Elizabethtown is just like any other in this new world. People are born, they live their lives and then die. While forty is considered old in most parts of the world people here typically live to sixty or seventy barring accident. And that's where my mind goes when I think of my late husband. It's where my mind stays when I think I see him at night. It's where I go when I think that he is watching me in the darkness. It's comforting but also creepy.
"You have that look again. Thinking about Jason?" Maggie asks me quietly. This week is the two year anniversary of his death. It ripped my world to pieces when I lost him. I have never truly been able to move on even though I am being pressured to do so.
"A little. This week makes two years. It seems like I just saw him yesterday." I mumble to try and avoid the suspicious looks from the dinner party in the next room or my fellow caterers. This new world had its perks and also had its downsides. I taught during the daytime, in a one room schoolhouse, and occasionally helped Maggie with her dinner parties for extra money. Mainly I was a pretty face to serve food and greet guests. Even after a world war that destroyed everything a pretty face was still what men wanted to see serve their food.
"I can't imagine life without D." She sighs looking at her husband who stands across the room. As if he hears her the Asian man turns and just looks at her. He doesn't smile or even nod. It's like they have their own language. Jason and I used to be like that, before his accident. "I didn't mean to say that." Maggie apologizes quickly and D turns away. They always do that. They always seem to know when they are talking about each other. "That was careless."
"It's fine, be happy. We only get to live once, right?" I reassure her going back to my chopping with a renewed vigor. I could take my pain out of the carrots in front of me and no one would ever have to know.
"I wouldn't take that wager if you paid me." Grayson disagrees walking by. You could always tell who he was by his curly red hair. Well I guess being short helped as well. He is just an inch taller than me. I'm only about five inches above the five foot marker on the doorway to my classroom. I never had to see his face or even hear his voice to know it was him. "I have seen way too many things in my time to agree to that one."
"You can't be that old. Stop acting like you've lived for centuries." I snap back laughing. Grayson has been a comfort since I lost my husband. He was already in Elizabethtown when I arrived ten years ago. He looks nearly the same today as he did then. Maybe a few extra grey hairs, but the years have been kind to him. They haven't been nearly as kind to me.
"Once again, that isn't a bet I'd take. I could be over five hundred years old. You have no way of knowing. The war did funny things to people. I hear tales of people who can do all sorts of unique things. I heard this rumor last week that Maggie here is a master at escaping, like she has a sixth sense. And I hear D over there is a master at any weapon you put in his hand. Of course I have also heard that I am a genius."
"Well I heard this silly rumor that people were telling insane stories that can't be true because they have watched their copy of Ghostbusters so many times they wore out the tape and can't manage to get their hands on a new one." I respond throwing an uncut carrot at him and laughing.
"I think that is enough playtime tonight kids." D says walking over to us with a basket of bread that he shoves into Grayson's open hands. "I do believe our guests are getting hungry."
"How are they our guests if we were just paid to make and serve the food? It's not like the house, or anything in it, belongs to us." Maggie throws back taking a bite out of one of the apples sitting on the counter.
"Elizabeth probably won't like that." D says staring at his wife. "If you want her to hire us again maybe we should get it together. And she pays well, so let's get it together." D is the serious one. Call it stereotypical, but this guy is motivated to earn his money and work his way up the chain. If he has his way he'd have his own little town that he could micromanage.
"Don't worry about it. Elizabeth will assume it was Tabitha. They have the weirdest relationship that I have ever seen. From what I know of her father I am sure that it didn't go over well." Grayson replies grabbing a pitcher of red wine (which is oddly served at room temperature) and several glasses on a shiny tray. "I hear he was pretty old school and against the whole girl on girl thing." He continues smirking as he walks to the dinner party.
"He is way too smart for his own good. He really doesn't think you guys are masters at that stuff, does he?" I ask causing Maggie to sigh. "I mean it. He does know that people around here just have overly active imaginations, right? I mean there were reports of a unicorn last week in the park!"
"With Grayson you never know. He had a wife, you know that, right? I used to see them together occasionally and she was absolutely beautiful but thin as a rail. She lost her best friend years ago and never recovered. I heard that she blamed herself. My understanding is that she's to blame because she could have prevented it somehow. There was some sort of mystery surrounding her death a couple of years ago, around the same time Jason passed. Grayson just hopes that there is some time of reincarnation so that they can meet again. He told me once that even if he doesn't see his wife in his next life he wants her to be reunited with her best friend. He really is just a good guy." The floorboards creaked in the hallway between the kitchen and the dining room and Maggie put her finger to her lips. Even I know he doesn't take well to people talking about his wife. It's obviously a touchy subject for him.
"Rumor has it that you're an empath. I don't want you to feel left out of the rumor party. I'd hate for you to feel left out." Grayson says standing in front of me and staring into my eyes. He leans close and I can see the mischief in his green eyes. "So the question becomes this: if I kiss you what will the mood of the room become?"
"Hostile and deadly." Maggie answers for me. "Get back out there and leave us alone." She laughs as the playful banter continues just like any other dinner party we all worked. It was always the four of us.
Four hours later and we were all tired, but the party was cleaned up and all the guests were escorted home. Once all the escorts had returned we were greeted by one of the ladies of the house. One of them always came down to pay us. They were both so beautiful that they made your eyes hurt. Something about being raised with money never hurts your chances of that.
"I have your pay for the night." The petite beauty says walking into the clean kitchen. "A rather impressive clean up. I couldn't have done better myself."
"Tabitha please just pay us. It's been a long day for some of us." Maggie moans sitting down on a stool so heavily it wobbles. Maggie talks to everyone like they have known each other forever. Somehow it usually goes over well.
"Someone is touchy." Tabitha replies pulling small bags of coins from her pocket. When the old governments fell so did their money. We went back to old forms of currency and in this town, and a few neighboring ones, we use gold and silver. Some cities use gems while others use livestock or trades. It was all part of the current system.
She handed us each a pouch and we were all out the door and starting on our long walks home. It gives a person some time to think. When I was six the old world died. At twenty-five I can barely remember it, just a glimpse here or there and a few odd memories that stick out better than others. The bombs fell and we started the calendar at zero. Now the year is nineteen and so much has changed. Most of the world lives in darkness with no running water and no electricity but this town has those things but a strict policy on who it lets in.
This is a quiet town. The ruling family isn't harsh, but the penalties for crime are stiff. You can walk out on the streets at night without being hassled too much. There are some shady areas, but most of the town is safe. It's why you never worry about walking outside after dark. No one would give a second thought to walking home from work after the sun sets. No one would even give a second thought to walking home at two in the morning like the five of us do after every single party.
"So how did we do in tips tonight?" I ask Grayson as he counts out the money in the jar. At every party we put out a tip jar and people add to it as they see fit. When the money stops pouring in they pull me out of the kitchen. I had only been pulled out once so it should be a decent haul.
"Well, it looks like an extra hundred for each of us. Not bad for a small dinner party on a weeknight." He laughs handing us each a few coins.
"Especially considering two of us combine incomes." Maggie says as she snatches the money for her and her husband. "I think I just paid my mortgage for the next couple months in one night." Another thing that is special about Elizabethtown is that it runs on many of the rules of the old world and that includes utility bills, rent and mortgages. Apparently this family liked the way the old world ran. I don't remember these things from the old world, but if you go to any of the hangouts for the older people of the town you can hear all about it.
"Yeah, well you two go enjoy all of that money!" I call out as Grayson and I split off from the happy couple. "Sometimes they make me sick." I mumble counting my take for the night.
"Yeah, it's easy for them to do that to me too. I'm not exactly fond of watching them stare at each other when they think that no one is looking either." As we pass a bench I decide to sit down and I'm suddenly very tired. We'd been working for hours and it was still almost a mile before I reached home. "Want some company while you sit there, or do you want me to keep walking?"
"I just need a few minutes. I'm not quite ready to go home. You can keep going, I'll be fine on my own." I tell him looking up at the sky. I watched him walk away until he disappeared over the hill and just continued to look at the sky. I used to stare up at night with Jason. From the time we were children we would just stare up at the stars and talk. Even before we were dating or married this was our thing. It makes me feel closer to him, like I haven't really lost him.
"You haven't lost me, Stephani. Our lives just split to different paths. We just can't see each other anymore, or at least not openly." Sometimes his voice sounds so real in my head. It's like he's sitting right beside me.
"I am right here, Steph. Look at me." The gentle whisper comes again as I feel a hand brush my cheek. The sensation is so unexpected that it pulls me from my daydream.
"What do you- Jason?" I ask looking into familiar green eyes. "But you're dead?" In the last two years I had always thought I'd seen him jetting around a corner too quickly for me to be sure. I never got a real look at him, but I always thought that there was a chance that maybe he wasn't dead. I think everyone wishes that when their spouse dies.
"We all thought I was. It's a long story." He answers smiling at me. "I am so happy that you aren't taking that medicine anymore. I miss being able to talk to you. God, it's been two years from Hell."
"What are you talking about?"
"It was me. You kept seeing me. I had to run away before you ever knew it was me, but every single time you were right. I have missed you." He says pressing his lips against mine. That familiar spark is there and my hands go to either side of his face. He deepens the kiss and my hands go into that dark, shaggy hair. If I was dreaming this was the best one yet. He pulls away from me and just smiles.
"I missed that. Come with me." He says standing and reaching his hand out to me. "I have someone I want you to meet. She's heard so much about you that it's all she can talk about. She's excited." I stand up slowly and take his hand. Nothing can hurt you in a dream, right? And since you don't see your dead husband in real life I must be sleeping.
"Where are we going?" I ask softly.
"Just a house, around the corner."
"Okay, let's go." I pick up my purse from the bench and see Maggie. She doesn't look thrilled.
"Jason? Is that you?" She calls from across the street. Something in her voice sounded off.
"Damn. I didn't want to do this to you, Stephani." I hear him whisper into my ear as everything goes dark.