The Ghost and the Graveyard

Chapter 10


My Past Haunts Me
Logan didn't come out that night, probably avoiding another confrontation about Prudence and the scrapbook. In fact, my house was pleasantly devoid of ghosts. I went to bed early thinking about our last conversation. Logan's words kept repeating in my head. "Ask your father. Ask him for the nurse's name. That's your clue."
The next day, I decided follow up on Logan's clue and call my dad over my lunch break. Across the street from the hospital is a restaurant called Valentine's. St. John's employees love it, because if you're wearing scrubs they serve you first. It's nice when people recognize a long lunch could mean someone's life. Plus, the food is better than the cafeteria, and they serve a yummy cappuccino. After 7:00 p.m., they open a bar in the back with a small dance floor surrounded by dartboards and pool tables. It's a great place to hang out.
I found a quiet booth and ordered a sandwich from an annoyingly perky waitress. Then I dialed Dad on my cell. It was a hard conversation to start. How do you ask a man about the day his wife bled to death? The topic was generally avoided in our family.
But when I thought about backing down, I thought about my ghost. Logan had hinted that this story would help me understand why he was in my attic and what I needed to know about Rick. I wanted to solve the mystery of my haunted house, but I also wanted to help him find peace. Not everyone would take a knife in the gut to help a friend, ghost or not. Logan was a good person, dead or alive.
"Hello," my dad said in his real estate agent voice, like he pooped sunshine and rainbows. It was why he was so good at what he did.
"Dad, it's me."
"Hi, sweetie. Everything okay with the new place?"
"Sure, yeah. It's great."
"What's up, then?"
"I need to talk to you about when I was a baby. It's just something I've been thinking about, and I have to know. I want you to tell me the whole story, everything you remember about when I was born."
Silence. I checked to make sure the call was still connected.
"What brought this on?" he finally asked.
"Well, now that I'm a nurse myself, and I'm working at the same hospital where I was born, I just feel the need to know. I'm only twenty-two, and some of the staff here has been around for thirty or forty years. What if I run into someone who was involved with my birth?"
"There's no chance of that." My father's voice sounded grim.
I was sorry for ruining his day by digging up ancient memories, but I needed to know. "Why?"
"Listen, I'll come over tonight. We'll talk about this in person. This isn't a conversation for the phone."
"Okay." The word came out of my throat like a cough.
"I'll see you tonight."
"I get off at seven."
We ended the call, but words that needed to be aired pressed themselves against the phone. I wasn't sure how my ghost knew, but my dad had something to tell me. I both welcomed and dreaded his visit.
* * * * *
Robert Knight, real estate agent, walked up to my house minutes after I arrived home. He wore a tailored gray suit with a black leather satchel strung across the shoulders and only became Dad when I opened the door and my hug broke his professional demeanor.
"Hi, Dad. Thanks for coming."
He kissed the top of my head. With a full coif of short black hair and only a slight pattern of gray above his ears, people often mistook him for ten years younger than he was. His movie star good looks and athletic physique added to the illusion of youth. Growing up, neighborhood women and house-hunting clients were always making excuses to flirt with him, but he never seemed interested. I never really thought about why. As a kid, my innocent mind just assumed he was happy with our family and didn't need another wife.
"Can I get you something to drink?"
He followed me into the kitchen and took a seat on a stool at the island. "Yeah. Scotch, straight up."
I laughed. "Scotch? Sorry, I don't drink the stuff."
"There's some in the cabinet above the fridge."
I stretched to open the little door he motioned toward. I never used that cabinet. Too hard to reach. Sure enough, there was half a bottle of scotch there. I poured him a glass. "Did you store this up there before I moved in?"
"Actually, it was here since before Prudence died. I used to come visit her occasionally. She kept it for me."
Uh-oh. "Dad, please tell me you weren't having an affair with her." Prudence was almost twenty years older than my father. I shuddered to think they were somehow involved.
"No. No, affair. We were just friends."
I squinted in his direction. "Close enough friends that she left you her house when she died, kept your favorite liquor, and had this under her bed." I retrieved the scrapbook from where I'd left it in the island cabinet and flopped it down in front of him.
"What's this?"
"You tell me."
He scrubbed his face with his hands, flashing his Rolex in the process. "Maybe it would be better if I started at the beginning."
"Yeah, I think that would be best."
The way he ran his thumb across his eyebrow and took a swig of scotch before he started told me I needed to sit down for this. I pulled up a stool.
"Your mother and I had tried for years to have a baby. She had some female problem I never really understood. We'd given up entirely by the time you came along. You were a miracle. Such an incredible surprise." He took another drink.
"Go on." I wasn't sure what this had to do with Prudence, but I'd asked him here to tell me about mom's death. I guess he was starting there.
"We were so happy. When you've wanted something for so long and think you'll never have it, and then someone tells you fate has changed her mind, and you're getting it after all...well, I don't know if I can explain how that feels. Anyway, when Elena went into labor, we were ready. The nursery was done. We couldn't wait to bring you home."
I placed my hand on his and nodded.
"At first, everything proceeded as expected. The birth itself was rough, but the doctor said it was normal. But then she started to bleed. They pressed on her stomach and gave her medicine, but they couldn't stop it. She died. But you knew that, didn't you?" The scotch was gone. He stood and poured himself another.
I held my tongue. So far, he hadn't shared anything I hadn't figured out on my own. But I could feel it coming. There was something else. Something big.
"I never told you this before, Grateful, and I'm so sorry to admit it. I couldn't even look at you when you were born. I didn't hold you. I didn't name you." My father's voice came out shaky, and his eyes welled with tears. "I left. I abandoned you in that hospital the moment I found out she was dead."
It took me a while to process what he was saying. "Do you mean you left me at the hospital with no intention of coming back...ever?"
"Exactly. I never even asked about you for two full weeks. I just ran."
Holy shit. I felt like someone had slugged me in the stomach.
"Finally, I came to my senses. I returned to the hospital and found the nurse who'd delivered you. I begged her to tell me where you were. I figured you'd be in foster care somewhere with the state. The nurse pulled me aside and explained she'd taken pity on me. She'd forged my name on a few documents to make it look like I was a normal, caring father, and she'd taken you home herself. Then she returned you to me. She..."
Fuck. My dad was losing it, crying openly into his glass. I'd never seen my father cry. I circumnavigated the counter and snaked my arm around his neck.
"That's why I named you Grateful. There was no one more grateful than I was to have you and for the nurse who saved our family."
Eyes wide, I wondered how different things must have been back then for a nurse to take a chance like that. She could've gone to prison and lost her license. The story was almost unbelievable but then so was the sight of my father sobbing in my arms. "So that's why you sent the nurse a card every year on my birthday."
"You remember that?"
I nodded. "Who was the nurse, Dad? Can I meet her?"
"No. I'm sorry. I'd intended to introduce you someday, but she passed away so suddenly." He slid the scrapbook in front of him and started flipping through the pages. "I guess this was her way of remembering you. She didn't have any children of her own."
The room began to spin. "What?"
"The nurse who kept you in my absence was Prudence Meriwether. You're living in her house."
I plopped down on the stool next to Dad, snatched his scotch, and tossed it to the back of my throat. I coughed at the harsh burn of the liquor.
"Prudence and I always had a close relationship after what happened with you. She didn't have any other family, so she left the house to me. She would've been so happy to know you were using it. God, I wish I'd had the guts to introduce you while she was still alive. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I knew if I did, I'd have to explain, and it kills me to admit the truth. It kills me." His shoulders bobbed with the rhythm of his sobbing.
Now, I considered blabbing to my dad that Prudence had never left this house. I really did. I opened my mouth several times to broach the subject. But I didn't. I told myself it was because he'd never believe me, but it was bigger than that. I didn't tell because my ghosts were my secret. As crazy as it sounds, some deep-set instinct kept me from sharing Prudence's ghostly presence.
Instead, I patted him on the back. "Dad, I can't say I'm not totally floored right now. But I'm a nurse, okay? I see what the death of a loved one does to people. I can't really say I understand, not personally, because I've never been through it. I guess what I'm trying to say is... the important thing is... You came back for me. I mean, you were a good dad to me when it counted. I don't even remember those first weeks."
He buried his face in his hands. I noticed his glass was empty again.
"I forgive you, Dad. Okay? I forgive you."
The hug he gave me made me cry. It was so desperate. My chest hurt to think he'd been carrying this secret and the resulting guilt around for so many years.
"You're a good kid, Grateful. A really good kid." Dad pulled himself together, smoothing his suit coat down and wiping under his eyes. "I should go." Standing, his realtor self snapped back on his frame like a Lego part. He ran a hand through his hair and gave me one last hug.
His hand was on the doorknob when I remembered there was more I needed to ask him. "Hey, do you know if more keys came with this place? I can't get the attic door open."
His mouth tightened, and his eyebrows knitted together. "I know for certain there are no other keys. I'm careful about labeling everything. Who knows where Prudence kept it? Go ahead and call a locksmith if you want. I'll pay for it. Going to need it if I sell the place someday anyway."
He left, looking as fresh as when he'd come, like he'd never had a major heart-to-heart with his only daughter. That was my dad.
I watched him pull out of my drive, thinking about what Logan had said. After he'd told Prudence I was Robert Knight's daughter, the baby she'd cared for twenty-two years ago, he'd said she remembered me. The ghost in my attic knew me. She'd helped deliver me.
Unfortunately, I still didn't understand what any of this had to do with Rick, or why Logan was being so secretive about why he was in my attic. In fact, I was more confused than ever.
* * * * *
"Prudence was the nurse who delivered me. What does it mean, Logan?"
Logan sat across from me at the dining room table, watching me eat a late dinner he'd prepared. It was some sort of chicken dish that melted in my mouth and tasted of butter and fresh herbs. He'd insisted, and I couldn't refuse.
"I told you, I can't say," he muttered.
"Can you ask Prudence to talk to me?"
He hesitated, looked away. "Sure. I'll ask"
I rolled another delicious bite around in my mouth, amazed a ghost had prepared it. "Don't you remember anything about your life at all?" I asked.
"I see bits and pieces sometimes. I know things about eating. Like how to cook and what wine goes with what dessert. I think I liked motorcycles. Everything...all my memories are loose inside my head. I can't connect them logically."
Part of me could relate. Some days I didn't know who I was either. The arc of my life just seemed to happen with no driving force behind it, as if I were going along with a script rather than meeting it head on. Part of it I could blame on being in my early twenties, but the rest was all me.
"In an odd way, I can empathize," I said. "I may know my name, but sometimes I wonder if I will ever understand who I really am." The words surprised me as they poured out of my mouth. What was it about Logan that made me share the most intimate details of my life with him?
"I have a vague sense that I was lonely when I was alive. There's a hollowness at the center of me. I don't remember what my life was like, but something about me seems disconnected. It's hard to explain."
I rubbed a circle over my sternum with my palm. I could relate to that too. "Gary did that to me. Maybe you had a similar situation before you, um, died."
Logan's despondent eyes fixated on his interlaced fingers. "I wish I remembered."
"I wish I could forget."
Glowing green eyes met mine. Logan and I had a moment of connection, a communion of thoughts that conveyed a mutual desire to comfort, although no words were said. I reached forward to place my hand over his, and my flesh sank through him. A tingling pressure eased over my skin until my palm hit the table.
"Oh. Sorry." I retracted my fingers.
He shrugged awkwardly. The room fell silent. I ate the last bite off my plate.
"Would you like to play a game?" I asked.
"Sure," he said, brightening in his chair. "What did you have in mind?"
"There's a pool table downstairs. Eight ball?"
Logan nodded. "I remember. I remember how to play."
He followed me downstairs, and I racked the balls. In order to manipulate the pool cue, Logan had to disappear. I knew from the break I was in trouble. Whoever Logan had been in his life, he was damned good at pool.
"Do you have another date with the caretaker?" he asked out of the blue.
"Uh, yes. Tomorrow night."
He lined up another shot. "I've warned you Grateful-"
"I'm a big girl Logan. I can make my own decisions."
"Did anything, um, happen on your first date?"
My face was on fire. I placed my hand on my cheek. "That is none of your business."
"Why are you turning red? Oh...fuck..."
Embarrassed, I felt obligated to defend my honor. "We fooled around but, you know, nothing more."
A relieved sigh came from his side of the table.
What? Who did he think he was prying into my private life? If he wanted me to stay away from Rick, he needed to give a better explanation. "Why do you care so much, Logan?" I snapped.
He formed next to me, his aura burning brighter than I'd ever seen it. As if on impulse, he leaned in and kissed me. The cool vibration of his lips sent tingles over my scalp and down my spine.
When he pulled away, he broke apart and sifted into the air vent.
So much for my theory that Logan's intentions were solely platonic. Body or no body, his kiss was more than friendly.