They say you grow around your name, though my name was Grace, and I was anything but graceful. I had broken my left arm in three places, tripped over a total of fifty times in three months, fractured my ankle, and cracked my head open at least once. I was broken, and not just physically. A few months ago, my mother had died of cancer, and what was broken then (I hate to use such a cliché, but it's true) hadn't healed.
My friends had been brilliant, and my dad had coped better than I had anticipated, besides becoming a workaholic and burying his sorrows in his work, but then he was always like that. I guess because we had known for some time that the inevitable outcome was death, it lessened the blow somewhat. However, to my complete annoyance, everyone was channelling their sympathies towards me. If I was silent for more than thirty seconds, I would be asked if I was okay.
"Are you okay, Gracie?" Sarah asked. I stopped staring into space and smiled at her.
"Yes, I'm fine," I insisted. She smiled back with a sad look in her big brown eyes. I didn't want to have a go at her again for pestering me. The last time I did that, I felt horrible afterwards. It was just in her nature to be caring; after all, she was my best friend.
"Well, if you don't want to come to the party tonight, I'll totally understand..."
"What? Of course I want to come!"
That was the other thing. Everyone assumed that I would have no social life now, and that it would be totally acceptable if I didn't. Nobody invited me to parties, and even Sarah was reluctant to invite me to hers. I wasn't about to become an agoraphobic hermit.
"Okay... if you're sure," Sarah said, biting her lip.
"Sarah, it's the first party I'm going to in months! Please let me be there without feeling guilty that you're worrying about me and not having fun."
"Fine," she sighed, managing a sincerely happy smile instead of a sympathetic one.
At the party, I was starting to regret going. Not because I was hit with a sudden sense of grief and loss and felt like crying. No, I felt like throwing up. I had drunk way too much, in my attempt to make up for not drinking at all for the past year or so, but it wasn't such a good idea. People were starting to look at me and whisper. They thought I was drowning my sorrows in alcohol after my mother's death. I wanted to laugh at the accusations, but then I vomited, though thankfully I had got to the bath just in time.
I felt someone's hands pull the hair away from my face, and then I remember nothing until waking up the next day in Sarah's bed.
"Wha' 'appened?" I asked groggily. I was in a pair of her pyjamas though I still tasted vomit in my mouth mixed with alcohol.
"You passed out," Sarah said, standing fully dressed next to the bed.
"Wha' time issit?"
"3 in the afternoon," she replied cheerfully. I groaned. "Get up, sleepy head."
That day I spent at Sarah's, watching movies, eating junk food, and trying to make myself feel alive before school the next day. A day I hoped would never come.
"Hey Grace! Awesome party on Saturday!" a boy said to me in the hall at school. I recognised him, but had never spoken to him before. My eyebrows knitted together.
"Sarah, what happened exactly after I passed out?" I asked her at lunch.
"Oh, some boys helped me carry you to my room, then I cleaned and changed you and put you to bed," she said cheerfully. Then I felt like crying, probably also due to watching The Notebook, Titanic and a few other romantic love story movies the day before.
"You did all that? For me?" I asked, choking up.
"Oh don't go all soppy on me, you would've done the same thing," she insisted.
I think I hugged Sarah about a hundred times that day.
Later on, in the corridor, my mood deteriorated rapidly from that warm fuzzy feeling I had inside. I fell over... again, though it wasn't, for once, due to my own clumsiness. It was because someone else had tripped me over, from what I could tell, on purpose.
I was late for class. There was nobody in the hall. I was running, probably a bad idea in itself, when out of nowhere somebody appeared and I went flying. All I remember is seeing a blinding light. I had gotten so used to falling over that I didn't even open my mouth to scream; a sarcastic voice in my head just sighed and said: here we go again...
Even from my undignified position on the floor, I still spat at my assailant, "What the hell is wrong with you?!"
"Me?! You're the one who was running in the halls!" the person, male from what I gathered even though I was facing the other way, apologised. I suddenly regretted my words, as the man sounded like a teacher, though when I turned around, however, I saw a boy about my age. I scowled.
"I'm late to lesson! Nobody else is supposed to be around!" I said, eyeing him suspiciously.
"I'm around," he said smugly.
"Are you skipping lessons?" I asked, trying not to sound curious and keep my anger boiling.
"I don't go here," he replied, and laughed at my confused expression.
"Then what are you doing here?"
"I came to see you," he said, as if he were my oldest friend and this were the most normal thing in the world. I blinked, looking him up and down to make sure I didn't know him.
"Seriously, what's your deal? I've never seen you before," I laughed, walking away.
"Wait!" he said, and I turned back to face him. "I know this may sound insane..." he hesitated.
"I'm listening," I said, my eyebrows poised.
"I'm your guardian angel," he said, not sounding too convinced himself. I burst into laughter, and it only occurred to me then that I didn't know his name.
"What's your name?"
"Austin, I think you should go home and see a psychiatrist," I said, sobering up.
"Like you do?" Austin asked sarcastically.
"H-how?" I stuttered. I wondered if he knew Sarah, the only person who knew I saw a psychiatrist after my mother's death, but then wondered why Sarah would tell some random person my business. He didn't look like the type Sarah would go for, with messy dark hair, baggy jeans, a t shirt emblazoned with some band that I had never heard of, and a red beanie. Definitely not her type.
"I know a lot about you, Grace Moore, and I know your mother died three months ago," he said, that annoying sympathy in his eyes.
"Yeah, well, what does it matter if the whole entire world knows? Won't make a difference," I spat.
"It matters that I know, because I'm here to help you, whether you like it or not, even whether I like it or not," Austin replied. I wasn't really paying attention to his words at the time; I just wanted him to leave me alone.
"Come on, who sent you, Dr Gill?" I asked, desperate to know whether he was in cahoots with my psychiatrist or what.
"Well, I don't exactly know who sent me... I guess whoever's in charge," he shrugged, jerking his thumb towards the ceiling.
"So you claim you're an angel, but don't know whether there's a god..." I said sceptically.
"No," he said, frustratedly. "Look, I know that when you were six you broke your arm while on holiday in Spain, when you were ten you fractured your skull falling off monkey bars, and when you were told your mother was going to die you didn't eat for three days."
I was white as a sheet. "My dad sent you didn't he? Are you one of his friend's sons?" I asked.
"No! I've never met your dad, I lived miles away from here," Austin said.
"Yes, I'm dead. And it's my job to help you, so please let me do it!"
"Prove it," I said, putting my hands on my hips.
He glanced upwards, "A little help here?!"
I half expected light to descend through the ceiling and an invisible chorus to begin to sing hymns. However, when nothing happened, and I looked down, Austin was gone.
And I was extremely late for lesson.
I didn't think fully about the encounter until I got home later, being swamped with work at school. I almost hoped that Austin would appear again, as being at home alone every day was such a bore. My dad worked late most days, and so I was left to entertain myself. I was scared out of my skin, though, when I walked into my room and Austin was there, inspecting the photographs on my desk.
"Your mom was pretty," he said, as if I had let him in and showed him up to my room casually a few moments before. I blinked, then realised what he had said. I was thankful he used the word "pretty" instead of "hot" like most guys I knew had. He had changed clothes since I last saw him. His t shirt was a light blue colour this time, like his eyes, and his beanie had disappeared.
"Thanks," I said, not really knowing what to say. "Er, what are you doing here?"
"I told you, I was sent to help you get over your mother's death," he said matter-of-factly. It was only then I started to register slight resentment in his voice. Here I was, alive, acting like a spoilt brat, when all he had to live for has been taken away from him.
"Who's sick idea was it that the dead can help you get over death?" I asked. Austin shrugged.
My stomach grumbled, and Austin smiled.
"Go and eat, I don't mind," he smiled. I felt the urge to ask him all sorts of questions, but refrained. Respect for the dead, and all that.
When I returned, he was gone again, and I felt the sense of crushing loneliness envelope me once more.
The next day, Sarah noticed something was off. Maybe it was the fact that I was constantly jumpy, looking around for any sign of Austin. Was he really just a figment my imagination? At lunch, I jumped whenever someone called my name, put their hand on my shoulder, or came up behind me.
"What's up, Gracie?" she asked.
"Nothing, I'm just tired that's all," I lied.
"You look pretty awake to me," she shrugged, but didn't press the matter.
I was beginning to lose all hope by the time I got home. But sure enough, inside my living room, was Austin, in a black shirt, with his feet on my mother's coffee table.
"Hey!" was my first reaction, "Feet off the table!"
"You're not the boss of me!" Austin replied.
"You're not very good at your job are you? Helping me, that is," I pointed out sarcastically.
"Hey, I didn't ask for this," Austin snapped.
"Well then quit," I retorted.
"I can't," he mumbled.
"It's sort of like, community service," he said begrudgingly.
"What, to get you into heaven?" I laughed.
"Are you kidding me?"
"Why would I joke about something like that?" he asked, and had a pretty good point.
"What's it like, being dead?" I asked, curiosity getting the better of me. I felt he needed to confront his demons as much as I needed to confront mine.
"Oh, it's great, you get to eat all you want without getting fat even though you're dying of hunger, you don't have to sleep even though you're dead tired, so you can watch TV for 24 hours straight, and even longer, and nobody can see you so you can do whatever the hell you like but you can't talk to anyone," he spat.
"I can see you," I said, though my voice felt small after Austin's loud rant.
"Yeah, well, you're the only one," he whispered, so quietly I almost didn't hear.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
"It's not your fault," he sighed, and then disappeared. I was sort of getting used to it by now.
A few hours later, my dad arrived home.
"Have a good day, kiddo?" he asked me, glancing through the paper. I heard the front door open and had run downstairs to check if it was Austin. The sarcastic voice in my head asked: but why would he ever need to use doors?
"Oh, hi dad, it was erm, good," I said. He smiled at me. That was the entirety of our interaction for the evening. I had already eaten, and so my dad ate a burger in front of the Soccer on TV whilst I studied. I was all geared up, with my studying hat on, when I found Austin lying on my bed, flipping through my diary.
"Hey!" I yelled, then realised my dad could probably hear me, and lowered my voice. "Gimme that!"
"No, I need to know all about you, this helps," Austin said, holding my diary out of reach when I tried to grab it.
"I thought you knew all about me already, being an angel and whatnot, didn't they give you a briefing on my life already?" I asked.
"This is for extra bits they may have missed," he grinned. "Oh, and sorry about earlier," he said, more seriously, "I went to check out how my family was doing and, well, I wasn't in a good mood afterwards."
"It's fine," I said, feeling that rush of sympathy in my veins. Maybe that was what everyone else felt towards me, I thought. "H-how were they? Your family I mean," I asked, too afraid to at first in case he didn't want to tell me. I just felt I could identify with what they were going through. I wondered if my mother was their guardian angel, then pushed the idea out of my head.
"They were great, my funeral was yesterday and my parents keep crying, my older brother is blaming himself for killing me in the car accident and oh, my cat can see me and misses me like hell," Austin said in that bitter tone, and my gut wrenched with guilt once more. A stuttered apology arose to my lips, but I fought it down. It was then that I heard a faint purring sound under my bed.
"What's that?" I asked, knowing full well what it was but not wanting to believe it.
"I'm sorry," Austin said sheepishly, "he followed me here."
"I can't keep a cat!" I hissed, but it was already making itself at home in my bed covers.
"Gracie, you alright up there?" my dad called. I whirled around to my door, afraid it would open any minute. When I turned back around, Austin was gone, but the cat remained.
"Everything's fine, dad!" I yelled back.
That night I slept with the cat in my arms. I have to admit, it beat being lonely, and I had stopped sleeping with cuddly toys when I was eleven.
The cat was surprisingly well behaved, and liked me well enough, however when Austin was around it was a different story. Austin was the cat's first love, and I simply could not compare. He came to visit it often, and I learnt, after three days of keeping it, that its name was Jasper .
"Jasper the cat?" I asked sceptically. It didn't look like a "Jasper" to me at all.
"My younger brother named it," Austin shrugged. I immediately felt awkward talking about his family. It made me upset just thinking about them.
"What's Jasper's favourite food?" I asked, scratching Jasper behind the ears. The past three days he had been simply known as "Cat" to me, and calling him Jasper felt strange. "I've just been feeding him leftovers the past few days, I haven't been out to buy any cat food."
"He likes fish," Austin said, stroking Jasper whilst I wrote down a list of all the things I needed to buy for him.
"I'm going to be so broke because of this cat..." I sighed.
"I can help with that if you want," Austin said, throwing a huge wad of cash down on the bed. Jasper began to play with it as if it were a ball of yarn. I snatched it up.
"What's this? Where did you get it?" I demanded to know.
"My old account," he shrugged. "Waste not, want not."
I was gobsmacked. This would go a lot further than the cost of keeping a cat.
"If you think this qualifies as 'helping me', you know this is cheating and you're going about it all wrong, right?" I warned him. He simply sat back on my bed, propping his head up with his arms.
"Right," he grinned, "but it's still worth a try."
I rolled my eyes, but pocketed the wad of notes. It's not like he would have any use for it anyway, being dead. I tried to ignore the sense of guilt that washed over me in that moment.
"Anyway," Austin continued, "let's get down to business."
"What?" I asked, blushing. I hadn't just been checking out his amazing body...
"Your mother. Tell me about her. I guess that might help," he shrugged.
"Oh," I said, staring at the picture on the far side of my room. In it there was a four year old girl with curly blonde hair and a beautiful woman with the same colour hair tied up in a bun cuddling her daughter. "She died of cancer," was all I could come up with.
"I asked you to tell me about her, not how she died," he said.
"She..." a lump began forming in my throat and I had to swallow, "liked to paint."
"She was amazing at it, she painted that picture above my bed," I pointed to a watercolour image of flowers and bees. It was childish, but I loved it better than any piece of art worth millions of dollars.
"Wow," Austin said, looking up, "What was her name?"
"Claire-Louise Moore," I told him. Her name was beautiful, just like the rest of her. "I don't get how some people have horrible mothers..." I said, welling up, "who are still alive, when mine was wonderful but she had to die."
Austin seemed uncomfortable with being confronted with a crying teenage girl. He was good at hiding it, though, as he got up from the bed and wrapped his arms around me. I would've kicked him for touching me if I wasn't in tears. I was envious of him— he was dead yet he hadn't shed one tear, at least not in front of me. I hugged him back and sobbed into his torso. Attractive.
After what seemed like five minutes, but I'm sure was longer, I pulled back and wiped my eyes clean.
"Did you ever cry after you died?" I asked, laughing slightly.
"Nah," Austin said, grinning at me. His shirt was slightly damp.
"I'm sorry," I apologised.
"It's fine," he said, shrugging. We were still incredibly close.
"Thanks," I said, wringing my hands together. "That helped. I've cried before, but never in front of my father or friends."
Then Austin leaned down and pressed his lips to mine. I was still blinking tears out of my eyes, and I was sure my lips tasted salty. He didn't seem to mind, deepening the kiss before reluctantly pulling away. It was too quick for me to respond.
"Sorry," he apologised. "I just wanted to know what that felt like."
"What, kissing a crying girl?" I managed to ask after a few moments. But Austin didn't reply because he was gone. I sighed in frustration and flopped down on my bed, staring at the ceiling for what seemed like hours. I fell asleep in that position with dried tears on my face.
When I awoke, I was starving. However, when I opened the fridge, a small tomato was all that greeted me. I sighed and grabbed my coat and keys, heading for the convenience store in my car.
Once there, I filled a basket full of essentials and then (just my luck) bumped into someone headlong. Bread went flying.
"I'm so sorry!" I exclaimed, used to apologising to angry people whom I had bumped into. As I began to gush my apology, the boy smiled at me, and I stopped talking. He wasn't angry. I let out a sigh of relief. He looked kind enough, with curly brown hair and big blue innocent eyes.
"It's fine," he said, and began to help me pick up my groceries. Thankfully nothing was ripped or spilt. "I see you have a cat," he grinned, picking up tins of cat food.
"Yeah, I just got him," I blushed, taking the cat food. I knew if Austin could see me now he'd be laughing. Ha, ha, I thought cynically, very funny indeed.
"What's his name?" the boy asked. I didn't even know his name and he was asking my cat's name? This was weird. I couldn't think fast enough to make up a decent lie so I told the truth. Even if he creeped me out a little by asking so many questions, he couldn't track me and tell my identity by the name of my cat, could he?
"Jasper," I said sheepishly. It sounded so lame. I cursed Austin, wherever he was.
"That's a cool name for a cat, I had a friend with a cat named that," the boy replied. Wow, it must be popular on the top ten list of cat's names. What a coincidence. Austin would be pleased. I made a mental note never to tell him of this.
"Cool," I said, and an awkward silence ensued. All the items had been gathered off the floor. "Well, see ya around," I said, making my way towards the checkout.
"Wait," the boy said. I turned around reluctantly. "I'm new in town, I was wondering if you could..."
"If I could what?"
"Never mind, it's kind of creepy and stalkerish, but I was wondering if you'd be my friend," the boy asked, and his crooked smile melted my heart. When I didn't reply, he continued, "I'm Hayden."
"I'm Grace," I replied, and we both made our way to the checkout. I never expected to actually become friends with him, but when Austin proved to be absent over the next few days, and being unable to talk to him in school or introduce him to my living friends, I became closer to Hayden. Everyone thought it was adorable how we met.
"So Hayden..." Sarah flirted unabashedly. Hayden, I came to notice, was regarded as somewhat attractive. "How are you finding your subjects?"
"They're good," Hayden smiled, and Sarah sighed barely audibly, "But I'm having some trouble with my English homework, I was wondering if Grace would help me with it, seeing as she's so good at English."
Sarah elbowed me in the ribs, "Of course she will."
"I— what?" I asked.
"Hayden wants you to tutor him," Sarah said, "Be at her house by 7, she'll help you then."
I was left with my mouth hanging open like a goldfish. Hayden just laughed and went back to his lunch. I confronted Sarah later on.
"What did you do that for? If my dad knew I had a boy in the house alone..." I said, fuming.
"It's Hayden! He would never try anything, he's the sweetest guy ever," Sarah said.
"Try telling my dad that," I mumbled.
"Look, he needs help, and he specifically asked for you! You're blind, Gracie, he so totally likes you," Sarah grinned. I was left speechless once again and she walked into our next classroom. Unfortunately, it was a class we shared with Hayden. I took my usual seat next to him.
"Hey," he greeted me with that gorgeous smile. I smiled back half heartedly, and he noticed. "You okay?"
I nodded in reply, and concentrated more on the work in that one class than I had all semester. By the end of the hour, I was mentally exhausted.
"Wow, you're on a roll," Hayden chuckled. I looked down and saw my page covered in notes. I smiled sheepishly. "Is it okay if I come by yours tonight? You didn't seem too keen on the idea earlier..."
"No!" I insisted, "It's fine!"
I didn't even convince myself of that fact. It wasn't my dad I was worried about... I just wondered if Austin would be at my house that night. I hoped he wouldn't, for the sake of my own sanity.
That night, when I returned home, my heart was beating fast as I opened the front door. I half expected Austin to be sitting in my kitchen, drinking milk from the carton. But that was silly, he didn't eat or drink.
"Hello?" I called out, as I had done for the past few days. No answer came. My heart sank yet at the same time I was relieved. That night I tidied my room, gave Jasper his food, showered, and began to study. By the time the doorbell rang, I had already got through several practice papers.
Pulling my wet hair up into a bun, I opened the door for Hayden. He smiled immediately when he saw me, dressed in not very flattering clothing. Simply an old t-shirt and shorts.
"I see you've dressed for the occasion," he remarked. I hit him on the arm.
"Go on upstairs, I just need a glass of water," I told him. "First door on the right."
"Are you sure your father trusts you alone in your room with a boy?" he asked, one eyebrow raised at the casual invitation to enter my room.
"He isn't home, and for the record, he doesn't and neither will he ever know," I told him sternly.
"Gotcha," Hayden winked. I rolled my eyes.
Turning around to face the kitchen, I jumped when I saw someone staring at me, leaning against the doorframe.
"Having fun flirting?" Austin asked me sarcastically. I only replied when Hayden was out of earshot.
"What, you show up after a few days and then reprimand me for having a friend over?" I whispered.
"Obviously he's more than a friend," Austin said, venom lacing his voice. I narrowed my eyes. I felt like punching him. At the same time my lips were tingling from our last encounter.
"He is just a good friend," I said, my teeth gritted, "and if you really wanted to help me you'd see that I'm perfectly happy in Hayden's company."
"Hayden?" Austin asked, frowning. I nodded. "Where did he say he moved from?"
"Hey, this cat looks just like the Jasper I knew," Hayden said, appearing at the top of the stairs, Jasper in tow, rubbing against his legs fondly. I turned away from Austin and suddenly the pieces began to fit together.
"H-he was a stray," I managed to say to Hayden, "I found him."
"Even has the same collar..." Hayden said thoughtfully.
"He needs his food now," I said, bounding up the stairs and picking up Jasper. "Are we going to study, or what?"
We studied. For three long hours, until Hayden had to go home. I managed to distract him from Jasper, and couldn't escape the flirting that inevitably occurred between us. Every waking moment, however, I could not stop thinking about Austin. I knew he was watching us.
"I had a nice time... learning," Hayden said at my front door. I agreed with him. "Can we do this again sometime?"
"Depends if you do well on the homework I gave you," I told him. He pulled a face. "Hey, come on, it's easy."
"Easy for you," he retorted.
"Goodnight, Hayden," I laughed.
"Wait," he said, opening the door as I tried to close it.
"I was wondering if next time... it could be a real date," Hayden said. "Will you go out with me?"
"I know your mother died a few months ago... but I lost my best friend a couple of weeks back, in California. My parents took a job out here because they thought moving away would help me get over it, but I hadn't been able to, until I met you."
"Hayden... I, let me think about it?"
"Sure," Hayden smiled, understanding as ever, and kissed me on the cheek before bounding down the steps on my front porch to his car. Austin broke me out of my frozen state.
"I hope you didn't leave him hanging on my account."
"I didn't," I lied, shutting the front door.
"Looks like you don't even need me anymore, he's the answer to all your problems," Austin snapped. "And you're the answer to all of his."
"What is the matter with you? I'm sorry about what happened to you, but it's not my fault! Stop making me feel terrible about it," I asked, a hint of pleading in my voice.
"Don't worry; you won't have to anymore," he replied, "You two can live happily ever after together without me." And with that, he disappeared.
That night, I couldn't sleep. I felt terrible about Austin. His best friend had been within his grasp... but he couldn't talk to him. Couldn't say all the things he wanted to say to him. I knew how I would feel if that I were in that situation with Sarah. Tears began to well up in my eyes.
The following morning, I had to face Hayden. I wasn't looking forward to it, but it had to be done. Unfortunately, Sarah jumped me before I even got out of my car.
"What happened?" she demanded to know. "Did he ask you out?"
"Wha— how did you know?" I asked, mortified. Had Hayden told her?
"I'm psychic silly, and I'm your best friend, I know these things," she smirked, tapping her forehead.
"Right," I said sarcastically.
"Did you say yes?"
"I... said I'd think about it," I said sheepishly. Sarah hit me. Hard. "Ow!"
"Idiot! Do I have to do everything for you?" she scolded. "Honestly!"
"Sarah, I don't even know if I'm ready..." I said.
"Of course you are, I've seen how happy he makes you, ever since he showed up he's been like a distraction, a good distraction," Sarah said. I blushed. That may have been partly due to Austin as well, but I didn't want to let her know that.
"Fine, but don't you say anything to him until I have!" I told her.
"That's my girl," she grinned.
Later that day I found Hayden standing by his locker. "Hey," I greeted him. His face lit up when he saw me.
"Hey yourself," he replied.
"I thought about what you said last night..." I said.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I should've told you earlier, but seeing as it's spring break next week... I'm leaving for California to stay with my dad for a while," Hayden said sheepishly. I mentally slapped myself when I felt relieved by the information.
"Oh, that's fine," I said, almost sighing in relief. "I guess I'll see you when you get back," I smiled.
"Sorry," he apologised again.
"Don't worry about it. I won't die of loneliness," I joked, not really sure of myself.
Hayden smiled sympathetically at me, "For the record, what were you thinking about last night?"
"I... was going to say I needed more time..." I lied. Then I was saved by the bell.
Sarah, needless to say, was annoyed with me, and with Hayden for going away. I would have been happy, were it not for Austin's little outburst about never appearing again. I wasn't sure whether he would live up to his word... whether he would even be able to. Then again, he had slacked on his Angel duties before. A depressive cloud formed over me again, and Sarah was convinced it was to do with Hayden. She had no idea how wrong she was.
"Just tell him!" she urged me constantly. I mumbled something inaudible, as I was lying face down on my desk.
The next week, it was spring break, and I was at home alone, as usual. Jasper was being antisocial and sleeping all day. I felt like doing the same, but I had to get up sooner or later. Darn cat. On the third day of boredom, Hayden called me.
"Hey," he said, "how's spring break going?"
"Jasper is having more fun than me," I deadpanned. Sarah had gone to visit her grandparents and I had nobody to keep me company besides Sleeping Beauty lying around my room all day. He might as well be dead for the amount of movement he made.
"Aww, it can't be that bad..." he chuckled
"Trust me, it is," I said, stroking a sleeping Jasper. "How's spring break in California?"
"Fine," he said unconvincingly, "the weather is nice."
"Is it about..." I almost said Austin, "your best friend?"
"Sort of, I'm just reminded of all the places we used to hang out is all," he said. "I'm just staying inside, anyway."
"That can't be healthy," I said, then realised I was being a hypocrite. He didn't need to know that, though.
"It's better than being reminded of my dead best friend wherever I go, and seeing everyone we used to know," Hayden replied. He had a point. I still felt the same way about my mother's death.
"True," I agreed. An awkward silence ensued.
"I'll speak to you tomorrow?" Hayden asked.
"Sure," I replied. It was better than being lonely. Then he hung up. I stared at the picture above my bed for a moment, and for once I was reminded of someone other than my mother: Austin.
With little else better to do, I lay down on my bed and took a nap.
I awoke to see Austin's head hovering over mine. I jumped about a foot in the air.
"Jesus!" I cried. "What are you doing here?"
"I— can you give this to Hayden for me?" Austin said, handing me a picture frame which held a picture of two little boys smiling and play fighting. One boy had dark hair; the other had light brown hair.
"Just... will you do it, please?" Austin asked. He was almost begging me.
"Sure," I said, not knowing how I would explain this to Hayden.
"Thank you," Austin whispered, and then disappeared. I went back to sleep to stop my head from buzzing.
I didn't know how to explain this to Hayden over the phone. "I can see your dead best friend" wouldn't go down too well with most people. I decided to wait until he got back from California. Perhaps showing him the picture frame in person would make the information easier to... digest. Hopefully.
Austin appeared the day before Hayden was due to fly back. I was sat at my desk, staring at the picture frame, and heard someone behind me. I didn't have to look to know it was him. Jasper was asleep, and didn't notice his master's appearance. I was glad. The cat needed continuity in his life. If Austin was paying inconsistent visits, it messed up his routine.
"Sorry I dropped in on you like that," Austin apologised. I was silent. "I just want to talk to him. You don't have to give him the picture if you don't want to."
"It's okay, I know," I said quietly. "I would give anything to be able to talk to my mother."
"Actually... about that. I've seen her," he said. This made me turn around to look at him. What did he mean? I had shown him her picture. "I've talked to her. Up there," he pointed towards my ceiling. I felt the blood drain out of my face. I froze.
"W-what do you mean?" I asked shakily.
"This is against the rules, I'm not meant to be telling you," Austin whispered. "I'm not supposed to be trying to talk to Hayden either."
I wanted to scream "Screw Hayden!" but I refrained. I wanted to know about my mother.
"What did she s-say?" I asked, refusing to blink unless Austin disappeared.
"She said she misses you and loves you more than words can say," he replied. Tears welled up in my eyes. "She also said I'm an idiot."
"Why?" I asked, confused. Austin stepped forward until he stood over me. He bent down till his face was level with mine.
"Because I've broken all the rules, even the most important one," he whispered.
"What's that?" I breathed.
"I fell in love with you," he whispered, before our lips collided. After a short salty kiss, I felt Austin pull back. I opened my eye to see an empty room. Austin was gone. Figures. I continued to cry, but not in sadness. That night I talked to the painting above my bed, picturing my mother in my mind. Somehow, I knew she could hear me.
The following evening, I braced myself for Hayden's visit. The picture frame was conveniently hidden in my bedside drawer. Hayden entered my room and looked strangely uncomfortable.
"What's up?" I asked, "How was your trip?"
I didn't want to admit that I hadn't missed him that much. It was just the human company that I missed, really.
"It was good," Hayden said vaguely. "I... I'm actually moving back."
"What?" I asked, fighting down the sense of relief I felt.
"I met a girl," Hayden said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "She's called Kelsey, and she's really nice. She makes me... happy."
"That's... great," I said awkwardly.
"I'm sorry," he apologised.
"Don't be!" Yet the overwhelming pity in his eyes didn't waver. "Don't worry about me," I said, trying my best to smile. I felt a lot better since my heart-to-heart with my mother's painting.
"Will you be okay?"
"Of course," I lied. Hayden grinned. He looked a lot better than I had seen him in a long time. I decided not to show him the picture frame, and I hoped Austin would forgive me. If Hayden was ever to get over Austin's death, he needed to move on. It looked like he was doing so already, though the same couldn't be said for me.
Hayden left, and Jasper had to be fed. Taking care of him proved to be a good distraction. However, the constant reminder of his master haunted me every time I looked into his bright blue eyes.
"Don't look at me like that," I scolded Jasper. "I've given you your food."
True, I hadn't eaten in 24 hours, but I just didn't feel hungry.
Back at school, I tried to look enthusiastic around Sarah. She was conveniently distracted, by her new boyfriend, Carter. I was glad that she was happy. It seemed everyone else was but me. I didn't want to be the depressed one. It just turned out that way.
In the hallway, I wasn't paying attention as I pushed my way through the crowd to get to lesson. I tripped on somebody's foot and landed with my face in someone else's chest. Their arms wrapped around me in a way I didn't feel comfortable for a stranger to be touching me. I immediately jerked upwards and my head collided with their jaw.
"Fuck!" I heard the boy swear.
"Shit!" I replied, clutching my head. My arms blocked my vision. "That hurt! I'm sorry!"
"It's alright," a familiar voice said. I lowered my arms and Austin was staring at me, moving his jaw and smiling crookedly at me. The colour must've run from my face, because he laughed and said, "You look like you've seen a ghost!"
"What are you doing here?" I asked. I didn't care if I looked like I was talking to thin air.
"Excuse me," a teacher interrupted us. "You two better get to lesson, it's getting late."
Wait, did she just say two? I looked around, and there was nobody else. My eyes widened.
"H-how?" I stuttered. The teacher looked at me weirdly and then left, muttering to himself.
"I don't know," he shrugged, grinning. I poked him in the chest.
"How can you not know how you're alive?!" I asked.
"I don't know! The last thing I remember is talking to your mother," he said. This shut me up.
"All I know is I'm a new student here," he said, sidling up to me, "And I don't think I have anywhere to stay."
"My dad would never allow it," I said.
"It's a shame I can't disappear like I used to," Austin sighed.
"Yeah, that was so cool," I said sarcastically.
"Come on, it was sort of mysterious you have to admit," he grinned.
"Not to mention annoying," I scoffed. Then I remembered something. "Oh, I have something for you," I said, taking the picture frame out of my bag and handing it to him.
"Oh," he said, staring sadly at it for a moment.
"Austin... you're not going to do what I think you are, are you?" I asked cautiously. I didn't want him talking to Hayden; that was the last thing either of them needed.
"No," he said, putting it in the trash can. My eyebrows shot up. "I'm over it. I have a new life now; I wasn't put back here to dwell on the past. Besides, I have something much better now, something beautiful and far more important that I need to protect." Austin put his arms around my waist and his face was inches from mine.
"Hm, and what's that?" I asked.
"Jasper, of course" And then he kissed me.
I named this oneshot after a song (which I do not own) by This Providence.
Please review! It makes my day. Even just one word.