~ The Resurrection of Molly Footes ~
by D.J. Belt
Copyright: Original story and characters, copyright D.J. Belt, July, 2005. Lyrics to the song Five-foot Two, Eyes of Blue are by Sam Lewis and Joe Young, music by Ray Henderson (c) 1925 (renewed 1953) EMI Fest Catalogue, Inc. (Ray Henderson Music Co. and Warock Music Corp., in the USA).
Sex/violence disclaimers: No violence, no graphic depictions of sex. Love, yes, romantic and otherwise. ALT, if labels are necessary.
Comments: Comments can be sent to me at email@example.com. I love hearing from you, so don't feel shy to write. I appreciate your e-mails and endeavor to answer them all.
Misc: Many thanks to Mary A. for the suggesting the title. The idea for this particular story came to me after reading something about 'spirit guides'. I found the concept fascinating and wondered what would happen if- well, you'll see. So, light your candles, dust off your reading glasses, pour yourself a drink, and settle down for an evening's storytelling. Hope you enjoy!
Rain tapped gently at the window-panes, its steady rhythm causing Molly to lower her book, push her reading glasses up on her nose and study the trails of water droplets tracking their way down the glass. She always found the rain relaxing, contemplative. It put her in an introspective mood, but then, it always had, even as a child. She smiled as she remembered her mother's puzzlement at what the poor woman termed 'her odd ways'. Even as a little girl, she had them. She often preferred to curl up with a book instead of playing with her dolls or her playmates and she had a penchant for asking bizarre questions, often at the most inopportune times.
Molly grinned as she remembered her mother's reaction to her question regarding the production of babies. The woman had dropped her teacup on the floor, then blinked in surprise at the solemn, inquisitive eight-year-old. As she fetched the broom and the dust-pan, she intoned, "Ask your father." When Molly dutifully trotted out of the kitchen to seek out her father, she had heard her mother mutter, "Oh, sure. I want to hear him answer this one."
That same night, as little Molly lay beneath her bed-covers, pulling them tight to ward off the creatures of the night which she was sure haunted her room in the dark hours, she heard her parents talking, their voices softly echoing up the stairs from the living room. She still remembered her mother's words: "John, there's just something not right about that girl."
Her father's voice, muffled through the wall, was indulgent. "Comes from your side of the family, I imagine."
"That's not funny, John. I think that maybe you need to take her to a psychiatrist or something."
"What? Whatever for?"
"She's just weird. She's almost morose sometimes, sad and crying at the drop of a hat, and she's always asking the most bizarre questions. And that imagination of hers! I don't know where she comes up with some of the things she says. Honestly, sometimes I think she's a forty year old midget."
Molly, huddled beneath her covers, could hear the rumble of her father's laughter echo from the living room. "Really, Ann. She's fine. She's just a very creative eight-year-old. You're over-reacting."
"Am I? How about that time after communion at church? She actually thanked the priest for feeding her lunch, then asked for 'the house white wine' next time."
"I'd forgotten about that. The old boy almost coughed up his false choppers."
"The congregation might have thought it was funny, but I was mortified. Look, I got another call from her teacher at school today."
"Oh? What now?"
"She was crying at school. When the teacher took her aside and asked what the matter was, she said that she was sad because her penis was missing."
Molly could hear her father guffaw in delight, then joke, "Hell, she ought to be glad it went missing. I've got one of those things and it's caused me nothing but trouble."
"Stop it, John. This isn't funny. How does an eight-year-old know about that?"
"Didn't you know about 'em when you were eight?"
"Well-" Her mother's voice became more remonstrative. "That's not the point. The point is, I think something's wrong with her. She needs a psychiatrist, John."
"Now Ann, there's nothing wrong with our daughter and I'm not spending my hard-earned money getting her head shrunk by some goof-ball doctor."
At that, little Molly gasped in horror, her vivid imagination picturing a tiny head atop her shoulders. She felt tears well up in her eyes, and she hugged her teddy bear closer to her as she covered her head and squeezed her eyes tightly shut, scarcely daring to breathe lest the imagined monsters in her room hear her and steal her from her bed.
Molly smiled indulgently at the childhood memories as she sipped her tea. "Yeah, I was a weird kid, wasn't I?" After a moment's thought, she added, "Poor Mom. No wonder I'm an only child." She pushed the reading glasses up on her nose and returned her attention to the book open on her lap, looking up when the telephone rang. She reached out, picked it up, and absent-mindedly answered, "Hello?"
The voice in the phone was a delightfully familiar one. "Molly?"
"Janis here. Look, I'm going out of town this evening. Last minute thing. We'll have to break our date."
Molly felt a familiar tug of disappointment. "Oh." She brightened, then asked, "Well, this weekend? Can I see you then? Maybe we can spend Saturday night together. I miss you."
The voice was silent for a moment, then sighed heavily. "Not good for me, Molly. Look, I- well, I have to be honest with you. This isn't working out. What I mean is that I think you should see other people. You know, date around a bit."
"Look, honey, we had some good times, but we just don't have anything in common, do you know what I mean?"
Molly heard an involuntary quiver in her voice betray her as she replied, "Yeah. I know what you mean. You just don't like me. I guess I can understand that."
"Now Molly, stop that. You know I'm right about this."
Molly closed her eyes as a tear tracked its way down her cheek. She sniffed, then said, "If you say so."
"Oh, Molly. We're just so different, you and I. Look, you'll find somebody who appreciates you for who you are and in a month, you'll forget my name."
"Fat chance. It took me a year to find you."
"I'm sorry if I've hurt you, honey, but it's really for the best. You know that I'm right."
"Best for you?"
There was a pause, then the voice answered, "Yes. Best for me."
Molly's voice quivered. "There's someone else, isn't there?" When silence answered her, she sniffed again and asked, "Janis, are you dumping me because you don't like me, or because you like someone else better?"
"Does it matter?"
"It matters. Just answer me that, and I'll let you go."
The voice sighed heavily. "It's the latter. I mean, you're always so serious, so moody. You're always sitting with your nose stuck in a book or asking heavy questions. Sometimes I want to slit my wrists when I'm around you. You need to lighten up a little and enjoy life."
"And she's fun, this whoever-she-is?"
"Yeah. She's fun."
Molly wiped her cheek with her sleeve. "Not like me, huh? Didn't we have fun? Didn't we laugh? I thought you liked my sense of humor."
"I did, you know that."
"Didn't I try to be what you wanted? I really tried, Janis."
"That's just it. You are who you are and I am who I am. We can't change that."
Molly's voice cracked. "Was I that lousy in bed?"
"Oh, Molly, stop it. You were great, you know that. I told you plenty of times. That isn't enough, though. Not for me, it isn't." The voice sighed again, then continued, "Look, you're not making this any easier. Molly, it isn't the end of the world. I'm just not right for you. You'll find someone else, I know it, and then you'll thank me for giving you your freedom. It's really best for both of us."
"Sure. If you say so."
"I do." There was an awkward pause. "Look, I have to go. Got a plane to catch."
Molly sighed, a deep, ragged sigh, then swallowed hard. "Okay. I guess I understand. 'Bye. I hope you find what you're looking for."
A second's painful silence reigned, and then the voice answered, "I wish the same for you. I really do." Another second of silence went by, and the voice whispered, "'Bye."
"'Bye." There was a click, and Molly just let the phone drop into her lap, next to her book. She sat quite still for a moment, then rose and hurried into the bathroom, snatching the hand towel from its rack and holding it to her face as she leaned against the wall. Slowly, she slid down to a squatting position and wept quietly into the towel, eventually finding her way to the bed where she curled up, hugged her ragged teddy bear to her chest and sniffed herself into an uneasy slumber as the rain kept up its gentle patter against her windows.
Molly found the bookstore warm and dry as she entered, a pleasant contrast to the gray skies and cool wetness of the street outside. Her first stop was at the coffee counter, where she came away holding a thick waxed-paper cup of hot cocoa as she strolled toward the book racks. Her eyes roamed across the store, reading the numerous signs denoting the different categories of books displayed prominently or crammed onto shelves. Seeing nothing that immediately interested her, she wandered until she came to a section marked, "Relationships". She paused, considered the titles in front of her and shook her head. As she sipped at her cocoa, she heard a voice speak her name. When she looked up, she found her cousin standing near her, regarding her with an inquisitive, pleasant face. The girl wore an apron with the bookstore's name emblazoned on it. One hand was absent-mindedly fiddling with the employee name tag hanging around her neck while the other was shoving the handle of a feather-duster into the back pocket of her jeans. She was two years younger than Molly and had the fresh, slightly offbeat and artsy look of a coffee-house or book-store regular. When she spoke, the voice was perky.
"Hey, Molly. How's things?" When Molly shrugged in reply, the girl assumed a cautious expression. "Oh, oh. Everything okay?"
Molly attempted to put on her best face for her cousin. "Hi, Peg. Yeah, I'm okay."
"So how's it going with Janis?" When Molly's face fell at the question, Peg's eyes widened. "Oops. Wrong question?"
"She dumped me today."
Peg rolled her eyes. "Oh, man. Put the ol' foot in the mouth, Peg. I'm sorry, bug. Gotta tell you, though, I could see that one coming."
Molly raised an eyebrow. "You could?"
"Yeah, I could." Impulsively, Peg reached out and hugged Molly. "But you couldn't, could you? I'm sorry, I really am." Molly just shrugged in reply, but the forced smile on her face didn't fool Peg. She could see the hurt in the depths of the eyes which peered back at her. "Hey, I've got a break coming later. Do you want to talk about it?"
At the suggestion, Molly brightened. "You wouldn't mind?"
Peg grinned. "What's a cousin for, if not to be a crying towel upon occasion?"
Molly actually giggled at that. "I'll try not to be too morose about it, I promise. Buy you a cup of coffee?"
"I work here, dummy. I get it for free."
Already, Molly was feeling more alive. Family always did that to her. She summoned her humor and quipped, "Yeah. That's why I offered."
Peg giggled. "Cheapskate. Okay, I'll hunt you down when I get my break and we'll both have a good cry."
"Thanks. You're a doll, Peg."
"Yup. Mother Theresa, that's me. See you then."
Peg turned and hustled away, humming to the music playing over the store's speakers. Molly watched her leave, then sipped at her cocoa as she browsed the relationship books. 'I wonder if they have one for losers?' she wondered. 'Or, how about, Relationships for Dummies?'After a few minutes, she snorted in disgust, then began wandering down the aisles of bookshelves until she passed a section marked, "New Age/Occult". She stopped, her curiosity getting the better of her. As her finger trailed along the spines of the books on the shelf, she hummed in thought at some of the titles which beckoned to her. Crystals, pyramids, Wicca, tarot, life after death, all were subjects which piqued her interest. One book in particular, though, caught her eye. She lifted it from the rack and perused the back cover, then flipped it open with one hand. After a minute of reading, she clutched the book to her chest and, still holding her cocoa, sought out an empty chair in which to settle down and feed her curiosity.
Forty-five minutes later, she was still lost in the book, huddled down in the stuffed chair and slowly turning pages as she devoured the words. She jumped as a hand touched her shoulder, then looked up into Peg's inquisitive face.
"Man, you were into that. What the heck are you reading, anyway?"
Molly smiled as she replied, "Lady Chatterley's Lover".
Peg snickered. "Oh, you are not." She leaned down and glanced at the title. "Spirit guides? What's that?"
Peg waved a hand. "Bring it. Come on, I'm on break. There's a table free."
Dutifully, Molly rose and followed Peg to an empty table near the coffee bar. As they pulled the chairs away from the table and sat, Peg yanked a cloth from her apron and wiped the table. "Slobs," she intoned, then glanced Molly. "You want another cocoa? I'm getting a latte."
"Sure. Thanks. I'll give you some money."
"Forget it. My treat. Or rather, the bookstore's treat." As she headed toward the coffee bar, Molly watched her go, then considered the book again. She felt an impatience grasp her, a desire to get home, snuggle down into her favorite chair and finish the book, but pushed it aside. Peg was spending time with her now, and she really did appreciate her cousin's attention.
In a moment, Peg returned, two cups in her hands, and sat, kicking off her clogs and folding her legs underneath her on the chair. "So, tell me all about it."
Molly smiled painfully. "Not much to tell, really. She called me and broke it off."
Peg winced. "She dumped you over the phone? That coward."
"It's just as well. Easier that way for both of us, I guess."
Peg shrugged. "Well, now that I think about it-" She sipped her latte, then asked, "What reason did she give?"
Molly grimaced. "There was somebody else. Somebody she liked better."
Peg winced. "Ouch. That must have been a slap in the face. How long was that going on, I wonder?"
"Don't know. First I'd heard about it." Molly shrugged. "Guess it doesn't matter, really."
Peg hummed thoughtfully at the remark, then brightened. "Hey, that means you're free to date again."
"I just don't feel like it right now, Peg."
As Peg slurped at her latte, she shook her head. "You know what my mom always says. If you fall off the horse, get right back on. You need to date."
"Hey, I know. Why don't you let me fix you up with my friend? Oh, yeah. You two would probably go great together. You're both bookish and smart and she likes girls."
Peg leaned across the table and whispered, "She's a cutie." To emphasize the point, she gestured toward the coffee bar. "Over there. That's her, tending the coffee counter. Her name's Lisa."
Molly looked over at the coffee bar. There, tending a customer, was the soft-spoken brunette from whom she'd bought her cocoa earlier. She remembered even inadvertently smiling a little when she had perused the face during the purchase of her cocoa. She had liked that face. It was pleasant, even cute, radiating a kindly aura from behind wire-rimmed glasses and an eyebrow piercing. Molly considered her for a moment, then demurred, "Oh, I don't know, Peg. She probably won't like me."
"Now, how do you know that unless you go out with her? Come on, Molly. What else are you going to do? Go home and pout? That'll only throw you into a deeper funk. You don't need that. Let me fix you two up."
"Really, I don't think so." Molly smiled painfully and placed a hand over Peg's. "Not just yet. Maybe later, though."
Peg grinned. "Don't wait too long. She may not be available forever, you know. If you miss this chance, you'll kick yourself later."
"Honestly, what makes you think she'll even like me? Nobody else does, it seems."
"Now, Molly. You're too hard on yourself. You're a sweetheart, you're funny and smart, and you've got the cutest little freckles across your face. You'll charm her socks off." Peg wiggled her eyebrows evilly to emphasize her next thought. "Maybe that's not all you'll charm off of her, if you play your cards right."
Molly found herself chuckling, then looked up at Peg's face and laughed aloud at the impish expression. Peg beamed at the laughter, then patted Molly's arm. "See? You're coming out of it already. Getting dumped isn't so bad now, is it?"
Molly sipped at her cocoa, then replied, "About like a root canal, I guess." She snickered, then added, "Except with a root canal, they give you good drugs."
Peg giggled. "Wish they'd given me drugs when I was a teenager and had braces. Those things were uncomfortable."
Molly teased, "Embarrassing, too. I remember when you got your braces tangled with that boy's piercing. What was his name?"
Peg clapped both hands over her face and groaned. "You just had to remind me, didn't you? God, I almost never lived that down. I had to go to the orthodontist to get that piercing removed from my braces. I was soooooo mortified. I could hear his office staff laughing about it while I was in the chair."
Molly studied her cousin, then whispered, "Peg?"
The fingers parted on one hand, and Peg peered through them with one eye. "Yeah?"
"That piercing. I mean, just where was it originally?"
"You don't want to know. Can we please change the subject?"
Molly laughed again. "Okay." She glanced up at the wall clock, then asked, "Is your break about over?"
Peg looked up at the clock, then huffed. "Oh, shit. I've got to get back to work." She rose, then walked around the table and hugged Molly tightly. "Honey, if you feel rotten later, call me, okay?"
"I will. Thanks, Peg. You always cheer me up."
"You bet. I love you, Molly." She paused, then teased, "Even if nobody else does."
"Brat." Molly grasped her book and her cocoa and stood. "Guess I'll go home now. Can we meet for lunch or something soon? My treat?"
"Wow, your treat? You are feeling better, aren't you? Love to. Call me." Peg pointed at the book and asked, "You want to buy that?"
Molly looked down at the book pressed against her chest. The title peered back at her. Spirit Guides. "Yeah. I want it."
"Let me check you out. I'll give you my employee discount. Come on."
As they walked toward the front of the store, Peg teased, "You know, you never did tell me what a spirit guide was."
"Oh. Well, it's hard to explain, but basically it's a spirit being who looks over a person, protects them, guides them, teaches them through life experiences and such."
"What, like a ghost or a guardian angel?"
"Sort of, but different. Angels are farther up in the celestial pecking order, I think. Spirit guides are, like, people who've died and gone on to the next level of existence. According to the book, we each have one watching over us."
Peg rolled her eyes. "Molly, that's just weird. You mean that, like, Joan of Arc or somebody could be watching over me right now?"
"Well, the theory is that it's a departed relative, usually."
They arrived at the cash register. As Peg rang up the book and slipped it into a plastic bag, she giggled. "Gad. With my luck, it's Great-Granny Footes watching over me. I can still feel her pinch my cheek and say, 'Ooh, what a cute little thing you are.'"
Molly laughed at the memory. "You just watch out. One day, you'll have blue hair, too."
Peg handed the bag to Molly. "Not a chance. We're both going to be twenty-somethings forever. Now be sweet. Call me, remember?"
"Thanks, Peg. I owe you."
Peg wrinkled her nose as her eyes narrowed in laughter. "Nah. We're family. 'Bye, Molly."
"'Bye." With that, she walked out into the cool rain and noted a gray dusk settling over the parking lot. With a sigh, she flipped up the hood on her jacket and sought out her car, near the book-store entrance.
Calling Upon Your Spirit Guide
Spirit guides are busy folk and shouldn't be called upon lightly. That said, you no doubt want to get to know yours just a little more personally, and there's nothing wrong with that. Just don't expect them to answer your every beck and call. They can see much more than you know and can tell when your concerns are trivial or important. Trust them; they're guiding your life as much as you'll let them.
The first step in establishing a communication with yours is to just listen. Meditation is the key to unlocking a feeling of closeness, a rapport with your guide. If you've studied meditation techniques and yoga at all, then you know how to start. If you haven't, then turn the lights down, shut the noise away from your ears, and sit quietly. Concentrate on your breathing, listen to your heartbeat and empty your thoughts until you feel a wave of calm and well-being flood over you. Your emotions will lift, your spirit will soar in delight and you just might feel a new presence close to you. If you can achieve that, then know that you've taken the biggest step. Don't expect to accomplish this on the first try; it usually takes some time and perseverance.
Once you are able to recreate that level of meditation, then the next step is to think about your guide. Clear your mind of clutter, concentrate and think of your guide. Offer your friendship to her; invite her into your life. As you do, and as you gradually feel your guide's presence near you, around you, you can begin to ask for guidance about the concerns in your life. The answer won't be in words. It will be in a feeling of assurance about what is right and wrong and you'll suddenly know what you need to do to correct those imbalances in your life about which you are meditating.
Very seldom has there been any direct communication with a spirit guide. That takes a constant practice and a level of spiritual awareness with which few of us are endowed. After all, you are still a material being. Your body with its five material senses is a wall between you and the spirit world. It's a wall which is difficult to overcome, and few people are able to achieve it. For those lucky few who are gifted enough to accomplish it, though, it's an experience which will change their lives forever.
Molly rested the book in her lap and stretched. She looked at the clock and noted that it was still early evening. She'd read just a little more, she decided, then take a long, hot bath before going to bed. After all, she thought, this was fascinating stuff.
She rose and made a cup of hot tea, then walked back to the chair. As she sipped her tea, she contemplated the book spread over the arm of the chair and a thought struck her. It was an insane thought, she decided, and she shrugged it off, then thought about it again. After another sip of her tea, she said, "No. Nope. Unh-uh. No way. That's crazy. I'm not doing that."
Then, she thought about it once more. Why not at least try? She'd studied yoga and meditation for several years and was considered good enough to teach a class at the local fitness club. If anyone could do this, she reasoned, she ought to be able to do it. After all, her life was in the toilet, her lover gone, her job miserable and unrewarding. She was weary of constantly fighting off the dark clouds of depression which she felt gathering on her horizon. She'd love to get a few answers from whoever was guiding her life. After another incredulous minute of contemplation, she decided, 'Why not?' Aloud, she added, "What else have I got to do? It's not like I have a hot date tonight or anything."
She placed the tea mug down and retreated into her bedroom. In a moment, she returned, clothed in her comfortable yoga clothes, a tank-top and loose-fitting drawstring pants, and with her mat under her arm. She spread it out on the hardwood floor, then settled down on it and began her stretching exercises. When she was satisfied that she was ready, she wormed herself into a meditation pose and began her deep breathing techniques.
She felt a calm begin to descend over her as she listened to her breathing, heard the beating of her own heart in her ears and felt it in her chest. She concentrated and cleared her mind of nagging doubts and concerns and focused on repose, on calm. Soon, her physical senses began to dull one by one, and no longer did she see; no longer did she feel the coolness of the mat against her skin, no longer did she hear the patter of the rain on her windows. She did not need to concentrate on her pose; it seemed to sustain itself. She knew that she was approaching a state of calm, of strange irony in which her senses seemed heightened, but at the same time bypassed. She was approaching that state in which she could almost reach out with the fingers of her consciousness and touch the invisible universe around her. To her, it was a deeply spiritual state, one that she found immensely rewarding and refreshing.
She concentrated on nothingness, on heartbeat, on a serenity of spirit and emotion, and felt herself in prime form. Now, it was time. It was now or it was never. She fought down a sudden, negative stab of fear in her own heart and concentrated deeply. In a moment, she was again at repose, and she listened with the ears of her spirit.
She had no idea how much or how little time passed her by; indeed, it was possible that, in her state of meditation, time held no influence. Like flashes of lightning on a dark night, strange scenes, strange intimations of time and place coursed through her consciousness and then disappeared. She credited that to her own subconscious mind, freed to invent and play much as a waking dream would be, and ignored it even as she wondered at it. She concentrated on nothing, then on what she had read that night about spirit guides. She wished for hers, whoever that might be. After a while, she puzzled at a new sensation; a tingle, which seemed to animate her and raise the hair on her arms and the nape of her neck. It frightened her, but it thrilled her, as well. She had never felt such a thing before. It almost seemed as if there was another person in the room with her. Was it-? Could it be-?
She was rudely jarred from her meditative state by the irritating trill of the telephone. So deeply had she achieved meditation that it took her a moment to come out of it. She sat for a time, blinking, listening to the phone ring, as she slowly realized where she was. With a disgusted sigh, she rose and padded over to the table beside her chair, lifting the receiver.
"Honey, it's Mom. I'm sorry to call so late, but I was worried about you. Are you all right?"
"What? Sure, Mom. I'm fine." Molly blinked, then asked, "What time is it, anyway?"
"It's almost ten o'clock. Were you asleep?"
"No, I was doing my yoga. What's up?"
"Well, I heard from your Aunt Lil. Peg got home from work and told her that Janis had broken up with you. I just wanted to check on you and see if you're okay."
"Yeah, Mom. I'm fine, really. Please don't worry."
"If you get too down in the dumps, you know that you can always come here, don't you?"
"I know, Mom. Thanks, and don't worry. I'm not going to do anything stupid. It's not that big a deal, really. I had a good cry and I'm fine now."
"You're not just putting on a brave face, are you? Do you mean that?"
Molly sighed. "I mean it. Don't worry, Mom. I'm not going to kill myself or anything. One try at that was enough for me."
"I'm so relieved to hear you say that. I still see that night, you know, even though it was so long ago. I just-"
"I know. I'm really sorry that I put you and Dad through all that. It'll never happen again, I promise. I'm not eighteen anymore. I can see things with a clearer head now. Trust me on this, please?"
"I will, honey. Forgive me for acting silly, but I'm just being your mother."
Molly smiled. "And I love you for it. Thanks, Mom."
"Good night, honey. Sleep tight."
"You too, Mom. G'night."
Molly listened until she heard the click of the hang-up, then slowly replaced the receiver on the phone. "Poor Mom. What did she ever do to deserve me?" After a moment, she turned and studied the yoga mat, then the book. "Well, I guess the grand experiment is a bust for tonight."
With that decided, she entered the bathroom, where she began running the tub water to take her shower before attempting sleep.
Her slumber that night was fitful, a vivid dream causing her to start and awaken. She blinked, then stared at the bedside clock. It was almost one o'clock in the morning. She exhaled, then remembered shards of the dream. In it, she was in a noisy club. The music was loud, jazzy and reminiscent of big band music, and the people were dressed oddly. The men were wearing tuxedos or double-breasted suits, and the ladies were dressed in flapper outfits or evening clothes much like the movies she'd seen about the 'Roaring Twenties'. The atmosphere was smoky, and a plethora of booze flowed as laughter and conversation echoed around her. The last thing she remembered, a gun-shot rang out, screams pierced her ears and she felt herself falling. That was when she had awakened.
She sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes. A feeling washed over her of something not quite in order, and she puzzled at it as she stared down at her hands. They were shaking. A giggle echoed softly in her bedroom and she froze. She could feel the hair stand up on her neck and her heart pound in her chest. As her eyes trailed up in the darkness to gaze toward the end of her bed, she uttered a cry and cringed back against the headboard, pulling her covers up to her chin. She sputtered, blinked owlishly a couple of times, and stammered, "Wh- who? Who are you?"
A young lady of indeterminate age was perched on the end of her bed, studying her intently, one leg crossed over the other, one hand absent-mindedly twirling the end of a long string of costume pearls which hung about her neck. She was dressed oddly, in a dress of shimmery silver material which revealed bare arms ornamented with jangly bracelets. The young woman said nothing immediately, but just considered her through twinkling eyes and impish grin. Molly cringed against the headboard and rubbed her eyes again, then repeated her question.
"Who are you? How did you get in here? You need to get the hell out of here right now, or I'm calling the cops." A shaky hand reached out and groped the night-stand for the telephone.
The stranger grinned at her reaction, then waved a hand as if dismissing the idea. The impish face, ringed in short blonde curls and peering from beneath a dapper little hat with the brim turned up in the front, broke into a broad grin, then answered her.
"You know, Molly, Great-great-Grandma Footes always said that you should be careful what you ask for, 'cause you just might get it."
"What? How do you know my name? Just who in the hell are you, anyway?"
The stranger giggled again. "You really don't know who I am, do you?"
Molly's hand trailed across the night-stand to the drawer. She tugged it open, then reached inside. In a moment, she produced a small pistol and pointed it at the intruder. "Get out of here right now, or I'll shoot."
The intruder sighed, then rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Is that any way to treat an invited guest? Besides, getting shot once in an eternity is quite enough for me, thank you."
Molly gasped. The hand holding her pistol fell to her lap as the dream flashed through her mind. "You-?"
Again, the stranger giggled. "Oh, yeah. Now, that was a night to remember. Y'see, I was at the speakeasy with Reggie and your great-" She paused and squinted in thought. "Or was it your great-great grandmother? I really can't keep all these generations apart, you know. I get so confused sometimes. They all run into each other." She assumed a puzzled expression. "Now, where was I?"
Molly shook her head, then felt surprise at the next words out of her mouth. "You were at the, ah, speakeasy?"
"Oh, right. Reggie always got me in, you know. He was a cousin, and they knew him there because he was some kind of small-time hood. He made his money running bootleg hooch down from Canada. I used to meet the most delightful people at that place. The band was playing a song that the piano player wrote just for me." She began singing the tune softly, her body rocking to the rhythm of the words.
"Five foot-two, eyes of blue
But oh, what those five foot could do
Has anybody seen my girl?"
Molly blinked. She had heard that song. She asked, "Turned-up nose? Turned-down hose?"
The specter at the foot of the bed beamed. "Hey, you know it? Yup, that's me, honey."
Molly raised a curious eyebrow. "Never had no other beaus?"
The stranger appeared embarrassed for a moment, then waved a hand. "Okay, so I fibbed a little to him about that. Okay, a lot. So I fibbed a lot. He was a sweet, earnest boy, very inexperienced in romance, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings." She giggled, then leaned forward as if to reveal something very secret. "Once, I remember, he says to me, 'Honey, am I your first?' So, I batted my eyelashes at him, then answered, 'I dunno. You might be. Your face does look sort of familiar at that.'" She assumed a puzzled look. "He didn't call me for three days." She shook her head at the memory, the returned to the subject at hand. "Anyhow, I was at the speakeasy, and the last thing I remember-"
Molly finished the sentence for her. "There was an argument of some sort and you got shot."
"Yeah." She shook her head, her eyes seeming to gaze above Molly's head as she remembered some long-ago time. "Damn, that hurt, honey. Take it from me: don't ever get in the way of a bullet meant for somebody else."
Molly looked down at the pistol in her hand, then sheepishly replaced it in the drawer. "I'll try to remember that."
The stranger smiled, then visibly relaxed. "Thanks, doll. Having that 'roscoe' pointed at me was making me nervous."
Molly leaned forward and studied the figure perched on the far end of her bed. "You still haven't answered my question. Just who in the hell are you?"
"Guess I ought to introduce myself. I'm Suzie. Suzie Footes."
Molly furrowed her eyebrows in question. "You're a Footes, too?"
"Yup. That's me."
"Wait a minute. How come I've never met you?"
The impish face beneath the short blonde curls twinkled in a sly grin, and the hand spun the faux pearls a little more quickly. "Because, darlin', I died fifty years before you were born."
Molly gasped. "You- you what?" She cowered against the headboard, pulling the covers more tightly up to her chest.
"Hey, you asked. I'm just tellin'. One thing that a spirit guide can never do is tell a lie to their charge. It just ain't kosher." At Molly's speechless state, Suzie giggled. "Or don't you remember inviting me here?"
Molly clapped a hand over her eyes. She muttered, "Oh, my God. It's really true. This can't be really happening, can it?"
"Yup. It's happening. So, where do we start?"
Molly studied the specter from between slightly-parted fingers. "Start? Start what?"
Suzie waved a hand in the air. "Straightening out your screwed-up life. That is what you wanted to talk to me about, isn't it?"
Molly sat, speechless, for a long moment. When she finally spoke, it was punctuated with a shaky hand pointing a finger at the apparition sitting on her bed. "You're my spirit guide?"
"Twenty-three skiddoo, sweetheart. Suzie Footes, at your service and pleased to meet you." She leaned toward Molly, resting her chin on a dainty hand. "Now, what's on your mind?"
Suzie raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
Molly shrugged. "Heck, everything, I guess." She eyed her spirit guide cautiously, then asked, "Just how much do you know about my, um, screwed-up life?"
"Honey, I know it all. I've been watching over you since you popped out into this physical world, twenty-seven years ago."
"You know. Here. This existence. This beautiful, crazy, mixed-up world. Gosh, I do miss it here." Suzie giggled again, then reminisced, "I loved it here. I was always a girl of creature comforts, you know. I loved dancing and nice French perfumes, and silk stockings, and those sweet little drinks they made with bathtub gin, and bubble baths and all those things. Ooh, and I loved to drive motor-cars. They were so much fun. I was saving up for a Model T Ford of my very own." She smiled at her own joke. "You could have any color you wanted as long as you wanted black. Did you know that it could go more than thirty-five miles an hour?" She cast imploring eyes at Molly and put on a cute, seductive pout. "Can I drive your car sometime?"
"Um, we'll see."
Suzie's face crinkled in a wide grin. "Well, okay. I'll just take that as a 'yes'. Now, what do you want to talk about?"
"Well, lots. I mean, I have lots of questions, but I don't really know where to begin, ah-"
"Suzie. Call me Suzie."
"Right, ah, Suzie. Pardon me, but I'm a little sleepy right now. After all, it is the middle of the night."
Suzie snapped her fingers. "Oh, right. Sleep. I'd forgotten how luxurious that could be." She thought for a moment, then said, "Okay. You sleep, and I'll see you tomorrow. How's that?"
Suzie nodded. "See you around the city, sweet pea." She began to sparkle, then dissipate into the air.
Molly reached out toward her. "Wait."
The dissipation stopped, and Suzie regarded her. "Yeah?"
"Thanks for showing up."
Suzie grinned from ear to ear. "You bet. Don't worry, doll, you'll be seeing a lot of me in the next few days." With that, the dissipation progressed and in a moment, Molly sat alone in her bed. She pondered the conversation she'd just had, huffed, and shook her head.
"I think I'm beginning to regret this already." With that, she slid down into her bed and pulled the covers over her head, attempting to reclaim the sleep from which she had been aroused earlier that night.
In the morning, Molly groaned as the alarm clock urged her awake, then slapped at it and lifted herself from her bed. She staggered toward the kitchen to begin the ritual of starting her morning coffee, then paused in the doorway and studied the end of the bed through bleary eyes. After a moment, she shook her head, muttered, "Nah. Just a weird dream," and turned to shuffle into the kitchen.
The coffee-maker hissed and dripped coffee into the pot as she plopped into a kitchen chair and stared out of the window. The rain had ended and it promised to be a beautiful day. That made Molly smile a little. She idly watched the squirrels at play outside her kitchen window, then rose to pour her coffee.
Soon, she was seated at the tiny table in her kitchen, savoring the first cup of morning coffee. As she sipped it carefully, she chuckled at the memory of her dream from the night before, a grin slowly forming across her face. She shook her head, then raised her coffee cup to her lips again.
A voice played teasingly in her ear.
"Well, I'm glad that you're in a much better humor this morning."
Molly froze, her coffee cup just beneath her chin, and her eyes widened. Slowly, she turned and looked in the direction from which the voice had come and visibly started when she saw the apparition from her last evening's dream sitting on her kitchen counter, one knee pertly crossed over the other. The specter studied her for a moment, then asked, "Gee, we're not going through that routine again, are we?"
Molly placed her cup down and coughed. "Sorry. You startled me. I wasn't expecting you."
Suzie giggled. "Yeah, right. More likely is that you thought my appearance last night was a dream. Well, it's not, sugar. I'm here and I'm not leaving until we get some things resolved."
Molly sipped her coffee, then asked, "You mean, like my screwed-up life?"
"Yeah. Like that. So, where do you want to start?"
"Um, I don't know." Molly hesitated, then blurted, "Oh, pardon me for being so rude. Do you want some coffee?"
"Ooh, I'd love some, but I don't eat or drink. No need to, you know. I'm not a physical being."
"So you said. You don't eat or drink just for pleasure? I mean, you do look very physical, rather like you're still alive."
At that, Suzie cocked her head. "I'm more alive than I ever was. I'm just dead." She paused, considered the comment, and shrugged. "Well, you know what I mean."
"Yeah, I think I've got it. But you look so alive. I mean, you don't look like a ghost. I can't see through you or anything. One would think that you're a regular, living person."
"Oh, I can make myself appear to you in this form, or a spectral form, or whatever I think you can take seeing. I do this form because I don't want to scare the crap out of you."
"You've already done that. So, can you have some coffee?"
Suzie eyed the coffee pot, then allowed her expression to betray a mischievous twinkle. "I haven't eaten or drunk anything since I died. Come to think of it, I haven't been back to this realm since I died. I did so love my morning coffee. Okay, I'll try it."
"Cups are just above your head, and milk is in the fridge. Sugar is in the bowl."
"Thanks, honey." Suzie hopped down from the counter and rummaged about, pouring herself a cup of coffee and adding milk and sugar. When she had fixed it to her satisfaction, she sat down at the breakfast table near Molly and lifted the cup. At first, she smelled it delightedly, then sipped at it. With a moan of pure pleasure, she placed the cup down and looked over at Molly.
"That," she said, "is an absolute delight. Thank you."
"So, where do you want to start?"
Molly shrugged, then suggested, "How about we start with my 'loser' personality?"
Suzie wrinkled her nose at the suggestion, then sat thoughtfully for a moment. When she spoke, it was with a sigh. "Spirit guides can't do anything about that, you know. You are who you are. You're born with most of it. I can only help you to make the most of who you are."
Molly grunted. "Great. I'm totally screwed, then."
Suzie smiled painfully at the comment. "Molly dear, you're a sweetheart of a girl and I'm going to prove it to you. Now let's enjoy this heavenly coffee before we start the day." Without another word, Suzie lifted the cup and again savored the flavor of the coffee. When she lowered her cup, her eyes twinkled at Molly as she spoke. "Isn't it just 'the cat's pajamas'?"
As Molly watched the aura of total delight on Suzie's face, she smiled. "Yes," she answered. "Now that you mention it, I think it's more delicious than I've remembered it being for a long, long time."
Suzie's eyes simply sparkled at that comment. She smiled infectiously at Molly, then nodded in satisfaction. "See? You're catching on already."
"But I've got to go to work."
"What, I can't go with you?"
"Well, it will be rather awkward to explain your presence to everybody else."
Suzie giggled. "Honey, nobody can see me but you. That's the way I will it. I won't be a problem to you, trust me."
Molly scratched her head. "Really?"
Suzie nodded. "Really."
"Well, I guess it'll be okay, in that case." Molly studied Suzie's impish expression for a moment, then asked, "Do you even know what I do?"
"Oh, sure, honey. I've been with you before at work. You've just never realized it."
"You have?" Molly blinked, then answered her own question. "I guess you have, haven't you?"
"Yes, and why you chose that kind of work, I'll never know. Doom and gloom all day long."
Molly looked up from where she was attempting to brush her
hair into some semblance of order. "Tell me about it. Sometimes I so hate my job."
"Well, it's spilled milk now. You've either got to get a new attitude about it or just do something else for a living."
Suzie followed Molly into her bedroom and watched her worm into white uniform pants and a scrub top patterned with bright birds and palm trees. Molly replied to her spirit guide's observations. "God, now you sound like my father. So, how do I do that?"
"Get a new attitude about it?"
Suzie giggled, then winked at Molly. "Honey, if I can't help you get a new attitude, I'll help you get a new job. How's that for a deal?"
"Can you really do that?"
Suzie stood, leaned close to Molly and kissed her on the cheek. "Dear, I'm your spirit guide. I can do anything, if you set your mind to it."
"Never mind. You'll understand soon enough. Now come on. Time's flying, and you're going to be late again. And you can't afford to be late again. You've been reprimanded for that before. So, get your stuff and hit the road already."
Soon, Molly was in her car and easing onto the expressway. Suzie perched on the passenger seat next to her, her eyes wide at the traffic flowing by. "Jeepers, this is dynamite. Look at all the fancy motor-cars. How fast are we going, anyway?"
Molly glanced down at her dashboard, then up at the traffic again. "Um, about sixty-five."
"Aren't you scared?"
"Nah. I'm used to the speed."
Suzie became animated. "I love it, but it scares me, too. It's like the time that Amelia took me up in her aeroplane. I still remember it; it was a two-seater biplane, banana yellow. She was a pilot, you know, and loved to fly and do all those wonderful aerial tricks. I was so scared I thought I'd pee my pants, but I loved it just the same."
Molly stared over at Suzie. "Amelia? You mean, as in 'Amelia Earhart'?"
"Oh, you've heard of her?"
"Shit, she's only famous. Everybody knows about her."
Suzie giggled delightedly. "I'm so glad. She's such a delightful girl."
Molly asked, "So, whatever happened to her? It's considered a mystery, you know."
Suzie squinted in thought, then replied, "Oh, you mean her death? I don't really know, dear. We don't talk much about it."
"You talk to her?" Molly considered the knowing expression on Suzie's face, then nodded. "Of course you talk to her. What am I saying?"
"You'll get the hang of it." Suzie watched as they entered an off-ramp and slowed to a stop at the stop light. "Is that where you work?"
Molly looked up at the multi-story hospital in front of her. The windows were of identical reflective material, and the walls were gritty-colored from the air pollution of constant exhaust fumes. It had assumed the dirty brown color of the city around it. "Yeah."
"The buildings these days have no character, do they? All concrete and closed windows. I think it seems rather ugly."
"If you think it's ugly on the outside, wait until you get inside."
"My, my. No wonder you dislike your work. It's almost-" Suzie squinted in thought, searching for just the right word. Finally, she settled with, "Oppressive. So, where's the sun deck?"
"You know, where they load everybody up into those big wicker wheelchairs and push them out into the sunshine. They did that for me when I had my appendix taken out. I so looked forward to when they took me outside."
"Um, we don't do that anymore."
"You mean that everybody just lies around inside all day?"
"That's pretty much it."
"How awful. No wonder so many people can't wait to pass over."
Molly wheeled the car into the parking garage, then shut off the engine. She looked over at Suzie and asked, "You mean that many people want to die?"
The specter nodded. "Sure. I mean, wouldn't you? Lying around in broken, pain-wracked bodies. Sometimes, they beg for it and are so relieved when it finally happens."
Molly sat silently for a moment, then sarcastically joked, "Thanks for making my job more cheery."
Suzie placed a hand over her mouth, then muttered, "Oops. Yeah. Guess you're right. Sorry."
"Forget it." She glanced at her wrist-watch. "Oh, rats. I'm gonna be late." With that, she opened the car door and gathered her bag, slinging it over her shoulder and slamming the door. With a click of the key-fob, the car locked itself and she jogged to the garage stairwell. As she trotted down the stairs, she looked around. "Suzie?" There was no answer. She shrugged, then opened the door on the first floor level and entered. When she ran her identification badge through the time clock, she noted the time. She was six minutes late. "Oh, not again. There goes my bonus this year."
She entered a door marked "X-ray- authorized personnel only", and hurried to the locker room. A minute later, she slipped into a large, noisy and confused area lined with rows of illuminated view-boxes on the walls and counter-tops cluttered with paperwork and stacks of developed x-ray film. A few of the people there, in the midst of some task or other, nodded or smiled greetings to her as she entered. One greeting, however, was not so pleasant.
"It's about time you got here. You're eight minutes late. You should be in your room and working on the half-hour."
The sour face in front of her did not give her time to answer. "But nothing. You're in room three today. There's four patients already outside the door."
"Right." Molly regarded the older woman in front of her. "Room three. Is that monstrosity actually working today? It wasn't yesterday."
"It works. I can't help it if you don't know how to use it."
Molly felt a slow burn start to creep up her neck. She swallowed an angry retort and turned to enter the door with the number 'three' painted on it, above the radiation caution sign. The sour voice addressed her again.
"You clocked in late again, didn't you?" Molly slowly turned and looked at her, saying nothing. "I'm checking. If you did, you're in trouble."
Molly entered the door and allowed it to slam behind her. "Bitch," she muttered, and looked around the room. It was a mess, with dirty laundry left on the x-ray table and bloody sponges scattered across the floor. "Nice," she intoned, and then pulled a pair of exam gloves from the box on the wall. She snapped them onto her hands and began cleaning the room, throwing the sponges into the trash and stuffing the dirty sheets into an already over-full and smelly laundry cart. In a couple of minutes, she had straightened up to her satisfaction and opened the door. In the hallway, five patients in wheelchairs and stretchers were lined up waiting for her. The closest, a sour-looking little man squashed down into a wheelchair, regarded her with irritation.
"It's about damned time. I've been sitting out here for an hour now."
Molly flopped down wearily on a rolling stool in her room and sighed. She had just put seventeen patients through her room in three and a half hours, and she was tired. That was good speed for seventy-two x-ray films, she thought, especially since she'd had to stop four times to fuss with the ancient, recalcitrant x-ray equipment. She glowered at it, and it silently stared back at her from the center of the room. Finally, she reached out, tapped the metal table with a toe and muttered, "You piece of shit."
A giggle resounded from behind her, and Suzie's voice chided her gently. "You should be more respectful of your elders, you know. That thing was around since before you were born, I think."
Molly looked behind her and saw Suzie sitting on a counter-top, twirling the end of her long strand of faux pearls around a finger. At Suzie's impish smile, Molly couldn't help but grin. "I wondered where you were."
"Oh, I've been here, darling. Been watching you the whole time."
"Hm. Real freak show, ain't it?"
"Oh, oh. It's not over yet. Bitch alert!" With that, Suzie pointed toward the door. Molly wearily looked over, and saw the sour expression of the supervisor's face peeking around the door.
"What are you doing?"
Molly answered evenly, "Taking a break."
"No time for that. You go to surgery, room twelve." When Molly raised an eyebrow, the face in the door intoned, "Now. They're waiting on you."
Molly rose from the stool. "What am I going to do up there?"
"Just a couple of films, I think. Even you can handle that, can't you?"
"Yeah. I can handle that." Molly pulled the heavy door open, pushed her way past the supervisor, and headed for the stairs. Ten minutes later, she was dressed in a faded green scrub suit. Still tying a mask over her face, she entered surgery room number twelve. At her entrance, all conversation stopped. Molly had experienced that before, and knew that it did not bode well.
The explosion came in three seconds. The surgeon, looking up from where he was seated on a stool, regarded her coldly, then raised his voice. "Where the hell have you been, X-ray? We called down there thirty minutes ago."
"I came as soon as I heard-"
"That's bullshit. You people need to get the lead out of your asses. I've got a patient asleep on the table here."
Molly's eyes traveled around the room. All in it were regarding her with the same cold, dispassionate stare. She nodded. "Right. So, what do you need of me?"
His voice rose in pitch and volume. "What does it look like I need? I need two views of this ankle." He pointed toward a bloody ankle which protruded from a mass of green sheets. "Now step on it. I'm late for my office hours."
Again, the slow burn rose in Molly's neck. She swallowed hard, then nodded. "Right away, Doctor."
As she turned to head for the door, he asked, "Now where in the hell are you going?"
She looked back at him. "I need my stuff."
His voice assumed a sarcastic tint as he asked, "Why didn't you bring it with you?"
She regarded him with a cold stare as she replied evenly, "I didn't know what we were doing in here, what stuff I'd need."
"Well, hurry up. Get it."
She said nothing, but left the room and glanced up and down the hallway. Ten feet away, the x-ray machine sat. She retrieved it, opened the bin, and saw no film inside it. "Great," she muttered, then took off running down the hallway toward the darkroom. "Two films. Two films."
A couple of minutes later, she was wrestling the eight-hundred pound machine around into position as the others in the room watched her. A surgical tech held out a sterile plastic bag, and she dropped a rigid film into it. The doctor snatched it from the tech's hand and thrust it under the bloody leg. As Molly pulled the machine into position over the leg, she noted that the surgeon had placed the film upside-down. She pointed at it and spoke.
"Um, the film is-"
He leaned down toward her and stared at her hard. "Quit talking and shoot the God-damned thing."
Ten minutes later, the films were on the illumination box. Across one of the views, the silhouettes of metal latches were superimposed on the bone. The surgeon looked at her and asked, "What the hell is that? This is crap. I can't see what I need to see in this." Molly opened her mouth to explain. She didn't get the chance. "What's your name, anyway?" He looked at her identification badge. "Footes, get the hell out of here and send me somebody else. Somebody who knows what they're doing."
"You heard me. Get out of my room." Without waiting for a reply, he turned to the nurse. "Get me X-ray on the phone. I want to talk to whoever's in charge down there. Now."
She felt a hand on her arm. One of the surgical nurses pulled her aside. "You'd better get out of here, honey. When he gets like this, there's no talking to him."
"Fine. You don't have to tell me twice." With that, Molly stormed to the door, pulled it open, and slammed it shut behind her. She paced out into the hall, ripped the mask from her face, and fought down a sob with all her will. She was determined that she wasn't going to cry. No, that bastard wasn't going to make her cry. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, took several deep breaths, and then sighed. She only opened them again when Suzie's voice reached her ear.
"Man, what a dick. You okay?"
Molly looked around. Suzie was regarding her from her perch atop a stretcher in the hall. "What do you think?"
Suzie snickered. "I think he's going to cancel his office hours, go home early, and catch his trophy wife doin' the horizontal mambo with Raoul, the pool boy. That's what I think."
Molly's mouth dropped open at the comment. She stared at Suzie. "Are you serious?"
"Am I serious? Is the 'Charleston' fun to dance?"
Molly felt an infectious grin break out across her face. "Thanks. Nice joke. I needed that."
"It ain't a joke, doll. I'm telling you, that is what's going to happen."
"You mean that you- ?" After a moment, Molly shook her head. "Sure you can. What am I asking?"
"Yeah, I can see things you can't see, and yeah, there really is a cosmic justice in the world. You ready for the next act?"
Molly slapped her head. "Oh, God. You're right. Now I've got to go downstairs and face the music. This isn't going to be fun."
"Think of it like getting a tooth pulled. You'll feel so much better in a few days, trust me."
"You keep saying that."
"Hey, I'm your spirit guide. Would I lead you wrong? I'll be with you the whole way." With that comment, Suzie winked reassuringly, then disappeared.
Molly shed her heavy lead apron and began walking toward the locker room. "Thanks, I think."
When Molly entered the central control area of the x-ray department, still dressed in her surgical scrubs and with her uniform under her arm, conversation stopped and several people studied her with guarded expressions. The supervisor placed the telephone down on its cradle and pointed down the hall. "Molly, director's office. Now."
"Right." She sighed, then headed down the hallway toward the director's office, feeling much like a condemned prisoner might feel on his way to the electric chair. She looked around. The supervisor was following her. 'Jeez,' she thought. 'All I need now is a priest reading me the Twenty-Third Psalm.'
She heard a familiar giggle in the hall next to her and looked to her left. There, pacing her, was Suzie, dressed in a black priest's garb and holding a Bible. She asked, "Is there anything you wish to confess, my daughter?"
Molly rolled her eyes. "Will you stop that? I'm really not in the mood just now."
The supervisor's voice echoed in the hall behind her. "What did you just say?"
"Huh? Oh, I wasn't- I mean, I didn't- "
"I distinctly heard you."
"I wasn't talking to you, really."
"Then who? We're the only two in the hallway. You're on really thin ice here, young lady. You'd better watch your attitude."
Molly shook her head. "We're here." She opened the door and entered, the supervisor on her heels. The department's director looked up from his desk, then waved them both in and began speaking.
"Shut the door, will you? Have a seat."
Molly did as she was told and seated herself on a worn office chair. The supervisor stood behind her, arms folded across her chest, and glowered. In the moment of thick silence which followed, Molly looked around the room. Sure enough, Suzie was perched on the edge of the director's desk, watching the scene with great interest and, it seemed, amusement.
The director, a weary-looking man in his late fifties, began the meeting. "Okay, exactly what happened up there?"
The supervisor answered for Molly. "I'll tell you what happened. She screwed up a case, that's what."
He held up a hand. "I was asking Molly." He looked at Molly and gestured. "Tell me what happened."
"Well, it's like this-" As Molly gathered her thoughts and began explaining what had transpired, she noted Suzie sitting on the edge of the desk. She was nodding, smiling. It encouraged her. As she finished her explanation, the supervisor standing behind her interrupted.
"I don't buy it. She's not telling the truth."
The director looked up at the woman. Molly's mouth dropped open, then she slowly turned in her chair. She could feel the heat of emotion begin to animate her. "Are you calling me a liar?"
"I'm just saying that I don't quite believe you. I got the phone call from surgery, and that's not what the surgeon said." She looked over at the director. "He was furious, you know."
Molly could feel the flush redden her cheeks. "He's a jackass. He screwed up the film, not me."
"I rather doubt that. He also said that you took thirty minutes to get up there."
"What? That's baloney." Molly stood, pointing her finger at the supervisor. "I was up there, dressed, and in his room in ten minutes. If he was waiting for thirty minutes, it's because you waited twenty minutes to send me up there." Out of the corner of her eye, Molly could see Suzie clapping with glee.
The director stood from behind his desk. "Now, ladies-"
The supervisor ignored the director, glowered at Molly, and responded with venom. "You'd better watch it, young lady."
Molly could hear her voice rise with her emotion. "Me? You're calling me a liar, and I'd better watch it? That's a laugh."
The director's eyes were growing ever wider. "Now, ladies-"
Both Molly and the supervisor turned on him. In unison, they shouted, "What?" He cowered slightly at the response, then regained his composure.
"Ah, let's settle down here." He pointed at the supervisor. "You're dismissed. I'll handle this."
Molly glanced at Suzie just in time to see her place her thumb on her nose, wiggle her fingers at the supervisor and blow a raspberry sound through her lips. The sight was ludicrous. Molly felt a laugh well up in her chest, and fought it down. She was unsuccessful. She snickered, then clapped a hand over her mouth. The supervisor became livid.
"See? That's the attitude I have to put up with from her every day. She's always being disrespectful to me."
Molly felt the heat of emotion flush her face again. The director noted it, stood, and quickly walked around his desk. He opened the door and pointed. "Go on. I'll take care of this."
Without another word, the supervisor glanced first at him, then directed a withering look at Molly. She turned and left, her footsteps heavy in the hallway. The man closed the door, then leaned against his desk, regarding Molly with sad eyes. Finally, he began speaking.
"Look, the chief radiologist wants you fired over this."
"What? Can he do that?"
"He sure can. He's a doctor. If he wants you gone, you're gone. Seems he's golfing buddies with that surgeon." He paused, then pointed toward the hall. "She wants you out of here, too. Been complaining about you constantly since you started here. What happened between you two to cause bad blood, anyway?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. She doesn't like me for some reason. She never has."
"You don't remember anything happening to set her off about you?"
"No. She's been on my case since day one."
He ran a hand through his hair and sighed in resignation. "I understand. She's a pain in my neck, too, but she's been here for twenty-eight years. Her husband is on the board of directors. She carries a lot of weight. Nothing I can do about her."
Molly sat, stunned, for a moment, then weakly replied, "I get the picture."
"I thought you would. Sorry, but that's the way it is. The big dogs eat the little ones. Look, I don't like this any more than you do. Other than the occasional tardy, I've never had a problem with you. Everybody else likes working with you." He studied her for a moment, then added, "I really am sorry, but I have no choice. I've got to let you go."
Molly nodded. "I know. It's not your fault."
"Look, you can file for unemployment and I'll make sure you get paid for the entire shift." He reached behind him, picked up one of his business cards from the desk, and handed it to her. "When you find new work, have them call me directly for a reference. I'll give you a good one."
Molly looked down at the card in her hand, then up at him. "Thanks. I appreciate that, but I don't think that I have the stomach for this sort of work any more. Today just capped it all."
He raised an eyebrow. "All your schooling? Your degree? Your professional registration and your license? I hate to see you waste all that, you know. What will you do?"
Molly shrugged wearily. "I really have no idea. Anything but this."
She glanced past him and saw Suzie still perched on the edge of the desk, an expression of deep sympathy etched across her face. The specter lifted a hand, tapped herself on the chest and whispered, "Trust me, Molly. Please, trust me?"
Molly considered the earnest request, then smiled sadly. She stood, then offered out her hand to the director. "Thanks. I'll be okay."
He grasped the hand. "You're an exceptional person, Molly. I do wish you luck."
She nodded, released his hand, pulled the identification badge from around her neck, and dropped it on his desk. A moment later, her radiation monitor badge followed. With that, she turned and left his office.
The drive home was spent in silence. Suzie perched on her seat, saying nothing, but regarding Molly with wide, sympathetic eyes. When they arrived at her little apartment, she walked into her bedroom, pulled the uniform from her body and threw it into the trash can. Then, she stepped into the shower, turned on the water, and scrubbed herself until the skin on her hands began to prune.
"That won't help, you know."
Molly looked at the beer in her hand. "You want it?"
"Nah. Never cared for beer much."
"Me, neither." She placed the half-full bottle aside. "I feel rotten."
Suzie smiled. "You should feel great. You just got rid of a lousy job."
Molly snorted. "Yeah. Right."
"You're just a little down in the dumps. Cheer up. Things will get better."
"Oh? Let's see. Since you came into my life, I got dumped and I lost my job. What's next? Cancer?"
"Oh, don't be so melodramatic, dear." Suzie squinted in thought, then brightened. "I know. You need a night out. Go get dolled up and we'll go out to a bar. After all, I hear that it's legal to drink again."
Molly hedged, "I've never been one for bars."
"You can meet some delightful people at the right ones. Now, let's see, there's got to be a neat little bar around here somewhere." Suzie looked up at the ceiling as she tapped her lips with a finger.
Molly answered her question. "Fran and Nan's."
"See? I just knew that you'd have a favorite. Um, is it one of those all-girl's bars?"
Molly smiled at the question. "No. That's downtown. This one is a mix of people."
"Well, what are you waiting for? Get dressed and we'll go."
"I don't know, Suzie. I'm really not in the mood to get hit on by some neanderthal guy with beer breath tonight."
"Are you in the mood to get hit on by a cute girl tonight?"
At that, Molly looked up and noted the impish expression on Suzie's face. "Yeah, right. Like that's really going to happen. Remember me? I'm the unlovable Molly Footes." Suzie's eyes were absolutely twinkling. Molly felt a strange thought strike her and asked, "Ah, is this one of those 'I can see things you can't see' moments?"
Suzie laughed, then pointed toward the bedroom. "Go get dressed."
Her curiosity overwhelming her, Molly slowly rose, then headed toward the bedroom to dress.
Fran and Nan's bar was a pleasant little tavern, one of those wood-paneled places with the bar stretching along one wall, stools lined up along it. A couple of pool tables stood at the far side of the room and along another wall, wooden booths waited patiently for customers. The interior was worn, slightly smoky and resounded with conversation and the clack of pool balls. Molly stopped just inside the door and looked around, then whispered, "I don't see too many people here."
Suzie prodded her in the back. "Just go ahead. Everything will be okay." She squealed, then added, "It looks so neat in here. I can't wait."
"You? I mean, you're-"
"Hey, sweetheart, just because I'm dead doesn't mean I don't like to have a good time, you know. Grab a seat."
"Okay, okay." Molly gravitated to a booth near the door and slid into it, casually studying the people in the bar from her vantage point. Suzie occupied the seat next to her and leaned close to her, pointing surreptitiously and giggling at some of the patrons.
"Look at that guy. He's got more earrings than I do."
Molly smiled. "That's the style now."
"Give me a fella in a dark suit and a dapper straw hat. Now that, I could go for." After a moment, she added, "Or a girl in a black evening dress. That always made my knees knock."
Molly looked over at Suzie. "Um, can I ask you a personal question?"
"Sure, sugar. What is it?"
"Do you- did you- you know- like both guys and girls?"
Suzie nodded. "Yeah. Always have. Egalitarian, that's me. Reggie used to say that it was because I was a Bolshevik at heart."
"A Bolshevik? You mean, like a communist or something?"
"Oh, Reggie was a tease. Dumb, too. I don't think he really knew what it meant. Good-hearted fella, though. Do anything for you. I did like him."
"Were you involved with Reggie?"
Suzie giggled. "Oh, no. He was a cousin, after all. Plus, he wasn't my type. He was like-" She thought for a moment, then finished, "You and Peg."
"Oh." Molly was about to ask another question when a waitress approached the table. She was dressed in low-cut blue jeans and a t-shirt with the bar's name on it.
"What'll you gals have tonight?"
Suzie leaned on the table. "Love a gin and tonic. How's about you, sweet pea?" She looked at Molly, who replied with a speechless stare for a moment, then shook herself out of it.
"Um, a light beer, I guess."
The waitress nodded. "Comin' up."
As the waitress turned and left, Molly stared at Suzie. "She saw you."
"Yup. I've manifested myself to everybody tonight. They can see me just like they can see you. Hey, you don't think that I'm going to sit out the fun, do you?"
Molly blinked, then looked Suzie over. Her flapper's dress had vanished. In its place, she was wearing a black t-shirt and some blue jeans. "And your clothes have changed."
"Yeah. Neat little trick, ain't it? I modeled them after what our waitress was wearing."
"Too hard to explain." She patted Molly on the hand. "Don't worry. In another fifty years or so, you can learn it, too."
"Gee. Something else to look forward to." She pondered the statement, then asked, "Do you mean that I'm going to live another fifty years?"
"Figure of speech, doll. How long you live here depends mostly on you."
"Can you explain that?"
Suzie squinted, her nose wrinkling as she thought. "I'll try. It's like this- " Her explanation was interrupted by the waitress setting their drinks down on the table. The waitress smiled, then spoke.
"Gin and tonic, and a beer for you. Want me to run a tab?"
Molly looked over at Suzie, then nodded. "Sure. Put my friend here on my tab."
"Right. My name's Heather if you need anything." The waitress studied Molly for a moment, then asked, "You've been in here before, haven't you?"
"Oh, a time or two."
"I thought you looked familiar." Her eyes widened, and she pointed. "No, I remember now. You x-rayed me when I had my car wreck a couple of months ago. You were so gentle. I never got the chance to thank you."
Molly's eyes widened in surprise, and she shrugged. "Sorry, I don't remember."
"Oh, I do. Thanks for being a sweetheart." She turned to leave the table, looking over her shoulder as she did so. Molly could swear that she winked at her before she returned to the bar.
Suzie giggled. "See? You weren't a total loss at that job now, were you?"
Molly scratched her head. "Guess not. Glad to know that I did at least one thing right." After a moment's thought, she added, "Thanks. I needed that right about now."
Suzie patted her knee. "Don't worry. We're going to have you feeling good about yourself or my name's not Suzie Footes. By the way, you did notice her flirting with you, didn't you?"
"That wasn't a flirt."
"That was a flirt. Trust me; in my time, I was one of the biggest flirts around. I know a flirt when I see one, and that was definitely a flirt."
Molly blinked, then thought about it. After a short silence, she studied Suzie. "Was it really a flirt?" At Suzie's knowing expression, she conceded, "Okay. It was a flirt."
Suzie sipped her gin and tonic, then asked, "So, what are you going to do about it?"
"Do? Nothing. I don't know."
"Bad move. Seize the moment, dear."
Suzie studied Molly with a look of mixed chagrin and amusement. "Molly, this is your spirit guide talking to you. Seize the moment."
"Um, what do I do?"
"Gosh, you really are an introverted thing, aren't you? Leave it to me." Suzie giggled, then sipped at her drink again. "You'll know the time is right when I disappear. Just go with whatever she suggests. Now, how'd you like to hear a story about your great-great uncle?"
Some time later, Heather looked over and noticed Molly sitting alone. She walked over to the table and asked, "Did your friend leave?"
Molly looked up. "Yeah. She had to go home."
"Oh. Too bad. You want another beer?"
Molly looked down at the bottle in front of her. It was warm and almost empty. "Ah, sure." Heather turned and headed to the bar, then returned in a minute and placed the beer down in front of her. To Molly's surprise, Heather seated herself at the booth, across the table from her, and spoke.
"Your friend, are you two close?"
"She's actually a relative of mine."
Heather's expression brightened. "Oh. She seems nice." The waitress looked around the almost-empty bar, then asked, "You want to play some pool?"
"Aren't you working?"
Heather pointed to the bar. "Lousy night. Almost empty. I'm not making any tips. It's okay if we schmooze with the regulars when it's like this."
Molly studied Heather. "It won't get you in trouble?"
"Nah. Come on." Molly lifted her beer bottle from the table and followed Heather to the empty pool tables. In a moment, the balls were racked and the game was in progress. Heather was a good pool player, scattering the balls around the table neatly on the break shot. Molly sipped her beer and watched as Heather slowly strolled around the table, sizing up the lay of the pool balls, and then leaned forward to make a shot. The hem of her T-shirt rode up somewhat as she stretched forward to shoot, and Molly noted the tattoo on the small of her back, just above what appeared to be the waistband of a thong. The sight, fueled by the beer, made Molly's heart beat just a little faster, and she diverted her eyes with the thought, 'Hoo, boy. That's the last thing I needed to see tonight.'
The girl sank several balls before missing a shot, then she handed the cue to Molly. "Your turn. I'll bet you're great at this."
"Nah. Actually, I suck." With that, she lined up her first shot and took it. The ball neared the corner pocket, then slowed to a crawl. Molly snorted in disgust, then changed her expression to one of surprise when the ball slowly crawled into the pocket and rattled into the depths of the table. A teasing snicker echoed through the bar and Suzie materialized, perched on the edge of the table. The specter whispered, "Take another shot. No, not that one. Try for the seven." Molly blinked in surprise, then looked around. "They can't see me. Now go for the seven."
Molly nodded, then lined up the seven for a corner pocket. As she made her shot, she could see Suzie intently watching the ball's progress toward its goal. It fell into the pocket. Suzie giggled again, then suggested, "Okay, now the five, that pocket. Hey, trust me."
An hour and a half and four beers later, Heather threw up her hands. "I surrender," she said. "You've kicked my butt four times."
Molly leaned back against the table and smiled. "My pleasure. It's a cute butt." Even as the words left her lips, she thought, 'I can't believe that I just said that. God, it must be the beer talking.' She held her breath, waiting for a negative reaction from Heather, but the girl just smiled at the remark, her eyes flashing in a flirtatious manner.
"Thanks. Glad you like it." She looked up to see the bar owner wave at her. "Gotta go to work for a minute. Be right back."
Molly steadied herself against the table, downing the last of her beer and watching Heather walk as she headed to the bar. The waitress held a brief conversation with the owner, then returned. "You're the only customer here. Boss says he's closing early. He's kicking us all out." She studied Molly for a moment, then asked, "You okay?"
"Huh? Wow, guess I'm kind of drunk. I'm not used to drinking, you know."
"Could have fooled me. You do look too drunk to drive, though. Got your car keys?"
Molly fumbled in the pocket of her jeans, hauled them out, and dangled them by a finger. "Yeah."
Heather lifted them from her finger and palmed them. "Come on. I'll drive you home. You live nearby, don't you?"
"Yeah. Just a few blocks. But really, you-"
"Hey, no problem. I've got time. Come on. Let's square up your tab and I'll take you home."
Molly blinked, then looked around the bar. Suzie was perched on the edge of the pool table, again dressed in her flapper's outfit, twirling her long strand of pearls in her hand. Her eyes were absolutely twinkling. She nodded brightly, flashed an 'OK' sign, then disappeared. Molly looked back at Heather. "Um, sure. That is, if I'm not putting you out."
Heather smiled. "Not at all. Come on." With that, she snaked an arm through Molly's, and they stopped at the cash register. The boss rang her up her tab, then studied Molly as he spoke to Heather.
"Does she need a cab?"
"I'm taking her home. I've got her car keys. She lives nearby."
He nodded at that, then said, "Good night. See you tomorrow, Heather."
"'Night, Boss." With that, she guided Molly out into the cool evening air. "Now, which car is yours?" Molly pointed. "Oh, okay. Climb in. I'm driving."
Five minutes later, they were parked in front of Molly's apartment and Heather was helping her out of the car. Molly staggered slightly, so Heather slipped an arm about her waist and steadied her as they made it to her door. With a little fumbling, Molly got the door unlocked, then turned and smiled at Heather.
"Sure thing. Hey, you gonna be okay?"
Molly felt a hand grab her ear and twist it. Suzie's voice was very near, whispering, "Ask her to come in, dummy."
Molly held a hand to her ear. "Ouch." She noted Heather's surprised expression, then giggled and said, "Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you." She felt herself weave unsteadily and reached out with both arms, wrapping them around Heather's shoulders. "Um, you wanna come in for a while?"
Heather's eyes widened, then she smiled knowingly as her hands found Molly's waist. "You need me to tuck you into bed or something?"
Molly giggled again. "Or somethin'."
"You, ah, don't have anyone else in there, do you?"
Molly felt her head swim a little and clutched Heather more tightly. "Nope. I live alone."
Heather studied Molly for a moment, then allowed her expression to ease into a smile. "Well, then. Looks like this is our lucky night, isn't it?"
As the dawn was barely breaking, throwing a weak gray light through the bedroom window, Molly awakened to the urging of her bladder, then sat up on the edge of her bed. She grasped her head with both hands and muttered, "Ouch. Now I remember why I don't drink." Awkwardly, she rose and made her way to the bathroom. After seeing to her body's needs, she rubbed her eyes and studied her reflection in the mirror, then opened the medicine cabinet and shook out three aspirins into her hand, downing them with a swallow of water. She washed her face, then returned to the bedroom, stopping at the foot of the bed. In the dim light, she could see clothing scattered about the floor. She touched a piece of clothing with a toe, then lifted it. It was a t-shirt with "Fran and Nan's" lettered on it.
"Oh, oh. Something tells me that my last dream wasn't a dream."
As she pulled back the covers to climb in, she stared in shock. There, in the bed, sleeping next to her vacated place, was a very naked Heather. "Oh, my God. It wasn't a dream."
A giggle answered her statement. She looked toward the foot of the bed. Perched on the edge of the covers, Suzie sat, eying her with a devilish grin and speaking to her with a teasing voice.
"Nope. No dream. Jeepers, honey. You really can't hold your booze, can you?" Without waiting for an answer, she pointed toward the sleeping Heather. "You'd better get her home before her husband finds out she's not there."
"Husband?" Molly blinked, then looked at Heather. On her left hand, there was a gold ring. "Oh, shit." She slid into the bed, then placed a hand on Heather's shoulder. "Heather?"
"Hmm?" The groggy reply was followed by Heather's stirring. She turned in the bed and looked at Molly through sleepy eyes, eyes which took a minute to orient themselves. When they did, they became wide. "What time is it?"
"It's about five-thirty."
"What? Oh, crap. It's dawn. I've got to get home. My husband will be furious." With that and an accompanying expletive, Heather threw back the covers and climbed out of the bed. "Where's my clothes?"
"Over here with mine, I think."
Heather bounded around the bed, totally naked, and searched through the pile of clothes which lay in haphazard disarray at the foot of the bed. She began dressing hurriedly, and as she slipped the t-shirt over her head, she asked, "You feel good enough to take me to my car?"
"Get dressed. I've got to get home pronto."
"You don't want a shower first?"
"No time. C'mon, honey. I'm gonna be in deep doo-doo."
Five minutes later, Molly stopped her car in the parking lot of the bar, next to the only other car there. She shut off the motor and looked at Heather. "Look, I'm sorry about getting you into trouble."
Heather paused, her hand on the door handle, and looked at Molly. "I'm not. It was worth it."
"But won't your-?"
She dismissed the unasked question with a shrug. "Aah, I'll make something up. I'll get one of my friends to cover for me, to say that I stayed at her house. He's just dumb enough to buy it." She scooted closer to Molly, then placed a hand on her arm. "What happened last night has to be just between you and me, right? If he finds out about this, he'll freak."
"It's our secret. I won't tell anyone."
"Thanks, Molly. You're really sweet." Impulsively, she leaned over and kissed Molly. "Maybe I'll see you around sometime."
"I'd like that."
"Me, too. I had a blast."
Molly smiled in spite of her headache. "I think I did, too."
Heather giggled at that. "You were kind of drunk, weren't you? I feel like I took advantage of you."
"You did, and I'm glad that you did."
Heather considered that statement, then nodded. "Me, too. Gotta run. 'Bye, Molly." With that, she opened the door and stepped out. Before she closed the door, she leaned down and looked back in. "I've just gotta tell you, you were the best. I mean it." With a wink, she shut the door and trotted over to her car.
Molly watched her climb in and start the car, then followed her out of the parking lot. As the car turned left and sped down the road, Molly sat, watching it go, then smiled to herself. Her smoky recollections of the night she had just passed with Heather were interrupted by Suzie's voice.
"See? You were the best. Now, doesn't that make you feel like a million bucks? Don't you feel desirable and attractive again?"
Molly thought about it, then nodded. "Yeah. I do. I really do. She was cute, and she jumped at the chance to be with me." She turned and looked toward the back seat. Suzie was leaning against a window, her legs stretched across the seat. "You knew that this would happen, didn't you?"
"Sugar, I knew that it could happen. I knew that she had a 'shine' for you. You made it happen, though. I just prodded you along a little. Y'see- "
"Huh? I'm a little groggy for a metaphysics lesson this morning."
"Never mind. I'll explain it to you after we get some breakfast and coffee into you. Know of a good 'greasy spoon' around here?"
"You're quiet this afternoon. What's on your mind?" Suzie asked as she studied her charge curiously.
"Just thinking. About last night, I mean."
"And your conscience is bothering you about that gal being married?"
"Well, yeah. I mean, I don't normally do that sort of thing, messing around with married women."
Suzie sighed. "Don't sweat it. It was a sweet moment for both of you and it did your self-confidence a world of good. It just proved to you that you really are a loveable person. Savor the memory. She will, I'm telling you."
"But she was married."
"If it makes you feel better, they'll be divorced in six months anyway. Her hubby was cheating on her. That's why he wasn't home to catch her when she snuck in this morning."
"He was?" She blinked. "They will?"
"Sure. Heather didn't want just sex. She sought from you what she was missing in her life. She sought real affection, closeness, tenderness, and she got it from you. She chose you not just because you're attractive, but because you're a gentle soul. She could see it in you. Trust me, you gave her as much of that as she gave you in confidence, and that's what it's all about. Giving."
Molly eyed her spirit guide skeptically. "If you say so."
"I do. Now, quit beating yourself up about it."
"Will I ever see her again?"
"Nope. That was it. Ships passing in the night and all that. Don't press it. If you go looking for her, I won't help you out."
"Oh." Molly returned to her pensive demeanor, and Suzie reached over and hugged her.
"Kiddo, it's okay. Really, it is. Now, what's on the agenda for today?"
"I've got to teach my yoga class at the fitness center this afternoon."
Suzie squealed in delight. "Oh, great. I can't wait." She pursed her lips in thought, then asked, "Can I drive your car today?"
Molly nodded her head even as she grinned. "Yeah, I guess so. After all," she joked, " you did get me laid last night. Promise you won't wreck it?"
"Cross my heart, doll. Oh, goody. This is going to be so much fun."
"I think I'm beginning to regret this already. Want another cup of coffee?"
The police officer scratched his head as he studied the front of Molly's car. "How did you do that?"
"Ah, my foot slipped off the brake, and I think my wheel hit the curb."
"Nobody else with you?"
Molly blinked at him innocently, even as she crossed her fingers behind her back. "No. Just me."
"Well, I'm gonna have to ticket you for losing control of your car. The city will probably send you a bill for the street sign, too."
Molly considered the street sign, leaning over at an awkward angle as it jutted out from underneath the front of her car. Her bumper was bent into a slight V-shape, as well, and her front
license plate was creased. "Yeah. I understand."
He scribbled on his ticket pad for a few minutes, then handed it and her plastic-coated driver's license back to her. "Sign on the line. Call that number to find out when you appear in traffic court."
Molly sighed in resignation, then scribbled a signature on the ticket. The police officer tore off a copy and handed it to her. "Do you need a copy of the accident report for your insurance?"
"No. I think I'll just handle this one myself."
"Probably a good idea. At least your car still looks fit to drive. Where were you going?"
Molly pointed across the street to the local fitness center. "There."
"Well." The officer tucked his ticket pad into his back pocket and joked, "Almost made it, didn't you?"
"Yeah. At least I won't be late."
"Try to drive more carefully in the future. Take care, ma'am." With that, he walked out into the street and held up a hand, stopping the oncoming traffic. Molly opened the driver's side door and looked into her car. Suzie was sitting behind the wheel, a sheepish look on her face. Molly signaled with a jerk of her thumb for Suzie to vacate the driver's seat and watched her pout, then heard her imploring plea.
"But doll, I think I've got the hang of this thing now."
Molly whispered, "No. Outta my seat. The cop's looking."
"Oh, all right." Suzie pouted again, then disappeared. Molly looked up just in time to hear the officer's voice.
"Let's move that thing. Got traffic stopped for you."
"Um, yes, sir. Moving it now." She climbed in, started the motor, and backed the car off the curb. In a moment, she wheeled it around the corner and into the parking lot of the fitness club. After she shut off the motor, she just sat still and breathed deeply, then sighed and looked at the ticket. "Great. This sucks. I've got to go to court."
Suzie materialized in the passenger seat. "I'm sorry, doll. I really am." She grinned, then exclaimed, "But you have to admit, I had it going really well up to where we crashed." The specter studied Molly's reaction for a moment. She was sitting in the driver's seat with her hands over her face. "Are you laughing or crying?"
Molly looked up. "I don't know. Both, I guess."
"Buck up, doll. It'll all work out. Trust me."
Molly regarded her spirit guide with a skeptical eye. "You keep saying that. Are you sure?"
"Have I led you wrong so far?"
"Well, since you've appeared to me I got dumped, I got fired from my job, my car is trashed, and I have to go to court. Please tell me that it gets better."
Suzie held up a finger. "Hey, the dumping happened before I got here."
"Yeah, but I'll bet that somehow you had something to do with it."
A look of guilt passed across Suzie's face. "Well-" She shook her head, then insisted, "I'm your spirit guide, not hers. I had nothing to do with that except to guide you into the bookstore that evening."
"What's that got to do with anything?"
Suzie grinned, an impish grin. "You'll see. Now, come on. Your class is waiting for you."
Molly looked at her wrist-watch. "Oh, shit. I'm three minutes late."
A couple of minutes later, Molly entered the classroom at the fitness center, her bag over her shoulder and her mat under her arm. Her students, a mixed group of mostly women, greeted her warmly when she entered. After apologies for being late, she gathered her students to her. They spread out their mats on the floor, and Molly took charge of the class.
She noted that the class had grown in size since the last time they had met and wondered at that, even as she coaxed her students into their stretching exercises and then began their deep breathing regimen. Barefoot and dressed in her yoga clothes, she padded slowly around the room as she spoke to them in her soothing manner, her soft touch gently correcting a posture here and there, her smile reassuring a novice student as they struggled with the more difficult postures. After a while, it seemed to her that she could feel the atmosphere in the room fill with warmth and acceptance. The stress, the worry of the day seemed to hold no sway here; she felt at home, at ease with herself and her world as she moved about the room, thrilling at the accomplishment of one or another of her students who demonstrated renewed success at a posture which had given them trouble a few days before.
All too soon, the class ended. Several of her students remained afterwards to chat with her. She responded with a shy smile and murmurs of thanks as they praised her class and described the salutary effect that it was having in their own lives. After the last student left the room, Molly knelt and rolled up her mat. As she stood, her bag over her shoulder, her rolled-up mat under her arm, and slipped her feet into her sandals, Suzie's irrepressible giggle echoed through the room.
Molly looked up and noted Suzie sitting in a corner of the room, stretching luxuriously. She was dressed in a yoga outfit identical to Molly's. "Oh, that was wonderful," she beamed. "You belong in here, Molly. This is absolutely you." She stretched her legs out in front of her, wiggled her toes, and remarked, "You should be doing this for a living."
Molly regarded her with wistful eyes. "Yeah, right. I'd love to, but I can't make a living at this."
In answer, Suzie grinned knowingly. "There you go again, always doubting the possible. Doll, you are your own worst enemy, did you know that?"
"Call me a realist," Molly replied.
"Nope. I'm calling you a pessimist. You have to have faith, honey."
Molly smiled. "I do. I have faith that I can't make a living at this."
Suzie stood, then sighed deeply. She approached Molly and rested her hands on the girl's shoulders. Their eyes met and Suzie regarded her reproachfully. "If that's the way you really feel, then you never will make a living at this. I guess you'd just better go looking for a job that's as miserable as the last one you had."
Molly blinked at the statement, then grimaced. "No, thanks." As she considered the rueful look on the face before her, she asked, "Okay. I'm still not saying it's possible, but if it were, how would I go about making a living at this?"
The specter smiled. "Now we're getting somewhere. Follow my lead and trust me, doll." She pursed her lips in thought, tapped a finger on her chin and then asked, "Who owns this joint?"
"The fitness center? Dave does."
Suzie grinned. "Then let's go have a chat with Dave. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised."
"Are you kidding? Dave will never hire me to teach yoga. He's a great guy, but he's one of the biggest tightwads I know."
Suzie giggled. "Bigger than you?"
Molly felt herself grin at that. "Yeah. Even bigger than me."
"My, my. He will be a tough sell, then. Come on, time's a-wasting, as Great-Grandma Footes always said."
"You mean Great-Great Grandma Footes?"
"Yeah, whichever. Come on."
Suzie grasped Molly's arm and led her out of the room and down a hallway to a partially-open door. Inside, they could hear Dave's voice as he spoke on the telephone. Molly dug her heels into the carpet just outside his office door, bringing Suzie to a halt. With a frantic, almost panicked voice, she whispered, "What do I say? I don't think I can do this."
Suzie winked reassuringly. "Sure you can do this. Just follow my lead and trust me, will you? And be your usual sweet self. I'll tell you where to go with the conversation. I'll be with you through the whole thing. He won't be able to see me or hear me. Only you will."
"No 'buts', Molly. Do you want to go back to a job you hate? Then seize the moment, girl. I know you've got the moxie for it."
"Moxie? What's that?"
Suzie rolled her eyes. "Ya know, courage. Stones." She giggled, then added, "Balls. In a manner of speakin', of course. You got 'em. I saw you show 'em with that bitch at your last job. Now get in there and follow my lead." Suzie peered deeply into Molly's eyes and pleaded, "Trust me, please? Just trust me?"
"You keep saying that." Molly considered the earnest face in front of her, the bright, sincere eyes, the head of blonde curls, and felt a wave of resolve well up in her. She might actually be able to do this. No, she could do this. After a moment, she decided, no, she would do this. Suzie watched her face, nodded approvingly, and whispered to her with a heartfelt, sincere voice.
"I believe in you, kid."
Molly felt her eyes mist. She hesitated, then whispered, "Thanks, Suzie. Nobody's ever said that to me before."
Suzie watched a lone tear begin it's journey down Molly's cheek, then reached up and wiped it off with a dainty hand. "Then it's about time somebody did. Let's get started. Now, here's the plan." The specter leaned forward and began whispering strategy into Molly's ear as the girl nodded in understanding.
A minute later, Molly heard Dave hang up the telephone. She took a deep breath, released it slowly, and rapped at the partially open door. Dave looked up, then waved her inside with a pleasant greeting. "What's on your mind, Molly?"
Molly sat in a chair, dropping her mat and bag on the carpet beside her. "I wanted to talk to you about my yoga class."
"Oh, sure. You're doing great. It's about full, isn't it?"
"I hardly have room for anyone else. I might need a bigger room."
Dave scratched his chin. "We don't have a bigger room." He thought for a moment, then asked, "Can you schedule more classes? Two or three a week? I know that you're busy with your day job, but- "
Molly blushed slightly as she confessed, "Actually, Dave, I got fired." She raised an eyebrow. "I don't have a day job right now."
Dave regarded her sadly. "Oh, man. Sorry to hear that."
"It's just as well. I hated that job."
"Oh. Going to look for another x-ray job, I suppose?"
"Not on your life." She took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak. "Actually, Dave-"
Suzie, perched on the chair next to Molly, reached out and gently slapped the back of her head. "Come on, Molly. Out with it."
Molly's head twitched, then she rubbed her neck. "Ow. Sorry. Got a twitch or something. Must be a sore muscle. Anyway, I want to teach more yoga."
Dave brightened. "Well, that's great. I'd like to host your classes here, as many as you can fill. Good for business, you know."
Molly's eyes widened. "Really?"
He leaned back in his chair. "Sure. Do you realize that I got four new club memberships this week out of people who came in here just for your class? They look around, decide that they like the place, and join. Your class is a drawing card to get business in here." He paused, then added, "It seems that your reputation as a yoga instructor is spreading."
Molly's mouth dropped open slightly. "It is?"
Suzie looked over, then again slapped the back of Molly's head. "Advertising, dummy."
Dave watched as Molly's head twitched again. She rubbed the back of her neck and joked, "Darn muscle. Anyhow, I was thinking of buying some advertising to bring people into my classes."
Dave brightened. "Great idea. We'll do some, too. We already do advertising on a regular basis. It won't be any trouble to add a notice that you're our exclusive yoga instructor." He paused, then added, "So, when can you schedule these classes?"
Molly hesitated for an instant. Again, Suzie playfully slapped the back of Molly's head as she whispered, "You're doing great, kid. Keep it up. The answer that you should give him is, 'anytime my students want me'."
Molly rubbed the back of her neck. "Um, anytime my students want me. Day, evening, weekend. Maybe a combination of all of those."
"Well, poll your students and we'll set up a schedule."
Suzie slapped Molly on the back of the head again. "Meditation classes."
Dave noticed Molly's head twitch. She rubbed the back of her neck and looked at him inquisitively.
"Can I teach meditation techniques, too?"
He looked at her quizzically. "What?"
"Some of my students have asked for that. Is it okay to teach that here?"
He shrugged, then joked, "If it brings new people in here who buy memberships in my fitness center, you can teach voodoo for all I care."
Suzie beamed at the direction the conversation was taking, and then slapped Molly on the back of the head again. "Money. Now's the time to talk money."
Molly's head twitched, and she rubbed her neck. "Ow."
Dave regarded her with some concern. "Man, you better get that neck looked at."
"Just a muscle, really. Um, Dave?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
"I need more money."
"But you get seventy percent of the class fees now."
She shrugged shyly, then noted, "Yeah, but I don't have a day job now." She looked at him imploringly. "And I really want to keep teaching yoga here."
"Well-" Dave nodded, then asked, "What did you have in mind?"
Molly hesitated. "Um- " Suzie raised her hand again. It hovered in the air over Molly's head. She caught the motion out of the corner of her eye, then winced and spoke quickly. "How's about a hundred percent?"
His eyes widened. "What? You want me to give you the space for free?"
Molly held up a finger. "I draw people into your place. You said so yourself. You'll still be making money out of this."
He countered, "Ninety percent? Hey, my staff cleans that room, and I'm taking on some of the advertising costs."
Suzie tapped the back of Molly's head. Her head twitched, and she rubbed her neck as she replied, "Ninety-five."
Dave stared at the ceiling for a moment, his mental calculator humming. Molly sat, watching him, an eyebrow raised in question. After a moment, he looked across the desk at her. "Me and my big mouth. Man, you drive a hard bargain. You do bring in a lot of business, and I've got three other gyms to compete with around here for memberships. Okay, ninety-five percent. Jeez."
Molly bounced in her seat. "Thanks, Dave. You won't regret this."
Suzie leaned close to Molly and whispered, "Now get him to shake hands on it. Quick, before he chickens out."
Molly leaned across the desk and extended her hand. "Have we got a deal, then?"
Dave regarded her with a sly expression, then reached out and grasped her hand. "Deal. We'll set up a schedule of classes and make a contract. Okay with you?"
Molly beamed. "Peachy with me, Dave."
He quickly added, "But you teach your classes exclusively at my place, understood? Nowhere else."
Suzie leaned over and whispered, "You'd be crazy not to. You got him to give you the room for damned near free."
Molly nodded, fighting to keep a grin from her face. "Understood, Dave."
Suzie squealed in delight and danced in the center of the office. "Yes, yes, yes. You kick ass, girl. Now get out of here before he changes his mind." With that, she slapped Molly on the back of the head again.
Molly's head twitched, and she rubbed her neck. "Ouch."
Dave watched her, then said, "Man, you need to do something about that muscle spasm. The massage therapist is still here. Why don't you see if you can catch her and schedule yourself in?"
Molly hesitated, thinking of the cost. "Um-"
Suzie squealed again. "Ooh, a massage? Honey, do it. Do it."
Molly smiled as she stood and gathered her bag and mat, thrusting them under her arm. "Good idea, Dave. Thanks. I'll do that."
As she turned to leave his office, Suzie stood in front of her and stopped her. "One more thing. Press him about the contract. This ain't a deal until it's in writing."
Molly blinked, then turned in the doorway. "Dave?"
"Can we do the contract today?"
"Jeez Louise, Molly. You're a go-getter, aren't you? See me tomorrow in the late morning. I should have it written and passed by my lawyer then." He reassured her, "Don't worry. I'm a man of my word. It'll be as we discussed."
Molly smiled. "I know, Dave. I trust you. And thanks. See you tomorrow."
He shrugged. "Hey, thanks for the new memberships."
Molly nodded brightly, then bounded down the hall. Dave sat at his desk, lost in thought for a moment, then grinned and shook his head.
"Why do I feel like I've just been conned by the best of 'em?" He swivelled his chair around and faced his computer. "One contract for a full-time yoga instructor, coming up." As he began typing, he added, "Ninety-five percent. Man, I must be getting soft."
Early that evening, Molly luxuriated in a hot bath. She closed her eyes, breathed in the fragrance of the bubbles, and then sighed in contentment. Yes, today had been a good day. Never in her wildest dreams did she think that she could actually eke out a living as a yoga instructor, until now. Now, it seemed possible. Now, anything seemed possible and it was a strange, new feeling to her, a feeling which made her smile in contentment.
She opened one eye and studied the candles burning at the foot of the tub, watching the flames flicker. Aloud, she said, "Thanks, Suzie."
A blonde head popped up from the water and bubbles at her feet, and an impish giggle echoed through the bathroom. "Sure thing, doll."
"Good Lord!" Molly sat up in the bath, then crossed her arms across her chest defensively. "You scared the crap out of me. Will you stop that?" She eyed the specter for a moment, then asked, "What are you doing in my bath, anyway?"
Suzie giggled again, then blew a froth of bubbles from the tip of her nose. "Just wallowing in the delight of it all. It is heavenly, isn't it?"
Molly felt a grin spread across her face. "Yeah, it is." She considered the specter in the bubbles, then asked, "Isn't this a little weird or something? I mean, we're related, and you're dead, and I'm taking a bubble bath with you." She raised an eyebrow and added, "Are you, ah, naked?"
Suzie giggled again. "As the day I was born, sweetie. Want to see?" She made a motion as if to stand up, and Molly quickly covered her face with a hand.
"That's okay. I'll take your word for it." She lifted the hand from her face and asked, "Could you do me a favor, though?"
"Sure, kiddo. What's that?"
"Could you move your foot?"
Suzie looked puzzled. "Why? Where is it?"
"It's, ah- "
"Oh." Suzie giggled again, then shifted slightly in the tub. "That better?"
"Yeah. Thanks. Good thing you didn't wiggle your toes."
Suzie laughed, then relaxed in the tub. "So, doll. How's your screwed-up life going now?"
Molly considered the question, then smiled. "Actually, pretty good."
"Are you ready for the next act?"
"Huh? Next act? You mean there's more to come?"
"There's always more to come. That's life in this crazy, mixed-up world." Suzie pointed a bubbly finger at Molly and intoned, "You need to meet the love of your life now."
Molly raised a cautious eyebrow. "I think I can choose my own lovers, thank you anyway."
Suzie rolled her eyes. "What, like Janis? Phul-eeze."
"Hey, she was okay."
"Sure, right up to the point where she dumped you because she was bored with you."
Molly winced. "Ouch."
Suzie shrugged, then lifted a froth of bubbles from the water and blew them into the air. "Sorry, kid, but the truth is painful sometimes, and one truth that I see is that you can't pick 'em."
Molly's eyebrows shot up in question. "And you can?"
Suzie regarded her indulgently. "Honey, I can see into a soul. Trust me on this, will you?"
Molly swallowed heavily. "Every time you say 'trust me', something strange happens."
Suzie sighed. "Okay, if you don't want my help on this, all you have to do is say so." She paused to allow her words to sink in, then added, "But I'm telling you, doll, there's someone neat out there just waiting to happen to you, and it would be a shame to let it just slip by."
Molly considered the statement, then asked, "Seize the moment?"
"You said it, girl."
Both Molly and her spirit guide sat silently for some minutes in the bubble bath, Molly lost in deep thought, and Suzie patiently watching her. Finally, Molly regarded Suzie carefully and asked, "She's out there?"
Suzie nodded as she fashioned a goatee beard on her chin from the bubbles. "Yup."
"This one isn't married or anything, is she?"
The specter giggled. "Nope."
"Um, do you know who this person is?"
Suzie wiggled her chin, making the silly bubble beard weave back and forth. "Yup."
"Do I know who this person is?"
The specter thought for a moment, then said, "Naw. Not really. Not the one I've got in mind, anyway. Well, okay. Maybe just a little. You've seen her once before."
"The one? You mean that there's more than one out there?"
"Sure, doll. There's a few girls out there with whom you can have the love affair of your life. Just takes telling the right one for you from the wrong ones for you, and then catching her when she's free." Suzie pointed her finger at Molly. "But I'm telling you, you could use my help on it, I think."
Molly nodded. "Guess I have made a mess of my love life so far, haven't I?"
"That's putting it mildly, sweetie. Now, do you want my help or not? Because if you do, you have to ask for it."
Molly considered her words, mulling them over. Finally, she looked up and contemplated the face of her spirit guide, sitting at her feet and waiting patiently for an answer. Molly raised an eyebrow. Suzie answered by raising an expectant eyebrow of her own. Finally, Molly sighed and spoke to her spirit guide.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure, doll. Ask me anything."
Molly considered her words carefully. When she spoke, it was in a whisper. "Do you remember when I was eighteen?"
"I sure do."
"You know that I tried to commit suicide, don't you?"
Suzie regarded her charge sadly. "Yeah."
"Were you there then?"
"Why did you let me do that?"
Suzie sighed, then answered, "You have free will, doll. You made that choice."
"But couldn't you have done something to prevent it?"
"No, I couldn't. I'm just your spirit guide. You're in charge of your life. The trickiest part of this game is making your bad decisions come out good over the long haul."
"How did that possibly come out good? I almost killed myself. I broke my parents' hearts."
Suzie sat forward in the tub and peered deeply into Suzie's face. "Yeah, I know. You broke my heart, too. I wept for you when you took those pills. I thought for a moment that my next job would be to escort you to the other side. But your mother found you in time and called the ambulance, didn't she?"
Molly nodded. "Yeah. She saved my life."
Suzie raised an eyebrow. "Let me ask you something. Was it your mother's usual habit to enter your room at night?"
Molly puzzled over that, then shook her head. "No. Never."
"But she did that night, didn't she?"
"Yeah." Molly's eye widened. "You did that, didn't you?" Suzie did not answer, but just eyed Molly with a knowing little smile. "You saved my life."
Again, Suzie shrugged. "You pulled it through, kid. You fought hard to cling onto your life, and I was by your bedside, rooting for you all the way. It taught you how much you really wanted to live, and that was a lesson that you couldn't have learned any other way but by almost dying." Suzie's expression betrayed a sudden, uncharacteristic moment of gravity. She wiped at an eye, sniffed, then said, "Sometimes, we don't realize what great things we have until we almost lose them. I didn't, until I lay on the floor of that gin joint, bleeding my life away. God, I wanted to live, to do all those neat things that I hadn't done yet. I didn't get that chance. That's why I tried so hard to make sure that you did."
Molly was silent for several minutes. When she finally spoke, it was with embarrassment. "I'm sorry I fussed at you just now."
Suzie shrugged. "Think nothin' of it, kid."
"I'm acting pretty ungrateful here, aren't I?"
Suzie slowly nodded. "Yup."
"You really have helped me a lot, you know."
An awkward pause followed, then Molly shyly looked up. "Um, Suzie?"
"Would you- I mean, I'd really appreciate it if you could help me with this."
Suzie's face began to show a grin. "Really?"
"Yeah, really. Can you help me find her? Can you help bring us together? Please?"
Suzie beamed. "Jeepers, honey. It's what I do best!" She suddenly became solemn, then leaned forward in the tub, looking into Molly's face. "But you have to promise me one thing."
"You have to promise me that you'll open your mind and heart to whomever I suggest for you. Give her a chance, and I mean a real chance. Will you do that? 'Cause if you won't do that, then it's all going to be for nothing." Suzie emphasized the question. "Can you promise me that, Molly?"
Molly swallowed hard, then studied Suzie's face. Her spirit guide was asking for an incredible leap of faith, one far greater than she had ever asked for before. She was asking for total trust, for total surrender in a matter of desperate importance to her. Could she give it? Molly was stunned at the implications of it. Slowly, she opened her mouth and heard the words issue from her lips in a whisper.
"I promise, Suzie. I promise that I'll put my heart into your hands. Will you give it to someone that won't hurt me, that will love me for who I am?"
Suzie grinned from ear to ear. "Molly dear, trust me on this. I'll give it to someone for whom you'll strive to be worthy, every day of your life."
"You'll understand eventually." Suzie stood, covered with bubbles and dripping water, and lifted a towel from the rack. "Now dry off and get dolled up. We're going out."
Molly stood and took the towel. As she stepped out of the tub and began drying herself, she watched Suzie transform her appearance. In a moment, the specter was dressed once again in her flapper's outfit and was perched on the edge of the bathroom counter, studying her with that impish grin which Molly had come to find endearing and twirling her long string of faux pearls.
The cherubic face, ringed in blonde curls, peeked out from beneath the turned-up brim of her little hat. "Yeah, doll?"
"Are we going to a bar? I mean, I have to know how to dress."
"Nope. No bar this time."
Suzie regarded her for a moment, then replied, "I feel a trip to your favorite bookstore coming on."
"Sure, honey." Suzie's face beamed as she explained, "I think you've got a hankering for a great cup of coffee served by a little brunette with a pierced eyebrow."
"I do? I mean, yeah, I do!" With that, she rushed from the bathroom, trailing the towel behind her. "I'll be ready in five minutes."
Suzie twirled the pearls a little more quickly as she allowed herself a broad, twinkling smile. "Jeepers," she said. "I do so love this gig."
One week later.
Suzie sat on the edge of the bed, watching Molly stir in her slumber, then hug Lisa closer to her. The head of tousled brunette hair nestled close and rested on Molly's shoulder, and a contented purr echoed softly in the darkened bedroom. Suzie couldn't tell from whom the purr originated, but it didn't matter to her. She smiled in satisfaction, then arose and leaned over the bed. Softly, tenderly, she kissed Molly's forehead, pulled the sheet up to cover their torsos, then stood and retreated to the door. Her hand absent-mindedly twirled the string of faux pearls hanging about her neck as she watched the couple sleep. After some time, she sighed, then whispered, "Well, doll. I guess my job is done here."
Next to her, another specter appeared, visible only to Suzie. "Oh, I should say not, darlin'. They'll need our help from time to time. My Aunt Ceeley always says that a spirit guide's job is never done."
Suzie smiled at that, then looked over at the shadowy figure next to her. It was a young woman, wearing a full and lacy black dress of antebellum design and holding a folded fan in her hand. After a moment's consideration, Suzie teased, "You know, that dress is absolutely you."
The apparition's eyes twinkled in amusement as she quipped, "And yours is simply scandalous. Imagine, showing your arms and your legs in public like that."
At that, the flapper grinned. "Yeah. It is scandalous, ain't it? Are ya envious?"
The antebellum specter giggled, then nodded her head. "Most envious, darlin'."
Suzie studied her companion for a moment, then asked, "Say, how'd you die, anyway?"
"It was during the siege of Vicksburg. The Yankees had surrounded our city and were starving us out. We were all dreadfully weak from hunger. I caught a fever and never recovered." She blinked demurely, then asked, "And you?"
"Got shot in a crummy gin joint in Chicago."
The antebellum specter held a slender hand over her mouth. "I declare! You got shot?"
Suzie shrugged. "It's not as glamorous as it sounds."
"I would imagine not. How horrid."
"Say, we haven't been formally introduced. My name's Suzie Footes."
"And I'm Lucinda McAllister." She gestured toward the bed. "Lisa's spirit guide."
Suzie nodded. "I figured as much." They quietly perused each other's features for a moment, and mutual, sly smiles formed on both faces. Finally, Suzie broke the silence. "Looks like we're going to be working together quite a bit from now on. Would you like to go somewhere and get better acquainted?"
Lucinda blinked demurely, then nodded. "Why, I believe that I'd like that very much."
Suzie held out an arm and Lucinda looped her own arm through it. As they turned and began walking toward the hallway, Suzie's face wrinkled into a mischievous grin. Her nose crinkled and her eyes narrowed into twinkling slits as she asked, "Your realm or mine, gorgeous?"
Lucinda giggled, then tapped Suzie on the shoulder with her fan. "Why, Miss Footes. Are you actually flirting with me?"
"That depends. Do I have a chance with you?"
"Well-" Lucinda giggled. "I do find you immensely charming, in spite of the fact that you are a Yankee."
"I was only raised in Chicago. I was born in Tennessee."
The dark eyes widened. "Do tell?" Lucinda's eyelashes batted with a practiced coyness, and she observed, "I think that this could be the beginning of a lovely courtship."
Suzie displayed her most charming smile. "You said it, kiddo."
With a mutual giggle, the specters disappeared into the ether. The soft flash of light from the hallway awakened Molly, who listened to the darkness for a moment, smiled, and hugged Lisa tightly as she closed her eyes and drifted back into a delightfully restful sleep.
Two months later.
Molly watched the last of her students leave the classroom, then turned off the CD player and lifted her recording of Japanese shakuhachi flutes from the tray, closing it in the plastic case and dropping it into her bag. She turned to find her sandals, cast aside in a corner of the classroom, and stopped when the traces of a soft giggle reached her ear. Her heart thrilled and a smile found its way to her face as she looked up. There, in a corner of the room, a shimmer of light began coalescing into a human form. When it finished, a girl in a flapper's outfit regarded her with an impish smile. "Hey, doll."
"Hi, Suzie. It's good to see you again. I've missed you."
The specter teased, "You haven't needed me much lately, it seems."
Molly regarded her spirit guide shyly. "Sorry."
"Don't be. That's a good thing." Suzie paced the room a little as she looked around. "Are your classes going well?"
"I've had to add two more."
Suzie clapped. "That's great. You're knocking 'em dead, girl." She allowed an embarrassed pout to cross her face, then asked, "Did the judge throw the book at you for the motor-car wreck?"
"Nah. He dropped the charge when I paid for the street sign." Molly studied Suzie, then asked, "Did you have something to do with that?" Suzie remained silent, but raised an eyebrow and smiled a quizzical little smile. Molly pressed, "You did, didn't you? How'd you fix it?"
"Professional secret. Besides, I owed you. After all, I was the one who wrecked your motor-car."
"Forget about it. After all you've done for me, the least I can do is give you that."
Suzie beamed. "Thanks, doll. You're 'the cat's pajamas'."
Molly laughed at the outworn expression. "All because of you. A few months ago, I was more like 'the dog's underwear'."
The specter giggled again, even as she made a face. "Gack. Now that's something I wouldn't want to be compared to." Suzie regarded Molly with a wry little smile and a twinkling eye and asked, "So, how's that cutie-pie with the eyebrow piercing? What's her name again?"
Molly blushed, her cheeks turning a slight tinge of pink, and she looked down at her feet as she replied to the question.
"Lisa. Sure, that's it." Suzie watched the transformation in Molly's expression, then nodded. "Uh-huh. Just as I thought. Being in love looks real good on you."
"Do you miss being in love?"
Suzie twirled the end of the string of pearls hanging around her neck and grinned a mischievous little smile. "So, who says I'm not?" She perked up, turned her head as if listening to some distant noise, and then said, "Oops. Got to go. There's somebody coming down the hallway to take you home. See ya 'round the town, kiddo." With that, she began to shimmer, preparing to disappear.
The shimmering stopped. Suzie looked over at Molly. "Yeah, doll?"
"Thanks." After a second, she added, "For everything. I mean it."
"You bet, honey. Hey, it's what I do."
Molly smiled, a blazing smile, and hugged the specter. "You can drive my car anytime."
The face beneath the blonde curls and the turned-up hat brim creased into a charming smile, the pert nose crinkling up and the eyes creasing into twinkling slits. "Jeepers, Molly. Thanks. You're the greatest." She kissed Molly on her cheek, tapped her chest over her heart, then said, "Call me sometime. You know how to do it."
"I will. 'Bye."
"Twenty-three skiddoo, sweetheart." With that, the specter disappeared.
A second later, a pleasant brunette with an eyebrow piercing and a gentle aura about her entered the room. She was dressed in blue jeans, worn suede clogs, and a sweatshirt with a designer name emblazoned on the front, and the sight of her sent Molly's pulse into overtime. The girl's voice exuded a squeaky combination of laughter and honey as she spoke.
"Are you ready to go home, Molly?"
In answer, Molly gathered the girl into her arms and gave her a heartfelt, passionate kiss. When they parted, Lisa wheezed, "Wow. What was that for? Whatever it was, tell me and I'll do it again."
Molly gently kissed her face, then whispered, "That was just because I'm so crazy about you." After a second, she added, "And for the same reason a fisherman fishes."
Lisa's pierced eyebrow rose in exclamation. "You mean, to drink beer all day?"
"No, silly. For the halibut."
"Ooh, you're so punny." Lisa held up a hand. In it, she was holding a CD, the cellophane wrap still around it. "Oh, hey. I found that CD you were looking for."
Molly lifted it from her hand and looked at the cover. Music of the Roaring Twenties, it read. "Great. Thanks. What do I owe you for it?"
"Nothing." She studied it with some interest. "What on earth did you want that for?"
"Oh, just curious." She ripped the cellophane away, then opened the cover and slipped the disc into the CD player. When it began playing, she turned up the volume.
The first tune was bouncy, jazzy, and bright. After several bars of music, a male voice began singing in a tinny, antique fashion.
Five foot-two, eyes of blue
But oh, what those five foot could do
Has anybody seen my girl?
The music was absolutely infectious. Molly, already tapping one bare foot on the carpet, began dancing. Lisa watched with delighted amusement, then exclaimed, "Wow. I didn't know you could dance the Charleston. Where did you learn that?"
Molly huffed, "My great-great aunt taught me." She waved to Lisa. "Come on. Join me."
"I can't dance the Charleston."
"Sure you can. It's easy. Just follow me and do what I do."
Lisa kicked off her clogs. "Okay. Here goes nothing." She began awkwardly copying Molly's moves, and in a couple of minutes, fell into the rhythm of the music and the dance as the voice sang on.
Turned-up nose, turned-down hose
Never had no other beaus
Has anybody seen my girl?
So if you run into a five-foot two
Covered with fur
Diamond rings and all those things
You can bet your life that isn't her
But could she love, could she woo
Could she, could she, could she coo!
Has anybody seen my girl?
And, in that classroom, for a few moments, a glimmer of the frenetic glory of a bygone era was brought back to life as the center's staff gathered at the door and watched, shouting encouragement and clapping.
All eyes who witnessed the scene that night saw two girls dancing an obsolete dance. Molly knew better, however, for she alone had seen not just two dancers in the room, but three.
-djb, August, 2005