As it would turn out, Alison wasn’t the only non-family member to attend the funeral. Marissa, Emily’s personal fortune teller, had also come. Alison felt grateful for the familiar face. The woman had appeared from the back of the group, joining her, Josh, and Elizabeth once the service had ended.
The woman’s black leather coat went down past her knees. She wore black pants and a black blouse. “Alison,” she said. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“You too,” Alison replied. She couldn’t explain the reason for it, but she felt sincere when she said it.
Marissa said solemnly, “Hard to believe she’s really gone.”
Marissa acknowledged Josh and Elizabeth, introducing herself then. “You must be Josh?”
Grinning, she said. “I knew it. You look just like her. I thought you had to be the amazing, big brother I’ve heard so much about.”
“Were you Emily’s friend?”
“Yep. We were good friends. She came by the store I worked at almost every week. I read her tarot cards for her.”
“That was you?” Elizabeth exclaimed, raising a finger in her direction. “Emily always talked about you. She said you were never wrong.”
Marissa looked down at the grass. “I’m sure she was exaggerating.”
“Where’s your shop at?” Elizabeth asked.
“I’ve heard of that street. It’s supposed to be really unique. A lot of college kids hang out there, don’t they?”
“I have to come by there sometime,” Elizabeth said.
“Yeah, definitely. Drop by. We love bringing in new people.”
“Are you going to be here for very long?”
Marissa shook her head. “Can’t. I gotta get going. I’m stopping for coffee on my way home though. Did any of you three want to come?”
“Sorry, we can’t,” Elizabeth replied before Josh could respond himself. “Another time. We’ve still got some work to take care of here.”
“Alison?” Marissa asked, turning to her.
It would’ve been a lie to say she had anything better to do. Alison nodded. “Sure. I could use some coffee.”
The two of them began walking toward the parking lot together. There was a nagging reluctance within her, one that complained about having to leave Josh so soon. An awareness perhaps, that told her that this was the end of that. This was it. They had no reason to see each other again, which was probably a good thing. After all, she wasn’t much of a home wrecker and she wasn’t crazy about being a third wheel either. She waved goodbye as they walked away, giving Josh one last reassuring smile, one that she hoped would tell him, ‘Chin up. Emily’s gone to a better place now. We’ll make it through this.’
Granted, it probably would’ve been better to tell him something like that in person, but she wasn’t much for comforting words. She could talk and listen to people okay, but making people feel better about their problems was not her forte. If anything, she probably just made people feel worse about them.
Alison felt empty inside as she walked. No more Emily. No more Josh. It was hard to believe her new acquaintances, clients she had known for such a short while, would leave such a deep impact on her emotionally.
“I’m really going to miss her,” Marissa said.
Turning to look at her, Alison realized there were tears in the woman’s eyes. She watched as Marissa quickly wiped them away with her hand. “Me too,” Alison said. “How long did you know her?”
“About two years.”
“Then… you knew her before… before she…”
“Before she what?”
“Started to act strange?” Alison finished, feeling guilty the moment the words left her lips.
“Oh, that,” Marissa said. “I know what you’re talking about, but, truthfully, I never thought she was strange. About a year ago was when she started talking about having ghosts in her house. She would tell me how terrible it was since no one believed her.”
“She also claimed to have a daughter.”
“Yeah, but I knew what that was all about. Even though she didn’t want to admit it, I think she knew too. That girl wasn’t her daughter.”
“Do you think it was a spirit?” Alison asked.
“Yep,” Marissa said. “Emily was so lonely. You gotta understand. She was so hurt by everything that had happened. I think she really wanted to believe that girl was her dead daughter come back from the grave.” They reached their cars. Marissa stood at the door of hers. “Mark’s Coffee Place, okay?” she asked. “It’s just down the road. You know which one I’m talking about?”
Alison nodded. “I’ve been there a few times before.” One time in particular had been to meet Josh for the first time. He had called that morning in such a panic, sounding nervous and embarrassed to be asking a paranormal agency for help.
“We can talk more there.”
Alison climbed into her own car, shutting the door behind her.
The little girl in Emily’s house had existed. From the sounds of it, that was entirely possible. Marissa certainly seemed to think so. The girl had existed, even if she hadn’t been who Emily thought she was.
It made sense now. It hadn’t before but it had started to make sense the more Alison got to know her. After all, Emily had been able to see Greg. Greg even claimed that Emily could touch his shoulder, something that Alison had never been able to do herself. That meant that Emily was probably seeing all sorts of confusing things in her house all the time, and without someone to put it into perspective for her, she had drawn her own conclusions instead. The things she saw were real, whether they haunted her house or not, the fact that they existed was no longer in question. Emily had been telling the truth and no one had believed her. Not even Alison herself.
She drove toward Mark’s Coffee Place. It was barely a two-minute trip. By the time she had parked and climbed out of her car, Marissa was already waiting for her in front of the building.
“This is my treat,” Marissa said when Alison had joined her. “Go ahead and order whatever you want.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Alison replied.
“I mean it. It’s on me.”
They went inside. The place brought back instant memories of laying eyes on Joshua Hunter for the first time ever. Of feeling her heart skip a beat at the sight of blue eyes and sandy blond hair and gorgeous lips and a perfect mouth. Of thinking he couldn’t possibly be the bumbling fool that had called her earlier that morning and woken her up about nine hours too early that day.
Marissa went to the counter, ordering her drink of a large Caramel Blended Ice.
“Just regular,” Alison said. “Small.”
“That’s all?” Marissa asked.
“Yeah, I’m not in the mood for anything sweet right now.”
Their drinks were made and the two of them sat themselves at a round table for two by the window. From where they sat, they had a not-so-pleasant view of the cemetery at the end of the road.
Alison sipped her black coffee. The hot liquid felt good going down her throat. Soothing, almost. Attending Emily’s funeral had gotten her feeling unbearably depressed about everything. The second she went home, she was going straight to bed. She planned on playing hooky from work the rest of the day. Make that two days. She wasn’t going to do any work for two days and nothing was going to change her mind about that.
“I’m thinking about quitting the fortune telling business,” Marissa stated, bringing her straw to her lips.
“Why’s that? Not making enough?”
“No, that’s not it. We get business. Maybe not as much as we’d like but we get by. My aunt owns the store so she gets away with paying me as little as possible when business is slow.”
“Is that why you want to quit?”
Letting out a breath of air, Marissa set her drink down on the table. She propped up her elbow and rested her chin in her hand, her eyes moving to the window. “There’s something that’s been bothering me for a long time now. I don’t tell people about it. They’d think I was weird… but you’re… you’re kinda like me. I thought that when I met you. That we were kinda the same. You can see the dead, can’t you?”
“Yeah,” Alison replied slowly. “Why?” She wasn’t quite sure what the girl was trying to say just yet.
“What’s it like?”
“It sucks,” Alison said, laughing despite herself. It felt funny, like a joke. “It’s been the worst experience of my life. I… I can do it now. I can deal with it. I can… get by… if that makes sense. But I still think back to when I was younger and I was normal and it makes me regret the way I am now. I just… want it to go away so bad.”
“You weren’t always like this?”
“God, no. I was normal. It didn’t happen until I was sixteen. My little sister died, and I don’t know if it was a trigger or what, but everything just came crashing down on me after that. I was… I thought I was seeing things. All of sudden, I’m surrounded by voices and dead people and they were… It was just really awful.”
“Maybe I’m lucky then,” Marissa said. “I was born like this. I’ve never known what it was like to be any other way… so it never occurred to me that I could’ve been born different.”
Alison shook her head. “I’m confused. What is it that you do? I thought you said you couldn’t see spirits.”
“No, I can’t. Emily used to say it a lot. She noticed it about me. She’d tell people I was never wrong when I read her cards. She was right. I’m never wrong. It’s been like that since as far back as I can remember. It’s… It’s like I see things in the cards that no one else can. Like they’re apart of me somehow.”
“You’ve really never been wrong?”
“No, never. Even when… even when it’s terrible. Even when the future holds something horrible. I can’t make it go away. No matter how much I want it to. Knowing doesn’t stop it. Once I see it, I know there no changing it. Sometimes, sometimes I go into denial. I think, ‘this can’t be right. It’s gotta be a fluke. This time, I’ve gotta be wrong.’”
Alison looked at her. “Are you talking about Emily?”
“Do you remember when I read Emily’s fortune? When I put the two cards back into the deck?”
“I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it,” Marissa explained. “I thought it had to be wrong. That we shuffled the deck the wrong way. That I was completely making too much out of it. I mean, they’re just playing cards, right? I’m only human. I can’t possibly be perfect every time.”
“So you knew Emily was going to die?”
“I saw that someone was going to die. The implication was that it was Emily. But I didn’t want to think that way. Why, you know? Why do I have to see such a terrible future for someone I care about? I put the cards back. I know it sounds stupid. The future never changes. I’ve never been wrong before. But I put them back anyway. As if, ignoring it would cancel it out. It’s stupid, right?”
Alison shook her head. It was amazing but it could be true. Just as there were those that could see the dead, there were others that could see the future. She had never thought humans could really do that. To think, Marissa had been the real deal all along. “I can’t imagine how awful that must’ve been.”
“It was.” Marissa had started crying again, covering her face with her hands. “It was so awful. I didn’t know what to do. I see it but I can’t change it. I never want to know the future again. It’s too painful.”
“Is it only when you use the cards?”
“No. I wish it were. If it were that simple I would’ve stopped a long time ago. But I dream it too. When I’m asleep, I get these visions. I see them floating in front of me and I watch it happening like I’m watching a movie play out.”
“Did you see Emily die?” Alison asked.”
“I didn’t have any dreams about her. It helped me stay in denial.”
“I have dreams too,” Alison admitted. She normally didn’t have the privilege of talking about them, but this felt okay. Marissa wasn’t like everyone else. Marissa could relate to her. “That’s why I know how you feel. I can see the dead when I’m sleeping. Sometimes, I just stand there and watch them. Other times, I feel like they came there just to find me.”
“What do they do?”
“They strangle me,” Alison said. “Or scratch me. Sometimes, there’s more than one and they hold me down in my bed so I can’t move. Then I wake up. I… I have to force myself to wake up.”
“What happens when you wake up?”
“I feel sick or my body hurts. Sometimes I’m bleeding where they scratched me. I’ll find bruises on me. It’s definitely my least favorite part about the whole thing. When I’m sleeping, I can’t defend myself. I think that’s why they do it.”
Marissa made a face. “That sounds scary.”
“Yeah, it does, doesn’t it.”
Reaching into her purse, Marissa began pulling out a pen. “I’m going to give you my number. Call me if you ever want to talk. Maybe we can… I don’t know… help each other out.”
“I’d like that.” They really did have something in common. It might be nice having a friend that understood what it was like to be different.
Marissa scribbled her number on a napkin. Then she handed it to her. Glancing at it, Alison tucked it into her purse. She felt glad she had met Marissa. It had been a long time since she had met someone she could be friends with.