Author: MagicWords PM
I will never forget the night Charlie Evans was killed. Though I'm trying to move on, nightly visits from his ghost aren't helping. What's more, I'm finding myself growing attached to him in ways that are strictly off limits between spirits and humans. But now something sinister is after his soul, dragging him to an afterlife he doesn't deserve. Now, it's my turn to save him.HiatusRated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Horror - Chapters: 15 - Words: 52,268 - Reviews: 25 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 9 - Updated: 04-07-13 - Published: 01-17-13 - id: 3092919
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter Ten: First Move
"Would you look at the bags under your eyes? It looks as if you haven't slept in days!" Mom exclaimed as she helped herself to a second mug of coffee. Yawning, I picked at my cereal with my chin planted in my palm, elbow dug into the wooden tabletop. With difficulty, I forced my eyes open and dug my nails into my chin, allowing the sharp pain to wake me up.
"Lots of homework this semester," I lied, choking down a swallow of Lucky Charms. Mom eyed me suspiciously but refrained from asking further questions. I could tell that she was becoming sick of requesting constant clarification and was doing her best to hold her tongue.
But the truth was, Mom was right. I hadn't slept in days. Sure I had nodded off more times than I would have liked during school, but ever since Tuesday when Charlie and I had pulled our first all-nighter, I hadn't slept a wink during the night. Charlie continually came back to visit me, and even though he insisted that I get some rest, I refused. I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible, and the excitement that I felt whenever he appeared in my room launched some sort of adrenaline into me, which allowed me to stay awake.
Mornings were terrible, though. Charlie's ghost would disappear every sunrise and I was able to catch a short hour of sleep before rising for school. Unfortunately, my voluntary sleep deprivation left dark circles around my eyes and caused me to yawn every few minutes. My head felt heavy and groggy, and I could hardly concentrate on anything, but none of that mattered because I did not regret staying awake for Charlie. For three nights, I'd stayed up with him and tonight would be no different.
"Should you skip school today?" Mom asked as she sipped her coffee. Her curious eyes scrutinized me from behind her square glasses. Distantly, I shook my head, my thoughts consumed with memories of Charlie laughing at one of my jokes the night before.
"I can't really afford to miss. I'll be alright," I muttered sleepily, dropping my spoon into my empty cereal bowl. After a brief stretch, I shoved away from the table and rushed to the bathroom, where I threw my long blonde hair up into a messy ponytail, brushed my teeth, and gave myself a final onceover in the mirror. I didn't look too good, but what did it matter? The only person that I was interested in impressing only showed up after dark.
"The bus is coming!" Mom called from downstairs. Quickly I cursed, ran to my room, grabbed my backpack, and jetted back downstairs.
"Bye, Mom, love you!" I called over my shoulder, feeling like a drunk running out the front door. Because of my exhaustion, I couldn't walk in a straight line let alone make a mad dash to the bus stop. I really needed a car. Well, first I would need a job to be able to buy a car. Either way, it didn't matter. At least the ride to school gave me a chance to catch a brief cat nap with my cheek pressed against the cold glass window.
Once the bus pulled up to campus, I staggered off in pure deliriousness. I had no idea how I was going to make it through the day, but I had to try. A few tests loomed in my near future and I had to pay attention in class as much as I could. It seemed strange to me that I studied for anything anymore. After all, I understood all too well now that any moment could be your last, so it seemed sort of like a waste of time to spend what little time I had on something as meaningless as homework.
Shaking away thoughts that would no doubt get me in trouble before long, I yawned and stumbled into the school, hands stuffed in the pockets of my purple hoodie. The hall swam brightly before my bleary eyes and I felt as if I was in danger of collapsing, but before I could fall for the alluring temptation of wiping out in the middle of the hallway for the sake of sleep, a distant voice shouted out my name and stopped me.
"Layla?" I head Mike call out. Wearily, I turned around and saw him lumbering to catch up with me, parting through the sea of students with his strong arms.
"Hey Mike," I grinned once he finally approached. A surprised smile curved on his lips as he looked down at me.
"Whoa, it's been a while since I've seen that face. You must be doing better?" He asked this question in a hopeful way, and to my equal surprise, I had a positive answer to share with him.
"You know, I am. I'm exhausted, but coming around. How are you?" I asked, unable to remember the last time I'd seen Mike. I suppose it had been on Tuesday when he'd suggested renting movies with Mindy and me.
A wide smile overwhelmed his face, reaching up to his mossy eyes. I guess he really was glad that I seemed happy again. He could thank Charlie's ghost for that one. "I'm good. So hey, since you seem to be doing so well, I feel better asking you this," he said, leaning one husky shoulder against the wall of lockers beside us. I furrowed my brow as I arched my neck to look up at him. There was an odd confidence in his smile, a trait that I had never seen on his face before.
"Yeah?" I asked hesitantly, hugging my textbooks close to my chest.
"Mindy and I have been talking, and she's still pretty upset. I know you said you needed your space, but I think it's about time you two work out whatever's between you. What do you think?"
That was not what I had expected. Pleasantly surprised, I exhaled and nodded my head. Truthfully, I hadn't given Mindy a second thought since Tuesday. What with my overall exhaustion and thoughts of Charlie swirling through my head, I had pushed the real world aside selfishly.
But Mindy was my friend, and Mike was right.
"That's probably a good idea," I muttered. "Where is she anyway?"
"Probably with Harrison. Oddly enough, I think they're kind of into each other."
This statement nearly made me choke on my own spit. "What?" I asked, astounded.
Mike seemed amused at my disbelief and let loose a low laugh. With a lowered voice, he leaned in close and said, "Yeah, but you didn't hear it from me. Over the past couple days, they've been talking and, well, you know Mindy. I just hope she's not using the poor guy as a grief counselor or anything."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. For years, Mindy had claimed that Mike and Harrison would always be "those nice guys" that we hung out with. And now I was hearing it from the former's mouth that she might be hooking up with one of them?
"Dang," I whispered. "I'll have to get the scoop from her soon."
"What about tonight?" Mike asked eagerly, as if I had served him the perfect moment of opportunity. "The three of us were going to have that movie night that I told you about earlier. I was wondering if you wanted to come, too."
Something in his voice triggered and unsettling feeling deep in the pit of my stomach, but what caused me more internal grief was the fact that they would be watching movies tonight. Tonight.
"Oh," I said, chewing uncertainly on my lower lip. "I don't know. Isn't Mindy still in trouble with her parents or something?" I had to come up with an excuse.
"No, they came around, I think. At least that's what she said. Who knows if she's telling the truth?" His dark and slightly unkempt eyebrows arched in eagerness for my response.
Given any other circumstance, I would have said yes in a heartbeat, but the fact that I wouldn't be able to see Charlie severely dissuaded me from the desire to go. "I don't know," I mumbled, tucking some of the hair that had slid from my ponytail out of my face. "I'm not sure if my mom is ready to free me from house arrest."
I wasn't grounded, but Mike didn't need to know that.
Pursing his lips together, he glanced down at his heavy boots and shrugged. "You should just tell her that you're hanging out with me. She likes me."
"She does," I replied, glimpsing briefly over my shoulder in hopes that I could find a way to change the subject. "But I'm not really sure-"
"Guess I'll just have to call her and ask for you," he grinned mischievously, whipping out his beat-up cell phone from the deep pockets of his ripped jeans.
"She's working, Mike. And besides, you don't have her number!"
"I have your home phone. I'll leave a message so she can hear it when she gets home. Piece of cake."
He wasn't getting it, but of course, how could he? He didn't know about Charlie.
"No," I sighed, reaching out and physically lowering his hand with my own. His eyes darted to mine as I touched him, but I thought nothing of it. I was suddenly overcome with a powerful chill. It was so strong that I shivered from head to foot right there in front of Mike.
"Whoa," Mike croaked, staring at me carefully. I gaped and looked away, glancing around wildly for any sign of Charlie's ghost. "Are you okay, Lay?"
Scanning the hallway, I rationalized with myself. It was daytime, meaning I couldn't see Charlie, but he had told me that it was becoming easier for him to wander around during the day. Was he here now, listening to my conversation with Mike?
"Lay?" Mike asked again, lightly taking hold of my elbow. "What's going on? Are you cold?"
"No," I whispered as I shuddered involuntarily. "I just…I don't know if I'll go tonight. Mom and I may have plans-"
Another icy blast crashed into me, causing me to audibly gasp.
Mike's dark, questioning eyes bore into me like a stake being plunged into the ground. "What in the world, Lay? Do I need to get the nurse?"
Startled, I shook my head and waited for the painful iciness to subside. No longer feeling as if my body were being pushed under the depths of the deepest, coldest ocean, I breathed intensely and shook my head once more. "No, I'm fine. Maybe I'm just coming down with a cold, but--" I added fiercely before Charlie could do any more damage. Mike appeared taken aback by my emphasis, but waited confusedly nevertheless. "—it shouldn't keep me from coming tonight. Sure, I'll go," I said, finally acknowledging Mike. With his eyebrows creased in puzzlement, I shot a nasty look over my shoulder. All too easily, I figured out what Charlie was trying to communicate: he wanted me to go out with my friends. Why that was, I could not say. Perhaps he wanted to visit his family, or maybe, I thought with horrifying certainty, Charlie did not want to see me tonight.
Instantly, a tight pressure constricted my chest as I let the disappointment of my assumption wash over me.
Mike looked torn between looking pleased and bewildered. "Okay, sounds like a plan," he said slowly. Interestingly, I noticed tiny goose bumps under the dark hair on his arms. Did he feel the same chill as me, or had he even noticed? Based on his dubious expression, I'd say the latter was true.
Before I could say anything more, the bell chimed above head. I met eyes with Mike and reassured him with a tiny nod. "Yeah, I'll swing by tonight," I told him distantly.
"Cool. Around seven?"
"You've got it."
"Great," he said, although I wasn't sure if some other thought had crossed his mind. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Lay. We'll have fun tonight. Just like old times."
I swallowed and bit the inside of my lip, falling into step beside him as we headed off to our different classes. "Yeah. Guess we will all be able to take our minds off of things…"
My reluctance to even speak those words brought a bitter taste to my mouth, but I let it go dismally. For some reason, Charlie did not want to see me tonight, and that notion hurt more than anything. After all, I thought our nightly conversations were enjoyable. Whatever the reasons for his abandonment, I decided not to question them before getting a chance to talk to him. I did not want to be irrational or jump to any conclusions. I would just have to wait one more night to speak to him.
And then, he would give me an explanation.
Mike's bedroom wasn't exactly what I would call "movie friendly," but it was cozy, if you liked confined spaces and piles of dirty laundry to lean your back against. And even though the four of us had spent many nights hanging out in this room, Mike seemed somewhat embarrassed by its dirty state. With sweeping, lanky arms, he scooped up a mountain of dirty jeans and threw them under his bed while Mindy and I exchanged odd glances. Thankfully, she and I had decided to work things out. She, once again, apologized for leaving me to fend for myself at Jack's party, and I told her I was sorry for ignoring her the days after Charlie's death.
I probably would never have been able to accept her apologies if not for Charlie. I'd told him all about Mindy during one of our nightly talks, and he had advised I mend our friendship as quickly as possible. After all, he had reminded me that life is short, and it would be better to live with few regrets.
"Sorry about the mess," Mike muttered, shaking out the blankets on his extra-long twin bed.
"Dude, what are you doing?" Harrison asked from behind Mindy. I glanced back at him. With shaggy blonde hair, a razor-thin torso, and pimply cheeks, Harrison did not look old enough to be a senior in high school, but he didn't have the same boyish face as Mike. Harrison was the drummer for some terrible garage band, and he dressed the part: baggy, stained jeans, sneakers with holes in the toes, and a thermal gray sleeved shirt underneath a tee with some band logo plastered across his chest. But underneath the layers of his frumpy exterior, he was sarcastic and extremely sweet, something that I had tried to get Mindy to see for years. However, I was becoming fairly certain that recently, she had. Even though she tried to hide it, a small, sheepish grin flitted across her mouth as Harrison spoke to Mike.
"I forgot to straighten up before you guys came over," Mike replied while the three of us stood awkwardly in the doorway. As Mike shook out his crinkly sheets, I inhaled a brief whiff of something stale and rather pungent. Obviously Mike had forgotten to open his window, too.
"When have you ever cleaned for us?" Harrison asked, stepping around Mindy and me to switch on the Sony television, which sat on Mike's dresser.
"I wouldn't complain if you were a little neater," Mindy observed with a shrug of her dainty shoulders, following Harrison into the room. From over her head, I caught Mike's eyes and shrugged as well.
"Don't worry about it, Mike. Let's just pick a movie." As I said this, I suppressed a massive yawn. I had a bad feeling that I wouldn't make it through the first five minutes of the flick, but I would do my best to stay awake. If I didn't, then I would have to come up with an excuse for why I was so tired.
And the last thing I wanted to do was make up some cover-story. The extra storage space in my mind had already reached its full capacity, and I was too tired to come up with some extravagant excuse. With that, I plopped down on Mike's floor and rested my back against the foot of his bed while Mindy and Harrison squeezed into a brown bean bag chair beside me. Briefly, I met Mindy's gaze and raised my eyebrows. She managed a little eye roll in exchange and flashed me a whimsy smile. "I'll tell you later," she mouthed.
As I grinned and turned my attention to the television, Mike came and sat beside me. He left a good amount of space between us, but I noticed that his body leaned heavily to the right, as if he was discreetly closing the distance between us.
I cleared my throat and said, "So what are we watching?"
"I say we go with something funny. We could use a laugh," said Harrison, lazily flipping through the channels with Mike's remote control. Mindy nodded and stuffed her hands underneath her thighs. By her body language, I could tell that she was not completely comfortable with Harrison yet. That, or she was waiting for him to make the first move. Or even, though it was a slim possibility, she wanted to keep their budding relationship somewhat of a secret.
"You can say that again," she agreed. Quickly, she and Harrison exchanged small smiles of agreement.
I raised my eyebrows at Mike and he nodded. In a whisper, he said, "I told you so."
The four of us then decided on a movie from the stack that Mike had rented earlier that afternoon. As the opening credits rolled, the four of us fell silent, me pushed up against the side of Mike's bean bag chair. I noticed Mindy inching closer and closer to Harrison as the movie wore on, and not wanting to look like a third wheel, I braced my back against the wooden frame of Mike's bed. The only other place to lean against was into the guy himself.
I was so sleepy that I couldn't even laugh at the funny parts during the movie. My eyelids were as heavy as bricks, weighing down with crushing force over my eyes. I wanted to rest my cheek against my drawn up knees or even curl up into a tiny ball on the floor, but I did my best to resist.
Soon enough, Mike left to retrieve some snacks from downstairs and I shot up for a bathroom break. I needed to splash some cold water on my face to stay awake.
"I'll be back," I told Mindy and Harrison, realizing as well that I was about to give them some time to be alone. Knowing Mindy, this was probably the moment she had been waiting all evening for. Passing her a fleeting smile, I hurried out the door without a second glance. As I left, I thought about how the four of us were an odd group: Mindy with her exotic beauty, Harrison and his head-splitting band, Mike and his aloofness, and me, the dreamy bookworm. I supposed years of enduring friendship kept us close, but to those on the outside looking in, we must have looked like an unlikely foursome.
I shook my head as I headed down the dark hallway.
Mike's home felt like my own: small and familiar. He and I had been friends since elementary school and had shared many play-dates in this very house. I knew the creaky spots on his stairs, the small grey dinks in the wall caused by one too many Hot Wheel accidents, and the smell of the honeydew melon hand soap that his mom kept in the bathroom at the end of the hall. He really was a sweet friend, but the dull feeling in my stomach remained. Part of me knew why that was, but I didn't care to admit it to myself. My heart knew the reason.
Quietly, I stepped into the bathroom and heaved a gigantic yawn just as I shut the door behind me. I was about to switch on the light when a sudden voice broke me out of my sleepy trance.
I jumped in the air and stifled a scream of surprise with the flat of my hand. Wheeling around, I found Charlie hovering in front of the sink, his ghostly form crystal clear despite the tiny amount of moonlight shining through the square window on the far wall.
"Charlie," I gasped. However, my shock did not last long. It was replaced with pleasant surprise in a heartbeat. "What are you doing here?"
A reserved grin flitted across Charlie's lips. Eyeing me sweetly, he said, "I came for the movie. It sounded like fun."
In no way did I find this answer questionable. I smiled widely, feeling all of the worry I had rounded up earlier that day drain away. "Oh, I thought you didn't want to see me tonight."
"Of course I did. But I didn't want you to miss out on reconnecting with your friends, especially because of me," he replied with a shy shrug.
I decided not to voice my annoyance with his icy cold attack before school that morning and remain cheerful. All that mattered was that he wanted to see me now.
"Well that's a relief," I admitted, taking him in. He looked no different than usual, except he wore a slightly happier expression on his pale face. I could tell by the way his leaden eyes dimly sparked when he looked at me. The twinkle was faint, but present nevertheless. "Have you been here the whole time?"
"Pretty much," he replied as he stuffed his fists into his jean pockets. All of a sudden, a mysterious emotion crossed his face, one taut with interested curiosity. "So that guy Mike? He likes you."
As simple as his statement was, it left me gaping. Staring at him directly, I declared, "What makes you think that?"
"I can tell. He's been trying to make the first move all night. It's actually been kind of funny to watch. He tried snaking his hand behind your back like this…" He acted out the movement, using one of his lucid arms to stretch at an awkward angle behind him, mimicking both Mike's anxiety and gawkiness in one perfect motion.
I held back the desire to laugh for fear that my chuckle would resonate back to Mike's room. The last thing I needed was for my friends to think I was talking to myself.
Charlie's face lit up at my contorted smile. Dropping his arm, he scratched the back of his neck and asked the inevitable question: "So, do you like him?"
My response came fast, easily. "Oh, no. We're just friends."
"He seems nice," said Charlie, swaying slightly in front of me, as if he was trying to catch me off guard. Still, I remained resolute.
I shook my head, unwilling to believe what Charlie inferred. "Just friends," I insisted with an adamant look. Why were we even talking about Mike? That was the question I wanted to know.
"If you say so," he muttered as he tossed me a lopsided grin. With his head slightly bent and eyes peeking through the thin wisps of his bangs, my heart gave a tiny flutter. Once again, I resolved to chastise my heightening feelings. Charlie was nothing more than a ghost now, despite how badly my state of mind hated the truth in that logic, but something had happened between the two of us, and the past three nights were the reason for it. Though I hadn't come out and admitted my impractical feelings, I knew deep down in my heart that I had a crush on Charlie Evans.
Yeah, the dead guy.
With a shaky breath, I looked straight at Charlie and smiled, bunching my hands together in front of my stomach. "I'm glad you're here. I was a little worried earlier, but I guess I didn't have a reason to be. I'll be sure to save you a seat in there," I said, nudging my head behind me.
Charlie smiled. "Why, thank you. Near you, I hope?" His eyes never left mind.
Silently laughing, we stared at each other without saying a word, but when I leaned further into the room, I finally asked, "So…can I?"
Briefly, Charlie appeared confused. He searched my face as if he were digging for a joke, but when I inclined my head in the direction of the toilet, sudden embarrassment took over his expression.
"Oh…oh! Um, yeah! Wow, I'm an idiot. Gosh, sorry," he exclaimed in humiliation as he looked away from me. I stifled another laugh as he breezed past my shoulder without making physical contact. Before slipping through the closed door, he shot one last glance in my direction but turned away quickly. "Nothing says smooth quite like following a girl into the bathroom to catch her alone. I'm so sorry."
"Don't be," I told him, my smile etched into my face almost as permanently as a carved-in scar. "I'll see you later."
"See you," he said under his breath, his body disappearing through the door.
Feeling positively overjoyed, I finished my business and hurried back to Mike's room to find my three friends talking to one another quietly. It was Mindy who saw me first. Sweeping a hand through her red-tinted black hair, she sighed, "Well, it took you long enough."
"Sorry," I breathed as Mike and Harrison swiveled their necks to look at me. In Mike's eyes, I noticed a twinge of concern as he patted the empty space beside him with the palm of his hand.
"Are you alright?" he asked sincerely.
I nodded and sat down, noticing immediately that Mike had brought up a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels as well as a few cans of soda. I reached for a drink eagerly, hoping to use the can to block my wide smile.
"I'm absolutely fine," I replied cheerfully. Suddenly, I did not feel quite as tired anymore. "You didn't have to pause the movie."
"It was no big deal," Harrison insisted, raising his arm from around the back of the bean bag chair (and Mindy's shoulders) to grab the remote control. "Besides, this crappy excuse for a movie is sure to have a major plot twist coming. I can feel it." His droll sarcasm made Mindy giggle, but his words rushed past me and resulted in zero affect. Keenly, I eyed my surroundings, knowing full well that I would not be able to see Charlie in the bright light, yet that fact did not diminish how happy I was that he was near.
As my eyes scanned the cramped corners of Mike's bedroom, I felt an out of place sensation prickle the skin on my lower back. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Mike's beefy shoulder fall close to mine, leaving his arm with just enough room to stretch back behind me. His hand supported his weight and rested alarmingly close to my waist in a sort of awkward half-hug.
I swallowed, telling myself immediately that I would pretend as if I had not noticed a thing. However, I couldn't resist biting unsurely down on my lower lip in hopes that no matter where Charlie sat at that exact moment, he could tell that I did not approve of Mike's "first move."