An Echo in the Dark
There once was an old house that sat upon a hill. Shadowed by trees and tucked away from the rest of the world, not many people knew it existed. But those select few who did were almost as old as the house itself, and they believed that behind its weathered doors lived a ghost. Nobody lived in the house, so it was only a matter of time until superstitions trickled their way into almost every conversation.
The superstitions indeed came and stuck to the old citizens' minds like glue. When they tried to warn any and all newcomers about the house, they wove impressive tales of betrayal. The new residents listened and stayed away, either believing that the tale they heard was real or knowing deep down not to mess with a ghost who dealt vengeance.
Nathaniel Thompson didn't listen to the rumors and tales; being a scientific man, he had no reason to believe in such things as ghosts. He waved them off as merely folly or an overexcited imagination. He even went so far as to buy the lonely house on the hill to make it his own place of residence. The old members of the town shook their heads with grief, knowing that his time was short.
Nathaniel was foolish for not believing.
"Yes, Grandmother, I'll be fine here," I said, tired of repeating reassurances. I switched the phone from one ear to the other, while juggling a cardboard box full of dishes.
"No, for the last time, there isn't a ghost in sight," I sighed, listening to her babble the tale of the ghost who inhabited this house in a shaky voice. "There are no such things as ghosts."
I tried to tune her out as she let another stream of words into my ear. I unpacked the dishes and put them into the antique oak cupboards, and switched the phone back to my other ear.
"Grandmother, please," I said, rolling my eyes. "People buy houses, even if they don't have anybody to share them with. I could rent it out," I added, wincing when she suggested that I should have found a woman to settle down with, before I had actually settled down.
"I know, I know," I sighed, giving in to her argument, yet again. "Whenever I do find somebody special, you're the first person I'll tell. Hey, I'll call you tomorrow evening, is that all right with you? I have a million things to unpack still."
I heard her mutter, "Yes, that would be fine," but the words didn't match the tone of her voice in the slightest. My smile grew into a smirk as I visualized her sour expression.
I clicked the phone off and placed it on the counter. Rubbing my eyes with the back of my hand, I yawned loudly. I eyed the rest of the unpacked boxes lining the wall and then shrugged it off; I was going to go take a nap.
As I trudged my way up the stairs, I smiled at the creaking noise that it made. I had always loved old, Victorian-style houses; so when I had spotted this one, nestled in the woods, it was like a dream come true. It had been for sale for the longest time, and when I called the owner of the house, she was more than happy to sell it to me for half of the listing price., I noticed how none of the residents talked to me while I was in town; they all hurried along, as if I were an outcast.
Shrugging off the silly superstitions, I made my way to my bedroom that came with its own furnishings and a four-poster bed. I had already put my clothes away into the drawers and the small closet, so I pulled off my shirt and jeans, and flopped onto the bed, sighing.
I frowned, realizing that I was lying on top of something. Sitting up, I saw that it was a piece of parchment, and my eyebrows creased together, wondering how it had gotten there. I unfolded it, and my heart fluttered against my ribs, like a caged bird. My hands trembled when I realized that the note was addressed to me.
"Oh, my dear Nathaniel, how I've missed you so. I know that you do not remember me, and that pains me, so much so that I cannot express it in any number of words. But I will try to help you regain your memories of you and me; of our lives together that happened so long ago.
"I know that you will find this unbelievable, for you have always been a man of science and unwilling to believe in any sort of tales, not even when you were small and your mother told you stories of magic. You just wanted her to explain the how and why; you didn't want to accept things for how they were, simply because they happened to be that way. I have always admired that about you.
"But I beg of you, please believe what I am going to tell you. If you do not believe, then I will have to stay here for the remainder of my existence, unable to move on to the next world, Nathaniel. I am the ghost that inhabits this house, and my name is Amelia Lockhart. I was your Amelia once, but I am afraid that I will not be able to convince you this time, and it makes my heart grow cold with fear. For each life that you live, the memories of us grow a little dimmer, and I hope that you will be able to remember me. I cannot tell you how desperately I wish for that.
"I was killed in 1823 by a flood that almost wiped out this house, our house. But you were lucky, where I was not. You lived, albeit a miserable life without me; and I watched over you, as much as I could. I followed you, but each time you could not find me, and so you wished to be born again. Sometimes, I wished that you would believe me, others, I did not. I didn't want to burden you, feeling that you must be reincarnated if you couldn't find me, but I was happy that you chose to, for I am selfish, and wanted another chance to love you and sever the ties that connect me to this place.
"I am so very happy that you are here again, Nathaniel, living in the house that was once our own. I hope that you will not throw this letter away, but if you do, I will try to convince you that I am real, and you are not losing your mind.
"Please believe me, Nathaniel. Please."
I stared at the letter until the lines blurred into inky smudges. I shook my head in disbelief, smiling, and wondered who had written this. Maybe it was the previous owner of this house, I thought. Or, maybe, it was an elderly neighbor, who wanted to scare me into believing their superstitions.
I re-folded the letter, and I smiled at the ridiculous notion of having a lover from 1823, when I couldn't even keep a date for two weeks at a time. I laid my head on my pillow, and drifted off to sleep the letter still clasped between my fingers.
I was warm, that was my first realization. I was enveloped in warmth, as if I had slipped into a bath full of hot water. Next came the pleasant smell that was faint as a distant memory. It was the smell of roses, and it was entirely feminine, which comforted me greatly for an unknown reason.
I cracked open my eyes and was blinded by a bright light. Squinting, I blinked repeatedly, but the shimmering light wouldn't go away. I shielded my eyes with my hand, and when they adjusted to the soft lighting, I yelped in surprise and fell off my bed.
The shimmering light was a woman with a beautiful face, and she was looking at me, watching me sleep. I shook my head, half of me hoping that it was a dream I could clear, but the shimmering form peered over the edge of the bed, and she broke out into a laugh that sounded like bells chiming.
"Who are you, and what are you doing in my bed?" I asked. I tried to stand up, but the bed sheets were tangled around my legs so tightly that I couldn't move.
"I should ask you the same question, Nathaniel," the woman said, ignoring my own question. She stretched out a dainty hand, offering to help me up. I eyed it warily, not convinced that her hand was tangible, or the rest of her body, for that matter. She must have noticed my hesitation, for her pale face tinged pink; and she drew back her hand reluctantly.
"If you do not want me to help you, I understand. I'd forgotten that I looked like this, for a moment," she said, playing with her long hair; a nervous habit that I found oddly endearing. The smell of roses wafted down to me again, and I knew that I smelled her while I had slept.
"That's all right. I can stand up by myself," I said, the shakiness fading from my voice. I managed to untangle my calves from the sheets, and when I stood up, I realized that the woman I saw wasn't touching my bed, but was only hovering over it.
"Who and what exactly are you?" I asked, unable to tear my gaze away from the sight of her floating above my bed.
"I watched you read my letter, Nathaniel," she said, her smile soft. "And yet, you still need an answer as to who I am?"
"B-But that's impossible!" I exclaimed. "You can't be a ghost, because they aren't real. There aren't any scientific reasons for them. And claiming that I chose to be reincarnated, over and over again, just because I couldn't find you in time? That's even harder to believe!" I said, waving my arms in frustration, while she just watched me, unfazed by my exclamations.
"Whether you believe me or not does not matter. I am telling you the truth, and it is up to you to decide. But I can assure you, that I am real, and you have not gone crazy," she replied. I sat on my bed, feeling flustered and unsure of what to do. She sat up as well, smoothing out the ruffles of her elegant Victorian dress, and I watched her, captivated by the action. Her gaze met mine, and her cheeks blushed pink again, and she looked away.
"I cannot explain to you how difficult this is for me," she said, staring at the headboard while she traced it with her fingertips. "I have waited for you for such a long time, waiting, hoping that you would return. But each lifetime that passed for you, I remained the same. I remained here, and you never came back," she whispered as she turned to look at me again. Her eyes were pooled with tears, and my heart felt as if it was clawing its way out of my chest.
"I love you so much, Nathaniel," she whispered, her voice rough with emotion. "And now you are here, sitting beside me, and yet you do not believe what I am telling you? That hurts me more than being left alone in our house for two centuries, watching you live your life, while I was stuck here, unable to live mine," she said, her tears spilling down the sides of her face.
"Amelia," I whispered, as I watched her sob into her hands. "Please, don't cry." I wanted to comfort her, but I was afraid that my hand would pass right through her body, and I would end up hurting her.
"I believe you, Amelia," I said, wishing that she would stop crying, for it was making me feel as if somebody had taken a cleaver to my heart.
"Do not tell me a lie, only because you pity me," she said, looking at me, her face twisted with anger. "I have been pitied enough in my lifetime, and I will not accept it from you."
I bit my lip, unsure of how to make her understand what I was feeling. "I feel connected to you, somehow. Seeing you cry like that… feels like my heart is breaking, just watching you."
She dried her eyes hastily with the backs of her hands, her expression changing from anger to excitement. "You really feel that way, Nathaniel?"
"Yes, I do," I said, wondering what the significance of it could be.
Amelia's face broke out into a wide smile. "That means that you are still able to remember our past, if you are emotionally connected to me," she said, and her eyes sparkled with excitement.
"Is that a good thing?" I asked.
She laughed again, and I marveled at the sound.
"Yes, that is a wonderful thing," she said. Her expression softened as she looked at my face with a child-like curiosity.
"What is it?" I asked after a moment of her thoughtful silence.
"You look so different than you did in 1823," Amelia said. "But your eyes, they're the same shade of green." Her eyes trailed down my chest, and I crossed my arms reflexively, suddenly realizing that I didn't have a shirt on. I felt my face flush, and she simply smiled at me.
"Still just as shy, I see," she whispered; and I saw a teardrop hanging on her cheek. Without thinking of the implications it could have, I brushed it away with my thumb. I was surprised that her skin felt warm and not cold as I thought her pale complexion would feel.
I blame that indescribable twinge of happiness that I felt for what I did next. Perhaps if I hadn't been so emotionally attached to her, then I might have been able to control myself. But seeing as I had no self-control, or maybe she had cast some sort of spell on me, I cupped her face in my hand, and brought her lips to mine.
The chirping of birds awoke me, and I squinted my eyes at the sun streaming through my window. As I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, the memory of last night flashed through my head, and I sat up quickly, looking around the room for any sign of Amelia's ghost.
But the room was empty and cold, and she was gone.
My heart sank in my chest considerably, and I felt an overwhelming sense of panic arise within me. It wasn't logical to feel this way, I knew, but I couldn't shake the icy grip of fear that clouded my senses. She was suddenly the most important thing in my life, and everything else paled in comparison.
I was emotionally tied to her mind, she explained to me last night. I tried to recall the fuzzy memories. The words that spilled from her mouth were like the cadence of a song, and I had to focus on what she was telling me instead of the sound of her voice. Emotionally tied to her would explain the strong feelings I had, I thought. But I wasn't prepared for the physical ache, the ache in my muscles, from the realization that she was no longer curled up next to me.
I didn't know which one was worse.
Sighing, I laid my head back down on my pillow, and I could still smell her scent lingering in the air, the smell of roses percolating the fabric of my bed sheets. My hand reached for the space that I knew was empty, but to my surprise, I felt the smooth texture of paper beneath my fingertips. Parchment.
My eyes snapped open, and I unfolded the letter with care, guarding the only contact that I had with her.
"Nathaniel, I am sorry that I am not with you this morning, but staying with you all night expended most of my energy. I am not used to being a full apparition for long periods of time, and so I will have to rest during the day, if I wish to spend the nights with you. And I do wish for that, ever so much.
"I will try to not pine for you during the day, but I cannot guarantee that it will happen; for I am terribly lonely writing this while you are asleep next to me. The thought of leaving you pains me. You being here turned me into a much more selfish person, and so, tonight cannot come fast enough.
"But I will try my best to be strong, for you, Nathaniel. You are connected to me; you can feel what I feel, and the last thing I want is to make you feel sad, or lost without me by your side. I do not want you to feel how devastated I am without you; you would surely think less of me.
"But being with you last night that made me feel more human than I have felt since I was alive. I want to cling to that feeling, that vulnerability more than anything. It makes me feel whole again; you make me feel whole again. My heart aches at the idea of leaving you for one day, even though I have been without you for nearly two centuries. My heart is sick, and my thoughts are pure selfishness. Forgive me, Nathaniel, but I must leave you now.
"Please, do not sulk in our bed all day. Tonight will come faster than you think, and I cannot wait to see you again. I love you.
With all of my heart,
I clutched the paper to my chest and cried. I was almost embarrassed, crying so fervently, but I couldn't will myself to stop. Amelia's emotions rolling off of the letter she'd written me were mixing with my own anxiety, so that I didn't know which emotions were my own. I knew that hers were stronger, and the grief and regret she had for leaving me alone was stifling. My own feeling of loss was just a sliver compared to the sadness that Amelia felt.
Is she watching me, I wondered. Is that why the feelings are so strong? I wiped my eyes, hastily, not wanting her to see me cry like this. I didn't want her to feel any worse than she did for having to leave; it was my own fault for keeping her awake all night with stories of our life together in 1823, just to smell her rose perfume, just to kiss her perfect mouth, over and over again.
I didn't want her to leave, and so I pleaded with her to stay and sleep on my chest. When she curled up next to me, I felt as if I were whole again, as if I were complete. I had never felt so sure of myself before then, and I knew that nothing else would ever compare to the feel of her pressed against me.
Re-reading the letter, I wondered what would have happened if she had used all of her energy. Would she have never been able to become an apparition again and would have to contact me just through her letters, I wondered, and I didn't think that I could stand that because of what I had, just the night before. Or would her form simply fail to exist? I shuddered at the thought and vowed to be more careful with her and less selfish, in order to keep her here with me, as long as possible.
I traced her signature with my thumb and smiled. Knowing that it wouldn't be of any use to sulk in bed about something I couldn't change, I re-folded the letter and placed it by the other one on my dresser. I yawned, and stretched the kinks from my bones as I stumbled from my bed and made my way to the kitchen in order to start a much needed cup of coffee. I tripped over several boxes on the way to my coffeemaker and made a mental note to unpack everything, and then the phone rang. I swore under my breath, tip-toeing my way around boxes and plates, trying to reach the damn phone in time.
"Hello?" I said breathlessly, wondering who in the world would be calling me this early on a Saturday morning.
"I'm glad that you answered, Nathaniel," replied my grandmother, and I smiled, knowing that she was an impatient woman. "I was afraid that I was going to have to leave you a message."
"I thought I was going to call you later this afternoon," I said, making my way back to my yellow coffee pot. "Is everything all right, Grandmother?"
"Yes, everything is fine. Nothing was on the television, and I wanted to talk to you. You're much more interesting than what that old junk box has to tell me, anyway."
"I'm glad that somebody thinks so," I chuckled.
"Speaking of junk and boxes, are you going to put all of your stuff away today, Nathaniel?"
"Yes, Grandmother," I said, laughing louder this time. "I'm going to clean, pay some bills, and work on some editing that my boss wants me to do."
"You don't seem very stressed about it. On the contrary, you seem very happy today. Why is that?"
"I'm just in a great mood this morning, is all," I shrugged, knowing that she wouldn't leave it alone. She had an uncanny knack for knowing that something was different, and she wouldn't leave it alone until she figured out why.
"No, no," she said, clicking her tongue. "It's something bigger than that, I know it. Tell your old granny what it is."
I bit my lip. Well, here goes nothing. "I've met someone."
"What?" she screeched in my ear, and I swore loudly, causing hot coffee to spill onto my hand, instead of into my favorite blue mug. "Why didn't you tell me sooner, Nathaniel! What's her name? What does she look like? When can I meet her?"
"Slow down, slow down," I said, running my hand under the faucet, so the burn wouldn't bubble up with blisters. "I've met her only yesterday," I explained, smiling despite the sharp pain in my hand. "Her name is Amelia, and she's very beautiful. She has this glow about her." I smirked at my own inside joke.
"When can I meet her?" she asked me again, and I wondered if she had even listened to what I had just told her.
"I'm not quite sure if you can meet her, Grandma," I said. "Not for a while, at least."
I heard her pause on the other end of the phone, before she asked, "She's not a prostitute, is she, Nathaniel?"
"What?" I asked, nearly dropping the new cup that I had gotten from the cupboard. "No, she's nothing like that. Do you think that I'm that desperate where I would do that kind of thing?" I asked, irritated.
"I'm sorry; I shouldn't have asked it. But I will want to meet her, soon, if things decide to get serious between the two of you. You haven't slept with her yet, have you?" she questioned sternly.
"She did spent the night here, but-"
"Oh, my god. Nathaniel, if you get her pregnant out of wedlock, I swear-"
"Grandma, please!" I said. "Let me finish my sentence. She spent the night, but we didn't do anything that you wouldn't approve of." I heard her mumble something unintelligible, but I continued, ignoring it. "I'm not going to get her pregnant."
"Promise?" she asked me, but she sounded doubtful.
"I promise you."
"All right, well, you keep me updated on her, okay? I have to go put some laundry in, so I'll let you go so you can clean as well."
"Okay. I'll call you in a few days. Love you."
"I love you too, Nathaniel. I'm so happy that you found somebody."
"I'm happy, too," I said, smiling. "Call you later."
We exchanged good-byes, and I sipped my coffee, surrounded by boxes and my messy house. But for some reason, I still felt alone.
The whole day, I tried my best to occupy myself, so I wouldn't think about Amelia and how much I missed her. I cleaned the kitchen until it was sparkling, paid the bills until the pile was manageable again, and worked on editing some papers for my boss' company. Even though my hands were busy, the back of my mind was always thinking about her. I checked my watch repeatedly throughout the day, wondering why the minutes seemed to pass so slowly when I wanted them to go by faster, and when I needed time to slow down, it would never comply.
When dinner finally rolled around, I ate without tasting the food and decided to watch some television when what I really wanted to do was sprint up to my room to see if Amelia was buried underneath the covers. I flipped through the channels instead, wanting to give her as much time as possible for her to recover, to gain more of her energy back. I watched a comedy show before it dawned on me that she wouldn't be saving anything if she was already waiting for me in my room…
I clicked the television off and climbed the stairs, two by two. I could smell roses in the hallway, and my heart thudded in my chest. She was here.
I opened the door to my bedroom and peered inside, but my heart fell when I didn't see her lying on my bed, or anyplace else in the room, for that matter. I searched the room again, trying to find any shimmering part of her ghostly form, but I saw nothing. I hadn't imagined smelling those roses, had I? Did I want to see her that much that I had fabricated the whole thing?
As I was about to turn around, a pair of hands covered my eyes, and I tensed, before I heard Amelia whisper, "Guess who?"
I grabbed her hands, spun myself around, and kissed her, before replying. "Who else would I be interested in seeing in my bedroom, other than you, Amelia?" She hugged me close then, and I didn't need to be connected to her to know what she was feeling.
"I've missed you," she mumbled into my shirt.
"I was about to go crazy," I replied, and she laughed and looked up at me.
"Don't you think you already have?"
I smiled down at her. "I'm crazy for you."
"Come on," she said, pulling at my hand, so she could hide the blush that was spreading across her face.
"Tell me about your day," she whispered after we had both climbed onto our bed, and she laid her head on my chest. I stroked her hair, absentmindedly, thinking of something that she would find interesting. But a question burned at my lips that I need to know the answer of first.
"In your letter," I began, remembering the question I had when I read her letter this morning. "What did you mean that you had to regain your energy?"
"It takes a lot out of me to be an apparition for a long time, when I'm not used to being in that form," she sighed, looking up at me from my chest, gauging my reaction. "Do you understand, Nathaniel?"
"A bit," I said, truthfully. "What are you like when you aren't… this?"
She smiled. "It's sort of difficult to explain, but I will try. It's almost as if I'm just a presence, hovering over the house, like a memory or a dream. Except you notice it only if you're aware that I am there. Some people are sensitive to that feeling, especially those who meant to be this way later on in their lives," she said. She tilted her head in thought, while I patiently waited for her to continue.
"Young children can see me more often, because their imaginations are more vivid, and the elderly are more opt to tell stories, since they're close to making that choice for themselves. Most of the time, it is very hard to get the middle generation to believe what they see," Amelia said, looking at me slyly. "But somehow, I have managed to convince you."
I chuckled. "Yes, you are quite persuasive when you wish to be."
She smiled, while I traced lazy circles onto her shoulder, and we sat in comfortable silence. The tears that I had cried this morning seemed strange, when she was lying in my arms. What did I have to be sad about? I thought to myself, but then I remembered the stifling grief from the realization of what I had almost caused to happen.
"Can you ever run out of energy completely?" I whispered. "Will you end up disappearing one day?"
"The more energy I use, the longer it takes for me to recover it. But I only can run out of energy once."
"When will that happen, Amelia?"
She shifted against my shoulder, uncomfortable. "Whenever I chose to leave this world and continue my journey into the next."
"I will miss you when you do decide to leave."
Amelia sighed. "Let us talk about something else," she whispered. I could feel the anxiety roll off of her in waves. "It makes me too sad, when I should be happy because I am with you."
"I'm sorry for asking."
"It's all right," she said. "You had all the reason to ask." The pattern of fingerprints I was making on her shoulder stopped, when she picked up my hand, and cradled it in hers.
"How did you burn yourself, Nathaniel?" she asked, and I was happy that she seemed worried about my well-being, even if it was because of something so trivial as a burn on my hand.
"Oh, that," I said, shrugging to cover up my embarrassment. "I was making coffee, and my grandmother called."
"That does not seem something to burn yourself over," she whispered, and I could hear the smile in her voice.
"I didn't do it on purpose. She said something that surprised me, is all," I chuckled. "She wants to meet you, Amelia. I told her that I am with somebody, and she wants to meet you. Soon."
"Does she know?" she asked, looking up at me with eyes wide with fear.
"No, I didn't tell her that part yet."
"What did you tell her about me, then?"
I felt my face turn a bit red. "I told her that your name is Amelia, and you are staying with me. And that you're very beautiful." Smiling at my compliment, she craned her neck back so she could kiss me on the lips. "I love you," I murmured, surprised by how natural it felt, like it was supposed to be this way all along.
"I love you, too," she sighed, and we resumed our peaceful silence, thinking about time, and wondering how much of it we had left.
A week passed, and we fell into a routine of sorts. In the morning, I awakened to find a note from Amelia lying on her pillow, or sometimes tucked beneath mine. I spent the rest of my day at work, trying to keep as busy as possible, so that I wouldn't go insane with worry and anticipation for the sun to finally set behind the trees. Night always came and went, never long enough to squeeze in one more conversation or one more moment to ourselves. I always awoke alone, and even though her note was always there, it disheartened me greatly that I wasn't able to wake up with her next to me.
As the week progressed, the conversations between my grandmother and me became more heated. She wanted to visit me, so she could meet the girl I talked with her about with her every day. I gave her excuse after excuse, but I knew that I would have to deal with it later on. It was only a matter of time before learned our secret, and that understanding hung in the air of the house like humidity; invisible, but stifling.
After a particularly bad argument late in the day, I decided to sulk in my bedroom and wait for Amelia to return, so I could discuss the phone call I had just had with my grandmother. I watched the shadows begin to filter into the room and dance on the ceiling. When the room was almost completely dark, my eyes locked onto a pinprick of light that swirled and condensed into the person that I loved with all of my heart.
I breathed in Amelia's scent and felt her emotions of happiness wash over me. I almost forgot why I was so angry, so confused. I wanted to erase the bitterness from my face, but the argument still stuck to my mind, no matter how hard I tried to dismiss it. I twisted a smile up at Amelia, who smiled back at me; but her emotions became worried, and I must have failed to convince her that I was happy. She knew that something was wrong.
"Nathaniel, are you all right?" she asked. It hurt my heart to see the crease between her eyebrows, to hear the pang of worry in her voice. She shouldn't have to worry about the things in my personal life, I thought. But if I did keep things from her and pretend that everything was fine, it would only make things worse for our relationship in the long run.
"Not really," I replied, my mouth fixed in a firm line.
"What is the matter with you?" she asked, her dress rustling as she made her way over to where I was lying. I watched her step out of her shoes hurriedly and felt the springs shift as she sat down beside me.
"My grandmother," I said sourly. "She isn't very happy that I haven't introduced her to you yet, so she's decided that she's coming over tomorrow, without my permission. Needless to say, it wasn't a very good conversation," I chuckled, with no humor in it.
"Don't be angry, love," Amelia said, a pout playing on her lips. She touched the space in between my eyes, trying to smooth out my angry expression. I sighed, and I could still feel the nervous energy that she was emitting.
"It's kind of hard to not be angry, when she doesn't even understand the situation," I said. "She has no right to decide what's best for me," I brooded. I hated how I looked, sulking on my bed like a child, with Amelia to comfort me like a parent. But I couldn't help it; my grandmother's words were still ringing in my head.
Amelia placed her hand on my arm, and I looked at her. Her smile was small and wistful. "Something tells me that your grandmother demanding to see me is not the entirety of the problem," she said, and I groaned. She was right.
"She doesn't believe me," I said, spitting out the words as if they were poison. "She thinks that I've made up this whole thing just to get some attention, and that's why she's coming here tomorrow; to convince herself that I'm telling the truth about you."
"Why would she think that you are lying about me?" Amelia asked. Her eyes went wide with shock, and I could feel a bit of anger in the air, mixing with my own emotions of betrayal and anxiety.
"I've never been able to have a girlfriend for very long, before you," I whispered, avoiding her eyes.
Amelia cupped my face in her hands, and said, "That's because you and I were destined to be together. It is nothing to feel ashamed about."
My mouth quirked into a smile. "I know that. It just hurts that my own grandmother has such little faith in my word. I suppose that she has a right to be suspicious, since I've tried to avoid the subject of letting her see you. But still, can't she respect my privacy with the things that I want to keep private?" I huffed, and Amelia laid her head on my chest, wrapping her arms around my middle. We remained entangled until my heartbeat had slowed down, and Amelia's emotions mellowed out.
"So, are we really going to let her come tomorrow to see me?" Amelia whispered. "Or are you going to lie to cover up the truth about what I am?"
I hesitated, choosing my words carefully. "I do not think that lying to her would be a good thing, Amelia. She's the only family that I have left, and I don't want that to change. I think it would be better to lay all the cards on the table and see if she makes a bet," I said, smiling at my analogy.
"But what if she calls our bluff?" Amelia asked. "Or decides to fold? What happens if she doesn't like the idea of me?"
"Then she can think that I'm crazy. I don't mind, really. What can my grandmother do about it? I'm the one who makes my own decisions, not her."
"She could make your life hell, though, Nathaniel."
I sighed. "I know, Amelia. I'm trying to look at the positive side of this. The glass is always half-full type of thing."
"I know. I'm just worried."
"I am, too," I said, and then added, "After she gets over the shock of what you are, I think she'll be okay with it."
"Do you really think so, or are you just saying that to make me feel better?" She smirked up at me.
"Both," I replied.
"Amelia," I said, after a few moments of thoughtful silence.
"Yes?" she whispered.
"Don't be angry at me for saying this, but I think that you should save up as much energy as you can for tomorrow. I don't want you to be stressed out about anything more than you have to. If you disappear in the middle of the visit, my grandmother won't believe me."
"Are you suggesting that I leave you alone tonight? That I don't wait until you fall asleep to leave?"
"Yes," I said, embarrassed at how tactless I sounded. "Don't be mad, Amelia. I don't want you to leave, believe me, but I don't want you to be stressed out tomorrow, either."
"It's all right. I will go now, if that is what you want," she said, sitting up, and putting her shoes back on. I watched her, torn between wanting her to stay, but knowing that she should leave. My shoulder felt sick and empty without her head rested upon it.
"Wait," I said, when she began walking to the middle of the room. I stumbled out of bed, and over to where she was standing. She looked at me curiously, wondering what I was doing, before I pulled her towards me and caught her lips with mine. I felt her smile into my kiss before she disappeared, and I was left alone, with only the ghost of a feeling of her lips pressed against mine.
"Finally, Nathaniel," my grandmother said as I opened the door. "What took you so long?"
"It's good to see you, too, Grandma," I replied, giving her a brief hug. Her perfume was strong, and nothing like the smell of roses that I inhaled whenever Amelia greeted me. Her heels made sharp clicks on the wood floor, and she dumped her overstuffed purse and keys onto my kitchen counter.
"Here, let me take your coat," I said, and she handed it to me, while I placed it on the hook hanging by the door. I watched her survey the kitchen appreciatively, and I was glad that I had cleaned so obsessively these past few weeks. The last thing I needed was to hear her complain about my messy house.
She perched herself on one of my kitchen chairs, and I smiled slightly at how uncomfortable she looked in it. I poured two cups of coffee and placed one in front of her.
"I see why you bought this place. It's very lovely on the inside," she said between her sips of coffee.
"I'm glad that you like it," I replied, breathing a silent sigh of relief. Her argument with me yesterday seemed to be forgotten, on her end at least. Or perhaps she was just trying to compliment me to make up for her harshness yesterday. Either way, I was happy that the tension between us seemed to evaporate overnight.
"So, where is this Amelia girl that you've been sharing this house with?" she asked, her thin eyebrows raised suspiciously.
"Don't worry," I said. "She's going to come over later. Don't ask her a million questions, though. She's nervous about meeting you," I said, telling her the truth.
"What does she have to be nervous about?" she asked, and I grinned.
"Nothing, Grandmother, nothing at all," I said, placing the empty coffee cups in the sink.
"Do you want a tour of the place?" I asked, trying to make her feel as comfortable as she could here, before I exposed Amelia's secret.
"I would love one," she said, linking her arm with mine.
I gave her a tour of the house, pointing out all of the rooms, and she complimented me that everything was unpacked and put in its proper place. I replied that I had turned into quite the clean freak, and since Amelia was now sharing the house with me, I wasn't allowed to be a slob. She complained about the creaking stairs, but I tried to explain my love for them, and that I wouldn't be getting them fixed anytime soon.
We stopped outside of my bedroom, and I spun around, suddenly very nervous. Amelia's energy was strongest in this particular room, so it made sense that I reveal her secret in there. I hoped that the familiarity would ease my anxiety about telling my grandma the truth, and that it would put Amelia at ease as well.
"Grandma, there's something that I have to tell you," I said. I swallowed. My throat dry from nerves. Her steady gaze didn't help my situation any, either. "My girlfriend Amelia is in here," I said, and she looked up at me, confused.
"Why is she in your bedroom, Nathaniel?"
"Everything will make sense in a second. Just let me explain," I said, opening the door and leading my grandma inside. She peered around, looking for Amelia and turned to me, looking completely perplexed.
"Nathaniel, I don't see Amelia in here."
"I know. You might want to sit down," I said, putting my hands in my pockets. But she remained standing.
"Just tell me what's going on."
I let out a deep breath. "You know those stories that the residents told when I first moved in here?" I asked. "The ones about the ghost that supposedly lived here, and how I didn't believe them?"
"Yes, I remember," she said, but her confusion didn't lessen any.
"I got this the first night that I moved in here," I said, making my way to the dresser where I kept my stack of Amelia's letters. I shuffled through them and plucked the appropriate letter from the pile. I handed it to my grandmother, who hesitantly grasped the parchment.
"I don't understand how any of this relates to your girlfriend."
"I know. Just read the letter."
I watched as her expression changed from confusion to amusement. When she was done, she looked up at me, a silly smile plastered on her face.
"You can't really expect me to believe this, can you?" she asked, chuckling a bit. "Is this some sort of joke?"
"No, Grandma, it's not a joke. Amelia wrote me that letter, and everything she said is true." She looked at me, as if I would smile and say, "'April Fool's!'"
"I-I don't understand, Nathaniel," she whispered, although her widened eyes and the tone in her voice told me otherwise. She was scared, and yet she was beginning to believe me.
"Amelia is the ghost that lives here, Grandma," I said simply. "She's been writing me letters every day for the past two weeks, and she is who I've been seeing."
I would have laughed if the situation weren't so serious; my grandmother was speechless, trying to form words, but no sound came out. She looked down at my letter again, and back up at me.
"Is this all the proof that you have of this ghost lady?" she asked, waving the letter in the air. "It doesn't seem very convincing to me."
"No," I said, biting back an angry remark. "I've seen her before, and she spends the nights with me, and restores her energy during the day. That's why the house is so clean. I've been trying to do things so that I wouldn't obsess over when Amelia would show up," I said, smiling a bit, but my grandmother didn't find my comment amusing. "I want you to meet her, Grandma. Isn't that why you came here, to see if I was lying or not?"
"Well, I wanted to make sure that you were settling in okay," she said, flustered.
"Do you want to meet her or not? It's the only way that you'll know that I'm not lying about her."
"It doesn't seem like your argument of her being real even applies anymore," she muttered, and I gave her a stern look. "What the heck," she said, with a smile and a broad sweep of her hands. "I'll play along."
"Grandma, I'm telling you the truth. If you think that this is all a game, and are just going to poke fun at me, then you can leave."
"No, no, I said I would see Amelia, and I want proof that she's 'real,'" she said, quoting the air. "I won't leave until I meet this girl that you share your house with."
"All right, then," I said, seeing the small pinprick of light that signaled Amelia's transformation into a full-bodied apparition. "Just behave yourself."
Our eyes flickered to the spark of light which quickly grew and swirled, eventually molding into Amelia's familiar shape. She smiled broadly at me, and I smiled back, pleasantly surprised that she had twisted her hair into an elaborate bun and was wearing more jewelry than usual.
My grandmother eyed our exchange suspiciously, before Amelia looked at my grandma. Amelia's smile dimmed a bit, but it was still just as happy.
"Hello, Nathaniel's grandmother," Amelia said, her tone polite and formal. "My name is Amelia Lockhart, and I'm pleased to finally meet you."
My grandmother pulled at my sleeve, and I bent so she could whisper in my ear. "Nathaniel, that ghost is talking to me," she said, and I laughed.
"Of course she is, Grandma. What did you expect her to be-mute?"
She hesitated, trying to find the words she wanted to say. "What do I tell her?"
"Anything you want," I whispered back. "She's just like a normal person, you know."
She glanced over at Amelia, rather meekly, as if she were a dangerous lion disguised as a sheep.
"Pleased to meet you as well, Amelia. Nathaniel's told me a lot about you."
"All pleasant things, I hope?" she said, eyeing me.
"Yes, wonderful things. You're all that he can talk about, you should know."
"Good," Amelia said. "If he said anything bad about me, he would be in trouble."
My grandmother smiled, and then sighed. "I've gone crazy, Nathaniel. I'm talking to a ghost."
"If you're crazy, then what am I, Grandma?" I teased.
"That is a good thing to think about," she said, nodding her head. "I think I need to sit down."
"I told you that you should," I said, and pulled up a chair from the corner of the room.
"So, tell me about yourself, Amelia. Why are you here, instead of someplace else? What sins did you commit that prevented you from entering heaven?"
"Grandma!" I scolded, but Amelia interrupted.
"It's fine, Nathaniel," she said to me, and then said to my grandma, "The number of sins that I committed during my lifetime had no role in my imprisonment here, Ms. Thompson. I was killed in a flood in 1823, and so I decided to stay here. Nathaniel and I had just gotten married, and I couldn't imagine being without him, when our lives together had just barely begun. So, my spirit became tied here, and I've been here ever since."
"Wait, wait," my grandma said, waving her hands. "Did you say 1823?"
"Yes, I did. Let me explain. Nathaniel and I had met and married in a small town outside of Springfield, Illinois. After my death, he vowed that his soul would not rest until he had found me again, and he... he killed himself," she said sadly, glancing at me before looking back at my grandmother.
"Nathaniel was destined to be reincarnated, until he was able to find me and spend the remainder of his days with me. I have been trapped here, waiting for him, until now. I am so very happy that he is here with me," Amelia finished, smiling at me warmly. I smiled back weakly, horrified that I had killed myself, and she had to witness it, unable to stop me.
The three of us were quite a group, sitting in the shadowed room, discussing the technicalities of being a ghost and our previous lives together in the early 1820's. I could tell that Amelia enjoyed explaining her life with me because her uneasiness was beginning to slip away.
My grandmother, however, asked question after question, almost interrogating Amelia who didn't seem to mind. After a while, my grandmother eased up, and the atmosphere in the room became much less tense. After about two hours of conversation, my grandmother decided that she had best be getting home, before it got too dark. Amelia shook her hand and kissed me on the cheek, saying that she would be waiting for me in our bed.
As I walked my grandmother to the door, she was silent, which was extremely unusual for her. I handed her the coat that I had placed on the hook by the door, and she gave me a hug.
"Grandma," I said, right before she was about to shut the door.
"You do believe me, don't you? That Amelia is real, and that I am not insane for being with her?"
She gave me a sad half-smile, and whispered, "I don't know, Nathaniel. I want to believe you, but I just don't know if I can."
I made my way up the stairs, the creaking amplified by the silence. When I crawled into my bed, Amelia was waiting for me, her hair undone and splayed across our pillows. She smiled at me, but then it twisted into a frown when she noticed my sad expression.
"Come here," she said, patting the empty space on the bed. I rested my head on her chest, and she stroked my hair. I didn't wipe my tears that spilled onto her dress.
"Shh… Nathaniel. It'll be all right," she murmured as I began to cry harder.
"I just wanted her to believe me. She's the only family that I have left."
"I know," Amelia said softly. "I know."
She comforted me for the remainder of the night, our emotions speaking louder than any words would have. Our silence was enough.
And so, we continued our lives the best that we could, despite the constant tension between my grandmother and me. She never said it directly, but I knew that she thought I was wasting my time with Amelia, and should find myself an actual person to be with. I knew that she was trying to help me live a "normal" life, but without Amelia, there would be no point in living anymore. As the years flew by, I tried to make her understand before I realized that it didn't matter; I was happy, and that was enough.
Towards the end of her life, I think she was beginning to grasp how I felt about her and how important Amelia was to my well-being. My grandmother's relationship deepened with Amelia in the last ten years of her life as well, and she told Amelia frequently that she was glad that she was a part of my life, because she made me a better person. I knew that my grandmother wished that we could have continued our lives in 1823, because she would have loved to see our children.
I adopted a child from Africa, and Amelia adored him. When he got older, we explained why mommy was so pale, and why she never was with us during the day. He accepted the truth much more gracefully than my late grandmother, but he was still just as curious. I don't think that he ever told anybody about his mother, for fear of being rejected, and me being put in a mental institution. I was grateful for his acceptance of Amelia and how normal he made our family seem.
Time was a tricky thing; it was always shifting and growing and changing itself, and before we knew it, it had almost disappeared from us. But I did not complain when my time grew short, for I would rather spend half of my life with her than a thousand lifetimes without her by my side.
The hospital monitors were beeping rhythmically, and my son Aiden was holding my hand, watching me so carefully. He was turning into quite the young man, and at twenty-five, he was becoming a leading research journalist, like myself in my younger years.
"Dad," Aiden said quietly.
"Yes, son?" I whispered back.
"Don't hold on for me, okay? I can take care of myself, and I don't want you to worry about me."
"I'm be fine, Aiden."
"Dad," he said, sadly. "You know that the doctors gave you a day with your cancer's progression. It's all right if you go. I'll be fine," he said, and wiped a tear from his eye.
"Come here," I said, and pulled him into a rough hug. "You be strong, all right?" I said. "I know that you can do a lot with your life, and I couldn't ask for anything better than a son like you, Aiden."
"I know, Dad, I know."
He pulled away from me, not bothering to wipe the streaming tears from his eyes when he looked at me. He smiled, and said, "I want you and Amelia to finally be together," Aiden said. "I know that's what you've always wanted. Don't hold onto this life because of me, Dad."
"Give me her letter," I whispered, and Aiden handed me the first letter I had gotten from Amelia. It was well worn, and I gazed over it, mumbling the words to myself.
Smiling, I looked at Aiden, and said, "I'm ready. I love you, son."
"I love you, too, Dad," he replied, holding my hand. I closed my eyes and let the final string be cut connecting me to this life. I prepared to go to the next.
The last thing I heard was the monitors' flat-lining, and Aiden whispering, "Tell Mom that I said 'Hello.'"
I was surrounded by light. It was everywhere, seeping into my skin, my hair, my feet. I thought rather suddenly, that maybe I was made entirely of energy; maybe I was the light. When I looked down, I saw that my hospital gown was gone, and in its place was a straight-jacket, dress pants and polished shoes. I gazed in amazement at my young hands and touched my unwrinkled face.
The smell of roses hit me, and I looked up and saw Amelia walking towards me, beautiful and radiant and entirely human-looking. Her ruffled dress was a light green, and I smiled when I saw her emerald eyes, for I had always imagined them that color. Behind us, a scenery melted into place, and we were surrounded by others, like us, greeting loved ones, all young and vibrant renditions of themselves.
"Nathaniel," Amelia breathed, and I crushed her body to mine, sweeping her off of her feet and twirling her around in the air before I set her down on the freshly cut grass.
"Oh, my dear Amelia. How I've missed you so," I murmured into her ear, repeating the words that she wrote to me in her first letter. We stayed in comfortable silence, before I released her, and said, "Aiden says 'Hello,'" I said.
She smiled, noticing the ache on my face. "Do not be sad, Nathaniel. He will join us someday."
"Leaving him was the hardest and easiest choice I've ever had to make," I whispered.
Amelia touched my hand, and I cleared my thoughts, knowing that Aiden would heal, in time. I would look forward to that day when Aiden came to live with us, so that the pieces to the puzzle would all be interlocked again.
"We are free, Nathaniel," she said, taking my hand with hers, and the party faded from view, until we were walking alone, the light shining around us, until we became shimmering light itself. We would spend eternity together in complete bliss, both having succeeded in completing our vows that tied us to the human world; with nothing to hold back.
Free, I thought to myself and smiled. Finally, we were free.