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Alex Cassidy’s parents always said they’d move heaven and earth to ensure she married well. And this time, they did. After all, Alex was turning thirty and still had no husband—that was a combination they just couldn’t live with.
The day she turned 3-0, Alex woke to find at the foot of her bed, looking dapper and doting, the ghosts of her parents. Most ghosts were fleeting apparitions, but Alex’s ghosts were here to stay…
At least until they delivered her birthday present—Mr. Right!
“I’m very worried about her, Patrick. She should have awak¬ened hours ago.” The woman’s voice was soft and normally soothing to the ear, unless said ear felt as if it would fall off at any moment. “Do you think something could be wrong? I wish we could call a doctor for her.”
“There’s nothing wrong with her, Marian. Considering her condition when Beth brought her in last night, she’s better off sleeping as long as possible.” The male voice was equally intrusive to the delicate eardrum. “Remember when she rolled in after her all-night party when she graduated from high school? Of course, she hadn’t imbibed then. At least, that’s what she tried to tell us, although a hangover is something that’s easily recognizable. I guess she figured her birthday was another reason to tie one on.”
The object of the whispered conversation moaned and slowly rolled over onto her back, her arm flung across her closed eyes. Unintelligible words left lips still colored with a trace of deep red lipstick.
“Alex does not look well.”
“You wouldn’t either if you had crawled in at 4:00 a.m. singing ‘Happy Birthday to Me’ at the top of your lungs. She still has a tin ear when it comes to music.” The masculine chuckle pounded through the sensitive brain encased in ce¬ment. “She’s going to wake up with one hell of a hangover.”
“Please, stop,” Alex begged, her cement-encased eyelids fluttering. “And turn out those psychedelic lights before they blind me.”
“Alex, please wake up. We’ve come a long way to see you.” The woman’s voice coaxed.
Alex’s brow furrowed. Something didn’t seem right. For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what it could be. She care¬fully drew her arm away and slowly raised one eyelid. Two shadowy figures stood at the foot of her bed with blinding smiles on their faces.
“Mom? Dad?” she croaked, wincing as the sound of her words reverberated through her pounding head.
“You’ve got one beauty of a hangover, sweetheart,” her father told her. “You must have celebrated your birthday in style last night.”
“Yeah, I guess I did. You know, it’s really funny. I thought you two were dead. Isn’t that…?” Reality may have been slow sinking in, but when it arrived, it arrived like a pro¬verbial freight train. “No!” She shot up in bed, eyes the color of blue ice widening until she looked bug-eyed. One look was enough to convince her she wasn’t having your normal, every¬day hangover dream. She did the only logical thing. She screamed.
The couple stepped back a pace, startled by the shrill sound escaping her lungs. The scream turned into a moan of pain as her head separated from her body while the sound bounced around inside her tender brain. “Oh. My. God.” She squinted at the figures standing before her. “But you’re… and I… then, if you’re…I must be…” She held up her hand in front of her, fully expecting to see it disappear in a wisp of smoke before her very eyes. “I’m dead!” Alex wailed, her bloodshot eyes widened in horror at the idea that she had died and didn’t even know how it happened.
“Oh no, my dear!” Marian Cassidy, sitting next to Alex’s hip, shifted to put her arms around her daughter’s shoulders, but Alex shrank from her touch. “Alex, you are not dead. You’re very much alive. We’re the ones who are dead,” she informed her with a broad smile that indicated that everything should be all right now that she explained the obvious.
Alex didn’t see it that way. She watched Marian with a wary gaze. “This has got to be somebody’s idea of a sick joke.”
“No joke, and you’re still hung over and very much alive,” Patrick Cassidy said dryly.
She would have shaken her head, but she knew better than to try any movement that might dislodge the fragile threads holding her skull together. “This doesn’t make any sense. How can I be alive and see you when you’re dead?” she insisted, her voice rising in pitch. “I should know you’re dead. I was at your funeral ten months ago!” She whimpered as she placed her hands against the side of her head. She greatly feared it was going to shatter into millions of tiny pieces any moment now. “This is all a bad dream. It’s just part of my hangover,” she assured herself, but not sounding very con¬vincing. After all, how could a person sound convincing when she was whimpering like a lost puppy?
“You got any tomato juice in the kitchen?” Patrick ques¬tioned.
“Yes. There’s a can in the cabinet over the refrigerator,” Alex answered without thinking. She stared at the two people standing in the middle of her room. Two people who most definitely did not belong there. She wasn’t sure what to believe anymore.
“I’m going to fix her my infamous hangover cure,” he told Marian. “Once she drinks that, she’ll be fine.”
Alex watched the man leaving her bedroom and shifted her apprehensive gaze back to the woman smiling at her. The woman who looked like her mother, sounded like her mother, but who couldn’t be her mother. She wondered if she wouldn’t be better playing along with this crazy vision until her dream stopped and she fully woke up. “Look, it’s very nice to see you again, but luckily I’m intelligent enough to know you’re nothing more than a figment of my hangover. Once I wake up, you’ll be gone and I’ll be able to suffer this torture in peace.”
“No, dear, we’re not a figment of your hangover or your imagination. We’ve come back to be with you for a very im¬portant reason.”
Alex opened her mouth to ask what reason would bring them back from the dead, when her father walked in carrying a tall glass of red liquid with strange specks floating on top. “Drink this down in one gulp and then take a long hot shower,” he advised. “You’ll feel loads better afterward.”
“This can’t be real,” Alex chanted, cautiously accepting
the glass. She grimaced at the first taste. “It’s amazing some¬thing that doesn’t exist can taste so horrible.”
“You go take that shower while I fix you some breakfast.” Marian patted Alex’s hand as she stood up on wobbly legs. “You’ll feel even better after you put something in your stom¬ach.”
Patrick grimaced. “Marian, please, do her a favor and don’t cook. She feels bad enough without having to eat your cooking.”
“Wait a minute,” Alex begged their backs as they left the room. “I have questions. This is my dream, I should be al¬lowed to find out what’s going on before I wake up. Plus, if you’re ghosts how can you cook?”
Marian smiled. “Trade secret, dear. Although we’ll feel solid to you. Just not anyone else.”
“We’ll answer them while you eat.” The door closed after them.
Alex looked around the room, wondering if that had also changed. Nope, her decorating efforts of four months ago were still intact. The quilted bedspread with the hand-painted irises fluttering across the soft cream background lay in a tangle at the end of the bed. Matching shams were tossed onto the nearby soft turquoise chair. Even the vertical blinds with the same design remained closed against the bright morning light that she knew would sear her tender eyeballs if she dared open them.