Alison was surprised when she woke up at Emily’s house the next morning. She vaguely remembered falling asleep the night before. How embarrassing. Moving her arms behind her back, she began stretching out stiff joints. After a few satisfying pops and cracks, and most surely increasing her chances of arthritis in the future, she climbed to her feet, her eyes searching for Josh’s sister.
There was a tiny bit of whispering going on in the kitchen. Emily’s voice wafted toward her in the living room, speaking to seemingly no one. The voice stopped immediately before Alison could reach the entrance to the kitchen.
Emily appeared then, poking her head out. “You’re awake!”
“Looks like I fell asleep somehow,” Alison replied, not wanting to bring attention to the fact that Emily was talking to herself. “Don’t worry. I’m on my way out.”
“Oh,” Emily said. “You’re leaving already?”
“I really have to be getting back.” She hadn’t been home all day. Who knew what kind of voicemails would be left on her phone. Of course they’d be work-related messages, since she wasn’t expecting any life-altering personal calls to be left on her answering machine. She was a business woman, after all, first and foremost, and personal matters came in only fourth or fifth in importance. Not always be choice either.
Emily replied, “Okay.”
The woman sounded so down it practically broke Alison’s heart to hear it. She knew the woman was lonely. She knew that much, but what could she do about it? She couldn’t just take the woman out to lunch every afternoon out of pity. She couldn’t become the woman’s babysitter. She had things to do. Work to be done. Poltergeists to exorcise. “If you want, we could grab something to eat first. It’d be my treat.” Damn! The words slipped from her lips before she even realized it.
Emily looked surprised. She nodded quickly. “Really? Okay.”
Alison felt immediately annoyed for offering. What was she thinking? She really did have things to do. She couldn’t just hang out with Josh’s sister all day just because she felt bad for her.
Oh well, too late to back out of it now.
“All right,” Alison sighed. “Let’s go then.” It wouldn’t kill her to be nice to someone for once. Her good deed for the day and possibly for the entire month of May. She wondered if she’d get a medal for it.
They headed to her car. Once more, Alison noticed that Greg was nowhere in sight and it made her feel just a bit lonely to think it. She had never realized before just how much she had grown used to the dead man’s company. When she thought about it like that, if it weren’t for Greg, she really would’ve spent nearly every day of the last two years of her life in complete solitude. Her clients would’ve been her sole source of human contact. How pathetic!
She drove Emily to a nearby Chinese restaurant, Gold Lion. Granted, this was because it was her favorite place to eat when she woke up and probably not Emily’s, but Alison was only capable of so much generosity at one time. She pulled into an empty parking space and shut off the engine. “Do you like this restaurant?” she asked.
Emily shook her head. “I’ve never been here before.”
“They have good fried rice,” she said. “And crab rangoons. You ever eat crab rangoons?”
Emily shook her head again.
“You should try it. It’s fried crab and cream cheese. Heart-attack food, but it’s tasty.”
“That sounds good.”
She climbed out of the car and watched as Emily followed. The woman really was pretty, as battered up as she was. She was slender with delicate features and light-hair. In a parallel universe, the woman would’ve been a supermodel walking the runway.
They walked inside the restaurant. A host seated them and it wasn’t long before they were sitting in a small booth against the wall. The place was crowded as it usually was around noon. More business suits than families. The service was fast and she knew a lot of people stopped at the place during their lunch hour. In Alison’s case, it was usually her breakfast.
“Beef and broccoli,” Alison ordered to the waitress.
Emily copied her. “Same for me. I’ll try and beef and broccoli too.”
Alison took a sip of oolong tea. “I bet my answering machine is flooded.”
“For your work right?” Emily asked.
“Yeah. I don’t always get a lot calls but I can get up to six or seven a day if it’s busy.”
“Is that how many jobs you get a day?”
“Oh, hell no. Sometimes they’re just calling to ask questions about what I do. They’re not always sure they need me. A lot of times it’s old clients checking up on me, I guess. They like to know how I’m doing and they let me know how their situation’s going. Sometimes they complain it hasn’t gone away. I don’t get those very often though. I’m usually pretty thorough but I do make mistakes once in awhile.”
“You can see them right? The spirits?” Emily asked.
“Yeah, I can see them.”
“Does that make you psychic?”
“In a way,” Alison replied. “It’s not like I can see the future or anything. But I do see a lot of other strange things, and I can communicate with the dead.”
“I know a psychic too,” Emily said as she leaned forwards. Her elbows rested on the table and her hands clasped together in the air by her cheek. “She’s really neat. I go and see her all the time. She reads my tarot cards.”
“That sounds fun.” She wasn’t so sure about those type of psychics. As hypocritical as that sounded, Alison believed she had every right to be skeptical. Yes, she had her own abilities, so presumably, they existed elsewhere in the world and surely other human beings possessed them. Obviously, she couldn’t be the only one. But that didn’t mean that a deck of cards were going to foretell the day she was going to die either. She liked to be sure before she put her trust into anything unusual. There was a difference between having an open mind and being gullible.
“Do you want to meet her?” Emily asked enthusiastically. “She can read your tarot cards for you.”
“That’s all right. I’m fine.”
“But she’s really good. I promise. She’s always been right before. Maybe she can tell you something you didn’t know about yourself.”
Somehow, Alison greatly doubted that. “I don’t know…”
Ugh. She hated tarot cards. They were so dumb. But, she supposed it might be worth the petty annoyance if it made the poor woman’s day even a little bit. “Yeah, all right,” she sighed finally. “We could do that.” But after that, Alison was going home. She had more things to worry about other than fortune tellers.
The food was placed in front of them and Alison was glad for the interruption. She began digging into her steaming plate.
“Alison, are you married?” Emily asked suddenly, taking a bite of her own food.
Ha, yeah right. “Nope,” she replied.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
Alison shook her head. “I haven’t had a boyfriend since college,” she replied.
“Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” Emily said. “I just think you’re pretty. It’s weird that you don’t have a boyfriend.” She paused. “And plus, a man came looking for you this morning. I think he said his name was Greg. I thought that maybe you two were together.”
Alison froze, her fork hovering an inch from her mouth. Greg? She had to be joking. Emily could see him? “Greg?”
“Yeah. He was really cute. He was acting kind of strange, but he said he wanted to talk to you.”
Considering that there was no mention of the fact that Greg was dead, Alison decided against bringing it up. If Emily didn’t know then there was no point in telling her. But did that mean she was telling the truth about her house being haunted? If she could see Greg, then that had to mean something. “Greg’s just a friend of mine,” she said finally.
“How long have you been friends?”
“About two years. We met at Andrew’s Hill. I ran into him there and we just… kind of hit it off from there.” Not to mention the fact that she couldn’t get rid of him after that. He followed her around like her shadow.
“I’ve never been there.”
“It’s a hill at the edge of the city,” Alison said. “There’s a playground and a big willow tree. A lot of people picnic there.”
“Did you ever think about dating him? He seemed nice.”
Alison let out a laugh. Geez. If only this girl knew. The guy wasn’t… he wasn’t alive! How could Emily not know that? Couldn’t she tell the difference? “It wouldn’t work out,” she said instead, trying to hide her amusement. “There are a couple things about him that make him somewhat unattainable at the moment.”
Emily took a bite of her food. “What kinds of things?”
“Doesn’t that disappoint you, though?”
“Maybe just a little,” Alison replied. “Though I have no idea why.”
“Probably because you like him.”
Great. She had to say it, didn’t she. “I really hope not.” Alison glanced around, making sure that Greg wasn’t around. It would be so like him to pop up now that they were gossiping about him. When she was sure he wasn’t there, she said, “Besides, he never tells me anything. I’d hate to go out with a guy that was constantly keeping things from me.” What she was much more interested in doing was getting to know Josh, Emily’s brother. At least Josh was still among the living, a giant plus in her book.
“I wish you were dating Josh,” Emily commented suddenly, popping a fork full of broccoli into her mouth. She seemed oblivious to the fact that it made Alison’s jaw drop to hear it.
Alison coughed, choking the words, “Why?”
Emily smiled, “Then we could be sisters. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
Okay. Well, that was a nice idea too. But unfortunately, it had yet to come up. She laughed, “Feel free to put in a good word for me if you’re that enthusiastic about the idea.”
“Does that mean you’re interested?”
Was she interested? Yeah. Just a little. Josh was so painfully attractive and aloof it felt like a crime. “Well, yeah,” Alison said. “I’m interested. If he’s interested, then I’m interested.”
“I’ll ask him.”
Alison felt bad. She didn’t want Josh to think that she was buying his sister lunch just to get a date with him. That hadn’t been her intention at all. Whatever happened to her good deed for the month of May? She wasn’t supposed to gain anything by it. “Don’t tell him I said anything though,” she said.
“I won’t,” Emily replied. “That’d just make him uncomfortable. Especially with…” she paused. “Well, never mind. I’ll ask him first.”
What was that supposed to mean? She was about to ask when the server came up, asking if they wanted desert. By the time she got situated again and the check was in front of her, she had forgotten what she was going to say.