Freddy showered, shaved and dressed with no mishap. His mind being totally elsewhere, this was a miracle. It wasn’t until Laurie giggled and took the socks from around his neck that he finally awoke from his reverie.
“What?” he asked finally focusing on her smiling face.
“Freddy, since when do socks work as neck ties?” Laurie replied replacing them with the Mickey Mouse tie Molly got him for Christmas just a few weeks ago. “Honestly, where is your head today?”
He wondered, as he watched her fuss with the tie, making the perfect Windsor knot, if he should tell her about the dream. It had been so real, so vivid. But he knew talk of Richard always upset her so. She instantly thought of losing him in some devastating way. No, he couldn’t do that to her, not when she was looking so happy.
He suddenly kissed her pretty lips and loved all over again the way her blue-gray eyes widened in surprise.
“Cuz I don’t remember the last time I said how much I love you,” he answered taking her into his arms and kissing her more soundly.
“Wow,” she said breathlessly, “I won’t remind you it was just last night then.” She giggled and finished with his tie before turning towards the door and saying over her shoulder, “Breakfast will be ready soon. I made Violet’s blueberry muffins.”
He smiled, nodded and said, “Sounds great, Babe. Be right down.” Once she was gone he shook his head marveling how his adorable Laurie never gave up trying to be as good a cook as Violet and always failed miserably. He braced himself for what could be the worst muffins he’ll ever have.
Emerging from the bedroom he saw little Molly still in her pink Mulan pajamas, rubbing her eyes with one pudgy hand while holding onto the ragged teddy bear she named Meow. Why would she call a teddy bear Meow? First, she loves cats to distraction and secondly, she insisted at age two when she got the stupid toy that it was a teddy cat not a bear. No one could ever convince her otherwise.
“Hey, Molly, why are you still in your PJ’s?” Freddy asked picking her up and kissing her still-warm-from-sleep cheek.
“I don’t wanna get dressed today,” she whined with a petulant pout.
He chuckled. “That so? Why?”
“I had a dream,” she said as if that was a perfectly good reason to stay in PJ’s all day. She played with his tie and added, “I got ya dis tie, Daddy. Do ya like it?”
“Oh, sure. I love it. Mickey’s my favorite. Your dream, was it a good one or a bad one?”he asked vaguely, walking with her towards the stairs.
“It was good. Uncle Richie came back,”she answered with the first smile of the day.
He stopped dead in his tracks. She got his attention but good now. “Really? And. ..uh... what...what did he say?” he asked feeling a bit nervous yet excited too.
“Uncle Richie was so funny, Daddy. He walked right through the wall and he said I look like an angel sleeping.”
“Well, he’s got that right,” Freddy agreed, rubbing his nose with her button one. “What did he do then?”
“He toll me a funny story bout when you was little kids and you pushed Auntie Violet into the pond at Somerset Hill. He said she pushed you in too.” Molly then dissolved into giggled.
“Wow, I’d forgotten about that,” he said, a reminiscent smile on his face. He stared into her eyes the exact color as her mother’s and wondered that it hadn’t frighten her to see her dead uncle. “Uncle Richie told you that?”
“And you weren’t scared of him?”
“No,” she said shaking her head adamantly. “He’s not scary. I toll him Emily likes him so much. Can she sleep over tonight so she can see Uncle Richie too?”
“Uh... I guess. We have to ask Mommy first, okay?” he said then quickly added, curiosity burning inside him. “He said he was coming back?”
“Uh-huh, He said maybe he’s gonna tell me some more funny stories,” she replied.
“What else did you do with Uncle Richie?”Freddy asked, growing more amazed.
“Nuttin, I toll him we miss him and he said he misses us too. Dat’s why he came back. Isn’t dat good, Daddy?”
He opened his mouth then shut it again. He truly didn’t know how to answer that. He wasn’t sure he liked the idea of being haunted.
Just then nine year old Jimmy zoomed out of the bedroom he shared with his older brother, arms outstretched, making airplane noises and seemingly speaking to some invisible air traffic controller, “Coming in for a crash landing, Captain. Outta the way, outta the way! It’s coming down, down, down!”
Molly shook her head watching her older brother careen down the stairs at breakneck speed. “He’s so weird,” she muttered in a matter-of-fact sort of voice.
“All boys are,” Freddy retorted and headed down the stairs at a much less dangerous pace still carrying his precious Molly.
In the kitchen everyone was assembled around the large round oak table except for the oldest boy.
“Where’s Nicky, Jimmy?” Freddy asked setting Molly down in her usual chair conveniently stalked with thick phone books so she could reach the table better.
“He’s texting Kari,” Jimmy said making obnoxious kissy faces.
“This early? Must be love,” Laurie muttered as she brought a plate full of beautiful looking muffins. They smelled good for a change and they weren’t even burnt.
Things were looking real good until Freddy, always the guinea pig, took a tentative bite and munched slowly his brow only furrowing a tiny bit.
“Well? What do you think?” Laurie asked, anxiously biting her bottom lip.
“Did you follow the recipe exactly?” Freddy asked casually, placing the muffin into a cereal bowl and proceeding to cut it into pieces with a knife.
“Yes. What are you doing?” Laurie asked trepidation in her tone.
“I think you missed a key ingredient and we’ll just have to add it back in,” Freddy said with a careless shrug. He picked up the sugar bowl and sprinkled a few teaspoons on top of it before taking a spoonful into his mouth and smiling. “Perfect, Honey. Just perfect. You’re the best.”
Jimmy gave a gleeful hoot and crumbled his muffin into a bowl too, using his fingers and poured on half the sugar bowl. He went one step further, however. He took the carton of milk and splashed some on top. “Look, Mom, blueberry muffin cereal! Wicked cool!”
Valerie, being far more sophisticated at age fourteen, used a fork to break her own and Molly’s muffins apart before carefully sprinkling each with a modest amount both of sugar and milk. They all ate their “muffin cereal” quite contentedly as if it were the norm, much to the amazement of their mother who couldn’t believe she messed up yet again.
Laurie had been so careful too! But there was her family making lemonade out of her lemons, yet again. It was a testament of their love for her, regardless that she wasn’t the next coming of Martha Stewart.
“Good morning!” Nicky said bright as sunshine. Without a moment’s hesitation he too took a muffin and seeing as everyone else had made a cereal of theirs, he followed suit. “Mom, these are awesome,” he said after the first spoonful.
Molly started humming as she ate while the other’s chatted about their plans for the Saturday.
“Molly, what’s that you’re singing? Sounds familiar,” Laurie asked, nibbling on her own muffin and grimacing.
“I dunno. Uncle Richie sang it to me so I could sleep again. I like it,” Molly said as she tried to feed a bit of muffin to Meow.
“Uncle Richie?” Laurie repeated, her eyes wide as saucers.
“She had a dream last night,” Freddy told her softly.
“ I dreamed of him, too,” Jimmy interjected, taking another muffin and demolishing it into his bowl of leftover blueberry stained milk.
“So, did I,” Valerie said looking surprised at both her siblings. “That’s weird.”
“For sure! I did too. What are the chances of that happening? All four of us having a dream about Uncle Richie. Bizarre! What did he do in your dream?” Nicky asked excitedly, to no one in particular.
“He told me how cool it is to be a ghost. He got here from his house in like two seconds and he can walk through walls. Wicked cool!” Jimmy told them before stuffing his face with food.
Laurie and Freddy exchanged glances, she looking scared, he curious.
“How about you, Valerie?” Freddy asked.
“Well, it was kinda silly. He was sitting on Molly’s bed and he had just finished singing a song to her and...” She paused here frowning and stared at Molly. “That was the song. He was singing that song.”
Completely unaware that everyone was listening to her sing, Molly proceeded to feed Meow. “...can you picture this?...dig if you will a courtyard ... oceans of Violets in bloom....”
Freddy and Laurie exchanged astonished looks.
“Prince? She’s singing Prince?” Freddy said incredulous. He then started laughing uproariously. “She’s singing When Doves Cry. It was their song, Laurie, Rich and Violet’s song. He really was here and it wasn’t just a dream!”
“What ...what are you talking about?” Laurie said visibly shaken.
“He came to me last night, Laurie. Rich did, just like with the kids. He scared me half out of my wits but... he did come and we talked. Oh, Laurie, it was the most lucid... but it wasn’t a dream after all. It was real,” Freddy told her, so excited he could barely keep seated.
“Stop it, Freddy. You’re being ridiculous!” Laurie said sharply as she reached for her coffee cup. Her hand shook too much and she let it drop. “Ghosts are not real.”
“Are too,” Jimmy mumbled, through a mouthful.
“Mom, I saw him come through the wall in our room,” Nicky said. “I thought it was a dream but maybe not. I think that means he’s a ghost.”
“It was real, Mom, really. Uncle Richie said I was getting so pretty,” Valerie said her eyes growing misty. “He told me not to worry about Brad. He said he was just a jerk and that there was going to be a much nicer boy in my future. It was so real, Mom. He hugged me, too, just like he always did. I thought it was a dream but it was so real. It had to be real.”
Laurie stared at them all now annoyed as well as frightened. “So, you’re saying all of you saw him except for me? Why? Doesn’t he like me anymore?” Laurie shrieked.
“Well, you did take a sleeping pill last night,” Freddy explained.
“And that means what?”
“He said he could only talk to us in our sleep but you’re almost in a coma when you take one of those things. I know I can barely wake you. He probably couldn’t wake you up either,” he said shrugging.
“Just like that movie,” Jimmy interjected pushing away his empty bowl and grabbing his orange juice.
“What movie?” Laurie asked.
“You know the one, Mom,” Nicky answered. “With that spooky kid who sees dead people.”
“Ooh, do you think Uncle Richie doesn’t know he’s dead?” Valerie said sounding ready to cry with the horror of it.
“Of course he does,” Freddy said taking Valerie’s hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze.
“But why would he be haunting us?” Laurie bellowed.
“He’s not haunting us, Mom,” Nicky said, exasperated. “He just wants to know how we’re doing. I told him I have a girlfriend.”
“Only scary ghosts haunt,” Jimmy commented now playing drums on the table with two spoons while singing, “4,3,2,1, earth below us, drifting, falling... floating weightless... coming, coming home...”
“Where the heck did you hear that old song?” Freddy asked, astonished.
“Uncle Richie. He says it’s a perfect song for me cuz he says I’m gonna be a pilot. Wicked cool, huh?” Jimmy said gleefully.
“That it is and it also explains why your head is always in the clouds,”Freddy commented ruffling the boy’s hair.
“But what does he want here? Shouldn’t he be with Violet?” Laurie said, anxiously wringing her hands.
“He came for my help. He’s worried about Violet. He wants us to get her out of the house and doing things. We gotta do this for him. He’s stuck here until she lets go of him,” Freddy explained, his tone soothing and gentle. He knew how freaked out Laurie was getting.
“We’ve tried though and she just—”
“We’ve got to think of something that will guarantee she will come out of the house, something she has to come for,” Freddy interrupted.
“A party. Auntie Violet has to come to a party,” Molly spoke up having given up feeding the stuffed bear.
“That’s not a bad idea. Let’s have a party for her. Her birthday just passed but yours is coming soon, Daddy. Maybe you can share it,” Valerie suggested, her face aglow with thoughts of a party.
“She won’t come if we say it’s for her but she will if it’s for me. Sounds great! Let’s have it today,” Freddy said rubbing his hands together and grinning like a fool.
“Are you insane? Party’s need to be planned and your birthday isn’t until the end of March. I’ll need a caterer anyway,” Laurie said giving her muffin a disgruntled look. “I’ll come up with a nice theme that she will like.”
“ Finding Nemo!” Molly shouted, brightening with multicolored fish dancing in her head.
“I think we need something a bit more grown up, Sweetie,” Laurie said reaching out to caress her cheek.
“Cinderella?” Molly suggested instead. They all burst out laughing.
“I’ve a few weeks to come up with something Violet will really love, but how about guests? Who should we have?” Laurie said furrowing her brow.
“All Violet’s friends, Jocelyn, for sure but.... you know... everybody,” Freddy said.
“Can I bring Emily?”
Freddy looked at Laurie first then said, “Maybe that’s not a good idea, Honey. We don’t want to upset Violet.”
“Emily won’t do nuttin to upset Auntie Violet. Will Uncle Richie come to the party?” Molly asked switching thoughts at the speed of light.
“Ghosts don’t come to parties, dummy,” Jimmy said rolling his eyes to the ceiling.
“I’m not a dummy!” she shouted.
“Jimmy,” Freddy warned pointedly.
“Sorry, Molly,” Jimmy apologized on automatic, as he does it so often.
“That is a very important point,” Freddy said bracing himself. “We can’t tell Violet about seeing Uncle Richie. It might make her very sad and we don’t want that. Uncle Richie especially doesn’t want that. I want you all to promise not to say anything about seeing him, okay?”
The three older ones nodded but Molly just stared up at him. “Why?”she asked, in typical inquisitive Molly fashion.
“She might get scared. Not everybody can see a ghost and not get scared,”Jimmy told her.
Molly frowned. “Why would she be scared of Uncle Richie? He’s the same.”
“Ghosts are different just like dead bodies. People are scared of those,” Jimmy replied so carelessly it gave Laurie the chills.
“Enough! No more talk of ghosts or dead bodies or anything like that. That’s only good for Halloween and it’s not Halloween yet!” she said forcefully.
“Yes, let’s do that,” Freddy said getting up, kissing each of his kids, even the squirming Jimmy who never liked kisses from dad and finishing up with a long, warm one for Laurie. “I gotta get going over to Meridale. Meeting five people today. Tax season’s a you-know-what. Be back around dinner.”
He saw that look on her face again, the what-if-I-never-see-you-alive-again look that tugged at his heart. He smiled indulgently and said, “I’m an accountant, Sweetie. Not a fireman. Worse that can happen to me is I get a paper cut. Okay?”
“But...” He stopped the rest with a lingering kiss that started the kids’ usual complaints.
“Gross!” Jimmy shouted, making a hideous face.
“You’re supposed to do that when we’re not around, Dad,” Nicky said with a disapproving look at them.
“Such behavior may get us thinking funny things, Mom,” Valerie said with a lofty tilt of her rosy blonde head.
“Such as?” Freddy asked still holding Laurie, an amused expression on his face.
“That we might be the last whole family in Catalpa Valley,” Jimmy interjected.
“Whole family?” Laurie asked bewildered.
“Cuz you’re not divorced yet,” Jimmy answered, exasperated. “Everybody else is, you know.”
“I don’t wanna divorce,” Molly said pouting again. “Emily can’t see her daddy no more. He has a new girlfriend.”
“I’m not getting a new girlfriend, Molly. I’m not done with this one. Guess I love her too much,” Freddy told them all. “When I stop kissing your mother, that’s when you should worry.” One last hug, one last kiss and he was out in the hall grabbing his coat and car keys.
Molly followed her dad to the front door and grabbed his hand before he could leave. “What is it, baby?”he asked.
“Will Uncle Victor come to the party, too?” she asked.
“Wow, I almost forgot about him,” he said. “I gotta get going on that too...somehow. Thank you, Molly. What would I do without you to keep me on my toes?”
“I dunno,” she replied.
He chuckled, bent down and kissed the top of her head. “I’ll call him today and ask him to the party, okay?”
“Okay,” she said brightly and dragged Meow with her up the stairs.
He watched her go up then slowly looked around the foyer frowning slightly. He looked to the right where the never tidy family room would get even messier as the day went on and to the left where the immaculate living room lay virtually unused. Was Richard here somewhere? Was he with them right now? Were they truly being haunted? Had Richard perhaps heard their entire conversation about him?
“Guess, I’ll never know,” Freddy said with a sigh. “Miss you so much, Rich.”
Out the door he went. Richard who had been beside him the whole time smiled sadly and mumbled, “Me too, Buddy.” He then walked towards the back of the house and into the kitchen looking for Laurie.