The Ghost and the Graveyard

Chapter 17


Strange Cup of Joe
I did not make a decision. Weeks passed. Nothing happened. The ground didn't open up. I wasn't struck by lightning. As far as I was concerned, I could do non-committal for as long as it took. To fill my days, and keep my mind busy, I picked up extra shifts at the hospital and fell into an exhausting routine.
Logan proved amicable with my non-decision, although disappointed I wasn't choosing him romantically. No matter how many times I tried to explain our joining was a mistake, like literally an unexpected accident, I could sense that his feelings for me ran strong. He continued to cook and clean. He was an excellent listener. It was flattering...and completely wrong.
I passed Rick's stone cottage an average of twice a day, sometimes catching him on the porch or working near the cemetery, but I did not stop. With sad eyes, he'd watch me go, but he didn't come for me. Although he was fast enough, and strong enough to press the issue, he never did.
Summer, in pursuit of greener pastures, packed its bags and left New Hampshire, ushering autumn to Red Grove. Overnight, the trees grew bolder personalities, dressing in garnet and persimmon and welcoming my Jeep home with an increasing number of free-spirited leaves.
"You can't put us off forever," Prudence said one night from the edge of my bed. Tonight she was her young, nursey self, soft spoken and vulnerable. "It's not fair to Rick or to Logan."
"Or to you. Don't forget yourself, Prudence," I snapped.
She sighed heavily.
I circled my hand in the air. "You know who this entire situation isn't fair to? Me. This isn't fair to me."
Prudence rippled and blinked out of sight. "Perhaps," her disembodied voice said, and then she was gone.
The next morning, I worked a full day and an hour of overtime. I plodded to my car, exhausted from thirteen hours of beeping machines, blood, and drugs. The extra shifts were catching up with me along with the stress of avoiding the supernatural entities in my life. On the way home, I called my dad. I'd neglected our relationship since what I'd come to refer to as "the big reveal." The call went straight to voicemail.
"Dad, I just wanted to tell you I love you. I'm so glad you told me the truth about Mom. Maybe we can have dinner Sunday night. Call me when you get a chance."
I ended the call and pulled into a Java Jane's for a cup of coffee. I wasn't sure I'd stay awake on the country roads to Red Grove without it. A line had formed for the drive thru, so I parked and drifted to the counter half-asleep.
"I'll have a Fall Spice Latte," I said to the barista.
She nodded and requested an exorbitant amount of money in exchange, which I promptly handed over. All part of the Java Jane's experience. I folded into a wooden chair at one of the bistro style tables while I waited for my grande. Even though I was exhausted, I couldn't help but notice an old man in the corner of the cafe staring at me. He was giving me the hairy eyeball as if he'd just seen me on America's Most Wanted. Beady eyes peeked out from a deeply wrinkled face of a yellow color that only comes from a lifetime of heavy smoking and abuse of alcohol.
Every self-defense class I've ever taken emphasized that eye contact simply encourages the aggressor, so I looked away, hoping he'd lose interest. I heard him scoot his chair back on the tile and out of the corner of my eye, saw him scratch his potbelly through his stained t-shirt. Besides the barista, he and I were the only ones inside. I silently prayed he'd leave. No luck. I didn't hear him approach until he was right next to me, close enough for me to smell his foul breath, a smell I could only compare to the stench of gangrene.
"I see you," he said in a raspy drawl that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
My protective instincts told me to run. Instead, I turned my head and looked him square in the face, my most professional demeanor sliding into place like a mask. "If you need a doctor, the hospital is a mile north of here. You can get treatment in the emergency room."
The wrinkles of his face swallowed his eyes as he considered what I said. He tilted his head to the side, contemplating me with such intensity I stood up and stepped toward the counter just to get away from him.
"I'll be right with you," the barista said, busy finishing my latte.
The old man showed a mouthful of yellow teeth. Was that supposed to be a smile? "For now, heh-cah-tee," he rasped. "But I see you. I see you." And then, to my relief, he left, laughing all the way out the door.
"Here's your latte," the barista said, handing me the cup.
"Thanks. Jeez, that guy was creepy, huh?"
"What guy?" she asked.
"The old man who was just here talking to me. The one with wrinkles like a Shar-Pei."
She looked at me blankly. "I didn't see anyone. Gosh, I hope he doesn't complain to the manager. I'm supposed to greet everyone who comes in."
Annoyed, I grabbed my coffee and headed for the parking lot. I looked both ways, seriously freaked out by the old man's vibe, and then strode toward my car as quickly as possible. The girl must have been half deaf and blind to miss that guy. Not to mention the smell. Ew.
I'm not sure what set me off. I didn't hear him come up behind me, and his body was out of sight. But I knew when he lunged for me. I expected it.
One of his hands shot around my waist, the other clutched at my mouth. I grabbed both and lurched forward, sending my backside into his fat belly and using his forward momentum to launch him over my shoulder. He landed flat on his back on the pavement. Thank you Hapkido. I slipped inside my Jeep and used my key fob to lock the doors. Cell phone, STAT! Receipts and tissues flew as I dug through the Bermuda triangle of handbags.
I ditched that plan when movement out my window caught my eye. The wrinkled old man rose unnaturally from the pavement, tipping up onto his feet like gravity forgot about him. Fuck! I slammed the keys into the ignition. Who the hell was this guy? The impact from that fall should've broken something, and it wasn't like he was in tip-top physical condition.
He lunged for my car. I shifted into reverse and slammed on the gas. The man pursued me. Like a high school track star, he sprinted after my Jeep. Tires squealing, I stopped, shifted, accelerated forward in a car-on-man game of chicken. He didn't flinch. I swerved before impact, narrowly missing him and gunned it toward Red Grove. I only slowed when I'd put miles between his wrinkled face and my bumper.
With shaking hands, I dialed 911 and relayed what had happened. Identifying myself as a nurse, I suggested the man was mentally ill and probably on PCP or something. The dispatcher promised to send a squad car.
Describing the scenario forced me to analyze it with a clinical eye. Nurses are assaulted more than any other helping profession. Sick people aren't in their right minds, and drug users often have what seems like superhuman strength. I'd taken self-defense classes for years and used my skills on more than one occasion. The fact the man attacked me outside the hospital was irrelevant. He'd seen my scrubs and wanted something from me. What had he said? Hecate? Probably a new name for heroin. Maybe he thought I could get him some.
Halfway home, I remembered the coffee in my cup holder. I didn't need it anymore. The scare woke me right up. I drank it anyway, for comfort more than caffeine. Why did my life have to be so bizarre? I came to Red Grove to get over Gary and move on, but all I'd found was one crisis after another. I wanted a normal life. I didn't want to be a witch, and I didn't want a supernatural relationship.
I contemplated leaving Red Grove and all of my problems behind. My mind raced while my subconscious drove. It wasn't the safest way to travel. But before I knew it, the garage door was opening, welcoming me home.
Entering the kitchen from the garage, the smell that wafted around me made my mouth water. On the stove, a bubbling pot stirred itself. The oven opened, and a roast slid out, basted itself, and retreated.
He formed in front of the kitchen island. "Grateful, welcome home. How was your day?"
"Fucked up. An old man with drug-induced strength tried to kill me at the coffee shop." I gave him a blow by blow of the incident.
Logan frowned. "He called you Hecate? You're sure."
"Ah, yeah! A girl wouldn't forget something like that."
"Hecate is another name for what you are."
My breath caught in my throat. "Are you saying that the man knew I had part of the witch inside of me?"
"I'm saying he probably wasn't a man. Prudence says now that you know what you are, you'll start to change. It's part of the transition until you take your power back or reject it. The magic inside of you is visible by certain...creatures."
I threw my keys on the counter so hard they skidded into the wall. "Isn't that just the theme of the fucking year? Everyone knows about how this works but me."
"I'm sorry-"
Prudence formed then, crossing her arms over her chest. "Probably a demon. I'm not sure a vampire could tell who you are. Not yet. But a demon might be able to smell it on you."
"But what does Hecate mean?
"Hecate is an ancient name for the goddess of the dead. It's fitting. They say Isabella was a daughter to the goddess herself."
I huffed. "Goddess? I have a big enough problem with the title witch!"
"A sorceress by any other name would be as powerful." She laughed. "You called yourself the Monk's Hill witch in your last life because you thought it had a ring to it, but truly Hecate would be more accurate.
I rolled my eyes. "Save it. I don't need this right now." I was pissed. I wanted my life back. "What is this, Logan?" I waved a hand over the bubbling mess that was my kitchen.
"Dinner. I thought we could have a date."
"It's not even ten. You're hardly opaque. It's too early for you."
"I knew you'd be tired, and I wanted to spend some time with you before you fell asleep. You've worked every night this week."
"I..." What could I say? It was a thoughtful gesture, so why did it feel so suffocating? Even as I asked myself that question, I knew the answer. After what happened at Java Jane's, I wanted to be alone, to pretend for one night that my house wasn't haunted.
Plus, this was exactly what Michelle had warned me about. He was too dependent on me. I wasn't ready to be in a relationship, especially one that felt forced. Logan lived here, and I lived here. What did that mean for my desire not to choose? I needed time and space.
"I need a bath," I said, marching toward the stairs.
"You don't have to decide, Grateful."
I turned back toward him. "No? How about if I decide I want my life back? No ghosts. No demons. No caretakers. That's not going to happen, is it?"
"You're considering being with Rick, aren't you?"
"I'm not having this conversation with you. You're the one who told me I had a choice. It goes both ways, and the only one who can make it is me."
Logan flickered. Whatever was on the stove began bubbling over. I hurried to turn off the burner. Clarity came to me in Michelle's words: How do you know they are what they seem?
I focused my attention on what I could see of Logan's head. "Be honest. What's the real reason you don't want me to become the witch? What would make you want to be a ghost forever?"
By the length of time it took Logan to answer, I knew I was onto something. He blended into the wall, his desire to dodge the inquiry bleeding the energy out of him. But I wasn't going to let him off that easily.
I dug in my heels. "I'll be here all night. Oh, and the next day, and the next day. You're kind of stuck with me. Out with it. Why are you afraid to be sorted?"
"I don't know who I am," he blurted.
"So? Isn't that what the witch is supposed to figure out?"
"I don't know what type of life I've lived. I don't know who I was. Was I a doctor, a mobster, a priest, a criminal? I have no idea. Don't you get it? I don't know which way I'll be sorted."
"Oh." It had never occurred to me that Logan could be anything but a good soul. Kindness just seemed like an integral part of his character. But he was right. I had no idea what went into sorting or how much control I'd have if I did it. What if I had to sort him to the underworld? What if Rick ended up eating his soul for supper? The thought was horrifying.
"The worst part is, if I wasn't a good person, you'll know. It'll be you who makes the call. Despite what you think, I do care for you. It's the major reason I'm not afraid to stay. Being with you, it makes this existence worth it."
"I can't be your whole existence." There, I'd said it. "I don't want to share my life with someone for eternity." Silence settled between us until we were interrupted by the timer on the oven.
"The roast is done," he murmured.
"How did you get all of this food? I'm sure I didn't leave a roast in the refrigerator."
"Um, yeah, you may owe around fifty dollars to Red Grove Grocery and Pub. I had it delivered."
"They delivered this on credit?"
He rubbed the back of his neck. "I may have taken the package while the delivery boy was distracted. Like, maybe the door opened by itself and the package fell from his hands before the door closed again."
"I see. I'll make sure the grocery gets paid, but please, in the future, give me a heads up first. I won't allow you to steal anything from anyone, and I can't afford to eat like this every night. Plus, I can't have the residents of Red Grove suspecting this place is haunted."
"Understood." I could have been mistaken, but for a moment, Logan appeared to be blushing. I'd never known a ghost could blush, but then Logan was my first.
"Listen, Logan. Dinner smells awesome. I'm sorry I'm not more appreciative, but I need to be alone right now.
He lowered his head, and I made for the bathtub by way of the wine cellar.