“This isn’t gonna work for me,” Richard muttered as he paced in irritation beside Violet’s bed on which she lay gently weeping. He ran his hands through his already-tousled, wavy, dark blond hair then stuffed them into the back pockets of his faded jeans and stared morosely at her shaking form.
“Oh, Richard, why did you have to go? I miss you so,” Violet mumbled, her chest heaving with every tear slipping down her face.
This utterance broke his heart for the thousandth. “Baby, I’m right here. I haven’t left. I can’t leave you. You won’t let me. If you would just sleep you would know that. I could tell you,” he explained, his voice full of anguish but she could hear none of this. Ghosts can rarely make themselves heard.
In an act of desperation he climbed into the bed beside her and spooned her just like they used to do practically every night of their married life. “Assume the sleeping position,” he had said more times than can be counted and she would grab his hand and hold it over her heart. They would fall into peaceful slumber this way. But she wasn’t doing that now. She couldn’t feel him as she once did. She couldn’t sleep without him either.
“I’m so cold without you,” she whispered as a fresh batch of tears made their appearance and seeped into the already drenched pillow.
This was torture indeed. This, Richard thought miserably, must be purgatory. He pulled away from her again and paced around the room. What was he going to do? His wife– or should he say widow?– was misery itself. Grief was killing her and him, too, all over again. He couldn’t help her. He had no idea how. Even all this time later this ghost thing was new to him. Weeks and days, months and years, even minutes and hours were all the same to disembodied spirits.
Something had to give or he would be eternally stuck between heaven and hell. But what to do?
He needed help desperately. But who? It wasn’t as though he could call up Ghost Busters so he could be exercised out of here. Besides that, Violet needed him. Correction; she needed someone alive to give her reason to go on.
He stopped in front of the chest of drawers which still held his clothes and saw the dozens of family photos in silver and porcelain frames. There he sat with the kids on his lap when they were tiny tots. Then they were all fishing at the river’s edge at Somerset Hill. In another he was hugging Violet on their wedding day. In the next he and Freddy were tossing around a football back when they were in high school.
“Freddy,” Richard mumbled. “Maybe you will listen to me.” He took one last look at Violet, his heart aching for her then he walked through the wall and zoomed across town to Freddy’s house. Richard knew it must be late enough that Freddy should be sleeping soundly. But just in case Freddy was instead getting it on with Laurie he struck his ear inside their bedroom and listened. Hearing nothing but snores loud enough to scare off bears he walked in and went straight to the bed. He touched Freddy’s shoulder and he instantly awoke.
“Holy crap, Rich! What are you doing here?” Freddy yelled gaping in fear at the ghost of his best friend.
“Chill, will ya? This is just a dream,” Richard told him irritated by the less than friendly reception. “I need your help.”
“What the hell? Dream? Help with what? Why aren’t you in heaven?” Freddy asked in quick succession.
Richard sighed. “I’m here because Violet won’t let go of me. I’m stuck here, Freddy. Chained just like that ghost dude in The Christmas Carol.”
“Hell, you’re not gonna tell me I’m getting visits from three other ghosts, are ya?” Freddy asked now looking nervously around him.
Richard growled in his throat. “Do I look like Scrooge?”
“No, but what does that have to do with anything? You’re a ghost and you’re in my bedroom telling me you’re earthbound. Where’s the difference?”
Richard couldn’t argue with that. “Freddy, I need you to get Violet out of the house and doing stuff, working, shopping, gardening, seeing people, something, anything. Please, Freddy. She’s gonna get sick and die herself if you don’t–”
“You don’t think I’ve tried?” Freddy bellowed. “Every day I stop by to see how she’s doing. I bring her food that rots in the fridge cuz she barely eats. I ask her over here and every day she says no. We beg her to come to the kids’ games, concerts, to church, to the movies, anything. Laurie’s tried, Jocelyn’s tried. I almost called Dad but....” A muscle in his cheek worked in irritation. “I just couldn’t do it, not to Violet. She’s already miserable. Why add more to it?”
Why indeed? Richard couldn’t argue with that either. He sat wearily on the edge of the bed and put his head in his hands thinking. “You say Jocelyn’s tried?”
“Yeah, but she’s so busy at the daycare center this time of year she barely has time to breath. You know Jocelyn. That center’s her baby,” Freddy said sitting down too.
“Cuz she ain’t got none of her own. Yeah, I know. She says it all the time,” Richard replied slowly. “Does she need help at the center?”
“She always does. She’s very strict about who she lets work there. Nobody is good enough at caring for little kids. Least that’s what she thinks,” Freddy answered with a shrug.
“Except for Violet,” Richard said with a significant look in his brilliant blue eyes. “That’s it, Freddy. You gotta get Jocelyn to ask Violet to work for her. Tell her the babies need her. That will do the trick. You know how much Violet loves kids. She actually wanted a dozen when we got married. How I managed to talk her out of it, even I don’t know. Can you do that for me? Get Jocelyn on the phone right now!”
“You daft as well as dead? It’s three in the morning. I call her now and she’ll strangle me. I’m kinda afraid of her,” Freddy said in a whisper as if fearful she might be listening.
Richard laughed aloud. “Everybody is. She’s fierce. That may be why she’s never found the right guy. Nobody in Catalpa Valley’s brave enough to handle that much woman. Don’t tell her I said that,” he retorted adamantly also looking frightened.
Freddy’s turn to laugh. “She’s something all right, even scaring a dead guy.” They both chuckled for a minute.
Turning serious Richard grabbed him by the shoulder just like he used to all through their lives together. “Freddy, don’t forget, okay? I really need you to do this for Violet. I don’t want to see her like this,” he said the anguish back in his voice. “I love her.”
Freddy’s smile was indulgent. “I kinda know, Rich. Everybody knows. Hell, even my lawyer knows and he hardly knows anybody in town yet.”
Richard raised his eyebrows. “There’s a lawyer in Catalpa Valley now?” he asked incredulous.
“He’s been here off and on for sometime mostly in summer. His kids live here with his ex-wife so...you know how that is. He finally moved up permanent from the city about the time you died,” Freddy said then he laughed. “It was rather funny.”
“He had seen me with Violet at the post office one day and assumed I was having an affair with her. I had told him Laurie was tall and blonde and Violet’s so tiny and....anyway, he was really ticked off about it til I told him, laughing my ass off too, that Violet was my sister. At first he didn’t believe me. Guess we really don’t look anything alike. You never saw a man more relieved about a guy not having an affair. Vic’s not even a divorce lawyer. Go figure, huh?” Freddy said scratching at his thinning hair.
He suddenly glowered at Richard and his full and luxurious head of honey colored hair. “Damn you, Rich. You look good even in death.”
Taken aback, Richard just blinked at him. “Do I?”
Freddy made an impatient sound then pointed to the mirror over Laurie’s dressing table. “Take a look,” he replied, a disgruntled tone in his voice.
Richard got up and took a glance then grinned. “I’m twenty-five again!” he said gleefully. He ran his hands over his favorite t-shirt the one with the kids’ hand prints and the sloppily written message saying “Best Dad Ever”. His chest, arms and abs were just as they had been back then before life became too easy.
“Hmm... guess death has its advantages,” Freddy grumbled, “That and the free time to keep yourself in shape. No wonder Vic looks so good. Hate the both of you.”
“Who is this guy... Vic?” Richard asked, a shrewd look in his eyes.
“Victor Romanoff. Great guy, rich too, like filthy. Don’t gotta work but he does just to have something to do now that his boys are off to school. One of them’s at Yale and the younger one to some business school in Pennsylvania.”
“Ronnie’s going to Wharton,” Richard mumbled suddenly remembering.
“You know him?” Freddy asked surprised.
“Sophie’s got a crush on him, has for the longest time. She talked about him constantly. That’s why she wanted to go to that music school in Pennsylvania on the off chance she might get to see him sometimes. But that scummy Antoine’s convinced her to go to Miami. Hate that kid.”
“He seems nice,” Freddy said tentatively.
“Well, he’s not. Oh, he’s polite to your face but.... I want her away from him. He’s nothing but trouble.”
Richard glowered for a bit then looked up at Freddy as if he’d only just remembered he was still there. “But what about this lawyer? What do you know about him?”
“What’s to know? He loves the kids and Laurie’s got a major crush on him cuz he’s the best looking guy to ever come to Catalpa Valley. Must be true. Women around here are drooling for him. Any day now Laurie and Vic will be running off together, which begs the question why do I keep inviting him over to dinner?” Freddy said looking a bit bewildered.
Richard laughed at him. “Cuz you know Laurie would never do that.”
“Yeah, I guess. He’s pretty much my best friend now that....” He paused here looking awkward and sad at the same time.
“Now that I’m dead. Don’t look like that, Freddy. It’s natural to let go of people once they die. I’m glad you can. Wish Violet could,” Richard said with a sigh.
“I miss you loads, Buddy. We all do. The kids are forever talking about their super hero Uncle Richie that saved the little McNamara kid and her dog. Hey, Molly and Emily are in the same class this year and they’re best friends. Emily talks about you all the time. She worships you. We’re gonna get one of Hunny Pot’s puppies.”
Richard frowned. “Wasn’t Hunny Pot a boy?”
“Apparently not.” He paused a minute then added albeit casually but at the same time glancing furtively at Richard, “They’re planning a memorial to you, Rich.”
Richard predictably grimaced. “Hell, no!”
“Can’t stop them, Rich. Someone’s already donated the money, a big chunk too. You were seriously loved in Catalpa Valley.”
“Who would... no one around here’s got money to...”
“I have my suspicions who it is but I’m not at liberty to say being he’s one of my best friends now,” Freddy said with a smirk.
“Your lawyer friend? But why....?”
“I get the feeling he’s got a crush on Violet and that was why he was so pissed when he thought I was... you know, her new boyfriend. He asks about her often and feels so bad that you died and left her all alone...”
Richard was no longer listening. He recalled all too well a very handsome, elegant looking man several years back with the Romanoff kids down at the park after a little league game. That must be the guy. At the time Richard had assumed he was their uncle but now he knew. Victor Romanoff was their father.
“I know him,”he said slowly, narrowing his eyes as he stared into space.
“He was staring at Violet during Kenny's baseball game, just staring at her as if he’d never seen anything so beautiful.”
“Well, she gets that a lot, you know. Always has,” Freddy retorted with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Prettiest girl in town would.”
“Not like this guy. I’m sure he was planning on asking her out if I hadn’t shown up,” Richard said thoughtful now.
“Do you think....?” they both said at precisely the same time then laughed. They’d been doing that since kindergarten. Two peas in a pod their parents had called them.
“You first. Death before...uh... whatever,” Freddy said shrugging.
“Do you think you could get him to ask Violet out now?”
“You, like always, read my mind. I’ve been trying to get those two to meet for a long time. But I don’t dare tell her I have someone for her. She’d blow up at me. Anyway, Rich, you actually think she would date anyone so soon after you died? You know her and you know how scared she is of men.”
“She’s over that now,” Richard replied somewhat annoyed.
“No, she’s not. It just seemed that way because she was always with you, her big strong protector. Case you haven’t noticed she ain’t got you no more.”
“But that’s because most men stare at her like wolves sensing meat. Vic wasn’t looking at her like that. It was more like when people look at a sunset. He even got her some hot chocolate,” he said wistfully.
Freddy made a weird face. “Thought you said it was during summer at a ball game.”
“It was but she had a terrible cold that day and she was cheering herself hoarse. I remember her eyes were watery, her nose all red and she was sneezing her head off and still that guy couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Same as me. And the expression on his face... I knew I’d seen it before. He looked just like I did before I finally asked Violet out and she let me kiss her. It was pure longing, Freddy.”
“You got me to thank for that. Dad was such a....” He let a string of curse words leave his mouth but was soon silenced when Rich gave him a big bear hug that knocked the wind out of him.
“That’s why I love you like a brother, Freddy. You gave me the best gift ever; Violet.”
Trying to keep his emotions in check Freddy just shrugged. “Here I thought it was my good looks,” he remarked flippantly.
“You can do the same with Vic. You should try to get him and Violet together somehow without her knowing you’re setting her up.”
“Oh, yeah! Piece of cake,” Freddy said waving a dismissive hand, sarcasm dripping everywhere.
“Tell him to go slow. Like real slow,” Richard said growing excited with the idea.
“Slow, huh? And how do you propose I do that?”
“Tell him it’s the only way she will respond. If he really loves her...”
“Whoa! Who the hell says that?”
“I’m telling ya, Freddy. He’s in love with her. I just know it.”
Freddy didn’t look convinced not at all but said no more on that. “Anyway, back to the memorial for you. They’re thinking a statue of you but....”
“Statue? God, no! Please, tell them no!” Rich shouted in horror.
“I knew you wouldn’t want that so I suggested a gazebo with a little garden around it of your favorite wild flowers down at the park with just a tiny little plaque with your name on it. How’s that? Violet would like tending the flowers if she knew they were for you. Give her reason to get out of the house,” Freddy said with just the right amount of coaxing.
Richard struggled with that a moment then asked, “How small a plaque?”
Freddy laughed. “I’ll plant tall flowers myself right in front of it if you like.”
Freddy nodded and grew serious again. “Really do miss you, Rich. Just doesn’t seem fair, huh?”
“It is what it is.” With that he got up and Freddy followed suit. “Good to see you. Give the kids and Laurie a hug for me, will ya?”
“Will you stop by occasionally, just to talk some?” Freddy asked a bit shyly.
“I’ll try,” Richard replied. “Now go lay down and sleep.”
Freddy frowned. “Thought you said this was a dream?”
Richard gave him one of his usual devilish grins and said as he walked through the wall, “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.”
Freddy shivered saying, “That’s so freaking weird.” He crawled into bed snuggling to Laurie and fervently hoped it was just a dream.