After lunch, Ben took Ava’s hand and walked further into the garden.
“Come on, Ava. I wanna show you somethin’” he said as he brought her off the path.
Soon they came upon a small space carved into the bushes. Ava noticed a tent-like roof above the area, most likely there to keep the inside dry in case of rain. A small blanket served as the door to the fort. It was small, but big enough for someone of Edmund’s height to sit inside. Ben pulled the blanket to the side and the two of them climbed in.
“Welcome to Celtopia!” Ben said holding his arms up. Ava smiled and looked around. There were blankets, toys and pillows neatly placed around and there were fairy lights surrounding the top.
“Is this your little fort?” Ava asked. Ben nodded and sat down beside her.
“This is Celtopia. My happy place. I come here when I’m feeling sad. Mommy and my other friends always cheer me up when I’m here.” Ben said fixing one of his toys that fell over. “They use my box of puppets to make me laugh.”
He picked up a box from the small shelf and handed it to Ava. She looked through the box and found an assortment of little paper dolls and puppets. Ben picked a few of them up.
“These are Daddy and my siblings! Oh! And this one’s my mommy.” He said showing her. From what Ava could tell, Ben was a carbon copy of his mom; he had her bright red hair and both their faces were strewn with freckles.
“Your mother’s very pretty.” Ava said handing the doll back to him.
“Yeah and she’s really nice! The others are nice too, but none of them are as pretty as my mommy.” He said hugging the doll before putting back in the box.
“Mhm. All the other ghosts. Mommy told me that not all of them are nice but the ones I know are nice! When I first meet them, they’re usually really sad so I sit with them and they tell me stories about their families and stuff. Sometimes after we talk, they disappear, but sometimes they don’t. Mommy said she will never disappear, even when all the others do.” He said as he put the box back. Ben might be the youngest spirit medium that Ava’s ever met. She knew the risks of being a spirit medium, so she vowed to do everything in her power to keep him safe.
“So, what are your friends like?” Ava asked.
“Oh, they’re great! They’re all super nice, except for Harvey. He’s always grumpy but he tells the funniest jokes. Mommy doesn’t like his jokes; she says they’re in-a-pro-pree-at, but I think they’re funny!” he said with a giggle. She smiled and softly chuckled.
“Miller is the coolest! He has so many cool stories of the things he did when he was alive. One time, he told me about how he hiked the tallest mountain in the whole world and when he reached the top, he saved a lady from being attacked by a giant snow monster! After he saved her, he found out that she was a lost princess and her dad was so happy that Miller saved his daughter, he gave him a big medal and lots of money!” Ben explained as he bounced up and down. “Mommy doesn’t like him though; I think it’s because he keeps flirting with her.”
Ava tried not to laugh. She had to give the guy props for shooting his shot even after death.
“Then there’s Sabina and Candice! They made yummy sweets that everyone in their town loved! Sabina told me that she couldn’t see when she was alive, and Candice couldn’t hear so they helped each other out and that’s how they ended up getting married! They helped me write down some recipes so Daddy can make them. He doesn’t make many sweets but when he does, they’re really good!” He said rubbing his belly. All this talk of sweets was making Ava hungry and it hadn’t even been an hour since they had lunch.
“Kiran is new! Sometimes they look like a girl and sometimes they look like a boy which is so cool!! When they were alive, they had a big building that had lots of paintings that they did all by themself!! Sometimes when I’m sad, they’ll paint really pretty things in the sky that they made just for me! Kiran just died a few weeks ago so they haven’t really gotten comfortable yet but that’s okay! They started teaching me how to paint; I’m not as good as them, but I’m still learning! When I get super good at painting, I’m gonna paint a picture of my family so Daddy can hang it up where everyone can see it!” he said leaning against Ava. Ava smiled and pet his hair.
“Then there’s my mommy. She super nice and super pretty” he looked up at Ava. “Like you, Ava.”
He yawned before continuing.
“My mommy gives the best hugs. I can feel her hugs even though she’s not alive anymore, so she hugs me when I don’t feel good. The other’s only come over when I ask them too, but Mommy is always around. She’s sitting on the pillow next to the doorway, so she doesn’t make you cold. She told me that she thinks you’re really sweet and she’s happy that you chose to stay. I told her that I am too.”
“I’m glad. I promise that even when I have to go back home, I’ll visit whenever I can.”
“Why can’t you stay here?” he asked as looked up at her.
“Well, moving is a long process. As much as I would love to move out of my apartment. There’s a lot of things that I would need to do before I live somewhere else.” Ava explained. Ben lowered his head with a sad “Oh.” Ava pet his hair and lifted his chin up.
“Hey, don’t look so down. I told you that even after I leave; I’m still gonna visit, right? I promise.” She said giving him a smile.
“Pinkie swear?” He asked offering his pinkie.
“Pinkie swear.” She promised as she locked her pinkie with his.
Later that night, as Edmund put the kids to bed, Ava walked into her room and pulled Illusions of Yesterday out from under her pillow. She’d found it right before lunch in the library in the nonfiction section and hid it in her room before she went out to eat with the others. She placed the book on the nightstand so she could read it after she got out of the shower.
As she showered she couldn’t get her mind off of the situation she was in. Frankly, she didn’t want to go back to sleeping in an empty apartment with nothing to do and no one to talk to other than her landlord and her shitty neighbors. Not to mention, she wasn’t ready to be alone. Even when the kids were in training and Edmund was typing away in his study, she knew she wasn’t alone. There was a no pet policy at her apartment so even if she could afford a dog, she couldn’t get one. She didn’t have the time nor the confidence to go out and try to find a boyfriend so that was off the list. She was definitely going to keep her promise to Ben and visit whenever she had time, but she didn’t want to come and bother Edmund everyday just because she was feeling lonely. Though, Edmund is such a sweet guy, he probably wouldn’t mind.
Ava shook her head.
No, it would be annoying to show up every day no matter how nice a person is. It was probably if she visited only when they wanted her too. She could give Edmund her number now that she has her phone and he could call whenever he wanted her to come over.
She wouldn’t mind him just calling to get a coffee or something. They could go to The Dream Bean and she could get discounts for the two of them. Though it might be a bad idea since Mr. Geraldine would probably bother them with lots of questions about their future. Her boss had almost been worse than her mom when it came to Ava’s love life. She knew Edmund wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of pressure so maybe doing something else would be a better idea. They could get a couple drinks together one night, just the two of them going out and doing something without having to watch the kids. Not that she minded hanging out with the kids around; they could go to the mall one day when it’s not too crowded, so Edmund doesn’t get crowd anxiety. She smiled at all of the things that she could do with the family as she got out of the shower.
After getting ready for bed, she walked back out into the bedroom to see the book missing from the nightstand.
“That mother-“she grumbled as she slipped some shorts on before stomping towards Edmund’s study. She opened the door and leaned against the doorway. Edmund turned towards her as he heard the door open.
“What can I do for you, Ava?” he asked leaning back in his chair. She held her hand out earning a soft chuckle from him.
“It seems I’ve been caught. I didn’t think you’d notice.” he said as he got up and grabbed the book off of his shelf.
“I came in to tell you goodnight when I noticed it sitting on the nightstand. I hope you’ll forgive me for entering without your permission.” He said as he walked over to her.
“I don’t care that you came in the room, you ass. I won fair and square so give me the book.” She said glaring at him.
“You know you’re quite adorable when you’re mad” he said.
“I am not adorable. Stop changing the subject and give me the book.” She said pointing to the book before holding her hand out again.
“On the contrary, you are. Your cheeks are all puffed out and despite your efforts to intimidate me, I find you more cute than intimidating.” He said with a smirk. The compliment took her back for a moment before she rolled her eyes and playfully slugged him in the arm.
“You keep on with those compliments and I’m gonna think you’re flirting with me.” She said causing him to blush and become a stuttering mess. She grabbed the book while he was “rebooting”.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, good sir. I have a date with this book and my comfy bed.” She said holding up the book and smiling. He chuckled softly as he shook his head.
“You’re a very interesting woman, Ava.”
“And you’re a very interesting man, Edmund.” She said as she turned to head to her room. “Sweet dreams, Ed.”
“Sweet dreams, Ava.” Edmund said with a smile before closing his study door.