That’s what I keep telling myself as I stare at the antique mahogany armoire I purchased for an insane amount of money at the auction house last month.
I’ve spent my life not believing in anything that can’t be seen or touched. That includes God, the afterlife, soul mates and the Tooth Fairy. But, lately, I’ve had to reevaluate that belief since a ghost hitched a ride to my condo in an armoire.
The first time I realized I was not alone was the day the beautiful piece was delivered. When I called my mom to confide my supernatural secret, she told me I was nuts. Nuts! That’s coming from someone who believes in everything. She thinks everyone is right as long as they firmly believe in something. So, go to fortune tellers if you believe in them. Go to the North Pole if you believe in Santa. Go to Ireland and catch that leprechaun if you believe in the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Just believe.
When my bohemian mother scoffs at me, I know I have a problem. But there is a definite presence in my condo. A cold feeling settles in my bones at certain times of the night, and my thermostat works fine. Once I even felt the cushion of the sofa sink down, and I bolted straight for the bathroom.
I don’t know why I thought hightailing it to the bathroom would be all that great of an idea. Can’t ghosts walk through walls? The only relief I get is at work, and if that isn’t irony I don’t know what is. It’s hard talking to people about nutrition and proper living, especially when they aren’t all that interested. But, now I’m redefining proper living to actually include a flesh and blood person with a heartbeat.
Drifting toward the armoire, I keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. My gaze lands on the framed quilting square on the wall beside it, and a lump forms at the back of my throat. I stare at it, thinking about the sweet friend I lost recently.
Shaking off the melancholy, I reach out and close the doors to the armoire, effectively hiding the television tucked inside. You’d think my ghost would be willing to split the cable bill at least. If my invisible roomie is watching Dexter with me, he or she should damn well be pitching in financially.
Every night at exactly eight o’clock, the chain on my front door rattles. Every single night. It’s about six minutes to eight, and already I’m a ball of nerves.
My heart pounds as I pretend not to be scared or anxious. I pretend my life is still normal.
Strolling into the hallway, I pick up my mail, hoping my ghost thinks I find the junk mail extremely interesting. Coupons, postcards from cleaning services I don’t need and old mail for the last four residents hit the top of the trashcan. I glance quickly at the envelope from my mortgage company, who’s offering to lower my interest rate. Since I just purchased my little condo last year, I’ll have to crunch the numbers to see if it’s worth it.
The floorboards creak. Then, again. The sound comes closer.
God, help me. If you’re out there, help me.
My heart picks up speed. I feel the cold. It’s so close I can probably reach out and grab it. Most of the time I’m not so much scared as I am curious. Curious as to why a random ghost chose to stick with a piece of furniture instead of staying close to someone they knew and loved.
The chain rattles. I look upward through my lashes and pretend to still be looking at the mail. The chain rises by itself and slides into locking position.
Why does this being keep locking me in at night? It never does anything to scare me, but I’m on edge nonetheless. There’s either a dead person hanging out in my condo or else I’ve officially lost my mind. I’ve never tried to make contact because that kind of goes hand in hand with the crazy thing.
Since I was a little girl, I’ve lived with the idea that things don’t exist if you don’t believe. I never had a nightlight in my room to ward off evil beings. I never slept with a baton under my pillow to attack the Boogie Man in the dead of night. I never double-checked closets for monsters ready to spring out at me. Because I never believed.
I’m not a stupid woman. I believe in evil. Human evil. I do check the backseat of my car to make sure I’m not transporting an axe-murderer to my home to chop me into a gazillion pieces. I’m cautious when it comes to everyday life because life deserves a certain amount of caution.
The phone rings, and I jump in surprise. After collecting myself and taking a deep breath, I walk towards the counter, disconnect my cell phone from the charger and look at the screen. Unfamiliar number.
Steeling myself to sound calm and normal and not at all crazy, I answer it.
“Hello.” There. That sounds normal enough under the circumstances.
“May I speak with Madilynn Kendall?” A deep voice—an unfamiliar voice—asks.
“This is she.” I say with a breathy voice. “How can I help you?”
“My name is Shawn Kirtland. I’m calling regarding a piece of furniture you purchased at an auction last month. It was a mahogany—“
“Yes.” God, please let him tell me that he wants it back. “I have the armoire.”
“There’s been a misunderstanding. My mother put the armoire up for auction without my consent while I was out of the country. It’s taken me a week to track it to you, but I was wondering if you would be willing to sell it back to me. I would be more than willing to pay you extra for your inconvenience.”
This is too good to be true! It’s a miracle. I asked God for help, and he provided me with a modern-day miracle. Who knew God would come through for a nonbeliever?
“Can I ask why you want it back?” The words slip out of my mouth without thought. I should have just answered in the affirmative, but I want to know why he wants it back. Maybe he knows it’s haunted. Maybe he’s a ghost hunter. Or maybe he murdered the person currently haunting my condo, and that person expects me—a part-time yoga instructor—to solve the mystery.
“It has,” he clears his throat softly, “sentimental value.”
Something in his voice tells me he’s hiding something.
“Can I come by and talk with you in person?” He asks with a slight hesitation.
Yeah, right, buddy. You can come by my house. In your dreams. So, you can chop up my body and hide it in the armoire? Forget it.
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” I shift from foot to foot.
A chilly breeze brushes my skin, leaving a scent of roses in its wake. At once, I relax, and I don’t understand why. The window’s not open, but my hair swirls lightly around my shoulders.
An overwhelming urge to meet this guy suddenly takes over. I want answers. Maybe I’m supposed to lead Armoire Being into the eternal light or whatever is out there.
“Actually…why don’t we meet? I live in Old Town. There’s a coffee shop around the corner from me. Carla’s Café….”
“I know where that it,” he says quickly. “I can be there in ten minutes.”
Holy shit. This guy is desperate to have this haunted armoire returned. But what if he takes back the armoire but the ghost remains in my condo? Hell, if it can hitch a ride in a piece of furniture, it could end up staying with me for the rest of my life.
Ten minutes. In ten minutes maybe I’ll have some answers.
“Okay. I have on…” I glance down at the ratty Spongebob pajama top and boxer shorts I’m currently sporting and realize I can’t meet an axe-murderer in my jammies. I do have my standards.
Eight minutes later, I push open the door to the coffee house and arrange a location for my stakeout. I have two minutes to scope the place out. Find the exits if I need to make a quick escape. I quickly send my mom another sensible text with my location and the name of the guy who called me so that if I go missing at least the cops will have some kind of lead.
I ended up telling him that I would be wearing a red shirt and jeans, but I forgot to ask what he would be wearing. Maybe he’ll be a giant bear of a man with tattoos twining up his arms and piercings in his eyebrows. Or maybe he’ll be some weird Ted Bundy type and pretend to have a broken arm to play on my sympathies. And let’s not forget the freak show from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.
Well, he’s met his match. I’m nobody’s fool.
The aroma of fresh coffee beckons me toward the counter. After placing my order, I head to the round table in the corner and wait for my coffee. I should really know better than to order caffeine when it’s pushing towards nine at night, but I can’t be any jumpier than I am right now. And I haven’t had a full night’s rest in almost a month anyway.
My eyes scan the sea of bodies needing nighttime caffeine. A couple of older kids, probably local college students, sit in the corner swapping papers. Only two people are sitting by themselves, and I quickly rule them out as Shawn Kirtland. One is an old man nibbling away on his sandwich while reading the paper. The other is a businesswoman frantically clicking away on her Blackberry, an almost maniacal look in her eyes.
The pony-tail boy from the register brings me my cafe latte with extra cream on top. Hell, if I’m having caffeine this late at night, I may as well enjoy it.
As I’m licking some cream off my upper lip, the door opens and a vision crosses the threshold. He’s a living cliché. He’s tall, dark and yummy. I lick my lip again. Parts of my body tingle with delight.
Please don’t go sit by Blackberry Chick. Please don’t be married. Please don’t be my axe-murderer. Please just be mine.
He strides into the coffee shop like he owns the place. His dark green eyes immediately find mine, and he smiles and heads in my direction.
It’s true love. Love at first sight. I’ve never been a believer in that either, but I’m willing to make an exception. He feels it too. Nothing else can possibly explain this immediate attraction.
“Hi. I’m Shawn.”
Except that. Jesus, I’m an idiot. Of course he’s Shawn. Of course he’d be gorgeous. Of course he would be the one desperate for the return of a haunted armoire.
With one hand gripping the edge of the table, I stand up and hold out the other for a handshake. I want to linger with my hand in his, but I don’t.
“Hi. I’m Maddie. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Sorry to have called so late.” He shakes his head while pulling out a chair. “I couldn’t believe my mom sold the armoire without my consent. I just got back last week to find it gone. Like I said, it’s taken me a little while to locate you.”
“You said it has sentimental value…” I begin, weighing my words carefully. I can’t let on that I know it’s haunted. He might be tipped off that I know he’s responsible for the death of that person. And if he isn’t aware, I risk sounding like a fruitcake.
“Yes. It belonged to my grandparents. I have strong memories of that piece in particular. My sister and I used to play hide and go seek in it while my grandmother straightened up the upstairs rooms.” He stares straight into my eyes as he reaches in his jacket pocket, and his hand brings out some pictures. He tosses them across the table. “Here’s some proof that I am who I say I am.”
The top picture is of a toddler sitting on the bed playing with action figures, my armoire clearly in the background. The next one is of a young boy with familiar green eyes, his arm slung across the shoulders of a much younger girl with the same green eyes. Sister, I suppose. My heart warms at the sight of his protective arm and easy smile. As I sift through the pictures, one grabs my attention. It’s a woman in the background. She seems familiar to me, but I can’t place her. It’s a little blurry, but there’s definitely something about her. I keep looking at the pictures, trying to sort out this newest puzzle.
“So, would you sell it back to me?” His voice brings me back to my first puzzle.
I have to know. I just have to. I risk sounding like a mental patient, but I just have to know.
“Can I ask you a question?” I take a sip of my latte, licking the creamy foam from my lip again while I wait for his answer.
All of a sudden he looks uneasy. “Sure. What is it?”
“Did someone die in the house near that armoire?” There. It’s out there now. Out there in Crazyland.
The unease in his eyes intensifies. And I know. He knows. He knows that my armoire is haunted.
“Why do you ask that?” His fingers tighten on the straw he picked up from the table.
My eyes narrow. “I think you know…”
Surprise leaps into his eyes. “But…how…” His eyes leave mine for a moment but then return. “What do you mean?”
“At the risk of sounding completely loony-tunes, I’ll go ahead and put it out there. There’s someone living in my condo, and they aren’t payin’ rent.”
Come back tomorrow to read the conclusion of Just Believe by Kimberly MacCarron.