“Tired?” I asked my hostess as another yawn stretched her face. It had been her third in as many minutes. I clamped my jaws tight as one threatened to overtake my own face.
“Yes, but not too much.” She tugged her drink out of the its holder and sucked air through a straw. Disgusted, she tossed the empty cup into the back seat. It rolled across the paper bag stamped with a one dimensional image of the Grand Canyon and came to a rest next to the sleeping dog.
“Do you want me to take over the driving?” The Interstate stretched into the blackness beyond the headlights. In the distance taillights gleamed like red stars. The car vibrated in protest as it drifted across the solid line and onto the arm of the road.
“Perhaps, it’s best.” She yawned, shook her head and pulled the vehicle back onto smooth blacktop. “I don’t think I can handle Bumble Bee.”
“Stop at Camp Verde. I’ll pick up another soda, stretch and drive the rest of the way to your house.”
She smiled as she hit the blinker and eased the car onto the off ramp. Neon lights blasted ‘OPEN 24 HOURS’ at the passing cars. “You sure you don’t want me to drop you at a hotel.”
“I think I can handle it.” I refused to blush. The story of last night’s events had been good for a laugh. I accepted the car keys while she filled up the tank. After paying the cashier for the gas and my 64 ounces of caffeine, I stepped into the night. The clock edged closer to midnight. The witching hour. “There are no ghosts.” Last night had proven that. I smiled as I slide behind the wheel and pointed the car home.
The sign pronounce Phoenix in 33 miles. My stomach squirmed. I tightened my grip on the steering wheel as the speedometer counted down the miles. It was the caffeine that caused these jitters, nothing else. Her house is not haunted, I told myself. Relax. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“What?” She blinked at me.
“We just past Sunset Point,” I lied as the haze of city lights glowed in the distance.
“Oh,” she nestled further into the seat and dozed off again.
The clock turned 1:30 as we pulled into the drive. I stared at the house. Inside a light burned, illuminating the living room. Nothing unusual but the events of last night replayed in my mind.
“It’s the power of suggestion. Nothing more. Nothing more.”
“Home so soon.” She stretched and righted her seat back.
“Yep.” I got out of the car and pulled my bag out of the back seat. The old Lab snuffled at the ice chest before lumbering onto the driveway.
“Just leave the rest.” She slid out of the door. “We can get them in the morning.” The purse that she’d used as a pillow plopped onto the bucket seat and hurled it contents across the floor board.
“Okay.” I slowly shuffled to the door. The Lab had stopped beside her master to stare at the house. It’s stance raised the hair on my arms. Dogs are sensitive. I stared at the glowing windows. What did the dog see that I did not? “Do you need some help?”
“Unlock the door, will you?”
“Sure.” I swallowed my reluctance and walked to the door. As I drew abreast of the big picture window, movement snagged my attention. I stopped and looked through the lace curtains. A young man was stretched across the sofa, sleeping. “There’s someone in there.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” My hostess chucked a handful of makeup in her purse and closed the car door with her hip.
I looked again. He was there. His blond hair stark against the blue cushion. His stockinged feet propped up on the arm of the couch. This was not my imagination. “He’s there.”
“Where?” She hustled to the window as I hurried to the door.
I checked the doorknob. Locked. How had he gotten inside? “Recognize him?”
“I can’t see anything.”
The keys rattled as I unlocked the door. I quickly hurried inside, scanning the room as I went. No one was there. My eyes focused on the couch. I skimmed my fingers over the cushions, followed the fading dip. Instead of warmth, they were cold to the touch.
“I’ll check out the rest of the house.” Methodically, slowly, I went through the bedrooms, dining room and living areas. Everything was locked. Nothing was out of place or open. I had seen him, hadn’t I? “Guess I’m more tired than I thought.”
“It has been a long night.” She didn’t say anything but trudged to her room and dropped into bed fully clothed. The dog sprinted after her.
I locked the front door and quickly changed into my sweats. “It must have been the late hour and the long drive. What else could it have been?” I quickly willed my brain into silence. There were some questions best left unanswered. Especially when I occupied the very spot my figment had vacated a scant 15 minutes ago.