A prowler helped me find true love
“Champagne.” I plunked the bottle down on the counter.
The bored clerk rang up my purchase. “Celebration?” she asked politely.
“I just bought my first house. I moved in today,” I explained excitedly.
She looked marginally interested. “Your first night in a new house?”
I nodded happily, proudly, as she dredged up enough enthusiasm to continue. “Which house is that?”
The question thrilled me. It was evidence that it really was the small town I’d wanted to live in. She knew all the houses—every one. “The old one on the edge of town.”
The boredom disappeared. Her eyes widened. “The house no one would buy?”
Suddenly, my feeling of elation began to dissipate. “No one would buy it? Why not?” I asked hesitantly.
She swallowed and tried to act nonchalant. “Oh, nothing.”
I leaned across the counter and didn’t let her look away. “What’s wrong with the house I just bought?”
She cleared her throat. “It’s structurally sound,” she improvised.
“What else is wrong?” I persisted.
“It’s haunted.” As my mouth dropped, she went on. “At least, according to some people, who most likely don’t know what they’re talking about.”
I sucked in a deep breath and shook my head firmly. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” I told her. I walked out with all the dignity I could manage, which wasn’t much.
Ghosts! I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I had been telling the truth, though: I didn’t believe in ghosts. I really didn’t.
What I did believe in was myself. Having reached my thirties, I’d decided to buy a house with a yard and garden. Just for me, because I’d always wanted my own home. So I went house-hunting and found an old two-story frame house that had been there at least a hundred years. It was in a small town with a nearby freeway that made the commute to my job in the city possible.
And so, pretending I hadn’t talked with that liquor store clerk, I walked through the door of my very own house with a bottle of champagne in a paper bag and prepared to celebrate.
A few hours later, sipping my second glass of champagne, I felt like purring as I looked around. I loved everything about my house. The stained glass door. The wraparound porch. The delicate lace curtains the previous owner had left. The ghost. Ghost? No, it wasn’t possible.
As I listened to some odd noise I couldn’t immediately identify, I reminded myself that there was no such thing as ghosts. But the sound didn’t go away. It got louder and could be located somewhere upstairs—in the attic, perhaps. And in the backyard, in the vicinity of the garage.
That was when I acknowledged that while I didn’t believe in ghosts, I did believe in intruders. I knew that an intruder had just knocked over a garbage can, followed by something that sounded like a rake that had been leaning against the garage.
The sun had set, it was dark, and I wasn’t about to charge outside to check things out myself. So, glad that I’d identified the location of the sounds at last, I’d set the champagne glass on a packing box and done the most sensible thing that I could think of to do: I called the cops.
Five minutes later, siren screaming, the police department responded in the form of a strong, capable-looking masculine figure carrying a gun. No superhero had ever been more welcome.
“He’s out back,” I whispered.
“No need to whisper,” the superhero whispered back. “The siren probably scared him away. But I’ll look around, anyway, just to be safe.”
His flashlight soon moved in a grid pattern across a yard full of weeds, a few late-blooming flowers, and grass that grew in ragged clumps everywhere. Then, he inspected the garage from top to bottom.
“No intruder, ma’am,” the officer said finally.
I felt foolish. Stupid. Did I look like an old maid with too much imagination and a glass of champagne? I tried to retrieve my dignity. “There was an intruder,” I insisted. “I’m sure of it.”
“Some people think this place is haunted.” He stared at me with a straight face.
“It was not a ghost. There’s no such thing as ghosts,” I said firmly.
He thought that over for a moment. “Will your husband be home soon?” he asked.
“I’m not married,” I told him.
“Oh.” That single word came out in a different tone of voice. It was as if he’d just realized the whole situation. Old maid, champagne, ghosts and all. I noticed that he didn’t wear a wedding ring as he waited for me to say something. “It must have been my imagination.”
I watched the squad car until it disappeared around the corner, then spent the next half hour staring into the darkened backyard, wondering whether ghosts haunted yards, as well as attics. I wondered whether I dared go upstairs to my brand-new bedroom, and I thought about the police officer who’d come to my rescue. He was good-looking. in a superhero-cop sort of way.
Then, with the now-empty house echoing and seeming even emptier with his leaving and the champagne half gone, reality set in. I realized that superhero police officers probably had all the female attention they wanted. Besides, he was gone and the whole incident was done. Finished.
Until the next night, when the intruder again tried to gain access to my house and the other intruder, the one upstairs, made even more noise, in even more rooms. That time, I literally flew at my superhero with relief when he walked through my door. I held on to his strong arms for dear life, trembling. I almost knocked him to the floor in the process, but I was so scared that I didn’t care.
That was the second time an intruder had tried to gain entry to my house. I was scared—terrified.
“He was on the porch. He rattled the door. He was trying to get inside,” I told him in a rush.
Then I pulled back and smoothed my pants to make my hands stop shaking as I forced my voice to be calm. It took a few tries to speak.
“I was scared,” I admitted finally.
“I’ll look around,” he said soothingly. He repeated the previous night’s search of my property, twice, with no results. “There’s no one here. There really isn’t.” He frowned. “You’re shaking.”
I hugged myself and tried to see myself from his viewpoint. I was a terrified old maid, but what could he do? There was no intruder.
“I’m sorry. I’m being stupid. I know he’s gone,” I told him unconvincingly.
“This is the second time that you’ve heard the intruder. You should be scared. I would be.” I couldn’t stop shaking. He moved from one foot to the other as he considered what to do. “If you want, I can stay a while in case he returns.”
Well, that was definitely more than okay with me. . . .
We sat at the kitchen table until I was calm, waiting for my intruder to return. We passed the time by drinking coffee and eating cinnamon rolls I’d made that afternoon. All the while, the hunky policeman was a bulwark against all things that go bump in the night. He was also polite. I felt sorry for him, spending his valuable time sitting at my table and trying not to be bored.
“I don’t even know your name,” I said.
“Leanne Wright,” I told him.
“You’re new in town?” I could see his plan. He was talking to me to calm me down. It worked, though, and, in the process, I learned that he was the sheriff, single, and liked his job. As for my side of the conversation, I told him more about myself than I’d told anyone before—ever.
“Call if the intruder returns,” he instructed much later as he left with no intruder in sight. The stars were out, the moon was full—it might as well have been daylight. If anyone tried to approach the house, I could see him easily.
Most of all, I was my usual calm self once again. The whole thing might not have happened if not for that conversation with the liquor store clerk. I looked out across the peaceful, moon-dappled yard and felt foolish.
“It was my imagination. New house and all, you know.” I grinned. “They’re probably just noises I have to get used to. I won’t bother you again.”
“If your intruder returns, call!” His face was stern. “Don’t take chances.”
I told him about the liquor store clerk. “If I call again, with the ghost stories and all, I’ll be the laughingstock of the whole town,” I commented wryly. “Not a good way to start a new life.”
He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Tell you what: If you call, ask for me personally. I promise not to laugh.”
And so, the next night, when the sounds started outside and I called the police station, I asked for Kirk Turner. He was there in less than five minutes. But, once again, the intruder disappeared before the sheriff could catch him. He assured me that he took the situation seriously. After all, I lived alone and was new in town.
His demeanor gave me the courage to say what I feared, what had made me call again and again.
“Maybe next time, he’ll get in the house.” My voice broke when I said the words.
The sheriff rose, stretched, and prepared to leave. “He always seems to come just after dark,” he told me. “I’ll come over this evening and stick around for a while. If I’m here when the intruder comes, I’ll get him. Don’t worry.”
“Will you? Please?” My voice was flooded with relief.
When he arrived that evening I prayed fervently that the intruder would return and, thereby, prove that he existed. It wasn’t that I liked people breaking into my home, nor had I gained any courage recently. But if an intruder showed up while he was there, it would prove that I truly did have a reason to call the cops. And, of course, the sheriff would capture him and make sure he was properly punished. Finally, the incident would be over, and I could finally enjoy my old-new house.
As we waited, we talked to cover the awkwardness. It turned out that we had a lot in common, from a liking for dogs and gardens to a dislike of scratchy wool clothes.
Then it happened. Between a discussion of how to grow roses, and how to dispose of wool sweaters given as Christmas gifts without hurting the feelings of the giver, a garbage can crashed to the ground.
That time, I didn’t jump because that time, there was no need to be scared. Sheriff Turner was three feet away. He jumped up, gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder, then went into the dark to arrest the intruder.
He returned with the largest dog I had ever seen.
“Leanne, meet Rocky. He’s a rather big breed of dog. He used to live here. He was dropped off at the pound when his owner moved. Rocky didn’t like it there, and he escaped. It seems he’s lonely and has been coming home at night.”
He pushed gently on Rocky, and the huge dog sat. “He’s harmless. Probably hungry, though. Not much food in your garbage cans.”
A dog? My intruder was a dog?
Then something clicked. I remembered all the phone calls I’d made. The sheriff had come every time, and he’d looked over my property very carefully with that huge flashlight he carried on his belt. How could he have missed something so large?
One possible answer was that he hadn’t. But he was bent over the huge animal so I couldn’t see his face.
“Rocky, meet Leanne,” he said. “She’s a nice lady. She might even feed you, if you ask politely.” Rocky wagged his tail, looked in my direction, then rose onto his hind legs, put his front legs on my shoulders, and licked my face.
Kirk had to rescue me before I collapsed beneath the weight of his doggy hug. As he pulled Rocky and me apart, I got a good look at the sheriff’s face. There was laughter in his eyes.
“You knew all along that Rocky was my intruder.” My voice was cold.
He held up his hands. “No, I didn’t. We may be a small town, but we do have crime, and we take all intruder calls seriously. But, at the same time I was concerned about a burglar, I did know that it could be Rocky. He leaves huge paw prints.”
“You should have told me,” I insisted.
He raked a hand through his hair. “The problem was that it hasn’t rained for a while, so the tracks I saw could have been old ones. It could have been an intruder of the human variety. So every time you called, I came right over.”
“Oh,” I murmured lamely.
He must have thought I was waiting for more explanation, because he continued. “I remembered that Rocky had escaped and hadn’t been seen since. He’s pretty hard to miss in a small town like this. So I figured maybe he was looking for a chance to return to the only home he’s ever known. But I couldn’t be sure.” The laughter in his eyes turned into a tentative grin. “It was as pleasant an intruder call as I’ve ever answered.”
I stared at him sternly and tapped my foot. After all, he should have told me that my intruder might be a large dog, and that there wasn’t anything to be concerned about. Or maybe not. What if it hadn’t been Rocky?
Finally, I decided that he’d done the right thing. And now we were acquainted. I’d met my first friend in a new town. “Is there anything else I should know about this town? This house?” I asked.
“Well—” He sounded somewhat like the liquor store clerk had before she’d told me that the house was haunted.
“Well, what?” I urged.
“The previous owners had a cat, too, and it’s been seen around the neighborhood. But no one seems to know where it’s staying.”
I groaned with relief. “I think I know. In the attic,” I told him.
“The attic? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It sounded like a ghost,” I admitted sheepishly. “I knew it wasn’t an intruder because there were no footsteps. And, besides, I wasn’t about to tell anyone that I have a ghost, because I don’t believe in ghosts. I really don’t.”
We grinned at one another. He moved closer. I felt his breath. “I’m glad you believe in intruders,” he murmured softly.
“I do, especially in a new town.”
“Which reminds me. I’ve been thinking about the fact that you’re new. I believe in being neighborly. I’ll stop by one of these days when I’m off duty, if it’s okay with you. I’d like to get acquainted properly—as friends.” There was a question in his voice. And something else—although maybe it was my imagination. Or maybe not.
I looked past his shoulder through the open door of my new, not-haunted house, and out to the bright, sparkly sky. It was beautiful out and warm, perfect for sitting on the porch swing. Maybe not tonight—after all, he was still on duty. But soon.
I was a member of the community. He was the sheriff and responsible for making sure that everyone was safe, including me. It felt good.
And his must have been a hard job, what with chasing away intruders and making sure very large dogs and very frightened women got together with the occasional cat. Surely, he needed a break now and then. And he wanted to get acquainted—with me.
“I’d like that,” I told him.
“In the meantime, I’ll do something about Rocky and the cat.”
“No, don’t. Let them stay here,” I insisted.
“With you?” he asked.
“I like animals,” I said simply.
“Really? What do you know? So do I.”
The next time Kirk was off duty he showed up at my house again carrying a plastic bag that he held carefully away from his body. “Scraps for Rocky, and kitty treats for the cat.”
I took the bag and dropped a few of the scraps into the mixing bowl I’d designated as Rocky’s dish. A huge cat dropped from nowhere onto my shoulder and started nosing about for a treat.
“I’d invite you to sit in the yard except it’s a disaster—all weeds and bare dirt.”
“Probably Rocky’s doing. Dogs can be murder on yards. But I’m good with a rake and shovel, if you’ll accept a little help,” he offered.
“Are you kidding? Just name the day.”
“Tomorrow after work?”
The next evening, he arrived in old jeans, ready to work. For the rest of that month, we spent our free time turning the grubby yard into something almost decent. When we were done with that project, we sat on the porch swing talking and getting to know each other.
By fall, we were good friends. By winter, I knew half the town. By the next spring, the sheriff and I were an item. By next year, who knows?
And all because I don’t believe in ghosts.