Authors: Karen Cantwell
took two aspirin with a swig of cold soda and looked at the clock. It was 9:15 in the morning. I’d come in early hoping to get ahead of my workload and now I would be lucky to have Shane and his ghost out of the reception room before Cal arrived, much less have files ready to go before the first patient arrived when we opened at ten.
I handed the bottle of aspirin to Shane. “Here,” I said, “you’ll probably be needing a lot of these until we get this handled.” I pointed to the clock. “I have a lot to do before my boss arrives and before patients start showing up expecting, you know, service. So go home, call in sick, and lie down. We’ll talk after work.”
“But your boss is your boyfriend, right?” Shane asked. “Wouldn’t he understand? He knows about the...” Shane waved his hand aimlessly.
“If he calls me that Irish ghost again, I may be forced to take action.”
“Yes, Cal knows about the ghost,” I said, cutting Marmi off before he could really get going. “But let’s remember, you are my ex-boyfriend. You’re not his favorite person in the world. Even if I did agree to be Amy’s bridesmaid at your wedding.”
He nodded. “Yeah. I guess that makes sense.”
“Go home and rest. I’ll call later. Are you going to be okay?”
His shoulders drooped down another notch. “I hope so.”
“I’ll keep him safe, missy,” Myrtle said. “I’ll take good care of Shaney boy here. And when you say you’ll call, do you mean you’ll call on him or you’ll give him a ring on the horn?”
I suppressed my urge to laugh again. Life with Marmaduke had been tricky learning to translate his British slang. Now, it seemed, I had to interpret southern-speak from a different decade. “I’ll call him on the telephone, if that’s what you mean.”
Myrtle seemed content with that answer. “Yup. Ring him on the horn.”
“Can’t she stay with you?” Shane asked.
“I think not!” Marmi huffed. “You heard the woman. There is work to be done around this medical establishment. We cannot have some gibbering ghost distracting us from our business.”
I smirked. Marmaduke was calling the kettle black, but it was cute. “That’s not a good idea,” I said to Shane. “Plus, I’m not sure she’s going to leave you anyway.”
“You got that right. I ain’t goin’ nowhere but with this hubcap right here. He’s my ticket to rememberin’.”
How in the world Myrtle decided Shane was the answer to her problems was beyond me. Now was not the time to figure it out either. Cal was probably going to walk in that door any...
The door swung open and my tall, gallant, if a bit lanky boyfriend and boss, Dr. H.U. Callahan, walked in. The broad smile on his face dropped the instant he saw Shane. “Hello.” He doled out the greeting like a kid whose parents had just pushed an unwanted friend onto him. His gaze landed on Myrtle then shifted back to Shane and then to me. “Does he know he has a ghost?”
“He knows,” I said.
Shane offered Cal his hand to shake. “Cal,” he said. “Good to see you again.”
Cal accepted the handshake, but his voice was cold and distinctly unenthusiastic. “Shane. I suppose the lady ghost here is your reason for stopping by?”
“I sure am, honey,” chimed in Myrtle. “My name is Myrtle, but that’s all I know about myself. I feel certain that Shane here is the answer to my problems and this Sophie here has promised to help him when she rings him on the horn tonight after she’s done workin’. I’m assumin’ you’re the boss who’s also a boyfriend?”
Cal either went from unenthused to disgruntled, or he had gas. Then his lip twitched down slightly. Disgruntled it was.
“Sophie,” he said to me quietly, “can I see you for a minute? Alone?”
“Am I excluded from this conference?” Marmi asked.
“It’s not a conference, Marmaduke, and yes, alone means just Sophie and me. No ghosts allowed. Or ex-boyfriends.” He stalked down the hallway to his exam room, his briefcase hanging heavily from one hand.
Marmaduke huffed. “Apparently someone misunderstands the definition of conference. Perhaps you could consult a dictionary while you are conferring.”
A laugh escaped me. Just a small laugh. The absurdity of the situation was too much and my self-control lost the battle. Cal, on the other hand, was far from amused. I put on a stern face and pointed to Shane and Myrtle. “You and you. Go. Now.”
Following my orders, Shane moved toward the door. “You will call, right Soph?”
“Promise?” Myrtle asked me. “‘Cuz I ain’t so sure he’s equipped to handle this on his own. He’s kinda weak for a man o’ the law, ain’t he?”
“I promise, Myrtle. Now go. Before patients get here.”
Shane left, dejected and nearly as pale as the ghostly figure who followed him. Myrtle jabbered along beside him happily.
“What a way to start the day, huh?” I said as I joined Cal back in his exam room.
“Are you really going to get involved in this?” he asked me.
“Don’t I get a Cal smile and good morning kiss, first?” I snuggled next to his chest and breathed in his intoxicating scent. I walked my fingers up his shirt and pulled playfully at his tie, hoping to calm the beast and reassure him of my loyalties. “Hm?”
His lips tugged into that adorable crooked smile that made my heart melt. He wrapped his arms around the small of my back and pulled me closer. “I miss you,” he said.
“I miss you too.”
Our lips met and we kissed soft and slow. In the office though, we had a rule: keep romantic moments short and sweet and private. He pulled away reluctantly. “Are you really sure it’s a good idea to get involved with Shane’s problem?”
My contented smile turned to a mild scowl. “She’s not a problem. She’s a person. A person without a body, but still a person. They both need my help.”
He began his daily routine of readying his equipment for a day of eye exams. “You’re right. That was callous. But can’t you understand my concern?”
“Yes and no. I mean, I dated Shane, but that’s all over. I don’t have any feelings for him at all. Not a twinge, not a micro-twinge. You’re the one that rings my horn now.” I winked. “If you get my drift.”
“In fact,” I continued, striking my best come-hither pose, “come over to my place tonight, and I’ll let you ring my horn all you want.”
He winced. Not the reaction I was hoping to elicit. I liked the laugh better.
“My mother is still a little—”
Marmaduke made himself visible. “Taxing?”
Cal glowered at him, which appeared to be all the communication necessary.
“Sorry,” Marmi said, vanishing from sight as quickly as he’d appeared.
“Did you talk to him about that?” Cal asked, checking his ophthalmoscope.
“Not yet. I forgot. I will.” I switched the subject back to the other person taxing our relationship. “Your mother is a grown woman. Can’t she do without you for one night? Sophie has her needs you know.”
His smile returned as he pulled me close for another snuggle. “Oh, I know. So do I, trust me, so do I. But I’d feel guilty leaving her alone. It’s only been a couple of days. Tell you what, I’ll help Shane, and you spend the evening with my mother.”
“Ha,” I said. “Nice try.”
The bell on the front door jingled, indicating someone had just entered the office. “Time to get to work.” I pulled away and headed back to my desk.
I fully expected to see Miss George, our first patient scheduled for the day, waiting for me at the reception desk. Miss George was a regular weekly patient of Cal’s, arriving promptly at ten every Tuesday morning for her forty-five minutes of vision therapy.
I stopped in my tracks, completely caught off-guard when I saw two more unexpected guests had invaded my morning. Could this day get any crazier? Two ladies stood at the reception desk. Two ladies I wouldn’t expect to ever see in the same room, quite frankly. Cal’s mother, Dianne, had a wide grin on her face. Despite her recent sorrows of a pending divorce, her makeup was impeccable and her brown hair styled as if she’d just left the salon. Knowing Dianne, the crisply creased brown slacks and paisley shawl were designer brands.
Beside Dianne, dressed in black, was an agent of misery—Cal’s ex-wife, Rachel. And as usual, she looked ready for a fight.
inhaled a deep cleansing breath to ready myself. Raging Rachel didn’t know how to play nice. She’d been divorced from Cal for over a month, but somehow she still managed to find ways to get under his skin and mine too. As if her purpose in life was to ruin his. Had she expanded her torture to Cal’s mother as well? If so, Dianne certainly appeared oblivious.
“Sophie,” Dianne called out cheerfully. “Good morning! Have you met Rachel?”
Trust me, resisting a sarcastic reply was downright painful. “Hi Dianne.” My jaw clenched so tight it throbbed. “I have met her. Several times.” I coughed a little. “So you’re here, um, together?”
Rachel’s stare was fixed and frigid. Her lips held their thin hard line.
“And people say a room chills when a ghost is around,” Marmi said. “Perhaps that woman is the walking dead. I do believe I see icicles forming on the light fixtures.”
It was true. Her clothing wasn’t the only thing black about Rachel.
Dianne continued her happy chirping. “I do hope it’s not awkward for you.”
No. Why in the world would it be awkward? Dealing with Cal’s taxing mother and his caustic ex-wife as they played buddy-buddy in front of me? I shrugged it off as convincingly as possible. “Not at all.”
“It’s just that we have something in common,” said Dianne.
Her declaration confused me. “You mean Cal?”
Rachel broke her silence. “Divorce.”
Hm. Okay. I bit my lip and held my tongue. I’d come this far without saying anything nasty. I didn’t want to push my luck.
“My,” Marmi snickered. “This is priceless.”
“She’s been a shoulder to cry on,” Dianne gushed. “She understands my pain.”
If it was possible, Marmaduke actually hated Rachel more than I did. He’d never been the kind of ghost to move objects or try to scare people, but after he met Rachel, he began zealously practicing the skill of propelling mass.
“What do you say maybe I should attempt to give her a spook?”
I was up for the fun, but didn’t want Dianne dragged into anything.
“Give me a minute,” I told him.
Dianne cocked her head. “Give you a minute for what?”
“Give me a minute of your time,” I said to her, recovering from my faux pas. “In Cal’s exam room. You came to see him, right?”
I grabbed her hand and guided her around the desk counter to the hallway that led to the exam room. “Rachel, wait here for a minute. Cal had something he wanted to tell his mother in private.”
“He does?” Dianne asked, flustered by my rush to get her out of the reception room.
Pushing Cal’s exam room door open, I presented Dianne. “Look who came to surprise you.”
Cal lifted his head from his patient notes. “Mom. What are you doing here?”
“What did you want to tell me?” she asked, her suspicious gaze finding my innocent one.
He raised an uncertain eyebrow. “Uh...”
“Guess who Dianne brought with her,” I blurted. “Rachel. You know, your ex-wife, Rachel.”
He went from baffled to belligerent. “Why’d you do that?”
“Just because you saw fit to fling her from your life like some toy you’ve tired of doesn’t mean I should end my relationship with her, does it? We’ve grown close over the years.”
I wondered if Marmi was having success frightening Dianne’s new BFF.
“You’ve grown close? You stopped inviting us to Thanksgiving dinner because you said she reminded you of Cruella De Vil.”
“You’re exaggerating,” she said. “Just like a man to exaggerate. Rachel said you’d react this way. I wanted to prove her wrong. The fact of the matter is that she and I understand each other. We’re suffering the same trauma. She’s helping me through in my hour of need. Do you want to join us for lunch today or not?”
“Lunch?” Cal looked ready to burst, his face was so red. “She’s my ex-wife. My malicious, spiteful, poisonous ex-wife.”
“That’s a no, then?”
The bell on the front door tinkled. Hopefully, or maybe not hopefully, depending on how this conversation proceeded, that was our first patient. “I’ll go see who that is,” I said quietly, backing into the hallway.
Returning to the front desk, I found Mrs. George signing our arrival log.
Seated in one of the chairs by the window, her legs crossed and one foot bobbing, was an unruffled Rachel. Sadly, she didn’t appear frightened at all.
“I’m afraid my skills are still too weak,” Marmi sighed from his seat next to Rachel. “I attempted several times to rattle those blinds behind her head, to no avail. How I would love to hear her howl in terror.”
I felt bad for Marmi. And it would have been fun to see Rachel come unglued.
“Good morning, Miss George,” I said. “Dr. Callahan will be with you in just a few minutes.”
“Thank you, Sophie,” she said, picking up a magazine from the rack and sitting far from Rachel.
A moment later, Dianne stormed down the hall and headed straight to the door. “Come Rachel,” she said. “You were so right. Men are scum.”
Miss George peered over her magazine with interest as Dianne and Rachel left the office. “Is everything okay back there?” she asked me when the door closed behind them.
“Nothing eye related,” I assured her. “Family misunderstanding, I think.”
I sat at my chair and rubbed my temples. The headache was returning.
“I predict that the beastly she-devil is plotting a devious scheme of affliction,” Marmaduke said, taking his customary seat next to me behind the desk.
Boy, did he call it. Rachel was up to no good. And I’d had enough of her crap. I had better figure out what she was up to and get one step ahead of her if I wanted to minimize the damage.