He must be taking the long way back, Emma thought. She decided to go ahead and take a shower; she could start dinner after Bill got home. Maybe they could even just go get some fast food.
She turned on the radio that sat on the bathroom counter, and climbed into the shower. It had been such a long day! She relaxed under the steady stream of hot water, and didn’t notice at first that the radio had stopped playing. When she did realize, she didn’t think much of it. “Dead air,” she admonished the radio station. “Not good for business.” After several moments, she finally turned off the water and got out of the shower, wrapping herself in a towel and using another to dry her hair. The radio hadn’t come back on, and she turned to it now, wondering what had happened.
The radio was gone.
“What?” asked aloud, frowning in confusion. It wasn’t just the radio. Nothing was on the counter anymore. It was completely empty. “What?” she said again, a feeling of panic welling up in her chest. Was there an intruder? No one else was in the bathroom.
With trembling fingers, she reached out and turned the doorknob, pulling the door open as quietly as she could. She poked her head into the master bedroom.
This room was also empty. The bed and dressers were gone; the large rug had disappeared. The curtains had vanished from the windows. Emma pulled her towel more tightly around her, struggling to comprehend what was happening. She had only been in the shower for fifteen minutes; how could anyone have robbed the house in such a short time, without making any noise?
And why would they take bedroom furniture?
Shaking and frightened, she walked out of the bedroom and toward the stairs going down to the large foyer. Even from up here, she could see that the living room and foyer were also empty – no furniture, no photos, no curtains. The house looked as though no one even lived in it.
Emma’s heart was pounding. She didn’t even know how to be terrified; her stomach felt queasy, but all she could do was stand on the upstairs landing, staring in absolute incredulity at her barren house.
The front door opened. “Thank God,” Emma breathed, assuming it was Bill. But it turned out to be a woman in a business suit, escorting a young couple into the foyer.
“It’s a very new house,” the woman was explaining. “The previous owners were the first owners. They left for Michigan a month ago, so they’re motivated to sell.”
The second woman looked around the first floor of the house, and then up the stairs. Her eyes met Emma’s. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed. “I thought nobody was living here!”
Emma opened her mouth to speak, but the woman’s partner and the realtor both turned quickly to look up at the landing, and the realtor said, “No one is.”
“What’re you lookin’ at, babe?” the man asked. “I don’t see anything.”
The woman blinked up at Emma, then at her partner, then back again. “There’s a woman,” she said hesitantly. She tilted her head to the side. “Well, there was,” she added. “She’s gone.”
“I’m right here,” Emma said, but none of the people in the foyer seemed to hear her. The realtor had grabbed her cell phone, and was instructing the person who answered her call to send someone over to investigate the Cleary house.
“It sounds like somebody may be squatting,” she said, bustling the couple back out the door. “No, I don’t see any signs of break-ins, but Janice saw a woman upstairs who apparently ran off.” Her voice faded as the front door closed behind the trio, and Emma was left standing nonplussed at the top of the stairs.
Tears filled her eyes. “What’s going on?” she whispered, her lip trembling. “What is this?” She backed away from the landing, and re-entered the bedroom. “Bill?” she cried. “Bill!”
The front door opened again. “Emma?” Bill’s voice called. “Are you here?”
Emma spun and ran into the hall. “Bill!” she shouted. She reached the stairs, and stopped dead. All of the furniture sat where it belonged; the house looked exactly as it had before she went into the shower. Overwhelmed by the whole experience, Emma sank down onto the first step and burst into tears. “What the hell’s happening!” she sobbed, burying her face in her hands. She didn’t know whether to be relieved that everything was back to normal or horrified by what she had witnessed. Maybe she was losing her mind.
“Emma?” Bill asked, rushing up the stairs. “What’s wrong?”
She shook her head. “You’ll never believe me,” she said. “I don’t even believe it.” She looked up at him. “The strangest thing happened while you were gone.”
Bill, clearly concerned, sat down next to Emma and put his arm around her. “I’ll believe you,” he promised. “Especially given what happened to me while I was gone.”
“What happened?” she asked him.
“Martin Garrison called me as I was leaving,” Bill said. “He told me one of our stores needs a new manager. The current manager just picked up and left – some kind of dark past catching up to him, I guess, really freaky situation – and Martin wants to know if I want the job.” He looked askance at her. “I know you love it here, Ems,” he said. “But I think it might be a really good opportunity for me. For us. I don’t suppose – would it be okay if we just talked about it? Just to see if it’s something we want to do?”
Emma blinked at him. “Is the new store in Michigan?” she asked.
Bill raised his eyebrows in surprise. “How did you know that?”
She shook her head again. “I’ll tell you later,” she said. “But I think Michigan’s fine, honey. It’s just fine.”