Paranormal Agency BOOK 1 THE SOULLESS

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chapter 21

She made her way through the living room with Emily.

“I’m going to get the silverware,” Emily said, heading past them toward the kitchen.

“I’ll help,” Alison said quickly. She followed the girl in. Her hand went to her face as she walked and she groaned quietly.

“What’s wrong?” Emily asked, turning to look at her.

Glancing behind her, she made sure they were out of earshot. “I didn’t know he had a girlfriend,” she admitted in a low voice.

Emily gasped. “Oh, Alison, I meant to tell you. I completely forgot. I kept thinking you already knew. Are you mad?”

“No, no, it’s not a big deal,” she lied. But even as she spoke, it felt like her heart was dropping to the bottom of her stomach. “I just… when you said you wished I was going out with your brother, I thought you meant he was single.”

Biting her lip, Emily shook her head. “No, that wasn’t what I meant. I meant that I wished you were dating him instead of her. Elizabeth…” she lowered a voice another notch. “It’s not that there’s anything wrong with her or anything. I like her. Don’t get me wrong, I like her a lot. She can be really nice, but they just never felt right together. That was what I meant. I didn’t mean to give you the wrong idea.”

So that was what she had trying to say… That he was taken but they didn’t feel right together… Alison had completely misinterpreted it. She had completely taken it the wrong way. She felt like shit now. “It’s my mistake.”

“Are you sure you’re not mad at me?”

“No, I’m not mad,” Alison reassured her. “I was only interested… if he was interested. But if he’s not, then it’s really not a big deal.”

“I really do think you’re a much better match for him though,” Emily whispered quietly. “They fight a lot. I know they don’t mean to do it, but he’s always giving in to her. They don’t go well together at all. She can be demanding and he ends up becoming really submissive when he’s around her. I feel like he’s going to be miserable if they ever get married. That was all I was trying to say the other day. I thought you two would make a better couple was all. It crossed my mind and I went and blurted it out. I was just thinking out loud. I never should’ve said that. I’m really sorry. I should’ve told you he was seeing her.”

“Really, it’s nothing,” Alison said again.

“I did ask him though,” Emily said, leaning toward her ear for privacy. “Remember? I said I’d ask him about you.”

“You didn’t.”

“No, I did. I didn’t tell him anything about you being interested or anything. I just asked what he thought about you. He said you were pretty. He’s been really unsure about Elizabeth lately. He thinks the same thing I do, that maybe they’re not right together, and he said you were really pretty.”

She decided to ignore the compliment. No use in getting her hopes up for a second time that night. “I’m not worried about it,” she said.

“You don’t want to hear what else he said?”

“No, it’s okay. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s just enjoy ourselves tonight.”

So he thought she was pretty. Goodie. She thought butterflies were pretty but that didn’t make them boyfriend material. The funny thing about it though, as hurt and offended as she did feel right now, talking to Emily had made her feel a little better about the whole thing. She had never thought of Emily as someone she could confide in before, but now that she had, she actually felt a little closer to the woman.

They came out carrying forks and spoons and knives. By the time everything was set up and arranged, Alison was sitting next to Emily, and across from them, Josh was sitting next to Elizabeth.

“So, Alison,” Elizabeth spoke up. She was serving herself a scoop of mashed potatoes. “Josh tells me you’re like a… like a priest or something. You go to haunted houses, right?”

“I’m not a priest,” Alison said. She had to force the smile as she spoke. Her gut was being turned inside out by the sight of Josh and Elizabeth sitting together. What was she still doing here? She wished she could go home. “But, I have my own business. I get rid of unwanted spirits.”

“Oh, well, that sounds awfully spooooky. So, how do you convince them their place is haunted?”

“I don’t talk to them beforehand,” Alison replied. “They call me when it happens.”

She raised a brow, passing the potatoes to Josh. “Have you ever seen a real ghost before?”

Alison nodded. She felt embarrassed talking about herself and what she did for a living. She always felt like people were making fun of her in their heads. “Yeah, I’ve seen them before.”

“What do they look like?”

“Like people,” Alison said. “You know. Pretty much what you’d expect.”

“That sounds interesting.” She grasped at a pan full of cooked vegetables. The dinner appeared to consist of potatoes and gravy, pot roast, and mixed veggies. Empty glasses and a bottle of red wine sat on the table. “You have to try the roast,” Elizabeth said. “Josh made it. He’s an amazing cook. I always told him he ought to be a chef but he loves his job too much.” She sent a look to Emily. “Emily, you said you’ve seen a ghost before, haven’t you?”

Emily nodded awkwardly, looking down at her plate.

“Hey, why don’t you tell us about that thing you said happened to you the other night?”

“She doesn’t have to do that,” Josh broke in.

“Why not? It’s an interesting story. I like ghost stories.”

“I’d rather talk about something else,” he said.

“Fine, don’t tell it then,” Elizabeth said, rolling her eyes to the side. “I was just making conversation, meanie.”

“This is really, really good, Josh,” Emily spoke up, interrupting the miniature squabble, and taking a bite of moist meat. “Your food’s always good.”

“Thanks,” Josh said, smiling. “I try.”

“It is good,” Alison agreed. “I’m really glad you invited me over.” Not. This was possibly one of the worst nights of her life. But Emily was right about the food. It was pretty damned tasty. She almost had trouble believing Josh had made it himself. “When did you find out you liked to cook?”

“I pretty much always knew,” he said. “My dad left when I was young so I grew up with just my mom and Emily. My mom is an amazing chef. I know I got it from her. I always helped her make dinner when I was growing up. She used to joke and tell me I’d have my own cooking show by the time I was twenty. I almost went to culinary school when I eighteen but, for some reason, it never happened. It’s more of a hobby now.”

“It’s such a waste,” Elizabeth said. “I always tell him he can still go. Why not pursue your dreams, right? Especially when it’s something that comes so natural to him.”

“I like what I do now,” he reminded her.

“Oh, I know that sweetie.” She kissed his cheek, wrapping an arm around his.

Gag. Alison felt like she was going to throw up all the delicious food she had just eaten.

Emily winced, apparently fully aware of Alison’s feelings now. “Alison and I saw a psychic yesterday,” she ended up saying, as if trying to keep the conversation going.

“Your friend from the store, right?” Josh asked.

“Yeah, her name’s Marissa.”

“You’re not still seeing psychics, are you?” Elizabeth groaned. “I told you not to waste your money on them anymore.”

“Marissa never charges me anything,” Emily said defensively. “And she’s always right. I’m telling you. She’s been right every time I’ve ever gone there.”

“I don’t know.”

“She even did Alison’s fortune.” Emily turned to look at her. “Wasn’t Marissa right about you too?”

Furrowing her brows, Alison thought about it seriously. Come to think of it, the woman had been right about a lot at the time. The woman had mentioned a death from her past, had alluded to the trouble she had when she was younger… and had even said something about jealousy. About how jealousy would tear her apart. Was this what she had been referring to? Her jealousy over Elizabeth and Josh? “Actually, yeah,” Alison replied, “she was pretty dead on. I’m usually not one for fortune tellers myself, but Marissa seemed like she was good at it.”

“See? Alison hates tarot cards and she still thinks Marissa was good.”

“Really,” Elizabeth said thoughtfully, taking a sip from her glass of water. “Maybe I should go see her then. You say she’s always right?”

“Every time,” Emily said.

“All right, you’ve convinced me,” she said. “I’ll have to check her out myself.”

It went quiet for a moment. The only sound left was the sound of chewing and swallowing. Alison stole a glance at Elizabeth, thinking the woman was pretty. She had big eyes, full lips on a small mouth, and a button nose. Was that Josh’s thing? Cute girls with cute little frames and cute little mouths? What did that make Alison then? A big ugly, Amazon woman? A loser that didn’t realize Josh was already taken? That sounded about right. “So Elizabeth, what do you do?” Alison asked, trying to sound sociable as she spoke.

“I’m a mortgage consultant,” Elizabeth replied. She smiled at Josh, her arm still around his. “Just like Josh. We worked in the same office for two years before we started dating. That’s where we met actually.”

“How nice,” Alison said. Goodie. Where they first met? Please, tell her more. She was dying to find out. “It must be fun working together.”

“It is. It’s so much more fun going to work together.” She laughed a little, covering her mouth with her hand. “Josh, remember when you came in on Valentine’s day with that huge thing or roses. Oh god, I thought I was going to die. I was so embarrassed. The bosses are normally against office romances but in our case, they seem to have made an exception because they haven’t said anything about it.”

He smiled goofily. “Yeah, I remember that. I thought you were going to pass out.”

Wonderful to know. The night just kept getting better and better. “How long have you two been dating?” Alison asked, solely for the sake of filling up time. She just wanted to hurry up and eat and get out of there.

“Almost a year now. Our anniversary is coming up in July. I’m so excited.” She shook her head. “But what about you? I know you must be dating someone yourself.”

“I am,” Alison chirped in quickly without thinking. “Actually, I am.” Josh looked up at her, a surprised expression on his face. “His name’s Greg,” she continued casually. Now to make matters worse, she had to lie about it just to keep herself from looking stupid. She just hoped Emily wouldn’t say anything to ruin it, or even worse, she hoped Greg wasn’t eavesdropping. She’d never hear the end of it. “Real sweet guy. Really. I love him to death. We’ve been dating for about… two years now.”

“You should’ve said something,” Elizabeth said. “We would’ve loved to have met him.”

“No, no,” Alison said, shaking a hand in front of her. “He’s no good with social things. Besides, he’s always working. That’s Greg in a nutshell. A total workaholic.”

“What’s he do?” Josh asked in curiosity. He looked more confused than Emily did by the revelation that Alison suddenly had a boyfriend.

“He… he works in a factory,” she replied nervously, taking another bite of food. Why wasn’t she lying? She should’ve said he was a doctor. No, a brain surgeon. A rich brain surgeon and a part-time lawyer that worked for movie stars. That would’ve sounded good. “He’s a machinist. They make… they make really good money there. You’d be surprised.”

“I heard those machines can be so dangerous,” Elizabeth said, putting a hand to her cheek. “Is it safe?”

“It’s… it’s safe.” What was she saying? For all she knew, he had died at work, crushed by his own machine.

“I had a friend… well, not my friend herself,” Elizabeth said, “but her sister’s friend was working in a factory. He got his left hand chopped off the second day there. It was so terrible. I always think that now when I hear about people working in those kinds of places.”

“He’s very experienced,” was all Alison could think to say. “So he’s really good at what he does.”

“Well, that’s good. I just worry is all.”

My, how benevolent of her. She was just full of the stuff, wasn’t she. Alison wanted to roll her eyes then and there. It wasn’t that Elizabeth seemed like a particularly bad person. And, despite Emily’s belief that Josh and Elizabeth weren’t right for one another, Elizabeth did seem to care about the guy. For all Alison knew, she and Elizabeth could’ve even been best friends in another life. But there was just something about it. Something about knowing she was Josh’s girlfriend that made the woman completely intolerable. Was this jealousy? Was that all it was? Something as petty as being green with envy that Elizabeth had him and Alison didn’t?

It made her think of what Marissa had told her once again. That jealousy would get her. That it would eat her up.

Which meant it was Alison’s fault for not having a good time. Elizabeth had been perfectly friendly and here Alison was, an immature brat sitting in the corner and pouting that she hadn’t gotten her way. Time to grow up. Josh was taken and Elizabeth had gotten there first. No point in letting jealousy get the best of her.

“Greg’s thinking about going back to school,” Alison said instead, struggling to continue the conversation. “He wants to be a cartoon animator.”

“How fun!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

“Is he any good?” Josh asked, his tone serious.

“Good?” Alison asked. “Do you mean at drawing?”

“Yeah, is he any good?”

How the hell was she supposed to know? Not like he could do it anymore. He didn’t have a living body that he could draw with. “Yeah, he’s excellent at it. He’s such an amazing artist. He completely just… just knocks me over at times! I look and go, I can’t believe you drew this, Greg! You’re amazing!”

“You have to show us his drawings sometime,” Elizabeth insisted. “I know you said he’s working a lot, but I’m sure he can find the time for one little visit. We’d love to meet him, and Emily loves having you over.”

“If she says he can’t come, he can’t come,” Josh pointed out.

“No, it’s no problem,” Alison said, though she knew it was never, ever in a million years going to happen. “I’m sure he’ll get a day off sometime. I’d love to bring him over to meet you guys.”

“I think I did meet Greg before,” Emily spoke up. She reached for her glass of wine. “I remember now. He’s the one that came to my house looking for you, right? He stopped by twice actually. He was really cute.” The look on Emily’s face told Alison that Emily knew the relationship was a sham but was playing along anyway. After all, Alison had spent all that time in the restaurant complaining about how she and Greg could never be together. Emily had to know by now that Alison’s story was a complete lie.

“Yeah, he’s a cutie,” Alison said quickly. Her enthusiasm over the conversation was fading fast. She was losing steam and the lie was becoming more ridiculous by the minute. Looking down at her plate, she contemplated how many bites were left. If she made her mouth big enough, she could probably wolf down the rest of her plate in about three mouthfuls. Sounded like a plan to her.

She let Josh and Elizabeth talk together about a movie they had rented the other night that had been so funny and so interesting. Nodding every now and then, she shoved the rest of her food down her throat, stopping only to wash the stuff down with wine. Mmmm. The food was really good, she thought again. Josh did have a talent. No wonder Elizabeth couldn’t stop going on and on about it.

Suppressing a burp, Alison smiled politely as they spoke, wiping at her mouth with a paper napkin. They talked about the same movie, never switching topics and going over their favorite scenes over and over again. They managed to waste about twenty minutes doing just that.

“I got you there,” Elizabeth laughed, pointing at Josh. Apparently, they were quoting the movie now. Alison hated when people did that. She once knew two people from a part-time job in college who would sit around for hours just throwing quotes from favorite movies back at one another. It irritated Alison to no end, because not only was it boring to everyone other than the two people involved, but it ruined any hope of conversation until the two were finished throwing quotes back at one another.

“Look at the time,” Alison said. Her eyes moved to the clock, and she let an exaggerated expression of surprise cross her face. “I better be going.”

“Are you sure?” Josh asked.

“You were hardly over for any time at all,” Elizabeth said. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay awhile and talk?”

“I’d love to,” Alison lied. Like she’d love a metal spike in the forehead. “But I really can’t. I have some paper work I have to finish up at home. The problem with being self-employed,” she joked. “There’s always work to do.” She stood up, brushing off her lap and picking up her plate.

“Just leave it there,” Elizabeth reassured her. “I’ll get the dishes. You’re our guest.”

Why did she have to be so nice? That was another thing that annoyed Alison. The woman was cute and nice. It was a wonder that Elizabeth and Josh fought as much as they supposed to. Emily had even said that Josh was having second thoughts about Elizabeth. Could Emily be wrong? They seemed fine to her.

“I should probably get going too,” Emily said.

“I can give you a ride,” Alison said.

“You don’t have to do that,” Josh said. “You’ve done enough for us. I’ll take her home in a little bit.”

Alison nodded, moving her way from the table and toward the front door. Josh had risen from the table and was following her. She turned around to face him. He was good-looking. Too good-looking for her tastes. Even now, she couldn’t deny that fact. The warm lights from lamps cast a glow against his chiseled features. “Thanks for everything,” she said.

“I’m glad you could make it.” He smiled warmly, taking her hand into his and shaking it. “Thank you for coming.”

Pulling her hand away, Alison nodded again, clearing her throat. He left her speechless. Was that normal? To be left speechless by a man that already had a girlfriend? It didn’t seem right of her to think of Elizabeth’s boyfriend in that way. Especially, when Elizabeth had been so hospitable to her the entire night long.

She moved to her shoes, pulling them onto her feet. Josh held the door open for her and she stepped outside. “Bye,” she called in. “Emily, I’ll call you later. We can hang out again.”

“Okay,” she called back. “Bye, Alison.”

Alison made her way to the car, not bothering to glance back at Josh again. Thank god that was over. She’d be happy if she never had to do anything like that ever again. Goodbye Joshua Hunter. It was time to part ways permanently. If she never saw him again in her life, it’d be too soon. It was time to get back to her own pointless, lonely life, where the idea of someone waiting for her at home was nothing more than a bald-faced lie.

She climbed into her car, started the engine and immediately began backing out of their driveway. Too bad Emily hadn’t decided to catch a ride with her. Alison would’ve enjoyed the company. In the time they had spent together, Alison and sincerely begun to really like the girl as a friend.

Heading down the road, she began driving towards the highway to Spring Falls.

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