Haunted Hearts
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Copyright © 2016 by Khristina Atkinson

Indiana, May 2016

The horrific sound of metal crunching was followed by a loud thud inside the car.  Someone hit them.  Blood was running down the side of his girlfriend’s beautiful face as he eased her back in the seat.  “Em, please wake up.”

Mason instinctively reached up to brush his hand across her cheek.  Emily was not breathing when he checked her pulse. He pulled her from the car to the hard pavement and started CPR.

The girl from the car behind them that caused the damage was leaning over them before he even noticed her.  Mason screamed at her, “Dial 911!”

He recognized the girl from his school, but did not know her name.  She was younger.  As soon as she was off her cell, she confessed the reason for the accident.  “I’m so sorry.  I only looked away for a few seconds to answer a text.”

Mason yelled at the teen girl again between breaths.  “You can’t be serious!  You were texting and driving!  Emily’s not breathing, and it’s all your fault!”


Mason Lundquist moved to Koontz Lake when he was ten years old.  Emily Yates lived about a mile down the street.  Even though she rode the same bus and attended the same school, he failed to notice her until they attended a common class in his junior year of high school. Once he fell for her, he was a goner. No one else could take her place in his heart. She had been a continuous presence in his life since the evening of their first date.

The day before their high school graduation, Mason slowed down at the stop sign. She unfastened her seatbelt as the car sat motionless, just long enough to reach down and retrieve her cell phone that she dropped a few minutes earlier. The maneuver should have been safe.

Mason stood in silence as the EMT’s pronounced her dead at the scene. He witnessed them take her away in an ambulance. Her parents sobbed uncontrollably at the hospital. Somehow, she appeared next to him on his bed when he arrived home.

They had long, intimate conversations, but he dared not speak to her while others were around. She was with him at all times—while he took his tests in college and in his dorm room at night when he closed his eyes. She never left. He had to be crazy. His love for her was much too intense to ever stop or let her go.


Mason took a walk to get some air on his second day back home during winter break. After living alone for four months, his mom's incessant doting was getting on his last nerve. He made sure to wear his knit cap and gloves for the slightly bellowing freezing temperature. Heaven forbid he catch a cold. He would never hear the end of the lectures on proper weather attire from his mom.

Esmeralda Shaw pulled into her driveway and stepped from her car as he approached. He reluctantly waved and forced a fake smile. The attractive thirtyish brunette woman had quite a reputation in his neighborhood. Cars came and went from her home all evening and into part of the night. They were mostly driven by men.

She claimed to be a psychic. His mom and most of her friends believed a lady of the night resided in their community. They would all like to see her run out of town on a rail.

Esmeralda called out, "She wants me to tell you that I can see her too. You're not insane."

Holy crap! She just spoke to me. I hope she doesn't think I'm interested in whatever she's selling. She was not making any sense. "What?"

"Her name is Emily."

He stopped dead in his tracks. "Emily who?"

"Yates. Your girlfriend. She standing right next to me."

Mason shook his head back and forth several times as he moved cautiously closer to her. "This can't be happening."

"I descended from gypsy blood. I make my living reading tarot cards and looking into crystal balls, more often than not to help people get in touch with lost loved ones. I do have to admit this is the first dead person who’s ever reached out without me being paid to converse."

His head was overwhelmed with the newfound knowledge. "I don't understand why Emily is here with me. I thought she was a figment of my imagination."

"She doesn't know either. She feels there's a reason for her to stay. She’s definitely hanging around for something. Spirits always have a purpose. When she's finished her goal or mission or whatever, she should be able to move on to the other side."

Mason instantly bridged the gap in distance between then and hugged Esmeralda. She seemed to be the real deal. Perhaps, his mom and her gal pals misjudged the woman. "Thank you, Ms. Shaw."

"You're welcome, sweetie, but you make me sound old. Call me Madam Esmeralda."


A month later, Mason picked up his notebook and raised up from his desk to leave his first day of English class. The young woman next to him excitedly grabbed hold of his arm and yanked him close to whisper, "Cory says you have one too. Sorry, I should clarify. I'm talking about your ghost girlfriend."

He backed away enough to stare her in the face. "Do you know Madam Esmeralda? Did she tell you?"

"Madam who? No. Cory is my ghost boyfriend. I don't like to discuss him in public. Can we go to my apartment?"

If this girl was coming on to him, she had an odd way of flirting. "I don't even know your name."

"Kimber Petroski. Now let's go."  

Mason willingly followed Kimber across campus. He was anxious to hear her story. She ushered him through the door and told him to take a seat on her couch. As she rushed into the kitchen and offered him a beverage, he became impatient.

"No. I don't want anything except an explanation."

"Cory died this past summer. They found his motorcycle crashed into a tree. He told me he swerved to miss a truck in his lane. He figured he'd die in the head-on collision." She plopped down next to him with a bottle of water in her hand. "With leaving the road, he thought he stood a chance."

"Why did he remain after his death?"

She unscrewed the cap from her bottle and took a gulp before answering. "How the hell am I supposed to know?"

"Did you ask him?"

"Of course. I don't believe for one second it's normal for a dead person to follow you around all day every day." She chugged the remainder of her water and crushed the bottle as she got up.

"Where are you going now?"

"To put this in my recycle bin. I care about our planet. You sure you don't want something."

He slammed his head back against the cushioned fabric in frustration. "Positive."

She returned and threw herself on his lap. His eyes opened widened as she planted a kiss on his lips. He was speechless as she moved her head away. "Is your girlfriend still here?"

"Y—yeah. W—why?"

She removed herself from his lap. "I figured if we made them jealous, they might leave."

"Do you want Cory to leave?"

"I don't know. Not really. Maybe. Look, it's not natural for him to be with me constantly. I'm not that religious or anything, but the dearly departed don't usually stick around to haunt the people they love, right?"

He placed both hands on his head, near his temples. "I don't know anything anymore to be truthful. I believed I was losing my mind until Madam Esmeralda let me know Emily was real."

"I'm glad we kissed."


"I never thought I'd have a boyfriend again with my circumstances."

He rose abruptly. "I'm not your boyfriend."

"You might as well accept fate. No one else will have us with our complications."

He tightened his hands into fists at his sides. "I love Emily. She was my world. She still is."

"You can't exactly have sex with a dead person." He had heard about all he could take and bolted for the door. She yelled after him. "You can run now, but you can't hide from me. We have a class together."

Mason shut the door, leaned back against it, and closed his eyes. Emily had been a real lady. Together they decided when the time was right to make love. Neither one of them took their commitment lightly and waited seven long months. They were going to be together forever until the accident.

Maybe Kimber had a point. Spending every spare minute with an apparition probably was not healthy. Come to think of it, where did Emily go?

Mason jogged back to his dorm room. His roommate was nowhere to found as usual. He slammed himself down on his bed. "Em, where are you? Please don't be mad at me. I'm so sorry."

She appeared with her back turned to him. "You kissed another girl in front of me."

"Not on purpose. You saw how she acted. I want you. I love you."

"Cory wasn't happy either. I expect your new friend will have some explaining to do."

He patted next to him. "It's not our problem. Wait. Do you talk to Cory?"

"Are you jealous?"

"Should I be?"

She moved a step closer. "No. Cory loves Kimber, and I love you."

She laid down next to him. Even though he could not technically touch her, her company was all he needed. "Are you over pouting at me?"

"I suppose. I never could resist your charming personality."


Two days later, Mason did not want to face Kimber or further upset Emily. He contacted his professor via e-mail several hours before class with the never questioned stomach virus excuse. No one wanted to risk catching something so awful.

His roommate, Jerry, buzzed his cell about half an hour later. He paused his game and put down his joystick. "Buddy, I can't believe you answered. I thought you were a goner."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"The shooting in your English class. You have Professor Kiplinger, right?"

"Yes." Mason's mind went straight to Kimber.

"A student walked in late. When Kiplinger called him on it, he pulled a 9mm out of his pants pocket and shot him right between the eyes. He emptied the gun on the class, but saved the last bullet for himself. Two students are dead. Several more are in serious condition."

Mason grabbed his keys and wallet as he headed for the door. "I need to check on a friend and see if she's all right."

"A romantic she? About damn time."

"No. Nothing like that. I'll talk to you later."

Mason was lying to himself and Jerry. Kimber had been consuming his mind for the past forty-eight hours. The way her lips were warm and enticing. Her sassy attitude. Emily's death happened not even eight months before. How could he betray her?

The new woman he met so recently came across as the complete opposite of his type. Emily's blonde hair and grayish blue eyes sharply contrasted to this brunette, dark-eyed beauty. His high school sweetheart was much shorter than him. Kimber stood only an inch less of his five foot ten-inch frame at the most. Unlike his new acquaintance, Emily let him make all the moves in their relationship.

Speaking of his girlfriend. He didn't even notice her when he darted away in a complete panic. His head jerked from side to side to see if she came with him. He would just have to explain his behavior later.

Mason pounded on Kimber's apartment door a little more aggressively than intended. A stout, red-headed girl with freckles answered. "Can I help you?"

"I'm a friend of Kimber's."

"What's your name?"


"Follow me." The girl strode to a door with him right behind her. She thrust it open. "Mason's here to see you." Her hand swept forward. "Go on in."

Kimber threw her headset down and leapt off the bed. "Mason. What are you doing here? You missed me when I wasn't in class today, right? I knew my plan would work."

"Did you hear what happened?"

"Apparently not."

"Our professor and a couple of students were killed in class today. I was scared to death you might be one of them."

She closed in the few yards between them and flung her arms around his neck. "Aww. Despite your protests to the contrary, you really do like me. That’s so sweet."

He took a step backward so she was forced to release him. "Why aren't you in class?"

"I blew it off today. Wait. If you thought I was one of the casualties, then you weren't there either. What's your excuse?"

"I was avoiding you. Emily's still a little upset over our kiss."

Kimber rushed over to the door and locked it. She caught him by surprise and pushed him onto the bed. After straddled him, she assaulted his mouth with a ferocious kiss. His eyes nearly popped out of his head when her tongue slipped between his lips.

She raised up to look him in the eye. "Emily's dead. What did you think of my kiss?"

"I—uh." He might as well admit the truth. "I liked it, okay. You're gorgeous, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since our first kiss."

She let out a sarcastic laugh. "You honestly think I'm gorgeous?"


"After Cory died, I stop caring about my appearance. I don't wear makeup anymore. I don't fix my hair. I keep it in a sloppy ponytail. If you had seen me in high school, before my whole world fell apart, I was something. Cory said he couldn't help falling in love with me." Her chest started to vibrate, and a few tears rolled down her cheeks.

He reached up instinctively to wipe them away. "You're still something. You do come on a little strong though."

She moved off him, and laid on the bed beside him. "I'm sorry. I stay so damn frustrated all the time. I swore I'd never let a boy turn my head. Nothing was going to deter me from getting my degree. Cory was different. He was sweet and affectionate. We were each other's first. He swore he'd never leave me, and then he did. Except he didn't. It's really hard to move on with your life when your dead boyfriend is always with you. I enjoyed making love with him. I want to be able to do that again with another man sometime in the future. Kind of hard when he never quits staring at me."

He raised up to a sitting position. "I know exactly how you feel. I don't want to be disloyal to Emily. Is Cory in the room right now?"

"Yep. He would probably tear you apart right now if he was able. If you could see him, you'd probably be scared. He's got about five inches and forty pounds on you. Or he did." Kimber turned toward Mason. "What about Emily?"

"She didn't come with me. It's not like her."

Kimber stood up suddenly. "Cory, go find Emily. I want to talk to her. Do it for me. Please."

The pair sat in awkward silence on the edge of the bed for a few minutes until Mason spoke. "Emily's here."

"Good. I might not be able to see you, Emily, but Cory has explained you can both see and hear me. I want to go out with Mason this evening. We should probably get to know each other better. Do you have a problem with him moving on and being happy?"

Mason voiced his concern. "If you're asking me a on date, I object. I'd like to be the one to do the asking."

"Fine. I'll try to act a little more demure for your male pride."

He reached for her hand. "Kimber, would you like to join me for a movie or dinner? Maybe both."

"What about Cory?"

Mason cleared his throat. "I guess he should know that when I thought you might be injured or worse, I ran straight over here. My heart was beating so fast, I almost couldn't breathe. We already have so much in common. I mean, come on. How are we going to explain Emily or Cory to anyone else? So, about the date. What do you say?"

Kimber rubbed her index finger across her chin and pursed her lips together for a few seconds. "I have to know one thing first. Do you play Extraterrestrial Odyssey?"

"I'm on level seven."

"You're going to have to catch up to me. I'm on eight. Wait a minute. Cory's telling me goodbye. He says I don't need him anymore. He’s fading away."

Mason quickly turned his head. "Emily can't stay. She wants me to love again, and I obviously care about you already. Goodbye, Em. I’m going to miss you."

Kimber sighed. "What if they're gone for good? You can have any woman you want if you’re free of Emily. You admitted I’m too forward for you."

He shook his head slightly back and forth. "I want you. You've already grown on me." His sudden movement toward her caused her mouth to open slightly. The perfect position for his tongue to slip through. She had a way of bringing out a newfound boldness in him.

As his body pressed against hers, he felt her small hands push against his chest. He raised up slightly and released her lips. "We haven't even gone on that date yet, so don't think I'm the kind of girl to give it up so easily. Cory waited a whole year."

He could not help tease her. "Oh, so you're all talk."

"No, but there are rules to follow. I recently read an article that couples should wait until at least the fifth date to have sex."

He grabbed her arm to propel her off the bed with him. "Let's go to lunch for date number one."

"You seem awfully anxious."

He embraced her and planted another kiss on her lips. "Dinner will be date number two."

"Don't you think you're moving a little fast? Besides, I’ve eaten lunch."

He tenderly kissed her again. "I'm not rushing you. We can go as fast or as slow as you wish. I do, however, plan on enjoying your company whenever possible. It's nice to be able to put my arms around a woman again."

"I know the feeling." Her endearing smile warmed his formerly broken heart.

“I was just thinking if we didn’t have Cory and Emily, we never would’ve met. We might be in class today instead of skipping. They saved our lives and brought us together.”

Kimber blew a kiss upward. “Thanks, Cor. I suppose you had a good reason for sticking around after all.”

“Madam Esmeralda told me Emily would leave when she fulfilled her purpose.”

“Who is this Madam Esmeralda you keep talking about?”

Mason took a few steps toward the door and unlocked it. “I’ll save that story for dinner. Pick you up around 7:00.”

“I can’t wait.”

Next: Lovelorn Lodging: Chapter One/Hired Help

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