I went to bed early that night even though I didn't have to work the next day. Sleeping gave me an escape from reality and I desperately needed that right now. After getting back from my break five minutes later than I should have, Austin had run me around making copies for him and carrying messages between coworkers. When I had a break between those jobs he sent me up to the front desk with Kristine to help with answering the phone. It was tedious work that made me feel like he wanted to waste my time more than getting anything done but he didn't ask me to come in to work on Friday like he had the week before, so I didn't complain. At least I would be getting paid for the work.
Then, when I got home, Marie was already at the apartment, waiting with a bag of take out for the two of us like she was every Thursday since the time I'd moved out of her house. It had become a sort of routine for us so we could catch up once a week. Not that we didn't see each other most days anyway. We talked for a long while; more than we had in the past few weeks. But when she tried to get me to go to the bar with her I told her no. I was in one of my better moods for the time being but it had been a long day at work and I was ready to just curl up in my bed and fall asleep.
Once I finally did, though, it didn't take long for me to wake up. I heard my name being called and it pulled me from the deep sleep I was in. I waited for a moment before hearing it again.
The first thing I thought was that I dreaming but when I looked, no one was there. For a while I was able to ignore it and I settled into a fitful sleep. Again, even that didn't last long. The feeling of someone's arm going around my waist and a whisper in my ear made me shoot straight up in bed. "Wake up, Jo," said a teasing voice next to me. My head whipped around and my eyes darted around the room but it was obvious I was alone. The door was still locked, windows shut, when I flicked the lights on just to make sure the room was empty.
But I swear I could still feel the lingering warmth of someone's breath on my cheek and the tingling heat of another's body pressed against my back, though the air around me had gone as cold as ice. Goosebumps popped up over my bare skin and I rubbed my arms to try to take away the chill.
"Jo . . ." My whole body froze at the sound of that voice, my heart speeding to an alarming rate in my chest. I turned my head towards the sound of the voice and my breath caught in my throat. The figure that stood next to me looked as solid as any person but something about the way the outlines of his frame faded in and out made me think that wasn't the case. Like if I stretched out my hand it would go straight through him.
My eyes watered until the room blurred in front of them. There was no other explanation for the vision in front of me other than that I was still dreaming. Either that or I had finally cracked. Because the face staring back at me was one I'd recognize even more than my own. Lips that lifted into a cocky smile and dark blue eyes that shined like a child's on Christmas morning blended with his wild black hair. It had grown out compared to when I'd seen it last and the ends were long enough to fall into his eyes now. Exactly how it had been when we first met all those years ago.
Even though it couldn't be real my eyes raked over the figure in front of me. The broad chest and wide shoulders, lean muscular arms, and strong jaw that held the shadow of a beard. They all came together to form the most beautiful picture I had ever seen and I couldn't get enough of looking at him. I looked at until ever single detail was cemented into my brain and still I couldn't rip my gaze away from his.
If anyone had come into my room at that moment they would have thought I'd gone insane. Staring at what I'm pretty sure was an empty stretch of air like it was the only water in the middle of a desert would have screamed crazy person. Not that I could have cared at that moment if I'm being honest.
But I couldn't deny that when I looked into this shade's eyes it was yours that I was seeing before me.
The grin on your face stretched until it made wrinkles appear around your eyes and sparks burn deep within them. You reached out a hand and brought it up to run your fingers down the side of my face before cradling it with your palm. The heat of your touch on my skin was hot enough that it seared straight through to my heart and I couldn't help leaning into your hand. I could almost imagine the feel of your skin against mine. But in reality, there was nothing but heat and air.
My eyelids fluttered closed and a sigh of longing slipped through my lips. I wished that this moment could be real. Your thumb moved beneath my eye to stop the flow of moisture that had started slipping down my cheeks. For the first time I noticed I was crying but the tears were still there when your fingers came away from my skin. "Hey, Baby." Your voice was soft and I reached up to place my hand over yours in order to offer us both some comfort.
Instead my fingers touched my own wet cheek coated in salty tears and cold as ice. My eyes snapped open and I found myself alone, the imprint of you no more than a mere memory now. Then I noticed all the heat that had spread through me at your touch had disappeared, leaving my skin icy. I started shaking and moved my arms to wrap them around myself. As much to ward off the shivering as it was intended to keep me together. The only thing that was for that moment.
I made myself lie back down under the covers and curled myself into a ball; both to hold off the shakes and the sobs.
To state the obvious, it took me a long time before I was able to go back to sleep; though I'm still not sure that I ever really did. My mind kept replaying those few minutes where it had seemed as if you were standing right in front of me over and over again. Logically I could just say that I was extremely tired and hadn't been thinking right; or, better yet, that I had been asleep. But something inside me knew that was a lie.
So if it wasn't a dream, did that mean I was going insane?
I didn't feel crazy, but I don't think anyone truly felt crazy even while they were having visions—delusions really—of things that couldn't possibly be there. You had seemed so real for those few brief moments. But there was no possible way that you could have been here. Not when you were supposedly half way around the world, missing in a nation we were at war with. Even thinking it would make some call me deranged.
Then again, there were some people who would say that it was. But I never believed in stuff like that before. The paranormal and supernatural were things that I considered were only created to make works of fiction sell, or things ghost stories to make kids afraid of the dark and strangers. It was an inconceivable idea in my mind.
Do you remember the time you asked me if I believed in ghost? How all I could do was laugh?
The thought of someone being stuck on earth because of 'unfinished business' was society's idea of a joke. You smiled when I said exactly that but you also believed that it could be possible. Not that you bought the whole unfinished business part of it. Just that some people might choose to stay in the world of the living and watch over their loved ones rather than move on, go to the light, or whatever may happen when you do die. If there was anything, that is.
That was always one of the things that made me adore you so much. You were always so open-minded about new things. Everything was a new experience to you, something you wanted to try—I admired you for that.
But . . . if you were a ghost, that would mean you would have to be . . . dead. And I refused to think about that right now.
Needless to say, when I woke the next morning I was relieved I wasn't scheduled to work. My eyes hurt and when I looked in the mirror they were rimmed in red with bruise colored circles marring the skin beneath them. I was still tired on account of my interrupted night's sleep, but I knew there wasn't going to be much rest going on if I went back to sleep.
I hurried up and got ready to leave my apartment in record time. Without even stopping for breakfast I was out the door and headed towards the stairs. The elevator had stopped running four months ago but no one had bothered to get it fixed yet, so I had gotten used to using the stairs. Once I was out of the building I decided to walk to my destination rather than taking my used Dodge Neon there. It wasn't exactly reliable anyway. A faint smile crossed my lips as I passed it, even in the spastic state of mind I was in, as I could just see your reaction when you first saw the car running through my mind.
Do you remember the first day you saw it?
You took one look at the faded and peeling paint and the ripped cloth seats and your eyes widened until they were as big and round as plates. The only thing I could get out of your mouth was you asking if it was even legal to drive. That memory still made me laugh.
As I walked, a bitter wind whipped around my face and hair until it burned against my skin. The early fall frost had made way for a cold that seemed almost wintry and I had a feeling we should be expecting a lot of early snow this year as well. But it didn't matter to me. The chill of the air was a reminder of where I was, keeping my feet firmly in reality; if only for a little while.
About twenty minutes later I was walking through a quiet residential area. Not many people would expect to find such a nice place within twenty minutes walking distance of a cheap apartment complex like the one I lived in, but in our city downtown and uptown lived just across the street from each other.
I turned at the first stop sign and then continued walking the familiar path until I reached the corner house. Standing outside for a moment, I stared up at the building in front of me while the wind continued its effort to knock me off my feet. The house was modest, nothing grand or overdone. Sort of like its owner. This house had been like a refuge for me in the past and that same feeling of comfort that was there every time I came here spread over me again as I looked up at the curtain covered windows and dark oak front door.
My footsteps clicked over the cement walkway as I made my way up to the house until I was standing in front of the door. I reached up with my hand and knocked lightly on the hard wood, knowing if there was someone inside they would hear me. While I waited I rocked back and forth on the balls of my feet. The cold was finally catching up with me now that I wasn't moving anymore and it seeped right through my skin into my bones. Only the fact that I knew it would be warm inside kept me from leaping back down the steps and taking a run down the block just to take the chill away.
Sure enough, the door opened a second later. Marie smiled when she saw me but after taking in my expression it looked more like it was forced than natural. Without a word she ushered me inside and I was rewarded for my patience as warm air from the house started to drive the freezing cold away. She didn't even wait to ask why I was there before starting to drag me into the kitchen and sitting me down at a stool.
I watched silently as she moved around the room, grabbing things here and there as she went. Finally she came back to me and set a steaming plate down in front of me. Marie knew me well enough to know I wouldn't have stopped to eat before showing up on her doorstep early in the morning like I had. I tried to protest the food, I wasn't sure my stomach could handle it at the present time which is why I had skipped out on grabbing something before I started walking over here. But no matter what I said Marie wouldn't have it and I knew she meant it when she said she wouldn't talk unless I ate something.
So I forced down some of the breakfast she had taken the time to make for me. It was delicious as always. During the time I had lived in this house after her parents had moved and left and had given the house to her, Marie had done the cooking. Partly because everything she made was amazing and partly because I couldn't work up the energy to make anything but burnt grilled cheese that just wasn't all that edible. Just after my father died, anything I tried to make just ended up as trash; as if my current misery seeping into the food.
Once I had eaten a reasonable amount in her opinion, Marie crossed her arms on the table where she sat across from me and looked me over seriously. "I know this is probably a stupid question, but what's wrong?"
I set the fork that was still in my hand on top of the plate and started wringing my hands together. Marie had been my friend ever since she was twelve and I was eight but I still didn't know if I could tell her all that was bothering me. If she told me what I was about to tell her I would think she had gone round the bend, there's no way around that fact. Saying I saw you when you're supposed to be hundreds of miles away and missing; that you showed up in my apartment in the middle of the night was about as mentally unstable as you can get.
But when I looked up into her eyes and saw the love and friendship there those doubts seemed inconsequential. I knew I could trust her to always be there for me, because she always has been. Through everything.
"Do you believe in ghost; Marie?"