XIV: Panic & Penance
“So… ghosts?” Ty asks again, this time with the appropriate level of existential dread.
His stupor still hasn’t completely worn off, but he’s slowly beginning to find his words again.
“Basically,” Tasha replies.
I cast Bump a backwards glance which is really more exhaustion than it is venom at this point.
“Kind of,” I answer.
“And this school makes some insanely questionable staffing decisions.”
“Well, that last part is open for debate,” Mr. Tanner shrugs.
“It really isn’t,” I add dryly.
Ty slumps back down into the empty chair, as though considering all of this. Just as quickly though, he springs back up onto his feet and begins pacing manically around the office.
“Nope,” he declares. “Nuh-uh. Not doing this. Too much crazy. Even for me, this is too much crazy.”
“I really wish we had a choice,” I say.
I’m attempting to comfort him, but that’s not something I’ve ever been particularly good at. It’s not until after the words have already left my mouth that I realize I’ve chosen them poorly, yet again. I cringe at my own ineptitude.
“I wish that any of you had a choice,” Mr. Tanner adds on, graciously doing his best to salvage the situation. “Tyler, the simple fact of the matter is that you’re too important to the Boogeymen. They’re never just going to leave you be. Until we have captured Mr. G, you will be in constant danger. Do you understand?”
So much for salvaging. I guess that there’s something to be said for brutal honesty in cases like this one, though. Assuming that there are actually other cases like this one.
“Nice. Mortal danger. Nothing calms you down quite like mortal danger. I mean, I was freaking out before, but now everything is all lollipops and daisies. We’re all good!”
Ty is waving his hands around like a madman now, looking as though he’s two seconds away from a total meltdown. Tasha takes a step forward, and I move to stop her from doing whatever stupid thing it is that she’s about to do. I don’t get far though, before something completely unexpected happens.
Instead of slapping Ty in the back of the head – which would have been entirely in character for Tasha Emerson based on everything that I know about her – she places a hand softly onto my cousin’s shoulder and actually says something comforting.
“We’re not going to let anything happen to you. Possible mini-apocalypse aside, your cousin has one good trait, and that’s that the guy would probably take a bullet before you took a punch.”
I look over at Tasha in disbelief.
“Are you sick?” I ask.
“Only of your sarcasm,” She replies with the exaggerated eye roll which is quickly becoming her trademark. “Is your cousin always like this?” she asks Ty.
“Only when he’s awake,” Ty smirks.
I want to be irritated about them ganging up on me, but somehow it seems as though Tasha has successfully managed to calm him down. Maybe she really does know what she’s doing sometimes, after all.
“Still,” Ty insists, “This is… this whole thing is nuts. You see that, right? You, of all people see that, don’t you Jim?”
“Why me of all people?” I try, but everybody in the room just gives me this look, as though I’ve just made my first-ever attempt at a joke and failed at it miserably. “Okay, fine. Point taken.
“Look, yes. This whole thing is an utter shit show of insanity. A couple days ago, I would never have believed any of this. But I’ve seen things, Ty. I’ve seen things that just can’t be explained unless all of this is true. I’ve experienced them firsthand, felt them. Even if I were still looking at things scientifically, which is just futile at this point, I would have no choice but to accept that all of this is real; because all of this is real.”
The room goes deadly silent for an indeterminable amount of time. All eyes are on Ty, but his eyes are locked tight on the floor. For once in his life, he doesn’t know what to say. To be fair, that’s probably one of the more rational responses to all of this – short of running for the hills. Finally, he sits back down and addresses the room at large.
“What do I need to do to make it through to the other side of this mess in one piece?”
“Something that has proven to be more than a little bit difficult for you, in the past,” Mr. Tanner replies. “You’re going to need to listen to everything that I tell you.”
There’s a brief moment of silence, before Ty gives his answer.
“…Well, nothing about any of that was completely patronizing.”
After spending some more time in Mr. Tanner’s office setting up a rudimentary guard schedule for Ty, all of us – save for Tanner himself – leave the teacher’s office in relative silence. There are a few murmurs here and there but, for the most part, none of us are completely sure how to fill the dead air between us. The worst part is that I know it’s completely my fault.
Ty still isn’t sure how to process all the madness that we’ve just spilled all over his life – let alone completely forgive me for going through his things.
Bump hasn’t looked directly at me once since our argument yesterday. If I were him, I wouldn’t even want to be in the same room with me. I can’t help but feel as though he wouldn’t be, if the choice was his to make.
Then there’s Tasha who, let’s face it, could be mad at me for any number of reasons – not least of all, me messing up on protecting Ty in less than a day.
We all stay that way a while longer before, finally, Daff is the one to put her incorporeal foot down.
“Okay,” she declares. “Moping time is good and over with, now. You all need to buck up. Things happened. They sucked. It was all a whole, big-ass thing. But, now, the big-ass thing has come and gone. It’s over and done with. You’re all reading the same book, but clearly none of you are on the same page yet. You all need to fix that, right now – before it goes and gets everything nice and shit-shaped all over again.”
At this, all of us look down at our feet, kicking at the floor like a bunch of chastised preschoolers. That is, except for Ty, who can’t actually see or hear Daff, and has no idea what just happened other than that Tasha and I have both just stopped walking for no apparent reason.
I take a deep breath and resolve that, if this is all going to be put to rest, it needs to begin with me. I’m the one at the center of all the conflict here. If I ever intend on being the type of person who my parents would truly be proud of, I need to start by owning up to that. I take a few steps forward, and turn around to face the others.
“Look –” I begin, choking down the old me’s innate desire to tell them all to suck it up, and do what needs doing. “Look, I’m an idiot, alright? And I can make every excuse in the book for that – I can. I probably have. That’s not who I want to be anymore, though. So, I’m sorry – okay?
“Bump, I’m sorry that I took all of my frustrations out on you yesterday. That was a shitty thing to do, and none of what happened was your fault. I panicked, and you were the only one there, so I attacked you. I shouldn’t have done that.”
Bump just keeps looking down at his feet, but I can see his shoulders shaking, very softly. I continue.
“And Ty… I don’t even know where to begin. There’s so much. I’ve spent so much time being just… just wrong to you. All you’ve ever done is try to be my friend, and have my back, and all I ever did was treat you like an inconvenience. But you need to know that I will always be there for you – because that’s what family does. But not just because of that. I don’t act like it, but you’re also my best friend, and you deserve better.”
For the hundredth time in the past hour, my cousin is left uncharacteristically speechless.
“And Tasha… if I’m being honest, I’m not even completely sure which reason you hate me for today, but I probably deserve it. So, I’m sorry for that too.”
There is a moment of silence so deafening that I can hear it ringing through the halls around us. Then, Tasha breaks it. There’s a loud snort, before the hallway suddenly becomes flooded with a sound that I have yet to ever hear come from Tasha Emerson until this very moment.
She’s laughing so hard that she’s crying.
“I don’t hate you, you idiot,” she manages to get out through labored breaths, wiping a tear from your eye.
“I already told you that we’re good. You should see your face, though. It’s priceless. I truly did not think that you were capable of something like that.”
She snorts a few more times before she’s finally able to reign it in and regain a semblance of composure.
I can feel all the blood rushing to my cheeks, which is only made even worse by the fact that Tasha’s laughter seems to be contagious – because now Ty is doing it too.
“Dude, I’m not mad at you, anymore,” he says. “I mean, yeah, sure. You went through my things – definitely not the best. I’ll give you that one. But I probably would have done the exact same thing If I thought you may have been kidnapped by an evil ghost. That’s just like, common sense or whatever.
“I’m just over here like, freaking out over the fact that some militant Boogey-monster-thing wants to wear me as his permanent skin suit, and you’re just doing like you always do and acting like the world revolves around you. Honestly, it’s actually kind of refreshing to see that some things always find a way to stay the same, even when the end is totally nigh.”
“But that’s not what I was trying to –” I don’t get the chance to finish defending myself before Ty cuts me off.
“Dude, we’re cool,” he says. “You’ve always been a jerk. Do you really think that I’d keep hanging around you if that was a deal-breaker? I mean, come on, Cuz. Seriously.”
My cheeks are on fire, but I just nod and accept this. Better that than to end up saying something dumb, and setting the whole situation back a few steps.
Then, I look at Bump, who has still yet to speak. His shoulders are shaking even harder now. I can see tears flowing from his incandescent, green eyes. Unlike Ty and Tasha, though, Bump isn’t laughing.
“I’m sorry too,” the pale young man says in a cracking voice. “I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to earn your trust back, and I still lost my patience so quickly. I shut your out, even though I knew that you were just lashing out. You needed me, and I just left you hanging – again.”
It dawned on me, in that moment, that anger was not the reason Bump had been avoiding my gaze since yesterday.
He felt ashamed.
I sniffle a little bit, but I don’t cry this time. I’m trying really hard to break that habit while I still can.
“I guess that we both kind of suck then, huh?” I ask.
Bump is still crying, but a small chuckle is able to work its way through the tears.
“Yeah,” he says. “Maybe we’re a perfect match after all.”
There’s a moment of knowing silence between Bump and myself before Ty, in typical Ty fashion, sucks all of the air out of the room.
“What’s going on?” he whispers to Tasha. “What am I missing”
Now, all five of us are laughing – and, as embarrassed as I still am at spilling my guts in front of the others the way that I just did, it feels good.
“No, but like, for real,” Ty insists.We all laugh even harder.