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Chapter 30: Odd Timing for a Kiss

Jay glanced at Ryan and Kyle as she said the combination number, but only the briefest flicker in Kyle’s gaze as it locked on hers revealed that he’d just caught up to her plan.

He shifted slightly and elbowed Ryan—who glanced at Jay, then gripped his ghost-catcher replica more firmly and gave Jay a slight nod.

Had they understood her plan well enough? Jay could only pray they had, because she was about to need them to jump in on it.

The ghosts seemed to notice none of this exchange—they were all too focused on James, who was methodically spinning the numbers on the lock into place with shaking fingers.

“Three…two…eight…” He whispered to himself as each clicked into place. “Nine.”

The locked dropped open, and he slid it off, then yanked open the door—

To a shed with a lawnmower in it.

“Now!” Jay yelled, frantically praying her friends would know what to do as she drove a hard kick right up between James’ legs from behind.

James howled and toppled forward into the lawnmower.

Meanwhile to her left, Kyle shouted, “Sorry, I’m sorry!” as he tackled the umbrella woman to the ground, followed by, “I don’t want to hurt y—ow—stop—would you stop hitting me? I’m trying to be chivalrous!”

Ryan, on the other hand, had swung his ghost-catcher straight into the scrawny guy’s head with a thunk, dropping the guy to the ground, unconscious. “I told you it would be useful!” he shouted.

Jay, by this point, was frantically trying to shut the shed door, but the ornery old man’s legs were in the way… and he was clutching the lawnmower with his upper body, trying to climb to his feet. He would have made it upright, already, if Jay hadn’t been hitting him with the shed door, continually knocking him back down. The lock had clattered to the shed floor just inside the doorway.

“I need—guys, help!” Jay yelled.

Kyle glanced up and saw Jay’s predicament. “Ryan!” he shouted, and Ryan rushed in to take over being battered by the umbrella woman as Kyle rushed toward Jay…

...just as James hooked his foot around Jay’s and yanked, sending her toppling backward.

Kyle caught Jay and steadied her, then sent a swift kick at James with his good leg, knocking James the rest of the way into the shed before James could get his feet under him again.

“Get the lock!” Jay yelled, and Kyle snatched it from the ground just in time for Jay to slam the shed door shut.

Kyle leaned his weight against the door, breathing heavily and a little pale, then handed the lock to Jay, who quickly clicked into place and spun the numbers to make sure it was locked.

It was then that Jay realized Kyle had lost his walking cane somewhere, and he was clearly in pain from overexerting his injured leg.

The shed door shook as James banged on the inside of it. “Let me out this instant! This was not our bargain!” he screamed.

Kyle ignored it and spun toward Jay. “Are you alright? Did he hurt—”

Jay rose on her tiptoes, pulled his face down toward hers, and kissed him.

He really didn’t resist, which kind of surprised Jay—but she didn’t really take time to process that. She was too busy sinking into a kiss that felt a lot like finally coming home after a long journey.

After a moment, Kyle pulled back to stare at her, his eyes bleary, pupils blown wide. “Wow."

Jay came to her senses and was immediately horrified that she’d tackled him with a kiss, but then Kyle pulled her close and continued the kiss himself, which definitely made her feel better.

“Oh, don’t mind me, you guys!” Ryan called out . “I’m just over here keeping a slap-happy former-ghost lady at bay while you make out, but take your time. I guess I know where I stand with Jay now—ow! Would you stop hitting me?”

Jay spun toward him, crashing back to reality again. “Oh! I’m so sorry, Ryan! I—”

Ryan grinned. “I mean, it was odd timing for a kiss, but I’m mostly kidding. I kinda figured out which one of us you were gonna pick after that first date when you insisted you and I were only friends. I’m happy to be your friend, Jay.” He smiled then shrugged—then ducked as the old woman took another swing at his head with her umbrella. “I could use some help with this, though?”

Kyle grabbed his dropped walking stick from the ground. “I’m so sorry about this!” he said, then knocked the woman in the head with the end of it.

She dropped unconscious.

“Well that’s a relief,” Ryan sighed, climbing to his feet. “Teamwork!” He offered Kyle a fist bump.

Kyle stared at it, then laughed and returned it.

Guys are so weird, Jay thought—but with fondness. Because for better or worse, they were both in her life, now… or at least… she hoped so. If they weren’t about to both run for the hills the moment their sense of reality and desire for sanity came crashing back in.

Near the fence, Jay noticed movement. The mob was shifting back toward them.

Jay grabbed the nearest heavy thing she could find—which happened to be a large rock—and held it over the lock on the shed. “Don’t come any closer!” she yelled.

Ryan and Kyle both followed her stare toward the mob, which had suddenly fallen still, watching her.

“This lock is the only way to access the cube. I break this, and none of you will find that cube, ever. Understand?” She glared at the mob of ghosts, then slid her hand into her pocket to check for the object, mostly for reassurance. “All of you—get off my property—right now!”

Every single ghost suddenly went flying through the fence—including Jay’s father.

Jay sprinted toward the fence and yanked open the gate… and found the ghosts had been flung all the way to the street.

She slid the object from her pocket. “Wow. I didn’t expect...” The barrier magic, and the object’s control over it, was more powerful than she'd realized.

The moment that shock wore off, Jay took off into the front yard with one thought on her mind—making sure her father was okay.

The ghost mob was hovering in a loose circle around Jay’s father, who had regained enough of his strength to be sitting up, though he still looked weak and in pain. No one had harmed him, as they’d promised, though Jay suspected the order not to harm him would be rescinded the moment James was set free from the shed.

“Those two are still there,” Kyle said, gesturing to the unconscious umbrella-lady and scrawny man still visible on the backyard grass through the open gate.

“Huh. The barrier must not work if they’re in corporeal form,” Jay said. “That’s… really good to know.”

“That also explains why Mr. Jerkface is still banging on the shed door and screaming ‘Let me out,’” Ryan said, leaning his ear toward the backyard.

Jay nodded. “Yeah… I guess it does.” But she was mostly focused on her father, slumped in the center of the ghost mob.

“What happens if you enter the other code with James still in the shed?” Kyle asked.

“I’m… actually not sure,” Jay said. The thought made her anxious. Would the other guy just…disappear? Would he be instantly transported into the other version of the shed? Jay had no way of knowing.

She looked back at Kyle and Ryan. “I think we should get those other two to the curb and then go back and make James incorporeal so he has to leave, too, I think. Just to be safe.”

Jay’s dad stirred, blinking his eyes open.

“I’m here, Dad,” Jay said, and he glanced around until he found her. He seemed to relax a bit, at the sight of her, and even to revitalize, some, though he still looked really weak.

“I’ll get them,” Ryan said. “You guys stay here.” He jogged off toward the back yard.

Ryan dragged the unconscious guy to the curb, then jogged back to get the also-unconscious woman.

Kyle moved close to Jay. “James isn’t going to be happy, Jay. The moment we let him out, he’ll try to cause trouble.”

Jay sighed. “I know. But he was already going to. I just don’t see another way.”

Ryan returned with the unconscious woman.

“He’ll probably try to hurt your dad,” Kyle said. He glanced past Jay, at her father, who was watching them converse. “Hello, sir. I’m Kyle.”

Her dad narrowed his eyes, but nodded, studying Kyle with new interest.

Jay drew a deep breath, then watched Ryan roll the unconscious woman onto the street. “Yes, he will,” she said. “But I have a plan for that, too,”

Which was why she was about to do something crazy.

“Make that man and woman back into ghosts,” Jay told the object, then watched as they both faded back to their spectral forms, still unconscious near the rest of the ghost mob. Then she stepped toward the curb, still clutching the object, and took a deep breath. “Let my father come home.”

She looked up, and found her father staring at her. Had it worked? There was only one way to be sure. “Can you stand?” she asked him. He still looked so weak... and she and the guys couldn’t help him, yet—their hands would go right through him, plus she didn’t dare step foot off the curb right now, or ask Ryan or Kyle to. There was no telling what traps the ghosts may have set, or what else they might be able to do to her without the barrier’s protection.

Her father looked up at her, and resolve flashed in his eyes. He nodded, then—painstakingly and so, so slowly that it was nearly torture for Jay to watch—climbed with great effort to his feet.

He stood, shaking slightly and still gagged by the rope James had never removed from his mouth, but his face was full of emotion.

“Come home, dad,” Jay whispered. “Please.”

He took one shaky step, planting his foot on the curb, and then another, until both his shoes were firmly on the grass.

“Make him corporeal,” Jay whispered to the object, scarcely daring to hope it would actually work.

But a moment later, a tiny sob escaped Jay as her father stood right in front of her, staring back at her—in the flesh.


Author Note:

This story hasn’t been easy on Jay. We’re only two chapters from the end, now, and Jay is about to face possibly her hardest moment yet. Will she make it through? (Spoiler: She will! Because this story—despite some of the heavy themes running through it—is a romantic comedy, which means Jay absolutely gets her happy ending. But that doesn’t mean it won’t require some sacrifice and heartbreak, and be very hard-won. ) Hang in there, we’re SO close to the ending! As always, thanks for reading!

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He was pale, and bruised, but her father was here. In the flesh. Alive. Or as close to it as Jay ever could have hoped. Jay rushed...


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