Alison took the athame back into her hand, tucking it into her purse. It still didn’t feel cold to her. Was that something only Marissa could sense or could other people feel it too? She decided she’d test it out on one other person to make sure, maybe Marissa’s aunt on her way out.
She felt disappointed that Marissa wasn’t able to tell her anything. It looked like the mystery wasn’t going to be solved just yet.
Marissa looked at her. “What did that spirit do anyway, when it gave you the knife? Didn’t it say anything?”
“It did say a couple things,” Alison admitted. “It didn’t make much sense though. Then it handed me the knife.”
“Are you sure it wanted you to do something with it?”
"“Yeah, it definitely wanted something. I just don’t know what.”
“So what’re you going to do?”
“Probably nothing,” Alison replied. “I can’t do something if I don’t know what it wants.”
“Even if you did know, who says you have to do it anyway?” Marissa said. “Just because you can see dead spirits doesn’t mean you have to be at their beck and call 24/7. You have no obligation here. Don’t let them push you around like that.”
Alison smiled. “I didn’t think of it like that.” Maybe Marissa was right. They did push her around, didn’t they. Death had definitely stated it as if this all were all her own personal obligation to the world. Death had made it sound as if she had to do this, as if she had no choice in the matter. Maybe that wasn’t fair. Just because she could see them, did that really mean she had to work for them?
Greg must’ve gotten bored by this point. He lifted himself from the couch, crossing the room and disappeared through the open door.
Alison ended up staying with Marissa until the store closed. There weren’t any more customers so Jessica didn’t seem to mind the intrusion.
The store closed at nine pm. When nine came around, Marissa suggested, “Do you want to get something to eat?” By that time, they had dropped the athame and tarot card conversation, opting for more pleasant topics such as movies they had seen and work-related stories.
“Sure. Where at?”
“The sushi restaurant next door’s still open. Their food’s great.”
Sushi? Alison grimaced. She hadn’t had good experiences with sushi. “We could, if you want.”
“Great!” Marissa said enthusiastically. They left the store. Marissa’s aunt locked up behind them. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” Marissa called back to Jessica. “We’re going to get some dinner.”
“See you tomorrow,” Jessica returned. “And be on time.”
“I told you, that was because of the traffic,” Marissa complained. Her aunt disappeared into the parking lot and Marissa and Alison made their way to the restaurant.
Alison noticed that the crowd from earlier had died down. When they went inside, there was no wait for a table. A hostess seated them at a small, two-person table in the center of the room.
“You ever been here before?” Marissa asked.
“No, I’ve only had sushi one time before. It was at a different restaurant.”
“Oh, which one?”
“The one on White Wood Avenue.”
“I’ve been to that one,” Marissa agreed. “Their sushi’s yummy. I love sushi, in case you didn’t get that.”
“No, I got it,” Alison said. She looked down at the menu in front of her, skimming down the unfamiliar list of sushi and sashimi. The restaurant was pretty. It was decorated in pale silvers and moss green colors, with a large glass tank of koi in the back of the room. Decorative paper lanterns hung from the ceiling.
Alison made a face as she read about the different kinds of raw fish available in each roll. Eel too? Ew. Since Marissa had wanted to come there so bad, Alison hadn’t admitted that the last time she had sushi, it had made her sick and she threw it up. The fish hadn’t agreed with her stomach at all.
“What’re you getting?” Marissa asked.
“I don’t know yet.”
“Well, what do you like?”
“They have steak here,” Marissa said. “It’s really expensive though. I think it comes with steamed vegetables.” She looked up at her. “You don’t like fish?”
Alison shook her head. “Not really.”
“They’re not just fish. You should try the California roll. It’s crab and avocado. Not real crab though. It’s imitation crab.”
“Why don’t they just use real crab?” Alison asked.
“It’s probably more expensive. It’s made out of fish like a fish hotdog.” She paused. “Oh, wait. That means it is fish, doesn’t it. I know, why don’t you try the octopus? It’s one of my favorites.”
No thanks. Alison shook her head. “That’s all right. I can have a bite of yours but I think I’ll just get the steak.” The steak dinner was thirty dollars, which actually was painfully too expensive in Alison’s opinion. But she’d rather pay a little more than get sick again.
Marissa was actually looking past her now, an annoyed expression crossing her face. “Oh, great.”
“What’s wrong?” Alison asked blankly.
Lifting her menu, Marissa let out a sigh, hiding her face behind the large book. “That guy behind you. The server.”
Alison glanced behind her. She spotted a tall, asian guy with short black hair and wire frame glasses. “Him?”
“Yeah, that’s Eric. We’re kind of off again, on again. I can’t believe he works here now. I swear, that losers got a different job every week. I think he has ADD. He couldn’t sit still for five minutes, not even if he tried.”
“So, I’m guessing that means you’re off again at the moment.”
“Basically,” she said. “I’m so mad at him right now. It’s just like him to ruin my favorite restaurant for me.”
Alison suggested, “If he’s going to be gone in a week then you shouldn’t have to worry about it, right?”
A server appeared then. Her blond hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail. She smiled. She had a large mouth. When she smiled, you saw all her teeth. “How are you two doing today?”
“We’re good,” Marissa said.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“Just water for me.”
“Do you have coffee?” Alison asked.
“Yeah, we do actually. Regular or decaf?”
“Regular, please,” Alison said. She needed the caffeine. Although, after everything that had happened, coffee was probably the last thing she should be drinking. She was already anxious enough as it was.
Alison shook her head.
“All right. I’ll be right back then.” The woman hurried off, tucking her notepad into her black apron and disappearing across the dining room.
Marissa ducked an inch lower behind her menu. “Alison, where’s he at now? Did he notice us yet?”
Tilting her head to the side, she caught a glance of the ex making his way toward their table. “He’s headed this way if that’s what you’re asking.”
Alison watched as Eric appeared beside them, his eyes narrowing in Marissa’s direction. Now that he was closer, Alison could see there was a small amount of dark stubble over his strong chin. “Marissa,” he said. “What’re you doing here? Stalking me at work again?”
Marissa lowered the menu, looking up at him in annoyance. “You’re an idiot. You knew this was my favorite restaurant. Is that why you got a job here?”
“You call everything your favorite restaurant.”
“No, this one actually is my favorite. What are you doing here anyway? I thought you were cooking for Antonio’s.”
“They fired me,” Eric replied. “I don’t care. I hated it there.”
“What’d you do?”
“No call, no show for a week straight. Apparently, they don’t like that much.”
“How pathetically typical of you,” Marissa commented. “I see you’re still as irresponsible as ever. Some things never change about people.”
He gave her a tight smile. “Shouldn’t try to change me then. Told you it wasn’t going to work.”
“I thought I’d give it shot. If I knew it was going to be worthless cause I wouldn’t’ve bothered.”
“What about you?” Eric asked. “You still running that scam booth at your aunt’s?”
She replied coldly, “You know I am. Besides, it’s not a scam.”
Marissa gave him a glare. “How’s Leslie, by the way?”
“Good. Really good.”
“I’m sure she is.”
“Marissa, I told you, we’re just friends.”
“Ha, that’s a laugh. Since when are you ever just friends with a girl?”
“Anyway,” Eric said, cutting her off. He turned, shaking his head. “I got tables to take care of. Feel free to call me when you’re done being a bitch.”
“You’re a bitch!” He walked away, leaving Marissa fuming in her seat. She glanced at Alison. “Sorry about that. I told you I was still mad at him.”
“Looks like it was serious,” Alison said. “So what’d you break up for?”
“I don’t remember. We’ve broken up at least twenty times in the past five years. It’s actually kind of ridiculous when you think about it.”
“You’re still doing better than I am,” Alison mused. “I haven’t had a boyfriend in about six years now.”
“Really? Wait, how old are you again?”
“No way!” Marissa said. “You’re twenty-eight? I thought for sure you were younger than me.”
“You’re twenty-six, right?”
“Twenty-seven.” Marissa leaned forward in her seat. “I kept thinking you were still in college.”
“I get that a lot. It’s got to be the Greek in me. I look way younger than I really am.”
“So what’s been keeping you single?” Marissa asked.
“Who knows?” Alison sighed. “I always end up blaming my… my little problem, if you know what I mean, with the spirits. I get insecure around guys because of it. I’m afraid they’ll treat me different if they find out.”
“You shouldn’t let that keep from getting a boyfriend,” Marissa said. “I’ve had my ability my whole life but I don’t let it get in the way of what I have to do.”
“How did Eric take it when you told him?”
“Oh, that,” Marissa said, looking away. She paused when the server appeared with their drinks. The server set the glass of water, the cup of coffee and a bowl of creams down on the table. The two of them gave her their orders and she left again. “I never actually told him,” Marissa admitted in a low voice once the woman was gone.
“Do you think it’s better like that?”
“Well, no, but look at it like this,” Marissa said. “My dreams don’t define who I am. Neither do my cards. It’s something I can do but it’s not me. This is me. This is who I am sitting right here in front of you. When I meet the right guy, and when I’m ready, I’ll let him know about it, but I don’t plan on making it into some big deal. Because it’s not. And it shouldn’t be.”
Alison nodded. Marissa did have a good point. Seeing spirits, talking to the dead, it was just something Alison could do. It didn’t mean that was all there was to her. “I know you’re right,” she said. “I shouldn’t let it keep me from finding someone.”
“Exactly. Just lose the insecurity. It’ll make a big difference.”
After pouring a few plastic containers of cream into her coffee, she began stirring her drink with a spoon. She brought it to her lips and drank from the warm cup. “Still. That doesn’t change my horrible luck with men in general.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m kind of picky, for one,” Alison said. She set the cup on the table, holding it with both hands. It’s hard for me to find someone I can be attracted to physically and emotionally at the same time. When I do find someone I like, they always end up being taken… or… I dunno… convincts.” Or dead… or something. “For example…” She paused, lowering a voice a notch. “I did like Emily’s brother for awhile.”
“Oh,” Marissa said. “You liked Josh, huh?”
“Then I found out he had a girlfriend.”
“Yeah, he’s definitely got one of those. That’s too bad. He’s cute though. Definitely. Not my type, but he’s a good looking guy.”
“What’s your type?” Alison asked.
“Not the pretty boys like that. I’m more into the tall, dark and handsome. Stupid too. The stupider the better. That’s all I ever seem to get are the dumb ones.”
“I don’t think I even have a type anymore,” Alison said with a smile. “I do like nice boys though. Josh was a nice boy. Unfortunately, the nice ones are the ones that give me the wrong idea the most. I forget they’re nice to everyone, not just me.”
“Josh did seem like he was nice.” She drank from her glass of water. “But don’t let it get you down. You’re not going to do much better dating an asshole, either. You’re better off sticking with the nice ones.”
Alison laughed. “Don’t get me wrong. I’ve dated plenty of assholes. Why do you think I want a nice guy so bad? I think I’m still traumatized from my past dating experiences.”
“Eric,” Marissa said, aiming a finger in the man’s direction, “is a perfect example of that. Now he is an asshole. By every definition of the word. Not only that, but he’s one of those assholes that’s proud to be an asshole. Every day, he’d say, ‘cause I’m an asshole,’ like it was funny. Which it wasn’t. It drove me crazy.”
The food arrived then. Alison watched as her plate was placed in front of her. A steak cooked medium-rare. She couldn’t wait to bite into the bloody thing. She dug in the second the waitress let go of the dish. “You want to hear something kinda dumb?” Alison said out loud.
“Sure.” Marissa had leaned over her own brightly colored plate of assorted sushi rolls. She had broken a pair of chopsticks apart in her hands and was using them to pick up her food now.
“Right before I graduated from college, I had just dumped a jerk from my class named Chris. That was when I decided to find myself a nice guy that’d treat me right. I’ve been single ever since.”
Marissa started laughing. “That’s horrible.”
“I should’ve known I was setting my standards to high the second I thought that.”
“There’s gotta be good guys somewhere on this planet. Where the hell are they?”
“With their girlfriends,” Alison replied. “Anyone worth having is already taken. I figured that out years ago.”
“You know what that means, don’t you?”
“What does that mean?”
“We gotta steal them!”
“I’m not stealing anyone,” Alison stated.
“I’m just kidding.” Marissa dipped a roll in soy sauce and stuck it in her mouth. “But if you think about it. That’d definitely solve your Josh problem.”
“No way. It’s not worth it. His sister just died. I’m sure my advances are the last thing he needs right now.”
“True. But keep it mind for the future. It’s always an option.”
“You’re horrible.” Alison took a bite of moist meat. She was actually glad they were talking about something other than the knife and Death. It felt normal. She missed this. Having normal conversations with a female friend. Why had she kept herself from it for so long?