"Why do ghosts disappear when you notice them?" Kelly asked as she began to prepare dinner for her family.
"Because when they are acknowledged, it reminds them that they are no longer alive," Billy answered. He was half in and half out of his world, a partial shade leaning against the wall with his arms folded over his chest. "Or, you may have startled them, or they may not have wanted you to know that they were watching you." Billy paused for a moment. "But, mostly, it's because they don't like being reminded that they're dead."
"If that's the case, then what makes you an exception to that rule?"
"I've been dead for over two hundred years. I've rather gotten used to the idea that my body is out there in that little graveyard, six feet under, and more likely than not by now, dust."
Kelly paused from cutting up an onion and gazed thoughtfully to the cast iron skillet that sizzled lazily on the stove. "Why don't you go to heaven? Why stay here? Over such a long period of time, you must have gotten so lonely..."
"I'm needed here. Besides, I've pulled you guys out of more trouble than I could shake my fist at. Aren't you grateful?"
Kelly's smile turned bittersweet and she turned down the heat on the stove. "I am," she answered. "I saw my mom once... when I was about Jenn's age. You know my parents died in a car accident when I was a little girl."
"You've told me," Billy said.
"I just don't understand... I mean, I was in a foster home, and I was so lonely," she whispered, the heartache of the memory straining her voice. "I can't remember what it was, except that I was being punished for something one of their biological children had done. I was sweeping the kitchen floor and out of the corner of my eye there she was. Just a flash, just for a second and for that one moment..." Kelly tipped her face back as tears began to stream down her cheeks.
"For one moment," she continued after taking a small beat to compose herself. "Mom was there and I was safe and loved and I just knew that it had all been a bad dream. In one moment, the world was all right again, and then, it suddenly came crashing back down. I made the mistake of blinking and turning my face to get a better look at her and then she was gone." She turned her eyes to Billy in accusation. "Why did she disappear, but I can see you?"
"If I knew the answer to that, I would tell you," he answered simply.
"If she came here now... would I be able to see her?"
"She's not coming here," Billy said gently. "She's happy where she is..."
"I miss her so much, so much every day," Kelly went on as if Billy hadn't given her an answer. "Everything I do with the girls, I try to think of how she would have done it. She was always smiling, full of love and hugs and warmth. I remember her smell, her perfume..." her voice cracked as the tears returned. Thinking of her modesty, Kelly swiftly put her back to the tall apparition and lifted a dishtowel to hold against her face as she wept. It was a few long moments before she felt a hand on her shoulder that startled her out of her mourning. She was surprised to see Billy, who could be as standoffish as a cat, offering her comfort.
"Write me a letter," he said gently. His expression and tone of voice caused Kelly to blink. Usually the tall blond was high spirited and raring to argue at the drop of a hat. Though, through the time the family had gotten to know him, they knew well enough that it was just a mask to hide his own sorrows and insecurities.
"Write me a letter," Billy repeated, his hand squeezing Kelly's shoulder. It took so much energy for him to remain as a full body apparition, and the fact that he was doing it just to offer a bit of compassion touched her. "I'll bring it to her on this side, tell her as much as you want to, I'll personally make sure she gets it."
Kelly could only nod her head in astonished gratitude.
"You can really give this to her?" Kelly asked as she held the sealed envelope in her hands. "Her and Daddy? You can make sure they both read it?"
Billy exhaled a soft sigh that bordered on a foul tempered huff.
"I swear. You women are so untrusting in this day and age at a gentleman's word," he muttered as he turned from his favorite watching spot. Oh, how many times people had shattered that simple yet elegant window over the years running from him as he haunted them out of his house.
"But you're sure? I mean, this isn't like sending a letter to Santa, she'll really get it?"
Just to make a point, Billy inhaled deeply through his nose and held it as he regarded the small woman with his fiery black eyes. Slowly, he extended his hand. "I do not know how long it will take to find her up there, but I promise you I will personally deliver it to her and your father. You know me; I don't play tricks."
"Billy... you super glued everything in Jade's room into their places. She spent a week in near insanity while she was fixing the horrible mess you made, angry that she couldn't kill you."
"Hey," Billy said as he took the envelope out of Kelly's hands and then lifted it up for emphasis. "That was her fault."
"Oh? Do tell," she smirked.
"She got mad at me and sprayed my attic full of tea tree oil, you know the stench of that stuff makes me sick," he frowned.
"Why in the world would she do that?" Kelly tilted her head as her brows furrowed. "That's so out of character for her..."
"She was grouchy one day, so I asked her why, she told me that she was that way because she was on her period. Then she had to go and overreact when I asked if she couldn't control it. One thing led to the other..."
"Enough..." Kelly sighed as she vigorously rubbed her forehead. "I swear, if you two couldn't pick on one another, you'd be miserable."
"So, technically," he said as he began to shimmer out of view. Kelly watched in fascination and hope as the letter began to grow dim, and then shimmer along with him as he faded out of sight. "I wasn't playing tricks, I was getting even."
It had been weeks since she had given the letter to Billy, and during that time, she hadn't seen hide nor hair of the high-strung spirit. It was also a secret she had kept to herself because of the fear in the back of her mind that he was just going along with her suffering to try, in his own awkward way, to make her feel better. As time passed, she went from feeling hope and excitement to the crushing lows of bitter disappointment and mistrust. Then, guilt would follow when she remembered what he had done for the family; how he had rescued them from the evil spirit that had tried to destroy them. Hope would return and she would face the silence with optimism, only to go through the torturous cycle once again.
When the one month mark had been reached, the girls started to ask where Billy had gone, and Kelly had just smiled and reassured them that he would be back. He was just on a mission and was on his side for a while.
She tried to fool herself with busywork, trying in vain to keep her mind preoccupied. But as more time passed, anticipation grew. She realized that the feeling of anxiety wasn't negative, but of hope. Billy was taking so long, that had to be a good sign, she deduced. As over-protective as he was of his home, and in that extent, the family as well, he wouldn't dare stay out of sight or mind for longer than a handful of days. For the first time since her daughters were little girls, she felt the excitement that they surely felt on Christmas eve, dying to know what they would find the next morning under the tree.
The morning was bright, the shadows of the leaves as they swept softly against the windowpanes was like a dance and the sky was brilliant summer blue with a hint or two of clouds dotting the horizon. The girls had gone with their father into town at sunrise to do some shopping with the allowance money that was burning holes in their pockets. Kelly had the house to herself and she planned on getting some light cleaning done.
She made quick work of her chores however, as evidence by the money being spent in town. Her girls took their jobs seriously and she couldn't be more proud of them. Humming a soft tune, Kelly continued through with the feather duster, brushing away the fine coating of dust that had been missed along the top of the tall window sills. Easy enough to forgive; she did like to keep busy and this was a nice distraction.
She wiped down the antique furniture in the living room before heading to the parlor so she could run the sweeper over the old wood floors. When she passed the little table where the bowl sat to hold their keys, she didn't realize at first the envelope leaning against it. Two steps away from the front door, facing the stairs, she stopped, her heart even holding its breath for a moment. Turning slowly, she eyed the envelope, and then walked towards it. It was addressed to her.
Shaky hands lifted it and a voice in the back of her mind chided her that it was a trick. That Billy was just trying to make her feel better so she wouldn't cry. She pushed the voice rudely away and lifted the envelope to her nose, inhaling deeply as tears welled behind her closed lids. Memories rushed in and she let out a soft cry; Billy would never have known the smell of her mother's perfume.
She sat down on the love seat and as carefully as she could, opened the envelope and pulled out the letter with a trembling hand. It took a long moment before she could steady it enough to read.
My Darling Kelly,
How wonderful it was to receive your letter. I want you to know that we are well and very happy. We love you, dearest and are so very proud of you. The nice young man that found us wanted us to know that you were missing us, but little one, we are never far. We are so proud of you and we cannot wait to be with you again, but you must live your life. Great things are in store for you and your family. Please write again soon,
With all of our love and more,
Mom and Dad.
P.S. You should tell your friend that he needs to cut his hair.
"Always straight to the point," Kelly whispered with a smile. Leaning back against the plush back of the small sofa, she held the letter to her chest and sighed happily.
"They were nice..." Billy spoke up at the foot of the stairs.
"Oh yes, they are very nice," Kelly whispered without moving more than her lips to speak. "And it was so nice of you, how could I ever thank you?"
"I didn't do it for thanks," Billy answered gruffly as feelings of awkwardness over his kind deed began to make him shuffle in place.
"You know we love you, right?"
"Oh please, not the lovey-dovey stuff, you know I don't do sappy."
"No," she chuckled as she opened her eyes. "I'm going to put this in my safe, with the picture album and suddenly..." she rose from her seat and tilted her head back to look him in the eye. "I feel like making a fudge pie."
"The fudge pie?" It was his weakness. On the rare occasion that she made it, he couldn't help but to sneak a small slice. It was as good as the one his very mother made on holidays and special occasions when he was still alive. Whenever he had a piece of it, he always thought of her.
"And if it happens to appear upstairs in your attic, well, I guess I'll have to bring a fork up with it, too."
Running his fingers through his shaggy bangs, Billy ducked his head shyly and gave her the tiniest of smiles. "I didn't do anything for reward, you know."
"I know," Kelly said with feeling. "You didn't even have to offer, but you don't know how much this means to me. Thank you."
He ducked his head again, and then began to fade out of sight. "More than welcome," he answered gently.