I look over at the table beside the lounge, the lounge we bought together. I study the picture- the picture of us- in the frame on the table. My long black tangles- as they are too wild to be considered curls- cover my face and theirs, my green eyes stare from behind the glass, daring someone to take the moment from me, and my freckles are barely visible through all my hair. Louis; his entire body, facing me, his arms wrapped around my shoulders, his doe eyes looking at me, with as much force possible, with a face as kind and loving as his, you'd think he wanted to kill me, rather than love me. Ted; standing on the other side of me, he has the same brown eyes as his little brother- but his are looking at me with a brotherly love, his cheeky grin suggests he is going to do something stupid- and he did, after this photo was taken he tackled me and Louis to the ground, he has his arm wrapped around my shoulders, sitting on top of Louis's and he is making ears with his fingers on top of Louis's head. This picture was taken two years ago, we were seventeen, and Ted was nineteen. This is my favourite picture.
"Come on, Chelsea, we're going to be late." Louis brings me out of my daydreaming. He takes my hand and leads me out the door. "Ted, hurry up" At this, Ted hurries out of his bedroom, still pulling on what is probably his only clean shirt, carrying his shoes, and races out the door. This is how it always goes. We're always running late.
Ted looks me up and down and wolf whistles. "Who are you dressing up for?" he teases, "Certainly not my little brother?" Louis shoots him a scathing look, I can't help but laugh.
"It's his birthday," I tease back; "Someone has to look nice for him." I smile and start to walk ahead.
We arrive at the boys' parents' house twenty minutes later than we were meant to. Taylor, their mum, scolds us for our tardiness, and then quickly forgets as Louis walks through the door.
"My boys," tears start to well in her eyes, "You're grown up- Louis, nineteen today." She grabs him and showers him in kisses.
"Muuummm." He groans.
Ted starts to snicker, Taylor turns to him. "Ted, have you got a proper job yet?" she asks pointedly.
"Nah mum, I still play in a garage band for a living." He winks at Louis. "By the way, can I borrow some money?"
Taylor looks as though she is going to say something smart back when Charlie, the boys' dad appears in the doorway. He grabs both the boys at the same time. "You," he looks at Ted, "stop upsetting your mother, and you," he looks at Louis, "go into the kitchen, there's a huge present sitting on the table, bring it out here and open it," he steps over to me and whispers to me, "and you, Chelsea, get out while you can." He smiles, and winks. I start to giggle. I love having a proper family.
Taylor looks at me, "Chelsea, how have you been, darling?" she hugs me. "These boys don't give you too much trouble?"
I shake my head, "I love having them around, they make life more… interesting, to say the least." We both chuckle.
Louis emerges from the kitchen with a huge box, wrapped in silvery paper with a blue ribbon on top. "Jesus, guys, how did you get this out of the store, it's so damn heavy."
He drops it on the floor and his parents cringe, "Be careful." They chime, in unison.
He pulls the wrapping until it falls off. "A microwave…" he tries to sound pleased but I can tell he's disappointed.
"We thought, seeing as you are all moved out and living together, you might need one." Taylor grins, pleased with herself. Ted starts to laugh, and though I try to hold my giggles in I start as well. "What's wrong with it?" Taylor starts to get defensive.
"He's a kid, Mum. He was hoping for alcohol, or a new bike, or a racing car, or a pony."
"It's nice, Mum, and I will use it a lot more than a bike or a racing car, or a pony."
Taylor is satisfied, "Did you get him anything, Ted?"
"I wonder what that could be." Louis is being smart again- every year Ted gives him the same thing for his birthday, two tickets to see one of his gigs at whatever pub he's playing at… which are just two bits of paper that say "Happymess" (the name of his band) on them, because you actually don't need tickets to get into his gigs.
Ted pulls a parcel from his backpack. Everyone looks at him, shocked. It's too big to be the usual tickets. Louis opens it, carefully; worried that it is a practical joke. He pulls out a large, blue raincoat.
"It's like the one you had as a kid, the one you'd never take off… the one I set fire to."
"Thank you." Louis sounds genuinely thankful, surprising me, what is so important about a raincoat?
"Don't get too emotional, I nicked it from a homeless guy." We all laugh as though it's a joke, although he's probably telling the truth. "Oh, I forgot these," he pulls two tickets to his next gig out of his back pocket, earning another round of laughter.
"My turn?" I ask. I lean down and kiss Louis on the cheek, "Happy birthday, Louis." I pull his present out of my handbag.
When he unwraps it he discovers Cache 22, the novel. "Thanks, I've wanted this for ages."
"I know that's why I got it."
We spend the rest of the afternoon flicking through baby pictures of the boys and swapping stories about Louis and his embarrassing habits.
"Let's go have a real party now," Ted grabs us both around the shoulders, as we walk down the street, towards our house.
"Nah, I'm happy just to go home and eat leftover birthday cake and play… cards." Louis holds up the bag of food his parents sent home for us to eat.
"Pleeeaaasssee." Ted begs, "You're no fun."
"Fine, as long as Chelsea's ok with it."
"Yeah, you boys go have fun, I'll eat that cake by myself."
"No way, you're coming with us." Ted pulls his 'puppy-dog' face- he really looks like a donkey, but no one will tell him that.
"Ok, but we're driving."
"But that means one of us can't drink."
"Who's not going to drink?"
"We'll draw straws."
Ted gets the short straw, he's driving.
I suppose Ted could be blamed for what happens next, but I could be blamed for it too, and so could Louis. Ted ignores the fact that he has to drive us home and drinks anyway- he drinks less than he usually does, but he still drinks too much. I refuse to walk home- its dark and I don't want to get murdered. We decide to drive. Louis gets carsick and starts to puke out the window- it could also have something to do with the amount of alcohol he has consumed. Ted gets distracted and swerves onto the wrong side of the road, in front of an oncoming car. I see the flash of headlights and beeping horn. I see the look of shock on Ted's face and feel the car swerve back to our side of the road- too late. I hear the shattering glass; smell the burnt rubber from our tyres, see black.
I can hear the beeping of a truck reversing; smell the sterile cleaning products Taylor uses. I can hear feet clicking down the street outside and hear the others talking in hushed voices. Someone is crying.
"I'm sorry," a male voice, I don't recognise says. "We couldn't save him." Who are they talking about?
"What about-"Taylor's voice cuts through the air, she's the one crying.
"She is stable; she may not wake up though, because she had a terrible bleed in her brain." Who are they talking about? "She will definitely never walk again."
I see flecks of colour behind my eyelids and I hear static, then nothing.
I can hear the truck again. And smell the cleaning products, but now I can smell food... Taylor must be making dinner. The others must be downstairs, because I can't hear them talking anymore.
I open my eyes. The white light surrounding me burns, until my eyes adjust. I can see the white roof above me. I can see and feel the tubes sticking into me and the beeping wasn't a truck, it was a machine, a hospital machine... I'm in a hospital. I try to sit up, but nothing will work. I can't move. I start to panic. I try to scream, but no sound comes out of my mouth, the beeping of the machine gets more rapid... it's monitoring my heartbeat.
"She's awake!" Taylor's face appears in my sight. She holds me. "Its ok sweetheart, you're ok, you're alive." I can't make sense of anything, what am I doing in a hospital. Taylor looks at me, tears rolling down her face. The memory of the car accident comes flooding back to me. I feel the tears start to roll down my face as well.
"Where is..."I start to croak, but it hurts to speak.
"Shh... I'll get the doctor." Taylor disappears.
A man appears, "I am Dr Peterson." He says. "Can you move any part of your body?"
"No. My mouth only."
"Ok, you are paralysed. Don't try to move anything, don't panic, we will be able to help you."
"Where are the boys?"
He looks over to somewhere I can't see, "Just worry about yourself for now," he says, propping me up in my bed. "Can you move your fingers at all?"
I feel my fingers twitch slightly.
"Good. Can you feel your toes?"
"No." I start to cry again- I don't even know why, probably shock.
"It's ok, we can help you."
"Where is Taylor? Where is Louis? Where is Ted? Will I walk again?" I am hysterical now.
"I can see that this is very upsetting and confusing for you, but if you calm down, I can explain."
I start to breathe normally again.
"Do you remember the accident?"
"Do you want to see what it did to you?"
He reaches over and grabs a hand-held mirror. I gasp as I see the bruises and scratches, and worst of all the stitches on my face.
"It also paralysed you; you may never walk again... but I am hopeful that you may start to be able to move your arms, so you can still be independent."
I stare at him, stunned, until Taylor returns. I start to sob inconsolably; I think I can hear my heart breaking, my hopes shattering. Taylor holds me until I fall into a fitful sleep.
I wake up, and someone is holding my hand. I can't turn my head to see them. "Who's there?" I ask.
"Just me." Louis. Relief overwhelms me, until I see his face not only is it unshaven and battered almost as bad as my own, but he is gaunt, like he hasn't eaten in days.
"Ted... he didn't... Ted-"He cuts off. I know what he's going to say. I wish I could move so that I could hold him in my arms, show him that I will never leave, stroke his hair while he cries into my shoulder.
"Lean down here," I say. "I'm here."
He lies on the bed next to me, it's a tight squeeze, but neither of us cares. He lays his head on my chest and lets his tears flood from his eyes and soak through the blankets, I let mine flow too, I can taste their saltiness as they mingle with his. We stay like that for a long time; neither of us really wants to go on.
The next few weeks are a struggle. I need help to do everything. Louis or Taylor feed me, wash me, and move me. I go into rehabilitation. First, I am able to move my head, and my arms. But the pain is almost too much in the beginning. I try not to show it, but some days I cry and I scream the pain is just too much to bear.
Three weeks pass, and finally, they send me home. Louis has already been at home for weeks, but he came out of the accident with a broken arm, and that's it. Except for the emotional scars from losing his brother, and having a girlfriend who can't look after herself.
He wheels me home, in my chair, and I marvel at the things I hadn't noticed, or hadn't cared about before the accident. People stare at us as we pass them, it's bad enough that I'm in a chair, but Louis looks like a zombie, and the scar from the stitches down the entire right side of my face will never fade completely.
Louis sees the look of one woman, pulling her child closer as she points to my face and asks, "Mummy, what's wrong with her face?"
Louis stops pushing me and I panic. Don't hit the kid, Louis. He doesn't. He comes around the front of the chair, and kneels down. "I think she's beautiful." He lays his head in my lap and starts to shudder and sob with the force of his emotions pouring out of him. I can see that he is slowly going crazy; he needs me now, in an emotional way, more than I need him to help me live, in a physical way.
He slowly raises his head. "I'm sorry."
I don't know what to say to him, nothing I can do or say will bring Ted back, which is what he really needs.
We make it home. For the first time, we take the elevator- he can't push me up the stairs. We live on the second floor.
"Are you hungry?" he asks as I roll through the door.
"No." I look up at him. "We should talk about what happened on the street."
"There's nothing to talk about. I'm emotional- I cry all the time- I don't understand why- I just do."
"There's got to be more than that."
"There's not." He snaps. "I'm sorry," he calms down. "I was conscious the whole time. You went limp. I thought you were dead. The car had rammed right into you- there was so much blood- I thought you were both dead, until Ted turned to me and said 'Fuck, I'm a terrible driver.' I thought he was going to be ok- but one night, when I was sitting with you, he was in surgery, he died in surgery." His eyes search my face for something- anything to show that I understand.
"All I remember are the tyres screeching… and the shock on Ted's face as the car hit. Everything went black."
"You were unconscious for three days after the accident."
"And you were struggling to hold it together; because you thought you'd lost two of the people you cared about most in your life- I'm sorry for putting you through that."
I have started to become independent again. I can do certain things like make food and brush my own teeth and hair, put my own shirt on, I can also wheel myself around, so that Louis doesn't have to anymore. There are still things I can't do though, I can't get into bed without Louis lifting me, or into the bathtub, and I still have trouble bending down to put my pants, shoes and socks on. I have started going to my rehabilitation sessions on my own; Louis doesn't like to leave the house, if he can help it. He just sits around with his blue raincoat on all the time.
One afternoon, after rehab, I make it to the second floor in the elevator and I can hear screaming. It's Louis. He's probably asleep. He has nightmares and often wakes up in a pool of sweat, crying, after seeing his brother's bloody face, tangled in his seatbelt, telling him what a bad driver he is. I open the door. Louis is sitting on the lounge, looking at the empty space next to him. He has stopped screaming, and he just stares, silently.
"I thought you were gone," he says, still staring.
"I told you I'd-"
"I thought you were dead." He cuts me off. "I missed you, where were you? Don't scare me like that again."
It takes me a while to realize he's not talking to me.
"Do you want a game of cards, mate?"
I wheel myself over to him. "It's not him. He's not there, Louis."
He looks up at me shocked. He didn't hear me come in the door. "Yes he is he's right-"He turns to see that his brother is gone. "You made him go away. He was there. He was there. Ted," he starts to scream. "Come back." He gets up and pushes the table with my favourite picture on it. The glass shatters all over the floor- my favourite memory is smashed to smithereens as my boyfriend storms to our bedroom, looking for his dead brother.
I try to pick up the pieces, but I can't bend far enough and end up falling to the floor, landing on shards of picture frame, they stab me and cut me, but I can't move. I lie there, on my bed of glass, hopelessly crying for Louis to come help me.
He emerges hours later, blood on his hands, probably from where he hit the glass. I look up at him, and I must look awful because he leaps to my side, lifting me into my chair.
"Sorry, sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Chelsea, sorry." He keeps repeating it as he washes the blood from his hands and where the glass cut me when I landed on the floor. He pulls the shards gently from my skin, still repeating his sorrys.
I stop him. "We need to talk about what just happened."
"I- I thought he was there. I'm sorry I hurt you."
"You didn't hurt me, I hurt myself."
"I'm crazy aren't I?"
No, you're not, you just miss him… this sort of thing happens. Maybe we should see someone?"
"You mean I should see someone?" He raises his head; his face is a storm cloud.
"No, we would go together. I have issues too."
"I would never leave you when you need me, you should know that."
Our first counselling session is on a day of dark, rolling clouds and rain pelting down on roofs and awnings. Louis has his famous, blue raincoat on, and I hold an umbrella over myself as he wheels me towards the first step of recovering our sanity.
"Now, Chelsea and Louis, you've come to see me today because you're having some issues after the car accident. Do you have anything you would particularly like to talk about?"
We meet her questioning gaze with deafening silence.
"What about you Louis? Do you want to talk about anything?"
Louis stares at the counselor; her name is Desdemona. "I need to talk about Ted, is that ok?"
Desdemona nods. "Yes, it is. How do you feel about the accident?"
Louis screws up his face, "What do you mean?"
"Well, when something like this happens, it can be particularly difficult for family, so I just want to know how you're feeling."
Louis nods. "Yes, we're both sad. I suppose. We both loved Ted."
I nod to show my support of Louis. "He was an amazing person; he was like a brother to me too. He was like the sibling I never had." My eyes widen with shock at what I have revealed to this stranger, and then fill with tears. Desdemona smiles at me.
"When you think of Ted, how do you feel, Chelsea?"
"I miss him, and his jokes. I miss seeing his car parked out the front. I miss waking up and hearing him playing his music too loud."
"Did the three of you spend a lot of time together?"
I nod "Yes, a lot- we lived together."
"What kinds of things did you do together?"
I beam at the thought. "Everything and anything."
"We used to go to a lot of parties together," Louis explains. "He was in a band, so we used to go to all his gigs too. We were together all the time."
"Chelsea, you mentioned his car. Did you ever go in it, or drive it?"
"Yeah," I look over at Louis. "But whenever I drove, Ted was always in the car too. He was frightened I'd total it."
"But you could drive, did you?"
"Have you two been in a car since the accident?"
We both shake our heads, Louis answers. "The car was wrecked after the accident."
Desdemona isn't surprised. "I guess that you don't need another reminder of him."
Suddenly Louis blurts out. "I saw him the other day, you know. I thought he was sitting next to me. I hallucinated he was alive, I think."
Desdemona nods. "Did you? That isn't uncommon for relatives, grieving. It's important to let go, though. Are you both going through this?"
We both shake our heads. "No," Louis says. "It's just me."
I look over at Louis again. "Louis was talking to him when I came home."
"Well," she says, "sometimes this occurs in people close to the victim. But he just needs your support, and he will be alright. How did you feel after finding him like that?"
We both echo, "Terrible." Then I add, "I miss Ted too, but I've lost so much more than Ted. But I'm going to get my legs back, so that's ok."
"And what about you, Louis? Do you feel that you've lost more than just Ted?"
Louis looks at me, warily. "I lost all drive; I no longer feel anything except pain."
"How has that affected you, Louis?" Desdemona's voice is warm, and inviting. "Do you want to tell me?"
He lowers his head, unable to look at me. "I don't feel the love I used to for Chelsea, and I know she needs my support. She needs someone who can look after her."
Desdemona nods, "Ted was very important to you, wasn't he, Louis?"
Again, Louis looks at me.
Finally he speaks. "I loved Ted. He was my brother, I loved him."
"I suppose she'll help us deal with it. I feel ok now… not ok, just better, I guess." Louis is sitting across from me at the table. "I'm sorry I said I didn't love you anymore."
"I understand." I reach over to put my hand on his. "You just lost the person who meant the entire world to you. I can understand that you feel… numb."
He nods. Silently brooding.
"I'm going to have a bath." I say, rolling away.
"I'll help you."
"I think I can manage, but if I need help I'll call you." I need time to think. I just want to be alone.
I manage to get undressed perfectly fine; I'm only wearing a dress so it's not that difficult. But as I lower myself into the bathtub my hand slips, and I crash to the floor, screaming.
I see blood flow into the water and Louis barge through the door. His eyes widen with shock and he runs towards the kitchen. He returns, lifting me out of the tub.
"I've called an ambulance."
"You've got a gash down your side the size of Africa. And your bone is poking out at a weird angle."
I look down at my hands… they are red, my blood keeps pouring all over them and they keep getting redder. Everything turns to blackness.
I wake up in the hospital again. I turn my head and see Louis asleep on the chair beside me. I look at the clock beside my bed- it says 7:00. He stayed with me all night.
The doctor appears in the doorway, "Ah, you're awake."
Louis peels his eyes open.
The doctor continues as Louis straightens himself up. "I have to talk to you both."
I look up at his somber face. This is bad.
"Chelsea… we took some x-rays… and because of the car accident, we decided to x-ray your brain, to see if you had done any damage in your fall. We didn't find any signs of trauma, but we found a tumour."
I am stunned into silence.
"It's cancerous… and quite large. We can't remove it, but we can give you chemotherapy. Are you ok? Do you understand?"
"No." Louis whispers. "Why, Chelsea? She can't walk. Now she has a brain tumour. It's not fair."
"Chelsea, are you ok?"
"I think I'm going to throw up." I whisper in answer to the doctor's question.
Louis holds my hand, tight in his. "It's going to be ok. You're going to get better."
My body jerks and shudders and I scream and cry. "Let me die!" I scream.
"Shh, Chelsea. I love you. I would never let you die." Louis strokes my hair.
I start my chemotherapy. Louis helps me through it, moral support and physical support. He no longer lets me do anything by myself. He refuses to sleep until I do, he won't let me go anywhere without him. I don't mind, though; most of the time I need the extra help.
One afternoon, after pulling another clump of hair from my head in the bathtub I call Louis to get me.
"What's wrong?" he lifts me out of the tub.
"I want you to shave my head for me."
I show him the hair.
I can't watch as each curl falls to the ground beneath my feet. I used to hate my hair. Now I cherish it.
Louis picks up a clump. "Do you want to keep some?"
"Yeah," I take it from him.
"I love you, Chelsea. I will love you no matter what."
"You don't have to. I don't believe in eternal love."
"But I will love you for eternity."
"If I die, I want you to be able to move on, I don't want to hold you back. You're young, you have an entire lifetime-"
No! Don't say that, you won't die."
"I might. Please. Promise, that if you find someone you will move on."
"Just do it."
"No. I will never love anyone more than you."
"You might. But you don't have to love her more than me. You just have to be able to find someone who makes you happy. If you find that, I will be happy."
"ok… I promise." He mumbles, looking at his feet. "But you will be the only woman I will ever love."
Ten and a half months since the accident- today is Ted's birthday.
It sounds awful, but neither Louis nor I have been to his grave since the funeral- it's just too emotionally draining.
"Here he lies." I say to Louis, reading the inscription on the tombstone
"But not at rest" Louis contradicts the engraved 'Rest in Peace.'
"He was our best-" I stop… he was more than a best friend, to both of us.
"This is where he waits for what comes next" Louis looks as if he's in a trance.
"Oh God." I'm struck by the morbidity of his words.
"He's not at peace."
The blackbirds screech as I lay the blue flowers we picked on his headstone.
"We should let him sleep." Louis looks down at his feet.
"Our hope is gone." I join Louis on his far away rant.
"He was our brother, our friend, our son."
"Let's move on."
"I can hear him, whispering his goodbyes."
"I can see his brown eyes, looking down at us from the sky."
It was a strange, disjointed conversation, but it helped me, I think it helped Louis too.
A week later, one afternoon we're sitting in Taylor and Charlie's house, and my head starts to throb. My vision starts to blur. I feel faint- dizzy.
"Chelsea!" I hear Louis yelling, "Mum! Call an ambulance! Chelsea's collapsed."
I hear hurried footsteps swirling around me in a cacophony of fear and terror. I feel Louis rubbing my arm. "It's ok, Chels… you're ok."
The sound of sirens fills the spaces in my head with red and blue splotches. That's all I can see, behind my eyelids.
Someone lifts me. They are strong; they pick up my dead weight with ease. I feel their heart beating next to mine, and then I am placed, with care onto a stretcher.
"She just went limp." Louis explains. "One minute she was fine, the next…"
"It's ok, mate, she'll be fine." A voice I don't recognise.
"She has a tumour!" Taylor screeches.
The sirens start again.
"She's still breathing. That's a good sign."
"That woman, her mum? Said she has a tumour. She might be having an aneurism."
"Shit. Poor kid. She'll need to be operated on."
The sirens stop. I can hear clanging and banging.
"What's happened?" Another male voice, also unfamiliar.
"Brain aneurism, we think."
"Get me an OR, and a team to scrub in."
I hear people everywhere. Yelling, talking, and crying.
Something jabs into my arm, and a tube is being shoved down my throat. I can feel something slicing my head. Everything turns to black. I sleep.
I'm in a field. Lying on the grass. I stand. I can stand! My legs work!
I see Ted. I race to him. I throw myself into his arms. He disappears. He was there. Now he's gone.
What's going on?
I turn, behind me is a house I recognise all too well. I walk towards it. I can hear the screaming. My screaming. Through the windows I can see a large, masculine figure, chasing me; my tiny figure fleeing desperately from my own father.
I remember the things that used to go on in that house. I was four when he left. Mum was beside herself. I don't know why. He was a bastard to her too... She used to bring home strange men. She would wear red lipstick and stilettos to match. She would take them upstairs to her bedroom. It always smelled of stale sweat up there. I would have to stay in my bedroom.
One day I went up there, to her room. After that I never saw Mum the same way. She was selling herself. But, it was all she could do. She did it for me.
I was nine when he came back. My father. He had a pistol. He pointed it at me, first, until he saw Mum's smeared lipstick and 'not much left to the imagination' dress.
"Slut!" He shouted. He shot her. He did terrible things to me. I was fourteen when I ran away. I lived on the streets, until a social worker found me. She adopted me, sent me to school. Life was perfect for a while. Then I met Louis. It was better than perfect, until the accident.
I turn away from my old life. I see Louis. He's distraught. He's sobbing, heart wrenching, and gulping sobs. I make my way to him. I put my hand on his shoulder. He strikes me.
"You have ruined my life." He hisses vehemently.
I don't understand. Am I dreaming?
The field around me fades. I am standing in an Operation Room in a hospital. I'm standing over my own body.
"She's flat-lining!" someone shouts.
The surgeons' movements become more frantic.
They stop. "Time of death; 7:22 pm."
That makes no sense. I can't be dead. I'm standing right here. "I'm over here!"
No one hears... they all ignore me.
I try to tap the doctor's shoulder. I can't touch him. I am dead.
I follow the doctor into the waiting room.
"I'm sorry." He looks at Louis. "We couldn't save her."
Louis falls to his knees. I want to tell him to get up. I'm fine. He must do what I told him. Move on.
Louis moves back in with Taylor and Charlie. He sells the old house. I suppose it's too much of a reminder of our old life.
He does nothing. He will not eat, he barely sleeps. He is like a zombie. He just lies in his bed, in his room; darkened with the morose gloom, which emanates from inside Louis, born of his mourning and misery. He is sad, beyond sad. He is dying. Worse, I think, inside, he is already dead. A soulless shell, a being withering to nothing. The boy I once knew, the boy who filled every waking moment with joy, and every sleeping moment with fantasy is no longer there. He has been replaced with this strange, non-respondent version of himself. There is nothing behind his eyes. No happiness, no passion, no hate, not even sadness. Nothing.
I watch him for nearly a week. One day he wakes from yet another nightmare. He screams my name. Though, this time, rather than lie down and stare at the ceiling, like he usually does, he raises himself from his bed. He reaches into one of the boxes he has failed to unpack, and pulls out the picture. My favourite picture.
"I love you," he whispered. "I miss you. I miss you both. Chelsea, how can I be happy without you? I'm sorry, I can't keep my promise. I can't even get out of bed." He starts to cry.
"Pathetic." Someone behind me says. When I turn around, he is gone. I wonder, briefly, who it could have been.
I look back over at the bed. Louis does look slightly pathetic. But he needs me. I wish I could help him, give him some sort of consolation, and support him. But he can't even see me. I can't touch him. He can't hear me.
I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. What if he- but I can't think of that… he's not that stupid, I don't think. He is sad though, people do strange things when they're in this amount of pain. Although I much rather the crying to the staring into the distance, feeling nothing. At least he's at a new stage of grief- he's getting through it, getting over me. And his brother.
There's a knock at the door. It's Taylor. She sees Louis's face. "At last," She says, holding her youngest, only living son to shoo the monsters that prey on his mind like a mother shoos the monsters from a cupboard.
They stay like that for a very long time; Louis, almost in Taylor's lap- but he's almost twice her size so it's quite difficult- curled in a ball, Taylor leaning over him, head leaning on his shoulder. It's touching- an intimate moment shared by mother and son in the face of death. It would bring tears to my eyes but I have discovered, being dead, I can't cry.
I leave. I feel like I am witnessing something too personal to watch without them knowing I'm there. Like I shouldn't be there. Like no one should be there. Like I'm not part of what happens anymore. I don't know how I'll do it, but I'm going to find the mystery ghost. The one who was standing behind me before.
Out on the street, I'm bombarded with noise and people walking past, and through me. It's a strange sense- being walked through. It makes you feel you're not really there. I suppose it's because I'm not. I'm dead.
I walk down the street, watching, listening to people. A young couple, sitting on a bench, voices low, catch my attention. The girl is crying, the boy looks lost- like his entire life has been pulled from beneath him.
"I don't know how to tell my parents," she sobs. The boy sits, still stunned. "For God's sake, you are part of this, so you have to help me. Don't sit there like a stunned mullet- what am I supposed to do?"
"I- I don't know. You can't keep it."
"Yes I can, and I will!" The girl raises her voice, causing a few passers- by to stare momentarily. She regains her calm. "I can't kill something you and I created."
"But we're too young- I didn't want-"
"You didn't want what? Me? A family with me? Anything to tie you to me? Bastard! You can leave- get out of here; you'll be no good for my baby anyway."
The boy gets up and leaves, shaking his head. The girl bursts into tears as his hooded figure is swallowed by the sea of people racing past. "Didn't even put up a fight." I sit next to her a while. I don't know her, but I wish I could comfort her in some way.
My attention is taken by a woman; she has an unwilling child in tow. The child is screaming and dragging her feet.
"I want an ice-cream!" she screams.
"It's too cold for ice-cream. Stop being silly," The mother jerks the child's arm.
The child then proceeds to scream. "Don't hit me, Mummy, please!" Passers-by shake their heads and stare.
Finally, the mother gives in, "Ok, you can have an ice-cream."
Clever kid. She perks up instantly.
I move on, walking past a café, I spot two young guys.
"The blonde one with the big tits," one nods in the direction of said blonde.
"Hmmph," the other is clearly unimpressed.
"What? She's hot!" The first is incredulous, "What would you suggest?"
"The one serving coffee, wild, red hair, big smile."
"Whatever. Not as hot as mine."
"I like her. She's… pretty… I don't know, she just seems cool."
"You're terrible at this game. You're meant to pick chicks we can both perve on. Not some ranga who you'll stalk for a month and never talk to."
"I'll talk to her now." He gets up. I watch him walk to the counter and talk to the red haired girl. He returns. "She finishes at eight. We're having dinner."
I laugh to myself. The other guy looks dumbstruck.
I keep moving, I walk for a few steps and, although it is on the other side of town I find myself suddenly at the cemetery. Standing above my own grave. Right next to Ted's. I am transfixed. I can't move, can't breathe… I don't need to, my eyes stay fixed on my name. My brain can't register it, although I already know I'm dead, it's shattering to see it in writing- it's too official.
I forget all about my mission to find the mystery ghost until I hear a voice from behind me.
"There are worse ways to discover you're dead."
I turn. I can't see anyone. "I already knew I was dead. Where are you? Who are you?"
"I'm hiding. How did you find out you were dead?"
"The doctor called time of death. You?"
"Saw my mangled body pulled from a crime scene- an accident."
"How many others like us are there? I mean ghosts."
"Don't know. I've seen a few."
"I haven't seen any. Though I've been watching someone in particular, so I haven't been looking."
"So have I."
"You've been following me?"
"You've been following me too."
"I don't mean to."
"Exactly. We're connected in some way. It's destiny, if you will."
"Destiny? We don't even know each other."
"Who are you?"
No answer. He's disappeared again.
One month on, Louis has had enough time to grieve, or so everyone around him says. He still lives with Taylor and Charlie, but I think they need him as much as he needs them. He goes back to work- he's a waiter in a restaurant, of an evening, and he starts to do a course in business at the local University. Those who don't know him well would say he is moving on, but I know better and not just because I see him, even when he's alone, but I know that this sudden immersion into things to do is to distract him.
Every morning is the same. Louis hauls himself up out of bed. He looks into the photo of himself, Ted and I. Sometimes he cries, sometimes he sighs and sometimes he smiles or laughs. This morning he smiles ever so slightly, as if trying to conceal happiness from himself. He then puts on his brave face and goes downstairs. Taylor always has coffee awaiting him. Sometimes Louis drinks it, sometimes, if he's running late he doesn't. He sits down with Charlie at the table- he very rarely eats more than a tiny morsel of toast. The conversation is light.
"Morning, Dad. Morning, Mum." Louis kisses Taylor and takes his coffee.
"Good Morning." They both echo.
"How'd you sleep, son?" Charlie asks.
"Good." Louis lies. He woke up three times last night, panting, sweating, and whimpering.
"Will you be home for lunch today?"
"Probably not," this surprises everyone. He always says 'Yes, sure, Mum.'
"Oh, are you meeting someone?" Taylor sounds hopeful.
"No, I'm just really busy today." Louis gets up. "I'd better go or I'll be late."
Sitting next to Louis in a lecture room, I can see that he's not concentrating, he's preoccupied. There's something going on. I just can't work out what. To anyone any amount of distance away, he looks as though he's enthralled in the lecture. He is writing erratically on his notepad, every so often looking up. I can see that the 'notes' he is taking are doodles. Cartoons, poems- typical Louis.
After class, he is sitting with two faces I recognise and feel a pang of longing, combined with a hopeless sense of loneliness- it's Sally and Mick. The four of us have been best friends since... I'm not sure, but it feels like forever. They were there after the accident, Sally consoled me when I lost my hair, Mick attempted to stir Louis out of bed for weeks after I died.
Sally is sitting with her arm, laden with a multitude of bracelets, draped around Louis's shoulders. Her chocolate coloured eyes outlined in thick, almost Egyptian eyeliner, show signs of tears. She is shaking her head, so that her ringlets streaked with a deep purple, bounce around her shoulders.
"I know, but it might make you feel better." Mick is saying in his deep, velvet voice. His multicoloured eyes flickering with sorrow- he has one green eye, one brown. He runs his hand through his thick, sandy hair. "It might... I dunno... be less daunting?"
"No matter what I do it'll bring back memories. It's the anniversary." Louis mumbles to his feet.
"You can't always remember your birthday as the day he died, Louis. You'll just become depressed... more so than you already are." Sally interjects, her beaded earrings jingling in emphasis.
"I suppose, but I still don't want a party."
"Ok, stop beating yourself up about it, though." Mick gives Louis a sturdy thump on the back. "Let's go get something to eat."
"I can't, I have to go meet my little sister." Sally looks disappointed.
"How old is she?" Mick winks and nudges Louis. Louis continues to look at his feet.
"She's only a year younger than us. Eighteen, but you're not going near her."
"She's old enough to get into the pub, bring her along." Louis says, looking at Mick.
"Alright, I'll call her."
A tall girl, thin girl, approaches the group. I can tell that she is Sally's sister from the colour of her hair; it's a deep red, natural, the same as Sally's natural colour. That is where the similarities between the two sisters end. Sally is tiny, and although her sister is equally thin she is almost a head taller, she is also much less eccentric than Sally. While Sally's hair falls in natural ringlets her sister's is long, and has only a slight wave, but her most striking feature is her huge, round, green eyes.
"Guys, this is Angel. Angel, this is Louis and Mick."
Both the boys look love struck. Louis moves first, he reaches out his hand to shake Angel's. Mick follows suit.
"Hello, nice to meet you." She says, smiling an infectious smile.
They sit and order. There is a few seconds of silence, in which Mick stares stupidly at Angel, Sally glares at Mick, Louis fails to hide his smirk and Angel is obliviously smiling at everyone.
"So, Angel, how's that boyfriend of yours doing?" Sally gives Mick a meaningful look. Mick shrugs.
"Oh... um... we broke up a few weeks ago... he... wasn't what I thought... he was... yeah." Angel trails off.
Mick takes that as his cue, looking at Sally, he says. "Really? Too bad. Guys can be jerks, yeah? Me and Louis, though, we're the good guys... we'll love you properly."
Angel looks uncomfortable at this revealing outburst. "That's good."
"What Mick meant to say is... umm... we'll... we'll be good friends to you. We won't try to take advantage of you. Sally would kill us." A tense laugh echoes through the group at Louis's failed attempt to smooth over Mick's blunder.
Angel smiles, knowingly, "Thanks, guys."
Sally rolls her eyes. "So how's the journalism going, Angel?"
"Umm... yeah, I'm really enjoying it. Actually, I love it. I've just started the part of the course where we get to pick... sort of like a major- like writing, or TV, but I'm doing photography, it's amazing. Do you guys do business, with Sally?"
Louis nods. "I'm not as passionate as her, or, by the sound of it, you, but I show up to the class."
"I don't go to Uni." Mick says, "I'm not in the country enough. My passions lie in travel, backpacking, experiencing other cultures."
Angel looks impressed. "I've always wanted to travel. I bet you have some amazing stories to tell."
Sally snorts, "Yeah, like the time he got bed bugs in Jordan. Or got bitten by a rabid monkey in Bangkok. Even better, the time he had to be rescued from Timor because Civil war broke out."
"Wow. You really did all that?"
"Yeah, it's not glamorous most of the time, but it's an amazing experience. I almost got hit by a dozen cars while riding my bike through the Arc De Triumph, in Paris- that was the same trip I ate ten croissants in one day- I still can't look at croissants without being sick- oh- and I camped in a park... near got arrested... until I told them I'm Aussie, and couldn't read the sign that said 'No Camping'."
"I'd love to have interesting stories to tell, like that." Her eyes sparkled. "I'd love to travel."
"I'd be happy to show you around... or whatever, if you wanted. Or just tell you where to go... anything to help, you can learn from my mistakes." He smiles shyly.
"Yeah," Angel says excitedly, pulling out a piece of paper and pen. "This is my number," she scrawls a set of numbers down. "If you could give me yours, so I can contact you that would be amazing!"
Mick nearly jumps out of his skin to reach over the table and grab the pen and paper Angel has outstretched, towards him. He writes down the numbers, failing to conceal his triumphant grin.
Sally quickly changes the subject. "So, Louis, about that birthday of yours..."
Louis looks up, his eyes screaming his pain.
"You should have a party."
"I already told you, I don't want to."
"Oh, come on, mate, it'll be fun." Mick puts in.
"No. That's the last time I'm going to say it. If I hear another word about my birthday I swear I'll... I'll..."
"What are you going to do? Hide in your bedroom, break things? You've already done all that." Mick never thinks about things before he speaks.
"I've got to get home." Louis mumbles, getting to his feet.
"Look what you've done now, idiot," Sally whispers vehemently at Mick.
"But you're my ride home." Mick is almost whining.
"Find another way home, asshole."
Sally sends a scathing look across the table at Mick. "Go after him," she hisses.
"No," Mick is stubborn. "I'm not his bloody boyfriend, besides, I'm right."
Sally groans and gets up. "I'll go, then. Come on, Angel. I'll take you home." Angel looks uncomfortable, and leaves with her sister, giving an apologetic to Mick as she does.
Outside, Louis is already in the car, but he's not going anywhere anytime soon. Sally slides into the passenger side, signalling to Angel to stand outside. Louis looks up. His hands are shaking; his face is almost purple; he's trying to contain his emotions. "Go away."
The force of his words shakes Sally slightly. "It's ok," she tries to put her arm around him.
Louis grabs her arm and places it carefully back in her lap. "Don't touch me."
She tries a different tactic. "You can't drive shaking like that. I'll take you home."
Louis looks thankful and gets out. He makes it to the backseat of Sally's car before he breaks down. "I was going to hurt him, Sally." He mumbles, his voice cracking with despair. "I thought I'd kill him." A sob is released from deep in his chest, like an air bubble in water, an explosive release of pressure. "He knows, Sally, he knows. Why would he say that?" His words start to become incomprehensible, he puts his head between his knees and lets go of the turmoil inside of him.
Sally is constantly checking the rear vision mirror as she drives, and Angel continues to look uncomfortable.
When they get back to Louis' house Louis is unaware that they've stopped. Sally gets out of the car, heading inside, Angel goes to dive out with her, but Sally stops her. "Watch him."
As Sally walks inside Louis looks up, eyes reddened, pink face, grimacing. "Have you ever lost everything, Angel?"
Angel jumps, frightened. "N- n- n- no." her eyes are wide, she's scared of Louis.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I didn't mean to frighten you."
"No, I'm sorry. I- I shouldn't be here."
Before Louis can say anything, Taylor and Charlie run from the house. Louis sighs and steps onto the driveway. He pushes past them. "I'm ok, guys." He says as he disappears inside the house.
Angel gets out after him, walking tentatively over to Sally.
"I'm so sorry, Taylor. Mick was… stupid, insensitive. Louis, isn't good… it's just so close to… his birthday."
"It's ok, darling, we know, he's hard sometimes. Thank you for bringing him home."
"That's fine, I'll come back tomorrow, and we can go get his car, we'll have a coffee, a chat?"
"Yeah, that'll do him some good… just… he probably shouldn't see Mick for a little while."
"I understand." Sally notices Angel is standing next to her. "Oh, sorry, umm… this is my sister, Angel. Angel these are Louis' parents Charlie and Taylor."
"Nice to meet you," the conversation becomes awkward and fake.
"We should go," Sally picks up on the tension, and the two girls leave.
"Sally's here!" Taylor calls from downstairs. She comes upstairs.
Louis meets her at the door. "I'm coming, Mum." He is much more upbeat today. They go downstairs. "Hey, Sally."
"Hey, you feeling better today?" she reaches up to his shoulders- it's quite a stretch- and gives him a bear hug.
"Yeah… umm...you want to go now?" Louis notices that Taylor is hovering and wants to get out of there.
Once they're in the car, Louis says "I'm sorry… you know, about yesterday."
"It's ok, Mick was… insensitive, he shouldn't have said what he said."
"I know… but I can see his point. So… I'm going to have a party for my birthday. And… you should invite Angel. Mick likes her… plus I think she got a bad first impression of us, we should rectify that."
"Are you sure you're ok with that?" Sally is cautious. "Louis, if you're not ready you don't have to be."
"I'm fine, Sally, and it'll be a good way to… reconnect with all the friends I've… lost during the past year."
Sally, still sounding unconvinced, agrees. "Ok, count me in, then."
They sit, drinking coffee for hours, just talking, comforting each other and making party preparations. Louis looks happy for the first time since I died.
From behind me a voice says "He moved on pretty quickly."
I turn to see a man with a dark coat and hat covering his face. "She's just a friend… besides I told him to move on."
"You mustn't have really loved him, then."
"Of course I did… but he's young… and I'm dead. He can't love only me forever."
"You're wrong." The man growls and disappears.
What a strange man, acting as if he knows me. Always following me. Telling me I'm following him. Always speaking in riddles.
I turn back to Louis and Sally as they both start to stand.
"See you later," Sally says. "And, seriously, anytime you need to, come and see me."
Louis smiles, "Thank you", it is said with more than gratitude, it's said with a appreciation and love for the girl standing in front of him- she is now his closest friend.
"Hello," Louis groggily answers his mobile. "Oh, hey, Sally." He pauses, "Yeah, I was kind of asleep, it is Saturday morning." He laughs. "Oh… really?" his face becomes serious. "Did we scare her?... Yeah… What if I went to apologise… yeah… where does she live?" He scrawls an address on a piece of paper. "Thanks, Sally, I just feel really bad for the other day."
Louis hangs up and gets out of bed. He takes his time getting dressed this morning, changing his shirt at least five times before he settles on just one- he even looks at himself in the mirror, for the first time since Ted died. He walks downstairs.
"Morning, son. You're up early for a Saturday." Charlie speculates.
"I'm going out this morning."
"That's a nice shirt," Taylor beams. "Are you meeting Sally?"
"No, not this morning, Mum. Anyway, Sally and I are just friends, so you can stop grinning like a Cheshire cat."
"Ok, dear, just know that I'm always here to talk."
Louis rolls his eyes. "Ok, Mum."
"Leave the boy alone, Taylor." Charlie chides. "He won't tell us anything if we keep pressuring him."
"Bye, guys." Louis' toast pops up and he takes it with him as he gets in his car.
He arrives at a house, a little terrace house with pots of daisies on the windowsill. He knocks on the pea green front door.
Angel, looking bedraggled, her face and arms are bruised, her lip is swollen and her dress is torn; the mascara running down her face gives the impression she's been crying; she answers the door. "Louis. You should leave."
Louis takes in her beaten face. "No way, you look like you've been punched, repeatedly. What's going on? Do I need to call Sally?"
Angel bursts into tears. "Please don't tell anyone, Louis. Don't tell Sally."
Surprised, Louis says nothing for a moment. "Only if you tell me who did this to you."
Angel sighs, gathering her emotions. "Ok, come in."
The house is a mess, there is shattered glass shattered in the kitchen, the pictures are all askew, and the coffee table is even turned on its side.
"What happened in here?"
"My boyfriend… you know… the one I broke up with…" Angel chokes on her words, and drops to the floor in an inconsolable fit of tears.
Louis looks awkward for a moment, then kneels next to Angel, draping his arm tentatively over her shoulders.
"I thought… I thought… that he was a good guy… but… but." She breaks off, sobbing and hiccupping. "I can't tell you… or… or… he said… I just can't tell anyone."
"You can tell me… I won't tell anyone." Louis soothes.
I move closer as Angel starts to whisper, so that I can hear.
"He was… is addicted to… I don't even know what, but when we moved in together, he started to become… a- a- abusive," tears well in her eyes. "So I told him I couldn't be with a guy who hit me… and he left… but last night…."
"He came back?" Louis prompts, Angel nods. "And he… hurt you again?"
"Yes. He broke everything in the bedroom… where I was… I was sleeping when I heard him break the door- the back door. Then he pulled me out of bed and punched me in the face…" she takes a deep breath. "You don't want to know the rest."
Louis nods. "Ok. I'll help you clean up."
"You don't have to… I'm so sorry about this."
"I don't mind… I suppose now we're even- we've both seen the worst of each other."
Angel, overwhelmed with his kindness wraps her arms around him. "Thank you so much."
Louis, stunned for the third time in the space of an hour is silent, but returns the hug after a few awkward moments.
"You go… ummm… fix your dress up… and I'll go turn the furniture up the right way." Louis says, glancing at Angels dress, torn almost in two, before averting his eyes and staring at the floor.
Angel's cheeks flush red; she bows her head, meekly and leaves. I turn my attention back to Louis, who is trying hard to get the coffee table turned back to its upright position. He continues to find things to set right until Angel re-enters.
"Thank you, Louis." She says quietly.
"It's ok… but, I think you should tell someone… like maybe the police what this guy did to you."
Angel shakes her head violently. "No. He said if I told anyone, he'd kill me."
"He might kill you anyway…" Louis mumbles, and then adds, louder. "Angel, he's dangerous, and if you don't do something… he might hurt you… kill you anyway."
Angel thinks about it. "Maybe… let me think about it… but if you tell anyone, especially Sally…"
"I won't. Just please tell the police what he's done and he'll be locked up, yeah?"
"Ok… I'll consider it."
Louis, although unsatisfied with her response, stops pushing her; she must come to the decision by herself.
They finish cleaning and Louis, reminding Angel that he is always there if she needs anything, leaves. He has to see someone else.
Mick's house, only two blocks away from Angel's, is down an alley- it's actually a rather dodgy setup. Louis pulls up around the 'front'- it's technically the back of the house, but it's the only way in and out. He knocks on Mick's door.
"Hey, mate." Mick looks surprised to see Louis.
"Hey, can I come in?"
"Yeah,… umm, hey… I'm sorry about… you know the other day…"
"Don't worry about it." I always envied Louis and Mick's relationship. Their ability to always forgive and forget without having to get too emotional.
Mick smiles, satisfied there are no hard feelings, "You want a beer?"
"Nah… I only drink on special occasions now… remember?"
"Oh. Yeah… right. But if you change your mind."
Louis shakes his head.
"It's just I remember a time when 'you didn't drive anymore' either." Mick is carefully judging how far he can take his banter today.
Louis laughs heartily, but his face is strained. "Look, mate, I…"
Mick waits for him to finish his sentence, then, when he doesn't, he finishes it in his head. "I know it's hard… for you… I get it… I'm stupid for even suggesting you have a party on the anniversary of your brother's death."
Louis shakes his head. "That's not what I was going to say…" he looks at his feet. "You've told me stuff you don't want anyone to know before, right?"
Mick, confused, nods. "Louis, what's this about?"
"I… ummm saw Angel today."
Mick has a look of realization and understanding on his face. "Do I want to know the rest?"
"No. No, it's not like that. You remember her saying she broke up with her boyfriend?"
"You can't say anything… especially not Sally. He's an abusive drug addict."
"Shit. What happened?"
"When I got there she was… a mess. I helped her clean up. I told her she needs to tell someone… I'll give her a week… if she doesn't do anything… I'll do something. I just… I feel so bad. At least my issues don't physically abuse me… I was going to tell her everything… after I saw her… I just couldn't." Tears well in his eyes. "Sorry, you don't need me blubbering all over you…"
"It's ok." Mick grins. "I've seen you cry enough times to not be affected anymore, you big girl."
Louis laughs through his tears. "Thanks."
"Oh, come here… big girls need big hugs." Mick says, grabbing Louis around the shoulders.
I smile at their affectionate embrace. They'd never tell each other, but they love each other, and if one of them lost the other, they'd be heartbroken.
Four days later, Louis gets another early morning call. I hear the phone ring, and see Louis stir, groaning. "Mick? What do you want at… 7:15 on my day off?... What?... Is she ok?... Did you do anything?... Yeah, I guess… I'll go over there now. Thanks, mate." Louis leaps out of bed and pulls on the nearest set of clothes.
He races downstairs, waving absently at his parents when they say 'Good Morning' in their sing-song, simultaneous way, and almost sprints the last few steps from the front door to his car.
It's not until he pulls into the same street as yesterday morning that I realize what's happening. Angel.
Louis knocks, and when no one comes to the door, he pushes it, finding it unlocked anyway. "Angel?" he calls through the house. It looks worse than the other day. "Are you home?" He walks through to the kitchen, and then turns to the bedroom. The door creaks slightly as Louis enters. "Angel?"
At first glance, there seems to be no one in the room, until I see the legs poking out from under the bed. It's Angel. Louis sees them too, and he moves, without seeming to move, to the other side of the room, pulling her, gently from under the bed.
Angel's face is unrecognisable as human, let alone as the beautiful girl met only a few weeks ago. Her hair is matted with blood, her clothes stuck to her bloody body. She has every shade of bruise on her arms and legs, and her left arm is poking out at an odd angle. Then I notice… she's limp. But she's breathing. The right side of her head has an enormous lump, throbbing, red, and pulsing with blood. Louis is already calling an ambulance.
Angel groans, and opens her eyes as much as possible with her face as swollen as it is.
"Angel. Are you awake?"
"Yeah, it's me."
She smiles weakly, "I told him to leave, or I'd call the cops."
"I'm so sorry."
"Now I'm definitely taking him to court." She laughs, and then groans again.
"Don't strain yourself. But don't go back to sleep either. You have a nasty bump on your head.
"I have nasty bumps everywhere."
Two paramedics enter the room, eyeing Louis suspiciously. "What happened here?"
Louis looks at Angel, and she nods. "Her boyfriend beat her up, and she called me to come help her. When I got here she was unconscious. She was under the bed." Louis says as the two men lift Angel onto a stretcher and take her to the ambulance.
They nod, "are you coming in the van with her?" One asks.
Louis looks pale. "I'll drive to the hospital. I'll go get her sister."
Louis' driving is more reckless than I've seen it since Ted died. He barely slows down for corners, and he's speeding anyway. He only has one thing on his mind. Get Sally, help Angel.
He swings into Sally's driveway. He doesn't knock, just opens the door and calls through the house. "Sally! Sally! Angel's in hospital!"
Sally bounds down the steps. She's dressed, but she has a toothbrush hanging from her mouth, and hasn't put her usual makeup on. She pulls out the toothbrush. "What?"
"Angel's boyfriend beat her up. She's in hospital… she hit her head pretty bad."
Sally flings the toothbrush across the room and pushes past Louis. She gets in the car, and Louis follows.
At the hospital, Sally; barefoot, with toothpaste around her mouth and an obvious lack of jewellery and makeup to all those who know her is sitting, staring at the doors that the doctors come through. Louis is sitting next to her, his arm around her shoulders, though she doesn't notice; he knows what this feels like, he knows how it is to have to sit and wait for news of a sibling, and he's trying to comfort her.
A doctor comes out. Sally stares at her expectantly, until she comes over.
"Your sister is fine." The doctor reassures Sally. "You two can go in and see her."
"It's ok, Sally can go in first, I'm not family…" Louis says, looking at his feet. He hates hospitals, with good reason.
Sally hugs him, "Thank you, Louis." She follows the doctor to see her sister, while Louis waits for her to return.
Sally emerges from the room almost twenty minutes later. "Louis… she wants to see you… if you want to go in." she says tentatively, knowing Louis' fear of hospitals.
Louis pales further, but stands. "Ok." He follows Sally into Angel's room. He is shaking and sweating as he nears the room, and he is so pale he almost looks like a patient.
Sally turns to him, just before they enter. "I have to warn you, her face is pretty scarred- it looks like she's been in an accident, and she's a bit sore, so they've stopped her from moving too much… to be honest she looks a bit like… never mind. I just wanted to warn you."
They step into the room and Louis catches his breath as he catches a glimpse of Angel. "Chelsea." He whispers.
"Louis, are you ok?" Sally holds his arm, reassuringly.
"Yeah… I'm just shocked." He says, and Angel touches her face self-consciously. "That she… she's still smiling, despite what's happened."
Nice save, Louis, I think as, trembling, he makes his way to Angel's side.
"Thank you," Angel croaks as Louis reaches for her hand.
"For what? I had to do something. I couldn't leave you there."
She smiles, looking, seeing Louis as the overwhelmingly kind person that he is. "Thank you for giving me courage, being there when I needed help."
Louis' face screws up in pain. "It's ok," he manages, then, "I should go… bye guys." He races from the ward. Sally follows, and I can see that she's genuinely worried about him.
"Louis!" she calls down the corridor.
He turns, slowly.
"Are you ok?"
He nods. "She looks like… her… after the accident, you know. She near killed me when she thanked me for saving her… it was cruel," he looks up, as if addressing a higher power. "It was hard, because I failed at saving Chelsea… if it wasn't for the red hair… I would have thought it was her… those scars on her face…and those green eyes… so much like hers." He looks back at Sally. "I'm sorry… I can't stay here any longer; do you want a ride home?"
Sally looks understandingly at him, and then touches his shoulder, sympathetically, "I'll stay here for a while, and I'll call a taxi… or Mick, when I need a ride. Thank you so much for today, you're a great guy." Sally reaches around his neck, and standing on her tiptoes, whispers, "and you've never failed at anything… not even saving Chelsea."
A week later, Louis is sitting up the back of his business class. Today, he's not even trying to appear as if he's paying attention. He's just staring into space. Thinking and I have to wonder what he's thinking about. What could consume his brain so much that he can't even draw on his notepad like he usually does?
Class ends and Louis sits, staring, until, to his obvious surprise, Sally walks up to him, tapping his shoulder. "Sorry to interrupt, but class is over."
Louis looks blank for a while, then grins, sheepishly. "Ok, thanks… umm, I'm coming."
"Oh, by the way, happy birthday," Sally pulls a present out of her bag, and Louis cringes. "I know you didn't want a fuss… but… it's also for what you did for Angel the other day."
He takes it, holding it like it could bite or poison him. "Thanks," he mumbles. He unwraps the gift. It's a box. A box with the most beautiful patterns burned into it, it's almost tribal in appearance. He opens the box. Inside, there's a necklace. At first I'm as confused as Louis looks, then we both realise, it's my necklace. The one I wore every single day. It was given to me by my mum… before she was killed.
"She left it for me… but… it didn't feel right for me to wear it… and it's so lovely… it was going to waste."
"But… I can't wear it."
"No… but… you can give it to… someone else to wear… when the time is right…"
Louis' face turns dark, "When I replace Chelsea, you mean?"
"Yeah, I suppose."
Louis is taken by surprise at her honesty. "Thank you." He says, simply.
As they step onto the street, Mick comes sauntering up to them. "Happy Birthday!" He grabs Louis, swinging him around.
"Whoa… settle, mate. Why so happy?"
"Why so serious?" He answers with a question.
Louis rolls his eyes.
"It's your birthday… come on… party at my place tonight?"
"I already told you, you can have a party… but the chances of me actually showing are zero… or none… whichever way you want to put it."
Mick huffs defiantly and pulls a parcel out of his backpack- for some reason he insists on looking like a backpacker even when he's at home. Another present for Louis.
On the top, in bold letters it is proudly proclaimed that this parcel is a 'fun pack' for Louis from Mick. Louis screws up his face and carefully opens it. He pulls out things one by one; first is a bright green, oversized party hat, next a pack of streamers and party poppers, then comes a badge saying 'Birthday Boy', and lastly, a bottle of foul smelling liquid… I can only presume that it's some sort of foreign, possibly illegal in Australia, very potent alcohol.
"Come on, birthday boy; put your badge and hat on for us." Mick nudges Louis.
Louis rolls his eyes again but obliges. Mick starts to laugh hysterically, until Louis threatens to take them off. Mick stops laughing, he then proceeds to rifle through his bag. Eventually, he pulls out two more hats- a pink ne for Sally, and blue for himself.
"Now we have to have a party."
Louis shoves Mick. "You're… I don't even know… words can't describe you… not in a good way, either."
Laughing again, Mick puts his hat on, and convinces Sally to wear hers as well. "Ok, but we should at least go out for lunch… right now, with the hats on."
"Ok, but can Angel come too? She's been waiting to see you guys since she got discharged… plus I told her I'd hang with her today." Sally looks at Louis, questioningly, is it ok with him?
"Yeah, sounds like a party," Louis gives Mick a cheesy grin.
"Why are you still hanging around here?" The mystery ghost, black-clad, with his face covered with a hoodie… it looks a bit like Louis' hoodie appears next to me.
"I could ask the same of you."
"I am waiting for someone."
"The girl I love."
"Why do you cover your face?"
"Like I said… I was in an accident, my face is pretty banged up... you ask too many questions, and didn't answer mine."
"Oh, I'm… I'm making sure my boyfriend's ok." I say, not really sure I'm telling the truth.
"Ex-boyfriend you mean… you don't believe in everlasting love."
Before I can argue, he disappears, abruptly as usual.
Sally, Louis and Mick are strolling casually down the street, arm in arm, wearing their ridiculous party hats. Passers-by stop to glare, laugh and double take them. They all pile into Sally's car and go to get Angel before lunch.
Angel slips into the car when they get to her house. Mick has an extra party hat for her. It's bright red. He grins cheekily at Sally when she looks at him with open mouthed surprise. "I guessed she'd come." He says, mischievously.
He sends Sally into a fit of raucous laughter and the others soon follow. I look onto the scene with a mixture of longing and jealousy because I miss sharing these moments, but I also feel happy that Louis can laugh like this again.
They stop laughing, but their joy is echoed in the way they speak and move, it's like the ghosts- like I- have been forgotten.
Sitting around the same table they sat at only a couple of weeks ago when they first met Angel, I speculate how much they've changed. There is no awkwardness between them. Mick is sitting next to Sally on one side and Louis and Angel are on the other. They are laughing freely- Angel has forgotten her scars, Louis has forgotten what his birthday heralds, Mick has forgotten what he did last time they were here and Sally… I'm not sure why, but she seems lighter.
"Yeah, he's having a party at my house," Mick is telling Angel.
"Really?" She looks at Louis.
Louis rolls his eyes. "God, Mick. Stop pestering me. I'll go to the bloody party." An awkward silence arises from his outburst, until he starts to laugh heartily, he was joking.
"Yes! I got him!" Mick shouts triumphantly.
I can hear, or rather, feel the bass of the obviously hip-hop music pouring from Mick's apartment before we even turn onto his street.
When it does come into view, there are people everywhere, and Louis looks daunted by the thought of this party since he got home and pulled on his favourite blue shirt and party hat Mick gave him, just before making his way here.
He has to park halfway down the street because there are so many cars. As he approaches the house, he is greeted by numerous people at numerous stages of drunkenness. He enters through the back door, as usual, and Mick is waiting for him.
"MAAAATTTEEE!" He slurs, prompting Louis to ask how much he's had to drink.
"Doesn't matter," he slurs again. "Did you bring that bottle I gave you?" He tries a conspiratorial wink, but he looks like a sexual predator.
"Yeah, but you're not getting any until you sober up a bit." Louis snorts.
"Whatever, you're the birthday boy."
At that point, Sally comes dancing up to them, she's dressed as out there as ever- tonight her outfit of choice is a cream, floor-length dress, with what appear to be living flowers attached, and peacock feathers in her hair- typical Sally. "Louis," she smiles, still dancing. "How are you on this fine night?"
He looks between Mick and Sally, "How long have you two been drinking?"
They giggle like naughty children.
"You know when we went out for lunch today?"
"Remember when you went home?"
"Well we started drinking then." Sally's voice is thick with alcohol.
Louis rolls his eyes. "You two have fun; I'm going to find someone who's not completely wasted."
"Louis! Louis!" A girl screams from the other side of the room. It's Angel.
"Hey," Louis smiles, taking her short, skin-tight, ruffled white dress in. I'm surprised at her shoes of choice, though. Bright purple heels. It reminds me of Sally- she likes bright things, but Sally wouldn't wear them to a party- she can dance all night, and judging by the size of the heels on Angel's shoes, she doesn't intend on dancing at all.
"Hey, Louis," Angel smiles self-consciously, aware of his gaze.
"Have you been with Mick and Sally this afternoon?"
"Yeah," she admits, then adds, "But I wasn't drinking… someone had to look after them." She gestures towards the offending drunks.
"Would you like a drink now?" Louis produces his birthday present from Mick.
"Whoa, where'd you get that… it smells like Metho."
"Mick gave it to me… it's a birthday present."
"I didn't get you anything." Angel says, as if she's just realized. She sounds apologetic.
"Most of these people didn't- actually I don't even know the majority of these people, they just want a party… are we going to have a drink?"
Angel smiles, and grabs two plastic cups, which may or may not have already been used, from the coffee table next to her. "Sure."
He pours the poison-like liquid into the cups, "Maybe we should mix it with something…"
After searching throughout the entire house and finding not a single non-alcoholic beverage, they drink it straight. They cough, splutter and cringe as it goes down.
"That tastes awful. I don't even like to drink… I haven't drunk since…Let's give it to Mick."
They can't find Mick, but think nothing of it. They eventually give it to a guy who's so drunk he probably won't be able to taste it anyway.
The party goes on as any party does, and I get bored. I leave.
I end up back in the cemetery. The mystery ghost is there, he's standing between mine and Ted's graves. He snaps his head towards me as I appear.
"Did you follow me?" He hisses. "How did you know I was here?"
"I-I didn't. I just appeared here… I have no control over where I go."
His shoulders relax, "Destiny," He whispers.
The way he says it sends a shiver down my spine.
"Do you want to know how you can control where you go?" Before I can answer, he continues. "You have to stop depending on… following the living. You don't have to forget them… you just have to believe that they'll be fine without you, and you'll be fine without them." He takes a step closer. "You're so beautiful." He reaches for my face.
I jump back. "What are you doing?" I screech.
"I love you, Chelsea, I always have."
I gasp in surprise. "Who are you? How do you know my name?"
He disappears. Typical.
I smirk as I watch people pick themselves up of the ground, holding their heads, groaning, throwing up, and realizing that the guy they are currently lying on is not their boyfriend.
Louis is probably the least affected, although it was his birthday, because he didn't drink. Angel went home last night… and as I look around, I guess Sally went home too.
Louis starts to shake people awake. The party's over, now they have to leave so he can clean up. He starts with the kitchen, throwing away half-eaten food, pouring half-drunk drinks away, mopping up the unidentifiable substance on the floor. He's halfway through sweeping up a shattered glass when Mick creeps into the kitchen.
"Louis!" He whispers urgently.
Louis turns, discovers Mick is naked and groans. "Mick! Put some clothes on!"
Mick looks down at himself, but otherwise ignores Louis' command. "I have to tell you something really important."
"What could be so important that you came out here naked to tell me? What if I hadn't already sent everyone home?"
"You didn't get everyone…"
Louis looks at Mick suspiciously, "Who's in your bed? Who'd you sleep with this time?"
Mick looks down at the floor. "Sally."
"Shhh… keep your voice down, she'll hear you…" Mick leans around, to check that no one heard. "There's more."
"I don't want to know."
"You really do… I umm… I remember telling her I loved her…. I think it's true…"
Louis raises a disbelieving eyebrow.
"No… really… It was before we… yeah, anyway… I don't know if she remembers. Don't know if I want her to remember."
Sally starts to scream in the next room. "Oh no! Jesus Christ, no!"
They rush to the doorway. She takes in Mick's nakedness, then peers down at her own naked body and covers herself quickly with the much abused sheets. "Shit." Is all she says.
"Yeah, shit, alright," Louis says, heading back to the kitchen.
Sally thinks. "I do remember bits and pieces."
Mick looks at her in fear… "Like what?"
"Do you really need a recount?" She is angry. "I can't believe this… For God's sake, Mick put your clothes on!"
"Oh… oh yeah" He fumbles around the room until he finds his pants, pulling them on clumsily.
She glares at him. "Find my dress!"
He leaps into action, tearing around the room, until he finds the puffy monstrosity of a dress. "Here," he mumbles, averting his eyes. Looking at his feet, he mumbles, "I'm sorry, Sally…"
"Whatever… it's not even your fault… well it is, but it's my fault too."
"Why are you so mad at me? Is it really that bad?" Mick looks up at the girl whom he claimed he loved not ten minutes ago.
Sally stops glaring, seeing the hurt on his face. "I'm-"
"Don't." He cuts her off, "Sally, I think… I think… but you're so mad… I can't."
"Spit it out!"
"I LOVE YOU! YOU BITCH! I FRIGGEN LOVE YOU!" he screams back, "Happy?"
Sally is shocked into silence. Mick leaves the room. I follow him to the kitchen where Louis is standing. Louis is staring at Mick in surprise as he emerges"
"Did you hear…?" Mick starts.
"Everything," Louis nods. "I'm sorry, mate."
Mick looks down at his feet, then to Louis' face. "You should tell her you love her."
Louis looks confused. "Why?"
"Not Sally, Angel."
"But I don't… I'll always love Chelsea."
"When you're with Angel, you are happier than I've seen you since Ted died. Go… at least tell her… you 'like, like' her." Mick puts on his 'teenage girl' voice.
"Mick?" Sally enters the room. "Mick I'm sorry."
"I'll leave you two alone," Louis puts a supporting arm around Mick's shoulder.
He walks the few blocks between Mick and Angel's houses, busy with Saturday morning glory… he is one among many doing a 'walk of shame'. Rather than notice the others walking past him he stares solely at his feet, mumbling to himself- he's talking himself up, practicing what he'll say to Angel. He pulls something out of his pocket and clutches it to his side as he approaches Angel's door.
Angel answers the door in her pyjamas and is obviously surprised to see Louis. She smiles at him. "Big night?"
He grins wryly, "Yeah, can I come in? I have to talk to you."
A worried expression crosses her face. "Sure, are you ok?" She leads him into the kitchen and sits at the table.
Louis follows but stands across the table from where she sits. He removes the ridiculous party hat- I'm not sure if it was out of respect or if he thought it would be inappropriate for such a serious conversation. He presents her with the thing he had clutched to his side. It's a photo- my favourite photo.
"These are the ghosts from my past. The only two people who've ever left me with a broken heart," He starts. "The guy- he's my brother… he died on my birthday last year." Tears well in his eyes, "It was a car accident… we were drunk- it's the reason I don't drink much anymore. Anyway, the girl is my… girlfriend… ex-girlfriend… she was in the car too… she was paralysed after the accident, then we found out she had a brain tumour… she died not long after that. I miss them both."
Angel stares at the picture, and then reaches around Louis' neck. She doesn't say a word- there is nothing to say that would mean anything to him right now.
I feel nauseous watching them; my stomach starts to churn, my eyes start to sting, and my head starts to hurt with the effort of choking back tears. He called me his ex-girlfriend. I know it's what I wanted, but I didn't know it would hurt this much.
Mystery Ghost appears in front of me. "I'm so sorry, Chelsea."
"GO! AWAY!" I scream at him, "You don't know me!"
"Actually, I do." He removes his hoodie, and I leap into his arms.
"I missed you," I whisper. "Why didn't you tell me it was you, before?"
"I needed you and Louis to be officially over before I told you I loved you."
I lean into his shoulder and let my tears soak him and he hides his face in my hair, sobbing quietly. Mourning the loss of Louis.