Yay, new story. This will be a bit different than my other one, but I got this weird idea and just had to run with it. I suppose some of it is based on an oldfriend of mine who passed away about a year and a half ago of brain cancer, but only a bit of it. I had been best friends with her when we were younger, and then we just drifted apart, but I still cared about her, and was affected by it. It's just not fair sometimes who dies, you know? She was one of the best human beings I have ever known, and so it just didn't seem right. So anyway. This isn't going to really be about death, but it will be kind of interesting, I think.
Please review! I really want to keep going with this, so tell me if it's any good. :D
Thanks, and enjoy.
It was always Eva and Nicole, ever since elementary school. Me being the 'Nicole' part of the equation. We went through every phase together, with countless little half-hearts proclaiming "BEST" or "FRIENDS" dangling from our charm bracelets, matching nail polish, and lickable, candy-flavored lip gloss. She was always vanilla, I was always strawberry.
Eva had long wavy hair the color of dark chocolate, with deep brown eyes and a sheen coating over each that seemed to catch all the light around her and reflect it, as though every shimmering beam was hers to begin with.
She and her family all spoke Spanish as a first language, immigrating to the United States from Colombia when she was two. They moved to the townhouse next door to us, and that was all the introduction we needed to become BFF.
We complimented each other like yin and yang. Her thick wavy hair stood out next to my stick-straight blonde locks. I could be counted on to be the sweet, quiet girl, while Eva was unpredictable.
We were popular in school, not because we tried to be, but because we didn't. Together, there was a little something in us that everyone could like, and so gradually we grew to be known and liked by our entire class by sophomore year. Our school was pretty small though, considering we lived in a suburb of Philadelphia, far enough away to be unaffected by daily commuters. We didn't particularly care what anyone thought of us outside of ourselves, and for some reason, we were well-liked for it. God knows why though, since we were the biggest dorks on the face of the Earth whenever we were able.
Eva was lying on her old Power Rangers comforter in her room, her long hair splashed about her face like a wreath. I sat on the bed, the humid air an indication of the summer to come. Her pink Venetian blinds sliced the sunlight into slivers that shattered upon entering the room, and diffused into a hazy glow. She looked at me like she had something to say, but didn't want to say it.
"Man, Dave was so hot at the pool today. He has like, twelve pack abs or something I swear," she said.
"Oh yeah, I know. He's going to Penn State though, right?"
"Yeah. Too bad we're still in high school for another year. I can't believe we're going to be Seniors, Nicki."
"Yeah," I said. Eva's eyes turned glassy and she looked away.
"Nicki…" Eva trailed off. I knew her well enough to get worried at the tone in her voice.
"What? Is something wrong, Eva?" Her brown eyes snapped back to mine and before I knew it, they started to fade.
The light in her face was replaced by something gray, monochrome. Her hair was gone, her head wrapped in white.
The humid, blushing May air was bleached, turned sterile in a new room with no windows save for the one embedded in a fake wooden door. Eva looked like a doll left on a shelf for too long, pale, stiff, covered in dust. A transparent tube snaked out of the crook of her elbow and channeled liquid from an oblong plastic bag.
I still sat next to her, but she was half-gone.
Her fading eyes spoke to me like her weak voice couldn't, but they weren't sad. She was trapped. She knew it, I knew it. I had brought her photographs of friends, of places she knew, of things she'd never get to see. It wasn't enough.
She never told me so, because I knew she appreciated our efforts, and didn't want us to be sad for her, but I knew that it broke her inside to have the knowledge she had. That she could never go to college, get married, have children, grow old; because of a brain tumor.
It was the kind of thing that only happened to people who drew the short end of the stick, that got the wrong lotto numbers. Brain cancer wasn't preventable, and wasn't fair to those who got it. By the time she went to the doctors, there was nothing they could do.
I spotted a handwritten list on the bedside table titled "Things I Need to Do Before I Die." It mocked the both of us, showing her things that at this point she couldn't do. It was too late for her now, and the boxes would go unchecked forever.
The two of us had stayed up until past sunrise to think of a top ten list, back when she was ambulant. Before she crashed. I knew the list pained her, and it pained me to think of it, but it also gave her hope, I think. Something to look forward to, in either of our lives.
I blinked, and when I saw her again, I was standing next to her. Her eyes were closed. They had given her a wig, with the same kind of bounce and thickness as her own, but the shine was gone, and the curls went the wrong way.
Hers went counter-clockwise.
The color in her face was drained and painted over with make-up. I looked away, knowing that I never wanted to remember that image. The image of Eva lying in her coffin. I squeezed my eyes shut, thinking back to the Power Rangers bedspread and vanilla lip gloss.
Anything but the lifeless shell in the casket.
There was a burning from somewhere behind my eyes but I willed it away. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to show her that I was strong. That I could be the person she would have wished me to be.
That I could stay strong without her.
"But you're not without me, silly."
I opened my eyes to find nothing. I could describe the nothing—blackness, void, vacuum—it wasn't anything other than that.
"Eva? Is that you?" I said. Then she was there, standing ten feet away in her favorite outfit. The maroon embroidered top I picked out for her when we went shopping one time, and her favorite skirt, of which I owned a matching clone. I hadn't worn it since she died.
It was a pale pink, flowing down to her knees, so that it waved when she twirled. Her hair fell to past her shoulders, coiled in neat curls, counter-clockwise, and the light from her eyes made the dark infinity seem inconsequential compared to her. She smiled like I hadn't seen for over a year, without a care.
"Duh. Who else would be talking to you in your dreams? Oh, maybe you were hoping for that sexy Michael? He's quite a looker this year, isn't he? If only I weren't dead!" She laughed, and I felt myself pulled up mentally, like she had helped me up after a hard fall just with the sound.
"Dream?" I asked. She nodded.
"Yep. Sorry. I'm not a zombie or anything. But let's not waste time on mindless chatter. No pun intended. I have something muy importante to discuss with you, Nicki." I hadn't realized how much I missed the way she said my name.
"What?" I said. I had the feeling I should let her do the talking.
"Well, as you can see, I am currently interfering in the real world. That means that I have not yet passed over into the other world. I can't really go into detail there, because mortals aren't supposed to know about that, but basically, I have to pass over if I want to move on, or else."
"Or else what?"
"Or else what exactly. I don't particularly want to find out," she said. It felt like any other conversation I'd had with her in the fifteen years I'd known her.
"What do you have to do?" I wanted to run to her and hug her, tell her how much I'd missed her, but my dream mind was keeping me restrained.
"I need your help," she said. For the first time since the beginning of our conversation, she looked something other than content and happy. She looked worried. I didn't know what there was for her to worry about.
"Anything," I answered without hesitation. She smiled.
"Do you remember that stupid list we made up? The things I needed to do before I died?" I nodded, or tried to, since I didn't quite know where my body was. "Remember how we never checked a single thing off?" Her smiled faltered.
"There's a…rule here. Some byline or code or whatever. I don't really understand it. The thing is, though, I need to complete the list," said Eva. She looked anxious, and her fingers had clenched in front of her. "This may not make any sense to you, but I said I needed to do those things, and so I must."
"Okay, but how am I supposed to help?" She smiled again, the kind of smile that meant she was going to ask something big, and even though she should know there was no way I would refuse, a hint of doubt remained in her eyes. "Whatever it is, I'll do it. You know I will."
"I know you will," she looked down for a moment. "Okay. I have to do everything on the list, but, as you can see, it will be a bit hard for me to ride a roller coaster or take cooking classes in this state." I laughed, thinking back to the things we wrote down. "So, I have to sort of, place myself in your heart. And then, you do all the things on the list, therefore making me do all the things on the list. It's kind of weird and complicated, I know. It's sort of like the literal meaning of living vicariously."
Eva looked unsure, and I could understand why. I knew that she needed me to do this, but I also knew that she would rather have lived long enough to experience those things first-hand. But if her life, or afterlife, depended on my help, I would do anything she needed, no matter what. She was my best friend forever, and we took those kinds of things seriously. I couldn't let her down.
"So how does this work, Eva? Is there some voodoo chant we have to do or something?"
"So you'll do it?"
"Of course. Was there any doubt?" Eva beamed at me, and it reminded me that she was still gone. But this, anything was better than never seeing her smile again.
"Oh!" she squealed. "This is going to be great. Really. But first I have to tell you some things about this arrangement. They don't do this often, so there are some ground rules. One is that I can have some semblance of control over you if I feel like it, but only in order to complete an objective.
"Two is that I have to return to…wherever I am now for six hours a day, and for those six hours, you will be asleep. It starts at midnight, so don't be doing anything then, because you'll just fall asleep in the middle of it. And also, during that time, you can talk to me like we are now.
"Three is that you will have to wear this ring in order for me to experience what you experience," she pulled out a thin silver band, "so you can take it off when you, like, go to the bathroom and stuff because I don't really need to experience that. Gives you some privacy. Otherwise, keep it on all the time, including when you sleep."
"Is that all?" I asked. Eva bit her lip and cocked one eye, thinking.
"Yep! Oh! Except that you have exactly six weeks, from midnight last night, to complete the list. When you wake up from this dream, it will be six AM and you can get to work! And you can complete it in any order." Something suddenly occurred to me. Sixes? Afterlife? Could it mean…nah.
"I know what you're thinking, and no, the sixes don't mean I'm going to Hell. It's just a nice, round number. To be honest, pretty much every religion got it completely wrong," she said, shrugging. "And oh yeah, I will be able to read your mind, but only when you choose to let me. You'll get what I mean later, or at least they said you would. I don't really know, but they're trustworthy."
"Who's 'they?'" Eva pursed her lips.
"Them," she shrugged. "Like I said, I can't tell you much about the details."
"Okay," I said, not knowing what else I could say. Eva walked toward me, and I could see the apprehension in her features. Also there, though, was her trust in me.
"Give me your hand." My body was there, as though it had always been present in my mind, just that I hadn't needed it until then. I complied, and she dropped the silver ring into my hand. "Right index finger. Don't ask why, because I don't know why, but you have to wear it on your right index finger."
I slid the cool metal onto the required finger, but nothing happened. I looked at it strangely for a moment, expecting some special effect or flash of light to accompany it, but Eva still stood in front of me, and we were still both standing in a void.
"Now what?" I said, looking Eva in the eye. She giggled.
"Always the impatient one, aren't you?" She reached forward to hug me, and if I was expecting to hug a ghost, I was wrong. She was warm and breathing again, and her clothes smelled of vanilla and wrinkled softly in my hands. I hugged her as tightly as I could, afraid she would vanish into thin air and leave me. I could feel the tears I refused to shed at her funeral suddenly pressing at my eyelids, but they were now tears of relief, gratefulness.
"I missed you so badly, Eva. You've been dead for a month, but…you were gone before that, weren't you? I didn't know what I would do without you."
"I wasn't gone. I was with you the whole time, you know that. Even after I died. And once this is all done, I'll still be with you, watching over you. I'll always be in your heart, Nicole. Always. The afterlife is complicated, and I can't tell you much about it, but know that we stay with the ones we love. In this world, in the other one. Forever."
I cried on her shoulder until I convinced myself that she was real, that this dream was real, and that when I woke up, all the things she said would be true. I didn't know how I was going to say goodbye to her again after six more weeks, but at least we would have that.
She pulled away when I had calmed down, but held both of my hands in hers.
"Ready?" she asked. I nodded. "Close your eyes."
I suddenly got that feeling like when you trip over your feet in a dream and wake up bracing for the impact of the pavement, still on your back, under the sheets. It was like a piece of my stomach had fallen out and I was hurtled forward without it. But either way, when I opened my eyes again, I was staring at my own ceiling, in my own bed, with my own fan whirring around in lazy circles above me, passing parcels of cool air in my direction.
I sighed. It all was a dream, right? So none of it could be real. I guess my grief was causing me to hallucinate now.
"Nope!" My eyes shot open in alarm, and I slammed my left hand over my mouth. Was that…?
"I guess you found the way to let me read your thoughts, huh? And I've found the way to control you! This counts because you have to know that it's real before you complete any of the tasks. But don't worry, I won't abuse my power. Too much." My mouth was being controlled, I knew that much, and it was rather disconcerting, to say the least.
I tried to open and close my inner monologue. It was a pretty strange thing to think about, but after a while, I think I got the hang of it. I opened my mind and thought: blink once if you hear me. I blinked once, unconsciously. I closed my mind and thought: blink twice if you hear me…Good. Nothing. 'They' must have been right.
I lifted my right hand in front of my face and saw the gleaming silver band winking in the half-sunlight of the June morning. That was a good thing, I thought openly, that I had just graduated and my next six weeks were going to be empty. I nodded, not of my own volition. I wondered when Eva would stop doing that, and she stopped. Good. I figured I would talk to her at night, when I go to sleep. It was weird enough to be possessed, essentially, without having to worry about my body being taken over.
Getting out of bed, I turned on my desk light. There was a framed photograph of Eva on there, from before she got sick. I shook my head and sighed.
"Oh, the things I do for friendship." I said, this time in my words. Then I remembered where I had put the list.
There was a cardboard box, taped closed, sitting on the floor in my room next to the wall. It was filled with some of Eva's things. I hadn't dared to open it, or even look twice at it, because of the memories, but this was necessary. I knew that Eva wouldn't come back, that she wouldn't become living again, but the memories were less painful knowing that she was still with me.
I grabbed a pair of scissors and slid the blade down the crease. I ripped the flaps open and sat back on my heels. The first thing in the box was Eva's hospital bracelet.
My eyes grew foggy with tears and I blinked them away, focusing more on the task at hand.
"It's okay, Nicki. Don't be sad, I'm right here." She said, out of my mouth. I nodded and sifted through the contents of the box, a pair of pajamas, a book, a stuffed animal, some jewelry and make-up, and then, at the bottom, written on notebook paper with a hot pink gel pen, was the list.
"Okay, here we are," I said. "Things I Need to Do Before I…Die." I moved back to the edge of my bed and cleared my throat.
"Number one: Ride the Supersonic Swashbuckler 5000 roller coaster—in the front seat." I laughed at the cheesy name we based our decision on. Who wouldn't want to ride that?
"Number two: Donate blood." That one was more of a pipe dream for Eva, something she could only do if she was able to stop taking her medicine. Only if she got better. I could do it though.
"Number three: See all six Star Wars movies back-to-back." The DVD for Episode III came out in the last few weeks, so can-do for that one too.
"Number four: Take cooking lessons. Preferably dessert cooking lessons." As long as that one stayed vague about actual cooking abilities by the end, that one was fine.
"Number five: Get Mom a pet." I smiled, although I felt a coldness within me. Eva's mother had taken her death badly, and Eva knew it.
"Number six: Spend a week in New York City." Well I could hardly object to that one. We both loved the city.
"Number seven: Visit the Cadbury chocolate factory." The factory was in England, but I was sure there would be a way to do that. Might need to start saving up for a flight, though.
"Number eight: Watch a meteor shower from a mountaintop." I hoped there was a meteor shower coming soon. "There is," came the reply. Well, that one should be okay, then.
"Number nine: See my sister's dance recital." I read this one with a slow sadness, because her recital was in July. Eva didn't live to see June.
"And…Number ten: Fall in…love."