“Are you enjoying your Christmas break?” my mom asked both Kayla and Preston.
“It’s not bad,” Kayla said first, shrugging as she swallowed a bite of pizza. “I’ve been working extra shifts for Christmas cash. Trying to keep busy.”
“That’s good though. Have you gotten a saving’s account or anything yet to put away money that you’re making? Do you have any bills right now?”
“No, not really. I walk most everywhere so I have no need for a car or anything, but I do have a savings account. I’m not sure exactly what I’m saving for, but at least I’ll have some money when I move out.”
“True. It’s always good to save for the future because you never know when you’ll need some cash,” Mom said. “And what about you, Preston? Do you have a job back home?”
“Nope,” Preston said, shoving a big hunk of pizza in his mouth.
I laughed, “Preston doesn’t think that far ahead.”
“You should probably get on that. What are you going to do after high school? College plans?” my mom asked, taking a delicate bite of pizza and chewing thoughtfully.
“Yeah I know. Uh, I’m looking into a sport’s scholarship since I’m in football. I’m the quarterback. So, if I play my cards right, I could have a full ride to college. I haven’t decided on a major though. I still have time for that since I’m only sixteen, though,” Preston said, grabbing another slice of pepperoni pizza.
“What about you, Kai? Have you heard anything from your applications? Any plans for college?” Kayla asked, wiping her mouth with her napkin.
I took a sip of my soda before answering, “Yeah I’ve got an interview Monday with the Taco Stand. I’m going to major in something art related since I love to draw, but I haven’t figured out my major either.”
“Yeah I don’t know what I’m doing or if I’m going to college either. I’m not even sure I have any talents or interests besides wanting to get out of this town,” Kayla said with a small smile, pushing her plate to the side.
“Well I’m sure you guys will figure things out. You’re what? A sophomore Kayla?”
“Yes, Ms. Bishop,” Kayla said shyly, looking awkward with attention focused on her.
“Hannah, please. You all are beginning to make me feel so old,” my mom laughed as she polished off her soda.
“You’re not old,” Preston said with a chuckle that turned into a belch. He covered his mouth saying, “Sorry, excuse me. That came out of nowhere.”
We all laughed, picking up our dishes to put in the sink as Mom boxed up the food to put it away in the fridge. I loaded them in the dishwasher as Kayla rinsed them off, leaving Preston to help my mom put stuff away and clean up the table.
“Thanks mom. I’m stuffed,” I said, adding a detergent pack and turning on the dishwasher.
“Yes, thank you,” Preston said.
“Thanks so much,” Kayla said, rinsing out the sink, “I had fun.”
“You can stay for a movie or something if you want to. I’m going to go hang out in my room for a while. I’m beat, especially with these double shifts I’ve been pulling. I’ll probably go to bed early.”
“Okay sounds great, thanks,” Kayla said with a huge smile.
“Yes,” Preston said gleefully, pumping his fist in the air.
I laughed at Preston’s excitement, “Night mom.”
“Night,” both Preston and Kayla said quickly, waving to her as she went in her room.
“What movie do you two want to watch?” I asked, flipping through my Netflix Que.
“Um, how about that one? I’m in the mood for funny,” Preston suggested, pointing to a movie on the screen.
Kayla’s eyes lit up, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that one. It’s supposed to be really good.”
“Sure. Yeah, sounds good,” I said as we all parked our butts on the spacious couch, Kayla in the middle.
As we settled in for the movie, my gaze veered off towards the bay window. I spotted Jude watching from afar, but not even trying to talk to me. I got a pang of excitement as I observed him watching. As soon as he noticed me looking at him, though, he flicked his gaze away quickly and disappeared out the window. All I could think about for a while was how sad and lost he looked by himself.
The circles under his eyes had gotten darker somehow. If he were alive, I would think it was because he wasn’t sleeping. Since he was a ghost, I could only assume that it was somehow connected to his emotions or something. I tried to immerse myself in the movie, but I had a hard time concentrating. I vaguely remember random scenes of the movie and my friends laughing, but I couldn’t shake the haunted image of Jude sitting there in the window seat by himself moments ago.
“I’m going to get some water,” I said, getting up to try to collect myself.
Neither of them acknowledged that I had said a word, adding to the vast sense of loneliness I was already feeling in that exact moment. I stood in front of the fridge, with the door open, staring inside as I zoned out. I was so engrossed in my thoughts, that I didn’t hear him sneak up on me.
“Hey,” said Jude near my ear, causing me to jump and my heart to start racing.
“Oh my god!” I squeaked out in a high pitched voice, startled by his sudden presence by my side, “Don’t do that.”
His laughter rumbled low in his throat, making my nerves vibrate, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
I closed the fridge to look at his face next to mine. He looked sick. Could ghosts look sick? His pained expression gave me pause as I licked my lips.
“It’s okay. Are you alright? You look different.”
“I’m not sure,” he admitted softly, “I feel this strange sense of urgency. Like I’m running out of time or something, but I know what it means or what I’m supposed to find.”
His wide eyes told of a childlike innocence, “Have there been any clues? Do you remember anything that could be significant?”
“You. I remember how I keep getting drawn to you and I remember my name. I’m afraid something terrible happened to me and now I’m running out of time.” His glacier eyes were wild and fearful as he raised his curled up hands in front of my face for emphasis.
“You’re drawn to me? But why?” I asked out loud, my brows furrowed as I leaned back against the counter.
He paused, his eyes shifting around the room and his head cocked to the side as if he was listening for something. I peeked into the living room, expecting Kayla or Preston to be coming by the way Jude was acting, but the were still on the couch side by side giggling at something. In fact, from where I stood, I could see them holding hands as if they were on a date by themselves. I felt simultaneously disgusted, amused and sad.
“I don’t know,” he finally said in a hushed whisper, grabbing for my hand, but grasping nothing.
I didn’t know what to say or how to comfort hi. I stood there watching him raise his hands to examine them, flipping them over and frowning.
He finally looked up at me, his eyes haunted once more as he whispered in a pained tone, “It’s all your fault.”
“What?” I asked in confusion.
“Everything. It’s all your fault!” Jude shouted as he rose in the air and his hands curled into fists.
“My fault?” I repeated, trying to wrap my brain around the nonsense he was spewing forth.
The walls began to shake the lights started to flicker, just like that one dream I had. The windows rattled and the room spun as I was lifted violently into the air, revolving around Jude’s orbit, my legs kicking ass they dangled. Someone was calling my name, shouting something at the top of their lungs, but I couldn’t make out what it was that they were saying. I spun round and round, papers flying in the air right alongside me as I struggled to catch my breath.
“It’s. All. Your. FAULT!” Jude screamed at me like a deranged monster off his meds, a vein popping out in his neck, his eyes narrowed into angry little slits as they zeroed in on me.
“Kai! Oh my god, Kai!” Kayla shouted into the vortex of the tornado that had started in my kitchen due to a ghostly temper tantrum.
I shook my head to try to ward her off, not wanting her to get caught up in the madness that I had been sucked up into. It seemed to work since she was just standing there now, staring openmouthed as Preston sidled up beside her with about the same sort of expression on his face. I strived to breathe, squirming against the onslaught of the vacuum that was stealing all my air, gasping for oxygen.
“Jude,” I whispered hoarsely, attempting to reason with the malevolent spirit before me. “Please let me go.”
“Why should I? Nothing will change. At least this way I can have you!” Jude screamed at me, clearly straining to keep the big display of power going for as long as he could.
“We’ll figure it out. This isn’t what I want.” I groaned, my breathing labored, my strength running out as I delivered one last plea for my life, “Please, don’t kill me. If you do, I’ll never forgive you.”
With that, he dropped me like a sack of potatoes, without so much as a moment’s hesitation. I fell to the floor with a thud, both Kayla and Preston running towards me to help me up. Both of them bombarding me with questions so fast that I couldn’t even figure out who was asking me what, let alone come up with a coherent response.
“Are you okay?”
“Oh my god.”
“What was that?”
“I think he’s in shock.”
“Did you just fly?”
“That was so cool.”
I stood there, staring at Jude, who backed away in horror, his eyes clouding up with tears. Could ghosts cry? I wasn’t meant to find out. He collapsed within himself, fading from reality, leaving only his heart wrenching sobs behind to prove to me that he was indeed real.
“Wait!” I cried, reaching out towards where he had been, knowing it was already too late. He was gone. But for how long?
“What the heck is going on down here you guys? I have work in the morning.” Mom padded down the stairs, annoyance filling her voice and astonishment in her gaze as she looked around. “I don’t even want to know who made this mess or why you did it. Just clean it up. Now. And get that cat out of here. We don’t even have a litter box.”
I hadn’t even noticed that the little black creature was sitting in the living room archway looking at us like the stalker that it was. It let out an annoyed meow and disappeared out the kitchen window. The three of us didn’t say anything and we silently watched my mom go back upstairs. We waited until her creaking footsteps receded and her door closed with a dull thud before we even so much as dared to breathe. We all exhaled as one collective breath.
Both of them took turns looking at one another and then at me, while I couldn’t look away from the last place that I saw Jude, my mouth still hanging open. I could hear them talking, their voices sounding like they were underwater or something. I tuned them out. I knew I should be mad at Jude for the things he said and for what he had done to me, but in some strange way, I understood why he did it. I would snap too if I was stuck wandering the earth in search of clues to my identity and how I had died. That was no way to exist. I vowed right then and there to help him if I could. There had to be something I could do, but what?