Olivia hummed softly as she puttered around the kitchen. Mia was still sleeping in her room, Andrew was still sleeping on the couch, and she was enjoying the quiet start to the day.
She took a sip of her coffee and looked out the window into the backyard. Somebody was standing by the stone wall. Noah, maybe?
She looked closer. That wasn’t Noah. The figure wasn’t tall enough and was a little stockier. He wore a black jacket and a yellow hat that stood out against the dark trees. He stood completely still, gazing into the forest with his back to her.
Noah hadn’t mentioned having anyone over, but he wasn’t the most talkative these days and she was still mad at him. So she might have just not known if he hired someone for some repairs.
She took out her phone to text him, not taking her eyes off the man in the yard. But just as her screen lit up, the man vanished.
Olivia took another sip of her coffee, trying to decide if she had actually just seen that.
Two days later, Olivia was beginning to seriously worry about her sanity. She’d seen the figure in the backyard again two more times since that first morning. Then, this morning, she’d woken up to the sound of giggling in the living room. It had sounded too old to be Mia and too feminine to be Andrew. But it hadn’t faded with her dream. Instead, it stayed consistent until she’d thrown open her bedroom door to see a groggy Andrew looking at her with concern.
So now here she was at the general store, hoping that an escape from the house might make a difference. Mia was bundled up in her stroller and chatting at her rabbit as Olivia opened the shop’s front door.
She’d get a cinnamon roll and some coffee, then maybe she’d feel grounded enough to continue her day.
Olivia stepped up to the counter, eyeing the display of treats. Mia would enjoy the frosting, so should she buy two cinnamon rolls? Or was that just her trying to justify the fact that she wanted to buy two cinnamon rolls?
She was getting one cinnamon roll, damn it. She didn’t need two.
“Oh, hi, Olivia!”
Tara Stevenson was behind the counter, smiling at her. “Hi, Mrs. Stevenson,” Olivia replies.
Tara mock-glared at her. “How many times will it take to get you to call me Tara?” she asked.
Olivia laughed a little awkwardly. After more than thirty years, the answer to that question was probably never.
“Oh my God, look at her!” Tara exclaimed, leaning over the counter to get a closer look at Mia. “Olivia, she’s beautiful!”
Olivia looked down at Mia and smiled. “Thanks.”
“Alright, what can I get you ladies today?”
“A cinnamon roll and a small coffee, please,” Olivia said.
Tara nodded and opened the counter door to get the pastry.
“Oh,” she said, her voice dropping in volume. “Olivia, I don’t mean to pry, but I need to ask. Noah Kelly, is he…is he okay?”
Olivia winced. Tara clearly noticed it because she quickly added, “I’m not trying to be nosy! I just know that you two are close and I know he’s going through a hard time now and what with what happened at Christmas and all…”
“He’s okay,” Olivia said, taking pity on Tara before she could continue to babble. “Like you said, just a hard time.”
Was that technically a lie? Not that he’d spent enough time with her lately for her to say anything else.
Tara sighed with relief. “Good,” she said. “That’s good. I was just so worried after seeing him at the common. I didn’t want to interfere because it looked like Cleo and Roman had everything under control.”
Olivia nodded, a sick feeling forming in the pit of her stomach. “Yeah, it’s…he’s fine.”
“Well, tell him to come in soon. We haven’t seen him come in for his weekly pile of vegetables in a while. No wonder he’s so skinny if that’s what he’s eating…”
Olivia considered telling her that he’d been buying those vegetables on the sly for her and Mia. That she’d have better luck getting her infant daughter to willingly eat more than two bites of a salad than she would Noah. But that might lead to questions as to why he was shopping for her and concerns as to how she was doing, and Olivia knew she could not handle that right now.
Tara rang up the cinnamon roll and put it on a plate, sliding it over to Olivia with a paper cup from the stack by the register. Olivia handed her a ten-dollar bill.
“I’m glad everything is okay,” Tara said. “Send him my love. Cleo too. And Andrew. I heard what happened and it’s a shame. His mother must be heartbroken.”
Now Olivia was uncomfortable. “Yeah, he’s doing okay,” she said.
Tara clearly picked up on the hesitation. “I’ll let you and your little one go,” she said. “Have a nice day.”
She handed Olivia her change and Olivia slipped it into her pocket. “Thanks, you too,” she replied.
She turned the stroller toward the coffee station and made her way over, carefully balancing her food.
The store wasn’t very busy, but all the tables were full. Celine Beckett was sitting at one table with her toddler and baby. The deli assistant, whose name Olivia didn’t know, was on her phone in the middle table. And a woman with a heavy jacket and old-fashioned hat sat at the window seat.
Olivia wasn’t quite ready to go home yet. But maybe the woman would be willing to share her table. She capped her coffee and started pushing the stroller over.
The woman looked up at Olivia and vanished.
No, this wasn’t happening. Olivia yanked the stroller backward, spilling her coffee and cinnamon roll to the floor. There was a ringing sound in her ears as she pulled the stroller away, putting herself between Mia and whatever had just happened.
There was no way. She was losing it. That was the only explanation. She was depressed and anxious and stressed and now it was manifesting in hallucinations.
A hand on her shoulder made her shriek. She clamped a hand over her mouth and turned around, coming face to face with Celine.
“It’s okay,” Celine said calmly. “Olivia, it’s okay.”
“She just…I think…”
“I saw her too,” Celine said. “Sit down, I’ll go get some towels.”
Tara was already on her way over as Celine took the stroller in the hand not on Olivia’s shoulder. She steered them over to the table a few feet away where Celine’s own children were. Then she led Olivia into a chair, gave her a reassuring pat, and went to help Tara.
What had Celine meant, she’d seen her too? Olivia tried to get her breathing under control, panicky tears still prickling her eyes.
Celine slid a fresh cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll in front of her on the table. Olivia looked up at her.
“Drink some coffee,” Celine said as she sat down.
Olivia lifted the cup but her hands were shaking too hard to actually get the cup to her lips without spilling it. So instead she set the cup down and folded her hands tightly.
“I know how it is at the beginning,” Celine said quietly. “It’s okay, I promise you’re not going insane.”
Olivia’s voice caught. She cleared her throat and tried again. “So what is it then?”
“She was a spirit.”
Olivia has been trying to take a sip of her coffee. She choked. “Excuse me?”
“She’s a ghost.”
Olivia took a breath. Then another. Then she ripped off a piece of the cinnamon roll and ate it.
“Okay,” she said finally.
“Are you alright?”
Another bite. “Yeah,” Olivia said. “Actually I am. I guess it explains a few things I’ve been seeing lately.”
Celine nodded. “That makes sense,” she said.
“I’ve never…I mean, why?”
She glanced down at Mia, who was asleep in her stroller. Then she looked back up at Celine. “Why now?”
Celine took a sip of her drink. “Honestly, I don’t know,” she admitted. “It might be anything. Or nothing. But I promise you, what you’re seeing is real.”
“I called the police the other day,” Olivia said. “I saw an old man in my house and thought someone broke in.”
She gave a shaky laugh. “I don’t know if Andrew’s going to be relieved or more worried.”
Celine raised a curious eyebrow.
“He’s staying with me,” Olivia said quickly. “With the, um, the curse.”
“I heard,” Celine said. “I didn’t realize that he was staying with you.”
It had been a month, hadn’t it? Of course word had gotten around.
“Yeah, his parents moved a few years back so they’re not around anymore. So he’s staying with me until it’s solved.”
Celine didn’t say anything for a moment and Olivia winced. Right. Celine and Roman had been waiting twenty years for a solution, hadn’t they?
“I mean, just for the time being,” she amended.
Celine nodded. “Don’t worry, I get it.”
They sat for a moment. “I need to get going soon,” Celine said after a moment. “Do you need anything? My car is full of car seats but are you good to get home? Do you want me to call Andrew or Noah or anyone?”
Olivia shook her head. “No, no, I’m all set,” she said. “I’m just going to sit here for a little longer. But thank you.”
Celine left a few minutes later, leaving Olivia to her coffee and cinnamon roll. Mia was still asleep in her stroller and she had hours until her shift began.
Ghosts. That explained everything, albeit in a terrifying way that raised more questions. But it explained the figures, the giggles, everything.
Despite the relief, she could feel new anxiety bubbling in her stomach. Why was this happening? Why now? And why her?
Was there a reason behind it? Was she supposed to do something? Solve something?
She was already doing the full-time jobs of two people, raising a child, and (despite Andrew saying it shouldn’t be on her) worrying about her friends’ situations.
Maybe Noah was home. She suddenly wanted nothing more than to hash this out with her best friend, regardless of how much he’d hurt her feelings the other day. It was ten in the morning, he’d probably be at home doing some sort of repairs before work. She didn’t have service here, otherwise she’d text him and invite him down for coffee.
Though if his behavior over the past month was any indication, he wasn’t going to answer her anyway.
She was so tired.
Olivia sipped her cooling coffee and tried to feel the caffeine cutting through the fog of fatigue in her mind. Hopefully this newfound ability to see ghosts wasn’t from someone expecting great things from her because they were bound to be disappointed if that were the case.
Olivia could feel Tara’s concerned gaze from the counter and did her best not to look in that direction. She glanced toward the window instead, where snowflakes were starting to gently fall outside.
The ghost was back.