The young man woke up, and got ready for another day of dealing with the ghosts.
It had started when he was in 5th grade, and his family moved to a different city. He was working in Language Arts class at his new school when he noticed his best friend from back home sitting a few chairs away, with his bright blonde hair and all. He wanted to say hi, but the teacher was walking around, making sure they were all working, so he decided to finish his assignment and say something on his way back from leaving it at the teacher’s desk.
He finished after a few minutes and got up to turn it in, but as he walked up the aisle he noticed his friend was gone. Had he gone to the bathroom? Hmm. Well, he could still say hi later. He got back to his desk, and slept while he waited for the bell to mark the end of the period.
He hadn’t seen him again until a few months later in the middle of a softball game. He was in the outfield waiting for the next kid to get ready when he saw his friend out by the other side of the pitch. He started to wave when his team started shouting, and he turned back in time to see the ball heading his way. He ran to get it and pass it to a teammate. And just like the last time, when he turned to look for his friend again, there was no one there.
The young man caught himself staring out the window at a young boy with bright blonde hair standing by the corner of the street, and shook his head as he headed to the shower. Wash, make the bed, a quick breakfast, and he was off to work. Traffic was all right today, and he was enjoying his ride to the office, listening to his favourite radio station. He stopped at a traffic light, and had to bite back a shout when he turned to see Emma on the passenger seat. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and opened them again to (of course) find an empty seat. The song playing on the radio… sigh. Right. He turned it off and sped off when the light turned green. He tried to keep his mind off of her throughout the day.
He’d been heading back from lunch when he saw her again. He had been walking down the sidewalk and laughed as he remembered the gift she’d gotten him for his last birthday. They’d gone out to a restaurant he liked. She walked in carrying a large bag, but refused to tell him what was in it. He pretended to be upset and she just stuck her tongue out at him, telling him he’d get to see it soon.
They had joked for a little while, and after a few minutes she had told him to close his eyes, a mischievous smile on her face, eyes crinkled. So he’d closed them, and when she told him to open them again, he saw she’d pulled out a pair of ukuleles from the bag: hers, and his. Who knew when she’d stolen his. She’d handed it to him, strummed a bright C chord, and soon they were playing their favourite song together, singing and trying not to laugh as they noticed people in the restaurant staring at them, then pretending they weren’t.
He was still smiling at the memory when he saw a young woman up ahead. He recognised her, and his smile broke as he focused on not letting out the sob that started to rise in his throat. He looked away and back, but the young woman was still there. He blinked away some tears, and found her concerned face, and heard her asking if he was okay. Only… it wasn’t Emma, just some girl with the same hair. He stammered something and rushed away, trying to hide the tears on his face.
He felt Emma’s hand touch his cheek delicately, in her soft way, and brush a tear away. He knew he couldn’t handle seeing her again, and just stood there, eyes closed, desperately resisting the urge to turn to look at her.
No. No, no, please…
He couldn’t stop the tears, and it was a while before he was able to open his eyes again, and head back to the office.
The old man woke up, and got ready for another day of dealing with the ghosts.
He could hear his wife sleeping next to him, and smiled as he quietly got up from the bed and headed to the bathroom to shower. He washed, made the empty bed, had breakfast, and left for his morning walk. He absentmindedly started to whistle an old song, and smiled at a beautiful young woman as she walked past him. She was as beautiful as ever. The young woman smiled back, eyes crinkling the way they always had.
He headed to the park, and as he sat down on a bench, he noticed a pair of small children playing by the playground. The girl with the long brown hair, the boy a mirror image of her, his hair cut into a soft mop. He smiled as the boy began chasing the girl, and both children giggled. He felt his wife’s head against his shoulder, hand resting in his. He closed his eyes, felt the wrinkles in her hand he knew by heart, and enjoyed the soft strawberry scent of her hair, listening to the children, and to her soft breathing.
He finally got up, after a few minutes, a few hours… what was the difference? He decided to visit the old library, and headed in that direction, his soft steps the only sound in the empty park.
“Morning, Mr Whittaker!” The librarian greeted him as he walked in. “Nice and early today, as always.”
He smiled at her. “Good morning, Isabelle. How are you?”
“Oh, you know. Still trying to catch up on the old man’s filing,” she said. “Infuriating man, I bet you he wanted me to have a tough time sorting things out.”
“I bet he did.” He chuckled as he walked past her. “I’ll see you later, Isabelle.”
The quiet old gentleman next to the young librarian winked, and the old man bit back a smile and nodded in greeting.
He read for a few hours and napped a little while. These old chairs certainly were comfortable. When he started to feel hungry, he put away the book he’d been reading and walked past the young librarian welcoming a family in to the building.
He walked home, and once there left some chicken on a pan to cook, setting the leftover rice from the day before to warm up. As he got lunch ready, he glimpsed the ghosts of his two children playing some board game in the living room. The boy and the girl were arguing over something, and he shook his head in quiet amusement.
When the food was ready, he took his plate to the table, and remembered his boy sitting on the couch, shaking, and hesitantly explaining. He finished his meal, drank a cup of water, and washed the dishes. He took out his old guitar, and played some music by the window. He stopped as he caught sight of his daughters getting ready for graduation day. They were too focused on getting their look right to say anything to him, but that was okay.
He was so proud of them. Maybe they would call later in the day. He quietly walked past them, careful not to disturb their concentration.
He had a short dinner with the ghost of his old best friend, and laughed at old stories and adventures they’d gone on. Remembering the old swing they’d built, and how they squeezed through a secret broken fence to sneak into each other’s apartment complex.
“It’s nice to see you again, Joseph.” The old man said as he cleaned up.
He changed and got ready for bed. When had it gotten so dark outside?
He settled under the blankets and relaxed. He let out a contented sigh as he looked at the sleeping form of his wife next to him. He smiled, and went to sleep, the soft strawberry scent of her hair carrying him to pleasant dreams.