Angie’s birthday party was all set up. Streamers criss-crossed around the ceilings in each room and stars dangled down around the adult’s heads. Angie ran from room to room, giggling madly as she wove in between legs.
Linda tapped her fingers against her pink party cup, sleep deprivation catching up to her. She found it hard to focus on the guests or anything at all. Shawn had done all the work with the decorations and was the one socializing with their friends.
She was just so tired. Every night this week she’d been woken up by noises from the living room. First it was Angie’s ride-on car. The music floated down the hallway and startled Linda awake. Then it was the jack-in-the-box. Tinkle, tinkle, pop! And she was awake. No one was out there though. No one at all. Shawn never heard it, though. He slept through the night and Linda suspected he didn’t even believe her.
“Hey!” Angie called out from the other room. Linda jumped and followed the sound.
Angie was in her bedroom running from one wall to the other and laughing.
“What are you doing in here, hunny?” Linda asked.
“Playing tag.” She giggled, swatted the air, and then took off through the door.
Linda wanted to think it was just the rush of air from Angie running past her, but she swore a second flutter of air had gone by her legs. She closed her eyes and counted to ten. Her daughter was NOT playing with a… ghost.
“Linda? We’re lighting the candles!” Shawn said from the kitchen and she wandered back that way.
Once all the guests had left and Angie was in bed, Linda told Shawn what had happened during the party. He remained silent for so long, she wasn’t sure he was going to respond at all.
“Well,” he said at last, “an imaginary friend at this age is –“
“Seriously?” Linda cut across him. “After everything else, you’re going to say it’s an imaginary friend?”
“Babe… I just don’t… I’m sorry. I’m trying to stay positive here. This is our house. I can’t be scared of it. And I wish you wouldn’t be either.”
“I’m not scared!” Linda turned away and walked to the back door. Tears filled her eyes, but she fought them back down. She didn’t want to cry. Not again. “I’m just… oh my god. Shawn!”
He rushed to her side and looked out the window with her.
“What the hell…” he stepped out into the yard and approached the small grey lump in the grass. “Oh, no.”
It was the cat. The cat that had appeared from nothing and Angie had loved dearly for the last two months. It was dead in the middle of the yard.
“What the hell!” Shawn said again.
Linda felt the tears spill over and fall down her face. “What are we going to tell Angie?”
“He ran away.” Shawn said at once. “He showed up one day, maybe he had a different home and he went back.”
“Okay… What are we going to do? I can’t keep living here.”
“Okay… don’t worry about it. We’ll figure it out.”