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The End of You

By Ciera Burch All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Fantasy

Blurb

Recently deceased, college grad Elise Dalton is thrust out of her "real life" and into a new afterlife where she is appointed temporary companion to the ferryman of the Underworld Charon, as punishment. In order to avoid the fate of the other coinless souls and Persephone's ire she must learn the trade of death quickly if she is to survive long enough to truly experience all the Underworld has to offer.

Chapter One

Elise had been working at the marketing firm for four months and no one in the office could seem to remember her name or the fact that she did more than make coffee. Still, she kept her smile friendly as she always did and the balding middle manager who’d asked her for a cup of coffee was gone before she could reply, leaving a pile of papers on her desk in his wake.

She could’ve laughed at the irony; a year out of college and she was an intern all over again.

By the end of the day, she had made coffee for the office three separate times and was having trouble distinguishing her work from the work the actual interns did. There seemed to be a lot of overlap. Biting back a yawn, she walked the three blocks from her building to the bus stop, huddling under an awning to escape the slight drizzle and waiting for the H3 bus with the other recent grads already disillusioned with life outside of college.

Most had their faces buried in their phones, avoiding eye contact lest they saw someone they knew, and so Elise took out her own phone to text her roommate and ex-girlfriend, Xan.

Dinner?

Xan responded almost immediately, as she always did to food related correspondences. Chinese!

Elise smiled, wondering why she’d bothered to ask. If it were up to Xan they’d have Chinese every night save Sundays, when they went to Elise’s mom’s house. Xan’s invitation hadn’t been revoked once they’d broken up, especially not once they’d moved in together, and so she still came for the free meal and Karen Dalton’s everlasting adoration.

Elise came bearing Chinese a half hour later and pushed open the door to her apartment, raising the brown paper bags she held in triumph. “I—Oh.”

An unfamiliar blonde girl lay stretched across the gray loveseat Xan usually claimed as her own. Elise blinked. “Uh, hey. I’m Elise. You like beef and broccoli?”

The girl’s eyes flickered toward her briefly and then away, clearly disinterested. “I’m a vegetarian.”

“Well, broccoli it is then.” Elise walked past her, pushing a few water bottles aside as she set the bags down on the coffee table that pulled double duty as their dining room table most nights. “Where’s Xan? Er, Alexandra.” She amended.

At the sound of her name Xan walked out of her bedroom, still rubbing at her wet hair with a towel. “Back from the office already?” She grinned. As a journalist—a blogger, technically—she worked from home and wore yoga pants all day, very rarely stepping foot in an office. For some reason, she found it amusing Elise spent her entire day in one.

“You say it like it’s someplace important where I do actual work.” Her voice didn’t sound far away as she moved into the kitchen, but Xan followed her anyway.

“Girlfriend?” Elise asked once they were out of earshot. Her face was buried in the fridge as she searched for water bottles and she didn’t see Xan shrug.

“No. I’m…testing the waters.”

Elise straightened up and smiled, abandoning her water search. They were out. Water from the tap it was. “Good. You had me worried there for a while.”

That ‘while’ being the couple of weeks Xan had spent immersed in her work and trapped in her room with little contact with the outside world, including Elise, when they’d first moved in together. It had been a little over two weeks after their graduation and their official break up and neither had really known how to behave toward one another, let alone what to say.

Xan snorted. “What, thought you’d broken my heart for good?” She teased, reaching easily over Elise’s head to grab plates from the cabinet.

Fifteen months dating and hardly a fraction of that time had they spent broken up and living together. Theirs was a relationship that could withstand the extinction of kisses and prolonged touches—or so they were still young enough to believe—but even so they had formed a sort of ballet around their former relationship. They danced around it with a lightness and approached it, when they did, in the same way. There was no point in trying to ignore it or shove it aside, at least not anymore.

“Hardly.” Elise rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t help the relief that washed over her. Though the breakup had been mostly mutual she’d felt badly for having been the one to formally pull the plug. And some small part of her rejoiced in the fact that Xan hadn’t moved on so quickly.

“What’s her name?”

“Sheera.”

“Well, go give Sheera the Vegetarian beef and broccoli, sans the beef. I think that should do.”

Xan’s laugh followed her out of the kitchen and Elise released a heavy sigh, slipping off her heels and taking a few precious inches off of her height. She flexed first one foot and then the other before scooping up the shoes and heading back into the living room.

Sheera the Vegetarian was still curled up on the loveseat, but now she held a plate of broccoli and rice and her head was supported by Xan’s shoulder, the blonde hair spilling in soft waves halfway down Xan’s chest. She gave Elise a faint smile that Elise returned before walking back to her room. She tossed the heels by the closet where they joined the other painful shoes she wore throughout the week and sunk down onto her bed, letting out her hundredth sigh of the day. It was impossibly tiring to be an adult. Or at least adult-like, she amended, remembering that her mom still paid her half of the rent.

Quickly changing into pajamas, she rejoined Xan and her not-girlfriend, not wanting to play the part of the rude roommate but having difficulty reconciling the role with that of the ex-girlfriend. She checked her phone more than she needed to, figuring that idly scrolling through Facebook was better than watching Xan and Sheera interact.

As it turned out Sheera didn’t spend the night and the moment the door shut behind her, Xan relaxed. Her shoulders drooped and the sigh she gave was full of relief. Elise, grateful to stop her pretend texting and pointless Internet surfing, set aside her phone and raised her eyebrows.

“What’s wrong?”

She’d noticed the tension in her roommate’s expression earlier, but had chalked it up to writer’s block not Sheera’s presence. She reached out now to touch Xan’s shoulder, but pulled her hand back before contact was made.

Every so often an undercurrent of something neither girl chose to acknowledge as sexual tension flooded the apartment, making it uncomfortable to be in the same room as one another, let alone to touch. They had brushed hands once, just casually and by accident while they’d watched a movie, and they had barely been able to look one another in the eye for at least a week afterwards. It was why Xan tended to claim the love seat as her own and left Elise the couch, though their heights begged to differ about those seating arrangements.

Xan glanced over at Elise now, her body taking up only half the couch even stretched out she was. She plopped down without warning on the other half and Elise automatically lifted her legs to place them in Xan’s lap. Little remnants—expressions, actions—of their relationship remained and where they couldn’t abandon them completely, they reworked them into the daily lives as roommates.

“Nothing.” Xan answered, eyes glued to the romantic comedy playing. She wasn’t interested in the movie, romantic comedies weren’t her thing, but the TV was easier for her to look at.

“Xan, are you—”

“I miss you.” Xan said it matter-of-factly, but the words struck true.

Elise forced a light laugh. Xan was ignoring the steps of their carefully constructed ballet, abandoning subtly for directness. Elise had always been bad at directness. “We share an apartment. What’s there to miss?”

Xan turned and her eyes bore into Elise’s, and she caught her breath at the intensity in them. A hundred different feelings washed over Elise, many of which she tried to push back. Those feelings belonged to her girlfriend Xan, not her roommate and friend Xan. They had distinctions for a reason—they couldn’t have any sort of relationship at all if those old feelings infringed on the new.

“A lot. There’s a lot to miss.” Xan said finally.

Elise removed her feet from Xan’s lap feeling suddenly guilty as if the small, familiar gesture had been responsible for finally tipping the scales they’d been teetering on for months. Xan was too close now and the volume on the TV too low. All Elise could hear was Xan’s soft breathing and her own heartbeat.

And then Xan’s lips were on hers, as welcome and familiar as if they had never left.

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