Later, in bed, I lay awake, staring up at the ceiling. Around one in the morning, Denise rolled over and propped her head up on her arm.
"I heard the two of you telling ghost stories there, in the dark. Is that why you can't sleep?"
I sighed. "I was wondering if you heard."
"You don't actually believe in any of it, do you? I mean about the mountain being dangerous?"
I shook my head.
"It's tragic, certainly, but not frightening."
"Yeah, but I understand where the fear comes from."
I stared up at the ceiling. "Sure. People died here, and they died badly. That kind of thing makes people uneasy about a place. That's where ghosts come from."
"Well, yeah, but it's also human. Tonight, watching Elijah leave, I realized that I was afraid of that stupid bend in the road…really afraid of it. Hell, I break out in a cold sweat every time I drive around it. I'm just as afraid of it as Ellen Conkley was of the mountain."
Denise snuggled closer, and put her head on my chest. "That's different. Your parents were killed on that bend. Of course it makes you nervous."
"Yes, but it's just a stretch of road, and this is just a mountain. But when people die somewhere…those places become haunted for the people left behind. It's easy to laugh at old Ellen, because it was a long time ago and we never knew the Schroeders. But the bottom line is that her uneasiness and mine are basically the same."
She seemed to consider this. “You are awfully philosophical for one in the morning.”
Then, after a few moments, she confessed. "You know, I dreamed about them…the Schroeders."
"Sort of. I mean, I dreamed I was out in the garden, and when I looked up, there was a family standing there under the oak tree, watching me."
"How did it end?"
"I don't remember," she said. "But I wasn't afraid. Just sad."
The very next day, the entire shape of my life changed.
Denise returned from her new doctor beaming and nervous. “There’s no turning back now,” she said.
For the first few seconds, my mouth went numb and my brain was tripping over itself. Shock, terror, and elation were swirling around my head. My heart jumped into high gear. Then I grabbed her and we held each other for the longest time, crying and laughing.
“I’m going to be a father,” I said, finally. It hadn’t really sunk in.
“Well, technically…” Denise began, patting her abdomen, “…you already are.”
I kissed her forehead, and pulled her to me. “How can I be so scared and so happy at the same time?”
She laughed. “I know the feeling.”
“I love you, Denise. More than anything.”
“Now don’t get all sentimental on me,” she replied. “I’m the one whose supposed to get all moody the next few months. You’re supposed to remain strong and wait on me hand and foot.”
“Is that how it works?”
“Sounds good to me.”
And I meant it. I had never been happier.