Death isn't the end of love; Katie Newman, grief-stricken over losing her father, knows this. Everyday she hopes for some kind of impossible resolution. Fate intercedes, not by supplying her father's dearly departed spirit but instead a sixtish-hippy ghost who needs Katie's help with unfinished business. While she might have wondered about the afterlife, suddenly the afterlife is thrust on her in the form of Ollie Morris still clad in leather S& M pants, his final outfit. Ollie has been sent by Katie's father to help him move on in hopes that she will be able to do the same. In exchange for spooking her unfaithful boyfriend out of her life, Ollie asks Katie to drive him to Colorado to complete his unfinished business, and during the trip, they both realize that unfinished business, be it from the living or dead, rarely resolves as expected.
Maria Rachel Hooley
On The Road With Ollie
Maria Rachel Hooley
Copyright 2010 Maria Rachel Hooley
It all comes down to this, Katie Newman thought, staring not at the cream daisies she held but instead at a waist-high headstone nestled amid green grass. Although most Oklahoma summers bleached the grass, this one had dumped excessive rain over the state. The temperatures hovered in the low eighties, but the humidity more than made up for it.
In her peripheral vision, Katie saw the late-afternoon clouds freighted with more rain and wondered when things would dry up. Then she scanned the cemetery and found herself alone. Chewing her lip, Katie knelt, tugged the dead blossoms from the vase, and lamented the fact that they’d probably wilted moments after her previous visit. A slight breeze waved the daisies’ leaves as she carefully nudged them into the vase and then spread the stems in the thinner spaces. Her trembling fingers hovered over the delicate blossoms, perfecting the display. Then she turned her attention to the grey stone.
“I know you’re probably wondering why I’m here again. It’s been a whole 48 hours since my last visit. Not even the grass has grown that much.” She lowered herself and sat on the ground, ignoring the dampness. “I guess I spend a lot of time talking with you, Daddy.”
A soft breeze whispered through her hair, then it rustled through the flowers. “I always head somewhere else but then end up here.” Swallowing hard, she closed her eyes. “I’m still trying to understand why this happened. But I guess it doesn’t matter because you’re still…here.”
She leaned forward and touched the stone, tracing her father’s name, Harry Newman. Her trembling fingers skipped the date and then touched the next words: BELOVED FATHER. Tears burned down her face, and she slowly rocked back and forth.
“I never got the chance to say goodbye,” she said in a raspy voice that grief had sandpapered. The stupid thing was she knew that even if she’d had the chance, it wouldn’t have made this easier. It was an excuse—a reason for him to still be with her.
Unable to keep staring at the headstone, she lay back in the grass, facing an ashen sky. A slight smile tugged at her lips when she thought of all the times she and her father had done this same thing—watched clouds and made shapes out of them. Now she wondered if he could see them. Would he think that the big one looked like a giraffe, too? What was it he had always said? “Well, if you think so, so do I.” She could hear his deep voice rumbling. She closed her eyes and stretched out her arm as though reaching for his hand, and in her mind, she felt his fingers wrapping around hers, squeezing softly as if to say, “I’m here.”
“Lady, you all right?”
Katie’s eyelids flew open, and she jerked upright. A clean-shaven man leaned over her. He wore navy Dockers and a white button-down shirt with a tan sports coat. All in all, he looked like someone’s doctor.
“I…I’m fine.” She brushed her fingers through her hair, wondering how badly the wind had tousled it.
“You might not want to lie like that. The ground’s wet.” He pointed to the grass.
Too late, she thought. Instead of voicing that sentiment, she said,
“Thanks.” She stood as gracefully as possible, tried to brush her bottom clean, and slowly backed away so as not to reveal the soggy spots on her clothing.
“Sure you’re all right?”
“Just peachy.” She strode back to her Honda Civic and unlocked the door. One last look at the cemetery revealed the man standing before a large vault a few rows from her father’s grave where the daisies still danced.
“Bye, Daddy,” she whispered. “I’ll see you soon.”
Then she forced herself to climb into the car, start the engine and drive home, painfully aware of how empty her apartment seemed. Not that things were much different than before her father died. Her boyfriend and boss, Andrew, sometimes stayed the night, but more often than not, she ended up alone, and she had lately begun to wonder if she would always end up that way.
As she pulled into the parking lot, rain speckled her windshield, and she locked the door before scurrying up the stairs to her second-floor home, thankful that she’d made it inside before the real storm hit. From her living room, she watched lightning forks divide the sky, flooding the world in brilliant light before it darkened again. Thunder rumbled loudly.
“Might as well change,” she muttered. As she turned toward her bedroom, the flashing of the answering machine greeted her; the display showed one new message. “It’s probably Andrew, canceling again.” Chewing her bottom lip, she pushed the button and waited.
“Hey, Kat. Looks like the Halsey project will go through dinner, so maybe we’d better plan on tomorrow instead. Sorry.”
After she listened to the message, the answering machine screen stopped blinking, not that it mattered. The damage had been done. “I guess I know where I stand in your life.” Katie brushed the rain-damp hair from her face and proceeded to the bedroom, realizing she had always known where she stood in Andrew’s life. She’d just been too blind to admit the truth—too needy to accept certain things. She and Andrew were never going to get married, settle down, and raise children. For the year that she’d been his secret lover, hiding the truth from everyone they worked with, Andrew had never once promised her the fairytale life. She’d just assumed it would happen, even though Mandy Roth, her best friend, suggested pigs might fly first.
“Andrew Langley is not the type to settle down,” Mandy had said last weekend as they commiserated over brunch at L’Omlette. “He’s your typical arrogant male with only one thing on his mind, and you’re supporting his habit.” She took a sip of juice before taking another bite of an egg-and-bacon sandwich.
“That’s a bit harsh,” Katie replied, glaring. “Andrew and I have been dating for almost a year.”
“Dating in secret—meaning he doesn’t want anyone to know. God, the only reason I know is because I’m your best friend.” She leaned back and shook her head. “You could do better, Katie.” She nodded toward a guy across the room in jeans and a button-down shirt. His dark, shoulder-length hair framed a cleanly shaven face. “Check out that stud.”
Katie glanced at him just to please Mandy. “Yeah, so he’s cute. There are lots of cute guys, Mandy. Except I don’t see any of them beating down my door. At least Andrew has made the gesture.”
“Oh, yeah,” Mandy countered, wiping a napkin across her mouth. “He’s made a gesture…to hide you, to put his job before you, to make his life convenient.”
“That’s not true.”
Katie blinked away the memory as a flush filled her cheeks. At that moment, the heavens opened and rain poured, snapping loudly against the glass. A chill ran down Katie’s spine, and she wrapped her arms around her chest, trying to warm herself. Recognizing that her damp clothes had more to do with the chills than the thoughts of Andrew, she started back to the bedroom, but her shoulder brushed the mantle, knocking a picture to the floor.
Looking down, Katie’s shoulders slumped. She knelt and turned over the wooden frame. Glass shards clinked together, and she came face-to-face with her favorite image of her father—a picture she’d taken years ago when they had driven to southern California to tour the Napa Valley vineyards. She’d seen him standing by a fountain, wearing the same brown wicker hat he’d worn every summer. Unaware, he’d contentedly sipped the wine and stared at the vineyard.
“I miss you, Daddy.” As she lifted the frame, a small shard pricked her finger and embedded itself. Frowning, she set the frame back and then slowly removed the glass, allowing blood to flow from the cut.
“Damn!” she muttered, glancing at the frame then back at her finger. She stood and headed to the bathroom where she flushed the wound with peroxide and slipped a bandage on it.
“Guess I’d better sweep up that glass.”
As she headed to the kitchen to retrieve a broom and dustpan, she noticed the lights flickering before completely shutting off. Thunder roared overhead, and the rain beat the roof even harder. Katie looked at the lights, expecting them to reset, but instead the darkness lingered. When she realized the power wasn’t going to come back on, she grabbed her cell phone and managed to dig up an old electric bill. She called the emergency number listed and waited. When a female secretary finally answered, Katie barely got her problem out before the secretary put her on hold. After five minutes, Katie hung up, figuring other people were experiencing the same outage.
Peering out the window, she realized the storm had darkened the sky, adding to the illusion that evening was closer than it should have been. As such, she started rummaging through her kitchen junk drawer, searching for matches—as a non-smoker a chancy find—or a lighter. After sifting through at least fifty pens, probably half of which didn’t work, she found a Budweiser lighter left over from a boyfriend she hadn’t dated in years. It brought back memories, all right, just not good ones.
Katie grabbed the lighter and then pulled two candles from the pantry. While the storm had not completely overcome the sky with darkness, she knew it wouldn’t be long before she needed those candles. Although she’d been waiting for the power to come back on before cleaning up the glass, she now grabbed the broom and dustpan while heading to the broken frame. Before sweeping, she carefully picked up the picture and then the frame. The photo appeared undamaged, one corner of the frame bore a huge dent.
Shaking her head, Katie tossed the frame into the trash and set the picture where the frame had sat. Then she turned her attention to sweeping up the jagged reminders of her broken life. In the semi-darkness, the shards sparkled, catching the last remnants of daylight then shimmering them outward. Katie carried the dustpan to the trash bin and dumped it. As the glass hit the bottom, her kitchen light flickered once and then died again.
“Guess they’re still working on it.” She stowed the dustpan and broom in the utility closet, and then realized, as her stomach rumbled, she was hungry. She peered into the fridge, well aware of the emptiness therein. Although she spent most of her time here, she rarely bought groceries. Scanning the contents, she proved herself right—a wine bottle, one half-rotted tomato, and a mayonnaise jar didn’t offer much. Shaking her head, she shut the refrigerator, turned to the pantry, and found a can of chicken soup—lots of cans, actually, not that those appealed, considering the summer heat. She realized as she looked over the other choices--sweetened condensed milk, yams, black-eyed peas, and spinach.
Sighing, she grabbed one can, automatically heading to the electric can opener before realizing she’d have to drag out the dull hand-held that barely opened anything. Still, she managed. Then she dumped the contents of the can in a small sauce pan before lighting a burner, grateful for once that she didn’t have an electric stove. As the soup heated, Katie grabbed a spoon and stirred the frothy liquid, more for something to do than because she was afraid it would burn.
Noticing that the sky had darkened even more, she lit one candle and set it in a small crystal holder. Although the long taper cast some light, it didn’t illuminate much. Thunder crashed outside, and Katie jumped, staring at the ceiling as though it might give her some insight into the storm. As if on cue, the rain pounded harder. Lightning flashed, and Katie shook her head. “I hate this weather,” she muttered, grabbing the candle holder and carrying it to the stove so she could check the soup. The liquid bubbled from the heat, and she figured it was probably hot enough to enjoy. A rumble from her stomach seconded that suggestion. She grabbed a bowl and dumped the soup into it before retrieving a spoon.
As the lighting continued to flash and thunder growled amid the pounding rain, Katie sat at the table and calmly ate. As she tasted the first bite, her growling stomach told her how hungry she truly was, and before she realized it, she’d emptied the bowl. She set it in the sink and rinsed it before peering outside. Rain fell in torrents. The wet season had already soaked the ground, and it couldn’t hold more. A small river ran toward the sewage drains. Still, no matter how much water spilled from the streets, the sky unloaded more.
“Geez.” Katie released the curtain as she shook her head. “We’ll be lucky not to float away.”
Although the soup had satiated Katie’s appetite, she still found herself wanting something more…not food, exactly, but something she couldn’t exactly put her finger on. She ambled to the fridge and peered inside. This time, the wine caught her attention. It wasn’t that she liked to drink much. It just sounded good right then. Maybe she was bored. Maybe the constant rain was finally getting to her. Maybe she just wanted something to take her mind off her father, but no matter. She grabbed the wine bottle and a glass and carried them into the living room where she sat on the futon so she could watch the lightning.
There had been a time she would have waited for Andrew before drinking. Today she didn’t really care. She had begun to wonder if Andrew were ever going to grace her with his presence again. “Halsey project my ass,” Katie snapped, uncorking the bottle and half filling her glass. “It’s Sunday, Andrew.”
She didn’t bother to re-cork the bottle, and that should have been her first clue that things were about to get out of hand. No, not things. Katie. Katie was about to get out of hand. She’d always been the ‘responsible’ child, always so damned dependable—the very thing that had earned her father’s praise. She’d been with her father just before he died, waiting for some grand revelation. Although she’d always known her father loved her, he’d never said it. He steered from any emotional dialogue. And so he’d died withholding the one thing that might have allowed Katie to let go.
He loved me, Katie thought, gulping the wine, but that thought didn’t stop her from wondering why he’d never said it. Was “responsible” a good thing to be or just a euphemism for never living up to his expectations?
Forget sipping; Katie downed the wine and quickly refilled the glass, not settling for the half-way point, but instead topping it off. Responsible. She gritted her teeth. Yeah, she was responsible. Andrew knew she was sitting on her responsible butt, waiting. Her father knew she mourned him responsibly by controlling her tears, never once screaming or throwing things. She never broke anything. She never drank too much, always arrived at work on time, and never took a day off when she wasn’t really sick.
To hell with it.
That was over.
She downed another glass and poured a refill. Although the thought occurred to her that she never drank more than one glass and didn’t have a clue how three (or four?) would affect her, she really didn’t give a damn. For once in her miserable, responsible life, she wanted to get drunk, and she was well on her way.
So well that two glasses later, the room spun, the lightning overwhelmed her, and she wanted to sleep. She just didn’t know if she could make it to her bedroom without vomiting.
“You’re drunk!” a voice said.
Alarmed, Katie glanced toward the voice and saw an older man who could have been the same age as her father, but he looked nothing like him, not in a black leather vest with no shirt, a gaudy gold chain, and black leather pants.
Disturbed by his apparel, Katie looked for a weapon, but the only thing she spied was the wine bottle. Grabbing it, she said, “Stay back!”
“Chill out! I’m not going to hurt you. Besides, the way you’re about to fall over, you couldn’t aim if you tried.” He shook his head. “Harry didn’t say nothing about you drinking!”
It didn’t occur to Katie to wonder why this man was in her apartment. She fixated on the name—Harry. Her father’s name. “Do you know my father?” she asked.
“Yeah.” He reached over and took the bottle. “And it wouldn’t do much for him to see his only daughter soused.” He put the bottle on the table. “You might want to save that. There’s still wine in it—not that you need any more.”
“I’m not drunk,” Katie denied. “And how do you know my father?” She tried to recognize the man in front of her.
“Let’s just say we’re acquaintances.”
Katie swallowed hard. “When did you see him?” She watched the stranger’s face carefully.
Katie forced herself to stand despite the dizziness. “Get out—now!”
“Don’t you even want to know what he said?” The stranger arched one bushy eyebrow with a few hairs longer than most. That, along with his red cheeks (probably from Rosario) and double chin seemed quite a comical image—or would have if not for his lies.
How dare he!
“You lie! You didn’t talk to my father. You probably didn’t even know him.” Katie picked up the wine bottle. She started to turn it upside down like a bat.
“Don’t do that,” he warned, shaking his head. “You’re going to make a mess.”
The bottle tipped, and she sputtered as the cold liquid spilled down her shirt. “Get out!” she yelled, swinging wildly.
“There’s no reason to get violent. It’s just wine,” the man said calmly, watching Katie advance while waving the bottle. He never flinched from her unpredictable movements. “I know you’re angry, but swinging that thing around won’t do you any good.”
Katie stumbled over the table but managed to right herself. “Get out!”
“I can’t!” the stranger replied, shaking his head. “I don’t like this any better than you do.” He clasped his hands together in his lap. “I have a message from your father, and I can’t leave until I give it to you.”
That did it. Katie launched herself, swinging as she went. He’ll leave! I’ll make him leave, Katie thought. Yet the closer she came, the stiller he sat. “Get out!” Katie swung at his face, expecting his hands to block the impact.
He never moved.
Instead, the bottle went right through his cheek, disappeared into his skin, and reappeared completely intact on the other side of his face. Although Katie was stunned, she found herself unable to stop the momentum. The bottle struck a vase on the table beside the stranger, shattering both the vase and the bottle, spraying glass shards all over Katie’s hand.
“Damn!” Katie yelled. She dropped what was left of the bottle and backed up, staring not at her bloody cuts but instead at the person still sitting in the chair. Not even his hair had moved from her swing, and she shook her head vehemently. “I know I hit you. I know I did.”
The stranger looked at the floor. “You wasted some good wine; that’s all you did,” he countered, shaking his head. Then he pointed to her bloody hand. “You might want to get the glass out and clean it up.”
Dazed, Katie shook her head in stunned amazement. “Who are you?”
“Someone who needs your help.” He pointed to her cuts. “Will you look after your damned hand?” Those bushy eyebrows furrowed together, hooding his eyes. “Then I’ll tell you all you want to know, Katie Girl.”
The color drained from her face.
“Don’t call me that!” She backed away, edging toward the kitchen.
“Your father said you liked it,” the stranger protested innocently.
Katie shoved the door open. “I liked it when he used it, not you.” As she entered the bathroom, the overhead lights flickered to life and she walked to the sink, all the while shaking her head. “This is one fine delusion,” she muttered. “Serves me right for getting drunk.”
Scowling, she leaned over the sink and ran her fingers over her hand, feeling for glass slivers. She removed two but didn’t find any more. Then she pulled out the peroxide bottle from beneath the sink and flushed the skin, watching the liquid bubble and foam as it streaked her skin.
Once she felt reasonably sure the wounds were clean, she opted to wrap a clean towel around her hand instead of half a dozen bandages. Then she trudged back into the living room to get her answers.
The stranger stood facing the window, peering at the incessant rainfall. As Katie stared at him, she noticed that his leather pants had two huge circular openings—one for each butt cheek.
“Oh my God.” She almost dropped the towel. How was it possible that he’d known her father? Harry Newman hadn’t hung around guys with “those” sorts of amusements, had he?
The stranger whirled about and scurried to his seat, a bright flush coloring his cheeks. “Sorry about that. I guess I should have stayed seated.”
“Who are you?”
“Oliver,” he replied, not quite meeting her gaze. “Oliver Morris. But you can call me Ollie. Everyone else does.” He reached to shake her hand, but she kept her distance.
“No thanks.” She slowly sank down on the couch, well aware that both a headache and fatigue were creeping up on her. She struggled to keep her eyes open. Not good, considering her guest. “How did you know my father,” she asked, trying to stifle a yawn.
“We traded tasks.”
Katie frowned. “What are you talking about? What tasks? When?”
Ollie shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “We spoke last week about unfinished business.”
Katie leaned forward and cradled her head in her hands. “That’s not possible. My father has been dead for six months.”
“So have I, Katie Girl. So have I.”
At that moment Katie Girl gasped and promptly fell against the sofa.
Ollie stared at her wine-stained shirt and shrugged. “Guess you’re entitled.”