Alison stepped out of her car, closing the door behind her. Her keys jingled in her hand as she headed to her house. It was about seven at night. Alison had stayed with Marissa for longer than she had expected to.
“So where were you at?”
Alison turned, glancing behind her. “Greg. You still here? What were you doing? Waiting for me to come home?”
“No, not exactly.” He stayed behind, trailing slowly after her as she walked. “Did you go somewhere after the funeral?”
“I was at Mark’s Coffee Place with Marissa,” Alison replied, walking up her porch steps. She unlocked the door.
“Emily’s friend,” she said.
“What’d you do?”
“We just talked.”
“What’d you talk about?” Greg asked.
“How come you’re so nosy?” Alison commented. She didn’t think it was necessary to actually report her entire night back to Greg so she wasn’t going to.
“I’m just making conversation.”
“Can I come in?”
Alison shook her head. “Sorry, I’m not in the mood. I just want to get some sleep. I’m going to go take a nap or something.” She went inside without him, shutting the door behind her. It wasn’t to be mean. Alison really was extremely tired. She went to her couch, lying down across it and kicked off her heels. A glance at the answering machine told her there were no new messages. Granted, she was supposed to go on temporary hiatus, but that didn’t necessarily rule out the importance of emergency calls.
A business card was lying face down on the carpet. Squinting, Alison reached down from where she was laying and picked it up. On one side, was Emily’s phone number, on the other, was Josh’s. It was his business card he had given her the day they met. How depressing. She wondered how it had fallen on the ground.
Sighing, she dropped it on the coffee table and covered her arm over her face. So much for him. So much for that whole mess. She didn’t know what she was thinking when she had decided to fall for him. Even when she had warned herself beforehand that it wasn’t going to work out, she still got tricked into liking him. All that, just to find out he already had a girlfriend. How much more annoying could a circumstance get?
Her house was quiet. It was always so quiet. If it weren’t for Greg, the house would be nothing but a quiet, empty, lonely place that reeked of hermit-itus. She was tired of it.
She glanced at the business card on the table again. She still liked him. Even after everything that had happened, she couldn’t help that. But she’d get over it. It was only a matter of time before she did.
Grasping the card again, she tore it in half in front of her. Only one way to start. She climbed to her feet, walking over to the kitchen and dropping the pieces in the trash. There. One less thing for her to worry about. One less reminder for her too.
She headed to the front door, pulling it open. “Greg,” she called out. There was no immediate reply so she tried again. “Hey. Greg.”
The man appeared in front of her, his body forming in the air. Soon, a semi- transparent Greg had grown out of the nothingness next to her untrimmed Spicebush. “What?” he asked.
“Where were you?”
“I was resting,” he replied. He floated in the air about a foot off the cement walkway, moving to the front of the porch.
“Oh yeah. You do that, don’t you?”
“Gotta keep up my strength,” he said. “Why? What do you need?”
“I was going to go to sleep but I got distracted.” She stepped outside, tugging at the skirt of her black dress. Her feet felt cold against the cool cement, even through the nylon material covering them. She shut the door and sat down on the porch. “Now I feel wide awake.”
“And you wanted me to keep you company?”
“I always want you to keep me company,” she said.
“Could’ve fooled me.”
“You know what I mean,” he said.
“Because I wouldn’t let you come in today?”
“No… that was okay. You don’t have to let me in all the time.”
“I like having you around, but I need privacy too.” It was hard on her knowing he could walk through her door anytime he felt like it. She needed to know that when her door was closed, no one could come in. It was a mental thing.
“Yeah, I know. It just… gets to be where I feel like I’m bugging you. If I was really getting on your nerves, you’d let me know, right?”
“I’d let you know,” she reassured. “Trust me. I’m not that nice. If you ever start to bug me, you’ll be the first to hear about it.”
“Greg, seriously, I don’t mean to give you that impression. I know I can be a jerk. Just… bear with me.” She leaned forward, using her elbows on her legs to hold herself up. The weather was comfortable that evening. The air was dry and warm. “I appreciate everything you do for me. I really do. I don’t want you to ever think otherwise.”
“I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me yet,” Greg commented. He moved beside her. “If I could hug you right now, I would.”
“Couldn’t you try?”
Greg looked at her. “You know I can’t.”
“You did say that,” she said slowly. “You said because you use your energy differently than other people do. Then, why don’t you ever use your energy to try and hug me?”
“Because I’d disappear. Or I’d forget who you were.”
“You’d forget me? Nuh-uh.” Odd how that worked.
“For awhile, yeah. Until I got my strength back.”
“That’s a shame.” She smiled, shaking her head. “Don’t listen to me. I’m just emotional right now. I wasn’t being serious.”
“I would if I could,” he said.
“I’m sure you would. But I might not let you.” She felt like she was acting silly. She didn’t know what she was getting at or what she was trying to say to him. It had been an emotional last few days. Not even Alison could pretend she hadn’t been affected by it.
Greg had pretty much been her only friend for two whole years. She felt like she had just started to truly realize that. Meeting Marissa had only served to emphasize that fact. It made Alison feel oddly aware of what an introvert she had been. Had she always been so anti-social? With Greg around keeping her company for so long, Alison had barely even noticed.
“It’d be different if I was alive,” Greg said.
“Do you want to be alive?”
“Well, yeah. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Aw, don’t say that,” Alison commented. “You’re going to make me scared to die.”
“No, I wanted to get old first. I’m not trying to scare you from nature. Dying wasn’t the problem. It was the timing.”
“You sure about that?”
“I meant, I wish I met you when I was alive,” Greg said finally.
“I’ve thought that before,” she admitted. She liked getting to say how she felt once in awhile. It had become her dirty little secret that she played the ‘what if’ game so much when it came to him. “I would’ve been twenty-four at the time. You’re thirty. A six year age difference, huh.” She paused. “That wouldn’t’ve been so bad. I didn’t have my business yet though.”
“Who knows? I might’ve encouraged you to try something else.”
“That’s true,” she said. “Like what?”
“What do you like?”
“I like watching TV.”
“I already knew that. That’s not what I meant,” he said. “What else do you like to do? If you weren’t an exorcist, what would you’ve done?”
She looked down at her feet. “Teacher, maybe. I wanted to work with kids when I was in high school. I thought I’d end up doing that when I got older.” She glanced at him. “So what do you think? I can’t help but wonder how you would’ve taken it… when you found out about my little… problem.”
“I don’t know. I told you before, I didn’t believe in that kind of thing when I was alive. I probably would’ve thought you were trying to pull a fast one on me.”
Alison laughed. That sounded about right. Talking about spirits never went over well with most people anyway. Greg would’ve been no different in his alive-days. “And I would’ve let you think that. You know, I’m going to be older than you someday. You’ll always be thirty. What are you going to do when I’m fifty? Are you still gonna hang around me like this?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“What about when I’m seventy? When I’m a grey, hunched-over, old lady?”
“I’ll be glad,” he said jokingly. “Means you’re that much closer to being where I’m at. I might even consider crossing over then. We could go over together.”
Her face heated up despite herself. What an odd… yet… sort of romantic thing to say. In a warped, deranged sort of way. Ugh, only she could think like that. It didn’t say much for the company she kept at all.
Cross over together. What a concept. Did Greg really like her that much? “What if you still have unfinished business to do?”
He stopped, looking hesitant. Almost panicked. Was he all right? “I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean?”
His expression had changed. It made Alison feel uncomfortable noticing it and she shifted in her seat. Had she said the wrong thing? “You’re right,” he said. “I shouldn’t have said that. I was just kidding about the whole… crossing over thing. You’ll be married by then anyway. You’ll have kids. I’ll be long gone and out of your hair before you get to that point.” He gave her a quick smile. “Why don’t you get some sleep?”
“I told you, I’m not tired anymore.”
“Sorry, I gotta get going.”
Then just like that, he disappeared before her eyes. Alison blinked. Why’d he do that? Was he mad at her? What did she say to make him behave like that?
She cleared her throat. Then she climbed to her feet. It was almost insulting the way he had said something actually within the realm of romantic, just to take it back again like that. Was it really that big of a deal? It wasn’t like she was going to hold him to it or anything.
Whatever. She went into her house. No wonder she avoided these personal-kind of talks. The other person always ended up disappointing her somehow. Walking upstairs, she went into her bathroom and looked in the mirror. The t-zone on her face was shiny. Turning on the sink, she began washing her face. She just didn’t get it. What did she do wrong?
Alison felt perplexed the next morning when Greg appeared again, acting perfectly normal.
“Can I come in today?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure,” she said. She wondered if he was going to explain his unusual behavior from the night before.
“You get any new jobs?” Greg asked.
Alison shook her head. “No. Not yet.” She went into the kitchen and began making herself a bowl of cereal. A glance at Greg showed that he was hovering over the couch cushion, waiting for her to come back. Why wasn’t he bringing up last night? Would she have to do it? She poured milk into the cereal and grabbed a spoon from the drawer before heading back to the couch with him.
“I’m surprised no one’s called,” he continued. “It hasn’t been this slow in awhile.”
“I know. It sucks.” She took a bite of cereal. Might as well go for it. “Look, about last night. I wanted to ask you something.”
“What about last night?”
“Well… you left so suddenly,” Alison replied. “I thought that maybe I said something that offended you.”
He turned to her, staring at her blankly. He looked away. “It wasn’t you,” he said. It looked as if he were trying to think of what to say. “I… I just realized that I shouldn’t be harassing you so much all the time. You should be… hanging out with living people. Like Marissa. Or that Josh guy. Maybe not him. But someone, you know? I shouldn’t keep you from that.”
Alison narrowed her eyes at him. Why did she get the feeling that he was lying to her? Was that really what he had meant? “How very selfless of you.”
“What can I say? I’m selfless kind of guy.”
She had trouble believing that was really all that had happened. His face, then and now, told a different story entirely. She wondered what it was that had bothered him so much. Taking another bite of cereal, she wondered even more seriously, why was she letting it bug her so much in the first place? He was just Greg. Who cared what he thought, anyway?