn the music off. Just as she was about to unplug her Ipod to take it upstairs, Emilia cleared her throat behind her.
“Do you have a T.V. around the house?”
“I don’t suppose you could let me watch some? I mean, it’s not like I have to get up in the morning to do something important. It would help distract me from…..my situation.”
“So, you don’t sleep?”
“Sort of. It’s more like I close my eyes and I think a lot of time has passed and when I wake up I’ve just been asleep for like ten minutes or so. Last night, I got kinda bored.”
Olivia considered the petition for a while. It was starting to dawn on Olivia that Emilia must feel alone and confused. She needed what ghosts maybe didn’t have, a friend, as weird as that sounded.
“Sure, come with me.”
After making sure the fire was put out completely, Olivia took her mug, washed it and left it to dry. She opened the door to the basement and started descending the stairs to the basement. As soon as she reached the bottom, she turned on a switch. The faint glow of the lights overhead showed a room a little bit bigger than the living room, another couch like the one upstairs, and a desk filled with papers plus a Mac Notebook. There were several framed pictures featuring Noah and Olivia from different stages of their lives scattered all along what the ghost assumed was the teacher’s work space.
The framed pictures ranged from a very young looking couple to more present ones. The most recent was of Noah with his arms resting on Olivia’s shoulders and Olivia leaning against her boyfriend’s body. It was a nice picture but Emilia failed to see something more than just two friends posing for a shot.
When she closed her eyes, she saw a similar shot in her mind, but the people smiling back at her where she and Sam. God, had it been there all along? The truth about what they really felt for each other? Sam’s hurt and dumbfounded face resurfaced inside her head, and she shook it away.
When she opened her eyes, they landed on the very modern plasma T.V., similar to hers, on the other side of the desk.
“I thought you’d already been here.”
“As cool as the whole passing through walls looks like in the movies, believe me, it is just depressing. And that door has been closed since I arrived yesterday, so…….”
“Oh. Well, this is the basement. I’m not much of a T.V. junkie. I usually turn it on when I’m working down here so I don’t feel so alone. Or I listen to music, depends on the mood I’m in.” She inclined her head toward the couch.
“I know it’s not a proper bed, but you could crash here if you wanted. Or you could have the guest room upstairs.”
“You mean you are letting me stay? Not that you had any other option if you’d decided otherwise.”
“Apparently there is truly something wrong with me.” Olivia smiled hesitantly.
Emilia gaped at the woman offering her a place in her house as if she’d just dropped in for a visit or something. Like they really were longtime friends, as opposed to not having a choice but to bear each other’s presence.
I wish I had had someone like her when I was alive.
Olivia turned on the T.V. and after surfing the channels she stopped when Emilia yelled. “There, there!”
“I’ll set the timer, that way it’ll turn off on its own.” She took the remote and programed the sleep option.
With a quick glance back at Emilia as she laid down on the couch, Olivia turned off the basement’s light and went to bed.