This is it, Callie thought, The moment when he realizes I'm insane. Possibilities whirled through her head as she imagined Aaron going to school the next day and telling everyone that the new girl was crazy. He'd problem stop Ashley from hanging out with her ever again. It would be just like last time, only it would be worse this time, because she wasn't sure she could pretend to be normal anymore.
"His ghost?" Aaron asked, frowning at his sister.
"Yeah! Callie said that when she was a kid she had an imaginary friend named Johnny and that one day her hand went right through him. Isn't that weird?"
"Lots of kids have imaginary friends, Ash. I remember you did. I think her name was Catherine or something like that."
"But her friend had the same name as the dead boy! Tell him, Callie!"
Callie looked first at Ashley, then at Aaron. Maybe he's right. Maybe it was your imagination. Without Will around, she could almost believe that she had imagined both him and Johnny. But when she opened her mouth to speak, words she had not expected tumbled out. "Did you have a relative named William?"
"Huh?" Ashley's nose wrinkled. "William? I don't think so."
"I think..." Aaron paused. "Was he a great-uncle or something?" He frowned, appearing lost in thought. "Grandpa's brother, I think."
Callie's eyes widened. "Brother? What's your grandpa's name? Is he still alive?"
"He died about ten years ago. His name was Edward," Aaron said.
Callie's breath caught in her throat. "Oh my God."
"What? Is something wrong?" Ashley knelt beside her, a worried expression on her face.
"I...I have to go home." Callie shook her head. "I'm fine," she said. "It's just getting late and my mom said to be back before dinner." I just need to get home so I can process all of this...maybe Will can help.
"Okay," Ashley said doubtfully. "I'll walk you out." She walked behind Callie as she stood up, resting a hand against her back, as if she believed the other girl might faint at any second. "Aaron, Mom said she'd be back around six and to start dinner without her."
"And I guess that means I'm the one who has to do it?"
"I'm walking Callie out. Besides, you can't trust me with hot surfaces."
Callie wondered if there was a story behind Ashley's last statement, but with all the other thoughts in her head, that one was quickly pushed aside. She had to find out everything she could about Ashley's grandfather, but how could she possibly breach the topic? True, Ashley hadn't seemed concerned about Callie's experience with a ghost, and even seemed excited, but how would she react to knowing that her great-uncle was not only a ghost, but had regular communication with Callie?
As they stepped outside, Callie turned to face her. "Well...thanks for letting me come over. I'll see you tom-"
"Why did you ask about my great-uncle?" Ashley asked suddenly.
"First you asked if we had a relative named William and then you asked about my grandfather. And when Aaron told you our grandfather's name, you got all white and stuff. I thought you were going to pass out. How did you know our great-uncle's name?"
"I just...I was reading up on the history of my house..."
"Yeah, it used to belong to my grandfather, a long time ago. But that's not why you asked and we both know it. Besides, when you lie, your eye twitches. Friends don't lie to each other." Ashley's eyes seemed to be staring into Callie's soul. Callie turned her head.
"Okay, I'll tell you, but please, please don't tell anyone else, okay?" She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I know your great-uncle."
"You mean you know his ghost, since I know he died when my grandfather was my age."
"Right," Callie said, nodding, her eyes still closed. "I know his ghost."
"You mean you've seen him? Heard from him?"
"I mean I've carried on multiple conversations with him and promised him I'd help him solve his murder so that his soul can finally be at peace."
There was a long pause. Finally, Callie couldn't handle the silence anymore and opened her eyes. As shedid, she was surprised by a sudden embrace from Ashley.
"That is so cool. Oh my God, can I help? Pleeeeease? I promise I won't tell anyone else, not even Aaron!" She paused, releasing Callie. "I mean, unless you want me to. I promise he won't tell anyone. He might not believe it, but I know he'd help out and he really is good at research and stuff."
"I...I don't know," Callie mumbled. "I have to think about it, okay? I'll ask Will what he thinks and..."
"Oh, wow, you call him Will? I want to meet him!"
"Well...I don't think anyone else can see or hear him. He said so, himself." Callie's head was beginning to hurt. Too much was happening at once, and while she was grateful that Ashley seemed to believe her, she wasn't sure Ashley was any more "sane" than she was.
Ashley pouted. "Well, I still want to help. I'll see you in school tomorrow and we can figure out what I can do, okay? And don't worry. My lips are sealed, I promise." She waved goodbye to Callie and practically pranced back into her house.
Callie walked down the road in stunned silence. What would Will say when she told him? Did he want to meet Ashley and Aaron, or would seeing them be too hard on him? She wasn't even sure that telling him was a good idea. After all, their existence didn't help solve his murder in any way...if it even was murder. Will had said that he didn't know how he died.
As she reached the front door of her house and opened it, the smell of chicken baking wafted toward her. She walked into the kitchen to find her mother taking the chicken out of the oven. "Oh, Callie," Mrs. Fox said when she noticed her, "Could you set the table for me?"
Callie obeyed, setting the table for herself, her mother, and her father. "Where is Dad?" she asked as she positioned the silverware.
"Working on setting up his office," Mrs. Fox said. "Actually, I'd appreciate it if you could go get him. The broccoli is almost done."
Callie made a face at the word "broccoli," but ran upstairs to her father's office. She opened the door a crack and peered inside. "Dad?"
Her father looked up at her from his position on the floor, where he was unpacking a box of computer hardware. "Oh, hey, Cal. What's up?"
"Mom said dinner's almost ready."
"Already?" He sighed. "Alright, tell her I'll be down in a minute." He pushed the computer speakers he had removed from the box aside and stood up.
Callie started to race down the stairs, but stopped when she saw Will standing by the railing, watching her. "Hey," she said quietly, walking toward him. "I have to eat dinner now but I have something important to tell you," she said.
"I have something to tell you, too," he said. "I remembered something."
"What, really? What was it?" Callie asked excitedly, more loudly than she intended.
"It's probably not important. Go eat your dinner. I'll still be here," he said. His last statement filled Callie with pity, but he wore a smile on his face.
"Okay. After dinner, we'll talk. I promise." As Callie ran down the stairs to the kitchen, Will walked toward Carrie's room and vanished.