The woman standing across the street was pretty, the only thing marring her face a bullet hole in the center of her forehead.
I hated the red light at this intersection.
“Are you even listening to me?” Josephine asked.
My eyes remained on the girl with the bullet hole in her head, but I answered, “Yes.”
She was tall and blonde, with wild hair that only belonged in the 1970’s. Her outfit confirmed at what I had guessed—her pants parachuted out at the bottom and her blouse was a funny pattern of oranges, yellows, and browns. She looked startled, then confused, when her eyes met mine. It probably wasn’t every day someone could see her.
I wished I could tell her that I didn’t understand it either.
The light turned green and Jo sped through it, leaving the cemetery behind.
“You’re not,” Jo accused.
I turned to look at my friend. She was probably much more interesting to look at than the street to anyone else but me. Long, dark hair tumbled down her back and her dancer’s body was clad in tight fitting shorts and a t-shirt.
“I’m hungry,” I said. “When I get hungry, I get spacey. The President of Mars himself could be sitting in your place and I wouldn’t give him the time of day.”
“Yeah, yeah, well I was saying,” she emphasized, “he sent me 32 texts last night while he was out with the boys.”
Jo had a long list of admirers, though her recent ex-boyfriend Kyle seemed to top the list while simultaneously winning the award for most creepy. “Tell him to stop texting you.”
“Sure, Rose. Why didn’t I think of that?”
I allowed that. For how much of a roller coaster their relationship had been, I knew that Kyle would not be swayed so easily. He thrived from the drama their relationship produced: breaking up, making up. Cheating, forgiving. An endless cycle that I was finally happy to see an end put to.
“Let me text him,” I said. “You know I’ve had a few things I’ve wanted to say to him since you first started dating.”
“No, don’t,” Jo interjected. “He’ll just get mad.”
“That’s not your problem, or mine.”
“I’ll figure something out,” she muttered as we pulled into the parking lot of our favorite local eatery. I knew that she was lonely with Kyle absent from her life, and no matter how much I crowded her, the feeling would not go away. But time heals even the worst of wounds, and time was all Jo needed.
As we sat and ordered our meals, I thought back again to the woman in the cemetery. She was, of course, dead. I’d passed by her standing in that spot for months, ever since she’d first decided to show herself to me.
It had been that way my entire life, ever since I could remember. At first, my aunt thought it was nothing more than an overactive imagination making invisible friends to play with. That is, until I’d described her mother, a woman whom I’d never met, in perfect detail. After that, it was clear that it was much more than an overactive imagination. It was a very real part of my life.
Though it was frightening notion at first, I’d slowly grown used to it. I could see the dead, sometimes even see the cause of death if it was obvious, and sometimes they could see me. They rarely showed themselves to me and rarely came near me—just simply watched. They seemed to respect my privacy, as much as they could.
Our food arrived and I tucked in while Jo typed on her phone. I watched her fingers working furiously against her phone screen suspiciously. “If you’re replying to Kyle, I’ll put your phone on my sandwich and eat it,” I told her with a full mouth.
Jo laughed and set her phone down. “Just making plans for tonight,” she assured me.
“If we have to go to Eddie’s for another one of his late-night swim parties, count me out.”
But Jo’s smile was wicked as she tucked into her wrap. “It’s much better than that.”
“I don’t like that look. One of us ends up drunk crying by the end of the night when you have that look.”
Her smile grew. “It’s on,” was all she said.
“It’s on,” Jo said again. “Ivory.”
I swallowed another bite, nervousness forming in the pit of my stomach. Ivory was a rumored club that kept popping up downtown in the city of Wichita, Kansas where they lived. It was supposed to be an all-ages club, off the books. The thought sounded less alluring to me than it did to Jo, who’d been trying to get information about its location since summer break started two weeks ago.
“Before you say no,” Jo said, “just know I’ll go without you if I have to.”
Not like I had anything better to do. If going out with Jo wasn’t an option, I was most likely going to binge a television show and eat my weight in potato chips. “No,” I said, considering my words as they left my mouth, “I’m in. But it’s my turn to drunk cry.”
Jo’s teeth flashed bright white as she grinned at me around her wrap. “You won’t regret it, Rosey girl.”
I rolled my eyes at the nickname—I’d told her it sounded like something you’d call a geriatric dog, making her want to use it all the more—and said, “I better not.”
I could see the ghosts of the dead—revenants, as I liked to refer to them as—and yet it was Jo’s dangerous smiles that always scared me the most. They always promised trouble, regardless of the circumstances. “I’m thinking you should wear red.”
Red was, in fact, what I wore.
It was satin, V-necked and shorter than I usually wore dresses, but it was “very Ivory,” according to Jo. Whatever that meant. I slipped into my most comfortable heels and admired the makeup I’d done on myself at Jo’s vanity table. I looked older than seventeen, which was the point.
I was pretty, I knew. My hair was naturally light and long. My skin was unblemished, save for the occasional zit or unwanted hair. I’d been dancing with Jo since we were little, and though I wasn’t as tall as her, my body was just as toned.
I fixed my red lipstick before looking at my phone. There was an unread text waiting from my aunt Therese when I unlocked the screen. Tell Jo I say hi, it read. See you in the morning!
My aunt had raised me since I was an orphaned infant. I don’t remember the car accident that took my parent’s lives, and Therese refused to talk about it no matter how many times I bring it up. One time she’d mused that my ability to see the dead came from my near death experience as a baby, but that was the most I’d gotten her to say on the subject.
Not that it mattered. The hole that my parents left before I’d even gotten a chance to know them wouldn’t be filled with stories. I often wondered if I’d ever seen them as a revenant—I wouldn’t even know it was my parents. The thought filled me with a dread I didn’t want to chase down.
Jo twirled in front of her full-length mirror she wore a tight, gold dress that made her look like a gilded queen. She’d curled her dark hair and framed her dark eyes with dark makeup. She picked up a drink she’d made from alcohol she’d stolen from her mother’s liquor cabinet. Her mom sold medical supplies for a living and traveled often, leaving Jo alone much of the time. Otherwise, they would have never gotten away with leaving the house dressed as they were on a Wednesday night.
“If that’s Eddie, tell him I say you look hotter than usual,” she said.
I smiled at that. I’d noticed the way Eddie had been paying more attention to me than usual. His texts had been nonstop tonight, though she wasn’t in the mood to flirt with him. “Therese says hi.”
“Saint Therese, I salute you. Tonight your niece looks like a sugar baby in need of a paycheck.”
I laughed. Jo says hi back, I texted, saying the words aloud as I typed.
Jo rolled her eyes at that. “Ready? I told Kyle’s cousin he could take a photo with us tonight and make it his profile photo if he drove us to and from the club.”
“You did not.”
She smiled as she took another drink. “Offered him twenty bucks. Just wanted to see if you’d believe me.”
I stood and straightened my dress. “Ready or not,” I said. “Let’s go.”