The Ghost and the Graveyard

Chapter 16


I Seek Wise Counsel
It wasn't even seven o'clock in the morning by the time I reached St. John's Hospital, but my body told me I'd packed a week of living into the first hours of the day. My shoulders sagged, and there was an ache deep inside my chest. I didn't have a name for all of my emotions. In nursing school, they teach you to help people in crisis-illness, death, disfigurement, that type of thing. No book ever covered what to do when you find out you are the reincarnated soul of a witch, your neighbor is a blood-drinking immortal, and you have ghosts in your attic. I was in new territory here.
I stepped out of the break room with my stethoscope slung around my neck, knowing that no amount of medicine could cheat death. I've always known this. I've seen dozens of people die during my career. Only, today, a revelation; death was not the end. Death meant change. Death meant forgetting. Death meant moving on.
On the way to see my first patient, I passed room three twelve. The door was open. A teenaged girl sobbed into her hands, her brown hair tangled around her face. I knocked on the open door.
"Everything okay in here?" I asked softly.
She stroked her hair back from her red-rimmed eyes. "My grandmother..." She pointed toward the bed. "She just died. The nurse went to call my mother and make arrangements."
I shifted my focus from the girl to the body. Grandma may have died, but she was still in the room. My jaw dropped. Her soul looked down on me as I stepped, trancelike, to her granddaughter's side.
"Her soul is so bright!" Had I said that out loud?
With my hand on the girl's shoulder, I struggled to regain my composure. The ascending light filled the room. Desperately, I wanted to tell this girl that her grandma's soul radiated pure good, warmth, and love. I was struck dumb. Her soul smiled at me, broke apart into a thousand pinpoints of light and circled up through the ceiling. I gripped my chest as a weight, one I'd come to associate with Logan, was lifted from me.
"Miss, are you all right?" the girl asked.
I faced her with tears in my eyes, my jaw working as my brain struggled to find the right words. "Your grandma was a wonderful person. If it gives you any comfort, for as long as I've been nursing, I've never seen a more peaceful death. You can tell... by her body. She was ready, and obviously loved." My voice gave out on the last word.
Eyes wide, she squeezed my hand. "Thank you."
I suddenly felt small and inconsequential in the face of the great and mysterious world around me. For the first time, the part of me that was the witch awakened, stretched her arms toward the sun, and beckoned me forward. Come. Accept my gifts. Know the unknown. Seize your power.
As I retreated from the room and the girl, I really wished the witch would shut the fuck up.
* * * * *
My two patients kept me more than busy. They were both sedated, hooked up to machines that helped them breathe. One was in a diabetic coma, the other recovering from a heart attack. Like any other day, I did my assessments and administered my medications. But unlike yesterday, I knew they wouldn't die. Crap. Whether it was because of Logan, Rick, or my past life, I could sense death like a cold room. Although my diabetic coma patient gave off a chilly breeze, she wasn't there yet. On one hand, this new spidey-sense came in handy as a nurse. On the other, it was creepier than a hillbilly with a chainsaw.
"Are you ready for lunch?" Michelle caught me outside the medication room, a lopsided grin on her face. "I thought we could go check on that neuro patient."
"What neuro patient?"
"You know, the transfer from St. Augustus. Maureen on Neuro wants our professional opinion."
"Can it wait for another day? I really need to talk to you about something."
"Sure." Her expression turned serious. "What's going on?"
"It's a long story. Let me tell Kathleen I'm leaving, and we can go to Valentine's."
She nodded. A few moments later, we headed across the street to our favorite restaurant. I slid into a secluded booth at the back, and Michelle got comfortable across from me. I dove right into the conversation. Hell, I'd burst if I didn't vent to someone.
"Michelle, I need your advice."
"Let's say you knew two men."
"I like this scenario already." She smiled and opened her menu.
"The first man is sexy beyond belief. Every time you see him your body begs you to throw yourself at him," I said.
"Sounds good to me. What's the catch?"
"He's a monster."
Her eyes popped over the top of her menu, and she laughed like I was being ridiculous. "What do you mean, like a murderer?"
I rolled that around in my brain. Rick was not the equivalent of a murderer, but I wasn't sure what to compare him to. "Not a murderer. Someone who lives two lives, like a mob boss. By day, he's a normal businessman. Behind closed doors, he's unscrupulous."
Michelle raised an eyebrow and frowned. "But not like the Sopranos-no killing."
"Well, if there is killing it's only the bad guys. He's got a conscience, but he doesn't live a traditional life."
"Like a pimp, a good pimp. Like he takes really good care of his prostitutes but still he's into something horrible, like prostitution."
"No, that's not it either. It's not just what he does. It's who he is. Like, let's say he has herpes or leprosy." I cringed. The words were out. No getting them back.
"Oh my God. He's contagious?"
I rubbed my forehead. "Yes, let's pretend he's contagious with something that is disfiguring, not deadly."
"But that's not really it."
"No. Stop. You're missing the point. The guy is gorgeous, but he isn't your traditional take-home-to-mom husband material. His life is complicated and would complicate mine. Just leave it at that."
Michelle sighed. "Okay. What about the other guy?"
"The other guy treats you like a queen. He's someone you can talk to all night long and knows you better than almost anyone else. But your feelings are more...comfortable than intense."
She raised an eyebrow. "Comfortable. Hmm. Is he ugly?"
"No, he's very attractive. However, he doesn't have a body. I mean, he doesn't have full use of his body. He's a quadriplegic." Was my nose growing? I was rambling, making it up as I went along.
"Wow." She let that sink in. "So, how independent is he? Is he someone who has his own life without you?"
I had to think about that one too. The leprosy analogy was somewhat of a stretch, but the quadriplegic was a bit too close for comfort. Even though Logan was independent and was in many ways taking care of me, he wasn't able to leave the house. He had Prudence and me-that was it.
"He's very independent but socially isolated due to his condition."
A brunette waitress bopped over to our table and took our drink order. As soon as she turned her back, Michelle set down her menu and leaned across the table.
"So, the dilemma you're facing is whether to choose body or soul. You're wondering whether you should feel guilty for wanting the body of the first man when the second may be the more ethical choice because he deserves your love more."
"Yes, I think that's it."
"Grateful," Michelle started, "how certain are you that each of these men are what they seem? You haven't known them for long. Do you know for sure that bad-boy dangerous is as shallow as you make him out to be? And the deep soul, will he always have the emotional connection to you that he does now? A lot can change once the newness wears off."
This is why I like talking to Michelle. She has a way of simplifying everything, even when it isn't what I want to hear. "I guess you're right. I haven't known either of them long enough to know for sure. But Mr. Dangerous did lie to me."
"About what?"
"Well, he omitted the truth about what he did for a living."
"But you described what he did as monstrous."
"Yeah, so?"
"Can you blame him for omitting the truth? He's probably embarrassed about what he is. Maybe he wishes he could change."
I hated to admit that she might be right. I didn't know Rick, not really. I wasn't sure of his intentions. Maybe my former self had been married to him, had lived a whole life with him, but that wasn't me. That was someone else.
"And the other one, the perfect soul, it's easy to do the right thing when you don't have any other option. If he's isolated, you might grow tired of him. No one can be the center of someone's universe forever. It isn't healthy. I'm sure the disability you could live with, but the dependence? You couldn't take more than a week of it. You'll feel suffocated."
She was right. I couldn't use Logan for coffee and breakfast indefinitely. He wasn't my housekeeper. Besides Prudence, I was all he had. What would happen to him when I moved out? I didn't know for sure. Logan said that the next witch might not be able to send him on, but what did that mean? What would happen to him here?
Michelle spread her hands. "Did you hear what I just said?"
"No, um, sorry. I phased out just then. What were you saying?"
"Why can't you choose bachelor number three? I mean, why is this such a pressing issue? It's a free country. Don't underestimate your ability to not commit."
I blinked in her direction. "Like, don't commit to either of them?"
"Yes. Remember the blonde paradox? Remember Gary? You tend to rush into things, only to find out that the guy isn't who you thought he was. Why don't you just wait, take it slow this time, and see where it goes?"
"Uh, I've already not taken it slow...with both of them."
The server returned with our drinks. I ordered a Valentine burger with cheese. Michelle opted for the garden salad, definitely the healthier choice. She was always making the healthier choice. She glared at me until the waitress stepped out of earshot.
"You're right. You're right," I admitted. "I'm not good at going slow. I have needs."
"Wait. When you say you haven't taken it slow, you mean, um..." Michelle leaned across the table, looking around her to make sure no one was listening, "You mean sex, right?"
"Well, yes." I bobbed my head back and forth on my shoulders. "Not sex exactly, but enough."
"Come on, Grateful. You're twenty-two years old. You can have sex responsibly without opening your whole life to a person. Keep sex where sex belongs, in the bedroom. Keep your heart where your heart belongs-in your chest, tightly guarded by your brain. You know, if you were a man we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Uh oh. I'd tapped on Michelle's passionate feelings about gender equality. Better change the subject or this could take a while. "I thought you were supposed to tell me to follow my heart."
"No! That's terrible advice. Hearts make knee-jerk emotional decisions. Your heart picked Gary and look how that turned out. This time, you need to use your head."
I knew she was right. Michelle was always right. But could I do it her way? Could I just wait and not make a decision about Rick or Logan or becoming the witch?