“Welcome to Twinbrook!” I said to Timothy and Tiffany when they finally arrived at our home. They hadn’t come directly home with me. Both wanted to see their own parents in Riverview first.
“Let me take you upstairs,” I said. “We can drop your bags off. Tim, you’re going to stay in my old bedroom. Homer said he was going to stay with his girlfriend while you’re here, so Tiff and I will have his room.”
I took them both upstairs and showed them their respective sleeping arrangements. Tiffany cocked an eyebrow at me when she realized that Homer’s room only had one bed. This trip was supposed to be my big move with her. I figured Homer’s huge bed would give her a hint of my intensions. Either it’d be like a sleepover with a friend…or it would be something else.
“You can put your stuff in the closet,” I said. “Homer has a balcony, too,” I pointed. “There’s a telescope out there that’s perfect for star-gazing.”
I wasn’t surprised when Timothy cornered me later that day when Tiffany was showering off what she called “travel grime”.
“What are you doing, Char?” Timothy frowned at me.
“What do you mean?” I asked innocently.
“There’s only one bed in that room. Where are you going to sleep?”
“It will be like a sleepover,” I said, shrugging.
“Like hell,” he said, I could tell he was worried. “Don’t do this Charlotte, if you don’t know how you feel. It isn’t fair. Tiffany likes you a lot.”
“I like her, too,” I assured him.
“But do you like her in the same way? So far you two are friends. Just friends. If you fuck this up, all that tension that bothered you so badly before will be nothing compared to what will happen after.”
“I’m not going to fuck things up,” I said confidently, but I really wasn’t sure.
Later that first day, my dad and I took Tiff and Tim to the park where went went roller-skating. Dad and Timothy went home early because Dad wanted to show Timothy the fishing hole behind our house. Tiffany grabbed out coats out of the car before they left.
“Some of my friends will be here later,” I told dad as we said goodbye. “We’ll get a ride home with one of them or take a cab.”
When Dad and Timothy drove off, Tiffany looked at me. “I didn’t think you had friends before me,” she joked.
“Ha ha. I had a few. It was hard because I didn’t grow up here and then I went off to boarding school for awhile, too.”
Fred and Regina met us at the park and the four of us went roller-skating some more and then went through the Spooky Day Shack.
“I’m not sure I can handle this,” Tiffany joked. “Can I hold your hand if I get scared?” She asked me, flirtatiously. I smiled. “Sure.” Then, attempting to flirt back, I asked, “What happens if I get scared?”
“You can hold onto me, too,” Tiffany said.
Regina who witnessed the whole exchange as Fred bought our tickets gave me a look over Tiffany’s head. The Shack, honestly, wasn’t all that scary. The four of us came out of their laughing more than anything else.
Tiffany excused herself to use the restroom and Fred said he wanted to bob for apples, so he went to get in line for that. Regina held back and pulled me over to her.
“So you and Tiffany?” she asked. I shrugged. “Ok,” she said, then smiled. “Then I guess I can tell you that Fred and I are going out, too. I didn’t want to tell you. I always thought that you and he…”
“Me and Fred? Um, no!” I laughed. “There was never a ‘me and Fred’.”
“Good,” Regina laughed. Then we went to join Fred in line.
We got home late that night and headed up to Homer’s room. I was nervous, unsure exactly what would happen once we got there. I suppose I shouldn’t have been. I told Tiffany I was going to take a shower before bed. By the time I was done, she was already in bed and half asleep.
“I had fun today,” she murmured, scooting over to let me get in. “Me, too,” I whispered. I wasn’t sure what to say after that, but Tiffany just said “goodnight” and eventually I could hear her soft breathing as she fell asleep.
The next morning we got up and headed downstairs where we found Homer. He was eating a plate of fried fish.
“Ew, that’s gross,” I wrinkled my nose.
Homer laughed at me. “It’s my dinner,” he explained. “I work nights. I just got home.”
“What do you do?” Tiffany asked. I started making us a plate of pancakes.
“I work at the Science Institute,” Homer said, shocking me. This was new information to me. “When did that happen?” I asked.
“Around the time you left this summer.”
“I had no idea you were working for the Institute.”
“Oh, I don’t work for the Institute. I work for an organization called S.E.E.”
“What’s that?” Tiffany asked.
“It’s classified,” Homer answered. This piqued Tiffany’s interest, but nothing she could do would get Homer to tell her anything more about his job.
That day Homer’s girlfriend, Julie, came over. I liked her even though she came across as a bit serious. Even Tiffany’s sunny personality didn’t seem to lighten the girl up a bit. The three of us talked while my dad, Timothy and Homer watched the game on TV.
“So, you and Homer work together?” Tiffany asked. Julie said they did, but like Homer, she didn’t really divulge much of what they did. Then she changed the subject and asked me about the work I was doing at the university.
“Oh, Charlotte’s always working on some sort of experiment or another,” Tiffany answered for me. “I have to practically beg her to go out and have fun once in awhile.”
“Are you going to go work at the Science Institute when you graduate?” Julie asked me.
“I guess,” I shrugged. “It will depend on what offers I get. Tiffany and Timothy live in Riverview. They have an interesting agricultural lab there. And there’s always the Institute or the Insect Observatory in Bridgeport.”
“I like it here in Twinbrook,” Tiffany said. “I can see why you’d want to come back here.” She gave me a look and smiled at me. I felt my stomach flutter in response.
“Well, you don’t have to decide now,” Julie said. Then she looked over at Homer and told him it was time to go to work.
I showed Tiffany my lab upstairs after my brother and Julie left. I didn’t think she would be that interested, but she said she wanted to see it.
“It’s so cool that your parents bought all this stuff for you.”
“My mom and dad always encouraged me and my brothers to do what we were good at,” I said. “I know it seems weird, but we are very close. After my brother died, I suppose we became even closer.”
“I think that’s great,” Tiffany said, looking at me in a way that had my stomach fluttering again. “I don’t know what I would have done if my brother had died.”
“It was hard,” I said. I wanted to tell her about William, but I didn’t want to make her think I was totally insane. Feeling uncomfortable, I suggested we head to the hot tub.
“It’s a nice night for soaking,” I said, lamely.
“Mmmmm,” Tiffany sighed, closing her eyes as she sank into the warm water. I was surprised that she sat right next to me instead of on one of the other benches. “You are right. It’s a great night for a soak.”
I sighed and lifted my foot, turning my ankle this way and that. “I don’t come out here that often,” I said, just to say something. The hot water should have relaxed me, but I was feeling the tension of being so close to Tiffany.
“If I had a hot-tub in my back yard,” Tiffany said, “I think I’d be out there all the time.”
“Dad and Mom used to soak here all the time,” I said.
Tiffany opened her eyes and turned toward me. “I’m sorry about your mom. You’ve had a lot of deaths in your family.”
I shrugged. What was I supposed to say to that?
Tiffany scooted closer to me. She put an arm around me. “Is this ok?”
I nodded. “Do you miss your mom?” she asked. I nodded again. “And your brother?” I didn’t nod at that. I just looked into Tiffany’s eyes. They were as silver as the stars in the sky.
Tiffany leaned over and kissed me on the mouth. “Poor you,” she murmured and kissed me again. “Poor baby.”
I didn’t feel that ‘poor’ but Tiffany’s arm on me felt good and I liked the feel of her mouth on mine. She kissed me again, deeper. I thought about how close we were. I wondered if my dad or Timothy or even Homer knew we were out here. Would they care?
Tiffany pulled back. “You’re thinking,” she said. “I can tell. Is this ok? Seriously? Is it alright?”
“Yes,” I said, hurriedly. “I didn’t mean to think so much!” My answer caused Tiffany to start laughing uncontrollably. I pulled away and apologized again. “I told you I’m terrible with relationships!” I wailed.
“Oh Charlotte! You kill me. Let’s get out and go upstairs, ok?”
After that, Tiffany and Timothy’s visit with my family passed in a blur of fun and passion. We spent Spooky Day out with friends and then came home for a family party. Tiffany was so into my costume that she faked being tired and the two of us went up to bed early.
One day toward the end of our break, I was getting into the shower and Tiffany came in, surprising me.
“What are you doing in here?” I asked, peaking my head out. “Do you need to use the bathroom?”
“Nope,” Tiffany said, playfully. She unzipped her sweatshirt and then pulled off her t-shirt underneath.
“Oh,” I said, realizing what was about to happen.
After we got out of the shower, Tiffany told me she loved me. “I’m so glad I came here,” she said.
“I’m glad, too.” I said, smiling. “I love you, too. I can’t wait until we go back to school.”
Just before dark I headed to the Science Institute just like Germane had asked. Once inside, I was surprised to see Julie waiting for me in the lobby.
“Follow me,” she said. Shrugging, I did as I was told.
We went down a corridor that let to a bank of elevators. Julie punched in a code and the elevator opened. Then she punched in another code once we were inside (there were no floor numbers in the elevator).
I felt the elevator start to descend. “Want to fill me in on what’s going on?” I asked.
“This wasn’t my idea,” she said cryptically. “But once I told Germane about your brother, he insisted.”
“My what?!” I exclaimed. What the hell was she talking about? “William? He’s been dead for almost 10 years.”
Once the elevator stopped and we got out, I followed Julie down a dark hallway to an equally dark and dank room. It looked like part of what should have been a cellar or boiler room. Germane was setting at a large desk that seemed to dominate the room.
“Nice office,” I said sarcastically.
“Most of our work is in the field,” Germane said. “We just come here to debrief.”
“Ah,” I said as if I understood one little bit of what he was saying.
“Why don’t you sit down,” Julie offered me a rickety looking office chair. I shook my head. “I think I’ll stand.”
“Do you two mind telling me what this place is? I mean, you’re both really good at all this secretive shit, but you said this was a job offer and then you bring up my dead brother. I don’t get it.”
“We see dead people,” Germane said with a wry smile. Julie gave him a deeper frown, not appreciating his joking movie reference.
“You what?” I asked, incredulous. What was this, a joke?
“Seriously,” Julie said. “We see the dead. Ghosts, if you will. That’s what I meant about your brother.”
“You can see my brother?” I asked, trying not to panic.
“Sure. Can’t you?” Germane asked.
“Well, not many people can see the dead, but we’ve noticed your brother. He does not act like the typical spirit.”
“I don’t understand. I’ve never seen any other spirits, as you call them. What makes William so different?”
“We don’t know, but we thought you could help us find out,” Germane said with a shrug.
“Wait a minute. I’m not letting you experiment or whatever you do on my brother!”
“We don’t do experiments,” Julie said, glaring at Germane even more. “We’ve never done experiments! That’s for the idiots upstairs.”
“What idiots upstairs?” I asked. “What are you two talking about!”
“Look,” Germane said, shhhing Julie. “We are like investigators. We go out and gather evidence. We look into things. And then we bring our findings back here.”
“O-kay,” I said, still not sure what he was talking about.
“We’re also exterminators,” Julie said. “If a situation is a real problem, we go in and fix it.”
“What, exactly, do you exterminate?”
“Ghosts,” Julie said matter-of-factly. “Not all ghosts are like your brother.”
“So you’re saying that there are real ghosts.”
“And other things,” Germane said. “Surely you aren’t a skeptic. How long has your brother been haunting you?”
“That’s not the point,” I said. “I’ve never seen other ghosts. Ever!”
“Well, we thought you might want to,” said Germane. “If you can see your brother, then you will be able to see the rest. You just haven’t known how to look.”
What was I going to say? I had always been curious about why my brother William became a ghost but my mother never did. Germane and Julie offered me a chance to learn more about the dead, so I was willing to at least give them the benefit of the doubt.
I was not allowed to go out in the field on my own at first. Julie ended up being my trainer. “Now, ghosts can be tricky,” she warned me for the thousandth time. “These spirits we’re taking on today manifest as mostly nuisances. They shouldn’t be so bad, but you never want to underestimate a ghost.”
Julie handed me her weapon against the supernatural. She called it a Ghost-o-matic 2000. It looked like a weird leaf blower, but she assured me that it did the trick.
“Now, just aim it at the table over there and push the green button. That’s how you extract the spirit from the furniture it is currently haunting.”
“What’s the red button?” I asked.
“That’s what you hit if you have to obliterate the spirit. We’re not doing that today. We’re just capturing these little poltergeist spirits. We’re bringing them back to the S.E.E. laboratories.”
S.E.E. stood for Supernatural Entity Evaluation. It was a branch of the science institute that was top-secret. Apparently the government always knew about ghosts and was studying them for some purpose unknown to both Julie and Germane who were willing to just do their jobs.
“What difference does it make why they want to know about the spirits?” Julie asked. “These things need to be eradicated. They can cause a lot of harm.”
“I think they just want to extend life or something,” Germane said, shrugging. “Maybe they are using the energy the spirits put off in some top-secret weapon. I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m just grateful to have a job and to know that I’m not crazy because I can see things that other people don’t.”
After a short training period with Julie, I was sent out on my own to deal with mini-haunts, as Julie called them. “They’re mostly just lights people see in the swamp,” she explained. “Most people think it’s swamp gas, but we know better. They’re easy to suck up. They just sort of float around.”
“What are you doing?” William asked. I jumped, startled, not knowing that he had followed me.
“Jesus! You scared the shit out of me.”
“Sorry. What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m fighting ghosts,” I said jokingly. “Can’t you tell?”
William looked around at the little floating spirit that I had missed when he snuck up on me. “That’s a ghost?”
I shrugged. “That’s what they said. It’s a mini-haunt. A sort of light spirit or something.”
“Doesn’t look much like a ghost. I thought ghosts were the remnants of dead people.”
“That’s what I thought too, but Julie and Germane tell me there are all sorts of ghosts. They both say you’re something different, like they’ve never seen a ghost like you before.”
“They can see me?” William asked, and I nodded. “Well that’s awkward. I was following Julie the other day.”
“I followed her. You seem to like her. I think she frowns too much. I wanted to know why.”
“William! You’re not supposed to follow people around!”
“What! Like they can see me!”
“Well, Julie can, so knock it off.”
“Good!” I hesitated. Then I said, “so what did you find out?”
What William learned about Julie was very little. “She didn’t seem to do much all day except go to the store, grumble about the prices she paid for everything, go to her house and putter around in her kitchen, and then she went to the Science Institute. She doesn’t have much of a life, bro.”
Turns out William was right. Julie seemed to live and breathe her work. Now that we were working together, that was all she talked about. Even when I invited her back to my house for dinner, she talked only about the job.
“Just wait until you face large poltergeists and true haunts,” she said. “They’re not like those little mini things. They can be tricky.”
I nodded as Julie continued to describe and explain the differences between the amorphous mini-haunts and the larger, fully manifested true haunt. She explained that some of the manifestations could be really old.
“Are there ghost children, too?” I asked as we ate. I hoped that this would lead to a change in subject from work to kids, but it backfired.
“Of course there are,” Julie said. She frowned. “They’re the worst! As if real children aren’t bad enough, ghost children can be quite terrifying.”
I put my plate down and swallowed the bite of sandwich I’d taken. “You don’t like children?” I asked.
She wrinkled her nose. “Not really. They’re small. They are usually covered in something sticky or dirty. They ask a bunch of dumb questions. But when they’re dead they’re really awful. They like to sneak up on you and do things like pull your hair or yank the chair you’re about to sit on. And they’re really tricky to capture.”
Well, hell. How was I supposed to respond to that? I liked kids. I wanted a large family. The idea of capturing or obliterating a child ghost made me cringe. I wasn’t sure if I could do it.
Julie went out with me on a few more jobs as I was learning the ropes. As we worked together, I was less and less sure of our relationship outside of the job. Julie’s comments about kids had really thrown me.
Unfortunately, I found out that fighting ghosts really turned Julie on. I may not have been as sure of where our relationship was going, but she knew what she wanted. After fighting a particularly brutal battle against some poltergeists, Julie came home with me and practically dragged me up to my room.
And that’s how I found myself in a relationship with her. It wasn’t so bad. She was there when our cat, Felix, died. Unlike her dislike of children, Julie loved pets. Felix had adored her, and she was almost as upset as my dad when he died.
She and my dad seemed to get along, too, which was very important to me. I wanted him to like the woman I was dating. He didn’t need to know that Julie wasn’t a kid person. Dad wanted grandchildren as much as I wanted children. He might not understand why I continued to date her if she didn’t want kids.
“Ares, how is Hattie doing without Felix?” Julie asked with genuine concern after Felix died. Hattie was our other cat. She was also getting pretty old.
“She seems ok,” Dad said. “She’s grieving. Both cats grieved for Emilee, too,” Dad said. “She loved the cats. That’s probably why they like you so much, dear.” Dad smiled fondly at Julie. “I guess they just love a feminine touch.”
Julie smiled back.
The other person who got along with Julie pretty well was my sister Charlotte. She came home for a college break about the same time that Julie and I started dating more seriously. I wasn’t sure how Charlotte would feel about Julie or Julie about Charlotte.
I was also worried that Charlotte would find out what I did for a living and scoff at it. She was studying to be a scientist, after all. She’d probably think I was crazy if she knew that I was a ghost hunter!
Much to my surprise, Charlotte and Julie bonded over video games. I hadn’t even known that Charlotte played.
“There’s a lot about me you don’t know, big brother,” Charlotte said, laughing. “Besides, this is the best way to relax between study sessions.”
“It looks like you’re playing on-line,” I said. “You are you playing with?”
“Oh, we’re playing with my roommates, Tiffany and Timothy—you’ll get to meet them soon. I invited them here for part of our break. There’re the ones who got me into this game. It’s a lot of fun. You should join us!”
“I’ll pass. Actually, I’m going to get ready for work. Julie, are you coming?”
Julie looked up at me after a particularly furious bout of video carnage. “I’ll be along later. I’m going to finish this game first. Tell Germane I’ll be late.”
“He’s going to love that.”
“He can stuff it. See you later!”
Knowing my family liked my girlfriend made me happy, but another nice thing about going out with Julie was that she could see my brother, and I didn’t have to hide the fact that I could see him, too.
“Cats don’t come back as ghosts,” Julie told me and William soon after Felix died.
“It seems strange,” William said. “There are so many kinds of ghosts, according to you. Why do you think cats don’t come back?”
“Well, there aren’t that many types of ghosts,” Julie said. “Most ghosts aren’t like you, William. They aren’t aware of what is going on around them.”
“I’m special,” William preened. William was the only one who didn’t really care for Julie, but since she could see and talk to him, he tolerated her.
“It’s not that I don’t like her,” William said to me once. “It’s that she’s not the type of girl I picture you with. I mean, think about it, bro. You’re always apologizing to her. Like at the Spooky Day party…”
“It was my fault that Julie’s costume was the wrong one. I thought I’d ordered the matching police woman costume!”
“So what, dude? That’s just stupid shit and she made you feel like you’d ruined everything.”
“And,” William continued, “all she seems to care about is work. Have you noticed that you guys don’t talk about much else? I mean, you even go on dates that are work related!”
William was talking about the time that Julie and I had had a romantic evening at the cemetery. I know that might seem like a strange place to go on a date, but it really is a beautiful location and it is perfect for star-gazing and night fishing.
“I just don’t get it, Homer. What exactly are you expecting to happen with her? Do you think you’re going to marry her or something?”
I frowned. “I don’t know! We haven’t even been going out that long!”
“Well you should figure it out. You’re not a short-term sort of guy,” William said. “You’re the type that thinks about future and family and all that stuff. If you don’t see that with Julie, then you should break up now before it gets too complicated. You still have to work with her,” he advised.
“I don’t think it’s that easy.”
“It can be. But you need to man up, bro. If she’s not it, then you need to tell her.”
I had a lot to think about related to Julie. Thankfully, I no longer had to go out in the field with her. I was working solo most of the time. I’d also graduated to the larger, more dangerous and difficult spirits. We were supposed to banish them either peacefully or by force. Most often we had to use force.
Outside of work, I didn’t see Julie as often, either. I hadn’t called her to go out since Charlotte went back to school. I needed time to think about what William had told me. Unfortunately, when I was ready to straiten things out with Julie, the worst happened.
No matter how often you experience it, having a close family member die is a traumatic experience. Dad was old. He wasn’t getting around as easily as he had. It shouldn’t have come as a shock to me when he died. I’m not too proud to admit that I became an emotional wreck. Even William was affected.
The last thing I could think about was the status of my relationship or lack there of with Julie Glover.