(Read Pt. 1 here!)
Sam had to go pick up her daughter, but I agreed to come back home with her to see if I could figure anything out for her. I decided to bring Doc along with me, too. I hoped ghosts wouldn’t try to claw each others’ eyes out if they didn’t like each other. One too many bad experiences introducing cats to one another taught me to be wary. Doc could do whatever he wanted. I literally couldn’t stop him if he wanted to be somewhere, but he seemed to listen to me when I asked him to. Most of the time, at least.
Her house was much better than mine. It was a house, for one thing. It had a driveway with a nice car, a watered lawn, and it was an overall respectable home. It reminded me of the house my parents and I lived in before they moved to England. As much as I liked being independent, this was a staunch reminder of the peaceful, cleaner, and altogether simpler life I had had just a few months ago.
“Uh…” Sam started, voice hushed as she held the sleeping Chloe with both arms. She was already so big! “Just so you know, the fact that my house is haunted isn’t the only reason I never have anyone over.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let me just light some candles before you go in, okay?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure I’ll be fine, Sam.”
She smiled a little. “Okay, but if you pass out you’re going to have to call your own ambulance.”
“That doesn’t even make any sense,” I objected.
“That’s the deal,” she said, struggling to put her key in while holding her daughter. I moved to help her, but she turned it and pushed the door open with her hip before I could be of any use. She had gotten some aspects of parenting down, it seemed.
As soon as we walked inside, though, all the nostalgia of my old home faded.
Sam’s place was a mess. It was as if five of me lived together and had no reason to leave. And maybe also had to resort to eating baby food to survive. A bunch of shoes lay scattered in a pile near the doorway. Most were tiny. An open box of crayons was left on the floor next to one of the rear walls, and though several half-ripped sheets of some mermaid coloring book were set aside near them, Chloe had evidently used the wall as her canvas instead. A pungent smell wafted into my nose the further I got in, but it was hard to place. Old and fruity was the best I could manage.
“I know it’s bad,” she said. “I’m sorry. Here, let me just put Chloe down so we can talk.”
I stayed in the entryway as Sam went upstairs, looking for any signs of ghosts but not having any idea what those signs might be.
“Ghost… here,” Doc said, holding one of Chloe’s old shoes up to his face and sniffing it.
Well, that was easy. I didn’t even know ghosts could smell.
“You can tell by sniffing a shoe?”
“Smells… like human,” he confirmed.
“We’re not looking for humans, Doc. We know humans live here.”
“Human ghost,” he nodded, tossing the shoe aside.
“There are not human ghosts?”
He put a tiny arm to where his chin might be, then waved his hands out. “Maybe?”
“Some help you are,” I muttered, walking down the hall.
I passed the stairs and what seemed to be a bathroom, entering where the kitchen married the living room in one big, open area. The sound of my shoes sticking to something caught my attention, and I looked down to see the culprit of the smell. The corpse of some orange popsicle lay forgotten in a sticky pool of gross, passing through the cracks of the tile and pooling around the carpet of the living room, too.
“Such a shame, that,” a deeper voice said. “Peach raspberry is such an underappreciated flavor.”
I swung around to see an older man in a suit standing next to me, pondering the sorry puddle as if he was mourning the loss of a dear friend.
It took no small amount of effort not to cry out in panic. Okay, maybe I did squeal a little bit, but it certainly wasn’t loud enough to wake up any napping baby-toddler.
He looked real. Alive. As if somebody had just walked in through the front door. I even looked down the hall again, just to make sure nobody had simply walked in behind me. Sure enough, it was closed.
“Who… are you?” I asked. “Where did you come from?”
“Hm?” He looked up at me, scratching one of his sideburns. “Oh my, you can see me, can’t you?”
That seemed rather obvious, so I didn’t dignify that with a response. Instead, I took a careful step away from both him and the puddle.
“That won’t be necessary, I don’t bite. I’m not sure I even can in my old age. But it’s nice to have somebody who can hear me for a change. Well, besides the child, of course. My name is Martin Morris. I used to be a family lawyer in a local law firm. A pleasure.” He held his hand out towards me.
I tried to take it, but my hand passed right through. It felt almost like dipping my fingers into freezing cold water, and I flinched.
“Ah,” he said, looking back at his hand and returning it to his side. “My apologies. I’ve been rather forgetful lately.”
“You said… the chi—Chloe can see you?”
“Why, yes. Rather remarkable girl. Very smart for her age. Though her mistreatment of popsicles is rather tragic.”
“So you’re the ghost that’s been haunting this house?”
“Is that what I’ve been doing?” he frowned. “Hm. Well, the mother has seemed rather anxious of late. I thought I might try to help out around the house. I’ve been here longer than her, after all. It’s more my house than it is hers.”
“I don’t think that’s true, seeing as you’re… well… dead.” Nice job being tactful, Lisa.
“I suppose that’s true. But—”
“Are you talking to the ghost?” Sam asked.
I turned to see her standing at the bottom of the stairs, glancing back and forth between me and the rest of the house with wide eyes.
“Um…” I looked between them. Martin shrugged. “Yes, it seems so. Man, of all the random hobbies I could have picked up in my early twenties, being a medium was really unexpected.”
“You’re… very tall,” Doc said from my feet, pointing up at me.
“Yes, thank you, Doc, but seeing as I’m barely five feet tall, I think most people would disagree with you. You have a very skewed perspective.”
But Doc already wasn’t listening. He had taken to rolling in the puddle of popsicle.
This was too much. “Can we sit down?” I asked the two of them.
“Fine,” Sam said, pulling her frazzled hair out of her face again.
“Certainly,” Martin chimed in simultaneously.
We moved into the living room to sit down on the couch, but there was a bunch of laundry on it, so Sam went to work folding it. I took a seat on the couch next to the laundry while Martin sat on one of the rocking chairs nearby.
“I’m… uh… not really sure where to start,” I said.
“I believe introductions are customary,” Martin smiled, scratching his sideburns again.
“Right, right. His name is Martin Morris. He was the previous owner of the house I think.”
Martin shook his head. “No, not quite. There was one or two residents in between me and the good… I’m sorry, what’s her name? I see it on the mail all the time, I’m simply drawing a blank.”
“Hm?” Sam looked up at me as she finished folding a pair of jeans.
“Oh, nothing,” I said. “Just telling him your name.”
“Is he dangerous?” she asked, picking up a tiny shirt.
“He’s in the room, Sam,” I said, looking to the ghost, who seemed taken aback at the question.
“I know, it’s just… Where is he sitting?”
I pointed to the rocking chair.
“Mr. Martin,” she said, putting the shirt down without folding it. “I realize you’ve been very nice, and this you’ve probably been here the whole time I have, but I’d like to ask you to stop helping me. No more unexpected microwaved dinners. No more setting off alarms or slamming doors when you know I need to wake up. No more anything.”
I raised a hand. “Sam—”
“No,” she interrupted. “I don’t want to be one of the crazy ones. I don’t want to be scared to bring people into my home. I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking… this is normal. As nice as you are, it’s just impossible to get any sleep around here knowing there’s this thing in your house that you can’t see, can’t touch, but it can still do things.”
This was different. Apparently it had been some time since I had known Sam the rambunctious teenager. Now she was Sam the concerned mother.
I bit my lip and looked to Martin, who stared down as he scratched his sideburns. “I see,” he said.
“Sam, he has feelings, too.”
“He’s not alive, Lisa.”
“Let’s have a civil discussion before we get into the territory of ultimatums, okay?”
She huffed and went back to folding.
“Martin,” I addressed. “Do you know why you’re still here?”
The ghost shrugged. “I suppose there must be a reason.”
“How did you die?”
“Lung cancer. I’m afraid I picked up some bad habits in youth that were a real nuisance to break.”
Part of me hoped he was an unsolved murder victim, but then I regretted even having that thought.
“So you didn’t stay here to get revenge on anyone?” I asked. “Or make amends with somebody? You don’t have any regrets?”
“You don’t live a life as long as I did without piling up a mountain of regrets, child,” he laughed.
“Can you think of anything that might be holding you back from the afterlife?”
“Hm… Not in particular. I can’t seem to leave this house, however. Is that normal?”
“Yes, ghosts typically attach themselves to a residence,” I lied. I had no idea what I was talking about, but maybe if I sounded professional I could keep this conversation where I wanted it.
“Have you ever meant harm to either Sam or Chloe?”
He gave a fierce shake of his head. “No, absolutely not! Why should I?”
“What did he say?” Sam asked, voice anxious.
“He’s perfectly harmless, Sam,” I assured her. “Why are you so hung up on this? He seems like a wonderful gentleman and he only wants to help!”
Sam took a deep breath and sat down on the couch where the pile of clothes used to be. “I… I don’t want anyone to come by here and have any reason to take Chloe away from me. It’s not just the weird ghost stuff I’m worried about. It’s my sanity level. What if somebody comes here and thinks I’m crazy, or sick, or that the house is too dirty for a child to live in?” Her voice cracked at the end like a dam that was about to burst with the pressure.
“You’re losing the battle,” I breathed. Out loud, to my dismay. She nodded, and burst into tears. Dam broken.
I wrapped my arms around her, and a moment passed. Several moments.
“I… think I might be able to offer something of a solution,” Martin said.
Still holding Sam, I looked to him and nodded for him to continue.
“It’s admittedly been some time since I practiced law,” he noted. “But I specialized in divorces and custody battles.”
My shoulders relaxed as the tension eased. This was the news both of us needed.
“The trouble is,” Martin said. “I’m not so good at the minute details. I can’t pick up a pen and write, for instance. I could read documents and determine their credibility and provide legal assistance, but it would all have to be indirect, of course.”
“You would do that?” I asked.
“Of course. “The last thing I want is for a daughter to be taken away from her mother. Especially if it’s my fault.”
“What’s he saying?” Sam asked, wiping away the tears.
“He says he can help you with your custody stuff. He’s a divorce lawyer.”
“Well, that’s the short of it, though ‘divorce lawyer’ wasn’t technically the job title,” he put in.
“How could he possibly help with that?”
“He can read the papers for you and help you understand them.”
“He can’t even talk to—”
“Sam, he can talk to me.”
“You’re asking me to take legal advice from a dead person.”
Well, when she put it like that…
“A dead person who cares about you two and genuinely knows more about the situation than you do,” I countered.
“That means you’re offering to help me, too, you know.”
“I’m not going to stand around and watch this happen to you if I can help, Sam.”
She sighed. “Alright, but we do this on my terms. Does he agree?”
“Of course,” Martin said.
“He does,” I translated.
“No more ghost crap. I don’t want anyone to know this place is haunted. Not even if the house is empty and somebody breaks in, okay? No door slamming or floating stuff, okay?”
“Agreed,” I said at Martin’s approval.
“The only time I ever want evidence of your existence is if Lisa is here, got it?”
“And no talking to my daughter. I don’t even want you in the same room as her, whether I know it or not.”
Martin didn’t seem to like that. “Is this an indefinite promise or until the legalities are in order?”
I relayed the message.
Sam frowned. “When I win and get to keep my daughter, we’ll talk about changing these terms then.”
“Understood,” I said for him.
Sam shook her head as if she still wasn’t satisfied.
“Sam?” I asked. She looked to me. “I… I can take care of Chloe for a while. While you’re at work and I’m not busy. I can take a break from painting. It’s cheaper than a babysitter, and having a trusted friend watch your daughter will look better, for whatever that may be worth.”
“I’m not sure you’ll be the best influence on her,” she smiled.
“That’s the idea.” I poked her in the side.
She laughed. “I don’t want to ask you to come over so often, though.”
“Hey, if anything it’s a self-esteem boost. My apartment looks great by comparison. As long as we’re not talking about the exterior.”
“Well, having Chloe over at your place may change things.”
“I’ll just sue you for every time she colors on my walls.”
“Oh God I don’t have that kind of money. You’re going to have to hide all the writing implements in your house, she loves drawing. Especially on things she shouldn’t.”
That brought up a question I hadn’t considered. What would happen if you just scribbled with my magic Sharpie? Would it fizzle out like words not written in cursive?
“Well, Doc and I should probably get going,” I said, getting up from the chair. Doc was still rolling around in the popsicle puddle, which was now smeared everywhere. “Sorry about that.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Sam said. “It won’t be any harder to clean up now.”
She followed me to the front door, with Martin staying behind. I waved goodbye, and he gave me a warm smile on my way out. As soon as he thought I wasn’t looking, though, I saw the warm expression vanish. He probably wished he could be of more use.
“Thanks again, for everything,” Sam said, opening the door.
“No problem,” I said, giving her a hug. “Come on, Doc!”
While we were waiting, I thought of one extra thing. “Don’t forget Martin can hear you. Tell him that if he ever needs to talk to you—or, well, me as it so happens—you two should establish a signal. Like a red crayon in the sink means he needs to talk. I don’t know, you’ll probably think of a better signal. But once you do figure out a signal, let me know and I’ll come as soon as I can, got it?”
“I will,” she nodded. The smile on her face was clearly a polite one. The kind of smile she gave when she was thankful, but still worried. I couldn’t blame her.
“It was nice to see you,” I said, walking out the door.
“Lisa?” she called after me. I turned. “I’m glad I’m not the only crazy one.”