Julie was with Heather's family.
Melinda's footsteps slowed as she finally located Julie, Heather and her husband Dave amiably paying for her to try at the dice game.
"Hey," she greeted, shoving her hands into her pockets as she approached.
"That's a nice scarf," Heather said, smiling at her. "And hi. Julie said you didn't mind her going out with us today."
"No, of course not," Melinda agreed. "You see a lot of her lately. Maybe more than I do."
Heather laughed. "I wish," she said softly. "She's a good girl. She gets along so well with my kids. I don't know. Makes me wonder, sometimes."
"Wonder what?" Melinda asked.
"I had another daughter," Heather said slowly, watching Dave help Julie throw the dice, both crowing when they finally rolled a six; six being the prize winning number. "She would have been Julie's age."
"Oh my god, I'm so sorry," Melinda whispered. "What...what happened?"
"It's too hard to talk about," Heather said. "And too hard to remember, sometimes."
"Then I'm sorry," Melinda began, voice a bit fierce, meaning every word. "Truly sorry that this happened to you."
"Yeah," Heather nodded slowly, as Julie and Dave walked up. "Hey, you won the giant tiger! Awesome."
"And it only took six tries," Dave said, hugging his wife. "Hey, Melinda. Thanks for letting us borrow Julie again."
"No problem," Melinda said. "She's smiling right now. That's enough for me."
Julie came to Melinda's side, slinging an arm around her, as if imitating Dave and his affectionate ways with his family. And that most definitely warmed Melinda's heart.
"Hey, let's go," Melinda said. "Are you ready?"
"Sure," Julie answered. "But...I thought you were going to the hospital"
"Well, I am," Melinda replied.
"I don't really want to go there," Julie admitted.
"I was going to drop you at home," Melinda said, a frown knitting her brow.
"Yeah but…" Julie bit her lip. "Heather and Dave could."
Melinda watched as Heather's two kids came running up; Nick and Sophie. Sophie was eleven, and Nick was seven.
"Do you get on with her kids?" Melinda asked softly.
"Yeah, it's weird but I do," Julie said. "I...we laugh at the same things. It's weird."
"Did they offer?" Melinda wondered.
"Yes," Julie replied. "They're going to stay and have dinner at the booths here."
"Then sure," Melinda finally said, feeling an ache in her heart. Julie wasn't even her daughter, not officially. And yet it hurt to see her so strongly attached to this family; to realize that, once again, she wasn't enough.
Though most definitely, Julie deserved every ounce of happiness she could get.
So Melinda took the tiger and walked back to her car, driving to the hospital.
Sometimes Melinda felt like every time her life got harder, the ghosts did too.
Her rounds with Eve and Bob turned into something entirely different. She'd always met ghosts at the hospital, and now she was fully embroiled in a brain dead man's life.
His wife wanted to take him off of life support. His parents didn't.
And Melinda honestly didn't want any part of it.
She was pulled into people's lives for a reason. She worked to remember that, always worked.
But as she got up off of the floor at her shop, knocked off of her feet by the intensity of her vision, she could barely remember that. Could barely breathe.
Delia was gone for the day; she'd let her friend off to go to dinner with Ned, try to woo the boy back into her good graces.
They had such a rocky relationship. Melinda didn't quite understand all the tension between Delia and her son, but she regretted some of it. She hated seeing any parents that weren't as close to their children as they should have been; it called to mind too many memories of her own childhood.
And it was why she always worked doubly hard on ghost incidents involving children. Because everyone deserved healing from things like that. And everyone needed it, all the more.
She stood there, clinging to herself, when the door to the shop opened and Rick Payne stepped in.
It was near closing time and it was a surprise to get a customer at all this late in the day.
Melinda cleared her throat. "Did you find out what it meant?"
The smile on his face at seeing her faded once he saw the obvious tension in her body and voice. "You okay?" He asked, concern in his voice.
"No," she said simply. "I'm trying to figure out this really nasty case about a guy on life support and his family is warring about whether or not to keep him on, and I don't want to deal with it but I have to." She threw up her hands, feeling close to tears. "And sometimes it's just too much and he's visiting me everywhere and was this freaking sign on Jim's back from him? I don't even know."
She looked at him. "And now you're involved in it and I'm beginning to feel like it was a mistake to tell you."
"Hey," Rick said, holding up his hands.
"No, not like that," Melinda said. "I'm glad I told you. I'm relieved I told you. If I hadn't told you, I would have gone crazy and if I couldn't talk to you right now I'd probably explode from the tension, but these things have a way of overwhelming my life." She swallowed. "And now your life too. Invading every corner of it. Shaking things up. These things that have been happening to me...who says they won't happen to you too?"
"Hey, stop talking like that," Rick said softly.
"Rick," he said decisively. "Rick, Melinda. Call me Rick."
"Rick," she sighed.
"Have you ever considered that maybe I needed something to shake my life up?" He asked, voice softening. "That maybe I was going crazy from not doing anything. That I was bottling everything up, my whole intelligence, my amazing brain wasting away from the lack of someone like you to make me think."
His heart was in his throat. He really meant what he say saying. And oh, he wanted to say more.
That my heart was slowly calcifying until you came along and made me feel.
"Listen," he said. "Don't worry about it. Don't worry about any of it. I can take care of myself."
"Oh yeah?" Melinda sighed. "What are you doing here? Did you figure it out already?"
"No, I just came to see if you were still wearing that scarf I bought you," he said, folding his arms over his chest.
Her lips twitched. "Really?" She asked, voice tense.
"No, I was driving by and the shop said you were still open and I just couldn't resist," Rick said, telling the whole truth now, so help him God.
"Resist what?" She wondered.
"Coming in to wind you up," Rick said. "And see if you were still wearing that scarf. Speaking of…" He reached out and touched her bare neck. "Why aren't you?"
He wasn't sure what was propelling him at this point. Probably just his usual lack of boundaries; he had a touch of Asperger's, he was fairly certain.
But she looked harried and grumpy and, as earlier, more than slightly bewitching.
And he couldn't help himself. Couldn't keep his hands to himself.
He could feel her pulse under his fingers, pounding away, wondering if this was why someone might become a paramedic because it was intoxicating to feel someone's life force underneath you.
She pulled away from the touch, a dull flush on her cheeks. "I'm inside, why would I wear a scarf?" She mumbled, hurrying away. "And I'm almost closing up."
"Go out for dinner with me," Rick said amiably. "Unless you have something better to do."
She seemed to be thinking. Considering.
"There's something you aren't telling me," Rick said as she thought. "Someone in your life that I'm not aware of. Is there a jealous boyfriend after all?"
Melinda swallowed. "No," she said. "But there is a needy foster kid."
The words were not at all what he was expecting. He couldn't have been more surprised if the child was a blood relation.
"What?" He asked, the words tumbling from his mouth. "What are you, Melinda Gordon?"
"What do you mean?" She asked, not understanding his words at all, or the tone they were said in; completely shock and more than a little bit of awe.
"You're like a character in a book," he said. "Not only do you go into these impossible situations out of the good of your heart, but you take in foster kids? What are you, an angel?"
She looked a little stunned in the face of his unsarcastic awe, and unabashed appreciation.
"Um, no," she managed to say.
"Then again, you might not be the best person to answer that question," Rick murmured. "Because I think that the answer is yes."
He was most definitely crossing boundaries, here and now. Boundaries that he'd sworn he wouldn't after kissing her while drunk. After violating her trust. After being that guy.
But he couldn't help himself. There was something about Melinda Gordon that seemed to bring out the best and worst of him. The extremities.
He wasn't sure if this flirtatious side was his better or worse side though. Not at all.
"So. Do you need to get home or do you want to go out to dinner tonight?" He asked. "I'll pay. I know this Thai place with the best peanut soup."
She bit her lip. "I don't know, honestly," she said, voice shaking a little. "She, um, Julie. That's her name. And she was going out with this family to the carnival. And I don't know how long they'll keep her."
"How long have you had her?" Rick asked.
"Four, no, five, months," Melinda said, her lips pressed tightly together as if suppressing emotion. "The best five months of my life so far. She, um, she's why I first came to see you."
"Oh?" Rick wondered, leaning on the counter that was now separating them. "She's the one with the poltergeist?"
"To say the least," Melinda breathed.
"Why is this the first time that I'm hearing about her?" Rick asked, tilting his head as she looked away from him.
"Because before now I wasn't sure how big a player you were going to be in my life," Melinda finally said. "And now I know."
She picked up her purse. "And yes, Rick, I will go to dinner with you."
He wasn't sure how to take her yes. True, he'd been hoping for a yes. But he also couldn't think of anything that he'd expected less.
"Just let me call her," Melinda said, ducking into the back room.
Rick walked around the store, trying to not overhear as she spoke to her foster daughter. As Melinda walked from the store room, eyes rimmed with red.
She was overwhelmed.
He hated seeing her like this. He hated seeing her like this and he wasn't sure how to make her feel better. And that was what he hated most. He had no idea how to give comfort. That was pretty much last in his arsenal.
"I can't," Melinda said quite simply.
"Okay," Rick said immediately, backing off instead of pushing. Instead of finding out what was troubling her. Because he didn't know how to be anyone's hero, let alone a woman like Melinda Gordon's. "Need help going to get Julie?"
"No," Melinda whispered, pushing past him to open the door to the shop; he took her cue and went outside, watching as she turned out the lights and locked up, her second to last move switching the sign to closed. "But thank you for offering it."
"Anytime," he said immediately. And what was surprising, really surprising about this whole thing, was that he actually meant it.