The only problem with an invisible friend, one that talks to you inside your head, is that other people can’t hear the voice. For instance, you are walking along in the park with a group of friends and you hear, in your head, “Duck!” You duck. What else would you do?
In your own eyes, you have behaved rationally, reacted to a sudden warning. To your friends, you just hunched up, bent over, and covered your head for no apparent reason. No point in trying to explain it.
Such is my problem with the irrepressible Tim, who lives inside my head. Well, he doesn’t live just in my head, he actually lives in my house. Let’s say he can occupy two places at the same time. One, is in my house; the other is in my head. Got it?
He can be at home, or driving down the street, and talking to me while I am at the store. I hear him, loud and clear, just like a telephone call, inside my head.
While he is an incredible musical talent, he can also be a gigantic pain in the derriere when he chooses, which luckily is not too often. Truthfully, he only does it if I’m with John.
I like to think Tim looks just as silly laughing his ass off all by himself. I can always claim I saw a bee.
Surviving cancer was my greatest accomplishment, until last month, when I accidentally solved a crime. In a small town like Monarch Beach, that gives you immediate notoriety. With a population of less than three thousand there’s not a lot to talk about so anything new is a welcome diversion. To solve the first murder in the town’s history moved me up to legendary status.
Cancer treatment is never easy. The side effects can be as devastating as the disease. In some cases the side effects remain after treatment. Adding to the confusion is the long list of side effects, never the exact same for any two people.
The cold is shared by most, as is losing your hair. Even hair loss is different from patient to patient. I was bald as an egg for two years and still had to shave my legs. Talk about unfair.
Chemo was awful, not going to lie about it. Radiation was painless, just caused more hair loss, like I had any left. Completing my treatment took almost a year and at the end of that time I was advised to have two more weeks of radiation – to the brain.
Most chemo does not cross the blood or brain barrier so the additional brain radiation was a preventative measure. Completely painless. The radiation oncologist explained it perfectly. Some patients experience a flash of blue light, some experience a smell of ozone. I got both. And I got a bonus.
My prime side effect was Tim. No idea where he came from, or exactly when he showed up – he was just there one night and stayed. He announced himself with a flash of brilliant blue light inside my head and the smell of ozone. Related? I thought so.
Explaining him to my doctors resulted in an appointment with the resident psychologist. Attempting to explain him to Sharon, my best friend, resulted in audible eye rolls.
I was okay with that. I would probably feel the same way if someone tried to tell me they heard voices in their head. I mean all kinds of serial killers hear voices, right?
At that point I decided it would be the wiser course of action to just not mention Tim.
After last month’s adventure in crime solving, an accident for the most part, Tim left me. Something new took his place.
I began to see silver pickup trucks everywhere I went, including home. To tell the truth, I preferred Tim. Then I began seeing this guy, the same guy, along with the truck sightings.
My fear that I traded Tim for a fear of silver pickups and a stalker was erased in one fell swoop at our local watering hole, the Gem.
Locals just like to say they are going to the Gem because it sounds like the gym. They feel healthier just saying it. It’s a local thing.
I was there on a Friday night with my usual friends – Sharon, Cora, Archie, all the regulars in my little group – when the stalker showed up.
Sharon pointed him out, lurking in a corner and watching me. Okay, he wasn’t really lurking. He was just standing in the corner, leaning up against the wall and watching me.
Fueled by a couple of beers and the no show of my maybe boyfriend, Detective John Kincaid, I mentally grabbed my bootstraps, or whatever it is you are supposed to use to pull yourself up, and went to face this guy down. Am I tough, or what? Gutty as hell.
My actual name is Thomasina Joseffa which is why I go by Tee or Teejay. Tim had always called me Muse, because he said I inspire him. I don’t know what I inspired him to do. With invisible friends, hey, they can claim anything they want. Right?
So there I was, bootstraps firmly in hand. I walked right up to this guy, the stalker, in his corner.
This guy was gorgeous, a very handsome man, model material. Smoke colored eyes, blue gray with lashes longer than mine and cheekbones to die for. Dark blond hair curled almost to the collar of his shirt. I’m as plain as milk so there was definitely something askew.
Facing him, I said “Are you following me?”
He smiled, opened his mouth and said, “Hey, Muse.”
I fainted. Faulty bootstraps or something. I knew the voice very well, having listened to it for almost two years.
Tim caught me before I hit the ground. He pulled me against his chest, supporting my body with his while keeping his balance.
Sharon, who was moral support for the whole face down thing, leaped to her feet and charged, whooping at the top of her lungs, causing the others to jump up, beer bottles in hand, ready for fight or flight. I missed that part but I have been told it was exciting. I’m sorry I missed it.
Tim can think really fast.
Catching me as I slumped, he held me up with arms around my waist, turning me so I was between him and Sharon. “It’s okay, folks! We’re old friends.”
By the time I was compos mentis everyone was back at the table, although Archie was still standing behind Cora, one hand on her shoulder.
I found myself sitting in the lap of the total stranger that I knew so well. That makes perfect sense if you’re me. He was holding me upright with both arms, one around my waist, the other around the back of my shoulders.
I looked up into these smoky, blue gray eyes, sparkling with humor. Over his shoulder, the very concerned green eyes of Sharon watched me.
I managed to sit up, looking around, trying to remember what happened. I had never fainted in my life although I had slipped out a few times during chemotherapy. I was surprised to see everyone staring at me.
“What happened?” That has to be the most original question ever asked. The arm supporting my back gave me a little boost, helping me to sit fully upright and gain my balance.
Sharon looked at Cora, who looked at Archie, and so on, around the circle of friends.
Tim took the lead. “I think you stepped out for a few minutes. You’re back now.”
I signaled my desire to get up. Tim hooked another chair with his boot and pulled it up beside us, then helped me ease into it, keeping a hand on my back.
“How are you?” Looking at Tim I was flabbergasted. It was all I could think to say.
“I’m good, Muse. How about you? Feeling better?” Tim’s concern was obvious, as was Sharon’s.
Then they were all talking at once, Sharon the loudest. It was like high tide on a short beach, where you can’t pick out the sound of one wave over the roar of the surf. “Are you okay? What the hell happened? Who is this guy? Do you want some water? Where the hell is John?”
I shook my head a couple of times. Tim was still there, right next to me, one hand warm on my back.
How do you like that? The supposed, by me, stalker that had been following me, this gorgeous hunk of a guy that had worried me for weeks, was in reality the figment of my imagination. In the flesh. Now, that, by golly, is weird, I don’t care who you are. I may give up the argument and put crazy on the resume after all.
Before tonight I knew Tim by the blue flash inside my head and the smell of ozone. Tonight, no flash, no ozone. This guy smelled great and looked incredible.
Everyone was still staring at me – my friends and Tim.
“We need to talk,” I told Tim.
“Agreed.” He grinned at me, the corners of his mouth turning up. “We most definitely need to talk.” Those eyes sparkled and danced looking into mine.
“Tee!” Sharon was getting louder and sounding desperate. We had been friends since the playpen.
My head cleared somewhat. “Sorry, Sharon. This is my friend, Tim. It is Tim, isn’t it?”
Tim nodded and gave my fingers a squeeze.
I looked around the table again. “And, yes, I think I would like some water.”
Archie turned and headed for the bar while Sharon pulled another chair around and sat beside me. She took my other hand, patting me like I was a small child. I realized she was concerned and confused, but hey, so was I.
She took control. “Do you know this guy? I thought you said you had never seen him before.” Her look at Tim could have frozen him to the chair.
“Um, yes, actually I do. Know him. I’m sorry, guys. He just startled me. I’m fine, really.”
Tim dropped my hand and reached to take the glass of water from Archie, scooting it over in front of me. “Here you go, Muse,” he murmured. “Take a minute.”
“Who are you?” Sharon demanded, “I’ve never seen you before. I know the whole family. I have since the womb. How do you know Tee?”
Tim grinned at me. “You want to take that one?”
“No, you go right ahead.”
“We’re old friends.” He smiled at the group. “I wanted to surprise her, and it looks like I did.” He turned his head to look Sharon right in the eye. “She’s told me all about you guys. You must be Sharon.” Looking around the group circling us he identified Cora and Archie by name. “Where’s John?” he asked, when he had named everyone.
Great, now he’s going to scare my friends, I thought, watching Archie take Cora’s hand and gently ease her back away from the table.
“I’m so sorry, all of you. I need to talk to Tim. I’m fine, really I am. I’ll get you all up to date tomorrow. Right now, I think I need to go home.”
“Are you sure you’re all right? Do you want me to come with you,” Sharon asked, still looking worried. “Do you think you can drive?”
“No, no, really. I’m fine. It was just a shock, that’s all. It’s been a long time” I said, stressing the long. “I just want to catch my breath and catch up with him. Honestly, I’m good. I’ll see everyone later.” I got to my feet, using the table for balance. I seemed to be okay. Beside me, Tim stood up too, keeping his hand at the back of my waist.
I have you, babe.
It is you. It’s really you?
Yep. In the flesh. And these people are getting jumpy. My truck is right outside. Let’s go.
“Thanks, guys,” I said aloud, looking around at all the faces. “I am okay. Right now I just want to get home. I’ll see you.”
“Are you sure you can drive? I can take you,” offered Sharon.
“I’ll drive her,” said Tim.
Tim gave me a nudge and I led the way out the front door, feeling his hand warm on the back of my waist. The cold air finished clearing my confusion. Turning to face him, I took a deep breath and just stared into those laughing eyes with my mouth hanging open.
“What the hell?”
Tim laughed and pulled me in for a hug, his arms tight around me, holding me against his chest and rocking me gently. He seemed much taller up close.
“Weird, huh? You look amazing, babe. Come on, let’s go home. We can talk.”
“Whose home? Where did you come from? Who the heck are you?”
He stepped back, reached down and looped his little finger through mine. “Your house. Austin, via LA. Tim. Let’s go, babe.”
Tugging me along, he lead the way to, what else, a silver pickup. He opened the passenger door for me and helped me inside. “Seat belt,” he cautioned, shutting the door and jogging around to climb in behind the wheel.
He started the truck and headed for my house, without asking for directions. Before I could ask, he said “You were right. I’ve been following you.” His eyes danced. Even in the dark, his eyes gleamed and sparkled. He was really enjoying himself. He reached across the seat and captured my hand. “Damn, babe, this is just outrageous!”
I had no clue where to start, although my mind was bouncing around in six directions at one time. What question came first? How was this possible? He had to be real. Sharon saw him. I had just seen my friends all talking to him, looking right at him.
“I know, it’s confusing, Muse. Me, too.”
“Did you know? That I was real?”
“Yes and no. I was beginning to think so, but I wasn’t sure. Remember when you were in the cellar?”
I remembered too well. I nodded.
“You gave me the name of the winery, the closed one. I grabbed my laptop and started searching. Pure hunch. Long story short, I found it was a real place, in a real town, near a real beach. I found the town’s website, and I called the number listed for the local cops.”
“You called the cops?”
He glanced my way, with a grin. “Pretty smart, huh? Damn internet, babe, you can do anything.”
“You called the cops?” I was stunned. I began to consider insanity. I had wondered for over a year if I was crazy and now I was sure of it. Except that Sharon saw him, too. He was sitting here, driving the truck, taking me home.
“Yep.” He gave me another look. “Remember when I told you to hide? To wait for someone safe?”
I just nodded, not fond of those memories at all.
“I was on the phone with the dispatcher, and she was giving directions to the cops while I was talking to you. I knew they were on the way. Man, they were great! They didn’t question me, they just acted. It was really cool.”
He let go of my hand to turn into my drive, parking in my spot. Without any directions from me he had driven straight to my house. Belatedly I remembered my truck was still parked at the Gem.
He turned off the engine and turned to look at me. “Of course, once they found you, then they had questions. Lots of them.” He reached out to catch a strand of my hair, rubbing it between his fingers.
“What did you tell them? I never could get any details, about who called. All they ever told me was someone called.”
“I hung up,” he grinned. “I have internet phone service. On my laptop. Very hard to get a trace on.”
I sat and stared at him. I could not believe this was Tim. I knew the voice, like warm chocolate, familiar, like it was in my head, the exact voice I had heard all this time. He sat there looking back at me, his eyes roaming all over my face, like he, too, was having trouble believing.
This close he was even more handsome - the strong jawline, high cheekbones and those eyes.
“How did you know where I was?”
He reached out to take my hand again. “Can we go inside? I can explain. At least, part of it. Some of it I have no clue, either.”